“PT… Hey, PT!”
I woke in the dark to Rowan quietly calling my name from his tent nearby.
“Huh?” I breathed.
I unzipped my tent and rain fly and took a deep breath at the sight of the snow-covered ground.
“Whoa.” I shook my tent and a thick layer of wet snow slid off with a satisfying sound. I left my rain fly open and curled up in my sleeping bag, staring the snowy dark until I fell back asleep.
The next time I woke it was to the voice of Marathon John.
“It’s morning,” he said. “Time to get up. Someone come hike with me.”
Roxanne was already packing her backpack when I looked outside. In the sky, another storm was rolling in off the mountain. The snow had mostly melted but from the looks of it, it wouldn’t be long before we would have more – or worse – rain.
Echoing my thoughts, Rowan told Marathon John he was going to wait out the storm. Both of us stayed in camp for the rest of the morning, waiting for bad weather that constantly threatened to land on us, but never quite committed. I passed the time by reading, sketching, and watching robins pull worms out of the earth. It was after noon by the time we agreed that the snow wasn’t going to fall, and two o’clock when we were finally packed and on our way out.
There was still a thin layer of snow on the ground, and many pairs of footprints on the trail from those who had hiked through earlier in the day. We caught up with Meta a few minutes in, and then Limey, who had stopped for a snack break at the bottom of a climb. We didn’t stop and chat for long; with our late start we would have to push to make up the miles.
The snow soon turned to slush which soaked through my shoes and socks. I hiked faster to stay warm, moving along ridges and hillsides overrun with rampant poodle dog bush.
We reached the Mill Creek ranger station that evening, where I recognized several people camped along the perimeter – Fancypants and Bucket, Limey and Meta, and an older hiker whom I did not recognize. We set up our shelters by the station’s chain link fence and ate dinner. When it was dark we crawled into our tents and I listened to the loud and persistent hoots of a nearby owl.
“I think it moved,” I called out quietly to Rowan. “I’m hearing it from another direction now, but I didn’t hear it fly by.”
Rowan said that owls’ feathers allowed them to fly completely silently, which is something I didn’t know about them. I grabbed my headlamp and unzipped my rain fly, shining the bright spotlight into the darkness where I thought the hooting sounds were coming from. After some time I focused the beam at the top of a metal pole and saw a brief flash of brown overhead.
“I saw it!” I said, a little too loudly. I reflexively hushed my voice. “That’s so cool…”
The desert nighttime air soon grew sharp and cold, and the sounds of owls faded away until the only noises were of cars passing on the nearby highway, and then nothing but the rustling sounds of other sleeping hikers, and then the enveloping static of sleep.