Should We Stay or Should We Go?
Beginning Elevation = 8,650
Ending Elevation = 7,850
Elevation Range = 7,850 – 9,150
Weather: Sunny and clear, low 15°F, high 45°F (+/- 5°F)
Welp…that was our coldest night on trail yet. I personally did not sleep great. My whole body was fairly warm thanks to all my layers (double socks, Smartwool baselayer top and bottom, sweat pants, Melanzana hoodie, and beanie), but the frigid air coming in at my sleeping bag opening kept things chilly. At one point in the night, I used my puffy jacket by stuffing it around my head to act as a plug in the gap (not sure why I didn’t have it on). This worked pretty good and so I did get some sleep at least.
I woke to my alarm at 6:30am, broke my watch in the process of shutting it off, fixed my watch, then began the shuffling around to make coffee and oatmeal. My comrades were still sleeping. We hadn’t specified a wake up time last night. After finishing breakfast I contemplated what to do next. After a little organizing, I took the bold move of playing a wake up tune for the team. I’d heard them moving around a bit so maybe not too bold, but Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing,” did the trick either way.
We had a sort of team meeting each still in our tents and sleeping bags (we were all set up close), checking in with one another about how the night went and how each of us feels about continuing on. The extreme cold and the higher than anticipated volume of snow had us worried. We wondered if it was just going to get worse being late in the season at this point. After some back and forth about all the feelings, we decided we’d continue ahead to a road that the trail crossed about 5 miles ahead. If we were to bail out, this would be the spot to do it since it has access back to South Lake Tahoe.
Getting ready to hike was rough. We took our time. The hardest parts were the point of getting out of the sleeping bag to pack it up and when trying to get our frozen shoes on. It took some serious effort to get the laces loose enough. And then, once success was had, it was instantly cold toes from that point on. I tried jogging to activate my body heat, both over to a nearby overlook (below) and in-place, but that only helped marginally. Calzone and I even tried dancing and a sort of chant similar to that conducted by Sandra Bullock’s character in The Proposal movie.
I was happy to see the sun, but was sad that the early morning solar rays weren’t high heat producers…
Here’s our lake view (Showers Lake) prior to setting off…
It was between 8:45-9:00am when we left. There wasn’t much chatting amongst the group, all of us were thinking hard about what to do. And for me at least, about what it would be like to have this adventure end right here and now. This probably is all coming as a bit of a shock to you since in yesterday’s post I didn’t mention anything about even the possibility of us getting out (don’t worry, I don’t plan to use the quotes-of-the-day method again…disaster). It was a shock to all of us too. We were surprised yesterday with how much snow was still present and the cold last night was pretty extreme, my guess is in the teens.
Anyway, here’s some photos of our morning hike. It was very pretty with the snow and we went through a wide meadow-filled valley with tall steep mountains surrounding us…
About 2 miles in or so, we stopped and had another impromptu team chat. This all felt very similar to the first time we made the call to leave the Sierra back in June. And just like then, we kept postponing the time when we had to actually make the decision. And so we hiked on through more gorgeous, but also intimidating, scenery.
I think it was sometime around 11:15-11:30am that we arrived at the Meiss Trailhead Parking Lot. There was a somber mood in the air as we had finally reached the point of making a decision. Ultimately, Cheer and Calzone made the tough call to end their 2019 PCT adventures here. I say 2019, because schemes were very quickly being talked about for a 2020 reunion tour to finish this beast of a trail.
I decided I was going to continue ahead. I simply felt like I wasn’t done yet and I felt comfortable at least trying to make it to Sonora Pass/Kennedy Meadows (north). The temperatures were supposed to be super cold at night, but I felt good that each day was predicted to be clear and sunny.
So that was that. The decisions were made and it was hard for all of us. I was sad to be saying goodbye to my friends, even if we did talk about reuniting again, and I couldn’t really fathom what Cheer and Calzone must be going through. I felt a bit dazed and confused that this was really happening and also that even with my plan to continue on, that I may be coming to the same decision as them tomorrow or within a few days. Any day could be my last out here.
We had lunch and then did one last photo shoot together…
And then we were surprised to find it made sense for us all to hike together another 0.1 miles on the trail to another parking lot on the other side of the road. From there, we had a last hug, and then I set out solo.
The entire rest of the day was very beautiful. But, it was just kind of crummy and my spirit wasn’t there. My motivation level for hiking was strong though, I suppose. If I was going to do this, I wanted to be getting some mile’s in.
Somebody had been shredding the gnar fresh pow pow…
I did get some service late in the day and reached out to my fam. Since out here by myself, I plan to message my home team now on the daily to check in with someone. And I got some good responses that got me cheered up a bit. Also, I heard from Cheer and Calzone that they got an easy hitch back into South Lake Tahoe, had a hotel for the night, and were considering renting a car and doing some site seeing.
I was super happy to have footprints to follow that had already made a path through the deeper sections of snow. I’ve been following these baby alien footprints since Mexico (they’re the imprint of the most popular shoe on trail…Altra’s). So, thanks hikers ahead of me!
I ended up stopping after putting in about 19 miles. There was a spot near an unnamed pond that could have held hundreds of tents. Amongst the occasional boulder and rock outcrop was flat, gravelly sand that was perfect to set up in. Being the only one around, I had my pick of the optimal spot and thus chose a nice nook that was off to the side, hopefully sheltered from the wind by a wall of rock next to me.
Having checked the weather forecast back when decisions were being made this morning, I knew I was in for a very cold night. I believe the predicted low was 11°F. Yowza! Thus, I picked this camp being at as low elevation as possible and was putting on everything I had. I called it the Tribbiani technique, based on the Friends episode when Joey puts on all of Chandler’s clothes. I had my new super Halloween socks from the South Lake Tahoe TJ Max, created using a unique cotton and polyester blend (specifically for cold weather backpacking conditions I’m pretty sure), base layers, regular hiking pants, stellar new sweat pants, regular hiking shirt, Melanzana fleece hoodie puffy, and REI beanie.
Hoping for the best!
The All-American rejects – The All-American Rejects
Legends of the Fall (Soundtrack)