Day 163: A temporary stop by snow

Tue. 10/1/13
13.0 miles (Miles 2599.3 – 2605.8 + 6.5 miles to turn around and go back)
Rainy Pass – Just past Cutthroat Pass

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Such a beautiful scene on such a hard day.

It felt just like a race day this morning. My gear was all lined up in order, I was up dark and early, and my stomach felt nervous. This is a first for me on the PCT! There were a lot of unknowns. How much snow is there? How cold will it be? What will it feel like to actually get to Canada?

Well, the whole day turned out to be not how I’d planned or even hoped. It was exhausting, beautiful, emotional, hard, and disappointing. We got six miles out on the trail and had to turn around. I feel like we definitely made the right decision, I don’t feel like a failure, I will go to plan b and become a PCT thru hiker, and I’m okay with it all. The disappointment is purely simple. I just really wanted to hike the PCT to the border and the weather just didn’t allow it. The way I’m looking at it is as a detour. I’m just going to take a detour to get to Canada and I’m still gonna’ give that monument the kiss I owe it. It’s just unfortunate that the one detour we had to take was here, on the last stretch. But it’s time to move on.

We got going strongly this morning. Our group of seven (me, Tears, Cuddles, Fun Size, Atlas, Delightful, and Lighthouse) got to Rainy Pass and started climbing. There wasn’t much snow at all in the beginning. The sun was shining, but taking lots of breaks behind quickly-moving ominous clouds. I thought to myself that we had it. We could actually pull this off. The group was in high spirits overall.

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Not much snow... yet!

The snow got deeper and deeper as we approached Cutthroat Pass, about five miles into our day. We saw Midnight Rider and her horse, Valantino, up ahead, stopped. They were just as close to the border as we were, and with finishing would be the first horse and rider to ever thru hike the whole trail in one year. When we got to where they were, Midnight Rider was wiping tears from her eyes. The snow was getting too deep and she felt it was unsafe so they were turning around. It was heartbreaking. We talked with her a while and pet Valantino (Delightful even shared her crackers with him) before continuing on over the pass. The snow was over our knees at this point and we had to zigzag a bit to find our trail.

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Cutthroat Pass

During the next mile the snow got even deeper. Fun Size and Lighthouse were taking turns breaking trail (our Mexican Snowplow, as we called them), along with Cuddles. It was completely tiring walking behind them in the already placed foot holes in the snow – I know it had to be much tougher for them. Every step we took slid our foot one way or the next and we had to lift high for each step. We were also on a slope, so we had to be careful not to fall. It was slower and slower going as we worked our way along the ridgeline.

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Trudging through lots of snow.

Then we hit a wall of snow. There was a turn in the trail around a giant rock that had drifted. We stopped for a break and started the discussion of turning back. We were now standing in three full feet of snow (seriously… up to our waist), the snow was falling pretty hard again, and we just weren’t able to go fast enough trying to break a trail through the fresh, heavy snow. Reality hit when we realized we’d made it one mile in over an hour. We wouldn’t even get low to camp before dark at that pace. We had to turn around. There were eyes welling with tears, but I think we all knew it was for the best. We all wanted this so badly… to finish this stretch of trail, but it just wasn’t in the cards today.

So… well, I said I wanted to hike the PCT north and give it a shot in these conditions – and until I hit a wall of snow that made me turn back, I wouldn’t be satisfied. I hit that wall of snow today. Deep down I wanted to crash over it and just keep going, but I knew this just wasn’t the time to let my stubborness take over. Bummer.

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Me and Tears on our wall of snow where we turned around and went back. What a hard thing to have to do!

I took a tearful video when I had some time alone shortly after turning around. I wanted to remind myself later of how I was feeling after we started back, south on the trail. Okay, I might have been straight-up bawling with snot running down my face and everything, but it was actually making me feel warmer! Bonus! In that video I mentioned how I prayed for strength this morning… I thought I was going to need it for getting through the snow, but when I was given strength was when that decision was made to turn back. I felt way better about it than I thought I would. My prayer worked in a much different way than I thought it would. It’s cool how that can work out.

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The spot where we turned around. May as well smile! We did what we could!

After a hitchhike by an awesome, friendly local, we came back to Winthrop and started talking about tomorrow. I was burned out on planning and logistics while in Skykomish already, and this whole evening overwhelmed me. Plans flew, dates, numbers, carpools, slackpacks, routes, roads… aaaah! A plan was settled on and I was still a little confused about some of the small details, but I got the jist of it. It involved me and Tears splitting off until we reach the border, which I’m still not sure we’re entirely satisfied with. I came back to my hotel room early and I broke. I cried and cried. I was just so overtired that I couldn’t think, let alone make a decision. I wavered. I’m still wavering. My final decision was to start out on the road walk with the group tomorrow and try to decide from there… our alternate/detour is a road walk for about 20 miles, then trail for about 32 to the border. It’s been a crazy day. I’m just totally burned out right now, but I will get up early and hike, because I’m not giving up yet. Even if this finish gets broken into chunks, I’ll do it. I’m almost there… so close.


Tonight I love the snow. It may have been what caused us to turn around, but it sure is pretty. And fun. And challenging.

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Looks like we walked into a cartoon

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Snow and sunshine on our way back down.

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Almost back at the trailhead.

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Lighthouse shows us how deep the snow is out here. Ugh...

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Trail through snow and some freaky skies.

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!

With love,
Toots Magoots
(Robin Grapa)

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35 thoughts on “Day 163: A temporary stop by snow

  1. So sorry you had to turn back but it looks impossible to hike in those conditions and how ever would you camp? You are a through hiker you will get to Canada on your own two feet. Ahhhh mother nature

  2. I’m kinda sad it’s almost over. All summer I’ve looked forward to your pics and stories. I guess now I’ll have to go outside and see all of this nature stuff for myself… ;)

  3. Thank you so much for capturing your experience, both through the written word and with your camera. Truly, beautiful pictures! (what type of camera have you been lugging along?) Definitely the safer decision and those few remaining miles will still be there for you when you are ready to return. Congrats! My boyfriend is currently hiking the trail and also being hindered by weather– he’s got 250 to go and will have to detour as well.

      • wow! amazing! i now have a galaxy– i used to have an iphone and thought it took better pics than the samsung, but you’ve proven me wrong— also that it isn’t really the camera, but the eye :)

  4. Hey Robin, so sorry you had to turn around but you did the right thing. There is a search underway for two PCT hikers in waist deep snow, right now, further south in Washington.

    Are you going to hike the East Bank Trail of Ross Lake to the border or go further east in the Pasayten?

    It seems like there would be no shame in hitching west to Ross Lake.

    Randy

  5. Get some snowshoes. If you are headed back through Winthrop, the chamber of commerce has a storage container full of snowshoes they might lend you, as they did us. If not, a post on the Methow valley forum will round some up really quick, awesome people down there. Just mail or drop them back later. Enjoy the north cascades, they are amazing. Especially in the snow. Good luck.

    Scrubrat, PCT 2012

  6. This has been a hard final push. First with all the atypical rain in September. Now snow. It seems as though winter is fast approaching, at least in the mountains. Your decision to turn around seems a wise one. Time for plan B. Stay safe!

  7. Hello, I am in the same boat as you and was wondering what your plan was once you get to the border? Are you hiking back out to Hwy 20? Chartering a boat? Hiking to Canada? – The Man In Black

      • The trails in national parks are all closed until the government shutdown thing is done… its taped off at the trailhead with signs. We were given a warning, so going through wasn’t an option. I’m not sure what to tell ya. Its a huge bummer.

  8. Hello there – what an amazing story…I am a public radio reporter in Seattle and I’d love to interview you briefly for a story about how the snow is affecting all the thru-hikers.. Could you call me? – Bellamy Pailthorp 206-922-1025.

  9. Years of snowshoeing have taught me that weather dictates everything. If you don’t have a reliable forecast, you prepare for the worst. If you don’t have the right combo on your gear … try to remember the trail will always be there and turn around to go another day has always been a good rule of thumb. I don’t turn back often when I snowshoe, breaking trail in waist deep snow can be fun.

    IMHO you and the others made a sane, safe decision to turn back so you can hike another day.

    Even if you’ve already checked with the locals about road conditions, it was my experience up there that hardly anything was marked. Watch your intersections carefully.

    Best of luck!

  10. So close! However … up ahead in the section between Rock Pass and Woody Pass the trail is a sidehill traverse on a mile-or-so wide scree slope … it was badly washed out during the August mega-storm, and the trail is crossed by some major huge washouts … 10 to 15 foot deep gullies going across the trail requiring arduous down-climbing to get to a place to cross, and then hiking up again (very hard!) to regain the trail, only to do it over again a few times. It was hard enough to do without snow on it, and might even be impossible or very dangerous with deep snow. In fact, the trail there is closed to equestrians because of the washouts. I don’t know if anyone will be able to make it across that in snow conditions. Please be careful!

  11. Toots Magoots! Thanks for sharing all of your experiences and pictures as well…I’m a fellow PCTer and just behind you in Stehekin…we’re wondering the same thing, if we should even attempt it since there is a break in the weather in the next couple of days or if this snow is going to stick. And, WOW, I can’t believe how much snow is actually out there…beautiful but impassable. You guys made the right choice and it looks like we will have to do the same. Not the desireable outcome but mother nature calls the shots as always.Thanks again for sharing your experiences and we always have next year :-)

  12. You did the right thing. Thru-hiking helps us grow, and the way we grow is seldom ours to decide. You’ll get there, and you’ll be smiling when you do. Karen

  13. Hang in there! I thru-hiked in 2011, the biggest snow year ever! Cutthroat was snowy and cold, but not that much snow. Red and White pass were the scariest for me… I finished Oct. 10… you’ll get there!

  14. I turned around in the same place last year. After finishing that section in better weather this year, I’m glad I made that choice. There is a lot of traversing in that section which seemed really unsafe in those winter conditions.

    Bouncer

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  16. Brett Potter
    Just now
    I have followed you two from before your first step on the pct. I to am in tears for you girls tonight. I have both you and Tearsin my prayers to find the courage AND wisdom to finish this incredible feat. I may never meet you girls but I love you both.

  17. R&R, et al
    Following you with great interest. I admire your pluck! What a great group you have. I am grateful to have hiked with most of you, somewhere along the way.
    What about along the Pesayten River? The map shows a trail up to Monument 83.

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