May 18 (~09:00 – ~16:00)
Ridge before Red Mountain – Mooshead Creek (13.1 mi / Total: 1447.7 mi)
Total PCT miles: 784.7
Weather: Cold, windy, rain, fog. The day is grey and dreary. Snow in the afternoon at higher elevation.
Throughout the night the mountain ridge was covered in a thick fog, which moved right through my tent. It was freezing and it’s still bitterly cold when I wake up in the morning. I don’t manage to get up early as I’d hoped, just like I didn’t manage to do a long day yesterday. I knew this was going to happen – all my gear has remained cold and wet from yesterday, and most annoyingly, my raincoat was too wet to use as an additional layer on top of my quilt. It took a long time to get warm. Despite the odds I did actually sleep well.
I don’t leave until 9, and even Speedy and Prince appear to get a late start, as they pass me not long before. Speedy says she still prefers the cold and wet over the snow, because at least you can make a little progress, but I’m not sure I feel the same. We do all agree we’re happy not to be in the Sierras. Harsh weather conditions at even higher elevations would be no fun. As I ready myself to leave I keep my trekking poles extended and brace myself. My feet are wet and freezing. My gloves are soaked from yesterday so I have to do without, despite the temperatures. Then the fog separates just long enough to show the view over the mountains around me. I tell myself I can do this. Then I go.
The trail follows the ridge for a while, which is open and spacious, and I hope at some point the sun will break through to warm everything up a little. I head into a forest shortly after, the ground covered in a smattering of snow. The trail climbs up, winds around, and soon I get the full spectrum of snow: thin layers and thick packs. I follow the footsteps ahead of me, Speedy and Prince trailblazing once again. I also spot animal footprints, and I’m pretty sure some of those are mountain lions. When the trail is bare it’s covered in streaming snowmelt and my feet get more wet, and more cold. It’s a constant battle between warming up and the trail ruining my body’s efforts again.
When it begins to rain, my faint hope for sunshine and slight warmth dissipates. The mountain is grey and dreary and sodden, and it doesn’t take long before I’m drenched to the bone. At times the trail is clear of snow and it’s a dream, then thick snowpacks appear once again, slowing me down significantly. Around 1 o’clock, I have to acknowledge I won’t be able to walk for much longer, I’ll have to cut my day short. I’m too wet, and I’m slowly getting too cold. I can’t eat any lunch or snacks in these conditions either. Everything is wet, and my food requires too much preparation to stand still and get cold. I continue to walk without eating.
An hour and a half later I know I’m reaching my limit. The rain still falls steadily, and I’m barely able to get out my phone and check the map – my fingers frozen and the screen covered in raindrops. I keep losing the slowly disappearing footsteps ahead of me, and I constantly have to adjust the direction I’m going into. I wanted to get over the mountain today, but it’s not going to happen in these conditions. There are some flat spots in the forest, clear of snow, but it’s still so early, perhaps I can push on for just a few more miles. There’s a campsite before the trail reaches its high point, so I decide to aim for that as today’s destination.
Then the snow comes back and it’s thicker than ever. Snow drifts have formed in between the pine trees, thick packs without any clear ground. The falling rain turns to snow. A thick, aggressive downpour that seems worse than the rain. It seeps through my waterproof layers, and covers the few footsteps marking the way in the snow. I’m getting a little worried – I still haven’t reached the campsite. I know it’s close but it seems to take hours to get to. Finally I approach a huge ascend, the snow steep in front of me. The footsteps in the snow have gone and I wander aimlessly for a while, unsure of where to go, desperate to get to the campsite, which should be very near. When I finally find it, it’s entirely covered in snow.
I have no choice. I’m too cold and wet to continue. I find a small clearing just large enough around a tree and set up. It’s not a good spot. The snowstorm is quickly drowning everything in a fresh layer of powder. The creek that’s supposed to be here is buried deep and I have no access to water. There’s so much snow it’ll be cold all night, but there’s no way I’ll make it to a safer spot. My clothing is completely drenched, and just like yesterday, it will still be wet in the morning. Just thinking about it horrifies me. Still, this will have to be my home for the night. I remind myself this is the only option and I’ll make it out tomorrow. I’ll find the other side of the mountain, even without having any footsteps to follow, and I’ll make it to lower ground without snow.
I listen to snow fall all night long, and watch a fresh layer appear outside the contours of my tent.