Day of Reckoning

by Gillian Larson | posted: July 2, 2014

There was still thunder and lightning and some rain showers in the morning as I tacked up Takoda and set off southbound on the PCT in the morning, hoping to meet Mom at Elk Lake later in the day. Almost immediately, we encountered snowfields that covered the trail, and the higher I went, the deeper the snow got. But due to the early morning temperatures being cool, and the storm clouds hiding the sun, the snow was hard and easily supported Takoda’s weight, and so we continued by walking over the snow. We weren’t really having much difficulty, except for the fact that I couldn’t see the trail itself, but my GPS app helped me to go in the right direction. But as the day went on, the storm cleared away and the sun came out, and then the trouble started. The warming temperatures began to soften the snow, and Takoda started sinking in as we walked. By now it was 2 pm and it was too far to turn around and go back, and I pressed on, hoping we’d come to an end of the snow. Then we hit a disaster; while we were crossing a high and narrow ridge, the snow suddenly gave way completely beneath Takoda’s weight, and he and I fell off the mountain. I came out of the saddle when he slipped, and he and I tumbled down into a ravine until some boulders finally stopped us. Takoda was caught between a tree and a rock, and I had to hang on the tree and bend it away from him so he could wiggle out. He was shaking and trembling, and so was I, but at least we were both on our feet and neither of us was seriously hurt. However, we were a long ways from the trail and couldn’t get back up the hill to it, as there was too much snow and too steep a grade for us to climb up. We really could only go in one direction, which was downhill, and we struggled through waist deep snow until we got to a lower elevation and the snow disappeared. By looking at my GPS, I could see that the 242 was to the west, which was the direction that I was headed–and the only way that I could go. I managed to text my mom with my satellite communicator and she had some of her friends try to locate where we were using the coordinates from my GPS; I was hoping that she could find a trail that we could get to, but there was nothing but dense forest and jagged lava beds and a tangle of fallen trees around us. I kept pressing on, downhill and to the west, heading toward the road; when possible, I followed riparian areas around the streams to avoid the almost impenetrable forest, and when I had no choice Takoda and I climbed up on the lava beds, where there were no trees, but the rugged jumble of rocks made walking very difficult, and the sharp edges cut up Takoda’s legs and tore off one of his shoes. At least I had my emergency boot with me, so I put that on him, and although two others also got loose, they stayed on and we eventually made it to the road. My mom was trying to find us there, but she no longer had cell service, so she was hunting the wrong areas until at last she met us walking up the road toward a trailhead where she had been parked. We were both very relieved to see each other again; in some ways, this event was worse than the one in June at Devil’s Peak, where I never felt lost and where the horse and I were always safe (even if my mother didn’t know that), but at least because it was daylight this time and we had some communication we all felt less threatened. I came close to pushing SOS on my satellite device a couple of times, especially right after we fell and when I wasn’t sure whether or not I could get out, but I kept thinking that if I just worked hard enough and smart enough I could get myself out of the jam I was in, and thankfully that proved true. However, now I’m beginning to wonder whether or not the trail conditions in Oregon and Washington are going to allow me to complete the PCT in the time that I have available. I really set out on this trip with a great deal of optimism (and frankly, ignorance), thinking that I had enough time to finish the distance I needed to cover. But I completely didn’t account for things such as late snowmelt (or even, in sunny California, imagine that snow existed on the trail in July, and even as I now hear, into August), and the time frame that I have available before grad school begins at CSUN in August may not match with the window of opportunity that the PCT will give me. I heard over and over again that one shouldn’t attempt to do the PCT on a schedule, and now I truly understand what that means. I thought I had an adequate amount of time, and I probably do, but just not at the right time in terms of the trail. Alina said once that the PCT tries all the time to kick your butt, and I’m finding that to be very true–and in a variety of ways. Obviously, riding the PCT is something that you have to do on the trail’s time, and although I want more than anything to be able to complete this journey, I may have to accept that reality will make that impossible. It’s a difficult fact to wrap my mind around, but something that I may have to do.


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