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Day 38- Snow Storm

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Katalina
City: Minneapolis
State: Minnesota
Country: USA
Begins: Apr 26, 2009
Direction: Northbound

Daily Summary
Date: Wed, Jun 3rd, 2009
Start: Mile 721 in the Sierras
End: Corral Trail Meadow
Daily Distance: 17
Trip Distance: 225.0

Journal Stats
Entry Visits: 7,290
Journal Visits: 134,268
Guestbook Views: 41,131
Guestbook Entrys: 194

Last SPOT Location

Gear list

Pacific Crest Trail Map

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Bundled up for most the day

This is the day I labeled "Snow Storm" but I like to refer to it in my mind as the "Day 38- The Day I Thought I Was Going to Die, Hit 911 and Made a Complete Ass of Myself."I woke at 9,100 feet at 5:45 am to 43 degrees, and I wasn't cold! My long johns with my down pants seem to be the perfect combination to, FINALLY, keep me cozy at night! I also picked up my NeoAir thermarest at Kennedy Meadows, so I was a happy little hiker this morning. I got started hiking at 6 am and made 10 miles by 11 am. It started flurrying around 7:30 am, so I bundled up as I hiked. It hovered around the low 50’s to high 40’s most of the morning. At some point it hailed little bean bag filling-sized hail but aside from the chill, it was a very pleasant day. I passed 3 hikers going southbound on the trail that looked like they were out for a week-long hike, but other than that I didn’t see anyone all day and I really liked the solitude. At around 11:30 am, the flurries were getting more consistent and the hail more persistent so I hid under a rock for cover and took a 45 minute nap. It was getting chillier as the morning turned into the afternoon, but I wasn’t worried. I knew there was a 60% chance of t-storms at lower levels (below 6,000 feet), so I was just glad it was snow up here and not rain. Hikers often talk about “walking through the rain” or snow. It’s warmer to just keep hiking. The dilemma is knowing when the rain/snow is transitory enough to walk through and when it’s severe enough to hunker down, make camp and stay warm. If a hiker “walks through” a rain that they think is going to stop after ½ an hour then they can just keep on walking and eventually dry out. But if it’s going to last longer, then the hiker is wet and cold by the time they make camp and that’s not a good situation. Sometimes it’s hard to know if something is going to blow over and when something is here to stay.I started hiking again after my nap and it was still hailing and snowing. Around 1:30- 2pm, there was a significant drop in temperature. I could feel it. Within an hour, it went from 47 degrees to 32 degrees- I shit you not. The snow started to fall heavy, wet and steady-and started sticking to the ground. It was at this point that I knew I wasn’t going to “walk through” this storm (it was quickly becoming apparent that it was a “storm” and not just snow that would clear in an hour or so). I guess it became apparent that I should make camp and get warm when I started jogging to keep warm- and I wasn’t keeping warm.So I was at 10,500 feet and I was on a section of trail (miles 736-745) that is fairly level and above 10,000 feet. I had planned to hike to Trail Pass today, which was still 9 miles away. The lowest section I could see on my map was 9,500 feet. I decided to try to make it to that spot. D often tells me that a drop of 1,000 of elevation means a noticeble increase in temp, and she also told me that I should boil water put it in a water bottle to keep warm if I get cold. But by 2:30 I was FREEZING. I knew I wouldn’t make it to the bottom of the saddle at 9,500. I decided to hike ¼ mile to Corral Trail Meadow, get water there and make camp. By the this time I was making tracks in snow. As I got of the PCT to head down to the Corral Meadow I looked around to make sure I could find my way back to the trail, which was quickly being covered by snow. After 15-20 minutes I saw the stream and meadow. I looked for a spot that was blocked by the wind. Unfortunately, as I crossed the meadow to reach my sheltered spot under a tree I stepped in wet marsh that was obscured by the accumulating snow. Shit. Like my socks weren’t wet enough. I sweat it just keeps getting worse!! Keep it together…I’ll be better, once I set up my tarp, get into dry clothes and boil some water. I know that as soon as I stop hiking I should get out of my wet clothes or I’ll get super chilled. But here’s my question: If I get out of my wet clothes and put on my dry clothes, then how do I keep my dry clothes dry as I take the time to make camp? The snow as really wet and heavy and just melted on me. I had my rain jacket but I was chilled and wet underneath. It’s quite the balance to try to hike to stay warm but not warm enough that I sweat- because sweat makes me chilled when I stop. Back to the story….I crossed the meadow, got my socks sufficiently soaked and started to set up my tarp. As soon as I found my place to camp I pulled out my SPOT and hit OK for the night, which was around 3 pm. I quickly laid out my Tyvek ground cloth and laid out my tarp on top of it. What I hadn’t noticed before is that my fingers were FREEZING! I couldn’t make my clove hitch or my trucker’s hitch to set up my tent- it just kept collapsing!!! My fingers weren’t working and got so much colder after taking my gloves off to try to make my knots for the tarp. Ok, no tarp. I’ve heard of hikers to just lying under the tarp- fine. (Not really fine, more like F*&^$ !!!!!!)… I really just need to get out from the wet snow. I threw my bag and stuff under the tarp. Got water from the stream- brrrr, more cold hands, more cold feet…. Have you ever tried changing lying down, under a tarp that’s laying on top of you like a blanket but not trying to move it too much because then the snow would get underneath and make your “dry” area smaller? Yeah, not fun.But it’s all good, I’m thinking I’ll get my dry clothes on, get in my sleeping bag, boil my water. Yes, warm water will make it all better. This really sucks but it could be worse….So I got my water from the stream, got into my dry clothes, got under the tarp. I get my alcohol stove out, fill it with fuel and try to light my lighter…and try…and try…and try- Oh god no!!!! This can’t be happening, my lighter is wet and not working and my hands are pretty useless frozen globs by this time. Ok, that was my first melt-down. Wait, that’s not right, my first melt-down was when I couldn’t get my tarp set up. I think that’s when I hit my HELP button (around 3:30 pm). But I calmed myself with the thought of heat & warm water. Now, this was major melt-down. I don’t swear much at all- but the F-bomb was used profusely throughout this process. Ok, so no heat. F-you, I didn’t need fire anyway. I still hadn’t set everything out. So this is when I just figured I’d better crawl into my sleeping bag. I’m getting more and more frozen by this point and see no respite. I was under the tarp, on top of my ground cover. Next, I pulled out my thermarest, pulled out my bivy sack and pulled out my sleeping bag. This is good. I have on my wool long johns (I had them on during my hike, under my hiking pants, so they’re wet but wool stays warm wet, right?), my down pants, my white wind shirt, my long sleeve wool shirt, my down jacket, my wool hat, my rain jacket, my only pair of dry socks (micro thin running anklets) and my wet gloves. I took off my wet bra, wet hiking pants and soaking wet socks. I crawl into my sleeping bag and freeze my ass off. Oh who am I kidding, this is so NOT good. I’m scared shitless. I mean REALLY, REALLY scared.This is when I thought: this is how people die on the trail. It’s not from Bears, Cougars, or Crazy Homicidal Maniacs- it’s from exposure. People die when they get stuck in snow storms on mountains that they weren’t prepared for; Hell, people die in storms that they are prepared for. I thought of Karen (Chopper’s mom), this is how she died, she was caught in a storm on the PCT. This is it. I’m going to die and they’re going to find a body under a tarp under a layer of snow. I’m laying under a tarp that keeps collapsing, the snow is melting on the tarp, which is getting my bivy wet and my sleeping bag is already damp because I had to pull it out under a wet tarp and I had to crawl into it damp myself. I was wet all around, FREEZING, shivering with useless hands and no fire….. I hit 911. When I hit the HELP button I had felt oddly comforted by the fact that my family knew I was on a mountain and I was in trouble- it was a way of communicating with them. I can’t explain why I felt that way- I admit I wasn’t thinking clearly. As I lay there, after hitting the 911 button, I felt oddly comforted by the fact that the authorities would know where to find my body. Can people survive the night in a snow storm on the mountain in a wet sleeping bag, under a collapsed tarp? I made a few videos of me talking to myself. If people found me I wanted them to know my thought process. I wouldn’t want them to think: Why the hell didn’t she just walk out? Why the hell is she under a tree by a meadow a quarter mile off the trail? Why the hell is she only wearing sandals? Why is all her shit wet? She has full bottle of fuel and a lighter- Why the hell didn’t she just make a fire? Why the hell isn’t her tarp up? Why the hell is she so high? Why didn’t she get to lower ground? Why is she in the Sierras by herself? What the F was this girl thinking?We all do it. We hear of someone dying in the wilderness and we think: What a dumbass. They should have done this, they should have done that. It’s the way we cope, it’s the way we distance ourselves from the tragedy- it’s the way we say to ourselves: That could NEVER happen to me.I lay there, watching the 911 light blink on my SPOT and I gathered my thoughts. Obviously, nobody can come out in this weather. I hit 911 just so they know, that I know that I’m in trouble and they’ll know where to find my body. I hit 911 to let them know that there’s a hiker on the mountain and she’s in trouble. I did NOT hit 911 to get “rescued.” I knew that as long as the snow fell that they couldn’t come out to save me. There was no “saving” anyone. If the snow lasted the night, then I probably wouldn’t survive under the tarp. If I did survive the night and it was clear by morning, then I, most likely, could get myself out. So why did I hit 911? It’s difficult for me to answer. I was scared, that is for sure. I was scared shitless. It seemed to be my last line of defense; I had tried to make shelter, and fire- it didn’t work. It seemed like if I were to die, it would be dumb NOT to have hit 911. It was almost 4:30 pm by the time I hit 911- only 3 hours from when I first realized I was in a snow storm. That’s how quickly things deteriorated for me.For the next 1 ½ hours I made 2 more videos. I thought about what mattered most in my life- my family. My nieces & nephews, my sisters & brothers, my parents. I vowed to forgive my sister. I realized how grudges mean so little and waste precious energy and how important it is to just love those that mean the most to me in life. I vowed to get off this mountain and stay off. I vowed to visit my brother in Idaho and my sister in New Mexico. I vowed to forgive anybody who I felt had hurt me. I cried and cried when I looked at family photos on my iPhone. I thought of my god-daughter and cried even more. I cry even now as I think about it. And then I reached a certain clarity. Just before 6 pm, it was still snowing, but I turned off my SPOT. I was done calling for help. I took a couple of Tylenol PMs, and tried to get some rest. I don’t know when the snow stopped, but at one point it got so cold that I reached for my watch it was 3 am- and I shifted so much that the tarp moved and I saw the moon shine on the snow. Moon? That means it’s clear out. I pulled the tarp back and saw stars. It was a beautiful, crystal clear night. It was lovely to see but made for an even colder night. I made into a ball and dozed off and on as I waited for the sun. I was certain to wake to a clear day. The snow had ended and I would survive the night.

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Journal Photo

SoloGirl's Guide To The PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The PCT traverses 24 national forests, 37 wilderness areas and 7 national parks. The PCT passes through 6 out of 7 of North Americas ecozones.

 

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