The idea: Take my exact PCT rig out on a test run so I can identify any issues while I still have time to do something about it. Basically, a gear test. And of course to train and get some miles in. I went with my friend Rob, who I hiked with before in November.
The Plan: I have a meeting in Redding on Monday, let’s leave early Friday, spend three nights in the woods, hike out early Monday, I’ll go to my meeting, and we’ll drive back to the coast. The Trinity Alps is about two hours east, Redding about three. Well, it didn’t work out that way.
First, I realized my PCT gear is for two things only: Hiking & Sleeping. The forecast was for rain beginning Saturday around midnight until late Sunday, and I knew we’d be doing a fair bit of camping (i.e., not hiking until dark), so I immediately said to hell with my base weight and added a pile jacket and pile pants. I was really glad I did that.
Driving out to the trailhead was nice enough. Some weak sun through high stratus clouds. Traffic was light as we drove along the Trinity River. The Redbud is really starting to bloom.
We hit the trailhead around 1230. I had done the Pack Test on Wednesday (3 miles, 45 pounds, 45 minutes) to qualify as a Fire Fighter Type Two for the Forest Service (and to give me a goal to train up for) and my left foot in particular was hurting. My main goal this trip was to NOT hurt myself. So, we started slow.
An hour and a half in, I wasn’t happy with how my foot was feeling. We took a break. I don’t know if it was the 200mg of Vitamin I or the shot of whiskey, but I felt much better! We picked up the pace as we walked up Stuarts Fork of the Trinity.
The trail was mostly through the forest, which didn’t do much for the view, but was nice on the feet.
I became determined to make it to Morrison Meadows, no matter how bad my feet felt. I decided we would just take a rest day tomorrow, if needed. So, we made it to Morrison Meadows kind of late. There was no obvious place to camp, so we kept walking. And walking. Tons of meadow, no camps. And daylight burning.
We ended up walking all through the meadows and past them when we realized: a) it was getting dark fast, and b) we need to camp, but we need water! We stumbled back to the meadow, went downhill off trail until we found water and called it good. I had just enough time to throw the hangin’ rope (bear hang) before it got dark.
By the way, we didn’t see much wildlife, but on our first pass by this campsite we saw a black bear. Pretty big, definitely an adult, and black as night. He was already running off before we saw him so I didn’t think he’d be any trouble. And he wasn’t.
So, water. Dark, mushy meadow water. The stream was just barely oozing out of the ground. I dipped my water bottles in, but when I tried to filter them, the filter became clogged almost immediately. I had about 0.25 liters to get me through the night. It seemed like the water oozed out the meadow just upstream, so I deemed it a spring and drank the water unfiltered. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m not too worried.
Since it wasn’t supposed to rain until tomorrow night, I deployed cowboy style as always (i.e., no tent). I heard my tent has a way to pitch just the rain fly, so I did that, figuring I could pull it over me if it rained. I was in bed about five minutes when it started to rain. So, I pulled my contraption over me and saw right away that wasn’t going to work. So, I had to rally and tear it all down, put up the tent, put on the rainfly (which I did upside down and backwards, then right side forward but upside down, then right side up and backwards, then the way it’s supposed to go – yeah, fun times in the dark and the rain). It rained off and on all night. Sometimes pretty heavy. Nice being safe in my tent. (I’ll do a gear review in a couple days).
Woke up to clouds and intermittent rain, so we decided to hike to Emerald Lake on a day hike and not move camp. It started raining in earnest just as we were leaving, and I rigged up my trekking umbrella to my pack and it was AMAZING! I was able to hike in my regular shirt, no rain coat, and I was totally dry above my waist. The problem with hiking in the rain is you get too hot with rain gear on, and you get too wet if it’s not on. The umbrella solved that problem. I was in heaven. I’m never going ‘packing without one again. Sorry, no picture.
We took a break and finally looked at the map and realized we weren’t going to make it to Emerald Lake. I thought it was like 3 miles, but the map said it was 5 miles. That’s 10 round trip. And my foot was hurting. And there was a crazy amount of blowdown on the trail to climb over/around. And it was pouring down rain. We decided to hike back to Morrison Meadows and maybe move camp to a place more amenable to having a fire. Sounded good. What else are we going to do? Hide in our tents?
We hiked back and right past Camp One and all around the meadow and checked out all the sites until we found one we liked (probably two miles until we got back to Camp One), packed up in the rain, then moved another mile to the new spot. So much for a rest day!
After I set up my tent in the meadow and put some dry clothes on, and my rain gear so they would stay dry, I set about making a fire. All the wood was soaking wet. We found a few dry-ish pieces, but it was pretty grim. I had brought a cubic inch of fire-starter (wax and sawdust), and it was barely enough. I was on my hands and knees in the mud for at least an hour, blowing and poking. I was giving up when I gave it one last blow and managed to bring it around.
We had fire! It was a needy fire though. Pretty much every three to five minutes it needed tending. And every ten minutes it was time for another wood run. Not very restful, but the heat was nice. I think I hurt my back dragging and breaking and poking all that wood. And my hands were covered in pitch and mud for hours. But it stopped raining around five, and I was pretty dry by the time I went to bed at seven.
I had some dark thoughts in that twelve hours of tent time. This is kind of tough. Do I really want to leave home and live outdoors for six months? But you know? It all dissolved when I hit the trail again. The weather was perfect for hiking (overcast, 50 degrees, good humidity), and I just hit this nice endurance pace. A pace I could keep up all day. And I did. I hiked that 8.7 miles back to the car in one go with no stops. Four hours 15 minutes. Got there by 12:20. I was hurting the last mile, but I made it.
LOVED my pack (Gossamer Gear Mariposa). Felt really good the whole time. When I got back, my pack weighed 29.2 pounds. That includes a wet tent, wet rainfly, and wet ground sheet, some water, and almost seven pounds of food I didn’t eat, but that’s another story. But that’s what I carried for four hours. So, base weight around 20 pounds maybe ? It felt fine to me. Bring it.
Home now. Nothing a big claw-foot bath soak can’t cure. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow. All I have to do is drive to Redding and go to that training and drive back. Should be a good rest day.