Day 2: Pure Exhaustion

3 March 2023
PCT Mile 23 to 42

I slept great last night. It was cold but calm. I awoke to a frosty interior.

Tent snow!

It felt good to get moving. Lake Morena was putting on a show, wrapping itself in a low fog.

Yup there’s a lake under there
The descent to Cottonwood Creek
Ice heaves at the edge of the creek

At Cottonwood Creek I didn’t (yet) want to get my feet wet, so I climbed up to the road to cross on the bridge.

Not too much traffic
Dry feet!
Crossing at Mile 24

But it was an almost useless gesture. The trail itself is a river on the other side, banked by swamps. If not for the hard frost my feet would have gotten soaked anyway

PCT Creek

But eventually the trail moved to higher ground, passing through silvery frosted meadows.

Icy sage
Sparkly sunrise
Angelic green between
This guy was not so lucky

I was feeling so cocky in my dry feet. And then I saw this:

Crossing at Mile 25

D’oh! Cottonwood Creek was about 80 feet wide. I pulled out my phone to see alternatives.

Two mile road walk.

Well crap! Guess I’m going swimming.

Crossing prep, socks and insoles removed

It was even deeper than I thought, reaching the bottom of my shorts. At one point I tried ascending the submerged 2×8 plank that normally is sufficient here, but I could feel it coated in ice under foot. No choice but to squelch ahead.

I made it to the other shore, dropped to the ground, and started fumbling with my shoes. Cold water hurts!

I finally got them off and used my socks to dry my feet a bit before reassembling my outfit. Slowly the sensation came back to my toes.

So much for dry feet!

Fortunately, just up trail at Boulder Oaks my buddy Double Down trail angeled me again with a food resupply and a warm burrito.

Thanks Double Down!

I said so long and then continued north under the interstate and up into the Lagunas.

Hairypod pepperweed
A nicely full Kitchen Creek
Intermittent snow at Mile 29

I stopped to stretch at Kitchen Creek Road. No trail magic today, but there may be a few weekend days in April and May.

I then ascended a wonderful traverse over the next two miles. No snow, and a bit early for wildflowers, but I always love this stretch.

Looking south
Mostly redstem stork’s-bills today
I love this section
Looking north

And then… the snow.

Mile 32
JimmyJam trailbreak
Trail or creek?
Um, FarOut don’t fail me now
Fred Canyon

The snow was beautiful. At first.

But then crunchy turned slimy. A slippery mess. I slowed to a mile an hour.


I longed for shady sections where the snow held it’s shape.

Yay shade on snow

And then the postholing started.

Only ankle deep here
Help me!

Ankle deep quickly turned thigh deep.

Deeper here
More yucca in the snow
Almost knee deep

I dreamed of Long Canyon where I thought there would be shade. But no luck. It was 20 inches of soup the whole way.

Soup in Long Canyon

Just like yesterday, there was water everywhere. But I didn’t want to take even a single step more than I had to. I originally planned to get water at the first spot in Long Canyon, but I hiked another hour to cover the 0.9 miles to where the PCT crosses the creek.

Postholing every step. Falling every ten.

I took my first break in 5 hours.

Even on my Zlite pad, I sank a few inches into the snow.

I was so tired I did not bother treating my water. All I could think about was devouring the treats Double Down gave me.

Double Down calls this a “sin bag.” Yum!

I didn’t linger long. The sun was getting lower and I still needed 4 miles to get to Mt Laguna.

Bye bye Long Canyon
Don’t set yet!
Hard-to-appreciate beauty

The 20 inches of soup became 30 inches and I travelled even slower, postholing so deep I had to crawl out sometimes.

I hoped it would be easier when I reached the pine woods near the top.

It didn’t.

It became comical. In a “he’s gone insane” kind of way.

Also comical

At Mile 40 the PCT crosses Thing Valley Road. I hoped there would be 4×4 tracks. Or ATV tracks. Or ski tracks. Or maybe some hikers from the local village already broke the snow?


Thing Valley Road

Nature saved the best postholing for last. A wintry hell that lasted another mile and a half. The sun set. Night closed in.

I guess this is “recreation?”

Once Thing Valley Road got close enough to the Laguna Mountain Highway I bushwhacked up a steep slope, clawing my way through oaks and brush while postholing to my waist.

I have never been so happy to see asphalt.

Thank God!

It was still a mile to the Laguna Mountain Lodge. But my feet didn’t sink!

My adrenaline receded and I started to shiver, even though I had my puffy on hood and all.

It was well past dark so I signalled oncoming cars with the light from my phone. But I never felt unsafe in the two foot shoulder embanked by snow walls that reached as high as 8 feet.

Is this Southern California?

I finally made it to the lodge. And the final irony of the day was their procedure for late check-in. You have to go in a phone booth to call them to come give you the key.

But it was full of 3 feet of snow!

My final posthole

Tonight I sleep the sleep of the dead. Tomorrow I head back to San Diego for a few days.

But I will be back!

Today’s hike-u:

On Postholing
Snow is beautiful
Until it transforms to soup
With miles left to go

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Whoa!
    What a crazy day!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yuriy says:

    Terrific story!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dylan L Nelson says:

    Thank you for sharing, interesting to see the conditions!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Puppy says:

    Wow. How long do you think you can keep that up? 4 miles is tough but, 2000 miles?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JimmyJam says:

      Yeah, if I knew it was all like Day 2 I would quit already. Fortunately, starting early means I can get off trail for a few days here and there to wait out better conditions as I go…. We’ll see!


  5. 100peaks says:

    Glad you made it out alive. I did parts of this section SB last year. I also like that hillside trail above Boulder Oaks. I imagine you sitting on the snow with your feet completely post-holed and laughing like Tom Hanks in The Money Pit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JimmyJam says:

      Nice reference!


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