Mountain Education Resources
Why Manning by Mid-September, Part 2
Early season snow is “fluff” or “potato soup”, depending on its moisture content. In either case, it is Not the consolidated, able-to-walk-on, Spring stuff hikers saw in May and June. It is exhausting to wallow through, will get you wet and cold fast, and you will not be able to make a fraction of the miles you may need to at the dramatic and desperate late end of your epic adventure. As Steel-Eye cautioned, the days will be shorter, too, so this is not the time to be caught along the narrow, exposed ridges of the North Cascades.
To avoid such a sad ending to your hike, plan for realistically achievable daily mileages (based on your personal pre-hike training trips) to get you to your conquerors victory at Monument 78 by mid-September and don’t blow excess trail time that will throw you off schedule. Factor time for resupplies, hitching, injury, weather, laundry, Plan B adjustments, and so forth. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Put it in the schedule.
If you discover that you’re hiking ahead of schedule, then take a day to do whatever you want other than hiking, explore the side trail, fall asleep in the high alpine meadow warm in the Spring sun, watch the den of marmots emerge from their winter’s sleep under the snow, go swimming (if the bugs aren’t too bad!), or catch up on your journal. Unless you’re out there to “go, go, go” every day, take a break now and again and enjoy where you’re at–you may not have the chance later.
So, dare to hike ahead of the “herd” and depart early. Give yourself more time to hear, smell, see, and feel all the trail has to offer by going a bit slower (some people can do this even at high speed–are you one?). If you have the time and ability to lengthen your schedule, it will only increase your experiences, memories, and skill levels (hiking in rain, snow, creek crossings that will be there anyway, mud, and bugs, etc.).
Yes, as Steel-Eye said, “Do what you have to do to get there early to mid-September,” but it needn’t have to be, therefore, a mad rush, if you give yourself more time and prepare for what you expect to encounter (trail conditions and weather). Remember, I started March 14th (pct) and March 1st (cdt) and didn’t have a problem, only great memories (maybe a Plan B or two along the way!). But find out what to expect and train for it–it will only make you a more confident mountain traveler!
Only you can decide what you want to do, what you want to accomplish and get out of your Hike-of-a-Lifetime. Take lots of long hikes in the worst of conditions before hand to learn about yourself and your food, gear, schedule desires, physical ability, and how you deal with loneliness, struggle, isolated decision-making, and the like. Then work all this pre-experience into your planning/preparation so your trip will be a success, safe, and a happy one all the way to Manning by mid-September!
SouthLake Tahoe, Ca