The Miracle of Healing

It’s been a week now since we dug that piece of lumber, or thorn, or whatever it was out of my toe. And look!

It’s a miracle! I can wear both shoes now and I’m working on not limping, which I’ve kind of trained myself to do over the last few weeks. I’m going to give it a few more days before I subject my toe to the dirt and abuse of thru-hiking, but it won’t be long now.

It looks like when it’s all over I will have spent three weeks off-trail. I’ve come to face the fact that I probably won’t be able to complete the entire 2660 miles to Canada before I have to be back at work (October 3rd). Maybe I could do it if I pushed really hard, but I don’t want to push really hard.

So, I’ve come up with a new plan, which is to finish the Sierra, from Squaw Valley to Sierra City, then skip ahead to where I should have been if I had hiked the last three weeks, around Mt. Shasta.

I like this plan a lot. I should be able to get through Oregon and Washington in that time, which I really wanted to see, I will be back in my place in The Herd, maybe see some friends, and the section I am skipping is relatively close to home, which will be easier to pick up later than the section up by Canada. If I feel good and hike fast, I might even be able to close the gap in late September, but I’m not planning on it.

So all you folks in Northern California and Oregon who are planning to meet me, I’ll be there sooner than you might have thought. I’ll try to keep you posted, but I should be back to something resembling my original timeline. Yay! 

Toe Update

It’s been a rough week, what with all the pain and lack of mobility, but things are looking up!

I went to the clinic yesterday and got cleaned up. They took the wick out and we determined that I was far enough along in the healing process that it would not need to be re packed again, which was great news. My foot looked like this:

But the doctor thought it looked good. She even used the word “fabulous”. The bad news was she wanted to irrigate and clean that bad boy out. The next hour was one of the most painful hours of my life. They even gave me a morphine shot, which didn’t seem to do much but make me dizzy and nauseous. But then at some point she pulled out this:

It’s probably hard to see, but I had a needle-thin spine or thorn that was about 5 mm long in there! So, now we know what caused it, and now that it’s been removed the healing has really speeded up. Hard to imagine I would wake up this morning, see this:

and think, “Wow! That looks great!”, but that’s what happened. The swelling is nearly gone, the wound is closing up, and it no longer hurts even at rest. The doctor said if things go well, I could be back on the trail within a week. Obviously, this is great news. Getting that splinter out of there was a major turning point, and it should be smooth sailing here pretty soon.

If I hit the trail next Sunday, that would be 16 days off trail. And not just off trail, but lying about with my feet up. I may have to rebuild my trail legs from scratch. I’m curious how much muscle I’ve lost. But that’s fine. At least I’ll be back on trail soon, and then we’ll see if I have time to still make it to Canada.

Setback City

if you’re wondering why I’m not hiking the PCT today, here’s why:

Yeah, I woke up this morning and saw that, I knew I needed to get out of Squaw Valley and back to medical facilities. I cried a little. The Chief Expedition Medic (my Dad) sugested I go back to the clinic where I was seen on Monday, and that’s what I did.

Thank God for my Angel Kathy! If she hadn’t come right then, I would have rented a car and I might have driven all the way home. But she did!

The clinic took me in and determined that my infection wasn’t responding to the antibiotics! No, really? Time to slice and drain and pack the wound with gauze. Maybe my memory fades, but it might have been the most painful experience of my life.

Again, thank God Kathy is here. They took a culture, so we should know exactly what demon we’re dealing with and be able to get the right antibiotic.

Until then, I’ll be convalecing at Kathy’s house, probably for a week or more.

But I’m not giving up! I’m not going back to the trail until I’m all healed. One week? 10 days? Two weeks? Whatever it takes. Kathy has said I can stay here all summer, if I need too, but after a week sitting on my scrawny ass, I really can’t wait to be able to walk normally and get back on the trail.

So, I might not post much for a few days. I’m safe. If the antibiotics kick in I should be feeling better soon. Stay tuned…

Squaw Creek

So, it appears that the proximate cause of my toe pain that has taken me off the trail was an ingrown hair that became infected. Yes, that’s right, you can become too crippled to walk from one tiny little hair on your tiny little toe. It’s kind of amazing how many things can take you out. It seems amazing that me or anyone else could even make it this far with all the things that could go wrong. I certainly didn’t see this one coming.

So, I saw a doctor and am now on antibiotics. There’s not much change yet, my toe hurts like hell even in bed, but I’ve only been on the drugs for a little over 24 hours, so I guess that’s normal. Hopefully, the pain begins to ease tomorrow.

I had a great time at Kathy’s house, but I am too anxious to get back to the trail. This morning I had her drive me back to the Resort at Squaw Creek where I have many fond memories of ski trips with my family and where I can walk back to the trail as soon as my toe feels better. I began my stay with a nice four-hour nap.

It’s 1630 now, so it’s beginning to look unlikely that I will hit the trail early tomorrow, but we will see what healing the night brings. If I have to stay another day, I will. I still have plenty of time to make it to Canada.

This place is pretty busy! I thought it would be sleepy, being mid-week in the summer and all, but I think they are almost full. Apparently, next weekend is The Fourth of July. Who knew?

The other thing that’s going on here is the heat. It’s around 90 here in Tahoe, 109 in Sacramento and 115 in Redding. Looks like I will be heading into some serious heat for a while. I’ve spent the last few days outside on the porch to acclimate, and I mailed away my sleeping bag! I think my thin bag-liner will be enough for a while. I had a nice cool crossing of the Mojave Desert, so I guess I deserve it. Chrome Dome may finally get some real use.

If it’s not one thing, It’s another…

I’ve had many pains on this trip. Seems like just when something stops hurting, something else starts. This time, just as my ankle was getting better and I was really starting to feel Trail Legs under me, I have some problem with my toe.

My expert medical team (my dad and stepmom) have diagnosed it as gouty arthritis. It’s red and swollen and there’s a possibility of infection. If it doesn’t look a whole lot better in the morning, then I will go see a doctor tomorrow but either way I’m not going back to Squaw Valley tonight as originally planned.

I couldn’t think of a better place to be laid up for a few days. Kathy’s place is out at the end of the road on a ridge. Very quiet. There’s a little platform with a view we can walk out to and watch the sunset in the evening. Kathy has offered to let me stay here all summer if I need to, which is incredibly nice (she’s been an amazing Angel!), but I’m restless to get back to the trail. I’ll stay here in Nevada City as long as I think I might need medical attention, then I want to start walking again. With where I stopped Kathy can always scoop me up from Donner Pass or Sierra City if things don’t work out.

I’m actually not at all sad that Dad and I didn’t make it to Donner Pass. I’m happy to go back to Squaw Valley and pick up the trail there. I love it there. It’s some kind of nexus for me. And it’s my chance to stretch out the last of the Sierra. And of course, the logistics mentioned above if my injury doesn’t heal fast enough. I think it’s a good plan and I’m excited to try it!

Damn toe.

Echo to Squaw

After a few relaxing days in South Lake Tahoe, it was time to hit the trail again. My cousin David decided at the last minute to join us (me and Dad), so we will be three. David needed to stop at the grocery store and the outfitter, and we had a slight medical emergency requiring a trip to the urgent care clinic. We didn’t get to Echo Lake until after 11.

I’ve been to Desolation Wilderness many times, and often took the boat shuttle across Echo Lakes. It’s a very romantic way to enter the backcountry. With our late start, and for sentimental reasons, we took the boat taxi again. I believe this is called “blue blazing”. I need to come back and hike from Carson Pass to Echo Lake anyway, so I can always walk the two miles around the lakes then if I feel like it. (Although I have already walked it before when the boat taxi wasn’t running, so technically, if I break this thru into sections, I’ve already got it covered.)IMG_0711

It was incredibly crowded! Some PCT, some Tahoe Rim Trail, some “weekenders”, and a ton of day-hikers. I’ve never seen so many people in the woods!IMG_0712

Well, that explains the smoke I was smelling the other night. The Washington Fire.

Our original plan was to hike all the way through Desolation Valley, up over Dick’s Pass, and camp at Dick’s Lake, but it became clear pretty early we weren’t going to make it. We thought about going to Lake Gilmore, but I remember it as being kind of buggy there, so we stopped short at Suzie Lake.IMG_0714

Lake Aloha and the Crystal Range (Dad & I hiked up Pyramid Peak, the one on the left, once)

The next morning we were on trail by 0630 and heading up Dick’s Pass. The mosquitos were terrible near Lake Gilmore, so it looks like it was a good idea not to camp there. We were slow going up the pass but made it by 0930. Another beautiful day!IMG_0715



My ankle is doing fine. After much thought and consultation with the expedition medic we decided it was just hurting from rolling it on too many rocks. It happens a lot out here (or like back in the High Sierra). Not enough to cause a break or sprain, but do that several times a day for a month and you can really piss your ankle off! Anyway, the pattern all week has been that it hurts when I get up, but once I get going for a half hour or so, it warms up and feels fine for the rest of the day. Nonetheless, I’ve been careful not to roll it again.IMG_0718

Dick’s Peak/Lake. We climbed that one once too.

We had lunch at Fontenallis Lake, and then hiked past the Velmas, over Phipps Pass, and camped just north of the wilderness boundary for a 17 mile day. It was really cool to be in familiar country where I know the names of the lakes and (have climbed) most of the mountains. Most of this trip I have had little idea where I am or what I am looking at.

The next morning we were hiking by 6 through fields of wildflowers on another gorgeous day. I think the flowers are at their peak right now.IMG_0719




We hiked past Twin Peaks where the TRT separates from the PCT and then had some nice ridge walking along the crest around Ward Peak/Alpine Meadows.IMG_0725


We camped near the trail to Five Lakes for an 18 mile day. We might have stopped sooner but the last 8 miles of ridge walking had no water and there wasn’t anywhere to camp anyway. Dad was super tired, as you may imagine.

Our original plan was to hike from Echo to Donner, but it was too far. We decided to get off trail at Squaw Valley where I learned to ski when I was about 8 and where Dad and I have spent lots of time together. Thus, we did manage to hike together through the part of the Sierra where we have so much history together, which I think is incredibly, unbelievably cool. Not too many 71 year old fathers would do that for their son.IMG_0733


We got off trail at the Granite Chief trail and hiked down to Squaw Valley, which was rocky and slow. But it worked out pretty well. My friend Kathy, who is doing amazing Trail Angel duty for us arrived within minutes and we had a wonderful lunch at The Village there.

Looks a lot steeper without snow on it. I ski down this shit? Crazy.

We dropped David off in Truckee to be picked up by his dad, and then took my Dad to the Reno airport so he could catch his plane to a wedding in Texas. Then Kathy took me back to her wonderful place in the woods outside Nevada City. Everything would be perfect except it’s too damn hot! It’s over 100 in the Central Valley. I guess I’d better get used to it. I don’t know what to do with my ten-degree bag. I guess it will make a good pillow for the next few weeks.

Injured and Off Trail

It was pretty windy all night, but I wasn’t cold even though I was “cowboying” with no shelter. I smelled smoke in the middle of the night. That smell used to make me think of campfires, but after 20 years with the Forest Service it reminds me more of wildfires now. I didn’t see any flames, and I was surrounded by a heck of a lot of granite, so I wasnt too worried. It probably was a campfire, although why people were up having a fire at four AM, I don’t know.IMG_0708

In fact, I had tons of sky, especially to the east, and I can tell you First Light up there is around 0415, and full sun was upon me at 0515. I hit the trail around 0600 hoping to hike as many of the 40 miles to Echo Summit as I could in hopes of arriving mid-afternoon tomorrow.IMG_0709

The bottoms of my feet had not miraculously healed overnight, but they were slightly better. I tried some different socks. What really hurt was my ankle. After only 20 minutes I stopped and put some moleskin on. That didn’t seem to help, so after another hour I decided to cut away the part of my shoe that was rubbing my ankle. Again, still very confused why shoes with 250 miles on them would all of a sudden start hurting. Things were still bad when I stopped for lunch at ten, so I cut away the entire left side of my shoe all around the ankle. That should do it!

Except it didn’t. As I continued to walk, my ankle got worse and not better. By noon I was down to one mile an hour and limping severely. This really concerned me with 30 miles to go to Echo Summit. I might not even be able to make it in time, and if I did, I might be too gimpy to hike with my Dad, which is what I’ve been pushing so hard for since Tehachapi (about 500 tough miles). Another option was to get picked up at Carson Pass instead of Echo, only 13 more miles, but pretty soon even that was seeming like a stretch.IMG_0710

It was about this time I saw some day-hikers. What? There’s a way out of here? I talked to some weekenders and got the skinny on how to get out to town, and met a really nice Game Warden on his horse who offered to take me out when he got done with his day’s work, but while I waited I thought I would try to get to the pavement and hitch.

When the PCT crossed a road, I started walking down it. Then it ended at a campsite. Damn! Looking at the map it seemed like a short bushwhack to this other road. But it was kind of rough country. Climbing over car/house size boulders and skirting ponds. All I could think about was how if I got hurt there, it would be a long time before anyone found me. Like, a very long time.

But I made it to the road, and when I got to an intersection I turned and walked toward the pavement. There was a stream crossing that I was too tired to deal with, so I just walked right through it, getting wet feet again. Except, after about a mile I realized I was actually on a motorized trail (which is a tiny almost invisible line on my map, but looks like a full-on road in the real world) and I was hiking in the wrong direction. Double damn! Just what I need.

So, I walked 45 minutes back, through the stream again, to where I made the wrong turn, and finally went the right direction on the correct road. After about half an hour of walking I got a ride in the back of a pick-up out to the paved road. From there it was a tough hitch. Ten or fifteen minutes at a time would go by with no cars and the ones that passed didn’t stop for me. It was close to an hour before a nice couple picked me up.

I really wanted to get to South Lake Tahoe, but I would have settled for Carson City or pretty much anywhere. Fortunately, they were going to SLT, and I had them drop me at the first place that looked like it was close to stores and restaurants and stuff. I got to town around four.

I’m staying at The Matterhorn Inn, which I have nothing good to say about except the staff is friendly and my room has a jacuzzi tub. It was incredibly hard just walking less than a block to the liquor store for some beer and back. I would have liked to walk 2-3 blocks down to this Mexican restaurant for dinner, but I had a pizza delivered instead.

So, now I have two zeros to dry out the bottoms of my feet and let my ankle heal, and then? Don’t know. Go back with my Dad and hike from where I got off trail? Stick with the original plan (Echo to Donner) and skip 25 miles? Or I don’t know what. I guess I’ll just do my town chores and hope for some clarity.

Poor Little Feet

PCT mile 1030.7 to 1050.7

As you can see from the mileage, I really wanted to get 20 miles in and it was all I could do.





I felt pretty good most of the day and then I started getting new foot pain, on the soles of my feet between my arches and my toes. I finally looked around four and the skin there is pasty white with little red holes. It reminds me a lot of when I got trench foot in the Olympic Mountains once. This encouraged me to camp early so I could air those puppies out.


Didn’t stop me from hiking a quarter mile off trail and up a hundred feet or so to find a nice private campspot on a granite knob.

Otherwise, it was a beautiful day hiking through some beautiful country and I saw very few people (4). This is exactly what I hoped the PCT would be like.

Slow Day

It was quite warm last night. I’m going to need a new sleeping system if it doesn’t get below 50 at night. I broke camp at 0630 and hiked out of Sonora Pass on another gorgeous day.

IMG_0696  IMG_0697

I made terrible time in the morning because I kept stopping to drink beer. I had three. I wish every break my pack got 12 ounces lighter! Then I started in on the whiskey. But it just made me tired all afternoon. Drinking and hiking don’t really mix, which is a shame, being two of my favorite things.



It was so beautiful, and I only saw one person all day. I kept stopping to take breaks and not wanting to get up and hike again. Finally, around five I gave in and made camp. Partly this was so I could camp in the granite, partly it was because it was four miles to the next water, and partly it was because I was tired and my ankle hurt. It was a whimpy 15 mile day, but if I do three 20’s I should be on time to meet my Dad in Tahoe on Saturday.


Now there’s a nice stealth camp. So many leaning rocks!