The last few days have been full of ups and downs. Literal ones and emotional ones. We started out from Kennedy Meadows in good spirits, only slightly dampened by our heaviest packs to date. With 9-10 days of food, a 3 lb bear can, ice axe, crampons, and extra warm clothes, my pack was over 40 lbs. My heaviest carry in the desert was 26 lbs.
We hit the trail around 10am and I would not reach camp that day until after 7pm (just 15 miles). Let’s just say my poor feet did not appreciate the extra weight. In the last few hours of the day temperatures plummeted. I set up my tent with numb fingers and would wake up to frozen water bottles inside my tent (and frozen contact lenses!).
The next morning featured a bitter cold wind. I was grateful for every scrap of clothing I’d brought, most especially my wool mitten/waterproof over mitt combo. The (slim) silver lining to the freezing temps was walking on hard, crunchy snow for most of the day, no traction needed.
We camped “low” that night (around 9,600ft) but even with a liner my 20 degree sleeping bag was barely cutting it. I woke shivering to frost on the inside of my tent and snow flurries outside. When we reached the Trail Pass junction around 3pm it was snowing hard and accumulating fast.
Decisions were quickly made to exit stage left. We hurried down the two miles to Horseshoe Meadows in ankle deep fresh snow with more piling up by the minute.
At Horseshoe Meadows campground we took shelter in a pit toilet, happy to be under a roof and out of the wet snow. From here it’s 20 miles of steep winding road down to the town of Lone Pine. Luckily we had Garmins in hand and were able to muster a ride via text.
Somewhere in those 43 miles from Kennedy Meadows to Trail Pass I realized that I felt sad to be in my beloved Sierra and focused so wholly on foot placement and staying warm. The vistas were hidden by blowing snow and all the happy little creeks and crystal clear lakes were buried and frozen. The Sierra is a magical paradise in summer and early fall and I want to thru-hike them then.
I’m flipping, what I like to call snowbo—heading southbound from Canada in late June. I’ll end my hike with Mt. Whitney (or perhaps I’ll keep going and do the desert all over again southbound!).
It was a slow realization to come to this decision and I’m sad to be parting ways with all my Nobo trail friends. We’ve been through a lot together. Many are pushing through. I think they are courageous and dedicated and it is doable. With the right gear, good decisionmaking, perseverance, the Sierra are by no means impassable right now.
I’m switching up my plans less because of fear of the conditions (though this current weather is no joke!) and more because I want to enjoy these beautiful mountains not just endure them. I also grew frustrated with the storm delays and limbo and am opting to get off trail for a little while and choose an interim adventure.
I was actually very close to heading southbound from the start—the path less traveled is appealing to me. I’m watching that snow level at Hart’s Pass and I’ll be back on trail as soon as possible. In the meantime, Alaska!
P.S. Kudos to those that manage to take pictures while hiking in these conditions. In the thick of it there was no way I was taking my hands out of my mittens!