It’s safe to say I left a big part of myself behind on the Pacific Crest Trail when I decided to finally leave it in September of 2015. As I write about it for my book/memoir, tentatively titled I am Not a Thru-Hiker, I’m constantly brought back to my experiences hiking nearly 1400 miles of the 2663 mile trail, constantly reliving my interactions with other hikers and remembering the places that have branded themselves upon my memory for the rest of my life. Hiking the PCT was an experience like no other, and almost half a year later, I still long to be back out there, walking the lonely miles through deserts and forests and mountain passes.
This past winter has not been the easiest for me, and to be honest I’ve been trying to figure out a lot of things in my life since ending my PCT hike. On one hand, I desperately want to maintain the sense of freedom I had on the Trail – to get out and explore and capture the places and experiences that inspire me the most – but I’m also, for the first time in my life, craving the stability and simplicity of a domesticated life that I’d always avoided. In moving away from Los Angeles, in walking away from my career in the film industry, in chasing the dream of a new life in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve found myself struggling to maintain positivity and focus, and have been feeling more and more like I needed to reconnect with the things I really love in life, to remind myself why I chose to make such a significant change and uproot everything I’ve known and loved in favor of chasing the dream of a more complete life.
More than anything, I found I was letting the weather dissuade me from getting out and exploring, so on the first clear day in what seems like weeks, I hopped in my car and drove up to White Pass, just east of Packwood, Washington on Highway 12, to try and hike a little of the trail that is still so close to my heart. I was primarily looking for snow, as word from the east coast of massive blizzards and pictures of friends enjoying life on white mountainsides had me longing for it, and I knew there was more than enough to be had in the Washington Cascades.
I arrived around 1pm, far too late to do any serious hiking, but enough time to rekindle the love I had for the area. My experience around White Pass and the Goat Rocks National Wilderness in July of 2015 had been one of the most affirming and awe inspiring moments of my PCT experience, and in many ways, it felt like I was returning home as I rented snowshoes and stepped back on the south trailhead.
South Trailhead Bridge
I had never snowshoed before, but took to it quickly and with great joy. The trail itself had been buried by up to 6 feet of snow in some places, obscuring signs and any semblance of navigable pathway, but I loved the feeling of being on top of so much snow. I’d grown up in the snow, in upstate New York and Iowa, but had always found myself in it, fighting for each step. Had I known how much I’d love the experience, I would’ve bought snowshoes a long time ago.
There I was in the forest, atop a blanket of unblemished and powdery white snow, unmarked save for the pockmarks of fallen snow from overburdened trees above. The sun was out, low in the south as it was, but it kissed the top of the trees and cast beautiful shadows across the undisturbed pillowy surface of the forest floor. There was no trail, no sense of direction, beyond the angle of shadows and a general sense of where I was in relation to the road and ski resort nearby.
Fallen Trees and Snowdrifts
I trudged up the mountain, past trees bent and curled like massive fern fronds, bowing under the weight of so much snow. It seemed like waves in the white, or massive tentacles breaching the surface only to be frozen in state.
It was not too cold, in fact I found myself sweating from the effort of the uphill slog through snow drifts in unfamiliar snowshoes, and the silence that dominated the forest was palpable. I found myself relishing the feeling of loneliness, of traversing the void with nothing but the trees and the snow around me.
Shadows on the Snow
I didn’t go far along the trail, about two and a half miles to the intersection of the Chair Lift Trail that took me back to the ski resort at the bottom of the mountain, but I returned to my car invigorated and ready to take on the world. It’s amazing how much peace reconnecting with nature can bring, how much joy can be found in extreme solitude and isolation. There is great beauty to be found in the wilderness, and once more I can’t wait to seek it out in this new year.