The hike in was tough, typical for Big Sur, a lot of steep ups and downs, putting a mid winter pressure on out of shape knees as they slam down cutting through switch backs along the ridge line. Hiking was gorgeous, the fog tendrils drifting down ravines in the distance and a welcomed breeze floating by at the top of every climb. Hiking through the burned remnants of the 2008 fire at dusk was a little eerie but beautiful in it’s own right as the blazing sunset peeked around the scorched remains of some of the bigger trees now resembling totem poles.
Regardless, we arrived at Pat Springs just as the last bits flaming orange were disappearing beneath the flat line of cloud above the great Pacific. We pumped some good water from the spring and up we went to make camp in the dark and eat a well deserved dinner. Our camp was right on the front of the ridge, a little windy but would surely have a fantastic view come morning and tucked away enough to not be “so” exposed. Getting a fire going was tough and so it was foregone after dinner in favor for the warmth of our sleeping bags and the prospect of a decent nights sleep.
The wind came up in the night and as we were expecting some light rain it was no surprise when the pitter patter against our tent began and eventually soothed us both into a lasting sleep. Upon initially opening our eyes the tent sagged a little but nothing seeming too crazy at that moment, probably just the damp of Big Sur and maybe a little frost as we were up on a ridge.
Waking up a second time a bit later, the sagging seemed more pressing and so a raised hand out of the warmth of the bag and a tap against our tent walls triggered a micro avalanche; unexpected snow had fallen, and our exposed ridge and all the woods surrounding us were coated in a white snowy blanket – the dread of a cold camp breakdown was already in the air.
The wind was still howling and the snow still falling, and as we unzipped, dressed, and put our things together for the sheer sake of getting off the ridge we chuckled to each other over our misfortune and maybe with a slight edge of anxiety over the day’s hike out still ahead. Boots on, lucky to have thought of the gaiters normally left at home as well as the thin gloves and an extra layer, a pat on the back was in order but as the damp cold wind chilled our bones camp was broken down instead. With one foot in front of the other we made our way off the ridge line and into more sheltered lands for breakfast and a warm beverage.
As we sat, savoring the last of our warm oatmeal and coffee discussing the prospects for the day ahead and having a laugh periodically to break the dread of our wet and cold future, we both knew it’d be fine, but the work to get out was going to be way more than we’d bargained for this weekend.
The trials of the hike out began instantly with the thick small vegetation of the area being completely weighed down across our trail inhibiting our ability to travel fast, or dry for that matter, never mind what was still falling from the sky at that point. The first third of our day consisted of not only hiking through a half foot of snow but pushing branches and small trees covered in it out of the way and crawling under or through bushes that became snow walls; hoods up we pushed on comparing ourselves to the winter Buffalo of Yellowstone occasionally shaking the pile of snow that developed on our backpacks.
Arms sore from pushing and wet from the snow we emerged from the thickets and pressed on, up and down, getting wetter as the day went along, the snow giving way to slush which gave way to water shedding from the trees. By the time we made it out and back to our car, soaked and beaming with self satisfaction of a journey well made, we were happy to report the conditions to the ranger of Botcher’s Gap whom only gave us a barely satisfactory “well, I didn’t expect snow on the ridges last night.” Nor did we sir, nor did we.
“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong…” ~Yvon Chouinard