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

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PCT Completion Hike – The First 11 Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to all of you for following along.

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

Lynn Shapiro

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.