As planned, we woke up at 3am and were successfully on trail by 3:45. The sky was absolutely incredible- it was perfectly clear with no moon so we could see both the city lights in the valley and a sea of stars overhead. The Milky Way was faintly visible, swirling in the endess dark. I saw a shooting star just as we hit the trail and felt great about our adventure.
We climbed the remainder of trail toward the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell with our headlamps, often turning them off to enjoy the dark sky. The snow fields got broader and deeper as we ascended, occasionally tricking us into losing the trail in the dark. It seemed like we climbed forever, first reaching a false summit which was quite beautiful. Splash and I joked that this false summit was good enough but still continued on. Suddenly there was no more climbing- we had reached the top of Mt. Baden-Powell.
It was still quite dark so we made coffee and sat next to each other in our sleeping bags eating breakfast as we watched the sky lighten. It truly was an absolutely stunning, indescribable experience.
Once the sun was bathing the whole area in its light, we packed up and started the task of getting down off of the mountain. We had heard about an alternate route that was both easier and significantly safer but it was not on any of our maps. We decided to go for it anyway since the snow conditions made us a bit nervous. We found the beginning of the alternate with ease and happily hiked along the ridgeline, admiring the sea of clouds to our left.
Just as easily as we had found the trail, suddenly we found ourselves off-trail and had no idea what happened. We tried to find it again with no luck and decided to turn back, re-summit, and take the traditional route back down despite the snow. We regrouped and began heading back down the same way we came up. We had hoped to hike 10 miles by 10am which should have been easy considering we were up at 3am but I was a bit skeptical due to the snow and our navigational mishap. PITA responded to my anxiety with “No way we won’t make 10 by 10. If we don’t, something’s wrong.” Let the chaos begin.
On our way back to the PCT, snow covered all the paths and it was hard to know where the trail actually was. There was a steep snow field that we had to descend but it was frozen solid so we figured we could get down by stepping in the frozen footprints. As I was trying to navigate this section, I took a step, slid, and ended up careening down the slope. I tried to self-arrest with my trekking poles but just spun around. I picked up speed and came too close to a tree for comfort before somehow slowing myself down a bit and coming to stop in a narrow low spot. I had slid about 50 yards, all my water bottles and maps had popped out of my pack and slid farther down the slope, but I was ok.
The whole group was stunned and suddenly much more somber. PITA sat down on the snow and slid down in a much more controlled way to get my bottles and maps for me. I realized that the low spot I stopped on was the trail, so at least I found what we were looking for.
We continued on in the snow, slowly and carefully. We lost the trail at least half a dozen times and it ended up taking us 3.5hrs to do 2.5 miles. Splash fell on the snow into a prickly bush. I fell again and got soaked with slush. Eventually we found ourselves on solid trail, no snow. We all collapsed on the trail and took a break once this craziness was done. We were a bit loopy from the mental stress and exertion, so we sang some showtunes (much to Gryllz’s dismay) and found a better mental state.
The trail trended downhill for a long time as we descended off of Mt. Baden-Powell, enjoying all-day views of an ocean of clouds over LA. The trail crisscrossed a paved road many times, and each time it would come down to the road and then back up on the other side, sometimes very steeply. The rocky path would crumble beneath your feet, making each step more and more difficult. We continued to a small day-use area which began a new type of challenge: a road walk.
The next section of trail was closed due to an endangered toad that lived in the area, so a detour had been set up around that area. We had to walk on the shoulder of a very curvy back country road, and there were modified cars flying along it as if they were testing their speed or their skills. Most people hate road walks because it generally wreaks havoc on your joints, but I was so happy to not be walking on rocks that I just flew through this section. The road walk ended at a campground where we set up for the night. There was clean water, bear boxes and privies- what more could we want?
We were joined by Jailbreak and Captain Hook, who we had passed on the “Toad Walk” as we were now calling it. We all made dinner and retired early. It had been an incredibly long day and we were all fried. Everyone seemed a little out of sorts, and throughout the many challenges of the day, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about going home despite the beauty and incredible experiences. Hopefully a good night’s sleep will set us right for tomorrow morning.
Trail magic: 0
Hiked with: PITA, Gryllz, Splash
Camped with: PITA, Gryllz, Splash, Jailbreak, Captain Hook