Cold and snowy and overcast--a dreary march north into the unknown conditions of the High Sierra, and a decision is made.
- Date: Saturday April 25, 2015
- Miles hiked: 16.8-ish PCT
- Miles covered: 702.23 to 719.03
- Weather Report: Low 33, High 52. Morning was cool and cloudy, with scattered ice showers. By noon the temps had fallen to just above freezing, with snow showers and more ice pellets, and the wind picked up to 20mph. After 3 the skies cleared and it became sunny and warmer, with temps in the upper 40s to around 50.
- Wildlife seen: Nothing
- Mood of the day: Suffering and not having fun
- Craving: Warmth
Excited and anxious. That's how I was feeling in the morning; I had my pack all ready to go at 6:30 and dragged it down to the front porch of the store. Five Minute was there making a bit of breakfast, tasty berries and grains as I recall. I settled for one of my surplus Clif bars--right now my favorite is White Chocolate Macadamia. Scott opened the doors around 7, made a fire, and huddled around it; Joko came by at 7:30 along with the Floridian.
It wasn't all that cold last night--cloudy skies, right around 40 degrees at sunrise, and a west wind. Wind like that means "no afternoon thunderstorms" to me, yay. We all hitched up our packs and decided to just walk the road to the Kennedy Meadows campground, where we could rejoin the PCT. It'd save us not quite a mile, but a road walk, not my favorite.
I had packed my bear canister horizontally at the bottom of my backpack, and within a mile knew that was a mistake. It was so wide it was bumping my butt with every stride, and I would've fixed it right then and there, but I was now actually walking with a group, yay, and I didn't want to slow everyone down. We kind of strung out along the road, a few hundred feet apart. A car pulled over and asked Five Minute if she needed a lift; she really wanted to say yes but declined.
After three miles we finally reached the Forest Service campground (which wanted $17 a night, ouch, better just camp over next to the river) and the PCT started back, and shortly we passed a sign marking the wilderness boundry. The clouds had closed in--was that fog? rain? mist? No, it was little ice pellets, like table salt, sprinkling down. At least we weren't getting wet, but it was getting cold, and the wind was picking up. It wasn't yet 10:00, and I wondered how long this little ice shower would last.
It would last quite awhile, and it the sprinkles turned into a little more pouring on as 11:00 approached, and then the ice turned to these odd dry snowflakes and the wind really got going. The temperature dropped to 36, just above freezing, and I had layered my red rain jacket over my down jacket and was warm and slightly sweaty, which was not good. I'd end up fiddling with clothing all day.
After a crossing of the Kern River, the PCT entered a burned area, dense with burned trees still standing and creaking in the blowing wind, with more than a few downed ones to detour around on the trail. It was creepy and Not My Idea Of Fun, and as noon approached I wondered "Is this what I'm in for for the next, oh, couple of weeks? Temps just above freezing, headwinds blowing ice and snow into my face? This sucks. I'll be back in June when the weather is nice and mild and there's more than three other people to shoot the shit with on the huge deck at the Kennedy Meadows store and everything will be sunshiney and springlike, not this ghastly winter landscape."
I caught up with Five Minute just after noon, and we shared a brief sun break and a drink and ate a bit. She was just as displeased as I was about the situation, and felt it would only get worse as we got higher in elevation. The KM store is low elevation--if you could call 6500' low elevation--and we'd be headed up to 13,000 feet in a few days. It will be colder up there. Windier too. Snowy. Not cheery thoughts, and we both wondered "Are we just too early in the season to be doing this?" I'll admit I think it's a bit unusual to do this in late April, when the usual weather rules out any attempts to head north through the highest Sierra until late May, but this has been a highly unusual few years for the Sierra and California.
The trail after the midday break finally got where it was going, and exited the creepy burned area into a large open meadow named Becks Meadow. It was 2:30, we had climbed 1500 feet in elevation (with those heavy bear canisters), and best of all the sun came out; the clouds just swirled around the outskirts of the meadow leaving a big hole of blue sky in the middle, like it was protected by a force field or something. Off to the north we could see treeline, the bare granite slopes above, and the conifers with a frosting of fresh snow below. It made pretty pictures, but what the pictures don't show is the wind, which at this point was just howling. At least it was somewhat warmer in the sun, and I took it slow and warmed up every 15 minutes behind a boulder or pondorosa pine trunk or whatever windbreak I could find.
I was most assuredly not in a good mood, and was hurting more than usual, with my left arch really complaining. It almost felt like plantar fasciitis I had back in February, and that worried me greatly. PF takes months to go away, and I'm not sure mine has ever gone away since I first had it in 2006 and then again in 2012--it just goes into remission for several months for a few years, it seems. And here I am, heading into the wilderness for a week. Will I be hobbling over those 13000' passes? I tried not to think about it, and consoled myself with the fact that the pain was a few inches forward from my heel, and not where the PF 'nail' generally is.
At this point, even the PCT itself was pissing me off. Some bright trail builder decided rather than stay level at 8000' and go around a large hill and along the meadow's edge, the trail should climb up another 500' in a couple of miles, then lose that 500' in a mile. Grrrrr. The scenery isn't better on the hill, and while the routing is more direct it must've saved all of a quarter to half mile. My aching back lugging the improperly packed bear canister hates you, Mr Trail Builder.
I had expected to catch up with both Five Minute and Joko at the river bridge at mile 716, making water, but they were nowhere to be seen. I scanned up the trail, heading towards a cleft canyon across a treeless hillside covered in waist-high sagebrush. Nope, not around. I did spot their footprints (the PCT makes you a pretty good tracker), and followed on without making water. Three miles to go before our campsite in Cow Canyon at mile 719. Sunny and windy and 40 degrees.
I did catch up with both of them at the campsite--they had dropped their packs and were standing around. No tents set up. Uh oh. "How much water do you have," asked Five Minute. I replied, "Uh, a liter." We pulled out the water report, with lots of entries from September and October last year but nothing recent. The next reliable water is 12 miles up the trail, that really isn't enough to camp and make it that far. We could backtrack to the river 3 miles. More anxiety. I didn't want to go back, I tried cajoling them into going 3 miles north to this "pool at end of switchback" and they both reluctantly agreed and started walking up the PCT. I followed a few minutes later.
It wasn't even 500 feet until I saw them both heading back. "There's water ahead!" and sure enough the dry Cow Creek had a few small pools. I filtered two liters and took a dirty third for later filtering, and headed back to camp. It was nearly sunset.
I didn't like today. The heavy pack. The wind. The cold. The ice/snow/whatever falling. The water drama-ette at the end of the day, we all should've at least filtered some at the Kern River bridge, and none of us did. And there was more to come, more altitude and cold and who knows what. I really just wanted warmth, and the comforts of home, but no, I'm on this adventure and it's not fun, it's a "how much suffering can you endure?"
Five Minute wanted to return back to KM. Her tent wasn't very warm, she said she gets cold really easily, she can't see much of anything through the Sierra except cold and suffering and just nothing enjoyable. I agreed. I was tired and cold and dehydrated and fumbling a bit. I made some hot cocoa and that helped, but I didn't even want to make dinner, I wasn't hungry, and thought it would waste water, but I knew I had to eat something so I made Yet Another Knorr Dinner and then spilled it a bit. So much for keeping my tent 'odor free' for the bears.
That plan sounded great. I could walk back to KM with Five Minute. Joko would come too. I'd get a ride to Lancaster, take the train home, enjoy my warm bed and the kitties, have a glass of wine with Chris, prepare for my PCT hiatus in mid-May. I could come back at the end of May, start north from KM, and just go until I felt like it. Yeah, that works. I like that. I told her we should both bail. Let's do this, no more sucky days like today.
And that was the big decision: bail out. Leave. No more bad days. See ya, the PCT sounds doable but the reality is it's a lot of hard work and discomfort, and today and likely the next two weeks are going to be tedious and cold and Just Not Worth It.