Day 4 From Mission Pine Basin: Rain, Wind and Snow for 13 Miles

We knew the storm was coming. We had weather forecasts from the day before and expected it to hit around noon. We had to hike 12.8 miles and planned to leave camp by 7:30 to miss the brunt of the storm. I woke up about 6am and heard the wind blowing in the pines and water dripping on the tent. When the moon set and the clouds rolled in, my tent got eerily dark.

The winds continued to increase and Chip and I yelled back and forth across the camp so that we could be ready at the same time. I packed my wet tent and we hit the road at 7:33. We were in the relative shelter of the pine-covered valley for the first half hour. As we rose above 6,000′, the light rain turned to snow. The snow was much preferred because it would bounce off of us instead of sticking to our raingear.

Above 6,000′, we were back in the snow and thick fog. Several inches of snow had melted over the last couple days, but it was building again. Two more feet of snow has fallen up here since we left.

My leather gloves were soaked with rain before we reached the top of the mountain. I had trouble snapping my hip belt shut and keeping my poncho straight in the wind and rain. The hike was quite a slog up the mountain, but at least we were warm and sheltered from most of the winds until we got on top. When we summited, the icy winds hit us right in the face. Where butterflies had flown a couple days earlier, the pine needles were now covered in ice.

The freezing rain turned into ice on the pine needles.

We couldn’t enjoy any of the views on top because we were in the clouds. We were on a death march and didn’t stop to eat or chat. We had a long time to go and we knew the storm would only get worse if we waited, so we marched on.

We thought that the winds would get less as we went down in elevation from 6,500′ to 3,000′, but the winds varied tremendously. Like on the way in, some times the wind would blow from the left or south on one ridge and from the right or north on another ridge. My poncho would blow off my back and Chip would help me get it straightened again.

The wind was often blowing up the hill and sideways. My poncho works well in an overhead rain, but it doesn’t work at all when the rain comes from below. It actually even captures some of rain on the inside and trapped it. Chip nor I had waterproof pants on, so my legs were soaking wet and water dripped down my leg and into my socks. My boots were soggy and I took my wet gloves off so I could hold my poncho down. The temperature was in the upper 30s to low 40s, so we kept walking to stay warm.

We stopped at McKinley Springs Campground to get some water, but other than that we didn’t even stop for lunch. We just hiked for almost 13 miles in the whipping winds and rain. The mud caked up on our boots and we had to scrape it off repeatedly. The downhill hike on the road would be enjoyable with views on most days, but we were unfortunately looking into clouds instead of panoramic 60 mile views.

We shifted the whole trip by a day to avoid this storm, but it came early and got us real good. We made it to my car at Cachuma Saddle at about 1:30, so we hiked over 2 mph for six hours – double the speed of the second day. We had three days of good weather and one day of bad. It’s rained in Santa Barbara every day since then and the weatherwoman said that they’ve gotten a couple feet of snow on the mountains since we left. I’m glad we went when we did and got out safely. Quite an expedition.

Here’s the video from the last day. I caught some pretty good pictures of the clouds and wind racing over the ridges we traversed.

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