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Jack and Barb
Begins: Apr 17, 2011
Date: Mon, Sep 26th, 2011
Start: Mile 2612
End: Mile 2640, Hypothermic
Daily Distance: 28
Trip Distance: 2,595.7
Entry Visits: 3,298
Journal Visits: 386,309
Guestbook Views: 167,219
Guestbook Entrys: 482
My most miserable day on the PCT
From Barb: Nice to see a new spot from Jack. This morning at 9:11:28. Looks like he was near mile 2,617. Later, at 9:40 pm, I just checked Weather Underground and it says there is an 80% chance of rain tonight. Fortunately it tapers off the next two days.
Jack's entry for the day:
I woke up early at mile 2612 but I was tired, having done 28 yesterday and, as much as I loved this little campsite, I had to get going. It was cold, really cold but nothing was frozen so, maybe 36 degrees. There was no rain this morning, that was good. It was 6:15 am and dark when I started out. I would use the headlamp for about 30 minutes then El Sol would guide me for the rest of the day.
There would be a climb right off the bat. For the first mile, I would climb 500 feet, the next two mile interval (2613-15) is 1,035, then 1,050, then it levels off at 2617 with only a 286, and 325 foot gain. But, it would take me up to 7,000 feet. The rest of the day would be downhill and flat, running at about 6,000 feet.
If I could go 28 miles today, I would reach mile 2640, which is a bit up the very last big climb (1,000 feet up). That would set me up to go all the way to Manning Park (mile 2664) and finish on the 27th. "I could do this," I thought.
Then the drizzle started at about 7 am. I was climbing, slowly in the rain. About a quarter the way up (5,000 feet), the drizzle turned into sleet - I thought it was kinda interesting but dismissed it as a novelty. I figured it would turn back to rain as the sun warmed everything up. I took some pictures.
The sleet became more intense and as I climbed, turned to snow, and it was sticking. Now I was concerned. I was at about 5,500 feet, had to go to 7,000 and it seemed that I was in a medium level snow storm. What next!
By the time I reached the top, at 7,000 feet (mile 2617), I was in a winter wonderland with about 3 inches of snow and it was still coming down. And the wind had picked up. I was estimating 12-15 mph. I was still warm and dry and going "Ok, this is becoming a challenge. I can still see the trail but if this keeps up, it could get ugly". The song "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" was stuck in my head (and it will now be stuck in yours!)
Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening,
a beautiful sight,
We're happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonder land.
Only, I wasn't happy tonight or today. I was really concerned. It was still early (10 am or so) and I had a long way yet to go.
Two thru hikers came up behind me, Half Fast and his wife, Red Blaze. They were fast, that was good as I dropped in behind them. Having others ahead always makes me go faster, dig deeper and today, I really needed to dig. Red Blaze was setting the trail which made it much easier for me as we went through some drifts that were knee deep.
I was glad to have some companionship up here but after about 45 minutes, I stopped for some energy, a Lara bar. It was impossible to open the wrapper without removing my gloves first. By then, my fellow hikers were gone.
Just before noon I reached Hart's Pass (mi 2625). I believe this is the pass with the highest road in the state. At the pass are some pit toilets and a guard house. I went up to the house and knocked on the door - was there a roaring fire inside? Hot chocolate? Nope, but Red Blaze and Half Fast were there as was the guard. He was packing up and getting the heck out of Dodge. I asked him about the weather. He said it was only supposed to be drizzle but a cold air mass came in and turned it into snow. My guess, it was about 25 degrees out here.
Red Blaze and Half Fast headed for one of the pit toilets - there is a roof on them. I headed up the hill. The storm's intensity increased - If I was at Mammoth during the ski season, I would be hooting and hollering but there was none of that today. I saw another pit toilet ahead and decided to hang there for a bit. Except for the smell, boy was it nice in there. No snow, no wind and a bit warmer. I took my pack off and couldn't believe it. It was crusted with ice. The straps were frozen tight. Fortunately all my gear was packed inside in a waterproof stuff sack (thank you Rockin'!). I looked out. It was really coming down now - I would stay here for awhile, eat lunch, add layers.
I was still dry under my Marmot precip rain jacket and rain pants but I was cold, especially now that I was stopped. I took off my shirt, added my icebreaker lightweight base layer, pulled out my down jacket (WM flight) and put it on, then put the rain jacket on over it. I would be warm. My gloves were soaked but I also had some event mits from mountain laurel designs - they are just lightweight shells but do a great job at cutting the wind. They would keep my hands warm. Add to that my trusty REI lightweight baklava and I would be ready to hit it again. I ate lunch sitting on the seat cover. Bagel with cream cheese (no worries about it spoiling here), half a tin of Pringles, and a candy bar. Half Fast and Red Blaze passed by me while I was eating. We exchanged greetings.
Canada wasn't getting any closer and I didn't want to bivy here in the outhouse. I made my lunch stop a quick one, the snow storm had lightened up a bit, so I was now back out in it. It seemed like a race against Mr. Weather. Did Mother PCT have an in with Mr. Weather? Did she say "Hey, MW, since there is drizzle scheduled for today and since Tequila Jack has only two days left, can we crank down the temperature a bit and turn the drizzle into snow for him?" Paranoia sets in. I think there is some type of conspiracy going on. What can we do to keep him from Monument 78 (the border).
As the day passed, I continued to push the envelope as hard as my old body could handle. I started feeling wet and realized that my Marmot precip jacket had done all it could. It was saturated and water was coming in. It was especially noticeable where the pack pressed hard on the jacket, on the shoulder straps and on my back. I could feel cold water trickling down my spine. As long as I was moving and maintained fuel and water, I would be ok I thought.
From mile 2631 to 2635, The trail descends. The snow had let up quite a bit but now was a new obstacle. The trail was under about 3-4 inches of slushy, ice cold snow melt water. There was no way around it, you had to walk through it. It wasn't just puddles here and there, it was continuous. Like walking in a snow cone slurpy for miles, well, about four miles. I thought I might get frostbite of the toes, my feet were so cold. I was soaked and miserable. This was the most miserable I have been on the entire trip.
You know, I can see why some hikers get to Washington and bail. Imagine being in the wrong weather cycle and getting this cold, freezing, wet snowy stuff day after day. How many days of this could I handle before I said "Ok, the investment is not worth it." But, I was only 30 miles away. They would have to carry my frozen little body out on a stretcher before I gave up now. Right around mile 2635, as dusk was falling, I reached a campsite. Half Fast and Red Blaze had set up their tent. They were in a great spot. I looked longingly at the area. There was plenty of room for me too. I pulled out my page from the data book and was assured there would be good camping and water at mile 2640, my goal, so I yelled at my fellow thru hikers and told them I was going on.
The trail continues down from 35 to 37.5 (Holman Pass). On the hill, the slushy stuff was minimal. I found myself doing a controlled jog down the hill, I was probably doing 4 mph in the bursts. Then, as predicted, at mile 2638, the uphill started again. I was climbing. My original plan was to knock off this hill today. I only had two miles to do. It was now dark. I pulled out the headlamp. I noticed my hand was shivering and shaking when I reached for it. This was not good. I was in the first stages of hypothermia. I needed to get my camp set up and get warm soon.
At mile 2640, there was plenty of water (duh) but no campsite. If there was a campsite, it was either under snow or the trail that led to it was obliterated by the snow cover. So I did only what I could do, I moved on and started looking for a decent spot. Soon, I spotted a grove of trees about 30 yards downhill to the left of the trail. I went down there to check it out. There was a reasonably flat spot under the trees, with no snow. I would pitch my tent there. It was about 8 pm.
My tent is held onto my pack with a piece of paracord. It is tied in two overhand knots. With my gloves off, I was barely able to get the knots undone. My hands were shaking, I was sopping wet and very cold.
It seemed like forever but I did get the tent up and threw the pack inside and crawled in after it. I blew up the neoair, rolled out the sleeping bag (which was dry), stripped down, and climbed into the bag. I lay there for about 30 minutes warming up. I was too whipped for a hot dinner, as much as I wanted one, ate two candy bars instead and tried to sleep. I was exhausted but yet couldn't sleep much. I kept thinking about how nasty this situation was. It continued to drizzle throughout the night. Tomorrow, I would have to climb again from mile 2640 (at about 6,000 feet) back up to 7,000. Would there be 3 feet of snow awaiting me? Would it take an additional day to push through it? Is this storm a short lived one? Should I just hang here for tomorrow and wait it out? Almost everything I had was soaked. I put the outer jacket and pants over the pack in hopes that they would drip dry overnight. My down jacket was now useless.
I was so glad that Barb wasn't with me right now - It was the most miserable day I have had on this trip. I needed to think. I needed a plan.
Early morning Sept 27th
There would be no early rising today. It was still drizzling but, as I looked outside, some of last night's snow had melted. I assessed the situation. What would MacGuyver do, I thought, or Survivor Man?
I had my sleeping clothes. I would wear them as a base layer. My pants had dried somewhat. I would wear them too. The down jacket was a useless wet mess. I put my icebreaker (merino wool) in the sleeping bag and warmed and dried it a bit. I would wear that over the sleeping shirt. Then my wet jacket and rain pants over all that. I would be moving and hopefully stay warm enough to get over the top (about seven miles) and hit the downhill to Monument 78.
I thought about using the tyvex tent footprint as a poncho. I would cut a slit in the middle and trim the edges to fit. I thought about getting my last pair of socks and cutting a slit in the side so I could stick my thumb out. They are wool as well and with the event shells would keep my hands warmer than the wet gloves. In the end, I canned both ideas, put on the wet gloves and broke down the camp. There was someone looking out for me as the rain let up long enough for me to break down and pack up.
The very best news was that it was warmer today. It wasn't below freezing and I was getting rain, not snow. Hard to believe that drizzle would make one happy but I was!
Getting over the top wasn't a problem. From mile 40-42, I had 207 feet to climb. Then the next intervals were 887, 300 and 274 feet. That would put me at mile 2647 and it would be mostly downhill from there. Even if it did get colder, I would be descending and could escape it.
Well, as you know, I made it. Someone out there without smarts could have died yesterday. I was now worried about my fellow hikers I passed two days ago: Half Fast and Red Blaze, Mr. Fox and Rock Locks, Garfunkle, Liz, Meow Meow, Yum Yum, and SpiceRack. It was getting colder as the day passed and I knew they would get hammered on this day as well with more snow.
I had made it to Canada.
Side note: Those behind me got a double punch but everyone I was aware of survived the storm. Red Blaze and Half Fast ended out spending the night at the monument and coming in a day after me. The others behind them were hit harder. Spicerack was so hypothermic that he was pretty much unable to function. He and another hiker spent the night in the outhouse at Hart's Pass. People had to help him get settled, he was somewhat delirious I am told. I saw him at Manning Park just before getting on the bus to Vancouver. He was fully recovered.
Thru hikers do look out after their own.
Jack And Barb Take On The PCT
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