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.
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.
The hot water steamed the cool air and I plugged my 4 quarters into the slot machine. It was 5 minutes in heaven, followed by 5 cold wet minutes of misery trying to dry off without a towel and throw my clothes back on. Finally I had my pack on and was shivering as I walked towards the trail.
I got moving with frozen fingers and was soon underway crusing along the forested trail. Meadows, trailside ponds, huckelberries, and a chill wind to keep me on my toes. I heard a voice behind me saying “coming up behind you”. I turned to see another hiker and pulled over letting him pass. I hiked on behind him and we started chatting. Soon I foud out that we were both from Va and went to Virginia Tech for Engineering. Its funny how these things work. The new few miles melted away as we chatted on passing beautiful lakes and forested meadows.
Finally we came to a creek, chatted on over lunch, then went on our seperate ways. It was a pretty good day so far, and it was only going to get better. Pressing on from lunch a large hill started putting the gain on. I trudged on under the weight of my bag until finally bettering the hill and finding clear skys for the first time in 3 days of smoke I marveled at the vista and soon pressed on. As soon as I turned the corner I was slapped in the face with my first clear view of Mt Rainier, what a beast!
It stood tall and proud and I gazed on, woundering what a summit attempt would feel like. Shaking out of it I continued on the trail. I paused to pick huckelberries, taking pictures of misted moutains, and gathering water in cool streams. After passing Dewey Lake a final uphill battle ensued. I pressed on and up feeling the temperature fall and a stange fog settle down from above. Once I reached the saddle and found a camp I decided it was going to be a cold night and put my fly on for extra warmth. The thick clouds rolled acrossed the mountains from my cliff perch lookout. It was amazing and I listened to the sounds of the night as they crept in. Soon I was cazy in my sleeping bag, all tucked away for the cold night to come.
2Percent – 34 From SouthWest Virginia. Went to Virginia Tech, class of ’06, he graduated with a degree in Materials Engineering and has since worked for companies developing masting properties. From Arkansas to Cincinnati, he was worked for mostly Aerospace material companies. Currently on a sebatical from his company, hes taking on the PCT and will be returning to Virginia, wokring remotely to start a non-profit benefitting kids in STEM programs in the area. He completed the AT in 2012 and says he doesnt think he will go for the Tripple Crown (CDT thru hike would complete his trifecta). His blog – thethruhike.com
An ant is stranded on a rock in the middle of a creek. Two rocks to be accurate, touching each other, and covered in moss. His little island had but one route of escape. There was a long stick that created a bridge out and away to safety if only the ant were aware of it. I watched him clean off his antenni as if he was just washed on this island as I happened upon him. The question is: What woud you do? What would most people do? Pick up the ant and move him? Move the stick in front of him? Or let life happen as it may . . . I chose the latter as I don’t think the ant would have learned anything by my interference. Eventually he found the stick, all on his own, and that is where I left him, and headed on down the trail.
I woke on the side of a cliff in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. It was such a cool place. I packed up and trekked on admiring the surrounding ridges and peaks. It seemed as though some of the smoke was clearing and I could make out a little more of the distant features. The golden light of morning started peeping over the ridge and I climbed the trail.
At one point I turned to look back to where I had come and realized that looming behind me was Mt. Saint Hellens. Its head popped out above the brown smoke and stood tall with its flat volcano top. I soon took the ridge and found patched of snow and a few intact glaciers. It was a gorgeous sight and I found a nice perch to have a break and take in the sights.
A group of middle aged guys came upon me and started asking all sorts of questions about the PCT and my journey. They were a fun group and it was nice to see them all enjoying nature together. I just kept taking it in, and the ridgewalk from there was phenomenal. Thousand foot drops on either side and views for miles. There was still smoke masking most of it, but even with that you couldnt deny the beauty of this place.
Soon I came to Elk Pass where an alternate route diverging PCTers away from the Miriam fire was in place. Man let me tell you, this trail was a roller coaster! I started out bombing down the backside of a ridge before finding Packwood Saddle where the trail went right back up climbing towards Chimney rock. The views were great but once I was in a rythm it the would dump right back off again.
I found myself at the beautiful green and blue Lost Lake. I thought to myself about taking a dip for a moment, then reconsidered seeing how long it took me to go just a few short miles. From there the trail gained on, up and up I went. When I found the edge of a ridge, I would just find another climb waiting for me. After 3 false summits I finally found the top of the ridge. I could see the fire from a far and the smothering smoke that covered everything.
I bombed off the ridgetop past Lost Hat Lake were I gatered water and finally the final roller coaster ride that brought me to Cowlitz River. There was no good crossing and I ended up getting out on a tree that had been felled by some storm. The other end of it wasnt touching the ground and as I worked my way out towards the end, it bounced and swayed over the rushing river below. It looked like a scene out of a cartoon. Finally about 3/4 across the river the tree bounced me so much that I lost balance and had to jump in. Luckily I landed well and water went up to my calves. Could have been much worse.
I climbed the trail and foud myself on Highway 12. I had 2.5 mile roadwalk to Cracker Barrel store and I hurried along hoping I would get there before they closed. Cars and 18wheelers alike went roaring by. The shoulder wasnt huge but with some luck and a good pace I finally pulled into the store parking lot. Tired and ready for rest. With 8 minutes to spare I grabbed my box and a beer and found my way out back where the rest of the thru hiker trash was all camped out for the evening. Right where I belong!
I woke at the base of Mt. Adams to a brisk chilly wind, but surprisingly no sore throat! I packed up and went through the usual routine. Just as I was headed out of camp StuckOnTheGround (SOTG) emmerged from her layer. “See you up trail”, we both said simultaneously and laughed at our sillyness.
I let out of camp, but what hadn’t let up was the smoke. It still persisted, looming in the air despite the chilly wind attempting to wisk it away. I hiked through some cool lava fields as the wind continued to cut through the pines.
I finally came to the dropoff where the trail departed the base of Adams and headed north. I stopped here, for a last look at the big beast and a creekside picknick. I’d have to say, it was pretty wounderful! I got moving once again and dive bombed down the hill.
The trekking was pretty chill this morning, and randomly I would bump into hikers headed up towards Adams. I bid them good luck! After the decent stopped, the trail did what it normally did, took off up a hill! Back into the woods I plunged, however this time I found a calm scerenity amongs the mountain lakes. The only other northbound hiker I saw that dy was StarWars, and he seemed perpectly fine meandering along. I was on a mision to meet up with Larry Bitzko, an old friend from work.
Larry and his pals were supposed to be camped at mile 2272 and I was in striking distance if I kept my pace up. I stopped just beofre the last hill for a brek and chatted with trailcrew as they had just finished their day and were headed to camp. Only 8 miles and 1500 feet to go until 2272. I took off up the trail.
I hadnt listened to anything on my phone all day and I wasn’t about to start now. The trail gained quickly, but it was enjoyable and I watched the valley frop below me. The red sun was in the sky covered in smoke and the pines jetted up from the depths below the smoke. Finally I rounded the corner and saw Goat Rocks, it was stellar! The colorful formations, jagged teeth sticking up towards the sky, so many cool features and ridges to play on.
I pressed on and gained Cispus Pass. I figured they couldnt be far and quickly hiked to the area Larry would be. I drew nearer and saw 2 tents on the hill, that must be them! I headed on and saw a young guy walking towards waer, which this confused me. I asked if he had a Larry in his group, and the guy told me it was just him, his daad, and brother. Looks like I was either early or missed them!
I hiked on, grabbed some water from one a stellar waterfall and hiked the next mile to my cliffside camp. I perched right out on the rocks, like any good goat would. Despite the smoke, it was gorgeous here, and definitly on the list of places to come back to and explore!
As I feared, the sore throat from the day before persisted. To my delight no one came hiking down the side trail I had plopped my tent in the middle of. I figured caming there was better than creating a new sleeping pad which would get high use once others discovered it.
I hiked on through the trees, it seemed as though the sun was taking its sweet time debating on coming our and shinning. By 9am I had decided it must be overcast as there was a faint glow behind the moss colored pines. As I crossed a dirt road I paused to take a picture, then walked on. Out of nowhere a bee, or wasp, flew up, landed on my calve and without warning stung me! There was no call for this, I wasn’t near a nest or was pestering him, it just decided I was getting it. I let out a yelp and an obsenity from surprise.
I walked it off limping further into the forest. I gained up a large ridge, reaching the top I hoped for views, but unfortunatly I only got more forest, which was nice too. I finally decended the ridge, found road 23 and started walking south towards Trout Lake with my thumb out. It wasn’t long until Brian, a wine distributor from Cali out for some weekend fishing, came by and scooped me up.
Post office, food resupply, lunch at the Cafe and finally a nice little nap in the Cafe’s back lawn is how I spent the next few hours. I headed back out to the road all packed up where I saw StuckOnTheGround walking towards the road as well. I hadnt seen her since Tuolumne and we caught up. Almost as soon as we met, a felly named John C., with no shirt on, offered to give us a ride knowing we were hikers. Without hesitation we jumped in.
John C. was an interesting man, 1 or 2 teeth missing, but a good heart and a cheep Rainier in his hand, he went on about how he wanted to hike the trail and how nature really has the power to heal you. We both agreed, and after a good 13 mile drive where sometimes you have glimpses of the car coming off the road and tumbling into a thousand pices drifting through your head, we were both glad to see the PCT trailhead. The suspension wasn’t great and going from 3mpg to 60mpg is always interesting when you aren’t the one driving!
We made it back to trail safely, and as soon as we had hiked 1/4 mile we found Shades and his trail magic. Hot dogs with chili, beer, snacks, its like hitting the jackpot back to back! We plopped down and chatted as he handed us food. Not but 5 minutes had passed and both Happy and Sissyphus unexpectedly came walking up. It was a really nice reunion!
Happy and Sissy were headed into town and StuckOnTheGround and I headed up trail. We winded through the forest, through burn areas, and lush green pine patches. Mt. Adams was covered in smoke, but finally after a few miles the smoke began to clear out and we could see some vague lines of its face. We hiked to Riley Creek and stopped for the night. A little stretching and dinner was a great way to end a beautiful day on the trail!
StuckOnTheGround – 24, from Wisconsin. After school she moved to Alaska for seasonal work as a deck hand, and kayaking guide. She studied film and on a trip to Tanzania, she filmed her adventure kayaking to the island and doing some fun seaside multipitch trad climbing. Shes hopi g to get the film into the Realrock series, and until then just wants to keep on persuing her transient lifestyle!
I woke to a strange feeling in my throat. It was dry, rough, and when I breathed the chilled air I could feel how raw it was. Everything pointed to the early signs of a cold and sore throat. I instantly thought of ChilliBin who had been coughing up her lungs like they were on fire for the last week. My only saving grace in seeing her suffer, was knowing she was still hiking, and keeping up with no problems.
I packed up and let out of camp, doddling along, stuffing my gullet with food. One thing I did know is that if I fed myself and stayed hydrated that perhaps I could hold the symptoms off long enough to get some meds at Trout Lake, just a day away. I trekked though the forested trail and marveled at the trees as I passed under them trying to forget my throat.
I soon came to a trail camp and John had a plethera of food all layed out for thru hikers. It was a feast: muffins, fruit, fruit snacks, chocolate, beer, wine, quite a spread! I fed on as we chatted on about his side business and using Raspberry computers for smart homes. After a bit I knew time was running from me and I said thanks and headed on my way. Back into the forest I plunged.
I kept looking up and admiring the trees as I had been listening to a book called The Hidden Lives of Trees. The things that I learned were pretty cool. All about how trees adapt, move water, use networks of fungi to communicate, and live on a totally different timescale than us. Also all the similar things to us, including social behavior, taking care of young sapolings, healing wounds, guarding off attacks from predators (such as beetles and some fungi), and working together in large networks to create a strong community. I would highly reccomend it!
Soon I came to Bear Lake and plopped down for a lunch break. I was feeling pretty tired from the day, and I still wasnt sure what was going on with my throat. So I decided to nap for 20 minutes. It hardly seemed enough, but I was slightly better than before and pressed up the trail.
I came across quite a few day hikers and section hikers all interested in my story and I chatted on for a few minutes giving my feet a rest. I knew the day was growing shorter and I finally pressed the last few miles to water. I was hoping there would be a camp near Steamboat Lake, but I was short on luck. I ended up camping right in the middle of a sidetrail, betting that no one would hike up the trail before I was packed up and gone. I needed the rest, and was glad to get it! Tomorrow, Trout Lake!
I woke next to the creek and the sound began to increase. It was like it was muted and as I woke someone slowly started cranking up the volume. The creek was clear, and it looked like a really nice spot to chill for a few hours mid day, maybe go for a dip. I had to press on so I packed up and headed up the lush green trial.
It was a beautiful morning, chilly but not bad. This was benificial as it seemed like the trail wanted to take vengence for the relaxed terrain of Oregon. I climbed up what seemed like eternity before finally gaining a never ending ridge just to dump right back down the other side. The downhills seemed like gasps or recovery from the ups, so it only ever conciously seemed like I was going up all damn day.
Every once in a while I could get a glimpse of the views in the distance through clearings in trees. I didnt see anyone until 10am when I saw 2 NoBo hikers cranking on through as I was resting at the end of one of these hill for my 2nd breakfast. I waved hello and they trekked on.
Most people were at PCT Days festival in Cascade Locks, and I was stoked to be away from the crowds, which meant less competition for campsites. I topped another such ridge for a break and Stallion came prancing by, we was on a roll and didn’t want to stop so I waved him on.
I came to a clearing and for the first time I could see Mt. Adams, standing tall and strong, just like Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood. I knew it would only be a few more days before I would be skirting the base of the giant. I decended down finally after a long stuggling hill and slowly glided into camp. Whew what a day! The old easy days of cranking 30 miles like it was nothing are dead and gone! Hello Washington!
I woke early as usual and started packing up my things. I would be the only one hiking out that day as most hikers were in Cascade Locks for the weekends PCT Trail Days event. Happy and ChilliBin planned on hiking out that night, but I was curious if the vaccume would suck them in and hold them hostage.
After a much needed shower we all headed over to a diner in town for a good hardy breakfast. Sissyphus, Happy, ChilliBin, Collin, Calob and Shepherd all joined me for the feast. I ordered county fried steak with sausage gravy, hashbrowns, a pancake, and 2 eggs. I wasn’t dissapointed. We were there for at least an hour in the cold diner attempting to finish the meal, only a few of us suceeded. I practically stumbled out of the doors strapping my pack on. I said goodbye to everyone and pressed on towards the bridge the spanned the Columbia River and seperated Oregon and Washington.
It was time to press the final leg of the journey, and I felt a little strange as I walked across the metal gratings high above the freezing quick water below. There was no pedestrian sidewalk, so hikers had to walk on the road, and hope that cars didn’t take them out! The wind was high and air was crisp cold coming off the river as I walked across. At one point my hat flew off in a hurry, and I practically had to chase it into traffic to save it.
I reached the safe shores of Washington State in safety. Soon I was back on the trail padding on. Blackberries were in season and I kept pausing to snack on them. At this rate ill never make it to Canada, I thought to myself! I pressed on and soon after some exposed areas was thrown back into the forest once again.
The frorest just continued to grow thicker the further I hiked. Furns covered the ground, moss covered the trees, and the canopy was so thick not much light shone through. I pressed on further climbing up a huge hill as I did. Cascade Locks was around 200 ft elevation, the lowest point on the trail. I would be climbing up to 300, dropping back down and bobbling all around through the state of Washington. The terrain would only grow harder and try to make the miles harder.
The surroundings started to seem almost jarassic. The thickness of the green everywhere was beautiful, and seemed like such a contract to the burn area we decended the day before. I kept trekking until finding Rock Creek and a nice flat pad along it’s banks. This would be home for the night. After rehydrating some good turkey enchalada bean stew and stretching out I crawled into my tent ready for rest!
We woke early on the edge of Wahtum Lake cold and slightly damp from the lakes humidity. There was also the harsh dry cough emanating from ChilliBins tent. Man shes got it pretty bad, I thought. It was only getting worse, but hopefully she could get some meds once we got into town.
We all packed up and let out in high spirits, knowing we were just 16 miles or so to the Washington boarder. It finally started sinking in, that the end of the journey was near. I knew there was still 500 miles left. However, this would only last about 3 weeks seeing hiking was now a full time 15 hour per day no weekedend career. I wont say job, because I could never look at this as work. Even though it is hard sometimes, you have to push yourself, your body, you must plan wisely, make big boy decisions, and all the chores that had to be done to ensure that you didnt starve or die from dehydration or some act of nature.
At any rate, we decended down from the large hill dropping like a rock into Cascade Locks. I had gotten signal and found out that Collin (a friend from work) who was hiking the PCT south bound was just pulling into town. I left my tracker off purposly so he wouldnt know I was coming into town to surprise him. Soon Sissyphus caught back up with Happy, ChilliBin and I and we all bombed down the hill togehter.
It was a bad burn area, I could only wish I could get my hands on the kid that started the Eagle Creek fire. He got no jail time and was supposedly charged 30 million. I didn’t think the verdict was hard enough. I tried to imagine how pretty it was before the fire and hiked on. Down down we went until we entered an area where the trees werent blackened to char.
WE all hiked on and chatted away, quickly decending and soon nearing town. You can always tell when you are close when you see day hikers (people that smell nice and look clean) and hear the sounds of cars on a highway in the distance. Finallly we road into town in high spirits. I found Collin and we all went to Thunder River for a beer, burger, and well deserved break. Later we set up camp at a local park and cruised around town getting chores done and prepping to walk across the Bridge of the Gods!
Collin: 23, from Seattle WA. On a sabbatlical from work as an Engineer, he is hiking the PCT with his brother headed southbound. After taking a week or so off the trail from a bad case of tendonitis, he is back on and feeling better than ever. Going slow in the beginning for injuries, but knowing the pressure of time pulling him to the Sierras before the onset of winter has him focused and ready for the task at hand. Tall and skinny, rocking a fresh new beard and a huge smile, he is super stoked, just to have the priviledge of being out on the trail. I kjnow hell make it to mexico with his determination!
I woke early and headed down into the lodge after packing up. I needed to go through my chores: charging, resupply food, get fresh water, eat some delicious hot breakfast, and somehow make it back onto trail.
The problem with these places is all the familiar smiling faces and chats w friends you havent seen for months just sucks you in. Sometimes you really do theed the rest, and other times you need to get out while the getting is good. Between Sissyphus reunion, followed with Happy and ChilliBin reuniting with me, TwoPack, Verde, Manza, ect ect . . . I finally gave into the fact that I wasnt leaving anytime soon. The upside was, I got to charge all my electronics and finish all my chores except washing clothes.
It was 7pm when Sissyphus, ChilliBin, Happy and I finally pushed out and walked the 3 miles to ZigZag Creek where we were to camp for the night. There wasnt much room but we made do.
We woke to the rushing creek and the sound of ChilliBins cough. She had been hacking since the smoke started in northern cali and it seemed to be getting worse. We all hiked out as she sucked on some losanges, hoping for a decent day on trail.
The trail reminded us what gain was all about as we had become complacent with most of the relaxed hills of Oregon. Climbing up and on through the trees we finally topped out and caught our breath. The smoke was back and any hopes of a good long distance view was dashed.
He hiked on, soon finding a good shady spot to chill and hang for a break. WE overlooked a valley and chatted on about possibly going to PCT TrailDays which is an annual event to meet hikers and gear merchants. I was hard pressed against going and didnt want to get stuck in a huge hiker bubble leaving town.
We pressed on, over the Muddy Fork river, climbed up the ridge on the other side and were once again consumed by the forest. It was blueberry season, and we were like little hungry bear cubs stuffing our faces in delight. We still neded to push miles, but between the breaks and the gazing at large moss covered pines, we found ourselves munching on the delicious succulant berries.
Finally we came to Wuhtum Lake and it took a while, but finally found a vacant camp spot on a thin beach boadering the lake Tired and watching the last of the light leave the sky, we took what we could get. ChilliBins cough had not gotten better in the day, but at least we were at rest just 16 miles from town and hopefully some good meds!
TwoPacks Blog: Teeheepct.blogspot.com
Study app: Cram
Podcast Reccomendations: Criminal – Exit network, All the time in the world
I woke and packed up my things quietly. Some of the people who were in their tents when I arrived the night before were still in full on slumber! I grabbed some water form the creek and proceeded to hike up trail.
Up through the forest I went until I ran into SmileyFace who was trekking along at nearly the same pace. We started chatting on about the trail and life before and plans for life after. Through the trees we went chatting on until we came to the edge of Timothy Lake. The lake was huge and the trail hugged its edge.
We soon came upon a large group of campers all trodding along heading back to their cars from thir overnight adventure. The number of kids rivaled the adults and it was nice to see them starting backpacking so young. We passed on and said hello as we did.
Next stop, Little Crater Lake. Just 1/4 mile off the PCT the beautiful lake lay hidden from the main trail. I first walked up not knowing what to expect, then saw the crystal clear waters going to deep deep depths. The lake itself could have only been 60 feet or so apart but it was 45 feet deep! A few trees had fallen in and I marveled at its beauty.
SmileyFace pressed on and I decided to nap for a bit. When I woke it was time to move and after a pressing up through the trees for a few more miles I came to a road where the Mad Baker, a trail angel, was all set up. He had snacks galore and a group oof us was gathered snacking down. I thanked him for his hospitality and moved on.
Back into the woods I went up a large wooded hill and back down the other side where at a trailhead another trailangel waited with fresh fruit from his garden. Man, what luck! I pressed on as there was only 5.5 miles left to Timberline Lodge.
The hill gained and I stridded along enjoying the grade. Openings in the trees sometimes gave me glimpses of the lodge up ahead. Finally I popped out into an exposed treeless area and I could see the peak of Mt. Hood! How magnificent! I trudged up a sandy bit of trail and labored on until finally the lodge came into sight. The camp area behind the lodge was packed with hikers and out of nowhere Sissyphus popped out! I hadnt seen him since Tuolumne Meadows and I was so excited! We hung out with Opera and Tapeworm chatting on and having dinner. It was a good darn day, and tomorrow morning, breakfast at the lodge!
I woke woke cold next to the creek. My alarm had gone off, but I was still tired and set it for 20 minutes later. Eventually I got moving in the chilly morning. To my surprise I didnt get on trail until 6:30. I woundered if I had somehow dozed off again in the alarm snoozing.
At any rate I pressed on up the hill until open meadows painted in golden light came into view. I could see frost on some of the wooden signs and a mistlike smoke rising from a nearby pond. It was an abnormally cold night, but made for a beautiful morning. I hiked up the next ridhe and looked back to see Mt. Jefferson in all its glory standing tall and strong with large snow passes covering its north face.
I continued on up a long ridge before finally gaining the pass. As I did, the first views of Mt. Hood came into view, It was spectacular. Shrouded in clouds at the base,and covered in snow at the top! I took some time to admire it and the surrounding deep blue mountains. I decended being swallowed again by the forest.
I bumped into a few day hikers as I went. It want until Ollallie Lake that I took my next break. To my surprise there was trail magicand a 2017 hiker named Kareoke was manning a grill taking on hotdog or hamberger orders. What an Angel! This was really a treat. After a burger, some chips, and a cold soda, I sat there in a comatose mode, but knew I had to move.
I finally got up said goodbye to everyone and thanked them for their hospitality. I slogged the next few miles like Frodo walking the last few miles to Mt. Doom. The short rests and not much sleep finally caught up to me. I found a spot near Jude Lake and had a nice nap for 25 minutes.
I woke aleart and ready to go. I stuffed some calories into my mouth and got a move on. The miles went quickly through the forest. Twisting trails, up and over long hills until I happened upon Jelly taking a break by a dirt road. I paused to chat for a bit, and found that we had the same target for the night, the Warm Spring River. It was only 3 miles away and 8pm, there was still about 45 minutes of usable light and I let out.
A blood red sunset on pale blue sky behind the trees. I watched as the light faded and I hurried. The next few miles were quick, but as I came to the river, I found that there was a plethera of hikers camped nearby. There hadnt been any places to camp in the last 3 miles, so I decided to stay worrying the next few miles wouoldnt yield much. I quitely set up, went through the motions and was soon in my sleeping bag ready for rest!
I slept in, a little celebration treat to myself for hiking to 9:45pm the night before so I could touh the 2000 mile mark. I woke cold and feeling damp. Once I pulled myself from my tent and packednup I realized a fog was starting to set in.
I hiked on, with my hoddy still on and zipped up. In the back of my mind I thought “Welcome to the Pacific North West” sarcastically. As I shuffeled on with my hot coffee in hand I started to hear the sound of cars on the approaching highway. Once I reached it, I met Stallion who was sitting there smoking a rolled cigarette, debating if he was going to go into town fpr breakfest. I bid him good luck and pressed up the hill across the highway. To my amusement there was a few boxes of wine left at the trailhead, I chuckled and went on.
The dead trees and the invading mist looked like what I imagine the entrance to Mordor would seem like. Although it seemed daunting at first, it was pretty cool. The white trees stood like skeletons amongst the new growth. The mist rolled on. Soon I met Dave, a section hiker who was trekking at a darn good pace and we chatted on for a bit as the rain threatened.
Wind kicked up and as we turned a corner, I found a little cubby for a snack and bid Dave good luck. I chowed down. After finishing the push up the ridge the other side seemed like night and day different. It was warm and th sun burst through the foggy clouds. Soon I heard the voices of 2 happy trail runners who quickly passed me by.
After a nice decent I came upon Rockpile Lake where Dave, his brother, and a few others were gathered. After a quick chat and a rest I pressed on. Soon Mt Jefferson came into view. The peak was shrouded in cloud and it looked pretty awesome! I gazed at it as the ridge drew me closer. Finally the trail turned and started a rapid decent, past lakes, down through thick trees, until finally coming to Milk Creek. Several hikers were there, filtering water and I felt crouded. After finding my way across I pressed on and up the hill.
The burn area I entered was impressive to say the least. It was singed black, although some growth could be seen. You would walk for a while and then hear a quick snap of a tree, as if there was a large animal nearby. Head snapping in the direction, there would be nothing, just the decaying forest looming back. I pressed on after gathering some water.
The sun began to set and I quikened my pace. I carefully crossed Russell Creek which had a thunderous voice and water crashed down that could easily sweep you away. Then I pressed up the final hill in darkness to find a camp, mostly full. I found a little flat pad near the creek and plopped down. I figured the sound of water would muffle me setting up, and soon after the nightly chores, I was in my tent ready for rest!
Dave – 50s FromCentralia, OR. A section hiker and a self employed carponter, he and his brother are chipping away at the PCT. They hope to do the full push once the kids move out, but until then Sectioning will have to do. Hes a tall fella with a quick stride and a great ability to hold a full conversation in that full stride without wayning in breath.
In usual fassion ChiliBin was up and out of camp before Happy and I had a chance to get moving. It was a beautiful morning, Happy and I pressed on through the green forest until we were spit out onto the lava fields. It reminicent of Mordor.
It may of looked bleak to some eyes, but I thought it was beautiful! Being able to look oer the stretching landscape and explore in the laspse of an active volcanic site was pretty sweet! The rocks were sharp, black, and full of holes making them low in desity and light to the touch. We trekked on taking in the landscape and marveled at the trees that dared to grow here.
We turned a corner and met Baram who was from south Korea. After a quick chat we found out that he had hiked the AT and PCT, but re-started the tripple crown (AT, PCT, CDT) carrying a banner in memory of his classmates who died in a shipwreck just ooff the coast. We bid him good luck and trudged on.
The bright green leaves of the trees shown in great contrast to the black and red rocks surrounding them. We pressed though the final miles of the lava fields before coming to the road where Coppertone a trail Angel waited on us with cookies and rootbeer floats! I was stoked!
This is where ChiliBin and Happy departed my company. They planned to hitch into bend to get their resupply and some good beer as Happy knew a friend in town. I gave them both a big hug, said goodbye to Coppertone and headed out back into the lava fields alone. I hiked up a large hill through the percarious lava rocks. One wrong step would send you home with a broken ankle.
Finally the lava field let up and I hiked into an area that was once a forest but had been burned in recent years. It was trying to regrow but its a slow process out here. Finally I decended through the burn and found the turnoff for Big Lake Youth Camp.
I hiked in finding a ton of kids all running around and a good group of hikers all hanging out in the hiker hut. I charged up electronics, washed some clothes, took a shower, resupplied food and hung out with TwoPacks while we all waited for dinner. I came in a scarfed down the Potatow soup and fresh roles like a starving kid who hasnt seen food in a week. It was so good!
KNowing I couldnt stay forever I pressed on. I had 5 more miles until the 2000 mile marker and I was determined to get there before the day was done. I hiked on quickly as light was fading through the white ghosts of the dead trees. On and on I went until finally I broke out my headlamp as I entered a thicker part of the wood. Turn after turn I hiked faster until finally at 9:45pm I found the 2000 mile marker! I made it! Just 650 miles left to Canada. I started realizing how far I had come and how close the end of my journey was. I found a nice flat sandy pad and set up my tent. Fly off I could see the stars in the night twinckling overhead, along with Mars and Jupiter shinning bright. An awesome day indeed!
Reccomendations: St Fancis Pub in Bend. Must go to the broom closet!
We woke to a pale pink rose sunrise over the lake. It was gorgeous, but the clock said it was time to move. In usual fashion ChilliBin was out of camp by 5:45, Happy was off to take care of his morning business around the same time, and I was packing up in hopes to be on trail by 6. After a few miles of trekking I pulled over to talk to a tree about a dog and happy walks by my bag next to the trail and makes a good goat sound as he passes by. I return a call, finish my business, and get back to the trail. This was our morning routine, and it was funny how syncronized it all seemed.
I winded through thr forested hills. Some tuffs were covered in grass while others were made of jetting rocks. It was wounderful winding through them. The ponds from the day before continued to be on display trailside. I could tell thatt the ponds were rain water receptacles and there were no creeks feeding them. None that I could see at least.
Finally I caught back up to the gang as they were grabbing water from a creek. It was wounderfully cold and I filled my bottles. The next few miles meandered through a burn area and back into the forest before finally popping our to some nice good sized lakes.
We decided to take lunch lakeside, and it wasnt a dissapointment! Munching on, we chatted about the trail and the day, as well as our plans for the next few days. We finally pulled ourselves together and pressed on up a large hill that awaited us. Gotta pay the piper right?!
After the climb we popped out onto an open plain and 2 of the 3 sisters could be seen. There jetting rocky bodies towered over the surrounding area, treeless and rugged. I took them in with awe and my spirits were lefted. The next few miles melted away until finally I pulled ahead of the gang and happened upon the Obsidian Limited Area.
This very cool place required special permit (with exception to PCTers) where the Obsidean rock could be found littering the ground. I trekked on and in the distance the other follwed. Soon after finding some of this glass like rock and seeing how the Native Americans could have easily made weapons or tools from it, I turned a corner to find the Obsidian Falls.
It was gorgeous and all 3 of us couldnt help but getting in! The water was ice hold, but after the fridgid bite wore off the relief to the feet was incredible! WE took in the beautiful falls and finally pushed the last 2 miles to camp. It was a good long day, and once we made our camp we went through the nightly chores. The waterfall was a game changer, it really washed away any muscle fatigue of the day. Feeling clean and full we all found our way to bed!
We woke early and looked over the lake. Bats swooped low and skimmed the water searching for insects and scouping them up. It was awesome to watch, this way and that, even up to our camp perched on a high hill overlooking the cool waters.
Happy, ChilliBin, and I headed out after packing up. I waved goodbye to Smokebeard as I passed and followed the path that hugged next to the lake as I passed by. There was a bit of a climb through the wood until finally reaching the top a nice long decnent started.
Tree moss was everywhere clinging to the tall trees. They looked as though they all had shabby coats or nice long beards. At the bottom of the decent, just by Charelton Lake two groups of people were set up handing out trail magic! There was blueberry pancakes, soda, water, beer, chocolate milk, a slew of snacks and other goodies including homemade cookies. A large group of us gathered around and stuffed our faces like little homeless children on the streets of London.
I pulled myself from the merry crew knowing I had to get out now or be stuck for another hour. Exhausted, I slogged though the next few miles like a zombie. Im not sure if it was too many calories at once or the lack of sleep, but I was dragging butt! I stopped for a quick break.
The next few miles features lake after lake. Some of them werent very deep, while others were dried up all together. A few were deep enough to swim in, but I dedicated myself to making progress up trail and didnt stop for a dip. I did however, stop for a short snack break. Two rangers walked by and we chatted a while after I startled them when they werent paying attention to an unexpected hiker laying on the ground snacking away. They were both young , in theor 20s, and very nice. We said farewell and I started off again on the trail.
Soon the canopy overhead grew thick and the underbrush was lush and green. The bushy undebrush started closing in on the trail and soon found myself twisting this way and that. The lakes continued on, and soon a large once came into sight.
A guy named Tumbleweed was camped there and said Happy and ChilliBin were only a half hour ahead so I hurried on. Soon I came to Mac Lake where I found them hanging out just after a swim by the shore. I stolled u, chatted away, then went through the nightly motions before finally I found myself tucked away in my tent, ready for bed.
I woke in the morning to a mosquito attack. Its as of the ones the night before had alerted the hord and they aid waiting for me outside my tent. SunDown was in his twent next to me, boiling up water for some coffee and enjoying his morning routine.
I quickly packed up and with coffee in hand, headed up the trail. The forest was still thick here and the trees were covered in a light green moss. It clung to all of them it seemed, almost like bandages to a mummy in a classic cartoon.
I soon happened upon Summit Lake which I could see through the mossy trees. It was beautiful and the sunrise glinted across its surface. Dirt roads let to trail for campsites near the bank, and I pressed on through the trees.
Lilypad ponds upon lilly ponds were riddles in the forest here. At every turn it seemed. It was most definityly a mosquito paradise and my clothes and skin was smeared with far too many misquote bodies to count. I felt bad, but still sometimes you cant help the autoreaction.
Finally I started a long decent and after twisting down among the ferns and low underbrush I found my turnoff to Shelter Cove. I pressed on and crossed a really cool 1 log bridge over a wide creek. In about a mile I crossed some traintracks, and finally found a paved road which lead to the parkinglot of Shelter Cove. A slew of hikers were hanging out front and I knew most of them.
After greetings to HappyFeet, ChilliBin, Sundown, Happy, CoolRunnings, Photon, Tiny Slice, and many others, I ordered up a burger and beer. The usual chargin of batteries, brbbing food resupply and happy banter ensued. Soon after feeling renewed I put my shoes back on and Happy, ChilliBin and myself hike out.
Its always a nice feeling to get out of a town or resupply point and escaping the urge to stay. We pressed on, back up the road, to the small trail that eventually rejoined the PCT. It felt good and Happy and I went on debating about the possibility of sucessfully establishing unilateral wealth and its impact on a people. It always seems like the convos get deep haha. Before we knew it we were at Lower Rosemary Lake and setting up for the night. SmokeBeard, an old friend from the desert was camped nearby and joined up for dinner starting up a whole new debate. It was nice to chill out and chat on. Soon the light faded, and so did all our desires to stay awake. It was a darn good day, and we all crashed hard!
I woke to my solo tent site and went through the morning motions. Coffe in hand I started up the hill in front of me, skirting Thiessen Mountain. I soon happened upon MoonMan and SilverFox who were trodding along enjoying the morning views.
As MoonMan passed, SilverFox and myself chatted on at length about his sons, and what they did. His oldest was and Engineer and worked for Tesla, which I thought was great. Our chat turned to the trail and the terrain, just as he pulled off for a snack. I waved goodbye and headed for Thiessen creek.
The creek was rolling well in a nice tucked away valley that looked like it ran all the way up to the face of the jetting peak of Thiessen Mountain. What a view! I met LionHeart here, who I had never seen on trail before, and we chatted on for a bit before he headed our. I filtered water and soon TinySlice and Sticky Fingers came rolling in to grab some water.
I finished my break and rolled out after cameling up for the 20 mile water carry. The trail took off skirting the moutntains. Nats grouded my feet, hovering over the trail and I pressed through there little clouds as the trail winded. My spirits were much better today than the day before, and my body felt good. I breaked after some miles and threw my feet up.
The forested trail winded through with ease. There were some climbs and falls but for the most part it was pretty gentle. I rolled on along the next few miles, soon bumping into a big group of hikers all having their lunch. I knew most of them and I paused to chat before pressing on.
What a nice day, the breeze was good, temps werent too hot, and the trail was beautiful. I soon passed the OR/WA PCT high point and thought “its all down hill from here right?!” The twisted and winded and finally spit me out at a trailhead where a bunch of water jugs, some all the way full, waited for hikers.
Brown Streak, Tiny Slice, Sticky Fingers, and SunDown were all here hanging out for a break, refilling their water jugs. I did the same, and soon had my pack strapped on, headed up the hill. SunDown caught up and we started chatting away. Thru hiking, the PCT, AT, CDT, CT, Hayduke trail, Florida Trail, the list went on and on. We chatted about our experiences as we climbed the beautiful ridge to find far views of jetting peaks and soon large crisp lakes.
The next 7 miles melted away as we jammered on, soon we found a nice place to camp and plopped on down. I went through the nightly routine as was soon all sug in my bag away from the mosquitoes clinging to my tent walls. It was a good darn day!
LionHeart – 20s, from Northern Germany. He started his hike in Seiad Valley, and hiked to Ashland, in which time he got some horrible knee pains. His inner and outer IT bands were enflamed and he took 3 weeks off to heal. Now that hes back on trail, hes taking it easy with 16 mile days, and has a great attidute, seems to be really loving being out on the PCT. “Enjoy Life” he hollered to me as I felt from meeting.
SunDown – 50s, from the Pennsylvania. Worked for HDD for quite a few years before finally selling his house, quitting his job and setting himself up to do the PCT, the Colorado Trail, and the TA in New Zealand. Hes already completed the AT 3 times, JMT 3 times, this is his 3rd PCT hike, completed the Florida Trail, and hopes to finish out his journey on the CDT. A wild man indeed, he says “I just love hiking”. I can tell I told him!
I woke to the alarm and I hit the snooze. I had stayed up far too late at our campfire chqatting on with hikers that gathered. I set it for 6:15 and rolled over, back to sleep. It seemed like only minutes and it was blasting again. I started to move and got myself together.
Pack on I said goodbye to the hikers left, which were pretty low in number, and hiked out. Happy and ChilliBin were long gone and hiked out solo. It seemed like a good day for it. With my hoody still on I hiked up the road and back to the PCT meandering through the green forest in the crisp morning air. I switchbacked forward and back, climbing a good hill before finally popping out to the rim of Crater Lake. I stopped in the Cafe and grabbed some coffee and water before pressing on.
It was a tourist heavy area, but the non-perfect conditions with the smoke probably drove many away. I walked to the rim and looking down felt something slightly like seeing the Grand Canyon. The lake was vast and beautiful turqoise green at the edges and a deep blue in the deeper parts. Wizard Island stuck out like a volcano within a volcano. It was pretty impressive. I hiked the rim trail and got to see Wizard Lake from all sides. It wasnt perfect visibility, but it was still specacular!
The trail skirts the lake for the most part, sometimes leading away and coming back. I wathced cars speed past and saw groups of people crouding near lookout areas. It was pretty nice, even when the trail broke away from the lake and meandered through open praries. I couldnt be more content strolling along.
Soon I came to a first water cache where the Rim Trail rejoins PCT, and I stopped for a quick break and a short well needed nap. I woke up and trekked on bumping into BearCub as I headed out (she used to be FancyPants in the desert). I chatted shortly and waved goodbye as I headed out. It wasnt long before I found Silver Fox, Conflicted, Tiny Slice, and BrownStreak all hanging out and chatting. I paused for a moment to say hello, and out chat continues as they got up and joined me walking.
Bearcub, just chillin. An old friend way back from the desert!
Tiny Slice and myself led out and chatted on abut his winter job as a ski lift chair worker and how he loved getting free ski passes for all the nearby parks. We chatted on and before long the final miles to camp melted away. There was a big group of hikers at the camp just after the next water cache and I stopped to chat for a bit. I decided it was too early to stop and I kind of wanted to get away from the crowds, so I pressed on another 0.5 miles, just before a large climb over a ridge. Here, just beyond the wilderness boundary I made my camp. It was a great day, and really nice to have experiences Crater Lake. I knew I would have to come back and explore this area in depth!
I woke early to a cold morning and I labored to get going. I had my hoody zipped up to my lips and I went through the motions and finally was standing palming my coffee in hands.
I moved slow as ChilliBin and Happy were already on the trail. It was a short 6 miles to the road that leads to Mazama. I hurried along through the pined lined trail. Soon I popped out and they both stood by the road waiting for me.
We put our thumbs out and started walking. By the time we got withing a half mile of the place we knew there was no cars coming and decided to suffer the last few miles on foot.
Finally we arrived! We sat down and stuffed ourselves at breakfast before heading to the general store and grabbed our packages from the post office. Hikers were gathered around the store and soon more started arriving. HappyFeet, Photon, SilverFox, the list goes on and on.
My friend Penguin’s back has seen better days!
Just as soon as we got ready to head out we lookedd up and realized that smoke rolled in. Looking at the situation we soon realized that we were going to stay the night and wait until the morning when the smoke was clear so we could actually see Clater Lake! We settled in and hung out with all the hikers after a really nice shower. The night wore on late ending in a fire and good banter between friends. It was a shor, but good day!
It was cold as my alarm blasted and I stirred in my sleeping bag. I didn’t want to move, but I knew the time had come an the “just 5 more minutes mom!” wasnt goign to work. Chilli bin was out of camp and both Happy and myself pulled doddled along.
Happy and I went on chatting on and on about all kinds of topics: the trail, the trail, Washington, gun control, differences in upcoming generations, all kinds of things. The Trail meandered through the woods and we were both taking our sweet time.
Before long I pulled over to call BooBooo Johnson, and Happy pressed on. I stopped for a good break and tried to see some good views through the smoke. After a few miles I caught up to ChiliBin and Happy refilling water. Breaktime again! We chatted on, then soon all pressed on our ways.
I felt in a daze for the next few miles, I was definitly still tired from the night before. None the less I pressed on. Finally I entered a large burn area that apparently had caught fire just the previous year. The soil was burned and it looked like sand almost. Only a plant here or there would grow in this area. We soon found a tree that had red sap seeping from it, it looked as though it was bleeding. Pretty cool actually, only slightly creepy!
Soon Happy and I were trekking together again chattin on, then turned the corner to see ChiliBin having a nice rest by the trailside. We hiked the last few miles together and finally found camp, surprisingly before the sunset! Going through the nightly ritual we all watched the sun lower to the horizon, turn big and red, and the briliant colors shown on the sky behind the burned dead trees. It was pretty cool way to end the evening!
ChilliBin was up and out of camp by 5:30. I was still shuffling around in my tent packing things into stuff sacks as she headed out. Happy was in the same boat as me, taking our time, just trying to get out of camp before 6. I was standing with coffee in hand just 10 minutes before, success!
We headed out, pausing at Grizz creek to grab some water to start the day. We continued our push through the woods, and I looked about noticing how many downed trees there were. The forest was beautiful as the golden sunrise made the green leaves glow.
Our first break came, and not too soon as my stomache was growling away. After another meandering stretch of trail we paused at Brown’s Cabin for water. There was a great large, old school pump that you manually worked up and down to get the water to flow. It was cold and tasty! We all set down at a convenient picknick table nearby.
We pressed on again, back into the woods and soon I noticed the abundance of blueberries everywhere. I paused and gathered some stuffing my mouth! Soooo tasty. Soon after we entered a lava rock area. The ladscape was covered in black volcanic rock, but the trail itslef was a nice red vocanic rock. I loved this section and cruised through happily!
We popped out at a road, grabbed water one more time from Cascade Canal, then took off for the 10 mile stretch to came. We were all taking our own pace in stride and enjoying the views. Soon I came upon Happy and ChilliBin breaking at the turnoff to Four Mile Lake. We chatted about our plan to camp in 3 miles just near the spring, and took off!
The smoke seemed to thicken and just get worse as we climbed. It almost looked like a deep fog rolling on from the distance. I made sure my mask was pulled up proper and pressed on. Finally we reached the Christies Spring and it looked like a hiker reunion, there had to have been 12 people hanging around. We decided to grab water and hike back just 0.1 of a mile to a nice campsite we saw on the way in.
Waving goodbye and heading back we soon found camp, set up, stretched, stuffed our faces, and all crawled our tired bodies into our tents, redy for some much needed recovery. Crater Lake National Park was within reach and we were all excited to see it!
Happy, ChilliBin, and I woke up late in the hotel room. There was no alarm set and it was alreay 6:30. We all pulled ourselves together and got down to the continental breakfast before headeing out to the road to try and hitch. With coffee and some muffins in us, we stood smiling as the cars passing, laughing at howthe two bearded guys in the group seemed to be doing most of the work.
ChilliBin laughed, but before long a lovely retired lady and her dog Higgins came rolling to a stop and opened up her car to us. We hopped in the Outback and were soon chatting on about our experience as we sped off towards the trail. We thanked her kindly, and were all stoked to get our feet moving!
The rolled on singing along to Elton John songs down the road before finally we once again entered the forest and the single track trail. It rolled and bounded. Up, down skirting hillside and traversing valleys. The woods were pretty, and after a stretch we came to our first pring of the day. We plopped for a quick snack and all chatted on, running into southbound hikers that warned us of the mosquitoes to come.
Pressing on Pilot Rock came into view covered in a nice thick cloud of smoke. I remember enjoying the prodominace of how it dominated the surrounding landscape. Once we circled around the back side we could see it has basalt columns that made up part of the formation. It was a beautiful formation.
We pressed on, winding through the hills before stopping at a resivior outlet, which was a small waterfall. We all plopped down and plundged our feet into the stream, it was a pretty nice treat. We had just 9 miles left, and after a nice break we carried on.
Winding though I could catch glimpses of the lakes in the distance. The forest would open to yellow grass fields and some smoke covered ridges could be seen from a far. I pulled my buff up higher over my nose and kept trekking. The last few miles started to grow dark as the sun was setting. Finally after using a bit of light I came to camp where ChilliBin and Happy were waiting and getting their dinners ready. I set up and went through my routine before diving into my tent. It was already late, but a good darn day!
I woke early as usual, only now I wasnt in my tent. Where was I?! It took a moment before my whits came back and realized I was sleeping on the Hotel floore of Happy and ChilliBin.
We all went about our chores, starting laundry, packing our bags, and getting trail ready. I grabbed a quick snack and blogged for a bit waiting for Happy and Chillibin to return.
We went to a place called Morning Glory for a full on breakfast. If you are ever in Ashland, make it a point to go, you wont be dissapointed!
One breakfast was done we rallied together, got all our things out of the hotel and headed for the postoffice. A day of chores was upon us!
Once done we went to a nice spot for lunch and we looked at each other exhausted at the efforts of running around town and doing resupplies for the next 3 stops.
I suggested we go back to the hotel and get in the pool and have a true zero mile day. To my surprise everyones spirirts were lifted and it was unaimous. It was a well needed rest and well deserved seeing I had been hiking 30 miles plus everyday since Tahoe (with te exception of 25 mile resupply days).
We went back, checked back in, and plopped all finally enjoying our time in town. The next day we would be back on trail, heading further into the interior of Oregon!
I woke later after the late night, and started packing up. After ready to go with coffee in hand I headed back towards the Oregon/California boarder to take a last look. As I did, Penguin, Flipper, Snacks, Tiny Slice, TrashQueen, and Froggy came rolling up to celebrate with me! (it just so happened to be Froggy’s bday!)
We got in a line like the 7 dwarves and rocked out. We cranked out the next few miles in unison like we were a platoon squaderent. We came to a spring and had a nice break where the jokes and bs of the day continued.
After the spring we started at our seperate times and speeds. I liked together, but it was also nice just cranking at my own speed, taking in the flowers when they came and the nice forest views. Smoke still lingered, but I tried to enjoy it the best I could.
After some miles I had a nice break on after pushing up a long large hill. I figured I had just 10 miles left to town and I though about juicy hambergers and beer. I cranked on, downhill and really started making up time. Through the valleys and twisting valleys I decended.