day 12: back on trail

04.21 3 (south ridge trail) + 2.5 ernie maxwell trail + 2.5 devil’s slide trail + 179.4 – 183.3

i sleep fitfully in the top bunk of the dorm style room that i’d taken for the night, waking periodically to rearrange the too warm covers around me. it’s nice being in between clean sheets but i wake up ready to be back on trail. 

on my way to meet hamlet at 8:30, zippy & the newly dubbed maps poke their heads out of their little rented cabin & offer me coffee. who am i to say no? we talk trail & cute dogs for awhile before i have to run.

yesterday evening hamlet & i had decided to attempt to rejoin the pct via the south ridge trail & he’d been able to coax a kindly local into giving us a ride to the trailhead. “it’s not too steep till ya get to the switchbacks,” he assures us before lumbering away in his canopied pickup truck. 

as we trudge up the (too steep) road, a dusty little silver sedan passes us coming down. i step to the side of the road to drink a little water & hear the car turn around & head back up. strange, i think, & then the car is pulling up beside me & my long lost friend emily fong is leaping out from the passenger seat! we lived together for probably six months in portland but she is RAD & it is so awesome meeting her boyfriend & hearing about their awesome plans for the upcoming summer. “maybe we can even meet up in washington in august?” she offers. i’m buoyed by this encounter, happily chattering to hamlet for awhile about some of the badass adventure babes that i’m lucky to know.

we turn a corner on the road & a pair of drawn looking germans trudge down to meet us. apparently there’s a posted warning that the south ridge trail is impassible. they’re heading down to try a different way up. i hesitate, maybe we could try it anyway? but then they are showing us pictures of the snow-erased trail & i rethink. 

as a herd, we backtrack the mile & a half we’d come towards the ernie maxwell trail which will take us to the devil’s slide trail which will take us to the pct! by the time we even begin the first part it is already 10 am & i cringe. it’s going to be hot. an older woman hiking with her daughter asks me if i’m hiking the pct. “yeah!” i say “alone?” she asks. she blanches & then shrugs & raises her trekking pole in the air & cries “girl power!” i echo it back, laughing. 

the trail gains 1000 feet of elevation in just a few short miles & josef’s warning from last night starts to make sense. “tomorrow’s the first day that it’s really going to feel like the pct,” he’d said. 

patches of snow begin to appear around 8500 feet but i’d known to expect this from the questions i’d been asking day hikers all morning. the scent of pines is overwhelming & comforting, it smells like winter. at first the snow is fun, i find ways to skirt around the patches or follow dirty footpaths through the crunchy snow. as the snowfields begin to grow & merge together, i hang back so that hamlet & i are hiking together. we both are getting weary of the increasingly frustrating terrain & after a while i suggest we sit down to rest & reevaluate. “oh… i see…” says hamlet. his tone worries me. “looks like we got a bit off trail…” we compare apps &, sure enough, we had taken the wrong junction about a half mile back & now we are on the summit trail. “that explains why the snow’s only getting deeper,” i laugh, but my heart tightens: the snow tricked us.

we backtrack a half mile or so, feet numb & spirits low. when we finally cross over to the sunny side of the ridge & are able to take off our microspikes i immediately feel better. the last couple of miles to camp are pine needle softened & lovely, the golden hour illuminating everything around us.

i set up my shelter on a high granite slab using big chunks of rocks instead of stakes. two other hikers are camped there as well & they build a pinecone fire in the established pit & it’s so lovely being warm & washed with the smell of woodsmoke. i sleep easily. 


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