Opening Statement

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thursday, April 27, 2017

PCT 3 - Sand, Wind, and Bird Song - Walker Pass to Tehachapi - 85 PCT miles

McIvers Cabin

The first night I spent at the McIvers cabin, one of only a few shelters on the PCT.  It appears to be primarily used by hunters, but I had it to myself, along with a bubbling stream.

On my third day into this section I got on the trail early, bundled up against the cold and strong wind, which was more a jumble of gusts than anything more organized.   Rushing past my clothing, the wind took over my senses.  In that seemingly barren desert, I was aware only of wind, sand, and a few struggling shrubs and stubby Joshua trees.  Then as the day lightened, as though on a separate soundtrack, the birds started to sing, and I was reminded again that "Nature is never spent," and there is no part of this trail untouched by beauty.

This was one of the more challenging  sections that I have hiked so far, with 13,484 feet of elevation gain and 14,862 feet of elevation loss.  In other words you are either going up or down 90 percent of the time.  It was also very windy, with gusts of up to 40 mph, which is strong enough to make most hikers weave like drunks.


There weren't too many people on this section of the trail yet.  It seemed to me that it was mostly the ultralight superfast hikers, with trail names like Roadrunner, and the super strong outdoors people with more substantial gear, who nevertheless exuded complete ease and carried trail names like Happy Feet and Breeze.  I was again able to provide plenty of contrast to these athletes, as I am still building up my hiking stamina and speed.

Trail Gorillas Bill and Gerry

On the second day I met some of the Trail Gorillas, which is the volunteer group that maintains the first 704 miles of the trail.  For example, this group clears trees that have fallen across the trail and fixes areas that have washed out due to storms.  Without the Trail Gorillas and the other volunteer groups, the PCT might not even be able to survive, because the maintenance needs of such a long trail are staggering.   Pick-Axe-Pete asked me to send the location and diameter for every downed tree I found and I came up with a list of 68 trees in the next 50 miles.  He replied quickly that he would add my list to their database and they would be deleted as they were cleared up.

On the third night, I had pitched my tent at Landers Camp and was joined about an hour later by another solo hiker, Lost Lori, who confided that she had discovered that she disliked camping alone.  We hiked together for the remainder of the section and it was a nice contrast to my usual solitude.

Arriving at the junction of the PCT with Highway 58 I was amazed and delighted to find a photocopied list of trail angels who would give rides into Tehachapi.   After only a few calls, a woman named Patty agreed to pick us up, took us to the post office, and then dropped me at my hotel.  At times the PCT community feels magical, and this sense is only heightened by sore feet.

Here is a link to the photos from this section

Friday, April 21, 2017

PCT 2 - Solitude and Storms - Kennedy Meadows to Walker Pass - 52 PCT miles

On April 17th Christine drove me from San Diego, where we had spent the weekend with our friend Mary Heany, to Kennedy Meadows, where I was going to get back on the trail.

Kennedy Meadows is a campground located way back in the mountains east of Bakersfield, California. We drove a winding 22 miles from the nearest big road to reach the campground and the PCT, which runs right through it.

From Kennedy Meadows I headed south into an enormous rock basin. Based on the trail register, I did not expect to see anyone else.  Being the only hiker in such a vast landscape made a profound sense of privilege settle on the experience.

The first night I camped next to Manter Creek, which bubbled pleasantly. Next morning, the play of light on the clouds was fantastic.

I had not done a good job of venting my tent, so the top quarter of my sleeping bag was wet, but it would take too long to dry in the cool morning, so I packed it damp.

The second day was a long haul of 17+ miles to a campsite at mile 676, which is situated on a saddle, in a perfect position to be buffeted by strong winds.

The beautiful morning clouds rained on me for two hours, then I hiked through chilling winds for most of the day. There were about 80 downed trees blocking the trail, which slowed down my hike.  According to the Forest Service, multiple drought years combined with beetle infestations have caused a massive die off.

Despite having the right gear, I didn't stay warm and ended up exhausted, cold, and pitching my tent in high winds. It took two hours for my body heat to dry out my sleeping bag. I felt far from being a gnarly backpacker as I paid for my sloppy decision to put it away wet.

Day three was a reminder of how amazing it can be to be in the mountains while a storm system is passing through. When I woke up my tent was crusted in frost. I got off to an early start and continued down the trail in both my vest and jacket due to the cold.

After an hour I heard a shout from down the trail and soon met up with Andy, possibly the first hiker reaching this point from the south in 2017. He had started hiking in February, which is very early. With his steel-tipped, hand-carved walking staff, work boots, and corn-cob pipe, he seemed both unconventional and completely at home with himself.

Later, I enjoyed visiting with fellow PCT hiker Playdoh (real name Dana), and crossed paths with another hiker steaming up the trail who didn't even break stride as he raced by me.

That night I camped at Joshua Tree Spring, which was a very pleasant oasis in the desert.

Day four started off cold, with a brisk wind and near-freezing temperatures that kept me bundled up. I made it out to Highway 178 at 1:45 pm and got a ride into Lake Isabela exactly an hour later from a very pleasant Swiss couple who were in California on a road trip.

I'm now at the Lake Isabela Hotel, planning a return to the trail tomorrow.

Here is a link to the photo albumn for this section.

Friday, April 14, 2017

PCT 1 - Super Bloom - Campo to Paradise Valley Cafe - 152 PCT miles

The Desert was in Bloom

After a brief stop at our friend Mary Heany's house, my wife Christine drove me to the Southern Monument and trailhead at Campo, California.  Beginning the trail was exciting, and after a few quick snaps and a hug, I was off, lumbering down the trail with my 49 pound pack.  My objective for the day was to make it to Hauser Creek, 15 miles in.

Setting off from the Southern Terminus

It was hard to remember that we were in the desert with so many flowers, and frequent small streams crossing the trail.   Every few minutes I had to stop to photograph a flower or colorful vista.

It wasn't long before I discovered my status as the slowest hiker on the PCT.  Gee, I was just looking at the flowers!  At the end of the day it was satisfying to stumble into Hauser Creek at 5:30 in the evening, tired but elated.  Several people commented in a friendly way that just possibly my pack could be a little lighter.  The good-natured commentary went up a notch when I struggled to remove a massive bear canister from my pack, and realized that I was the only person at the campsite that had thought it might be a good idea to start off with a bear canister.

Phyllis and Georgie Starting a Rare Equestrian Thru-Hike

Over the next 152 miles, I enjoyed the straightforward names of the places that I camped.  I've included the PCT mile points and off-trail mileage to give you an idea of the distances.  My shortest day was about 5 miles, and the longest was 20.

Hauser Creek - (15.4) - 15.4 hiked
Lake Morena - (20.2) - 4.8 hiked
Fred Canyon - (32.0) - 11.8 hiked
Mount Laguna - (41.5) 0.8 off - 10.3 hiked
Sunrise Trailhead - (59.5) 1.5 off - 19.5 hiked
Stage Coach RV Park, near Sissors Crossing - (77.3) 0.6 off - 18.4 hiked
3rd Pipe Gate - (91.2) 4.3 off - 18.2 hiked
Mountain Valley Resort, near Barrel Springs - (101.2) - 10.0 hiked
Agua Caliente Creek - (114.7) - 13.5 hiked
Trailside - (134.8) - 20.1 hiked
Paradise Valley Cafe, then by car to Carlsbad for a break - (151.9) 1.0 off - 18.1 hiked

Sunrise Trailhead Earns it's Name
A few impressions:

Superbloom - So many plants were flowering that it was like walking through a garden.  I have an album for this section that will give you an idea:  PCT 1 photo album

The Trail - Incredibly well graded, built, and maintained.  I was wondering how people could hike 20 mile days, and surprised myself by hiking a few long days in the first two weeks.  This would only be possible on such a well-built trail.

People - Hikers, "trail angels," and business owners all have an upbeat positive attitude, and "no whining" is an unwritten trail rule.  Next would be, "hike your own hike," which means refrain from giving unasked-for advice.  Everyone is there because they want to be there, and is also entitled to learn from their own choices.

Meeting up with Wookie at the Paradise Valley Cafe

I'll update this blog when I get a chance.  Please let me know if you have comments.  I hope to see you out on the trail!