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.

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.


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...


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