December 5-6: PCT from Bucks Summit

On Saturday my husband and I set out to achieve our goal of backpacking in every month of 2015. Our destination: the Pacific Crest Trail north of Bucks Summit. We drove to the summit and parked among pickups owned by folks who were out enjoying their snowmobiles. A family was sledding where the plowing stopped and snow covered the road. We put on our packs and began snowshoeing up the trail. It was already 12:30 when we left our car.

Bucks Lake Road and a huge fog bank, as seen from the PCT.

The trail took us just above a dense fog bank and it looked like we could walk out onto the clouds. There were ski tracks in the snow and we followed them north. After hiking many, many miles this year and conquering many long, steep climbs I considered myself to be in good shape. But I discovered that my snowshoeing muscles are not well developed. Snowshoeing uphill is hard work! Especially when carrying a 40-pound load on your back!

My massive winter pack loaded up with down parka, down pants, down booties, sleeping bag, sleeping pads, tent, snow shovel, umbrella, extra layers, food, water, and a few additional essentials.

Weighed down with heavy winter gear, the climb was slow and exhausting…but oh so pretty.

Another gorgeous view on our way up the trail.

On our way up the mountain we encountered three skiers coming down from Spanish Peak. When we started our trek I had fantasies of snowshoeing to Spanish Peak and camping near the top, but very soon it was obvious that reaching the summit on snowshoes would require more energy than we had.

We considered camping here to savor the view, but the fierce wind would have kept us in our tent.

When we hiked this stretch of trail back in August we commented on a lovely campsite only two miles from Bucks Summit, which we thought looked like a fine place to spend the night. Lovely in summer, this site was perfect in the snow. We had climbed up into a fierce wind, but this site was sheltered from the wind. We compacted the snow with our snowshoes and set up our tent in an open area where there was no possibility of being hit by falling trees. The forest around our little campsite was bending violently in the wind, but we were in a calm little bubble. What luck!

Our campsite, sheltered from the wind.

After setting up the tent and preparing our beds we made dinner. It wasn’t even 4pm but the sun was already setting and, having consumed only snacks since breakfast, we were starving. After dinner we spent over an hour melting snow for drinking water. By now it was dark but neither of us wanted to get in the tent yet, so we melted water and listened to the wind ripping through the trees. The forecast predicted snow tomorrow morning. This must be the storm blowing in.

Finally our chores were finished and it was time to get into the tent. It was still very early – probably only 6:30pm – and the early hour combined with the ceaseless sound of the wind tearing through the trees made for a sleepless night. We were mostly protected from the incoming storm, but every 15 minutes or so a strong gust shook the tent. Those shakes and shutters kept me awake.

I fell asleep during the second half of the night, only to jolt back awake at the sound of snow sliding off the tent. As expected, it was snowing – and our tent was now partially buried. This was our first experience camping during a snow storm. Our heavy winter tent weathered the storm very well.

Big Agnes String Ridge tent weathering the storm.

Eating breakfast and packing up were challenging in the snow. We managed to get everything packed and took off down the mountain. When we’d dropped only a few feet in elevation the snow turned into rain. Rain?! I strapped on my umbrella, but not before I was wetter than I wanted to be. We finished the trek in the rain – not what we were expecting! This was a great trip, but we still have some learning to do to make winter camping even more enjoyable, especially during a storm.

With this trip we achieved our goal of backpacking in every month of 2015! This is a mighty accomplishment. At the beginning of the year I could only hike a few miles per day; by the end of August I could do 20 miles in one day. I believe that all of this outdoor activity, as well as having a big goal to work toward, was a major factor in my ongoing recovery from Lyme disease/Bartonella. I loved seeing the seasons change out on the trail. I loved every adventure. What an awesome year!

Achieving our goal!

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