PCT 2019: Day 146, Grouse Gap to Donomore Cabin

If I don't get some shelter

The weather improved a little overnight. It remained cold, yet the wind died down. Only a little additional snow fell, and it stopped by morning.

Or at least I thought these were improvements. Bluejay wasn't feeling any better about the weather. She had been grumbling about it since yesterday and continued to complain this morning.

I tried to encourage her and told her the weather would warm up soon, but that didn't seem to help her mood.

DateSunday, September 29, 2019
WeatherSnow with an accumulation of up to five inches and drifts up to one foot
Trail ConditionsSnow-covered with elevation changes that were not difficult
Today's Miles17.3
Trip Miles2148.5

In fairness, it's worth noting that Bluejay grew up in South Texas and wasn't used to being outside in cold and snow. On the other hand, I grew up in Northern Indiana.

When Bluejay mentioned her feet were cold and wet, I remembered something I did when playing in the snow as a kid. My mom gave me plastic bread bags to put on my feet. These worked as a moisture and vapor barrier between my socks and shoes.

I gave Bluejay a couple of Ziplock bags to put on her feet, and I did the same.

Because of the snow and cold, we needed more time than usual to pack our gear and leave. Curmudgeon left first. Bluejay and I didn't leave until around 7:30 a.m.

We never saw Curmudgeon again, but we followed his footprints all day long. There were a few places where his tracks helped us navigate because the snow covered the trail.

When we left Grouse Gap, the trail passed through a stand of large fir trees, which were heavily weighted by snow.

It then crossed an exposed slope of MacDonald Peak. I couldn't tell if the snow was still falling or just blowing here. Either way, the visibility was poor.

Bluejay was now a couple hundred yards ahead of me, and I could barely see her. Nothing was visible more than a quarter-mile ahead.

Mt. Shasta was more than 50 miles away from here. If this had been a clear day, I should have been able to see it.

After climbing to just above 7,000 feet, the trail began a gradual descent. In fact, there were only gradual climbs and descents all day today.

The trail took an indirect route to the California-Oregon border. It started following a due-west direction yesterday and only began to angle south after passing MacDonald Peak.

Curmudgeon and Bluejay's footprints weren't the only ones I followed. For a short section, several turkey tracks also appeared in the snow.

The trail descended to an elevation of about 5,900 feet. Because the drop wasn't steep, I didn't regret not having my microspikes. Although they might have helped a little with traction, I didn't miss them.

When I reached Siskiyou Gap, an open space between the trees offered a view looking north. Visibility had slightly improved by now. I could see Wagner Butte about 4.9 miles away, though not much else could be seen beyond that.

Another mile farther was a better spot to see the valley below. There was a striking difference here. I could see a defined line where the snow ended.

This view gave me hope I would leave the snow today, though I wasn't sure exactly where the trail was headed. When I caught up to Bluejay a short time later, I shared that hope with her.

Unfortunately, my optimism for leaving snow was misguided. Instead, the opposite became true.

Heavy snow began to fall again by 1:45 p.m. Three or four inches of snow was already on the ground. Before long, another inch fell.

I stopped at 2:30 at Sheep Camp Spring, which was just before Jackson Gap. Thankfully, it wasn't frozen. The water flowed from a small pipe, allowing me to easily collect and filter it.

With more snow on the ground, drifts began to pile against tree trunks. Sometimes, snow fell in clumps from branches and hit my head.

The next part of the trail passed a meadow and approached Observation Gap. A spot with such a name implies it would be possible to see distant views.

The snowfall was much too heavy and blowing to make that possible. Here in the open, the snow drifted as much as a foot high.

From Observation Gap, the trail made a sharp bend around the slope of Observation Peak. It then re-entered the protection of trees, which made the conditions less blustery.

The next 2.5 miles went steadily down 1,000 feet before reaching the state line.

My descent to the border was interrupted when I found cattle standing in the middle of the trail. Eight steers huddled together and were reluctant to move. Despite their obvious disdain for me, I coaxed them out of the way so I could continue.

I crossed the state line at 4:50 p.m. This was the third time I had entered California on this flip-flopping hike.

A sign at the border showed distances to Mexico and Canada, but these were off two or three miles from what my Guthooks app said.

When I checked the app to see how far I was from a cabin where Bluejay and I planned to stay tonight, I was surprised to see it was only seven-tenths of a mile farther. I had assumed walking on snow all day had made me go much slower than it did.

Seeing that the cabin was less than 20 minutes away was a relief because I could tell the temperature was dropping.

Donomore Cabin was built in 1935. Ranchers stayed here when they brought their cattle to graze at higher elevations during the summer.

The cabin had fallen into such disrepair that the Guthooks app described it as rotting. "Don't bother trying to go inside," the listing said. This was outdated information, however.

Bluejay and I read in comments posted by hikers that two families had been repairing and restoring it for the last few years. They welcomed hikers to use it, so we were hoping it would be a comfortable place to stay.

That turned out to be true.

When I walked in, Bluejay was already there. I didn't expect to also find other PCT thru-hikers. I presumed there weren't many of us still on the trail in Northern California.

The three hikers were all flip-floppers like Bluejay and me. All-Star was from England, Slim was from Germany, and Big Wave was American.

The Appalachian Trail has shelters spaced apart roughly every six to 12 miles, but they are uncommon on the Pacific Crest Trail. This shelter could not have been placed at a more welcome spot.

The cabin provided a roof over our heads, four walls that were only a little drafty, and a flat, wooden floor off the frozen ground to sleep on. It wasn't big, but we somehow all found enough space to lay out our sleeping bags. We also hung our wet gear to dry from rafters or whatever else we could find.

It was just what we needed.

Ooh, a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don't get some shelter
Ooh yeah I'm gonna fade away

War, children
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
War, children
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

From "Gimme Shelter" by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (Rolling Stones)


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.