Stretch 12, Chester to Dunsmuir (And to Iowa and back!)

Hello everyone! Louise and I are alive and still on the PCT and very sorry we have been delinquent in our blogging duties. Today we are hunkered down in Callahan’s Lodge near Ashland, OR, determined to make it right. Since there is so much to recall, and we even split up for a part of it, we decided we would each do our own post. 

It’s been a while since our last post so I’ll remind you what was going on. We had spent a whole stretch slowing down with hopes of seeing friends behind us, and while we were in Chester, Atlas caught up, and Frosty and Sunbeam passed by! This really lit a fire under us- we were done messing around and ready to squish some miles, as they say. 

We got out of Chester in the afternoon and–as Lassen National Park has just implemented requirements that you store your food in a bear canister when camping within the park– hiked the 15 miles to the national park boundary, so we could hike through the park in one day. The next day, the elevation profile was looking pretty easy so we decided to shoot for our largest day yet- 31 miles.

And we did it. It wasn’t awful–we saw a geyser and hot springs and many trees and walked by Mount Lassen–but I became less enthusiastic about hiking 31 miles as the day went on. I was ready to stop at 28, but we needed to continue to water so we made our way to the Subway Caves campground just past the Old Station junction.

We were tired but felt good about such a large chunk of progress. Unfortunately, this day did a number on Atlas’ already aching feet. He had had to alternate between his too-small boots and crocs. It was not working out. Someone at the campground mentioned seeing Merrel shoes in the hiker box of the Old Station post office. We were 125 miles away from any place to buy shoes so we decided it was really worth it for him to check it out. And this is when it started to feel like things were unraveling. 

Going to the post office meant backtracking slightly and hopefully getting a hitch the three miles on a very sparsely trafficked road. But slightly backtracking also meant passing by JJ’s Cafe, a very popular hiker brunch spot which we had painstakingly decided to forgo in order to make more miles. But now we had a great excuse to get breakfast!

So Atlas found some hiking shoes (far too big but better than crocs) and we ate breakfast and he ordered some trail runners to Mt Shasta and it was nearly 11 by the time we were back on the trail.  

We had hoped to do at least 25 miles each day of this stretch but that was feeling impossible. We were carrying 4 liters of water to make it to the water cache 16 miles away along very hot and completely exposed trail. And Atlas’ feet were almost no better at all. He felt he wouldn’t be able to keep up so we said goodbye before lunchtime. This was very sad. We lost some time to stick with Atlas but he still couldn’t keep up and all the while we were falling further behind a Sunbeam and Frosty. 

Louise and I made it to the water cache in a very sorry state and took some time to  recharge. We left, aiming to do 5 more miles and camp at the next good spot. We did exactly this, finding the perfect spot to camp under a tree overlooking a large valley and the beautiful sunset beyond distant Mt Shasta. 

As we set up and made dinner in such a cool spot we were starting to feel renewed excitement about our journey. This day that started a bit hectic was feeling alright when I had an upsetting revelation: I couldn’t find the zippered pouch with my medication. I looked and looked and it wasn’t there. 

I had only opened my pack two times that day. At JJ’s and at the water cache. It must be at the water cache 5.5 miles back I thought. I had taken something out of my pack at the bottom and the little medicine pouch must have fallen out. We talked through scenarios and who we could contact and decided that running back to the cache in the morning would be the fastest way to find the medicine or decide that I needed to get more in the next town. 

At this point we see a headlamp bobbing towards us. It was Atlas! He decided to keep walking. We don’t have much time to chat before going to bed though- we had a plan. 

The next morning I packed up and started running towards the cache before 6. It was odd going the wrong way on the trail but it felt great to be moving without a pack- I had just my phone, a snack bar, and an empty water bottle. In about an hour I was at the cache and the pouch wasn’t there. Weeze and I both had cell service- she had called JJ’s and it wasn’t there. This really didn’t make much sense but I had no more ideas about where it could be so I got in touch with my doctor and got new prescriptions called in to the Rite Aid in Burney, 13 miles from where we camped. I drank some water from the cache, ate the snack bar and jogged back.

By the time I got back and we started moving, the sun was already feeling strong and the air was heating up. After 6 miles the sun was fierce. We took a small break a the first water source we hit- there Atlas told us he wouldn’t be able to keep our pace and was stopping to rest at Burney Guest Ranch, before Burney. For the second time we said goodbye and continued to highway 299 crossing where we waited for a ride.

Realistically this hitch took an average amount of time but in the oppressive heat by the narrow, stark highway with no shade where cars whizzed by without slowing, it felt like we would never get a ride.

But a ride did stop for us and by 3 we had picked up the meds and were eating ice cream sandwiches outside Rite Aid. This is when we learned that Frosty and Sunbeam were in Burney! They had stayed the night and were packed up ready to leave. Perfect! We were ready to go to. 

We had hoped to be able to make it to Burney Falls State Park, 8 miles away, before the store that had our resupply packages closed at 8. Depending on how long the hitch took it wouldn’t be too hard to make it but we were already pretty tired. Sunbeam and Frosty offered to go ahead and get the packages so we wouldn’t have to rush. This worked well as I arrived a few minutes past 8. It took some time to sort through our boxes and eventually we set up our tent and went to bed a bit late in a picnic area near the store. 

With all that annoying stuff behind us we were excited to be traveling with Frosty and Sunbeam and making good miles again. Each of the last two days had been long and exhausting even though we had only done 21 miles. We wanted to get back to the 25-30 range. 

We got an early start out of Burney Falls State Park and were able to do 18 miles by 12:45 before enjoying a long lunch break. Breaking in the middle of the day was pretty crucial at that point as we were in the middle of a brutal heat wave. But we still aimed to do 11 more miles so we did get moving. 

Those 11 miles felt so much longer than the first 18 but eventually I made it, around 7. Frosty and Sunbeam and Louise were ahead of me but when I made it to camp I only saw Frosty and Sunbeam’s things. Oh no. I put my pack down and continued on the trail. Louise had gone to the spot a half a mile ahead. That wasn’t fun but eventually we were set up near our friends eating mac and cheese planning the next day’s miles. Frosty and Sunbeam wanted to get to I-5, 55 miles away, the afternoon of the 2nd day. The next day they wanted to do 30. That was sooner than we planned but we could do that we thought.

The next day, though, I felt exhausted. My knees and feet hurt and I had to really push myself every mile. After 20 miles I was sure I was not ready to do 10 more. 5 miles later, where we had planned to eat dinner, we had to say goodbye to Frosty and Sunbeam. 

It was sad to have spent so long hoping to see friends again and then realize it didn’t work to travel with them. But the next day when it was just Weez and I we felt relief from pressure we hadn’t even realized was there the past couple days. We realized how nice it is to make decisions just based on ourselves.

We walked together the whole day and I took part in Louise’s favorite walking pastime- singing. We sang along to songs we both knew and it really did make the miles go faster. I enjoyed it and Louise didn’t say anything about my off-key warbles so this may become a new thing for us. 

That day we did 26 and got to camp by 6:30. It was so hot, though, that we laid in the tent in our underwear for hours, sweating and listening to sounds of the highway. It didn’t cool down enough to even use my silk sleeping bag liner until midnight.

We were less than 4 miles from I-5 so the next day we were able to get to the northbound on-ramp pretty early. We were very lucky that parents of a hiker were heading north on I-5 after dropping their son off or else we might have been waiting a long time for a ride. And, we learned that they were parents of Squarepants, a friend of ours. 

So we got to Dunsmuir before 8. Our phones were dead so we were looking for somewhere to eat and charge. There weren’t many people around and we couldn’t look things up so all we could do was walk around. After over an hour of walking around we found 3 restaurants that serve breakfast but were closed at that time or because it was Tuesday. One diner, a mile away was open. Walking a mile to get somewhere not on the trail is very annoying but it was a good call. We spent a few hours at Penny’s diner, eating and charging.

After that began our week apart. Louise needed to resupply and get back to the trail and I began my journey to get to vacation with college friends in Guttenberg, IA, a tradition that I could not bear to miss.

This involved many legs of travel. First, I hitched to Weed, CA, with a wonderful woman named Christina who invited me to shower and eat lunch at her house (on a farm) before my Greyhound to Medford, OR. I spent the night in Medford and the next day met up with trail angel Ali who let me stash some things at her house that I didn’t want to fly with. Then I flew to Minneapolis (with a layover is Seattle) and got to stay with Mary Begley and Peter Briggs!

The next day I was in Jack’s car down to IA. The weekend was wonderful, full of my favorite games and favorite people. I got to bake a cake and make pancakes and swim in the Mississippi and go tubing. Eventually Sunday came around and it was time to start the travel back.

On the ride to the airport we witnessed many thunderstorms from afar and even a funnel cloud! It was a whirlwind and I finally got back to Medford at 2 in the morning. I had to scramble to retrieve my stuff from Ali and hitch back to Seiad Valley where Weeze had hiked to while I was gone. I needed to get there before noon in order to be able to do the pancake challenge that day, which left very little time to wait for hitches. Thankfully Lara picked me up from Ashland (in a school bus!) and dropped me at the highway 96 crossing where I got a ride right away from Nels and made it right in time! 

My goal for the pancake challenge was to eat 3 out of the 5 1 lb pancakes. I did this and even a little more! But, as I had anticipated, this feat incapacitated me and I spent the rest of the day writhing and moaning on the lawn of the RV park. Totally worth it though- I beat everyone I know that attempted it. 

After that we continued on but this post is already far too long so I will write about it another time! Now for pics!

Stretch 11, Sierra City to Chester

The last 134 miles have been full of adventure. Maybe our exciting unplanned stay in Truckee the previous stretch left us feeling spontaneous, but we’ve definitely been floating the breeze and taking advantage of every fun detour that came our way.

It started before we even hit the trail. We were standing in front of the gas station with thumbs out, hoping to not have to walk the 1.5 miles on the road uphill to the trailhead in the afternoon heat. Only a few cars passed us by before a couple motorcyclists rode up to fuel up. We had retracted our thumbs. You wouldn’t take a motorcycle hitch, they asked. We looked at each other and shrugged. Why not? So there we were, climbing on the back of Harleys behind grizzled leather-clad bikers. I realized I had never ridden on one and it was quite a thrill! The adrenaline rush gave me a boost during the 7 mile climb that followed.

That night we camped at the first spot we found, a cluster of tent sites around the end of a dirt road. There was water nearby, the view was amazing, and we enjoyed making camp and watching a stunning sunset. Perfect spot. But that night I was having a scary dream and was awoken suddenly to the sound of a revving engine, a yell, and huge round headlights glaring in my eyes. I shrieked. It was 2:30! Someone, probably up to no good, was just turning around on their late night cruise on a middle-of-nowhere dirt road. They almost ran into our friend, False Start, who leapt behind some bushes in his sleeping bag. I think we’ll avoid roads from here on.

The next couple days were beautiful, we were on a ridge for most of it with great views of blue, sparkling lakes below, just far enough that we kept on walking instead of scrambling down. Having to pass by all this water left us itching for a good swim. So when we realized we were approaching the Feather River, said by many to be one of the best swimming spots on the trail, we–Bamm-Bamm, False Start, and I– devised something I’d always wanted to do: a trail zero, or nero. Basically a day where we walk almost no miles and relax on trail. It sounds like a simple concept but most zeros only happen in town when we also have errands to run. Anyway, we planned River Day. And it was great.

Louise here! Yeah there’s not much that I love more than creating an arbitrary holiday, like River Day, and then committing to celebrating it 100 percent. On that day we woke up late (7 or so), walked the four miles down to the river, dropped our packs and waded straight in. Morgan and False Start found our new “home” on the sandy banks about a quarter mile upstream, and there we set up camp, (at 11!). Then commenced the river laundry, crawfish hunting, rock cairn making, and floating, all. day. long. We normally walk by beautiful spots and remark about how wonderful it would be to spend a day enjoying that place if only we had the time… now since our friends are still behind us and we’d like to see them again, why not take our time?

The next day we saw a huge sign on the trail, inviting hikers to stay at a trail angel’s house nearby. So, motivated by that same River Day mentality, we took them up on the offer and ended the day midday, 13 miles in, and had an amazing time getting to know other hikers (in cotton!) and the family who took us in. One youthful Mississippian hiker, Dutch, taught us some “bruh” trail lingo, like “bangin’ out some miles” and “kick some mountains in the face!” Our new trail angel friend Nancy (what a cool woman) reminded us of past trail vocabulary like “mashing miles” and then in a stroke of genius invented “squishing miles” … Morgan, False Start, and I really took to that one. We decided that from now on we would primarily squish out miles, in honor of our new friend Nancy. 

So that day we squished 23 miles into Belden, curious about the whole “rave” situation, and arrived just in time to witness the start of a big hippy party in the weirdest town yet… we had heard that PCT hikers were allowed to be in town during the festival, but in actuality the security guards singled us all out and were quite aggressively trying to force hikers out of the town. The problem is, I’m pretty sure they can’t legally do that, especially since we have PCT permits and the trail passes right through… anyways, despite feeling quite unwelcome at points, the ecstatic ravers were very excited to talk to and meet hikers, which made it worth it to stick in town for a bit. Morgan and I both bought disguises in a vintage clothing bus and snuck back out onto the beach by the Feather River. We spent hours there, grooving to the music, swimming, and sitting on floats… definitely a singular experience. 

On top of that, we got to see White Spot and No Steps, and Radio as they passed through the town! Morgan even reunited with a trail friend from before my time, Linus, and got to catch up for a while. Big hugs were given, it was so nice to see them all again 🙂 

We headed out after the heat of the day had passed and camped a couple miles out of Belden, by Chipps Creek. It was actually good we didn’t go further because we heard from hikers who camped 6 miles away (but not near a water source), that they could still hear the pumping of the bass from the rave. Where we slept by Chipps Creek, all we could hear was the water rushing on and on, like it always does. 

The next day we hiked 27 miles (my biggest day yet, it felt good!), ran into some really great trail magic about 10 or so miles from the official PCT halfway marker, and camped alongside new hiking friends, Munchies, Diaper Boy, Pre-K, Dutch, and False Start who were all excited to celebrate their halfway points the next morning. It’s not my halfway point (I have calculated that I’ve walked 775 pct miles so far), nor Morgan’s (she’s at 1144), but it was really cool to see it and celebrate this accomplishment with them. 

And now here we are in Chester, land of Kopper Kettle Cafe and the Antlers Motel, resting, doing laundry, catching up with friends, blogging ;), and hoping that soon we’ll see Sunbeam, Frosty, and Atlas again too. (PS, a few hours after writing this we heard that Atlas arrived in Chester! And that Sunbeam and Frosty passed us on the trail… so I guess now weee’ve got some catching up to do!)

Stretch 10, Echo Lake to Sierra City

After seven days of enjoying our family and sitting on a couch for long stretches, it was time to get back on the trail, which continues out of the South Lake Tahoe Area at Echo Lake, around mile 1092. Echo Lake is beautiful, the shores dotted with really cool rustic cabins only accessible by trail or boat. We learned that these cabins are mostly owned by the Forest Service, with long term leases to families. And Louise has a friend whose family has a cabin.

So we were incredibly fortunate to say goodbye to our family and spend a night on Echo Lake, and the PCT, hanging out with Louise’s friend Henry, his brother Zach, and their friend Mads. This was super cool. Every PCT hiker walks by those cabins and I bet very very few have gotten to hang out in one.

Late last Sunday morning, after hanging with Henry and fam , eating a leisurely breakfast, reading a magazine aloud, and playing with their dog that didn’t like us, we quit dragging our feet and got back on the trail. We were apprehensive about what all this rest would have done to our trail legs, whether we were still capable of walking 8 to 10 hrs a day and making decent mileage.

Our worries were not completely unfounded. Getting our walking groove back happened slowly, not helped by the fact that the trail past Echo Lake was still far from snow-free. But we were easy on ourselves, setting lower-mileage goals at first. This was great for our legs and because this stretch of trail was beautiful!

Right off the bat we went through Desolation wilderness, some of which was still really frozen over but some of which made me think, maybe the high Sierras would have been this pleasant if they weren’t covered in snow… I couldn’t resist hopping in a lake we passed the first afternoon and feeling unrestrained by the necessary order of conquering terrain in the high Sierras, we decided to camp on top of a pass, because we could. This was a great notion, and I’m still not sure I wouldn’t do it again, but it turned out to be a very poor camping spot. We found a spot to sleep that was slightly sheltered from wind, but the noise kept us up nearly all night.

We experienced our share of good camp sites though. The day after we camped on the pass we aimed to do 17 miles. Shortly before we hit our mark we came across a cooler with ‘PCT HIKERS’ written on it. Trail magic! Inside were the last few of a couple six packs of beer- but not just beer, nice beer. We grabbed a couple and were inspired to make a campfire a few miles later when we stopped for the night. So we enjoyed snow-chilled craft beers by the fire on a chilly night. Thank you Tahoe-area trail angel!

The next couple days we experienced some of the prettiest trail yet. There were two five mile stretches on top of a ridge, paralleling Lake Tahoe and covered with wildflowers, gorgeous views on both sides. The third night we were hiking later to position ourselves well to get into Truckee midday the next day. We passed a marked campsite after 17 miles and were continuing to one 3 miles later when we came across a perfect spot, overlooking a large valley to the west, dusted in evening sunlight. Maybe one of our favorite spots yet.

The next day, the fourth day, we went into Truckee with the main purpose of buying a knee brace. We weren’t originally planning on stopping there at all. The town and its people made such an impresssion, though, that we decided to stay the night. Starting with Mike and Melissa, who gave us a ride from the trail, we experienced such kindness. Bonnie and Joe, who we met in the produce section of Safeway, gave us a ride to the hostel and invited us to hang out with them at an outdoor concert. Here they brought a cool muscle shocking wireless device to help my knees. We had a great time with them. And Joe gave us a ride back to the trailhead. Truckee was a great stop.

The next couple days were scenic like the rest but all that stands out in my mind was one day of snow and lots and lots of muck. I had grown accustomed to the snow but vast ankle-deep mud was new and I did not like.

But Sierra City is lovely, a tiny mountain town nestled in a narrow valley where hikers hang out at the general store and camp behind the Methodist church, likely doubling the number of people in the Main Street area. We have enjoyed a milkshake and sandwich, free cold showers in the public restroom, and cookie bars sent from Mom, and will soon head back to the trail.

Limited photos because of wifi difficulties

Stretch 9, Kearsarge Pass to Mammoth Pass

To describe this section well, I’ll have to start before we left. In the last post, I didn’t talk about the hysteria over re-entering the mountains that had beset all the hikers in Bishop and the whole online hiking community. I didn’t want to trouble you all. Well, there was a bit of a hysteria.

Hiking out of Kearsarge Pass after the first high Sierras stretch I was feeling wearied and a little apprehensive about more weeks of snow travel, but I had no thoughts of skipping ahead. The first inkling of all the hubbub came from a group of hikers headed back in where we were headed out. They had been hiking with different groups during the last stretch. But when each of their groups dissolved, they had spent 4 days in Bishop finding new people to hike with. 80% of people are not continuing, they said. Hmmm.

At the hostel, I could kinda see what they meant. 80% was maybe an exaggeration, but it still seemed like at least half of the already fewer than normal hikers were making plans to skip to other points on the trail. Then, the heat wave happened. This caused staggeringly high temps in the valley, where we were, but more consequentially, unprecedented amounts of snow melt in the mountains. People were saying that creeks were becoming uncrossable- the rangers were telling hikers not to enter the mountains. And, the roads to the heads of the trails that could take us back to the PCT were flooding and eroding and closed to cars. Hiker conversations about going back into the mountains were not just about whether to go or not- they were about how.

Our second night there, we made a feast and for the first time, discussed our plan. We decided we would go back in, knowing that if conditions were as bad as people were saying, we could always turn around. The challenge was getting to the trail. Normally, there was a trail angel who would give rides to the trailhead from the hostel, a 1.5 hour drive. Now, he wasn’t even giving rides to the road to the trailhead because he thought trail conditions were unsafe. So we spent a day hitchhiking from Bishop to Independence, waiting outside the Chevron in Independence for a ride to the start of the road closure, and then walking 7 miles up the closed road to the trailhead. All day got us to the start of a trail still 8 miles (including a pass) from the PCT. This was a bummer of a day. Especially in the heatwave and especially resupplying, when my pack was probably 25 lbs heavier than it had been at the end of the last stretch. Ugh.

We arrived in the dark, maybe around 10. We camped in the gravel parking lot and planned to get going the next morning at 6. Not ideal because we had Kearsarge Pass to do in 5 miles and Glenn Pass maybe 5 miles after that, but we also needed sleep. That next day was brutal. There’s a reason they say to do passes in the early morning. I was finding any amount of hiking hard with the heaviness of my pack, but uphill in slushy snow was very very not fun.

We did take a nice long lunch break, where we all enjoyed a refreshing dip in the mostly iced-over Bullfrog Lake, and would have been over Glenn pass in the afternoon except we started to hear thunder on our way up. No lightning storm ever happened but we waited it out anyway–its dangerous to be on a pass in a lightning storm. So it was late and the sun had already set over the ridge when we did the icy, waist-high crossing of a lake outlet on the other side of Glenn Pass. The land was almost entirely covered in snow, but we found an uneven slab of rock to camp on, setting up the tent, peeling off wet clothes, gathering water from the frozen lake, making dinner, and going to bed as quickly as possible to get some rest for an early start the next day.

That day we had a few creek crossings early on. The first, another lake outlet, someone had reported was waist-deep days ago. We arrived to see someone crossing and it reached their chest. Thankfully, a friend of ours was coming back from scouting and had found a snow bridge 100 yards downstream. Phew. The next crossing, Baxter Creek, was one that people were saying was impossible and unsafe. There were a couple groups looking around when we arrived, all of us about 17 hikers. At one point the creek broke into a few different branches and here hikers spread out, looking for a crossing point. After 15 minutes, a few people had found a large log and threw it over the most dangerous branch of the creek. It was now very doable! A couple hikers stood at strategic points and helped everyone cross. All of us sat on the other side in our groups, snacking and drying for 20 minutes or so. I had the very corny feeling that with our teamwork we could conquer all the crossings.

That afternoon, we encountered another creek, not even mentioned in the water report, that was dangerously fast. It was not safe to cross where the trail hit it. Downstream, it fed an even larger river, and upstream was steep and rocky on both sides. We spent some time trying to put logs over it, but it was too big. Thankfully, Radio came back from scouting and there was a snow bridge three quarters of a mile upstream, with a 700 ft climb and some bushwhacking. Very much not what I wanted to do, but it got us across.

After that, we walked a couple miles and stopped for a very late lunch. I was exhausted, but we had only done 9 PCT miles. I lobbied to camp there, even though we were still 5 miles from Pinchot Pass. We did stay, and I enjoyed a very-much-needed rest.

Most crossings happened like the ones that day–rarely did we ever cross where the trail hit the water. We either found a snow bridge or a fallen log or just walked as many as 3 miles upstream to a place where the terrain flattened out and the current was not too strong and the water not too deep.

After that, the days blur together, a hazy string of passes and river crossings with snow trudging in between. We did Pinchot Pass the next day, then Mather the next, then Muir and Selden, with water crossings peppered in. There were a few forks of the Kings river and Evolution Meadow and the infamous Bear Creek and Mono Creek and many unnamed ones as well. There were a few stretches of trail below 9500 ft where we actually saw trail, maybe 25 miles in total. Those were very nice miles, though they were covered with downed trees and often underwater.

After 8 days we went slightly off-trail to do a small resupply at the tiny store of Vermillion Valley Resort. We spent most of the 9th day here, hiking only a handful of miles in the evening. Finally, on the 11th day, we made it to Mammoth, having accomplished only 115 PCT miles (but oh so many bonus miles).

We arrived in Mammoth the same day that our (real) family was arriving in Reno to vacation in South Lake Tahoe. If there had not been so much snow, we might have been able to be in South Lake Tahoe via the trail by this time, but we are about 190 miles behind and had them pick us up in Mammoth. We are now enjoying a week of family vacation with plans to get back on the trail here, at Echo Lake. I feel its a bit of a shame to skip the last high Sierras stretch after we’ve already done some of the hardest parts, but we want to have the time with family, and we don’t want to go back in the mountains at Mammoth Pass without our group, as there are still some dangerous water crossings in that stretch. If the weather is not too bad in October I will come back to do it this year.

All in all, I am really glad we did that last stretch and am very relieved to have it behind us. In one sense, it is not as bad as some of the hype makes it sound. With the proper gear and knowledge, I never felt unsafe on a pass. And since we reached the worst water crossing in the morning and spent time finding the best spot to cross, I always felt comfortable with the crossings. Its just very tedious and exhausting. Day after day of trudging, climbing, and sliding in the snow; all-day wet feet, in and out of puddles and streams; and worst of all, the lack of control over how we traveled, the need to be walking every day at 5 to do the pass or major stream crossing early and hike quickly while the snow is not yet slush and the creeks are not yet raging to get to a good place to camp to do the next day’s pass or major stream crossing at 5 and hike fast, while… And on it went, exhausting day after exhausting day–yet everyday ground had to be traveled. Because our food would only take us to the next resupply if we kept moving.

So yeah. Re-reading that I realize it came off a bit negative. Which is appropriate because I was feeling kinda negative for a lot of this stretch, but I do want to stress that I also feel incredibly fortunate to have been in the Sierras under those conditions and spent the time that I did with our trail family. It was a really unique experience that I know I will likely remember more positively than how I actually experienced it.

Louise here! I think it is fair to say that this last stretch tested us the most both physically and emotionally, and though some points really left me feeling quite done, I would totally do it all over again. I count myself lucky to have been in the High Sierras with this particular group of people, facing pass after snowy pass and becoming all the more close for it.

So I’ll give some updates on the state of the trail family, because since the last stretch we lost one member, Moonwalker, and gained three more, Shakedown, White Spot, and Monk.

On the long roadwalk back to the trailhead, Moonwalker expressed to Morgan and I that she didn’t feel right about going back on the trail in the High Sierras. Because of the ice axe, crampons, and bear can filled with 10 or so days of food, her pack equalled half of her weight (50 lbs), and she made the point that anywhere else on the trail she wouldn’t have such an crazy weight on her back, let alone on one of the longest and most dangerous stretches thus far. Furthermore, she was worried that the fears she had about water crossings and passes would outweigh all the positive aspects of being out on the trail. (We all started the PCT to challenge ourselves for sure, but at what point do you give yourself a break and say it’s just too much?) It made a lot of sense, but it was hard to hear because I had also been feeling doubts about returning, and seeing her make that difficult decision made me feel even more conflicted. As Moonwalker was telling the whole group of her decision later that night, I was surprised at the group’s response. Atlas and Radio both said that they think deciding to skip was the harder thing to do, and that it shows how strong she is. It is HARD to acknowledge your limits, and make the decision that what’s best for you may not be the same as what everyone else is doing. I really admire her for figuring it out. After lots of hugs and tears shed, we said goodbye, and there was no doubt in my mind that she was making the right decision. It just made starting back on the trail a lot harder, missing my pal.

Shakedown joined us in Bishop when his group decided to split up, and we were very lucky to have him this last stretch. A geoscience human from San Francisco, Shakedown added some very go-with-the-flow vibes which I very much appreciated. On top of that, Shakedown provided us with entertainment by giving constant constructive criticism to Atlas about how he could lighten his pack. See, a “shakedown” is a trail term for getting rid of any unnecessary weight. And Atlas is basically the opposite of that. Atlas takes pride in being more on the ultra-heavy side of things… he brought 44 tortillas on an 8 day stretch, so you can imagine what Shakedown said about that! Anyways, Shakedown is a great navigator, a connoisseur of strange youtube videos (Apple-pen, anyone?), and king of throwbacks (our last night on the trail, he pulled out a “One Hit Wonders of the 1990s” playlist that got us singing angstily and reminiscing about the past).

White Spot is another German friend! He has a hiking partner–a friend from the AT, No Steps– but No Steps fell behind, got injured, and got off trail, leaving White Spot to cross rivers and passes alone… which isn’t really smart in the Sierras. So he joined us pretty early on, and we were glad to have him along. One night Morgan and I were discussing what everyone’s roles would be if we were actually a family, and it was decided that White Spot would be the cool uncle. It helped that I had a dream one night that White Spot was teaching me how to fish. Classic uncle thing to do, right? There was a twist though…We were spear-fishing with hiking poles! White Spot is known best for his high-pitched “Yippees!” and “Woohoohoos!” while glissading down snowy slopes, and for his love of his wife and little baby daughter, whose 2nd birthday he must be back in Germany for in the middle of September.

Last but not least, Monk came to us in the middle of the stretch with a Amish-made wooden staff, vibrams, and a kilt. He is a veteran of the AT, a huge Ohio St. football fan (and thus an outspoken nemesis of Clemson, our family’s college team), and an avid reader of the fantasy fiction genre. The night before Muir Pass, we called Monk over to our damp, deer-poop-filled campground, and invited him to a tea party with the group. It turns out Monk has a corncob pipe too, and Julian shared some of his vanilla tobacco, as we sat warming ourselves by a fire. It felt natural to welcome him into the group, and we didn’t think much about it. A few days into our time altogether, Monk thanked us all, saying that his first few days of the stretch were really negative, and that joining our group had helped him turn things around. So, Monk is a really thoughtful, cool guy and I am really glad that he stayed at our poopy campsite that one night.

Before taking a week of the trail, Morgan and I had to say goodbye to our trail friends, and so to mark the occasion we planned a movie night in our hotel room in Mammoth Lakes. To fully emulate a children’s birthday party, we got movie popcorn, twix, watermelon sour patch candy, reese’s pieces, cookie dough, and soda and laid it all out on the hotel bar. After spending a while flipping through the channels trying to find a movie, The Fugitive (with Harrison Ford) came on and we were glued to the TV until long after hiker midnight (9 pm). I will include some pictures of this so you can get an idea… I think this will be one of my favorite memories of us all together.

Since then (last Saturday) we have been enjoying the slow pace, great views, and outdoor attractions of South Lake Tahoe. Along with a lot of good food, a Harry Potter movie marathon, and general good times with the fam. When we get back on the trail at Echo Lake all of our friends will be a few days behind. Though it feels weird that we skipped a section, I am glad for it because it means we got to spend a whole week with our family, and we can look forward to seeing all our friends  once more as they catch up to us in the coming weeks.

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Stretches 7 and 8

It’s been a good while since our last post and not for lack of happenings to relay. We have just done our two longest stretches so far–Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows (134 miles) in 7 days and Kennedy Meadows to Bishop (86 trail miles + summiting Mt Whitney) in 8 days– without any usable wifi or cell reception in between. So many days, many our hardest days on the trail, and unfortunately this resupply in Bishop has been so involved we have not had the time to describe our journey in usual detail. So here’s the abridged version and as many pictures as I can upload on this hostel’s spotty wifi before we head back to the trail.

The first leg after Tehachapi was one of the dryest we’ve done, in terms of distance between water sources. There were a couple 17 mile waterless stretches and a 35 mile one with two unreliable caches in between. We did 24 miles of this hot dry day in loose sand carrying 5 liters of water to get to the second cache and see how strictly we’d have to ration our water. Arriving at 8:30 there was no water. Bummer. We had enough water to not be dangerously dehydrated but we were thirsty and had to save our remaining 2 liters for the 13 miles the next day. We were making dinner (one of our lunches of packet tuna so as not to use water) when a car pulled in nearby. It was Devilfish the trail angel with water! I’ve received some great trail magic on the trail but this was definitely the most exciting. 

Other things certainly happened on that leg to Kennedy Meadows but after our first taste of the high sierras past stretches seem paler in comparison. This year has been a crazy year for planning a PCT hike. The conditions are requiring gear that usually is not necessary- ice axes and crampons. And many people are skipping until later this year.

But we decided to give it a try, entering last week loaded down with all our new gear and 8 days of food in a group of 9 people. The fist couple days there was no snow and we were able to do 17 miles, still difficult with the weight of the packs and gaining lots of elevations. After the second day we stayed above 10,000 almost the whole time. After that, we were slowed down in terms of mileage but each day felt like a huge accomlishment.

There’s a few things that make travel difficult right now. First, and what causes everything else, is that there’s so much snow. Miles of travel through sloped forest where we’d see scant patches of trail between 15 foot high snow banks. Or vast sun cupped snow fields. Or terrifyingly steep mountain passes covered in snow. It is now warm enough that the snow is soft and it takes immense amounts of energy to travel over it. And it makes it so we often can’t travel on the trail. We wind around snow banks and boulders and downed trees and check our phone gps often to make sure we’re not too far off track.

The big thing right now is the stream crossings. The snow is melting and sizable streams are monstrous and small streams are still not trivial to cross. We have to do every large crossing as early as possible in the day to get it when the water is lower and even then take time to scope out a safe spot to cross.

Both of these difficulties, snow and streams, are best handled earlier in the day so we must wake up to get going on some days as early as 4:30 and push to make enough miles, getting to camp between 1 and 3 without taking any major breaks. This is mentally and physically exhausting. 

But we are in the most beautiful part of trail we’ve seen yet and are seeing amazing things. On the 5th day we got to Crabtree Meadows and summitted Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. Two days later we went over Forester Pass, the tallest point on the PCT at 13,153 ft.

Louise, here! In other news, I have a trail name now. It’s Bamm-bamm! Apparently Morgan thinks my love and excitement for many kinds of rocks and boulders makes me a child of the Stone Age. 

Another think that is important in the Sierras is grouping up, or in thruhiking terms, forming a trail family. We’ve got a really good one, so I’ll give a brief description of each person in the group. We started out with nine, but Hitch and Woodstock were traveling at a different pace due to a knee injury, so we became 7 two days after leaving Kennedy Meadows. 

First we have Frosty and Sunbeam, a newlywed German couple who are hiking the PCT as maybe one of the coolest and most long honeymoons ever. Frosty is tall, blond, and had a corncob pipe sent to him in Kennedy Meadows… thus the name Frosty. It’s also a perfect name since Frosty melts in the sun, and his wife Sunbeam is such a bright light on the trail and in our crew. Frosty is a huge person and could go really fast, but at the most crucial points on trail, he decides to walk in the back to steady and support some of the less experienced hikers like Moonwalker or myself. Sunbeam is SO amazingly fast and strong too, and I think it’s really inspiring to be along with such a strong woman on the trail.

Moonwalker is closer to Morgan and my age and is hiking the trail alone. Though she is physically pretty small, she is SO strong. It’s so cool to see her facing fears of water and pass crossings day after day, and it helps me to face mine as well. Moonwalker is best known for her great ability to snack, her love for her dog back home, and her love of being the caboose. 

Radio is known on trail for his radio-announcer voice, but more specifically in our group, for his speed. Radio is most likely to be at camp three hours before Morgan, Moonwalker, Atlas, and I, having gone fishing, taken a nap, and already eaten lunch. His speed is so helpful during periods of heavy snow navigation, because he can walk with a phone in one hand, poles in the other, and keep from slipping on the snow. 

Atlas just might be the first Hungarian to complete the PCT! Atlas is known for the ungodly size of his pack and his insatiable appetite, and also his relaxed, kind attitude. Since Morgan studied abroad in Hungary, she has been excited to relearn and learn more Hungarian, and so she and Atlas have a language lesson every night. 

Our apalogies, these photos are in no particular order.

 

Stretch 6, Agua Dulce to Tehachapi

We were told before the start of this stretch that it was known as one of the least scenic and hottest portions of the trail. Huh. We’ll see, I thought. I always hear stuff about each section and I try to leave my expectations broad.

The first day started with two miles on the side of a lightly-trafficked paved road which, for a very short stretch, serves as the Agua Dulce’s main strip. This was not to return to the trail. That was the trail. It goes straight through Agua Dulce. 

I have not read an extensive history of how the PCT was pieced together but I imagine it was quite a task. The last time I flew across the country I looked down periodically and was struck by how nearly every flat spit of this huge country shows signs of human use. Over what was probably Montana or Wyoming little dirt roads would split valleys and branch and end at the base of low barren mountains. Considering this, that even the most vast and desolate places in the contiguous United States are marked and divvied up for human use (and over 60% privately owned, even including AK) I almost can’t believe that a continuous path between Mexico and Canada that barely uses roads can exist. 

With that in mind I am not in the least bit bothered by road walking. In fact, the civilization stretches get me a little excited. They remind me that I am not just on a long wilderness vacation, I’m walking across the country! I’m sure though after days of road walking my enthusiasm would wear off. Pavement takes a toll on the feet. I traveled for a few days with a man who hiked the PCT in 1977, long before it was officially completed. back then, most of Southern California was road walking. He would marvel at each stretch of trail and point towards the dirt road or highway that he had used 40 years ago.

Anyway, that’s all to say that I’m incredibly grateful to the PCTA for the remarkable 18 inch dirt highway they’ve created. Which we rejoined when it materialized on the side of a road 2 miles past the center of Agua Dulce. One mile later we were out of sight from the houses and farmed fields and could no longer hear tractors. 

We would have planned to walk a full day- and at this point a full day is 18 to 20 miles- if it weren’t for the placement of Casa de Luna, a renowned trail angel house, 24 miles ahead. If we did the whole thing, we’d get in late and tired without time to enjoy the magic. So we did about 15 miles, just enough for Weez to reach her 100th mile and camped at mile 469. The next day, 8 miles and we were enjoying ice cream and Gatorade at the gas station by Casa de Luna at 10:30, with the rest of the day to relax.

After Casa de Luna, I began to see why this section had a reputation. The next 50 miles were very hot, mostly without shade, buggy where there was shade, and dry. What got me, though, was that it yielded nothing new. Traversing and climbing and descending similar small mountains, looking out at the same view of the Mohave, the same dirt and brush and burnt trees all around… Until now at least a new plant showed every 10 or 20 miles. It’s ok though because we were approaching one of the most novel sections of the trail yet.

Around mile 515 the trail descends the Angeles mountains for the last time before it clips the corner of the Mohave for about 20 miles and enters the Tehachapi range. For most of those 20 miles, it follows the Los Angeles Aqueduct. This ironically waterless 17 mile stretch is so infamously hot and shadeless that most people do it at night. 

We arrived at the last water source before the aqueduct the evening of the 4th day. Since the forecast for the next day was cloudy and unusually cool, we decided to start early the next morning rather than night hike. I knew that it would probably get hot and boring eventually but I was excited. I had experienced very little flat trail and definitely no aqueduct. I knew this would be the kind of section that would give me that excited I’m-walking-across-the-country feeling. 

Oh and it did. Rather than me using words, you can look at the pictures and gather what the aqueduct looked like. Most of the time, a road half paved, half dirt. And I might have gotten bored except that we started walking with another pair early on and spent most of the time making friends. 

When we got to the water source 17 miles into the day, a faucet courtesy of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, we had plenty of water left. And with the clouds and the wind, we were even kind of chilly. And very tired and hungry. We found a spot out of the wind to put our groundsheet, ate some delicious hummus cheddar tuna wraps, put on our puffy coats, laid down very full and cozy, and a half hour later opened our bleary eyes realizing we had fallen asleep. And then… we felt rain drops. Unbelieving we looked up at the overcast sky. But we’re in the Mohave, I thought. Nonetheless, the rain came down and for the first time we used our umbrellas for rain rather than sun. 

After a few hours we rallied enough to go 6 more miles to the next campsite. I haven’t mentioned yet that we had already entered a wind farm. Well, we continued through this wind farm. And it was very appropriately very windy. Hold-onto-your-hat wind. Hard-to-walk straight wind. Tear-the-contact-out-of-your-eye wind. Yep, my contact flew out of my eye. But It was ok because we were walking through a wind farm. Dozens of massive, magestic, alien structures towered around us, blades tirelessly swooping down. It sounded like wind whistling around buildings and many planes flying above. 

That was only the first wind farm we encountered. The next day we came across an even larger one after topping the mountains. By the time we reached highway 58 14 miles later I felt I had my fill of walking through wind farms.

I’m very pleased to be in Tehachapi now hosted by an incredibly generous trail angel. I picked up my first set of resupply boxes sent by Cameron (thank you!) which contain 7 days of food for our next 136 mile stretch and another pair of trail runners! Which I sorely need, mine have so many holes they are nearly better sandals than shoes.

Anyway, there’s much more to tell, there’s always more to tell. Maybe Louise can fill in some gaps.

Louise here! This past week we have encountered some really generous trail angels. Casa de Luna is run by the Andersons, renowned for Hawaiian shirts, taco salad, pancakes, bandanas, and painted decorative rocks. As soon as we arrived, we went through an informal orientation, picking out our favorite Hawaiian outfits from a large rack of bright clothes and following our guide around the winding property to find a campsite nestled in the backyard jungle. We soon found the painting table, decked out with every color of acrylic paint you could imagine and brushes of every size sticking up out of cloudy cups of water. Each of us painted two rocks (these “rocks” are broken up slabs of cement) and got to place them anywhere on the property. Morgan made puzzle and pancake-themed rocks, and I made a moustachioed man as well as a colorful, more abstract-type rock. 

That night we had to dance for our bright red PCT bandanas, which were complete with hitching directions “Town to Trail,” “Trail to Town,” a map of the PCT, and listed mile-markers for each stretch along the trail. So if someone didn’t already know that they were headed towards Canada, they could figure it out from these handy bandanas! 😉

The first leg of the hike leaving Casa de Luna the next morning was hot and steep, but I was determined to test out my limits and try a 20-mile day. We were successful, and slept that night at a campground 20 miles out with trail magic! A hiker who is currently off-trail healing from a knee injury was visiting her partner on-trail and brought oranges, chips, salsa, water, and beer for all of us. So we didn’t have to hike up a hill to refill our water, and we ate fresh oranges as the sun sank down over the horizon.

The next two days we hiked 20 and 23 miles, amping up my hiking speed and keeping up with our new friends, but also causing some pain in both my arches and Achilles. As a result I take stretch breaks quite often, and I’m hoping that the problems will fade in the coming days and weeks. Luckily two of our new friends are doctors, so we can ask them questions about useful stretches and get their opinions if either of us begin experiencing new pains of any sort. 

Right before getting off the trail, we camped under some trees at Willow Springs Rd and were lucky enough to receive trail magic from a man named Legend. Morgan had met him before, 400 miles ago, and knew the drill. Legend lives in his RV and trail angels all-day-everyday. He is known for his spaghetti dinners and can you guess it . . . Pancake breakfasts! He will stay in a certain location for about 2 weeks, feeding and getting to know each hiker that passes through, then he moves on to another location further up the trail. We might be seeing Legend again in Kennedy Meadows or further on down the line. So we really have been dining in style, thanks to Morgan’s well-thought-out resupply boxes, and the generous trail angel community. 

Lastly, the trail angel we cannot forget is Fran, who picked us up at Hwy 58 and has welcomed Morgan and I into her home for the past two days. She knows everything there is to know about Tehachapi, and brought us to the Cesar Chavez museum and monument, along with the famed Tehachapi Railway Loop. She took us to the post office not one but two (!) times, and has crushed us in Jeopardy both nights. Morgan, my feet, and I are very grateful for the rest, and are excited to head back to the trail, packs stuffed with food (including our mama’s amazing ginger snaps!), at 6:30 in the morning. 6:30 is not too far away now, so we must be heading to bed. We’ll catch you in Kennedy Meadows next week if all goes according to plan! 




Wrightwood to Agua Dulce, Stretch 5

For me, this stretch stood out for its stunning views, steeper ups and downs, and of course, hiking with Louise! Hiking with someone else is different. Everything must be agreed upon, even if just implicitly. How many miles to go, how fast, when to break, how long, whether to camp near others. Decisions I didn’t know I was making before. This takes just a little extra energy every step of the way, but the payoff is great.

Before all my response to everything happened internally. I marvel at the views, the way the light hits the flowers and the grasses shimmer in the wind. I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m tired, I’m content. I meet people and make judgements. I think about what to cook for dinner. I rejoice that the creek is not dry. I remember stories and places and people from different times of my life. All in my head.

And that’s not so bad. None of it needs to come out. But it is nice to have someone to share it with. Especially my sister.

Traveling with Louise has brought about a couple changes and revelations in particular. Before Louise got her first taste of cowboy camping, I spent a couple nights in a tent with her. Of course I’d camped in a tent before, but it felt new again. It was luxurious to be in a space closed off from the dirt and bugs, but it made it harder to get up and going in the morning. Very important when it can get unpleasantly hot by 9. It’s a good option on particularly cold nights or if it rains.

Also shoes. At every lunch break and when I make camp I take my shoes off and pour out what looks like a couple tablespoons of sand. My toes are caked with dirt. No one else that I’ve traveled with accrues dirt quite like I do. I thought it must be my shoes. But Louise and I have the same shoe in the same size. And her feet do not get as dirty. I must accept that it’s just me.

Footprints are often very visible on the trail. A friend who caught up to us and did not know Louise had the same shoe as me said she thought I was just taking tiny steps. Walking behind Louise the last day of the stretch it occurred to me that if I step my left foot to the left of Weeze’s right footprint and my right foot to the right of Louise’s left footprint, it might look like one person was hopping the whole trail. I got caught up trying to step in this way for some time, at the expense of noticing the scenery. I hope I’ve confused someone.

Ok, a bit about this stretch. We started around mile 369 and made it 85 miles to mile 454 in 5 days and 4 nights, hiking about 17 miles a day. The first day we gained 3000 ft up to the top of Mount Baden Powell, at about 9400 ft- the highest I’d been so far. Kind of a tough introduction to the trail for Louise, But she powered through like a champ! From there we could see everything- mountains of the past, including San Jacinto (~200 pct miles back!), mountains yet to come, and always to the east, the brown and orange and tan Mojave.

We traveled through Angeles National Forest, making our way towards the desert. One day we did some road walking to skip 4 miles of trail housing an endangered species of frog. A couple days we spent dodging the dangerous poodle dog bush, a distint looking plant with a very distinct smell that can give you painful burns. The last couple days we were right on the edge of the forest. Green mountains to the left and brown to the right. Finally the last day we descended into the dry ‘western’ looking landscape, particularly novel and stunning to me. We pretended we were in WestWorld. 10 miles before town we hit the Acton KOA where we took a luxurious 3 hour break, eating ice cream and showering and doing laundry and sitting in chairs.

Now in Agua Dulce we are staying in ‘Hiker Heaven’, a trail angel’s home that acts as a sort of hiker hostel. The name is apt. I’ll let Louise describe it more.

Hello everyone! Louise here, reporting from a comfy 20 ft long couch at Hiker Heaven. I don’t know if I can be as concise as Morgan has been, but I will try!

Hiker Heaven is run by a very generous family-the Saufleys- who have been welcoming PCT hikers to stay on their property for twenty years. The Saufleys’ amazing commitment to helping hikers has become legendary, so on the week leading up to our arrival, ‘Hiker Heaven’ was on everybody’s lips. And it lives up to the hype!

Arriving in town yesterday, we heard there was a shuttle every hour from the grocery store to Heaven, and so we waited till the next shuttle came along. Fifteen minutes later,  23 of us piled into a pickup truck–almost, but not quite their record if you can believe it!–and then Morgan and I had to go through a quick orientation. We were introduced to the expansive property, including among other things the laundry tent, the internet tent, the sewing/repair tent, a shower area, a post office, and a sprawling lawn covered with about 40 hiker tents, chickens, dogs, cactus, and even a horse corral!

We’ve met so many interesting and kind people here, including (drumroll please) two other pairs of siblings!! In a quite ridiculous fashion, last night Morgan and I found ourselves sitting in a circle with two blond German brothers and two dark-haired and bearded brothers from Michigan, around our same ages. I don’t know how much we’ll run into them in the future, but it was really sweet to share that short bit of “family time” on the trail.

In other news, Morgan has a trail name now! I bet you could guess what it is too… Pancakes 🙂 And in true Morgan-fashion, she ate two orders of chocolate chip pancakes and a leftover blueberry pancake from my plate, making a total of 5 pancakes for breakfast. And a friend just gave her another pancake, so all-in-all it’s been a good day!

Lastly, I must mention just how patient Morgan has been with me this past week. I was really struggling in the first few days to feel steady… really my heart felt like it was going to explode! But Morgan has been very understanding and helpful and a really good foot-taper and cook. Actually, right now, Morgan cooked up a pan of spinach cornbread and is giving it out to lots of hikers. She’s got a lot of skills and passions, and I can say that we’re all benefitting from her care!

Stretch 4 and the Arrival of Louise

The day I left Big Bear Lake I made my first wildlife friend. The most relaxed lizard I’ve ever met was sunning on a picnic table by a water spigot a couple miles in. He initially gravitated towards my friend Funkle but was perfectly content to lounge on my hand as well.

That night and the following day were very cold. I was cozy at night in my bag and bivy but hiking didn’t quite warm me up. I had my hat and mittens on the whole day. That night I camped near Picnic and Twinkle Toes and we made a fire. 

For the rest of the of the stretch I tailored my pace to accommodate 4 events. Spending some time soaking in the Deep Creek hot springs, getting to the Cleghorn picnic area (where pizza can be ordered) in the afternoon, hitting McDonalds during breakfast menu hours, and of course, being in Wrightwood for Louise’s arrival. 

I would reach the hot springs 15 miles into the third day, which, if I could do 5 or 6 more miles after, would put me in a good spot to reach the pizza spot (20 miles from the hot springs) in the afternoon. Then, if I could do at least 5 miles after pizza, I could easily make it to McDonalds (14 miles from the pizza spot) by 10:30 the next morning*. Then I would have two days to finish the 27 miles to Wrightwood. *I know that McDonalds has all day breakfast but the menu is limited and they often don’t have biscuits.

I had hot springs on my mind from the very start of the third day. 6 miles and the trail crossed a ravine holding a decently sized creek. Aha! Normally I would have gotten in a body of water that large but I knew the hot springs were 9 miles ahead so I waited. The trail started following the river, traversing the ridge 200 feet above. I saw a sign. ‘Deep Creek’ I would be following this for 9 miles. Those 9 miles were truly a test of my resolve. The sun beating down on me stepping stepping stepping across the stones and dirt all the while sounds of cool gushing water below. If Tantalus was a PCT hiker he would forever be walking this stretch.

And the hot springs delivered. The creek continued as usual and very hot water flowed from a few places in the banks. People had cemented rocks together to create hot tubs along the creek. So there were still large deep pools of cold water to swim in. I spent a few hours here, swimming and soaking, eating and doing laundry. 

But the pizza spot was calling. I packed up and walked onwards, 5 more miles till the ravine opened into a large valley. Here before sunset I could see a huge spillway and the silhouette of power lines on the horizon. We were nearing civilization. That night we found friends camping on an island in a tiny creek and made camp as light disappeared. 

The next day I spent hours traversing brown, recently burnt hills looking out on some farmland and ahead to cloud shrouded mountains. Eventually the trail touched down and joined with paved sidewalk and road before back through some lush brush and trees and opening to a large lake! I found a nice picnic spot by the shore and undertook a perfect break. Swimming, eating, napping, and catching up on my journal. Before walking 1.5 miles and eating half a pizza. Man life is good. 

McDonalds in the morning was thrilling. I had set out and camped the night before with a friend I’d made at the hot springs. We were 7 miles and change from McDonalds. An early start and we arrived before 8:30. First coffee, orange juice, pancakes, and an egg and cheese biscuit. Then more orange juice, pancakes, and another biscuit. 

By ten there were at least a dozen other hikers. McDonalds was an exciting thing in itself, but it was also the last water for the next 25 miles, uphill. I set out with two others by 11:30, carrying 6 liters. We passed under the highway through a tunnel, across railroad tracks, and began to climb our way past civilization.

That morning I had woken to the most frozen condensation on my bivy and bag I’d yet experienced. Sheets of ice. So had most everyone who’d been at McDonald’s that morning. We took a nice afternoon break to dry everything and steel ourselves for the 5000 ft climb and 20 miles remaining to Wrightwood. We certainly wouldn’t finish it that day but we hoped to make it 12 miles.

Oh man what a bear it was! The longest switchbacks ever. Never particularly steep but unrelenting. I was really feeling all the extra water weight. Much of this stretch was recently scourged by fire and the trail was eroding, a slightly less slanted line across a steep steep hillside. A falter could be fatal. We had been overly optimistic and only made it 8 miles, finally camping on a dirt road as the sun set.

Wrightwood has been pleasant. I’ve had some pancakes and most importantly Louise arrived today! She is falling asleep next to me now. Tomorrow we set off on her first day. Here’s a bunch of pictures.


Stretch 3

Walking out of Idylwild there was already a couple inches of fresh snow and flakes were coming down in big clumps. 2000 feet of climbing and my shoes were sodden, my feet and hands were frozen. After the grade evened out I wasn’t able to move fast enough to keep warm so I decided to make camp after only 6 miles. Frozen fingers doing my best with the tarp and in dry clothes in the sleeping bag asap.

I hadn’t seen anyone except a day hiker at the start so I was glad when a friendly Czech woman walked by and made camp near me. Petra is not a PCT hiker, she was on her last couple days of a months long tour of many American parks. We ate together in our little shelters, dinner under my tarp and breakfast in her tent. We shared our food and I felt I was feasting! I had been conserving fuel but Petra had plenty. Hot tea, hot soup, hot oatmeal, and real cheese and real fresh fruit! 

What a treat on an otherwise bleary night. The snow had subsided and the sky cleared as the sun was setting- enough to see some lovely pink and orange hues behind the frosted trees. Good, the weather is over I thought.

Not so. After I got cozy in my sleeping bag, the wind picked up. My tarp was not taut enough because it would catch a big gust and fall, making a sound I imagine is similar to a sail catching wind. All night. Even after it stopped snowing big clumps from the trees would fall else I would have done without. Twice a gust of wind pulled a corner loose and the whole thing flapped around me letting in snow. The second time instead of resecuring the line and stake I just pulled out all the guys lines, put the tarp directly over me, and tucked it under my sleeping pad on all sides. It still made an awful sound and I still did not sleep but I stayed warm enough and dry enough that I never felt unsafe.

After breakfast with Petra I was glad to me moving the next morning. Putting my feet in my frozen trail runners was not fun, but after 20 minutes of motion I was doing great. It was a clear day- looking out at miles and miles of views rather than a white wall- and everything looked magical with a coat of fresh snow. 

The snow did make for slow hiking. Not being able to see the roots and rocks below me I had to step cautiously, and no one had made tracks ahead of me so following the trail was difficult at points. All well worth it though. I knew that soon enough, likely later that day, I would be back on the dry dersert-y setting I’d gotten used to.

Sure enough, that afternoon I was able to lay out my stuff to dry over dry orange rocks under warm sunbeams.

I only covered 20 PCT miles those first two days but that was fine with me. I had decided to do shorter days after Idylwild- 20 miles tops. It had been fun to do big miles but I was risking injury and there’s absolutely no rush. Quite the opposite- if I get to Wrightwood before Weeze, I’ll just be waiting around. It did mean saying goodbye to my speedy friends though.

On day three I finished the long descent  into a large valley bisected by interstate 10. Buzzing power lines, houses, trains, cars, and towering wind turbines- what a contrast to the peaceful winter wonderland of yesterday. In the interest of slowing things down (and of putting quesaritos in my belly) I made a little detour to the Taco Bell 6 miles west. It took a little while to get a hitch each way but even so, I was back on the trail by 1:30.

5 more miles, past the wind farm, and I was once again surrounded by a stunning landscape. You’d never know that just over the ridge 18 wheelers and SUVs and sports cars and trucks were barreling down a concrete ribbon. As always, the landscape was new. Every 20 miles things change. Here it was wide open, lowly vegetated rolling hills. Or mountains.

That night, of the third day, I made it to the largest body of water I’d seen- the White River. I camped at the White River Preserve, a lovely outdoor area mostly for day use. There I met some more fellow hikers and was treated to trail magic by Legend- former hiker and full time trail angel. Pancakes for breakfast (:

Somewhere on this stretch, the hiker hunger hit. They say it takes your metabolism a couple weeks to catch up with your activity. The first ten days, I wasn’t particularly hungry, even after hiking 30 miles. Hiker hunger turns you into a calorie churning machine. Hiking or sitting, if a couple hours pass without eating it feels as though my stomach is a pit. 

On day four, I crossed water large enough to sit in twice. Of course I got in both times. This day was great- gorgeous views, hard climbs, lush scenery, and talking and resting and soaking with new friends.

In the last couple days I passed through forest recently affected by wildfire, undertook some rocky ups and downs, soaked up some stunning views, and continued to meet more hikers. The fifth day I could often see San Jacinto’s snowy peak in the distance- beyond mountains and valleys. It was crazy to think I’d freezing up there just three nights previously. 

Getting into Big Bear was exciting. I hadn’t had my thumb out for a minute when a sheriff vehicle pulled over on the other side to let a hiker out. I asked him if he would take me back to town. Yep, all who could fit he said. I rode in the back of a cop car for the first time, crammed in with two other hikers and out packs. The sheriff was lovely and dropped me at the place he assured me had the best chocolate chip pancakes in town. The Grizzly Manor has the largest pancakes I’ve ever seen. And delicious. I may go get more now.

First here’s some pictures. I’ve tried to put them in order but it’s hard on this little phone to make it just so.

Stretch Two

Both my strong desire to get out of the heat of the desert and the lure of a zero* in the lovely mountain town of Idylwild had me speeding through the last 42 miles to the Paradise Valley Cafe. Oh boy were they a rough 42 miles. (*a zero is a day in which you hike zero miles)

I thought sleeping in the lawn of the Warner Springs community center among dozens of other hikers might be noisy so I hiked a mile and a half down the trail after the sun set. Some more cows and some lovely dusky colors above the mountains and I found a large sandy flat surrounded by grasses to roll out my bivy. Perfect. 

Except I kept hearing noises. Id never been spooked by noises camping alone in the past but that morning a local told me that the area held mountain lions. Surely I was just hearing jack rabbits but even so I became tense at every sound. I slept very little and at 2 when I realized that my bag was gathering condensation I was done. Better to hike without the sun anyway.

So I undertook my first night hiking. A bit spooky at first. The desert sage looked like a ghost plant reflecting the thin light of my headlamp and small animals rustled the brush around me as I passed. I regret passing through what I’m sure was lovely terrain in the dark.

The rest was visually spectacular as the beginning probably but with extreme heat, weariness, and a growing pain in my knee I did not appreciate it quite so much. Often looking at the views I would see a small line crossing next ridge hundred of feet away and groan a bit inside. 

Arriving at the Paradise Valley Cafe was thrilling. During the 15 mile hike there in the morning, Isaac made up a lovely country tune about heading to the Paradise Cafe and added verses along the way. That and the tenacious flowers which still persisted in the arid climate got me through.

Idylwild has been great. I slept 9 hours last night! We made salad and quesadillas and strawberry shortcake for dinner and pancakes this morning. Mike’s aunt took us out to lunch today. Tomorrow I will head into the San Jacinto mountains to see my first snow but right now enjoying much needed rest.

Again, a smattering of pictures probably not in the right order. Enjoy!