The morning was relaxed and cozy. I watched the sun rise as I sipped on morning coffee, readying myself for the hike ahead.
I’d made a commitment the day prior to hike every day for 30 days, and set me sights on Mount Rose for day two.
It was important for me to do this solo. I’d started to feel like I was losing that adventurous side of me, only going out to hike or explore if I was with my boyfriend.
I’d summited this mountain in October – pre snow. But how hard could it be in January? After all, it had been a light snow year at that point, and I already knew the way. I was going to solo summit Mt. Rose and watch an epic winter sunset. At least, that’s what I thought would happen.
But I was wrong.
Immediately I was worried looking at the road back down the mountain road. Water ran down it, melting from old snow. Could that ice over and present a problem when I drove back down later? I have very little experience driving in the snow or ice, and I felt in over my head before I even started.
After shedding a few tears I coached myself into getting out of the car and starting the hike. I’d worry about the drive down later.
Except Mt. Rose was ensconced in a crown of clouds. The wind moved quickly, pushing the clouds above in rapid succession overhead. The weather no longer matched the forecast.
The signs on the trail were nearly submerged in thigh-deep snow, peeking out every now and then, but not often enough, unfortunately.
I followed a well-established snow shoe path through the snow and felt confident about my direction at first. Despite the fog, the snow was arranged in beautiful peaks and valleys and since I was the only person out there, I had it all to myself.
All was well until I started to wonder why I was heading so aggressively uphill. I hadn’t remembered that from my hike a few months prior.
Yet the footprints all pointed that way. I cross referenced with my GPS constantly, but there were so many footprints and backcountry ski tracks it was impossible to orient.
Imagine you have 20 or so different routes you could take at any given time, many of which intersect multiple times, each seeming like it could be where that little line is on the GPS, but without any trail markers or confirmation. There wasn’t even a mountain to orient with, as the clouds had yet to move out.
I’d read the recent AllTrails reviews before choosing this hike and none of them mentioned the difficulty of route finding. I guess in my limited snowshoeing experience I’d always had a clear enough path to follow. And in other parts of Tahoe, there would have been one, but not Mt. Rose, with all of this backcountry powder.
I finally found what I thought was the trail, but it was on a steep ridge and kept pitching my feet sideways. I wondered when an ankle would twist and send me toppling down the mountain.
And I did slide quite a few times.
But it didn’t matter what I did. I couldn’t find the trail, and everything was so steep and the snow so deep, that while I totally saw the appeal for backcountry skiers, their tracks kept sending me on wild goose chases thinking I’d found the trail only to be led in the wrong direction again.
It was crazy disorienting, and I only made it the first 4 miles or so before realizing that there was no way I’d make it up for sunset, and that if it was this disorienting in daylight, navigating at night with a headlamp might be a death sentence.
So I turned around. But once again, which way was up? Which was down? There was no possibility of retracing my steps with 100+ (not exaggerating) other sets of footprints going in every which direction?
Fear started to course through me, aided by frustration and a sense of helplessness. I thought I was good at this. I’d solo hiked so many times before, including in the snow, but it was never this deep, and I could always find my way before.
It was humbling quitting my first hike, and I felt like a failure. In the end I probably walked, slid, and fell and additional 3 miles just trying to find my way back to the car. I wanted to give up but there was no giving up. I’d headed into this alone and I alone had to get myself out of it.
So I did the only thing I could do – take a step, look down to check the route, and keep going, painfully slowly, that way.
And I still got lost.
It was getting dark and I was getting desperate. I had to find a way back to the car.
Finally I realized the quickest way out was straight up a steep mountainside, so on I went, cursing all things good and wonderful for the next 30 minutes.
Though I was hating everything at that moment, once I got above the ridge a dazzling golden sun greeted me, sending misty clouds along the lake’s surface and painting the mountain tops pink. It’s one of the most beautiful winter scenes I’ve ever seen.
And I made it back down that mountain in the car. So what if I only drove 30 mph and constantly utilized the pull offs to let people pass?
I got home safe and sound, wondering what this meant if on day 2 of my 30-day commitment I’d already failed so spectacularly.
But I still got out there and completed my 30 days, and I learned a lot too. Winter is beautiful, and I love the snow, but next time I try to hike Mt. Rose, I’ll start a lot earlier, and I’ll forge my own path.
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