Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Skyline Trail

Today I went for a hike. First hike in 3 months, so needless to say I was a bit soft. The Skyline Trail lies within the Blue Hills Reservation south of Boston, just a 20-minute drive from our house in Jamaica Plain.
Blue blazes mark the Skyline Trail.
Snow on the ground, but blue blue skies.
A nice vista of downtown Boston atop one of the hills.
The temperature was in the teens, with the wind chill it was below zero. Thankfully, we did NOT experience these temps on the PCT.

It was great getting back out into the woods today. Emily couldn't come with me unfortunately due to work. She is very happy to have found herself a new job - at the New England Aquarium where I am also employed! We work in different buildings, and have different schedules, and are in completely different departments (Me: Fishes, Em: Communications), but do see each other on campus infrequently. So... that's why I went for a solo hike.

I found it very refreshing. I remembered what I liked about the Trail. The peace and quiet, being able to get lost in your own thoughts, the exercise, having tired muscles, the wind in my face. And even better, I had a car at the trailhead with a beer waiting for me, and enjoyed a hot shower when I got home - those were things we dreamed about while hiking the PCT.

A great day.

-Chris

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hike Videos: 3 of 6

video

Reaching the Oregon border after 101 days walking across California. August 7th.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hike Videos: 2 of 6

video

Grider Creek (northern California near Seiad Valley) hailstorm on August 5th.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Our Hike by the Numbers

Well, 40 days ago today we finished the Trail. That's hard to believe. 40 days in the real world definitely goes by faster than 40 days in the woods. To put it into perspective, on the Trail for this long we had walked 648 miles, and were 3 days from Kennedy Meadows. Wow. So, a little over a month later here's our hike by the numbers:

  • 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
For this list, it's been fun for us to look back on the hike and reminisce. The more time that elapses, the more we gloss over the hardships and discomforts of the Trail and focus on all the amazing moments we shared. That's for sure.

-Sunfish & Beetle

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Women Behind the Curtain

If you were wondering how we kept our blog updated during the hike, we didn't!

A huge thank you to Liz Parker (Emily's mom) and Sally Bauernfeind (Chris' mom) for their amazing behind-the-scenes blog work during our hike.

Liz chillin' on Newcomb Hollow beach in Wellfleet.

We mailed handwritten notes on napkins and scraps of paper to Boston where Liz painstakingly transcribed our entries. Sometimes our handwriting wasn't so great. In fact, Chris got straight C's in handwriting throughout elementary school, and his was easier to read than Emily's! Needless to say it was a tough job. Sometimes she had to call on others to help decipher our scribbling. She even called REI at one point to inquire about "spracks." They rightfully informed her about "sporks," an eating utensil that's a combination of a spoon and a fork.


Sally with her granddaughter Elsie, all decked out in pink.

Uploading pictures, slideshows, and general blog maintenance, that was Sally's thing. Numerous times, she took phone calls in Kentucky from Chris... "Can you take off that picture of my disgusting foot? We've been getting complaints." Or "I don't like the way the site is so busy with all the slideshows." And "The pictures need to be rotated," etc., etc. She never complained, but just kept uploading the pictures from the cards I was sending her, and kept everything in order. She even fixed the SPOT page without my asking.

Our blog was a great way to keep our friends and families informed. Their efforts also left us with an indelible memento of our trip that we can cherish forever in cyberspace. Thanks so much to Liz and Sally! Not only were they computer whizzes, they were tremendous cheerleaders and a groovy support team.

-Sunfish & Beetle


Friday, October 2, 2009

Stehekin to Canada

We made it!

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.

Before I start though, I have to say that I just uploaded all of the Washington pictures (while watching Game 2 of the Sox-Angels ALDS), and am already starting to get emotional about the walk. It's so strange to be back in the real world.

That being said, here's a recap of the last section, between Stehekin and the border of Canada:
We caught the last bus out of Stehekin Saturday evening. As the only patrons on the bus, we got a personal tour of the area, and even got to ask questions along the way. Getting back on the Trail just before sunset, we didn't get very far, and camped a mile in, just up from the banks of Coon Lake.

In the morning, with 90 miles to go, we got up early and started the day as we had the last 4+ months... coffee, breaking down the tent, filling our packs with our stuff, and taking that first step of the day. It was cold. Cold enough that I wore hiking pants, rain pants, 4 layers on my torso, 2 sets of gloves, and a toque on my noggin. Eventually I warmed up, and after we put in over 12 miles, we had lunch at a creekside campsite, soaking in the sun.

Moving north, we left North Cascades National Park, and came to Hwy 20 / Rainy Pass. There, we found a 'magic' cooler with fruit in it, and had a pear each. After progressing to Porcupine Creek to fill up our water bottles, we decided that I'd push on by myself the next 3 1/2 miles to Cutthroat Pass and set up camp, making both of us happy... I get to up my heart rate while Emily gets to arrive with camp set up.
SPACE
Unfortunately though, due to my fault, she passed camp without me realizing it, and the next 2 hours were spent trying to find each other. Funny how, after almost 5 months, we lost each other for the very first time with only 3 days to go. While she was hollering my name on the north side of the ridge, I was screaming bloody murder on the south side. After I got no response numerous times, I couldn't help but have thoughts of very bad things happening to her. She was either 1-attacked by a bear, 2-off the trail after slipping, maybe with a broken ankle, or 3-a rape victim. It was a very difficult couple hours for me, and after almost panicking, coming close to hitting the 911 button on the SPOT, and muttering things to myself like "Oh my god what have I done?", I collected myself, took a deep breath, and broke down camp to go find her. While walking up to the pass, we found each other, and embraced in a sobbing hug. That night, we appreciated the tight confines of our tent, sleeping as close to each other as possible.
SPACE
The next day, we decided it best to stay together. We walked, walked some more, and walked some more after that. 25 miles down, up, down, up, and finally down under a moonlit sky to Harts Pass, where we were pleasantly surprised to find a campground with a pit toilet that was actually clean and pretty nice!
SPACE
In the morning we awoke to find it had snowed. Only a dusting, but a definite reality check for us that winter was right around the corner. It was another cold day, and I found it hard at first to get warm, even with all my layers on and walking. Emily started the day with her down jacket on, but quickly warmed up, and had to shed it. All day actually we were putting on and taking off layers, having a hard time thermoregulating with the varied terrain, clouds, and whether the trail was under a tree canopy or not. One minute we'd be cold, the next boiling lava hot and sweating. During lunch we ran into 3 fellow thru-hikers: Bubble Party, Hungry, and Hemlock. They were on their way back to Harts Pass, after having reached Canada the day before and deciding to stay in the States. After congratulating them on their accomplishment, we parted ways, vowing to stay in touch in cyber space. Snow began to fall off and on in the afternoon. We had wanted to camp before dark, but because of the gray skies, and that we were left with little flat ground when we started looking for a campsite, that didn't work out so well. We finally found a flat spot, up on a ridge at 7000 feet, and pitched our tent while it got dark and snowed on us. While staying in the tent, we cooked just outside the vestibule, and stayed warm inside our sleeping bags. Sleep came shortly after dinner.
SPACE
With only 8 1/2 miles to the border, we set the alarm for 6:00 and enjoyed a lazy morning, eating breakfast and drinking coffee while still inside our bags. We reminisced a bit, talked about what we were feeling, and what the hell we were about to do: finish this walk we started 5 months and 1 day ago. We emerged from the tent to find about an inch of fresh snow on the ground, which was just enough to make the surrounding scenery absolutely beautiful without hindering our progress. Needless to say we were on a high that morning as we walked north.
SPACE
We arrived at the northern terminus just before noon. It was in a small clearing in the middle of nowhere, and had the same style monument as the one at the Mexican border. What does one do when finishing a journey of this length? Well, we hugged, we congratulated each other, Emily cried, I smoked a cigar, we drank some champagne, we took pictures, we broke out the Canadian flag, we sighed. Now what? 8 more miles to the closest civilization: Manning Park, BC. It was there that my parents, George and Sally, met us, which was only fitting since they saw us off at the start. Time to celebrate!
SPACE
Wow, I can't believe it... we really did it. We hiked the entire length of the PCT.
SPACE
-Sunfish

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Skykomish to Stehekin

First, a word about the trail angels who kindly put us up in their home in Baring, WA. The Dinsmores have been taking in hikers for several years. During our stay, we showered, did laundry, got online for e-mail and banking, watched some movies, cooked hot dogs over a roaring campfire and crashed on inflatable mattresses along with 8 other hikers. The Dinsmores' quiet generosity is amazing, and much appreciated.

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

Snoqualmie Pass to Skykomish

Walking into Snoqualmie Pass on Friday, we hadn't seen another thru-hiker since getting back on the trail a week earlier. We were feeling like we were the last ones on the PCT, a lonely feeling. But as we entered the Pancake House, we saw familiar faces, as well as hikers we had not met before. We caught up with:

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.

-Sunfish


Friday, September 18, 2009

White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

The guidebooks all said this was supposed to be an easy section. Well, maybe we're soft after a week off the trail, but it definitely was tougher than we expected. There was plenty of climbing, and stormy clouds threatened to dampen our spirits several times. Amazingly, we did not get rained on, though walked through thick fog a lot. The weather could change quickly from pea soup fog to a glorious sunny afternoon. Here in Washington, we'll take all the sun we can get!

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.

-Beetle

Monday, September 14, 2009

Trout Lake to White Pass

28 hours after leaving the Provincetown dock, by boat, subway, bus, airplane and car, we stood at the Trout Lake trail head, amazed that we were back. When we landed the night before, at the Portland Airport, our friends, Jim and Heather picked us up and took us to their log cabin in Oregon City. It's over 100 years old and is listed on the Historical Registry, and it's where we had the pleasure of spending the night.


In the morning, after playing with their dogs, Cassie and Dutch, Jim's parents, Sue and John, arrived to shuttle us to the trail head. Incredible that they were willing to do this, because it was a 2 1/2 hour road trip one way! We are so grateful to them. During a quick stop in the town of Trout Lake, we mailed our street clothes to Kentucky, and bought coffee at the country store. While paying, I asked the clerk how the weather had been this past week. She said, "It poured...absolutely poured."


Although now prepared for the worst, our 65 mile hike between Trout Lake and White Pass was nothing but beautiful. Abundant sunshine, blue skies, and in the 70's. While walking through Mt. Adams Wilderness, we were blessed with numerous vistas of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams and eventually, Mt Rainier, the highest peak in Washington at 14,411 feet. Along with seeing more ferns, mosses and mushrooms, we also saw our first pika, mountain goat, possibly the rear end of an elk, and an unknown weaselly creature in a tree. The last 25 miles of this section was through Goat Rocks Wilderness, an amazingly beautiful area. complete with rocky trail, glacier traverse and even a knife's edge trail that offered 360 degree views. It was very reminiscent of Mt. Katahdin in Maine.


As I write, we are seated inside a small gas station cafe, drinking coffee and eating cereal while tending to our "town" errands here at White Pass on Hwy 12. Our resupply box arrived so we're all set to tackle the next 99 miles to Snoqualmie Pass, We're crossing our fingers on the weather.


-Sunfish

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cascade Locks, OR to Trout Lake, WA

Oh, the restorative effects of a rest day, or two. After my family encouraged me to seek treatment for a persistent sore throat, my brother-in-law's father was nice enough to call in an antibiotics prescription. But since the only pharmacy near Cascade Locks was across the river in Stevenson, WA and was only open Monday through Friday, we were forced to stick around for an extra day to wait until the pharmacy opened for business. A fabulous excuse to laze around for another day, and to visit with Chris' Portland pals - Jim and Heather - who trekked out for dinner with us in Stevenson.


With our extra day off, we also mulled a decision about the next day's hike: do we take the historic PCT that entails a 12-mile road walk, or the new 36-mile trail with thousands of feet in elevation change? We opted for the shorter route. I was still feeling a bit under the weather and we were racing against the clock to get up to Trout Lake, WA in time for our "vacation from our vacation."


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.
- Beetle

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sisters to Cascade Locks

It was 11:30 am, we were all packed up, and it was time to check out of our Sisters Inn. As I was putting on my 2nd shoe, I hesitated. Em noticed and asked me what I was thinking. I looked up and said to her "Wanna take a zero?" A smile appeared on her face, and I knew at that instant we had just decided to take the day off.

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.

-Sunfish

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Willamette Pass to Sisters

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!

-Beetle

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Crater Lake to Willamette Pass

We left the Crater Lake Rim Village Lodge overcaffeinated and overweighted: 6 days worth of food and 4 l. of water each. The Trail took us along the rim for about a quarter of the lake's circumference, so with it being Sunday, there were lots of tourists to talk to at some of the overlooks we walked by. Also, the dozens and dozens of vistas occupied our time, snapping scenery pics and looking for that perfect setting for our upcoming Christmas card (oops, I spilled the beans). By midafternoon the Trail veered northwest and we said goodbye to this beautiful body of water, and vowed to come back another day. Some quick facts:

Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902. The lake rests inside a caldera formed over 7,000 years ago when Mt. Mazama collapsed after it erupted. It is the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet and is considered to be the cleanest body of water in the world. Its water comes from rain and snow only (no rivers or streams), and because its rate of evaporation is almost equal to precipitation amounts annually, the lake's water level basically remains the same. Its intense blue color is a sight to be seen.

Shortly after leaving the park, we entered Mt. Thielsen Wilderness and continued to follow the apparent elk tracks we'd been seeing on the trail the last 100 miles or so. Why would an elk be walking the PCT? Dense pine forests and a well-graded undulating single track made for pleasant hiking. Mt. Thielsen, known as the "lightning rod" of the Cascades, tempted us but we stayed on the PCT and finally figured out the tracks. They were 2 llamas! They were being used as pack animals for two section hikers from Trout Lake, WA, one of the trail towns further north. After talking with them for a bit and taking some pictures, we moved on. We met 2 more southbounders (hiking from Canada to Mexico) which makes 7 now. One girl, trail named The Tortoise, was low on food, so I gave her some extra stuff I was carrying: 2 hiker staples - Snicker bars and Ramen. Later, although the mosquitoes became thicker, and the blowdowns more abundant, we were rewarded with a sun-soaked cove of Summit Lake, a perfect spot for a swim/bath. Shortly after, some unexpected trail magic in the form of food and drinks by a 2008 thru-hiker further brightened our day. The remaining 20 miles of this section were in Diamond Peak Wilderness, traversing the foothills of the massive Diamond Peak, and Mt. Yoran, and ending at Willamette Pass. There, our friends, Neil and Andrea, pulled us off the trail for a 1/2 day of pampering at their relatives' vacation home. Back on the trail tomorrow, but first some history of the PCT through Oregon.

The very first link in the PCT was actually here in Oregon. Before the idea for the PCT even came about, there existed a trail from MT. Hood to Crater Lake, named the Oregon Skyline Trail. It was built by the U.S. Forest Service and finished by 1920. In the early 1930's, it was extended at both ends, and in 1937 PCT trail markers were designed and posted from the Canadian border to the California border. ( In Washington, the Cascade Crest Trail was used). Since then, mainly beginning in the 1960's the trail through Oregon has gone through some changes. New trails were blazed to get it off roads, move it closer to the actual crest of the Cascade Mountains, and make it less steep by way of switchbacks. It now extends 457 miles across the state. -Sunfish

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ashland, OR to Crater Lake National Park

Ashland treated us very well. Chris already mentioned how amazing our Bed & Breakfast was with our plush king sized bed, jacuzzi bath tub and a separate shower, even two elegant chairs that we lazed in while we sipped wine. We are deeply grateful to my sister, Adrienne, and brother-in-law, Jeff, for such a treat! The Winchester Inn was so nice that we decided to stay another night!

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:

Emily

"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."

Chris

"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

Etna to Ashland, OR

Well, we did it. We made it into Oregon! It took us 101 days to walk the entire state of California, all 1700 miles of it on the PCT. Our original schedule had us crossing the border on the 100th day (17 miles per day), so we're only a day behind schedule. This is great for us, because less than a month ago, we were over a week behind, and a bit nervous about that. We made a goal to catch back up by Ashland, basically by taking no zero days and moving north at a steady pace, hiking longish days. It helps too that walking 25-30 miles per day is pretty easy for us now, not just because we're in better shape, but because the trail is easier too.

Ashland, Oregon. It's a pretty awesome little town, so we decided to treat ourselves to a zero tomorrow and a nero on Monday. My amazing sister-in-law Adrienne and her husband Jeff (he's also amazing I must admit) got us a room at a swanky Bed & Breakfast a block off of Main Street, a perfect place for some time off the trail. Thank you J&A!

So, a recap of the section between Etna and Ashland. It was 121 miles of pretty nice trail, and some welcome cooler weather. We left the Hiker's Hut mid-morning on Tuesday, and caught a ride from the owner Dave, along with Bo, their friendly dog who befriended Emily on the way up to the summit. Back on the trail at 10:45, we entered the Marble Mountain Wilderness and made it 20 miles before looking for a flat spot to camp. We found flat ground, along with a few piles of firefighting gear and water. We saw no firefighters, but we did see blue smoke in the near distance, apparently caused by a controlled burn. The next morning, we walked through it, and saw smoldering underbrush and stumps, curious how they are able to pull this off without burning the forest down. Moving on, we passed a peak named King's Castle, which well, really looked like a castle actually. Just after, a hawk flew over us, with prey in its talons. We imagined what it must be like to be plucked from the ground and flown high up while being pierced by sharp claws. Not a fun way to go I bet. Later in the day, we saw our 4th bear, a large dark black one that high-tailed it as soon as he heard us. Still no picture. As we descended to Grider Creek, the sky became dark and rumbly. Not 2 hours later, we were getting poured on, along with a brief hailstorm (hail the size of marbles) and plenty of thunder & lightning. Scary, but we could do nothing but keep walking. We made it to Grider Creek Campground just after darkness settled in, and were greeted by our friends Neil & Andrea! We weren't expecting to see them until the next morning, so we were pleasantly surprised! We caught up a bit, then disappeared into our tents, excited about breakfast in the morning.

Up early at 6 am, and we walked the 6 miles on a dirt road to the Seiad Store, where they have a pancake challenge famous to thru-hikers. 5 pounds of behemoth pancakes - no way we were going to make this attempt. We did have a hearty breakfast though, and enjoyed a few hours of conversation with Neil & Andrea, and got back on the trail just after noon. 4,500 feet up to Lower Devil's Peak, but it was overcast and cool, so it wasn't too bad. At the top, we pulled out all of our sopping wet gear from the storm the night before and laid it out to dry while we had a late lunch. The rest of the day was along rolling ridgeline, and we pitched camp early at 7:30 at a pass, where N&A, who had driven right up and over this pass to get back home, left us a couple gallons of water and a bottle of wine... thanks! They also got our mail in Ashland and left it at the B&B for us. Opening the door to our room and seeing a pile of boxes and mail was like Christmas morning. Again, thank you to everyone who's been sending us such wonderful care packages and correspondences. We really do appreciate it immensely.

Friday the 7th. It was cloudy all day, but luckily we were never rained on. At 5:30 pm, we crossed into Oregon! To savor the moment, we broke for dinner here, read the trail register and sipped on red wine we hiked in. It was a very surreal moment, finally reaching this border after over 3 months of walking. A milestone indeed. We pushed on a few more miles, and found a vacant open-aired shelter to spend the night. We were completely stoked to see 2 picnic tables to sleep on! After realizing that we actually got excited about being able to sleep on wooden planks, we decided that maybe we've been out here too long.

We were up early the next morning, with only 21 miles to Ashland. 9 miles in, we were very happy to find a cooler full of sodas left by a trail angel, since we were low on food. The trail was nice, and there were day hikers out, it being Saturday, so our moods were high. By 4 we were out of the woods and while contemplating our next move, a car pulled up and offered us a ride to Ashland, 9 miles north on Interstate 5. How lucky!

And here we are. Life is good!

-Sunfish

Monday, August 3, 2009

Castella to Etna

Someone mentioned in one of the PCT Guidebooks that Castella marks the end of the overgrown section. For the most part, that statement is true. In fact, Chris and I very much enjoyed this section of the PCT. We started out in the Castle Crags State Park with their granite spires towering over the trail. In and out pine forest and meadows, we continued through the Trinity Alps and Russian Wilderness areas and all the while being treated to stunning vistas of Mt. Shasta and surrounding granite peaks and valleys bristling with trees.

One reason the hiking has been so pleasant may be our light packs. Water is fairly prevalent so we don't need to lug too much around with us. As Chris has mentioned before, we continue to unload gear and luxuries - like extra tent stakes, playing cards - in order to save weight. And, we also have lighter food bags because of the slim pickings from the gas station mini-mart. Chris made up for the junk food fare by filling his belly with fresh made burritos for three meals in a row- dinner, breakfast and lunch.

Another reason we've loved this section is that the weather finally cooled down some. After a sweltering climb our of Castella through the Castle Crags, we camped on a sandy ledge overlooking a valley. A welcomed, cooling breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay as we watched the sunset behind the ridge, silhouetting the pine trees keeping watch over the area. It was truly a magical spot - these moments are why we are out here.

That cool breeze continued for the next couple of days. For the most part, there wasn't a cloud in the sky except for one evening midway through this stretch. Clouds rolled in after dark covering the nearly full moon and heat lightening lit up the night sky. The light show did not phase Chris,
who was dead asleep, but I did manage to put the rain fly on before a light rain started to fall. By morning, everything was dry again.

We caught a hitch into Etna with one of the 20 residents of Sawyer's Bar and we are enjoying the warm hospitality of Dave and Vicki at their "Hiker's Hut". It's a dorm-style hostel with internet, showers, laundry and VCR. Now it's onward to Seiad Valley with it's restaurant known for one pound pancakes and then the Oregon border!

One last side note: I thought some folks might be curious to know what we do all day long while hiking. It can get boring putting one foot in front of the other for 10 or 12 hours a day. Sometimes we can waste a good hour or two talking about the cats or why the Toronto Blue Jays should be moved to North Carolina and be renamed the Durham Bull Sharks. Sometimes we listen to our iPods. Very often we daydream. I've already figured out what color we're painting the kitchen chairs and what we're going to name our dogs that we'll adopt someday down the road. And always, our dear family and friends are never far from out thoughts.

Thanks for your support and well-wishes, all! We miss you... -Beetle

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cassel to Castella

Seeing my sister Maggie in Cassel was a treat. I have five siblings and because my parents instilled in us a mild form of wanderlust by moving us around a lot when we were youngin's, we have settled in 5 different cities, Boston, Chicago, Raleigh, Louisville and San Francisco, where Jonathan and Maggie live. They drove up for the weekend, and it was a grand time car camping with them. It was the first time from the start of the hike seeing a family member. I was sad to say goodbye on Sunday.

Because it was so hot and that we had full bellies of breakfast, we elected to wait a bit, go for a swim in the canal adjacent to the Cassel Campground, and not start hiking until 2 pm. Over the next 3 1/2 days, we walked the 90 miles between these 2 towns. The trail was dusty and hot, reaching into the 90's each day and even 100 degrees for part of it. It was also unmaintained in some sections, leaving the trail overgrown and me longing for a machete rather then my dull trekking poles. However, we were graced with dozens of vistas of Mt. Shasta throughout this section. So many that I had to resist taking its picture each time, leaving me feeling guilty after passing such an amazing sight. It sits a few hundred feet lower than Mt. Whitney, but because the surrounding landscape is so much lower, it dominates the skyline. The only other thing to mention is that we saw our first (and second) rattlesnake since south of Kennedy Meadows Tuesday night, during a night hike donning head lamps. Scary.

We've grown a little tired of our trail food, so we decided to try a few new things. We added fresh veggies to the grocery list, including cucumber, tomato, spinach and carrots. All but the spinach was a success, even with the hot weather, we greatly enjoyed our vegetable pitas with salsa (another new addition) during lunchtime. We also made sun tea between meals while hiking, and tried a non-cooked version of Ramen, where you simply add it to lukewarm water in a Nalgene a 1/2 hour before dinnertime. It made for a wonderful meal when the thought of cooking in the hot weather seemed like a terrible idea.

Lastly, I'd like to mention some of the trail magic we've received during the hike, most recently, from our campground neighbors. Trail magic sounds dorky, but it's simply an act of kindness or generosity by a stranger. It can come in the form of a free ride to town, or a bag of plums left on the trail, or a cold Coke. At the Cassel Campground, as we waited for Maggie and Jon to arrive, Rodney gave us 2 beers.... and then brought 2 more when he saw that we had finished them.And Dan, who so generously let us use his outdoor shower at his site - it was much needed! If they, by chance, are reading this: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Next stop Etna, 100 miles away.
-Sunfish


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Belden to Cassel

Because we had to wait until the Post Office opened at 9am, we were able to sleep in a bit in our tree house. The techno music abated as we made coffee and we were on the road- Highway 70- walking toward the PO soon after. We hit the jackpot with armsful of packages, so many , in fact, that the delightful postmaster called us the hikers from hell. The next hour was spent sorting through the lot, reading letters aloud and feeling a bit homesick for all our dear friends and family.

But the trail called. We started the ten mile climb out of Belden around 10am and we were still climbing at 5pm. The heat, heavy packs filled with food and the enormous climb all conspired to make for a very slow day - only 16 miles! Fortunately we made up for the short day with some big miles in the next 4 days that followed - 3 days of 25 miles and our first 30 mile day!

Chris and I had great incentive to make it to Cassel by Friday because his sister, Maggie, and her husband, Jonathan, were meeting us for some car camping. The terrain was gentle - rolling hills through Lassen Volcanic National Park as well as several lumber farms. We survived a 30 mile waterless stretch thanks to a water cache halfway through, and we rolled into Cassel Campground around 8pm. Jon and Maggie arrived from San Francisco soon after and the fun began. Lots of beer, lots of eating and we even squeezed in a 4 mile walk together on the PCT. An awesome weekend. It is a real treat to see familiar, beloved faces after so long on the trail.

So now it's onward to Castella, and Ashland, OR beyond. We have a goal to to make it to Ashland without taking any zero days in an attempt to get back to schedule. To make it to the border on time, we have to pull 40 days of 25 miles or more, 19 days of 17 miles and that allows us 12 zero days - 6 of which we'll use for a Parker Family vacation on Cape Cod in September.

So, it's back to the grindstone today and a sad farewell to Jon and Maggie, who treated us to delicious feasts all weekend and great company.

"No...zeros...'til....Ashland!" -Beetle

*Note: This late entry was among my neighbor's vacation mail on hold in the Canton, MA post office for three weeks. Sorry for the delay. LP

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sierra City to Belden

Before leaving Sierra City, we had a few things to take care of. First off, since we were already in our swimsuits (what we wear while doing laundry ), we walked down a side street to a swimming hole and jumped in for a soap-free bath. Secondly, I figured it was finally time to learn what the customary second anniversary gifts are made of. Hitting the library, I found out, ironically, that it's cotton. Well, as all you hikers out there know...cotton kills! So, we decided to put off anniversary gift buying until October.This section, 92 miles from Sierra City to Belden, was a change. Lower elevations, hotter temperatures, scarcer water, less mosquitoes but more annoying flies, and nearing the end of the Sierra Nevada.

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.

-Sunfish

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Echo Lake to Sierra City

Somehow we avoided the post-town blues. Maybe it has something to do with having lighter packs, having mailed our bear vaults, ice axes and extra clothing home. Or maybe our high spirits have to do with the pleasant terrain, rolling hills, dry trail and great views of Lake Tahoe.
The huge body of water, is an unreal shade of blue juxtaposed against dark green and purple surrounding mountains. In any case, this has been an enjoyable stretch.

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...

-Beetle

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bridgeport to Echo Lake

Awaking July 5th in our tent on Bob's front lawn not 15 feet from Main Street, Bridgeport, we packed up, grabbed some coffee, and piled in Bob's little car with fellow thru-hiker, Man Down, for the nauseating 45 minute ride back up Sonora Pass. There, at the trail head parking lot, we enjoyed fresh fruit, Frosted Flakes and donuts to begin Emily's birthday celebration. Once on the trail, I handed over my iPod, on which I had made a 50-song birthday mix for her. As she listened throughout the day, we slowly made miles and camped early after only putting in 14. Birthday dinner was a freeze-dried Mexican chicken and rice, red wine,quesadillas grilled directly atop my canister stove, chocolate pudding and a few rounds of Phase 10, a card game I got for her. Although she said she had a great birthday, she also said she wants to be nowhere near a trail next July 5th!

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

Mammoth to Bridgeport

After a slog though the High Sierra, we were definitely in need of a break and Mammoth treated us well in that regard. Best of all we had a wonderful visit with my dear friend, Clare. She picked us up from the shuttle out of Red's Meadow and we took care of the usual "town" errands: laundry, shower and food! Clare confirmed that we were in need of the shower and laundry especially.

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

June 23rd - Day 56

"It's my birthday. This will go down as one of the more memorable ones, I am positive of that. I just read the poem Emily wrote for me - amazing. She also gave me a present - a tiny cairn made up of rocks she's been collecting, unbeknownst to me, since the desert. Every rock has a meaning. Also amazing. And she made dessert tonight! A cheesecake concoction that she bought pre-hike and had put in the VVR resupply box we picked up today. I'm actually full tonight! Ah, amazing wife I have.

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."

-Sunfish

June 22nd - Day 55

"Chris' birthday eve and we're 8.5 miles from VVR (Vermillion Valley Resort). Who would've thought we'd be in this position just a couple days ago?! We did 22.8 miles today, up and over another pass. Selden Pass was far less hairy than previous - less snow and lower elevation at only 10,900 feet. But that still didn't prevent us from losing the trail across snow patches and losing our tempers. Chris is massively uncomfortable with passes and the helpless feelings that come when you're wandering in the wilderness looking for the PCT.

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."

-Beetle

Saturday, June 27, 2009

June 21st - Day 54

"June 21st. Summer Solstice, longest day of the year! And Happy Father's Day to George P. and George B. We celebrated the solstice by hiking from sun-up to sun-down, 6:20am to 8:20pm, minus a 45-minute coffee break and an hour for lunch. Almost 23 miles, even with a 4,000 foot elevation gain, and Muir Pass with its 5 miles of snow. It was a good day.

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."

-Sunfish

June 20th - Day 53

"Today was so long that this morning feels like yesterday, and maybe that's a good thing because the day didn't start out so well. Rain and hail overnight meant a freezing start at 5am, and a wet tent. Sometimes it's hard to remember it's June, and some of the longest days of the year.

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!"

-Beetle

Friday, June 26, 2009

June 19th - Day 52

"Inside our tent here at sub-11,000 feet, 2 1/2 miles from Pinchot Pass, I feel safe. However, for most of the last 2 days, I haven't. This John Muir Trail is no joke. The crazy ascents and descents, the passes, the fords. It's all very hard and scary at times. After our 3rd and last ford after Woods Creek, Emily was shaking and on the verge of tears. The fords don't scare me as much, but the snow on the passes does. We have our ice axes, and carry them properly, but still the thought of slipping is always on my mind. And then of course, post-holing is always a possibility, which I hate, and since I gouged my leg on the rock, I'm super nervous about doing it again. All in all, I just don't feel like I belong in this wilderness, that mother nature is a stronger force than I realized. I suppose my fear of death is pretty strong.

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."

-Sunfish

Thursday, June 25, 2009

June 18th - Day 51

"Today was a rollercoaster of emotions. First thing off the bat, surprise and elation at actual sunshine! Chris woke my sleepy butt up at 7:30am - late for the trail - and we decided to let our neighbors head out first so they could break trail on Forester Pass. It was a long steady climb up into a basin with three walls of mountains all around us. Turns out, the Sierra are actually gorgeous when not choked with cloud cover! I also heard coyotes yip at each other, a magical sound. Anyway, we traipsed over snow fields following tracks of previous hikers towards one of these mountain walls. The switchbacks could barely be discerned amid all the snow. Slowly, steadily, with ice axes in hand, we climbed the highest point on the PCT - 13,200 feet. A real high in all senses of the word.

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."

-Beetle