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Monat: Mai 2019

Waiting out the Storms in the Sierra

Waiting out the Storms in the Sierra

The weather in the Sierra is simple a mess this year.I am in California at the end of May and it is snowing pretty much everywhere on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Sierra continues to get dumped in feet of fresh snow. Pretty much everyone I know decided to skip up north towards Oregon to be able to continue hiking. Well they got up there and the trail is also covered in snow. After the first 700 miles, pretty much up to the Canadian boarder there is nothing but snow on the trail. Me and some other hikers decided to wait out the storms in the Sierra. Flipping up north still does not seem like an option. At this point I attempted hiking back into the Sierra twice. The night before heading back up Kearsage pass the first time, the wind was apparently blowing at 40 – 50 miles per hour, with gusts of up to 80 miles per hour. So some of us ended up sleeping in pit toilets at the trailhead that night, cause we knew our tents would break in that kind of wind. The next morning we were post holing knee deep in fresh snow and once we stopped someone’s weather forecast showed a new storm rolling in for the next day. So we turned around and came back down. A couple days later me and another group tried to head back up. Overall 16 hikers tried to get over the pass that would lead us back on trail that day. Three miles into the hike, none of us could feel their face, feet or fingers anymore. We hiked in white-out conditions, in a windchill of -9 degree Fahrenheit (-23°C). We had to bail again. Out of the 16 hikers, 14 bailed that day. Two continued. One of them turned around a day later, describing it as the worst 30 hours of his life. We all knew we made the right decision.After we spent a night in a motel, some of us decided to do a work for stay. So I currently am working on a Lavender Farm, which is an awesome experience.
But I do have to admit that I can’t fully enjoy it, because all I wanna do is hike. Furthermore I am on a time limit due to my Visa. It feels like I am slowly starting to go insane over here. I hiked 80 miles in the last three weeks. The weather at one point has to clear up and all of this will soon be forgotten, but for now I suppose I have to deal with my situation and wait it out.After spending time at the lavender farm, we spent one night in the Alabama Hills which is an absolutely amazing place.Today we are going back up to the trailhead, this is my third attempt of getting back into the Sierra and this time it it works out. The next stretch will be 120 miles long and climbs over 6 or 7 passes overall. My pack is even heavier than it was on the last stretch. I am super excited to start hiking again, yet I also have a lot of respect for the next stretch. I will be hiking in a group of five and I really enjoy being around all of the people in that group. So it feels like that is something that will help to even make the toughest stretches rather enjoyable.

My First Week in the Sierra

My First Week in the Sierra

So it happened. I finally was able to enter the Sierra, after spending way too much time and money on gear in Kennedy Meadows. You know you stayed in a place too long when the people from the town start joking that you will be the 201 resident of it. Spending six days in one spot when all you wanna do is hike, is just really annoying

I was happy to spent time with all the hikers I know, but I was even happier to leave.

My first week in the Sierra was by far the most adventurous one up to this point. We, meaning Justin and me, quickly got to altitudes above 10000 feet and I had to carry 9 days worth of food. We were planning on hiking 7 days and carrying 2 days worth of emergency food. So my pack was as heavy as it has never been before and I had to adapt to the fact that I will have less Oxygen to consume. So this lead to a pretty tiring combination in the first couple of days.

The first day we actually didn’t hit snow yet. From the second day on we were hiking in snow all day long. So in the morning snow is pretty much ice, than it turns into slush once the sun hits it. I don’t know which condition I prefer. Hiking on ice with my crampons actually feels really good, but I can tell out of experience that falling on your face with a heavy backpack hurts less in slush. Hiking in slush in general is more exhausting though. So as you can tell I spent quite some time slipping, sliding and falling on every type of snow existing. By the third day I kinda got used to it and could control myself better.

The third day when I thought things were going to work out really well, was also the first day we had to camp on snow. The other nights we were lucky enough to find spots underneath trees without snow. The thing about camping on snow is, that it actually isn’t that bad. But I never took the time to fix my airmatress properly, so it keeps deflating at night. And that’s where camping on snow turns into a problems, cause laying on snow without insulation can turn pretty darn cold and wet, since the snow tents to melt. Putting on frozen shoes the next morning just adds a little more fun to it. But the best part was actually my attempt of removing my tent stakes from the ground. Well they were frozen solid into the ice, so I had to dig them out of the snow for about half an hour. So I had learned a lot about camping on snow that night and I was sure I would rather avoid it, if possible.

Well needless to say it’s not possible in one of the highest snow years…

But I got used to frozen boots, frozen tents, frozen water bottles and digging out stakes of the ice as my early morning activity.

Apart from the fact that I had to get used to being in snow all day long and learning how to walk on it rather than to slide over it, it was actually an amazing experience. The views were insanely gorgeous and we didn’t see anybody for seven days. I loved it!

Well I loved it until day five, we were making good mileage for snow conditions and we were about to pass over Forester Pass at 13200 feet, this is the highest point of the PCT. The pass is in the mountain range that is pictured above. So we set up camp in a snow free spot at 12500 feet. I was so happy. I got to sleep on snow free ground the night before I would hike to the highest point of the PCT. Well the only reason this spot was snow free was because it was so freaking windy. But that wasn’t even the problem. We were aware of the fact that on day number five out for us, the weather forecast showed about 6 inches of snow. But so far the forecast was always off and the weather was much better than expected. We decided it would be the same for that night. Well I have never been so wrong in my life. Once I had my tent set up. It started snowing. And it didn’t stop for 16 hours and it wasnt just snowing, it stormed, and the sky was bright all night because of constant thunder and lightening. The wind got so bad that snow actually somehow ended up inside my tent. And we are not talking about a little bit of snow. This was not the Sierra experience I signed up for, especially not at 12500 feet. It was a nightmare. I was cold, everything I owned was wet and 6 inches had turned into 2 feet of fresh snow.

It was freezing and my conditions were getting close to a hypothermic state. Forester Pass was at this point impossible to pass. Fresh snow on ice on a steep slope would make for the worst conditions. The storm didn’t seem to calm down. I was feeling horrible. That’s when we decided to backtrack. We had to get to a lower elevation, we had to get out of the storm. Justin’s tent did much better than mine, but it’s still also not a mountaineering tent. So neither of us had slept that night. And backtracking already feels horrible, but backtracking in the conditions we were facing was my worst nightmare. I don’t know much about all of this mountaineering stuff and I learn as I go… We couldn’t just go back the same way we came up, because of the avalanche risk. I wouldn’t be able to tell when we would hit those conditions, but apparently some of the snow cracking sounds indicate it could happen. So I realized I was totally depended on Justin and his skills, that feeling sucked. And I also realized that I was finding myself in a situation that could actually could really be dangerous. I was cold, I was caught in a storm, my face hurt, I couldn’t feel half of my body anymore and all I could do is to tell myself to keep calm and that it will be over soon. And keeping calm is probably the key in a situation like that. Cause there was really nothing I could do other than to continue walking. After 4 hours we were out of the worst and we found a spot that actually had some sun. The good stuff about all the gear is, it’s made to dry easily. So after an hour everything was dry. I set up shelter and passed out for 14 hours. I didn’t wake up once. So in the end it was just a storm that hit us in the worst possible position. But nothing too bad, at that point it did feel pretty horrible though.

The next day the weather was all great again so we hiked back up to the pass. We weren’t willing to give up yet and once the snow settled for a day, maybe we were lucky and conditions would be good enough to pass. We both started to run low on food and we needed to ration it, but it worked. Now it was day seven out in the Sierra and nature once again had proven how powerful it is. While hiking up towards the pass again we spotted fresh footprints and we knew we were about to see other hikers. And I have never been so happy to see other hikers. It was a group of five hikers I earlier met in Kennedy Meadows. They even knew of two more hikers coming up to the pass the same day. All of them talked about the storm and how bad it was.

So that night we were nine hikers camping in the spot of my worst night on the PCT. And we were all ready to climb the pass the next day. One of the hikers actually had taken mountaineering courses and offered to give me a lesson on how to properly use my ice axe. Which was actually really helpful and fun. The next morning our alarms went off at 4.30 am. Because of the fresh snow it was crucial for us to hit it as early as possible. So we had to break trail. We didn’t have footprints to follow and we had to kick our own steps. Using crampons and ice axes. So this is were my PCT hiking experience turned into a real mountaineering experience. It took all nine of us 3 hours to get to the top of the pass and we all were so incredibly happy once we made it. It was actually a really fun experience and there was no storm in sight, just sun and a cloud free sky.

We continued to hike together for the next day and headed into town together, before we would set off for the next stretch in the Sierra. The last day out there we actually heard two avalanches break loose and one of the hikers even saw one.

So just to get some things straight. During a normal snow year, hikers don’t see snow where we currently are. Furthermore I am an early starter, which means I started hiking in March, whereas the big crowd starts hiking in April and May. In a year like this the recommended time to hit the Sierra is Mid July. Before that the Sierra requires mountaineering skills, the right gear and the proper mindset. This is also the reason why there is barely anyone out here. Me and Justin signed the register for the Sierra as thru hiker number 30 and 31. Most hikers skip the Sierra and come back at a later time of the year. As mentioned in other blogs I make sure to always be surrounded by people that know what there doing and yes I am definitely pushing my limits, but I am not doing something insanely stupid or dangerous. It was bad luck to get caught in a storm, but even that was to be expected and we were mentally prepared for it, which doesn’t turn it into a nicer experience if you actually have to face it. So yes, I could have definitely just skipped the Sierra because of the conditions. But this is the experience I came out here for. I couldn’t control the snow fall for the year I decided to hike and I personally made the decision that I still want the full thru-hiking experience. And as you can see in the pictures it is worth every second of it.

Completed the First Section of the Pacific Crest Trail

Completed the First Section of the Pacific Crest Trail

I made it through the desert section of the Pacific Crest Trail. So I have hiked 702 miles, 1130 kilometers. Completing the desert section means I am currently in Kennedy Meadows. A small town with two places for hikers to hang out before heading into the Sierra.

Since this is a high snow year as mentioned in another post, at this point there are about 20 hikers hanging out here sorting out the proper snow gear. A lot of hikers are skipping the Sierra this year. As of yesterday this year four hikers attempted to hike the Sierra. Today another group left. I am waiting on another hiker to arrive and some packages with gear.

In the next couple of days some more of us are heading out. The next section will be the hardest one of the complete PCT, 300 miles covered in snow. Hiking over ridges and passes between 10000 and 13500 feet. For this section I need to plan my resupply a lot more detailed than I normally do and I have to make sure I am carrying the proper equipment.

The last 260 miles were really nice to hike. I ended up hiking with Ninja for almost the complete section. We night hiked two sections and managed to get some crazy mileage days in. The best we did was hiking 42 miles (67.5 km) in a timeframe of 26 hours, which felt pretty awesome.One night we had to hang our food up on a tree. When we rolled into camp Ninja saw a bear close to the river. After it realized there were humans close by it chased off and I didn’t even see it which I was rather sad about. But I got to see some snakes again, two scorpions and one night a coyote was wandering around my tent spot.Overall covering those miles was a really smooth and enjoyable experience. The weather was all over the place and hiking into Kennedy Meadows I had to hike in the rain for the first time, by the time I made it to town I was completely soaked, but i got the chance to dry everything out and therefore it was fine.This may not be the most interesting blog post, but it was really nice that for once everything worked out really well, apart from the fact that my air mattress popped and I slept on the ground for the last week. Which at this point doesn’t even bother me anymore.

So now I am preparing myself for the biggest challenge so far and I am pretty excited to get out of this little place I spent too much time at.