The first two weeks of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail could not be called hard days. That’s not to say there weren’t a few difficult miles here and there, but overall, I never felt I was being pushed too hard.
I wanted to hike this trail because I was looking for a challenge after I finished my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in 2017. So far, the trail has been mostly easy.
That changed today. The trail was hard.
|Date||Sunday, April 7, 2019|
|Weather||Variable cloudiness with a low temperature in the low 40s and a high in the mid 60s|
|Trail Conditions||Continuous climbing, sometimes on rugged trail and sometimes on sketchy snow fields|
The day started out easily enough. The temperature overnight was not as chilly as I thought it would be and I slept comfortably.
Our campsite was at an elevation of 6,000 feet and was tucked in a small canyon. This seemed to moderate the temperature and block the wind.
When I woke up at 5 a.m. the sun wasn’t yet above the horizon. When we began hiking at 6:30, the sun had only been up a few minutes.
Right from the beginning, the trail was steep and rugged.
Rocks on the trail made the climb difficult.
After going over a ridge the trail entered a section that was severely damaged by one or both of the fires of the last few years.
Along the way a few burnt trees were lying across the trail, so Tengo Hambre and I had to climb over or walk around them.
At one blowdown I dropped my water bottle. Because of the tangle of tree limbs, I had to take off my pack in order to reach it.
After an hour-and-a-half of walking we reached the first patches of snow. These were small and the slope of the mountain was not steep, so there was no need to put on microspikes.
The trail made another long climb as it headed to Apache Spring Junction. When Tengo and I got there, the rest of the Woo-hoo Crew was there, except of course for Falls and Spamalot.
Gilligan, Rainbow and MJ left soon after I arrived. They were heading to an alternate trail so they could walk around some of the worst of the snow.
Bookworm had gone down a side trail to get water, and before he returned Tengo decided he needed to go for water. I decided to stay with Captain because I still had some water.
Bookworm soon returned and he said the trail down to the water was difficult. We knew we’d be waiting a while for Tengo.
Then Bookworm offered to share a half liter with me, so I was glad I didn't make the trip.
When Tengo returned from getting water he said the trail was sometimes non-existent, which is what Bookworm had warned.
Once we were finally back together, Captain, Bookworm, Tengo and I began hiking again.
We thought the difficult section of snow was just up and over the first climb, and that turned out to be true.
Only six or seven minutes later we saw the snow, so we stopped to put on our microspikes.
Crossing the snow was tricky because the slope of the mountain fell steeply off the trail. I made sure each step I took was firmly planted.
One slip could mean a long slide of 30 to 100 yards down the mountain. There was nothing to stop that slide except trees and boulders, and hitting one would not end well.
While crossing this section we saw an older hiker chopping steps in the snow. He was trying to make the traverse safer for other hikers. He was fearless on the snowy slope and also seemed to be having a lot of fun.
We learned his name was Cardinal.
The traverse across this section of snow took about 20 minutes of deliberate walking.
As I reached the other side and stepped on dry trail I slipped and landed on my butt.
“I guess if you’re going to fall down, that’s where you want to do it,” I said.
After removing our microspikes we had a long stretch of dry trail ahead. Bookworm and Captain picked up their pace and sped ahead.
Along this dry section of trail we re-entered another section of burnt trees.
There were also a few minor patches of snow, but nothing that required microspikes.
It was a good thing the snow wasn’t dangerous. I slipped on one patch, but only slid two to three feet off the trail because the slope wasn’t steep.
The next 90 minutes of walking was done without microspikes, but then it was time again to put them on. The next section of snow was on a trail that followed the near-vertical side of the mountain.
This was the kind of slope you didn’t want to slide down. If you did you probably wouldn’t die, but you’d have a real problem climbing back up to the trail.
I didn’t want to find out how difficult it would be, so again I took each step deliberately.
After crossing the snow, we ran into more of the other type of obstacle we’d seen today: blowdowns. Walking over and around these was almost as tiring as walking on snow.
Shortly after 1 p.m. Tengo and I reached where Bookworm and Captain had stopped for lunch. Gilligan was there too, but MJ and Rainbow Sherbet were not.
The three women had returned to the main trail after taking a loop around some of the snow. Then MJ and Sherbet continued hiking while Gilligan stayed behind with Captain and Bookworm.
While we were eating lunch, Bookworm announced it was time for him to push on. He needed to leave the group.
I knew this time would come because I knew he was feeling pressure to hike faster. As a college student, he had a limited time to be on the trail before his next school term started.
We all gave him hugs and wished him well. I told him I was glad for the opportunity to hike with him the last two weeks and hoped I would see him again.
We will all miss him.
Captain and Gilligan finished lunch and left, while Tengo and I took a little longer.
We continued to walk together. The trail remained free of snow as we entered another section of burnt trees, but it made another steep climb.
Despite the cool weather, I worked up a sweat on the climb.
The snow-free section didn’t last long, though. In less than an hour we needed to put on microspikes a third time.
Once I got back on dry trail, I was running low on water and getting thirsty. The snow sections had slowed me down and it looked like I wasn’t going to reach the next water source as quickly as expected.
Just as I was beginning to get concerned about being so thirsty, I turned a corner and saw Captain. He was standing next to a stream trickling down the side of the mountain and across the trail. This water wasn’t marked on our Guthooks trail app.
“Gravity, the trail provides,” Captain said.
We were all grateful for this unexpected stream.
Tengo and I took our time to filter and guzzle water before hiking again. I also ate a Snickers bar to refuel because I was starting to wear out. Between the snow, the blowdowns and the steep climbs, today was a tiring day.
At about 5 p.m. we reached another section of snow. At first it didn’t seem to be as difficult as the other sections, so we began crossing without microspikes.
Had we known how long we’d have to walk on this snow section and how steep the side of the mountain would become, we wouldn’t have started out without microspikes.
The trail became increasingly more sketchy, so I shouted ahead to Tengo that we needed to put on our microspikes. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a safe place to do that, so I had no choice but to continue walking as carefully as possible.
When I finally reached a small break in snow I stopped to put on my microspikes. I didn’t know how much snow was ahead, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Before long Tengo and I reached where MJ and Sherbet had stopped to camp. It wasn’t where we originally planned to camp, but the spot was good enough so we set up camp there too.
Captain and Gilligan had apparently gone on to where we originally intended to camp.
I was exhausted when I stopped. It took me a while to get organized to set up my tent and cook dinner. Fortunately, eating dinner helped to revive me and I began to feel better.
Before I started this hike two weeks ago I said I wanted a challenge. I got it today.
And it felt good.
Jimmy Dugan: I'm in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that.
Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.
Jimmy Dugan: It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.