Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
- Miles hiked: 2,655
- Time elapsed: 5 months, 1 day
- Actual hiking days: 138
- Zero days: 17
- Average miles per day (mpd): 17.1
- Average mpd (not including zero days): 19.2
- Days rained on: 5
- Days snowed on: 3
- Days hailed on: 1
- Bears seen: 4
- Rattlesnakes seen: 15
- Thru-hikers met: 119
- Shoes used: Emily-2 (boots resoled and worn again), Chris-4
- States walked across: 3
- National Parks walked through: 7
- Detours due to wildfire: 1
- On-trail birthdays: both
- On-trail anniversaries: 1 (2nd)
- Trail towns visited: 23
- Nights spent in a motel/hotel: 14
- Nights spent at a trail angel's home: 6
- Nights spent in our 2-person tent: 128
- Packages of Ramen eaten: 176
- Candy bars consumed: 374
- Buffets devoured: 3
- Items lost on the trail: 3 (knife, spork, pair of socks)
- Postcards sent: 178
- Journals kept: 2
- Books read: 9 (Chris-4, Emily-5)
- Pictures taken: 1,558
- Trips of a lifetime: 1
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
So we're back in Boston... but there's 1 more trail entry that I must write, for all you readers out there who have enjoyed the last 5 months.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Clean and well-rested, we were eager to set out on the trail early the next morning thanks to a ride from a fellow thru-hiker turned trail angel named Scholar. (Unfortunately, she had to cut her hike short because of a foot injury.) Chris and I had 98 miles to cover and a deadline: we had to get to the Stehekin Post Office before it closed for the weekend. In addition to the distance, the guidebook also noted that this section is second only to the High Sierra in difficulty. That means this was not the section to expect to pull big miles. Chris did some number crunching, as he often does, and we realized it was absurd to try to get to the PO on Friday so our hopes of finishing a day early had to be revised. It was a relief to both of us once we made the decision to arrive in Stehekin on Saturday, meaning we did not have to hike 30 mile days over rough terrain.
In fact, it would have been impossible to do such long days during this stretch. As it was, we hiked from the dark predawn hours until after sunset most days and only covered between 21 and 24 miles. Colossal climbs were partly to blame. One day, we climbed a total of five thousand feet only to end up at roughly the same elevation as we started because of equally steep descents. Downed trees were another hindrance. The US Forest Service has yet to clear the trees after massive floods in 2003 from the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Since then, they have been re-routing thru-hikers and equestrians to another trail. We opted to continue along the unmaintained PCT, like most other hikers we spoke to, for a couple reasons. One: the re-route sounded just as overgrown and dangerous. An equestrian friend doing the trail this year lost both her beloved horses - Harmony and Jer - on a steep and shrubby section of the re-route. They died after one misstep in thick brush, falling 1500 feet. Fortunately, she is OK but for being broken hearted over the trauma and loss. Two: the re-route is about 10 miles longer!
Our decision turned out to be the right one. Yes, we had to wade through long sections of overgrown brush and scale fallen trees whose trunks were taller than I am. But the scenery was truly spectacular - Glacier Peak jacketed in thick, white glaciers; tasty blueberry bushes turning crimson with the changing season; clear streams aplenty and stunning blue skies. Indeed, the weather has been beautiful, well beyond our expectations of solid rain. Every sunny, warm day in Washington has been a gift and we've been relishing each cloudless day this stretch with the plentiful vistas undisturbed by fog.
So after a couple days of trudging up and over steep ridges, scrambling over masses of fallen trees and bushwhacking through overgrown brush, we find ourselves in Stehekin. We only have a half day to enjoy this vacation community nestled at the head of Lake Chelan. But we are taking full advantage of this last town stop by doing laundry, showering, picking up our last resupply box during the one hour that the PO is open on Saturdays and indulging in several pastries from the renowned Stehekin bakery.
It is hard to believe this is our last town stop and even harder to believe we will be finishing the trail in four days. Part of me is ready to just stop walking and get the trail over with. Another part of me realizes I am in the midst of a life-changing event and I need to soak in each vista, each gulp of fresh air, and each of these extraordinary moments with my husband.
Next stop - Canada!
Monday, September 21, 2009
Fix-It -He's a carpenter in Portland, Oregon in the real world
Creamsicle- Named this by another hiker because he bought a giant box of these and passed them out somewhere in southern California
Scuba - He got this name for his diving to the Deep Creek bottom looking for lost sun glasses
Jessica - Never got a trail name
Dutch - He had a group of '08 hikers at the kick-off party believing that Euchre was a Dutch word meaning "to cheat" during a card game of the same name
Ancient Brit - Just an old British guy
Pickle Monster - He apparently really loves pickles
Wonka - Someone thought her laminated picture of Thoreau hanging off the back of her pack was Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the movie
Good Spot - He constantly is looking for that "good spot" for lunch or camp
After having breakfast and lunch without leaving our booth, we decided it was time to get walking. However, the next 40 miles of the PCT was closed due to fire. The USFS rerouted us along roads and out of the way 20 miles, but thankfully, another hiker knew a better way. Via Snow Lake, Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, and Dutch Miller Gap, we made our way around the closed section to the PCT at mile 2438.0, where we continued north.
Not without getting rained on for most of Saturday though. It was our first real day of rain in Washington, and hopefully our last. Our alarm went off just after 5 am right about the time raindrops started hitting our rain fly. We had a decision to make. Do we enjoy being warm and dry and sleep longer or get packed up before it really starts coming down? We chose the latter and began our day in full rain gear. It rained steadily all morning, let up for a few hours around lunch time, then began drizzling again around 3 pm. As we were arriving at Deep Lake, it became stormy with gusty wind and heavier rain. We wasted no time with getting inside the tent and even cooked in the vestibule.
Sunday dawned cloudy, foggy, and overcast. Nothing to do but get hiking though, and after going up and over Cathedral Pass, and Deception Pass, the skies began to clear. The rest of the day was beautiful and I was even able to take advantage of being near Seattle, flipping between the Mariners (MLB) and Seahawks (NFL) games on my walkman.
With only 10 miles to go to Steven's Pass, we treated ourselves to breakfast in bed on Monday morning. To our oatmeal, we added the freshest blueberries one could get, picked from a bush outside our tent. Scrumptious! We got on the trail by 6:30 and enjoyed the gorgeous morning walking to Steven's Pass/Hwy 2. Hitching to Skykomish was a piece of cake and that's where we are right now. 179 miles to Canada!
Way back in Southern California, in the first few days or so, I equated the PCT to a marathon , breaking up the trail into 26.2 100-mile increments. If we stick to that, and pretend it's the Boston Marathon, at this point, we're running down Beacon Street, seeing for the first time the Citgo Sign and nearing Kenmore Square. We are so close we can taste it.
Friday, September 18, 2009
One memorable morning we woke up in the dark to damp fog and slogged up a ridge for a couple hours. Just as we were getting frustrated with the terrain, we rounded a bend near the apex of the cliff and caught a glimpse of huge Mt. Rainier's flanks. As we walked on, more and more of her came into view until the entire mountain towered above us . The clouds had lifted during our climb and we could see the peak, the glaciers, and all the lush evergreens at the base. In the still morning, looking at this spectacular wall of rock and ice, we even heard elk calling.
The sounds of the forest pervade our every waking moment. Some calls, like the wheezy whale song of the elk are more noteworthy. But I'm sure I'll miss the simple trail noises when we're back to the city: crows gargling overhead as their wings whooshed with every flap, smaller birds' "eep-eep-eep" from the trees, pika with their alarm calls that sound like a dog's squeaky toy and chipmunks "cheeping" their warnings from the underbrush, all the while a chorus of bees and flies carry on a din of buzzing in the background. Of course, sometimes we listen to our iPods or spin the radio dial in hopes of getting some ballgame scores or NPR news. But those sounds of civilization don't compare to the magic of an owl hooting in the dark as you drift off to sleep in your tent.
We have two more weeks to soak in the sights and smells of the trail, and they will be tough.Some of the steepest climbs of the trail are ahead. Weather is also a factor this far north and we're fully expecting rain and snow at some point. No matter the terrain or weather, hopefully these next 250 miles will go smoothly. We are in the home stretch and I'm itchy to get back to the real world.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
So, the next day we hit the road. The first part of our walk was a bit scary - tractor trailer trucks whizzing by and no sidewalk or even a shoulder. But we survived, and our detour was well worth it! We passed by a lemonade stand manned by a very business savvy tyke (she asked if we wanted change from our dollar bill for our 50-cent purchase - "Uh, I guess not.") and we saw a bustling lumber mill with trucks-full of trees. While our feet were tired after a long day walking on pavement, we got to see a snap-shot of small-town Washington. PCT purists might look down their noses at us for choosing to take the road, but seeing small towns and meeting their people is a major part of our reason for doing this trip!
12 miles later, we camped early near Panther Creek and were visited by an owl while cooking dinner. She was just hanging out in a nearby tree waiting for her own dinner to scurry by. The campsite was very much what I expected Washington to be like - lots of dense greenery with pine trees, ferns, and mosses. Our first couple days in Washington brought more of the same. The terrain was a bit steeper too, maybe a sign of things to come. We also got rained on one night and spent the next morning hiking through dense fog and drizzle. The giant slugs enjoyed the moist weather, humans less so.
We arrived at the highway crossing leading to Trout Lake in the early evening and Monte Pearson - our host - arrived right on time. We had met him, his wife, llamas and dog on the trail near Crater Lake. Here we were crossing paths with them again at their amazing dairy farm in Trout Lake, thanks to their breathtaking hospitality. They offered to put us up for the night and get us ride back to Cascade Locks the next day. Upon arrival, we got a tour of their farm that's been in operation since 1883. It's now an organic farm with about 180 cows, calves, chickens, goats, sled dogs and those two llamas that came in so handy for hiking the PCT. The Pearsons fed us, put us up in their charming farm house built in the 1890s and shared stories of their own hiking adventures.
Laura gave us a ride to Cascade Locks where my old pal - Kendra - met us and whisked us away to Portland. Errands, lunching, long-overdue catching up and even a minor league baseball game brought us back to real life. Bright and early, we were at the airport for our flight and a long awaited visit with family and friends. My sister and brother-in-law were waiting for us at the airport, and our nearest and dearest friends gave us a heartwarming welcome before we tucked away in the rental home with all the Parkers. Afternoons on the beach with sandy paperbacks, seafood dinners and lots of laughs.
Tonight, on the eve of our return to the trail, I can't imagine anything further from where I am right now - from glorious comfy beds, fresh bluefish and cold beers to dehydrated pasta, tents and sleeping bags. But we are heading into the home stretch and I'm excited to (hopefully) finish the trail. 420 miles to go in Washington, and we're armed with rain gear.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Sisters is a faux-western touristy town, but a great layover for a thru-hiker. It has all the amenities we need and love: a motel with a hiker rate ($50), a huge grocery store complete with foods (trail mix) sold in bulk, a microbrewery, a movie house, and a little downtown with many restaurants and pizza places.
Along with fun things like window shopping, taking in a movie, and lazing at the motel, we did have some errands to run as well. We had to find denatured alcohol for our stove. Before the last section, we were almost out so we were forced to build fires to cook. How primitive! Also, Em had to get herself an eating utensil. She bought that spork back in Ashland but lost it somewhere on the trail, probably during lunch one day. She spent 3 days eating with a spoon (more like a spatula) that she whittled from a stick. My wife, she's pretty crafty. And lastly, we needed to figure out a way to treat our water, since I had broken our filter a few days prior. Broke the handle right off the thing. We ended up researching it online and found out that bleach would do the trick. Until we can get to an outfitters, that's how we're treating our water.
Tuesday morning, we caught a ride back up to the trailhead with a Bend trail angel named Lloyd. He's hiked the entire PCT, but in 45 years! During the 20 minute ride, he educated us on things like the forest fire that came through here last year, why Three Fingered Jack, a local mountain, was named that, and even some interesting stories of the Lewis & Clark expedition. I must say that one of the great things about hiking this trail is the people we've met.
It was 148 miles from Sisters to Cascade Locks... 6 days of hiking. Mt Jefferson (10,497 feet), named for President Jefferson by Lewis & Clark in 1806 as they were headed back east, and Mt Hood (11,249 feet), were the focal points of this section. Along with beautiful vistas of these, we walked again through dense Oregon forests, on a trail that got a bit harder as we moved north. We dubbed the miles between Mt Jefferson Wilderness and Mt Hood National Forest the Little Sierras, as the gradient steepened, and we even had a snow field to traverse... in August! Huckleberries lined the trail at times, so we noshed on these as we made our miles, again having our biggest day yet at 31.6 miles. We got lucky too, with our camping spots, setting up our tent 3 consecutive nights along the shores of a lake: Shale, Jude, and Timothy respectively.
On the 4th day, we came to Timberline Lodge (setting for "The Shining") and the start of the Hood to Coast relay. Instinctively migrating to the Clif Bar booth, Ty the Clif Bar rep unloaded dozens of these bars on us when he found out we were thru-hikers. Sweet! Dinner and pitchers of microbrews at the Rams Head bar in the Lodge that night, and an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet the next morning filled our bellies. Rooms were too expensive here so we stealth camped up the slope a little ways with our pals Willie and Hungry. 2 more days of walking, and we found ourselves in Cascade Locks, directly across the Columbia River from Washington. Holy cow, 2 states down.
So, here at 2155 trail miles, we have only 500 to go. As is obvious, we surpassed 2000 miles in the last section (Em forgot to mention this in the last entry), which makes us feel pretty good. Making it to Washington also gets us excited. Some mileage math I did in my head recently on the Trail:
- It took us 66 days to walk the 1st 1000 miles. 51 days to walk the 2nd 1000.
- To hike across California: 101 days. Oregon: 23 days.
Into Washington we go.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Our friends Neil and Andrea dropped us off at the trail head well-fed and well-rested. Meeting these wonderful people has been one of the highlights of this trip, and I truly hope we're able to repay their kindness and hospitality someday in Boston. Needless to say, it was tough to say goodby.
We started out with expectations of low mileage for the day. Rosary Lake was the first distraction, we just had to stop for a skinny dip only a couple of miles into our hike! Delicious. Then, only 20 minutes later, we found a breezy spot between two more lakes that we just couldn't pass up as a lunch spot. Capping off our delightful day at a mere 16 miles, we camped well before sunset at yet another lake.But there is no rest for the thru-hiker. To make up for our lax day, we woke up at 5:30 the next morning to attempt our first 30 mile day. It was another nice day- we've been really lucky with the weather-and the trail took us past lots of water. However, these "lakes" were usually small and murky and much smaller than Farm Pond, where my Granny lived in Sherborn, MA. It took us all day to cover 30.4 miles despite favorable weather and gentle terrain and short breaks. You would have thought we had walked 40 miles with how tired we were at the end of the day! Still, it is a satisfying achievement to log so many miles in one day for the very first time on this trip!
The next day we churned out 29 miles through the lovely Three Sisters Wilderness named appropriately after a trio of mountains known as the Three Sisters. There's a whole "family"of peaks in this area of Oregon- Little Brother, Wife, Husband, and even Mt. Bachelor. We traipsed through fields of shiny, black obsidian rocks and miles of crumbly lava beds that twisted ankles and slowed our progress. Rumors of Trail Magic at McKenzie Pass proved false, leaving us a little lower on water than we would have wanted. But the trail head was still a nice place to camp for the evening, flat ground between piles of lava. We woke in the middle of the night to cute little sage rats scampering and climbing all over our tent - that's a first, at least they weren't inside the tent!
Another early morning start the next day but we had to fore go coffee because of our water situation. Coffee is one of the many luxuries we allow ourselves on the trail in addition to iPods, pleasure reading books, and peanut M&M's. We made it to Santiam Pass 17 miles later by early afternoon and we got a hitch right away from a cool Bend, OR resident named Luke. He was so cool, in fact, that our first stop wasn't a hotel in Sisters but a local Brewery! We all enjoyed a couple cold brews before he dropped us off at the Sister's Inn for a night of gluttony in front of the TV. After a couple of long days, town time is especially appreciated. We also are looking forward to our vacation from our vacation- a Parker family gathering in less than 2 weeks!
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
So, after a heavenly breakfast at the Inn, and a leisurely morning in our room, we set out on the usual town errands. First stop, an outfitter. I replaced my spork (an implement that's a fork/spoon combination) since I'd been using a nub for a week or so after snapping mine. I also got socks to use with my sneakers that will carry me through Oregon, the newly resoled boots will be back for Washington. Chris got a pack cover for rain protection, some socks, water purification tablets and fuel for our stove. The awesome staff even gave Chris replacement nose pads for his sunglasses-free! Next stop: grocery store where we didn't need much thanks to the outstanding care packages from George and Susie and Carla. Lastly: Internet at the Library. Our productive day in town inspired us to treat ourselves to dinner (Indian food) and a movie (Julie and Julia) with Neil and Andrea. They joined us in our room for some wine afterwards, capping off a spectacular day.
We'd already decided to spend the next day in town and hop on the trail before dark. We wrote postcards, did some more Internet chores and even watched part of a Red Sox game over a couple of beers. At the bar, we met the author of "Soul, Sweat and Survival", a book Chris read about the author's experience running the PCT in the 8o's. Bob Holtel was charming, even if he is crazy. He's planning to run it again next year at 80 years old!
Neil and Andrea dropped us off back at the trail around 7 pm and we made it a whopping 1.9 miles before camping within earshot of I-5. The next couple of days blended into each other, a steady stream of eating, water filtering, walking and camping. We were feeling a little slow after own town stop so we haven't been putting in long days. Instead, we've been walking only 20-25 miles per day, enjoying longer meal breaks and camping early. One evening we camped by a small reservoir and actually had some daylight to watch some sort of aquatic mammal trolling the waters and splashing its tail. a family of Canada geese beach themselves for the evening, a long necked blue bird roost in a tree and a pair of osprey making their rounds looking for food. The next evening we found a cosy hut where Chris and I rolled our sleeping bags out on a wooden counter for a warm, dry night's sleep. Out trusty tent treated us well for the rest of this stretch, per usual, as we cruised into Crater Lake National Park in time for an AYCE (all you can eat) buffet lunch at the campground. Our bellies thoroughly stuffed, we loitered around the camp store for a couple of hours digesting and chatting with other hikers until it was too late to get back to the trail. We convinced the group to join us at a flat spot just a half-mile down the trail where we drank some beers and laughed around a campfire until late into the evening...that's only about 10:30pm on the trail.
While sitting around the fire lamenting on the miles we didn't walk, we all reminded ourselves that it's important to do fun things on the trail-not just churn out the miles. Such moments of reflection got Chris and I thinking about why we are out here. A lot of people must be wondering the same thing! -Beetle
So, in our own words, here's why we are hiking the PCT:
"On the suggestion of a fellow thru-hiker, I came up with the top three reasons I'm hiking the to remind myself during blue moments. 1) I want the physical and mental challenge-will I have the stamina and the mental grit to walk 2,650 miles, sleep outside for 5 months, and push through the down times? 2) I am excited to explore new aspects of my relationship with Chris, to hone our communication skills, practise patience and teamwork, and to experience this adventure together. 3) I want to see this beautiful and varied country up close and personal, from desert to the rugged High Sierra to the lush forests and all the interesting people in between. So far, this crazy adventure has been everything I've hoped for."
"First and foremost for me, it's the athletic challenge of walking the entire trail that inspires me to be out here. I like testing my body's limits, which is part of the reason why I run marathons, I suppose, (the other part is my addiction to running). Secondly, I love camping. In fact, we both agree that the best part of the day is arriving at camp every evening, even if it's only to pitch the tent, eat dinner and climb into our sleeping bags with our books. Thirdly, there is something very primitive about carrying all of your belongings right there on your back, and that can be quite appealing. Also, I am always eager to see new things and visit new places, and hiking across three large states feeds this wanderlust. I'm not just talking about the trail here either, but the towns along the way. Town time I enjoy a lot. And lastly, the best part is that I get to share all these things with my wife."
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
Finally getting out of Sierra City, we hit the trail at 4pm and began the 2800 ft. climb up to the Sierra Buttes, supposedly the smallest mountain range in CA. As we skirted the peaks on the west side, the trail turned rocky and hence, hard. After a much-needed dinner break, we pushed on until 9:30pm, needed our head lamps for the last mile, and found a flat spot in a previous clear-cut.
The next two days, we hiked 46 miles, including some detours to get or look for water. Twice, we had to backtrack a bit after becoming confused by our data book and notes left on the trail by hikers north of us. It's very strange, after spending a month carrying no more than 1 L. of water, to be faced with having to calculate water consumption and mileage between water supplies again. We caught our first glimpses of Lassen Peak during this time, too. Lassen, an inactive volcano which lies within Lassen Volcanic Nat'l. Park, is the southern most mountain of the Cascades, and is a sight for sore eyes after being in the Sierra for the last 800 miles ( the mountain range is actually 1/2 that distance ).
Saturday morning, we awoke knowing that we had a big climb right off the bat, since the evening before we had descended to 2900 ft. to cross the Middle Fork of the Feather River, the best swimming spot so far on the PCT. Shortly after gaining the high point, we were greeted by a sign welcoming thru-hikers to a trail angel's cabin near Buck's Lake. We couldn't resist, and hiked out after putting in 15 miles for the day. It was the right call! We had showers, did laundry, drank beers and had an amazing dinner complete with brownie sundaes and a post-meal bonfire.Thank you, Nancy and Terry.
Back on the trail at 8am after a breakfast of coffee, OJ, scrambled eggs, potatoes, nectarines and cantaloupe. Unbelievable. We hiked 19 miles today, the last 5 thigh-burning and knee-jarring as we descended 4600 ft. into the hot valley where the town of Belden is. We caught the tail end of a weekend party, and people-watched outside the general store for 2 1/2 hours before leaving to find a place to camp. As I write, we are on the top floor of a historic structure at the Hwy. 70 PCT trail head named Eby Stamp Mill, it's like our own personal tree house!
To the Belden post office for our mail drop and northland in the morning.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
We rolled out of Echo Lake around 3:30pm and cruised 8 miles past rocky lakes in Desolation Wilderness. The area is actually not so desolate. We crossed paths with dozens of day hikers along the way. The next day we met up with one of Chris' former co-workers from Alaska. "Monologue", a fellow thru-hiker, still lives in Dutch Harbor, so it was fun for Chris to hear about his old haunts. (While they both knew the other was hiking the PCT this year, it took all of 2 1/2 months for them to connect!) A steady rain settled in during the afternoon, though we persevered and camped in a dense pine forest. As we were huddled in our tent, seemingly in the middle of no where, music started blaring from not too far off. We were definitely not alone - weekend car campers - were sharing the woods with us but we never saw them.
I also learned we were sharing the woods with bears. I spotted one in retreat early the next morning-our second sighting and still no pictures. Moving on, we soon found ourselves climbing past ski lifts for Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley resorts. Where several feet of snow had been a couple months ago, fields of wild flowers were now being batted around by the wind, as were we. We also passed a fellow thru-hiker who was quitting the trail for medical reasons. Several other hikers were helping her out to a nearby trailhead because she had major stomach pains. They must have been bad because this girl already proved herself to be tough having hiked through the Sierra with a broken wrist! It's a poignant moment to reflect on your own hike when you see someone quit. While we've definitely had our down moments, Chris and I are still planning to finish this hike!
However, we are having to modify our hiking schedule a bit so we can make up some time. In the past couple of days, we've hiked some long days. We've been able to do this because of the gentler terrain-no elevation above 9,000 feet, good footing and good weather-and because we've tweaked our eating schedules. Instead of slogging through miles with empty bellies, getting crankier by the minute, we are trying to eat dinner before getting to camp at night. That means that we pull over around 6, brew up some Ramen and then get back on the trail by 7 to bang out a couple more miles. So far, it's helped us pull some of our longest days yet - 25 and 26 miles! And, both days we scored cold Cokes from stangers: once from a nice guy in an RV at the Donner Pass rest area (yes, the infamous pass that hosted the Donner Party one winter) on I-80 and the next day from a lovely couple doing hiking on the PCT.
Now we're sipping coffee at a garden cafe in Sierra City. We'll do a quick resupply before getting back on the trail this afternoon for a long climb. Hard to leave this charming, historic mining town...
Friday, July 10, 2009
The next day was absolutely beautiful with blue, blue cloudless skies the entire day. We had our biggest day to date, at 25.7 miles, with an enjoyable lunch break on a windy saddle, and surprise trail magic at Ebbett's Pass. Cheeseburgers, hot dogs, fresh fruit, tostitos, cookies, cokes and Gatorade, all offered to us by a guy named Doug from a nearby town. Leaving there with full bellies we hiked on a little further than we had planned due to a lack of possible campsites, but found a spot on a spur ridge by headlamp and with the help of our friend,Willie, a thru-hiker Sox-fan from Walpole, Mass.
July 7th, our anniversary. Originally, we had hoped to celebrate in Lake Tahoe with a restaurant pasta dinner, but alas, we were still 36 miles away, so we spent it on the trail. It was another gorgeous day, and the miles were semi-easy, until after lunch, where 60 miles per hour winds pushed us around and treated us like rag dolls. We leaned into the wind though and made it almost 23 miles, camping in a secluded spot near the Truckee River. Dinner was the rest of the red wine, back country nachos (fritos, cheese, hot sauce), ramen, quesadillas again, and Peanut M&M's for dessert. Yum.
We awoke early the next morning, and walked the easy 13 miles to Echo Lake Resort, where we had mail awaiting our arrival. Thanks to everyone for the anniversary cards, birthday cards, and treats and goodies that we received. Of special note, I found out that I am going to be an uncle. Congratulations, Greg and Jenny!
We hitched into South Lake Tahoe and began a day and a half of the usual town ritual: eating, drinking, rest and resupply. Our first night was a Motel 6 and dinner at an awesome bar where the Red Sox - A's game was on. The next day we were treated by Ryan and Katie to massages and a night at a hotel casino across the border in Nevada. Thanks, Guys. We are now in our swanky room, enjoying some TV time after annihalating the buffet earlier. Back up to Echo Lake and on to the trail in the morning. Northbound again. - Sunfish
Saturday, July 4, 2009
All clean, we picked up the next morning and headed to Yosemite Valley. It was a treat to car camp at the White Wolf Campground with a picnic table, flushing toilets, and a fire pit. But the real treat was a driving tour of the valley. The towering granite cliffs, wispy waterfalls, wild flowers and crystal clear river made for some overwhelming scenery. We were especially happy to see all these postcard worthy sights since the trail doesn't pass through this part of the park. The highlight of our non-hiking visit to Yosemite was a glorious float down the Merced River in an inflatable boat - PBR and snacks in hand! Some good fireside chats and good eating with Clare, she left us in Mammoth to take care of some errands before we luxuriated for one more night at the Mammoth Mountain Inn. This was a birthday/anniversary treat from Chris' parents.
The next day we were slow to get on the trail, bogged down with one last town meal, the shuttle back to Red's Meadow and catching up with other hiker's. We finally set out on the trail around 2:00pm with a heavy heart. I always have a hard time leaving town and this long rest and visit with Clare made it especially hard. We only made it a couple of miles before camping at a real campground after getting lost for about an hour. A delightful group of boy scouts let us pitch our tent on their site so we could save a couple bucks and they peppered us with questions about the hike all night, especially the dads. The next couple of days of hiking treated us to some rolling terrain. We had one high elevation pass- Donahue - that we crossed under threatening skies and finally drizzle. But as soon as we dropped down into Tuolumne Meadows back in Yosemite, the clouds lifted and we skipped through a lovely grassy stretch hugging an amazingly clear river. Our goal: get to the store before it closes at 5 for burgers and a quick grocery resupply. Mission accomplished, we ended up camping at the Tuolumne campground right behind the store.
Beyond Tuolomne, the trail through Yosemite was rocky steep and remote. And the mosquitos were unlike anyhing I've seen before. I actually donned a very dorky headnet and the mosquitos were clinging to the screen so thickly, I couldn't see the trail at times!
The bugs and terrain were a bit demoralizing, but our efforts paid off during our planned resupply at Bridgeport on July 4th. It was a tough 30 mile stretch, but a pickup finally pulled over at Sonora Pass and let 5 of us thru-hikers pile in back. We were let off in small town America- a rodeo was underway, American flags and swags everywhere, moon walks and live music on the court house lawn and open containers! So our intentions of a quick turn around after grocery shopping were foiled and we decided to stay. We pitched our tent in a local character's front yard, next to a bar with great burgers and celebrated the 4th barefooted in the sunshine watching a Johnny Cash tribute band while lounging on the lawn of the historic court house, beer in hand. We decided that this hike was as much about making miles as seeing and celebrating our country in towns along the way. I did think about the circus on the Esplanade in Boston, but we were happy to be where we were. Emily
Sunday, June 28, 2009
So, my memorable 39th birthday. We awoke at 5, on Trail by 5:45, and high-tailed it to Mono Creek and the trail to VVR. We were early by 45 minutes but got lucky and caught a ferry (a dinghy) across Edison Lake earlier than scheduled. We arrived, after a 45-minute tour, at the resort just before 10. Breakfast! We were excited, and ordered up coffee and entrees. Our server came back 3 or 4 times though, notifying us that sorry, out of english muffins, out of cheese, no eggs other than scrambled, no pie (?!), out of pretty much everything we ordered or wanted to order. It broke Emily. We've been pushing ourselves so hard, hiking 6-9 almost everyday, and looking forward to a cooked breakfast, that she couldn't hold it in and cried.
That started the emotions for both of us, and while reading a letter from Adrienne out loud, I broke down too. We're fried. The Sierra has been very tough for us. We're making it, but we're tired, exhausted, a bit overwhelmed. It's bringing us closer though, and going through this together is bonding us even stronger. I love her so much.
Back to the day. After 3 hours of eating, drinking beer, and sorting through our resupply box, we had to get moving. The next ferry wasn't until 4:00, so we had to hike the 6-mile trail back to the PCT. We left with a bottle of wine in a nalgene, and 3 beers in my pack for my birthday. Over the next 12 miles, I drank them at breaks, listened to 2 albums on my ipod - The Beatles' White Album and Cracker's self-titled debut because of 2 songs: "Birthday" and "Happy Birthday to Me", and climbed 2,500 feet up to Silver Pass Lake, where we are camped.
We had some more hairy fords too, 2 of which were labeled in the guidebook as dangerous and potentially fatal if one should slip. Thankfully they weren't as bad as we were expecting. So, we're 24 miles from Reds Meadow, which leads us to Clare and Mammoth Lakes. We are greatly looking forward to 2-3 days of R&R. We need it."
My weakness and fear is of stream fording. We had a couple of those today including two formiddable crossings: Evolution Creek and Bear Creek. We crossed Evolution during the morning after a nice declining trail. It was wide but shallow - and freezing when you're wearing only Crocs! We treated ourselves to tea in the sunshine afterwards.
Fast forward to this afternoon. After a long steady climb to the pass and a rocky snowy descent, we crossed Bear Creek. It lived up to its name and Chris decided to cross in his boots, since they were soaked anyway and the current was pretty strong. After trying in one spot and nearly getting washed away, he found a shallower section, crossed to drop his pack, and then came back for me. This trip is really showing off what a kind, gentlemanly, respectful partner I have as a husband.
Anyway, we're camped along Bear Creek and it's raging as I write. Chris is doing some research and we're realizing we won't be able to laze around VVR because we have more tough stream crossings and a pass in the afternoon tomorrow. No rest for the weary - or the birthday boy. Mammoth will be some incredibly welcome zero time."
Saturday, June 27, 2009
It started out early as mentioned, and it was tough to get out of bed due to a late night the night before. Within a mile after starting, we saw our first black bear of the hike. Quite exciting, but we scared him away before being able to snap a pic. He was beautiful though. Lots of deer too, during the first 3 miles down to 8,000 feet, to Middle Fork Kings River. We then made a right and headed north up Le Conte Canyon. We stopped for a coffee break, something we've enjoyed doing not while breaking down camp the last 2 days, around 8:15 on top of a gigantic rock with an amazing view of the river and a cascade.
Then it was time to get the boots moving, and climb 4,000 feet to Muir Pass, obviously named after Mr. John Muir. We didn't hit snow until just under 11,000 feet, but it was a long long long gradual climb up to 12K. It took us over 2 hours, to cover probably 2 1/2 miles. We made it though, and broke for lunch at 2:30 at the stone hut atop the Pass. There was a resident marmot inside the hut. By 3:40 we were headed west from the Pass, across a couple more miles of snow, still under blue blue skies that we had all day again. Amazing, the difference in weather since we left Whitney. We pushed on late, and found a great spot to camp, build a fire, and dry out our boots. 30 miles to VVR."
Our first goal of the day was Pinchot Pass. It was only 3 miles from our campsite but there was snow everywhere and the trail was obscured. Chris and I wandered, following others' footprints, finding the trail, losing it. We were both on the verge of meltdown - Chris in a frustrated rage and me in disconsolate tears. But we made it and even enjoyed coffee at the Pass. Coffee is magical because coming off the ridge, we both were in better moods. Of course, the fact that the trail was easier to find also lightened our moods.
After Pinchot, we descended a bit into pine forest. There were 9 stream fords which is a chilly time-suck because I usually have to take off my boots and put on the Crocs. Most people with sneakers just plow right through - I couldn't stand the wet feet. With upbeat moods and blazing sun, we broke for a quick lunch and layed all our gear out to dry. But it was a short lunch - 1 hour - because we had another pass ahead: Mather Pass. Again we climbed into a moonscape with snow everywhere. This time though, there were almost 10 people not too far ahead of us so we could easily follow the path. That meant some switchbacks, some post-holing with ice axe in hand, and one vertical climb up a snow 'ladder'. Up and over, we slip-slided our way down, and even enjoyed some glissading on our butts.
With the long day, we trekked on through Kings Canyon on some annoyingly rocky tread. I totally face-planted and skinned my knee. Fortunately, no cuts on my forehead, just gravel. Man, with a pack on your back, you can really get some good momentum during a fall! The scenery was gorgeous and we hiked until almost dark.
Two slight regrets: 1-With such crappy tread and trail maintenance (tons of snowmelt and mud on the trail, plus fallen trees) you have to look at your feet all the time and can't enjoy the amazing sights as much as one might want to. 2-We're putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to make good time and make miles so we can meet Clare on time, and so Chris can get a beer on his birthday at VVR (Vermillion Valley Resort). Crossing our fingers that the next couple days can be speedy!"
Friday, June 26, 2009
Now, in realizing that afternoons are tougher - softer snow, more snowmelt, raging rivers and creeks, more dangerous fords - we have decided to have a go at starting earlier, say hike 6 to 6 instead of 8 to 8 maybe. The alarm is set for 5am tomorrow. I should also mention that this year we've heard is tough. Although it was a dry year, the Sierra apparently received much late snow. June storms that dumped a lot of snow. And that makes for very hard hiking through here.
So, to recap the day, we began at 8, reached Glen Pass by 10:30, and started the descent shortly thereafter with Good Spot and Wonka, a thru-hiking couple we met this morning. Once we got down and out of the snow, it was smooth sailing down to 8,500 feet at Woods Creek. We passed numerous lakes, known as Rae Lakes, and broke for lunch next to Dollar Lake. We did have a hairy ford though, after lunch, where we had to don the Crocs. The mosquitoes here were relentless too, so as we were putting our boots back on, we killed dozens that were landing on our legs, eager for our blood. A lot of hikers were out today, being Friday I suppose, which made it not so lonely-feeling. Yes the Sierra is beautiful, but it makes me a bit homesick. Great weather today though, so that was good. 15.0 miles hiked today."
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Then the descent began with more snow, following tracks and slip-sliding our way along a ridge. The sound of rock and snow slides were a little disconcerting and we were eager to get out of the snow. But it was endless and a frustrating slog. As the day warmed, we started post-holing up to our knees and thighs. Chris post-holed onto a rock and gouged his shin. He left sprinkles of blood for any hikers behind us. The stark and formidable mountains, the snow that just wouldn't let up or allow for an easy descent, and the constant threat of bad weather made Chris very uneasy. He said he had a real awakening to his mortality, feeling so vulnerable to the elements in a place where humans weren't meant to go.
But we did go! We made it to a sunny spot for lunch under some trees with some other hikers. I bandaged Chris' leg and we wrung out our socks that were thoroughly soaked from being knee-deep in sloppy snow. This was around 3pm and we'd only done 7 or 8 miles for the day - an indicator of how difficult the pass had been. But after lunch, we dipped into some of the most beautiful forest I've seen. Pine trees with grassy, flat spots amid scattered gray boulders, a roaring river on one side and towering granite walls all around. The sunlight finally showcased the craggy, snow-covered mountains in a way that I'd pictured the Sierra to be. We're camped on a sandy flat about two miles from Glen Pass. Only 16 miles for the day which means we have our work cut out for us to meet Clare on time. Fortunately, we have daylight on our side."
Back down at Trail Crest, Sean & Carla went east to their car at the Whitney Portal while Em & I went west to make our way back to the PCT after bidding our goodbyes. It was a bit emotional for us, since heading back to Boston sounded pretty good after spending a month and a half in the woods. But hiking is what we do now, so west we went, back to Guitar Lake to retrieve our food (in bear canisters), then past the Crabtree Ranger Station, and finally to the PCT by early afternoon.
Since then, we have had amazing weather (blue skies, a few puffy clouds, sunshine, scenery to die for) but a tough time. The Trail through the Sierra is no joke. Miles of snow on the passes, dozens and dozens of fords, and insane ascents and descents. I can honestly say it's the hardest hiking I've ever done. I don't think I can do it justice by writing a few paragraphs, so I've decided to transcribe some of our journal entries from this past week. Hope you enjoy it.
PS Yes I changed my trail name from Sundog to Sunfish. Back in 2003 I was a SunDOG. Now, in 2009, not so much. SunFISH fits me better now. My job as a marine biologist. My ocean sunfish tattoo on my leg. I'm more a fish than a dog.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
As I write this blog entry, hail is pelting our REI Quarter Dome Tent as we are camped on the side of Mt. Whitney. Hopefully, the weather will improve by tomorrow morning so we can hike to the summit with our friends from Boston, Sean and Carla. Mt. Whitney, while not on the PCT, is a worthwhile detour because it's the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,491 feet. But I'm getting ahead of myself !
Tehachapi marks the start of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We've been hearing about the breathtaking vistas and rushing mountain streams for about 558 miles. However, these rugged mountains scenes were still a long way off. We left this train-crazy town 2 weeks ago under purple-gray skies. The rain almost made us spend another night in the hotel, but we persevered and were rewarded with clearer skies by evening after only 5 miles.
With 7 days of food, our packs were heavy but we're definitely getting our "trail legs" and were able to hike 20 - 25 miles each day subsequently. Some of the highlights - or low lights - along the 145 miles between Tehachapi Pass and Kennedy Meadows include:
- The tormented skies coming out of Tehachapi made for some spectacular vistas over the desert. The contrast between the rain clouds and white wind turbines was very dramatic.
- Hiking through another dry section with Joshua trees we saw lots of evidence of off road vehicles. One night while camped in a stand of these spiky trees, a truck rolled up after dark. We were nervous that the locals might harass the hippy hikers after one guy said, "Look, there's a tent!" But they left us alone...phew!
- Chris forgot a pair of socks and liners drying in a tree one night. We didn't notice until we did laundry at Kennedy Meadows.
- With food stores running low, we had amazing good fortune to get some hand outs from some high school group. One of the counselors asked us if we needed food -yes, always! -and proceeded to give us a bag of sliced salami and another of cheese. Delish!
- Hiking into Kennedy Meadows was quite surreal. This "town" is the unofficial gateway to the High Sierra 703 miles into the PCT. We were excited for a couple of days off and the arrival of our dear friends from home, Sean and Carla.
Kennedy Meadows is indeed a unique place. The hub of this community is the general store that had been picked over by hikers already. We picked up our bear canisters and resupply box with our ice axes and food (after a slight scare, the box arrived the afternoon we hiked in). Beers and hamburgers on the porch, cards with our friends, Neil and Andrew, a bizarre breakfast at a local restaurant where it took 3 hours to get a plate of French Toast, and camping in an old amphitheater that played movies on Saturday night.
Sean and Carla arrived after a marathon travel day and we dragged them to a so-so restaurant 1 hour away. Chris and I were excited about town food. We borrowed their rental car and went to Ridgecrest to hit up an outfitter's because our water filter was failing - no luck. The store was vacant. To make matters worse, Chris got pulled over, but he got off. We salvaged the trip by a successful run to the Post Office and a yummy diner breakfast.
Back on the trail, this time with Sean and Carla, we are definitely getting into some serious mountains. Sean and Carla are amazing with their ability to hit the ground running despite the elevation - over 11,000 feet at some points - and rough terrain reminiscent of New England. We all covered 67 miles in 5 days under gray skies and some of the coldest temperatures we've seen so far. Some mornings there was frost on our gear!
Now we find ourselves above the tree line amid clouds at 11,600 feet waiting to see what happens with the weather. Chris and I have decided that if the mountains are still socked in with clouds in the morning, we'll forgo the summit. That means we'll have say good-bye to our friends who are heading back to Jamaica Plain. We have much to look forward to: birthdays, anniversaries, visits with Clare in Mammoth, CA and hopefully, better weather. But we both still want to climb. We are definitely at the mercy of Mother Nature, and isn't that all part of this crazy adventure?
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Making it the 703 miles to Kennedy Meadows also means we've walked over 25% of the Trail! And that we have less than 2000 miles to go, which, depending on how you look at it, is either a milestone or daunting. Maybe both.
We arrived here with zero ailments, which we are extremely happy about, and have been in great spirits except for a few blue days. Although we're living the dream out here, we can't help but miss our friends and families, and the city summertime.
We're taking a few rest days here, and await the arrival of our Boston friends Sean & Carla, who are hiking with us from here to Mount Whitney. We can't wait.
We'll be northbound again Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.
PS A blog post for the miles between Tehachapi and Kennedy Meadows will be coming soon.