An imposing granite face over Flower Lake was the first to catch the morning’s light. The sun started peaking through the trees and gave all the leaves a golden glow. Another magical morning in the Sierras! We finished packing up after breakfast and quickly got on the trail knowing we had some climbing to do today!
Hoodies off, we set out, Izzie in the lead pushing strong after resting her foot/ankle in the afternoon before periodically forcing it into the shivering lake. We both kept our stride, even when the wind started whipping as we approached Kearsarge Pass. Down in the lake below the switchbacks we could see the wind and sun’s work on the water’s surface. It whipped and swirled while the sun gleamed on its surface making rapid moving shapes like a murmuration of starlings.
Finally we reached the pass and instantly put hoodies back on, the wind was unforgiving on the west side of the pass and nipped at our heels as we quickly descended, seeking refuge in the trees below. Small patches of ice were surprisingly still present on trail, we carefully navigated around them. Down, down, down, we went until finally reaching the trees, yet the wind still persisted. We could see Kearsarge Lake in the distance, and after a small hillock, the green Bullfrog Lake came into view.
We trekked on and soon found ourselves back to the junction where the JMT meets the trail to Kearsarge Pass. From there the hoodies were peeled and a good climb soon ensued north on the JMT. Not many people talk about the effort it takes to gain the view from a pass. You can’t get it daydreaming at camp, or really experience the feeling watching a video with some epic sound track in the background, it takes work to get there, and work we did. The work was good, and so were the views!
The climb persisted after a short respite on a leisurely plateau, we climbed up above Charlotte Lake, which was set in a beautiful valley that was clearly shaped by a traveling glacier. On the far end of the valley a U shape was left in the granite face, and it was so cool to see its mark still remained!
Climbing still, we entered the final approach plateau to Glenn Pass where all the trees were hooked and bent towards the top of the pass as if to praise it or simply point the way. The way was up! We kept climbing, and after a few false summits we found the jagged lip of the pass and paused for a snack and to soak in the view.
We started to run into people, Ghost a NoBo PCT hiker stopped for some small talk, 2 JMTers from Sacramento looking like they were having the time of their life, and finally at the bottom of the snow patched pass we met a couple who had just got engaged at Rae Lakes! The gal beamed with delight and we chatted on for a bit about their 60 Lakes loop.
After leaving the couple we bombed down towards Rae Lakes. The upper lake was crystal light blue in the middle, green turquoise towards the edge and finally orange at the rim from the vegetation and shallow bank. It looked almost like a human Iris, glinting in the light, and absolutely breathtaking. We soon found a nice spot for lunch and took a cold plunge in the clear waters. Although the wind still lightly blew, the sun warmed our cold skin and we laid out like lizards hoping for warmth.
We packed up and headed around the lake. Grey Jays flashed by in streaks of grey, black, and white. Brook trout swam just feet from the water’s edge and in the distance a quaint cabin stood overlooking all this beauty. I could only imagine what it must be like to live there, even for a brief season.
We started descending moss filled valleys crisscrossed with creeks, sprinkled with flowers and lush meandering meadows took over the plateaus. We descended a long staircase of plateaus from which each had its own lake and accompanying meadows, each lake would deepen in green as its size grew until towards the lower steps of the stair case the lakes were forest green.
On one such stairstep we met a Ranger named Mike and his wife Leanna who were staying in the Ranger Cabin for the summer. It sounded like a dream job, well perhaps not policing the public and making sure they are properly burying their feces, but I guess that’s a small price to pay for living in paradise. We chatted on about fish, fire, browning trees, mountains, all the important things, before finally saying goodbye and heading farther down the valley.
We headed down and at the far end of the valley a large granite south facing wall named Castle Domes could be seen that was clearly formed by a glacier. It looked like a big blob of ice had slowly slid down its face making new wrinkles and curves that still held up to the test of time. We soon found the flora starting to change. Around 9050 feet we found our first aspen trees of the trip! Soon after our first purple lupin, followed by Indian paintbrush, sage, and beautiful little green ferns. Cedars started to appear and soon after silver firs.
We took it all in until finally we reached the suspension bridge giving passage to hikers over Wood Creek. We passed over one at a time (as recommended by the signage). The bridge swayed as we walked, not only up and down, but also side to side, finding a wave pattern in harmony with the rhythm of our stride, it was a pretty cool experience to have in the middle of nowhere!
After crossing the bridge we started pushing up the final stretch of trail before camp. It immediately amped up the elevation gain. This southern facing hill was dominated by Jeffrey Pines, as it was in full sun most of the day, and only broke by small streams running down towards the canyon bottom where more lush loving foliage clung. A large creek rushed down slickrock in the belly of the canyon trailside as we hiked north. The sun began threatening to hide behind the mountains just before we finally reached camp! It was a mashed potato kind of night and we were both thankful to find refuge in the tent on a flat pad beneath the shelter of a birch tree. Man what another great big day!
Miles: 13.7 Total:
JMT Miles 4 (36.5 – 40.5) + Kearsarge Pass Miles (9.7)
Zippers, feet, and creeks. I started the day by pondering over zippers and how critial they are to backpacking. Tent doors, backpack pouches, puffy jackets, there are just so many things that would be so much harder without them . . . what’s the next invention to take the zipper’s place. I pondered this as I was packing up my sleeping bag and Izzie was boiling up some coffee for breakfast as a part of our morning ritual. We placed a stroopwaffle under our warm mug to make them like freshly baked cookies.
Soon once all the cooking was done, Izzie went to the creek to tend to her foot, and I packed up our damp tent. Pro tip, if you camp near a creek or river, it’s highly likely you’ll have a ton of condensation on your tent and sleeping bag, so be sure to find some time at lunch to unroll them and dry out before you reach camp for the next night (no one likes to crawl into a wet tent).
Back to feet: Izzie suspected she had broken a bone in her foot weeks before on a work trip, and on the descent from Mount Whitney she twisted her ankle agrivating the injury and making both her ankle and foot painfully swollen. She was taking it in her stride, dousing it in the river whenever the opportunity presented itself.
After all was said and done, we were all packed up and left out of camp in good spirits. We were in the shade of the morning and only the westerly ridge was lit up by the morning sun, but our cool trail was still in shade. Izzie stopped abruptly in the trail and a deer appeared quickly bounding away. He hopped like a rabbit as if to say “look how easily I am gracefully bounding away, you couldn’t catch me if you tried!” It was our first big game sighting of the trip!
The flora began to change as we pressed further north, we found fragrant sage, twisted currant, and our first lonely fir standing proud and plump! We finally reached the first climb up towards Bullfrog Lake and eventually Kearsage Pass. We both put our stride into low gear and steadily ascended the manzanita, snow brush, fir, and fern lined trail. Creeks leaped across the landscape and pines stood proud and well fed by the plentiful water here.
We finally popped out above the trees as the golden sun shone on the granite faces above. I started to think about how they always depicted Cleopatra, clad in flowing white dresses and weighed down with gold jewelery. I think of the mornings in the Sierra with white granite faces clad in beautiful golden sunlight. It’s nothing less than magical!
We finally reached Bullfrog Lake, a beautiful blue teal with healthy green algae at its rim. We climbed up and past Kearsarge lake and the cold seemed to intensify as we passed treeline and the blustering wind picked up. We plodded slowly up the chunky granite switchbacks until finally we took the pass!
We popped over the ridge and the wind seemed to subside, we could see hikers speckled across the winding trail below until it disappeared into the pines. We could see a few beautifully clear lakes and hoped to soon be at their shores. Hikers seemed to spring up like weeds, we would pause and chat, seeing day hikers, PCTers, fishermen, mountaineers, weekend loop backpackers, all sorts with their own story to tell. We finally found Maverick Lake and set up out tent for the night.
With Izzie’s foot being a nuisance, we decided to have her guard our gear while I hitched into town, grabbed our resupply, hitched back to the trailhead, and hiked back up to the lake in time for dinner (no easy task when you’re counting on the humanity of others, but I had faith!). With an almost empty pack I bombed down the trail! I would see a cascading waterfall, hear the buzz of a cicada, and finally a glimpse of the road leading to the Onion Valley Trailhead. I was stoked and pressed on briskly!
Indian paintbrush, snowbrush, and short scrub bushes lined the trail as I descended. I was soon at the parking lot, standing at the end with a big smile and a thumb out, hoping for the best in my stylish hawaiian shorts. It was only 10 minutes or so before I was picked up! A kind fellow who turned out to be an ex sheriff who loved the Sierras and jammed to some light Christian rock in the background of our hitch banter. We soon got to Mount Williamson Hotel and I quickly grabbed our resupply of 7 days of food for two and dumped it into my empty pack . . . . needless to say, I was laden down.
I got a ride from one of the shuttle guys who worked at the hotel and was (to my amazement) back to the trailhead at almost 3:00 pm! As soon as I stepped out of Doug’s shiny new Toyota Tacoma, I met Workout and Goldie, a couple trekking for 3.5 months on the PCT. We chatted on and soon figured out they were both biologists and I insisted they stop off for a quick break from the Kearsarge climb at Maverick Lake to meet Izzie and chat about fish and conservation. They led out like a couple of bats out of hell! That’s what happens when you have your trail legs on you!
Switcher after switcher I just mainly tried to hold onto the send train and hoped I wouldn’t fall behind! We were soon at the lake after some aggressive uphill, hanging out, having a snack, while the chat of America’s fish future was discussed. I sat back quiet while the 3 bantered on. Soon they decided to press on and we made dinner, completed our required stretches, and found ourselves back in the tent, hiding from the cold wind and winding down for the night with some warm curry and a cozy sleeping bag. Another great day on the trail!
Miles: 13.7 Total:
JMT Miles 4 (36.5 – 40.5), Kearsarge Pass Miles 9.7
We woke to birds chirping in the trees as twilight gleamed its first light. We started up the morning ritual, of making breakfast and packing up. The pink sky watched over our labor and as we finished putting away the last piece of gear, the ridgeline to the west lit up in a golden orange lightshow.
We led out from camp and gleefully headed down valley overlooking gurgling meadow streams where cutthroat trout played. The ridgelines towering above were as varied as the faces of the twisted trees we passed trailside.
The Ranger Station soon came into view on the far side of a beautiful green meadow. A creek bubbled and gurgled in its belly and song birds accompanied its tune. The air was delightfully cool and the sun had just started to reach the valley bottom as we passed by. Soon we turned north where the JMT and PCT meet and we rolled with the rising and falling of its hills as we went.
It was interesting to observe the felled trees across the hillside. Thinking about their lifecycles: downed dead trees with branches twisted and broken, thrust from the tree’s body as they fell; to baby trees growing next to their parents, guarded and well fed.
The skies had become overcast and grey as the morning pressed on, yet as we we gained a saddle a window of bluebird sky glimmered some hope in the distance. The landscape was a granite boulder field and the trail was a dirty grey, like ground up granite with a flash of dirt, sprinkled with pinecones and bordered by boulders. As we descended towards Wallace Creek we heard a grouse call, a repeated low wooshing like someone swinging an enormous fan through the air. We finally reached the creek, filtered some water and took a moment to try and clean our dirty socks.
After the creek crossing, we started a long steady climb, and at the top were rewarded with incredible vistas of a jagged ridgeline in the distance. We vowed to look up its name later, as if to get to know it better. We soon found the valley floor and the beautiful crossing of Wright Creek.
We struck out on another long climb, and we watched as trees slowly started to fade out below until finally finding ourselves on Bighorn Plateau. We kept our eyes peeled for bighorn sheep, but we found only expectant marmots waiting for a feed from a careless traveler. Vistas were abound, Mount Whitney to the southeast, Barnard to the East, Mt Williamson and Tyndall to the northeast, the Kern Ridge to the west and Kings Kern Divide to the north. Moments like this are why we started the trail in the first place, absolutely breathtaking!
Coming down from our Bighorn Plateau high, we found Tyndall Creek flowing well and a few hikers sitting nearby enjoying a snack. We joined them, chatting about Forester Pass ahead and where they were from. We were interested to hear the Forester pass was clear of snow, although hard to believe, we would soon find out first hand. We pressed on up out of the creek valley and onto an approach plateau just below the pass. Once again trees began to fade out, and ice covered lakes took their place. We climbed slow and steady up to the pass. We must have already begun to adapt to altitude as this ascent was much easier then Whitney the day before! We found no snow on the trail all the way to the saddle, which was very surprising, indicative of the dry winter this past year.
We found some new friends on top of the pass and chatted on about the low snow, the fires to come, and treks present, past, and future. We soon bid farewill and started down the north side of Forester. There were only a few snow patches to be found and the trail was quick and windy.
We soon passed that magic 10,000 ft altitude and trees immediately sprung up. The valley we were entering was gorgeous, covered in moss, and cut through with gurgling braided streams. It was stark and beautiful, the tall strong granite mountains above fed the streams, like veins of the valley pumping the lifeblood to all the vegetation and animals here.
We continued north, dropping lower and lower into the valley ahead until reaching Golden Bear Creek. We stopped to top off our water before camp and rest our feet. By now some ominous clouds had moved in and the temperature started to drop rapidly. I didn’t suspect rain, but was perplexed by the strange white cloud looming over the peaks blocking out the sun’s warmth, and the distant peal of thunder.
We trekked on and found a gorgeous camp perched just above Golden Bear Creek. The jagged ridgeline lined the sky, beautiful pine trees and granite boulders scattered the landscape. We set up our tent, cooked up our dinner, finished the obligatory pre-dinner stretches before slinking off to our cozy tent in refuge from the cold night that was starting to set in on us. What a magical day.
11:30 pm and the alarm blasted. The trees were all black now with some stars peeping through as I checked the time, nudged Izzie to start getting ready, and fired up the JetBoil for the much needed coffee to shake off the 3 hour nap we took under the forest at Whitney Portal. We were soon sorted, packs on, taking our first steps on the trail guided by our little bubbles of headlamp light. The town of Independence gleamed behind us to the west in the undoubtedly hot valley below, I was glad we were headed up into the alpine.
Miles went quick to the soundtrack of Lone Pine Creek roaring like a ferocious tiger in the night as we plodded up the canyon. The stars shone high above, blocked out only by the giant stone faces lurking in the dark. The dusty trail slithered through huge foxtail pines, up and around a maze of granite boulders. Sometimes we found millipedes on the trail, or the occasional flash of a mouse all under an amazing blanket of stars.
It was 3pm before we found our first snow patch, and in the dead of night the exhaustion started scratching at the back of our eyes, a stumble here or there shocked us back into alertness for fear of twisting an ankle.
Finally the moon started to rise, and soon behind it the gleam of pink twilight from the rising sun revitalized our steady march. We were soon at the base of the 99 switchbacks and stopped to break out the Jetboil for a round of oatmeal and another instant cup of coffee. We watched the sun rise and stuffed our faces as we looked over the small camp below us, the mirror lake, and the gigantic granite faces coming into light with orange glow.
We were on the move again and as we rose in altitude, so did our heartrates. Even hiking a slow steady pace made you feel your heartbeat in your ears. We slowed, but finally made it to the pass just south of Mount Muir. Peering to the west we were slapped in the face with a sea of granite. It seemed to rise and fall all around us, yet frozen in time. Some great faces looked like a great granite pipe organ, while others looked like a million fingers reaching for heaven.
We trekked on, stopping at the trail junction where the JMT heads west and the Whitney summit trail continues north to drop a pack and consolidate snacks and water. The trail itself was pretty easy, just some boulders here and there to navigate, but the pressure from the altitude felt immense, always trying to hold back your next step, making every inch an effort. It became a game of “not too much”. Not too much speed, not too much water, not too much heavy breathing, not too much food. Felt like making the wrong move would leave you trailside gasping for air. We pressed on, past the Needles, peering down the gaps between to look down on Owens Valley far below. One step at a time, and finally after what seemed like a long 1.9 miles from the junction, we saw the house at the summit.
Relieved we had made it, we plopped down, pulled out our sleeping bags for quick warmth, water to rehydrate from the arid alpine, and snacks to fuel our journey down and north, further along the JMT. We had a quick nap, and finally decided our high altitude life had to be put on pause for the next adventure, and we headed down.
The air was still chilly but the sun warmed you, so we plodded down, back to our packs in hoodies taking in the scenery and admiring the vast granite frozen sea. Little lakelets could be seen from the ridge, and eventually pines down in the lower valleys. We reached our packs, shouldered our belongings and headed north down towards the valley floor.
An oversight we made was not filtering enough water before our Whitney ascent, so now, as we headed down, we began rationing our last liter of water. I had remembered there were creeks below, but every creek bed we came to was dry . . . we plodded on with parched tongues. Soon Guitar Lake came into view and we counted the seconds before we reached its only running stream. We were delighted to see flow, and quickly broke out our bottles for a fill. After the long dry last 3 miles, not to mention the rationing during the miles before, this was a godsend and our stomachs rejoiced.
We meandered over to Guitar Lake, found a nice spot for lunch and had yet another nap, should I be feeling guilty by now? Nah, we had a midnight start after all! We packed up once again and wandered on down the trail until we found a nice group of foxtail pines, singing birds, and a view of the meadow below. Soon with a tent pitched, dinner made, and stretches done, we crawled into our tent for some much needed rest after a very long day.
I am a big fan of hand written mail. In an attempt to revitalize this age old past time (which is quickly being lost to web-based communications) I’d like to reboot a post card project. Send in post cards with words of inspiration to get others outside and enjoying nature, and I will post selected post cards to the website.
Project Goal: The goal is to inspire others to hit the trail and see new places! Nature can be a much better medication than the couch.
How you get involved: Tell me about yourself! Send in post cards with positive words of inspiration for others to get outside. Tell me your story, tell me about your favorite adventure, tell me what makes you keep climbing, hiking, kayaking, or however you move through nature. Send in your wishes for friends or family to get outside, tell me about an adventure you hope to do in the future. Post your real name, trail name, or leave it anonymous, anything goes, just be creative!
The Re-Post: I will select a few post cards every month to be displayed on the Trail Post tab of the GoatManMike.com home page. I look forward to receiving your trail posts!
New Address: P.O. Box 1729 Flagstaff AZ 86002-1729
There are only so many times that you can drive by an inspiring formation before you finally stop the car and just have to climb it. Smithsonian Butte looms high over Apple Valley in SW Utah and I would see it regularly coming to and from Arizona. Every time I would see it, I would just stare and wonder what it would be like to climb, what it would be like to stand on the summit. The peak boasts a very loose 5.6 pitch of climbing, an easy yet very exposed ledge traverse, and a few low fifth class steps and a ton of scrambling and route finding to gain the summit. I finally made it a priority and went for a summit bid on a cold January morning. Here is the account of Izzie’s and my climb.
Cold and chilly the alarm blasted just before sunrise, and soon after coffee, breakfast, and feet on the ground bundled up we headed for a ridge on the southeast side of the butte. There is no real trail to the mountain so the track is a matter of choosing the best grade to the base of the climb. We side hilled, scrambled up a few cliff breaks, and gained the first step which is guarded by a canyon on the left (west) and a small hill on the right (east) as we headed north towards a low saddle. At first the going was pretty easy as we followed cattle, deer, and bighorn sheep tracks, but soon became side hilling until we finally reached the saddle. Cross country trekking is the best way to describe it, dodging cactus, loose rocks, and ankle twisters and the occasional patch of snow.
From the saddle we headed northwest through a cliff break until finally gaining the next step which was riddled with juniper trees and sheep tracks. Skirting the north side of the ridge extending south east from the butte’s exposed cliff faces we trod along through snow patches and broken rock until it was evident that skirting on flat ground would no longer be advantageous. It was time to gain elevation aiming for the most southeast cliffs protruding up from the red earth surrounding. After careful scrambling, picking through cliff bands, we found a line that worked and finally reached the south east end of the butte.
Climbing up from the saddle, finally views of the butte!
Hoof prints and side hilling towards the Butte
We skirted northwest on the base of the north face of the butte carefully trekking as we did to not fall off a drop to the north until finally finding a break where a climbable chute became evident. Still a few hundred feet below the start of the climb, we started slowly working our way up the crumbling and snow covered steps making a few class 3/4 moves, until finally we found a large ledge where we started to rope up. Roped up and ready I scrambled up into the chute which was sandy, loose, and vegetated. The climbing was easy to begin with and I stuffed in cams where I could. I slung a small sandstone column that was the size of my calf. I knocked on the column, hearing a somewhat hollow sound, hoped it would hold in a fall knowing it probably wouldn’t, and kept climbing. Up I went finding a good crack just below the crux of the route that I stuffed a BD#1 cam into . . . I kept moving it around trying to find the best placement, until finally I got the damn thing stuck! Woops, I decided to grab it on the descent, climbed up a sandy ledge which I wiped off and threw down small loose boulders to make room for a foot and mantled over. I slung another questionable sandstone column, and made some sand covered slab moves out and climbers left until finally reaching a small tree belay with left over rope from previous retreats.
Izzie soon climbed up, confirming that my cam was stuck as hell, and met me at the belay. We were still in the shade of the butte’s north face, so climbing quickly became priority. Up another 15’ and I gained a notch on the south eastern ridgeline just above a large ledge where the airy traverse awaited. Knowing there would be some hella rope drag, but not wanting to make a ton of pitches I climbed on. I traversed the airy ledge, slung a sturdy old juniper, then climbed up 15-20’ to set up a belay on a large ledge on the south side in the sun. “Belay on!” I yelled as Izzie climbed on cleaning all the gear as she went. “Wow, that’s exposed!” she said, rounding the corner and seeing the drop-off. I pulled hard on the rope, pulling it through the rope maze I’d created around the high friction sandstone corner, but soon enough she joined me at the belay.
Up and on through 4th class scrambling I found the end of the sustained rope climbing at a large tree where a rap station awaited. That tree would later be used to rappel the loose chimney we’d initially climbed up. We dropped our gear here and scrambled up the loose rising plateau. Skirting north behind a juniper, we found a slot that climbed up to the next ledge. Upon the exit, we found a 5th class scramble with a few loose blocks at the exit. Moving carefully, using a few good foot holds and finally ledges, we exited the 20’ chute with a breath of ease.
The 4th class slot that leads to the 5th class chute
5th class chimney
Continuing up a few more 4th class breaks we finally saw a small saddle that divided our ridge scramble from the final summit scramble. We down climbed, slowly worked across the loose traverse until looking up towards one loose 4th class and two 5th class obstacles. We climbed tediously on the sandy surfaces, spotting each other, finding the best line until popping out surprised to find a medium tree with webbing and a rap ring at the base. I wished I had a rope with us as I glanced back down the two short but exposed 5th class climbs we’d just ascended. But no matter, we only had 3rd class scrambles between us and the summit! “One, two, three . . . “ we chanted as we simultaneously touched the highest point of the summit with big smiles and hungry stomachs.
4th class and 5th class scrambles to 3rd class summit block
Rap tree, final 3rd class scarmable up to the summit block
Views taken in, summit registry signed (There were like 10 summit parties in the last 10 years!), and lunch consumed, we began back the way we came, down climbing all the obstacles carefully and snapping pictures of the golden peaks in the distance.
Finally we reached the tree where we had dropped our gear and got ready for the rappel. There were 2 raps, 90’ each. The first rap tree had a white 6’ rope tied to it with a rap ring. The sheath was a little sun damaged, but the inner rope core was intact. I rapped off the north side of the ridge, back into the chute to the tree which ended the top of the 1st pitch. I clipped into the rap ring connected to rope left behind at the base of the small tree. The rope there was in similar condition, sun damaged on the outside, but the core was intact. I yelled “Off rope”. Izzie soon rappelled; we collected our rope and set up the next rappel. Down I went, pausing quickly at the stuck cam with my nut tool in hand, scrubbing, pulling, and levering on the lobes until, to my relief, it finally popped free. Finishing the rap, so glad I had my cam, I was soon back on the starting ledge, and Izzie was soon to follow. Back in the butte’s shadow we collected our gear, put on our approach shoes back on (thank god), and quickly retraced our steps, down climbing and side hilling, until finally, 8.5 hours later we were back at the van headed for home. What a great day and an awesome summit!
As I continue seeking adventure, it seems as though my eyes continue to seek out routes that are more difficult, not just physically and mentally, but also vertically. As climbing continues to steepen, and the difficulty increase, so does the classification of the route. As posting continues I will be mixing in both hiking treks and climbing adventures so I wanted to define a few terms to ensure that my posts are understood . . . “The more you know”.
Before I jump into definitions I want to touch on a subject that no one likes to talk about: Death. Dying is an inevitable part of life, but its timing can be greatly influenced by the choices and decisions you make with risk management on any adventure. The death zone is considered to be climbing above 30 feet of exposure above the ground. Essentially if you fall, you die from the injuries sustained from such an accident. I will be focusing on deaths due to falls for each route classification as to help define the danger and risk taken in participating in each activity.
Table 1. Route Classifications by Difficulty
Walking an established flat, easy trail, much like a sidewalk.
Hiking a steep incline or decline.
Scrambling a steep hillside, moderate exposure, and hands are used in climbing.
Scrambling up steeper yet, with hands, on exposed faces which the potential of falls that could cause serious or possibly fatal injury. Ropes and rock protection are sometimes used.
Free Climbing (Free from Aid): This technical climbing is accomplished using one’s hands and feet on the rock to ascend the route. It is free from any aid such as pulling on a rope or any other protection. Any fall from a Class 5 route would most likely be fatal without protective gear. Rope and rock protection are required.
Aid Climbing: This form of technical climbing is used when there is an absence of hand and foot holds for the climber to use to ascend a route. The climber must use aid from pitons, hangers, hooks, and an assortment of gear to ascend the route. Any fall from a Class 6 would most likely be fatal without protective gear. Rope and rock protection are required.
Class 1-3: Hiking & Easy Scrambling – Most people understand pretty easily Class 1-3 as they have walked, hiked, and scrambled to get to the top of a mountain. There is no gear required for this kind of terrain.
Fall occurrence: Low, Death risk: Low, Gear Required: None.
Annual Deaths: 5 deaths from falls, 35 total (NPS SAR Data)
Class 4: The Most Deadly Class – Scrambling on fourth class can be very dangerous as the scrambling becomes more vertical and exposure to drop-offs becomes inevitable. The problem lies within knowing when to pull out a rope for technical climbing using fifth class techniques and when to go for it with no ropes. Setting up belay stations, using rock protection, and climbing using fifth class techniques is time consuming and sometimes not worth climbing just 10’ of rock. On the other hand, fourth class can be very exposed and a mistake on easy climbing may leave you falling to your death. Because the nature of fourth class is almost always subjective, it can be the most dangerous leaving the safety protection up to the climber’s discretion rather than a requirement.
Fall occurrence: Med, Death risk: Med-High, Gear Required: None/Subjective.
Annual Deaths: 10 (Rocky Mountain Rescue Group 1998-2011)
Class 5:Free Climbing (Free from Aid) – This technical climbing class involves using your own physical power (hands and feet) to ascend a route or rock face from bottom to top. Due to the fact that this form of climbing would certainly result in death in the event of a fall, certain specific gear is used to prevent injury. This form of climbing requires two climbers, a rope, helmet, harness, belay device, quick draws, and some sort of protection. Protection can be either pre-fixed bolts in the rock (Sport Climbing) or traditional gear that can be later removed once the climb is complete (Trad Climbing). The two climbers consist of a leader and a belayer (aka a follower in multi-pitch climbs), which are connected by a rope tied with a knot into harnesses which each climber wears. The belayer uses a belay device connected to their harness which clamps on the rope between the climbers which allows them to slacken (“give”) or tighten (“take”) in the amount of slack in the rope between the two climbers. The belay device also acts as an assistant or stopper in catching their leader in the event of a fall.
The leader’s job is to ascend the route, clipping their end of the rope into protection using a quick draw as they ascend. The belayer’s job is to feed rope through the belay device at the same rate as the leader ascends the wall, leaving just the right amount of slack in the rope. Too little slack and the lead climber is hindered and not able to clip into the protection or ascend further by being held back by the tautness in the rope: this is called “short roping”. Giving out too much slack in the rope could result in the leader hitting the ground or “decking” due to the excess slack in the event of a fall. If the belayer executes their job well, the leader would only fall a distance twice the length of rope above their last piece of protection (plus a little length from rope stretch and from slack in the rope between the two climbers).
Protection types: There are 2 types of rock protection including fixed bolts and traditional gear and the climbing style associated with each is called Sport Climbing or Trad Climbing respectively.
Sport Climbing – Fixed bolts are used when there are not a lot of options to use natural features in the rock to protect the climber with traditional gear. In this case the first ascent climber establishes the route by drilling bolts with hangers attached into the rock at either evenly spaced or hard portions of the route where a fall could occur, to protect the climber from falling. As the leader climbs they use quick-draws to clip one end into these permanent hangers to connect the other end to their climbing rope.
Quick-draw Bolt & Hanger
Trad Climbing – Traditional gear utilizes natural features in the rock to create a temporary anchor point that can later be removed by the follower. Traditional gear includes a variety of both passive and active gear. Passive gear such as nuts, monkey fists, and slings has no moving parts and is put into place to fit naturally occurring rock features. Active protection includes cams, ball nuts, big bros, and other pieces of equipment that have moving parts i.e. spring loaded lobes that expand into naturally formed features. Active gear has a larger range of versatility for different sized cracks in comparison to passive gear. Once put into place, the leader once again uses quick-draws to clip one end into the trad gear and connect the other end through their climbing rope. As you can imagine, carrying both trad gear and quick draws up a route can become very heavy which is why some climbers prefer Sport Climbing to Trad Climbing.
Climbing grades in 5th class are divided by difficulty starting at the easiest 5.1 and going to hardest 5.15. Once the level of 5.10 is achieved the grades are subdivided into 4 more sub-ratings suffixed with letters a,b,c,d respectively increasing with difficulty (Example: 512a is harder than 5.11d). The hardest rock climbing in the world at the moment is a 5.15d (video) which pushes the abilities of the human body to its absolute limit to climb a route free of aid.
Fall occurrence: High, Death risk: Low-Med, Gear Required: Helmet, Harness, Rope, and Rock Protection.
Annual Deaths: 5 (NPS SAR Data)
Class 6:Aid Climbing – Aid climbing comes into play where there are no holds or features that can be used to ascend a route with just your hands and feet. A crack system could shrink too tight to fit your fingers in, however you can still utilize a hook or hanger connected to a webbing ladder which the leader can step up into to ascend the route. The roped climbing techniques from Class 5 climbing are still utilized (lead climber, belayer, rope, harness, helmets, etc), however the protection changes to hangers, hooks, and pitons (protection such as nuts and cams can still be utilized). The leader uses these anchor points to pull on with a ladder system to ascend the route. Instead of only relying on the gear in the case of a fall, it now becomes the vehicle through which the leader climbs. There are 2 types of aid gear, removable and fixed. Gear such as hooks, hangers, nuts, and cams are only temporary anchors and can be removed cleanly. Gear such as pitons and copperheads are hammered into the rock and left behind as a permanent anchor point. Unlike bolts in sport climbing, pitons are like a wedge that are hammered in quickly but are not as reliable in the long term as fixed bolts are.
Aid Climbing grades range from A1 to A5, and from C1 to C5. ‘A’ grades refer to anything that will need a hammer (placing pitons or copperheads), whilst ‘C’ grades are used if the pitch can be climbed without using a hammer, i.e. ‘clean’.
Fall occurrence: High, Death risk: Low-Medium, Gear Required: Helmet, Harness, Rope, and Rock Protection.
Annual Deaths: Included within Class 5 deaths: average of 5 per year (NPS SAR Data)
Table 2. Climbing fatalities by climbing activity (1998–2011) in Boulder Colorado
Number of Fatalities
Exposure: Cliff Edges and Drop-offs – When you hear someone say “That’s an airy traverse” or “It’s an exposed walk” they are referring to the likelihood of coming close to a cliff edge where there are large drop-offs. You can encounter exposure on Class 1-3 pretty often but in most places these edges are protected by handrails to keep everyday hikers safe from going over the edge by accident. Angels Landing in Zion National Park is known for its exposed cliff edges; however you are only on Class 1-3 during this hike. Exposure in Class 4 and 5 climbing are inherent to the classification thus already come with a higher risk of injury when falling from one of these routes.
Conclusion: The bottom line here is that it’s up to you to be responsible for your own safety. The level of danger in climbing can be assessed by looking at the likelihood of a fall vs the risk of death if a fall were to occur. As you move into class 4 from class 3 you transition from a low likelihood of a fall to a high likelihood of a fall which may or may not result in death. This uncertainty and the lack of ropes for protection makes this the most deadly class with respect to falls, even though it is not the most physical or mentally difficult climbing. The fact remains that the death is preventable if you rope up when needed.
Most people in the general public are afraid of exposure to heights and drop-offs. It’s that queasy feeling that rises up in our stomachs and send tingles up our spine. It’s our brain telling our body that there is imminent danger and you need to be on high alert! You can make this go away with practice and time. This is how rock climbers, window washers, skyscraper construction workers, and other people in high exposure activities look calm and collected. It doesn’t mean the danger isn’t there, it just means the skills they have developed help decrease the risk of a fall. You can decrease the likelihood of a fall by increasing your rock climbing/scrambling skills thus becoming more comfortable and competent on vertical terrain. However, don’t let your ego and confidence be your only guiding principles, listen to your gut and make smart decisions. Once you do gain competence with climbing skills, rock climbing can be some of the most rewarding, enjoyable, and exhilarating experiences as you play an active role in the relationship of risk and rock.
Obviously the definitions for the route classifications are only a light overview to understand some of the terms used in my blog posts and are not meant to be an all encompassing document as they only scratch the surface. I also do not include statistics to compare the number of hikers vs climbers in relation to falls in the mindset that any fatality is unacceptable. There are so many other topics that could be touched on here: Free Soloing, Rope Soloing, Ice Climbing, Bouldering, etc but that’s for a different discussion.
Back country route finding skills are critical in finding your way through the mountains safely on less traveled paths. Most trails are well maintained and obvious, but as you venture further into the unknown, the skills required keeping you safe change. It’s not just about mindlessly clicking along at 3mph, keeping on trail and only monitoring your water and food. Routes as opposed to trails can be faint, unpredictable, and hard to follow. Good route finding involves proper research, looking at maps and GPX tracks, noticing signs of foot travel, locating cairn markers, and self rescue.
Before I jump into the meat of it, why care? Why not tread wherever you like?! Good route finding not only keeps you safe and on track, but also saves the plants and animals in the region from unnecessary harm. Some landscapes take a long time to recover once trampled. By trampling on desert soil crust (which is alive), and stepping on plants native animal species rely on, both set precedence for future trekkers to follow in your footsteps and cause lasting damage that may have a farther reach than you think. Sometimes off trailing is warranted, but just try to tread lightly and think about the lasting impact your footsteps have on a landscape and its inhabitants.
Research and Planning
Do some research before you go. See if anyone has completed your track before, and if so read about the hard to navigate areas and study them well. Look at topo maps, make a track, understand possible cliff drop-offs, dead ends, and places that could be dangerous to foot traffic or places where it could be easy to get turned around. For some more rugged tracks where hitting the right notch in a ridge line is important, pictures of the route can be helpful, especially in climbing or scrambling routes.
Also in your research, be sure to understand the land ownership. Are there any restrictions? Special permits? Trespassing laws? Are you trekking on National Forest, National Park, National Monument, BLM, State, Private, State Land, or Indian Reservation? Each land ownership comes with different rules and regulations you can reach out to the appropriate administrator (Private land owner, Indian Affairs Committee, National Park Back country Office, BLM Office, etc) in the area to make sure you are legal in your venture. Be sure to know what you are getting into before you go.
Example: Here is a photo from a trip report on Mt Williamson which gives a visual line of the approach for the summit. This can be crucial info in safely finding your way to the top!
GPS Tracks + Maps
Always carry two forms of navigation (GPS + maps or pictures of your route). Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can be very helpful in following your intended path; however you must be able to not completely rely on them. A GPS track (GPX is the file type) is only meant to get you in the general vicinity and it’s up to you to find the path and follow it. GPS track drawn improperly can also lead you off cliff sides and over untrackable terrain, so be careful when creating them. There are a number of devices for using GPS tracks such as Garmin and even phone Apps, such as LocusPro. If you are using your GPS you should have a paper map and compass as your secondary for any trek.
CalTopo is a great resource for manually drawing GPX tracks with almost any map layer you would like. It also has land ownership layers so you can understand the regulations of the area you plan to trek in.
Reading the Route
Being able to read the signs of a route are critical to following the path. Patted down grass, broken tree limbs, compacted down dirt, dirt smudges from feet on rock faces, shiny tree limbs or rock features from continual contact with sweaty hands, vee shaped indents in a riverbank, obvious notches or breaks in a ridgeline, slight discoloration of the ground in contrast to its surroundings… seeing that path of least resistance across a landscape can guide your way. The more you practice these techniques, the better you get at reading landscape like a book and keeping yourself on track. Remember that not every track may be your route, for example natural washouts from water runoff and animal tracks will leave an imprint on a landscape, but doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right path. Think of this like practicing to be a tracker, read the signs, know the way. Some signs can be very obvious, like a cairn.
Here are a few examples of signs that you’re on the right track: indents in the rocks, impressions in the dirt, even spray paint from an old Via Ferrata route, and of course cairns.
The Cairn Controversy
A cairn is a small rock stack that someone left behind like a breadcrumb trail to help guide future trekkers to find their way. The challenge here becomes when a cairn violates leave no trace, and instead of being a useful tool to guide trekkers through a route, it takes away from experiencing nature. Cairns are not needed on very established trails where is it very obvious where to go and are trekked by thousands of people per year. Establishing a cairn on a well marked trail is discouraged by all the park services across the states, and even though they can be pretty, they aren’t necessary. The exception here is when you are traveling on a route, not a trail, and sometimes cairns can be critical in saving a life, keeping trekkers on route and keeping them from getting lost.
Self Rescue – Getting Lost in the Backcountry
Now you’ve done your research, know the general neighborhood of where you are going, let’s start trekking! The biggest challenge sometimes is when you have lost the trail and there is no more sign of it. Your padded grass, cairns, and any sign of a route have all vanished leaving you in wonder of where to go. There is a simple solution to fix this.
TURN BACK. This very simple rule has saved me so many times. Most people want to push forward and heroically find the path once again. Save yourself a lot of trouble and just turn around and go back the way you came until you find the last notable sign (like a cairn) that you are on route. Start searching for the next sign and often you will find where you went wrong and get back on the right track. If you see that many people have made the same mistake you have (by show of footprints), sometimes it’s good to barricade off the side trek with a rock line or sticks to ensure future trekkers don’t make the same mistake. Before you do this, be absolutely sure that what you are blocking off isn’t another track.
In the worst of cases and you are utterly lost and your maps and GPS navigation have failed you, you can rely on a SPOT tracker, InReach, or other forms of signals to bring rescuers to your aid. Surviving in the wild is a different discussion all together.Conclusions
Be smart, plan your trek, and understand the requirements of the journey you’re about to embark on. Watch for trail signs, use your intuition, stay on track, and make good judgment when boldly going into the unknown. Stays safe out there guys, and never stop exploring!
Zion has had a tough spring. The rain has been constant; the snow has capped the orange cream sandstone peaks more times and later in the season than any local has seen for quite a while. The Virgin is rushing too high for the Narrows to open, rock falls closed Observation Point, and road closures have kept visitors from Kolob Canyon. But, there are more options to this place than the highlighted dotted lines on the visitor center maps. This account is about the ascent of one of those routes.
Here’s a little back story: during the height of putting up Via Ferrata routes across the United States, Zion was no different. Completed in 1924, the park encouraged people to ascend the 2600 ft from the canyon floor to the top of Lady Mountain. After having to save several weary hikers, Zion finally abandoned the route in the 60s, taking down the cables, and cutting most of the bolts. But the route still exists as a fun, adventurous mountaineering route. It’s definitely worth the time to get spectacular views of the canyon from a different perspective, and takes you well away from the hoards of tourists on more conventional trails.
People may give you funny looks as you climb on the Zion Shuttle bus with a harness and helmet strapped to your daypack, but just a 30m gym rope and a few cams (Black Diamond 0.75, 1, 2, 3) is all you need for this adventure. The shuttle will navigate up canyon while the towering walls keep watch and the doors open and you get off at the Zion Lodge stopHead for Emerald Pools, just after crossing the Virgin River Bridge, turn left, away from the crowds and up the closed Kayaenta trail. They are working on the closure; it’s coming along and they’re doing good work. Go up the switchbacks and pass the pour offs until taking a brief moment at a sign documenting a rock fall across the canyon. Take a moment and take in the views, check out the river rolling through constantly forming the canyon around you. Don’t worry, the whole climb ahead of you will still be there after your break.
Now walk about 100 ft and find the climbers trail (it’s actually well beaten and thecairns makring its departure from the main trail may or may not be still there) on your left, hike up, trekking on, switchback after switchback, until finally you find a vertical rock face. There will be a yellow bubble with a spray painted arrow pointing up marking the start of your ascent. Take the class 3/4 up before taking a switchback to an exposed face with moki steps cut in. Scramble on (or rope up if you’re nervous), but it soon turns back to class 2/3 as it continues going up and up. Just follow the trail marked with spray paint and a few faint footprints until finally you find a short low class 5 section heading into a chimney. Rope up and place a couple of cams to protect your ascent from a 60’ drop below. It’s pretty mellow, I led it all with my tennis shoes. You can protect your second from an old but sturdy Via Ferrata bolt at the top, making for an easy belay.
Hike on up a bit until faced with a couple of slopey Moki steps. It’s a weird start but the Moki steps get better as you go up. From here it’s a pretty easy-to-follow hike up to incredible views of the canyon. Some may want to rope up here, your choice. You’ll soon be skirting a small ledge westward following a footpath until finally needing to ascend north again. Up and on you go on a sandy slim ledge, it’s the only way to go that isn’t class 5. Soon you’ll come to a bulging sandstone face with a bolt at the bottom. This is your second class 5 rope-up point. Sure you can solo it, but who wants to make a small mistake in tennis shoes only half way to your goal?! After belaying your second over this short 20’ climb let the hiking continue. Switchbacking, scrambling, and finally you get spat into the final chute. You’ll know it when you get there!
Start climbing into the chute, after about 20’ look to your left and find a small hidden climbers’ trail that ascends the left side of the canyon near some tree roots. Do not stay in the bottom of obvious chute get on the wall on climbers left. Without this trail you’ll get off route and have to do some weird sloped traversing from a tree belay to get back on (I speak from experience, we found the easier trail on our way down). Once past this obstacle, youll find a few via Ferratta bolts bent over on your left side. Just keep on up the canyon past a growing tree and a fallen dead tree until finally exiting climbers’ right on a sandy short scramble.
From here use your route finding skills up and through the short scrub and sandy scrambles until finally popping out on the ridgeline. The views are absolutely incredible. You realize the left cliffs of Zion Canyon are only a sliver of land that divides the canyon to the north. Keep following the trail to the north east until finally the true summit comes into sight across a ravine. Just follow the trail headed northward until finally scrambling up some easy class 3 short moves to the summit plateau. A short walk will soon blast you with incredible 360° views and a little taste of accomplishment after your fun 3 hour ascent (we took our time). Enjoy the summit and the copper plate pointing out the buttes in the distance. Take it all in along with your lunch before heading back down the trail you ascended back to the shuttle.
We rappelled in 4 places:
1) Down the final chute at a bent over Via Ferrata Bolt
2) Down the 2nd class 5 sandy bulge
3) Down the 2nd set (if counting from the bottom up) of Moki Steps
Headphones can be a lifesaver out on the PCT (no brainer right?). Get a set that has a mic so you can call and walk at the sametime if need be. When are these bad boys crucial?
Sleeping – Key item here, especially when there are 70 mph winds, or if you’re sleeping under the I-10 w a recurring 2 hour train schedule. I sleep trained myself by listening to the same 4 songs every night, within 5 mins sleeping like a baby. While hiking, I rocked just 1 earbud in at a time to keep my ear our for other hikers, cars, nature.
Music/Audio Books – Keeps you going through the low energy times
Calling home, to a hostel, or occasional pizza/beer delivery.
2) Micro USB to your phone model Converter
Surprisingly handy for swapping your phone w your other electronics for charging
Instead of 2 seperate cables, bring an end adapter to fit your Micro USB end.
3) Leuko Tape
Ditch the duct tape for foot care, this stuff sticks for days even when wet.
Foot care – cover warm spots before they are blisters, cover blisters to keep them from getting worse after you drain them
Cuts – Cover up your cuts w Triple anti-bacterial, gause, and leuko!
Holding things together
4) Needle, Thread, and Floss
Talk about gear repair, this is essential to keeping you from getting shut down mid-hike. I blew out my Altras in the Sierras, but kept my shoes running with a little floss.
Gear Repair – Sew just about anything up, pack, shirt, shoes, hat
Shoe Repair – Won’t be a permanent fix, but it’ll keep you going!
Clean them teethers, you’ll need that smile for your hitches!
5) A&D Ointment or Body Glide
Let’s face it, you’re going to chafe out there at some point. Be prepared! Chafing could turn from an irritant to an infection, to a real problem, so keep them cheeks greased!
I blogged every single night on the PCT. Alright, I admit I did miss a night or two. But more or less, for 147 days, I blogged for half an hour in my tent after everyone else around me was snoozing. The key to blogging on the trail is having the right tool!
The one item that allowed me to blog every night was a foldable wireless BlueTooth keyboard. I searched all over and settled on this gem that weighed a whopping 6oz. If you dropped the carrying case (that doubles as a phone stand) around it, you would get it down to 4oz.
I chose the first one below to use on the PCT for the weight and price point. I have included a couple other lightweight options that I found in my search.
This was a LIFESAVER and turned me from a T-Rex thumb pressing caveman, to a blog crushing efficient machine. So if you are considering blogging most days on the trail, consider this tool to change your game! Break free from the Thumb War!
Making the drive from Phoenix, AZ to Southern Utah, it’s hard not to get lost in the gorgeous landscapes along the roadside. If you pay attention to more than the traffic and the magnificent rock, you’ll start to notice the Native American culture glimpse back at you.
The deserted truck stops, empty jewelry stands, and long abandoned broken down roadside trailers. This is a shimmer of a dead dream, or the crumbs of a forgotten life. No matter how you look at Native Americans today, it’s a sad sight to see.
A people who were driven west, lost an all out war, and nearly eradicated to extinction. The meth epidemic, the diabetes, or alcoholism are continuing to diminish the remaining numbers.
Someone out there is fed up, standing up, and making themselves heard, even if it’s from a faint cry of roadside graffiti. A stellar artist is wrapping abandoned houses and speaking from an isolated culture. Showing intimate images of family and friends in everyday settings, giving the passers by a glimpse into what Native American culture is.
They are also pulling no punches against coal companies and uranium miners coming onto native lands and taking from the soil at what I can assume is on the same level of cheapness that it took for America to obtain the Louisiana purchase from the French . . .
At any rate, the images are undeniably powerful. So the next time you’re cruising along with a soda in hand and your cigarette hanging out of your open window in this beautiful landscape, take a closer look. Some people are speaking, if you are willing to listen.
Building your own Camper Van is always more of an adventure than you originally think it is going to be. To help guide you through some of the stumbles along the way, I have created this guide to walk you through step by step how to create your own van. I’ll include my research, costs, how-to’s, and designs all supported with pictures and video from my own build. My build was in a 2006 Ford E-350 standard length with a 6.0 TurboDiesel equipped with an Aluminess Rack and Rear bumper and 4×4 Quigley conversion.
Step 0: Dream
It’s time to put that dream cap on and start imagining what it will be like in your van once it’s done. Go scour the internet, the InstaGram (#Van Life), Pinterest boards (camper van conversion), Google image search, grab your inspiration, and take note of what you like and what you don’t. You must make some critical decisions right off the bat and I always tell people: Choose the right tool for the job! Make sure what you’re building is going to realistically fit your needs in the long run. Where will you be taking this van (environment, paved or unpaved roads, special height restrictions)? Will you drive off road (clearance or 4×4?)? Will you be using this van for a specific sport (skiing, mountain biking, climbing, ect)? Will you be spending a lot of time in your van (comfortable, convertible)? Will you be driving frequently and for long distances (fuel economy)? Will you be cooking a lot (standing up in a nice kitchen)? Will you be in cold environments (insulation/heater)?
Then start SAVING your butt off! The van itself will cost anywhere from 5,000 (low end used) to 45,000 (used high end). If you do the camper build yourself (which I would imagine is why you are reading this) it will run anywhere from 1,000 (low end bare bones) to 10,000 high end with everything tricked out.
At the end of the day you want to purchase something within your price range with enough $ to complete your camper conversion build. Make sure the van is SOLID before buying it. Take a friend or have it checked out by your mechanic to ensure you aren’t going to build your dream house on a rotting foundation. With that being said, you first have 3 major questions to ask yourself:
Question 1: Do you want to stand up in your van?!
Standing up in your van can make a huge difference depending on how much time you spend in the van. For some people this isn’t a big deal, but for those full time van life folks, this could be a make it/break it deal. You have 3 options to grasp this dream:
Purchase a stock van you can stand up in. Example: Dodge/Mercedes Sprinter
Modify your van so you can stand up in it:
Hi-top van (Do it yourself or have the pros do it) Example
Pros: Standing up, more storage, not feeling so cramped.
Cons: It will cost you in fuel economy (drag from larger frontal surface area of your van) and will cost you $ in the long run!
Cost: $5,000 (1/2 that price if DYI)+ Fuel economy loss for life of vehicle
Pop-top Van (Do it yourself or have the pros do it) Example
Pros: Standing up, more storage, not feeling so cramped, will collapse and better fuel economy in comparison to the Hi-Top. The area can double as sleeping area.
Cons: It will cost you a lot of $ and the fabric may have to be repaired in the future. Has no insulation if used as a sleeping area.
Suck it up and pretend to be Gollum from Lord of the Rings and love your new 4’ height.
Pros: It’s free (no conversion cost).
Cons: Losing your dignity as a human and always having to bend over to do anything in your van.
Cost: No extra costs . . . except to your dignity . . .
Question 2: Do you want 4×4 with clearance?
This is a huge consideration for people who are going to be going off-road constantly in their van. If you never plan on going 4wheeling, then just save the $ and put it into the build. Pavement regularly or 4×4 roads regularly, just be honest with yourself.
Pros: Peace of mind knowing you can take on gnarly terrain. Go most anywhere.
Cons: Costs lots of $ for the conversion and raises your vehicle height which will cost you $ in fuel economy. This can also raise the height of your van making it top heavy which may deter you from having a Hi-Top roof like a Sprinter Van. In my mind it’s either stand up in your van or go 4×4 (just from cost alone).
Cost: $13,000 + Small hit to fuel economy over life of van
Question 3: Do you want a Diesel or Gasoline Engine?
Pros: Diesel rocks for towing a lot of weight and the engines last a very very long time (typically 400,000-500,000 miles. Good fuel efficiency. Great towing power, you can pull things with your van. Price of Diesel fuel varies less than price of gasoline.
Cons: The cost of general maintenance is higher with diesels. You can go 5-7,000 miles between oil changes, however the oil changes cost around 4x as much as gasoline. Price of Diesel gas is about the same as Hi-Grade (97 Octane) but sometimes equal to Mid Grade (93 octane) dependant on market. Diesel has a higher impact on the environment if you are dogging your engine all the time; however it has a higher efficiency than a gasoline engine which means you get more bang for your buck out of the fuel.
Pros: Cheaper fuel, slightly less impact on environment, lower maintenance costs.
Cons: Engine doesn’t last as long, takes a heavier beating from wear and tear hauling your van around. Poor fuel efficiency. Gasoline engines only last 250,000 miles before having major issues.
Comparison Example: Remember this doesn’t take into account maintenance cost or environmental impact. Just keep that in mind.
Examples of vans that are typically converted into campers:
Mercedes Sprinter (30-45k), Ford Econoline (10-20k), Ford Transit (10-20k), Dodge Sprinter (10-20k), Dodge Promaster (25-35k), Chevy Express (25-30k).
If in your research you’ve decided to leave the work up to professionals:
This will go hand in hand with the dreaming step. Take all those things you liked or disliked into account when you scoured the internet (step 0) and start throwing a few sketches of what you think it should look like. But where to start?
Choosing your Design:
What do you want in your van? Convertible bed? Stove? Sink? Toilet? These are all personal calls, so let’s start with the simplest question:
Are you shorter than 6’ tall? If you are, you can build your bed driver side to passenger side in the van (as opposed to lengthways) saving yourself a ton of “living” room.
Will you be rocking solo or with a partner? If you have a partner you will want the bed wide enough to accommodate two people.
Now that you have the dimensions for your bed you can start sketching and go from there. Measure your van, figure out where you want your bed and the rest of your appliances will fall into place naturally from their required dimensions.
You want everything in your van to be as dual purpose as possible! My bed is both bed and couch when you lift the back up. I have seen beds that convert to a kitchen table and seats, all kinds of options out there. Try to make the steps in converting your bed as minimal as possible. Too many steps will deter you from ever converting it and you’ll end up wasting the effort of trying to design/pay it for the dual purpose aspect of the bed.
Your thought here should be, where do I plan on spending most of my time with this vehicle? If you are in cold climates constantly you will want some good insulation as well as a heater. Every van should have some level of insulation; it dampens sounds outside of the van, locks heat in, keeps cold out or keeps the heat out if you are rocking an AC. It helps regulate your indoor temps.
This seems to be the area where I get most questions about because not many people have a good understanding of electricity. There are some great resources out there to help you along the way; I will attempt to make a quick explanation that makes sense.
If you plan on having power at night without running your engine the entire time then you’ll need a second set of batteries to provide that power for all your appliances. The batteries must have enough capacity to run your appliances when you are not charging them.
My Electronics Analogy: I tell people to imagine the batteries like buckets of water. Charging the batteries is like filling the buckets with water. The “water” is the current that runs your appliances. You can use as much juice as you have in the buckets (which depends on their size), but once the buckets are empty you’ll have to recharge them. The size of your buckets (or charge capacity (AmpH) of your batteries) should be selected by how much energy (current) you plan to use. That will all depend on your appliance selection and how long you plan on using those appliances when you aren’t charging your batteries. I’ll get into the power calculations in the Electrical section.
These secondary batteries will have to be charged somehow. There are 3 main ways of doing that:
Solar Power: Solar utilizes panels which can be mounted to your roof in fixed position or can be mobile. You want to be in an area where you have a good amount of light during the day. If you are somewhere where it’s cloudy all the time, this may not be your best choice. (I will dive deeper into exact specs of the solar system in the Electrical section below).
Pro: Totally separate system from your vehicle, is relatively easy to maintain, well used enough that companies make a “plug and play” system that you can just “throw in” and use. You can expand this system and add more solar or batteries if you need them.
Con: High costs (depending on the system you select), knowledge of electrical circuits (if you build a custom system), solar panels lower the “stealthiness” of your van (making it look more lived-in).
Van’s Alternator: Your van is already equipped with an alternator which charges the van’s starting batteries. You can tap into this with an isolator and utilize this power to charge your batteries.
Pro: No need to spend all that ca$h money on a solar system.
Con: You have to modify your existing stock van wiring system, you need to run your engine in order to charge your batteries (this can be no big deal if you are moving the van constantly).
Gas Generator: I have seen people run a Honda Gas generator to provide both electrical power and charge for their secondary batteries. Mounted on the back, you’ll need extra fuel to run it, and wire it into your secondary batteries.
Pro: No need to spend all that ca$h money on a solar system or modify your stock van electrical system.
Con: Requires secondary fuel supply, can be noisy, not stealthy and you will have to secure it to keep it from being taken off the back of your van.
Sooo many options there! This is total personal preference at work. Do you like cooking with propane? Are you scared of propane in your van? Do you need a fridge? Must you have a sink? Do you want a toilet? Shower? Must have that hair dryer?!
Most appliances you will put in your van should be running on a 12V system. Some appliances (like plug-in appliances (blender, hair dryer, induction stove) that you don’t want to hardwire into your van can be used by utilizing an inverter.
Inverter: An inverter uses your 12V DC (direct current) battery power and converts it to 120 Volts AC (alternating current) just like your outlets at home. An inverter will typically have 1-2 wall plugs on it which you can use to plug in any household appliance (you can plug in extension cords into these and run them behind your walls so you can have an outlet anywhere in your van that you want). Remember that this power conversion is not perfectly efficient so when you can hardwire something in at 12 Volts, you should. Example: Water pump for sink, fridge, fan, ect.
Typical appliances I’ve seen: induction stove, propane stove, fridge, fan, water pump (for sink or shower), water heater, toilet, microwave, oven, pretty much anything you have at home.
You need to decide early on if you are going to keep your windows (if your van came stock with them) or if you are going to insulate and cover everything. Most of the heat loss (in cold temps) or heat gain (in hot temps) is through the glass windows. You need to decide early on if you are going to keep these or not. Keeping or covering the windows will really change your storage design. Some people build shelving and closets, if you are going to keep the windows this will obviously be a challenge.
There are plenty of building materials to choose from. I’ve seen bed frames from metal, whole builds from hardwood, ply board, pressboard, laminate, ect. I would stay away from stone for countertops and flooring because it is very heavy and can crack. You want something that will flex a little with the movement of your vehicle. I did my build from pine plywood for most of the framing, pine hardwood for counter tops, and ton-n-groove pine for the ceiling. Wood can be difficult to work with, but is the easiest to be molded or cut to the shape that you desire.
Bed: I chose to have side-to-side bed (I am 5’7”) that was low enough to the floor that I could still sit up in it and use it as a couch.
Insulation: This wasn’t a huge priority as I can always cuddle up in a sleeping bag and it doesn’t get killer cold in the Southwest.
Power: I opted for a solar powered setup (I live in the Southwest) more specs on system in Electronics section.
Fantastic Fan – Used for ventilation when cooking and cooling off in summer.
Fridge – I opted for a 12 Volt fridge to keep my beer cold!
Stove – I opted for propane, it’s cheap and I love cooking with gas. Some people are very cautious when it comes to propane gas so they decide to go with induction stoves. However induction stoves will use a lot of your battery power, they require about 1,800 Watts at full blast, which gives 1-2 hours of cooking time before your batteries may drain (depending on their capacity). There is no right answer here, just do what makes sense for you.
Sink – I opted for a small sink with water pump, gotta clean those dishes!
Lights – I went with two sets of LEDs, one bright to find things and get crap done, one for ambience and chillin.
Storage: Lastly I wanted to keep my entire build below the windows. This was very important to me as I wanted an open layout in my van and didn’t want to feel like I was stuck in a fart coffin . . . just sayin!
Building Materials: I decided to go all wood on my ceiling, walls, and floor as I wanted a nice aesthetic finish. I planned on painting the walls and main body of the bed/cabinets white while leaving the countertop, drawers, cabinet covers, ceiling, and floor its natural wooden finish.
Don’t stress if you don’t have every detail all worked out to a Tee! The design can develop as you begin building. You will have to adjust your design as you go when you realize the size and dimensions of your appliances which will fix and bound the dimensions of your build.
Remove the entire stock interior from the front seats back to have a clean starting surface.
Rear Seats – Remove and sell on craigslist/ebay.
Rear headliner – Remove and sell on craigslist/ebay.
Leave the front cab headliner in, but pull it down so you can slide your wood ceiling in behind it.
Carpet – keep the carpet for floor templates
Plastic step to the sliding door – Remove (and keep)
Rear Plastic lip at the bottom of the rear doors – Remove (and keep)
Wall paneling – keep the paneling that goes just behind the front seats as you will reinstall this after installing all your wood ceilings/walls – makes it a cleaner look
Door Panels – Remove and discard/sell (Keep the handles!)
Seatbelts – Take them out and throw them on craigslist/ebay!
Rear Heater/AC Unit – My particular van model came with a separate rear heater/cooling unit which I removed in order to make more bed and storage space. To do this you will have to purchase a blank-off kit for the AC lines and make a ‘U’ from hose for recirculating the radiator feed and return lines. Make sure you have the AC lines properly evacuated before disconnecting them. Drain your radiator before disconnecting the rear heater core to minimize the amount of coolant you lose. Have everything you need ON HAND before doing this so you can get your vehicle running the same day. Pop off the heater core lines (have a bucket handy for remaining coolant in the heater core lines), U joint the heat core lines, use hose clamps to secure the ‘U’ in place. Separate the AC lines below the van body with a special AC line tool (you can buy this at any automotive shop), cap the AC lines with your blank-off kit. Remove the rear heater/cooling unit. Refill your AC refrigerant, refill your radiator, and go on with life.
Now you want to clean everything! If you encounter rust, you’ll want to sand it down to clean bare metal and then spray it with a rust prevention primer/paint. You don’t want your foundation rotting out beneath you!
If you discover your body is riddled with rust, this is the point where you should really debate on reinstalling everything and selling your van in hopes to find a better one. If you decide to keep it anyway, you’re in for a world of bodywork and sheet metal cutout/repair. Just know when to fold ‘em!
It may seem early to be wiring things up, but this critical step will ensure that you don’t insulate over or cover up area where you will need to run wires for your appliances. Decide where your central fuse box will be, you will run all your wires to this location. Your fuse box will be the central place for power distribution. I chose to locate my Fuse Box just behind the driver’s seat. Draw faux appliance locations on the sheet metal with sharpie (lights/ceiling fan) and start running your wires/sheathing. I ran most of my wires right next to the stock wiring harness along the driver’s side corner where the ceiling meets the wall. (A full description of my electrical system will be in the Electrical section).
I ran 18 AWG wire from my components to my fuse box. Check your selected appliances/components manuals which will give you a recommended wire spec. If there is no callout, use an online wire gage calculator to select the correct size of wire (https://www.wirebarn.com/Wire-Calculator-_ep_41.html)
Basic Initial Wiring Outline: More wiring will be added once the cabinet/stove/sink area is installed.
Wall outlet + extension cord – This will be one of two wall outlets in the van that will be powered by my inverter. Location: Placed on the passenger side of the van, just on the column to the left of the sliding door. I ran the wires up and across the ceiling next to a C brace and along the driver’s side upper ceiling/wall brace down the column to my intended fuse box location.
Side Note: I cut out the metal from the sliding door column to fit the 2 blue outlet boxes for the 3 way switch and 120V outlet. I drilled 4 holes, 1 at each corner for the box then used a Dremel or Grinder to cut the hole and fit the box in place. I used a chisel and hammer to get some of the metal out of the way. I drilled through the rear passenger window frame (lower left side) from above to run the wires coming down from the ceiling to the boxes now installed in the sliding door column.
3 Way Light Wall switches – I will later wire these in to operate my main ceiling LEDs, indirect lighting LEDs, and over the kitchen area LEDs. Location: I put these switches right next to the wall outlet and ran the wires right next to the wall outlets wires.
Ceiling LEDs – I used 6 puck LEDs on my ceiling and ran wires to their intended locations. I ran the wires next to the stock wiring harness on the ceiling/wall brace then out along each ceiling brace to the puck’s intended location.
Fantastic Fan – I ran these wires to the general area where I planned on installing my fan (went right next to the puck light wires in the same area).
Video showing wiring progress:https://youtu.be/XGGkfFPyyGo (don’t be alarmed how far along I am, I just took this video a lot later than I originally planned . . . and with only a headlamp . . . sorry)
Phase 2/3 & Phase 3/3 will be completed later in the build. I added them below for understanding what wiring you will be looking forward to in the future.
Phase 2/3: Wiring I ran during ceiling installation (Covered in more detail in the Electrical Step 10)
Puck Lights – As I installed my ceiling I installed my puck lights and wired them in. The end of the wires just hung in the fuse box area until I built the cabinet and installed the actual fuse box.
Fantastic Fan – I opted to install the fan after I installed my ceiling (some want to do this before). Once installed I soldered it into the wires I ran before the insulation.
Phase 3/3: Wiring I ran after cabinet build (Covered in more detail in the Electrical Step 10):
Charge Controller, Inverter, Fuse Block, Cutoff Switch, Fuses (all per manual specs). Installation will be covered in more detail in the Electrical Step.
Wall outlet + extension cord – This will be one of two wall outlets in the van that will be powered by my inverter. Location: Placed on the face of the cabinet. The wiring is ran on the upper back face of the cabinet.
Wiring for water pump – I mounted the water pump just below the sink and ran the wires along the back upper face of the cabinet to the fuse box. I also included a cutoff switch on the face of the cabinet to turn it off when not in use.
Refrigerator wiring – I ran the wires through the upper back face of the cabinet through the end to the fusebox once I installed the refrigerator (all per fridge manual specs).
Now that you have a clean base, let’s start insulating this guy! My E-350 was a passenger van and not a cargo van, so that means the interior sheet metal walls are designed and contoured to receive the plastic molding (that you removed in Step 3). This means there are large gaps between the outer sheet-metal of the van body, and the inner wall sheet-metal. Due to this I decided to use spray foam for these gaps as it is hard to use anything else in these gaps (no accessibility).
Reflectix – This insulation is like bubble wrap encased in an aluminum sheet and contours easily to sweeping curves. I used it for the insides of the walls and floor beneath any wood covering. Later I will use this to make my window covers as well.
Start by spray foaming inside the walls and braces. Caution! Apply the spray foam in stages. The foam needs to cure and if you spray a ton in at once it will not cure in the middle. The foam is very sticky and will ruin your clothes. If you get it on yourself (or your hair), wash it off immediately! Note: The two cavities in the rear corners of your van where the wiring harness for your brake lights should be partially left clear so you can still maintain the wiring/lights.
Ceiling insulation – Install the hard foam into the roof (I used 3M spray-on adhesive to hold it in place). I cut the hard foam to fit between the braces, making enough room for the wiring sheath that you installed in the Lay the Wiring Step. I used 3M adhesive spray to hold it in place.
Subfloor barrier installation (You can use this as a floor template to cut your wood before you glue it down!)- You want to remove any bolts that are left over from securing seats, seatbelts, or any other components you removed when you stripped the van out. Make sure the floor is clear of anything before installing the subfloor barrier. Once my flooring was ready (and I wasn’t tramping in and out of the van left and right) I cut the subflooring barrier for the floor, and installed it using 3M adhesive spray.
Subfloor reflexive insulation – Cut the reflexive for the floor, installed on top of the subflooring barrier, hold in place using 3M adhesive spray.
Install the reflexive on the walls (custom cut) using 3M adhesive spray. I would later cover these areas with wood.
NOTE: My particular passenger van had a metal tab/lip that protruded out which would obstruct the wood walls from going down to the floor. I took a large hammer and beat this tab/lip flat so I had a good surface to work with. Then I placed reflexive over this. Video: https://youtu.be/NPkwn7DhH-M
Take the insulation attached to the bottom of the carpet you removed in the Strip Step made for the wheel wells and reinstall it over the wheel wells. I tore this off the bottom of the carpet, sprayed 3M adhesive and stuck them back on.
It’s time to give your dream some form. Pretty much you want to cover all the areas you insulated so you can start building your storage areas. I chose to go with a plywood floor, thin plywood walls (thin enough to bend/contour to the shape of my van), tongue-and-groove ceiling. Tons of different flooring/ceiling options out there just make sure the floor can take a beating, because it will! Nothing in your van is flat. Front-to-back, side-to-side, almost no surface in the E-350 has perfect right angles, so you will be constantly cutting custom shapes (put into place, make a mark, remove, cut, repeat until it fits).
Use the carpet as a template for your plywood flooring. I ended up using 2 sheets and cutting them into 3 pieces to fit the floor of the van.
Use a chalk-line tool to indicate the location of the ribs of the floor of the van. I wanted to make sure I was getting a good interface between the wood and the van’s sheet metal floor below the insulation.
I drilled small pilot holes, and then used screws to secure it to the floor.
Caution! Ensure that your screws aren’t too long! You could potentially put a screw through the floor and hit wiring or another component beneath your frame, so keep that in mind!
You’ll seal and paint this after the bed and the cabinets are installed. You can do this before if you like, your call.
Use the subfloor insulation as a template and start cutting!
Bro helping me out!
All the wood placed in
All in pace
This wood came in and out several times for small cuts to fit
tricky corner, but got it after like 20 cuts haha
All screwed down, I used chalk line to locate on the ribs of the floor of the van for a good tight screw mount.
I butted up my first tongue-and-groove piece against the passenger side of the van (Note: from what I’ve seen, if you want perfect symmetry you should start in the center of the van and work outwards, lesson learned). I cut the tongue off this first piece so it would snug up nicely to the edge. I screwed the first piece in where the ribs of the vans ceiling were to secure it in place (make sure your screws aren’t too long as you don’t want a hole in your roof!). I moved along towards the driver’s side, fitting in the next piece and snugging it up before screwing it in. Once I reached a board where I planned to have a puck light installed, I drilled a hole through the board for the puck light wires, ran the wires through, installed the puck light to the board, and snugged it up before screwing it in place. I continued this process until I reached the driver’s side of the van’s ceiling. For the last piece I had to cut a custom sized board to fit in place (this was a pain in the butt to get the last piece in, but it was tight and eventually went). Nothing in this van is flat and everything you cut will be custom.
My particular passenger van had a metal tab/lip that protruded out which would obstruct the wood walls from going down to the floor. I took a large hammer and beat this tab/lip flat so I had a good surface to work with (I covered this in the insulation section, but wanted to note it just in case you insulated your van differently). Video:https://youtu.be/NPkwn7DhH-M
Lip beat down!
Lip beat down!
Lip beat down!
Lip beat down!
Lip beat down!
Lip beat down!
I used a thin (0.20” thick) piece of plywood for my walls. I chose something thin so it would bend with the shape of the van’s sheet metal. This step was quite a pain to be honest. I wanted to keep the wood in one piece if possible, which means a lot of custom work, templates, fitting, marking, cutting, in and out of the van like 30 times before you finally have the right piece to fit. Once you have the right fit, screw it into place with appropriate sized screws (drill pilot holes) for where you are placing it.
Leave the back corners where the back face of the van and the sidewalls meet open (I finished these up with quarter round later after I finished installing the bed and before paint)
Upper Facer Boards:
Create upper facer boards for the edges of the ceiling/walls. I wanted to create a lip that I could tuck an LED strip behind for indirect light as well as hiding all the wiring and blemishes or the bare metal van body.
Cutting custom mounting standoff blocks to ensure I had space behind the facer boards for the LED strip lights. Screw these to the metal frame of the van along the brace where the wall and ceiling meet.
Cut custom facer boards for the length of all 3 walls.
Install the facer boards onto the mounting blocks you have in place.
Once complete I buttoned it together with a strip of quarter round at the interface between the wooden ceiling and this upper facer board, then glued and nailed into place.
Create custom standoff blocks for your facure boards all around the side and back walls!
Showing standoff mounting blocks
Looking down the length
Screw facure boards into the mounting blocks you cut and screwed to the van walls.
Custom cuts to fit hean the cliding door
All in and happy! Now all your wiring is covered and not to ugly, hey this thing is kind of looking like a livable space?!
Now that the upper facer board and ceiling is complete, you can put the cab roof liner back into place. I used some short wood screws to accomplish this.
Remember how I said nothing is flat inside the body of a Ford E350 van? This is when it really matters! You want to build a bedframe that is flat; however, you are building on a curved surface. I first built the basic ‘H’ shape of my bed then shaved the bottom down until it sat flat on the floor. Once that step was done I could start building the rest of the bed/storage on this flat base. I chose to have a side-to-side bed (I am 5’7”) that was low enough to the floor that I could still sit up in it and use as a couch (remember to account for your mattress thickness). I also wanted it wide enough to sleep two people. These parameters drove my dimensions of the bed.
Take measurements of your van, and cut your ‘H’ shape to the height of your bed (with cover and mattress taken into account of course).
Drill bore holes and countersinks for your screws. Screw it together (make sure it is square! 90 degree corners) and place in the back of the van. Your van isn’t flat, just come to terms with it. Once in place you’ll want to shave away the wood in the middle of your ‘H’ shape until it sits flat.
Once flat, cut your face boards out of hardwood (I chose hardwood as it can be sanded down and painted for a finished look). Cut your runners to create openings for your drawers. Ensure everything is square and sitting flush in your van.
Once your frame is complete, screw mounting blocks into the floor and then screw your frame to the mounting blocks. I used wood as it was readily available. I am sure you could use metal brackets. At any rate make sure it’s good and secure so your bed doesn’t go flying across your van when you stop!
Now it’s time for the top of your bed! I opted to have lids that opened like a chest and swiveled on piano hinges. This gave me access to the storage below without opening the drawers in the front/back but also gave me the ability to make the bed into a couch with the aid of two air shocks (rated at 200 lbs each). I cut a central strip for mounting the two lids and screwed it to the center piece of the ‘H’ shape. Then I cut both lids, laid them down flat, attaching them with piano hinges to the central strut.
I then cut the side covers for the areas that would not be covered by the lids. The side storage I cut to size using the lids and van walls to keep them in place (no actual attachment, just laid on top). I cut a hole in the top to manually pull for access. I split the difference of the legs of the ‘H’ between the side covers and the two hinging lids to ensure they both had surfaces to rest on when closed. I cut small blocks and screwed them to the wall as a support stopper for these side covers.
I ended up cutting a flat strip of hardwood for the edge of all the lids and screwed it into place from the ends. I did this to keep a clean finish once sanded and painted.
I then installed the air shocks for the back lid and two hood latches. This took some adjusting, but once in position they worked great! You can accomplish this “couch mode” by rigging up a couple of pieces of wood for struts to hold the back lid up. Warning: The shocks will put some decent forces on your bed frame, make sure it’s sturdy or it will rip your lids from their hinges or shift your frame making the perfect lids you cut no longer fit correctly. I went back and beefed my frame up for this reason.
Install your drawers – I bought my drawers custom made, I provided the dimensions of the holes I had designed for my three drawers and gave the dimensions of the sliders I purchased and picked them up when they were done! I really didn’t want to play around with trying to make perfectly square drawers so I outsourced this to my friend Sam’s dad (thanks Peter Gallen!). Once I had the drawers I installed them with sliders that I purchased from Home Depot (the sliders come with installation instructions). Once installed I (Peter actually) cut facer covers for all three drawers and screwed them in from the back to give the closed drawer a flush look (don’t need to be snagging everything on the edges of drawers).
Be a bum and get someone professional to build you some stellar drawers (Thanks Peter Gallen!)
Size them up, and install with your selected sliders!
Like a glove!
Screw on your facer boards from the back for a clean flush look!
No catch handles to finish it off
Go on and throw that back drawer in while you're at it!
Screw the facure board on from the back.
Cut your handle out (don't need a protruding handle here as it will interfere with the back doors of your van)
Stain your drawer facer boards and install your handles. I installed sleek handles on the front (facing the living space) that wouldn’t snag. I simply cut an elongated hole in the large back drawer in the back that I could just grab by hand (no handle needed).
Cut your futon that you bought from IKEA down to fit your bed frame. I removed the foam blocks from inside the futon and cut 6” off the height and 3” off the side to side to fit. I took my futon cover to an awning company to be boxed up to fit the cut-down size of the foam pieces.
Endless options and different ways of doing this part; so I am just going to stick to what I did. I built everything around my appliances. The sink, stove, and fridge were allotted to this area. I wanted the counter to cover the top of the fridge and be big enough for my sink and stove. Of all the areas of the van, you will be using this the most when you cook your meals. I opted to have the sink closest to the bed (makes for lazy teeth brushing at night/morning), then the stove in the middle (dimensionally it was close to the sink size (front to back) and I wanted it farther from the bed for safety), and lastly I placed the fridge furthest right (just behind the driver’s seat). I built the countertop around the appliances, then the cabinet to hold it up, cabinet doors were last of course.
NOTE: All appliance installs (including fridge, sink, stove pictured in this Step) will be Covered in Step 9: Install Appliances.
Magnets – 10lb Magnets – 1 set for each corner of cabinet doors
Qty: 16 (8 sets)
Make a template (I made mine from cardboard), I can’t stress this enough, this will help you so much in not only in the design of your counter, but it will also help you decide what appliances to purchase by understanding the workspace you have to deal with.
Get your appliances in hand (or just pull dimension from online) and cut your template to the final dimensions making sure everything fits where you want it.
Use the template to take measurements and cut your final countertop. I outsourced this to a guy with a CNC shop who happened to have a chunk of glued together hardwood that was messed up for a customer (and was going to be scrapped). It was the right dimensions for my build so I snagged it at a deal and got the CNC cutting done for free 😉 Right place, right time kind of thing. The countertop was made from strips of pine, glued together, jointed, planed, then cut to size.
Stain and seal your countertop: I first filled all cracks with wood putty, sanded it down, routered the outer edges, then stained with Natural 209 (that I used on the ceiling). Finally, I sealed it with SuperGlaze Gloss Kit (just follow the instructions on the kit – You get to use a Propane Torch YAY!!!!)
Build the legs for your counter. I used the wall as the back face and cut three legs to size and fit them into place. I put my fridge in at this point to make sure dimensionally that the counter legs fitted around it. Once in place, I screwed the legs to the bottom of the counter using blocks, reinstalled the counter and legs into place and screwed it down to the end of the bed. I then screwed it in place to the floor walls using mounting blocks I cut from wood.
Mocking up legs, I have my subwoofer speaker holding up the countertop (it's no levitating I promise)
Mounting Blocks I used for my legs on the bottom of my counter top
putting fridge into place to ensure legs are properly spaced
Cover the face of the cabinet. I used ½” plywood (use thicker if you have it for durability),that will be painted later, and cut to size with 2 holes for cabinet access (in hindsight I would use ¾” wood here so I can have more options for cabinet door hinges).
Once installed, cut two holes with shallow blue wall outlet boxes.
Install the shallow blue outlet boxes, and then install a switch into one and a wall 125V outlet into the other.
Wire up the switch in line with your water pump (I cover this step further in the Install Appliances Step).
Wire up your outlet with wires from an extension cord and run the end of the plug near the place where you plan to install your inverter.
Install the plate covers on the outlets.
Cut the cabinet doors. I used some ½” plywood to cut some lightweight cabinet covers which I fixed into place with magnets (I wanted to remove them later and use them as cutting boards or lap tables). Make 4 magnet mounts for the corners of the cabinet doors and install them on the back of the cabinet face (see video for clarity). Router the outer edges of the cabinet doors and sand down any imperfections.
It’s time to get serious (as if you weren’t already!)! This is where you put in all those high dollar expenses you dropped on appliances . . . oh yeah, and the part where you CUT A HOLE IN YOUR ROOF (I cried a little, just being honest)! Fantastic fan, fridge, sink, stove, water pump, time to throw it all in there.
Cut a hole in your roof! I knew right about where the cross bar support for of my roof were and I wanted to get my ceiling in first before cutting my fan hole (I did this so I wasn’t building around the fan when I installed my ceiling, forcing those tongue and groove boards into place was hard enough, just imagine working around a hole and aligning perfectly). It was a gamble, but it paid off. Mark your ceiling where your fan will go, drill 4 holes at the corners of your square, mark the lines on the roof (inside and out) and cover the lines with tape (the tape will help hold onto the metal and wood shavings and keep a smooth cut). Use a JigSaw and cut that bad-boy out! I played it pretty close to the wiring that I installed right before the insulation went in, but it worked perfectly.
Who let this homeless guy in? Just cutting holes in the roof, no bid deal!
Install your Fantastic fan (use the instructions that come with it, don’t forget to putty and calk seal for a water tight seal. I oriented the opening of my fan towards the rear of the van so I wouldn’t accidentally rip the fan cover off if I forgot to close it properly and drove off. Go ahead and solder the fan’s wires into the wires you put into place before insulating the ceiling.
Clean all surfaces and get that putty going! This is crucial to having a leak free fan!
Clean the underside of your fan and choose the orientation. I made my fan cover open towards the back so I didn't accidentally rip it off by driving with it open on accident.
Clean up all the edges and get it ready for the plastic faceplate
Don't forget to wire it into the wires you already ran in Step 4 (start laying wires)
Install your refrigerator. First I drilled a ½” hole in the back right leg of the cabinet high enough to clear the fridge (This hole will be for the fridge wires). Scoot the fridge into place and screw it to the face of your cabinet. Taking a measurement, I cut a custom piece of wood to cover the hole that was left below the counter and above the fridge (you will paint this later). Pull the fridge out a bit, run your wires through the hole in the cabinet to the fuse box area. Install the custom wood piece cut and put the fridge back into place.
Run wires through the side hole you drilled
Collect all the wires together where you plan to place your fuse box (done in Step 10: Wire it up)
Cut custom faceplate to cover space above the fridge on front of cabinet
Sit back and look at your new fridge, in place, ready to cool off some tasty beverages
Install your sink (follow instructions that come with it). Install sink drain. Install sink drain piping with the 2 kits you bought. Finally cut a hole through the floor of the van and routing the piping kits until it fits. Connect your water tank to the faucet with th 1/2″ hose and hose clamps. (Video below)
Install the water pump. I attached the pump to the back wall of the cabinet with four screws. Run the feed hose from the sink to the pump outlet and the hose from the pump inlet to your water tank. I have been using a temporary/portable seven gallon water tank which I drop the feed line into. I will eventually install a permanent larger tank inside the van (outside the van would run the risk of freezing water and busting lines). Run the wires for your water pump by drilling a good 1/2″ hole through the cabinet center leg in the back, I made sure it is high enough to be above the refrigerator on the right. Run the wires through the cabinet to the fuse box area. Run the 1/2″ hose from the pump to the sink input tube and to your water tank. Tighten everything with hose clamps. (Video below)
Install the stove (follow the instructions that come with the stove). I chose a propane stove and bought an extension line that hangs down inside the cabinet. I have a flat bottom propane tank which I use to fuel my stove that sits inside the cabinet (make sure you close the valve after use and run your Fantastic fan while cooking). (Video below)
It’s time for the part that most people are afraid of, electricity! By this point all the ends of the wires for your appliances and lights should be hanging around the designated fuse box area. I will do this Section in three parts: 1) Basic Electrical Theory, 2) Basic Circuits, and 3) Putting Theory to Work (the install).
Click for Basic Electrical Theory Details
Basic Electrical Theory
Electrical Analogy: I want you to imagine that your batteries are buckets which can be filled with water. The water in this metaphor is current (or flow of electrical energy that appliances require to operate). Once your buckets are empty, you are out of electrical energy and cannot run any electronic appliances until you fill them up again. The buckets are just an easy way to understand that batteries can store electrical charge at a limited capacity dependent on what kind or battery you purchase.
Batteries (buckets) – Choosing your batteries is a great starting point for designing your electrical system. You need to try and imagine you are in your van and all charging is off (no sunlight, no engine or generator running) and think about what all appliances you will use and how long you will use them. Every appliance (water pump, Fantastic fan, LEDs, plugin appliances) has a power rating. For example LEDs require a 12 Volt source and a power rating of 12 Watts. Don’t let words like Watt scare you, this is very very simple math and here are the three equations:
Eq1: V = I*R; where V=Volts, I=Current (measured in amps), R=Resistance
Eq2: P=V*I; where V=Volts, I=Current (measured in amps), P=Power (Measured in Watts).
Eq3: Pin = Pout; where Pin in power input, and Pout is Power output.
So if an appliance gives you a Voltage and Power rating, you can easily figure out how much current the appliance requires by rearranging Eq2. I=P/V. So in our example, the LEDs require a 12 Volt source and a power rating of 12 Watts. Thus the current I = 12 Watts/12 Volts = 1 amp. So the LEDs require 1amp at maximum output (they may pull less current if you have them on a dimmer).
What you need to do is add up the current all your appliances will use, and how long you plan to run them (in hours). So let’s pretend you plan on leaving your lights on 24-7. The 12 Volt LEDs will use up 1amp for the duration of 24 hours. You would require at least: Amp*Hours = 1amp*24 Hours = 24 amp hours.
Deep cycle batteries (buckets) are rated in AH (Amp Hours). So your 12 Volt battery will be rated somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 Amp-Hours which means that in a perfect world the batteries could deliver 200 amps over 1 hour, or 20 amps for 10 hours, or 2 amps for 100 hours, ect. Warning! Make sure to get Deep Cycle batteries, these are designed to be charged and discharged many times, they are different from starting batteries.
Sum up all the appliance currents and the hours you intend on using them to “size” your batteries.
To be conservative I wanted to oversize my batteries a bit so I multiplied by 4 for to get 144 Amp Hours (I realized to get this I’d have to have 2 batteries so to go overkill I got 2 batteries with 225 Amp Hour Capacity). This conservative approach would account for other unforeseen power uses like a friend showing up with a hairdryer wanting to borrow my inverter outlet. Or at a dirtbag party, having 12 climbers wanting to all plug their phones in at once! Plus you have to remember that batteries aren’t 100% efficient and as they drain they will have a harder time delivering the current your appliances require.
The battery’s capacity will change the dimensions of the battery body (taller, longer, ect.) so keep that in mind when choosing your battery because you will have to find a place to store it!
Inverters: So you want to use that hair dryer from your house in your van eh? Your batteries deliver 12 Volts DC (direct current) and if you look at your hair dryer plug, it requires 125V AC (alternating current) at 15 Amps (full power). AC and DC are not equal! You must have an inverter to accomplish this. I won’t get into the nuts and bolts of how it works (there are two large coils inside the box which use induction and magnets to transfer the power from DC to AC) but all you really need to understand is that the Power IN ~ Power OUT.
So you already have power from Eq2 I gave you earlier. No matter if it’s AC or DC, power equation is the same (with a little loss for efficiency of course). Your inverter is taking input DC power from your batteries and outputting AC power to your hair dryer.
Solve for DC required current = DC Current = (125V*15amp)/(12V) = 156 amps.
So it will require 156 DC amps to run your hair dryer. Use this example to calculate how many amp hours you will need for drying your hair for ½ hour. That will be 75 Amp Hours. Throw that into your battery sizing calculation.
Let’s see if you understand everything we have covered with the next example. Let’s pretend you have a fully charged 12V system with batteries that can output 200 Amp-Hours of current. You have your inverter wired up, you aren’t charging your batteries, and no other electronics are turned on. You start to dry your hair at full blast and then something distracts you, you get out of the van to check out whatever wild animal is lurking around and forget all about the hair dryer. How long will your hair dryer run before your batteries (buckets) run out of juice?
Hair dryer uses 156 DC amps. Time = (Amp Hour battery rating)/ Current used = 200AH/156 = 1.28 hours. So if you aren’t back in around 1 hour and 15 minutes, your batteries will be totally dead and you’ll have to charge them.
Sizing your inverter: Sum up the Wattage for all the plug-in AC appliances you plan on using AT THE SAME TIME. If you only plan on using one appliance at a time, just use the one Wattage rating and size from there.
Example: Hair dryer (125V @ 15amps = 1875 Watts). You will need at least a 2000 Watt inverter.
The surge capacity of your inverter is usually twice what the inverter is rated at. So a 2000 Watt inverter will have 4000 surge capacity (which means how much power before the thing starts melting). If you plan on running both a hair dryer and an induction stove at the same time, just add them up and pick something rated a little bigger Wattage.
Charging: Let’s move on to filling your buckets (charging your batteries). There are a few ways to charge your batteries: solar, van alternator, gas generator. I chose solar because I wanted to keep my charging system and batteries for my appliances totally separate from the van’s wiring system. Choose your poison.
Sizing your solar system: There are typically (depending on where you live, weather (clouds), time of year, ect) 12 hours of sunlight in a day. That means you can only collect power during that timeframe. The Power (Watts) will be collected in the solar panels and converted to 12 Volts with a charge controller which will in turn fill your batteries. The charge controller does a ton of work for you, it converts the voltage and current from the panels for you, it stops charging the batteries when full, and alerts you when your batteries are almost empty. Your panels will run at different voltage and currents depending on how you wire them up, I will let Renogy take over that discussion.
The solar panels are generally rated in Watts. This is the power that they can collect over the surface area of their face. Remember from equation 2 (Eq2) that Power = I*V and equation 3 (Eq3) Pin = Pout. Lets calculate the current you could acquire over a 12 hour (daytime) period with a single 100 Watt panel.
Pin (from solar panels) = Pout (Charging your DC system) = V (DC volts) * I (current)
So over 12 hours you can accumulate: 8.33 Amps * 12 Hours = 100 Amp Hours of juice
You can see the problem here that if you have a 200 Amp Hour Battery system, in perfect full light for 12 hours that you would only full it half way (by collecting only 100 Amp Hours of electrical capacity). Thus you can install a second 100W Solar Panel. So now you have 200 Watts inputting from solar, and you’ll get twice the current to charge your batteries (in a perfect world when the sun is always shining and you aren’t running appliances during the day, ect ect).
With this information you should be able to size your solar system and choose your battery size as well as your appliances.
Click for Basic Circuits Details
You have a power source (battery) and wire connecting an appliance (fridge) which requires a certain current to function.
If you throw a switch into this system you can turn the component on/off by breaking/completing the circuit.
Now to protect your components in this system you will need a fuse (resistor) that will burn up above a specified current. If for some reason your fridge which requires 2.7 amps max suddenly receives 20 amps, it would fry the components inside. If you have a 10 cent fuse installed that can only handle 5 amps, the fuse would bust, thus protecting your 600$ fridge from harm.
This is the very basic circuit theory you will use for just about everything in your system. Power source, switch, component, fuse.
Fuse sizing: Each appliance should specify the size of fuse you should put in line to protect the component. You can find this information in the components manual. If it does not specify the fuse required, then use the following rule of thumb.
Fuse =(Max appliance current * 1.5) round up.
Inverter Fuse = (inverter surge power/10)*1.2
Wire sizing: Each appliance should have a manual that specifies the size of the wire required. If there is no callout, use an online wire gage calculator to select the correct size of wire (https://www.wirebarn.com/Wire-Calculator-_ep_41.html). I ran 18 AWG wire from the majority (but not all) of my components.
I also used a wire loom to run as many wires as possible for organization.
Putting the Electrical Theory to Work: Wiring up your van.
Now that you have the appliance, wire size, fuse size, and a basic understanding of simple circuits, let’s start putting theory to work! If you followed the wire running Step 3 then all of your wires should be located in one central place you have allocated for the fuse box area (this includes all your wires for appliances and the two extension cable plug-ends meant for the inverter.
Your fuse box will be power central. I decided to mount my batteries below the body of the van onto the frame itself. This will save me a ton of room inside the van for storage. I placed the batteries as close to my fuse box area as possible. Once this was complete you can start mounting your components to the side of the cabinet and start wiring things together.
Wire Grommets – Assorted pack (Use the right size for the hole you drill in your van. Use a grommet for any hole through sheet metal that you plan on having a wire run through)
Build a battery box to house your deep cycle batteries (thanks Adam!).
Grab your plastic battery holder for dimensions and start cutting angle iron to make a frame around it.
Drill 4 holes that will be used to mount the metal battery frame to the van’s frame.
Weld the frame together and make sure your plastic battery holder fits snug inside without being pinched.
Lift the battery frame up next to your van’s frame with the bolts and nut plates screwed onto the end.
Tack weld the nut plates to the frame, remove the bolts, lower the battery frame down, fully weld the nut plates to the frame. Video: https://youtu.be/UR8SUxsoaoc
Make four spacers to go behind the frame so it will clear the emergency cable that runs next to the frame.
Spray paint the Nut Plates, Plastic Battery Box, and Battery Frame with anti-rust spray paint.
Install the batteries into the box, wire them in series (I have two 6V batteries, wire in parallel if you have 12V batteries), put the lid on, lift it into place and bolt the battery frame to the van’s frame.
Important! Make sure to have hot (red – positive) and ground (black – negative) wires that are long enough to reach the frame (ground) and the fuse box inside your van while the battery frame is lowered to the ground (makes for easy maintenance and removal)
Attach the ground wire from your battery to the van’s frame.
Drill a hole through the floor of your van just next to the fuse box area and the batteries mounted below the van on the frame. I found a precut hole with an oval stopper in it. I removed the stopper and drilled an identical hole through the wood floor of my van.
Once the hole is drilled, insulate the edges of the hole with a rubber grommet to protect your battery wires.
Mount your fuse box, BlueSea power switch, charge controller, inverter, and two single large fuse holders (one for the inverter, the second for the charge controller).
You’ll want to strategically place these so you can run large gage wire between the power and ground terminals.
Once you’ve mounted these, start running your wires. I wired my system in a way that I could isolate the batteries from the fuse box and the charge controller if I so chose. I opted to run my fuse box straight to my batteries instead of to my charge controller. If I would have wired it to my charge controller I could have monitored the current used by all my appliances (perhaps I’ll do this in the future, but just wanted to keep it simple for now). I used the following wiring diagram I drew to wire up my system (this doesn’t show the switches I put in for the lights, and water pump – The fridge and fan have built in switches for on/off).
Run all your wires on the recommended gages to the fuse box. The recommended fuses and wire gages will be in each component manual.
I utilized the wall switch I installed early on in the build for the ceiling puck lights, and will be used for the LED strip lights and eventually the cook area puck lights.
Now that you are ready, run the hot (red-positive) wire from your batteries to the Blue Sea switch. Double check everything, cross your fingers, and turn the switch on! Congrats! You either have power easily flowing to your appropriate appliances, or you have a crap ton of problems you have to run down and correct.
Install your solar panels on your roof. Tons of options here, I created some brackets that would keep the panels in line with my roof rack which cut down on air resistance.
Drill two holes into the side of your van BELOW the rainguard lip where your roof meets the side body of your van. Run your wires through the body of the van and connect them to your charge controller.
Use rubber grommets to protect the wires from the sharp edges of the holes through your van body
Now clean everything up, use ties and organize the mass bundles of wires to a tidy mess.
Whew, man it’s been a wild ride! The van looks good, but it isn’t the final version of what you envisioned. It about to be though! In this final push I closed most of the loose ends, and cleaned up all the ugly edges.
Make window sills. I cut strips of wood to go between the glass and the wooden walls that I installed. This would create a windowsill, stopping anything from falling behind the walls from the windows. I used a finishing facing strip to clean the outer edge once installed. Sand it down to prep for paint!
Complete the back corners of the van. The space where the back walls meet the side walls must be dealt with. I used some quarter round to accomplish this. Cut to length, cut slits in the back, and then soak in a water bath for a few hours to allow the wood to become bendable. Cover the back of the wood with wood glue and press the quarter round into the corners and nail it into place with finishing nails. Sand everything down to prep for paint.
Run the LED light strip behind the upper facer board. I held these in place with some wood ‘C’ clamps that I cut and glued over the light strip itself. The adhesive isn’t good enough on the back of the lights as it didn’t adhere to the wood so I had to create these ‘C’ clamps to hold them in place. Wire these lights into the light switch (that was run early on in the build).
Make the stool. My van does not have a pop-top or a hightop, therefore cooking must be done from a seated or kneeling position. I made a stool to accomplish this. I used one of the wooden cutouts from the counter top for the stove as my seat top attached with a small piano hinge, then stained and sealed it just as the counter was. The wood I used for the body was some leftover MDF my brother had laying around.
Grind down any extruding metal. The bolts that hold the windows into place stick out quite a bit when not covered by the plastic interior plastic body that I removed during the stripping step. I used a metal grinder and cut these down.
Time to paint! Get your brushes, painters tape, and friends out to help. Tape down any area that you don’t intend on painting. Make sure you use wood putty to hide any blemishes or screw holes. Remove any covers, drawers, or things that you don’t want to have painted from the van. Sand everything down to prep for paint. Vacuum all surfaces and wipe them down. Paint it up (I went with two coats)!
Let it dry then replace anything you removed to prep for paint.
Grab the plastic cover for the column just behind the driver’s seat and cut it to fit your new counter. This will be used to cover all the wires that you ran down the column and save your sanity from trying to make a custom cover. Install the modified plastic cover.
Make the window covers. I used Reflectix to accomplish this, it keeps the heat out and does decently for insulating the windows. I had a friend (Thanks Lyndz!) print out some pictures I loved from treks I had done and I had my old roommate (Thanks Laura!) sew the cloth printed pictures onto the reflexive. I finished it all off with a layer of gorilla tape. I taped on some strong magnets and manually sewed them into place to make sure they didn’t come free.
Remove your passenger seat base and replace it with a swivel seat. It’s pretty simple overall, just make sure the seatbelt buckle wire does not get pinched. You may need to split the carpet to have it fit over the new base.
Make your sliding door and rear door covers. Once again use thin wood similar to what was used for the walls. Attempt to utilize as much of the existing bolts/screws as possible that held on the original paneling. Stain/seat as necessary.
15. Make a spice rack. I used a piece of cardboard to fit the contour between the roof and the facer hang down boards at the corner. From there I sketched up a design and grabbed a 3/4″ x 10″ x 6′ board from home depot.
Cut the spice rack cover (3 1/4″ x 56 3/4″) and the base (6 x 55 1/4″) leaving the rest of the excess wood for the supports you mocked up with the cardboard. Cut the 3 supports out and fabricate to fit flush sanding as needed for fit. Drill bore holes and counter bore holes for the 3 fastening screws that will hold the supports to the ceiling. Screw the end-caps to the spice rack base (with bore and counter-bore holes of course) using 3 screws for each side and hold the structure up and figure out laterally in the van where the rack position should be. Mark the location and drill the end caps into place.
Once in place fit the middle support into place, and figure out how the spice separation should be. I used magnet closures so I offset my middle support a little to compensate. For sanity I threw all the spice bottles I had into place to ensure the spacing was correct before marking the middle support, removing the spice rack base and screwing the middle support into place.
Now that all the wood was cut to size and sanded I stained everything (base, cover, 3 supports still in place screwed to the roof) and put it all back together once it was dry.
Once dry I grabbed some hinges and screwed the cover into place. To hold the spice cover door closed I used 3 magnet clasps with strike plates for a cabinet doors and screwed them into place (adjust as needed for proper closure). Finally I laid down 2 strips of drawer and shelf liner, cut to size, in the bottom of the rack, held into place with some spray adhesive. Grab all your spice bottles, fill them, mark them, and throw them into your finished spice rack!
Congrats! You’re long adventure in converting your van is now done, go forth and adventure! Explore all the things and sleep well knowing all your hard work can now truly be appreciated and put to good use!
Coming to you from the: Explore Your Backyard Series
This past weekend Izzie and I drove up to Cedar Breaks National Historic Monument, which we refer to as the mini Bryce Canyon. It is a stellar place to visit! It had sick views and hoodoos to go all around. There are a few rim trails that are pretty easy. Unfortunately there are no legal trails that go through the heart of the National Monument. But don’t fret; there is a stellar circumference trail we discovered that can take you through some stunning diverse landscapes.
Trail: Rattlesnake Creek Trail to Potato Hollow Trail Loop.
Length: Approx 22.2 miles round trip (with road walking)
Other options: Shuttle Bike/Car at Blowhard Mountain or at bottom of Ashdown Gorge
We woke early, to a snow covered plain at the Rattlesnake Trailhead and proceeded to dive right in. Immediately you enter the woods and can see faint views of Cedar Breaks through the trees. Take the quick off-trail side trip and snap some great pics of the park from the rim. The trail then dives down through the forest, through pines, aspen and open plains, into Rattlesnake Creek where you skirt a deep gorge and are finally spat into Ashdown Creek, the river that forms it. Take the sidetrek down the gorge, trust me, you won’t regret it!
Snow on the ground . . . so glad I brought my trailrunners!!
At the bottom of Ashdown Creek about to walk into the gorge
Signs of frozen water in the mud!
Just stellar views in the gorge!
Aw that sucks little fella!
Hiking back out, seeing Cedar Breaks and the snow to come!
Beautiful Ashdown Gorge!
Beautiful Ashdown Gorge!
Izzie and the Gorge!
Gotta love the colors here!
I see snow!
Alright . . . lil too much snow!
Once you’re done, tighten up those hiking boot laces and dig hard for the haul out from the bottom up Potato Hollow back up to the rim! Great views once again! Potato is definitely the less traveled of the two but still a beautiful trek. Haul back up through the shrubs, plains, aspen, and pines and pop out at two large communication spheres. From here you can walk the road back, or set up a car shuttle, drop a bike if you’re rockin solo, whatever your pleasure.
Had your fill of Cedar Breaks on Saturday but aren’t ready to go home?
The surrounding area is pretty sweet too. There are a ton of lava fields, lava tubes (caves) and lakes to explore! Apparently this area has a big snowmobiling community in the winter, but it’s still pretty great to explore on foot. We took the opportunity to check out the following caves and local hikes:
This lava tube cave is really cool; bring some clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, a helmet, a headlamp and a strong sense of adventure! There are a bunch of different tunnels to choose from (some are closed off in the winter due to hibernating bats). I like taking a chamber as far as you can go to its terminus before turning around and trying the next path. It isn’t a huge cave (2,100 feet of passage, some of which is closed), but we had fun exploring and finding all the hidden entrances.
This guy is definitely less traveled, but is a really cool lava tube cave none less. It drops down with a wooden tree ladder to begin with and has 2 large rooms that you can stand in. Poke around, it’s a little wet, but really cool, plus we found a bat just chilling!
This was the smallest of our finds and seemed like it was regularly frequented, still cool to see though.
Cascade Falls: 2.4 miles round trip ~ headwaters of the Virgin River
Pretty chill hiking in the pines shows off the beautiful forest to the south and a few more Bryce like formation areas. Bright orange and white hoodoos poke out of the side of the mountain as if it were cut away like a multilayered cake. When we went there was no water flowing from the mouth of the entrance. However, this just gave us another opportunity to go caving! The limestone walls of the cavern that guides the headwaters of the Virgin River was certainly cool to see! It was a little wet, but well worth the effort!
Flow meter for the Virgin's North Fork Headwaters
Nice gage, man this thing runs @ 2' regularly, holy wow!
Deeper into the abyss!
Still with me?! Haha heck yeah!
The entrance from the overlook, lil scrambley to get in, watch them toes!
Planning for weather can be a challenge, especially when you’re looking at a 5 month long journey on the PCT. To simplify this problem, I have broken the trail up into sections with a similar climate. Those sections are: The Desert, Sierra Mountains, Northern Cali/Oregon, and Washington. Each has their own climate and weather challenges.
Note: I hiked North Bound (NoBo) from mid-April (4.14.18) to early-September (9.7.18).
The Desert: Campo (mile 0) – Kennedy Meadows South (mile 709). Most people think it’s dry and hot. Depending on when you are hiking there, this can be true, however it can also be frigidly cold! The biggest concerns in this section are sun protection and finding water! It can get cold at night, especially early in the season (I saw a night with 19 degrees F on Mount Laguna on my 3rd day and it snowed on Mt San Jacinto). I saw 1 day of rain (2 hours total), and it only went below freezing at night twice.
Leave at home: Snow Gear, Rain Pants, BearCan
Bring with you: Rain Jacket (always carry just in case, can double as extra warm layer), Sun Protection – Hat, Sunscreen, Umbrella*, Solar Panel*, Extra Water Reservoirs (enough to carry 6 liters max)
The Sierras: Kennedy Meadows South (mile 702) – South Lake Tahoe (mile 1090). Welcome to the big mountains! You will be traveling at 10,000 ft on average for quite a while. The sun is still intense at high elevations so don’t send that hat home yet. The biggest concern in this section is going over the snow covered passes. Rule of thumb: June 1st is the earliest you should head north of Kennedy Meadows South. I had all my snow gear sent to me at Kennedy Meadows South plus some required food protection. Bear canisters are required between Kennedy Meadows South (mile 702) and Sonora Pass (mile 1017). The mosquitoes are SEVERELY horrible north of Tuolumne Meadows so bring a bug net (I just used my buff) and bug spray (I went without). Warning: DEET will eat your gear if you accidentally spill it on yourself. DEET is straight poison but there are alternatives to it (like Repel); this all a personal call. They finally let up a bit as you near Sonora Pass. I never saw rain, nights were below freezing only 3-4 times.
Leave at home: Extra water reservoirs (only really need 2-4 liter capacity, water is abundant!)
Bring with you: Rain Jacket (always have just in case, can double as extra warm layer), BearCan (required), Ice Axe, Microspikes, Rain Pants (wore these when it was really cold), Wool Beanie, Wool Gloves (it’s cold as crap in the mornings!), Bug Net*, Insect Repellent*
Northern Cali + Oregon: South Lake Tahoe (mile 1090) – Cascade Locks (mile 2147). Congrats! You made it through the Sierras, now it’s time to plunge into the forest in Nor-Cal. Surprisingly the highest temperatures I saw on trail (in the 100s) were in Nor-Cali near Hat Creek Rim. People were so warm they sent their sleeping bags home and got quilts (I troopered through with my 1 bag cause it’s all I’ve got!). I sent home all my snow gear from South Lake Tahoe in my Bearcan (11$ as opposed to 25$ at North Kennedy Meadows). Bear canisters are required in Lassen Volcanic National Park (mile 1343-1363). You can avoid the Lassen requirement by hiking through the area in 1 day (it’s 20 miles and you’ll be cranking by mile 1343). You’ll start to get near forest fire season by this point. I fought the smoke by covering my face with a buff, others opted for the facemask (your choice). Oregon had more relaxed accumulated elevation gain so you’ll be cranking through the whole state of OR in just 2-3 weeks. Never saw rain, nights were only in the 30s once in Oregon at higher elevations.
Leave at home: BearCan, Ice Axe, Microspikes, Rain Pants, Solar Panel (not enough light – tree coverage from forest hiking).
Bring with you: Rain Jacket (always have just in case, can double as extra warm layer), Extra Water Reservoirs (4-5 liter capacity is good as there are some dry sections), Sun Protection – Hat, Sunscreen, Umbrella (for sun)*
Washington: Cascade Locks (mile 2147) – Canadian Border (mile 2652). Bring on the rain! Now that you have crossed the Bridge of the Gods, it’s time to get used to big elevation gain again. Washington was true to its reputation, with rain and forest fires. Send yourself your rain pants again and be prepared to be wet. Hopefully the forest fires are dying down with the onset of rain but you’ll still have some trail closures, it’s just how it goes.
Leave at home: BearCan, Ice Axe, Microspikes, Solar Panel (not enough light – tree coverage form forest hiking),
Bring with you: Rain Jacket, Rain Pants, Reservoirs (2-4 liter capacity is all you’ll need), Umbrella (for rain)*
How I planned my Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) hike in 4 weeks:
I know this may sound crazy, but I didn’t fully make the decision to leave my job and hike the PCT until just 4 weeks before I set foot on trail. I turned in my 2 week resignation at work on March 21st and started walking on April 14th. Some people take years to plan for such a journey.
I had been dreaming of hiking the trail “one day” and enjoyed many weekend backpacking treks, so I wasn’t going in without past experience. I had to plan all the logistics, budget, schedule, food pickups, trail maps, buying new gear, research special area restrictions (bear cans), not to mention entertaining my sister who came into town for a week just before I left, then pack up everything I own and put it into storage, find a way to get to the southern terminus, all the while attempting to keep up some level of fitness. Through that entire whirlwind, here is how I did it:
Step 0: Save every penny you can! There are a ton of costs that you don’t think about until you really start gathering all the little things together. A good rule of thumb is 1000$/month, that is of course, after getting all your gear. The 1000$ covers food, Uber rides, Trail Angel donations, hotel rooms, rides across the lake to VVR, replacing those worn out shoes on trail, and of course that juicy burger and beer in town you have been dreaming about all week. It’s good to acquire your gear over time so your not hit with the full cost at once and you have time to properly test it out. Also remember to factor in insurance (if you go that route), price of flights/rides there and back, and the price of storing your stuff back home.
Step 1: Choose NoBo (North Bound) or SoBo (South Bound) and get a permit – They are two totally different experiences and you have to take that into account when choosing which direction you will go. I chose NoBo for schedule and got my permit early because I knew it was possible that this was my year! Obtain permits here: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/pct-long-distance-permit/
Click for NoBo, SoBo, and FlipFlop Details
High trail population – Lots of people mean a certain level of social interaction and sharing resources like campsites or hostels. The high population also comes with the high support (trail angels) which means water caches, rides to town, and free lodging with a breakfast from time to time. Your personality type or schedule can make the decision for you!
Weather windows – You start in the desert when it’s nice and cool but you need to move fast enough to where you don’t get burned by extremely high temps as spring turns to summer. People night hike the low elevations, carry lots of water, and hope the rattlers leave them be. The first “gate” (or schedule impact) you get to is the Sierra Mountains at Kennedy Meadows South (rule of thumb says you shouldn’t enter the Sierras until June 1st). You want to wait to enter the high mountains until the high levels of snow melt enough for travelable passes. In high snow years this can be dangerous and really slow you down forcing you to get off the trail and resupply due to a slower than estimated pace (if you don’t think this is a big deal just Google PCT post holing, and imagine doing that all day).
Fire danger – Fires are always a possibility in mid to late summer, and as you head north, northern Cali, Oregon, and Washington are prone to catching blaze. This is simply a roll of the dice and some people flip-flop (definition below) to avoid the fires.
Snow (again) – Your mission at the end is to get to Canada before the snow starts to set in during late September and early October. If you’re too late, you won’t have the right gear to push the last few miles.
South bounders have all the NoBo problems in reverse. You have to wait for the snow to melt in Washington before you can start (usually July 1st), you are hit with forest fires right off the bat, you need to get out of the Sierras before the snow starts packing back in, and get to the desert and hope it’s not too hot (and there is water left). The population is much less and so is the support.
Flipflopping has means skipping a section and hiking the same section in reverse or another section until the conditions become better (too much snow, fires causing intolerable smoke, ect ect). Example: NoBo’ers who got to the Sierras too early came out at Independence CA, caught a ride to Ashland OR, hiked south back to where they exited and caught a second ride back to Ashland to finish the trail NoBo. This allows the snow to melt while you hike another section. I was lucky enough to not have to resort to this technique.
Step 2: Get to know the trail – Maps & Navigation – The PCT is a pretty beaten easily-followed trail, however there are some junctions that aren’t clearly marked and some Maps or GPS navigation on your phone or full on Garmin GPS would be a good idea. Plus water/camping callouts are by mile marker, so its good to have in conjunction with water reports.
Navigation via GPS: SmartPhone Apps – Search for on your preferred App installer
Guthooks – Upside to this app is it has the trail map plus comments from other app users about campsites and water sources all in 1 place. It is a spoon feeding no work type of app. The downside is that it costs $ (about $26 for the full thruhike in 2018). The only thing I have against the app is that it gives you so much that you don’t really have to talk to other hikers and somewhat takes away from the social experience. (This is the most user friendly and easy app to use)
HalfMile – Pretty basic, has great maps, the trail, and water location. Doesn’t have a ton of camp spots listed past the desert, but it works if you want to go free.
HikerBot – Basic tracking, free
Locus Pro – This one takes some work; it is just a map program (almost any map you would want) that you can load GPX files and waypoints into. I have used this for years and didn’t want to buy a whole app specifically for the PCT, so I just grabbed the tracks and waypoints from the HalfMile website listed above and loaded them up. You have to load cache the map of the area prior to going out. Work, but worth it to me.
Step 3: Food and Water – Congrats you’ve made the plunge and got your permit! Now for the essentials: Food & water. This has everything to do with planning and schedule. You have to estimate your pace, imagine where you will be and what you will need. Everyone has their own dietary needs so I’ll focus on the planning aspect of Food & Water.
Click for Food Planning Details
Food: I started researching and pulled a list of all the resupply points close to the trail (hitches to town 40 miles or less). Once I had my list I planned resupplying every 3-5 days (sometimes longer though special areas like the Sierras where getting in and out is harder), using the mileage I assumed I would be hiking to set my schedule and selected resupply points dependent on convenience and price. (I assumed an average of 15 miles per day in the first month, 20 miles per day after that, 18 miles per day through Sierras, 30 miles per day through Northern Cali/Oregon, 25 miles per day in Washington. I factored in rest days into resupply days so this didn’t affect my average much, only affecting the dates of arrival by adding any non-hike (zero) days).
There are 4 main types of food resupply:
1) Mail yourself food – Set up your boxes before you leave (warning, you may become tired of eating the same thing so try and mix it up) and have a friend/fam send them to you; or you can actually mail yourself food from the trail (find a good store in a larger town and resupply yourself for the next month). Grab a USPS Priority Large box and start stuffing your food in! Here are some instructions for how to send yourself packages:
Enter a return (home) address so it can be sent home if you miss the package for some reason.
Your Name (Name on your ID, post office will ask to see it) C/0 General Delivery
Address: List full address, City, State, the zip code
Please hold for PCT hiker: Name
2) Buy food in town – Show up and pay whatever prices (sometimes expensive) for whatever they have on hand. Sometimes there is slim pickin’s due to a wave of hikers that come just before you.
3) Mix of the two – I set up 20 boxes before I left and hit up Costco for bulk buying. The rest of my food I bought on trail
Convenience: Closer to the trail means a shorter hitch with a stranger as most of your resupplies will be off the trail. Let’s face it; if you are going to these towns (to resupply at a store or pick up your package) you will have to rely on the hospitality and humanity of other people in their strange metal sleighs that move faster than 3mph.
Price and Selection: The smaller the town the smaller the selection and the higher the prices. In the towns where the prices for a packet of tuna is 3$ you may want to send yourself food in a Priority Mail box to avoid these high prices.
Here is my Excel File: I put this together which has all the convenient resupply points and I highlighted the resupply points I selected for my 2018 hike. This is JUST A PLAN/GUIDE! Be flexible, most convenient locations on the left side, my plan is on the right side of the Excel sheet.
Water: Water is pretty simple overall, there are a few ways to get info (see below). My rule of thumb for carrying water is 1 liter of water for every 5 miles hiked. I know here in America we don’t usually go with liters, however most hiking gear for hydration is labeled in liters and the Smartwater bottles I used were 1 liter bottles.
The Water Report can be downloaded onto your smart phone or printed out and carried with you. This tells you locations of all water sources and is updated by hikers via txt or email.
The phone app Guthooks also has live water information. Comments in Guthooks will let you know if there is water at the next source.
Water purification: See Gear Selection Section.
Step 3: Gear Selection – Well now that you’ve decided to leave society for a few months, figured out when you are starting, and where you’re going to stop for food, you need some gear to carry all that crap! Gear is life to people; they BELIEVE in their gear and spend a lot of money on it. That doesn’t mean you can’t go out there with a 70lb external frame pack, it just means you gotta work harder for it! I’ll stick to the basics of what you will need and give you examples of what you can choose, you can do your own selection from there (there is no 1 solution to life!).
Click for Gear Selection Details
Comfort Vs Weight – Every ounce counts! Ultralighters typically go as minimal as possible, whereas some people want to be comfy cozy at the toll of heavier gear. The fact is, the lighter you are; the faster you are. Is this important to you? Everyone has their sweet spot; and it’s a personal call. Do you want your heavy DSLR camera? Want your super comfy blowup sleeping pad? How about an extra pair of socks or underwear when your others are busy drying out after laundry? These are all questions you’ll have to answer yourself, however here are the basics of what you’ll need:
SideNote: Here are my gear lists (includes weight and links) for the whole trail:
Here my gear rational and what I saw others doing on the trail:
Backpack: Your pack needs to fit all your gear, about 5 days of food, and carry anywhere from 2-6 liters of water (6 liters is extreme and you’ll only ever do that a handful of times in the desert). I prefer a pack with hip-belt pockets and side pockets to carry smart water bottles. I chose the EXOS Osprey 58 Liter pack, I already owned it before the trail, and why buy a new pack when I already have a perfectly good one! Here are some packs I saw on trail.
Osprey EXOS 58 Liter BackPack (2014 version [2017 version cut their hipbelt pockets]): Price , Website
Sleeping Bag / Liner / Pillow: The coldest temps you will see on the trail are in the 20s (headed NoBo from mid-April to mid-Sept). I personally love a mummy bag, you can save some weight and get a quilt which cuts out as much weight as possible from some areas which one could argue are “extra”. Side note: quilters sometimes complain of drafts from the bottom where there is a hole from the quilt’s drawstring which when pulled creates a “toebox”. Some people sleep cold and need 10 degree bags with liners in them (even in 30 deg weather); this is all about knowing yourself and your gear. Other considerations include ethically harvested feathers for the down bags, and using synthetic bags if you are worried about being wet. Like I stated, this is all personal preference. Here are some examples of what I saw on trail:
Shelter/Tent: There are plenty of options out there, most all are expensive! Tarps are really nice on weight because they use your trekking poles to hold them up (downside is they must be staked out properly and a high wind at night could be troublesome). Free standing tents are great but weigh a bit more due to the poles but the upside is they don’t require staking out to stand erect. Bivy or just cowboy camping is another option. Remember it’s all about comfort vs weight. I saw some people carrying 2 man tents because they enjoyed the space, others cowboy camped every night. Here are the tents I saw out there most:
Cooking System: Cold soak or hot meals?! Comfort question once again. I saw many people choking down cold ramen and instant mashed potatoes so they could save themselves a pound of weight going stove less (every ounce counts remember). I’ll let you make your own decisions here, but this is what I saw on trail the most:
McFlurry spoon from mcdonald’s – as a friend puts it, “Fuck paying 20$ for a spoon!”
Clothing: This could be like opening a can of worms, there’s such a HUGE amount of products out there for you to choose from. Here are the basics, carry ONLY what you need. If something wears out or doesn’t seem to be working for you just grab another from a hikerbox or send yourself one. Rule of thumb:
Shirts (x2) – 1 hiking shirt, 1 town shirt. I personally love smartwool to hike in; a lightweight shirt can be good in both heat and cold.
Synthetic can be nice, but eventually the smell just doesn’t seem to get out of the shirt even after a wash.
Wool kicks butt, it can wear down quickly (especially in the shoulders) – Price
Cotton – Leave it at home
Mi- Layer – People LOVE their puffys which is no surprise in chilly weather. Here is what I saw out there:
Pair Socks (x3) – I started with 2, moved to 3 after accidentally losing a pair and getting stuck with just 1 pair for 3 days . . . got athlete’s foot . . .let’s not talk about it. Here is what I saw most on trail:
Shoes – People are crazy for shoes, pick your own religion here. Most people on trail rock trailrunners because they are light (1lb on your feet is equivalent to 5lbs on your back) and they have good breathability which means they dry quickly if they get wet (you will be dousing your shoes in creek crossings especially in the Sierras). Side note, you should plan to go through 5 pairs of trail runners (mine were lasting about 550 miles before the cushion broke down!) This is what I saw most people wearing:
Shorts (or pants) – I rocked a pair of swimming shorts the whole trail. Dried fast, lightweight, cheap (thanks Goodwill!)
Water Filtration – Sometimes size matters . . . and the longevity! There were mainly 2 filters out there, and then some people just straight up didn’t filter at all! You want good flow rate, but at the same time longevity. Side Note: I ditched my pack bladder and just used Smart Water bottles which I slid into the side pockets of my backpack for easy access. Switching to this system will help you know exactly how much water you have at one time, plus if a bottle gets too beat up you can always swap it out once you get to town.
Sawyer Squeeze – Save yourself the trouble and get the full size version (it lasted me all 2650 miles with filtering every liter I drank). The flow will slow down, but usually not until 400 miles in. The Mini Sawyer quickly loses its flow capability even with back flushing properly (200ish miles). The Sawyer also screws right onto SmartWater bottles which is a plus as the bags that come stock with Sawyer WILL break! Be aware of this, after so many squeezes they will burst near the neck (no one wants to lose a few liters in the desert). I just used a SmartWater bottle as my “squeeze” dirty bag. Price , Website
Katadyn BeFree – Has higher flow than the Sawyer out of the gate, but it starts to slow down after 200 miles. It will still filter – Price , Website
Electronics – It’s going to be hard to let go of electronics at home, but the ones you take on trail need juice. Navigation these days is primarily done with Smartphones. Any camera you would use or other nifty gadgets need to stay charged between towns (don’t forget to charge it up when you are in town).
SmartPhone – Primary use is navigation, then pictures, then internet and social media. Use your juice wisely. I used the Samsung Galaxy 8S+ (water resistant) with a holster that was on my pack’s shoulder strap for quick access. Phone, Holster
Camera – Tons out there, if you want those epic pictures that your smartphone can’t grab and have convinced yourself the weight is worth it, these are some of the cameras I saw on trail:
Bluetooth Keyboard – I blogged every night and this keyboard was the key to making it happen. Without it I would have been reduced to T-Rex thumbing the day’s journey. Price
Special Equipment – A few areas have special requirements, namely, the Sierras and Lassen National Park. Bear canisters are required between Kennedy Meadows South (mile 702) and Sonora Pass (mile 1017) and then again in Lassen Volcanic National Park (mile 1343-1363). You can avoid Lassen requirement by hiking through the area in 1 day (it’s 20 miles and you’ll be cranking by mile 1343). Side Note: I carried my bearcan all the way to South Lake Tahoe because it cost me 11$ to ship home filled with clothes, whereas shipping from Kennedy Meadows North was 25$ full, 20$ empty.
MicroSpikes – Some years (like 2018) the snow will be melted enough where this is all you need, other years you may need full on crampons. Price
Umbrella – These guys were pretty popular on trail. People would use them for sun protection as well as rain in Washington (NoBo frame of time). Price
First Aid – Last but not least, safety (N.B. I am not a doctor or a professional healthcare provider; consider your own safety needs in first aid)! You would be surprised about how little you actually need to carry. The mentality is to carry enough to take care of minor scrapes, scratches, blisters, sun block, and if it is something more serious you will be coming off trail for treatment anyway.
GPS Unit – if something serious were to happen (rattle snake bite, broken leg, heart attack, anaphylactic shock, ect ect) and you don’t have cell signal, a GPS unit can hail for rescue. Plenty of options out there:
Luko tape – Doubles as bandage gauze cover and for hot spots on your feet to prevent blisters – Price
Thread/Floss and needle – This can be used to pop blisters, dig out cactus needles/thorns, or used to sew up a shoe or pack that is starting to come apart – Price
Salt – sounds strange, but if you start to cramp up and you haven’t had enough salt, throw some in your mouth.
Sunblock – Take care of that skin kids!
Banana Boat Sunsceen Stick – The stick is great because you don’t have to spread sunscreen all over your body w your dirty hands (cause god knows where those have been!) – Price
Hand Sanitizer – No sinks out there, clean your hands (also never handshake, always fistbump! Fewer germs spread that way)! Price
Ibuprofin – Carry a small bottle, pretty handy for headaches and annoying body aches.
Toiletries – Lets face it everybody goes. Grab your essentials: Toilet Paper, Hand Sanitizer, Tooth Paste, Tooth Brush (yeah thats right cut that bad boy in half so save a few ounces!), and of course WetWipes. The PCTA requests that you pack ALL your TP out, so remember to have a small baggy handy for this. Sanitize them hands afterwards! Its a dirty job, but someones gotta do it!
Step 4: Getting to the trailhead and Trail Angels – Now that you’ve done all the hard work to make sure you have what you need to survive for 4-5 months, you need to get to the trail and start walking!
Click for Trail Angels and Trailhead Logistics
Trail Angels – These are people who have either hiked the PCT in some way shape or form or really love the trail and want to support the hikers attempting the cross country trek. They will give you refuge from the storm in their homes, rides to/from trailheads, feed you, give you trailmagic, receive packages for you at their home, and all around turn your day. There is a list of trail angels online: http://trailangellist.org/pacific-crest-trail/
Getting to/from the Southern Terminus trailhead:
Scout and Frodo – These 2 trail angels will pick you up from the airport, house you for a day or so, and then get you to the trailhead on your start date (contact them in advance). They are pretty cool. You can do like I did and force a friend to drive you there and hike the first section with you and cook you a big dinner and breakfast on the grill before kicking you out onto the trail like the hiker trash you are!
1) Hike into Canada – Once at Manning Park, take a bus/hitchhike/carpool to get back to the states. You MUST have a PCT Canada entry permit (some people have issues obtaining one if they have have ever had a DUI) to walk into Canada via PCT.
2) Hike back to Hearts Pass – Once back at the pass, throw your thumb out and hitch into Mazama. From Mazama you should be able to hitch over the 20 to Seattle.
Large group accommodating Trail Angel stops: Hiker Heaven, Casa De Luna, Mike’s Place (it’s an experience . . . ), Hiker Town (also an interesting experience . . .), there are a ton of trail angels in town that are on the list that will host you.
Trail Angels are going out of their way because they love the trail and they love you stinky hikers, love them back a little, drop some cash on them if they will let you.
Step 5: Don’t stress and enjoy! Looking back I realized that “the trail provides!” All this “planning” only gets you so far. Remember that life happens while you’re busy making plans. Your schedule will change, you’ll be faster or slower than you originally thought. You’ll meet new friends on the trail, have a shoe blow out on you, loose a pair of socks, have to wait on a post office to open, or wait for a package lost in the mail, or get sidetracked by some sick trailmagic in the middle of nowhere, or perhaps you’ll find a really hospitable town and decide to take an extra zero to really take it in. No matter what, woohsaahhhh it’s all going to work out as it should! Happy trails!
If you guys are interested in prepping for other thru-hikes check out MyOpenCountry’s Thru-Hiking 101 Guide which takes a holistic approach to the big US thru-hikes. Good luck out there!
On the last day of the PCT we arrived to find a large wooden monument that marked the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. There, I said a few words to my friends and fellow trekkers. I was asked to post this for them. It’s one of those “you had to be there” kind of things.
“I want you all to take a journey with me. I want you to use your mind’s eye, think as vividly as you can back to just a few months ago. Come back with me to the Mexican Border and the southern termanis monument.
Think about those brand new kicks, the fresh socks, spick and span pack, and shiney new tent strapped to your pack. Think about that ride to the terminus, the anticipation winding up in your stomach. Think about that very first step into the arid desert.
Think about that first big hill, up and over, dumping down into Lake Morena and that first nights camp. Staring up through your tent into the night sky, marking your first night on trail.
Think about pushing through the desert to those “active explosives in area” signs and feeling a little nervous.
Climbing up to Mount Laguna and the 60 mph winds, 20 degree night, and frozen water pipes in the morning. First full on views of the desert below.
Julian and Mama’s Pie, Scissors Crossing and the huge cache at 3rd gate (Thanks trail angels!).
Stopping off at Mike’s Place for a burrito with a side of machetes and whiskey. Secretly hoping to yourself that your not going to get stabbed that night.
Breakfast at Paradise Bakery. Idyllwild and at its quaintness. Finally dropping weight, slowly climbing up to San Jacinto Peak. Cold as hell, huge smile on, looking north to hot desert and the Gorgonio Mountains.
Dropping down, sleeping under the I10 at Cabazon Pass. Natty light in hand, thinking this is what it means to be homeless.
Pushing on to Big Bear Lake, your first hotel on trail.
Hiking to Hiker Heaven and soon after Agua Dulce. Getting your first real trail angel experience complete with laundry and a ride anywhere you needed.
The 24 challenge to Casa de luna (shh lets keep that on the low)!
The push through the Gorgonios, trying not to get bfed at hiker town, walking the huge LA aqua duct. Thinking about all that water below your feet and not a drop in sight.
Hiking beneath the Air Turbines, finding Tehachapi and some killer BBQ at Red House BBQ.
Fast forward now: Getting your feet under you, finally exiting the desert at Kennedy Meadows south, entering the famous Sierras.
Seeing the snow covered granite wide spread wilderness before you in all its glory. Your first 14er, waking up at 1am, that beautiful sunrise (maybe it was the best sunrise you ever saw).
Forester Pass, Kearsarge Pass, dropping into Bishop, that awesome guys who gave you a 40 mile hitch, and of course Hostel California.
All the passes, Muir was by far the best, the snow the sunrises, the ice cold lakes you jumped in. Man the Sierras really rocked my world.
Northern cali and all its green tunnel goodness, Mt. Shasta, Castle Rocks, the smoke, Seiad Valley and the State of Jefferson. Finally touching that fucking Oregon border! Finally out of California, it only took 3 months!
Ashland, the smoke, my first zero in Oregon, pushing 30s getting full on. Crushing bigger miles. Crater Lake in all its beauty (if you could see it).
Busting through to the Three Sisters, Hiking up to Mt Hood and Timberline Lodge, the smoke in the air but you can still see the beauty.
Finally pushing to PCT days and Cascade Locks, brews with friends you hadn’t seen in months!
Stepping into Washington across that crazy fucking bridge trying not to get hit by passing cars.
Finding the elevation again was back in full force, Trout Lake, Mt Adams, the Goat Rock Wilderness.
Coming down Snowquolumne, Dru Bru (I know you got a beer . . or two), Skykomish, the rain and the 100 mile race, getting dry, seeing the end insight going for it.
Motoring on to Holden and their awesome hospitality, the whole town coming to wave you off in the bus to the Ferry like it was a scene out of some Hallmark movie. Stehekin and their closed off city, the delicious bakery, and of course . . . your last resupply.
Pushing on and up, up and down, down and up again, finally reaching Hearts Pass and the final fire detour.
Hiking down to the creek, packing in your celebratory beer, champagne, smoke, whatever floats your boat, all the way, step by step, to the border.
I want to be the first to say to all of you, congratulations for your achievement. You just walked across America from Mexico to Canada. 2650 miles end to end. You earned every inch, you earned every mile. You and the friends standing next to you now.
Go ahead and open your eyes, and Welcome to Canada!!!”
At 4:30am I woke to see lights outside my tent moving around in the darkness. I wasn’t supposed to be up yet, but my eyes were open and the excitement got the better of me. I was up and out packing up my gear for the day. Pickle was long gone, Pooper packing up, and Sissyphus snoozing away as usual. I staked my tent out for rain, threw on my pack with just food, water, and extra clothes for the day and headed out into the dark.
It wasn’t long before I was at the junction of Rock Creek and started the climb out of the valley back to the true PCT. The trail was chunky and for a good half mile was riddled with downed trees. Climbing over the trees takes time, and slows the pace, but with a light pack I was moving quickly. Up and on I pushed until finally seeing the golden ridgeline ahead. On the ridge I saw a small line cutting across it’s face, which must be the PCT. I was getting closer!
I thought for sure that I would have seen Pooper by now, but so such luck. The sun rose revealing a beautiful morning sky as I climbed the hardy gain. After reaching the PCT and pausing for a quick snack I pressed on. The end was creeping closer and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew it.
Behind me I saw another hiker approaching. It was Mr. Giggles, and we greeted with huge smiles at the top of the climb at Castle Pass. Below us we could see Harper lake, all the way down to its bottom. We chatted on and soon to my surprise Sissyphus came rounding the corner. Pooper had got turned around in the dark and took a wrong trail. He wasn’t too far behind us so we pressed on.
Down we went inching closer to the finish line. We chatted on as usual and paused only for a moment at a small fall just a quarter mile before the Canadian boarder to chill the bottles of Champagne we baught in Stehekan a few days before. It was surreal. We were right there, so close. We pressed the final distance as if it were any other stretch of trail. Finally the monument came into view. It was weird, like seeing death for the first time in real life, just stairing back at you expressionless, without simpothy or encouragement. We walked up and simultaneously layed our hands on the wooden statue. We did it . . .
Pickle was there to greet us, and soon the rest of the crew started rolling in. There were a good 15 of us hanging out taking in the finish in our own way. Snapping photos, wooping out calls of completion, excitement, and also relief. I got all of us together for a picture, and afterwards read a little speech that I had prepared for the finish. It was a really cool moment, for all of us.
After the celebration subsided and making the realization we still had a good 17 miles to hike back to camp, we got moving. The gain began and we took it on quietly. We walked, strange in our own way, until we saw Johnny Staches group coming in. We all greated and congratulated each other on making it there. We trekked on, back past the lake, climbing up and on the gain, as the sky grew darker with rain clouds. The rain began to sprikle on Sissyphus, Pooper, and my heads, but the views were still incredible. Light spilled down beneath the clouds in areas in the distance revealing the ridgelines and valleys of this beautiful place.
Finally we reached the detour as the sun began to set. We trekked the 7 miles downhill in dark. To our surprise the trees we were forced to jump in the morning were mostly all cut and removed from the trail. A maintainence crew had come in the day and eleaviated our struggle. We were all exhausted, stubbing toes, wet shoes, and a long day finally ended when we reached our tents at 10pm. The slumber we had that night was solid as a rock.
The next day we awoke early and retraced our steps back to Hearts Pass. We sat there, tired and in disbelief that we had truely finished and there wouldnt be 30 miles of trail waiting for us the next morning. With our thumbs out we got lucky and hitched into Winthrop with a bear hunter. Walking into School House Brewery my buddy Dan and my girlfriend Izzie were just sitting there waiting for us. Big stinky hugs and high 5’s we celebrated that we had made it. Off the trail and back to civilization. It was a strange feeling, and my mind struggled to process it, but the fact is: We were done, we had walked across America. Mexico to Canada, 2650 miles, in 147 days. Wild!
I woke to the sound of the Methow River flowing just feet away from my tent. It was time to pack up and get rolling. Not many people were moving, just the way I like it! I hiked up and out of the forest to find a sick ridgeline. Smoke was in the air and the sun shown orane through the veil, but you could still see its beauty. Soon Pooper and Pickle caught up and we all trekked the ridge together chatting on about how weird it was that we are getting so close to the end.
We hadn’t seen Sissyphus that morning and kept our eyes peeled as we walked the beautiful ridge. We saw a few day hikers and knew we were getting closer to Hearts Pass. I kept looking for goats as we skampered on with no luck. Soon, just before the pass, we found trail magic! A big group of dirty hikers was together hanging out as we pulled in. Bologna sandwiches, orange soda, mellon, and a piece of pumpkin pie were munched on untill we were full, fat, and happy. We just sat there, relaxing as Sissyphus rolled up. After snacking on, we slowly slogged out back onto the trail.
There was a small 2 mile climb up to Slate Pass where we dumped off into the Holman Fire bypass trail. Down we went, switchback after switchback. We found a creek at the bottom of the valley and Pickle pulled out his fly fishing rod. Pooper was like a kid on Christmas with excitement as Pickle pulled in the first trout. Giggling on as the fish flipped in his hand Pooper jumped with a yelp as the fish escaped his grasp. It is the little things.
We pressed on knowing we still had miles to cover before camp. We started telling jokes, stories, and riddles as the miles melted away into the heart of the valley. At the first bridge we saw Mr Giggles and his crew all set up for camp. It sun was setting and the 4 of us pressed on through the dimming light. We reached our camp at the 2nd bridge just 20 minutes later and quickly made the best of our accomidations.
Pooper and Sissyphus headed to the river for water and I soon joined. Upon arrival Pooper was nursing a toe he stubbed pretty bad in the dark. It wasn’t until he lifted the nail on his big toe and blood came spirting out that I knew the depth of his injury. I told him to tape it up and don’t touch it until we were off the trail. Just 2 more days, gotta hold on man!
Tired and cranky, we all finally made some food and appeased our insatiable appetites. Soon we were in bed being serenaded by the nearby creek. Tomorrow we would touch the Northern Terminus of the PCT. What a strange thought!
Pooper – 30, from Michigan, originally from India. He has been on a path if change since he moved to america for his Masters Degree in Computer Science. He was 220 lbs (100kg) and in hitting the 100 kg mark he decided it was time to make a change. He started running as a way to loose weight, and he became addicted to the sport. Since starting his new passion he has run over 80 marathons, lost 80 pounds, and in November at the completion of the NY Marathon, he will be the first Indian to complete a marathon in all 50 states. He completed 30 marathons in 1 year, lost 70lbs, and ran his first marathon just 2 years after his first run ever. Its been a journey coming from a 38 inch waist to a 30 inch waist, but now he is a 10 star member of the Marathon maniacs (a group of runners that have completed 3 marathons within 2 weeks).
I woke at the trailcamp, with Sissyphus’ tent butted up next to mine and Pooper sleeping just feet away cowboy style. He looked like a bight blue caterpillar laying there. I got ready, and was soon standing, coffee in hand, ready to let out.
I was starting to get excited about reaching the terminus. We were close enough that I started to plan our miles as I hiked taking in the scenes. The trail climbed on, and soon after crossing the river, it climbed some more. It was nice being first out, I got the trail to myself, plus a little peace and quiet. I pressed on.
Soon enough Pickle caught up to me and we chatted on about post trail businesses and past adventures. The miles melted away and soon we stopped at Hidden campground for a snack and to give Pickle a chance to fish. I made my usual burrito while he set up his fly fishing rod. With a few flicks from his wrist and letting the fly float on the water’s top just by boulders, he had a cutthroat trout on the line. Pretty happy he pulled him in, pulled out the fly, checked him out and released him back into the stream. He repeated this like it was as easy as breathing another 2 times.
Finally I pressed on meeting Sissyphus on the trail. He pulled off for water and I pressed on, soon finding Pooper and Pickles’ company once again. I told the story to Pickle about how I got into climbing and my obsession to summit Zoroaster Temple in the Grand Canyon. He chatted on about starting up a podcast and the long list of interesting people he already had in mind to interview. We trekked on chatting away as a trio and soon came to Highway 20 and Rainy Pass.
Not 5 minutes had gone by before 3, count them, 3 trail angels all showed up with food, snacks, gatoraid, and of course beer for any dirty hiker trash that wanted it! We snacked on, kicked back, and really enjoyed a long long early lunch. With 15 miles left to go I decided to push on.
I trekked on up the sun-drenched trail, but the temps were good, and the gain was better. I switchbacked back and forth working my way up to Cutthroat Pass. Soon Pooper caught up and we soon turned a corner to meet Sabrina and Kathryn. They were out for the weekend, and Sabrina’s husband Fred and their half chihuahua half wienerdog. Sabrina had taken some time off work, she had a hard year and told us about her son who had passed away in a tragic kayaking accident. Apparently he was paddling at a very high level and just had an unlucky day. The four of us sat there on the ledge overlooking the beautiful, yet smokey sky as if we had known each other for far longer than 5 minutes. They were really lovely and after chatting for some time we knew we had to hike on to get to camp in the light.
I gave Sabrina a big hug, sometimes people need it, whether they know it or not. Pooper and I trekked on, dropping down, skirting the mountainside towards the Methow Pass. The views were pretty stellar. Stopping for water at a small creek where an older couple were camped, we once again chatted on. It seemed to be a popular day to be out!
We gained the pass, waved to Fireball, Painter and crew, and finally dropped into the valley headed north towards camp. Down it plunged into the forest which just made it seem darker. After a few miles we arrived at the Methow River and it seemed like tents sprouted from the ground. Almost every tent site was spoken for. After some careful searching we found a spot, made dinner on the bridge and started to eat as Pickle and Sissyphus finally came strolling in, in the dark. They were taking their sweet time. Now that the whole gang was together we ate, bullshitted and headed to bed for a good night’s rest!
I woke to a cold wet bag. I’m not sure if it was cool humid wind from the lake or my warm breath condensing inside of my bag, but none the less, it was town day! I got out of my tent and Pooper was already packed up. Pooper doesn’t mess around on town day!
We both took off, heading down the descent. It was immediately evident that the smoke was back. The valley below was filled and the sun rose red behind the curtain of grey. Pooper and I chatted on as we hauled down the hill. We could see the falls in the distance.
Sissyphus finally caught up and we trekked together seeing the first evidence of the town of Holden. Remnants of very old house foundations lined an old street as we walked into town. Finally we found old log cabins in the town center. We found our way to the hotel where they were still serving the tail end of breakfast!
We chowed down with a group of other dirty hikers. About half way through dinner a hiker came walking up to my seat, I looked up in surprise to find Pickle! I hadn’t seen him since Bishop Pass in the Sierras. I gave the guy a big hug and we caught up between the mouthfuls of food.
After finishing up and paying the bill I decided to explore the town. There was an old bowling alley, pool hall, barber shop, pottery studio, all kinds of cool little hidden gems in the mountains of a secluded town. Eventually we all piled onto a big bus headed for the ferry across Chelan Lake. The ENTIRE town came out to wave us off. It was like a scene out of some Hallmark movie. The bus rumbled down the dirt road packed with hikers and we all chatted on as we neared the boat dock.
Some swam, some bundled up, but soon the ferry arrived and we all piled on. Beer in hand from the boat bar we all sat down and chatted about realizing we were about to go to our last town and resupply. After a quick trip we arrived in Stehekin and headed straight for a nice big lunch. Hikers need fuel, it’s the first thing on our minds when in town!
Food, resupply from the eye-patched postmaster, hanging by the lake and waiting for the shuttle as our sleeping bags and tents dried out. Finally we piled into the shuttle headed back towards the PCT. Piling out of the bus, Sissyphus dropped his phone on the bus seat. To give him crap I picked it up and just sat back and watched him sweat a little. After a while I started taking selfies with other hikers until he realized it was in my hands. After a good laugh we all headed up trail to walk the 5 miles to camp.
Back into the canopy of the forest we plodded on pausing only for water. The chat continued on as our large group meandered to camp. Finally arriving we quickly set up and took over the first available area that was large enough to house 15 of us. It was such a good day. Only a few left!
My brain was in review of this whole thru hiking thing this morning. In doing so I thought back to a conversation I had with my brother on trail. I remeber him saying at the end of our conversation “I gotta go, some of us ave to work”. I rememeber thinking, then replying “Well at least after your 8 hour shift is done, you go home”. Its a funny point, people’s perspective from the outside is so skewed from what its really like to be on trail.
It seems that people read blogs, see Instagram pictures, posed shots and the glamor of the trail. Imagine us all taking long naps, long breaks, feet up for hours, perhaps you walk a bit if we feel like it. When the reality is anyhing but. There are blisters, shin splints, collapsed arches, muscle tears, long 13-16 hours of walking every day, no weekends, pushing physical limits, mental limits, and sometimes people break. Some people quite, go home. Ive seen it happen first hand, for so many reasons. I guess the main point I’m making is that I don’t want people dissalusioned by pretty pictures and think its all fun and games. It is a dream come true. But for most things that are worth it, hey take hard work to achieve.
I woke to a decently non-fridgid morning for once below the mighty trees. Coffee in hand, I headed out and knew the climbs for today were going to be tough. Right off the bat, after Milk Creek the trail began switchbacking back and forth climbing the mountainside through lush green forests. I paused for a moment meeting a FlipFlopper from Belgium. We chatted for a moment and I pressed on. I topped out the climb to be given some sick views of the mountains to the east.
In the distance I saw a hiker climbing the switchbacks of the draw, and soon realized it was Tornado! I handn’t seen him since A Thousand Island Lake way back in the Sierras. We chatted on and caught up taking in the scenery. Soon I left him and continued to water where I plopped down for a good break. Pooper soon joined me and few minutes ater we saw Sissyphus bopping down the trail.
We all headed out and bombed down the other side of the ridge. Down, down, down we went all the way to 2300 ft next to Suiattle River. The forest here was old growth and had some good humus going at its feet, not to mention everything was covered in moss and little underbrush. It was pretty cool and seemed as though anywhere was a good place to lay down for a rest. We breaked for lunch and goofed around as Pooper found a good table for his feast.
Letting our it was every man for himself. We agreed to camp at Layman Lake and took off! The first 5 miles seemed like a roller coaster parrallelling the river. Up and down it went until finally it started to climb the moutainside with long steady switchbacks. One after another the climbs came in waves, endless like the ocean. The forest was gorgeous, and the climbing seemed especially hardy.
I took a short break half way up the climb shoving snacks in my mouth, ready for the top. Finally I broke out of the forest and saw some incredible peaks and ridges in the distance. I had to snap some pictures before taking off again. This time the climb was quick and switchbacks were shorter, climbing faster. Finally I topped the saddle overloking Laymen Lake and rejoiced that camp was near as the sun started going to bed. I hustled the mile down to the lake as the forest and the setting sun shaded any light from my path. Finally I arrived and chatted on wih Sissyphus and Pooper as I set up camp! “At least it wasn’t 9pm tonight” I announced! What a great day!
So the rose, thorn, and bud excersice is something StuckOnTheGround started with the group at the end of the day. Rose being your highlight or favorite part, thorn being your biggest challenge, and bud being what you are looking forward to tomorrow. This may sound all “kum-bay-ya” but it is a really nice way to reflect on the day and find something to be thankful for. Recognize challenge and gear your mind towards the future.
My Rose for today was the stellar views from the tops of the two ridges we climbed and the sunrise that morning. My thorn was the fact that I ripped a left shoe, broke my left earbud, and lost my smartwool beanie on the trail somewhere. These 3 events put me in a crap mood, but somehow pulled out of it. My bud is seeing the views from tomrrows big climb and starting the fire reroute which will bring me and the boys into Stehekin!
I stirred in my tent. The cold air nipped at me, and finally I forced myself to move. A cloud had passed over us in the night dropping off some nice dew all over our tents and sleeping bags. Mmmm waking up damp, not my favorite! Despite this I got moving, rolling my wet gear away and was rewarded with an incredible sunrise.
Drifts of fog rolled in front of the ridgeline views and I was enjoying them until I was engulfed in my own fog or low cloud. Pooper had caught up with me and we trekked together taking in the views. The ridge dropped off into a valley and climbed out the otherside to a clear, sunny, meadow on the side of a mountain. We took a nice break and I threw all my gear out to dry. Sissyphus soon joined us to take in the stunning views!
We had somehow taken almost an hour break and in realizing it decided to get our butts in gear. It was business time! Sissyphus took off, and Pooper and I followed. We climbed a nice ridge seeing weekend backpacker after backpacker to our surprise. Afterwards dumped down the other side back into the forest. Lush green forest, moss covering the forest floor, waterfalls bellowing hundreds of gallons of crystal clear water pumped life into the underbrush. On this decent my toe got caught by a root and it ripped my shoe, dang! Field repair time!
Just before reaching our meetup spot the trail turned swampy and the bushes reached in. One grabbed my headphones and ripped my left earbud from the wire. I was pretty pissed, I used these to jam to music, and always put them in at night to pass out within minutes of laying down. Soon I saw Sissyphus, I plopped down all grumpy and continued to eat and work on my shoe.
The guys pressed on as I finished up. I knew I needed some time to work off some steam. I absolutely hate having to spend money on materialistic things that i’ve already paid for once. Anyway the climb up and out of the valley did me good. Head down and heart pumping, I climbed on. Soon I stripped off my hat and hung it on my pack. By the time I reached Glacier Creek and looked down to realize my hat was gone, it was already too late. Turn crabby into pissed the fuck off! It just wasn’t my day. Good thing I had more climbing to do!
I pressed on after going back and searching hight and low. I reminded myself I was out here in a place where not many people ever get to go, much less for 5 months and I should be thankful. That combined with the climb finally put my mood in check. I topped out and was rewarded with 360 incredible views!
Knowing I had little time I bombed down the other side. Switchback after switchback the light began to fade from the sky. As I decended further into the valley below the light just became dimmer until finally I had to turn on my headlamp to walk. Finally I reached camp where Sissyphus and Pooper were setting up. Whew made it! We chatted on and caught up during the nightly chores. I was thankful for my two friends on the trail. Despite the thorns, the rose of the day was gorgeous and the promise of the bud to come will only keep me in suspense.
I woke just a few miles out from Stevens Pass. I could hear Superstar talking in her sleep. She didn’t stir as I put my food bag into my pack, shouldered it, and headed out. It seemed to be a dim morning and I sipped on my coffee and shook the chill from my fingers as I walked. Up and over a ridge I went just to be back into the fog again.
On the back side of ridge the temperature dropped dramatically and I plundge down into the other side. Snaking through the greenery I finally fond a nice creek flowing well and stop for my first break of the day. Soon Sissyphus and Pooper come rolling up. “Hey hey fellas!” I said as I threw my pack back on. We hike on as a trio chatting on about all kinds of silly things that come up when 3 guys are together on the trail.
We kept a good pace rolling, up and down over passes. The views in the distance were starting to clear and we could see far off peaks, some with snow on them. We paused for a lunch break and I cooked up ramen as Pooper and Sissyphus snacked on. Pooper almost fell alseep and we started threatening to call him Napper instead.
From here we treked the next 1.5 miles to Pear Lake, grabbed some water, and quickly pressed on. It was a no nonsense day because we wanted to get some good distance covered. The next few miles were a everyman for himself style, Sissyphus rocketed ahead down some steep slopes and Pooper and I would leap frog here and there. Granite rocks, pines, and blue cold mountains in the distance was our new home.
I soon came around a corner just south of Skykomish Peak and saw 2 guys in camflage with a spotting scope. I asked what they were going for and the said bear! “Whew!” I said asking them if they had seen any goats in the meantime and if they had seen any bears out. No goats, no bears, no such luck! I bid them fairwell and started skirting the ridgeline. The mountains that painted the horizon were incredible!
I soon passed MaryAnn Lake and Pooper paused filtering some water. Pushing the last stretch to campo I came across at least four marmots in bushes right next to the trail. Their little brown butts and legs scampered from under their salt and pepper backs. They seemed unusually close and soon I realized they were munching on huckleberries trailside. I quickly walked past and climbed the final switchbacks to camp where Sissyphus waited.
He was all set up at camp, and soon was I. Pooper came in just a few minutes later following suite. Food, stretches, and teeth brushing preceeded the utter dive into the tent escaping the cold night air. The wind seemed to bite especially hard tonight! 50s? 40s? No one had a thermometer, so we just had to guess from the comfort of our sleeping bags. Another great day on trail!
I woke to a nice chilly morning at packed away my things. Everyone but Sissyphus stirred in their tents as I left. The sky was cloudy grey and threatening rain, but we were only 12 miles from town.
I pressed on hiking quickly trying to keep warm when the rain, slowly but shurely started to sprinkle down on our heads. It dampened my mood and the rain mixed with the low 50s temps made it hard to get moptivated. I soon pulled over to call BooBoo Johnson and found some nice huckelberries to munch on simultaneously . . . bonus points?
Afterwards StuckOnTheGround caught up and we trekked on through the rain and the wet underbrush up towards the pass and ski lifts for Stevens Pass. We chatted on about trying to keep the moral up while in less than perfect conditions. She guides for kayaking company in Alaska and their weather there isn’t exactly perfect. As we approached the pass, day hikers and backpackers came headed in southbound. We reached the pass and paused for a cell signal check.
I had signal! And a text from Izzie saying that the northen termanis was open with a special bypass! I was so excited and told the crew, instant moral bost!
Once we reached the pass StickyFingers was chilling with his dad making breakfast sandwiches and handing out cold beverages. That on top of the great news of the open terminis really turned the day around! StuckOnTheGround, Pooper, Sissyphus, Happyu and myself hitched into Skykomish. After a run to the post office, we all reconvined for lunch.
We said goodbye to Happy as he headed back to Seattle to move. He would be back on trail the next day. Pooper headed back to the pass to grab a package before the lodge closed. StuckOnTheGround opted to stay there trying to stretch the trail out as long as possible. Sissyphus and I finally hitched back to the pass after stuffing ourselves to the gills with delicious food and icecreame.
We finally let out, back onto the trail. It was just a half hour before the sunset so we only got about a mile or more. Headlamp on and tired, we found flat spots, pitched tents, and passed out. What great news about the end, it was so close we could all taste it!
I was the first up and out of our trailside camp. We had packed in wherever we could, finding semi-flat spaces, just good enough to fall asleep on. Happy was up moving, StuckOnTheGround and Pooper shuffled in their tents, and not a stir came from Sissyphus. I hiked out having goodbye and walked into the canopied green snaking trail.
It was quiet and scerene, it was so peaceful and I moved quickly up and through its winding curls. Underbrush, ferns, green sprawled every inch of ground, and the trees rose up like giants covered in moss. Water ran across the trail from side creeks who were fed from little mini waterfalls. All the creeks of course ran down to feed the mighty Waptus Lake. Finally after quite a few miles I passed my first hiker, the only thing he said to me was “It might rain, it might not”, in reply I said “Well, at least it isn’t right now”, he chuckled and I hiked on.
Soon gaining the next small saddle I saw Gormet and caught up to him to chat. We trekked together for a bit approaching Deep Lake. The foreground was a golden meadow, the lake beyond, and looming above was Cathedral Rock. It was loomed in clouds and commanded a powerful presence. I pressed on starting up the switchbacks. About half way up I pulled over and decided to have second breakfast. As I stood to leave Happy came bumping along around the corner.
We hiked together gaining the next saddle where we paused for a break. Soon Pooper, StuckOnTheGround, and Finally Sissyphus came rolling in where we all took a break. The next few miles we stuck together down the dropoffs and up the gains joking on and singing silly songs. It was a really nice day, and as soon as we gained a ridge we were slapped in the face with incredible expansive views of the surrounding mountains!
We made our way up to Deceptive Lake where StuckOnTheGround went for swim and the rest of us made lunch. It was nice, but chilly spot. CatctAss came rolling in to join us. We all let out, hooving up the next large hill. The views were stellar. Glaciers clung to rocky mountains and high lakes set snuggled at their feet. We finally took Pipers pass and evaluated our camp for the night. We had another 5 miles or so before we would have a fitting spot large enough for all of us to cram.
It was every man for themselves! Everyone going at their own pace, we boombed down from the pass, past Glacier Lake, and took the tough gain up to thew ridge overlooking Trap Lake. It was a short down and a quick mountain skirt before we were all nestled down near the spring. Setting up camp we were all bundled as well as could be. Rainjackets went on over puffys and rain pants came out for optimum warmth as the temps started to plummit. After stretching, food, and nightly chores, we all leaped into our tents hunkering down for the already cold night. It was a great day and the views were incredible!
We woke, all tucked together on one rock like a slumberparty. I was firstawake and started packing up. The sun was just starting to make its magic happen! The pinks and pastels started taking over the heavens. There, in the distance, on the horizon was Mt. Rainier, towering above, golden from the sunrise and standing tall and powerful. We all marveled and snapped pictures left and right.
I finsihed packing up, all the while stairing off in the distance. Soon I was standing and ready to go. Happy and I hiked out and both Pooper and StuckOnTheGround were still getting their mornings going. We chatted on as we gained the ridge. The mountains surrounding us lit up in the morning light and we reveled in their beauty. I pressed on, skirting the climbing trail as Happy pealed off for a side adventure.
When you see something so awesome and fascinating, its hard to hike fast. It seemed to be the theme of the morning. Happy caught up just as I gained a saddle being blasted with more incredible views to the east. Soon following Happy, Pooper caught up as well and we all chatted on as we decended down into the forested switchbacks. Soon we came to Lemah Creek Falls where we paused for a break. StuckOnTheGround caught up and it wasn’t long before someone started pulling off clothes and got in the rushing waterfalls. The group clambered in, on by one, into the freezing water, fully sumberging his or her head beneith the refreshing flow.
Clean spirited, we packed up and headed on. Meandering through the flats and finally up the large climb of the day. Switchback after switchback came and and passed on beneath our feet. It wasn’t until half way up that someone meantioned lunch and we quickly clogged up a switchback with our bodies and packs, resting for a snackbreak. Feeling the need to press on, Pooper and I got up and took on the rest of the hill. It topped out and we could see for miles across the mountain scattered rideline. We both paused at Cooper River to replenish our water and take a final break before the 7 mile decent to hopefully, a nice tent site.
We all grouped back together and decended all the elevation we had just gained into the next valley that housed Waptus Lake. We sung Disney songs and acted a fool, but it was all good fun and made the hiking that much more enjoyable. We finally found ourselves at Spade Creek after snaking through the lush green valley. The river was loud beneith the bridge and tumbled down with some good force. Not finding much of good campsite, as the only one was taken by a single orange tent that could have easily fit 4 (the guy declined packing any more people in). We made the best of what we could find near the bridge and stuck our tents in any relatively flat spot. Flys were on for everyone as we heard rain was oncomming. As the light faded we told jokes, riddles, shared our favorite parts of the day and munched down on rehydrated food. It was a good day, hopefully the next would prove just as awesome!
Youtube Film Series Reccomendation: Every frame a painting
I woke in the hotel room and slowly got going. Packing up and putting all my things and ready to go when Sissyphus texts me saying hes coming into town and wants to borrow our shower. Soon after freshening up, we all (Superstar, Sissyphus and myself) went to breakfast and chowed down. Post breakfast Superstar headed out to the trail, on a mission to finish at Rainy Pass.
It wasn’t long before Sissyphus talked me into getting a beer for lunch and hanging out waiting for Happy to get into town. So what usually happens when you get the crew back together: the votex effect. Happy came in and so did StuckOnTheGround! Reunited, it was soon evident that we were taking a full zero in town; so we got hotel room and made the best of the hottub!
Day 137: 8.28.18
Lets try this again! We got ready and all packed up and made our way to breakfast. It was a slow morning. Soon Sissyphus broke off to do some blogging and th rest of the gang hung out at the Aardvark before we finally mustered up the courage to get out on the tail at 1pm! Pooper (Washington section hiker) joined our fun little group.
Up and into the forsted trail we went, I felt immediately happy amongst the trees! The gain was strong and steady and the views became better and better as we climbed. Day hikers were out in droves and it wasn’t until the Catwalk that they started to dimminish. The bare ridges in the distance were incredible and we snapped pictures as our pace went from brisk to a crawl.
We pressed on the next few miles being goofy, singing 90s pop songs, taking pictures and chatting away. After skirting Joe Lake we finally found our camp on a granite perch overlooking the valley to the southwest. It was gogeous, and if you looked really hard you could see Rainier. Soon Pooper came into camp and the 4 of us made dinner and cowboy camped on the epic bluff. What a great day!
Rain pattered on the fly of my tent. This time I was ready and my tent was properly set up. I stirred and turned over not ready to relenquish my sleeping bag to the cold wet morning. Finally, I got my butt moving. There was just a short 20 miles to Snoquolumne, so I figured I could sleep in a bit.
I put away my gear from the inside of my tent, got coffee going, then finally exited and broke down my tent quickly. I packed away the wet gear and got moving trying to keep my body temp up. The fog was still on and the rain misted on me as I hiked up the hill.
I came into a clearing from the thick tress to hear was sounded like a river. As I neared the open field, I realized that the buzz from the high power lines was so loud it actually like a small river rushing in the rain. Back into the forest I was swallowed. Soon I heard voices behind me and saw 2 trail runners coming on.
I though the race was far over, and in pausing as they passed they told me they were the cleanup crew for all the pink tape from the race the day before. We started chatting, and they slowed their run to a quick hike and we trekked together. We chatted about their off grid home, the prospect of retiring, and the viewpoint of Work to Live vs. Live to Work. They were super positive, and I could tell that they were good natured, not only by their banter but also their great attitudes trekking even through cold wet long miles.
Kyle and Rachel were based in Washington and trekked all over, even finding ther way to Arizona in the winter months to visit family and do some ultrarunning. We chatted on until coming to Mirror Lake where I pulled over for some early lunch. Eleven miles had already melted away in our bantering on about dream lives.
I pressed on from the lake through the mist alone. It was a scerene landscape, no sounds except the slight sound of mist hitting trees and pools of water. Up and down hills through the pine forest I weved taking in what fog limited views I could and enjoying the glistening of the trees with their low hanging branches.
Just a few miles from Snoquolumne I met up with SuperStar who said she was getting a hotel and asked if I wanted to split. It was so wet that I couldnt say no and hopped on the prospect of a warm shower and getting dry clothes for the next day. Just after leaving her Gormet came rolling up and we trekked the last few miles into town together.
It seemed to rain harder as we neared the town. We hiked under the ski lifts and switchbacked down the hill until finally rolling into town. First stop was The Aardvark which was a small little shop with INCREDIBLE food! Get the Hurry Curry if you go, mindowlingly good. The mix of sweet cornbread, herbal greens, hot curry chicken spread on rice was magical. I soon headed to the hotel and got my chores going. A wet, cold, but good day!
I woke behind the Urich cabin cold and stairing at the ceiling of my tent. Its mid August and it has to be like 38 degrees out here. I woundered if this is just a short window or if the rest of Washington would remain cold and foggy.
I started out on the trail and thew field in front of the cabin was covered in fog. I braced myself for a chilly day, headed out on the trail with coffee in hand. As I climbed through the forest I happened upon a huckelberry heaven. I stopped every 20 feet or so to stuff one after th other of the delicious little treats into my mouth. So delicious and testy! This was the real reason people dont get to Canada, too distracted by the berries.
I entered a burn area soon after. From a far it looked like the final scene of the movie 300 with bodies everywhere after a huge battle, except with trees. It was also riddlede with more huckelberries than I could eat. I soon bumped into MadScience and we started chatting on. We quickly figured out we both lived in Phoenix at some point and that he recently completed the AZT. We chatted on and soon found an Aid station out in the wilderness. Aparrently there was a 100 mile rce going on today and runners would be passing through this section of the PCT.
I soon I pulled over for some lunch and waved goodbye to MadScience. Not but 10 minutes later, with a mouth full of Ramen I waved to the first runners passing my lunch spot. After lunch I pressed on and it became a regular thing to pull over for oncoming runners. I heard cheering in the distance and as I approached there was a group of people cheerring on the runners at a dirt road. It would be cool if they had thi for PCTers I thought as I passed by.
After the day pressed on, I got used to looking over my shoulder like a tick to see if a runner was approaching. The weather was being its BiPolar self. Warm, cold, sprinckling rain, fridged, warm, cold, it was all ver the place. Seemed to be good weather for running but I couldnt decide to keep my jacket on or not as I snaked throuogh the pines.
The gain in this seciton was vicious, and much like a roller coaster. Up, down, up, up, up, down, just seemed to be playing with my emotions and i could see how it would be a tough section for any runner.
Finally after the fog seeme to settle and I couldnt tell what time of day it was anymore, I decided to find a nice little camp in the bottom of a valley. Chilly, but protected I set up my tent. To my surprise MadScience and Gormet were there, setting up and chilling for the night. I finsihed off my stretches and my dinner and dove headfirst into my tent in search for some warmth and rest!
Gear Reccomendation: Vorahgear
Mad science – Earlly 30s from eastern Washington. Completed the AZT, out here to take on the PCT. Started climbing just before the trail and became obsessed, he has plans to take on climbing projects as soon as he is done. He is a long distance runner, started doing some Ultrarunning with Aerovipa group in Phoenix and thru hiking just became an extension on that.
It was 2:30 am and I woke, shivering, to the sounds of raindrops hitting my tent. Not only were they hitting my tent but I seemed to be pushed to the right side teetering on the edge of a drop next to my tent. I had to quickly select a tent spot and a small pad a little off trail was all I could find in short notice. I had luckily put my fly on thinking it would be cold that night. However unlucky for me, I didnt steak it out properly or attach the fly to the cross poles of my tent.
Water was rushing down on the outside of the fly which way laying directly against the tent body, thus getting anything wet touching the tent body. My sleeping bag, sleeping pad, shirt, hoody, and of course me was already drenched. I had to do the painstaking task of getting out in the rain and steaking out the tent, then crawling back in trying not to freeze in the 38 degree weather.
I forced myself to get out, get my chore done, and leap back into my tent. Little did I notice that my bare feet were covered in dirt and mud when I leaped back into the tent for safety. Everything was wet, and now dirty to boot. I put my damp wool shirt on tucked my hands into my arm pits, and somehow like a miricle fell asleep at 4am, cold wet, and pretty tired.
I woke at 6 and knew I had to get going. I laid there not wanting to move, but finally the rain had stopped and it was time. I put on every piece of clothing I had in my bag. I packed up everything and dumped the 2 inches of standing water out of my tent before packing it away wet. I had to get moving and was soon barrelling down the trail sipping on hot coffee.
I crossed the bridge spanning Chinook Pass and headed up the trail. Soon I ran into Painter who I hadent seen since the first week on the trail. We caught up, chatting about the crazy foggy weather, the fire closures, and trail life since we had last seen each other. Mid chat I saw I hiker headed southbound that I recognized as a north bounder. We stopped and chatted and he told us hee was quitting. Its strange to see someone pull the plug. There was nothing wrong with him physically, it was just the mental game. Wish just 300 miles to go, man.
After hiking up a nice hill though the fog and cold wind, I stopped off for a break and Painter rambled on. I pulled out all the gear I had and put it on a ridge for the wind to try and dry. Spirt of sun would peep though the clouds, but I didnt have much faith it would come out. After a bit I packed up and headed back out skirting the beautiful ridgeline.
Every once in a while the sun would come out and you would get a glimpse of the mountains in the distance. After trekking through the woods for a few miles I stopped off when the sun finally decided to come out long enough to be effective. Instant yardsale. Everything I had was out and draped on trees trying to dry. I took the time to cook up some ramen and chat with passing hikers.
I finally got all my gear dry, packed up and pressed the last few miles through a long nd interesting burn area towards camp. I soon met CharlieHorse who had a gift for gab and a distain for people who didnt have it together out here. He was a funny guy and we chatted on as we neared Mike Ulichs cabin. Once we arrived there was a fire inside and a few thru hikers hanging out. I chose to camp out back, setting up, filtering water and taking advantage of thew 7pm camp arrival. I was tired and ready for bed, after stuffing my face, I crawed into my tent, glad it wasn’t wet from the night before!
I woke in the parkinglot behind the Cracker Barrel gas station tired and not wanting to move. The night before had been windy, chilly, and I was reluctant to get going. Finally I pulled myself from my bag and got the morning ritual going. The upside here was, there was a hot shower in a small building behind the store waiting for me.