Our Northwest

Snow obstructs Pacific Crest Trail hikers

Friday, October 11, 2013by  Jon Osterberg

A 23-year-old Portland woman hiked out from the Pacific Crest Trail on Oct. 5 after being stranded by a snowstorm for a week near Mt. Adams.
   Alejandra Wilson started hiking north from Mexico on the 2,650-mile PCT in May. Pounded by waist-deep snow in southwest Washington, she hunkered down in her tent and rationed her food, water, and fuel until conditions improved.
   Meanwhile, about 100 PCT “through-hikers” – people who hike its entire length from Mexico to Canada – linger in the North Cascades area, waiting for enough snow to melt to complete the final 50 miles of their journey.
   Thwarted by snow, a handful of gritty hikers detoured to the shoulder of U.S. Highway 97 and pressed northward, determined to reach Canada via asphalt.
   Others descended from the PCT to the less-snowy Ross Lake Trail, an alternate route to Canada. But a park ranger turned them back, saying North Cascades National Park was off-limits because of the government shutdown.
   Wilson had the right idea by waiting out her snowstorm near Mt. Adams. The Pacific Crest Trail Association warns travelers that finding the trail in snow is near impossible, requiring superb survival and navigation skills. Wait for snow to melt, it advises, adding that snow “shifts the Pacific Crest Trail from a normal summer backpacking trip to something closer to mountaineering.”
   My backpacking buddies and I have endured our own wintry hikes when early storms arrived unexpectedly. Although, since we were camped at 6,000 feet in the Cascades in late September -- me and my guitar-toting friend, at left -- we should have anticipated rapid weather shifts and perhaps snow.
   If you find yourself pounded by heavy snow while backpacking, The Mountaineers offer survival tips that include:

  • Stay warm. Wear layers of breathable, fast-drying clothes. Multiple damp garments can be worn inside a synthetic (not down) sleeping bag overnight – you’ll dry your clothing with body heat.
  • Place bottles of hot water in the armpits, groin, or neck areas to warm your body core.
  • Stay hydrated. Use a stove and pot to melt snow for water.

Read more about the PCT hikers in these Yakima Herald-Republic and Wenatchee World articles.

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