Indian Heaven Wilderness
Boots On The Ground
Today began many months ago. Pouring over PCTA snow maps and Snotel websites, Brianna & I put pencil to paper in vain attempts to plot our daily paths. Snotel websites are used to track snow and SWE (snow water equivalent) levels of various peaks and passes. PCTA snow maps give a satellite view of what snow depth looks like on the ground, the lighter blue = less snow | dark blue/purple/pink = more snow. Resources are all well and good, but data only becomes information when it has been put to use.
Research told me to expect snow on our 5th day, mostly light blue with a couple dark blue patches (6”-18”). Boots on the ground showed me deep snow (5’-6’) for miles and miles. Mercifully, snow did not show up until about 4 miles into our 16.9 mile day, which gave us the opportunity for a fast start to our morning. Everything after the first 4 miles was a challenging adventure I will not soon forget.
Hiking in the snow was fun at first, a different kind of hiking that throws random obstacles in the way of where you need to get to. We tried out our new microspikes for shoe grip on the steeply slanted snow and were able to move swiftly and safely across the cold terrain. Morning snow is hardened after a cold night and easier to find footing. As the day heats up and wears on, packed snow begins weeping into a slushy dangerous mess. Hiking a day that started at 0730 and finished at 1800, we experienced both boot battles.
Walking on snow in it’s various states is slow and tiring, but still fairly fun. The not pleasant part about snow is losing the trail and wandering around aimlessly for long periods of time. As I mentioned before, the PCT is not as well marked as the IAT or NCT. Getting lost on the trail when hiking through x feet of snow is an inevitability. Even with a GPS tracking app, which has a margin of error that can lead you off a cliff, you are going to lose your way. Brianna and I took turns trail finding, each letting the other take over when eye fatigue became too much.
Large amounts of snow in warming summer temperatures means the melt is on. We encountered two dicy river crossings today, which is not that bad considering the volume that is out there.
The first crossing had us perplexed and pacing the creek banks for a solid 15 minutes before making a decision. Mid-day temperatures created a waterfall upstream, beautiful to behold, but clearly impassable. Ice shelves lined the creek banks, making it impossible to walk across. A snow bridge teased us from the middle of the creek, a log laying on top of it as if a previous hiker had thrown it to test the bridge strength. Snow bridges are dicy at the best of times and this one was sitting directly in the sun on a warm afternoon.
The only realistic crossing option was a downed pine tree with a trunk width no bigger than my thigh. I tightened my gear down and put my head up, this tree was made for crawling. Our adrenaline was riding high into the clouds by the time we both made it across the makeshift bridge. Brianna scrapped her knee up and was bleeding dark red drops onto the sandy dirt, but we were otherwise unscathed.
The second water crossing was more traditional, less dramatic, and very cold. I found a secure rock next to the ice shelf and kicked away the weak spots so we could safely access the riverbank. We dipped our feet into the freezing cold water and walked swiftly across the 15 foot gap.
I hope this post does not romanticize today’s hike. It was difficult and painful, but not overly dangerous with the correct gear and a hiking partner for support.
Ben To Town
We met our first north bound hiker today! Ben caught up to Brianna and I while we were on a break. He was wearing a faded salmon colored sun hoodie and a University of Michigan ballcap. Yes, that’s right, the first hiker we ran into that started from Mexico is a University of Michigan graduate from Dexter, Michigan, a stone’s throw away from Jackson.
One of the first things Ben mentioned to us is that he was on a short hiking timeline and wasn’t sure if he wanted to hike solo through the snowy Washington mountains. We told him where we were hiking to and offered a ride down into Trout Lake if he needed one. Having hiked 2,000 miles since April, Ben was much faster than us, we were sure he would have continued hiking to find a hitch rather than wait for us. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at the end of our day and he was hunkered down in his tent hiding from mosquitoes and waiting for us.
From Carson Guler road to Twin Buttes road – A difficult day ended with trail magic and a new temporary friend from just down the road.
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