On Advice

Don't take it. Well, maybe. Growing up in Michigan, I like to believe that I know snow pretty well. What's wet, icy, slippery, grippy, what you can walk on top

7 years ago

Latest Post Immortality by Matthew Sluiter public

Don't take it. Well, maybe. Growing up in Michigan, I like to believe that I know snow pretty well. What's wet, icy, slippery, grippy, what you can walk on top of and what you sink up to your knees in.

There is this spot along the trail called Fuller Ridge. When I started the trail, there was all this doom and gloom advice floating around about how it might be super difficult to traverse, that you'll need hiking crampons and an ice axe or whip-it just to stay alive while crossing the ridge. If you tried crossing with microspikes you might not make it. Bare shoes? No way. Like I said. Doom. Gloom.

I wasn't the only one who heard the stories of Fuller Ridge. Early in the morning, around 7:00, I encountered a man of about 50 years of age, standing in front of a patch of snow, staring at it. My approach to him on trail took about 5 minutes, and all the while I kept wondering why the man wasn't moving forward. Something was wrong. When I walked up to him, I greeted him kindly and asked What's up?

He responded that he was just getting warmed up to the snow and would eventually cross this small patch. I asked him if he'd like to follow me for a bit and he said Sure. I walked across the snow patch. He, on the other hand, bear hugged the tree to the left of the snow and proceeded to edge around the snow patch, his toes gripping and slipping on the bark at the base of the tree.

What in the...?

Apparently, this man originated from south of the Mason-Dixon, had never seen snow before, and had apparently believed all the doom and gloom stories whipping around the PCT community. Snow to him meant instant death. Anyway, I talked him off the tree and he followed me over small patchs of snow for the next 1/2 mile, until we parted ways. We hadn't yet hit Fuller Ridge two miles ahead of us. I lost track of the man after that. I imagine the ridge was all sorts of terrifying for him.

Now, having not actually seen Fuller Ridge myself, I expected to encounter an ice sheet in the morning and mushy avalanche conditions in the afternoon. I had microspikes and an ice axe. On sight of first snow, I put on my microspikes and proceeded to move across the ridge. It was kind of slushy, large-ish ice granules — something you could make a hard ice ball out of. It wasn't an ice sheet. It was bare ground interspersed with patches of snow pack, the longest of which only covered 50 foot stretches of the trail, others as little as three feet.

I walked about 500 feet in the microspikes and then took them off. This was a joke. Spikes? Crampons? Ice axe? You've got to be kidding me. Frustrated at having listened to the advice of people I don't know and for not tempering that advice with my own experience, I walked across Fuller Ridge in my running shoes. Oh, and for the record, I didn't die.

After Fuller Ridge, I then walked 75 miles through the Southern California desert carrying and ice axe and microspikes to Big Bear, where I promptly mailed them both back home.

An ice axe. In the desert. 75 miles.

What in the...?

Matthew Sluiter

Published 7 years ago