We’d only been asleep for twenty minutes when the storm started. The sound of snow landing on our tarp was new to us, yet we both knew that’s exactly what it was. The wind howled, the tarp bucked, and the snow kept coming…for hours. We were warm in our sleeping bags, yet couldn’t fall asleep, still paying too much attention to our tarp and surroundings — aware of how critical they were to us. In the end, they held firm, keeping us protected from the wind and the driving snow.
Late into the night, the storm finally died down, the wind replaced by the faint noise of snow falling. When we awoke — the world was magic. Several inches of snow had fallen all around us during the night, and was piled up high against both sides of our tarp. Snow covered everything from the picnic table outside our door to every hillside, bush, and tree we could see. It was beautiful. And this was Southern California — in May!
Times like this are exactly what can make hiking so amazing. It’s never the times you plan for — the big summits and beautiful lakes are always impressive, but it’s exactly the things you can’t plan for that are the most memorable. Here we were, camped with only two others on a hillside next to an abandoned, single-building Boy Scout camp, and overnight everything had changed. Walking out in the snow was incredible. I just meandered around for a good half-hour, taking pictures of everything I saw, because even the simplest things were beautiful now.
Were we worried? Not in the slightest, in fact. We knew we had good equipment, we knew exactly where we were, the PCT is well signed, and we’d taken a snow-skills course a couple of months before we left that had left us far more confident in situations like this. We eventually broke camp and started down the trail, snow crunching underfoot as we hiked on.
The entire day had us hiking in and out of snow; we’d cross one side of a mountain and find it almost free of snow, then round a bend and everything was completely covered again. We’re still not sure whether that was because it melted from some slopes or fell more heavily on others, but, either way, it certainly made for an interesting day of hiking. Layering was a challenge, too: if we were hiking fast, we barely needed more than a shirt and raingear, but, if we stopped for long at all, every layer went on, quickly.
As we ascended and finally came over a pass, the slush came: boot after boot, combined with runoff from melting snow, had turned the trail into a bit of a swampy morass at times, and we’d often end up hiking next to the trail just to avoid getting our shoes completely soaked with freezing cold water. Even then, though, the world around us was magic; we passed trees that would drop huge amounts of ice all at once when the wind blew hard, or bushes perfectly coated with a sheen of white. The fog would roll in, making the world seem dreamy, then back out, leaving us with stark reality. And all of this would change every ten minutes, always making us aware of everything around us.
We’re finally camped, tonight, below all the snow, safe on dry ground. Days like today really are magic: waking up to a world completely changed just takes your breath away. It’s times like this that I realize just how lucky I am to be hiking this trail — and how grateful I am to have experiences like these.