Day 10

PCT Mile Marker 1217.19 – 1229.09

Miles Hiked 11.9

When I woke up, one of the hikers “Double Cross” was already packed up and gone. Mitch hung around so we could hike the next part together, and we left the third hiker to her coffee and breakfast.

I was so scared of more snow, I didn’t even make coffee. We just got going. We climbed up a steep and dry incline for several miles.  When we got to the top, Double Cross was waiting.

“Sketchy?”, I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

We looked around the corner, and it was a massive snowfield on a steep pitch, and only one or two faint sets of footprints to show the way. My little heart skipped a beat. Mitch led the crew, cutting side steps into the snow as he went. Double Cross went next – since he wasn’t expecting snow either, he was only wearing Keen sandals.

I went last and was startled to realize the boys had a much longer stride than I did, so I was left to cut my own steps.  I couldn’t safely reach theirs.

Kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-kick, gingerly step. One down.

Kick-kick-kick-kick-kick-kick, okay now the right foot again.

It took forever, and I just tried not to look down. Only look at my feet. My sticks poked little holes in the snow. I longed for my trekking poles.

I missed the memo that said we needed micro spikes, an ice axe, and mountaineering skills for this section.

I made it slowly and safely across, and I looked back at it. There was no way I would be able to get back if I needed to. Then we turned around the side of the mountain, back to its north slope.

I looked with horror at the giant chute of snow and ice that poured many hundreds of feet down into the valley. Twisted trees and piles of rocks at the bottom. A hundred feet wide. The trail disappeared directly into its side, underneath all that snow.

Double Cross took two steps onto the snow and slipped in his sandals. My heart beat faster. I was so worried about him. I was so worried about me.

Mitch took the lead again, digging steps into the snow. His steps were so big!

“I’m not doing that,” I said.

“No F-ing Way.”

For some magical reason, there was a small strip of bare earth headed generally downhill. I couldn’t be sure where it would lead, but the trail seemed to zig-zag down this nearly vertical terrain, so maybe I’d meet up with the trail again down there somewhere?

I crawled over rocks, held on to trees to steady my descent.  More bare earth appeared. Mosquitos started to swarm. I knew I needed to concentrate every moment to keep from falling, so I found a spot directly uphill from a tree where I could place my pack and get situated. I put on my long-sleeved shirt, my long pants, gloves, and my mosquito head net. I put every loose item inside my pack. I still needed access to my map on my phone app, so I pushed my cell phone between my breasts.  My dress could hold it in place while I climbed down.

I kicked steps in the mixture of pine needles and soft dirt; holding onto trees and bushes, I lowered myself slowly down, down, down.

I looked up to see where the boys went. They were both somewhere beyond my vision, on the snow chute.

Down, down, down, and then there was the trail!

“MARCO!” One of them yelled.


Whatever they’d just gone through to get over there…they’d have to cross it all over again to get back over to where I was.

I took my time choosing my next line down the mountain. I studied the terrain and planned every step. Down to that rock, then across to that one, then down to the one on the right. I took my time.  Deep Breaths.  Stay Calm.  I moved slowly, making sure every step was solid. I held tight to every tree or bush I encountered.

Left foot. Solid. Move right hand to that tree. Got it. Right foot.



I couldn’t tell where the boys were. Did the come back to my side? Were they still over there?

Trail. “TRAIL!!”

No answer.

One more section of trail that I could see, and then it looked to be a cliff.

Tiny movements forever, and then I was on it. I took my pack off and sat down. I made an electrolyte drink and had an energy bar. I massaged my legs.

“MARCO!” I yelled. No answer.

I studied the map. One big switchback on dry trail but after that…I couldn’t see off the cliff. Where we they? Were they below me? Maybe they already got out?

I shouldered my pack and half ran down the dry trail and switched back.  Shit.  A waterfall.  Cascading across the trail. With a mass of snow on it. The water rotted out the edges and looked too unstable to try crossing. I’d fall through. I eased myself down the edge of the mountain again and across the creek beneath the snow pack. I wasn’t sure how to get up the other side and back to the trail. I put my leg waist high up on the edge and grabbed a tree, trying to pull myself out of the stream bed.

“That was the least-favorite thing I’ve ever done. I’ll never do that again.” It was Double Cross!  He threw himself down by the stream and gathered water in his hands to splash on his face.

I was still sprawled every which way on the hill across the stream. “You okay?” I asked. He nodded yes, but looked shaken. He took off his sandals and looked at his feet. “Where’s Mitch?”

“I don’t know. I lost him. I think he tried to go the other way.”

I groped my way up the bank and onto the trail. “I’m gonna go see if I can find him.”

Double Cross nodded.

“MIIITTCCCHHH!!!” No answer.

Double Cross and I kick stepped across field after field after field of snow. Chute after chute, now only a hundred feet down? My legs started shaking with exhaustion. I dug deep in my heart and found a tiny reserve of energy which took me to the next dry ground.

We sat in the sun and looked over the next valley we had to cross. How many chutes in this one? Ten? I ate some Shot Bloks. My hands were shaking.

“MIIITTCCHHH!”, Double Cross yelled.

“Your voice carries really well,” I said.


“Train Singer?” I cocked my head.

“No. I’m a Trained Singer.”

“Oh.” I thought that would be a great trail name. If he hadn’t already had one. If circumstances weren’t so dreadful. Train Singer.

I breathed deep and pulled out my maps again. I said, “Look. It looks like the trail hugs the mountain but gradually goes down until it ends up over there on that South-facing slope. There’s no snow there. It goes over that saddle. If we can get down on this mountain on dirt, we can cross the valley and go up the other side.” After all, it had worked for me the other day. It was going to be hard, but it just might work.  Just because that’s where the trail is doesn’t mean you have to go that way, right?  My Dad would’ve been proud of me.  Thinking Outside The Box.

We talked and looked and studied, and then decided to give it a go.

We repeated what we’d done all day. Grab a tree, dig our feet into the dirt, balance, grab a bush. Go down backward. Go down sideways. Careful and slow. Several snow chutes we couldn’t climb around. The patches of dry ground got larger, the snow became more level. We crawled over downed trees and got stuck in branches. Our feet fell through rotting logs and slipped into tree wells.

And then. Trail. Dry trail. We clambered up the steep slope and then we were there.

“I want to kiss this trail,” I said.

“Let’s sit down and eat lunch,” he said.

We tried to make small talk as we ate, but our hearts weren’t in it. Finally we just finished eating in silence, both staring off into nothing.

We walked for a long time. There wasn’t anything else to do.

We came to the top of another ridge and met two guys and a young lady who were planning on heading south over what we’d just done. She had tennis shoes on. And shorts.

“Don’t,” was all I could manage.

“I have a lot of experience.” Said one.

“So do I. You should turn around,” said Double Cross.

I looked at the young lady’s tennis shoes again and my mind went to dark, dark places.  I started to cry.

“Bless your heart, do you need a hug?”, the man asked.

I nodded and he wrapped his arms around me.

“I’ve never been so scared in my life.” I said.

They’d seen Mitch earlier.  He was safe.

Double Cross and I got as far away from that mountain as we could that night.

We set up camp as the sun set, and we still didn’t have much to say.

I turned to Double Cross. “Thanks for being there for me today,” I said. “Just having you there made all the difference.  I don’t know if I could have done that alone.”

“You helped me too,” he said.

A sprightly man jaunted down the path in the fading light. His name was Sprocket. “Today was great!”, he said. He had an ice ax on his pack. Said this was the first day since Kennedy Meadows that he didn’t have to use it. He hikes 35 miles a day. Every day. He left Mexico April 11th and hadn’t skipped any terrain. I told him he was impressive. “I don’t know about that. It’s just what I do,” he said. Then he was gone.

So maybe all of this is just a matter of perspective.  Either you may die, or it’s a really great day.

Somehow that made me feel better.


Butch · June 15, 2016 at 8:52 am


Abigail Johnson · June 14, 2016 at 7:09 pm

Hi Jodie, Just saw your mom at the League meeting and she said you are at home, at least today. What a relief. We have a friend who is hiking the PCT. Last year he called us from the north Sierra because he needed new shoes and had an infected eye. He is my age, so when the snow was too much in the southern Sierra, he got off the trail and traveled to a part that was easier. I know you are building lots of character and stamina, but when you hear your Dad’s voice saying get off the trail, you might listen.

And most of all, you are an amazing writer! So please be careful and live to tell the tale. Love, Abby

On Tue, Jun 14, 2016 at 5:51 PM, lead a life uncommon wrote:

> lead a life uncommon posted: “Day 10 PCT Mile Marker 1217.19 – 1229.09 > Miles Hiked 11.9 When I woke up, one of the hikers “Double Cross” was > already packed up and gone. Mitch hung around so we could hike the next > part together, and we left the third hiker to her coffee and breakfas” >

kheimiller · June 14, 2016 at 7:08 pm

You’re going to give me nightmares. But I’m glad today was a great day.

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