Snow in the desert…again

Day 24: Glenwood Boy Scout Camp to Godforsaken Ridge above Acton

Trail miles 400.5-424.3

May 26, 2019

What do you do when it is 40°F, windy, and rainy? You hike. Because, in T-Pain’s words, “What else are we going to do?”

Gunning for a big day, I left camp in the gray, blustery morning at 6:30. I hiked alone through the cold mist for 11 miles. T-Pain caught up to me at a spring where I was filtering water and eating lunch.

By the time I’d eaten my smashed peanut butter sandwich and a few handfuls of potato chips, the rain had turned to snow and I was shivering. We hiked on, shouting to make ourselves heard over the howling wind.

What do you do when small chunks of ice break free from the trees and whip into your stinging face? You laugh, because it’s late May in the desert and your rain jacket has become your favorite piece of gear while your sun umbrella and wide brimmed hat have sat idle in your pack. You laugh and you keep walking, because if you stop, your hands will turn to wood and the shivering will return.

What do you look at when you’re walking through a cloud? The Altras on T-Pain’s feet, and the blooming yuccas just off-trail. The gray inside of the cloud obscures all topography, so your soggy topographic map is of little help for pinpointing your location. Distance traveled is measured by time spent walking multiplied by your perceived pace.

And what do you do when you’ve hiked 20 miles and you’re still too cold to sit still and people ahead of you on the trail are turning around because of the weather?

T-Pain and I consulted the map, took an educated guess about the wind direction and the likelihood of finding sheltered camping on the back side of the ridge. Then we donned our rain pants and took off at a run through the pounding rain and wind, headed up-trail.

By the time we reached the leeward side of the ridge, our noses were numb and we were shouting and cursing at the desert and the wind and the trail. This is late May? In Southern California? This is the desert?

On the leeward side of the ridge, we were shielded from the utter chaos on the windward side. But the ominous roar of the wind in the trees atop the ridge reminded us that the storm continued to rage just out of sight.

Exhausted, we finally reached the campsite we’d been aiming for, 24 miles from the boy scout camp where we’d begun walking that morning. But the site was more exposed than we’d expected from its location on the map. Wind-whipped rain battered the manzanita and buckthorn, and ragged patches of fog scudded low over the sodden ground.

We knew that our options were limited: camp here and risk a midnight tent collapse in the rain and wind (and the hypothermia that could result from such a collapse), backtrack four miles to a sheltered site, or hike on another nine miles to camp at a lower elevation.

Tired, cold, and a bit too proud for our own good, we started looking around for tent sites.

T-Pain pitched his tent in the shelter of a large manzanita bush then helped hold my tent steady while I staked it out a few feet away (an invaluable service that helped speed the process immeasurably). After plopping a few large rocks on the most vital stakes, he dove into his tent to take refuge from the wind.

My tent is notoriously bad in heavy wind, so I spent the next half hour reinforcing my stakes with large rocks scavenged from the surrounding area.

Finally satisfied that I wouldn’t find myself without shelter in the night, I peeled off my saturated rain gear and crawled into my tent. I spent the next half hour organizing my soaked gear, fluffing my quilt (which I’d kept dry inside a large trash bag in my pack) and trying to warm my feet and hands.

Although I am usually in favor of avoiding as much screen time as possible while hiking and camping, this was a night when I allowed myself to use my phone for more than just journaling.

A facetime call with my friends Beth and Ekat raised my spirits immensely, even as the rain began to freeze and the wind tugged at my tent. As T-Pain noted earlier in the day in reference to his habit of watching half an hour of a movie before bed on the trail, removing yourself from your immediate surroundings and reminding yourself that the world continues in your absence can be invaluable after a trying day.

T-Pain before hiking out in the morning

Our frozen tents the following morning

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