We enjoy city luxuries, but we appreciate them best when they are the exception, rather than the rule.Read More
We, the dirty hikers, who own naught but what we carry on our backs, who walk everywhere we go, stand in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of Auckland.Read More
The Northland was a bit of a logistical nightmare at times, but it had also had some crazy highlights. Here's our "best of" for the Northland.Read More
After Ratea, the Northland opens up. The logistics up here can be daunting, but they have their upsides, too...Read More
Let's get muddy.Read More
So, when you say you like long walks on the beach... exactly how long were you thinking?Read More
Basically we had a choice: wait another day in Auckland or hitchhike 6 hours north.Read More
We leave tomorrow! Here’s some final thoughts on planning, preparation, and the insanity of international adventure.Read More
Jonathan decides to test his endurance in the Flatirons by attempting 14 long scrambles in one day.Read More
This November, Jonathan and Molly embark on a 3000km thru-hike of New Zealand’s Te Araroa. Read on to learn more about our next epic adventure!Read More
Spring is in the air and Dan shares his latest adventures, along with a sweet lil discount code from Boulder company, Red Ace.Read More
The captains strap on their crampons and learn to ice climb at Colorado’s Ouray Ice Festival.Read More
The Captains of Us are back in action! This August, Jonathan and Molly will undertake another crazy adventure: attempting to fastpack the 485-mile long Colorado Trail (CT) in just 14 days.Read More
Molly gifts Jonathan an extra-special adventure for his 28th birthday: a 3-day backcountry skiing hut trip.Read More
If you have been following Dan and Jonathan's blog since its inception, you may remember a certain red-haired tagalong who started popping up about halfway along the PCT when she and Jonathan hiked a double marathon together (the *real* one). 900 miles later, there she was again, photobombing their monument pictures. When the boys realized that they hadn't booked a ride back to STL, it was Ms. Frizzle and my Magic School Bus on loan, who came to the rescue. (Or at least, that's sort of how it happened...).
After leaving these fine fellows in St. Louis, I drove back to Vermont to live off the fruit of my parents' table for a few months while splitboarding the East's finest backcountry. You might say that a life of free rent and powder refills sounds pretty good. And it was. But I just couldn't leave these guys alone.
Somewhere along that 900 miles, I fell in love with Jonathan and to my delight, he agreed to go on another crazy adventure in which we moved from our respective homes here to Boulder, CO to play in some really big mountains. Daniel even moved out to Golden, CO, just down the road, putting the third wheel back on our PCTricycle (Or is that me?).
I've shared a lot of great stories with the Captains of Us, and I may pop up once in a while to tell a story or two when these clowns are taking themselves too seriously. I think its realistic to say I outrank them.
-- Major Frizzle, reporting.
THE REAL STORY:
The natives call these mountains the "14ers": the 54 peaks in Colorado above 14,000ft in elevation. There are websites, even an app, dedicated to the pursuit of summiting the whole set. Since arriving in Colorado in April, Dan, Jonathan and I have collectively summited 10 of them, but this past week, Jonathan and I got a little ambitious and decided to do a few more. Ok, a lot more.
Taking 4 days off, we decided to attempt a route through the Sawatch Range developed for a challenge known as "Nolan's 14". This challenge, that some insane athletes complete in under 60 hours, goes up and over fourteen 14ers by the most expedient possible route, which can vary slightly depending on who you ask. On average, to complete the challenge, you have to cover between 90 and 110 miles and do 44,500ft of climbing, or, about 3.5 times the amount needed to summit Everest from Base Camp. Much of this is off-trail route-finding and, as we soon discovered, much of that is scambling over sketchy, loose scree at 13,000ft. Check out the details of the route here.
No problem. We have 4 days and we're in good shape, right? Right?
On Day 1, we wake up to a frosty car window and put the alarm on snooze for a few more moments in the relative warmth. It is cold already at 9,500ft, but we start up the trail and we both feel strong as the sun comes up. Mt. Massive is the second highest peak in Colorado, the largest contiguous area above 14,000' in the U.S. and our first challenge of the day. Instead of taking the Class 1 trail up this rockpile, the route takes us up the shorter North Ridge, a steep Class 2 scramble. Huffing and puffing up the last few hundred feet we see someone heading down toward us.
"Wow, he's moving fast!" Jonathan exclaimed. The guy was wearing a running vest and was jogging off-road down the slippery rocks. When we came up to one another, he asked where we were headed and we explained our plan to hike the Nolan's 14 route. The guy grinned. He said, "I'm just finishing up!"
"Actually," he continued, "I think I'm about to set the speed record!" His GPS was at 51 hours. We asked him his name. Sure enough, when we got home there it was "Andrew Hamilton breaks speed record on Nolan's 14". Check out Andrew's website here for some inspiration.
Back to us, we had just barely made it to peak #1. It felt great. And look at that view behind us!
On to the next! Peak #2 is Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in the Rockies, at 14,433'. Usually known for being one of the easiest 14ers, it turns out that Elbert has a dark side. (Its the west one). Instead of cruising up Class 1 trail on the East Ridge, which would add lots of mileage, we ran down the back side of Massive, hiked up a 4WD road to the West Ridge and proceeded to climb 3,000 vertical feet over 1 mile of extremely loose, football sized rock-missiles. Do people really do this during a speed attempt?
Nearing the top and closing in on 8,000ft of climbing for the day, we were working for that summit. (read: I felt like I wanted to die). It even started snowing on us: Happy Autumn! Suddenly, we heard someone cheering us on. I heard Jonathan say: "They're so close! There's someone on the summit and they're so close!" Motivated, we pushed onwards to the summit.
At the top of the Rockies, we enjoyed a new view as our cheering squad erected his "BEER HERE" flag and cracked a tall boy. His friend was wearing a "DRINK WATER" sweatshirt and did not take photos with the flag, although it sounded like he had probably carried it for most of the hike. Mr. Keystone Ice told us it was his first 14er. (Yea... we know).
Jonathan and I were pretty wrecked after that climb and as we ate our summit snacks, we both realized that we were burning through food way faster than we had anticipated. We wouldn't have enough for even two more full days of snacks, and looking at the maps, we also realized that the best, and maybe only, opportunity to hitchhike back to the car for a resupply would come on Hwy 82, right on the other side of Elbert. So, we changed our plans.
It got dark as we finished our descent to the highway and we cowboy camped near the road, talking about our changing expectations. Before we left, we'd been impressed by the athletes who completed Nolan's 14 in just 60 hours. After just two peaks and just under a quarter of the elevation gain required to complete the route, we were astounded. After about 13 hours, covering 22 miles and over 8,000' of elevation, it wasn't that we were behind schedule. We were just ready to sleep. Soundly. Not do another 40+ hours of hiking.
Instead, we had a great night's sleep, and woke up to a beautiful morning. Did I mention that it's autumn in the high country? The aspens glowed that morning, amber against the sunrise as we walked down the highway, waiting for a hitch.
Highway 82 is a direct route to Aspen, so after a stream of dapperly dressed folks in Priuses drove past without flinching, a pickup truck was a welcome sight. An older gentleman pulled the truck to the side of the road and motioned for us to hop in the back. Hooray for pickup hitches!
After two easy hitches, we made it back to the car, drove into Leadville and concocted a new plan over delicious coffee at City on a Hill Coffee & Espresso. New plan: Hit La Plata Peak (#3) that afternoon, then drive south to hit the two southernmost peaks the following day.
La Plata was a steep hike, but the trail was relatively easy-going and the weather was gorgeous. We were sore from the previous day's hike, but we made it up to see another mind-blowing view.
It was an uneventful evening, but we had fresh food waiting at the car, so we were in great spirits as we drove south to the Angel of Shavano Trailhead, close to the southern terminus of Nolan's 14.
I wasn't feeling great the next morning, but the sun was up and off we went. The trail up Mt. Shavano follows the Colorado Trail for a few miles of stunning aspen glades and well-manicured path, then juts upwards through a forest of krummholz trees to a high saddle. Mt Shavano and Tabeguache Peak (say: "Tabawatch") are close together, connected by a gorgeous rocky ridgeline, and after snack breaks on both (of course), we felt like we had done enough for one weekend.
Finally on our last descent, we decided to take Friday to rest and recuperate our bodies before returning to work on Saturday. For good measure, we ran down Shavano, jogging the last few miles under a golden roof in the late afternoon sun.
That evening, a little sore and pretty tired, we drove up to Breckenridge to meet up with Washpot, who Jonathan had met on the PCT, and his girlfriend, Charlotte. Back at their place, we scarfed down a whole pizza and talked about tiny homes with a stunning view of Mt. Quandary (a 14er in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range). Washpot enlightened us with an answer to a questions we've been pondering since arriving in Colorado: Does high altitude give everyone gas? The answer? Not everyone (Charlotte was quick to explain), but almost. Coloradans have a name for this syndrome: HAFE, or, High Altitude Flatulent Expulsions. Well, now we know.
On our three day mini-adventure, and within 60 hours, we had hiked about 50 miles, climbed approximately 18,000ft (about 1.5 Everests) and bagged 5 peaks. Plus, we had two good nights' sleep! Even without going for speed, the rocky terrain and consistent high elevation were hard on our bodies and we would have been very hard pressed to hike for more hours than we did. We learned that, more than anything, Nolan's 14 is about brutal endurance: the willingness to push for hours, and when it gets hard, to push harder. In terms of the challenge, we completed only 35% of the peaks (5 of 14), but over 40% of the total elevation gain as well as about half the mileage (with some different routes, of course). We also slept for approximately 18 hours and drove for 3.5 to 4 hours. The rest was mostly eating, with some hiking interspersed in there. Let's just say we came back with a healthy respect for the athletes who complete the whole thing in that same time frame.
Maybe one day, we'll come back and bag the rest of the peaks. Perhaps someday, we'll even have a fighting chance at completing the challenge. For now, I'm pretty pleased with the fantastic days we spent hiking in these beautiful mountains. Altogether, not bad for a weekend.
Words: Molly (AKA Ms. Frizzle)
Hey folks. We're still alive and kicking. Short update first: Pedi and I have relocated to Colorado and are living in Boulder and Golden, respectively. The PCT had/has a profound effect on both of us. More on that later.
Currently, Soapbox has submitted photo prints to Cranky Yellow in St. Louis for the Strange Folk Festival at Union Station. The Strange Folk Fest is located in Union Station mall in St. Louis. It's a festival of makers - some 200 next-wave small businesses and vendors: crafters, artists, designers and vintage curators. If you are able, stop by Cranky Yellow and see some cool art.
We are still alive. Jonathan and I are both in St. Louis, MO. Here's a little photo series/update! Hope all the 2015 PCT hikers out there are enjoying their prep work, I definitely feel like I could hit the trail again. Ozark Trail, the CDT, the AT, the American Discovery Trail. So many opportunities for adventure. So much of the world to see. I digress... on to the meat and potatoes:
Jonathan is a photojournalist by training. His eye is searching, he is framing, he is that weird guy with a big camera that you manage to lose track of when suddenly he's by a tree on the hill snapping shots of you while you walk by. He completed a photo series, the shots of all the hiker trash, as we walked the PCT which he posted on the blog a while ago.
This is my somewhat meta project of Jonathan shooting while we hiked. Carrying a 3 lb camera mounted on a hip holster while you hike 20+ miles a day can be tough, I heard about it more than once. While I carried a Fuji X100 during the early stages of the trek, by Northern California I had shipped the x100 and was taking pictures with my iPhone exclusively. I have a lot of respect for his work ethic while we traveled - tuning out the noise, writing, shooting, editing, posting. Many hikers start blogs, few keep them alive. I was lucky to hike with someone so talented in that respect.
Cheers folks, thanks for checking out the blog
Everyday was an adventure. Every day we were in nature. Every day was wild. The moments captured by pictures, these blog posts with our stories are more our attempt to make sense of the experiences we had. Nothing we create comes close to the time spent on the PCT. But take note and I try to remember that the PCT is just a dusty path. Dusty paths are everywhere. Pick one and follow it. You don't have to try to be John Muir, Cheryll or us. You can get lost anywhere.
Anyway, here's some of my favorite entries. The contest ends today so cross your fingers for us.
As always, thanks for reading.
It's been a couple months since we've gotten off the trail. We have had time to reflect a bit on the experience as a whole. To try and summarize the Pacific Crest trail is a difficult thing to do, but what we can do with much greater ease is show you some numbers and answer some questions that help put our hike in perspective.
Pedi: Depends on how I look at it. In terms of beauty, the Sierra Nevada is the clear winner. The things I saw up there were beyond the realm of things I knew existed. When it comes to all around good times and adventure, though, it's hard to beat Oregon. It was such a fortuitous time on the PCT. Everything fell into place and new avenues opened up that blew our minds.
Soapbox: Hiking in the Sierra Nevada was also my favorite. I dreamed of that section, seeing Half Dome, experiencing the challenges, and no part of it was disappointing. Many other PCT hikers will echo Pedi and myself. If I had to offer each section an award:
- Oregon - most fun, least strain
- Washington - most challenging, diverse, and wet
- SoCal (desert) - most dry, possibly heaviest average pack weight (long water carries)
- Sierra - most iconic, best town stops, best tasting water, highest altitude, bear canister award
- NorCal - most weird
Least favorite section
Pedi: I can't say I really have a least favorite section. Even through the hard times I was thankful to be on trail. If I had to pick something though, it would be split based on how the sections affected me. Southern California was the most physically challenging. I was in near constant pain from blistered feet. Not only did this make hiking difficult, it also meant that I was practically immobile once we were done hiking for the day. This was incredibly inconvenient. Mentally, I think NorCal was the most challenging. It's long, hot and I found myself getting more grouchy during this section.
Soapbox: Not really applicable for me. Even my sick days didn't keep me from enjoying Washington.
Favorite town stop
Pedi: Portland was a magical place. It was one of only two times I went to a town that was far off trail. It was my first time, and I got a grand tour that packed as much delicious food and culture into two days as possible. We were given a car to drive and town clothes to wear. We were practically normal people! Boy did that make life convenient. All of that being said, most town stops were a delight in their own way.
Soapbox: We had a chance to experience so many places for such brief moments and in such unique ways. With that in mind, I loved our first town stop and zero day(s) spent in Idyllwild. We learned who our hiker family was (kind of). We succumbed to a hiker vortex for the first time there. Two days! As we hiked out we got a hitch from two really interesting dudes.
Least favorite town stop
Pedi: Sierra City. Many, if not most town stops are very circumstantial. It totally depends on who you meet, when you're there and, especially, how long you are there. Sierra City was a tiny thing that would have been fine for a quick afternoon, but the two and a half days I spent there was way more than I would have preferred.
Soapbox: Chester, California. The day I reached the PCT halfway marker I hiked 22 miles with Midway. He and I were both experiencing some kind of stomach bug And we could not get a ride into Chester - the only time that hitching completely failed me. The next day I spent in Chester I mostly slept under a flight of stairs at a hotel.
Number of shoes used
Pedi: 6 (This is an unusually high number. I used three pair in the SoCal alone because of rapid feet swelling and size problems. The second pair I traded for)
SoapBox: 3 pairs... trained in my first pair + 700 miles. 1300 miles in the second. Still wear my third pair sometimes.
If I did the PCT again, what would I do differently?
Pedi: Two things specifically. First, I would start with bigger shoes. Avoiding the blisters and foot pain of the desert would dramatically change my experience during that section. The shoes I started with were only one size larger than normal and were not wide enough. The sweat, heat and friction caused them to become "meat grinder feat" as Soapbox so aptly call them. Once I got shoes that were a full one and a half sizes larger than normal I was good to go. Second, I would add more variety to the food in the resupply boxes we mailed ourselves. I thought they were diverse when I made them. Little did I know how wrong I would be by the end of the trail. I could barely look at a bag of that same trail mix, Pop Tarts and peanut butter crackers.
Soapbox: There are sections where I wish I had hitched off-trail to experience side adventures, days I could have hiked more miles, and to trust that "the trail provides" earlier would be useful at the beginning. More explicitly, I would learn more about the areas we hiked beforehand. We did so much research to prep for the trip itself that I wish I would have obsessed over gear a little less and researched some history, flora and fauna. I found myself often wanting to know more about the places we passed through. That said, I gained so much info about the PCT and logistics, I'm not upset.
|MILES/DAY (+ ZERO DAYS)||16.8||15.5||18.3||21.5||22.3||18.4|
|MILES/DAY (+ ZERO DAYS)||16.8||15.5||18.3||21.5||22.3||18.4|
We hiked the same PCT, but some days Soapbox hung back, Pedi sped up or one of us wasn't feeling well so we would do our own thing. Let us know if you have questions!
Dan and Jonathan
There is a trend among backpackers toward using less and lighter gear which has grown over the past decade and is popularly known as the ultralight or “UL” movement. This shift is part cultural, part technological.
The packs carried in the past were significantly heavier than those we carry today because we have materials that simply did not exist five or ten years ago. Packs in the '70s had external aluminum frames that weighed 3.5 lb minimum. My pack (just the backpack) is 2 lb 2 oz. Apply this same shift to nearly every piece of gear available and it totally changes how people outfit themselves for long distance hikes. This is especially true on long-distance trails like the Pacific Crest Trail. When you hike 20+ miles day in and day out for five months, every ounce matters.
I truly applaud the women and men of older generations who went mountaineering and hiked long-distance. They faced far more challenges than I did, and they did it with base weights far greater than mine. For reference, your base weight is how much your pack weighs with all your gear in it, but without food or water. To really start getting into the realm of lightweight and ultralight backpacking, your base weight will should be around 20 lb and 10 lb respectively. Carrying much below 10 lb is both impressive and crazy. It should be noted that achieving a base weight of 10 lb or less probably involves foregoing any medical kit or creature comforts. It definitely means you aren’t carrying a stove.
While "going UL" is becoming more popular on long distance trails, you should heed a few warnings before buying a bunch of fancy, lightweight gear. A better or more expensive set-up (read: more UL) isn’t going to make you a good hiker. For that matter, what does it even mean to be a good hiker? There's nothing competitive about it, and generally speaking, there is no exact right way to do this hiking thing. All I can do is share my perspective, and in my opinion going UL is a good way to go.
For many, UL gear is simply not an option. You can pretty much count on the lightest gear being the most expensive gear (with some exceptions, mostly in the homemade category). Many hikers may decide they want to join the UL ranks, the big challenge is balancing cost and weight. Sometime you have to sacrifice dollars for fewer ounces. As you learn about gear you may find it can become an obsession.
If you do decide to join in the UL movement, here are a couple pieces of advice. First, don't be a dick about it. Just because you might be UL and don't have any single piece of gear weighing more than 2.5 lb doesn't make you better than any other hiker. Second, there are other things to talk about on the trail than your gear. A little bit of gear talk is great. Most hikers, myself included, love learning about new gear and seeing how it works for different people.I hiked with a couple of UL bros who pretty much never shut up about their base weight. It got really old, really fast.
For those long-distance hikers who are not UL, having a higher base weight does not mean they’re doing it wrong. Some people are perfectly happy carrying extra weight or like the luxury of a few key items. Sometimes these items are about preparedness. This could include a SPOT device, compass, maps, jackets, warm clothing, etc. If you get caught in the wrong weather at the wrong time with the wrong gear, things can get very scary, very quickly. It can be dangerous and potentially lethal. While I don’t like carrying more than I need to, I’m never advocating neglecting gear that very well may save your life if it starts raining and gets cold or windy. A good friend of mine from the trail, Smokes, carried an extra of damn near everything and often that was really handy (not just for him!). Smokes is well-versed in wilderness survival. He was ready for anything both in terms of gear available and mental preparedness. On the luxury side of gear, certain people enjoy their creature comforts. Maybe you want your book, harmonica, wind shirt or town shirt. Dan carried a harmonica for the whole trail. Hike your own hike. (HYOH. It’s a phrase/acronym you hear often around trail. It means do your own thing, and let other people do their own thing.) Those people probably value those comforts over big miles anyway. There is nothing wrong with that.
There are, however, other hikers who are not UL and who may not even have the heaviest of gear but just have way too much gear. These people's gear choices seem to be guided by fear. You should never go into a situation unprepared, but do not underestimate how much you can do with very little. Do a shakedown of your pack sometime and consider how much you truly need each item. There are likely quite a few that will never be used nor missed once you have ditched them. (A shakedown is when you dump everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, out of your pack to re-evaluate exactly what you do and do not use/need.) Do you really need that Tiger Balm? Why on earth do you have a knife that big? How come you always walk into town with at least two days worth of extra food?
Once I lightened my pack I quickly realized a few things. My legs hurt less, especially going down hills. I could go faster and I was more nimble. Heavy, bulky packs can be unruly and make it harder to maintain a brisk pace. It makes climbing over obstacles more cumbersome too. I could go farther each day. Because you burn fewer calories with less weight, you are usually less exhausted. Even if you don't want to do big miles or hike hard, the fact that it reduced leg pain and strain would have been enough to convince me.
Because of the UL trend, at least in part, the outdoor gear industry has been shaken up over the last few years. Smaller cottage companies are springing up all over the place because they came up with new ideas on ways to approach gear. Sure, it’s a cliche word nowadays, but I love seeing this innovation. The proliferation of cuben fiber in the backpacking world is perhaps the best example. Do a search for cuben fiber gear and look in awe at what you can make out of it and how little it weighs. (i.e.: Z-packs and Hyperlite Mountain Gear.
I don’t think the trend will completely take over the backpacking/hiking world. There are still more than enough people who aren’t worried about weight and want to take their time. This trend will, however, continue to grow, just as thru-hiking does.
Take it from me, a guy with absolutely no credentials who has only done one big hike and then made a blog about it, dropping your base weight can make life way easier on trail.