21: Southbound on the PCT

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SOBO on the PCT

Ashland's Diversions

The Timber's Motel in Ashland hosts us for the evening.  It is in the perfect spot next to the pizza joint and dispensary.  Welcome to Oregon! Jen and Pickles frolick in the pool, and then we eat vast amounts of pizza before passing out for the night.  Apparently, riding in cars and buses all day has exhausted us.  Tomorrow we will start hiking again.  This time we will be southbound on the PCT.

We annihilate the continental breakfast in the morning.  The owner makes a trip to the grocery next door to replenish his dwindling breakfast supplies.  I am restlessly pacing in front of the motel as I make calls around town, trying to secure a ride back to the trailhead.  Enough of the zero days already, I need to hike on!

After waiting around for what seemed like eons, we are finally loaded into a shuttle.  At the trailhead, we have to do a mental flip.  After heading north for 500 plus miles, hiking south is an adjustment.  We will also need to acclimatize to the abundant water and humidity.  The trail is a green tunnel.  I am in shock.  Where am I right now?


Rambojuice, Pickles, and I have been throwing around ideas for Jen's trail name.  We have discovered that Jen likes to pack light.  Actually, no, Jen likes to take a crap ton of stuff.  Love you, Jen.  One day we noticed her bag of supplements.  Jen works for a holistic health store, and she has an apothecary in her backpack.  Enter, Apothecary, or Apoc for short.  May you go forth and hike many miles.

Snow Anxiety

We have not seen any snow in Oregon, but then again we have not had much elevation gain yet.  We stop at a lodge to refill our water from a faucet.  A man comes down from the house and visits with us.  "I hope you guys have your crampons and ice axes", he warns, "There is still a lot of snow in the Siskiyou wilderness, and the Marbles, and Russians."  Damn!  Most of our snow gear is sitting in Texas in a box addressed to Kennedy Meadows.  I now officially have snow anxiety.

The trail is beautiful here.  We travel through thick, dark, quiet forests filled with tall trees.  When we emerge from the forests, we hike on mountain ridgelines.  The scenery is the stuff of dreams.  I cannot believe that I am here doing this.  Why did we not pursue this dream before now?  Why did I spend years of my life accumulating stuff I do not want, working toward what...security, comfort?  I could have been out here living my dreams, instead of sitting behind a desk somewhere earning money to pay for a house I do not want and stuff I do not need.

The thing that matters most is that we are doing this now.  Better late than never they say.  We camp in the forest, and the wind seems to be blowing in all directions.  The bright embers from the fire lift up into the pale evening.  Carefully dousing the fire, we return to our tents for our first night of sleep on the Oregon PCT.

Snow Way!

We see our first snow on the trail about a mile after leaving our campsite.  The trail disappears under the snowpack on a steep ridge.  There is no way around.  We will have to walk across this 150-foot patch or turn around.  Those are the options.  I tentatively step into the prints of those who have gone before me.

Proceeding with caution, I walk slowly and then suddenly my right leg is gone.  I am up to my hip in the snow.  I feel a sharp pain on the inside of my right knee.  Leaning forward, I crawl out of the hole and awkwardly right myself.  My knee aches dully.  It is already swelling.  I laugh and say to my concerned friends behind me, "Uh, I wouldn't step there!"

This is the most beautiful place I have ever backpacked.  My eyes follow the PCT as it ribbons along the ridgeline and disappears into the forested mountaintops.  I can see the big snow long before we are into it.  What will this experience be like?, I wonder.  I have sent messages via our Delorme to our resupply: overnight microspikes to Seiad Valley, please.  Although, there has not been a reply yet; I remain hopeful.

We come to the forest.  The trail is gone.  It is beneath the deep snow somewhere out there.  There are footprints from those who have gone before us.  Sometimes you can follow these to stay on track, but other times they disappear into nothingness, and you are left standing there going WTF?  There are snow cups for miles, and we are walking a ridgeline that is steep and slippery.

Thank you, Electronic Gadgets

Using the Guthook app, Pickles keeps us oriented in the right direction.  The path we choose to take is our decision.  There is no trail now, so we try to go with the path of least resistance.  The snow is deep and the ridgeline steep, the result is that we are inundated with tree branches.  Normally, we would come nowhere near the branches of these tall trees, but the snow has lifted us to the treetops.

Jen is the only one with microspikes.  The rest of us slip and slide, one of us falling almost constantly as we kick steps and painstakingly make our way across the mountains.  Our miles per hour drops to pathetic, and morale is falling.  Moreover, this is dangerous, and we will be lucky to carry on without injury.  When we set up camp near the California border, we have made only 10.6 miles for the day.

The next afternoon, we lunch on the ridgeline.  Wildflowers blanket the slopes.  Again I have a feeling of contentment like I could sit here for a few hours just staring at this wondrous landscape.  Soon we are back in the thick snow.  We have learned from our mistakes the day before, and we climb up to the ridge, where it is flatter, and walk parallel to the trail.

It has been a long day, and Rambojuice takes out the GPS to look at the terrain, trying to find a better way.  There is a road that parallels the trail not far away, so we decide to road walk.  This makes a world of difference, and soon we are making our way unencumbered.  The snow is melting fast, and it rushes under the snowpack, making rivulets everywhere.  We pass a nobo (northbound) hiker.  How is the snow south of here? we ask.  "Not too bad except for the Marbles" he replies.  Uh-oh.

Mount Shasta

Stopping for dinner and water, we sit by the trail: snow free for now.  A pair of backpackers has joined us.  They are French and do not speak much English.  We are able to understand that they attempted the Sierras and made it to Forrester Pass but were forced off the trail because of the dangerous avalanches.  They traveled up to Ashland like us to hike sobo.

We are looking for a place to bed down for the night when we come to an impassable wall of snow.  The snow wall climbs up and up, and I get a crick in my neck just looking at it.  We have to climb up and around this wall of snow.  There is no other way.  The dirt is loose because others have taken this same path.  Struggling we make it up to the ridge.  Apoc is scared of heights, so this part is especially fun for her.

On the other side of the snow bank is a lovely view of Mount Shasta.  We would get to know this mountain well.  You can see Shasta from the trail for hundreds of miles.  The sun sets for what seems like forever, and we peacefully watch it, enjoying the world and our place within it.

Valley of Pancakes

We pick our way down the mountains the following day.  My knee is swollen and a bruise is blossoming, but I can walk fine.  The snow is gone for now.  We road walk all the way down into Seiad Valley.  The humidity is sickening.  I want to go back into the mountains or the desert.  Anything but this.  Sweat drips down my back incessantly.  For the first time since starting the trail, I wished I had chosen the usual hiker garb: tiny running shorts.  Of course, this would turn out to be a fleeting desire because we are about to be inundated with poison oak.

We are on the outskirts of  Seiad Valley.  A pick-up truck pulls over, and the driver lets us climb into the back for a quick ride into town.  When we arrive, I question the use of the word town.  Seiad Valley is tiny.  There is an RV park, convenience store, post office, and cafe: home of the pancake challenge.

It is one million degrees out.  The guidebooks said that the desert would be unbelievably hot.  They are all wrong.  Northern California in late June and July is the hottest mess on the PCT.  The post office has our package of food and our ice axes from Texas.  However, my please send microspikes message has not reached my friend in Seattle in time, and we will just have to go without spikes for now.

We set up with Bruce, the owner of the RV park.  He will let us camp for a small fee in the grassy yard.  This place is not fancy, but we are thankful when Bruce lets us hang out in the office to escape the heat.  He has a TV in there and about a billion movies.  We spend the afternoon watching Spaceballs and Austin Powers while snacking on junk food from the convenience store.  We wear our rain gear while our hiking clothes are in the laundry.  Pickles and Apoc are chilling in their colorful rain kilts.

Thru-Hiker Tips:

  • Hiking in the snow is difficult.  Having the proper gear makes things better and less dangerous.  What gear you bring depends on your comfort and experience level.  We are inexperienced in the snow and are risk-averse, so having microspikes and ice axes is ideal for us.
  • Guthook's app, maps, and the Delorme were immensely helpful in the snow, where you cannot see the trail.
  • Accept that you will not make as many miles in the snow.  This is a fact.  Enjoy yourself.  Find the positive in everything.

In the spring of 2017, we set out to hike the PCT.  Hear our full story.

Continue to our next adventure on the PCT.

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