And then sunshine and warmth. A decision reversed.
- Date: Saturday April 26, 2015
- Miles hiked: 13.15 PCT, plus about 4 1/2 bonus miles
- Miles covered: 719.03 to 732.18
- Weather Report: Low 21, High 58. A sunny brisk morning, mild midday with temps around 50 to 58, windy at sunset
- Wildlife seen: A bat! And bear paw prints
- Mood of the day: What a difference a day makes. Calm and peaceful after a bit of morning anxiousness
It was cold overnight, real cold. Maybe it was because we were down in a small, steep sided valley, but we were only at 8300 feet. If it's 21 degrees at night here, what's it like at 11,000 feet? Single digits???
Despite the temperatures outside, I slept warmly. I had put on both my base and mid layer leggings, two pairs of socks, and was toasty all night--the blue foam pads I put under my inflatable pad worked well.
We were on the trail back to Kennedy Meadows by 8:15 . It was a bright blue sky day. No clouds, save for a little wisp of cirrus here and there, and a very light breeze from the east. I had on my black down jacket, silk base layer leggings, and felt wonderfully warm in the morning sun. I started to wonder--why are we going back? This is a great day for hiking, and from the weather forecast discussion it's supposed to get warmer for the next six or seven days.
After a couple of miles I felt like I had made the wrong decision. I asked Joko "Hm, do you want to go back, or north?" He wanted to go north, so did I. I dropped my pack and ran ahead to Five Minute. We discussed it a bit... and a bit more... but eventually she just felt she couldn't go forward, so Joko and I went north together; Five Minute headed back to Kennedy Meadows.
We turned around and made some water back at the very same spot we had the night before, and climbed up Cow Creek Canyon; we had lost a fair bit of time with our abort of our aborted mission. And oh did we climb, from 8300' to 9000'... to 9500' where we encountered some of the week's snow in inch-high piles in the shade... to 10,000'. I'd repacked my pack so the sleeping bag was on the bottom and the bear canister was vertical on top of it, much better. The slopes were were on were warm in the sun, and there was little wind, it was about 50 degrees. Good hiking weather, though I forgot to buy sunscreen for this altitude. My cheeks will be even rosier than usual.
It was a bit of hard work, but I stopped and talked to a day hiker coming home from bagging Olancha Peak. We talked snow levels and conditions, he's also a southern Californian, and he was curious about us PCTers and how early it was to start--but this was the year to start early, he said. Yep, I agreed! That little conversation cheered me up, and helped chase a bit of the sadness away of Five Minute's decision to go back.
The trail went over the west shoulder of Olancha Peak, cresting at 10,500' before heading down a north-facing slope. I was real curious to see if there were lingering snow fields at that elevation. Answer: nope, not really, and by not really I mean "there were patches of 2 to 3 inch powder here and there from the last week; none were more than 30 feet across and it'll all be gone in a few days." That bodes well for the areas north, like Kearsarge Pass, which is a bit over 11,000 feet. We'll see about the north side of Forester Pass in a few days :-)
The scenery heading down the six miles to Death Canyon Creek was great--big sweeping vistas of a peak line to the west, circling around to the north, with forested valleys and meadows and all down below. There was very little snow at altitude, and I thought "Hey, I can do this". The weather really did feel more like mid-June than late April. It was fantastic, and Joko and I really were enjoying the day. We spotted a pair of bear paw prints at the bottom of the hill, right on a boardwalk across a meadow at mile 729, and went whoa and kept going.
We were almost done for the long day, but definitely wanted some water. We're only now finally getting out of the "difficult water section", but there's still 10 miles or so between water so at Death Creek Canyon we stopped, thought the water was gross, then went to a spring just 250 yards away (and not 1/2 mile as the sign says). The spring was the first natural spring I've seen on the trail that isn't boxed or whatever--just a clear pool set into the rocks, and water magically flows out.
At the spring, there was the weirdest wildlife sighting I've seen on the PCT: a tiny bat, shivering on the ground in the sun. It noticed us and opened its tiny little mouth (sharp teeth) and probably hissed at us ultrasonically. I've never seen a bat in broad daylight just hanging out on the ground. I took a few pictures and a little movie, but was real wary of it--don't bats carry rabies or plague sometimes? Anyways, after ten minutes or so it pulled itself along the ground and finally got enough speed to run and flap and finally fly away.
We were both pretty tired, but wanted another mile, so I found a campsite on the Guthook app that looked promising. 1.3 miles away, we can do that. It was uphill, slow going, but it was also that Golden Hour before sunset, and the scenery was pretty and golden in the setting sun. The campsite was pretty nice too--we found two spots for each of our tents, both with nice boulders to the west to block any wind. The tents went up, we made dinner, we slept.
That was that, and Joko gets the last word for the day. When he was cooking his dinner, he said, "You know, today started out disappointing, but it really turned into a beautiful day." I very much agree.