25.5 miles (1212.5 to 1238.0)
Two Hermit Thrushes sing while I pack my things. I hit the trail and find more snow. I walk over snowbanks, then dry trail, then snowbanks, then wet trail, then snowbanks. Will the snow ever end?
I see horse tracks on the trail. I’ve been following them since Jackson Meadows Reservoir, two days ago. How can a horse follow the trail with all of this snow and all of these blowdowns? A friend who maintains this stretch of trail has asked me keep track of the fallen trees so he and the trail crew will know what to expect when they come to clear the way. I’m counting the trees across the trail as best I can. Some of them are big enough to stop a horse. Or not?
Finally I descend a bit and snow disappears. I cruise downhill on a mild grade through red fir forest. How I love a red fir forest. I love this. I could do this all day, everyday.
I reach A-Tree Spring and fill up for the climb ahead. Half a mile up, there’s a whopper of a blowdown. I crawl over the top and keep going. I climb nearly 1,000 feet and enjoy another view of the Sierra Buttes. Near the top, I run into more snow. Crap. I’m already sick of this. I slip and slide over two snowy sections, then have to stop and put on microspikes to get over the drift at the very top. It’s deep, maybe ten feet. Little quirks of topography obviously make a big difference. Feet of snow are piled beside dry soil.
I take a snack break, then get to work descending. Ever since I encountered all of the snow north of I-80, I’ve wondered about this particular stretch of trail. I suspect it might still be snowed in. Unfortunately, I’m right. I come upon bank after bank of snow. I cut cross country to avoid slipping over the snow. Ahead, a giant snowbank looms on the trail. I can’t cut around this behemoth. It’s steep, like a milder version of the chute on Whitney, and it extends a long way up and a long way down. Crap. I put on my microspikes and work my way across.
Back on the trail, another white mound rises. Not again. This sucks. I go over this one too, and there’s a creek running beneath it. I hear water flowing. I see water flowing out down below. Please don’t fall through this snow. I make it to the other side, but almost immediately there’s another snowbank, larger than the others, with horizontal trees mixed into the pitted and scary-looking snow. I mount the slope and inch my way across. It’s really steep. I do not want to slip here. I hate this. I just want to walk. But there’s one more huge snowbank to cross. I’m so glad I skipped the High Sierra. I couldn’t do this for weeks on end.
About a mile goes by without snow. I might be in the clear. I meet a southbounder called Extra Tough who flipped to Belden, hiked to Ashland, and is now hiking south from Belden. (Ashland seems to be the most popular flip destination.) She tells me that there’s no snow ahead. I thank her for the good news and warn her what lies to the south.
By the time I stop for lunch at West Fork Beartrap Creek, I’ve counted exactly 100 trees across the trail since leaving last night’s campsite. From here, I need to make good time to La Porte Road. Greg is going to meet me there around 6pm with a few more protein bars and a pint of coconut ice cream. I don’t want to be late. I have a big climb ahead, and all of that scrambling over snow wore me out. Thankfully there’s only one patch of snow here, and I can mostly avoid it. The climb is long and just as steep as I remembered. In places, I can practically pull myself up with my hands. Still, I’m making good time. When I top out on a ridge across from Pilot Peak and find I have reception, I text Greg and let him know I’ll arrive a little early. (Early! I’m fast!)
On I go. I pass three hikers sitting beside the trail. A little farther along, I pass two more hikers. I’m moving surprisingly fast. I drag myself over fallen trees and zip along. At 5:10, La Porte Road appears. I’m early. And Greg’s already here. His truck is parked on the far side of the road. There’s a barbecue on the tailgate. I’m going to get dinner!
Another hiker has beat me to the trail magic. This trail magic is the best of the best. Greg knows my wacky dietary restrictions and brought foods that I can eat. Four more hikers show up. Anticipating a crowd, Greg has enough for all. He grills up burgers, hands out sodas and bags of chips. I eat my burger in a lettuce “bun” with avocado on top. It’s delicious. I chase it with a pint of coconut milk ice cream. I hope my stomach can handle all of this; it hasn’t exactly been well-behaved lately.
I’d like to hang out with Greg for awhile, or even go home for the night, but I know what’s coming: the never-ending climb from the Middle Fork of the Feather to Lookout Rock. I burned out on this climb two years ago. I’d like to get as far as possible tonight to make tomorrow easier. After only an hour together, Greg and I say goodbye. I take off up the trail aiming for Chimney Rock, 4.6 miles away.
I speed along and reach the rock before sunset. Two tents are already set up here. The occupants say hi from within their shelters. There’s still some daylight left. I know of a little site a mile up the trail, where Greg and I camped when we hiked this stretch. I can get there before dark. So I keep going. I recognize the spot as soon as I see it. It’s smaller and less well developed than I remembered, but this is definitely the place.
Nighthawks call and dive nearby while I set up my tent. I sit inside cleaning up with a rag and a little water from my bottle. I type up my daily summary. Darkness falls. I sleep.