I have never seen such extremes of weather in a single day of hiking. All morning long, it was in the upper 30s (i.e., really cold), so foggy every tree we passed under would drench us with the slightest provocation, and so cloudy that we had no idea where the sun was. This afternoon, we were suddenly hiking in our very lightest gear, sweating on the uphills and wishing the sun would get covered up again. Talk about changeable. And dressing for this kind of weather is just about impossible — you’re adding or removing layers constantly.
I’ve only ever seen wet weather like this out here. As far as I can tell, we didn’t actually get a single drop of real rain all day long, and yet we would’ve been absolutely soaking wet had we not been wearing our raingear. This fog settles in at high elevations in places like these, leaving everything totally damp…and then, when even a tiny bit of wind kicks up, it drips down onto everything below pretty intensely. It produces a counterintuitive effect: the wettest places to stand are beneath the biggest, fullest trees, while the driest places are right in the middle of open fields. It’s clear that this happens repeatedly up here, because you’d sometimes see really green grass right next to brown grass, the only difference being that the green grass was directly under a big tree. The entire thing also gives hiking this mysterious, beautiful “into the enchanted woods” kind of feeling, because everything farther than about thirty feet is shrouded in mist, and you often can’t see anything at all past the edge of the mountain you’re on. If it weren’t so bone-chillingly cold, it’d be nothing but a wonderful experience.
We stopped for lunch at a spring here and took water from it. What passes for a “good” water source around here can be pretty dismal: in this case, it was a large pool created by a small concrete dam in front of the spring, and there was an immense amount of algae all over the pool. The question out here isn’t “is the water beautiful?”, it’s simply “is there water at all?”. (One point listed on the PCT Water Report says “get water here by digging a hole in the mud and letting it fill up with water” — we thankfully didn’t need to try that one.) Nevertheless, I pulled four liters of water from the algae-filled pool, and so did my hiking companions. By the time we were ready to leave after eating lunch, we were all freezing even though we had lots of layers on — the only thing that really keeps you warm enough in weather like that is hiking itself (or a sleeping bag).
And it was right after lunch that the weather changed, dramatically. My weather recorder (more on that in a separate post) says it dropped from 98% relative humidity to 35% in a matter of about forty-five minutes. The numbers echo exactly what we felt: it was like we turned a corner and suddenly were greeted with dry trails and sunshine on our skin. Crazy! Crazy, but great, because it was really, really getting old walking around with soaking-wet shoes and socks. (Nobody on the PCT wears actual hiking boots, which are waterproof; instead, we all wear trail runners, which decidedly aren’t.)
We did have some pretty cool hiking in the afternoon, too. We spent much of the time hiking through a forested area that had burned (five years ago? ten? it’s not clear, but it wasn’t too recent). The fire, however, had somehow left all the trees standing, and hadn’t turned them black, but left them bright white. (I leave it to those more knowledgeable than I to surmise how this might’ve happened.) It was a beautiful, surreal experience, picking our way across downed trees right and left as we meandered through the forest-that-wasn’t. It’s one of those things that makes me glad I can try capturing it in pictures, because otherwise I’d be tempted in a year to think my memories of that place couldn’t possibly be real.
We also passed the 600-mile marker on the PCT this morning. Honestly, I’m not sure which is more impressive: that we’ve hiked six hundred miles — or that that means there are still over 2,000 miles to go. It makes me understand just how jaw-droppingly huge this adventure really is.
We’re camped tonight about nine miles short of the last water stop for this whole segment — once we get water there, it’s 31 miles to the next water. I’m dreading how heavy my pack will feel, but there’s nothing to be done…you just do what you can. Tomorrow will tell me how it goes!