Growing up in Louisiana and only ever backpacking in the summer, I had zero experience with winter hiking and camping.
Well, one experience. In 2013 Andrew and I did a late-season trip in SEKI and were surprised by snow flurries on the approach to the south side of Forester Pass. We turned back from the pass and made camp, and it snowed lightly for the rest of the evening. Maybe one or two inches overnight.
We thought we were going to die.
Oh shit, what if we can’t see the trail? What if we can’t get over Forester? If we can’t get out over Forester, there’s no way we can get over Trail Pass. Holy %^&# it’s cold!!
Turns out, we were fine. The next morning, the trail was totally visible, Forester was no problem, and, after all, we had maps, two phones, a GPS, and a SPOT device.
Point being, some confidence-building was in order.
So in late January, we took a snow skills course with Ned Tibbits of Mountain Education. Ned managed to find some snow in the Sierra, just off of Carson Pass, and we joined him and three other students—two other prospective PCT thru-hikers and one guy who’d already done the PCT and is now section-hiking the AT.
The three-day class covered basics—navigating across snow, traversing a slope, camping on snow, cooking in your tent, ice axe self-arrest. It was great. The biggest takeaway was that we will not automatically freeze to death if we have to hike through or camp on snow. Fabulous. The second was: cross-country snowshoeing is fun! You don’t have to worry about following a trail, you just figure out where you’re trying to get to and then head in that direction over a smooth, soft landscape.
The snow-covered mountains were staggeringly beautiful, and we had them almost all to ourselves. And while we were definitely pushing the limits of our three-season tent and 20-degree (and 10-degree, for Andrew the cold sleeper) bags, I did discover the joy of a hot-water-filled Nalgene at my feet.
Ultimately, the most memorable part was the camaraderie. This was our first time to officially try on this new identity as PCT thru-hikers: I will be thru-hiking. I am a person who thru-hikes. For 2600 miles. But Ned, Dan, Mike, and Joe spoke the same language.
Yes, of course this is something we do.