April 5 (~07:00 – ~16:00)
Fobes Rack Trail junction – before Saddle Junction (12.6 mi / Total: 179.2 mi)
Weather: Covered in fog. Intense, icy cold wind. At times there’s sun which is warm, especially for a few hours after lunch, until the fog returns.
When I wake to the alarm, my tent is barely standing. It’s icy cold and still dark, but I force myself to go through the motions of packing up – being outside can hardly be worse than being inside my collapsed tent. When I haul my pack onto my back, all I feel is utter exhaustion. I barely have the energy to walk across to meet Speedy and Black Water, and we have an intense day full of ascends ahead of us, climbing up to almost 9000 feet. Once we head off, I feel horrible. The lack of sleep and stressful night have clearly not done me well.
We immediately begin the ascend and I feel it straight away: I have nothing to give. I follow slowly, quickly disappearing far behind, finding the others waiting for me now and again. This is not the worst: the temperatures are freezing, the views are obscured by a thick fog and the icy wind has persisted throughout the night, and is still taunting us. This is not a good day to climb a mountain. We are cold as we ascend through the barren land, recent fires having burnt all the trees down to a harrowing mountain of death.
After an hour we face our first snow. There’s a patch right across our trail, so we get our brand new microspikes out, and test them for the first time. With our trekking poles we manoeuvre across skilfully – that wasn’t so bad. We continue the trail, snow littering the mountainside occasionally but the path remains clear. We walk through the fog as it is blasted forward violently, and offers sporadic moody views of the scenes around us.
After almost another hour, we are blocked by another snow chute. This one looks more intense, and is long with a steep drop down. We meet another hiker here, Eric, and we all attach our microspikes and attempt the way across. The snow is still icy this early in the morning, and there are several spots that require careful attention, and I for one find myself stuck for some moments with no idea where to safely place my next step. It takes a good ten minutes to get across, but we all make it. We walk with Eric for a little longer until we sit down for a break, and he continues, never to be seen again.
I feel as though we spend most of the day moving up, up and down, and up, up and down again around the same valley. Then we turn a corner and the sun is there, a fog lifts momentarily and everything is steep rock faces and pine trees and snow. It’s gorgeous. Then everything goes grey again, and the trees are burnt and we shuffle across more snow chutes, some steeper than others.
When we sit down for lunch, it feels as though we already have a full day behind us. The gods gift us with moments of sun, and it’s glorious. We sit and eat and in the sun everything seems to be getting better. Perhaps we have the worst of the snow behind us by now, perhaps we are in the clear.
As we continue we have some bright and clear moments with great views over the valley below, and then we reach a certain elevation, and everything is snow. These aren’t the snow chutes we’ve passed so far, but a winter wonderland that the trail is passing through. Fields of snow cover the ground, while pine trees provide shade from the sun. It’s a marvellous sight, straight out of a movie, and we stroll into the white expanse that reflects bright in the sun.
The snow isn’t difficult or dangerous to get through, merely time-consuming, and soon we’re all spaced out, walking our own paces. I’m in the back, getting lost when the footsteps I’m following are going in several directions and I descend until I realise I’m not supposed to, and have to find my way back up to the trail by climbing up a steep pristine mountainside.
I keep on going, wondering when this snow is going to stop but it doesn’t. Instead, the sun disappears. It gets violently cold and a fog permeates the forest, making me feel like I really shouldn’t be there on my own. I get lost again – the footsteps aren’t where the trail is supposed to be, and then they disappear in all directions. I try one, and backtrack. I find my way with the GPS but I’m a little spooked. I’ve been walking in the snow for hours now – I’m cold and my feet are soaking wet, and I have no clue how much farther Black Water and Speedy would be walking today. They had decent nights sleep, unlike me, and I’ve felt a wave of intense tiredness since lunch. I don’t know if I can go much farther.
Then suddenly I spot them in the forest – they’ve set up their tents on a dry patch. I never expected them to finish this early, but I’m elated they did. It’s the last place I’d imagined camping during the PCT desert section, but it’s a beautiful spot, surrounded by tall trees and perfectly white snow. We’re surprised no one has mentioned these conditions to us – perhaps a lot of people are skipping this section. Apart from Eric, we didn’t see any other hikers today.
We’re all exhausted from the snow, even though we hardly even covered any ground, walking less than thirteen miles. We all wonder what tomorrow will bring, but first – sleep. Black Water finds me some heavy rocks to secure my tent and I manage to erect it the way it’s supposed to – upright. It’s freezing cold but I don’t care. I put on all my layers and crawl into bed. Finally a good night sleep.