September 12 Hiking In the Snow

Monday, September 12th, 2016

SUMMARY:  When we looked out of the big white tent this morning, there was snow all over, but the trail was clearly visible, so we wasted no time in heading up several miles to Switchback Pass. The snow grew deeper and finally completely covered the trail—we were glad to have footprints to follow. At the top, the wind was fierce and cold—everything was buried in snow and the wind was already making cornices!  If it weren’t so freezing cold, it would have been interesting to watch the process.

The trail immediately took us down by a lake and another “Chinese Wall”—beautiful with fresh snow. Finally we were below snow level, the sun came out, and for a few brief minutes, it was a bit warm! We had several river fords to do—none even knee-deep, but it did leave us with soaking wet shoes and socks. Now we are back on the “official” CDT, but camped a bit early because it started snowing again.

DETAILS:  We were very comfortable inside our tent, inside the big white tent!  The sound of rain gradually died away during the night, because the rain had turned to snow!  Outside the white tent, there was snow all over everything, and on the inside, there was (sigh) condensation, because it was so cold.

But we could easily see the trail (snow sticks to plants better than it does on hardpacked trail), so off we went, up the many switchbacks toward….Switchback Pass.  The higher we went, though, the more snow there was, and soon even the trail was full of snow–BUT there were footprints!  Somebody was ahead of us–Elusive, maybe?  And that’s who it was.  We caught up with him awhile later, and he told us of his adventure last night, building a “hut” of branches to shelter his tent from the fast-falling snow.  He is way tougher and braver than I am.  He took off again, and was soon ahead of us.

All of us were bundled up with everything warm we had, because of the bitter cold.  We looked like arctic explorers.  (Later on, Shepherd showed us a picture he took of himself at Switchback Pass–he had ice on his beard, and he REALLY looked like one of those intrepid guys such as Shackleton or Peary or Amundsen!)  But thank God, it was not actually snowing when we were approaching the Pass–just a howling, fierce, bitter cold wind.

The snow grew deeper, and it would have been impossible to follow the trail, except that there were now TWO sets of footprints.  One was Elusive, the other a sectionhiker. And then, oh no!  They were joined by the footprints of a BEAR!  Well, actually, a small bear, and it only followed them for a quarter mile or so before turning off.

At the top of the Pass, it was pretty tough.  The wind was freezing cold, and there was so much soft new snow that it was already making a cornice!  According to the map, there should be a 3-way trail intersection at the Pass, but we could only see the trail we came up (lots of footprints!) and a trail heading down (2 footprints) and no 3rd trail was visible at all.  I was a bit worried, but all I could do was 1) Figure God is with us no matter what and 2) Elusive and the sectionhiker are trying to go the same way we are; hopefully they are right??

So we continued to follow the footprints (with me privately thanking God for the fact that there were two strong hikers right ahead of us and we weren’t just all by ourselves in a trackless snow world).  And it really was beautiful, with fresh, white snow all over everything.  We passed a lovely lake, and came to ANOTHER “Chinese Wall”; the snow was clinging to the face of it and making what almost looked like a white lace covering on the cliff.  Beautiful!

Based on the footprints we were following, it looked like the sectionhiker was the one “breaking trail”, with Elusive behind him and us next.  Wow, I was glad for that sectionhiker!  He had the tough work, that made it way easier for the rest of us.  We did not stop until 2:00 pm, when there was less snow, and we could actually find a bit of bare ground to sit on.  And sit, we did!  Wow, we were tired!   I got out the little Ezbit stove and cooked a potful of hot lunch.  We were even able to hang our damp (condensation) tent and sleeping bags on nearby trees in the sun, to dry out.

While we were eating, Elusive came by, and stopped for a little while.  We had noticed there were only one set of footprints, and wondered where he was.  From talking to him, we found out that he had been through some really seriously hard times in his own life, and was hiking, biking and adventuring to help himself work through it.  We felt so bad for him when he told us his story.  Fixit shared with him about the difference it makes when you really have a real relationship with God.  “Christ died for your sins,” he told Elusive.  “And offers you forgiveness.  He rose from the dead and offers to come into your life and change the attitude of your heart to become the kind of person God can live with forever.  Does that sound like a good offer?”

Elusive said basically, “Yes, but…….” and though he was somewhat interested, he would take a pass on it.  So we let it go, and figured,  “We’ll pray for him, and trust God for another opportunity to say more.”

Elusive headed off again, we washed up the eating things, packed up and followed him.  The trail continued on down, completely out of the snow, to Gooseberry Park ranger cabin.  It was a very warm (almost hot, actually) sunny afternoon.  It seemed unreal that only this morning we were “in the arctic”.  Around the cabin there were very pretty aspen trees, turning bright yellow.

Then at last, we were back on the official CDT, which began to go UP again, along Strawberry Creek.  After awhile, we began once again to see snow patches on the ground, then more and more snow.  The trail was still fine, so we were hopeful, and walked right along.  Then, oh no, it began to snow again!  Falling snow is so pretty, but when you are a lightweight gear thruhiker, it’s a worrisome sight.  We stopped, we checked our maps, and saw that just as yesterday, the trail was going up high and staying up there.  Again, it was a bit early to stop, but we did not want to mess with another snowstorm.  There was no place to camp at all where we were, so once again, we turned around and headed back down the trail till we saw a spot under some trees, where the ground was bare and the trees would help keep off the falling snow.  It was only a bit after 6:00, and we normally keep going till 7:00, but again, we wanted to be safe.  Even with 2 shorter days in a row, we have enough food to last us till Marias Pass and the highway.  We figure it will take 2 days to get there.

Tonight it’s very cold, and the rain/snow has stopped for now.  Looks like we will be hiking in more snow tomorrow!

Leave a Reply