M Hiking Through Hyperbole Part 2: The Snowy Sierra

by Ryan Linn

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Article Summary:

It had been barely over a month since I set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail. Seven hundred miles of desert were behind me, and the next step was something everyone had dreaded since the very first days when the gossip - the "vortex of fear" - at the annual Kickoff had turned to the snow that would undoubtedly block our path in the Sierra. "In a normal year you wouldn't even want to enter the Sierra until June 15," several people had said. This year, with snow levels approaching twice what was usual, my friends and I arrived at Kennedy Meadows on June 2 and decided that we wouldn't wait. Our nerves should have been on edge, but the excitement of finishing the first major section of the trail had sparked our enthusiasm even more than usual.

The first order of business, despite our high spirits when we arrived, was not celebration, however. It was all business. Waiting for me at the Kennedy Meadows general store were three large packages containing eight days' worth of food, one bear canister, one ice axe, and a pair of MICROspikes. Others in my party also had new pairs of sneakers, replacement parts for damaged equipment, new clothes, new packs, and just about anything else you could imagine. Coming out of the general store, we looked like a bunch of kids moving into college dorms, hauling stacks of boxes and spilling their contents as they toppled around us.

The next few weeks on the trail promised to be the hardest test yet for my packing and navigating skills. The next road to cross the trail would be 250 snowy miles later, with six major passes above 11,000 feet in elevation, and a few more above 10,000 feet. Resupply options were slim, but with the reports of snow through the entire section of trail, we knew we had to come up with something. The decision we made was to take the trail in 100-mile increments, escaping for town days in Independence and Mammoth Lakes. After Mammoth, the trail would head downhill enough that maybe the snow would be less of a problem.

After two nights of preparation and steeling myself for the trail ahead, I set out on the morning of June 4, my pack weighed down like it was full of bricks. I had added almost four pounds to my base weight and was carrying several pounds more food than I had at any point yet on the trail, so my legs strained with the new burden. Maybe the ascent to 10,000 feet and an ambitious goal of 28 miles for the first day was a bit too much. My group, now consisting of seven others and myself, chugged along, finally walking into the most anticipated part of the Pacific Crest Trail.

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