As per usual, I woke up around 6:00 and peered out the window. About an inch of snow was on the ground across the street in the park, but the sky was clear and blue. That means about three to four inches at the higher elevations, maybe more, as Wrightwood is in a bit of a snow shadow. Then again, maybe not--but when I stepped outside and looked south to the ridgeline, more than two thousand feet higher in elevation and right around Guffy Campground, it was all white up to where the clouds obscured the view. Probably very cold up there too. Snow showers were predicted for the rest of the day.
I thought about tomorrow--what would that look like? I really really don't want to do Mount Baden Powell in the snow and ice. The top of the mountain is just over 9400' elevation, and the PCT follows the trail almost all the way to the summit along a northeast facing slope. What's more is that the slopes are really steep, 45 degrees and sometimes more, with two and three thousand foot drop offs--that hike had really scared me when I was 13. From the near-top of Baden Powell, the PCT keeps going 10 miles west on the ridge's edge at 8000' or so before re-crossing Highway 2 around Little Jimmy Spring; there aren't really any bailout points.
What would the conditions be like tomorrow after the storm's gone through and it's sunny and warmish? It'll be icy with hard snow in the morning, which will clear out to a couple of inches slushy snow in the afternoon, which will freeze overnight wherever I camp. There will plenty of people who'll get through it before me though, so I won't be cutting a trail in the snow like I did last week over Forester Pass in the Sierra. That's a bonus.
But I've really had enough of that type of hiking--most of my PCT hike has been in cool to cold weather--so maybe I can bypass and do a road walk for the 10 or so miles and bypass the PCT? Then I said "what a minute, I'm not here to bypass the remaining miles in the section, I've already skipped over them once due to weather I wasn't geared up for, why skip over them again? And I'm still just a few hours from home."
So there were two choices:
- Wait out the weather today, and stay another night in Wrightwood. Pay another night in a motel. Possibly skip Baden Powell with a road walk, camp in cold weather a couple of more nights.
- Take the bus to Hesperia, head home either by rental car or by taking a bus down to the Metrolink train.
OK. What's the cost of each option--should I stay or should I go? Calling Enterprise, the rental car was the same price as my motel room ($94 one-way!) and it's a two hour drive home. The bus/train fares are $40 cheaper, but there's a couple of hours of waiting in San Bernardino and Oceanside, and I'd get home around 6pm.
Hm. Yeah, I really am not feeling it. I do have to be home soon to prepare for our walking trip in Japan. And later this year I could take the train and bus back to Wrightwood to finish up those miles, when the weather is fine, if not hot, and definitely not snowy. I'm not a purist, but I am a completist, and I want to do as much of the PCT this year as possible, which means every mile except the two fire closures in southern California.
So, it's time to get down the hill. First, an omelette at the Grizzly Cafe, then I caught the 9am bus (with Hannes and Julia aus Berlin!) down to Hesperia, did a double-bus-transfer over to Enterprise, and was on the road just after 11am. I stopped at REI in Rancho Cucamonga to browse and get a replacement pair of pants for when I get back on the trail; my khaki-colored pants do a great job of showing off the dirt. Back on I-15, it rained for the next hour down to Temecula--glad I wasn't walking in that!--then I pulled up to the house at 2pm.
I'm done with the PCT for now, and truth be told I'm a bit ambivalent about returning. The last few weeks have been less enjoyable than the first month--it's been cold, there usually hasn't been anyone else around, there hasn't been as much scenery/wildlife to gawk at, and my pack weight has been pretty heavy due to the heavy water and food carries. Yeah, not every PCT section is going to be a winner, and I'm glad I got to see those little odd corners of California from Acton north to, oh, Kennedy Meadows, but many of the miles felt like more like completing a chore than having an adventure.
That being said, I'd be restarting the PCT on May 27th, the Wednesday after Memorial Day, and picking up the trail from where I left off at mile 788, west of Independence over Kearsarge Pass. And many of the things that I found to be disagreeable over the past few weeks--the lack of other people to socialize with, the uninspiring scenery, the cold weather--these things won't really be there in early June in the Sierra. Well, maybe the cold will still be around a bit, but it shouldn't be snowy windy cold; I tell you I'm really looking forward to not cooking every dinner inside my tent. And while my pack will be heavy with the bear canister and 8 or so days of food, I won't need to carry anything over two liters of water, yay.
I've already booked tickets to rejoin the PCT after our walking trip to Japan. I actually won't be returning home, we'll be flying into LAX from Tokyo on Memorial Day, go to the parking garage, getting my PCT gear out of the trunk and repacking my pack, then catching a connecting flight to Mammoth... staying overnight at the Motel 6. The next jetlagged day I'll do some last minute shopping in Mammoth, then take the evening bus to Independence for an overnight stay at the Mt Williamson Motel, which looks like a great place to stay, and get a ride up with Strider (the motel owner) in the morning. It's all logistics, but I've learned that the PCT does require you to adapt all the time to conditions.
That Wednesday May 27th it'll be Hump Day for sure with a heavy pack full of food and warm clothing, and maybe microspikes and the ice ax? (Probably not the ax). It'll be a short 10 or 11 mile day, to the base of Glen Pass, up and back over Kearsarge Pass, and with my body's lack of altitude adjustment it will be a challenge. It should be warmer though, more fellow hikers should be around, and the scenery will be spectacular.
I may be a bit ambivalent now, probably more out of frustration with the Section D weather, but I know I'll be soon be looking forward to restarting at the end of this month. For the next three weeks, though, it's break time, in a place far away from the PCT.