PCT Completion Hike – Days 65 to 79

The phoenix must burn to emerge.
– Janet Fitch

From Shelter Cover, we continued hiking north, crossing Highway 58 before climbing along a fairly steep, long incline toward the Rosary Lakes area. This is a region that actually contains a series of three lakes, one feeding into the others. The views here were incredible and we had clear, fresh air to enjoy.

Hiking in Oregon during late July and early August, was a perfect time to be there. The temperatures were in the upper 70’s or low 80’s, we didn’t experience a lot of humidity and ripe huckleberries abound. With so many lakes and ponds, we managed to either have lunch or camp overnight almost entirely by water. At Maidu Lake, a mile off trail, the water was so warm that even Patti ventured in. There was also the most incredible number of half-inch sized frogs leaping and jumping all around the banks. It was hard not to step on the little guys. Other lakes we enjoyed were Bobby Lake, Charlton Pond, Taylor Lake, among many more.

I was fascinated by one section-hiker’s itinerary/strategy on hiking the trail. He drives a truck towing a trailer that carries his scooter. He drives to his planned end-point, drops off his scooter, then drives the truck to the trail head and leaves it there. He does his hike to his scooter and then rides that back to his truck. As section hikers ourselves, we spend a lot of time figuring out how to get to and from our trail heads. This guy had it down.

One of the greatest things about the Pacific Crest Trail is the help hikers receive from complete strangers. This often takes the form of a hitch into town or a water cache left for thirsty hikers through a dry area. More commonly, however, trail magic includes these folks hanging out near a trail head and providing fresh food and drinks to the hikers as they pass by. At Charlton Pond, Patti and I were greeted by Hannah and “Sparkles” who was a hiker herself. It was late in the day, almost dark, in fact. But as we approached we saw an eager Hannah waving her hand, chanting “You Who” at us. Next thing we know we’re eating pancakes with lots of squeeze butter and maple syrup, chips and salsa, candy and drinking nice cold local beer. We gorged ourselves after a long day of hiking before setting up camp on the banks of the pond. Then, in the morning, before moving on, we were walking by the area that Hannah and Sparkles were camped at, only to be offered fresh eggs and fruit. The generosity of these trail angels, and all trail angels, is a testimony of how good people can be – something we can easily forget living our lives day-to-day. Hannah and Sparkles provided magic for four solid days, hauling their supplies and food, including ice and cans of beer, into the forest, to more than 80 hikers by the time were leaving. Their generosity was amazing. They would not accept our donation to help with their costs. This was entirely on them.

The impact of fire, past and present, was visible as we moved on. Patti and I saw these areas in different lights. Patti saw the near-baron landscape, but pointed to the small flowers and sprouting green grass as a sign of beauty, remembering that life restores itself in these burn areas. And while I understand that, I was more pessimistic by seeing only the devastation that the fires produced. I was often frustrated by the number of miles we hiked through burn areas, regretting that we were missing what the fires destroyed. This yin/yang between us is good. It gives us something to talk about. In the meantime, however, smoke from the current fires from the region returned and dogged us for the next several days.

Soon after this, we met up with a hiker mentioned in an earlier post, Tequila John. We hiked together for a few days before parting ways, at least temporarily (or so we thought). But not before having a long, hard day walking into Olallie Lake. The three of us were so happy to finally get there at the end of the day, we celebrated with beer and a late dinner. The facility is within a National Forest and has a general store but no restaurant. So, dinner was still trail food. But we all enjoyed a late night before heading to bed. The next morning, we had an 8-mile climb we weren’t looking forward to. I think the beers and camaraderie from the night help us for the climb, even if the cost was in hours of sleep.

Patti and I wanted to attend PCT Days in Cascade Locks on the weekend of August 18. This is a big annual event put on by the Pacific Crest Trail Association. So, we hitched rides to Cascade Locks that Friday, leaving Tequila John at Frog Lake at Highway 26. We made plans to meet him back at Cascade Locks on the following Wednesday after he hikes into town there on Monday. He would take two days off while Patti and I would return to Frog Lake and hike back to Cascade Locks. As I type this it all seems overly complicated, but it all made perfect sense when the plans were made. PCT Days is a time to meet vendors and gear manufacturers, see what’s new in the areas of hiking and outdoor sports, and to network with and learn from some of the elite in the field. We were also able to meet with the PCTA’s Jack Haskell. We had lots of questions and concerns about the smoke and fire we were hearing about in Washington. We were only about 60 miles short from the state border and we had concerns. The news was not good. New fires erupted in several areas in the state, smoke was reportedly heavy. Some of the trail was closed. In fact the last 60 miles of trail, leading up to and including the Northern Terminus of the trail, was now closed with no walk-around yet established. Many hikers were moving on hoping for the best. But Jack made several good points about not moving forward. We now had a lot to think about. There at Cascade Locks, the air was clear. In fact, it was a beautifully sunny and warm weekend. So, it was hard to image the smoke up north being so bad. However, living in Southern California, we know all too well the realities, and that is that these fires produce such heavy and potentially toxic smoke that it’s never a good idea to be sucking that in.

If fire and smoke had not chased us off trail, any one of some other reason may have led to the same decision. We began to see earlier in July that we may not be keeping our schedule. And as days passed, then weeks, our chances to catch up were diminishing. We were pretty sure by mid-July that we may not make it and decided that if we in fact couldn’t make it, we might consider leaving all of Washington for next year. Our schedule was more to do with getting off trail by mid-September to reduce our risk of getting caught in an early snow fall. Also, previous nerve injury to my neck that causes a lot of pain in my shoulder had began flaring up back in June and was a factor throughout the completion hike, so there was that, too. The final straw that gave us the impetus to make a final decision was the smoke, however, and Jack’s suggestion to come back next year and finish it then. I called Tequila John to let him know. He was on his way to Cascade Locks as planned. He decided to also get off trail and for the same reasons. His back was injured and he was tired of the smoke. We made future plans to connect next year to finish the trail together. This was his second attempt at a thru-hike. Next year, we will simply pick up where we left off.

After PCT Days, we hitched back down to Highway 26 to start our way back to Cascade Locks. Patti and I both were sad and quiet that day, hiking out. Our hike was drawing to a close for this season. And I know that I at least, continued to question our decision. But Patti bounded on, trying to be positive which helped me, too. And the following morning, we both agreed that it was going to be a great day and we would take our time to finish the last 55 miles we had to do. We even took the time to have hot coffee before we got up out of the tent and enjoyed it leisurely before pushing off. We would be approaching Timberline Lodge, a famous National Historical Landmark hotel. We planned to stop by to take a few pictures.

Very soon after getting out of the tent and over the first ridgeline, I began to realize that the air quality was diminishing. Soon after that the smoke began to move in. And by the time we got to Timberline Lodge, visibility was reduced to about 100 yards. I wanted to take sometime to sit and post our decision to leave the trail to Instagram. This was my effort, I suppose, to get the process started and to accept this was what we were going to do. I posted a picture of the smoke and explained our decision. Our health is more important than the hike.

After taking a few pictures, we put our packs back on. We wandered out to the trail. We began to hike. Within a quarter mile, perhaps even less, Patti said she was getting a headache. And I finally had an epiphany: if we aren’t doing Washington because of smoke, why are we hiking to Cascade Locks in smoke? We looked at each other. We sadly agreed that this was stupid. And then we found our way back to the lodge. Our decision had been reached.

After a quick lunch and a few phone calls, and using a borrowed magic marker and cardboard we dug out of a recycling bin, we made two signs:

SMOKEY PCT HIKERS
TO
PORTLAND

PLEASE!

Within 4 hours we were in Portland, showered and eating a nice home cooked meal at my friend’s home. It was not an easy decision to leave the trail. And we continue to miss it even after two weeks.

Moving forward, we plan on getting back to the trail next July. We’ll need about six weeks to complete the last 550 miles we have remaining. We will be trying to connect with Tequila John. Hopefully we can all make that work. I’ll be posting more pictures to Instagram (Instagram.com/mcshap). And over the next several weeks, I’ll be updating our pedometer readings, gear list and will post additional thoughts on our hike.

Lynn Shapiro

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Gear Review – Hitorhike Trekking Poles

I started using the Hitorhike trekking poles when I did some training hikes on the Ozark Trail back in April and May. And I was so impressed with them that I took them along with me on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). With more than 1000 miles on these poles, I’m still thrilled with their stability.

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Pros: The poles are adjusted using a great locking mechanism for a telescoping design. Two adjustments from between 100-centimenters high to 125. The adjustments can be fine-tuned while unlocked and then secured into place, much like a vice-grip. The hold is solid and it never slipped. The baskets screw into place.

wn5PerTxRlCkq44ni0bkqg.jpgThe handles/grips are comfortable, made of a hard rubber. I find myself just cupping my hands over the top of the handles just as often as I use the formal grips. Comfort all around. There’s ventilation holes and my hands do not feel sweaty.

While not part of the technical function of the pole, I do like the bright neon green color used as accent. The poles also have catchy phrases; “Enjoy Outdoor Life” and “Never Stop Walking.”

It also comes with a cool carabiner that doubles as a bottle cap opener\. This item has become part of our gear list and we use it all the time. Who wouldn’t like that bonus?

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Cons: This is not the set of trekking poles for a long distance hike. Each pole weighs more than 9-ounces which is well more than other poles in this market space. The shafts are made of aluminum. As a comparison, REI sells their carbon-composite poles weighing only 7.4-ounces each. Also, despite the screw-on nature of the basket, one basket did fall off and was lost within the first 100 miles of hiking.

One last note: These poles do carry some weight, as mentioned above. But if you don’t worry about ounces you carry on the trail, and you feel more comfortable with a more stable pole, these are perfect for that. A solid performer over all terrains, the weight of these poles helped provide a stable gait even over rocks.

Sincere thanks to Sweet Dreams Outdoors for the gear and for the opportunity to be part of their team.

Patti McCarthy

PCT Completion Hike – Days 48 to 64

Our last update from Yreka, CA, mentioned the smoke from fires around the area. The day after arriving in Yreka, we were having lunch at a Subway when another hiking couple came in. There is an unspoken recognition between most hikers and the four of us got to talking right away. They were hoping to ride share to Ashland, a hiker resupply point a few miles north. We mentioned that we were were hoping to connect with a trail angel we’d already been in touch with. Things worked out for all of us, with the trail angel, Bill, aka “Chanti,” giving Patti and me a ride to the trailhead and the other couple a ride to Ashland. We all spoke about the smoke and fires on the way. But not until after we gave trail names to Lightening and Thunder who told the story of being out on the trail one rainy night, when a bolt of lightening struck a tree near them. Apparently it split the tree in half.

Once on the trail, Patti and I moved onto pretty easy hiking, at least by California standards. Smoke continued to dog us that day, that evening and all of the following day. We had a short reprieve when the air seemed to clear the next day. We hiked into a dense forest hinting of the “green tunnel” some describe Oregon to be. We were also seeing a lot of burn areas, left behind from last year’s fires, where entire sides of mountains and hills were wiped clean. After just a few short days of reasonably clear air, the smoke returned. The air was hazy and the sky was gray.

One afternoon, Patti and I stopped for lunch on top of a mountain. The sky was clear. Patti went .8-mile below the trail to pick up water at a pond and carried it back, maybe 35-minutes tops. We made and had lunch, maybe 15-minutes. And we also made a phone call realizing we had service for the first time since Yreka. When we first arrived, I pointed out to Patti a cloud of smoke that was clear on the opposite ridgeline from our vantage point. In the time that passed between arriving and our leaving about an hour later, we were emerged in smoke that moved in from the opposite mountain.

I grew frustrated that each day we moved further north the smoke would move back in during the afternoon hours. There were both obvious and subtle indications of fire. The headaches and dry throats were clearly caused by the smoke we were inhaling. But a beautiful sunrise or sunset, with the sun a bright orangey red instead of a bright yellow, drew away from the fact that the color we were seeing was caused by smoke.

The burn areas also exposed a huge need for trail work to get the PCT through this region back in shape. There were downed trees crossing the trail in quite possibly hundreds of places. Fires have ravished some of the trail. It will likely take decades to correct. More funding is always needed.

One of the trail’s more famous resupply points is Crater Lake. Patti and I have been there before so knew to expect to see the bluest clearest water we’ve ever seen. It’s the signature feature of the park containing it. When we approached Mazama Village, the official resupply point within the park, the air was plenty smokey. There were lots of hikers there, perhaps 50, many of whom we’d already met. The PCT near the park had been diverted previously due to a fire last year. The original PCT segment had just reopened. However, many hikers were still choosing to do the diverted trail because it actually gets hikers closer to the rim of the crater nearest the lake. In either option, Patti and I could see that the air was smokey and from our point of view, not safe. In fact, smoke reports posted by the National Park Service were dubious. So, we decided to jump ahead, now a second time, to see if we could get ahead of the smoke. We hitched a ride and got dropped off just north of the park. This decision would prove to be significant later on. We might have thought to move even further up the PCT, perhaps giving us some space. But we wanted to limit our jump forward as it was equally important to us to do as much of the PCT as possible.

At one point, we began to hear other hikers discuss the Oregon Skyline Trail. This is a spur trail that meets up to the PCT and is, in the end, a few miles shorter. I think there is also more water along the way to collect. (A side note here, that we found Oregon to be much dryer than expected through the month.) We decided to take this trail, hoping to see a little more of Oregon than we had. Along the way, we found some great lakes to stop at. One lake, Bingham Lake, was just a short distance from the OST. We found it and had the entire lake to ourselves. It was shallow and warm. We were able to collect water, freshen up and do some “laundry” all in one stop.

We were growing excited to get to our next resupply point, Shelter Cove. There we would receive a box full of goodies and get a chance to eat something other than trail food. We took showers, did real laundry, ate at the restaurant and shopped in the general store before settling in for the night at their campsite. The staff there was great. They were very accommodating to hikers. They have a tent and charging station available for hikers, along with picnic tables, a microwave, hiker boxes and trail registry. The WiFi, however, was painfully slow.

We began meeting other hikers, though not a lot of them. Those of us on the trail, despite the smoke, seemed resolved to wait and see how things would develop, and to continue hiking in the meantime. We began picking up more strength and endurance. We built our daily mileage up to 16-18 miles per day comfortably, and up to 20-22 on good days. We caught up with one hiker we met at Crater Lake, Tequila John. We would later leapfrog him several times before we all decided to hike together. We enjoyed having a fresh voice to speak with. We got acquainted quickly.

Photos on instagram.com/mcshap

PCT Completion Hike – Days 31 to 47

We first saw the smoke climbing out of Castle Crag. It seemed it was coming from the Southeast but we couldn’t be sure. The sky was clear and blue. But by the time we got to the top of the first climb we could see more smoke and could tell the fire was large.

Today, we have found our way to Yreka, California, a small town just south of Ashland, Oregon. Our path here was neither clear nor direct. It’s the result of many decisions and changed minds. The Hendrix Fire in lower Oregon is now playing a significant role in our decision that brought us here and our plans moving forward.

From Castle Crag to Etna our hike was spectacular. As we saw last year when we were hiking this area, Mt. Shasta loomed big in the distance while we literally hiked around its base until finally moving north of it. We saw water sources sprout up seemingly everywhere. We enjoyed water so cold it made my teeth hurt. Some of the terrain was easy and flat. Some of it was rocky and hard, and on a ridge, requiring stretches of walks into early evening, making for 12-hour days.

However, as we wove our way further toward Oregon, the smoke from the fire was growing more imposing and darker in color. The smoke no longer was that of a distant fire. The fire was north of us and we were walking into it.

The PCT closed in two areas ahead of us which we learned about via other hikers we saw on trail and finally also in Etna, a planned stop to resupply. In Etna, we had WiFi and were able to get the latest news, trail conditions and to make plans to avoid the trail closures. With all the available information we decided to get a ride from the owner of Wildwood Crossing in Etna, a small coffee shop, who offered a ride the next morning, to Ashland, Oregon above the fires. But by the end of day, we learned one of the closures was reopened and we decided to hike at least to Seiad Valley, our next resupply point 5 days up trail. That would keep us moving and we could figure it out then.

I began feeling nausea 2 days ago. And a headache has come and gone since. Both Patti and I have scratchy throats from the smoke. As we descended into Seiad Valley, the entire valley was covered by smoke.

Transportation options out of Seiad Valley are limited to a bus on Tuesdays and Fridays, or hitchhiking. We figured we’d pick up our resupply box from the post office on Monday and catch the bus to Ashland on Tuesday. Once we arrived and had lunch at the cafe, it was still early afternoon and Patti had the idea to try and hitch out right away. We could leave instructions for our resupply box at the post office to be bounced up to Crater Lake. Patti made a quick sign, we stuck out our thumbs, we got picked up within a few minutes and were on our way to Yreka.

The skip up to Ashland tomorrow will hopefully get us above the fire and smoke danger. And it also keeps us on track and on schedule for a mid-September finish in Canada. While we agonized making the decision to skip this 60-miles of trail, we know deep down we need to be watchful of our own health and safety.

Other than the excitement of the fire and smoke, the hike continues to be all we could hope it to be. We have been working on stretching out our days to get in more miles. We still struggle to get our average over 15 miles per day. But we discussed that we both feel stronger and healthier than ever before. So, we believe we can move the needle more toward 18 or 20 per day, especially in Oregon which is less mountainous than California. Our weight loss continues but has slowed. We have found some better and more nutritious foods. But opportunity is rare to do this, limited to resupply stops with good stores. We have enjoyed meeting and spending time with other hikers from all over the world. The scenery and views have been spectacular, smoke-shrouded panoramas aside.

Let me tell you how remarkable some of the people have been. There was “Indy,” a trail angel who set up shop of salads and sandwiches at Carson Pass. Gary from Florida along with his 17 year old son passed us up solid fast about a mile before the next tentsite but held the last available room for us and made plans to sleep, literally, on the trail. Riser from Portland gave us a flask when he heard ours had broken. Cathy, Jim and Bob did magic and made incredible sandwiches. We got a hitch in and out of Tahoe and Seiad Valley. We were offered the ride mentioned above by the coffee shop owner. One guy gave us a fuel canister because ours ran out. There are endless instances of people doing remarkable things out on the trail. And the remarkable feat of hiking the miles is only part of that.

We’ve had minor scrapes, bruises, cuts and falls. Nothing serious. Patti’s right hand swelled up a few weeks ago after a bite got irritated. I battled kidney stones – a chronic condition – passing 4 before getting on trail at Castle Crag. Ear congestion. Daily aches and pains. Barely more.

Pictures posted to Instagram within the hour. Instagram.com/mcshap

More soon.

PCT Completion Hike – The First 11 Days

Resting today – a forced rest – in Sierra City, roughly 130 miles from our start at Chester. Little snafu with our resupply box getting sent to the Post Office instead of the general store where we could get it picked up today. But given it is Sunday, we’re here in Sierra Ciry until tomorrow when the PO reopens.

So far, the hike has been a venture of many hits and missess. Our first resupply, for instance, was scheduled for Belden. But when we arrived, we found our box never arrived. So we had to buy supplies there at premium prices and have our errant box bounced to a destination northward once it is found. And Belden was a bust at best as we found it less than hiker-friendly and would suggest to future hikers to bypass Belden altogether and visit Carribou Crossing instead. There, the staff is much friendlier and helpful. And prices were more reasonable, too. Just one more note on this: Belden does not receive USPS services. Resupply boxes must be sent UPS or FedEx. But in nearly all other cases, the hike this far has been an absolute dream.

Got dropped off at the trailhead at Highway 36 Wednesday afternoon, June 13, at 4:30. We walked three miles before knocking off for the night.

Packs were heavy. Patti started carrying about 23% of her body weight. I was carrying 27%.

Big climb out of the gates next morning. But we felt good. Climbed to 7200 feet before leveling out. Lots of ups and down. But realized in the end that we had done 2000 feet up. About altitude: we both needed some time to adjust – not unusual for us. We have since breeched 7000-feet elevation a number of times.

We have seen some wildlife, but many deer specifically. One night, while in our tent, we heard footsteps. I looked out to find a deer about 20 feet away. Then, a few minutes later that deer along with another passed by again. Beautiful animals. We saw yet another small buck another day while we were putting up our tent. Several others along the way.

We both have a few aches and pains to work out. But nothing serious.

Our equipment is holding up for the most part. But my backpack is starting to rip in several places so I’ll need to address that. Also our Sawyer Mini is filtering water but the water tastes bad. So, we will be replacing that soon. In the meantime, we will continue using our full sized Sawyer Squeeze.

We remain in great spirits and having a blast. Thrilled to be living out a dream we’ve dreamed for many years.

People have asked about the trail: the trail is most usually about 18-inches wide, sometimes narrower. It is at times soft with pine needles bedding. Sometimes nothing but rocks that are jagged and dangerous. The trail can be straight or crooked. Steep or flat. Uphill or downhill. Dirt or sand. Sunny or shady. Wet or dry. Or, all of these things inside of a single mile. But it is at all times beautifully awesome and inspiring. Along each side of the trail the holes left by trekking poles by hikers who have passed before us, become a track. I have imagined these as a train track. My poles fall lockstep into the groove, a rhythm forms, then I almost feel propelled by what only could be a metaphysical caboose. The hike becomes a glide, or a floating almost just chugging along.

We will continue providing updates as cell service and Wifi allows.

Thanks to all of you for following along.

I have found it very difficult to post pictures using WordPress. So, our photos will be on our Instagram page at Instagram.com/mcshap

Lynn Shapiro