PCT Day 26 : Conquering The Snow On Mt Baden-Powell

April 19 (~06:15 – ~16:00)
Before Vincent Gap trailhead – Little Jimmy Campground (11.1 mi / Total: 383.9 mi)
Weather: Warm, at times a little overcast which is welcomed as we are sweating with exertion. The snow is cold though, and at time it gets chilly when we are walking in the wind.

For some reason, I keep waking up at night, and I don’t know why. Luckily I feel fine when it’s time to get up – unlike last time we hiked up a snowy mountain, when I felt exhausted after a sleepless night before San Jacinto. It’s five when we wake up, and it’s just after six when we leave. We hope this will give us enough time to get through the snow before it starts to melt.

It’s just a few miles through the forest to the parking lot at Vincent Gap and Highway 2, which is the trailhead to Mount Baden-Powell. It’s a popular hike, but considering the snow, the few hikers summiting are mostly PCT hikers. There are several people cowboy camping right in the parking lot and I’m happy we were in the forest, protected. We pass the notice board and read the signs – we are warned we are in bear country now. I can imagine it – the desert has made place for plush mountains and forests, and I can just envision black bears frolicking around in the snow.

We go up the switchbacks. It’s only five miles to the peak, but we are soon interrupted by the snow. It’s not normally this severe. In other years, snow lingers on the backside of the mountain – on the way down, but this year we are experiencing a high snow year, and the mountain is buried in it. There are some footprints we try and follow, but they are erratic and steep, so we create our own switchbacks, until we have to give up. It’s too time-consuming and exhausting, and then we find marks up, straight up, and we follow them. The route is quite hairy now and again, some spots definitely questionable, and I’m happy we are walking together as you’d have to be very careful on your own – several hikers have already had to be rescued off the mountain.

It’s a slow progress but luckily the weather is sunny and at times a little overcast, because we are hot and sweating with all the effort. We take a quick break in the snow after which my feet cool down too much and I worry about losing too much body warmth. Once I start walking again, it takes long for them to warm up, and the feeling is horrible, but fortunately it’s only temporary. As I climb higher and higher, I regain the feeling in them, and slowly my thought turns from frozen feet to the steep ascend, and the mind-blowing views over our surroundings, far down from us.

When I think we’re close to the top we are another snowy ridge walk from the summit. Everything around me is fresh and pure and simple. Trees emerging from thick snow, mountains in all directions. Once I reach the top, the views are everywhere, and there is so much snow. There’s supposed to be a flag at the summit, but it’s gone, and the pole just about peeks from the snow.

We rest at the top for quite some time, eating snacks or lunch before we continue. We have a ridge walk all the way down to Little Jimmy Campground, a long walk with a few more peaks that the trail skirts around. Without snow it would be a wonderful walk with marvellous views, but it is packed, and it proves a frustrating postholing exercise in the now softening snow. We clearly didn’t make it out in time. I’m lucky I posthole a lot less because I’m lighter, but the ridge seems to never end, and after some time I realise that where possible, it’s faster to bushwack around the snow, and march right through the bare patches of ground, covered in rocks and prickly bushes.

It takes almost two hours to get from the peak across the ridge to Dawson Saddle junction, only 2.6 miles away. I keep thinking we’ve reached the end of it, but we never have. Instead, we rest for some time and we have lunch. We’re all feeling it. We’re tired and done with the snow, but it’s just getting more difficult. Trudging through piles of snow is not easy.

The wind picks up and as we leave, the trail changes. We’re off the ridge, and suddenly we’re sidling alongside a steep slope which is surprisingly easier than the socked in ridge. Then we get some clear patches, and sometimes we even see the actual trail, which makes us laughably happy. It still takes hours to make any progress – we go from snow field to ridge to steep slope to switchbacks, and the snow gets exceedingly more slushy and difficult to grip with our microspikes. We are all getting sick of the snow, even Prince who can run through it so quickly with his long legs.

Still we descend, and the trail gets a little easier and less steep, and we finally reach the campsite, many hours later. We are still in the snow but we are done for the day and I feel wholly overwhelmed but so happy to be done. The campsite is large is mostly covered in snow, so a lot of hikers huddle together, and we all secure our food and smelly toiletries in one of the bear boxes that hasn’t been snowed in. Slowly more hikers arrive at the campsite, and a fire is started in one of the pits. I stay in my tent, warming up in my quilt. This was a long day.

Published by

Rosanne Luciana

A Dutch-born London-based hiker who has swapped an East Asian backpacking experience for the opportunity to truly immerse herself into nature, by quite simple, walking.

4 thoughts on “PCT Day 26 : Conquering The Snow On Mt Baden-Powell

  1. You’ll have fun in the Sierra. Sounds like you have a good crew.

    The key to hiking in snow is to know the distance covered over each pass. That is, elevation where it starts/stops and the mileage between those two points.

    Take Muir pass for example. Assume snow begins/ends around 10k, Looking at a topo map, you can calculate that you’ll be on snow for 7-9+- miles. At 1-1.5 mph that would mean 6+ hours. You need to be off the snow before 11am, so do the math.

    For Muir, that means hiking up to the very edge of snow the day before. The next morning, you need to be up and hiking by 5am (some shoot for 3-4am). Don’t take too much time at the hut – just a few pics and then jam – there’s another 5-6 miles to go.

    The key is to get off the snow and back down into the snow free valleys before/after each of the major Sierra passes. Once you get into a rhythm, they are all pretty evenly spaced for a daily pattern.

    Untrammeled, flat hard packed snow is actually pretty easy to walk on. It’s the clumpy, degraded stuff you’re seeing in the SoCal mountains that makes things tough(er).

    If you hit the Sierra early, you’ll probably find out that slow moving clumpy degraded snow will be more the norm around Tahoe.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your Sierra technique! That’s actually a really good idea, to do the proper math so you don’t start too late or too early.
      Also interesting to hear about the snow – we actually bumped up to South Lake Tahoe (catching up on blogs!) and the snow was better than the SoCal snow but still got slushy quick and it was a slow process to get through. I’m curious about the Sierras now… I guess I’ll find out in time!

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  2. Sounds like some good exercise for Sierras. Looks like it might get similar or even worse this year than in 2017. All the best luck and never give up! In my experience the snow adventure is worth it! 🙂

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    1. The snow is much worse than 2017! I like a good snow adventure for half a day or so but long term? Catching up on the blogs now so the answer as to whether I enter the Sierras is coming soon… 😉

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