Snow Waffling

Day 18: Grass Valley Creek to Dry Camp south of Cajon Pass

Trail miles 318.0-335.5

May 20, 2019

The rain that came in the night had cleared by morning, and we stuffed our wet tents into our packs and set off under a blue sky. Up the trail towards Wrightwood (our next resupply), heavy clouds shrouded the hills. When the wind shifted, they parted, revealing glimpses of the massive, snow-covered mountains beyond. But problems of snow hiking and frosty nights are problems for the future.

Today we walked ten miles of easy trail through the low hills. We set a leisurely pace in order to arrive at the Cleghorn Picnic Area for lunch. Fire Socks had informed us that last year she was able to have pizza delivered to the park, and when we arrived, we wasted no time calling in an order for six pies. The proximity of the trail to civilization in Southern California astounds me every day.

While we waited for the delivery man (I swear I am backpacking), we pitched our still-damp tents in the sun to allow them to dry and sat at a picnic table making hot drinks with the plentiful potable water available in the park. Clean water on demand! What an idea!

Even in full sun, we wore jackets to cut the wind, which, amazingly for late May, still possessed a chilly bite.

So far, the desert has not been at all what I expected. If you’d asked me a month ago, I’d have told you cooly that the days would be hot and that I’d be lugging five liters of water through long waterless stretches to dry camps every night, where I’d cowboy camp in the warm sand under starry skies.

In reality, it has been cool, and literally every “seasonal” (in a normal year, read, “dry”) water source has been flowing. I have been setting up my tent and wearing long johns and my fleece to bed every night to stay warm. In over two weeks and nearly 250 miles, I have only contended with serious heat on one occasion. My largest water carry was 25 miles, but that was self-imposed (because I was too lazy to head to off-trail springs and because the weather was forgiving enough that I was able to be lazy instead of sucking it up and going to a spring). Cold, rainy weather has been the norm this season. As we head to Wrightwood in the next few days, snow is in the forecast.

The cool, wet spring does not bode well for an easy hike through the Sierra. In a normal year, melting is often beginning in earnest by the end of May. But in the last week, more than a foot of fresh snow has fallen near Mammoth.

I’ve been talking with different members of my trail family to get a sense of their thoughts about hiking through that kind of snow. For some, a flip-flop seems like a logical idea, allowing for continued hiking in the north while the Sierra melts out. But for others, a flip-flop is antithetical to the idea of a “continuous thru hike” from Mexico to Canada. While I find the idea of a continuous northward hike appealing, I am also concerned that conditions in the Sierra will be dangerous (primarily when crossing rivers swollen by snowmelt), miserable (because of the potential for days spent postholing through miles of soft snow), or some sick combination of the two. As much as I like to suffer a bit in pursuit of a grand adventure (or at least a good story), hiking in ultralight gear through the snowy Sierra sounds an awful lot to me like Type 3 Fun. Then again, it could make for both a grand adventure and a great story.

Stay tuned for a decision. Kennedy Meadows (around mile 700) is the gateway to the Sierra. Barring another infected bug bite or a close encounter with the dread Poodle Dog Bush, I’ll be there in about a month and will be forced to either hike thru or flip. Here’s hoping I don’t flop before I get there.

A helpful tip or a twisted prank? Only one way to find out.

This picture needs cropping.

Drying tents at the picnic area

Pizza delivered to the trail??

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