Pacific Crest Trail Week 2: Falling Down, Climbing Up

Photo by Suzanne Hessler
Carefully moving though the snow.

I’m only 110 miles into my journey and I’ve already experienced highs, lows, dangers, and magic.

Of those 110 miles, only 80 count towards the 2,680 or so that I’m trying to finish by some time in November. I had to delay my trip by two weeks due to snow melting unseasonably late. My delayed schedule has tested my patience and commitment right away. I expected to be humbled by this experience, but I didn’t expect to be humbled so frequently, so soon.

A lot of people have asked me why I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (a trail that goes from Canada to Mexico following mountains the whole way) and especially why I’m hiking south — most hikers go north. The truth is that I’m not sure there is one reason and I could probably write all day about the hundreds of reasons. It’s a personal journey. I want to reconnect with myself and the outdoors, which have always felt like home to me. I want a challenge and I want to be humbled by the curve balls I expect Mother Nature will throw at me.

And so far, she’s thrown some good ones.

One of the reasons why hiking south isn’t more popular is that the Northern Cascades of Washington gets tons of snow and that snow melts late in the season. And, wow, is there snow! All kinds of snow. Snow hiking galore with snowy passes, no trails, and difficult navigation. My boyfriend did the beginning part of the hike with me and I sure was glad he was there. We had ice axes and some good tools . . . luckily.

It takes a slip down the face of double black diamond slope to make one realize you’re alive and that one day you won’t be.

I had to self-arrest with my ice-axe down the steep face of Rock Pass, north of Hart’s Pass. My boyfriend had traversed over to a dirt patch to put on his crampons. Tired and determined, I continued up a bit. The weather changed and I realized how tired I was. I decided to traverse over, but didn’t make it very far.

I don’t know what happened next. My left foot slipped (snow crumbled below it) and my ice-axe wasn’t fully anchored. Down I went, slipping 15 to 20 feet. As I was slipping I was thinking a lot of crazy thoughts about life, death, mistakes, my personal limitations. And I couldn’t help but think, “I have to go back up this.”

Photo by Suzanne Hessler
Looking out over the snowy trail.

I powered up the slope after I recovered, cold and in shock. We rolled into camp and I set up the tent as my boyfriend made a fire (it had started to sprinkle). I was able to sit and breath, but not much else. At some point I started crying uncontrollably. It was a body-shaking, post-shock cry. My boyfriend fed me and heated our water and I was able to talk after a couple of hours. I wanted to stop the hike. I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I was good at anything, including backpacking. I got up the next day and we hiked out.

I spent the next night at a KOA for my birthday. I recovered mentally — happy to be alive and confident that I had faced a difficult situation and made it out ok.

The dark fear of falling had somehow disappeared. It had happened. I knew what it felt like and how to step. I was ready to continue on through the snowy, trail-less, wilderness by myself. The next day I hitch-hiked back up to Hart’s Pass and continued south, alone.

Read the rest of Suzanne’s adventures:

Week 1: Approaching the Adventure
Week 3: The Pulse of Humanity
Week 4: Beware the Grouse
Week 5: Being Zen (or Not)
Week 6: Crouching Bobcat, Hidden Mosquitoes
Week 7: Appreciation
Week 8: The End?

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About the Author

Suzanne Hessler is a connoisseur of odd jobs and misspent adventures. She can often be found wandering the countryside or hiding from everything in her tiny mid-city apartment. She is currently attempting a long-distance backpacking trip starting at the Canadian Border of the Pacific Crest Trail and heading South. You can find her on Google + and Facebook.