Class of 2019, Welcome to the PCT Southern Terminus

Imagine learning about a challenge that somehow calls to you. It might be a mountain you’d like to climb, a sea you’d like to sail, a trail you’d like to hike. You research, study, plan and execute. You make arrangements, your life is changed, career perhaps put on hold, relationships interrupted. But that challenge is before you, like a beacon. It becomes your cause. You work toward it. And the day to set forth is finally upon you.

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As the PCT Southern Terminus hosts for the 2019 season, we are fortunate enough to see hikers who dreamed of a challenge on the Pacific Crest Trail. They have worked for this moment of arriving at the Southern Terminus. This is the traditional trailhead for the northbound thru-hikers. Some come by bus or a hired car, some are dropped off by trail angels, friends or parents; and some of those parents are in tears, scared of the dangers they fear may lay ahead for their child. Some come to solo, some will hike with friends. It seems to us that even strangers make friends quickly. They mostly all have smiles on their faces. Some admit nervousness but everyone seems excited. Many take in the scene and linger and take pictures for up to an hour. Others take a quick selfie and walk directly to the trail, determination already set in.

It’s exciting to see the hikers leave. Each time someone takes off, we think he or she takes a little piece of us as we wish we, too, could be on the trail. But hosting at the Southern Terminus gives us a great opportunity to be part of so many people’s incredible experiences. They are engaging in a challenge they once could only dream about.

Posing

Getting just the right picture is serious business for PCT thru-hikers. Many of the hikers will linger for an hour taking shots that capture the moment, embracing the magic.

Our main focus is to reinforce Leave No Trace (LNT) principles for hikers, day and section hikers, included. The impact hikers have on the trail can be significant, especially the first 100 or so miles. This islikely one of the most used sections. With each hiker we meet, we try to discuss concepts that include respecting the rich riparian areas along the trail, including the ethic of pitching tents 200 feet away from water. This allows plants to grow and animals a chance to get water and thrive in the desert. We discuss the importance of packing out used toilet paper. We speak about fire safety and about respecting wildlife and each other. We also illustrate what is the best ground type for setting up camp. Another priority is reinforcing safety education as part of the PCTA’s “safe and responsible use” campaign. We go over the water report and where to access it. We advise worried hikers on what they need to know for their first miles on the trail. Additionally, as part of an effort to assess and improve the permitting system, we ask if hikers have permits and if they have come to the trailhead on their assigned date. We’re volunteers who care about sustainable use, and we’re not here to enforce the permits. We are gathering accurate information so that the U.S. Forest Service and the PCTA can meaningfully assess how the federal inter-agency permit system is working. We encourage all hikers to be honest with their responses.

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This has also been a wonderful opportunity to meet, work with and learn from the staff of both the U.S. Forest Service and the PCTA. These organizations collaborate to make this volunteer position possible. We are learning that there is nuance and detail in forest management well beyond what we imagined.

If we all could follow LNT principles and commit to becoming good stewards of the PCT and the outdoors, we will preserve the trail’s legacy while assuring its continued existence. It’s our great hope that as all of you in the Class of 2019 travel north, you will enjoy your time, fall in love with the trail and join us in stewarding it for future generations of hikers.

This post is being published concurrently by the Pacific Crest Trail Association – PCTA.org
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Trail Timing

We couldn’t have said this better. Our surprise meeting was quite a lift!

Serial Nomad

Synchronicities are a dime a dozen on the trail. Somehow, just when you desperately need it, the universe manages to serve all the correct ingredients at the right time to make you stop and think, ‘huh, now ain’t that special.’

Some synchronicities make you wonder how much time the trail gods have on their hands because the meticulous planning involved in bringing people or acts of nature together at a particular time is often astounding.

I experienced my own trail timing this week when I passed through San Diego on my way back to Vancouver. It’s the beginning of the hiker season, and I bumped into a woman named Jan who knows Scout and Frodo, two infamous trail angels in the San Diego area, who take hikers in and help them through their often scary and nerve-riddled Day Zero.

When Jan told me they were looking for drivers to take…

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Hosting at the Southern Terminus

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Sunrise at the Pacific Crest Trail Southern Terminus.

We’ve been having a lot of fun hanging out at the PCT Southern Terminus in Campo, CA, working on behalf of the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the US forest Service. We were selected from a batch of applicants to act as a last-minute resource for the thru-hikers beginning the annual hiker season starting right about now.

Our primary purpose is to conduct a short survey about the PCTA permitting system. The goal is to collect enough meaningful data to assess what might be done to improve the system. We have met roughly 20 hikers a day for the last week. We expect that number to grow to 50 or more by mid-April. Most hikers probably want to take off right around then. But because of the sheer number of permit applicants, the beginning dates have stretched further to include earlier dates on the front end and later on the back end. I learned that last year, there were roughly 5600 permits issued. That is a huge increase from years prior to 2012. That is the year, I believe, that the move “Wild” premiered. That created a lot of interest in the trail from a wider group of people and the numbers of people wanting to hike the trail grew accordingly.

We started the position with a 1-week training period. During that time, we hung out with staff members of the Forest Service. Two “Crest Runners,” whose role is to monitor the first section up to mile 110 showed us around and gave us a lot of input on what LEAVE NO TRACE principles we wanted to reinforce with the hikers. They helped hone down our “schpiel.” Their job is not easy. They cover a huge territory, hiking and maintaining Section A of the trail, while also educating the public. Unlike Patti and me (thankfully), the Crest Runners are authorized to enforce rules.

As a complete fluke of thought, I started taking photographs of the hikers at the terminus monument before they depart on their big adventures. And then posting them to Instagram and Facebook PCT pages at the end of each day. The response has been overwhelming. We’ve really enjoyed the comments. I’ll do the best I can to continue including as many hikers as possible.

We work 6 days a week from 7AM to Noon. Our day off floats week-to-week. With open afternoons, we hope to get some site-seeing done. Tomorrow, after our work at the terminus, we plan on visiting the desert to see the super bloom said to be taking place right now in the San Diego desert.

If you’d like to see the portraits I mentioned above, please visit our Instagram account McShap.

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

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