PCT Day 63 : Snow Hell, Part 2

May 26 (~08:50 – ~18:00)
Siskiyou Gap Dirt Road – a few miles before Interstate 5 (12.6 mi / Total: 1714.6 mi)
Total PCT miles: 896.8
Weather: Foggy, light snow, overcast, cold.

I wake up to the most unbelievable views. When I set up my tent there was no snow to be seen, and today I’m in a winter wonderland again, or a winter hell, and everything around me has turned black and white. A snow pack the depth of my foot has formed around my tent, and a fog obscures the views afar. I can’t believe I’m here again.

It takes long to pack up. The cold is intense, and my tent is covered in snow. One of my trekking poles collapses before I’ve taken all my belongings out of my tent, and the snow that was on top is now inside my tent. I try and scoop everything out, the powdery snow dry enough to grab and throw out, but also so cold that my hands are so stiff I can barely roll up my tent. It’s so painful I have to stop pushing it into its stuff sack and just throw it in a plastic bag.

With the huge amount of fresh snow I decide to leave the trail for what it is, and follow the nearby dirt roads instead. The trail will be impossible to find anyways, so I follow the road down, through the thick snow, and watch it get just a little thinner, slowly. When I get to a crossing I check the GPS, but I can’t locate myself. I wait, zoom out, and find out I followed the wrong road. I’ve walked about 1.5 miles in the wrong direction, and worse, this road in no way connects to any other road that could take me to where I need to go. I have to walk all the way back, up the mountain, into the thick snow once again. I’ve wasted about three miles and over an hour. I’m devastated.

When I reach my departure point today, I head in the right direction. Of course, the correct road goes further uphill, and this side of the mountain is covered in snow drifts, so I spend hours climbing up every single snow hill, sliding down, an endless, tiring plough. I posthole through the thick new layer until I hit the old snow below, every step a surprise, every jerk a whiplash.

It’s not until after midday that I reach the day’s high point, the pass over Siskiyou Peak. It’s an enormous exposed top, and a steep, somewhat scary climb up. I sidle around first, then pull up, step by step. I try to find the PCT again, hoping the trail side of the mountain won’t have this many snow drifts but it’s not the case – the conditions are just as bad. After all that climbing up, I swiftly abort the idea and head down towards the road again.

I receive a message from Speedy while I’m on the mountain – her and Prince were only a little further ahead at the Mt Ashland ski area, but they got a hitch into town before the storm started last night. They were quitting the trail anyways, and I guess they’re not finishing this section now either, even though it’d only be another ten miles to the Interstate 5 for them. It’s a bit of a dispiriting thought. I have no plans of giving up on the trail, but it’s feels a little hopeless being out here on my own. Either way, I’ll just have to go ahead, and after some careful navigating I’m back on the dirt road going up and down the snow drifts, the only person stuck in snow hell, again.

It takes a few more hours to get low enough for the snow to lessen, and some footsteps of dayhikers appear. The campground and ski area around Mt Ashland sit around 6500 ft, and the road here is sealed and has been cleared of snow. The trail runs a little lower through the trees, but it’s still covered in white, so I follow the road down, until it intersects the trail at a lower elevation and I join it again, breezing through the forest, where the snow is gone. It feels great to be back on the trail, and in the forest. I even get a little afternoon sunshine, and decide to camp just a few miles before the Interstate, to save myself a late night hitch, and save some money on a hotel. I find a spot in the trees and I’m so happy. I’m almost out.

5 thoughts on “PCT Day 63 : Snow Hell, Part 2

  1. I love your photos! I won’t be able to hike the PCT for probably another 20+ years, so being able to read your story, both the good and the bad, has really been enjoyable.


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