170921 – Snow hiking = Slow hiking

Day:  151

Date:  Thursday, 21 September 2017
Sonora Pass where the PCT crosses Hwy 108 at Mile 1016.9, 9655 ft
Camped by the trail at Mile 1027.8, 8829 ft
Daily Miles:  
10.9 PCT, plus 1.0 from Resort to highway
Total PCT Miles:  
Very cold and mostly overcast with thunderstorms and snow in the afternoon

Oatmeal, scrambled eggs, ham & hash browns, toast & jam
Rehydrated chicken noodle casserole
Nothing new
Getting a lift with a very friendly snowplow (plough) driver, Dick, from Kennedy Meadows up to Sonora Pass trailhead.  It had snowed overnight at Kennedy Meadows and the consensus was that the Sonora Pass road would be closed.  Given the sun was shining and the snow was beginning to melt, I gambled that the Pass road would be open, checked out of my cabin, and walked the mile to the highway where I planned to start hitchhiking.  Alas, the road was closed, but along with a number of vehicles, I opted to wait in the hope it would open shortly.  Twenty minutes later, two snowplows turned up and I spoke to one of the drivers, Dick, who said that because more snow was forecast, the road was unlikely to open until noon tomorrow, but that they were going to plow it now so it would be easier tomorrow.  Faced with the prospect of either returning to the Resort and staying another night, or walking the 10 miles up the road to the trailhead, I asked Dick, as he was about to drive off, whether there was any chance I could get a ride with him up to the trailhead.  He obligingly said yes and we had an enjoyable chat on the way up as I had my first ride in a snowplow.
Lowlight:  I was looking forward to some easier hiking north of Sonora Pass, so was not that happy that my day was spent slogging through 6-9” of fresh powder snow in freezing weather, with more snow falling.  It was a winter wonderland, but it was slow going and hard work, especially in the drifts (thigh deep) at higher elevations.
Click here.
Click  here.
Click here for Google Map

I woke at 6:30am to find that it had snowed an inch or two overnight at the Resort.  This left me uncertain about what to do for the day.  It was tempting to stay another day, if I could get a cabin, but I also did not want to lose a day’s hiking when I was a bit tight for time.  I packed as though I was leaving and had a big breakfast at the restaurant while pondering my options.  In the end, I decided to hike, checked out, and found my way back to the trailhead with a bit of good fortune (see above).

Once I started hiking through the soft powder snow, I again questioned the wisdom of my decision to continue hiking when more snow was forecast, and it was already 6-9” deep on the trail, but I felt warm enough and reckoned that if I could get over a ridge at 10500 ft, which was four miles away, before the snowstorm returned, then I should be OK as the trail then descended to 8000 ft on the other side.

The fresh snow really highlighted the mountain scenery, and I took many photos.  I crossed the ridge around noon in reasonable, but very cold, weather and began the slow descent on the other side.  An hour later I met a hiker coming the other way wearing boardshorts and running shoes and looking absolutely frozen.  His face was white.  He was an “ultralight” hiker, which is fine as long as the weather is good, but today he was paying the price.  I asked him whether he was OK and he said yes, though very cold.  We were in a very exposed location and there was little I could do to help other than suggest he get down to the Pass and then walk down the road as quickly as he could to the Resort. Off he went, but I spent the rest of the day wondering how he fared.

I continued my own plod down from above the treeline into the forest wonderland created by the fresh snow which was still falling accompanied on occasion by the loud sounds of thunder overhead.  I was disappointed at the speed of my progress, but was being careful not to slip, especially at the creek crossings which were a mixture of ice and flowing water.

As the afternoon wore on, I filled a waterbottle at one of the streams to give me flexibility about where I could camp and began looking for a spot after 5:30pm.  Around this time, I noticed some fresh tracks on the trail, which I initially assumed was another hiker, but after they turned off the trail, I realised that they were fresh bear tracks.  Unnervingly, they continued to cross my path every few hundred metres for the next thirty minutes, meaning the bear was just in front of me, somewhere.  Fortunately, I reached the place I planned to camp before seeing the bear, and surprisingly found four southbound PCT hikers already setting up camp.  There was no snow-free ground, so I spent twenty minutes clearing snow from a patch where I erected my tent and then quickly had dinner before getting into my tent, and hopefully some warmth, for the night.

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