May 25 (~07:50 – ~18:30)
After Alex Hole Spring – Siskiyou Gap Dirt Road (18.5 mi / Total: 1702.0 mi)
Total PCT miles: 884.2
Weather: Clear, not too hot or cold. Sunny spots in the morning, overcast and foggy in the afternoon. Storm with strong wind and snow once I set up my tent at night.
I wake up to sun. I’m on top of a mountain, surrounded by snow, and I have just enough reception to message some friends and family: it’s my birthday. I text Speedy as well, and she responds, telling me her and Prince have decided to leave the trail for good, and are going bikepacking instead. Happy birthday to me. But I can’t say I’m surprised. I knew this was going to happen, especially with me not being around. It’s not surprising they’re sick of the snow just like everyone else, Prince has been talking about Plan B’s ever since we met him, and now is the perfect opportunity to convince Speedy to go off trail with him.
I feel a bit daunted by the prospect of spending the rest of the day in snow, but try and stay positive. It’s my birthday after all and so far, it hasn’t been too bad. When I begin my day the snow is still compact and it’s easy to walk on with my microspikes. I hardly get any break though, the fields of snow seem endless, and some giant bear prints mark the snow. The skies are clear, and I have gorgeous views onto a snowy peak in the distance, although I never find out which mountain it actually is.
I follow the footprints from the people who passed before me, sometimes losing them in the forest, and I feel like I’m going round and round in circles as I try to locate them again. I run into a southbounder who warns me about a vertical slope created by snow drifts I’ll need to navigate down, and he tells me there’s a large group of hikers behind him.
Next the trail descends into a beautiful forest with green meadows. The snow is gone. There are quite a few clear miles, and I realise the snow is definitely not as bad as I’ve been told. This is where I pass the California and Oregon border. It’s a huge landmark for PCT hikers to move into the next state after almost 1700 miles, although it means little to me, as I skipped half of California to get here. Still, I take some pictures and enjoy the beautiful trail, away from the snow. I sign the trail book and see Prince’s message about giving up on the trail. One of the many defeated. I check the date – they’re actually only about ten miles ahead of me.
When I head back up towards the snowy ridge I make my first mistake. The footsteps go in two different directions, and I follow the ones that line up with the actual trail. I shouldn’t have – I find myself sidling along a precariously steep mountainside, littered with bushes, and realise the marks in the snow are old, and only a few people pushed through here. It’s difficult to find my footing and I keep sidling up and down, switching elevation, generally not knowing where to go. I push through the thick vegetation and make slow progress, until I decide to give up, or I’ll never get anywhere today.
I presume the other footsteps followed the ridge instead, so I pull myself up the steep mountainside, postholing and sliding down in the snow, but never find them once I finally get there. I’m confused. I’m looking out over a large valley and see faint lines of trail below me. Did they go off trail and follow the valley as opposed to skirt around the mountain? I decide to try it – I backtrack, follow an snowy trail down a steep slope and regret it immediately. There are no footsteps here. It’s just me, way off the PCT. It feels wrong, but by now it’s too late and I just need to push though. The snow is just as thick as anywhere else here, and it’s a slog to find the snow-covered dirt road and follow it back up, to where it connects with the PCT.
When I’m reunited with the trail, I’m relieved. I’m back where I’m supposed to be. With my detour I never faced that vertical wall of snow, and I never saw those other hikers. I’m happy to continue on my way but immediately make my next mistake. The trail leads into a forest and appears to be free of snow, while all the footsteps trudge through thick snow around the other side of the mountain. I assume it’s because it made sense to the southbounders, and I decide to follow the actual trail into the forest. Soon enough the trail disappears, and the mountainside is a steep slope covered in snow drifts. It takes about an hour to cover just a few miles, and it’s a frustrating stretch, climbing up and down and up and down, the drifts like tiny hills in between the trees, always just a little too steep, no matter what direction you go into.
When I finally join the other footsteps again, I follow them along the dirt road. No one has opted for the trail, and this time I’m trusting the steps ahead of me. The snow is a little patchy here, until it actually clears up, and I find a spot to camp just off the dirt road, under a tree, in an open field. When I get inside my tent, the storm begins. I feel a strong wind hitting me from the side and I try and block the gusts from coming inside my tent by putting food bags up against the inner net, while I watch snow flakes fall all night.