PCT Completion Hike – Days 12 to 30

Checking in after completing our first 400-plus miles of our PCT completion hike. We have now been on trail for 30 days and are well more than half done with the entire trail. Our latest adventures took us from Sierra City, where we last left word, to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. We have lots of stories, have learned a lot of lessons and have posted a lot of pictures on Instagram, too.

Now that we are a month into this, we are starting to see some of the differences between how we used to hike sections and how we are now hiking the remainder of the trail in its entirety. Planning is simplified to some degree. We no longer have to figure out transportation to each trailhead for each segment, for instance. But it’s more complicated in other ways, such as having a viable and successful resupply plan. There are other considerations, too. Being out on trail for an entire month has brought new dynamics to the hike. It’s no longer a mere physical task, though it is still that, for sure. But I’m finding the hike now just as much mental as physical. So, this brings in new dimension, as well. Patti mentioned the other day how she wakes up each morning and at first a thought sweeps over her about how hard this hike is. Soon enough, that fades and the wonder of the day takes over. For me, I find myself thinking about the hugeness of the world around me, and seem to seek a space in it where I make sense of what that means.

We are still decoding our new normal, trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t and how things might work better. We look for efficiencies everyday and we continue to dial in what works best for us. We continue to struggle getting our daily mileage over 15-miles. We have done many days over that figure, just not consistently. In order to match our goal to be done with the hike by September 15, we see each day at least a small part of that probability diminish.

We had a string of equipment breakdowns. Much of our gear is old or just not doing what we need. So, we have spent the last couple of days researching, finding and acquiring new gear as needed. This includes new shoes for both of us, a new pack for Lynn, a new water filtration system, new rain poncho for Patti. These items all either completely gave out on this latest outing, or wore out after normal use. We also needed to call for a replacement tent as the brand-new one we used only for 40 days or so, started breaking at the poles and screen. It was very stressful while on trail seeing each of these items break over a period of just a few days. Still more than 70 miles out from any stopping point, we could do nothing but rely on duct tape and employ a world of patience until we could take care of these problems once off trail.

Another major issue we are working to resolve is our weight loss. Patti has lost 8-pounds and I have lost 14. According to a calorie-burn calculator I found online Patti and I are likely burning around 5000 calories per day of hiking, well more than we can take in. So, we are constantly fighting weight loss and keeping up our energy. To this end, we are looking for better and more calorie-filled foods along with rich proteins. As an example, Cliff Bar Protein Builder bars carry 400-plus calories. Compared to the Nature Valley brand bars we were using, we more than doubled the calorie counts for our breakfasts by making this one change alone.

As we headed south on the trail, we saw and met many of this year’s thru-hikers. At first, we saw what one hiker described as the “elite” – those that hiked the Sierra Nevada Mountains as they approached it. We also met many people who jumped ahead of the Sierra Nevada and bounced back to the Sierra once the snow had mostly melted. Then, we started seeing hikers who started later in the season, finished the Sierra but did so only after the winter season had all but ended. Either way, Patti and I both hold a lot of respect for thru-hikers, no matter how they do it. It’s a great accomplishment ether way.

About Pace

Patti is 5’1”. I’m 5’11”. We did some testing (we have plenty of time :)) and found that for every 100 strides I make, Patti has to make 140 strides to cover the same distance, a remarkable difference. This has led to a lot of our time on trail spent separately. No matter how I try to modify my pace to match Patti’s, I gain speed over time and end up well ahead of her. If Patti tries to keep pace with me, she wears out and then falls behind, then, too. She does carry more endurance though and can hike beyond my stopping point. We are still working on how to make things work but right now we spend a lot of our time on trail hiking alone.

We will continue updating our progress as we are able. We don’t often have service. But when we do, I’ll update our progress.

As always, thanks for following along. Pictures on Instagram

Lynn Shapiro

 

 

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Devil’s Post Pile (DPP) to Tuolumne Meadows, DDP to Taboose Pass – Part 2: Connections

“When one tugs at a single thing of nature,
he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

                                                                                                      – John Muir

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Usually when we hike, we don’t run into more than a handful of people. Many times we are nearly all alone. We like that, to be honest. But on our Tuolumne to Taboose hike, we ran into a lot of people. This segment of the PCT shares roughly 210 miles with the John Muir Trail (JMT). The JMT is popular and visited by thousands of people per year. This, for us, was a unique experience in a social component kind of way.

The hikers this year were not as chatty as last. Instead of getting into conversations with nearly each person we passed, we would get the polite smile, and a “Have a nice hike.” The age group this year was much older – our age or older for the most part. We also noted hikers weren’t using trail names. In fact, it seemed most hikers eschewed it. So before we found out names, we created our own trail names.

NORTHBOUND TO TUOLUMNE:
We met Ozzy and Harriet, a couple from Tasmania. He was charming and quirky. She had beautiful blue eyes, was kind and liked conversation. They both had a great sense of humor. Lynn first “met” them while he was beginning the hike up Donahue Pass. They had already settled in at a campsite. She smiled and said hello when he walked by. She was putting on lotion or something and he could smell it from where he was. We ended up finding a camp site nearby as we headed north. The next day we continued walking further apart, sure that we’d never see them again.

We met Deer Hunter, or Wisconsin as Lynn called him. He was a kindly man, our age, with a quick smile. We joked that we left Los Angeles back in the 1980’s because we were hearing gunfire out our back window. Deer Hunter commented the only guns he hears are during deer season.

As we walked north, we also met Old School. Old School was heading south. He was taking a break on a rock at a stream. We nodded at each other. He was reading a book. Must be a day hiker. Who else would be carrying a book? He’s “old school” we thought. We moved on.

An hour or more later, we were passing another stream. Across the water was a huge rock, big enough to sit up on and maybe take a break. We noticed a blue baseball cap on the rock. It had a white snowflake design and red lettering ALTA. I knew I had seen it before on a younger man. Feeling empathy for the owner of a lost hat (mine is somewhere near Silver Lake), we wondered what we should do? Leave it or take it hoping to catch up with the guy. We went ahead and picked it up and put it in Lynn’s side pack pocket. We would ask around if someone lost a hat. Over the next two days, we asked several people we met if they had lost a hat. But by the third day we were pretty convinced that we would never find the owner of the hat we found and gave up asking.

SOUTHBOUND TO  VERMILION VALLEY RESORT (VVR) & BEYOND:
Along the way, we met a slew of southbound hikers. One morning in particular, we finally really met the Tasmanian couple, Ozzy and Harriet (AKA Harvey and Betty). And we came up again with Deer Hunter (AKA Jim). Then, ten minutes after seeing Deer Hunter and Ozzy and Harriet head out from a stream we all stopped at, we saw Old School close behind. We all ended up leapfrogging each other for the next few days. At one point Deer Hunter was taking pictures and said he was photo-journaling his hike with a DSLR camera. Old School was taking pictures too, but with a film camera! Seemed our name Old School fit just right. A book and a film camera. Can’t get much more old-school than that! It was ironic that he was the youngest hiker we met.

At PCT mile 888 or so, we picked up a short side trail and hiked to Lake Edison. It’s a man-made hydro-plant, lake owned by the electric company. From there we picked up a ferry to take us to VVR. We had a resupply box there. We hoped to get a good meal, collect our box and move on. The “ferry” was a little fishing boat which held four people (plus the “captain”). VVR has bigger pontoon boats but both of them were out of commission. As we approached the dock, a guy camping out along the tree line of the river said, as we passed by, that we were more than two hours early.

It was early, and a little cold so we went up to the rocks that were getting sun. Eventually, we saw others had approached the dock below, but didn’t think much of it. But then we thought, hey, why are they are standing in line? We went down pretty quick after that and sure enough, people were lining up for that “ferry” and we lost our place in front. How foolish! By then, the boat had already arrived and took the first four, and now we were fourth and fifth in line for the next rides. We felt the whole day would be spent getting over to the VVR. Lynn especially was annoyed that this was happening. But suddenly, the guy who yelled out earlier that we were early, volunteered to give up his space for Lynn so that “the couple wouldn’t be split up.” We later learned this was Shaun. He was the only PCT hiker we met. He was doing a thru-hike. And he had a trail name from the Appalachian Trail that he completed last year, but he wasn’t really using it. It was “NTN” – No Trail Name. He had to get off the PCT when he ruptured his Achilles tendon. He was placed on blood thinners and had to suspend his PCT thru-hike for three months. He originally was NOBO but after this delay became SOBO and was headed to Wrightwood to finish up.

While at VVR, we also finally formally met Old School. He just landed a job near the same town as Deer Hunter lives. Later at Vermilion Valley Resort, VVR, sitting next to Old School, we commented about his book. You know, when on the trail, if you want a book, get a digital copy. Or xerox the chapter you want. I used to read up on sections we were preparing to do and make a copy of the chapter to carry along. But, he said he now knows every tree on the trail.

Before we even saw that Old School was at VVR, we found Harvey and Betty. She approached us while we were going through our resupply box. She was very motherly and beautiful and even offered to share the cost of one of the hotel 4-bed rooms that they took. They were hoping to find two others to share the cost. But we preferred to stay in our tent and declined. Camping was free there to hikers. Although I had my regrets later as it was really noisy at night with three different parties going on late into the night. At 1 am I was quickly reminded why I don’t like sleeping in campgrounds.

Lunch was served at about 11:30. The menu at the VVR is limited. But the food is really very good. We had offered Shaun a beer for his generosity but at the VVR, your first drink, even if that is a beer, is free. It’s a perfect marketing tool and is very effective. So, instead of the beer, we bought him lunch and we got acquainted. By the time we ordered, Brian came around bumping fists with Shaun. And Brian had someone with him, whose name we didn’t know. He became “Not Brian” when the waitress handed a plate to him and said “Brian” to which he replied, “I’m Not Brian.” We also ended up having dinner with them, and a lot of beers and laughs!

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We noticed when we first walked up to the general store to check in that there were two hiker boxes. These were marked “Food” and “Non Food.” Knowing that the hat we found would never be back with its owner, we threw the cap into the Non Food box hoping that it would be used by somebody eventually.

Once we got set up and had eaten, we decided to play a round of cribbage using a board we saw in the store “library.” We took our game to one of the outside picnic tables. A few minutes into our game, Old School approached us. We chatted about his reccent college graduation, his new job, his time he was taking to travel before moving to Wisconsin, and how he will be close to Patti’s home town at the border of Iowa. After a while, this couple, Andrew and Becca, came up to us.

The hat in Andrew’s hand didn’t immediately register with me. But he turned to Old School and said, “You lied. You really don’t like this hat.”

Old School’s eyes got big. “Where’d you get that”

“Found it in the hiker box.”

“There couldn’t possibly be two hats like this?!?” Old School speculated.

It took a few moments for it to sink in with us.”We’ve been carrying it for the last three days looking for its owner! We finally just tossed it into the hiker box.”

So that’s the story of the hat and the happy owner who got it back.

Old School’s name is Tim. Tim and Andrew and Becca are friends. Andrew wasn’t feeling well, so he was going off trail, but Tim and Becca planned on moving on with their hike to Mt. Whitney. Andrew would take their car and meet them when possible at the end of the daily hikes, but eventually meet them and pick them up when they completed Mt. Whitney. The next day, they gave us a ride to the trail head at Bear Creek Trail, which was an alternate route out of VVR to reconnect with the PCT. Because this was not part of the PCT, we didn’t have any GPS and we didn’t have paper maps, either. Tim was quickly ahead of us on Bear Creek. But Becca, unsure of the trail, was a bit behind. Often we would catch up to her and discuss assurances we were on the right trail. There were places when the trail was not so clearly defined. We often feel relief when we see a PCT marker on the trail. Having been lost plenty of times that sign becomes our security. Becca was dubbed Trail Sign, when we saw her ahead we knew we were still on the right trail. At some point she got ahead and out of sight. When we reached the juncture, it just so happened that Tim was finishing up a break there and getting ready to leave when he heard two people talking and saw it was us. He told us Becca was a little worried about us.“Well, you can tell her we made it!” I said cheerfully. I thought it was sweet that she was worried a bit. Tim said they were going to stop at Marie Lake, another six miles away. We hadn’t had lunch and knew we didn’t have another six miles in us. But, still, I thought we would catch up eventually. We made four more miles that day and never did we see either of them again.

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Right along PCT mile 855 the trail passes over the San Joaquin River. We wanted to camp near water that night to wash off before bed and found a nice site right over the bridge. There were several groups of hikers/campers in the area, so when we saw some smoke come up through the river valley, we just assumed it was smoke from a campfire, which, by the way, was not allowed this year in the Sierra. But then we realized that was a lot of smoke for a campfire and realized it was smoke from a forest fire. But how far away?

Lynn got to talking to a hiker who was just coming up from the north where we just came from, and said he hadn’t noticed the smoke. But as soon as that was going on a helicopter started circling around the area. It circled some more and then it focused on a small plot of land to the south and slowly and with amazing exactness, the helicopter landed right there in an incredible small patch of open forest. It was a LifeFlight.

The EMT that came out was in full garb. Lynn just assumed they were here about the forest fire, hoping they weren’t kicking us off trail. But instead the EMT was looking around for a woman who hit her SPOT (a satellite-enabled emergency response system) because she broke her wrist. She said she was near a bridge and needed help. The EMT scoured the area, asking each of us groups of hikers, and, then satisfied this wasn’t the place, moved on. But not before the EMT told Lynn that the fire wasn’t a worry and the smoke would dissipate.

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One of the last people we met on the trail this trip is a sweetest couple from the Bay area. By this time we found out everyone’s names and gave up on trail names. This couple we leapfrogged a couple of times the last three days. Karine and Oliver, like us, were booted off the trail last year because of the smoke and were back this year, like us, to finish it. It was Oliver who suggested he take a photo of us on our anniversary in front of Wanda Lake. Then they decided to pose “just like us” below. Oliver also reached out to us in an email, which I read when we started working on this post!

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Karine and Oliver posing as we did in front of Wanda Lake on our 29th anniversary.

On our last day of the trail, we were on the south side of Mather Pass heading to Taboose. All morning I often thought of Tim. I had wished when we last saw him at the juncture of Bear Creek and PCT/JMT that I knew then we would not see him again. I’m a hugger and certainly would have given a proper hug goodbye. I had just assumed we would keep leap frogging.

In a way, the universe connects dots for us. When we approached the turn-off at PCT mile 810 or so, there was a big rock with a piece of paper on it held down by a small rock. It was a note from Tim.

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To top off the story of connections and small worlds: as we discussed in Part 1 of this series, we were lucky enough to meet a woman hiking alone near the top of Taboose Pass right before the rocky and very challenging descent to the trail head below. She offered a ride to us from the trail head into Lone Pine, a fair distance. Her husband and kids would be picking her up. As it turned out, her husband worked for the Law Enforcement Department of the Forest Service and the EMT Lynn met the few nights before looking for the hiker with the broken wrist, in fact, worked under his supervision!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Numbers

Numbers
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You probably wouldn’t think so, but being a backpacker is a numbers game. We constantly have numbers in our head. Mathematics in action. Always adding, subtracting, calculating and estimating.

Running through our heads is our pack weight. Or, the time we pushed off from the trailhead. It’s what the elevation is and what gain (or loss) we’ll see. Or, how many miles to the next water source? To the next camp site? It’s how many miles it is until the next big ascent.

No numbers are as important, though, as those it takes to know where we are. With the invaluable help of apps like Half-Mile and Guthook, we know where we are within a few feet of the trail. We’re not sure how the pioneers found their way across the Rockies without GPS. We’re just glad that we have the help with all the math.

Walker Pass to Hiker Town

3/12/15 – 3/20/15
134 miles
Southbound
Mileage driven 1150

Finding our Stride

When we first attempted a portion of this segment two years ago, we encountered incredibly strong winds. We would also learn later that part of what caused our trouble in getting through that hike was Patti’s anemia. That caused us to turn around and to give up the hike after just four miles. Returning last week, however, we found a much different set of conditions and we had an amazing time. We had mostly mild winds and favorable weather conditions, making getting through this, our longest segment yet, much easier. But more importantly, Patti’s health is now better.

That’s not to say that this was an easy hike. The severe California drought continues to play havoc with hikers this year. Recent reports suggest California now has enough water to sustain its needs for only the coming year. That is a frightening thought to residents, water authorities and hikers alike. The water situation played a huge role in how we planned our hike. An excellent recent article published on the PCTA.org website and written by Jack Haskel, entitled “The Problem with Water Caches on the PCT,” discusses the need for hikers to rely on their own measures to have water on the trail and to not rely on the goodness of trail angels and water caches to get by. As Haskel points out, caches left for hikers often end up being eye sores and sources of litter when the caches are not properly maintained. There is also the problem of hikers taking the supplied water for granted. Patti and I determined we wanted to heed these concerns and would carry or cache our own water for this long trip. We knew that water was virtually non-existent on this segment and we didn’t want to be part of the problem.

Stuck

So, we planned to store water at two locations along our trail route. This was necessary because we couldn’t carry enough water for the entire trip. After leaving one of our cars at Hiker Town, our ending spot, we took our 2nd car and travelled to Highway 58 at Cameron Road. We found the PCT intercepting with the exit there and we buried two gallons of fresh water near a Joshua tree. Then, we continued driving north to Bird Spring Canyon Road approaching from the west. We took Patti’s poor Prius up a steep and rocky Pruite Mountain Road, (oh, and snowy – we got stuck for two hours until we could dig ourselves out) before we turned onto Bird Spring Canyon. We made it about one mile in toward the trail before the road became rocky and not passable. We decided we couldn’t ask the Toyota to do anything more for us and cached water right there, about 1.5-miles off the trail. But more on that later.

By the time we got our one car dropped off at Hiker Town, had our two caches in place and finally arrived at Walker Pass, it was already 10pm and some 11 hours after leaving our home. Our hope to get a few miles hiked that day dashed, we settled in and fell asleep in the car hoping for a smoother start early the next day.

We left Walker Pass the following morning by 8:00. We initially climbed briefly before settling into a relative flat walk. Much of the day was walking an OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) route, just one of many we would come across. We had lunch off the side of one OHV road and were hidden away enough that many of the off-roaders didn’t even see us. But once we got back onto the route, the off-roaders and we exchanged hellos and waves. But I could tell they didn’t like seeing hikers on their route anymore than we like seeing them on the trail.

The following day was my birthday. We got up a little earlier than the day before and were out on the trail by 7:40. Our plans included picking up our first cached water off of Bird Spring Pass. When we dropped the water off two nights earlier, we found a small tree with lots of rocks around it. We found a small crevice made by the rocks and placed our Platypus water bladders into it. Then I put small rocks on top of that, then a few dead bushes I found laying around, and then finally, larger rocks to hold it all in place. We worried that I wouldn’t find it coming down from the other side so Patti placed a double stack of rocks on a larger rock across the road from our stash. We checked Half-Mile and saw that the trail was only 1.2-miles from the stash so, we pretty much knew what we had to do. Or, so we thought. Half-Mile correctly listed the mileage but I didn’t consider that the distance was “as the crow flies” not as the road goes. Given the steep terrain, the road was a series of switchbacks making the distance about double what we thought. Additionally, it was very hot and dry making the climb back up with the water on my back, all the harder. Luckily for me, Patti convinced a nice OHV’r to come check on me. And, while he did give me a ride back, it was only after finding me just about 300 yards from the top. I was grateful nonetheless.

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The remainder of that day and much of the next was particularly hard for us as we were so weighed down by water. We hiked through contrasting landscapes of forest greens and desert browns until coming upon a burn zone. The scene was eery and stark. We came across an open ended “cave” of rocks. We pitched the tent under the cover and as we faded off to sleep, the wind was strong and the air cool.

This probably wasn’t one of the prettiest hikes we’ve enjoyed. There were several miles of shared roadways with OHV’rs and many, many intersections with even more OHV roads. We saw a lot of evidence of OHV tread wear on the PCT (motorized and mountain bikes are supposedly forbidden on the PCT) and because of this the trail was frequently in bad shape. At junctions, not knowing to turn right or left, we looked for footprints as clues, but most were obliterated by bike treads. The ugly didn’t stop there. After we picked up our 2nd cache on Cameron Road on Highway 58, we were dismayed to find ourselves camped out about 300 yards from the highway and about 50 feet from the railroad tracks. Every two hours or so, we had the pleasure of hearing the trains squeal by at a feverish pitch, horn blaring, bells dinging. We also hiked through miles and miles of wind farms, seemingly thousands of acres blanketed with huge swirling wind mills with names on them like NEG Micon, Enercon and Vestas. They each made a hum or gave out a dull vibration and when they turned they created their own air flow. The air swirled around us as we passed underneath the huge blades. It was hard to pigeon-hole our feelings about a technology that helps preserve our natural resources but while making a mockery of our natural landscape. Patti watched a bird that seemed to be caught between the wind current of two windmills. To her it seems like the bird was having its own “Groundhog Day.”

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Once we cleared the Highway 58 landmark, we approached the Tehachapi Mountains. This is the area we kind of considered to be our greater challenge, our nemesis, in a way, that defeated us last time. Patti and I both felt determined to overcome this section. It was hot and dry and very clear out, so the sun was beating down. But the wind was mild, so unlike it was last time. We plodded on and found our stride. We looked for (and found) the bush we coward near two years ago, hiding from the winds. We defiantly and smugly powered by. Right about then, however, Patti was bit by something (we think it may have been fire ants), and experienced a lot of pain to her ankle and upper foot area. We stopped to care for that before moving on. Neither one of us wanted to revisit the kind of problems we had last time.

Patti and I discussed along the way how somehow, this hike was different. Ordinarily, there is always a certain trepidation when we approach our hikes. We know there is always a “breaking in” period because we don’t hike all the time. We often struggle with how slowly we hike. We often dread climbs. We even have come to call the enjoyment we get from hiking as “secondary fun” because it’s usually easier to see the fun in hiking only after we have come home. But we each separately came to see a certain peace with hiking this trip. I didn’t find myself dreading the hills. Didn’t feel like complaining about my pack weight. It was easy to just be part of it and to accept it for what it was. It felt like a kind of giving into it, a release. It’s significant that Patti and I both had such similar epiphanies on virtually the same day.

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Our last day of hiking was a 27-mile crossing of the Mojave Desert. This was largely a walk on gravel above the underground California Aqueduct. At one point, a Sheriff pulled up to check on us. He asked if we had seen anyone else. We hadn’t. Patti thought that he was just checking on us. I was pretty sure he just wanted to get a good laugh. Why would anyone want to hike on a hot day through the Mojave Desert?

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A bit more about water, water caches and trail angels: I mentioned above how Patti and I intended to carry and cache our own water on this trip. This is arguably the driest section of the PCT and as you all know, we are in one of the worse droughts this area has seen in decades. The fact is, despite having the best intentions, we thankfully found and in many cases took advantage of, the water caches so generously provided by trail angels. At Bird Spring Pass, we found a small cache of roughly ten gallons of water. However, we did not need to use this cache because we had cached our own water nearby. But we did take some water at the Tehachapi/Willow Spring cache as well as at Daniel and Larry’s cache near mile 549. These “water sources” were used in addition to the natural sources we found at Landers Camp at roughly mile 609 and the Robin Bird Spring at mile 602. Without these extra sources of water, we would not have had enough. As it was, Patti ended the hike with less than five ounces of water and I had just under ten. We are both very grateful for the generosity of the trail angels who left this water.

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Just a reminder that our book, Hiking Cancer is still available in e-book format or directly from us. We are also now on Instagram as #McShap.

Thanks for following along.

Lynn