I started this trip. My first day on the trail, when I left Walker Pass, the weather was great for hiking.
There were various small snow patches near the trail, which added character to the landscape (and also meant that I had an emergency water source). There were even a few places where there was snow on the trail, but only for very short segments.
In the middle of the day, I reached McIvers Cabin. I gathered water and ate lunch. I was the only human there.
About two miles beyond McIvers Cabin, it was pretty much all pine forest until I reached my campsite, though I did get this one dramatic view into a desert valley.
I set up camp pleased with myself. I had a good day of hiking, and it seemed that my journey to Tehachapi (my first resupply) would be straightforward. But I did not want to overtax myself on the first day, and there were a few clouds in the distance which made me feel slightly uneasy. Furthermore, since I am new to using tarp shelters (yes, I am experimenting with using a tarp instead of a tent) I wanted extra time to set it up. Thus, I decided to set up camp a little earlier in the afternoon than I usually would.
The next morning, my camp looked like this:
It snowed several inches that night. In spite of the fact that I was using a tarp instead of a tent, and it was quite windy, I managed to stay dry and warm during the night. Actually, the snow helped with the wind problem – if you look at the right side of that photo, you can see that the snow piled up on that side as it slid off the roof of my tarp, and formed a little wall that blocked the wind.
Oh, and remember that desert valley? This is what it looked like in the morning.
When I saw the valley, I knew it was time to get off trail. The snow had clearly fallen at an elevation much lower than my own, which meant that the entire trail, even the lower part, was probably covered with several inches of snow. That could mess up navigation. Even if I could figure out where the trail was 97% of the time, that 3% where I could not figure out the trail might be enough to get me in serious trouble.
I was actually surprised how easy it was to find the trail in the snow. It was usually obvious just from the shape of the ground, and where it was not obvious, I could find the trail by looking at the trees. Trees which had branches that had been cut off with a saw were next to the trail, so I kept my eye out for evidence of saw-work to keep myself on track. That only works in a forest – and if I had continued moving south, instead of backtracking, I would have left the forest, and there was no guarantee that I would have been able to consistently find the trail without the evidence of tree-trimming.
Besides, hiking in the snow, even if it’s only a few inches deep, is tiring. I had microspikes, which are helpful in hard old snow, but not helpful in soft new snow. Snowshoes would have been helpful, but I didn’t have snowshoes.
Oh, and did you notice the cacti in the snow?
I did not find any human footprints aside from my own, but I found plenty of nonhuman prints. The deer seemed to have been quite active that night. I also found some prints I could not identify (though I am certain they were not bear prints since they are still in hibernation – indeed, one of the reasons I was hiking so early in the season was so that I would not worry about bears taking my food).
My plan was to go all the way back to Walker Pass, which had an official campground and a highway, and camp there until I could get a ride out. I knew Walker Pass would probably be covered with snow, but the campground had an outhouse where I could sleep if I were desperate, I had more than enough food, and I knew a bus would be coming in two days if I failed to hitchhike.
When I got back to McIvers Cabin (which was halfway between my campsite and Walker Pass), I found this.
March 16 was a Friday, which is why I was the only person at McIvers cabin. But March 17 was a Saturday, which meant all of the OHV people had come out to play.
Instead of hiking all the way back to Walker Pass and its snow-covered campground, I hitchhiked on an OHV. It is the first time in my life I have ever been in an OHV. It was like a rollercoaster, except it was a rollercoaster which was passing through a snow-covered desert. It was only in the very last leg of the ride that we finally got out of the snow, and into the open desert, specifically the Dove Springs Open Area.
I thought the desert would be warm, but nope, it was only slightly warmer than the mountains. The main difference was that there was no snow.
From Dove Springs Open Area, a park ranger gave me a ride to Jawbone Station. He approved of my decision to get off trail. He seemed to have a lot of experience with this section of the PCT. From Jawbone Station, I got a ride to Mojave, California, which was also really cold, but has motels, as well as public transit going all the way back to San Francisco.
So yes, I am back in San Francisco right now. Does that mean I’ve given up on my grand hike of the Southern California Pacific Crest Trail? HECK NO! This is just a strategic withdrawal. My appetite has been whetted, I am totally going back to SoCal when the weather is more favorable.
Meanwhile, I have already had a fascinating adventure. This was much more memorable than if the hike had gone according to plan. I can now say that that I have spent a night outside in a winter snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada mountains (it was the southern edge of the Sierra Nevada and almost in spring, but technically still in the Sierra Nevada and in winter). Also, I got an excellent ride in an OHV in a dramatic snow-to-desert landscape. I am attracted to the Pacific Crest Trail because it fosters experiences like this, and I would rather have things happen like this than have a hike where everything goes according to plan yet I’m bored.