Thursday, August 26, 2010

And Finally, the Photos

Finally, finally got around to getting the pics off my camera and putting them on The account name should be spibop15 if anyone wants to take a gander at my awful photography skills. They still need to be edited, touched up, and organized which, knowing myself, will be accomplished sometime around 2020. But its a start anyway.

The End of Days

Hi everyone, I'm writing today from my cousin Megan's house in Seattle, having truly finished my thru-hike nearly a week ago.

Ed, Straight Jacket and I left Skykomish together, getting a lucky hitch from a hiker girl passing through the area. Given that it was only a few days up to Stehekin, we ended up sticking together for the most part as the trail made its way into Glacier Peak Wilderness. This really was one of my favorite sections on the entire trail; perhaps there is some bias due to the fact that it is so near the end, but the views were awesome and just kept getting better. There was a minor scare when a forest fire started over a nearby ridge, but fortunately it never got close enough for us to see. For a night the air got thicker and the sunset darker, but the burn stayed out of sight and must have died down relatively quickly.

While we did manage to avoid one catastrophy, signs of older cataclysms were evident all throughout this section. In 2003 and 2005, fires, avalanches and mudslides brought on by storms ruined the 50 or so miles of trail to the west of Glacier Peak. As a result, the Forest Service officially closed the trail there and created an inferior detour around the east side of the mountain. For several years the original trail was unmaintained and impassable, but that didn't stop thru-hikers from trying anyway. In recent years there has been a huge effort to reconstruct the path, and fortunately it was largely finished by the time we arrived. We passed several trail crews who had been blasting new tread and cutting out blowdowns, apparently over 100 at last count. Some areas were still completely overgrown with brush however, and the general difficulty of the section made it slow, if beautiful, hiking for a few days. The views of Glacier Peak from Red's Pass were astounding, with rocky, ice carved valleys giving way to meadows of wildflowers and shadowed forests punctuated by fast running creeks. Eventually Ed, Straight Jacket and I made it to High Bridge Ranger Station and the road to Stehekin after hiking an exhausting 30 miles nonstop in order to catch the shuttle into town.

Our arrival at the town was somewhat awkward however. We, being the first straight-through hikers of the season for several thousand miles, had become accustomed to being greeted by south bounders, day hikers and people in town as such. Unfortunately, several yellow-blazers (i.e. hitchhikers) had skipped around us and were claiming to be the head of the pack, gloating to the locals while leaving out the fact that they had access to a car. As we arrived at the ranger station, these 4 were on their way out, basically putting them a full day ahead of us. I, not really giving a damn about the status of a few lazy hitchers, decided to head into Stehekin for the night, seeing as everyone raves about how great the town is. Ed and Straight Jacket opted to simply resupply at the local bakery and head out immediately in order to beat the pretenders to the border, thereby missing a great town stop and a chance to relax before hitting the terminus. I said goodbye, and had to see their tracks ahead of me for the last 80 miles (ironically, I still beat the others to Canada somehow. I think they took one more town stop at highway 20). Stehekin was beautiful, and I'm glad I stayed; less a town than a resort, it sits on the end of Lake Chelan and is inaccessible except by boat, seaplane, or boot. The nearest town is a 4 hour boat ride down the 50 mile lake, which is one of the deepest in the U.S. and boast sheer cliffs that drop straight down to the water. The food was excellent, the locals and tourists were friendly, and hitting the bakery in the morning gave me the best resupply I could hope for for my last few days.

Upon leaving town, alone this time, I immediately ran into a few black bears. Normally, this would be no cause for alarm, but given that I was laden with freshly baked treats, I was a little more wary than usual. Fortunately there was a large group of horse riders heading up the trail as well, so I wasn't too worried. I even had the chance to race them for a good 20 miles as they too were heading up the PCT; it was a close call, with them having to take frequent breaks as I simply busted up the trail, but sadly the hare won this time. They passed me just minutes before hitting their trailhead at Rainy Pass.

From this point on, I was in a strange situation. My mom and sister were due to arrive several days after I left Stehekin and were planning on picking me up at Rainy Pass... a full 60 miles south of the terminus. This meant I had to hike up to the border, then turn around and come back. For a thru-hiker, backtracking is practically unheard of; we typically shun it to a comical degree, to the point where heading 20 feet back down the trail is a cardinal sin. In that light, 60 miles is blasphemy. Thankfully, the last section was some of the most stunning yet encountered, so the bitter reality of the trek back was lessened somewhat. To be truthful, I was looking forward to being able to relax and have a leisurely hike back with the chance to run into some old friends. The North Cascades are great, and I was lucky to have some superb weather on my last stretch. The area is a full of granite spires and crags, green valleys, dense woods, and distant, snow covered peaks wreathed in clouds. With alot of side routes providing access to the PCT, the trail was somewhat crowded at times, but the day hikers were friendly and the company was welcome.

Despite the plethora of trail folk in the area, I was still surprised to find several other people at the border monument while I was there. It is a rather unimpressive thing, and aside from the fact that there is a giant clear cut creating a 20 foot wide swath through the forest, there seems to be little reason to take a day hike out to see it. None-the-less, I was accompanied by 4 others when I reached the terminus, a huge achievement accomplished. Due to my situation however, I felt more simple satisfaction than pure elation; I still had another 60 miles of rather strenuous hiking to do. After a celebration feast of a cinnamon roll (hiked out from the Stehekin bakery) and blackberry brandy, I turned around and started the trek back south. Given that I had plenty of time before my pickup date, I tried to take it easy, ramping down my mileage each day. Going from 40 to 35, then 30, 25, 15 and finally a laughable 5 miles a day felt like luxury in the perfect weather which, ironically, only turned slightly sour on the last day. Without cell service, and not having talked to my mom or sister in a week, I was somewhat worried that there would be some sort of hang up and I would be left sitting at the trailhead for hours in the rain, but mercifully they arrived exactly on time.

Well. That's about it for now. Much has happened since then, I've probably droned on long enough, so I'll get to that later, along with the photos. The flight home is tomorrow and soon I'll find myself with oodles of time and no daily ritual to space it with, so who knows where to go from here? Already the thoughts of the Continental Divide Trail have started, but that is far in the indeterminate future for me. I'm still waiting for the reality of the fact that I'm done hiking to hit me. For now, sleep. Or waking. Who knows.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Daily Ritual

Wake up at 4:30 or so, just as the stars begin to wink out overhead. Dawn is still far away, but its time to get the day moving, especially as I seem to take longer than the average thru-hiker to break camp in the morning. If I'm in a leisurely mood, start some water for tea or coffee while still swathed in my sleeping bag, naturally. Otherwise, move right on to a breakfast of a few cups of granola with powdered milk added. While eating, start getting dressed... still in the sleeping bag, natch'. When done, do the dishes, get everything packed and ready to go, then spend a few more warm blissful minutes before getting all my bedding stuffed.

With the tent still up, get the backpack loaded; sleeping bag on the bottom right, with my bag liner next to it and stove on top of that. Next, the two food bags, one with snacks and lunch, the other with breakfasts and dinner, then bunch my long sleeve shirt in the spaces around those. With the maps for the day already in my pocket, any extra guidebook pages and miscellaneous items are stowed in the top pouch. Carefully get the socks on, after bandaging any hot spots or blisters, then get the boots cleaned up and laced. Finally, with everything else done, get out and take down the tent, stuffing it in its bag and wrapping the whole thing in the sleeping pad, then tying the bundle up. Strap the whole deal on top of the pack, get the trekking poles, and head out. The water for the start of the day (the first 20 miles or so) was acquired last night, so no need to stop for awhile.

Hike for about 4 hours or so, or however long you can ignore the hunger building in your stomach, then stop for 10 or 15 minutes to rest, enjoy a view, and possibly clean out the boots again. Another 4 hour stretch ensues; its only 2 or so, and already 25 miles have flown by. Time for another break, this time maybe a bit longer, and to fill up on water. The familiar ache in the feet begins anew after standing up, but luckily it will be largely gone in a few minutes. After 30 miles, the challenge of keeping the momentum going really begins, and the familiar, sometimes hostile discourse between mind and body starts.

Body: I hurt a bunch. Maybe its time to stop soon?
Mind: Dude. Its only like 4 p.m. There is crazy daylight left and many miles to go before I sleep. Keep walking, chump.
Body: Really funny, jerk. If thats the case, let me give you a friendly reminder of the fact that I'm tired every time we take a step. Have fun with that.
Mind: Not gonna do any good. You might as well cut it out, we're still hiking for another 10 miles. Hope you like rocks.
Body: I'm calling my union rep...

One more rest stop will usually suffice to end the Descartian dialogues, and then its only a few more hours hiking until camp. The tent goes up first, everything is unpacked, and water is procured before starting dinner. Unlike most thru-hikers, I at least entertain the idea of making a campfire, though on a big day that is unlikely to happen; the sun is already well on its way down when dinner is finished, and it can be a race to eat before passing out as it is. After clean up and all, its already pushing 9:30, in other words a little past hiker midnight. There is just enough time to read the guidebook for the next day, then off to bed once everything is organized for the following morning--there is nothing worse than groping around in the half-darkness for breakfast when another long hike lies ahead. So ends a 40+ mile day on the PCT.

Monday, August 23, 2010

finally finished the trail at 11 a.m. on the 19th. got to spend a few days relaxing in the mts, now going to seattle with mom and sis to chill with cousin megan

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sky Time

Hi everyone, writing to you from Baring, WA, a scant 181 miles from the Canadian border. The resident trail angels, the Dinsmores, host hikers before they set off on the last little jump to the border and set them up in their sweet guest house. I was hoping to update in Cascade Locks (the last town in OR), but had to bounce out before getting to the library... and now I'm most of the way through the last state. Craziness.

The end of OR was definitely an improvement over the begining. After leaving Bend, the trail goes around glacier covered Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood, the latter of which is home to the historic Timberline Lodge and tons of skiers. The entire mountain seems to be made of ashy silt, like a giant sandpile cut through by the snow-fed creeks from above. These create giant canyons in the dust seemingly held together by the thin stips of trees growing on top. Ramona Falls, deep in a wooded gully and flowing down a mossy wall, was a highlight of the area and flooded with photographers. This however paled in comparison to the Eagle Creek trail, a detour that led down from the mountains to the Columbia River Gorge at Cascade Locks. The path is famous for its waterfalls, which tumble from all sides down a narrow basalt canyon. The tread itself is often blasted into the rock, and indeed tunnels behind a 150 foot cascade at one point. Needless to say the trail is popular with day hikers, especially the cliff jumpers who make use of the deeper pools. All in all, its one of the highlights of the entire PCT.

Cascade Locks itself is conveniently located directly on the trail after Eagle Creek, and holds the distinction of being right on the border of a new state. Given how long we were in California, Oregon seemed to fly by. From here the trail crosses the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods at an elevation of 180 feet, the lowest point on the entire trip. Unfortunately, WA seems determined to make up for the flatness of OR before it; immediately upon entering the state it takes a roundabout route that climbs more than 5000 feet somewhat needlessly.

Thankfully the state has redeemed itself fom its less than auspicious beginings. Though it tends to be much steeper, and the climbs more frequent, WA has been pretty stunning. The north Cascades are awesome, rugged and rocky below, clothed in glaciers above, and peppered with wildflowers all over. Mornings and evenings are cool and often shrouded in mist, making for good hiking in the eerily silent and still air. The Goat Rocks and Alpine Lakes Wilderness are other areas I would love to revisit, each offering great views, plenty of secluded camping and crystal clear water.

Personally, I view this hike as an oppotunity to scout out places I'd like to spend more time in, not as a relaxing experience itself. Ed, Straight Jacket and I have been at the head of the crowd for awhile now, hiking alone but always in the vicinity of each other. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. and going until after 7 p.m.or so with maybe an hour and a half of rest, we've all been pushing 40+ miles a day. While to some it seems like racing, honestly it is simply hard to put the brakes on ones momentum. Knowing that your legs can go farther in a given day, it almost seems insulting not too, like they are entities of their own. With only 181 miles left to go, I hope to be finished in just 5 or 6 days, then who knows what comes next.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

in snoqualmie, WA, with only 250 miles to go. the cascades are beautiful but challenging, time for the last push. hope all goes well

Friday, July 30, 2010

Storms, Clouds and Snow

Hi everyone, writing to you from Bend, OR, more then half way up through the state. I'm staying with my sister's friend Maggie, her husband Matt, and their son Liam, who thankfully are putting up with my smelly self for a few days. Its definitely nice to get off trail and not have to worry about hitching to town, getting to the post office on time, or hauling groceries around while doing other errands.

Bend seems like a nice town with alot of small breweries, coffee houses and parks which make it ideal for a rest day. It is quite a bit larger than most trail towns, so I'm glad that Maggie and Matt have graciously taken the time to shuttle me around a bit; it definitely reduces the stress normally associated with visiting towns of this size. Today I hope to resupply with some minor re-outfitting at the REI in town as well, as I hope this will be the last major stop before the finish. I'm looking at a tentative finish date of August 23, though that number could go up or down a few days depending on the coming trail conditions. It was a bit of a shock when I sat down to figure out the timing and realized it could possibly be that soon, but I've been averaging 35 miles a day due to good conditions so the distance just keeps rolling by.

That being said, the trail from Ashland has been fraught with a new obstacle, this time in insectoid form. Due to the lat melting of the snow (the gift that keeps on giving), I arrived in southern Oregon just as the main mosquito hatch began. Let me be clear about this; these are not your backyard BBQ insects. These are a force of nature. Bigger and more tenacious than those on the east coast, these things can descend in clouds in seconds, often following you for miles in a comet-tail of aggravation. The summer thunderstorms that have been rolling through keep them down for a few hours at the cost of a quick dousing, but these ominously signal the approach of worse weather up in Washington. Camp offers little respite from the madness as the mosquitoes congregate around your tent, buzzing and whining all night, and waking only brings the realization that you'll have to fight off waves of them to pack up. DEET helps keep them from biting, but the constant malevolent presence of such entities that live to suck your blood is unnerving. If nothing else it forces you to hike faster and appreciate the bugless areas even more.

Thankfully, for the moment such sanctuaries seem to be coming more abundant. While the first half of the state was a tree covered, flat, largely viewless walk, the northern half is proving to be awesome and beautiful enough to make up the difference as the Cascade Mountains and their attending volcanic environs are on display. Crater Lake has been the single most stunning section to date as the trail closely follows the rim of the gigantic caldera for several miles, offering great views of Wizard Island and the countless jagged escarpments plunging thousands of feet to the deep blue waters below. Mount Thielsen, it too an extinct volcano whose cone has collapsed to a needle-like point, offered the next insight into the areas geologic history. Three Sisters Park was next, another trail highlight that began with open fields of wildflowers giving way to barren fields of obsidian and boot-shredding pumice, apocalyptic landscapes that belie the forces that created the place. Paradoxically, snow patches still linger in the open fields there despite the lack of shade. Mount Belknap came after, throwing up more barriers of lava rock that surround oddly tranquil islands of trees amidst the destruction, followed by Mount Washington, a highly glaciated peak surrounded by open forests blanketed with ferns.

Ahead on the agenda is the Mount Jefferson wilderness, which is consistently rated the best area in Oregon on the trail, as well as Eagle Creek, a hike down a narrow gorge with tread blasted into the rocks and behind waterfalls. Cascade Locks, a border town on the Columbia River and the lowest point on the entire trail is the next stop another milestone to look forward too. I expect there to be fast hiking until then for the most part, though there are rumors of more snow ahead. Furthermore, the climb into Washington is said to be very steep and, with a full resupply coming into the state, will doubtlessly slow progress a bit. As long as the mosquitoes tail off it should be no problem however, and having coming over 2000 miles so far--with only 650 to go-- I m getting excited about the prospect of finishing the second leg of my triple crown. Hopefully I'll be able to post once more from Oregon, then its on to the final state. Wish me luck, talk to you from down the trail.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Oregon at Last

Hi all, I'm writing to you today from Ashland, OR. Thats right, I finally made it to Oregon after more than 1700 miles of hiking in California, and it definitely feels good to have passed a new milestone. In addition to being in a new state, I also have less than a thousand miles to go; its time to start counting down the miles intstead of counting up. I've been hiking with Lakewood and Ed still, and we managed to catch up with StraightJacket, who was ahead since Old Station. For the moment we comprise the "head of the pack" so to speak, though we aren't trying to rush things necessarily. That being said, we have been averaging 35 miles a day or so, a good size number especially considering that most of those come easily before noon. The terrain and trail is simply too easy and fast when compared to the Sierras that it is hard to slow down. The views are consistently amazing as we head into the high desert of this next section, an area of rolling hills of parched grass and carpets of wildflowers. Its surprising to think that just a few days ago the trail was inundated with cascades and surrounded by lakes as we headed through the Marble Mountain Wilderness, but then again this trail seems forever changing. Even though the Sierras were beautiful in their own right, northern California has been one of my favorite sections so far. Between the easy conditions and near constant views of Shasta and the surrounding areas, it certainly makes for great hiking. Unfortunately our time in Ashland has been cut short, and we have to peace out earlier than expected so I can't write more but, I think I'll be getting off trail for a day in Bend where Elise has a friend willing to put me up for the night, so hopefully I'll be able to update then as well. Talk to you later.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

So Close...

Hi everyone, writing to you from Alderbrook Hiker Hostel in Etna, CA, one of the last towns in this seemingly infinite state. Seriously, its been almost 1600 miles by now. The trail from Old Station has been spectacular and varied, and paradoxically I find myself once again hiking with people, despite the fact that there is no immediate need too. This time it is Lakewood and Ed, and we have been putting in some serious mileage each day. We are, metaphorically, chasing StraightJacket who is the first thru hiker of the season now and is only a day ahead, though nobody really likes to admit it. There is always the knowledge that the herd is right behind us as well, and even though its not a race, the compulsion to keep up the pace is always there.

Soon after leaving the Heitman's the trail climbs to Hat Creek Rim, an exposed and windy volcanic ridge with views down to dry canyons below. There we got our first views of Mt Shasta in the distance, a huge snow covered mass over 14000 feet high that seemed to hover above the haze, while Mt Lassen receded in the distance. As if the prescence of 2 such huge monoliths wasn't reminder enough of the Cascades' volcanic origin, the Rim is composed of black igneous rocks resembling giant piles of asphalt. Thirty hot, waterless miles later brought us to several placid lakes and hydroelectric dams before the trail quickly ascended to higher climes once again.

The trail since has been a rollercoaster of climes taking us through more scrub and wildflowers, up to pine forests and back again with great views all the way as the path winds around old glacial cirques. Some areas are reminiscent of SoCal, where the vistas extend thousands of feet and many miles to the distance, sun-baked valleys to the east. Shasta and the accompanying volcanic outcroppings have been constant companions, as each turn reveals a different side of the mountain. The last few days have been characterized by mountains of serpentine marble, an iron-tinted rock that breaks into black and white slabs shot through with green veins and displaying an almost polished sheen; I wish I could come back with a wheelbarrow and a pickup truck, but I think that would be frowned upon. It looks like similar views are in store for the next section as we head into the Marble Mountains towards Seiad Valley, a tiny town that the PCT passes straight through. From there, its a scant 45 miles or so to the border, the on to Oregon finally! There should be a little more snow to contend with, but soon that will be completely behind us... supposedly. The next big stop is Ashland OR, so hopefully I'll talk to you then.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bein' Lazy

Sooooo, was going to hike out of here this afternoon/ evening. Instead I'm staying here again seeing as Smiletrain, Wanderer, Bojangles, Lakewood and Ed all showed up. Might leave in the middle of the night to get some hiking done on the Hat Creek Rim while its still cool, but I'll probably just head out in the morning. Sigh.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Half-way House

Hi everyone, writing to you from the Heitman's house hostel outside Old Station, CA, today. A lot has happened in the interim since my last real post at Donner Pass, most for the better. The group I'd been hiking with broke up for a few days upon leaving Pooh Corner as Dave and SmileTrain headed out early in order to arrive in Belden sooner. Wanderer, StraightJacket and I left the day after, enjoying Bill Person's hospitality a little longer, but to our surprise we caught up with the others only a few days later; apparently they decided to take it slow, realizing they were ahead of schedule. A quick stop in small, quirky Sierra City for some resupply was followed by a stay at a budding trail angel hostel near Buck's Lake, where we were treated to some dinner... after a nice appetizer of burgers. With the crew reassembled for the time being, we decided to celebrate the 4th with a little outdoor BBQ of our own by stocking up on hot dogs, marshmallows, and the like and hiking an easy 15 miles before setting up camp. I don't know if I've been in California too long, but avocados should always be paired with hot dogs, no questions asked. It was an excellent way to relax and recharge before then next leg of our journey began.

The next 9 miles were a long slow, descent into Belden, down to 2900 feet in elevation, our lowest point in many, many miles. The trail passes through a small resort on the banks of the Feather River, that, strangely enough, is host to a series of summer music festivals that draw various and sundry types to the area. As such, Belden has a reputation for being a party town, and because we arrived on the 5th of July it did not disappoint. Hippies and hipsters abounded, and for once we weren't the dirtiest people in town. Needless to say we still felt out of place, so we quickly high tailed it to... yet another house hostel, this time run by the Braatens. They generously put people up in their house outside of town and fed us an awesome breakfast.

Belden is the geographic end of the Sierras as well as the closest stop to the half-way point, so unsurprisingly there were a few other milestones. This marked the first time we encountered another northbound hiker in months, as CroDog hiked in some time after we did. Unfortunately, both he and Dave had to leave, hitching out to the real world for brief sojourns into civilization. With the drop in elevation the worst of the snow is gone, so StraightJacket decided to hike ahead by himself; his motivations are more towards making huge miles than the rest of us apparently. Wanderer and SmileTrain hitched into Quincy, so I ended up leaving the Braatens by myself as well, finally hiking alone for the first time in more than a month.

Luckily the trail has been fairly easy as my ankle continues to be quite weak and has to be nursed along the rougher bits, but I've still been able to make some decent mileage. After a longish ascent out of Belden, the path enter Lassen National Park, an area of volcanic activity around the imposing, snow capped mountain that is the park's namesake. It rises from the surrounding forest in a singular mass, somewhat like Katahdin in Maine, and signals the start of the Cascade Mountain range. The terrain has been varied as of late, changing from dense, young-growth pine forests (the product of recent logging) to dusty chaparall at lower elevations, to stark, rugged igneous outcroppings populated by wildflowers. There have been several side trails to geysers, furmamoles and boiling mud pots as well, but by far the best has been the stop at Drakesbad Guest Ranch. Located in the tiny Warner Valley, its a small cluster of cabins around a lodge and a hot springs-fed swimming pool with some of the most amazing hospitality ever. They provide hikers with towels, bathing suits, access to their facilities, and give ridiculous hiker rates on their food, which is all very good quality; no wonder the place is booked years in advance. The final leg from Drakesbad to here has been easy on the legs, but terror with the bugs. Now that the snow is (hopefully) over and done with, the mosquitoes are out in full force, and one must choose between sweltering in long sleeves or constantly swatting the squadron of insects that follow behind. DEET is an option of last resort and desperation.

Then finally there is the Heitman's house itself. Located outside brushy Old Station, it is a strange place populated by previous hikers who mill around making themselves useful. Kind of like a Sargasso Sea of trail folk. Its weird being the only current hiker here right now as 8 "helpers", all awaiting the crush of hikers some ways behind, try to find something to do. It makes a thru hiker feel downright industrious. That being said, Georgi Heitman is pretty awesome (obviously), and her generosity betrays her girl scouting heritage. She has big tents and a tree house set up to accomodate her guests, as well as all the comforts and amenities that make leaving difficult. As I type this, thunder rolls outside and I'm thankful to be indoors, though the weather is supposed to remain the same as I head out to the exposed Hat Creek Rim shortly. Yikes.

If the trail conditions remain the same, I should be back to the hiking pace I enjoyed in SoCal. For the moment we are all getting spoiled by the abundance of house hostels, though that won't last too long; the next leg is notorious for its inconvenient resupply. I expect to be out of California in a few weeks, through Oregon soon after that, and into Washington sometime around mid August. With the half way point behind me, thoughts of life after the trail have started to creep back into my head already. Hopefully my ankle will behave itself, and it will be back to smooth sailing for the remainder of the trek as I'm looking forward to the possibility of seeing family in the near future. Talk to you later.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

relaxing at the braatens house hostel in belden, CA after freshly twisting my ankle. finally done w the sierra, tho more snow awaits, hoping to heal up by then

Monday, June 28, 2010

Catasrophes and Blessings

Hi all, I'm writing today from Pooh's Corner, an awesome trail angel's house on Donner Lake outside Truckee, CA, owned by Bill Persons. The plan since leaving South Lake Tahoe a few days ago has been to stop here for the night and bounce out in the morning, making tracks for Sierra City. Unfortunately, I managed to twist my ankle fairly badly (on an innocuous stick, of all things), and had to hike 35 painful miles to get here on but a few Ibuprofen. That being said, I'm taking a zero day here today and hoping to recuperate somewhat; at the moment my ankle looks somewhat eggplant-ish. Dave is on a schedule and doesn't have the time to lounge, so he and Smiletrain headed out this morning, but the set up here is almost too sweet to pass up. The rest of the gang stayed here as well to take advantage of Bill's awesome pad. There are several boats to bring out on the lake, 3 computers to play on, a rock climbing wall in the living room, 2 powerful showers, and gallons of ice cream on hand for hideous consumption, which basically makes it hiker paradise. Hopefully we'll catch up with the others in Belden, another 150 or so miles down the road, after which Dave has to head out for a wedding in Puerto Rico for a week. Given that he is our best pathfinder and general logistics person, his absence amidst the snow will be sorely missed by the group. It will be hard leaving this place in the morning, especially considering the sorry state of my foot, but the miles won't hike themselves. I suppose that if the terrain continues to be challenging, I can take some more rest days at the next hostel a week away, but time will tell. Talk to you later.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Trail That Wasn't

Hi everyone, writing to you from South Lake Tahoe, CA at the Key's Cafe. Its been awhile since I've had the chance to update and alot has gone on since then, so I'll try to be brief. I've been hiking with the same crew for the past several weeks now to help make it through the relentless snowpack, which is a very different experience from my normal style. There is a constant need for compromise that has started to wear on everyone, and now that the snow has started to break there is some talk about splitting up. Unfortunately the group has been a necessity, as the need to break trail, navigate through trackless woods, and push on in spite of relentless fatigue requires more than the usual amount of effort.

The trail from Lone Pine has been amazing despite the difficulty. We came back over Kearsarge Pass and rejoined the trail before continued on through the High Sierra, tackling the notorious passes such as Glen, Mather, Pinchot, and Muir, each presenting a unique route-finding challenge in addition to the usual strenuous climbs. The views from the top were astounding and rewarding, each in their own memorable way, often presenting long views down sun-soaked, snow covered valleys with clouds flying overhead. The suddenness of the spectacle never ceases to surprise, as huge panoramas explode seemingly over every rise, and one never knows what to take pictures of. Eventually you give up, realizing that no photo could really capture the experience, and each "wow" moment trumps the next.

Next we headed in to Mammoth, a typical California ski town that afforded us a chance to resupply for the next leg. Unfortunately, due to our early arrival the bus service to civilization wasn't running and we had to leg it an extra 9 miles to make our way back to the trail, adding yet another small obstacle to our northward progress. The path resumed with more frozen lakes, snowfields, and forests, the elevation slowly getting lower and lower. In just a few days we reached Tuolemne Meadows and the road into Yosemite Valley, stomping grounds of John Muir and Ansel Adams. Sadly, we were weak willed and decided to hitch hike into the park instead of taking the 21 mile side trail, a route that promised even more difficult passes and snow. Never-the-less the views were astounding, with awe inspiring granite domes and thundering waterfalls that any American would recognize. The park was overwhelming in more ways than one however; the shear amount of car-driving tourists invading what, to a hiker, is holy ground was somewhat depressing, even more so given the fact that we ourselves were driven in. We did some quick resupply and booked it back to the trail, anxious to continue our trek to Canada.

The first few day in between here and there were more of the same, which sounds much more mundane than I suppose it really is. When "the same" is gorgeous views of snow covered mountains and waterfalls, one can't complain too much, even though it remained challenging. There have been some tedious days and several disappointments, but recently the landscape has taken a new turn as we hit the volcanically sculpted northern Sierra. Though the peaks may be smaller, they are craggier and covered in ridges and caves, the rocks now a range of reds and yellows and very rough. Bright lichens and small flowers have started appearing, replacing the pine forests and giving the appearance of blasted desolation in areas. These places are blessedly snow-free, and we try to make the best time possible when we reach them while still enjoying the magnificent scenery. Hopefully this type of landscape will be the norm for awhile.

Despite the changing land, some things are a constant. Water has been an all pervasive element out here, in all its forms. The endless snow fields, covered in cursed sun-cups, the exhausting repetition of climbing snow drifts through the forests, and the countless creeks, streams, and meadow marshes that must be forded leave ones feet in constant wetness, and only the steam rising out of boots around a fire at night gives any respite. The snow conditions, as well as the predictable cycle of temperature, lends a rhythm to every day. Morning are typically freezing, with many days of icy boots resulting in a hurried breakfast eaten while still in a sleeping bag. We usually start hiking around 6-6:30, getting the circulation going before the sun is fully up in jackets and gloves. The snow is crusted with ice, making level ground and climbing easier, but downhills treacherous. Once the light hits the lower slopes, we shed our warmer gear and the snow loosens up, requiring more effort to make forward progress, but allowing us to boot-ski down from the hills. The conditions constantly change however, and what was soft, slippery walking one minute is icy and bumpy the next. Six foot high drifts can appear around the corner where before there was dry trail, throwing one off guard every moment and disheartening any weary thru-hiker.

The fords have been our other major concern that dictate our mileage so far. Each "creek" represents a barrier that must be surmounted; some can be crossed via fallen logs, but most have to be waded across, fighting against the current and the cold. Several have been totally uncrossable and we've had to detour far upstream, passing tributaries to find places where the flow lessens What is a creek here in CA can be a river elsewhere. Fortunately we've managed our way around every obstacle so far, though the unexpected ones are often the worst; the trek up to Dorothy Lake Pass, which I'm sure is an enjoyable 9 mile hike on easy grade beside a water source in late summer, was a hellish uphill slog over sun-cups and 6 foots drifts through trackless forests that took an entire morning. The crossing of Stubblefield Creek, which is not mentioned in any guidebook, required a delicate balancing act on a small log over a rushing torrent, and what was to be a "broad, shallow ford" turned out to be a 50 foot wide, 6 foot deep moat that totally stymied our advance. In short, we are all phenomenally tired, and our arrival in Tahoe couldn't have come at a better time. We enjoyed the snow for awhile, but we are all tired of it by now, and pray for an end to the difficulties so we can get back to our normal styles of hiking. We look forward to the day when the trail that so often has left us, buried beneath the snow, will come back to us and let us hike unhindered.

By the way, one of the other hikers has a blog with video posts as well at which is updated fairly frequently. It has a few videos of our exploits in the southern Sierra and should soon have some interesting ones of us going across the more treacherous fords. Unfortunately I'm still having trouble uploading photos from my phone, which is getting pretty full again, so hopefully I'll be able to fix that eventually. Until next time.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Hi everyone, writing to you from Lone Pine, CA, right now during yet another unscheduled stop. I've been hiking with 4 other guys for the past few days (Wanderer, Dave, Straightjacket, and Smiletrain) who left Kennedy Meadows the day before me. Normally we all prefer to hike solo, but have all ended up bunching up and moving together through the tough Sierra conditions; I was only able to catch up to them due to the fact that they were breaking trail before me. The snow has been incredibly hard work, particularly seeing as we are the first group through the mountains this year. Because of this, we have to navigate through without the aid of previous footsteps and plow through the snowpack, both of which are energy and time consuming. Someone estimated that we burned around 12,000 calories a day due to the strenuous conditions, and so here we are in town resupplying yet again and bulking up on fatty foods. A traveling trail angel named Tom is here in town putting us up with all sorts of goodies as well, just continually proving the awesome capacity for generosity that people out here can have and reinforcing the need to 'pay it forward' at some point.

The route to Lone Pine was a circuitous one, involving a 9 mile detour over Kearsarge Pass and down to a lightly used trailhead parking lot where, in an incredible coincidence, a couple with a van just happened to be leaving and gave us a ride to the town of Independence. We were very worried about not having a ride down from the mountains, so the we were incredibly lucky in that regard, and I fully expect karma to catch up and kick my butt eventually. Unfortunately there isn't much in Independence, except a historically preserved Japanese internment camp in the middle of the desert. Given that none of us were in the mood for a depressing, if educational, side-trip, we hitched here to Lone Pine for some real resupply. In one of those hilarious coincidences, Smiletrain and I got a ride mere moments after Dave left to try his luck elsewhere.

For all the trouble and leg-ache, the views have been absolutely stunning. Even the drive down to town was beautiful, involving an equilibrium shattering descent from the icy heights down to the sweltering desert plain. The mountains are covered in pristine snow, and the only tracks around are those of bears, mule deer and marmots. There are gigantic canyons cut by half frozen rivers, and when the light hits the walls in the morning or afternoon, they seem to glow. The contrast between the distant, sun-soaked mountains and those still in shade is stunning, and seeing the cloud shadows racing across the huge distances is awesome. Its easy to see how John Muir and Ansel Adams could be so inspired by this landscape, though hard to see how they got out here; its difficult enough with our modern gear and prepackaged food. Only our continual luck with the weather, which has been consistently gorgeous and calm, has allowed us to continue apace. The first sight of a lake, iced over in glacial blues and aquamarines makes it all worthwhile though, as does the occasional glimpse of some wildlife picking its way up the precarious slopes or foraging in the rocks.

While it hasn't even been 100 miles since my last post, we have already passed several milestones in this section. We completed the arduous ascent of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the 48 contiguous states at over 14000 feet, a 17 mile side trip that involved a lung-busting 3000 foot elevation gain up a rock scramble. The summit was crowded with a dozen or so day hikers who made the climb from the easily accessible eastern side, and, hilariously, the 'shelter' on top was completely filled with a solid block of snow from floor to ceiling. The next day we crossed over Forester Pass, the highest point actually on the PCT, and entered Kings Canyon Park, with views down to the sinuous Bubbs Creek and the occasional rock slide cracking off the craggy walls in the distance. We've already forded several rivers, running high and swift from snow-melt, though the worst are yet to come apparently; wading across a stream in your boots, then heading straight into the snow has, surprisingly, not been as bad as it sounds...yet. We've traversed blinding snowfields (and all have cracked lips and screaming suntans to prove it), and have all had a foot or two 'vacuumed' in wet afternoon snow. This frustrating phenomenon occurs when you step on an air pocket created by a hidden boulder, causing the snow to collapse and pack around your ankle into a vice-like brick of ice that no amount of pulling can break; only by digging out you whole leg can one escape it. Its obvious that one person cannot make it through all these hardships alone, and so we travel together like ducks in a row, pulling each other along.

The satisfaction of knowing we are the first to attempt the Sierras while so many thru hikers are skipping around is an incentive to struggle though all this. Not many people get to see the mountains like this, and so while it certainly is a challenge, it is also very rewarding. Knowing that everyone behind us will be following our tracks, second guessing our route-finding abilities, and laughing at our obvious missteps gives some sense of accomplishment. Its an eerily ephemeral way to leave your mark on such a mammoth landscape; our footsteps will last for but a few day, quietly melting in the sun and being trampled by the following crowd. Though the tracks may be tiny, they will be visible for miles across the snowfields, and will give comfort and peace of mind to those behind, letting them know that at least someone else is crazy enough to be out there, and that for better or worse they went that-a-way.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mellow Kennedy Meadows

I'm still here chilling at Tom's place in Kennedy Meadows, enjoying the weather and relaxing with the other thru-hikers who are holed up here for the moment. Fortunately everyone left here for the moment is cool; some rather grating characters hiked out this morning, and now the place is a little quieter. Yellowbird, Salty, Caveman and I participated in the town's annual road cleanup, helping pick up litter and join in on some BBQ action afterwords. In the meantime, Andrew, a hiker I met down south at the Andersons, just caught up and is sticking around for a few days. Sunseeker, Subzero, and Slim, who drove down to Green Valley earlier, are scheduled to be back sometime today as well. All in all, its a good crew to be running with for the moment, though as soon as we get out of KM, the herd is bound to thin out again fast.

Taking part in the cleanup let us see a bit more of the town and meet the locals. The community here is pretty awesome, for though it is just a scattering of buildings amidst the trees and hills, everyone is very tightly knit. The general store seems to be the focus of activity, a great place to sit and mingle, while the fire department seems to be a major organizer of local events. Because the entire area is off the grid, people are used to lending a hand to keep things running. Luckily we are here at one of the best times of year, and, despite taking it easy for the last few weeks, we are still ahead of the main crush of hikers. I'm planning on heading out tomorrow morning with the bulk of the gang here; given that we are all crazy excited and rested, its going to be a strong few days. Once again, I don't expect much in the way of cell service or internet connection, so this might be the last post for a while, but you never know out here. Talk to you later, hopefully with some great stories from the Sierras!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bear Necessities (sorry)

I'm still here at Tom's place in Kennedy Meadows today, just resting and repacking in anticipation of big climbs and long stretches into the Sierras today. The general store here is a deadly place with lots of goodies (Ben and Jerry's anyone?), a small grill, a laundry, and the ability to keep a tab open for days at a time. Scary.

Its also the place where everyone receives their bear vaults, a cumbersome necessity that is required inside Yosemite National Park. These are heavy plastic canisters, about a foot tall with a screw on lid that are supposedly bear proof which, in theory, are meant to hold any scented items that may attract animals. In practice, this is easier said than done; everything must be repackaged, shoved, crushed and twisted to make sure all the space is used. Then, the whole unwieldy contraption has to be strapped onto your pack, making it top-heavy and unbalanced. We all groan about the inconvenience and generally try and put off the event, but ultimately it is for the best. Aside from the peace of mind about not having your food source snatched by a food-crazed ursine, it also sets a good example for the day hikers out there, and in the long run keeps the bear safe. Problem bears who get too used to human food and harass the people visiting the park are often relocated, but sometimes put down. Its a huge pain to reconfigure ones pack, especially considering that many of us are carrying 9 or more days worth of food, but the fines for noncompliance are stiff and can include having your thru-hiking permit revoked.

Therein lies a bone of contention amongst some of the hikers here. The fact that we have to have a piece of paper in order to walk across the country is somewhat infuriating; one can drive anywhere without needing a specific permit, and thru-hikers are by far the most minor offenders as far as littering is concerned, but we can still be kicked off the trail without a permit. Oh well.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Just finally tried to put some pictures up on, though I'm not sure how well it worked. The computers here aren't exactly the swiftest machines assembled, so I'll just edit things a bit at a time. They should be under the name spibop15. If it doesn't work then, um, screw it.

On a somber note, Michael, the German whom I met the first day and last saw in Big Bear, apparently dropped out in Mojave and took a plane home from L.A. He will be missed; just a reminder that the urge to quit can momentarily overtake us all, even though we'll regret it in the longrun.

True Grit

Hi everybody, I'm here in Kennedy Meadows at last, the gateway to the Sierras! I say at last, though, in reality, I've been trying my hardest not to run here over the past weeks. Since I last wrote in Tehachapi, we've been through about everything the mountains ofSouthern California has to offer, a little farewell before heading into the the next big section of the hike.

I left town on Thursday in horrid, foggy conditions. Tehachapi is on a high plain surrounded by hills with a pass to the east that drops down to the Mojave desert below. The sea humid sea air coming from the west collides with the drier atmosphere and creates near constant winds, and in this case, a cloud that enveloped the area, putting visibility in town at about 100 feet. Fortunately the trail winds its way amongst the hills overlooking the desert, resulting in thick clouds on one side of path, and clear views on the other. Naturally, one gets used to hiking amidst giant windmills through this area. I put in a half day's walk out of town, and set up camp in a small forest of oaks and pine trees to screen against the wind, with a view down to Mojave and the airforce base situated in the desert.

I got a late start the next day and managed to find the trail crew I had agreed to work for. Named the "Trail Gorillas", it consisted of Jerry, Pete, Lye, Ron and Gordy, who had driven up to the path where it intersected a dirt road, and we were later joined by Handyman, whom I had been hiking with previously. We set up a camp and quickly got to work clearing bushes. Two people worked the brush saws (imagine a circular saw blade on the end of a 4 foot pole attached to an engine with wide handle grips) while the rest of us tossed the downed branches off the trail, clipped back smaller twigs, and leveled the trail grade. Le me just say these guys are pretty awsome. Most are not hikers themselves. I was the youngest person there by a few decades (Pete is in his 80s and was the only one allowed to work the chainsaw. Oh, and he did some 250 days of trail work last year. Pretty tough). They come out and work for the comraderie, the chance to put in a hard days work and have something to show for it. And the don't ask for anything in return but the appreciation of the hikers passing by. Crazy awsome and mad props. Did I mention it was snowing and windy while this was going on?

Anyway, several days of brush clearing and 2 tired arms later, Handyman and I headed out, along with several other hikers who happened to be passing through (Yellowbird, Salty and Caveman, whom I had met before at Islip Saddle.) My legs were more than a little anxious to get moving, helped along by the fact that many hikers had passed by while we were working. I booked it onwards, passed more windmills and down to calmer climes. I ended near Landers Creek amongst shady pines and near the remenants of an old mining cabin, complete with a caved-in shaft and hundreds of rusted tin cans and spam boxes. A good 30 mile day to get the blood going.

When the sun came up the next day, my water was frozen. Always a good feeling to wake up to. I got going early to warm up, and in true Southern Cali fashion, the woods gave way to sandstone hills then rolling desert. 15 miles of sandy, shifting uphill climbs in full sun is not fun, so naturally I just pushed on through, anticipating the cooler mountains in the distance. They are never as close as the look, by the way. Upon reaching the foothills, I planned to take a nice long nap and fill up on water. Instead, I encountered 2 rattlesnakes. Time to keep walking! Fortunately the climb was relatively easy, the weather cool and the views were improving; the snow covered Sierras started rearing up in the distance. The day seemed to fly by, and with time on my side I pushed on, covering 40 miles to end at McIver's Spring, accompanied by several of the hikers who passed by a few days before.

The next day was a descent into Walker Pass and the true, geological start of the Sierras at Owen's Peak. The landscape changed into granite cliffs and domes, huge massiffs rising above the clouds with jagged peaks and fingers breaking the sky. The terrain has been up and down, in and out of valleys, and through huge burns for the last few days. The hike into Kennedy Meadows has been especially amazing, crossing a wide plateau which is cut by the Kern River and surrounded by peaks. KM is an quirky community, not really a town but a cluster of houses serviced by a single general store. A trail angel named Tom lives here with a fleet of random, beat up trailers (and thankfully an internet connection) that he lets hikers rest at before starting the next challenge. For the moment I am waiting here for Handyman to catch up, and may take a few days off; Ron, his friend from the Trail Gorillas Crew, offered to put us up for a few days. For now, the weather is good though the snow farther on is still hanging around at the higher elevations. I'm content with waiting for the moment, but rest assured, once I get going the miles are going to fly by. Moutains will be transformed to grit beneath my boots, ice or no. I should be in conact for the next few days, but beyond KM is hundred of miles of glorious isolation. I'll try to stay in touch!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Giving a Little Something Back

I've agreed to work on the trail crew doing work a little north of Tehachapi over the weekend, so it looks like I'll be staying put for awhile. As long as they keep me busy I shouldn't get too ancy, but it does mean the pack behind will have more time to catch up (a bad thing in my opinion, though I might get to see some hikers I left behind). The people I've been playing leapfrog with lately will probably get ahead as well, so I'll have too book it to catch up with them. There is always a trade off somewhere, and its hard to stay in touch with people when everyone is constantly on the move. In the meantime I'll just hang around and be lazy until its time to head out, but my legs are twitching as I write. All of southern California just feels like a warm up for what is to come, and I can't wait to get some real hiking started.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Last Stop

Hi everyone, I'm writing to you from Tehachapi, CA, in the K-Mart of all places. This is the last big stop before hitting Kennedy Meadows and the start of the Sierras, so there is a bit of a bottleneck of hikers; nobody wants to head up into the snow too soon or alone, so everyone has slowed down and seems to be taking stock of things here. The general concensus is that the situation isn't going to be getting better any time soon, so, we hikers being an impatient lot, most of us are just going to charge into the mountains. After loading up on burgers and shakes here in town that is. In reality, that hurdle is more than a week away, but all eyes and thoughts are on the Sierras for now.

Ironically, I just finished reading "The Places in Between" by a former Scottish diplomat named Rory Stewart, an account of the author's trek, on foot, across Afghanistan. This was apparently the last leg of a trans-Asia hike he began in 2000 that took 19 months to complete. His tales of breaking trail in 14,000 foot, snow covered mountains where the temperatures reach -40 degrees, make any obstacle in California seem like childs play by comparison. And we don't have to worry about former Taliban warlords interrogating us or village children calling half feral dogs on us. Suddenly everything seems easier after that.

On that note, the walk from Hikertown to here was supposed to be a grueling march across a spur of the Mojave Desert, complete with sparse water and baking temperatures. Instead, it was a relatively easy, if boring, jaunt across the sands due to a lucky break in the weather. It was overcast, cool and moist during our crossing, so the 6 of us who left from Hikertown (Handyman, Andrew, Half-brew, Rosie, Bruce and I) were able to make good time and save ourselves some anguish. We even recieved a light shower in the Tehachapi Mountains last night and were rewarded with a perfect rainbow over the desert with the sunrise this morning. The rest of the hike was fairly pleasant with some shade, a smattering of Joshua trees (some of the last we'll be seeing, I'm told), and a descent into a windmill filled valley. I plan on staying here for a day at least in order to meet up with some trail workers outside of town and hopefully kill some time cleaning up the path. After that, its into the mountains again, and unfortunately out of regular contact; I think the time of updating the blog every other day is about to pass. Until then, I'll try to keep posting. Talk to you later.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Another Day, Another Hostel

Hello again, writing to you from the start of the Mojave desert section at Hikertown, yet another trail angel/ hostel that, in traditional Southern California fashion, is totally quirky. The establishment is owned and operated by a man who, like many people in the are, works in the television industry. As such, it looks something like a movie set, with a large courtyard area surrounded by small theme-ish buildings. Everything is kind of half built and haphazard, like it was thrown up with little plan or order to it, and tools are randomly strewn throughout the place. A little wierd, but hey, it gets the job done. Oh, and there are baby kittens, which obviously makes this a must-stop place for the night.

Its sort of like an oasis for hikers in the middle of the desert, given that there has been very little water for the last few days. After leaving Casa de Luna, the trail climbs into some low hills overlooking the desert, but is surprisingly well shaded with trees and long grass. Several of the water resupply tanks placed along the trail were dry and I, along with the other hikers I've been travelling with, were almost caught unaware. Only a little used tank had enough water to draw from which thankfully saved me from having to hike into the night to refill.

Unfortunately the trail leading down to the desert is one of the most oft maligned on the trail; it is forcedfto take a hugh turn around a ranch, resulting in many additional miles through poorly marked scrub up and down hot, shadeless hills. All with the ultimate goal seemlingly so close it is ridiculous. Sigh. For now everyone seems to be content resting for the remainder of the day before setting off to cross the desert tomorrow. I have been trying to arrange some trail maintinence work that would eat up a few days, and 2 of the older hikers here now, Handyman and Bruce, both live in the area and have offered to take us off trail for awhile in order to buy us time before the Sierras. All the reports we've been getting say the snow is just as bad as ever and a June 12th start date is the earliest people should be attempting the climb, but seeing as I could concievably be there in about 10 days, I might just try and force my way through earlier. Seeing as Bruce owns a boat in Santa Barbara, however, taking a trip to the coast doesn't seem like a bad idea. Only time will tell I suppose. Talk to you later, as always.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Casa de Luna

Hi everyone, yet another post from yet another town / trail angel stop, this time at the eccentric hippie home of Teri and Joe Anderson called Casa de Luna. They are both great people with big hearts, interesting stories to tell... and a very weird sense of humor. I was able to book it here from Agua Dulce in only 8 hours, covering the 24 miles between towns before 2:30 and the afternoon heat set in. The trail was through some fairly featureless hills marked by ruler-straight lines as the path made a slow, relentless climb up and over before descending to town. I hurried mainly in order to get here before dinner was served; they make taco salad every night and pancakes every morning, as well as offering rides to the trail any time, day or night.

While the Saufleys are very efficient and clean, they have a 2 night maximum. The Andersons are more of a jumbled hot mess, and they virtually require people to stay several days. So, despite my race over here, I have holed up at Casa de Luna for yet another zero day, bringing my average mileage down even more. I'll call it a wash given that I played 2 strenuous, action packed games of frisbee golf on the neighborhood course, a sport which surely must burn as many calories as hiking 25 miles a day in snow covered mountains. As a bonus I did get to explore their community, called Green Valley, which, despite being part of Los Angeles County, is very remote and packed with characters. The resident loafer, named Doug, gave me a tour of a local artists crazy sweet welding studio, of which I am very jealous, and gave us the lowdown on some of the more colorful people in the 1,200 resident town.

Teri and Joe are by far the, um, most vibrant shall we say. They like to mess with the hikers when they first arrive, giving them false directions and feigning ignorance about the "local trail angels" while staring them right in the face. They also enjoying telling the story of how they got in the buisness, a long, detailed and oft rehearsed affair that apparently requires a bit of improve on their part. The requisite hiker photo inevitably requires getting mooned by Teri (hence Casa de Luna), and Memorial Day Weekend is host to the hiker oil wrestling competition, an event which is sure to be their legacy. Sadly, I will not be here for that, though we did get to see the video.

Once again I hope to be heading out tomorrow. The same crew has been travelling together on and off for a bit, so hopefully we'll all be going at about the same pace until we hit Tehachapi in another 80 or so miles of desert walking. After that it on to Kennedy Meadows and the start of the snowy Sierra... or not. I haven't decided what the course will be yet, though I'm sure it will fall into place shortly. As always, I will try to keep you posted, talk to you later all.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hiker Heaven

Hi everyone, I'm writing to you today from outside Agua Dulce, CA, at a place called, appropriately enough, Hiker Heaven. This is a legendary rest spot at the home of two trail angels named the Saufleys, and it certainly lives up to its title. They have a guest house set up behind their home in a double-wide trailer, bins and bins of clean, town-worthy clothes, hiker boxes full of gear left by previous guests to rifle through, t.v., internet, movies, rides to town... and Donna even does the laundry FOR YOU!! Holy crap. Hiker Heaven indeed.

This awsome trail magic couldn't have come at a better time either. While the trip from Wrightwood to here was a relatively short couple of days, it has felt like much longer. After getting a ride back to the trail with Ray, the PCT climbs up the north face of Mount Baden Powell, a 4 mile, 3000 foot climb on a good day. Due to the late snows and the direction of the slope, the trail quickly becomes lost and one has to hoof it straight up the mountain, no switchbacks, kicking steps into the snow every foot of the way. The effort is woth it however, affording 360 degree views down to the Mojave on one side, and off through more snowy canyons on the other. With jellied legs, one has to follow the trail as it steeply ascends and descends along a knife-edged ridge ultimately leading down to Islip Saddle, where another wildfire last year damaged the trail and forced a reroute around 50 miles of trail or so. Ouch.

The detour starts innocently enough, winding down South Fork Canyon, a gorge where the trail tread does its best to narrowly cling to the crumbling walls. Not the type of place to be is an earthquake, though it would make a good movie location for a western. At the bottom is a car-accessible campground, which to a thru-hiker necessarily needs to be approached with dread and caution, along with a sprinkling of hope. We're like bears; car campgrounds are disgusting, noisy ugly, littered places, often full of the dregs of humanity out for a drunken weekend (god knows this one was), but it also affords the opportunity to yogi some free food/ beer from the locals. Unfortunately this campground had all of the former, none of the latter. Groups of bongo playing hippies poorly playing Sublime covers. Parents doing donuts in the dusty parking lot with their children hanging on to the roof of their pickups, honking all the while. Underaged girls drinking till 4 a.m., shouting cheerleading chants while being implored by men twice their age to "show 'em their tits". Yeah. It was that bad. It makes you wonder at what stage of psychological development these people must be stuck, that they can not imagine a world of 'others' outside their tiny group of friends. Really? Screaming (seriously screaming) at 4 a.m.? Please.
To look around at the beautiful setting, at the bottoms of a gorge carved out of the solid rock by millenia of rushing water, and realize that it meant nothing to these people was truly frightening. I like to think that the average city dweller or suburbanite tries to get out into the woods in order to enjoy the quiet and solitude, to marvel at the things it has to offer that the world built by human hands cannot. And yet these people (I shudder to put myself in the same species as they, but thats taxonomy for you), were doing exactly the opposite; the only reason they were there was to escape the mores and laws of society that would have had them imprisoned or shunned for that kind of behavior. Scary.

But anyway. Leaving behind that nightmarish place, the trail went to Devil's Punchbowl, a geological formation of carved sandstone rocks and creeks. Unfortunately, things go down from here. 30-40 miles of blister inducing, foot pounding, mind numbing road walking through desert, surrounded by Joshua trees and scrub bushes, was only bearable thanks to a book (Charles Kuralt's On the Road, very worthywhile considering the circumstances). Walking while reading, with traffic whizzing by at 70 mph, is not the best way to spend a few days, trust me. Getting back on the trail was the best feeling I've had in awhile, particularly for my feet. Luckily the trail is pretty amazing coming into Agua Dulce where it passes Vasquez Rocks, another sandstone outcropping, along with a number of ranches and horse farms. The towns along the trail really do have the old west feel about them, including places to park your horse at the grocery store. Crazy.

That being said, it is nice to finally be back on the real trail again, with hopefully no more detours to tangle with between here and Canada. I'm planning on staying here for 2 nights, then possibly looking for some trail maintinence crews to work with for awhile later on to kill some time (don't hold me to my word though). Crossing the Mojave Desert is next, then on to the high mountains after! 450 miles down, many more to go.

Friday, May 7, 2010

From Wrightwood With Love

I just arrived here in the tiny ski resort town of Wrightwood, CA after being picked up by a trail angel named Ray. Not only did he drive out to the trail from town (postponing his son Logan's nap, no less), but he and his girlfriend routinely put hikers up in their apartment, let them use their showers and laundry, and sleep on their couch. I mean seriously. How nice can people be out here? For every pick-up truck that screams by while trying to hitchhike, there are people like these that validate the whole of human existence. Good job guys :)

The last few days have been the picture of contrast, which by now seems to be the norm in Southern California. From high on the ridges, one can often see snow capped peaks on one side and the Mojave desert on the other. One day consisted of a string of dams made to service L.A. that, while walking below them, faced more scrub and chaparall. Upon coming over the top however, the massive Silverwood Lake comes into view. Later a ridgewalk gave views of the San Andreas fault (with a few unlucky homes built on top) which led down to a Cajon pass, where I-15 comes barreling through on its way north, accompanied by a railway carting 100 car long freight trains. In the midst of all this stands the Mormon Rocks, a huge sandstone escarpment which stands perilously close to the rails. And above it all, the specter of L.A. looms in the form of smog. The San Bernardino Mountains would easily offer views down towards the city were it not for the blanket of yellow-grey pall that covers the area. From up high, one can see the blue sky above, but below is an impenatrable shield blocking views to the south.

The last few days, and indeed much of the next section, are dominated by the detours we are forced to take. Yesterday was one long reroute from near I-15 around an area burn by the "Sheep Fire" a few years ago, and required a tedious, hot, shadeless road walk for some 15 miles. Coming up is yet another fire burned area with a somewhat indeterminate route around it. I hope to be able to resupply and get things straightened out while here in town, and once through this area we should be done with the detour buisness...barring any future fires or catasrophes that is. Be seeing everyone some other time.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Its been a very solitary hike thus far, few people to see on the trail, but tons of stunning views and the occasional run in with familiar faces along the way. There have been hot springs, cool creeks, wide open lakes, blooming mountain flowers and fragrant desert sage, and of course the occasional snow patch...all since big bear city a few days ago. The fabled Cajon Pass Mcdonalds awaits tomorrow, then its in to Wrightwood to assess the situation that is Mount Baden Powell; to attempt the climb or not? I'm always up for a challenge, and this one should be a doozy, with a 3,000 foot climb mostly in snow. Catch you on the other side.

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Mountains, Desert and Snow

I'm writing to you from the Big Bear Lake Hostel in CA, and, crazy as it may seem, I'm already 10% of the way done. I hitched into town from Highway 18 which is at the 265 mile mark, a small feat, but one to note none-the-less. This first stretch has just flown by, and as odd as it may sound it feels like I just started yesterday. Its amazing to think that so many miles could roll by so quickly, especially considering that it has not been easy by any stretch of the imagination. With that, I'll do a little recap since the last (albeit delayed) post.

From Idyllwild I was able to hitch to the neaby town of Anza where I was able to reunite with Axilla, whom I had been leapfrogging with for a few days prior. We both were waiting for a trail Angel named Rockstar from near San Diego who had agreed to give us a ride to the kickoff. It took some time, but eventually we found ourselves back at Lake Morena, a mere 20 miles north of the border. It was strange backtracking to the party, but it gave us a chance to see people we had passed earlier on, and forced us to slow down and allow to snow to melt farther north. The kickoff was pretty fun with lots of free food, several lectures on trail conditions and wildlife, some outfitters to resupply and drool over new gear at, and a chance to preview a new National Geographic Wild Spaces show about the PCT (hiker hint: for those looking for a sweet drinking game, take a sip every time they use a word like "extreme", or whenever they make a new "rule".) Once the festivities ended on Sunday morning, several of us got a ride back to the trailhead near Idyllwild from Rockstar, who, obviously, is awsome beyond compare.

We headed up into the San Jacinto Mountains, the first major hurdle of the hike, and one we had all been dreading due to the late snows. That day included the first rattlesnake sighting, but overall it was a short day easing back into to hiking groove. The view that night was awsome with views back towards the high plateau we had just left, as well as down onto the lights of Palm Springs. The next morning I got an early start in order to hit the expected snows early before it could melt and become soft. The snow can appear suddenly depending on the direction of the slopes and if there is tree cover, so moving from desert sand to 3 feet of snow pack is not unusual. Unfortunately, one fellow hiker was not too careful and paid the price; while crossing one snowy slope, I heard a helicopter circling in and landing up ahead. Upon clearing the snow I found a rescue team putting a splint on a man's broken ankle and lifting him off the mountain. His (former) partner, now alone, decided to hike on with me, but we soon lost the trail on miles of trackless snow. We were able to navigate our way ahead and later camped at Saddle Junction, a beautiful spot overlooking Idyllwild surrounded by mountains and wind sculpted trees.

Upon starting off the next day, Handyman decided to head down into town from the trail and I pushed on alone. Once again, the snow covered trail crushed any hopes of easy hiking, and I decided to trust my map and compass and strike off for the nearest identifiable landmark, Fuller Ridge. We had been hearing about this dreaded snow traverse for days, and it certainly didn't disappoint. The path is narrow and was quickly forced onto the north face of the ridge where it once again disappeared beneath the ice. Without a trail to follow, one must traverse a 75% slope around huge rocks with no clear end in sight, a nerve-racking proposition to say the least. Clearing that, I still had to navigate cross country and eventually made a meager camp beneath some rocks surrounded by howling wind.

Wanting to get down in elevation and out of the cold, I broke camp early and started the long, hot, windy descent down to San Gorgonio Pass followed by an even more brutal crossing of a spur of the Colorado Desert and I-10. The trail then started ascending past numerous windfarms and into the primitive, bare, striated San Gorgonio Mountains before abruptly dropping into the Whitewater River Canyon, a huge, stark and rocky scar cut by a meandering snowmelt river. I made camp at a nearby nature conservancy picinic area in the canyon amidst the ever present wind surrounded by towering canyon walls pockmarked with tiny caves.

Once again, I decided to head out early with the sun to make the most of the cooler part of the day. After crossing the Whitewater River, the trail started its long and tedious climb into the mountains by closely following different forks of Mission Creek. The path was often hard to follow as it bounced back and forth across the stream between the narrow ravine walls, often being marked by nothing more than a small cairn amidst the desert scrub. Finally, after many long miles of trudging uphill, the atmosphere suddenly turned cold and the slopes were covered in more snow and pine trees. Finding a large campground to myself, I made a fire against the mountain air and settled down for the night.

This last day before town was a pretty slow one. Due to the snow conditions farther north, I decided to take it easy and put in a few less miles than I normally might. After some more sporadic ice and the generally level terrain, I found a sweet campsight on a knob overlooking a bend in a canyon. Today was a breeze with a scant 8 miles covered before 9 a.m. and a relatively smooth hitch into Big Bear Lake. I seem to be ahead of the pack for the moment and have the whole hostel to myself (hence the length of this post), and I hope to get alot of resupply done in the next day. I plan on leaving late tomorrow and doing a short hike out of town, but that could always change depending on if anyone else shows up. If all goes according to plan, I should be stopping in Wrightwood in another 5 days or so, so hopefully I'll be able to update again then. Talk to you late, hope all is well.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Hey, sorry this is just getting posted, should have been up on the 21st I think. I was on a computer at a coffee shop and I guess I got kicked off right before it posted. Anyway, here it is.

Seems strange to be posting again so soon after the last stop in Warner Springs, but only 2 days later and here I am in town again, this time in Idyllwild, CA. Since last I updated, I have lost track of my hiking buddy Axilla, and with him my ride to the hiker kickoff that starts tomorrow. Thankfully I have a couple of backups planned, so it shouldn't be too big a problem; I'm sure I'll be able to reconnect with everyone in Lake Morena. For the moment I am simply enjoying the town and its surroundings, and trying to recouperate after getting stuck in the mountains during an unseasonal April snowstorm, though up here any weather is to be expected. Luckily I was able to get a ride to town from a road crossing by Kenny, a local who, amongst other things, raises llamas (which is awsome, obviously.) It just seems to be a continuation of the general niceness of the people out here, and he says he has picked up 5 other hikers over the past month. That, in conjunction with the amount of people willing to give strangers a ride down to the kickoff, makes it ever more evident that this kind of endeavour relies as much on the willpower of a single person as it does on the kindness of others. Corny as it may seem, it is a very tangible realization when you are trying to hitch 15 miles to town, in the snow, carrying your grungy pack, when you only have a vague notion of where you are going. Much thanks to all the trail angels out there.

Given the amount of snow that still seems to be falling up here, it looks like we might have to slow down even more than anticipated. Hopefully the weather will warm up over the next couple of days while the party is going on and melt the passes a bit, but there is another storm forecast for the 30th in the area. It looks like there might be a bit of a scramble to get up and over the highest bits we have coming before that blows in, so expect more news of the sort.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why Not?

Hi all, I'm writing to you from the Warner Springs Resort in Southern California today, the first major resupply town on the trail. Maybe the word 'town' is too big, for it is more of a road crossing with a gas station, post office and a golf club house, but its been nothing but hospitable so far. There is a resort centered around some hots springs in the area that hikers frequent, and they have been nice enough to let us use their computers; the trail magic experienced on the AT continues out here as well. It seems like one can't stop at a roadside without being offered a ride, a drink, or some food (or weed for that matter, but I digress).
I've been hiking on and off with Axilla, a guy from Richmond VA with a masters in philosophy, as well as Homebrew and Rosie from Oregon, both dog mushers during the winter season. We have yet to encounter any financiers or buisnessmen out here curiously enough... wonder why that would be. The people have all been great, and we've encountered a fair number of southbounders who started farther up the trail and are hiking backwards to the Annual Day Zero Hiker Kick-Off (or ADZHKO for short) at Lake Morena near the border on the 22nd. I'm hoping to get a ride or hitchhike back there, partiatlly for the inevitable free goods and part for the essential information regarding trail reroutes and snow information. In the meantime I'm trying to take things relatively slow and enjoy the scenery and company.
That being said, the question of why anyone would do this kind of thing has been easier than ever to answer. The trail out here is awsome and often varied with no shortage of views to keep your eyes occupied. For instance, yesterday we started in a desert atop the San Jacinto foothills, camping amid blooming cacti and bushes with hummingbirds flying around, the night air perfectly still. Withing a few hours of breaking camp in the morning, we were down in elevation surrounded by twisted trees and relaxing through the hottest part of the day at a spring. Soon after, we walked through valley after valley of wildflowers, each bigger and brighter than the last, crowned by Eagle Rocks, an outcropping looking exactly like a bird with its wings outstretched. Finally, I camped near a stream running down a green ravine with chaparral bushes on one side and giant oaks on the other. All within one day. In perfect weather. Its basically exactly what you would expect California to be like if you were a settler rolling through 150 years ago.
With days like this, it makes one wonder why more people don't get out and at least give it a try. Granted it is early in the hike and plenty of things can go wrong. Granted I already have blisters, it has been hot, and some people have dropped out. Granted there is sure to be some awful weather down the road. But to spend an entire lifetime and not experience such a thing as a long hike, to never put comfort and stability as anything but the top priority and see how that affects your understanding of the rest of the world, that is perplexing to me. To be sure, there are many experiences that can do this; nobody here has such hubris to think that long distance hiking is for eveyone, or that its the only way to achieve that different perspective. It is, however, the way I choose to do so, and to anyone who would incredulously question why someone would do something like this, all I can say is 'Why not?'

Saturday, April 17, 2010

just crossed the san felipe valley, beautiful desert w cactus, lots of flowers an heeeeat. good company though.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Today is the start of my third day on the trail, taking a quick resupply in Laguna Mt resort right off the trail. It has been fairly busy on the trail with upwards of a dozen hikers at some of the campsites, thought that number is bound to go down. Spent the first night at Lake Morena with a few fellow hikers and a man named Ben and his dog Eddie, who hooked us up with some burgers from his rv. Last night I camped alone in a small pine grove, and today looks to have some amazing views overlooking the Colorado Desert. Will try to keep in touch, ttyl

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Monday, April 12, 2010

SoCal so far

Ok, been trying to make this some witty, insightful post, but I'm tired and the big event start tomorrow, so I'll just make this a quick recap of the time spent in San Diego.

Mom and I arrivd here on Sunday night/ Monday morning after a slight mishap involving a delayed plane in Chicago. By the time we arrived here our rental car company was closed for the night, and after trying to procure a car froma different company (who, it turned out, was having computer problems and thus couldn't get us any transportation, despite a seemingly full lot), we decided to take a cab to our hotel in Coronado. Its a pretty nice place, as is just about everywhere in this neck of the city, with the beach is just across the street and downtown accessible by a causway across the San Diego Bay. All in all, a pretty swank getup considering that I'll be sleeping in a tent for the foreseeable future.

The weather has been a bit funky, at least by SoCal standards, with scattered rain and some surprisingly chilly weather, followed by the usual crazy west coast sunshine. Despite this and the other various setbacks, we have tried to make the best of it, spending the first day at the zoo, followed by a meandering drive over to Old Town for some shopping, and a quick jaunt up to La Jolla north of the city to oggle the prime real estate houses and sea cliffs, as well as watch a horde of seals sunning themselves on the beach. Jetlag and general lack of sleep caught up with us, and

Our second day was spent at the Wild Animal Park outside the city. Obviously we are suckers for watching animals run around and be themselves, but the park, and the drive up, was well worth it. Afterwords we headed back to La Jolla for some sea kayaking, which despite the impending windy weather was crazy fun. Some big waves, more insanely expensive houses, sea caves, seals, and a kelp forest rounded out the days activities. Mom and I just had a dinner at Croce's a restaurant we had eaten at years ago when we first visited San Diego. Food was awsome then as now, so all in all it was a good kick off for the hike.

Sorry I'm not up for writing more, but my internal clock is telling me it is 2 a.m., regardless of what the hotel clock says, and I should probably get some sleep before starting this thing. Ttyl.

Just checked the snow levels in the Southern Sierras; a bit above average unfortunately

Sunday, April 4, 2010

From A to B

Wow. Deja Vu all over again. Having left NYC this most recent time on March 29th, I now find myself sitting at home in CT trying to prepare myself for this next endeavor, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). For the few whom I haven't repeatedly knocked in the head with this information (and for Roshina, who has probably just forgotten it by now), the trail extends from the Mexican border in California to Manning Park, Canada, just across the line from Washington. It traverses desert in the south, snow covered passes and high meadows in the Sierra Nevada Mts., Rain in the Cascades, runs the length of Yosemite Valley, touches briefly the Highest point in the contiguous USA at Mt. Whitney, and the second deepest lake in the world at Crater Lake (technically side trips, but who could pass those up), and in general is a 2600 mile trek of all around awsomeness. As anyone who has read the previous blog posts knows, it probably won't be easy. Scratch that; as anyone who has ever considered the prospect of walking 2600 miles with a 35 pound pack on knows, it almost certainly won't be easy...
Even now I find myself hedging my bets. "Probably won't be easy" is a fairly large understatement, but given my experiences on the Appalachian Trail in 2008, I feel it necessary to be ambiguous (who knows, it could be a breeze, but prolly' not, oy.) A trip of this kind is more of a prolonged, 4-6 month effort, a near constant striving for the finish that consumes one's every thought, that demands ever action taken be in service of reaching the end. As such, any accident, any fault can destroy the beautiful thing that is a thru-hike. Literally any missed step can be the one leading down the path to catastrophe, a twisted ankle being just as bad as a snake bite. Or a rock slide. Or a brush fire. The point is there are no assurances, even at mile #2599, that one will finish, and even the smallest flaw in the execution of a single stride can render the whole thing null and void.

Yet therein lies one of my prime reasons for loving the long hike; its purity. I suppose that is a rather haughty term to use, to but it is not without reason. The hike is just a walk, though a rather longish one. It is the simple act of transporting oneself from point A to point B, using as few intermediaries as possible. No cars, planes, or trains shortening the miles to Canada. No specific dates to be anywhere, but a certainty that you have to get there sometime. No external pressure to finish, but the insurmountable knowledge that you'll be crushed if you don't at least try. No rent, job or bulky possessions. No unnecessary comforts or extraneous fears.

However, thats not to say there are no worries, but instead that they are all subsumed within the microcosm of the trail; the worries while hiking are all that seem to exist. For every ounce of pack weight that hikers obsess over, there is an analogous problem in the rest of the world, some "real" thing worth worrying about. Only those trials that universally arouse horror in every heart and are so sweeping as to be unavoidable (a natural disaster, war or worse) can stand apart. For most other situations, this parallel view can serve as a useful foil.

As such, doing something as arbitrary and pure, as simpleminded as a long distance hike puts everything else in perspective. Perhaps its the desire to own the latest gadget. Or find a higher paying job. To score the hottest chick, have the most popular YouTube video, protect/ spread/ manipulate your political party/ religion/sexual preference... All are arbitrary in the sense that they involve goals and problems largely set by the rest of the world. Walking from A to B is one of the simplest goals imaginable, attainable since since the ancient evolution of legs. Hiking the long trail highlights how much it is taken for granted, and by proxy every other act built upon it--from using opposable thumbs to typing on a keyboard. Everything is appreciated more after a hike, much as a man surviving a near death experience finds newfound joy in life. If the French were more prone to hiking than they were lovemaking, I'm sure they'd call the long trail "le petit mort."

Anyway, I should stop. Otherwise it will keep going forever. But before I go, I'll answer the one question the most people have asked me repeatedly (that is if the obscene length of this post hasn't done so already.) Yes. Yes I am excited about going on my hike, even if I don't show it very well. I probably just don't feel like boring you, or wasting my time elucidating, otherwise you's be subject to this kind of longwindedness every day. At least this way its your choice to read.