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Posts Tagged ‘Cowboy Camping’

Our food bags were heavy once again to avoid being hungry, although all of us had become bottomless pits and shameless about free food.  We had an easy, quite pleasant first five miles back on trail, but I had eaten almost a full loaf of super heathy bread and could feel it expanding it my stomach making me want to lay down, letting the stream ease me to sleep instead of walking.

The fall foliage had come into full, beautiful bloom sending a thousand different colored leaves dancing through the air with every breeze.  The wide trail without too many troublesome roots made it quite easy to walk staring straight up into the tops of the trees looking at the colors and not pay much attention to where it led.

Eventually, we came upon a brilliantly flat campsite with a privy, a crude shelter with a picnic table, and a perfectly clear stream running right through it.  Hop-a-long, Scout, Natty, and I set up camp and ate dinner at the table appreciating it like no one but a thru-hiker can appreciate an old picnic table.

In the morning, Natty woke us up at 5:45 and immediately started his jetboil for coffee.  Wanting to sleep, I rolled back over dozing until I heard the stove turn off, then mustered up the energy to eat and pack up.

“WHERES MY SPOON?!” Natty yelled, jolting me awake more.  “I left it right here!” he exclaimed searching around everywhere.  “Something took it!”

“What’s it look like?” said Hop-a-long, looking around where we had eaten dinner last night.

“It’s the orange Yogi spoon!”

When no one found it, we determined something did indeed confiscate the spoon.  Hikers get very attached to their spoons, especially one they have carried for well over 2,000 miles.

We went up, up, and more up to Rainy Pass the rest of the morning.  As soon as we came up out of the big trees to the littler, more shrubby trees and wide grassy patches, we felt the temperature drop and saw frost glittering on each tall grass blade.  Leapfrogging each other until we found a suitable sunny spot, we took a break right on the side of the trail near a stream where Hop found a half pound of goat cheese chilling in the water.  After much deliberation, we determined that a.) someone had chilled it for a few moments in the stream and forgot about it, or b.) someone didn’t like goat cheese and left it chilling in the stream because they knew it was an easy spot to fill up water bottles and a hungry hiker would see it before it went bad.

With the sun a little higher in the sky, we moved further and further up valley until we came to Rainy Pass and sat by the sign on the side of the road and had a bite to eat again.  Natty decided he had brought too much food and wanted to play a joke.  He borrowed a sharpie and wrote on it: “Trail Magic, I read Wild” referring to the horrible Sheryl Strayed book that every woman over 40 thinks of immediately when you say “PCT.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUsually, we walk downhill to roads and uphill after them.  This particular one was quite draining because we walked uphill to it, then uphill after it to Cutthroat Pass.  The name alone is encouraging….right?  Crossing the road and going just up the trail, we came across real trail magic in the form of an epic cooler which gave us some motivation.  The rest of the climb was really not too taxing and gave us spectacular views from the top.

Natty and I got up there first and stopped to re-fuel when we met this awesome old hippie named Chris who gave us trail magic of the greener variety and chatted with us.  He had an independent, exploratory dog who wanted to sniff the entire world with unbending excitement.

Hop-a-long and Scout came up and we all decided to continue on until dark o’clock and see what’s there.  Judging from what we saw on top of Cutthroat Pass, we would contour and run ridges the rest of the way to Canada.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe days had become drastically shorter and the nights colder in the past two weeks or so, making getting out of the sleeping bag increasingly difficult.  We got to cruise downhill for some miles in the morning which was nice, but it did not get the blood pumping and my feet felt like frozen blocks attached to the ends of my legs.

We came across the last known water source before our last 2,500 foot climb on the PCT.  Then some middle-aged guys with huge backpacks came from the other side of the stream.  Natty clearly was not in a gear-talk or answer the weekenders questions mood, but I decided to humor them a bit basically telling them they had way too much shit with them, when one said, “Maybe you guys can help lighten my load, I have this bourbon here.  Do you have a cup?”

Hop-a-long immediately produced her tiny wine cup she had carried all the way from Truckee and used to mix drinks with various drink mix powders.

“I guess 11am isn’t too early to drink for you thru-hikers!” one of the laughed.

We laughed remembering sharing tall boys of beer at 5am in the desert when we woke up to get us moving.

They ended up giving us the bourbon as a celebratory drink for the end of the trail.  Awesome trail magic!  Now we had vodka, wine, bourbon, and jack!  They also told us we were only about an hour or so behind Agassi and Snow Turtle who we wanted to catch back up with again since they made it three miles further than we did out of Stehekin.

The climb was a long slog of switchbacks, but by the top, we had fantastic, sweeping views once more and a great knoll to eat a late lunch on.  The trail bumped along and began slowly going down toward Harts Pass which was surprisingly more busy than any of us thought.  I put on headphones to get through the hoards of people walking up from their cars a few miles and asking us if we’d read Wild.  Damn that book.  Just as bad as Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.”  Their actual writing was entertaining, but neither had any idea what they were doing and gave a fairly unrealistic picture of what goes on.

After all the day walkers, all of us wanted beer, so we sat by the trail head looking pathetic eating scraps of food for a while until Natty began flagging down every car asking if they had beer.  None of them did, so we walked on, trying to push another six miles to a marked campsite.

Leaving Hart’s Pass was not super well marked, but we figured it out and not long after, we ran into Lorax hiking south.  We OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApaused, talked, and kept walking trying not to get in too late.

When we knew we only had half a mile or so to go, we saw some headlights and yelled over.  It was Snow Turtle and Agassi!  We finally caught them!  Going a little further, we found the marked campsite which was not very flat or great, but tuckered out, we stopped and passed out pretty quickly, after eating of course.

The next morning, we leapfrogged Snow Turtle and Agassi for a bit, went through Woody Pass after being thoroughly temped to take the old PCT over the large scree field to avoid the 700ft or so descent only to climb immediately back up 800ft, but the reports seemed to say it was unstable.

After Woody Pass, we had only a little more uphill contouring before we went down for about 14 miles to Monument 78, the Canadian Border.

We cruised down wanting to drink the booze we’d been saving and carrying for 80 miles from Stehekin.  That was the furthest I’ve carried booze, not drinking it along the way.

Hitting the monument felt so epic, we began celebratory drinks and photo ops.  We waited for Snow Turtle and Agassi to get the group shot.  Natty read us “Where the Wild Things Are” which someone had left with the register.

Eventually, we realized that we had to move our drunk butts a quarter-mile into Canada to camp as there were no spots by the monument.  We built a fire in the ring and sat around finishing off the hodgepodge of alcohol we had.

The morning came and I looked over to see what I thought was Natty cowboy camping and yelled over at him to wake up when he answered in the opposite direction.  Hop-a-long was near me and looked as utterly confused as I was.  We investigated and found Magellan!  He had gotten in absurdly late pulling a 36 mile day to make the 11am greyhound bus from Manning Park so he didn’t miss his flight.  He had done it, just like Knees had made his absurd goal.  We all did.  Nine miles to food that’s not whatever is leftover from our packs!

Making it there early, we beelined for food and ate quite a lot.  We had a slight mix-up finding my wonderful trail angel mother who had a cooler of beer because we arrived too early and she waited by the trailhead.  It eventually got worked out and we relaxed.

PCT. Mexico to Canada.  April 29th to October 7th, 2012.

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Without a zero day in over 750 miles, bad weather pushed us over the top and we decided to lounge, play Yahtzee, watch television, and enjoy the wonder of beds.  Crappy weather the following morning made us slow getting out of bed and we did not get back to the trail until after 1pm.

Steven’s Pass was covered by a decently thick fog and we had to play with our layer systems a few times before we had it dialed in.  Of course, since it was a pass and we were going out of town, the trail went upwards.  What else is new.

We also had the delight of reading one of half-miles yellow notes at the top of the map section saying, “I have yet to hike the final 193 miles of the PCT.  GPS data was provided by Jack Haskel, Tina Lippke, Joshua ‘Diversity’ Pinedo, Anna ‘North Star’ Sofranko and Bob Woods.  Some waypoints and landmarks in this section are based on TOPO! Software or Google Earth and not collected on trail with a GPS.”  Great.  They weren’t horrible, but the water definitely needed an update.

Passing a large group of shouting boy scouts in jeans and oversized backpacks, we continued past their 4-mile hike out to Lake Valhalla with joy.  We knew we had to make some miles that afternoon, so we continued for quite a while, grabbing some dinner and hiking onward.  Even if it’s a sluggish start out of town, once you’re out, it’s pretty easy to get going, especially after the first few miles.

Cruising down one of the ridges, I heard something strange.  I had that sense of another animal in a close range, but unsure of the type.  Then, not more than twenty feet in front of me a large grey and brown animal, probably weighing at least 30 pounds or so waddled along, up the trail toward me.  Naturally, I started talking to it so it knew I was there.  It paused, looked at me, and kept waddling up the side of the trail toward some trees.  I managed to swing around it in a wide arch through some underbrush and the nonchalant animal just scooted along not caring at all.

I heard footsteps and looked up to see Scout jamming to some tunes coming down the trail.  I yelled up to him and he slowly approached, arched and joined me in examining the animal.

He laughed at me, “It’s a porcupine!”

“It’s giant!” I replied.

“Yeeeaup.  Watch it waddle!” He said.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile we tried to get pictures in the bad light, Hop-a-long came up, as well as Blackout and Silky Smooth and we all watched it eat a purple mushroom the size of a dinner plate.  We then made the connection to all the mutilated large mushrooms we’d seen in the past hundred miles or so.

“I was wondering what was eating all those poisonous mushrooms,” Hop said laughing.

I had never seen a porcupine larger than a house cat.  This one was the size of three large house cats at least.  Super duper awesome.

Scout, Hop-a-long, and I walked until we tripped over ourselves so many times you’d think we never walk anywhere.  That’s usually the time that yields bed time.  We stumbled forward, each popping off to try to find a flat spot to sleep.  On top of a small ridge, we thought we might be out of luck, but the moon and the stars lit the way well and after half an hour of stumbling, I came across a small spot tucked under a few trees.  It was definitely small, but we were all beat and wanted to sleep.  Throwing our stuff down, we cowboy’ed, ate, and slept.

A beautiful sunrise woke us up streaming vivid pink and red into a bright blue sky.  We got on our way and about half a mile OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfurther or less, we found a sign that said, “campsite” with an arrow.  Gotta love that.  We had a sweet spot though, no complaints.

We got to follow amazing ridge lines for many miles that flowed into each other like waves.  With no roads or greasy civilization to be seen, we enjoyed the stillness of the Glacier Peak Wilderness.  The only other people we saw were Silky Smooth and Blackout.

The trail took a more rugged turn as we dove deeper into the wilderness and further from Steven’s Pass.  Our ridge line contours took us all over the map, cutting up on, glimpsing a great view of a glaciated peak, then plunging down the other side, crossing large melt rivers, then shooting back up until we rounded each peak.  The three of us paused to put something in our rumbling stomachs which did not seem to appreciate the extra elevation changes.  They seemed to go through more food quicker.  After the last section, all of us over packed food and it was a fantastic and completely necessary decision.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot long after we plopped down, stuffed our faces, and were grabbing water from a stream, a few drops of water fell out of the sky.  We were utterly confused.  All of us had noticed the clouds rolling in, but the brain neurons just did not fire in the clouds/rain connection for a few minutes.  When we did realized it, we began waterproofing all of our stuff as quickly as possible.  It would be our fifth day of rain in almost five months, so we had almost nothing waterproofed.

With the rain, the wind picked up and sent chills though our bones as we hiked onward. We had heard there were no flat spots what-so-ever near Milk Creek unless we cowboy’ed on the bridge, at the bottom of the next gully some five miles away.  We made it about three miles before we settled in early around 6pm just to get out of freezing, wet gear and harsh wind.  Aiming for a marked campsite near a small lake, we got there and felt the full force of the wind whipping up from the valley.  The lake had large floating ice chunks in the middle and all the edges were frozen solid.  It appeared to have never fully thawed from the winter before.  The campsite looked awesome, but had no wind protection at all, so we took a chance and went a mile further and found relatively flat and kind of protected spots near a stream.

The morning was slow.  It was wet out.  And cold.  I don’t believe we started hiking until after 8:30am.  As we packed up as slow as we could, suddenly we heard a loud “CAAAA CAAAAAW!” and Natty came hiking down in solid black ninja rain gear.

“I knew you weren’t too far ahead because I could see your footprints were fresh in the wet trail!” Natty said.

He motivated us into moving and finally we set off down to milk creek.

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The entire reason we went into Idyllwild was to celebrate Dead Animal’s birthday per his plan, however, he was lagging behind due to our Cinco de Mayo celebrations, which lasted well past hiker midnight (9 p.m.).  Hop-a-long, Inspector Gadget and I got a ride into town fairly easily and began our town routines which included grabbing mail drops and bounce boxes from the post office with our food for the next few days, then grabbed some hot food at the pizza place with a delicious chocolate porter.

Most of the rooms in town were full by the time we got there, swamped with hiker trash, so we found the $3 campground which ended up suiting our budgets much better.  Inspector Gadget had Dead Animal’s number and he mentioned maybe not making it into town since he still had 6 miles to go.  We told him to suck it up, P.S. happy birthday.  Our next move went to the laundromat where I sat there charging my phone and iPod wearing, my scarf on top and shell zipped up around the bottom having the arm holes coming out from my waist.  I felt bad putting clean clothes on when I hadn’t showered, but whatever.  We found the token machine for showers not long afterwards and cleaned up properly for the first time in 10 days.  At least half my tan washed off and turned the floor into a mess of layers upon layers of dirt and sunscreen.

Dead Animal did manage to suck it up and got in around 8 p.m.  Since no other restaurants were open, we met up at the only place in town still open: the liquor store.  As Dead Animal put it, “at least they have their priorities straight –  we can get beer.”  We got some beer and snacks then went to Spork and Chimp’s room to watch tv and celebrate.  That went well past hiker midnight as well.

In the morning, our early start kept getting delayed until eventually we waited until the heat went away.  By that time I had the brilliant idea to eat an entire bag of ruffles potato chips.

Eventually, Hop-a-long and I escaped the town vortex and began hitching our way back to the trailhead at highway 74.  One sketchy dude turned around and told us we were hitching from the wrong spot, so we opted not to get in with him and keep waiting.  Then another truck turned around with a bunch of hikers in the back including Moxie and the Israeli with the hurt knee; Lawrence the spring man had shuttled them in and was taking them further into town.  Finally, a nice retired man picked us up and took us to the trail.

Upon setting off into the steaming afternoon heat, I noticed that my brilliant potato chip idea was not so brilliant as they did not seem to digest, but rather sat as one large lump in my stomach.  A large group of horse riders passed us going back to the road which meant horse poop all over the trail for at least several miles.  Great.  They always seem to want to poop exactly where the most convenient spots are to put your feet.

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We wound in, out, and around large rock piles that seemed so likely to have sat on the sea floor a million years ago.  Between the heat and the potato lump lodged in my stomach, both of us had slowed down.  We plugged on beginning to ascend for miles and miles to the first ridge in the San Jacinto Wilderness.  For a bit we had the usual switchbacks, but occasionally it liked the throw an east coast number in there and just go straight up.

By the time we got near the top of the ridge it was pretty dark,but we caught the tail end of the sunset and the amazing amount of lights coming up from houses far, far below.  We popped up on Challenger who had camped about 2ish miles from where we wanted to be.  It felt good to be on top of a ridge again and not just winding up and down on one side of it, but when Hop-a-long and I started talking out loud to coax our feet into moving, it was about time to call it for the night.

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About a half mile before where we wanted to camp, we found a sweet spot with a bench.  The bench sold us and we plopped right down to cook.

In the morning, we headed toward Eagle Spring to get water and then eat breakfast.  A whopping 3/10 of a mile down off the trail, we came to the piped spring with maybe 2 or 3 drops per second coming out into a rusty metal tub with some bugs floating in it.  Knees had gotten down there just before us and we all looked at it, debating what to do. I had aquamira and Hop-a-long had a steripen, but Knees let us use his awesome sawyer filter. It worked fantastic! Now I want one hahaha.

After a long breakfast, we got moving again, but soon took a break when we found Lawrence the Spring Guy three miles down the trail handing us either donut pastries or dried pineapple rings!  We asked him if he knew why lizards do the push-up routine and he thought it was something to do with depth perception since their eyes were on the sides of their heads.

Climbing up again, we stopped a few miles later for lunch and realized how slow and distracted we were that day.  The next 8 or 9 miles seemed to go on forever and we kept thinking we were further than we actually were due to the crazy switchbacks.  I kept thinking how terrible it would be to be on a horse through that section when a few times I could only fit one foot on the trail – not both together…so how is a large horse supposed to fit four?

Beautiful, sweeping views went everywhere and I felt like I was in a plane looking down and the square town areas so far below.  A few times the entire ridge became so narrow that it might have stretched 10 feet wide total.

We ran into Gypsy Girl and Hamburger who decided to hike sobo back to the highway.  Gypsy had thrown away her trail runners that fell apart after 150 miles and got on the sandal train, going with the Tevas.  Later on, we ran into Dead Animal and Shags also sobo-ing and we circled up with a nice 24 oz Mickey’s that Dead Animal had packed up.

Finally, we got to the stream which flowed magnificently and cooked dinner.  Gut Feeling, Sunset, and Knees stumbled up later, overjoyed because they had run dry on the last stretch.  We hiked on two more miles to saddle junction over a few patches or snow here and there.  It said on a huge sign not to camp in the saddle, so we hiked up a hundred yards or so and camped there.

We managed to get going fairly early but our legs didn’t want to climb two more 1000 foot climbs.  Plus, you know it’s going to be hot when you’re in a tank top, shorts, and sandals going through snow patches at 9000 ft,  at 7:30 a.m.

The water sources for five miles flowed excellently.  The problem: six of them in five miles, then 20 miles dry. We knew we weren’t going to do 27 miles that day, so we loaded up, cooked lunch, then headed down the trail for the last two bumps and then a whopping 8,000 ft descent.  We met Wildflower and Nips having lunch who mentioned that Mellow Yellow had somehow gotten behind me, which made me laugh.

Beginning the descent, we were excited until the switchbacks made it seem like we weren’t going anywhere.  It seemed like whoever made the trail just made you see one view, then walk a ways to the other view, then back and forth, back and forth.  At times, I felt like I was walking in circles, not actually going down.  Then the damn plants!  There is one suuuuper prickly one that just hurts and scrapes you up something fierce!  It has pretty flowers from a light blue to light violet to make you think it’s nice, then it just scratches you endlessly.

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We found a campsite a little after mile 200 to cowboy.  In the morning, we were both up by 5:30 a.m.

“I slept like shit,” Hop-a-long said.

“You took the words right out of my mouth,” I said.

“Every time I rolled over, something went numb,” she said.

“I couldn’t breathe out of my nose and I was too hot,”  I replied.

At 6:20 we left and ten minutes into the morning I already saw a snake.  Great.  We had a few thousand more feet to stumble down.  I found Andrew the Australian with only 200 ml of water left and I gave him half a liter to drink since he looked desperate.  About half way down I heard buzzzzzzz buzzzzzzz. Shit! Bees! Run! We bolted down the trail from the large amount of bees in a rock by the trail.

The water faucet at the dirt road was a welcome sight and our knees were overjoyed not to descend anymore.  A security guy named Bob drove his truck up.  “Any ya’ll get stung by bees today?”

“No…” was the answer from me, Hop-a-long, Andrew the Australian, and Ninja.

“Oh good! Those bees up there are Africanized and aggressive.  A hell of a lotta hikers got stung yesterday!”

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Exhausted, we all passed out quickly with a meet time of something like 9am…nice and late the next day, not packed up, just having eaten breakfast.  We didn’t quite have a day off, but we kinda did.

Christian and Andy threw the ball in our court again and let us continue to plan out the rest of our ration period which took awhile to hear everyone’s opinions on what we should do and where we should go.  They left us to argue it through for an hour or so.  Eventually we came to sort of a consensus with questions to be clarified and we brought them back over to check out our super baller plan.

In the end we decided to try one of the instructors’ ideas to do a “solo” first since the time reached closer toward noon and none of us felt like hiking super far that afternoon.  Basically, we spread out in a few places where the instructors knew where we were and we had a vague idea where the next person down was.  Then we could do anything we wanted within reason in that little area and we would sleep there as well.  Luckily, the night appeared clear and it did not choose to freakishly precipitate on us, sending us all running back to the tents before our sleeping bags got soaked.

Some cool moss by my solo area

Some people chose to fast for 24 hours of the solo; I chose not to because I’d fasted before and I just get super irritable, plus I was hungry to begin with and I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire.  Once I picked my spot, I located the most sheltered space to sleep between two trees a little higher up on the bank to give me a better view of the valley.  I poked around and found a giant widow maker hanging precariously suspended and made sure I was not in it’s line of fire.

The rest of the day, I snacked, caught up on my journal, did some yoga, lounged about lazily, and waited for dark to sleep.  Nothing too revolutionary.

After sleeping in peacefully, I lounged some more, then wandered back into camp and worked on starting breakfast.  Conveniently, Heather, JD, and I got there about the same time and all of us were hungry, per usual.

When everyone who had fasted had a solid lunch and a bit of time to digest it, we set off hiking up the valley in two groups with the instructors hiking well ahead of us.  We had a nice little track back up the main Ahuriri Valley.  Fortunately for us, we had also already hiked a large chunk of the path two days before when we emerged from our bushwhack from hell, so we knew the track well and we strolled a lot of it.  Once we passed that point, we still had a few kilometers to go, but we had a track the whole way so it did not require a large amount of mental capacity.  We did have to cross the river twice and for that we did have to stop and look for the best place to cross and jump into train position.

It had started to drizzle rain, enough to put on a shell, but not enough to become too bothered by it.  When we got to the hut, we met in our separate groups, then set about cooking dinner.  JD, Heather, James and I ended up staying in the hut because none of us stayed in the last hut and it conveniently had four beds.  While Heather and Ryan planned out the next day’s route plan, I baked us some cornbread for lunch so we wouldn’t deplete our small snack supply too quickly at the beginning of the ration like the last week.

The next day, we planned on heading pretty far up the valley to camp a ways below the pass we needed to cross into the South Branch of the Temple Valley.  As we began walking, we followed the track for a ways until it petered out.  Our basic plan was to follow the river up the valley until the x on the map, making sure to be on river right when we hit the quick elevation gain because the terrain would get significantly more difficult on river left.

Our only obstacle until then was a large patch of matagouri that we pushed through getting all kinds of new scrapes.  Thank you pants.  For once, I was happy not to have shorts on.  We ended up having to cross the river several times which always took a decision moment or a few.  Our feet became perpetually wet and cold for the rest of the day which irked me, but was not quite as bad as it usually got just because we weren’t traveling fast or far.

The last crossing before the elevation gain was a little sketchy, but we managed it well and continued to follow something like a herd path higher up.  It became exceedingly tedious at times and James’ ankle started bugging him from the previous day’s leap over a braid in the river.  We slowed our pace and met up with the other group near the x on the map.

From there, we scouted the best campsite for the most wind protection.  After our mountaineering wind problems, we were not about to have that again if we could manage it.  We found one fairly quickly enough and set up camp as the wind picked up; our fears began to rise that we would have another night of shifts taking care of the tent.

We tried meeting as a group which worked for awhile until it began to snow on us and we retreated to our tents for the rest of the evening.

Waking up to about an inch and a half of fresh snow, some wind, and other mixed precipitation, most of us took a day off, but Haley, Ryan, and James went on a scouting day hike to check out our pass route for the next day.  Heather, JD, and I continued our tent rummy game which reached into the rummy 1200s at that point.

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