Standing at the Canadian border on October 21st,, 2014, about to take our first steps south into the heart of winter along the Pacific Crest Trail, my hiking partner Justin Lichter and I had the forecast in our favor. We were attempting to traverse the entire Pacific Crest Trail during winter, which had never before been done. Our goal was to finish before the first "northbounders," thru-hikers traveling north from Mexico along the trail, of 2015 began the following spring.
I was filled with a cocktail of wonder and worry that would loom over me for the next 2,660 miles. Had we considered every variable? Had we calculated every risk? Had we honestly assessed our own level of skill and delusion? Only time would tell.
Before we started, I gave us a 17 percent chance of success. So why bother?
For the next 132 days, we would face an oscillating spectrum of fear and doubt vs. success and triumph. Nearly two straight months of soaking rains and snow through Washington and Oregon tested our morale.
A simple oversight in timing and judgment led to recovering from frostbite for the next 2,000 miles, a pain I wish not to relive. Despite religiously checking weather forecasts, every time the first innocent flakes of snow would fall, we felt like this could be the closing curtain on a misguided attempt. These were our low moments indeed, the reality of exploring the unknown.
Many have asked why we would consider something so absurd and far-fetched—let alone attempt it. For me it is the yin to the yang, the high to the low. That spectrum of emotion is when I tend to feel most alive. When every waking moment is daunting and exciting, my mind is receptive to new horizons and limits. When others suggested we had a death wish, we had to check in with ourselves and make sure they were wrong. This demanded setting aside ego and having an honest conversation about our motivation.
We asked: How much can we endure and what is the reward?
The truth is that the journey is greater than the destination.
It is hard to articulate the recovery of morale in the moments of our highest highs; the adrenaline of triumph. Inevitably those moments coincided with the lowest points, as the two are nearly always paired side by side. The verge of complete break down is greeted by the calm serenity of logic and clarity.
I distinctly recall the moment the clouds broke after weeks of misery to reveal the proud western slopes of Mt Adams. Seeing ice formations and wind-sculpted snow patterns gave a greater context and connection into the alien world we were traveling through.
For months we were the only souls out there. The quietness is something I will always remember and cherish, masked only by the rhythmic squeak of snowshoes and skis against cold snow. Surmounting Forester Pass in the depth of the High Sierra stands tall as the final hurdle we had endured along our long journey south. We were light on our feet, like men whistling on a Sunday morning stroll. Only 600 miles of desert walking stood between the Mexican border and us.