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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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.

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.