Mountain View

A different Mountian View. A warm one with computers and self driving cars.

Just after Sonora Pass, on schedule to exit the High Sierra on October 2, I walked into a big storm.

Rain, sleet, snow, and punishing wind. It’ll stop, I told myself, and kept on keeping on.

But it showed no signs of stopping. I got wet. Then soaked. Somewhere along the way I got COLD. I could not feel my hands. My feet and legs were stiff and cold. My lips were numb. I wore all of my clothing. I walked briskly or ran. I shivered despite my fast pace.

I knew it wouldn’t be so cold at lower elevation. Keep going, and the trail descends. I was at nearly 11,000 feet on a long, rocky, exposed ridge. The wind was so bad that at times I had to crouch and keep myself up with my poles. But I kept going. It would stop. Just get down, and there will be sunshine and flowers.

I managed a novel thought. What if it doesn’t stop. What if it lasts all day? All night? There’s no way I can keep pace through snow if it sticks, even if I could stay warm.

But it will stop?

I got to the point where I was at pretty low elevation, and it was still awful. Grey in all directions, as it had been since I got up to the ridge. Snow was starting to layer on the rocky trail. I considered everything, a big factor being proximity to safety. There was nobody around and no cell service, so I was on my own. Continuing into more remote territory was risky. I didn’t have the proper clothes for such weather, or extra food.

I’m pretty excited about being alive. I’d rather be one of the majority of potential thru-hikers who fails than one of the very few that manages to die. Exaggerated? Maybe. But I was COLD, and scared shitless. I turned around to return to the road (about 9 miles). Then I turned around and kept hiking south. I did this a few times. I cried, I cursed. I was not confident in my ability to stay warm, but had no interest in going back to the road. That was a final decision, because there was no way I would risk enduring another storm like this at the even higher elevations that would come in the next few hundred miles. It’s not worth it. I’m out to have fun, and that is decidedly not fun to me. I’d rather push my body in a mostly safe environment than make it through intense, risky situations. 

Ultimately, after tripping and falling to my numb hands, I decided it would be easier to live the life of a failed thru-hiker than of a dead person. Dead people don’t get to think about interesting things, like the statistics they become. I’m not ready for that quite yet. Soon enough. 

I hurried back up the ridge, through the terrible, piercing wind. The pockets of rain, pockets of thick snow, and pockets of sleet. I was in clouds and could see very little. I alternated putting one hand and then the other in my pants to try to keep them useful. Even now, a day later, the tips of all of my fingers are sightly numb. I feel them, but diluted. It’s probably a wee bit of frostnip.

Anyways, back up and along the ridge and then back down. To the road, where I stood for two hours of shivering in the intermittent rain. Finally, after dozens of California plates went by, a couple from Tennessee picked me up. That’s right, even way out here you may find some southern hospitality. They were fantastic, and took me most of the way to the Bay. The clouds dragged on and on, making me feel a bit better about bailing. The weather was gonna be around a little. 

Toast’s sister, a hero among us, picked me up at a Taco Bell (vegan options!) about 1.25 hours away, and just like that I’m as far from the trail as ever. Warm, dry, about to de-beard.

I feel disappointed about all of it. Mostly about myself. I think of myself as strong willed and a finisher of what I start. Now I have a glaring data point that disagrees. But I’m firm in my logic. I want to see and enjoy the mountains, not endure them. I’ll let braver folks take them on for the winter. There are SO many things I’m interested in, and now I can get to some of them a bit sooner. 

I miss the trail already, though. Strings, Running Red, Grim, Puff Puff, Spice Rack, Crusher, and Arno, is a pretty complete list of people I got to spend a bit more time with, or at least a few special moments. They’ll always have a little chunk of my heart, just like the Blazers and Dukes before them.

And the magnificent places! My oh my, a wonder to behold. The PCT is a footpath that winds beyond the farthest reaches of your imagination. 

 I still have a photo or two I may get around to posting, and a revised gear list.

It’s all over now though. Ol’ Stringbean, the last active member of the PCDC, has quit. He’ll return for the missing sections some other time. 

Until then, there are happier places to dance.

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2 thoughts on “Mountain View

  1. StringBean: First off, I absolutely think you made the best decision. There is something truly, sincerely awful about being very cold and very alone. It brings on an utter vulnerability that I suppose is analogous to playing roulette against the house- you might get lucky and sneak in a couple of wins, but no ‘strategy’ can overcome insurmountable odds over the long run. Of course, knowing that doesn’t make the act of leaving an unfinished objective easier to digest, but once you get past any residual sting of disappointment, the experience will definitely make you more prepared for the next challenge. And if its any consolation, you managed to make hikers like me who followed your blog closely in absolute awe of what you saw. Mountain lions encounters in the dead of night on 50 mile days- it don’t get more studly that that. Can’t wait to take in another show or three with you and Toast again soon (Wendy too!) and I’m still hoping we can muster some former AT thru hiking companions in the next few years for another thru attempt somewhere.

    In the mean time, color me absolutely impressed. Welcome back to what passes for civilization- it still sucks, but there are fewer mountain lions than where you were. Huge pat on the back from both of us, and hugs all around.

    Max

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  2. Here, here! really wise decision! I looked up Yosemite and Mt. Whitney two nights ago and they said 17 degrees! -*with some slight snow! Now I am originally from Minnesota–and I find that freaking cold! You have a good brain and a wanderers heart, and that struggle that the two of them had in your head while you shivered was interesting. But you are right. Dead people don’t get to try it again. Too many dead people on this trail this year already. And YOU CAN do it again! This trail, that trail, any old trail in the world is yours whenever you step onto it- for however long you do. You had an epic journey, thanks for bringing us with you! You did great! Mary the trail angel in Acton, CA

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