Sketchy Experience on Trail Leads Me To Re-Evaluate My Goals

The Anticipation

After more than two years of looking forward to hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in its entirety, I started off “gung-ho” at Harts Pass, eager to reach the border and start blazing the trail. The original plan was to make it to the terminus and back in four days. Long story short, it took 6.5 days due to more snow than I thought would be possible. It wasn’t just normal snow. It was snow that was a slush-sharp scree flurry on the side of the trail, where no ice axe would be helpful on the snow bridges, and no foot could find a safe space to step and not slip.

One thing I wanted to get out of hiking the PCT was to be present in my life. I honestly don’t know if someone could be more present than I was for those 3.5 days getting to the terminus. Step, right hand plant, left hand plant. Step, right hand plant, left hand plant. Repeat for 12 hours straight. At the end of the day, I hoped that the next day would be somewhat faster, only to find similar results of the same rhythm. Because the snow conditions were far out of our comfort zones, my tramily (trail family) and I decided to take a lower alternate route back to Harts that would have less snow. Anything was better than those life-threatening passes we had done the days before. This meant approximately 15 miles of dense blowdowns.

The Reality

Before we had reached the terminus on the way back, I had slipped on a sketchy part of Rocks Pass and almost slid off a couple-hundred-foot cliff, but thanks to my ice axe, a fellow hiker, and a baby pine tree, I survived. In this walk over the blowdowns, I kept re-injuring my left knee from a near-death self-arrest at Rocks Pass by accidentally scraping it on the broken sharp branches from the blowdowns. I had had it. The rocks had given the blood, the snow absorbing the blood, the bugs eating the blood, the bandaids and leukotape seeping the blood. Hour after hour, no relief. I was done with it. I never wanted to deal with that near-death experience again. I got a ride back to my place many, many hours away. But every day since, I’ve been devastated about not being on trail. And so, I must go on. I must get back on the trail. It hit me while I was on trail that I really wanted to enjoy this trail, not just whiz by.

The Future

I realize that at this point in the season, it is really unlikely that I get to Mexico (we’ll see, though), but it is likely that I will stop by more lakes and rivers and views and really enjoy it. Enjoy it, because that is really what I wanted to do in the first place. My plans have changed a hundred times between now and the day I got off trail, from doing a flip flop to starting later in Washington to just doing section hikes, but I know that whichever decision I choose, I’ll be on trail, and I’ll be OK. I’ll never have to be in a near-death snow slide again if I don’t want to. Because, after all, this trip is for me, for me to enjoy, not dread.

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Comments 14

  • WD : Jul 21st

    Maybe your life was meant to lead in a different direction, and this was just a way to get your attention. Good luck, and enjoy whatever you do!

  • Mark King : Jul 23rd

    As I have read about other people’s through hikes on the PCT most of them start at the Mexican border and go north. That’s what I would do to avoid snow. Have considered a North bound through hike of the PCT

  • Bob Hoffman : Jul 23rd

    Great plan. Better to live and hike another day. I also plan to hike the PCT, section by section, taking my time and absorbing every moment.

  • Bill : Jul 23rd

    Perhaps before people set out to hike for months they actually acquire some skills for Backcountry travel. I hiked the PCT solo in 1976 and before that had skied the Muir trail and more.

  • Cal : Jul 23rd

    Sounds like you were underprepared and didn’t know what you were getting into.

  • Eric : Jul 24th

    I don’t have thruhike experience but I do have snow experience, many, many winters hiking and camping on Mt. Washington. If you want to be safe hiking where there is snow ( which means there can be ice) you need to have snow shoes and crampons. Good luck, whatever you do!

  • Jayme : Jul 24th

    Glad you’re out exploring and everything, but, what happened to you is really hardly anything. Not to minimize your fall. Do you think these things aren’t normal for everyone? Your experience isn’t unique and honestly it’s pretty common for the chances of it happening to everyone who hikes or runs or mountain bikes with exposure.
    Are you new to this? Keep at it but keep it in perspective.

  • Steve : Jul 24th

    Sorry to hear about the rough start. My wife and I have a place in Mazama and were up at Cutthroat Pass a couple of days ago. Still lots of snow up there. We also met a woman SOBO hiker who was heading back to Highway 20 to hitch a ride out and get a break. She reported snow conditions similar to you and was pretty beat from dealing with it. I noted in your bio that you were a division 1 rower. Being an old sculler myself (but not a college rower) I know how tough collegiate rowing is. Anybody who rows at that level is as strong and tough as they come. You have nothing to hang your head over. Here’s to wishing you the best on future hiking endeavors!

  • Eli : Jul 24th

    Being more of a winter sports person, I’ve experimented with a lot of traction options for crampons. I’ve noticed that those chain yaktrax that you’re picturing are present in the majority of long sliding falls that I’ve been present for. They roll, move and truly don’t offer that much practical grip on any surface, really. The Kahtoola exospikes seem to do a much better job on all surfaces than any of the chain options because they stay in place on your shoe and won’t roll in the snow under you. (and they’re lighter, I imagine that’s the more important detail to you. Haha) a heavier option is the Kahtoola rigid crampons for hiking boots ,which a few friends of mine rave about. real crampons are impossible to beat, but suck as soon as your out of snow. Anyway, don’t mean to patronize, just thought it might help next time! Sorry to hear that you had a rough go of it, and I’m glad to hear you made it safely out.

    • Warden : Jul 25th

      ELI… The picture shows Kahtoola micro spikes. However, that is an older version. It has the metal bar connecting the chains by the toes and the newer versions do not have that bar.

      Good thing. I had the metal bar come loose on my right micro spike and catch on the left micro spike. Flat on my face before I knew what happened.

  • Barbara O'Donnell : Jul 25th

    Just wanted to point out there are additional hazards on the trail like mosquitoes, river crossings, lightning, fatigue, hyper and hypothermia, cash flow, boredom, etc so best to have a positive attitude to keep you going. I’m glad for the snow in Washington as it helps mitigate drought.

  • Brent : Jul 25th

    You learn more about yourself when life doesn’t go as expected. I’ve had my share of mountain climbs that did not go as planned. It’s personal growth and part of the outdoors experience. Best wishes on your future adventures!

  • Austin : Jul 26th

    “Not to minimize your fall” – immediately minimizes fall.

  • Sassmaster : Jul 28th

    I love the North Cascades, but in a high snow year it’s a no-go until late August. By then the snow, and most of the bugs, are gone.


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