What Takes 5 Years To Go 1100 Miles & 4 Months To Go 1500? How We Plan to Finish the PCT This Year

When we started hiking small sections of the 2650-mile Pacific Crest Trail back in 2012, we told people we were on the 10-year plan. We figured the most we could ever get done any given year would be only 150 miles on average. So, we weren’t really sure when we might actually get to the northern terminus at the Canadian Border.

Mt. Shasta at sunset

Mt. Shasta from the south on Castella to Chester hike, summer 2017.

One of the frustrations of being section hikers is the length of time we spend planning each segment. It’s not always cool to leave your car someplace for two weeks. So, we work hard to find good on and off access points to the trail. We also are captive to the clock, needing always to get back to our jobs. This, of course, plays a huge part in how many days we can stay on trail each outing. And all of this limits the number of miles we get in each year. Once we do get back on trail, we need three or four days to get into our groove, adjust to the altitude, etc. And by the time we start to really feel like we have finally connected with the trail, it’s time to chase off back to the “real world” – a reality, as I’ve written in the past, that is real only if we make it so.

Deer in meadow

Found this deer grazing in a meadow on our Castella to Chester hike last summer, 2017.

We are excited to announce…

…our decision to get back on trail in June. This time, instead of our usual two-weeks, we’ll be taking an extended leave to hike the remaining 1550 miles of the trail, taking us likely into October. We’ll soon start to share posts on our planning, preparation and schedule. We plan to keep up the blog during the hike, posting directly from the trail when possible.

IMG_3963

We are also very excited to introduce Sweet Dreams Outdoors. We’ve partnered with Sweet Dreams to bring you reviews of new products and provide discounts on select gear  offered exclusively to our readers. Stay tuned for more details. Patti and I are both very excited to be part of the Sweet Dreams Outdoors team. Most of what they offer is recommended by staff members. The site features a lot of innovative products and the prices are really fair. It will be a blast to test and review new items as they become available.

Advertisements

As Long As You Are At Peace With Your Experience – aka: Hike Your Own Hike

The further away the stopping place on the trail is, the harder it is to get to. About two years ago it started to require more planning, more time off to hike. (A nine hour drive for a couple days isn’t worth it.) This also means more time between our major hikes. While we were doing at least two or three hikes a year when were hiking closer to home (Southern California), we’re now able to do only one. Our most recent big outing was our hike between Tuolumne Meadows and Taboose Pass.

img_4690

Clearly, we lose our hiking legs between our hikes. Not only do we need to readjust to the higher altitude, but also to the pains and blisters and sleeping on the ground. Bottom line, it makes us very slow at first. It’s really not until around day ten before we started feeling a better rhythm to our hiking mojo.

On this last trip, we found ourselves frequently comparing ourselves to our hikers. Many hikers we passed claimed, “I’m a fast hiker.” And indeed, everyone was faster than us. We noted though that in spite of their speed, we all usually ended up within a quarter to half mile of each other. Our response became, “We are slow, but we are steady.”

That said, there was a bit in us that wished we were a little faster. It would be nice to be done a little earlier in the day to just sit and watch the sky. One drawback of section hiking, while still trying to work and pay the mortgage, is that even though we are getting away from time obligations, time still rules us and we can’t lallygag too much to get back in time to go to work.

I’m not sure why we sometimes focused on our speed and compared ourselves to others on the trail. Was this the trail version of keeping up with the Joneses?

It is often said ‘Hike your own hike.” (HYOH) This phrase even came up between the two of us, as Lynn reminded me, again, to “Use your poles!” There are times I like to use the poles and there are times I don’t. And I fall either way. In talking about HYOH, I gently reminded Lynn that I read somewhere, in that definition, it included to use your poles as you wish.

img_3166

We started one day early to get over Selden Pass. I hadn’t finished my coffee in my water bottle yet. Anyone that knows me at all knows I am NOT a morning person. Never have been. There was a young man coming up behind us. I could hear him talking to Lynn first behind me. I couldn’t hear what was said but the young hiker sounded chipper. You know those kind of people (George..are you reading this?) that are ridiculously happy in the morning. They wake up that way, whistling, smiling, just too happy, if that is possible to be too happy. This guy was like that. As he passed me he said, “What’s shaking?” I couldn’t help but smile back as I replied, “This hill.”

He responded, “As long as you have that smile on your face!” And he scampered off. By now, Lynn had caught up to hear this and he rolled his eyes. “Good grief!”

We called him the Happy Hiker.

We finally got to the top of Selden Pass. In spite of an elevation of 10,910 feet, it wasn’t that hard of a pass considering other challenging passes like Glen, Forrester or Mather. It was less than a four mile hike to the top. Marie Lake sits to the north side. This lake was just beautiful, and large. It seemed to just keep going and going. Unbelievably clear water. It makes you realize how pristine and virginal these waters are with so little population comparatively near these waters. The view from Selden Pass was of even more lakes. Heart Lake, named so because of the shape was the first lake we saw. Smaller and it’s hard to see the shape from the top. Sallie Keyes Lake is close by which is where we stopped for lunch.

fullsizeoutput_3e22

At the top, we took a pause to take in the scenery. Leaning his back against a large boulder, facing north was Happy Hiker. He gave me a Hang Loose hand sign and had in his other hand, what I am sure of, was a tightly rolled joint he then proceeded to light. As he did he smiled again and said “ As long as you are at peace with your own experience.”

fullsizeoutput_3e23

Words of wisdom from the Happy Hiker that, timely, set the tone for the rest of the hike. Who cares if we’re slow, fast, stop early or hike on to darkness? This was better than HYOH which can sound confrontational at times. Good advice for trail and non-trail, alike.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Numbers

Numbers
IMG_0846

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.

Gobbler’s Knob to Deep Creek Bridge

11/14 – 11/18/13
58 miles
Southbound
Mileage driven 265

Poodle Dog Paranoia, Lost Hats,

Uninspired Graffiti & Naked People

I approached this hike with a bit of trepidation. Since she had just finished her last round of chemo, I was a little concerned about Patti’s endurance. We had mapped out a 70-mile route but, at the last bit of the planning stage, I insisted we back off and do only 60-miles. Other reasons for my caution were the forecast that called for 20 to 30-degree nights, and my concern over carrying the necessary water to get through some dry sections.

All of those concerns, and any others not mentioned, proved to be unnecessary. We both felt great physically and emotionally. The weather held out and the cold was not as bad as we feared. In the end we had likely our best and most rewarding segment yet.

We started with a hike-in to the trail head, south of, but near Gobbler’s Knob, on Lyttle Creek Road. Anita, our sister-in-law and chauffeur for the day, was generous enough to pick us up at Splinter’s Cabin to the south at Lake Arrowhead, and dropped us off about 2/3rds of a mile in from the highway and about two miles away from the trail head.

Lytle Creek Road

The plan was to complete 58-miles in six days. We managed to complete the entire section in just five days. The route was quite easy, relative to some earlier sections. We started at 8300 feet descending to altitudes ranging between 3000-4000 feet. Shifts were gradual and easy.

We read in advance about Poodle Dog Bush, a poisonous plant which seeds are activated by fire. The 2009 Station Fire created this year’s high risk conditions in this segment. Concentrations of the bush were reported right on the trail. The seeds lay dormant deep inside the soil and then when it feels the heat of fire, it replants and pushes up Poodle Dog.  This is a southern California phenomenon and is largely rare without proper conditions. It just happened that we did see some Poodle Dog when we first got on the trail that lasted about two miles. We were prepared to avoid it by having gloves and by covering everything up. We added hydrocortisone cream to our first aid kit, just in case.

One real bummer on this trip turned into a bit of irony and fun in the end. I noticed as we got to the trail start that my hat wasn’t on my head. I was certain it was gone for good because I recalled putting it on right before helping Patti get her pack on and that’s the last I knew of it. Then, the next day, I see Patti searching through all her stuff and mumbling about a hat. Turns out her “Tis Herself” green hat with the shamrock was nowhere to be found. At least Patti now has hair to cover her head. More than I can say. I was a little concerned about sunburn. Luckily, I had my bandana and wore it like a survivor buff. It worked well. Patti said it made me look bad ass. I think the picture below proves it to be more like: Bad – an ass.

Bad Ass

The missing hat, in case you're looking for it.

The missing hat, in case you’re looking for it.

Anyway, turns out my hat spent the week in Anita’s back seat and I will be getting it back. Patti’s Irish luck is missing along with her hat. Hopefully, someone will find it and enjoy it.

perspective

We felt like true members of the PCT hiking community when we stopped and ate at thru-hiker milestone, McDonald’s at Cajon Pass. While we aren’t thru-hikers the food and the “McCafe” coffee was somehow oddly delicious. We think they made it all special just for us.

At McDonalds

We lucked out with the weather. We knew to expect cold nights. That did happen, though not as low as we feared. On the second day, it looked like we might be getting some rain. However, we hiked out of the cloudy conditions and the day ended with sun overhead.

Clouds breaking

Setting Sun

We noticed graffiti through much of the 58-mile stretch. It seemed to us that it was done mostly by one tagger but we couldn’t be sure. It was annoying. We also found a little bit of trash and a few cigarette butts. We haven’t seen a lot of this on any of the trail since we began in Campo. We were a little surprised and disappointed. Other than that, however, the trail all the way was in excellent condition.

Graffiti

Seriously, is this what we want to see?

On our fourth day, we looked forward to Deep Creek Hot Springs. When we first approached the area we were “greeted” with a “boo!” There stood a 60’s-something, velour robe-wearing, barefoot, drunk guy who, we could tell, decided on his own that he was the Patriarch of the Pools. He did surprise Patti. He cracked himself up when he admitted he had never done that before. The seriously disturbing problem was that we also read this is a clothing-optional gig and that what was under the velour was likely no underwear. I was grateful for “Robe’s”  fatherly guidance when he mentioned the Rangers only swing around in their helicopter once a night and that they usually leave “us” alone as he pointed out other cowboy campers in the area. It kind of looked like a homeless encampment. He also showed us the water source and the pools. The place was kind of hippy. Those there wanted to be away. One naked guy jumped into the pool of hot water and said his trail name was Raithe. Patti asked about that and he said he wasn’t afraid of shadows. Neither of us knew what that meant but we went with it. I was thinking if only he knew Patti’s trail name is Glow in the Dark.

We previously ended a hike at Lake Arrowhead where the Deep Creek Bridge carries the PCT through the region just east of the lake. By starting this section from the north near Gobbler’s Knob and connecting the dots to Lake Arrowhead, we have now completed the entire distance from Campo to Gobbler’s Knob, 356 miles in total, minus just 27-miles closed currently due to the recent Mountain Fire. We’ll have to finish that small portion near Palm Springs, sometime later.

A brief update on our use of technology: We replaced our solar recharger with a new GoalZero system. Patti is not convinced that it worked well. But I believe it will work perfectly once we get better at using it. We’ll report more as we learn.

Silverwood Lake

Silverwood Lake

Lynn

Table Mountain Road to San Jacinto Peak Alternate to Palm Springs Tram

7/3 – 7/6/2013
45.8 miles, including 11.6 miles off trail
Northbound
Mileage driven 235

A tale of a late start, sticky heat, being dobled, straddling a mountain, getting trammed, officially tagged and almost sabotaged

Panoramic

We tried to get to the trail by 7:00. But July 4th holiday traffic made the planned three-hour trip more like four. It was 8:15 before we got onto the trail. We got 4.8-miles in before 10:00 pm. We’ve come to like night hiking. Especially in the hot months, it makes a lot of sense. It brings a different experience to the PCT. Shadows are incredible against our headlamps. There is a lot more rustling around in the bush alive with wildlife we know is there but never see anyway. We heard a howling coyote as we started.

We’ve also learned to love cowboy camping. We found a nice little undeveloped site just on the trail, laid our sleeping bags out, and slept well. The sky was clear and stars bright making for a perfect night.

We woke up at 5:30 and were on the go by 6:15, sipping Via coffee while getting ready. Making hot coffee or breakfast takes too much time. Now we make cold coffee (even us coffee snobs agree the Via isn’t too bad). We then simply grab some hearty cranberry bread for breakfast and go.

It was hot and humid on the trail. By 8:00 the sun was beating down on us hard. There were lots of trees, deceptive trees, in that, in the distance we hoped for shade but as we neared, there was very little. At 11:30 we did find a nice tree-lined area and stopped for PB and J on tortillas, then napped for an hour. After, we had a bit of coffee, packed up and plodded on, finishing the day at 8:15, having completed 14.2-miles.

Peanut Butter on Tortilla

Water was a big part of our day. We passed two seasonal sources of water that were likely dry as we never found them. Knowing we had to be careful, we rationed our water and never ran out. We needed to get to Tunnel Spring to keep an adequate supply. Maps indicated the Tunnel Spring was .3-miles down a ravine. But it was .5-miles by our pedometer. It was steep, rocky, overgrown and slick at times. And the rewards were dubious. The water was just a drip at a time out of a moldy PVC pipe, about 10-inches above the greenest and buggiest water in a rusty trough that we’ve ever seen. It took roughly 45-minutes to get about 3/4 of a gallon before we gave up and simply hoped for the best with the next water source. We knocked out for another nap after our stressful water collection escapade, then had dinner before moving on. Once we got to the campsite, we decided we would use the tent. It was windy and late.

On Friday we got an early and quick start. We still had water but not enough to go much more than five miles. The maps indicated we would find water 2.3 miles from our camp site, either at Eagle Spring, 0.25 miles from the trail, or, at Cedar Spring about one-mile off trail with a 500-foot elevation drop, with water reported to come through corroded pipes or a green cattle trough. We opted for Eagle Spring.

Eagle Sprint Warning

The prospect of being Dobled at Eagle Spring didn’t dawn on us until we saw the note: “stagnate water.” The PCTA water reports indicated clean water could be grabbed from an underground pool, behind the trough full of lousy water, and under a 9″ x 9″ rock. We found the rock and slid it free from the hole, only to find lots of mud. Digging into the mud yielded some water but nothing that was clean and nothing we felt comfortable enough to even filter. It still would have been mud. Dobled again by the trail! We were now pretty much out of water.

So, now we had another day that was going to be largely about water. Neither of us feel more dependent on water than when we don’t have any. Without water, we are quickly reduced to scavengers. We moved on to the next published source, Fobes Saddle, 3.9-miles away with just a little over a liter of water between us. We took small sips as we needed and tried to stay in the shade as much as possible. We were, in some respects, lucky, in that it was partly cloudy and not hot. We arrived at a great flat area full of camp sites with a sign indicating H2O down a path. The path down was about 0.3 miles and greeted us with a natural spring of cold, clean, clear water that was delicious. We drank and drank some more as we filled our water containers. The hike back out from the spring was hard with all the water we collected, but worth it knowing we were set for the day and beyond. We even had enough for afternoon coffee, a real treat. Later, mild elevation sickness took over Lynn. But spirits were lifted when we met southbound segment hikers, Leah and Josue and we chatted as we rested. Fortunately, they were able to confirm water at the next source, putting us at ease. The rest of the day was filled with climbing to about 7000-ft to arrive at an amazing camp site at mile 172. We straddled the top of the mountain, looking to the east to Palm Springs and to the west at Lake Hemet. It was very possibly the nicest site we’ve ever had. The night view was of the city lights of Palm Springs and the sunset to the west was rich with reds, yellows and grays.

Fobes Spring

It was there we realized an error in our planning. A 50-mile hike plus some water-searching miles suddenly looked like it was really a 64-mile trek. We both misread the mileage. We couldn’t do an extra day of hiking or make up the difference in the time left. We poured over the options, and decided we could walk into Idyllwild or we could take Wellman’s Divide trail to the Palm Springs Tram. The tram would get us closer to our car parked at Cabazon. From there we could get a taxi to take us the 10-miles down the road to get to our drop-off car.

Just when Patti was saying there should be benches along the trail, we found this.

Just when Patti was saying there should be benches along the trail, we found this.

On Saturday we trekked through about two tough miles of climbing. But that all relented to a smooth sandy, nicely shaded forest trail leading us to Tahquitz area. At Tahquitz Creek we collected another batch of water that was clean and wonderfully clear. We filtered it through our Sawyer and drank for an hour. From there we took the alternate (and gorgeous) trail Tahquitz Meadows, saving us 0.7 miles and 500 feet elevation climb.

Once we left the meadow we climbed a bit into the San Jacinto Wilderness Park. The highest elevation we reached was 9700 feet. It was checkerboard rich with amazing fern groves and alternating tall trees. We learned where there were trees (and shade) the ferns can’t grow. But where sun shines the ferns grow tall, in some places up past our waists.

Ferns in Tahquitz Meadow

The climb to the tram was rocky and steep. Portions of the hike were harder than anything yet on the PCT. But it was lush, green and beautiful. We finally made it to the back side of the tram around 4:30. We paid for two one-way tickets to the bottom. We called a cab. And we went home.

Whenever we do these hikes, we always take a bit of a risk by parking our cars in unfamiliar areas. We leave notes on the car indicating we are PCT hikers along with a cell or home number. We got a kind of double jeopardy when we were notified by the California Highway Patrol that our drop off car was “tagged” for being parked on a county road. This came as a message when we could pick up cell service close to Palm Springs. Luckily it was there when we arrived.

Then, after driving to pick up our second car, and without any real reason for looking, we found very large rocks behind both front tires of our car. The car was positioned such that all we could do was back up, so these rocks were strategically placed. When we got home and checked the phone for messages, a tersely worded tirade was left for us to enjoy: we had, apparently, parked on private property, although there were no signs saying so. The place was not friendly looking but did say PCT hikers were o.k. so we assumed we were o.k. too.  Does being almost sabotaged with potentially a big cost to the car pay for parking on private property?