One Month Until Start and It Keeps Snowing

One year ago I stood at the Southern Terminus of the PCT. I filled in the register, had my pictures taken, and set out on an adventure I could never have imagined the impact it would have on my life.

Over the coming months I would reconnect with my true and authentic self, forgive myself and others, and find some much-needed closure. I would find the courage to face my fears and reclaim control of my life and the direction of it, and I would find the strength to stand up against what tried to hold me back. I would hike the SoCal desert in March, and then again in June. I would enter the high Sierra and feel like coming home, knowing that this is where I’m at my happiest. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the months after I got off trail were filled with meetings that would play a major role in staking out the next direction in my life.

And now here we are; in just over a month I’ll set off thru-hiking the CDT. I’m in a great place in life right now, and really looking forward to heading out in the wilderness and surrender to its peace, beauty, serenity, challenges, and brutality.

So Are You Ready?

I am. And I’m not. I have not hiked a single mile this year, but I have been enjoying the Swedish winter to the fullest, with skiing and dog sledding almost on the daily. It’s been good soul food to do what I love and not stress about training. I believe I’ll find my hiker legs along the way in New Mexico; time will tell. I got my gear together pretty early on; it’s mostly things I’ve had since before and what doesn’t work or wears out I’ll replace along the way. I do want to have a resupply plan before I leave, not because I’m under the illusion I’ll follow it, but because creating one is a good way to familiarize oneself with the trail and trail towns. I’m still working on that one, but it’s getting there. I did decide to pick up a Garmin inRreach mini due to the remoteness and lack of phone service on large parts of the CDT—well, my loved ones basically made me. So I need to get that one up and running as well. Other than that, my bags are pretty much packed and I’m ready to get on a flight across the pond once again.

Thru-hike training?

What About all This Snow?

There’s a lot of talk about snow going on in the thru-hiking community right now. This is shaping up to be a high snow year, and we like to obsess on what snow gear to bring and where to send it. As someone who’s been playing in winter mountains all my life, I find the arena where winter sports meet ultralight backpacking quite interesting. Tons of snow is, in itself, not a problem. With the right gear it’s a whole lot of fun if you ask me. But thru-hiking is not a winter expedition, and in a high snow year it comes down to how much winter equipment you’re willing to carry, and how much snow you’re willing to handle—and to adjust your hike accordingly.

Snow gear.

When we start our thru-hike, whether it’s of the PCT or CDT, most of us have at least a month of hiking to do before we hit the Sierra or San Juans. I’ve seen winters turn into summers almost overnight and I’ve seen winters that never seem to let go, with countless late snowfalls. To make a prediction of snow conditions over a month in advance is as hard as any long-term weather prediction. It just makes more sense to wait and see what actually happens. My strategy will go something like this. Since I’m flying in from overseas I’ll bring snowshoes, an ice axe, crampons, Microspikes, and warm and heavy duty clothing to be prepared for cold weather and sketchy snowfields. I’ll let it sit at a friend’s house, but one could also keep it in a bounce box, of course. Once I get closer to the San Juans I’ll evaluate the conditions and make a plan from there. I know snow travel, but I also have great respect for wet snow avalanches and late-winter storms. And while I appreciate a good dose of type two fun from time to time, I’m of the opinion that hiking should be enjoyable. There’s so much fun to be had on snow, but postholing all day long for days on end is horrible, and if I can plan around that I most certainly will. The San Juans seem amazing and I want to enjoy them. If I don’t think I can once I get there, I’ll probably flip up north and come back for them later. There are options, and I’m eager to get going and start navigating through them.

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Comments 6

  • TaoJones : Mar 13th

    Emma . . . I live in Colorado and I don’t have a problem with snow either. BUT . . . this year is a bit different. This is the worst year for avalanches here in many, many years and several fatalities have already occurred. Obviously, caution is warranted.

    I agree with you that it’s impossible to predict how things will be a month from now, but even if the avalanche danger has subsided, it will likely be a long runoff season in the San Juans this year. That just means that the higher elevation snows will probably take longer than you might wish to melt, and there are obviously some high passes you’re going to have to navigate.

    If those passes are still clogged with deep snow, they are potentially dangerous. Avalanche danger will still exist, of course, but the danger of falling and sliding at high speed into lower elevation boulder fields below the snowpack may be even more dangerous than avalanches.

    Your plan to flip up to the Canadian border and hiking SOBO has merit, but it’s been a high snow year for Montana as well. If spring arrives late there, that may also prove problematic to keeping your hike on schedule.

    Whatever happens, I wish you all the best on your CDT thru-hike!

    TJ

    Reply
  • TaoJones : Mar 15th

    Hi Emma,

    This is Take 2 – I’m not sure what happened when I tried to post my reply awhile ago.

    Here’s a link to the Colorado avalanche info page:

    https://avalanche.state.co.us/

    Hopefully all that area you’ll be hiking through that’s flashing red at the moment will have calmed down by the time you get there.

    I’d also suggest that you contact the local US Forest Service Ranger District offices for current local info. Here’s a link for the San Juan National Forest office:

    https://www.fs.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsinternet/cs/main/!ut/p/z1/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8zijQwgwNHCwN_DI8zPwBcqYKAfDlZggAM4GuhHEaMfj4Io_MaH60dhtSLMB2ECITO89KPSc_KTIN51zEsytkjXjypKTUstSi3SKy0CCmeUlBQUW6kaqBqUl5frpefnp-ek6iXn56oaYNOSkV9coh-BqlK_IDc0wiDLNKfMx1ERAMzc-30!/dz/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/?pname=Forest%20Service%20-%20Districts&navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&ss=110213&pnavid=170000000000000&navid=170110000000000&ttype=main&cid=FSE_003822

    And here’s a link to the Gila National Forest page:

    https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/gila/about-forest/offices

    I’ve included that one because you’ll be passing through the beautiful Gila Wilderness in New Mexico and will have to ford the Gila River about 200 times. All the snow this winter could very well create a higher and stronger runoff, so knowing the river’s state before you get there could be pretty important.

    I take your point about just flipping past the San Juans and agree that that is a viable choice. You might even flip clear up to Steamboat Springs and come back to hike Colorado after you’ve completed the rest of the CDT. I whole-heartedly agree that deciding what makes the most sense when you’re actually confronted with the necessity of making a choice is the best way to proceed.

    I’m looking forward to following along as you hike the CDT, Emma. It’s a challenge for sure!

    TJ

    Reply
    • Emma : Mar 18th

      TJ,

      Thanks so much for the links and resources!! This will be most useful once I approach the San Juans. It may very well be the year to save Colorado for last – in a couple of months we’ll know… 🙂

      Reply
  • Steve : Mar 22nd

    I’m on a cross country trek on the American Discovery Trail and the CDT and ADT cross at Argentine Pass in Colorado. Conditions were insane and with the recent storm in Denver it wouldn’t be smart. Not saying to not go but if you do, be prepared. I had to bypass that section for that reason. Snow has his me pretty hard in the Sierra’s all the way to the Rockies this year, if you need help just let me know and I’ll do what I can.

    Reply

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