Oct 30, 2007 at 9:43 am #1225628
@6hauptman6Locale: A white padded room in crazy town.
I was wondering if anyone has ever tried to thru-hike the PCT in winter? Is it even feasable? If possible, I wonder how fast it could be completed? This is just something that popped into my head about a week ago. I can not seem to get it off my mind.Oct 30, 2007 at 3:14 pm #1407211
@kennyhel77Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Would be possible, but the hard part would be resupply and time needed. Dangers would include route finding, avalanche skills and the weather. Dunno if anyone has attempted it or not. I am referring to the Sierra's by the way.Oct 30, 2007 at 9:50 pm #1407259
It would take a seriously motivated individual to pull that slog off. If someone has actually done that already, I doubt he enjoyed it very much.
There are serious logistical questions that would need a lot of study to come up with realistic answers.
Much of the trail would be quite remote in the winter time. Getting from and to the trail after re-supply would be keenly difficult if you didn't have coordinated vehicular transport. In fact a good number of the resupply points commonly used would be unavailable in winter time.
In a medium or heavy snow year the upper elevations (7000'+ and often lower)all along the entire trail receive significant precipitation in the form of snow and rain.
You would be engaged in an activity much closer to alpineism than backpacking. You would often encounter vast areas of very deep snow.In fact, up high deep snow would be your constant companion.
Though the PCT has fairly gentle grades compared to many other trails, a partner for protection would be required often from the Sierras to the Canadian border.
It would be quite dangerous even with protection.
For instance let's talk about the areas of trail circumnavigating Murray Canyon in the section starting at Palms to Pines Hwy leading up to the saddle and then decending down to Idyllwyld via the Devil Slide trail.
About 38 miles including the walk into town. A lot of elevation gain. More to the point, 20 miles or so into the hike the trail becomes a roughly 36" wide stone shelf that was blasted out of the side of the cliffs in the 1930s. The stone work (or perhaps originally stonebackfilling?)providing the foundation of the trail, often in excess of twenty vertical
feet, is quite impressive.
Assuming winter conditions, this few miles of trail can be covered in a layer of thick slick ice. It would be really slow going, considering that if you go over the edge, the fall is hundreds of vertical feet.
And I'm talking sunny southern California here! 90 miles due east of downtown Los Angelos. The sierra, Oregon, and Washington would be much more difficult. The supply situation in Oregon alone would be the challenge of a life time.
You can't carry enough calories and hike fast enough to make it work. Simple as that.
Oh, did I mention the trail will be entirely invisible for sometimes days?Oct 31, 2007 at 6:40 am #1407276
Bet Skurka wouldn't even attempt that one.Oct 31, 2007 at 6:52 am #1407277
@djohnsonLocale: Washington State
I've snowshoed small parts of the PCT in winter here in Washington. Here's how I did it:
snowmobiled 25 miles to the trailhead
Used a GPS to go cross country on 11 feet of snow
Found Deep Lake and walked the saddle by Cathedral Rock (Alpine Lakes Wilderness)
It was a logistical issue but was also one of the most amazing wilderness experiences I've ever had. I've often considered doing a cross-country trip on the PCT and winter, but I've never considered an thru-hike. I think it would be pretty dangerous, considering the isolation and avalanche risk- at least here in Washington. But what a cool idea to ponder!
Oct 31, 2007 at 11:59 am #1407330
I have some big plans for the future, along the lines of one of skurkas treks.. the winter will definately be the biggest issue to consider.. a winter PCT hike would be dareing, but I think possible, and if someone were to complete it, It would make me alot more confident and comfortable with long distance hiking in the winter months..
If I were to attempt some of the western mountain ranges in the winter, I would be sure to have an experienced partner along with me, when during the rest of the year, I may prefer to hike alone.
also, I would not skimp as much on navigational and emergency gear. I would definatly have a GPS, personal locater becon, and small fire starting. survival kit with me.
Probably would not be the funnest thru-hike ever, but im sure record attempt hikes arent either… a trek like this would not exactly be for the same reasons as a typical thru-hike, and noone would expect it to be anything like a normal thru-hike. Why do some of us have the dreams and desires we do? I do not know, they are far from rational.. but I can definately relate.
"whatever the mind can conceive and beleive, It can acheive"Oct 31, 2007 at 11:46 pm #1407400
@rglessLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
The Muir Trail in California has been done in winter. There was one writeup in Summit Magazine about a '70s trip, but it was a very low snow year. It has been done in more normal snow years, but I gather it's quite a challenging ski mountaineering experience and there's no guarantee of success.Nov 1, 2007 at 10:04 am #1407447
@dirk9827Locale: Pacific Northwest
Wow! Great photos Doug. I've hiked that area several times during the summer but in the winter, it looks wonderful. That's quite the trek on snowshoes!
I would completely agree with your sentiments regarding Washington in the winter….Although my experience is more limited, there are substantial number of high ridges on the PCT that are quite exposed and subject to deep snow.
I think Washington would be made very difficult by the nature of winter storm damage that hasn't been cleared out yet. I know Scott Williamson, PCT yo-yo hiker, undertook a southbound attempt this year with his new bride, and from what I've read, the falldown up here in Washington was disheartening. It took them days to navigate a path that during a normal year would take hours.
Also, I would imagine the Kendall Katwalk would at the very least require an ice axe to navigate. Given the severe avalanche danger in this area, it is very risky given the drop-off on the other side. Now, that is completely from my perspective as a person with very little mountaineering experience. Perhaps someone with mountaineering chops would comment on the general risk profile in Washington along the PCT.
During an average snow year in Washington, the area around Glacier Peak would also be pretty difficult. The Goat Rocks section is also highly exposed in sections, but on a good day, you might find yourself sharing the trail with some of the more adventurous back country skiers.
Of course, if you left say, on the first day of winter from Campo and headed to Washington, a person probably wouldn't get to Washington until mid-spring or late spring at the earliest! Then the problem might not be so much snow but the problems of snow and freezing rain.
I don't want to throw cold water on anyone's dreams or attempts. I don't know if it could be done or not, but I do know it would take a very long time.
I am curious, would it make more sense to do a southbound hike in the winter?Nov 1, 2007 at 11:10 am #1407455
@tomcat1066Locale: Southwest GA
>Bet Skurka wouldn't even attempt that one.
I'd attempt it.
Of course, I've never been known for my sound decision making skills…just meeting a couple of my ex girlfriends would make that obvious :D
TomNov 1, 2007 at 4:29 pm #1407493
I could envision a couple of really gifted, determined backcountry skier/mountaineer types doing it if they had people bring resupply stuff into them at predetermined points along the route, sort of like a supported JMT attempt. AND, if everything went just right and the mountain gods woke up on the right side of the bed for about 120 or so days in a row. I think it would require two people because there would likely be places where a belay and protection would be involved(pickets, flukes, ice screws, etc), unless it were to be a suicide mission. Think Forrester Pass, Kendall Catwalk for openers. Still, the odds would be long. All it would take would be a heavy snowstorm to create avalanche conditions that would abort the effort or possibly doom our intrepid heroes to slow death by starvation/hypothermia if it occurred just as supplies ran out and their support team couldn't reach them. There lots of other unhappy endings as well. Still, I think this would be possible.
Snowshoeing would be too slow to pull it off in one winter, IMHO, but perhaps the above scenario could be used to section hike the PCT in winter over several seasons.Nov 1, 2007 at 5:04 pm #1407498
@djohnsonLocale: Washington State
I agree that ski mountaineering would be the ticket. But the snow up here can get extremely deep sometimes and the skis might slow you down in certain circumstances.
From my mountaineering background, Kendall Catwalk would make me much less nervous than many of the PCT traverses under serious avalanche chutes. That's the dodgy part. Routefinding would be tough too.
Still, I'm in. At least for part! It's been a dream of mine to do a short thru on the PCT in Washington in mid-winter for years. Stevens to Snoqualmie in mid January? Maybe it would be insane but I'd love to at least think about it!!!
Further, I can provide snowmobile support from the Lake Cle Elum / Hyas Lake side. Anybody up for a 3 day teaser this winter? Enough talk, let's make an adventure!!!Nov 2, 2007 at 5:00 pm #1407597
No question that avalanches would be the number one hazard in our hypothetical endeavor. Probably a show stopper in fact. But still, it's fun to contemplate. An iced over Kendall Catwalk would be not a problem with the right equipment-just an ice axe and crampons should do, but without them it, too, could be a serious problem-major detour at the least. Actually, I was using the Catwalk as an example; there are probably enough such potential problems along the way to string the trip out into early spring, but you wouldn't really know for sure until you encountered them. For navigation, I think I would use a GPS device with a VERY large number of waypoints stored in advance. Things just don't look the same under 10+ feet of snow.Nov 2, 2007 at 5:22 pm #1407602
We have a Washington section PCT trip in the works (though not in winter….hmmm, so far) and were told that the trail has actually been revised??? The most recent data books I have are from 2003. Should I be looking for an update?Nov 2, 2007 at 5:36 pm #1407604
The Forest Service had to reroute sections of the trail, particularly in the section from Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass due to heavy storm damage last winter. A good bet would be to check the their website or, more personally, give the Darrington Ranger Station a call. They're usually a pretty good source and nice folks to boot. I bagged a section hike on that portion of the PCT this summer when a friend told me about some of the detours; seemed like too much hassle at the time. Washington Trails Association is another good source. I was just looking at a report they put out about damage to the Suiattle River Rd, which is in that area. The projected repair time frame for the road is pretty general-2008/2009, and that's just for a couple of washouts. Lord only knows when they'll get around to cleaning up the PCT. A better bet would be the section from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. It was in good shape in 2006 when I did it, and I haven't heard anything to the contrary since. Check to be sure, though. Good luck.Nov 6, 2007 at 10:15 am #1408028
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
P.P., the revisions are past Stevens Pass from the storm damage in 2003. If you are doing anything from Columbia River to Stevens, don't worry.
Hoosierdaddy and I did Chinook Pass to White Pass about a month ago in the first snow storm. A lot of fun, very cold though. We didn't see anyone till the last 5 or 6 miles. The snow was easy till then, but after that..the horses the hunters we passed had just chewed it up. That made our last couple miles sucky. We slid all over, falling into holes due to the horses hoofs pulling up chunks of snow.
I'd love to do more of the PCT in the snow….but, and a big but, no thanks on Kendall Katwalk in the snow. It isn't the Katwalk that bothers me, but rather the long traverse after it, heading North. That traverse goes on for miles. And it is steep, I am figuring it is massive avy cute in winter? Coming up to Parks Lakes from the East side maybe instead?
We did Stevens to Snoqualmie in 2006, Mt. Hood to the Columbia River this summer. We may try to do Lava Beds to the Columbia River this month, in the early snow.Nov 6, 2007 at 10:19 am #1408030
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
I put all my TR's together for the PCT. I am still working on it, but for now about 2/3rds of it is done.Nov 21, 2007 at 7:08 pm #1409848
@nevadasLocale: California Coast
suffice to say that any winter backcountry in the sierras and cascades requires a sober evaluation of your skills and abilities. i've done portions of the PCT in winter in the sierras and the oregon cascades, around the three sisters area, on cross country skis.
as noted above, i cant imagine doing something like the north side of forrester pass in the dead of winter. you would need the perfect combo of weather, snow quality, etc. to do it safely. what about near whitney, at the trail crest? whoo hoo.
and, it certainly wouldnt be an ultralight endeavour.
heres a shot from last winter on a two nighter out to glacier point. too bad my buddy couldnt focus my camera with his gloves on…
anyway… hey i will do a 3 day winter trip up in WA. sign me up and i'll fly up. i would love to check that area in the winter with someone who knows the area. my sis lives in ballard… she'd probably be in too.Nov 30, 2007 at 4:00 pm #1410856
@brianleLocale: Pacific NW
I think a person would end up being somewhat — no, make that quite — "creative" in the actual route they followed. Relative to where the literal PCT lies. And apart from just following roads or walking routes that others have been walking (leaving tracks), I think this would indeed be very very challenging.
I walked section J (includes the Kendall Katwalk) this summer, and areas like the Katwalk wouldn't be my biggest, or at least my only concern. If you've ever tried to follow a summertime trail in the winter, one that no one else has been walking on, you'll know that there are real challenges to not being able to see the trail.
Walking in a forest, at times it's pretty obvious where the path goes. But very often it's not at all obvious, and at the point where I find that the trees and brush are getting denser all about me, and it's difficult to proceed, I can try to bust through and continue to whatever looks to be the most open ahead, or I can backtrack — but really I'm just bushwhacking more or less in the vicinity of something that's a clear and easy trail in the summer.
The snow covers brush and sometimes makes it easy to travel places and take shortcuts you wouldn't take in summer, but that's far from universal, and sometimes in the forest the snow falls on deadfall or brush that you can sink into or get tangled in … it can be exhausting sometimes just travelling a mile or two in such conditions.
This, btw, could make it challenging to pull a sled/pulk along a summertime-trail.
I suggest picking some forested as well as some exposed (vertical) sections of trail and doing a multi-day winter trip "on the PCT" before committing to anything more aggressive. Test to see what kind of pace can be reasonably sustained. See how easy it is to navigate in extensive forest (you might want spare lithium batteries for your GPS, and if for nothing else but safety I do recommend you bring one, ideally one with the SiRF Star III chipset …).
Brian LewisDec 1, 2007 at 9:13 pm #1410977
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
Those who feeel avalanche would be the biggest danger are absolutly correct. Any slopes between 32 and 48 degrees are the most avalanche prone.In my estimation you'd need a minimum of a party of four for avalanche safety (i.e.self rescue).
Next, the absolutly necessary avy evaluation and rescue equipment would add to your weight. Namely snow evaluation kit (one for the party), shovels, avy probes, avy transciever beacons, and the new packs with instantly inflatable avy bags such as SnowPulse or ABS (they reduce fatalities to almost zero). Also "nice" would be a PLB for rescue if necessary. (One for the party)
With heavier loads and more calories needed for cold weather you would have to do smaller sections for more frequent resupply than summer trips.
Of course if you get Nat'l Geo. to sponsor you you can always use air resupply drops and just stay on the trail. ;)
EricDec 8, 2007 at 10:29 am #1411778
I have been watching this thread and hoping to find time to add this post. Maybe I will be able to get it done this morning.
In the mid-1970's (the exact year eludes me) a group of four back country skiers led by Jerry Igo attempted to ski the Oregon PCT from Timberline Lodge in the north to Lake of the Woods in the south. As far as I know, the details of the trip remain unpublished. What I recount here is from memory of conversations with participants and Jerry's slide show presentation about the trip from 30 years ago, so please excuse me if I miss a detail or two.
The participants were Jerry (who was about 60 at the time and a trip leader and some-time wilderness skills instructor from the Portland, OR area), June Fleming (author of The Well Fed Backpacker and Staying Found: The Complete Map and Compass Handbook), Jerry's son and a young woman from back east whose names I have forgotten.
They began their trip from Timberline Lodge on about March 1. The theory was that most of the winter storms had passed and that the trip would be mostly spring type skiing conditions. I do not recall a great deal about their gear. They all four used Trak Bushwacker skis. These short, wide, metal-edged, fish-scale bottomed skis are no longer manufactured. I tried them out back then. They were a kind of compromise between skis and snowshoes.
The first week of the trip yielded anything but spring-like conditions as a series of cold fronts swept in from the Pacific dumping 5-7 feet of fresh snow in the mountains. Our intrepid trekkers survived this experience quite comfortably, but the going was quite slow. It was often necessary to take off packs, break trial, return for packs and so on.
The group had arranged for re-supply from a network of friends who would meet them at various points along the way. I was to be a member of their first resupply platoon, scheduled to meet with the group at a place called Pamelia Lake near Mt. Jefferson. Pamelia Lake is now a short detour off the official PCT, but I believe it was actually on the official PCT route (aka Oregon Skyline Trail} in those days.
After a few days of slogging through heavy snow, it became obvious to the Igo group that they would not make it to Pamelia Lake on schedule or anywhere close to it, so they bailed out down a power line cut and eventually made their way to Breitenbush Hotsprings (a resort — not at Breitenbush lake) and met up with the winter caretaker and his broken two-way radio. The group was concerned that when their resupply got to Pamelia Lake and they failed to arrive an unnecessary rescue effort would ensue, so after a short rest they made their way afoot down logging roads toward the town of Detroit. They were eventually picked up by a wildlife photographer in a 4wd vehicle and ferried into town.
Meanwhile, the resupply crew, of which I was a member, was slogging up a snow covered road toward the Pamelia Lake trailhead when we were surprised to hear the roar of a V8 behind us. When the noise caught up with us Jerry jumped out of the bed of the 4wd pickup and regaled us with tales of the group's crazy week in the deep snow, snagged his resupply bag and went back to Detroit for a warm, dry motel night. The resuppliers re-grouped, discussed and decided to continue on to Pamelia Lake to spend the night, drink some Schnapps and sing some songs as the snow turned to rain.
The Igo group determined that avalanche conditions north of Santiam pass through the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness were too severe to warrant a traverse at that time so they arranged transport to Santiam Pass and continued south from there, skipping a segment of the PCT.
Once again, winter reasserted itself and the group arrived at McKenzie Pass in driving wind and very low temperatures. They were able to shelter themselves fairly well by erecting a tent inside the observatory there (a kind of lava rock hut with holes in the walls for viewing surrounding peaks); however, their stoves (Svea wick-type as I recall) were not adequate for the task of melting snow and rehydration became a problem. Once again, a long bail out to the town of Sisters ensued.
After an interlude in Sisters the group returned to McKenzie Pass and completed their trek to Lake of the Woods as conditions in the high country steadily improved. I recall seeing slides of group members skiing in shorts and T-shirts by the end of this trip.
I have pretty much lost touch with these characters over the years. Jerry Igo, who must be 90 by now, was alive and kicking as of a year or so ago residing in the Columbia River Gorge and regaling tourists aboard a river boat with tales of the woods, some of them probably even true. June Fleming is well last I heard and must be at least 39 by now ;-). Of the others I have no news.
I hope this account is useful to anyone planning an extended winter trip on the PCT and interesting, at least, to the rest of you who retain some portion of your sanity.Dec 8, 2007 at 11:53 am #1411792
In the late ‘70s after a successful thru-hike of the AT I decided to apply my newfound hiking expertise to the PCT. Not wanting to wait until summer I decided to hike between Santiam Pass and Mt. Hood over Spring Break. Having never hiked in the western mountains, nothing in my logic seemed amiss. So on a warm sunny spring morning I started hiking.
Fortunately it was a relatively low snow year as the first mile of the PCT was snow free. While I had come prepared for some snow with my newly acquired ice axe and glacier goggles, I had expected patchy snow. Within a mile I left bare earth behind and wouldn’t see it for several more days. Entering the large bowels that flank Three Finger Jack, all signs of the trail disappeared beneath the snow.
Having never done map and compass or cross country hiking, as it’s not needed much on East Coast trails, I plunged ahead confident I could follow the map. Cresting the second pass, I found a steep slope with no sign of trail. Based on the maps I had a good idea where the trail entered the woods several hundred feet below. With the trail and switchbacks buried under feet of snow, there was no clear path to get there.
Sitting on my butt, pushing my pack in front of me, I made my first glissade with my ice axe to a small band of trees. There I found a spot large enough to make camp and cook dinner. That night I fell asleep to the sound of huge boulders crashing down off Three Finger Jake as the days snow melt refroze and released them from their perch.
The next day I managed to find the trail primarily because of the occasional blaze carved into the trunk and the wide path formed as the trail traversed thick timber. All told I managed about 6 miles of hiking that day. The late winter snow was well consolidated so actual walking was not difficult. Most of the time was spent making sure I wasn’t hiking off into oblivion.
Halfway through the third day, I realized at my pace I’d be out of food long before making it to Mt. Hood. So I needed to find an out. In those days the PCT maps were ok but missing a lot of detail needed to bail off into the unknown. I did have a Forest Service map with even less detail. Between the two maps, I managed to piece out a cross country route down a valley that would lead me to Pamelia Lake. From there I could take a trail out to the trail head and a hike of several miles out to the highway.
Fortunately the hike out was pretty much uneventful. By the time I got down to the lake, I was back on dry ground and found a good camp for the night. On the final day a few miles of hiking and a half dozen hitch hikes later I arrived at my destination in Portland.
I have to admit I was extremely lucky. The weather sunny and clear the entire time. Which I’ve learned over the last 30 years is unusual for Oregon at that time of the year. Had I encountered any significant snowfall, I’m sure my bones would laying under some moss covered tree deep in the Oregon Cascades.
You gotta love youth!
RonDec 12, 2007 at 8:08 pm #1412328
Ron, I'm going to guess that your trip was in the spring of 78. That was a remarkably dry winter with little snow. Ordinarily in late winter Pamelia Lake is covered in a deep layer of snow that doesn't disappear until well after spring break. However, in February of 78 I hiked into Pamelia Lake with my wife and another couple and there was almost no snow at all. The trail and camp spots were all bare ground. The lake was frozen and we did some ice fishing with a hook and line (no pole). Ordinarily this would be difficult or impossible because of the need to burrow through a few feet of snow to get to the ice layer. If your abortive hike was, indeed, in 1978 you had much less snow than one would ordinarily encounter along that route.
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