Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On “Reassimilating” or Life after the trail

“To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country, or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the walls. “

— Thomas Huxley

Leaving the trail is one of the most difficult experiences of the trail. I had adjusted to a life on the trail. I was used to the routine, the regimented lifestyle, and the repeated phases of the trail. Life was simple. It was hard, but simple. Eventually the hike must come to an end, and we are forced to return to “real life.” That return seems to have been broken down into phases of re-assimilation to me, each having their unique flavor.

The first phase was shock, amazement, relief, rest, and celebration. We had just completed an amazing journey, our bodies were sore, our spirits were lifted, and our dreams were actualized. It is not possible to celebrate continually, so once the fizz of the champagne had settled, we needed to enter into non-trail life.

It has been nearly two months since we completed our hike. For the first two weeks after the trail, I still had pains. When I woke up in the morning, I would stand up on feet that have hiked over 2600 miles, have been my greatest asset, and greatest enemy for six months. I placed my hands on nearby furniture to brace my body as I hobbled out of the bed room. Fortunately this has passed, and I no longer have immediate aches when I wake. Occasionally, I sense some faint pain in my knees, reminding me of my accomplishments.

The most noticeable change between life on the trail and life off the trail in this phase is sleep. One would believe that I would be getting more sleep now, with the opportunity to sleep in, but that is not the case. After a fairly lethargic day (any day you don’t hike 20 miles is lethargic), my body has an abundance of energy. As such, I find it hard to go to sleep at a decent hour. If I do go to bed early, I lay restless in bed, mind wandering.

My body is still used to waking at first light, so as soon as light starts hitting my eyes, I wake up. This results in a complete lack of quality sleep. I stay up late, I sleep poorly, and I wake early. Then, around midday, I am tired from poor sleep. I want to take a nap, but know if I do it will only compound the problems of poor sleep. Two months after leaving the trail, I am still waking up early, but I am getting better sleep now.

After settling down in the daily routine of life, I have entered the reflective phase of post trail life. Life is routine enough that mundane time is spent thinking about how I spent my year.

I spent nearly six months of my life, receiving incredible support from nearly everyone who knows me, as well as an enormous collection of complete strangers. I was told on a nearly daily basis how amazing I was or how great it was to be pursuing my dreams against all odds and struggles. There was not a week that went by where someone didn’t say to me, “What you are doing is amazing,” “I could never do that,” “Congratulations to you for the huge endeavor you are undertaking ,” or “You are living your life to the fullest.”

A huge collective of people dedicated their time and resources to helping me fulfill my crazy dream of walking 2600 miles in the woods. I was a complete (dirty and smelly) stranger to them. Why did they help me? What was special about me? How did they arrive at the conclusion that I was someone that should receive their assistance? I know it wasn’t something unique to me, because several hundred other hikers received their own magic, their own assistance, and their own blessings from their own complete strangers.

I did not experience firsthand the magic other hikers received. As a result of that, my journey felt personalized. Every person I met that helped me along the way seemed to be placed on the trail specifically for my journey. They may have only been around to help Apricots and I, and no one else. This constant support from strangers gave me the illusion that I was someone special. In the back of my mind, I knew I was no different than any other through hiker. Yet, at the front of my mind, I was special. This carries over into post trail life, lending itself to what many call post trail depression.

I am not “depressed.”

I am not “hitting the bottle.”

I am not in need of “little happy pills.”

I am getting slapped in the face with reality though. I spent six months of my life hearing how special I am from complete strangers. Now I am back in the real world, seeking a job in a horrible market. I am faced daily with the challenge of competing with other people to prove myself to someone else. This is the opposite of what the trail was. On the trail, I was faced daily with the challenge of competing with nature to prove myself to myself. I had a shared experience with others, where we all lifted one another up (literally and metaphorically). Now, I am in a world where we are forced to claw our way to the top, trying to hold others down.

What is the next phase? I just hope the next phase is being a mindless automaton in a working society again. Grinding through the daily drudge of work, so that I could start paying down my debts and saving up for the next “big hike.”

Saturday, October 30, 2010

On "A PCT Through Hike" or Walking for Six Moons

It is Psycho's birthday today, so for his birthday he would like to present you with his first entry on post trail thoughts:

On “A PCT Through Hike” or Walking for Six Moons

"I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."
— John Muir

Looking back on a six month hike, and reflecting on changes, experiences, growth, and lessons learned is no easy task. I have been sitting at home reflecting on my hike, and even did so as I hiked. When we were at Snoqualmie Pass, my parents surprised us with a visit. It was my mother’s birthday wish to see her son in the midst of his hike, so they drove from their house to the trail. Over lunch, I turned to my mother and asked her, “What is something new you have learned in the last year of your life that you would like to share with us?”

She looked admiringly at me and said, “You would be the one to ask such a question, forcing upon me a moment of reflection. This is no easy question, let me think on it.”

As she scanned her memory of the experiences she had over the last year, I thought to myself, “How would I answer the same question?” Now I sit here trying to answer that very question.

Long distance backpacking is a unique endeavor. It is a complete wilderness experience that tests your mental limits and pushes your physical abilities. Along the trail, I met many people who said they could never do what I was doing. I once believed the same thing myself, but I challenged myself to do it. I tried once, and several circumstances led to an incomplete through hike. While I left the trail incomplete, I felt that I had learned much about myself and I had become infected with the long-distance-backpacking-bug. I spent the next several years telling friends and family about the hike, and my ultimate goal to go back and finish the miles I missed. I had an incomplete puzzle, and I needed to place the missing pieces to understand the bigger picture. It took me five years to get myself back to the trail.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. This time was different though, as I had a hiking partner for the entire endeavor, and I believe that is what made it a successful through hike. Most of the people I meet along the way who say “I could never do that,” think largely of the physicality of such a hike. The truth of the matter is that the physicality of the hike is only about ten percent of the struggle. The remaining ninety percent is the daily mental battle. I tell people along the way, your body can handle a through hike. Thousands of years of nomadic ancestry honed our bodies into walking machines. It does take a bit of time to adapt to a walking lifestyle, but the body quickly gets used to walking for nearly endless hours among seemingly endless days. Before you know it, the day has passed and the physical pain that you experienced when you crawled out of the tent is long gone. The body gets a rhythm, and while the pain nags (and sometimes screams), the body gets stronger. If you take proper care of your body while hiking, it can endure countless days of hiking.

The real struggle, the struggle that is ninety percent of the through hike, is the mental struggle. Every day you wake up with pain, or challenges ahead, or a general lack of motivation. You have to have the mental willpower to convince yourself that what you are doing is worth it. Sometimes you could walk for days in bad weather, extreme heat, or boring viewless trail. It is hard to understand that these are part of the full through hiking experience, and you need to endure the trials to experience growth. I would be lying if I said that I never wanted to get off the trail. In truth, I probably had that feeling every day at some point. At least once a week, I felt like it was time to give up and get off. I can recall a few times on the trail when I really really really wanted to quit. It was times like these, where I found strength in having a partner who knew I didn’t really want to quit, but rather was just completely miserable with my physical condition at those times. She had listened to me rave about the greatness of through hiking for years, and how disappointed I was to have left the trail last time. Every time I wanted to quit, she reminded me that I would regret it and that my misery was only temporary.

She was right. Often times things would turn around for the better within a couple hours. My physical pain would be gone (or at least forgotten), the weather would change, or the trail offered up some sort of magic which restored my desire to hike – a cold drink, a warm sun, a trailside cache, a spectacular view, or a heartwarming exchange with another hiker. It wasn’t always a couple hours. At times I would hike for a day or two experiencing gloom, wanting nothing more than to find the nearest road and get off the trail. Sometimes we did cut off the trail early, to restore our bodies and minds.

The interesting fact about going into a town full of luxuries, running water, cooked food, and shelter from the elements, is it did nothing for me other than remind me of why I was hiking. Trail towns are amazing healers for the broken spirit, but they also seem to carry a haunting feeling of emptiness. I enjoyed my zero days, and was thankful for the towns, but I was surprised how quickly the hustle and bustle of even the quietest towns made me yearn for the open quiet outdoors. Life is simple on the trail, and the senses are at peace. In towns, it is complicated and I would experience some sort of sensory overload. Often times, Apricots would comment on how I walked around in trail towns with a glazed over zombie like look on my face. I found it difficult to make decisions because I had an abundance of information being thrown at me, forcing me to constantly process what was important from what was not.

So while I found myself yearning for rest days, and town stops while I was hiking, I too yearned for the trail when I was not hiking. This dichotomy existed for the entire hike. Even now that I am off trail, Apricots and I are already discussing future hikes, future long distance backpacking, and future camping. If the trail taught us anything, it taught us that camping is far more relaxing than through hiking.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thank You

The long list of thank you’s --- I am sure we missed some, but I have done my best to include everyone who assisted us in our journey in some way. I have not included every business, but we are thankful for your continued support of the thru-hiking community through tolerating our voracious appetites and our often under-showered bodies.

First and Foremost, we would like to thank our family and all who sent emails of encouragement. It is hard to describe how motivating a single sentence can be when delivered at the right time. We would like to also call out attention to Psycho’s parents who did an amazing job at assisting with mailing packages for resupply. Finally we would like to thank all our dedicated readers, and Apricots’ mother who religiously commented on every blog post.

Below is an almost complete list of those who helped us out along the way. The list is over 200 people long. Thank you everyone that helped… Over 200 people contributed to our dream of thru-hiking the PCT

1. The Binschus Family
2. The Wright Family
3. The Judge Family
4. Cherryville Heartsongs
5. Jillian Wright/Erik Memmott – Hosting us on the drive down
6. Mark Wright – Hosting us, and taking us to the trail head, and offering magic at Casa De Luna
7. Tom Delacey/Diane Delacey – Picked us up in Bishop, and hosted us in Reno
8. Jason “NaborJ” Waicunas – Encouraging Emails, and Trail Magic
9. Debi “Ladyface” Vinson – Encouraging emails and phone calls
10. Jeff “Rabbit” Dishman – Encouraging phone calls
11. Kitty Boryer – Encouraging Emails
12. Lake Morena Campground – Host to ADZPCTKO
13. PCT Association
14. Oregon Mule Skinners
15. Backcountry Horesemen
16. All trail crew volunteers and workers
17. Luka – Stranger we had dinner with in Idyllwild who offered supportive emails along the way.
18. Older Gentleman at bar in Wrightwood, who bought a round of drinks for several hikers
19. Drakesbad Guest Ranch – Stellar service for thru-hikers
20. Red Moose CafĂ© in Sierra City – Above standard service for thru-hikers
21. Berkeley Echo Lake Camp
22. The stranger who gave us M&Ms and Gatorade at Diamond Lake while we tried to hitch a ride
23. Big Lake Youth Camp

Care Packages/Trail Gifts

1. Cody Matteucci
2. Jacob “PseudoGnome” Courtney
3. Andrea Harrison and Leslie Altnow
4. Kristine Nystrom
5. Paul and Kelly Wright
6. David and Carol Binschus
7. Carolyn Madden
8. Adrienne Kierst and Barbara Bergquist
9. Jacob Lupton

Established Trail Angels

1. Casa (Mike) Herrara, Inc (including Gourmet)
2. Ray and Susan Goodwin
3. Jeff and Donna Saufley – Hiker Heaven (including Burrito and JJ)
4. Joe and Terrie Anderson – Casa de Luna (including Doug)
5. Richard Skaggs - Hikertown
6. Thomas “Bombadil” Figueroa
7. Dennis and Georgi Heitman - Hiker Hideaway (including SugarMomma)
8. Brenda Braaten – Little Haven
9. Williams’ Family – Honker Pass at Bucks Lake
10. Bill and Molly Person – Pooh Corner
11. Hiker Hut in Etna
12. Lloyd Gust
13. Jerry and Andrea Dinsmore – Hiker Haven

Hikers we hiked with at one point or another (the list is probably incomplete, and not everyone has online journals, but I thought I would link to them if I could find them)

1. Amoeba - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=10449
2. Axilla
3. Bag Lady - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=597
4. Beaker
5. Billy Goat
6. Boston - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=9803
7. Buckeye - http://inspireout.com/
8. Calorie - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=700
9. Catch Up
10. Colter
11. Compass
12. Crowdog
13. Cubby - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=9803
14. Daredevil
15. Darko
16. D’Israeli Gears (three hikers)
17. Dick Wizard
18. Double Check
19. Dreams - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=678
20. Duff
21. Epic - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=10447
22. Fidget
23. Freebird - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=9246
24. Furniture
25. General Lee
26. Genius - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=634
27. Golden Child – http://aslowbeginning.blogspot.com
28. Gramma Lissa - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=10918
29. Granite - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=547
30. Grateful
31. Hot Mess - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=603
32. Ishmael
33. Jackass
34. Joker
35. Johnny Law
36. Kiwi - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=656
37. Lakewood - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=10398
38. Mango - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=9761
39. Maybelline
40. The Mayor
41. Mike
42. Missing Link
43. Moa
44. Molasses
45. Motor Giggle Bootie Butt
46. NonStop
47. No Trace - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=9709
48. Old Scout
49. Papparazi (aka Alabama)
50. Pat Burglar
51. Passant
52. Pika
53. Rally
54. Riffraff
55. Shroomer
56. SlimJim – http://5000milesummer.blogspot.com
57. Square Peg
58. Stick
59. SubZero
60. Sunshine
61. Swift - http://inspireout.com/
62. Terrapin Flyer - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=547
63. Train
64. Trailhacker - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=10732
65. Tumbleweed
66. UltraBuns
67. Unbreakable - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=9709
68. Uncle Tom - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=9956
69. Weather Carrot
70. Wild Child
71. Wolf Taffy
72. Wyoming
73. Yellowstone - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=553
74. Yeti
75. Yowzers - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=667

Caches, Stashes, and Trailside Magic (at least 28 instances, often supported by more than one person)

1. Pioneer Mail Campground Water Cache Trail Angel
2. Scissors Crossing Water Cache Trail Angel
3. Third Gate Water Cache Trail Angel
4. Third Gate Lead Cache Trail Angel
5. Pioneer Mail cyclists who offered us water.
6. Wayne of Pie Town Gear – Trailside store and showers
7. Luka – Stranger we had dinner with in Idyllwild who offered supportive emails along the way.
8. Interstate 10 Water/Soda/Food Cache Trail Angel
9. Mesa Wind Farm
10. Onyx Peak Water Cache Trail Angel
11. Onyx Peak Water/Soda/Food Cache Trail Angel
12. Van Duysen Canyon Water Cache Trail Angel
13. Silverwood Lake Cache Trail Angel
14. Older Gentleman at bar in Wrightwood, who bought a round of drinks for several hikers
15. “Law” and “Order” – Roadside trail angels on the Station Fire Detour
16. Bouqet Canyon Water Cache Trail Angel
17. Oasis Cache Trail Angel
18. San Francisquito Canyon Road Water Cache Trail Angel
19. Dove Spring Canyon Rd Water Cache Trail Angel
20. Cache 22 Water Cache Trail Angel
21. Hat Creek Rim Water Cache Trail Angel
22. The stranger who gave us M&Ms and Gatorade while we tried to hitch a ride
23. Lloyd Gust for rides and maintaining trailside Caches
24. “Catdog” for his trailside food/water cache
25. The tourists who gave us water at Barlow Pass
26. The trail angel who maintains a PCT Hiker Stash by NF RD 23
27. Trout Lake Abbey for maintaining a cache by NF RD 24
28. The trail angel who maintains a food/water cache near Snoqualmie Pass

Hitches (I am sure there were more)

1. The Driver who drove us into Warner Springs
2. Ken Smith - The Driver who drove us from Warner Springs back to ADZPCTKO
3. Squatch – The Driver who drove us from ADZPCTKO back to Warner Springs
4. The Driver who drove us into Idyllwild (from Hwy 74)
5. The first Driver who drove us part of the way out of Idyllwild
6. The second Driver who drove us part of the way out of Idyllwild
7. The driver who drove us into Idyllwild (from Devils Slide Trail)
8. David Ledbetter – Idyllwild Trail Angel/ride up Black Mountain Road
9. The Driver who drove us into Big Bear as well as back to the trail
10. Ormond – The driver who shuttled us around Big Bear to help with Errands
11. The Driver who took us into Wrightwood (via Lone Pine Canyon Road)
12. The crazy woman who gave us a ride to and from the trail for a Wrightwood Slackpack
13. The Driver who drove us into Tehachapi
14. Georgette – Slackpacked us outside Tehachapi, and drove us back to the trail the next day
15. The driver who drove us into Onyx
16. Bessie (“Queen Heffer of them all”)- drove us from Onyx to the trail
17. The driver who took us down from Kearsarge Pass
18. The driver who took us from Independence to Bishop
19. Sue Yeoman – rides to and from the trail, as well as around town in Ashland
20. Jim Flett – ride from Seiad Valley to Dunsmuir, and overnight host
21. The driver who took us from Burney Falls State Park to Burney
22. The driver who took us part of the way from Burney back to Burney Falls State Park
23. The other driver who took us part of the way back to BF state park
24. “Piper’s Mom” who drove us into Chester, and maintains a trail cache for hikers
25. “Piper’s Mom’s Husband” who drove us back to the trail
26. The driver who drove us from Dunsmuir back to the trail
27. The driver who drove us into Etna
28. The driver who drove us from Etna back to the trail
29. The driver who drove us from Seiad Valley to I-5
30. The driver who drove us from I-5 to Ashland
31. The driver who took us from Diamond Lake to the Trail
32. The first driver who took drove us around crater lake, back to the trail
33. The second driver who took drove us around crater lake, back to the trail
34. The third driver who took drove us around crater lake, back to the trail
35. The driver who drove us from Barlow Pass to Government Camp
36. The driver who drove us from Government Camp to Barlow Pass
37. The driver who took us into Trout Lake
38. The driver who took us from Trout Lake back to the trail
39. The driver who took us partly from Chinook Pass to Packwood
40. The second driver who took us the rest of the way to Packwood
41. The driver who took us into Snoqualmie Pass
42. The driver who took us from Stevens Pass to Baring
43. The driver who took us from Baring back to the trail
44. The driver who took us from the trail back to Baring
45. The driver who gave us a ride at Hart’s Pass
46. The driver who drove us to Yosemite Park
47. The driver who drove us part of the way from Yosemite Park, back to Tuolumne Meadows
48. The second driver who drove us part of the way from Yosemite Park, back to Tuolumne Meadows
49. The third driver who drove us part of the way from Yosemite Park, back to Tuolumne Meadows
50. The driver who drove us part of the way from Sonora Pass to Walker, CA
51. The second driver who drove us part of the way from Sonora Pass to Walker, CA and offered trail magic
52. Mark - drove us from Walker CA to South Lake Tahoe
53. The driver who drove us part of the way from South Lake Tahoe to Rocklin
54. The second driver who drove us part of the way from South Lake Tahoe to Rocklin

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fate is Cruel Sometimes

Day 175-October 5th
Destination: Walker, CA
Miles: 0
Cumulative Miles: 2586

Like a bizarre twist of fate, we spent all of yesterday praying for a safe delivery through the storm to a town with a hot shower. We made it through the thick of it all and were dropped in the small town of Walker, CA. We planned to go to Bridgeport, but we were told hotels were far cheaper here and that the burger joint had great burgers, rivaled only by the BBQ joint.

As fate would have it, we got our hot shower, but all four restaurants in town were closed last night, and all day today. We had to subsist on untasty microwave meals and nasty gas station frozen foods. Apricots points out that we forgot to pray for good food. All our prayers were answered, but we forgot to pray for good eats.

We holed up in our hotel room with the heat cranked to dry out our gear. We couldn't dry it outside because it rained most of the day. In fact, when we woke, we saw that the snow line had dropped to around 7000 feet. The weather is supposed to continue for the next three or four days, which means that snow is piling up at the trail. The highway back to the trail is closed, and lightening continues to flash up at the trail.

We have regrettably made the decision to conclude our hike, four days from the end. As we cannot get a ride back to the trail, we would be required to road walk back to the trail. Then we would have to navigate 75 miles of trail in fresh snow and bad weather. Sadly, we cannot wait out the weather because of post trail commitments which loom near. It is a hard decision, but we both feel very accomplished and feel that we have completed a thru-hike of the PCT. Many other hikers we know who have completed the hike have missed miles here and there. Not everyone succeeds at hiking the full distance in one season, but most will agree that 2600 miles is good enough to call it complete.

Over the next few weeks we will be regathering our thoughts. We will not have daily posts, but there will definitely be a few more posts. It would be impossible to thank everyone who helped us on this hike, but we intend to try in a post. Also, we will be posting pictures from our final leg. We're sure there will be a few other posts regarding our post-trail emotions.

For now, thank you for reading. It would be nice to know how many readers we had, so if you could post a comment to this blog, or sign our trailjournals guestbook it would be appreciated.

Thank you. Talk to you again soon.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, October 4, 2010

Like a Cow in a Snowstorm

Day 174-October 4th
Destination: Walker, CA (via Sonora Pass)
Miles: 21
Cumulative Miles: 2586
We each wish to post our own thoughts on this day...so this post is Apricots' thoughts on day 174 of the PCT.

Though our day did not start until 5:30 a.m., the lightening and thunder storm that woke me at 2:45 a.m. proved to be an indication of the day ahead. I lay trying to remain calm so I could fall back asleep, but found myself counting with each flash...1 one thousand 2 one thousand... Most of the time I got to 7, which meant the lightening was at least a mile away. Occasionally I only got to 4. I thought to myself, "I hope the rain that is falling now stops by morning."

When our alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. we could still hear rain, so we snoozed until 5:30 a.m. Going about our normal morning routine of breakfast, coffee and packing up, Psycho stuck his head out of the tent to get our bear vaults. He had lazily shoved the bear vaults out of the tent door the night before not wanting to go out in the cold rain. When he loudly said, "F@ck", I thought maybe a bear had run off with them, or they had rolled into Dorothy Lake. I asked what was wrong and he said,"it snowed last night." The light patter of rain I had heard in the middle of the night was in fact snow, and so was the still continuing patter on our tent. Knowing this, we took our time getting ready; no sense in hiking in the dark with snow covering the trail making it difficult to see.

Hiking in the snow was not dissimilar to the day of hiking in the rain we had yesterday. The goal was to stay as warm and dry as possible and not slip on the rocks that cover this section of the PCT. The main difference was that my feet were refusing to warm up despite the continual movement, and I started to worry about frost-bite. "Just keep moving, that is all you have to do." I said this to myself not realizing how powerful of a mantra it would become for the day ahead.

Though the snow was frustrating it was manageable the same way the rain had been. The trail was covered, but not enough to really lose and this was a relief. My real concern throughout the day was the lightening that continued off and on. Looking at the sky, I could see this was a serious storm that was not going to pass by. It would be at least an all day thing, if not a several day thing.

The biggest concern was that we were going to be gaining elevation throughout the day. Though the first ten miles were pretty gradual, I knew we had to climb to almost 10,500 feet in order to connect to the road Psycho and I had agreed we were going to exit the mountain on. We chose it because it would bring us quickly down in elevation, while the trail remained high for quite a while longer before dropping.

Each time the sky lit up in a bright flash, I found myself counting again. Often I managed to count to seven, sometimes even twelve, before hearing the crash of thunder. At times I had no warning and just heard the loud crash. I became anxious the handful of times that I only counted to two. As Psycho explained to me, light travels roughly five times faster than sound, so whatever number you count to, you divide it by five and that gives a rough estimate of how far in miles the lightening is. Anything less than five is less than a mile and only counting to two...well you get the idea.

As I walked, I thought about how yesterday had been one of the harder trail days. Between the very rocky terrain, the grueling up and down climbs over slick rocks, the constant rain, and the fact that we hiked 24 miles stopping to rest only once to eat a quick lunch. I realized that today would turn out to be more difficult due to the snow and lightening. Little did I know, the hardest part of all was yet to come.

Though I tried to remain focused and positive as I walked, I was incredibly anxious and worried. Psycho led the way, moving us along as quickly as manageable. I prayed to just about every religious figure I could think of, my family, the universe, the earth, whatever or whoever. Hell, if the Lord of the Underworld was willing to warm things up a bit and keep us a bit safer (ideally without us having to exchange our souls for the deed), I would be glad to accept the help. Funny enough, the words that kept running through my head were, "Giant warm rubber bubble." I was envisioning Psycho and I each in our own giant rubber bubbles that extended out a half mile all the way around. Yeah, I know I am crazy, but it is thoughts like these that keep you moving in a situation like this. Luckily, my feet had finally warmed up enough that I could feel them again.

As we approached the steeper portion of the hike I heard an animal noise that sounded distinctly like a cow mooing. We were close to 10,000 feet in the Sierra Nevadas in the middle of a snow storm in early October, so I was a bit thrown off. I began to worry that it was actually a bear roar so I looked all around me for the source. Up the hill a little way from the trail was a heard of cows casually grazing the way they would in a field on a warm summer day. Though it was pretty bizarre to see the cows, I thought to myself, "ok, so if these cows are not concerned about this terrible snow and lightening storm, should I be so freaked out?" To which I responded to myself thinking, "Ya Lauren, but cows aren't the most intelligent creatures on the planet. But then again, what am I talking about, I am the idiot that is climbing up a mountain in a horrible snow storm?"

As we finally got past the tree line, I looked up at the mountains ahead and my heart sank. The storm had engulfed the mountains and it was white all around. Out of the seeming protection of the trees, I knew the lighting would be a real danger. I stopped Psycho and asked him if heading up further was a good idea. He looked back at me and told me that we had no choice, the storm was not going to let up and staying on the mountain longer would be unwise. As if to confirm my fears, a loud crash of thunder bounced off of the white walled mountains around us. Psycho turned back to face the storm and trudge onward. At this point the snow had completely covered the ground and the trail was no longer visible. Luckily, Psycho had the GPS and the cows were a blessing of sorts, as they had mainly stayed on the trail leaving prints and cow sh*t to guide us.

The further up we climbed, the more dramatic and intense the situation became until I thought that what I was going through could not be real. It had to be a scene in a movie, right? The wind was blowing the snow sideways and this had caused a lot of the hillside to have deeper snow than everywhere else. Psycho was making the steps, and I was following, so despite how hard it was for me, it was more difficult for him. Eventually we followed the trail for as far as we could make out any semblance of it. We ran into a point where it switch backed up the steep grade in front of us. Instead of switch backing, we climbed straight uphill until we intersected it again. As I walked, the whiteness of the snow and landscape around me was so consuming that, though I remained totally focused on each step, my eyes began to compensate for the brightness. I started being able to see the liquid on my eyes moving around. They were focusing closer than what I was actually looking at because it was too bright and there was no solid object to focus on. It was distracting, but I kept moving.

When we finally reached the saddle where the road intersected the trail I was relieved but at my most frightened. The wind was the strongest it had been all day, that is the nature of a saddle. I was struggling through knee deep snow, completely surrounded by clouds, with occasional flashes of lightening and the wind was blowing me sideways. I panicked but somehow kept moving following Psycho down the other side of the mountain. It was just as frightening as the side we had come from, but we were climbing down and losing elevation as quickly as was safe to move.

After we had traveled several miles, conditions improved and the snow lightened. This was when I accepted that it was all going to be okay. As Psycho noted in his journal, I could not help but think of the three south bound hikers we had passed. I hope they make it through okay because the weather report we saw once in town confirmed that the storm was going to last several more days. We were lucky enough to get rides off the mountain despite the road being closed.

If there is anything that this trail has taught me it is humility. I am now very certain of my place in the natural world. I am also incredibly grateful to every single person that helped us along the way. It is because of this help that we were able hike the miles we did and have the experiences we had. Every step of the way I was surprised by blessing after blessing from many an unexpected source. Blessings sometimes come in unusual forms, like cows in a snow storm...

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Psycho on Day 174

Day 174-October 4th
Destination: Walker, CA (via Sonora Pass)
Miles: 21
Cumulative Miles: 2586

We each wish to post our own thoughts on this day...so this first post is Psycho's thoughts on day 174 of the PCT. Apricots' post will follow soon.

(It's long, but the day was epic...enjoy the read)

I woke to my greatest fear this morning...but not after a restless night. The thunder boomed through the night. We were camped at about 9000 feet, and in somewhat of a canyon. The lightening flashed directly overhead, and thunder crashed immeasurably close behind. We were directly underneath the heart of the storm. As the thunder boomed the tent walls seemed to shake in fear.

The tree under which we camped was split in two locations, perhaps from lightening strikes. Normally I wouldn't wish to camp under a tree struck by lightening, especially one the looked like it had been hit twice. Yet after yesterdays wicked weather, I was too exhausted to think about it and only noticed in retrospect. Fortunately lightening didn't strike three times in the same location.

The cold rain made us not want to cook dinner last night. We did a big "no-no" by eating in our tent in bear country. Our dinner was plantains, jerky, mustard, mayo, and hot sauce rolled into a tortilla. The trail has taught us versatility in dining.

Anyway, back to the beginning of the day. I woke to my greatest fear this morning. When I popped my head out of the tent, there was roughly two inches of snow on the forest floor. I dreaded the trail was going to be lost under snowfall, and we would be forced to navigate via map, compass, and GPS. We were at 9000 feet, and would be climbing to nearly 11,000 feet. The snow had to be deeper up at that elevation.

Rather than route finding in the early morning darkness, we sat in the tent until daybreak and broke camp. It was a mad rush once we were out of the tent as we needed to get moving to get warm. The first ten miles were going to be relatively flat, so it would be hard to maintain body heat, unless we moved fast. Moving fast is hard in snow. I was terrified.

Fortunately, all of yesterdays rain flooded the trails, so the accumulated snow was mostly slush along the trail. Navigating was easy for the first ten miles. We only lost the trail once, as I mistakenly followed a stream thinking it was the trail. We backtracked until we relocated the trail, and forged on. My mistake cost us only five minutes, but in this weather, I did not like losing five minutes.

The rain was mixed with freezing rain and snow, and the wind was blowing our ponchos off our shoulders. Every ten minutes lightening flashed, and thunder followed close behind. With every flash, I counted the seconds until the thunder. I don't think the lightening was ever more than half a mile away. For one brief moment the sky showed blue, and we saw our shadows. Yet, it was so brief we didn't even get an opportunity to get our hopes up.

I moved quickly, but Apricots was struggling behind me as her feet were frozen. She told me that she couldn't feel her toes and was afraid of frost-bite. At one point she said she may want to stop to set up the tent and thaw out her toes. I really didn't like that idea, as I knew the longer we waited, the more snow would accumulate at the higher elevations.

It didn't help that all the rain had caused the creeks to be gushing like rivers. The log crossings were covered with snow, as were the rocks to hop across. Going either route would put us at risk of slipping into the water. We were forced to ford the streams. I walked into the creeks, feeling the icy water replace the semi-warm water which already soaked my boots. Every stream crossing offered us an opportunity to replace the warm boots with freshly cold boots. Fortunately, most streams were managed without full on fords.

After making our way across ten miles of drenched trail, we began our climb into the higher exposed ridges. The thunder had died down, and while I would like to say we were in the clear, we had reached a point where the trail was no longer visible. The snow was now six inches deep.

We heard a noise, and at first thought we spooked a cub bear, but realized it was actually free-range cows grazing. There presence in the snow storm was surreal, but I was happy they were there. They tended to stick to the trail, so I was able to lead the way up the mountain by following their hoof prints in the snow. I was, however, slightly fearful of getting trampled by terrified cows. Would my orange pack cover look like a red matadors cape to them?

"Should we walk around the herd?" I asked.

"Just go through them," Apricots replied.

At this point we had reached the timber line, and the thunder had stopped. Apricots still felt a little uneasy about climbing to the ridge, but I told her that it was only going to get worse, and we couldn't stop to wait out the storm.

"We'll be fine, we just have to keep moving," I said. As if to taunt me, the sky lit up and thunder boomed overhead, justifying Apricots' terror over our condition.

We continued on. We had about 900 feet to climb to the pass, where we would follow a jeep road out. Following the ridge in the snow and thunder would be too dangerous. Besides it was impossible to see the trail by then. The trail was following the jeep road for roughly a mile, which made it easier to find. The snow was now about a foot deep, and the wind had caused the snow to drift up to 24-30 inches deep at times.

As we climbed higher, the thunder boomed louder and the wind picked up. We were still a mile from the top when the snow turned into a horrid mix of freezing rain, sleet, ice, snow, and every other miserable form of precipitation. The wind blew it directly into our face, and we were in white out conditions. I turned my face down and guided us up the mountain by keeping my eyes glued to the GPS, and occasionally looking up to read the land.

When we hit the top, the trail went one way, and the jeep road went the other way. By now, the snow was too deep to read any semblance of a road in the conditions, and I had to hope that the GPS accurately reflected the course of the road (which it rarely does). The wind gusts were strong enough to blow us down if we didn't keep three points of contact.

We could see a lake in the distance and knew the road went by it, so we cut cross country down the hill. Every once and a while we found the road and followed it, but the wind had caused snow drifts that were three feet deep, so it was virtually impossible to trudge through the snow on the road.

Gradually we lost elevation, and the snow depth started to subside. Unfortunately, with the drop in elevation, the temperature went up enough that the dry snow flakes were now mixed with wet slushy flakes and thick raindrops.

We started getting wet again. As we were no longer climbing, we were no longer generating body heat. My shorts were pretty much soaked, but my core temperature was still warm enough that I didn't worry too much. I had relocated the jeep road, and the snow was now mixed with slush, so the road was easy to follow.

Then it hit me. With weather like this, the highway at Sonora Pass would likely be closed. When we reached the highway, we would not be done. We would have to hike another fifteen miles to get to any sort of civilization. I had kept us moving all morning, and we were soaked. The jeep road trimmed miles off our day, but we still had hiked about seventeen miles without stopping for lunch (or breaks), or properly hydrating.

We hit the highway. No traffic. I was afraid that we would have to spend the night again in the rain and snow. We were now down to about 8500 feet, and most of the falling snow was not sticking anymore. I told Apricots we should hike down the road a bit to lose more elevation before stopping to eat anything.

Within a mile we saw a vehicle, a road cleaner of sorts. The driver was shocked that we had just come off the trail. He told us the highway was closed, and we would not see any traffic for at least five miles. There was still daylight enough to cover five miles of road walking, if we didn't stop to eat. Ultimately we wanted to get to a hotel for the night. Apricots sang somewhat jubilantly (to the tune of "White Christmas"), "I'm dreaming of a hot shower, just like the ones I used to know."

The road cleaner made it to the top of the pass and came back down. Taking pity on us, he allowed us to catch a ride with him. The illegal ride in the back of his truck was frigid, and probably against company policy, but he was seriously saving us. As we approached civilization, a van started following the truck. The driver pulled over and asked where we were heading. She told us to get out of the wet cold bed of the truck and hop in her warm van, where seat belts and legality awaited us.

She drove us to Walker, CA and dropped us at a hotel, traveling 20 miles out of her way to ensure that we found a warm shower. Her trail magic was just what our frozen bodies needed. The shower that followed was probably the best on the whole trail. The woman who dropped us off knocked on our hotel door and gave us some quality organic goods to enjoy now that we were in the warmth and safety of a hotel room.

What an epic day.

I was praying at least 90 percent of the walk out, and now that we are out, I am worried for the three other hikers that I know are still up there. They are two to three days from a way out, with wicked climbs and drops ahead of them. The weather forecasted for the next four days is nothing shy of horrible. If you are the praying type, there are at least three hikers who could probably benefit from your thoughts.
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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Deja WA

Day 173-October 3rd
Destination: Dorothy Lake
Miles: 23.5
Cumulative Miles: 2565

What a wet day.

It wasn't raining when we got up at the very early hour of five. It wasn't raining when we packed up. Yet, as soon as we started moving, it started raining, and it didn't let up all day.

The first half of our day included three large steep climbs. The granite was slick, and when there was no granite, the trail was a big puddle. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but often we found ourselves walking to the left or right of the trail. It didn't really make sense, considering our feet were already soaked, but we did it anyway. Today was a struggle in avoiding puddles, and maintaining a positive attitude.

Every couple of miles the rain would let up, and we would hope that it was for good. Yet it never really stopped. At times, the rain was thundering down on us heavier than we ever saw in Washington. Thick raindrops beating on our rain coats and ponchos, making furious noise. A few times the rain turned to hail which bounced jubilantly across the trail.

As we made our way across a wide open meadow, the wind picked up and threw the hail violently at the back sides of our legs. It stung, but only lasted a few minutes. We trudged onward, with visions of town warmth ahead. We would just need to survive through another day of hiking. We had succeeded in making up the miles we lost in yesterdays thunderstorm.

Hopefully tomorrow will be bright and sunny. Our hike today was all in the 7500-9500 foot range. Tomorrow the trail gets close to 11,000 feet, and the rain at that elevation is much colder.

On the bright side, we just passed the 100 mile countdown. Woohoo!! Only five more hiking days.
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Saturday, October 2, 2010

More Thunder...and Rain

Day 172-October 2nd
Destination: Benson Lake Trail
Miles: 19
Cumulative Miles: 2541.5

It sprinkled on our tent last night. Yet when we woke, the sky was clear. We packed up our gear and started hiking by 6:45am. The morning was relatively warm and the sky was clear.

As we made our hike toward Benson Pass, the blue sky slowly clouded over. By lunch time we saw the last of the sky. Just as we were finishing up eating, we started getting light sprinkles. We put our pack covers on then, so we wouldn't need to stop later to put them on.

As we made our final ascent toward Benson Pass, at 10,150 feet, we heard the thunder start rumbling. It was an uneasy feeling to know that we were heading up to a pass with thunder overhead. We debated stopping to see if the thunderstorm would move on, but in the end concluded that we were close enough to the pass, and the thunder was moving in the other direction.

We made it up and over the pass with no real thunder, and only light rain. Not wanting to tempt fate, we didn't take our standard break at the top of the pass. The view of the sky on the north side of the pass was a stark contrast to the view looking back. Behind us, all the ridges were shrouded in clouds and rain. Before us, were puffy white clouds and blue sky.

That changed quickly as we made our descent. Soon the rain came and the thunder. It rolled heavy around us, and we were glad to be heading downhill. The wet rocks, and bone-jarring steep descent was not pleasurable, but we were dropping down away from the thunder clouds.

Our goal for the day was another high pass, or just past it. We decided that it would be better if we didn't climb back up. The rain was getting heavier, and we didn't know what the thunder had in mind for that pass. It was a hard decision to make, because it almost certainly sets us up to arrive at Sonora Pass a day later than we wanted. We have the food to do that, but we are running out of time.

Daylight hours are short, and the trail is difficult here. It is hard to make up lost miles, without night hiking. We'll see if we can make them up tomorrow, but the morning is offering us some steep climbs, and we're not sure if this weather will pass by morning time. For now, the thunder has stopped, but the rain still falls lightly.
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Friday, October 1, 2010

Thunder Overhead

Day 171-October 1st
Destination: 11.5 North of Tuolumne Meadows
Miles: 11.5 (plus 1 off trail mile)
Cumulative Miles: 2522.5

Last night, when we were hoping to get solid sleep on a flat bed, a tank rolled up to our "not-tent-cabin tent cabin." The rumble of the giant diesel engine woke us at what seemed to be the middle of the night. Two people rented the adjoining space to ours, and while the gentleman was kind enough to whisper, the woman couldn't keep her voice quieter than a loud screech.

After the noise died down we fell back asleep, happy to get rest and an opportunity to sleep in. Fate would have it otherwise, as our neighbors alarm clock went off before dawn, and they took five minutes to turn it off. Unable to really get back to sleep, we woke up. Apricots went to shower, while Psycho tried convincing himself sleep would come back. It did not, so he went to shower as well.

We packed up and went to the store to buy some coffee and donuts. Later, while waiting for the shuttle bus to take us out of the park, Apricots knocked the box of donuts on the ground. All our powdered and chocolate donuts were now sprinkled with dirt and gravel. Catastrophe! Like any true thru-hiker we brushed them off and ate them anyway.

We slowly hitched our way back up to the trail. Our first ride was an outdoor educator at the park. The second ride was a San Francisco couple who had come to the park to climb Half-Dome. Our final ride was a retired couple who had won a free stay at the Awahnee Hotel in the park. They made us peanut butter sandwiches at the trail head and said goodbye.

One hour into our hike it started sprinkling. Overhead we heard thunder rumble across the sky. It was close by, and every time it rumbled, it seemed to echo off the giant granite mountains that surrounded us. We trudged on, and the clouds slowly passed us by.

The trail passed through a meadow where every few steps tiny froggies would hop around in front of us. We looked down at the minuscule hopping legs. They were smaller than a pinky fingernail, and far cuter.

Studying the map, we realized that the stream which would provide us with water at the end of the day was dry. We picked a new location, but had to wander off trail a bit to get to it. Our campsite is in a tangled web of trees, and we just heard a branch break. Hopefully it isn't a bear.
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Thursday, September 30, 2010


Day 170-September 30th
Destination: Yosemite Park (via Tuolumne Meadows)
Miles: 9.5 (plus 1.5 off trail miles)
Cumulative Miles: 2511

It was a cold morning when we woke. Due to the nature of air temperature and our position in a valley, we found ourselves hiking out in moderately cold temperatures. The walk was very flat and easy going, which made it difficult to generate our own body heat for warmth. As we wound along the serpentine stream, we were treated to views of a golden yellow meadow of short grass frosted white from the cold night. Seven to eight foot dome like shrubs sprouted periodically out of the meadow as the sinuous water idly slipped slowly down the valley floor misting in the cold morning air.

After a few hours of peaceful morning walking we started seeing and hearing signs of civilization. We were approaching the road at Tuolumne Meadows. Our resupply strategy was to mail a package to Tuolumne Meadows, which was just off trail. Unfortunately the post office there was closed so we had to hitch to where our package was sent. Fortunately, this meant hitching to Yosemite Valley, the heart of Yosemite National Park.

Daniel, Karen, and Matt picked us up. These three were returning from a Mt. Whitney summit trip. We crowded into the small car, with our packs stacked upon our crunched bodies; five campers with packs in a compact rental. We arrived at the valley, exploding out of the car and promptly became disoriented in the tangled web of tourist villages and streets and shops and sights.

We first made our way to a deli for lunch. Then after adequately stuffing our bellies we waddled over to the showers. We showered and did laundry, losing all motivation to get back up to the trail. Naturally we chose to go eat pizza and drink beer to develop motivation to go back to the trail tonight.

Now we are staying in a "not-tent-cabin tent-cabin." Guess we'll head to the trail in the morning. As we sit over dinner, a neighboring camp has a violinist providing us with dinner entertainment.

Apricots would like to personally thank California for the real summer, which Oregon and Washington seemed to forget about.
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Still Alive

We are at Yosemite.... no reception to send out blog posts.
hopefully we'll be able to soon.
We should be in civilization again in four days...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Island Pass + Donahue Pass

Day 169-September 29th
Destination: Lyell Creek
Miles: 10 (plus 7 alternate trail miles)
Cumulative Miles: 2501.5

We slept in an extra forty minutes this morning. Sleeping at higher elevations is always less restful. When we hit the trail, we were excited about the lakes we would be walking past. The alternate route was supposed to be far more scenic, and one mile shorter than the PCT.

What we failed to notice was that there were several significant climbs between the aptly named gem like lakes. Ruby Lake and Garnet Lake were both magnificent, though not red. The trail had fairly significant climbs between the lakes, and another decent climb before reaching the PCT again at Thousand Island Lake. This lake quite possibly could have a thousand islands in it, but we never counted. We were fairly tired, wondering how it took us four hours to go only seven miles.

After lunch at Thousand Island Lake, we made our climb toward Island Pass. Island Pass, at 10,207 feet didn't feel like a pass, but rather just another high plain that we walked across. The ascent from Thousand Island Lake, and the drop down afterwards were both fairly minimal. We had larger climbs and drops over unnamed saddles on the alternate route we took. Both times we hit high points this morning on the alternate route, we were above 10,000 feet.

Just past Island Pass was Donahue Pass, which stood at 11,064 feet. The ascent to this pass was long and exposed. The entire hillside was covered in enormous granite slabs, often serving as stepping stones for our trail. Once we reached the top and started our descent, we passed the last place we'll be above 11,000 feet on our trek.

The north side offered a descent worthy of being the most difficult. At first we lost the trail, following a dry river bed thinking it was the trail. A few minutes down the river bed we realized that there were rock cairns to our left. We cut over to the rocks to try to follow the trail. Psycho looked back at Apricots and said, "Finding the trail is easy, just look for the stack of rocks in the stack of rocks."

Eventually the trail became more easy to follow, but not easier to walk upon. The trail was incredibly steep and rocky. At times it felt like we were walking across a very old, poorly laid, cobblestone road which cut down the hill at nearly 45 degrees the entire time. Apricots slipped and nearly hyper-extended her knee, and Psycho trudged on at a pace which would make a turtle look fast.

When we reached the bottom of the descent, we were both beat. We stopped at the first flat site and set up camp, two miles shy of our goal.

Woohoo!!! 2500 Miles

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Red's Meadow Pit Stop

Day 168-September 28th
Destination: Gladys Lake
Miles: 15.5 (plus 6 alternate trail miles)
Cumulative Miles: 2483.5

Rising a little later than usual, we began our 13.5 mile trek toward Red's Meadow, where we hoped to grab a few supplies, lunch, and a shower. We noticed that as we work our way further north in the Sierras, the rock formations are starting to include some volcanic rock. The trail wound its way through the trees, passing lava rock, red and pockmarked with gas bubbles.

Our morning hike seemed very slow and difficult. We had eaten such a large breakfast at VVR that we took a late lunch yesterday. By dinner time we were not hungry, so we just snacked. This had the adverse effect of not giving us the necessary energy to hike this morning. Slowly and with frequent breaks we trudged toward Red's Meadow.

We arrived at Red's Meadow around 1pm and immediately hit the cafe for a filling lunch, and some coffee. Afterwards we bought a few supplies to get us the rest of the way to Tuolumne Meadows. Then we went to the campground to grab some showers.

When we arrived at the hot spring showers, there was a high school class there on a field trip of some kind. All shower stalls had lengthy waiting lines. Disappointed that we didn't have time to wait for the lines to exhaust themselves, we walked down to the creek and took a quick splash bath before continuing down the trail.

Our first mile after Red's Meadow took us past Devil's Postpile National Monument, an impressive display of columnar basalt, which had been glacially polished at the top. Along the base of the towering basalt columns, large hexagonal basalt lay piled in mounds which have grown over time. The area was designated a national monument in 1911, and is considered part of Yosemite Park.

We continued on, taking a suggested alternate to the PCT, which is part of the official JMT. The alternate is slightly shorter, but has more climbing and takes us past a few more lakes. We arrived at Gladys Lake just after 6:30pm, and set up camp for the night.
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We're alive

We have no cell reception so we can't get posts out often. But wanted to let you all know we're alive and should be in cell reception in a couple days. Today we are at red meadow. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Silver Pass

Day 167-September 27th
Destination: Purple Lake
Miles: 14.5 (plus 1.5 off trail miles)
Cumulative Miles: 2462

There is no better way to start a day on the trail then to sleep in and roll out of bed to eat homemade pie and drink good coffee. Everything about our stop at VVR was worth it. We caught the ferry back to the trail and started hiking around 9:30am.

We heard it was supposed to get up to eighty degrees at 8000 feet, and it felt that way. Our climb up Silver Pass was fairly warm, bordering on hot. When we reached the top, at 10,910 feet we took a break and sought shelter from the subtle wind. As we continued down the pass, we were amused by the pint-sized chipmunks which would scurry out, see us, and then flee to shelter. At these higher elevations the chipmunks all tend to be half the size of their lower elevation counterparts.

We dropped down into a small valley for lunch, where the autumn colors made an otherwise plain walk something to revel in. After lunch we made a rather large climb up Tully Hole. The top might as well have been a pass, because by the time we reached the high point of the trail, we were just above 10,500 feet. We descended five hundred feet to Purple Lake where we set up camp for the night.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Side Trek to VVR

Day 166-September 26th
Destination: Vermillion Valley Resort
Miles: 4.5 (plus 1.5 off trail miles)
Cumulative Miles: 2443

We woke up this morning without any bear incident. It seems (for us) Bear Ridge was a name only, as we did not see any last night or this morning. After packing up we made our descent off Bear Ridge.

We have added a day to this leg, which was a result of slow acclimatization and a late start at Kearsarge Pass. The miles in the Sierras are difficult. Not only do we face higher elevations and serious climbs and descents, but the trail is also knobby. Often we are walking carefully across loose talus or boney granite. Sometimes we have to lift our body and pack up a two foot step, or slowly drop down two feet trying not to roll an ankle.

With the additional day of hiking, we found ourselves low on food. Fortunately at Mather Pass we met two Canadian women who gave us a little, and the group we camped with the night before last gave us some Top Ramen. This set us up fairly well to make it all the way to Red's Meadow. We, however, had it in mind to side trek to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR), but we did not know if it was still open.

When we reached the trail junction to VVR, we sat down to decide whether to take a gamble. If VVR was closed, we would have added three unnecessary miles to this leg. A shower, a burger, and more food was mighty tempting. We were more or less resigned to testing fate and heading down, but we decided to flip a coin. Tails came up, telling us to head toward VVR. Feeling a little hesitant, we flipped again. Tails again. We donned our packs and moved quickly down the trail towards the ferry.

When we arrived at the ferry landing, we were happy to find out VVR was still open, and the ferry would be arriving in half an hour. We met a section hiker who was leaving the trail, and had a surplus of food. Once we had ferried across Lake Thomas A Edison, he walked us to his truck and dumped all his food on us. Then another hiker offered us food. He is hiking the John Muir Trail, and misjudged his food needs.

Now with all the extra food given us, we will be able to bypass our next town stop, offsetting time lost by heading in to VVR. Once again, everything always works out on the trail. People's generosity continues to restore our faith in humanity. We are getting well rested after a hard leg. Tomorrow morning we will take the ferry across the lake, and start our four day leg to Tuolumne Meadows. Hopefully it is still open.

Time for homemade pie.
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Selden Pass

Day 165-September 25th
Destination: Bear Ridge Trail
Miles: 22
Cumulative Miles: 2443

It is safe to say that we are acclimated to this higher elevation hiking, or maybe the trail was just easier today (which it was). We started with a long slow gradual descent, before making a long mostly slow climb of nearly 3000 feet to go over Selden Pass at 10,887 feet.

At the top of the pass, we had a stunning view north to Marie Lake. The blue water was interrupted by several islands and crooked peninsulas. We descended off the pass taking a few switchbacks down before walking along its shore. Passing the lake by we continued our gradual descent down into Bear Valley, where we rock hopped across Bear Creek, another creek which proved to be dangerous and difficult for the hikers who entered the Sierras in June.

A few miles later we started our steep climb up to our camp on Bear Ridge. We are hopeful that all the "Bear" names does not imply that bears will be bothering us tonight.

We would like to thank Andrea and Leslie for the care package sent to us. We are making good use of all the tasty food, and your coffee gets us going in the morning. We can't wait to make use of the lotions for our feet.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Muir Pass

Day 164-September 24th
Destination: MM 852ish
Miles: 20
Cumulative Miles: 2382

So technically Mather Pass was our last pass over 12,000 feet, as it stands 12,087 feet above sea level. Muir Pass, our challenge today should get a fair mention though as it is 11,976 feet.

Apricots woke first this morning and crawled out of the tent to do the necessary. While squating in the dark, she saw eyes looking back at her, reflecting her head lamp. She came back to the tent to tell Psycho that there was a bear roaming around, but upon further inspection with the head lamp, we realized it was just one of the deer that had been roaming around our campsite all night long.

As we made our six mile climb up Muir Pass, we were given a false hope. We saw a dip in the ridge and assumed we had made good time to the pass. Unfortunately, just as we achieved that point on the trail, we realized it was not the pass. We still had another mile to go, and another 700 feet to climb.

At that point we passed a large flat lake, casting a perfect reflection of the mountain ridge wrapping the water. The only disruption to the surface were several ducks swimming here at Helen Lake. Occasionally they would dive under the water seeking food. Circular ripples grew out from them, calming shortly before they popped back up to the surface making new ripples.

Passing by the ducks at play, we made the final climb to the top of Muir Pass, named after John Muir the naturalist who first postulated that the Sierras were glaciated mountains at one time. Atop the pass, a small stone hut is built in honor of him.

We took a short break at the top, chatting with Giraffe, a southbound PCT thru-hiker. Then we made our long gradual descent down the pass towards evolution valley. As we passed Lake McDormand, we scared several frogs off into the water. Leaping from the bank, where the trail skirted the lake by a few feet, we watched as they kicked their little legs to flee from our wrath.

Late in the day we arrived at Evolution Creek. Signs directed hikers towards a location for a safer crossing when the creek is more like a swollen river. Our friends who went straight through the Sierras had one of their most difficult stream fords with this creek. For us, it was more or less a rock hop across, where our feet barely got wet.

We made the last bit of a descent down a rocky and root filled trail, arriving at a campsite with four other section hikers. We talked with them over dinner before crawling into our tent for the night. Tomorrow we have a long hike before going over Selden Pass late in the day.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mather Pass

Day 163-September 23rd
Destination: 5.5 Miles south of Muir Pass
Miles: 18
Cumulative Miles: 2382

Last night was cold, but not as unbearable as we expected. Our bags kept us warm through the night. The tent was covered in frost. We packed up and set out for our two mile climb up and over Mather Pass.

The ascent up the pass was fairly easy, but crossed a steep rock chute. After witnessing the rock slide last night, we were a little uneasy. We made the climb with greater ease than the previous passes, as we are finally getting adjusted to the higher elevations.

So far this pass has been one of the most beautiful passes we have gone over. However the descent was quite difficult. The initial descent took us past the Palisade Lakes crossing massive slabs of granite, with rocks aligned to direct us where the trail was. Then we hit a grueling descent over talus. The trail lost nearly 2000 feet in elevation over two miles.

We eventually emerged in a valley rich with the aromas of dirt and trees, ferns and Southern California forest. The sun had worked up a fierce heat rivaling yesterdays abundant cold air. We dried out our tent over lunch, and continued our hike towards Muir Pass. Ultimately we were aiming to stop a few miles shy of the pass, but we met some section hikers who had a great campsite, and a fire.

We decided that camping at a lower warmer elevation would be nice, and a campfire and company would be nicer. We ate dinner and talked around the campfire with Jim and Ryan. Ryan hopes to do the PCT some day, so he was full of questions for us. We were happy to share many of our stories with him.

Tomorrow morning we have a 2700 foot climb up to Muir Pass, the last pass over 12,000 feet for us.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pinchot Pass

Day 162-September 22nd
Destination: 2.5 Miles south of Mather Pass
Miles: 14.5
Cumulative Miles: 2364

We woke up to clouds this morning. This made us a little uneasy, as we were afraid we brought the Washington rain with us down to the Sierras. Fortunately the clouds burned off within an hour of us starting our long arduous climb up Pinchot Pass. Our ascent took us from roughly 8600 feet all the way up to 12,093 feet at the pass.

We were cold for most of the climb, and remained awestruck at the ability of other thru-hikers to make this climb in the snow. Perhaps the snow made for more level terrain to walk across, thereby making it easier. However, the non-existance of a trail to follow would require time consuming navigation. Furthermore, walking on snow is also very fatiguing. By the time we reached the top, we had covered seven miles in five hours, making our hopes of going over Mather Pass look less realistic.

Our slow moving, and acclimatization to these higher elevations has required us to add an extra day to this leg. We have nearly enough food for that extra leg, but are light on snacks to power us between meals. As such, we were very thankful when we met two hikers who are a day ahead of schedule. They were able to give us a small portion of their food making it easier for us while lightening their packs.

After passing over Pinchot Pass, we dropped down a few miles to a small creek where we had lunch. The clear blue sky started filling with clouds, making our ascent up Mather Pass look daunting. Just after lunch it started snowing for a little bit. We were not sure how long the snow would last, so we had to stop to cover our packs and put on rain gear.

By the time we started our climb to Mather Pass the snow had stopped. It started to warm just enough that we shed our jackets. All the time lost over the long slow climb up Pinchot Pass and the short snow flurry set us up with a tight window for making it over Mather Pass.

Rather than potentially running out of daylight on the steep northern descent, we chose to stop shy of our desired camp. This puts us even further behind schedule. The days are very short here in the Sierras, and the miles are quite difficult. It looks like we have our work cut out for us for the next five days.

While sitting at one of the best campsites we've had, we prepared our dinner. On a neighboring mountain a massive rock slide occurred. We saw a boulder which was easily a couple tons lead the crashing rumble down the mountain.

We're camped just above 11,000 feet and the sky has pretty much cleared up. We expect a very cold night. Hopefully our water bottles don't freeze overnight.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kearsarge Pass + Glen Pass

Day 161-September 21st
Destination: Paradise Valley Trail
Miles: 11 (plus 5.3 off trail Miles)
Cumulative Miles: 2349.5

Getting back into these higher elevations takes a bit of time to acclimate. Unfortunately, we don't have time to do so. We just have to hike, and hope that we'll be adjusted in a day or two. We started our day with an immediate ascent up to Kearsarge Pass at 11,760 feet.

We exited the Sierras a little over three months ago through this pass, and the extreme difference was amazing. All of the snow up to the pass was completely gone, and once we topped the pass we looked out and saw a total lack of snow. Kearsarge Pinnacles and the neighboring mountains stood without an ounce of white on their faces. Kearsarge lakes and Bullfrog lake stood in their blue beauty, unfrozen. We expected the snow to be mostly gone, but not completely.

The wind was blowing heavily, so our stay atop the pass was short. Thankfully the heavy wind also blew most of the smoke from the nearby fire away from us, and we had relatively clean air to breath, albeit thin. We dropped down from the pass, only to begin an ascent up our next pass, Glen Pass.

Glen Pass stands at 11,978 feet, the last thousand feet gained over a rough mile. We climbed slowly, frequently taking breathers. By the time we reached the top, the wind had died down. Our energy levels also dropped. Shooting for four miles past the pass for lunch, we only made two. We stopped on a large land bridge between the Rae Lakes and ate our lunch in the afternoon sun. It is so nice to be back in dry air, where lunch is enjoyed rather than inhaled between cold wet shivers.

We continued our descent down towards Woods Creek, where we realized our speed today was less than desirable. We may need to add an extra day of travel to this leg, if we don't pick up our pace. It is very likely that we were slowed greatly today due to the fact that we went over two passes, both nearly 12,000 feet. It is, however, more likely that we are still acclimating.

On the agenda for tomorrow is two passes that are both over 12,000 feet. We will wake early and make the near 4000 foot climb to the top of Pinchot Pass, and hopefully have enough time left over to go down the other side and up and over the next pass, Mather Pass.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Back to the Sierras

Day 160-September 20th
Destination: Gilbert Lake
Miles: 0 (plus 2.5 off trail Miles)
Cumulative Miles: 2338.5

We woke this morning and drove the final seven hours to the trail head. As we approached the trail, we noticed heavy smoke in the area. We learned the smoke was a result of a forest fire started months ago from a lightening strike. The forest service is watching it as a controlled burn now, but the air is thick with smoke.

Jumping from sea level two days ago, to near sea level this morning, to a camp just over 10,000 feet is very noticeable. Hopefully we acclimate tonight a fair amount, because tomorrow we are going over two passes that are both around 12,000 feet in elevation.

The sun began setting around 7:30, and the temperatures are cold. However, it is dry, which is a great change from our last few weeks in Washington. We are almost done. Hopefully the bears present us with little to no problems with these last few legs.

Time to face the Sierras...again.
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Driving South

Day 159-September 19th
Destination: Rocklin
Miles: 0
Cumulative Miles: 2338.5

Yuck, long hours of driving. Our legs are not used to sitting for fifteen hours. Thankfully we had a generous host (Psycho's sister) to welcome us at the midpoint of our drive.

Tomorrow we will drive the remaining eight hours back to the trail, and then enter the Sierras.

This will likely be the last time you hear from us for the next seven days.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Video's From Washington

Hiking in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Hitchhiking in the rain.

Crammed into a truck

Zero in Oak Harbor

Day 158-September 18th
Destination: Oak Harbor (via Manning Park)
Miles: 0
Cumulative Miles: 2338.5

We stayed with Psycho's parents last night and tonight. Tomorrow morning we will start our long long drive back down to the Sierras. A single rest day to do our "work" and then 1.5 days of driving. Sure, we won't be hiking, but it will not be fully restful.

Psycho's mother watched as we went through the process of drying gear, washing clothes, and preparing food for our last few legs. She commented that our "zero" days are not true rest days, because we have all sorts of town chores. We couldn't agree more, but that is the nature of the hike. We only have two more weeks of hiking, and then we'll be done.

We did find some time to relax. We ate pizza while enjoying a Duck football game. The Oregon Ducks smashed on the Portland State Vikings (which was expected), running the score up to 69-0. They continue to average one point per minute of play, leading the nation in most points earned in the season.

We have been trying to eat a great deal of food, to rebalance our depleting bodies, but we can't keep up. Psycho has lost roughly 35lbs since the beginning of the trail. Apricots continues to complain that she isn't losing any weight (except the initial ten), but it is visibly apparent that she is becoming a well oiled machine of muscular pistons that push her over passes, down valleys, and through forests with simplistic ease.

Tomorrow morning we will drive most of the way back to the trail. We are very thankful that Psycho's parents are helping us get back down for the final chapter of this epic adventure.
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Video of Washington Pictures

Friday, September 17, 2010


Day 157-September 17th
Destination: Oak Harbor (via Manning Park)
Miles: 15
Cumulative Miles: 2338.5

It was rough sleep last night, on a very uneven campsite. Yet, despite our poor sleep accommodations, we moved out ambitious for the border crossing. We headed out largely as a train, six of us marching closely together talking away the miles.

Motor's boyfriend planned on hiking south from Manning Park to meet her on our final day. When we finally connected with him, a happy reunion was had. While Motor and Isaac hugged and kissed, the rest of us broke out in a horrible bad attempt at singing "A Whole New World," from Disney's Alladin.

Three miles later, we heard whoops and screams in the forest below us. A few minutes later, there were more screams. Then a few more minutes later we were screaming ourselves. We had arrived at Monument 78, the marker on the trail distinguishing the border between the United States and Canada. There also is a wide clear cut swath of land along the entire perimeter of the border between the two countries. There is probably some cynical comment that could be made about the fact that our Mexican Border is a barbed wire fence next to a steel wall with hired gunmen, whereas our Canadian Border is a wide open swath of land, but we'll leave that alone.

Enjoying wine, whiskey, candy, butter sticks, maple syrup, vodka, Stehekin Bakery goods, and the remains of anything good and tasty, the nine of us jumped and celebrated, indulged and screamed, drank and posed. It was a very wonderful opportunity for us to get to cross the border with others, celebrating in the company of finishers, and almost finishers like us.

We may not be completely done yet, but this is certainly the beginning of the end for us. We just need to head down to California and pick up a few hundred missed miles. But first we had to hike the nine miles from the monument to the highway at Manning Park. What a cruel joke it is, to celebrate being done, only to have nine miles and 1000 feet of elevation gain to deal with.

We got it done, and then ate a meal at the lodge. Afterwards we showered and soaked in a hot tub before Psycho's parents picked us up for the drive south. Tonight we are sleeping in Oak Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Sunday we will head south.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

One More Night

Day 156-September 16th
Destination: Hoskins Lake
Miles: 23.5
Cumulative Miles: 2323.5

(The attached pictures are for yesterdays post...but the views expressed are similar to today's experiences)

We woke up this morning to Shroomer singing the old 80s song "One More Night." He was, as always, one of the first to rise. He was singing the chorus to the rest of us as a motivational speech. We have two days left before we are done, today and tomorrow. We aren't "not having fun," but we are all a little ready to be done. The eight of us will cross the border together tomorrow, five having completed their full thru-hike. Three of us still need to get a few miles completed in California.

The weather today was cold, and it was hard to stay warm, even while moving. The clouds did part for a bit, allowing the warm sun to strike our bodies, which was a pleasant treat for us. It, sadly, disappeared again before the day was done. Sprinkles started falling around 4pm, and now a full rain is singing us to sleep, or something like "singing".

The views were spectacular, and the clouds were high enough to allow us to see them. Rocky ridges flowed in all directions, with deep forested valleys between them. Our hike took us up and over several passes today, but fortunately there was no real big climbs like in the Glacier Peak Wilderness last week.

Near the end of the day we walked up and over the highest point on the PCT in Washington. From there it is all downhill to Monument 78 at the Canadian Border. We didn't go the full distance to the border today, but rather stopped shy six miles to camp at a lake. Tomorrow we will hike to the monument of our monumental achievement, and then hike 9 miles out to the nearest road.

Tonight, while being loud and setting up camp, three deer walked through our campsite. They seemed to be interested in us, more than afraid of us.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kinda Like the Ivy League

Day 155-September 15th
Destination: Hart's Pass
Miles: 28.5
Cumulative Miles: 2300

The sun lasted for the first half of the day. We woke to a sky bordered in light pink lipstick. As the sun rose, the clouds lost their color, and slowly evaporated. We made our climb up to Cutthroat Pass, and were given our first fantastic view of the North Cascades, from the center.

The rich yellows and whites of the rocks we walked across were occasionally interrupted by red rocks. As we hiked northward on the trail, we saw red mountains with long tendrils of green trees growing up them like ivy on bricks.

Around 3pm, the rain started. It was light infrequent sprinkles, but the sky looked daunting. We donned our rain gear and pack covers. As we neared the next pass the wind picked up and flung cold horizontal rain on to us. We discussed setting up camp early, but we wanted to catch up with all the hikers we left the Dinsmore's with, so we could celebrate at the border together.

We pushed on. Thankfully the trail dipped behind a hillside and out of the wind. The rain eased a little, and we continued on towards Hart's Pass, our revised further goal for the day. When we hit a road two miles before the pass, we met a woman who offered us a ride so we could get to camp before dark. As it was only two miles, and we were wet, cold, tired, and hungry, we took her up on the offer. When we arrived, she shared some Grand Marnier with us, before heading back to her campsite.

To add to the trail magic, we caught up with our hiking mates. Now we don't have to pull 30 miles tomorrow. Yay!!

We just hit 2300 miles. WooHoo!!
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Long Slow Uphill

Day 154-September 14th
Destination: Porcupine Creek
Miles: 21.5
Cumulative Miles: 2272.5

Shadows! All Day!!

Today's hike was relatively dry. The only thing that got us wet was the fact that we were sweating from sun beating on us on an exposed trail. We'd be happy to take that any day over rain.

We left Stehekin this morning at 8am, stopping at the bakery to buy more fantastic goods. Reading something somewhere while in Stehekin, we learned that if Lake Chelan was drained, the lowest point in the lake would be considered the lowest land point in all of the United States, which puts the lake well over 1000 feet deep. This impressive depth is easily understood, when one looks at the steep hill sides dropping down to the lake.

We walked a long river valley, deep in steep hills today. The mountains loomed beside us and ahead of us, with their craggy peaks. When we reached Rainy Pass this evening, we began our climb into the heart of the North Cascades. Views are opening up, and we are both very excited for the final days of Washington, especially of today's weather holds out a bit longer.
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Weather, What a funny thing

Day 153-September 13th
Destination: Stehekin
Miles: 5
Cumulative Miles: 2251

"That's the problem with this. They did it wrong. I want everything. I want cake. I want frosting. I want ice cream, and they are all separate, making it difficult to eat."
-Apricots on our dessert

Waking before sunrise, we packed quickly so that we could catch the first bus to Stehekin. We needed to cover five miles to High Bridge Campground, where a shuttle bus would pick us up for a eleven mile ride down to Stehekin Landing. We would resupply here.

As we walked the five miles, the weather got better and better, until we had clear blue skies. We are afraid that we'll have perfect weather on our "nero" day, and the rain will continue when we decide to leave town. Psycho has been warned to step carefully, lest he should fall and bring the rainstorms.

Once at the campsite, we had thirty minutes to wait for the bus. When it arrived, we took a tour down to the landing. The bus stopped at a ranch, an orchard, a waterfall (pictured above), and most importantly a bakery. The bakery is famed for its amazing baked goods, and it did not let us down at all. The danish was delectable, and the cinnamon roll was unfathomably fantastic. We suspect that if we weren't thru-hikers, we would still be overwhelming impressed with the quality of the food. We are already planning on hitting the bakery one or two more times before heading out of town.

We checked in to the resort to get a solid dry nights rest before doing the final Washington leg. Stehekin is located 50 miles up Lake Chelan and is accessible only by boat, float plane or hiking in over the mountain passes. We hiked in, and took a shuttle bus that will take us back up in the morning.

We spent our day drying gear out while indulging in obscene amounts of delicious fattening foods. The weather offered amazing views of the stunning lake. Tomorrow, on to Canada. We should be there by friday evening. We just hope the weather we had today for the remainder of our hike.

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