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  • Emily Hayes

PCT April Update: Snow and Feeling Homesick

First published in June for Botley Bridge, a Hampshire Village magazine.

It has been more than a month that I've been on trail, what an incredible experience it has been so far. In April I summited several mountains, with varying weather conditions and walked more than 400 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail. I've made many friends but also spent many days feeling homesick, missing the familiarity of the things that I know from my routine life back in England.

The amount of snow on mountains has been less than anticipated, this has meant that my ice axe and microspikes where not essential items in my hiking gear. This was fortunate as my ice axe mysteriously disappeared from San Jacinto mountain summit hut. It was later found by a ranger and I will have it back in my possession soon. The snow on mountains here is quite different to the Scottish terrain that I trained in. Hot sunny days increase the snow thaw making the snow soft and easier to walk on. However the sheer drops at elevation along snowy narrow trails has been enough to put me on edge. San Jacinto summit is 3,302 meters and the hike took a few days to reach the summit. Since spending time hiking at elevation I've noticed how much harder the journey becomes, a few miles uphill takes many hours to complete compared to the same mileage at lower elevation. I've had a few nose bleeds along the way as well. Last week we summited Mt Baden-Powell, my favourite mountain so far as my legs had finally become strong enough that I was able to enjoy the hike and the views. The mountain days are hard work, particularly with the weight of food that is needed for upto 5 days.

I was not hiking alone, Gillian who I had met after 77 miles on trail was a lot of fun to walk with. We were also walking with Devon who was a seasoned thru-hiker as she had completed the Appalachian Trail and other trails in the USA. The 3 of us motivated each other to walk more miles and enjoy our downtime every evening while camping. I learnt a lot from them both but being the only European in the mix, I found a lot of things surprisingly challenging. Like grocery shopping and arranging supply boxes in the US postal system. I know how to hike and camp but trying to navigate everything else was becoming increasingly difficult and emotionally challenging for me.

I decided to spend 5 days resting in a town called Big Bear. A rest day with no miles is called a "zero" out here. Most people avoid taking too many zeros as it means you are walking less miles overall. Everyone is eager to get to Canada! I'd made friends on trail with a Big Bear local who was also hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Eric was hiking with my German friend Maj who I had said goodbye to in my first week as she had an injury. I was encouraged to stay with Eric's parents in big bear. They took good care of me, perhaps the familiarity of a family is all I needed to get myself mentally ready to go back on trail. I was able to surprise Maj and Eric who were a day behind me on the trail, they had no idea I would still be in Big Bear.

For the last few weeks I've been hiking with Maj again. Her injury on her foot has improved and we are making good pace. Eric might catch up with us one day. Our days now consist of planning where we will find water, talking about what we will eat at camp that night and deeply engaging over which food is better: American, German or English.

In a few weeks I will hopefully have walked more than 700 miles and be entering the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. The Sierras are the most anticipated section for me as the mountain peaks are more than 4,000 meters high with some snow. The trails are in the real wilderness with no towns or roads for much of the journey through the mountain passes.

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