Our Belgian bro embodies what a zero day should look like.
Repair our gear
Relax our bodies
Rehab our ailing feet
Repack our bags with more food
Our Belgian bro embodies what a zero day should look like.
Repair our gear
Relax our bodies
Rehab our ailing feet
Repack our bags with more food
We are now three months and 1500 miles into the trail. Having past the midpoint, we've really hit our stride. This is no longer the adjustment period. This is living it. We are seasoned hiker trash and we are loving every minute of it. In my opinion we look like sporty, homeless people.
Note: Around mile 900 or so our merry band dissolved. Between the Euro Party wanting to watch their respective countries' World Cup matches and shin splints our schedules simply shifted. Assuming we catch back up to Quinoa and Half'n'Half, we will absolutely make a new visual update for them.
As it stands, we have been ebbing and flowing in and out of other groups. We decided to include our current crew as an example of these hiker trash at a moment in time.
To the first couple that gave us a ride in San Diego without us ever even sticking out our thumbs, we thank you.
To Girl Scout, who put us up for a night and made sure we got to the southern terminus, we thank you.
To Ziggy and the Bear and their foot baths, we thank you.
To the Saufleys and their well oiled machine of a trail angel stop, we thank you.
To Coppertone and his ice cream floats, we thank you.
To the Anderson's and their most generous hospitality and cooking, we thank you.
To Dianne, who gave us an epic RV hitch and beer on top of that, we thank you.
To anyone who ever gave us a hitch anywhere, we thank you.
To anyone who ever left us trail magic, we thank you.
Were even the most pessimistic or cynical of people to hike the PCT, even they would doubt that all the good from the world is gone. There are so many amazing people out there. I've been running into them every day for the past few months as I walk this footpath. The PCT can amount to an astounding adventure no matter how you do it, but I will never stop being thankful that we experienced the kindness and selflessness from so many different sources along the trail.
To anyone that has touched our lives in a positive way as we walk our way to Canada, you are all trail angels in your own way, and we thank you.
We came. We saw. We conquered. Sort of...
I've been keepin myself busy. Writing. Photos. But I'm trying something new, more to come (iPhone video editing may not be the easiest thing). Check it:
Alas, the Sierra have come to an end. I enjoyed the totality of them so very much. The second half of the Sierra was not quite as daunting as the first half, but it still posed it's challenges. More than anything though, I continued to gawk at the beauty of the landscape surrounding us. Less snow, more forest, more meadows and, unfortunately, more bugs. The advent of mosquitos on the trail sucked, but we tried to not let it ruin the beauty that surrounded us. The lush meadows and increase in greenery keeps you grinning all day. It's all quite humbling really.
Hiking in the high Sierra requires climbing mountain passes - also they are part of the PCT. Passes offer new challenges - timing our climbs around snow conditions, river crossings and distance to the next pass or campsite from the summit.
Forester Pass, officially the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail at 13,153 ft, was the first hurdle (although it's way bigger than a hurdle). The day before our band of thru-hikers had climbed and slept at the summit of Mt. Whitney so we approached Forester tired, but primed and ready to gain altitude again.
We camped four miles before Forester so we could gain the pass and descend in the morning, before the accumulated snow could be softened by the early summer sun. If we descended too late we risked postholing - when stepping on soft snow, you sink, a disaster as one leg becomes trapped up to the thigh in melting ice and snow and your body and pack crash off balance. It may go without saying, we have become well aquatinted with postholing.
We wake and pack quickly, each knowing the day brought new challenges. The approach to the pass was incredible, ice and snow fields like nothing the PCT had shown us yet. I passed waterfalls, frozen rivers, even caves, and I gazed upon the roughly hewn mountains wondering which our little foot path of a trail would force me to climb.
In the distance I saw Pedi at the base of a snow covered mountainside. I could make out Half and Half part of the way up the snow and talis. Quinoa was no where to be seen. I had finished the short approach, walking dazed and awestruck by the beauty of the Sierra. Now my focus was directed in front of me and upwards. Time to climb.
the ascent wasn't difficult, the snow crunched as I kicked steps for myself. Seconds later I had found steps kicked by other hikers and well compacted. The snow was plenty firm, progress was quick. Pedi and I were moving fast, we knew the Europeans were just ahead and we were excited to catch up. The snow turned to rocky switch backs, shear drop on one side and ice wall on the other, I couldn't imagine a better start to my morning. We gained the last switch back. The final hump to the top was covered in ice and snow, deep foot steps were kicked to make the last steps less risky.
From the top, our view of where we had come from was breathtaking. All the distance we had walked in the past week we could see from Forester - an odd feeling when those miles earned with sweat, some pain and many hours would soon be out of sight, left there for the next adventurer. With a turn I looked to where we would descend and drank in our future. Snow fields, icy lakes, deep valleys, and mountains that cut into the skyline like wild claws - the Sierras are a beast and Forester was like a gateway into the belly.
We snapped some pics and laughed, as a group we were excited and proud and happy to be facing new landscapes. Then we got ready to descend.
Going was quick on the hard snow fields. After cutting a few switchbacks we made it to our first glisade. Was it necessary? No. But it was a blast. As an FYI, glisading just means sledding without a sled using something as a break - we improvised with our trek poles.
The descent took longer than we thought it would and the snow started to get soft. After a short section of post holing we made it to a clear area. We were beat, soaked and ready for lunch.
After the snowy section we hiked into what seemed like the Forbidden Forest from Harry Potter. Giant trees, rushing river, shear granite canyon walls and waterfalls all over the place. We were hiking for Kearsarge Pass so we could resupply in Bishop, CA (not a huge snow covered pass, but still a climb). Getting to town for a meal after the snow was a perfect end to our first pass in the Sierra.
People have not infrequently asked me what I miss about the "real world." When you exclude people from that answer, it gets hard. I obviously miss friends and family, but things not so much. We adapt to our surroundings incredibly well, and I rarely found myself yearning for some material possession. Even food wasn't a big deal. Sure, it would be nice to have a fancy meal, but we cook hot meals and manage to get along just fine with the food we have.
Then, in one resounding moment of resolution, I had my answer. We had heard tale of a home-cooked meal at the Muir Trail Ranch, a mere 2 miles off trail, but were crushed when we arrived to find a locked gate and a closed sign. By that point we all felt defeated and needed food, regardless of its quality. While sitting around outside the gate eating ramen an adorable dog came through the fence to hang out. That dog lifted my spirits as much or more than any burger could. It nuzzled us and wandered around doing dog stuff. Its curious, friendly nature makes me instantly smile. Animal companionship is such a beautiful thing.
I miss my dogs.
Yosemite. Oh Yosemite. You have shown me things I could previously hardly have comprehended to be real.
Walking into Yosemite was nice. An easy meadow lead to a little store with a burger. A juicy, savory burger can brighten any hiker's day. Our crew had decided to finish out the last leg of the John Muir Trail, which consisted of an extra 22 miles down to Yosemite Valley, a place famous for its beauty. On our way down we decided to stop and take another detour to climb Half Dome.
Few experiences in my life have compared to the adventure that was climbing Half Dome. For starters, it's hard enough to be a good workout but short enough that, as a thru-hiker, it wasn't exactly exhausting.
About 200 yards before the peak you encounter these cables at waist height going up the rest of the peak. You have to pull yourself up what I would guess was a 70 degree incline the rest of the way. Not recommended for those with a fear of heights, but I had a blast.
As we reached the top, my jaw dropped. The splendor we witnessed on that giant granite peak was mind blowing. The high Sierra had been gargantuan and and awesome. Yosemite, however, was majestic. Golden hour is like this whole new thing from up there. To top it off, there were a couple a climbers on the peak's face a mere 50 ft from the top. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement.
As we descended Half Dome and then further into Yosemite Valley the next morning the awe had not worn off. I hope it never does.
We hike a lot. All day, every day. 20 miles per day. It's both exhilarating and awfully monotonous.
We are part of the herd. Well, maybe the pre-herd. We are still in a bubble of hikers. Because of the distances between water and the placement of campsites one often finds oneself camping with a larger group. Luckily all the people that flow in and out of our bubble are great people. On this particular afternoon we rolled nine deep into a pretty sweet campsite. Nobody messes with nine hikers.
j/k, people are actually repelled by our stench.
The exception was a gracious couple that pulled off the highway and unleashed a maelstrom of happiness and calories in the form of trail magic. Never before had I experienced multi-course trail magic. First came the sodas, then the clementines, then the candy bars and finally the fruit pies. Our gratitude towards people with such kind hearts cannot be understated. Seeing that couple pull off the road put smiles on all our faces. No amount of 'thank you's' can express how much that magic means to us.
As much as I love sharing scenic views from the trail, most of life for a PCT hiker is walking, camping and spending time with hiker friends. These are the simple moments.
To some of you who live in civilization, this may seem a bit uncouth. To us hikers, there really isn't such a thing.
Back in Bishop Quinoa bought a pack of toilet paper and generously gave a roll each to Dan and I. Dan turns to me and says, "Hey, I've got an idea. I bet you I can make this roll last me until Oregon."
Ha. HA! Oregon? We got back on the trail right before mile 800. California ends just before mile 1700. That's 900 miles on a single roll of toilet paper. Lunacy I tell you.
"The loser has to buy a case of beer for the group." Dan adds.
"You're on." I replied without hesitation.
Who doesn't love free beer?
He is allowed to use other toilet paper when we are in towns/taking a zero.
He is not allowed to borrow from other hikers on trail.
He is allowed to use alternative methods such as pine cones and moss to wipe. (Let's be real, if he manages to extend that TP through the use of "natural alternatives," he's earned it)
Ohhhhhh, the things we do to entertain ourselves on trail.
I occasionally think of myself as a competent photographer. While landscapes and haven't always been my thing, it's hard to walk through these scenes and not try to capture or document them. I thought it had been going OK, but when we got to the high Sierra, something happened. I found myself wholly incapable of capturing the world around me in any decent sense. This is not to say that I'm rehearsing a sense of self-deprecation on a blog, but rather to say that the scenery here is so amazingly grand I'm at a loss. The photos that had previously looked as if they accurately and somewhat eloquently represented the views I encountered now appeared dull when compared to what lie before me.
The world that exists here is like none I've ever experienced. Not even close. In a word, it is rewarding. The nights are bitter cold and the sun beats down in the day. The altitude makes your lungs burn and your heart pound. But everywhere you look there are towering mountains, endless streams, waterfalls, lakes, valleys and forests. Each element is so immersive, so extraordinary. The Sierra really makes you work for it, but holy crap is the payoff sweet.
I hope this gives you an inkling of the feeling it gives me to be in its presence.
There are quite a few big passes up in the Sierra Nevada. About one per day for a week or two. They are the highest points on the trail and are usually both preceded and succeeded by snow. Yes, there's a drought in California and yes, it's a low snow year, but we're up here pretty early in the season. There may not be a ton, buts it's here and it's changed the feeling of the hike tremendously.
One of the biggest changes the snow brings is navigating. Previously, the trail was easy to follow. Nowadays, not so much.
The last stretch of desert before the central California section of the PCT is a doozy. We loved hiking through some exotic and interesting wilderness so far - remote desert, burned forest, high mountains - each treated us well except the wind farms.
The farms were smattered across our path from day 30 - day 36, almost the end of the Southern California section. We had nearly reached the Sierra Nevada mountains, but the desert wasn't done with us quite yet.
We arrived at a strange pit stop called Hikertown on day 30. The owners had a large garage they had converted into a hiker hang out, but they had also constructed what seemed to be an old west town. I mean a line of small shops, post office, a little city hall, and even a little jail. All these constructions were around 3/4 scale - large enough to enter, but not full size buildings. Oh, and the owners use the jail as a chicken coup. An interesting place, but they had ice cream, water and a place to get out of the sun because after Hikertown we had to cross the Mojave.
In the evening of day 30 we left Hikertown. We walked along an aqueduct overnight to cross the Mojave Desert - it was a long flat stretch that would have been unbearable during the day due to intense heat and sun. After that it was the wind farms. Our night hike placed us right at the beginning of a cluster of turbines. Innocent, clean, white and a symbol of renewable energy, at first I thought they were elegant.
That first night I realized what could be obvious about hiking and sleeping by wind turbines: extremely high winds, we rarely found great shelter, and water sources were many miles apart. Great way to ring in our first month on the trail.
On day 32 we hiked through some of the largest wind power installations in the country. Luckily we made it to a highway so the four of us could hitch into Tehachapi to get more food. Also, the nonstop 40 mph gusts might have driven me insane. A couple trail angels helped us get to and from town, they took us to the restaurant they owned, called the Apple Shed, and told us stories about Tehachapi (incredibly kind, interesting people). Then it was back to the wind.
On day 33, Quinoa was nearly blown off the first mountain we ascended as we left Tehachapi. I was getting tossed side to side with each step. I thought I was going to break a trekking pole as I used them to cling to the rocky trail. We slept in a ditch using our packs as windbreaks. The gale force winds stole Pedi's hat. As we crossed the Tehachapi valley we were beginning to leave the desert, but it felt like the desert wasn't finished with us.
The trail angels from Tehachapi informed us we had reached the transference region - where two mountain ranges met, separated by Tehachapi Valley. This signified a kind of boundary between the desert (San Gabriel Mountains) and the Sierra. The ending of Act 1, of sorts.
On day 34 we climbed in altitude and saw the high Sierra in the distance. We were getting out of the constant wind and dryness. Our group of four was excited for what was coming.
Day 35 was hot; we had to gain elevation while hiking in wind and loose sand. Still the turbines seemed to haunt us. Finally as the morning wore on we had reached Walker Pass, and even though it rained we were only two days away from Kennedy Meadows, our last resupply before the high Sierra. Also of note, we met (The) Yogi, kind of a PCT celeb as she was getting ready to cook pancakes for thru-hikers at Walker Pass.
Day 36 we climbed Bird Spring Pass and had two more days to the end of the Southern California section of the PCT. Our destination was Kennedy Meadows. We hiked 25 then 27 miles days with ever-lighter packs, inspired by what was coming. As we arrived in Kennedy Meadows the Central California section started, we had completed over a quarter of the trek.
The desert has come to an end. As we hiked our way up into the Sierra Nevada our jaws dropped at the beauty we saw around us. We haven't managed to pick our jaws back up yet. 60 miles later we found ourselves at the trail juncture that would lead us up to the top of the tallest peak in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney. At 14,505 feet, it's a doozy. There are an endless number of ways to "do Whitney," and we thought it would be cool to ascend in the afternoon to see the sunset, sleep in the Smithsonian shelter at the summit overnight, watch the sunrise and then descend that morning.
Sleep didn't come too easily, but what do you expect at 14,000 feet sleeping head to toe in a small hut? No worries though, we kind of expected that. It was worth it.
The morning was bitter cold and windy, but nothing could dampen our spirits as the sun began to rise over the eastern Sierra.
Then our friends started showing up. One by one, Bomber, Siesta, Butters, Cheese, Midway, Barbie, Freedom, Friendrik, Washpot and Baggins reached the summit, each of them having started in the wee hours of the morning. We all crammed ourselves back into the hut to celebrate the reunion. Soon enough, however, it was time for us to head back down the mountain.
The views were awe inspiring, completely breathtaking. Or was that the lack of oxygen that was breathtaking? Who knows. It was astounding. But enough of my jibber jabber. Why don't I show you.
Almost immediately and instinctively you start noticing other hikers' footprints on the trail. You figure out the shape of each comrade's footprint and can easily ascertain who is in front of you. Having a unique shoe-print helps, but you pick it up either way.
When we all (my group of four) started this trail, we each had a different pair of shoes. Two kinds of Solomons, a pair of La Sportivas and some Asics. It made discerning one another's footprints a breeze.
With more than 700 miles between us and the Mexican border we have all moved on to at least our second pair of shoes. And now are all wearing the same model of shoe: Brooks Cascadias. By far the most popular shoe on the trail, each of us fell prey to the allure. Nearly every person I saw with them would receive the question "How are you liking your Cascadias?" as if I'd receive some sort of new answer. Unanimously, people swore by them.
Boy do I love these shoes. People were right and I couldn't be happier, mostly.
While the shoe itself feels wonderful, my whole crew now bears the same footprint, along with a ton of other hikers on the trail. At this point, I cannot tell who is in front or who is behind, only that I am on the PCT and that people are indeed in front of me.
We're part of the crowd now.
There are lots of ways we catalog memories from life in a physical sense. That's how we get memorabilia. I've loved seeing how PCT hikers create their own memorabilia to look back on later in life. Obviously, for me it's a photo narrative. For Kyle though, it's autographed baseballs. He has each thru-hiker he sees at trail angel houses sign a baseball. When the ball is full, he's sending it home and getting a new ball. What a cool way to capture a piece of each thru hiker to reminisce about down the line.
The desert is so many things and has so many varieties. There's low desert, high desert, hilly desert, sandy desert and on and on. It's not as glamorous as snow covered mountains, but we have given much of our lives to it of late.
Now the desert comes to a close as we ascend up into the Sierra Nevada. The mountains look grand and beautiful.
While I have loved my time on the PCT thus far, it has not been without its trials and obstacles. Mostly they have come in the form of pain from either blisters or leg strain. Some of this was unavoidable, but perhaps others might have been of my own doing. It seemed like I had two modes: injured or I WANNA GO FAST. I was either trailing behind my group with a nasty limp or I was full speed ahead leaving them to play catchup. The past few days have been good lessons in being steady. I can feel the Sierra looming. Gotta stay healthy.