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