We heard countless accounts of how bad the snow was when we arrived at Kennedy Meadows. This was the spot where we finished the Desert section of the PCT and were now onto the next one, the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Even with the low snow totals, we heard from the people that at gone before us that it was trouble. Our excitement quickly led to questioning our ability, our plans, and our sanity. After a good month and a half, the change from plain desert to vast mountain ranges covered in snow was welcoming. Little did we know our physical and mental capabilities would be tested even more.
Mount Whitney was within a few days reach, and that was on everyone’s bucket list. Leading up to it were a few difficult stretches, however, it was nothing we couldn’t handle. There was some caked down snow but not something to freak out about. Then, the day before the climb, there was snow and more than what we assumed. The hours dragged on and the miles slowly climbed.
Anything above 9,000 feet we were told had snow. And they were right. The colder side of the mountains had a ton more as well which I hadn’t realized in researching the trip. Common amateur mistake. About 80% of the trail going up Whitney was snow packed. It was ruthless and tiring but we had accomplished it. From my ignorance, I had figured that Whitney would be the toughest climb out of the whole Sierras. I was in for a treat the next day and my assumption was flat out wrong. This was the day we summited Forester Pass.
Sketchy river crossings, below freezing temperatures in the early morning and night, and hours of sun hitting us from all directions. That was the basis of that day. Our thinking pattern was to get up and passed the summit, so we had a chance of having an easier day the following. Like always on the trail, things don’t go as planned. Our start time was early, however not early enough to make our plans come true. Football fields of snow surrounded us. We were literally in a snow globe in the center of mountains come to think of it. The constant post-holing, the breaks every hour or two to recover from the climbs, and the stopping and starting of where we were supposed to go.
White, soft snow could be seen for miles. Like in the pictures, it’s a common occurrence to go to one of the pictures that have a lot of snow and visualize being there. What you don’t realize is that it’s a bitch to get there. This was no different. Looking back on what we hiked through throughout the day blew our minds. Unfortunately, we weren’t even close to our stopping point. By mid-day, our legs carried us close to eight miles and to the top of the summit. Going down was worse than going up. Our footprints fit in with the others that braved the trail before us, but even then our feet, socks, and skins were covered in snow and water. This would go on until our reluctant stopping point. Our decision was made based on us crawling, yes crawling through the snow. The post-holing got so bad that every step we took would send us knee to hip length down in the snow.
For some odd reason, we found a dry patch of dirt beside a tree and discussed our options. We needed rest, food and dry clothes. Building a fire helped two of those things. It was mesmerizing to watch the flames as you heard the pop and crackle of the wood. By nightfall, our priority was rest since we didn’t want to chance something happening while we night-hiked. This, I wasn’t on board with, but by the end of the next day, I was glad that we did.
Sliding down hills, or trying your best to ski down them was inevitable at times. It gave an excitement to the rough days. Of all the days I was on the trail, I miss those the most. Yeah, everyone says that. The toughest days are the fondest to look back on. Their right and I’ll agree with it even though I don’t want to. That night, exhausted in a sea of snow, we told stories and laughed like no tomorrow, enjoying what we had, even though it wasn’t much. That’s why I want to go back already and finish the trail where I stopped, or even doing the whole thing again, wanting to experience everything over again and truly be in the present and let life and nature be my guide. Time is irrelevant on the trail save for when you wake up and go to sleep. Between that though, is something you can’t put into specific words, you have to experience it for yourself. I still have PTSD from the snow and that probably won’t change, but knowing what I went through the first time, I know I can deal with the difficulties and obstacles. Life doesn’t take a day off, and that’s what I learned on the trail.