Weekly Photo Challenge – Look Up!

Look Up

Our entry into this week’s photo challenge, which is entitled “Look Up” takes us back to this shot taken in March 2015 on our walk from Walker Pass to Hiker Town. The mushrooms went all the way up and all the way round. We had never seen this before.

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?

Daniel & Larry's

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

Happy Dance at Deep Creek

We put together a little video of our Gobbler’s Knob to Deep Creek hike with a Patti Happy Dance at the end. Celebrating one long year of treatments finally concluded. Happy Dance indeed.

http://vimeo.com/89771729

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?