Saturday, October 30, 2010
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.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
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 Café 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
3. Bag Lady - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=597
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
13. Cubby - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=9803
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
21. Epic - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=10447
23. Freebird - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=9246
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
31. Hot Mess - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=603
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
40. The Mayor
42. Missing Link
45. Motor Giggle Bootie Butt
47. No Trace - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=9709
48. Old Scout
49. Papparazi (aka Alabama)
50. Pat Burglar
56. SlimJim – http://5000milesummer.blogspot.com
57. Square Peg
61. Swift - http://inspireout.com/
62. Terrapin Flyer - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=547
64. Trailhacker - http://trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=10732
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
73. Yellowstone - http://postholer.com/journal/viewJournal.php?sid=bf575f267849a6daf9a04da5afbd2044&event_id=553
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
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Destination: Walker, CA
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
Destination: Walker, CA (via Sonora Pass)
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...
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
Destination: Walker, CA (via Sonora Pass)
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
Destination: Dorothy Lake
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
Destination: Benson Lake Trail
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
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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