Day 1: A. Day.
22 June 2017
Today was A. Day. What a day. What a FIRST day back on trail. I’m torn between embarrassment and being excited about conquering old snow fears. Here’s the regaling tale:
Necktie and Joe showed up in the morning to give us a lift to Truckee. We had a super cathartic political discussion to get it out of our system pre trail and stopped off at the Emerald Bay overlook on HWY 89. The lighting was a thousand times better than when we first stopped on our way to Tahoe and I wholly approve of the resulting photos. Joe dropped us off at Donner Ski Ranch. Really great guy, helped me remember how great the PCT community is.
(Necktie, me, Butters)
With the drive from Tahoe we weren’t on trail until after 11am. Encountered snow almost immediately. There really wasn’t that much of it, it was just in the most unfortunate places. We had to climb up around it and then almost immediately encountered more and had to take a probably longer than necessary bushwack around it. Initially all the off trail hiking stressed me out, but then I decided it made me more of a badass and made my peace with it. Most of the day was spent in this fashion, either gingerly hiking over the slightly slushy snow or somehow finding our way around it. The trail itself could be hard to find at times and we were constantly looking at the GPS. So it goes.
(just after HWY 40)
All of this was really fine. Until my trekking pole broke. I’ve had these carbon leki trekking poles for a couple of years now, but this was the day that would be their downfall. Crawling up some rock covered in bushes, I came to a pretty high step up. Just as I was saying to Necktie, “How did you get up this!?” My trekking pole snapped. It must have been a weird angle for them or SOMETHING. My theory is that it was just old. I scrambled up and held the pole up in front of the snow. There were at least a couple dozen other times this should have happened and didn’t, yet this was the one that did it in. Oh well. Necktie let me use one of his poles in the interim, his were aluminum and hopefully wouldn’t break.
We crossed some other sketchy snow and then encountered a couple of day hikers with a golden retriever named Lucy. “Friend!” I said when I saw the pup. She came over and loved me, licking the salt from my skin and I tossed her a few snowballs. What a happy pup! And the perfect medicine after the trekking pole incident. We moved on, encountering other day hikers who were astounded by the amount of snow. “Well we were going to hike over to the lakes…” We kept hearing. Welp. That’s a drought cancelling snow year for you.
Made our way up to the side trail to the i80 rest stop. Had enough reception to call Lee’s from Butter’s phone to see if I could replace my trekking poles. They said they’d ship a new pair out to me and I ordered them over the phone!! SAVED. Thank you, Lee’s Adventure Sports! They would be waiting for me in Sierra City! It was lovely to hear friendly voices on the other line.
We tried to hitch to the other side of the freeway, since we knew the route under the interstate was going to be full of water. After several failed attempts, we decided to check it out. It was INDEED a river. A freezing cold river that was moving quite fast. We went one by one, the first bit was only up to mid calf. About halfway through the first tunnel the cold started to hurt. So bad. I ran through the rest of it and hopped onto the bank with Butters and Necktie. We sat there swearing and making inhuman noises while waiting for the burning to stop. We still had more to do. Got back into the water after the other two went, walked a few steps, and then a sudden dip. I felt something give and found myself in the water, banging my knee on a rock, and soaking my entire left side and the rest of me from the waist down. I stood up. I’d just broken my other trekking pole. “REALLY!?” I shouted over the noise of the water. Ugh. How. Even. So. FRUSTRATED. I crawled up onto the bank before the final tunnel, holding up my broken pole. “You broke the other one???” Butters asked, Necktie just gaping. We rationalized that they were old and carbon and the water was terribly cold. It was probably just me. I don’t know. I’m still bitter about it.
(Very bad picture of the raging water, but I put my phone in Necktie’s pack, so no better pictures from me!)
One last section of ice river to do! We hopped down into deep water just before the tunnel, then the trail started to incline and we ran out to the other side. I ripped off my shoes and dumped the numbing water out. I couldn’t feel my legs. So. Cold. We walked up the trail a bit and found yet another water crossing. This one was almost waist deep. Stomping through it in a frustrated way we crawled up onto the bank and stopped by a trailhead sign. I called my mom for a minute and thought about what I wanted to do. Butters offered me one of his trekking poles, but his are carbon too and I didn’t want to break another person’s pole! This was ridiculous. I looked at the elevation profile and knew that the snow would just get worse. We were on the South side of the mountain and it was still this bad, I couldn’t imagine what the North side would be like. I wasn’t confident going on with one pole, and my knee was aching as the sensation returned to my leg. I called it. I bailed out of the section.
Fireant and Travis came to get me, Butters and Necktie pushed on. I gave Necktie my microspikes and ice axe, told them to be safe, I’d see them in Sierra City. A nice day hiker gave me a ride to Truckee, cutting down time for their drive. I sat and thought. I should be angry, but instead I felt the exact opposite. The funk I’d been in before getting on trail was totally gone. Instead of being mad about bailing, I was proud of myself for knowing my limits. I’d already hiked over a lot of questionable snow that day, a fear I had wanted to overcome. I looked down at my scratched up legs and soaked gear, thought about how it had only taken me a few hours to descend into hiker trash. This is all I really wanted. So what if I was skipping a section I didn’t feel comfortable doing.
The icing on the cake was that night, after eating a wonderful dinner with Fireant and Travis, Butters called me from the shelter. Said they’d used microspikes for the last two hours of the day and had to boil snow for water. There was no trail to speak of and they’d relied on GPS. Confirmed that I’d definitely without a doubt made the right choice. They were going to hike back down to Truckee the next day.
(Donner Lake, trail on left)