Afterthoughts

It was two years ago today that I left Campo, so I thought this would be a good time to wrap this blog up. Since I’ve been home, I’ve had time to edit my posts. When I was hiking I was pressed for time and posting from my little phone, so I’ve gone back and fixed all the typos and auto-corrects. For you English teachers out there, just know that I took freedom with my syntax on purpose. I write a lot of scientific and legal documents, so this is a nice opportunity to just write.

I also fattened up my blog entries with things I still remember, that I left out the first time. I tried not to edit the original posts (other than typos/syntax). I didn’t delete some of the things I’m a little embarrassed about. I just added content. It might be 50% longer now, and a better read, if anyone wants to read it again. Mostly me. This blog has been a great gift to me.

If you’re planning a thru-hike, plan to do a blog, even if you don’t make it public. It’s a great way to have your journal and your photos all in one place.

I will still probably make small edits (like it’s 1900 on April 6th as I write this. Why does it say posted on April 7?). I found some photos to add, I’ll add those in the next few days. Maybe I’ll never stop editing it. But other than some extra photos, you probably won’t notice the changes. I think it’s pretty complete. I may even learn how to make this site easier to navigate, but until then, if you want to go back or jump to a spot on the trip, go here:

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/links/

But, before I go, I wanted to share my post-trail thoughts.

Naturally, the big question is: Am I really done? Will I go back and pick up where I left off and hike to Canada? Section-hike it a little at a time until I complete the whole trail? Go back and start over again from Campo? Honestly, I just don’t know. I have no plans.

Hiking the PCT is so… extreme. It’s a very long time to be away from home. Most of that time you’re outdoors in whatever weather is happening at the time, and this often leads to discomfort. No bed. Crappy food. And it beats you up physically pretty good.

And yet, I love being outside in Nature. The beautiful views, the fresh scents. Being out among all the other living things and away from humans and their garbage and ugly landscape they built. I sleep great in the woods without a bed. It’s good to work my body and get good and tired.

But the PCT is so much more than that. It’s a huge Adventure! Just saying, “Hike from Mexico to Canada” is enough to blow most people’s mind. You know it’s going to take around six months, so you head out from the Mexican border on this six-month adventure… and then you’re just out there. On the trail. And it’s a magical place to be!

You have a very clear mission every day for the next six months. Walk as far as you can north. It’s simple, and you can make progress with every footstep. Of course, you can’t just get up and walk to Canada, you have to stop for lots of reasons (sleep, eat, rest, resupply). In fact, you can stop anytime you want, for as long as you want, anywhere you want.

Therein lies the bliss. The freedom. The joy of having a purpose, which you are constantly making progress on, but you can take it at your own speed. Feeling tired and want to take it slow? Go for it. Feeling like you want to get to town and decide to hike as fast as you can? Why not? You can baby yourself, push yourself, linger at a nice place, or see how far you can go. It really is a special place, that strip of dirt out there so innocently.

And again, the Adventure is EPIC. Standing out in the wilderness on some ridge with a nice view has a different look when you’ve walked there from hundreds of miles away and have hundreds of miles yet to go. It has left a mark on me, and I think about it every day.

I’ve noticed this winter that cold really reminds me of the trail. Wind reminds me of the trail. Walking anywhere makes me think of the trail. And pretty much anytime I look at the sky. Day or night, clear or cloudy, looking at the sky reminds me of the PCT. So, no big thing. That hardly ever happens, right?

Which has led me to my new hobby, trying to cultivate that feeling that I got on the trail, at other times when I’m outside. I like to sit on the porch and watch the clouds. Sometimes they’re really beautiful and I know if I was out on the trail I’d probably take a picture. So, why should the fact that I’m at home and there’s no majestic mountain to frame it prevent me from appreciating how beautiful this planet is in the same way? It’s a state of mind, a perspective. It comes naturally in the wilderness. It’s much harder in town, but sometimes I can get there, and I like to think I’m getting better at it.

After two years, I am happy to report that I feel a much greater sense of accomplishment than I did when I had to leave the trail without even hiking all of California. But it’s true I hiked 1200 miles in three months! And there is no doubt I had to get off the trail. I got the splinter in June 2015 and I would say it still bothered me until April or May 2016. It was a serious injury. I have a nice scar. So, excluding the part that was out of my control, how did I do with the part I could control? I think I rocked it pretty hard.

I certainly feel more confident about my abilities: physically, socially, mentally. It’s a really huge thing to leave your life and head out on an adventure through the wilderness and a bunch of strange places. It gives me confidence that I can accomplish quite a bit if I really put my mind to it. Maybe I need to think bigger about the future? My mother said that I can be lazy, but I always rise to the occasion. Maybe I need to plan more occasions that need to be risen to?

Did I “find myself” on the trail. I guess not really, but I learned a lot about myself, even at my advanced age. For instance, I learned to ask for help. I’m weird about being self-contained, ready for anything, don’t-help-me-I-got-this. On the trail I learned that if you need help, the fastest way to get it is to walk up to the first person you see and tell them what you need. This lesson was reinforced when I got home and was working on the fires. Don’t be shy if you need help!

So, I’m feeling good about my PCT experience. I’m really glad I did it. No Regrets! I’m glad I went alone and hiked my own hike, which was more solitary than most. Other than the Canada thing, I got what I wanted.

Thanks to everyone who followed along, especially those of you who posted comments. It’s was a big morale booster out on the trail.

My Dad wants to go backpacking again this summer and we will be hiking close to home here in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. It’ll just be a fun, easy, out and back. If we feel good and hike far, I hope to make it all the way to Marble Mountain and camp at Sky High Lakes, which would mean I could hike ¼ mile or so of PCT I haven’t been on. How’s that for a section hike!

I guess I’m at a loss for words to explain what really happened to me out there. But it definitely was a good thing. One of those experiences you never forget. I have trail dreams frequently, especially if I read a few of my blog posts before bed. I didn’t make it to Canada, but looking back at my early post about my goals, I got close enough. Good times.

YoungHiker

IMG_0563

Returning to The Scene of The Crime

I went skiing at Squaw Valley two weeks ago, where I first got off the trail, right before my toe infection. Last summer it looked like this:


Last week, there was snow!


My Dad came out to visit and my sister Sarah. It was really good to see them again. Sarah took that picture from the top of Granite Chief, and it was really cool to get to say, “I walked here from Mexico once.” As much as I failed at my thru-hike, what I did was still pretty cool, and I’m trying to focus on that and not the failure part.


In other news, I’ve been reading other people’s blogs from last year, which is really cool now that I have been there and they often mention other hikers who I also met. Some of these have inspired me to add more detail to my blog. There were things that happened that are kind of interesting that I don’t want to forget. There was a lot of time pressure trying to post from the trail and now that that is gone, I want to make the story more complete. Honestly, dear reader, this blog is for me as much as anything. Anyway, I’ll let you know when all the additions are done, if you want to read my story again.

Links

I think there’s a way to make a menu of each post, but while we wait for me to figure that out, here’s some links to some milestones. If you’re new to the blog and you want to start from the beginning without scrolling all the way back, or you want to jump to a particular part of the trail, you might find one of these useful:

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/hello-world/

First day on trail:

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/89/

Leaving Warner Springs:

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/a-new-beginning/

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/mount-san-jacinto/

Leaving Big Bear:

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/back-on-the-trail/

Leaving Wildwood:

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/05/07/a-few-days/

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/05/10/casa-de-luna/

Leaving Tehachapi:

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/05/29/death-march-2/

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/kearsarge-pass/

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/donohue-pass/

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/echo-to-squaw/

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/back-in-the-traces/

https://anewplacetodream.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/where-theres-smoke/

Ten Moons

Full moon tonight. And it was a full moon my last night at home back in April, when I was looking up, already homesick, nervous and excited, wondering what I was getting into. Counting both those moons, and the ones in between, that’s ten moons. And since it was just the Solstice, and it’s the end of the calendar year and the start of a new one, here’s a reflective post about my PCT hike, and my plans for the future.

I’m feeling better about my accomplishment, and thinking less about my failure to complete my hike. I walked 1200 miles through the desert and the mountains of the High Sierra by myself. That’s something to be proud of, I think.

I haven’t had a lot of trail dreams (circling back to the title of this blog), but I have had a few. It’s like I thought it would be: it’s not a memory, but it’s close. I’m on “the trail” but part of my brain is still “wait, that’s not right.”

As for finishing, I’m not going to try to hike the whole thing in one year again. Well, maybe after I retire, but that’s a long time away. And I’m not going to try to hike the half I missed in one-go either. I really shouldn’t be gone from work for four months during field season anytime soon.

But, I don’t think I can rest easy until I have hiked the entire PCT. So, I intend to chip away at it, two weeks here, a month there, until I walk the whole thing. It’s not what I set out to do, but I think it’s something I want to do. Hey, this way I can go as slow as I want and enjoy it, and really nail the season that is best for that part of the trail.

We’ll see. When I do head out on the trail again, I will post about it here. I’ve been reading trail blogs again, and it’s getting me excited to go back out. I’m on the verge of planning a 10-day trip next summer. 150 miles?

I want to thank my Dad, for hiking with me, for the medical advice, and most importantly for taking me backpacking when I was a boy and instilling a love of mountains and wild places in me.

YoungHiker

Anyone recognize the background?

I want to thank Vito Almarez for feeding me and making my life so much easier in Tehachapi. I want to thank my Uncle Jay for meeting me on short notice at Sonora Pass with resupply and to take my bear canister away. I want to thank everyone who gave me a ride when I was hitchhiking! And Special Thanks to my cousin Bruce, who made it possible to wake up at a beautiful lake on the PCT, and be home in my own bed the same day! A Miracle!

Of course, Angel Kathy was indispensible. Without her love and generosity I would have been a really hurting camper, and probably would have come home much too soon to feel like I gave it everything I had.

You can hike the PCT alone, but you can’t do it by yourself.

As I’m posting, it’s Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas everybody! See you next year.

-Glide

I won’t keep you wondering. Behind me in the photo is Dicks’s Peak. I think my right arm is covering where the PCT crosses Dicks Pass. Just above my right foot, above the rock, is looking exactly at where Dad and I camped by Suzie Lake last summer. I’m standing on top of Keith’s Dome.

A Few More Gear Reviews

I left out a few items from the Gear Review post that should be mentioned:

Raincoat: OR (Outdoor Research) Helium II

I didn’t have a particularly wet hike, partly because I didn’t make it to Washington, so I don’t have a lot of “hard rain all day” experience with this jacket, but it seems to work well enough. What I really like is how small it packs down (about the size of an orange) and how it weighs in at 6.4 ounces! Not much to carry, but does a really important job when you need it! This is a nice piece of gear that I’m still throwing in my bag, trail or town, if there is the slightest chance of rain or high wind. I mean, why not?

Knife: Leatherman Squirt Ps4

One-inch blade, scissors, screwdriver, mini/phillips screwdriver, cap lifter, file, tiny pliers, and 3 ounces. Very cool. I found a one-inch blade to be totally adequate for my trail needs, even cutting up my shoe. I mostly used the pliers to pull tent stakes out of the ground when my fingers were frozen. The scissors were nice for cutting bandages and moleskin and tape. This was the first piece of “PCT gear” I bought, so I’ve been carrying it for about 18 months and I love it. People before my hike asked me if I was going to carry a gun? Then they’d ask if I was going to carry a big knife? Which was my chance to pull out my little one-inch blade and show them. Honestly, that’s all you need. Leave the one-pound Bowie knife at home.

Groundsheet: That stuff they put on houses before they put the siding on

The stuff I used wasn’t Tyvek, but it was some kind of “house wrap”. Perfectly water-proof, extremely light weight, and easy to fold and manage. Love it! Never going back. I couldn’t seem to buy any around here, but I have a friend of a friend who works construction, and when he found out I only wanted a 6-foot by 8-foot piece, he just gave it to me. This is the way to go folks. And I’ll pass on the advice I got in Mt. Laguna: always put the same side down and always fold it up the same way. Apparently, over time the ground side can get abraded and start to pick up bits of grass and such.

Bear Rant

Actually, the rant part is more about humans, but you want to talk about bears?

Disclaimer #1: This is the crazy rant from a crazy old man. Do Not try this at home. Do NOT try this in the woods. Everyone will tell you it’s crazy. All the experts agree. Absolutely crazy talk.

Disclaimer #2: When I say “bear”, I mean the Black Bear that is commonly found in California. This does not apply to Grizzly Bears (Brown Bears), and I’m pretty sure it will get you killed if you’re dealing with Polar Bears.

So, I’ve seen a lot of bears out in the woods, both at work and at play. At least a hundred. And I’ve decided there are basically two kinds of bears: The Wilderness Bear, and Yogi Bear. I’ve certainly met both.

If you want to see bears, go try out your rain gear in The Olympic Mountains! I saw 11 bears in 11 days. Just about stepped on one due to this rushing water that prevented us from hearing each other. Once, on the Skyline Trail, we had made camp and decided to cross this snowfield to get closer to, maybe get some pictures of, some bears we saw grazing nearby. Not much to hang our food from. The best we could find was a small tree that only got our food about four feet off the ground. So, we hung our food and went over and looked at the bears for a while. On the way back, we saw big bear prints in the snow… heading straight for our food! We hurried back only to see those prints go right up to the ridge and over the other side about two feet from our hanging tree with nary a stop to sniff our food or anything! That bear either had absolutely no concept of human food, or the smell of humans on the food was enough to discourage it. Definitely a wilderness bear.

A year or two later I was working with a crew of 10 guys, camping in a campground. We had this huge cooler that took two people to lift. It usually rode in a van so we could roll back the door and get to the cooler without moving it. Not long after we arrived, a bear came to visit. We scared it off, but a little later it came back and we had to scare it off again. We even had dogs with us, but the bear didn’t care. At some point we turned our backs a little too long before we realized Yogi was back and was in the process of lifting this 60-pound cooler out of the van with his mouth! I was very impressed. Picked it completely up and rotated it out of the van onto the ground. But we scared it off again and saved our food. The cooler is still in “the family”. We call it The Bear Tooth Cooler because it has some really impressive teeth marks where the bear grabbed it. This bear was persistent and to it, humans = food. Picinic Baskets!

With these experiences in mind, I avoided campgrounds while on the PCT. There’s lots of reasons I hate campgrounds, animals habituated to humans and human food is probably the biggest. And not just bears, but raccoons, skunks (nothing worse than a skunk in camp, if you ask me. Do you try to scare it away, or?), squirrels, deer, and mice. I took it a step further and, if possible, tried to camp somewhere that no one had ever camped before. I even looked at the landscape and tried to figure, if I was a bear, would this be on my nightly route? I think “stealth camping” was a big part of why I didn’t have any bear trouble.

I never hung my food. I slept with my food, either under my knees, or right by my head (in case I got peckish in the night). I did carry a BearVault from Kennedy Meadows to Sonora Pass, as required, but there were very few nights that I could fit ALL of my food in the bear canister. I almost always had a sack of food that could have been grabbed by a bear.

My plan if a bear came into camp was to get up and scare it off. Defend my food. “My camp! My food! Go on git!” Most wildlife doesn’t want to fight, and black bears are mostly vegetarian, not hunters/killers. My weapon of choice was going to be my digging trowel, which I usually needed immediately upon waking, and therefore kept close at hand anyway.

So, how do wilderness bears turn into Yogi bears? I postulate that it’s because humans don’t defend their camps! If they hear something like a bear, they hide in their tent and hope the bear leaves them alone. WRONG. Get out there and make that bear worry if you’re going to leave THEM alone. I think if every hiker in the last 100 years had done this, we wouldn’t need to carry a bear canister in Yosemite today. Once a bear gets a taste of high calorie backpacking food, it’s over.

(OK, funny side story. I was camped at a lake in the Sierra one night many years ago and a bear came and ate my neighbor’s food. A full week’s worth of dehydrated dinners and oatmeal, etc. for two. As you might guess, after such a feast, the bear got thirsty and went to the lake to drink. One can only imagine how the volume of food expanded as it rehydrated, but suffice to say the bear spent the next six hours or so up to its knees in the lake, drinking, and moaning pitifully. I hope that experience turned it off of human food for good, but I have my doubts.)

I can even see humans getting scared and feeding the bears. Like, they’re eating a candy bar, or a hot dog, and the bear comes up, and they’re like “Here! Take the food and leave me alone!” and throw the food at the bear and run the other way. That’s a great way to make sure the bear will approach humans in hopes they will throw food at it again. Much better would be to throw the food behind you and charge the bear. Yelling and banging pots and pans is pretty effective.

And what’s with people and their bear canisters? Like, they put them way far away, so far they wouldn’t even know if a bear was checking it out. True, the bear’s not going to get the food and will eventually get bored and go away. But I say no, keep it close and defend it! We need to teach bears that we are the apex predator on this planet, and when they smell human, they should keep their distance. (Not saying we should be armed and kill bears, but they don’t know that. We’re plenty scary to them if we come with some attitude.)

And for God’s Sake, DON’T PUT YOUR BEAR CANISTER IN A BEAR BOX! WTF is that? If your food is in a properly sealed bear canister, there is no way a bear, or anything else (shit, I could barely open that thing! Took me a week to realize I didn’t have to fully lock it during the day) is going to get your food. When I showed up at Rae Lakes, with a big bag of food that wouldn’t fit in my BearVault, at last light, after one of my longest hardest days, long and hard because I heard there were bear problems in this area and I needed to get to the bear box, only to open it and see it nearly completely full, including four or five bear canisters, I just about lost it. I contemplated confronting the locals to see who the idiots were who put their bear canister in the bear box, and could they take it out so I could put my defenseless food bag in there instead. I contemplated taking one or more bear canisters out of the box and just putting them on top to make some room. In the end I wedged my food bag in the corner, crushing my food and someone else’s a bit to get it in there. Come on people. Just don’t do that, OK?

OK, that’s my rant. If you go out there, be a human. Don’t be scared. Defend your camp! Have you ever seen a wolverine defending its den? Attitude!

But, of course if you’re dealing with Yogi, don’t be stupid. Some bears are not afraid of humans, and those bears can be very dangerous. My strategy was to avoid them by avoiding places where humans are known to camp. Like campgrounds.

Gear Review

OK, just in time for Christmas, here is my long promised gear review of some of the equipment I used on my hike. I did all my research and purchasing about a year ago, so there’s probably new products or new fabrics out there now that are maybe better? And I should say I know nothing, I don’t represent these companies, I’ll just tell you how I liked the gear on my unique experience. YMMV.

Pack: Gossamar Gear – Mariposa – 40 L

Loved it! Felt very comfortable up to about 35 pounds (I don’t expect any pack to feel “good” with 40 or 50 pounds in it, but even when I had big loads, it wasn’t the pack that was bothering me, it was just that the pack was too damn heavy). Good pockets for everything. Size was perfect (pretty maxed out when I had the bear canister, snow gear, and 9 days of food, but it fit!). Side pockets and hip belt pockets were showing wear when I quit. I think it would have made it to Canada. The snow and rocks in the Sierra are scratchy. This was possibly the most common pack I saw on the trail. Apparently, other hikers like them too. I also used it for the bottom part of my sleep insulation (i.e., from the knees down), and it worked OK (metal internal frame needs to be just so). Anyway, I love my pack. My good friend.

 

Sleeping Bag: Z-Packs 10 Degree Down

I liked this bag a lot. Light weight. Packs down small. I’m not sure I would be happy at ten degrees in it. Normally, at home, I don’t use a lot of covers, but there were some nights on the trail where a warmer bag would have been nicer (and that’s with me inside with all my clothes on). But I figured it wouldn’t get below 25 on the PCT, and I was right, and I lived. It’s not a mummy bag, there’s no hood. I wore a wool hat, and was mostly fine. A few nights I had to scrunch down into the bag, but it was OK. The advantage is it can be a “lefty” or a “righty” as needed just by turning it over!

 

Sleeping Pad: Thermarest NeoAir (the yellow one)

Light. Nice and small. Only poked holes in it twice, once I found the hole right away and patched it right up, the other time I had to wait a few nights to get to town and a bathtub to find the hole. For a time I thought it had a hole when it didn’t. The difference in temperature between nightfall and dawn reduced the cushion. I realized what was going on the morning I elected to dry my gear in the sun before packing up. I draped a slightly limp pad over a bush, but after an hour of full sun it was full and stiff like when I inflated it. Ah hah! No leak, just cold. I definitely liked the cushion compared to closed-cell pads. I was beat up enough during the day.

 

Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Flick-Lock Carbon Cork

Loved these poles! I only accidently hit the flick lock (collapsing the pole) twice. I liked the cork grips. At first I was annoyed at how hard it was to tell right from left, but then one day around mile 160 as I was complaining about this, I noticed the top of the right pole had a little ding on it. Problem solved! You may want to intentionally mark one of the tops for this reason. Around mile 900 I realized the poles are identical. The only thing that makes them left or right is the straps. Once I figured that out, I could tell by looking at the straps. I didn’t have much luck getting the snow baskets to stay on, and lost one in the High Sierra somewhere.

 

Water Filter: Sawyer Squeeze Mini

I think this is a good product, especially with the guerilla trick of using a SmartWater bottle to back flush it instead of carrying the plunger. I only used it three times, so I’m happy it was small and light weight. It may have frozen on Mt. San Jacinto, but I never used it after that, so I don’t know if it was compromised or not.

 

Down Jacket: Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer

This is a great piece of gear! Light, packs down small, and surprisingly warm. I got two tiny holes, which I patched with tiny pieces of tape. Great jacket!

 

Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 7 & 8, Montrail

The Brooks Cascadia 7’s were very popular on the trail (stealth footprints!). They were OK, but got a big hole above my right big toe around Acton. I had a pair of Cascadia 8’s sent to me in Tehachapi, and I did not like those. I didn’t get blisters, but they weren’t that comfortable and I couldn’t wait to get rid of them. I got a nice pair of Montrails in Bishop (sorry, they are so worm I can’t tell what model they are) and they were awesome! Very comfortable, and I wore them for the rest of my trip and they are still going strong after 400 miles or so. I can attest to the trail talk that says to buy shoes much bigger than normal (I normally wear size 9, the Montrails are size 11) and wear thin socks. Only problem is trying not to catch your toe on a rock with your “clown shoes”.

 

Pants: pRhana “breathe”

I loved these pants! Nice and cool in the desert. Very comfortable. Dries quickly. Good number and distribution of pockets. The hip pocket was perfect for my iPhone/camera. And of course the adjustable belt, so you can tighten them up as you lose weight. I got a hole in them and was really happy when I was able to get a new pair.

 

Headlamp: Petzl Tikka+

I actually didn’t use this at all on the trail, although I always carried it in case I wanted or needed to night hike, or if I really needed a lot of light. I did use the little light I carry on my keychain, which is not much bigger than the battery that powers it. Generally speaking, I try hard to develop and maintain my night vision. Starlight is surprisingly adequate… until you shine a light and destroy your night vision. But I did use it quite a bit when I was working the fires. I really like the red light option, which is less damaging to your night vision. I never tried hiking with it, but it has an option that is REALLY BRIGHT. It’s got everything I need.

 

Phone/Service/Case: iPhone 5s/Verison/Lifeproof

This was arguably my most important piece of gear. I used it for my camera, navigation, checking weather and water reports, staying in touch with the outside world and of course blogging. I heard that Verison had the best coverage on the PCT and mostly I was pleased with how often I was able to get service. There was a long stretch in Yosemite with no service, but I’m not sure ATT or anybody else would have been any better. And I kept my phone safe in a Lifeproof case. Highly recommended. I only dropped it in the bathtub once, but it sat next to my head in quite a bit of rain and frost and I didn’t have to worry about it. Kept the dust out in the desert too.

 

Phone Charger: Powerpak Xtreme NT120R

I got the idea I didn’t want to mess with solar panels from Wired, and I’m not looking back. Like her, I called it my “brick” because it’s that shape, about that size, orange, and heavy (11 ounces). But it’s waterproof, has four lights to show you how much juice you have left, two charging ports, and would keep my phone fully charged for over a week. I loved having it on the trail. I loved having it on the fires, and it’s so convenient I’m still using it at home! Battery technology is really evolving, so there’s probably newer, smaller, lighter options out there, or if you don’t need that much power. My phone was so important to me, I was glad to carry a little extra weight and not have to worry about running out of power. Love my brick!

 

Apps: Halfmile, WeatherUnderground

I would say Halfmile’s app is a must. It was awesome to check my position on the trail at any time and see how far to the next water or whatever. Or just check that I am still on the right trail. I also got a full set of maps from Halfmile that matched the app and it was pretty cool. And you don’t need cell service to use it! The other app I liked is from WeatherUnderground. You do need cell service, but you can check the forecast for anywhere and see real-time radar images. Great for tracking thunder cells!

 

Stove: JetBoil Sol (titanium) and JetBoil MiniMo

Both of these stoves were great! They don’t call it JetBoil for nothing, it’s fast and therefore doesn’t use a lot of fuel. I mostly used the titanium Sol, which is supposedly only for boiling water (no cooking in it, although there is some debate on the trail about this). By eating a lot of dehydrated backpacking dinners (Mountain House, etc.), or rehydrating my ramen or whatever in a separate bag (those big beef jerky bags work great). By the time I reached Tahoe I decided I wanted the ability to simmer and swapped the Sol for the MiniMo. It’s quite a bit bigger and heavier, but it does simmer like a champ.

I think that’s all the main stuff. Let me know if you have questions.

My Trail Stats and Trivia

Hi Folks! I have a few more things to say before wrapping up this blog. I’ll do some gear reviews, I’ve got a couple of rants I’d like to rave on about, and a post of my future hiking plans. But tonight, I want to share some of my trail statistics.

I finally sat down and made a spreadsheet of each day, where I started, where I finished, how far that was, etc. It was surprisingly hard, which made it kind of fun because I had to do a full on research project about my hike. I used my journal (which was wonderfully complete in sections and totally absent in others), this blog (which sometimes mentioned how far I had to walk, etc.), Halfmile’s App (to look up mileages for places), and my poor memory. Some places I just had to guess, like the fire closure before Idylwild. But I think it’s as close as I can get it. So, here we go:

Total PCT Miles Hiked = 1160.13

Days With At Least One PCT Mile = 74

Average PCT Miles Per Day While on Trail = 15.68

Biggest PCT Miles In One Day = 24.35

Fewest PCT Miles In One Day = 5.05 (last day)

Combing through my records I couldn’t help but notice some serious trail miles that were not on the PCT. Hiking out over Kearsarge Pass (7.5 miles) comes to mind. For instance, if you add the 7.5 from Kearsarge to the 21 miles I hiked (over Forester Pass) to get there, that was longest trail day: 28.5 miles. Hiking back in over Kearsarge plus 17 miles to get to Rae Lakes would be my second longest day (24.5 miles), which is pretty amazing considering how heavy my pack was that day with full resupply, bear canister, and snow gear. If you add up the side-trails and the miles I walked while lost, I walked 1224.23 miles and my average goes up to 16.54 miles per day.

Of course, it was a longer trip than that:

Days Away From Home = 118

Days Convalescing at Kathy’s House = 23

Zeros = 19

Neros = 3

And I suppose what follows are best described as Fun Facts!

Nights Sleeping Outside = 65

In a Tent = 3

Cowboy = 45

Tarp Tent/Rainfly = 17

Nights with no shelter at all = 2 (Garbage Bags = 1, counts as shelter/cowboy!)

Nights in a Hotel = 26

And this post is kind of dry, so I’ll throw in a Fun Fact and a bit of a rant. Fun Fact: I only filtered water twice! I pretty much, no I did, just drink the water right off the face of the Earth the way God intended. The first time I filtered (Sunrise Trailhead) I probably didn’t need to, the second time (Rodriguez Tank) I was glad I had a filter. I also filtered a third time (although my filter may have frozen up on Fuller Ridge, so it may have been compromised) at the Kern River, but by that point I had my system down for filling my “drinking bottle” from my “storage bottles” without even stopping walking. I only filtered two liters at the source before I hit the trail, but drank about two more liters before I remembered that I needed to stop and filter that stuff. Oops. Oh well. In any case, I didn’t get sick. I had some mild diarrhea a few times, but it was always in town.

So here’s the rant: What is with people who filter EVERYTHING? Honestly, take spring water, bottle it “at the source”, and people will pay top dollar for it. Take those people to a natural spring out in the woods, and they won’t drink it without filtering it first. Whatever. HYOH. Personally, I don’t want to take the time and effort to filter some of the purist water you can get. Springs are excellent to drink, in my opinion, and I always preferred them to other sources, when available.

OK, rant off, but I have some other advice. I DO NOT recommend that you head out to hike the PCT without a water filter or other water treatment system, I’m just saying that I did it. Thankfully, my Dad and Cousin didn’t get sick when they hiked with me and imitated my no-filter style! That would have been bad. I have been drinking water “off the face of the Earth” for many years and I may have built up “immunities”. Heck, I might even be a carrier of Giardia, for all I know. Some people live where it is endemic, and still live there relatively unaffected, right? I even got Giardia once when I went to Leningrad where it was discovered.

I don’t want to encourage you not to treat your water, so I won’t link the professional science research papers that convinced me it might be an OK thing to do. The Punch Line from one of the studies was your best chance to get Giardia is to drink downstream of humans. If there’s humans camped upstream, you probably need to filter. The second bad thing, was a bunch of cattle upstream. But it got to be a LOT of cows, not just one or two. Similarly, places with just regular amounts of wildlife (deer, bear, elk, etc.) don’t seem to have elevated levels of Giardia.

So basically, the closer you can get to the source, the better. Think about it. Pure water rains down from the sky. It’s fine to drink until it gets contaminated by something, so right there, being high in the mountains is a big advantage. Let’s just say I’d much rather drink from a small tributary than the main stream/river it feeds.

I know many people have been taken out by Giardia or other intestinal distress. Honestly, most people who get sick in the woods brought it with them, and then blame it on the water. The more social you are, the more you share food, the more at risk you are. Which may be why with my solo/hermit style I didn’t get sick in the woods, and only got sick when I came into contact with more people in town.

Again, I am not saying don’t treat your water. I’m just saying that I didn’t, and I was fine. I guess I am saying, if you see a natural spring pouring out of the ground RIGHT THERE, don’t be shy. That’s good stuff, just the way it is!

Post Everything Edit: I saw a presentation at my Forest Service job last week from a law enforcement guy that was talking about all the illegal marijuana farming going on. Some of the big grows are by Mexican Cartels that use poisons that are banned in the USA. Pretty toxic stuff. One eighth of a teaspoon can kill a 1000-pound animal. It gets into the water, and it can’t be filtered or boiled away.

On one hand, this makes me a lot more reluctant to “drink water off the face of the earth”. On the other hand, if you can’t filter it or boil it, what then? You have to have water. Again, go for the springs and the high sources. Hopefully, legalizing pot will bring the growers out of the mountains and down into the Central Valley where they won’t kill the local wildlife and everything downstream.

 

 

Where There’s Smoke…

Well, I’ve been sucked up into the fire machine. I can expect back to back 14-day assignments (2 days off in between) for the foreseeable future. I’m assigned to the Mad River Complex, but I’m also working on the Humboldt Lightning Complex and the Route Complex. My Forest is short on Hydrologists so I am in high demand and lots of people are happy to see me back.

The fire camp here is pretty impressive. Where two weeks ago there was nothing, now there is a small city of over 1200 people, complete with food, showers, laundry, fuel, and all the supplies needed to fight wildfires. We’re the second largest city in Trinity County!

Yeah. Not camping over there.

 As you probably know, camping in a sea of tents is not my thing, but because this is my forest, I know lots of stealthy hunter’s camps nearby where I can get some quiet and privacy. I sleep much better alone out in the woods and four months on the PCT has really changed my idea of what passes for an acceptable campsite. I’m camping in style now! I’ve got a chair, a pillow, and a full-size shovel to dig my cathole with. Such luxury!

The PCT has also changed my perception of camp food. Everyone is complaining about the food, but after living off bars, ramen and beef jerky, it seems pretty good to me! At first I was surprised how fast these firefighters eat their food, but I’ve since adopted their technique as well. You see, the portions are large and we eat outside (for me, usually at night around 9 or in the morning around 7), and as fast as I can eat I can’t finish it before it gets cold. I’m not a big fan of cold scrambled eggs or cold mashed potatoes, so I do the best I can to maximize the number of warm bites. I hear the menu is designed to provide around 4,000 calories a day, so since I’m not swinging a tool, I’m hoping to put some weight back on. I lost over ten percent of my body weight on the trail.

 Don’t worry about me. My specialties are Supression Repair, road work, and Burned Area Emergency Response, so I tend to be on the colder, blacker parts of the fire and usually don’t even have to wear my line gear. Of course that means I’m still out there working after everyone else has gone home, so it’s going to be a long summer for me. But this will certainly be a summer to remember!

What I Used For Shelter

Well, no fire fighting for me tomorrow. My toe is still not better and I’m having trouble navigating the medical support system here in America. Thank God I have my Dad (Expedition Medic) to consult.

So, since I’m home I thought I’d try to start on the gear reviews. But I don’t have time to go through everything in one go, so let’s just start with my shelter.

Close readers of my blog will remember that I mixed it up a lot. I started with a tent, but I hate tents and they’re heavy, so I mailed that away at Warner Springs. At that time I had a big enough ground sheet (Tyvek/HouseWrap) to cover me in a “Hobo Burrito” if there was unexpected rain or wind.

I was worried about Fuller Ridge so I picked up a bivy bag in Idylwild, which I was glad I had up there, and again near San Gorgonio.

Somehow I got separated from that and my groundsheet in Wildwood (turns out I bounced it ahead accidentally) and had nothing but my air mattress and sleeping bag until I got to Acton KOA. This required me to sleep in some garbage bags for shelter on a particularly cold, wet and windy night. That was probably my worst night on the trail. Without those garbage bags I might have died.

So I got a huge, heavy tarp at the hiker box in the KOA, but when it started raining I trolled the train bridge, which was one of my favorite camps of the trip!

In Tehachapi I swapped out the tarp for my bivy sack again, which was smart because there was a lot of cold nights, desert notwithstanding.

Worried about the Sierra, I swapped out the bivy for my full-on tent in Kennedy Meadows. But I hate tents. First night I set the whole thing up was probably the most wet I ever woke up. Condensation was raining down on me inside! Boo

But my tent, an MSR Hubba, has a feature where you can pitch the rain-fly without the tent underneath. I quickly came to love this option.

It’s a lot like Cowboy Camping because there’s plenty of fresh air and no floor. With all the ventalation I stayed nice and dry, so the only thing I had to dry out at lunch was the outside of the rainfly, not my bag or groundsheet.I won’t say where, but I even bulldozed everything to one side once and dug a “cathole” without having to leave my shelter, an option I may have employed again in the rainy parts of Washington. Digging a hole within your own shelter is good incentive to do a good job and Leave No Trace!

I know there’s lots of tarp tents out there, but I don’t think many are free-standing, which I really liked. Of course, bugs, particularly ants, can still get in, but I prefer that to all the condensation from being in a tent. Of course, the tent wasn’t made for this to be the primary mode, so it was a little difficult to pitch, especially in the wind. If I really wanted to pimp it out I would modify it so I could zip or Velcro a strip of mosquito netting around the bottom to close the inch or so gap around the bottom when the mozzies are really bad. Be a lot lighter than a whole tent.

So, in summary, for dew, frost and wind I would take my bivy bag. For heavy rain and hail (i.e., thunderstorms) I loved my free-standing rainfly without the rest of the tent. I do not recommend garbage bags, Ha Ha!