Trip ReportA Winter Traverse of the California section of the PCT Part 4
My uncle drops me off where I left off 12 days ago. It is a cool day with a breeze. The trail climbs up a ridge with snow drifts here and there through more windmills. It is nice to be back on the trail after being in Kansas. Kansas was hard as I know it will be the last Christmas with any kind of normalcy.
Dropping down the ridge the trail has had significant damage from the big rain event last month. I see something in a tree and investigate. It is a stupid geo cash in an ammo box.
I reach highway 58 in early evening. I hate camping next to a busy road. The trail is covered with tons of silt from the storm. I don my headlamp and hike well into dark finding a flat place on an old roadbed a couple of miles from the highway. I set my tent up preparing for the predicted storm.
I am awake early after a long day yesterday to pouring rain. I spend most of the day eating and sitting in the tent. It does rain indeed. I have 12 day’s worth of food, enough to get me to Kennedy meadows where I will pick up my skis and the rest of my winter gear for the high sierra. At this point it seems like I will have plenty of time to get there by then.
At 3 pm I decide to pack up camp and move higher. I go higher and it starts to snow. I take shelter in a group of trees. I get a blizzard warning via email from my weatherman warning of two feet of snow in the higher elevations of Kern county.
Water vaper transfer is a dance. In this case my base layers got wet from the rain. I put them in the bottom of my sleeping bag to dry. It will take four days to get my sleeping bag dry.
This morning there is only two inches of new snow. I pack up and move on. Higher up the ridge I hit snowline from yesterday. It then starts to snow! I am surprised and carry on. There are all of these cool little clumps of trees that give shelter. The conditions are tough. The PCT intersects a Motorcycle/Jeep road. I usually dislike such times but the route finding is easier. I camp early in the day tired and concerned about the next 100 miles with deep snow. At least I am not carrying any water. I had been concerned about water but it is a thing of the past. There is water everywhere in the shape of white stuff. Christmas music is going through my head from my recent travels. I am glad to have this new tent and warmer clothes.
I move slow in the morning it is 32 degrees and snowy. It is tough travel through deep snow that at times I think it would be skiable. The windfarms are ever present in this section. In whiteout conditions you can hear the turbine blades and know you are approaching. At one point I see a chunk of ice that I figure has been thrown from a blade. The first storm came in the form of an ice storm. Everything had a layer of ice than was covered in deep snow.
The sun hints at shining. The snow changes respectably. The north aspects are powder. Others are glop. Further along I see a structure in the void and walk over to investigate. It is an old camper being reclaimed by the harsh environment.
I am on the trail early. It is nearly freezing with mixed clouds. A short distance along I encounter cow tracks. They wander off and on the trail in no manner to help beat a track in. I cross a gate that is open with cow tracks on both sides. I leave the gate open. Further up I encounter a burn area that is in shambles after last month’s wind storm. It is a rough next few miles with multiple down trees to cross. The snow is 2 feet deep on the north slopes and wind loaded. I come to another firebreak and use my phone to get redirected with the trail. I drop into ancient oaks as the clouds drop. It is a surreal picture. The live oaks are bent left and right with a heavy snow and ice load. An occasional cow track is thrown in to add more flavor. I use my phone GPS again to navigate. It is a total whiteout. I can only see twenty yards.. The oaks are cracking under their white frozen blankets. I proceed on in the dusk to camp under an old growth fir forest. I can hear the oaks crack well into the night.
It is in the twenties and looks like it could be sunny. Me feet are cold. It is nice to start uphill when leaving a cold camp. I climb over a ridge to a more southern aspect with less snow. I pass through a forest that is dying. It is happening all over. Bark Beatle? Drought? Climate Change? The snow is deep again north of Weldon peak. I am thrashing through snow and see a fresh track. I am content to believe it is a big cat! They are relatively fresh and I am glad we are going in opposite directions. I am tired and feeling bad. I throw a tantrum and feel better. After hours of trudging through snow I can barely see the Jawbone Canyon road after just finding the trail again. I decide to follow the Jawbone canyon road and rejoin the PCT later. At this point I am starting to become worried that I will not make Kennedy Meadows Store by the 16th. I continue on in the snow and make camp on a fat spot. It is on this day that I promote my Gatorade bottle into my PEE bottle. I have been carrying this bottle since the border. On the label it offers a chance to win this incredible athletic experience. Someday I am going to enter the code on the cap to see if I win. I set the tent up with ski poles buried horizontally in the snow . It seems like a good solution in wet shallow snow.
The snow gets shallower as I drop the 1000 feet to Clareville. Some dogs come out to greet me and the owner has to come and get them. We chat for a minute and I continue down the road seeing a no trespassing sign warning me about Lonesome Al and wonder if he was the polite individual I met earlier.
It is somewhat a blur the next little bit. I bivy in the open past the Kelso Valley road. It is cold and I am covered in ice in the morning.
I use my pee bottle to thaw my boots out enough to put them on. I decide to sample another lollipop in the morning. And I eat a second one later in the day. At this point I am just trail walking trying to make time and not feel the pain. I am in the middle of nowhere now. The whole concept of trail closures seems really abstract now. I make it to Bird Spring Pass and set the tent up for the night. Today I only had a few north facing sections of snow. At Bird Spring Pass there is another water cache. Water caches seem to turn into garbage dumps in my opinion.
It is a climb up to Skinner Peak from Bird Spring Pass. I have a gorgeous day and can see forever. There is deep snow again north of Skinner Peak. The forest now seams healthier. It is another tiring day as I try to make time in the snow. At least with blue skies I don’t have to worry about the snow getting deeper. I walk into the evening on a jeep road the trail follows. I slip on a jeep track in the snow and fall hard and curse. Eventually I camp again in a flat spot next to some big rocks. Melting more snow for water.
The descent to Walker Pass is pleasant and I run out of snow as I descend. I take a lunch break at the campground and look at my options. I figure I can make Kennedy Meadows if I hustle. My pack is light now with minimal food. I climb the grade above Walker Pass and feel I am in the Sierra Nevada now! I chat with a couple day hiking and they tell me the forecast is good for a couple of days. I enjoy this section of trail as it winds around the crags south of Owens Peak. I get cell service overlooking the valley and call the Inyokern Post office to make sure they are going to deliver my skis and supplies to the Kennedy Meadow store on Saturday. Later I stomp out a platform in the snow at a ridge on the trail with a fine view of Owens Peak. The wind kicks up and I have not put guy lines on this tent yet. I anchor it with one 50 foot piece of parachute cord tied in a jury rigged fashion. The tent flaps all night but I love it!
I start the morning off with a snowy traverse where falling is not an option. I am glad to have trekking poles again. I drop out of the snow for a while than climb up to another saddle to drop down another north facing snowy trail. I consider cutting a switchback but thankfully don’t as there are big rocks below. I see bear tracks in the snow and wonder if it will hibernate for winter?
Spanish Needle creek is flowing nicely and tastes great. Another big climb leads to a high point by point 7354. I cross over to a north facing slope and have 3 feet of powder to contend with. It takes me over an hour to traverse a mile. The sun is setting and I keep moving in the dark by headlamp. My phone GPS ap tells me there are some ridge campsites coming up. It is tricky travel with an ice crust in places. I make it to a flat place and set the tent up in the wind again.
The drop below Lamont peak is snow covered but not so deep to be problematic. I drop the 4 miles to the Canebreak Road by chimney creek campground. The last time I was here was a few years ago with my ex-wife when we drove through here in the spring. She is on my thoughts the next few miles. It is to bad that she could not have joined me for this trip but things change. Fox Mill Spring is a dribble out of the pipe. I fill my bottles worried about the next high spot coming up near 8,000 feet.
The sun is shining as I climb up to anther burn. The snow is consolidated enough for travel and I make good time to the Chimney Basin Road. The sun is intense today at 7,000 feet but it is cold. What a day. I drop down the snowy side to a camp at mantis creek at dusk. I limp my stove along with the last of my fuel for a lukewarm meal. There are no worries about hanging my food from bears as I am out except for a couple of bars and coffee.
In the morning I have iced coffee and am off to bang out the 10 miles to the Kennedy Meadows store. I make good time with only a few places of snow more than ankle deep. The store is only open on Saturday and Sunday from 11-2 and has no power other than a generator. I buy one Sierra Nevada at a time and a multitude of snacks and food and wait for the mail delivery. The mail arrives in a Subaru with my 6 packages including skis! Some joker has taped a skull and crossbones onto my ski package. I laugh about it while drinking beer with the locals. I talk the nice person tending the store into mailing one package out the next time she goes to town. Another reason it is nice to carry cold hard cash! Thanks so much. I spend the rest of the day organizing my gear and drinking Sierras in the Southern Sierra with much excitement for the next section!
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