Stretch 15, Fish Lake to Elk Lake

Before Louise and I even arrived at Fish Lake we had scrapped the plan to make it to Sisters by the eclipse. That decision became moot as we learned that the trail was closed starting at Elk Lake, 50 miles before Sisters, due to fires in the Three Sisters Wilderness. We still had a lot of options to consider. Getting to Elk Lake before the eclipse would require nearly a week of consistent 30 mile days. Something I know we are capable of but it would not be fun- certainly not how we wanted to spend our last days on the trail together. And even if we made it to Elk Lake, we still wouldn’t be in the range of the total eclipse. And we didn’t want to brave the roads (even by hitching) the day of or night before the eclipse.

We decided not to make it anywhere special for the eclipse- we’d see it from somewhere on the trail, still very close to totality range, without any hubbub. And then we would make it to Elk Lake and from there to Bend where we’d eventually split.

Super. Once we had this long-term plan figured, we could focus on the trail (and closures) directly ahead of us.

***Bamm-bamm!***

Morgan and I left Fish Lake, 2 useless left shoes strapped shamefully atop her pack. We planned to take our time during my last week.. make it to Crater Lake and and eventually Elk Lake in no rush.

We were 30 miles from the last exit point before the Blanket Creek fire closure. How most people were getting around it: taking the Sevenmile trail for 2 miles, walking on a forest service road for about 5.5, then 4.5 miles on a very sparsely trafficked road running straight between cow-dotted fields to Ft. Klamath… all that before even getting to the highway 62. The day of the detour we had 8 miles of PCT to do before the junction. We made great time, cruised past the Sevenmile junction and down the forest service road. As we walked between the vast ranches, able to see miles ahead down the straight paved road, Morgan put on Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumors, and it felt like a soundtrack of some film about an adventure starring us.

When we finally hit Ft. Klamath and consequently the highway, Morgan and I decided to grab snacks at Jo’s Motel. Her organic cafe had a surprisingly varied selection of fancy foods and drinks from around the country. We got little cups of ice cream and some fruit. Morgan loves mango and I love watermelon, so we each emerged holding our favorite fruits and plopped down on the picnic tables outside the motel.

***Pancakes***

Some hikers with a purist philosophy about the trail were intent to walk the whole detour, including the 14 miles on highway 62. We were not so stringent. We stood outside the motel with thumbs out for maybe 30 minutes while cars drove by.

We decided to start walking. A few more minutes of cars flying by and I was losing hope of getting a hitch. I mentally prepared myself for some road walking, suncreening my nose and ears, and of course this is when a car pulled over.

We’re headed to the National Park, I told the driver. Hop in, he said. We met Greg, a ranger at the park on his day off. We really hit the jackpot here. Ranger Greg turned out to be not just a clutch hitch but also a gracious host for us in the park.

He took us to a great viewpoint on the way in, then to the general store for a small resupply, and then was gracious enough to let us shower, do laundry, cook dinner, use wifi, and sleep in his apartment! On top of all that we were fortunate enough to have arrived on the last night of the Olympic Games put on by he and some friends who work at the park. We got to meet and hang out with more park employees and even participate in that night’s event- the beer mile.

The next day Greg was nice enough to take us to the post office so I could send home my left shoes and then to the start of the Crater Rim Trail, a much more scenic alternate to the PCT for about 10 miles. Normally most PCT hikers would be using the Rim alternate anyway, but this year everyone was as this section of the official PCT was closed from the Spruce Lake Fire.

The Rim Trail was open but the fire was still near enough that smoke blanketed the area. Despite that, the view across the lake was breathtaking. We couldn’t actually see the other end of the lake but it looked mysterious that way. Perhaps because of the smoke, few people hiked the Rim Trail, after a mile past the Rim Village we only saw other PCT hikers. We took our time and made camp early, shortly after the trail stopped hugging the rim.

The next day we realized that the eclipse was happening in the morning of the 21st and we would only reach Shelter Cove Resort, where our mom had sent a care package with goodies and eclipse glasses, if we started really movin’. So we did 31 and 28 miles the next days to give us the whole morning before the eclipse to do the remaining ~10 miles to Shelter Cove. We made it in time and got to eat cookie bars made by mom and watch the eclipse through our glasses with a bunch of other hikers.

We hung out at Shelter Cove most of the day, as long as we could and still make it the 9 more miles to the Maiden Peak Shelter, an awesome hut that functions as a ski lodge in the winter and is open for anyone to use in the summer.

We got there a bit late but with some light remaining. Someone was leaving the hut headed towards the woods. We only saw the back of him, but we thought we recognized Rhino, who we hadn’t seen since VVR, before Mammoth (over a month earlier!). As we neared the hut we heard a voice with what sounded like Ladybug’s distinct Swiss accent. Yes! Ladybug, Arvid, Lydia, and Rhino traveled together in the high Sierras, at nearly the same pace as us for a couple weeks. Arvid and Lydia are brother and sister from Germany, maybe our favorite sibling pair.

We entered the cabin and sure enough, there they were. It was so fun catching up and their brother sister banter is ever-amusing to us. After much talking we decided it was time for bed. We climbed the ladder to the loft and set up our sleeping pad and bags, making two lines of down slug-shaped lumps.

After the solar battery powered lights went out we laid in the dark, finding comfortable positions and maybe a couple of us dozing off when we saw a headlamp light shining through the windows. A minute later the door opened. All we could see was a light shining in our eyes, but we heard a , ‘Hi’ in Atlas’ Hungarian accent. He caught up!

It was late so he shuffled around in the dark and eventually joined our line of down lumps in the loft. I’m the morning we took our time before leaving, learning all about his travels and sharing our own.

Elk Lake was an easy day and a half away. So the day we left the shelter was Louise’s last full day on trail. We made it fun- stopping to pick as many berries as we pleased and ending the day after only 23 miles because there was a pretty spot by a pond.

The hike to Elk Lake went by fast with Louise at the helm- she booked it. We surpassed the standard 10 before 10 benchmark doing 10 miles before 9:40- even though we got a late-ish start. Louise loves those morning miles…

Stretch 14, Seiad Valley to Fish Lake

When the pancake challenge ended and I emerged from my overstuffed belly haze I was, for the first time in a while, not committed to being anywhere specific at any time. For so long our schedule had been built around me being able to get to friend vacation and then, making it to the pancake challenge. We needed a new goal, something to plan our daily mileages around. This wasn’t hard as there were a few events coming up to work around.

Louise was planning to get off trail towards the end of the month and the moon was going to pass in front of the sun around that time too. Sisters is a town near the trail, just inside total eclipse range, that we could reach by Aug 21 if we kept a pretty good pace, averaging 25.5 miles a day. We thought this would also be a nice place for Louise to end her hike, and we liked the name. We knew that there were a number of wildfires in Oregon that could affect this schedule but fire and closure statuses were changing so often that it didn’t make sense to take those into account too far ahead of time.

With our vague plan, we set out to commence the long notoriously steep and exposed climb out of Seiad Valley. Perhaps because we were both well-rested, the climb was not as bad as we excepted. We looked at tentsites at lunch and aimed for 24 miles. Great.

Early in the afternoon, though, the skies began to darken. We started to feel drops climbing up switchbacks towards a ridge. Rain! Besides the slightest of drizzle we encountered briefly in Southern California, this was our first rain on the trail! It was actually exciting. Then there were rumblings of thunder that got louder and louder until the sky sounded like it was cracking open. By this time we had found some tree cover to wait it out. The storm blew over, but we would have to walk late to make the 24 miles.

But as the afternoon wore on, the skies darkened again. We heard rumbles. We had barely gone 20 miles but we decided to take the next tentsite we could find. We found a level spot on a saddle under a tree and set up the tent as fast as possible. We were just inside and set up when the rain started coming down. This was a much bigger storm than before. For more than an hour it rained and thunder cracked and we could see the entire sky illuminated pink and white through our tent. We had mac and cheese and hot chocolate. This was actually a really fun and cozy night.

The next day we exceeded our mileage goal with 28 miles and passed into Oregon! The following day we reached Callahan’s Lodge around noon, ready to grab our box (with new shoes!) and a meal and continue on our way. 

At Callahan’s I took my phone off airplane mode and received a text, Should I send the box to Callahan’s Lodge today? And then I realized I hadn’t given my housemates an updated schedule for sending boxes and it was still in Seattle. If the box was just food we would hit the grocery store in Ashland and head on our way. But this box had new shoes and ours were ragged- the mesh torn in many places and the soles wearing very thin. 

We decided to get the box sent to Fish Lake Resort, 55 miles down the trail. Because of the weekend, we estimated it would take 4 days to get there so we would have to have to take some unplanned rest time. I needed to learn more about fires, closures, and detours ahead so this would give me that time. And, of course, we needed to catch up with the blog. We planned to stay the night, camping in the lawn of Callahan’s. 

That night though we learned it would actually take the package 5 days to get to Fish Lake. Hmm. Lots of unplanned rest time. Our hopes of keeping to the getting-to-Sisters-for-the-eclipse plan were slipping away. Not entirely a bad thing because that schedule had been starting to feel oppressive, but we would have to come up with a new plan.

But there was plenty of time for that. First, we had some catching up to do. That afternoon we heard from Sunbeam and Frosty! They were in Ashland and were planning to stop by Callahan’s that evening to claim their free hiker beer before getting back on the trail. 

This reunion was so joyous. Amidst the dim lights and over the strumming and pleasant croon of the live music act, we sipped our Oregon craft brews, exchanged stories, and shared information about who we’ve seen and if they’re ahead or behind. Well past dark, Frosty and Sunbeam needed to get on their way. Again we said goodbye, this time not so sure we’d meet again on the trail.

The kitchen was closing very soon and Louise and I decided to get dessert. With very few other patrons remaining, we sat at the bar and at our peanut butter pie and creme brûlée. We talked to the bartender and the singer once his set had ended. Louise wanted to know if he knew In Other Words. He did. She had been really missing a good sing and he obliged to play for her.

She sang that one. And then Blue Moon and Fly Me to the Moon and Dream a Little Dream of Me. It was beautiful. Louise loved a chance to sing and John really liked her voice. He wanted her to sing with him the following night. We hadn’t planned to stay that long but in light of the package taking so long to get to Fish Lake, we decided we could afford the extra day there and this would be fun. 

So we stayed one more day. We did a lot of blogging. I learned all about the Blanket Creek and Spruce Lake Fires that would be affecting us most immediately. And that night Weezie sang! We left the next day, having had a much more eventful time at Callahan’s than we expected.

The 55 miles to Fish Lake were mostly easy and uneventful. The last 6 miles we walked on trail expertly built atop endless shards of volcanic rock. Finally we got to Fish Lake, the day before our package was set to arrive. It was a pretty quiet place which was nice but hardly deserved the title ‘Resort’. Hiker camping was free and the diner-style restaurant was not too overpriced. We learned that UPS usually doesn’t arrive until 6 so we hunkered down to spend a night and full day there. 

The milkshakes and veggie burgers were great. There was no cell service or wifi, so I was a little annoyed I couldn’t get any updates on the fires, but it was nice to just hang out in the tent by the lake. Finally, after 24 hours there we were eating dinner, our package to arrive any minute. 

UPS came and we rejoiced. Weeze looked through the box while I checked scanned the store for a couple last minute supplies. She came up to me while I was checking out with amusement on her face. ‘Did you look at the shoes yet?’ No.

She brought me over and held them up. It took me a minute to notice that 3 of them were left shoes. We just looked at each other. It wasn’t even that upsetting at this point. Just funny.

Louise’s shoes were in sorrier shape than mine so she took the complete pair, and I strapped the two left shoes on my pack to carry them to the next post office. And we set out, planning to detour the Blanket Creek fire closure (in the south of Crater National Park) in 30 miles.

Stretch 13: Dunsmuir to Seiad Valley (home of the Pancake Challenge)

Hello, Weezie here! For about a week I was hiking solo in the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountain Wilderness, Russian Wilderness and Klamath Park areas… here’s a little overview!

Though I’ve been on the trail for a few months now, it was definitely a shift to hike alone. I had actually really been looking forward to this week, as a time to walk and sing and choose my own pace… not to mention having the 2 person tent all to myself 😉  There were also some technical considerations to be made: should I go stoveless?  What should my mileage goals be? Should I try night-hiking because of the recent heat wave? 

I ended up hiking stoveless and found I am actually quite suited to it because of my deep love for tuna. Each day for lunch and dinner I would have a Starkist tuna creations packet with sliced cheese and crumby fritos, ramen, or goldfish in a tortilla. This thruhiker creativity emerged in other food concoctions as well. I learned one day that I could pour peanut m&ms and chocolate-covered sunflower seeds (thank you Aunt Fran!) in my half-full Nutella jar, stir it up, and make a “protein-filled” Nutella dessert to last the whole week. 

Most everyone around me was hiking late into the night to escape the heat of the day. On my first day, the climb from I-5 was brutal. It reminded me of Charleston parking lots in August… except there was no air-conditioned Harris Teeter at the end of the sweaty walk. Just more climbing and what ends up always making the climb worth it: a breeze and a beautiful view. 

I wanted to night-hike. I thought it would be easier to zone out and make miles for sure, but I also thought it could be an opportunity to see what creatures are out-and-about while I’m normally sleeping. The more I thought about it though, I realized I would be too easily spooked, and I didn’t want to find myself in a situation where I couldn’t find a spot to camp or was frightened, alone, and walking in a never-ending line in the dark. 

So I started waking up real early. I was out walking with a headlamp by 5:30 the first four mornings, and it was so worth it! Not only were the sunrises gorgeous and nuanced and entertaining, but I also felt that it’s just easier to make miles in the morning (I do all my best work before I am conscious enough to realize it). The first three days I hiked 18, 20, and 18 miles before noon, setting me up quite well to do bigger days (overall I averaged 28.5 mi/day!) and way surpassing my intended average of 24 mi/day. These bigger days were exhausting, but they allowed me to catch up and keep up with a bubble of hikers I really enjoy and arrive in Seiad Valley a day earlier than I’d hoped, getting a zero day while waiting for Pancakes to arrive. 

On the day I walked 20 miles before noon, I had an extra fire burning in my belly because I also hit my 1000 mile mark after 17 miles! On that day I did 31 miles before 6:30 and camped in a nice flat spot nestled into the side of a ridge near Boulder Lakes. There was even a spring nearby where I could wash my socks before bed (otherwise they turn crusty and hurt to put on in the morning)!

Part of the reason I was so energized that day was because I had really great company. I caught up to our friend Squarepants saying farewell to his parents after 7 miles, then we walked together till we saw Finesse, Dusty Roads, and 2can all just starting their days. While I set up camp that evening they all stood above my tentsite lamenting the 10 more miles they had to do before calling it quits for the night. Squarepants began discussing the pros and cons of getting a hiking goat…. Eventually they said goodbye and headed on their way. 

On the fourth morning I left the Etna Summit trailhead around 5:30 and after 6 miles or so, I ran into White Spot and No Steps! I had been planning to get to Seiad Valley in three days (two 25 mile days and a 6 mile walk into town), but decided instead to join them and do it in two. It was really nice to spend more time with White Spot and get to know No Steps better during those two days. I think I got some of my best photos of the week during my time with them (you can see them in some photos!). All of the smog from CA and OR fires made for beautiful morning light, especially in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. 

The last 20 miles or so were all downhill, and the final 6 consisted of a road walk into the valley. Road walking really sucks. Many of my toes are already numb (The official hiker term for it I’ve learned is “Christmas Toes” because you only begin to regain feeling in them around Christmas :/), but the rest of my feet really suffer on the pavement. They became throbbing knobs of flesh that I just had to ignore for a while. Luckily tons of blackberry bushes on the sides of the road provided me with ample distraction. On top of that, I was motivated by the prospect of seeing Sunbeam and Frosty again (and hearing about Frosty’s attempt at the Pancake Challenge), and other speedy hikers I hadn’t seen in a while. 

That night and the next I stayed on the lawn of the RV park and ate delicious vegetarian-friendly food at the local cafe. I said goodbye to many friends while waiting for Morgan to arrive, then I spent the rest of my time laughing at and documenting Pancakes’ pain (like a good little sister does) during and after the Pancake Challenge. 

These pictures get a little mixed up, but you get the gist! 

First morning on my ownPorcupine LakeSo many beautiful lakes on this stretch!Squarepants, Dusty Roads, and Finesse discussing the possibilities of hiking with goats..
White Spot

Smog in the valleysWhite SpotCrossing the Klamath River

Entering townSeeing other sibling pairs!

What’s up Doc?” (Frosty and Sunbeam)

No StepsSmog smog smog, could smell it everywhere.

Near Etna Summit trailhead Before Hitting the road and Etna Summit Trailhead.

Some recent firesBefore!!!

While she still felt good

Oooof, the third pancake nearly took her out.

The morning after..
The trail log upon entering Oregon. 

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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