We wake up in the car, all struggling with an uncomfortable night and lack of sleep. We all agree sleeping in a car was the worst idea ever, and next time, if there ever is one, we will set up our tents instead. After some moving around we continue to Kennedy Meadows, a tiny town that functions as the entry point to the Sierras.
We’re hoping to speak to some people in town and other hikers who might have a better grasp on what the conditions in the Sierras are, so that we can decide for ourselves whether to go in or not. We arrive much too early, and sit in the car for a while before driving up to the general store where we chat with a couple of hikers. They’re going in, but a storm has been predicted for later this week. The weather. We hadn’t even considered that. The storm will possibly bring more snow. This isn’t quite what we hoped to hear.
We head over to Grumpy Bear’s, the restaurant where many other hikers are. We talk to some people we know, they’re all going in. It’s weird to be here when we shouldn’t be here just yet, but at the same time it’s good we are, and when we head over to the Triple Crown Outfitters gear shop, we get all the answers we need.
Matt and Yogi have been running the gear shop for years, which has everything a thruhiker could possibly need. It’s amazing. Their gear and resupply is impressively curated, and as we browse, we talk to them about the conditions this year. The Sierras are still entirely snowed in, and we discuss the gear we’d need to survive: thicker sleeping pads, extra layers of clothing, crampons and gaiters, an ice axe, and the required bear canister, of course. Some hikers are even heading in with snow shoes, but apparently crampons are still the best choice. We talk about how to set up a non-freestanding tent on snow and wonder if some of the roads to resupply towns will be open by the time we’d get there, or if we’d have some long walks off-trail, just to buy food.
Once we feel we’ve collected all the information we can get, we drive back to Ridgecrest and sit down in Starbucks. I check Instagram once more – the very first pictures of people hitting the Sierras are up now, and it’s indeed covered in snow. We realise that the reality of the Sierras doesn’t just mean buying a load of gear, but walking on snow all day, camping on the snow, waking up well before dawn to do as many miles as possible before the snow gets slushy in the strong sun and probably only managing 10-15 miles a day. We’d have to stick together as a group, and we wouldn’t have the freedom to hike our own hike. We’d be tied to each other and the snow for over a month.
I’ve always been averse to breaking up my thruhike, but I have to admit that going into the Sierras would be miserable. It would be rewarding as an accomplishment, but I would hate every second of it. We were already frustrated by the few days of snow on San Jacinto and Baden-Powell, and the Sierras will be at least a month of plotting through snow. To me, one of my main reasons for going on long hikes is that I can enjoy my freedom, and the main freedom I enjoy is walking solo and taking all the time I want to photograph the trail and the landscapes. The three of us have entirely different ways of hiking, and while Speedy and Prince can happily team up (get up early, set a target, hike fast, finish on time) I like to do everything very differently (get up whenever, hike slow, take pictures, and stop for the day whenever it feels right to stop.) It doesn’t match. Teaming up for a month during one of the most beautiful stretches on the trail just so we can push through the snow, means that I’d jettison the main reason why I want to be on the trail. Speedy and Prince are in a similar place – they’d also rather thruhike the PCT, but they also have their reasons for not wanting to spend over a month in the snow. We’d kill each other.
At the same time, I never wanted to consider flipping around before trying the conditions myself, before experiencing the Sierras. But with all the gear we’d have to buy, it might turn into an expensive joke. I almost want to keep this to myself but then I share my final thoughts with them – when I think about doing the Sierras now, I dread it, but when I think about flipping around, I feel relief.
And we all agree.
We’re flipping around the Sierras.
We’ll head over to the start of the NorCal section and northbound from South Lake Tahoe. We may do all of Northern California, possibly even Oregon, depending on the conditions in the Sierras. We’ll head back to them when possible, and then finish in Washington. We do want to finish in Canada.
I’m still freaking out – I don’t want to flipflop. But I know it’s for the best. It’s the best solution for us in these circumstances. We know it’s possible to get through the Sierras, but we want to enjoy them, not endure them. It’s just a different approach. But it’s a difficult decision when you set out to do a thruhike.
So, the decision is made. We’re officially flipflopping the PCT. Now we just have to wait until tomorrow to pick up our packages from the post office, and then we can head back to the trail, to finish the desert section. We go back to Walmart, do our resupply for the next few days and get a cheap hotel for the night. I feel like I’ve been in town forever – I’m looking forward to getting back to the trail.