Friday the 13th . . .

by Gillian Larson | posted: June 13, 2014

On Friday I had the kind of adventure I hope not to repeat. Shyla and I set off northbound from the same trailhead on 140 where we had traveled south from the day before. In a sort of creepy foreshadowing of the bad day ahead, while we were tacking up in the parking lot, some people there were joking with us--in reference to the date of Friday the 13th--that if I heard chainsaws on the trail we should run the other way. But at first my mom and I totally didn't get the joke and the reference to the bloody movie; instead, we both thought of chainsaws as something wonderful, a sign of someone clearing the trail as Bill Roberts did for me earlier, and we both wondered, "Why would we run AWAY?" To us, that was something to go towards! Only later did we understand what they were really trying to say . . .

I left my truck parked at the trailhead lot, while Mom drove the camper and the trailer with Takoda in it further north where we were going to meet at the equestrian trailhead on Seven Mile Rd. I had originally thought I would be camping overnight in the Sky Lakes wilderness that the PCT passes through in this section–and ultimately I did, but in an unexpected and unpleasant fashion. But when we saw the equestrain camp on the map about 30 miles in, my mom and I thought it would be a perfect place to meet so that I wouldn’t have to camp, and then I was going to try riding Takoda the following day into the Crater Lake area. He is healing slowly, and we thought he might be ready to ride again so we could hopefully give Shyla a much needed break.

But all our ideas were given a rude shock when I encountered snow in the appropriately named Devil’s Peak area. I had earlier crossed several smaller snowbanks, and although I had contemplated whether I was going to have to turn back, each time I managed to safely get through it. By this time it was growing late and I was within about six miles of the trailhead and meeting up with Mom. However, I came to a snowfield that I felt was too dangerous to cross and in an area that was too steep for me to go around, with shale cliffs on either side. I stared at the snow for a long time, seeing only the tops of trees and branches sticking up through it like toothpicks, hoping I might find a path that appeared safe. But ultimately I had to conclude that it just wasn’t doable, and I accepted that it was best for me to turn around, even though that meant riding back 24 miles on trail I had just completed. It was 8:30 at night at this point, and I texted my mom with the bad news and even left her a voicemail saying that I had run into snow and had to go back, but unbeknownst to me she had left the camp and was walking toward me with Takoda and couldn’t receive my messages. Then, within an hour as the darkness fell around me I switched on my headlamp only to discover that the batteries were weak and I wasn’t going to be able to see well enough to travel in the night. That’s when I knew I was in trouble and was going to have to camp out overnight.

My mom finally turned around and went back to the trail head when it got too dark and she hadn’t yet found me, thinking perhaps that she had somehow missed me. That’s when she got a couple of my rather frantic messages about the snow, and she tried texting me back to ask where I was going, thinking that I wanted her to meet me somewhere. She went back to the camp and packed up and drove down the road throughout the night, checking at different trailheads and looking for me and Shyla, not knowing that we were hunkered down in the dark, shivering and cold, with no food and no water. I had several layers of clothes on since it had been raining when I left in the morning, but a lot of my clothes had gotten wet, especially my legs and feet where the bushes brushed against me all day long. I took off Shyla’s saddle and lay on the pad on the ground, with the saddle blanket that Bill Roberts had given me in Seiad Valley draped over my shoulders. I really do think that blanket saved me; he had mentioned how useful the wool blankets that he used as pads could be, since you could fold them in different ways so you always had a clean pad for the horse and they could also be a warm blanket to be used if necessary, but I never thought I’d need that advice so soon. However, need it I did, and I was tremendously grateful that I had it. I also finally took Shyla’s leg wraps off her hind legs and put them on my feet instead of the wet shoes and socks that I was wearing, and that also helped keep my feet a little more protected. Nevertheless, it was a long, cold, uncomfortable night, with temperatures well below freezing, and I felt especially bad for Shyla, who kept nickering at me every little while, as if to ask where her food or water was or when we were going to get to someplace warm and dry. It wasn’t until the sun began to rise around 5am that I finally got warm enough to actually fall asleep a little bit, and I think Shyla appreciated the radiating heat from the sun as well.


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