In the late ‘70s after a successful thru-hike of the AT I decided to apply my newfound hiking expertise to the PCT. Not wanting to wait until summer I decided to hike between Santiam Pass and Mt. Hood over Spring Break. Having never hiked in the western mountains, nothing in my logic seemed amiss. So on a warm sunny spring morning I started hiking.
Fortunately it was a relatively low snow year as the first mile of the PCT was snow free. While I had come prepared for some snow with my newly acquired ice axe and glacier goggles, I had expected patchy snow. Within a mile I left bare earth behind and wouldn’t see it for several more days. Entering the large bowels that flank Three Finger Jack, all signs of the trail disappeared beneath the snow.
Having never done map and compass or cross country hiking, as it’s not needed much on East Coast trails, I plunged ahead confident I could follow the map. Cresting the second pass, I found a steep slope with no sign of trail. Based on the maps I had a good idea where the trail entered the woods several hundred feet below. With the trail and switchbacks buried under feet of snow, there was no clear path to get there.
Sitting on my butt, pushing my pack in front of me, I made my first glissade with my ice axe to a small band of trees. There I found a spot large enough to make camp and cook dinner. That night I fell asleep to the sound of huge boulders crashing down off Three Finger Jake as the days snow melt refroze and released them from their perch.
The next day I managed to find the trail primarily because of the occasional blaze carved into the trunk and the wide path formed as the trail traversed thick timber. All told I managed about 6 miles of hiking that day. The late winter snow was well consolidated so actual walking was not difficult. Most of the time was spent making sure I wasn’t hiking off into oblivion.
Halfway through the third day, I realized at my pace I’d be out of food long before making it to Mt. Hood. So I needed to find an out. In those days the PCT maps were ok but missing a lot of detail needed to bail off into the unknown. I did have a Forest Service map with even less detail. Between the two maps, I managed to piece out a cross country route down a valley that would lead me to Pamelia Lake. From there I could take a trail out to the trail head and a hike of several miles out to the highway.
Fortunately the hike out was pretty much uneventful. By the time I got down to the lake, I was back on dry ground and found a good camp for the night. On the final day a few miles of hiking and a half dozen hitch hikes later I arrived at my destination in Portland.
I have to admit I was extremely lucky. The weather sunny and clear the entire time. Which I’ve learned over the last 30 years is unusual for Oregon at that time of the year. Had I encountered any significant snowfall, I’m sure my bones would laying under some moss covered tree deep in the Oregon Cascades.
You gotta love youth!