~15.1 miles (1153.4 to 1168.5)
Clean clothes startle me with their softness – every time. It’s not the lack of odor or the lack of grunge that I notice first; it’s that I’m not wearing cardboard anymore! And so it is today. These clothes are soft.
We meet Greg’s father at 6am. He follows us to the PCT trailhead at Highway 49, where we leave Greg’s car, then we all pile into Joe’s pickup and head to Donner Summit.
Greg and I hiked this entire section last summer, and we’ve hiked the first and last portions twice (this was where I hiked my first 20-mile day). Even if the trail is snow-covered, we’re familiar enough with the route to know where we need to go. Which is good, because less than a mile into the hike we pass two rock climbers who ask how far we’re going (Canada!), then tell us that a lot of hikers have been hitching ahead to Sierra City due to deep snow north of I-80. Great. Maybe I should have started at Highway 49, after all. Too late now. Our ride is already gone.
We keep walking and soon pass under Interstate 80. We cross a small but raging creek. I cross on a skinny little log – look at me now: a creek crossing pro! Not long after, we hit snow, and lots of it. The trail is nowhere to be seen. Hmmm. Looks like the NOAA snow layer was completely wrong. This is going to be a slow hike.
We slip and slide our way up and over the ridge and down toward Peter Grubb Hut. We cross Castle Creek on a snow bridge and stop for lunch at a campsite on the far side. We camped here last summer. Today, most of the site is still under a few feet of snow.
Southbounders from Dunsmuir pass through as we’re preparing to leave. They tell us that the trail to the north is fairly dry after Highway 49…which means we’re literally hiking the last snowy stretch of trail. If I’d decided to start at Sierra City, I could have bypassed the whole mess. Experiencing even this little bit of snow re-enforces my decision to skip the High Sierra. I don’t want to fight my way through snow for 30 miles, let alone 300.
After lunch, I put on my hiking crampons. Greg uses his microspikes. There’s a lot of snow here. In the deepest places, we estimate that at least 10 feet still linger. Sometimes it seems even deeper. Travel is somewhat arbitrary. I check Guthook’s app to keep us going in the right direction, but following the trail is impossible. We follow the easiest path on the snow.
Not long after crossing North Creek, we cross to the south-facing side of the canyon. Suddenly, there’s no snow. We remove our traction gear. It’s so nice to just walk. That is, when we’re not crawling over or around trees across the trail. We climb to a beautiful view of the snow-covered slope we just traversed.
Immediately we’re back on snow, heading down to White Rock Creek. I’m glad we’ve hiked this section twice before. I know what direction we should be headed and what to expect. We cross the creek on a wooden bridge where water flows high and fast.
More snow. Deep snow. Slow going, until we climb onto another south-facing slope. We both remember an appealing campsite at the top of this climb that should be perfect for tonight.
Sure enough, the campsite is flat, snow-free (!), and offers an excellent view out to the slopes we traversed earlier today. Thunderheads decorate far away peaks. Wildflowers bloom in purple and yellow. This is a nice spot. I study the topo map. We’re at 8,100 feet. It could be six miles or more before we reach another south-facing (snow-free) patch of ground that’s flat enough to camp on. It’s 6:30. We’ve gone 15 miles. We’ve gone far enough.