We hike a lot. All day, every day. 20 miles per day. It's both exhilarating and awfully monotonous.
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.
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.
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 Butters though, it's autographed baseballs. He has each thru-hiker he sees sign the baseball. When the ball is full, he sends it home and gets 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.
Also known as common turricula, this plant has altered our trek from Mexico to Canada. It thrives in areas affected by wildfires - where tree cover has been removed (burned). We're hiking in SoCal. Thus, drought and lots of burned areas. Ergo, tons of PDB.
Easy to identify and reeking like pot (or certain thru-hikers), you know when it's near. It's like the poison oak of the San Gabriel mountains, except more dangerous. PDB has grown so thick along the PCT that there are detours to avoid sections overrun by the plant.
It's kind of pretty, but I'll be happy to never see it again.
A few days ago we ascended the 9400 foot Mt. Baden Powell after leaving Wrightwood, Ca. We made a fantastic camp at 7500 feet elevation (above the clouds and in the high 30s overnight).
The next morning we gained the summit after climbing through an old growth pine forest - and old means a tree 1500 years old (trees that were young in the Dark Ages). On the summit we found a memorial built by Boy Scouts in the 1950s - they hiked the mountain with concrete to build it. From the summit we could see Mt. Baldy, another giant of the San Gabriels Range.
For those not in the know: Lord Baden Powell was the founder of the World Scouting Movement and this little bit of rock was renamed for him in 1931 (originally it was called Little Baldy). As an Eagle Scout I owe ol Mr. Powell. Also, I can't imagine hiking to the summit with backpacks filled with concrete (definitly not Ultralight).
Mile 342 of the Pacific Crest Trail has a McDonalds 0.4 miles away from the trail. Hikers choose to gorge themselves at this haven of free wifi, food and clean water. Even hikers outwardly against McDonalds plan to camp within easy hiking range to gain the Golden Arches the next day.
We were overcome by hunger, you see. Not starvation, but knowledge that $10 could get you 3000 calories of already prepared food and maybe a milkshake, this fact drove us all.
The day before we had hiked over 20 miles and managed to find a lake to swim in. After finding a place to camp 13 miles away from McDonalds, the Dash was on. Pedi and Quinoa flew down the trail while Half'n'Half and myself held a steady pace. Beautiful country with great gashes in the landscape from seismic activity - we were hiking over the San Andreas fault. Finally I saw highway 10 and was within sight of my goal. Upon arrival Pedi welcomed me with the most divine 10pc chicken nuggets, and after that the afternoon was a blur of burgers, fries and fountain soda.
At one point the PCT hikers outnumbered the regular guests. A pair had fallen asleep in a booth, cell phones and camera batteries hung from the ceiling like stalactites, and the trays of empty fries and burger wrappers filled the tables.
After gorging ourselves we had to rally to hike up and away from sanctuary and back into the mountains. After eating all that food it felt good to put some miles behind the place where we shamed ourselves.
I ran my first marathon in 3h40m and it was one of the most proud moments I'd ever experienced. Yesterday I completed my second marathon length endeavor, except this time I did it in 11 hours with 30 lbs on my back while climbing 4000 ft in elevation.
It felt like a mere drop in the ocean.
But I didn't stop once I had done 26.2 miles. Throughout the day I'd been leapfrogging with Zippy Morroco, a fellow thru-hiker, and by mile 22 we had banded together for the day's endeavor.
"Wanna try for a 30 day?" Zippy asked me once I passed my marathon mark.
Sure, why the hell not.
I'd split up from my group a few days prior. It was my first time hiking alone and I had it stuck in my brain that I could push myself to complete this seemingly ludicrous feat.
At the completion of 30 miles we knew there were only five more left until Big Bear, my hiking family and a soft bed. We donned our headlamps, scarfed a few granola bars pounded out the last miles. Darkness, tired legs and sore feet be damned, 14 hours after I started walking I had made it.
Walking through the snow for a day and a half has been one of the most challenging and exhilarating experiences of the hike so far. As I panted for breath in the cold wind and trudged my feet sloppily through snow it was all I could do to stop myself and shoot a few frames every five yards. The scenes were spectacular beyond any words that I can write. With my camera at least I could put forth a worthwhile effort.
Ok, I don't think we'll be finding Easter Eggs on the trails. We stink, we walk funny, we dress in goofy clothes, and we will eat anything - we've become hiker trash.
Today has been rough. The first few days are behind us and we are taking a break at mile 91 as I write. We will be crossing our 100 mile marker! However, the desert sun is beating down and as another hiker said, "there are bodies under all the trees." We are seeking out shade. It's hot, water is short and the tallest tree is close to 5 ft tall. Every day I am drawing on my experiences with Double H and Philmont to help make things easier.
Day 1 I was extremely excited to be on the trail, maybe even nervous with anticipation. Our trail angel, Girl Scout dropped us off at the border, we snapped some pictures and we were on our way through the desert, putting distance between ourselves and the border patrol.
Day 2 brought sore muscles, but new friends and I was able to dole out backpacking tips. We were playing leap frog with a Belgian guy and a German all day and finally we decided to hike together. We hiked over 20 miles to our next camp and went from the desert to Ponderosa pines and the scenic town of Mt. Laguna.
Day 3 was more incredible scenery and the landscape opened up to vistas overlooking the enormous Noble Canyon. A long day of walking on trail with solid rock on one side and a 2000 foot drop on the other side.
Day 4 was a long one, but was a blast: fighter jets, bridge beers, camping in the desert. During lunch we found water at a fire tank. If there hadn't been water there we would have been in trouble - no other water for 30+ miles. Jonathan had/has terrible foot problems so I hiked ahead (thinking if he needed help I'd find more water and closer road access) while he laid up with hiker friends. Half an hour later I hear yelling behind me. I turned as fast as I could to see Jonathan bolting down this mountain ridge trail, flying by other hikers. He's yelling for me to take video. After he passes me, I cinch down my straps and run after him. That evening we hiked to Scissors Crossing to find beer stored in a cooler, left by a trail angel. Perfect.
Side note: we had to leave the bridge hangout - lots of people were showing up at the bridge and we needed sleep. From our hillside campsite we saw bikers and some guy with a search light on his car drive by the bridge so I think we made an excellent call when we moved on.
I feel like all my experience from working at Double H has made me more prepared for the desert, mentally. And I have been extremely lucky, very few blisters. Been trying to get some good pictures and teach the guys some skillz! As a group we have taken on our trail personalities, are growing accustomed to walking all day, taking notice of our surroundings and getting past our aches and pains.
-Dan (no drawings yet, just pics!)