The departure of Captain Nav, snow, heat, more snow, and a change in scenery.
We rejoin the trail in Northern California, about 270 miles south of the Oregon border. Our first day back on trail after only a few hours, Captain Nav declares that the pain in his back is still too much to continue on and he makes the hard decision to turn back. He has decided to seek medical help and says he will be in touch in a few days.
I continue on without my Captain Nav, yet again. R Jnr who has been with us for awhile now continues on with me. It’s a relatively easy day. Water is more plentiful so we able to get away with only carrying 2L at a time. Unfortunately, it’s still hot. We’re talking 35+ degrees. The whole of California is in the midst of a heat wave that just won’t end! We take a long break around lunchtime, and then again late afternoon. We eventually move around 7pm and hike up to a vantage point of Mt Shasta for the night. A lone mountain standing almost 4800m high, and with its slopes still heavily covered in snow, it is an impressive sight. I’ve decided that I love camping high, level with the horizon so as to watch the sun set and rise.
The next morning we set off and it isn’t long before we hit snow, and lose the trail. Not expecting snow, this is interesting I think, hoping it’s a rouge patch. We are on flat ground and so it isn’t too onerous hiking and we eventually pop out the other side, picking the trail back up.
We then hit more snow, and it isn’t long before we realise that this isn’t going to be so easy. Now on a ridge traversing the mountain, the snow patches are at an angle, making them super treacherous to cross, and I get more and more annoyed that we had decided to leave our crampons down South.
I realise I could also do with an ice axe after I take a slide down the mountain, luckily breaking my slide with my feet on a tree not too far down. Shaken, but ok, I sit there wondering how the hell I get back up. I slowly make my way across the snow until I reach the edge, and manage to make my way back to the trail on super shaky legs. The crossings get more treacherous and frightening as we realise any further slides won’t be as forgiving as my last. We continue on until we hit a huge snow field. We can’t see the end of it and we realise we must find another way around. It’s mid morning and the sun is turning the snow to slush. It takes us 6 hours, some serious bush whacking and countless falls to traverse just under 10kms (6 miles). Eventually rejoining the trail that we had long ago lost, we collapse into the dirt, swearing and utterly exhausted. We eventually pull ourselves together and make it to the next water source, where we sit until early evening before heading off to find a campsite. My most challenging day on the trail by far, I collapse into my tent, wondering why it was again that I was doing this?
The next couple of days are thankfully uneventful, just long, as we need to make up miles, always aware of our limited food supply. We fall back into our routine of hiking, eating, filtering water, eating and hiking. We sit out the heat of the day and later pull ourselves back on trail to hike until the sun begins to set and we find flat spots to camp.
On day 7 we hit town for a resupply and all the lovely things that a town resupply offers! I am also anxious to speak to Captain Nav. Unfortunately it is bad news. He has 3 compounded vertabrae and must return to the UK as soon as possible for treatment. I am absolutely devasted. For him, as this was his second attempt at a thru-hike, and for me, as he is my Captain Nav! So much planning and excitement and our adventure together is over before it really began! I can’t imagine what the trail will be without him. He says I must continue on, and even though I know in my heart I will, at that moment all I can do is cry.
So it is with a heavy heart that the next day I return to the trail with R Jnr, now my own Captain Navigator. There is no certainty in life, even when things seem so sure. Our happiness lies in our ability to embrace this, to flow with it and to adapt to the changes that it brings. I will miss my Captain Nav every day, but trail life must go on.
The change of scenery continues to be a welcome relief. Our first day we spend climbing, and for the next couple of days we stay high, surrounded by alpine forest, snow capped mountains and rock crags. We wander in and out of patches of pine forest that provide brief respite from the sun, across rocky ledges that traverse mountain sides and through grassy meadows.
Day 3 we hit snow. It’s not too bad, and after a painfully slow crossing on some very shaky legs, we make it to the other side, unscathed. We continue on, hoping that’s the last of the snow!
As we near the end of the section, we start to hear reports of more snow from South bound hikers. Apparently a ‘patch’ that we can navigate our way around. Slightly anxious, we continue on, hoping that it’s not too bad.
Day 6 dawns and we eagerly bounce onto trail, aiming to make it to town before dark. We have almost 30kms to cover and some big elevation gain and loss. It’s not long before we hit a large snow patch that’s too dangerous to cross. Down and around it we go!
I’m convinced this is the snow that other hikers had warned us about, and so I breath and start to daydream about a shower, clean clothes and what flavour milkshake I was going to have upon arrival in town.
We’re almost there when we hit a TON of snow. We start to cross it where we can, and go around it where we can’t. It isn’t long before we realise just how much snow there is, and that we are potentially in trouble. I’m not familiar nor comfortable hiking in snow, particularly without crampons. The tread on my shoes is worn down as I’m due for a new pair next week. So for me, this is incredibly challenging, and I have to remind myself to keep breathing. We move slowly, across and around, until we realise that there is just too much snow to do either. We debate what to do for about 20mins. We decide to backtrack and climb up to the top to the ridgeline. Reaching the ridgeline, we are able to cross a small patch of snow and then climb back down to the trail on the other side.
Exhausted, but on a high that we made it, we bounce down the remainder of the trail to the trailhead and have an easy hitch into town, where I decide to ditch the milkshake in favour of a big glass of wine!
Hiking in snow makes me uncomfortable and scares the bejesus out me. So I embrace it, knowing that it’s these moments of discomfort that push me to be a better hiker, and a stronger person. They keep ensuring I don’t settle, that my limits don’t slacken, and that I am constantly pushing myself forward.
We’re now in town, taking a day off from the trail. Expecting more snow as we continue North, I don’t worry, knowing that soon enough, snow and I will be the best of friends.