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Posts Tagged ‘Snow Turtle’

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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We set off downhill with Natty and within five minutes I couldn’t feel my feet because the vegetation soaked my socks and the temperature barely reached above freezing.  I found myself staring at my feet to make sure they went where my brain told them to go because I could not really feel them well.  Scout shot downhill first and Hop and Natty got a few switchbacks ahead of me.

A few of the switchbacks were not only wet and slick, but very steep with some sketchy obstacles to maneuver over.  For several miles, this continued until we popped out on a newly constructed, nice bridge over Milk Creek.  Many creeks coming out of glaciers are named “milk” due to the sediment coming out of the glacier turning the water a white color.  This one, however, seemed pretty clear to us.

We had another long, steep set of switchbacks that went on for over two miles of trail in about a third of a mile as the birds flew.  The grade was just mellow enough that we could plug it out with stopping for breaks, but when we hit the top, we all stopped for a super early lunch.

Not only were we hungry, but we found a sweet rock overlook where we could dry out all of our wet crap and sit in the sun like lizards absorbing the warmth of the sun.  About half an hour into our basking, up pops Knees who seemed surprised to see us.

“You zero’ed at the Dinsmore’s didn’t you?” Natty chided, since Knees had a flight deadline in Seattle.

“Yeeeeeah,” Knees replied as he removed his food bag.  “I have a flight out on the 7th in Seattle, so I have to finish before 11am on the 6th.”

“I knew you would zero when I saw you heading over to play croquet with Major Upchuck and Bounce Box with a 12 pack!” Natty exclaimed.

“Yeah.  I did a 39 mile day yesterday to make up for it.  I’m not stopping in Stehekin, so that should save me time,” Knees replied relatively confident.

“Do you have enough food?” I asked skeptically eying his not huge food bag.

“Yeah,” he said lifting it to test it’s weight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEventually, we left our warm rocks for the colder, windy contours which bounced up and down hopping over small streams with sweeping views of the valley running parallel below and a glaciated peak to above.  After walking over two ridges up there, the trail plunged back down to cross the Suiattle River.

This river had caused quite a bit of debate on the PCT Facebook page of whether to take the old PCT which was an unmaintained trail to a giant log crossing the river, or to take the new, maintained PCT to a freshly built bridge.  Seems like an easy answer, right?  Wrong.  The new PCT added five miles.  When you’re low on food and tired from the rugged terrain, five extra miles is a little much.

We got to the junction and veered right onto the old PCT taking our chances since we had multiple confirmations that the log still existed and the old path was indeed faster despite being unmaintained as long as you did not get lost.  Easy enough, right?

Between the four of us, we could find the trail fairly easily as we climbed the obstacle course of blowdowns.  Eight eyes proved

Suiattle Log

Suiattle Log

incredibly more useful than two.  We found our way through the muck at the bottom of the hill and popped out on a gravel bar, hearing a high, raging river.  We followed some cairns and neon green bandana’s from Shrek’s house and found the log no problem.  The water looked cold.  And unfriendly.  We decided butt scooting across was our safest bet.  Scout went first and got over ok.  I went next followed by Natty and Hop-a-long.  It was surprisingly more straining than expected.

At the other end of the log, we had to shimmy up some slippery sand quickly before it gave way under our feet to the trees.  Once across, we had the challenge of finding the trail again because the old PCT was nowhere to be seen.  Mouse had written a note on the Facebook page to not bother trying to find it and just bushwhack up the hill and we’d run into it.  Sounded easy enough.  The map showed that should happen as well.

The hillside went straight up, the ground was soft, and the vegetation was thick, but sure enough, after about 10 or 15 minutes, we came to the trail which was so nicely maintained and obvious.  We rejoiced at our success and began climbing anew.

We all seemed to get a second wind climbing this hill, probably from our exhilaration crossing the log and climbing over all the other giant dead trees.  The climb had two parts to it separated by a half mile or so of flat-ish stuff.  Once we hit the flat stuff, we knew we were close to a marked campsite near a stream.  Of course, it was dark and we found many more streams than were marked on the map and data book.  Once we found it, we saw how obvious it was and found great, large, flat spots to sleep.

Setting up immediately, we wondered if Knees was in front or behind it since he hauled out away from our rock drying spot.  We settled in for a blisteringly cold night, waking up to frost and a deep cold and Natty yelling at us to get up at 5:45am.

At least we had almost three more miles of solid uphill to warm us up slightly since the we seemed to stay in the shade the whole time.  I remembered the desert and how much I missed trees then.  I found it ironic that I missed the desert in that moment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANearing the top, we ran into a very encouraging note written in sticks and moss, “-100” it said referring to 100 miles left to Canada.  The climb seemed to drag on that morning due to the cold, but eventually, we crested the top, getting a great views.  Even more exciting, we had basically 20 miles of downhill to High Bridge where we had to catch a shuttle bus to Stehekin at 6pm.  Of course there are always a few bumps.

We took a break right in the middle of the trail at the first solidly sunny spot we could find, ate, and let the sun warm us.  Half way through the break, none other than Knees showed up!  He had taken the new PCT and crashed out not far behind us.  We all walked on for a few more hours, then stopped for lunch.

“So Veggie,” Knees said as I sat down, “I was examining my food bag after you questioned the amount of food in it and was hoping I could give you four $20 toward a town-beer fund to empty the remaining contents of your food bags.  After lunch, all of us did just that and piled up the little extra bits, halves of tortillas, peanut butter scrapings and emergency, super smashed bars.

With that, Knees buzzed off and we set off slower.  Eventually, we came to an overlook about five miles out or so and spotted a wildfire on the adjacent ridge shooting up billowing black smoke with an occasional tree going completely up in flames.  The four of us sat down, leaned against our packs and watched hiker television for at least half an hour.

We then made the final push to High Bridge and sat at the picnic table bus stop waiting desperately for the bus to take us to food. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A super retro, awesome looking bus showed up and took us right into town where we immediately ran into the restaurant before it closed and found Snow Turtle and Agassi.

“Agassi has been watching every incoming bus for hikers,” Snow Turtle laughed.  Neither of them had seen Natty in several hundred miles.

Right after we ordered food, we realized that we may have missed our beer window at the store.  We rushed over and inquired about beer and a room and they reopened the store so we could load up (thanks Knees!) and grab a room.  While it was probably the most expensive room we got the whole trail, it was certainly the nicest, largest, and warm since it was supposed to be another freezing night.

We had a lazy morning, sleeping in, getting our resupply packages, bumming the employee wi-fi to send a few emails since there was no cell service what-so-ever, and sitting at the bakery for three hours consuming as much as humanly possible.  That was a damn good bakery.

Catching the 3pm bus back to the trail, we eventually got moving slowly, stuffed to the brim with full stomachs and food bags.

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After more awesome trail magic, detailed in “Pass the Beer“, we set off up the hill…it’s always up after town and full stomachs.  Hop-a-long, Scout, and I got going after lunch and planned to make it eight miles to the first campsite at Ridge Lake, a solid climb of around 2,500 ft later.

The mountains changed south of highway 90 at Snoqualmie Pass, and north of the highway.  They became more rugged, remote, and more scenic.  The most difficult sections are always the most beautiful.  They shot straight up to the sky, then dove furiously down into a valley; and let me tell you, there were many valleys in this section.  The PCT tried to contour as usual, but the contours were wrought with rocks and changed elevation quite frequently for contours.

We passed Magellan on the climb who seemed to be moving slower than normal, but ok.  He said he ate too much before leaving.  That food truck next to the gas station was dangerously enticing for thru-hikers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe top of the climb ended in a tiny pass where we made a short hop over to the other side of the ridge, looking at the sunset in one direction, and a beautiful array of clouds in the other direction.

Those beautiful, mysterious clouds that we stared at began moving in quicker and quicker until we could barely see more than twenty feet in front of us and we almost missed the tiny ridge lake that we sought.  It lay in a saddle on a rather small ridge.  Scout scouted out the best campsite in no time and no more questions were asked about how he received his trail name and we set up in the mist of the cloud that blocked the sun and sent shivers into our bones.

While we ate dinner, we saw a headlamp moving slowly through the fog, scanning the area, but unable to see much, so we called out and directed it toward our campsite.  It turned out to be Magellan, grateful for flat ground and dinner time.

The morning brought much of the same.  We had camped inside a cloud, with its lack of visibility and all of it’s moisture.  None of us wanted to get out of our nice, cozy sleeping bags.  When we did, we found the trail again through the intense fog and headed onward to Canada.

Amazingly, after we left the saddle and made it a little way up the ridge, the fog went away giving us an amazing view of the valley OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfilled with clouds while the ridge tops glowed in the morning light.  It really hit us that we had truly been inside a very small micro-climate the night before.

Compared to the long, steady climb that we accomplished the day before, the next eight miles seemed to drag on forever.  The trail shot up and down over ridge passes, shale, trees, wind, calm, all with a chill making it very difficult to keep the right layer system on and not sweat too much.

We took a break looking mostly into fog, but every few minutes, the fog would thin, giving an eerie glimpse of a jagged peak jutting upward from the ridge.  Our breaks did not last long or we would become too cold, so we kept moving.  At the top of the last ridge before a several mile descent, we caught a bit of sun and dried out our rain flies, grabbing a bite to eat.

The downhill seemed glorious, partially because we could hike easily with only one layer on.  A waterfall cascaded down across the trail and we crossed a small bridge and filled up on some delicious tasting fresh water and grabbed more to eat.  Already the afternoon, we kept trucking to the bottom of the valley, only to climb another long slog up to another large ridge.

In about half a mile as the birds fly, the PCT managed to fit six miles of switchbacks to cut the steep grade down.  I could not bring myself to count the switchbacks, because that would just be depressing, but cranked some tunes and enjoyed the increasingly better view the further I climbed.

We all stopped for a snack on top of the ridge and Snow Turtle and Agassi came walking up.  Somewhere we had passed them while they ate lunch off trail.  This particular ridge stayed fairly level for about a mile or so and we meandered along passing many small tarns and very damp ground.  All at odds of how far we wanted to go, we all stopped in different places, ironically, within a mile of each other.

I found a sweet spot with a great view over the next valley that fit my tent perfectly.  It was much easier to get up the next morning to a brightly colored sunrise instead of dense fog.  The four mile descent was still freezing because the sun had not yet hit the valley floor, just the ridge tops.  I leap-frogged Snow Turtle and Agassi all day up and down, up and down.

We passed Cathedral Rock and I pondered the creativity of the early explorers and mountain men who seemed to lack originality in their naming devises.  I understand the whole “wilderness as a church” thing, but not every mountain that has a few spires needs to have some religious crap attached to it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAgain, we hiked down off the ridge, passed Deception Lake which reflected a perfect mirror image of the trees surrounding it.  I decided to continue on a little further until I got tired and ended up camping in Deception Pass which was surprisingly thin compared to the last several passes we’ve gone though.  I found a great one-tent spot and set up shop.

In the morning, I ate breakfast with Lush and Man Party who decided to speed up to finish.  Apparently, Challenger was waiting with Only A Test’s car for them at Stevens Pass with their resupply so they could all hike out together.  Snow Turtle and Agassi passed through too and had a “you’re from Mississippi too!” moment and then kept hiking.  They said that Hop-a-long and Scout had gotten to Deception Lake the night before.

The five of us eventually set off, leap frogging through some more very annoying bumps, one of which was incredibly steep, despite obvious attempts at switch backs.  I definitely had to blast the iPod to get up that one.

We all ran into some incredibly nice older people out for a day hike who lounged in the sun.  We wanted to join them but food and beer called our names with only a few more miles to go.  Everyone seemed to have underestimated food through this section and were either running on empty or the scraps of what they had, but really did not want to eat.  The trail difficulty had surged our already large appetites into over drive.

Stevens Pass came after we dove down the ski resort and found Challenger and Only A Test who gave us beer and soda while we waited for Dead Animal who had been there, but got a call from Hop-a-long and Scout who had taken a side trail down skipping several miles of the end due to lack of food and ended up somewhere random on the side of highway 2 between Stevens Pass and Skykomish.

Clown car piling in, all of us made it down to the diner and motel for a large meal.  We went to the Dinsmore’s to grab our resupply packages and say hi to those there, but wanted a bed, so we ended up with rooms instead.  None other than Bounce Box and Major Upchuck seemed to rule to roost inspiring some good old drinking and croquet.

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We woke up in a cloud on top of a ridge.  This particular cloud seemed to create its own weather system that could not exactly be classified as rain nor mist; neither could it be written off as water falling off of trees from the breeze.  Definitely wet and cold enough, I kept my shell on and attempted not to sweat quite so much, but without much of a pack, I found it hard not to fly through miles.

Dead Animal could meet us at around 10 mile increments on various logging roads that he figured out.  Hop-a-long, Scout, and I set off for the first chunk, cold and slightly wet.  Hop took an early lead and her legs got soaked the worst from brushing up against the wet vegetation.  We bounced around the top of the ridge and noticed just how localized the weather situation was since we could see clearness in spurts to the east, while we could see nothing but white to the west.

I almost missed east coast rain for a few moments in that stretch, remembering how I sent my rain gear home somewhere in Pennsylvania on the AT because the rain was so warm it acted more like a free shower.  But then I remembered how frequently it rained and the general wetness and I appreciated the PCT a bit more.

We found Dead Animal just as planned and we all sat on mats eating lunch together and trying not to get cold from lack of movement.  Some fresh vegetables were most welcome from the cooler.  We took only an hour break trying not to lose what little motivation all of us possessed and set off on another 10ish mile chunk.  I threw some tunes on at that point to distract my mind from focusing on the crappy weather when eventually I ran into a sobo section hiker who exclaimed amazingly over the drone of my headphones,

“TRAIL MAGIC FIVE MILES AHEAD!” and scampered south.  Instantly excited and newly motivated I sped up and caught Hop-a-long who laughingly told me he came up on her taking a pee on the side of the trail.  They talked in the process.  Only. On. Trail.

We surged ahead completely missing a supposedly major landmark of a weather station just off trail with an outhouse.  Halfmile even made a GPS marking called “Out House.”

Hitting the road, we saw PCT trail bandanas strung up like Buddhist prayer flags across the trail and a large tarp over a circle of chairs filled with a barbecue, cooler, and entertaining beverages.  Stumbling Norwegian and Honey Bee welcomed us, gave us comfortable chairs, and placed hot food in our hands.  Heaven on a rainy day.  Dead Animal was there brewing up some delicious hot chocolate.

Before I knew it, Hop-a-long had found the best beverage there, something Stumbling Norwegian and Honey Bee only called “Tasty Goodness” and she dumped some in my hot chocolate.

We caught back up to Snow Turtle and Agassi who had a good bit of tasty goodness and spent a good deal of the afternoon enjoying it.  Blood Bank had the longest stay record that day doing a long 0.7 mile from the weather station down to the road and staying there.  Scout got there about fifteen minutes later and came up with the biggest grin on his face that matched every other thru-hiker’s.  Two section hikers also had holed up there who were local-ish Washington boys, one of which was having quite a bit of fun convincing Agassi to drink more.

I totally meant to get further to make a half day in town with my mom and aunts, but the trail magic was way too awesome and the weather was way too shitty.  From there, I would have to make 18 miles before 1pm, our agreed meeting time.  After several hot chocolates with Tasty Goodness and later some root beer vodka, I decided staying was a much better option.

Right before dinner, Knees showed up who Hop-a-long, Dead, and I had not seen since Wrightwood (mile 368).  It was great to catch up with him for a bit.  Tahoe rolled in late as well as Straw, Willie, and Magellan.

The trail magic came at such a perfect time and turned around my whole attitude after the rain.  I didn’t even care if I had to make miles the next morning.

I managed to wake myself up at 5am and leave by 6am with my new-found motivation from the trail magic and motivation of mom-made baked goods at the end.  I shot up hill, saw Snow Turtle and Agassi’s makeshift camp spot, just far enough up that they wouldn’t be tempted to wait and stay around for breakfast.

The miles were not as hard as they had been and I was able to cruise my way around the bumps through the mud.  I went hard for the first 10 miles and then stopped to stuff half of a large bag of chips down my throat thinking that should give me at least 600 calories or so to make it to delicious cookies and brownies.

The route down to Snoqualmie Pass was fine until I was about 4 miles out and all the day hikers were hiking up and I moved against traffic, having to give them the right of way.  A few stopped me and asked me the usual questions which I was really not in the mood to answer since food was so close.

I made it to the ski area and decided that running down the ski slope was much faster than taking the trail all the way to the road and I plunged down it.  I laughed as I walked down it thinking only that Vail’s bunny hill was steeper than that.

I found my mom and two aunts who had found Dead Animal, Pinky, Sticks, and Ahab.  Delicious beer made it into one hand and a large helping of vegan brownie in the other and I was happy.  We decided to hobo it up in the parking lot, all sitting right down over a few parking spots in the back, drinking and eating.  Eventually, the rest of the pack at the other trail magic made it to my mom’s trail magic and we had quite a posse drinking in a parking lot.  Classy.

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Since we had gone straight day after day of long hauls from Timberline Lodge, we decided to take a half day out of White Pass, partly because Dead Animal cooked us such a huge breakfast that we had to lay back down to digest it.  We lounged about, trying to find more things to pack and repack and more and more things to eat.  A thru-hiker always has room to eat food to avoid carrying it.

Eventually, Dead kicked us out of his campsite on Leech Lake and we set off uphill through an amazing amount of horse shit probably due to the close proximity of a horse campground and Mt. Rainier.  Only half an hour in, we found Caveman and Slosher sitting on their packs.  They told us their sad tale of having to bypass the Mt. Adams fire that had choked our lungs and dried out our noses.  The hitch was not easy on a road seldom used and took them all the way into Portland, then it involved a train and a bus.  They had spent an entire zero day in transit around the fire and had to miss Goat Rocks because they could not get to the dirt road that Dead Animal had found Hop-a-long and me on.

After we caught up, we all plugged on up and over the long slog of a hill.  Hop-a-long had gotten ahead of me and managed to stop exactly when I wanted a break too and there we found none other than Snow Turtle and Agassi! We had not seen them since Ashland and had followed their footprints for just over 500 miles.  Some of that time we knew we were only hours behind them, their footprints so fresh and clear.

We all pressed on after getting some delicious swampy lake water.  Of course, just after we bothered to treat it and headed out, an unmarked stream surged by under a broken bridge.  The trail would mock us for getting crappy water when better water ran not too far down the path.

Eventually, we surged downhill toward the Bumping River Ford.  The name really said it all and when Hop-a-long and I looked at it, we only found a rather difficult rock hop and log shimmy that had a nice sketchy area right in the middle.  At that point, my stomach took over and I waded right through the icy water hoping my sandals would not freeze overnight.  Hop took the route of gyrations and managed to maneuver it well enough to stay dry.

Great campsites laid right off the trail.  We picked our spots and settled in for the night listening to the water soothe us to sleep.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy sandals definitely did not dry by the morning, but they did not freeze.  I saw this as a positive start to the day.  I had packed up a little before Hop-a-long and set off to a nice morning climb of 2,000 feet to the top of a beautiful ridge where the trail danced around the boundary of Mt. Rainier National Park.

On the climb, I began hearing the strangest noises which I had never heard before.  Pausing to listen, a great big bull elk with gigantic antlers ran away from me about 40 yards ahead with his harem of female elks.  Then I remembered Agassi and Snow Turtle telling me it was elk mating season and to stay away from the bull elks.

Their mating call had guttural grunt sounds followed immediately by a high-pitched whistle sound.  You could certainly hear it for quite a long way, I will give them that.

Hop-a-long caught me at the top of the climb gazing at Mt. Rainier through more smoke.  We passed two side trails closed for forest fires as we meandered down the other side of the ridge.  The smoke hovered around the base of Rainier giving it the illusion of floating on top of the land.

Dead Animal had said he would meet us at road 471 if it was open around lunch time and we pushed to get there, motivated by our stomachs.  A few miles out, he came hiking toward us with good old PBRs.  They don’t give that blue ribbon to just any beer!  It hit the spot.

The three of us passed Dewey Lake which reflected it’s surroundings like a mirror with its glass-like surface.  Before long, we were at the parking lot and cutting up peppers and onions to saute on the Colman stove Dead had in the car.  We began eating as much as possible again while Snow Turtle and Agassi joined us.

After a long break, we climbed anew.  The higher we went, the less people we saw.  Just how we like it.  Hop-a-long and I took a breather by yet another Sheep Lake and looked at our sleeping options for the night.  Much too early to stop, the next guaranteed campsite was 8.5 miles further and we seemed to contour ridges the whole way there intersecting many other side trails coming up from the valleys below.

We decided to take our chances and try to camp in whatever saddle we hit around dark o’clock.   The trail stayed high and exposed with sheer drops down to the valley.  Maybe only a foot wide, we kept our eyes ahead and followed the lines of the hills where the trail took us.  Hop-a-long stopped in a saddle and we scoped it out.  We found two spots, but nothing ideal.  The sun had set and dark rolled in blanketing the contours.

Cooking and chatting, we watched a forest fire on the ridge directly across from us and the last helicopter dump water on it before night.  When the stars came out, the fire shone brighter and we saw whole trees flare up brightening the area so well we could see the contents of the valley between the flames and our camp spot for the night.

The morning took us up and down contouring and contourin,g finding a path high in the hills.  At the marked campsite that we did not reach the night before, we found Scout, a thru-hiker neither of us had met before and he joined us.  We all hiked together and chatted when the trail did not climb steeply until we hit Urich Camp.

A snowmobile cabin, we went inside and sat on benches which was a nice comfort and change of pace.  It had one of few PCT trail

Plaque outside of the cabin

Plaque outside of the cabin

logs and we all read the whole thing, writing our own notes at the end.  We still took long middle of the day breaks left over from breaking the desert heat at the beginning of the trail.

When we eventually cruised on, we passed many small logging roads, snowmobile trails, and a large burned area.  The dead trees still stood tall, but brilliant, bright green and red underbrush had gotten a solid foot hold.

Then, up in the distance, we saw a bright blue Neon and saw Dead parked on the side of a larger, well-kept logging road.  He gave us giant apples, the size of two fists put together and beer.  He took it as a challenge that Tahoe’s 76 year old friend was going to figure out the logging roads, so he did too.

We decided to have him slackpack us a few more miles to the last logging road he could get to and we’d find a campsite out of something.  When we finally got moving on that plan, we watched the weather start to turn and the smell of rain filled our noses.

As we crossed through the mess the logging companies left, we watched the fog and drizzle come up over the ridge from the west and plunge off the other side into the valley to the east.  It surged with such intensity that I thought the fog would reach all the way down to the stream below, but it disappeared into thin air not long over the ridge.

We found tolerable campsites off the side of the road where we were not getting too wet.  On the plus side of the rain, it cleared the smoke out of the air which sent all of us into coughing fits occasionally.  It gave us a few days respite.  However, my motivation decreases dramatically in the rain.

Small burned area

Small burned area

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Hop-a-long and I raced down the 3500 ft drop to the Post Office to get our packages before it closed at 1pm.  Whoever we camped near was still asleep when we left.

Plugging along, as soon as the descent began, we saws the fire on the other side of the canyon sending up an enormous amount of smoke and covering quite a large area.  We walked down seemingly straight toward it.  It switchbacked downward for the most part, but definitely still made my knees hurt a bit, so I had to go a bit slower.

I found Hop-a-long at the Belden Town “Resort” which pretty much consisted of the entire town minus the “Post Office/Museum” and a small convenience store/RV park about 2 miles down the road.  She had found Trooper, Cowboy, and Tracks eating breakfast, so we joined them and before long Snow Turtle, Aggassi, Swanson, Bird, and Freebird joined us.

Immediately, the forest service began telling us our options.  Their first spiel went something like this: the PCT is closed between Hwy 70 (Belden) and Hwy 36 (Chester) due to the Chips Fire.  All the side trails in the vicinity connecting the two highways are also closed.  The fire started small but has grown.  It was human caused and is only 10% contained.  Option 1: walk Caribou Rd up to the end and take a bike path to Hwy 89 and walk/hitch to Hwy 36, then walk/hitch to the trail crossing.  Option 2: walk/hitch Hwy 70 16 miles to Hwy 89 for 36 miles, then walk/hitch 5 miles to the trail.

We sorted through food, blogged, snagged a shower from Funk and Troopers cabin, and drank some beer while we mulled over our two options.  In the process of drinking beer on the porch, the forest service came back over in a panic mode and told us not to hike up Caribou road because the fire had spread that way and they were going to evacuate all the campgrounds and RV park.

If we had to hitch it, we definitely weren’t going anywhere that evening to get stuck on one of those sides of the roads.

That night, we all crammed into one cabin: Funk, Trooper, Cowboy, Shep Dog, Chef, Pocahontas, Hop-a-long, Dead Animal, and I.  In the morning, the fire had spread even more and had dumped ashes all over the deck.

Dead and I began hitching right outside of Belden Town and got a ride down to the corner store from the Post Office lady, but then were stuck there for five hours.

During that five hours, pretty much only forest service people passed who can’t pick anyone up in a government vehicle.  We got talked to by several of them ascertaining that we weren’t trying to walk through, and then by the cops.  One of the cops pulled the dick cop move of questioning us about who all was ahead of us in that cop tone with his arms crossed and his sunglasses on in the shade.

“So you don’t know who was a day or two ahead of you?” He asked for a last time.

“No, I caught everyone I knew directly ahead of me in Belden,” I replied.

“You didn’t see any non thru hikers? Like around midnight?” He kept at it.

“No…its not uncommon to night hike though.”

Grunts, “you know you have to hitch around to Chester?”

“Yeah, but we’ve been standing here for 4 hours…wanna give us a ride at least to the next road?” I asked annoyed that by talking to us cars wouldn’t even think of pulling over.

“We have to go to Belden Town. Sure you didn’t see anyone?”

I’m sorry, I thought cops were supposed to help people.  My bad.  All those taxpayer dollars.  I may not be a resident of California, but I’ve sure spent enough money in your broke ass state in the last three months for a 16 mile ride.

Eventually, one of the cooks at Belden Town took pity on us since he had some time before work, turned around and picked Dead Animal and me up and subsequently Cowboy and Shep Dog down the road since they gave up on hitching and began walking.  Hwy 70 was a very dangerous road to walk on: curvy, no shoulder, and high speeds.

“If I’m late, I’ll just tell him I drove hikers to the next road. You guys give us a lot of business, they won’t care,” he said.

He dropped us off at the “Y” of Hwy 70 and Hwy 89 where a bus was supposed to make a non route stop there on the way to Chester if hikers were there.  We had 20 minutes to spare, so we threw our thumbs out in case anyone would take us sooner when Joe picked us up in his truck.  A former Navy guy who now fixed appliances kindly drove us all the way to a Chinese restaurant in Chester.

There, we found Heehaw, Kristo, and Swiss Army who were the last ones to make it through the walking detour.  I inhaled two lunch specials.

As Dead and I wandered around, a blue truck came up and rolled down the window, “Do you guys need a ride anywhere?  We’re looking for hikers to help.”

“We need to charge our phones, but we’ll be done in an hour,” Dead said.

“Ok, we’ll be back here for you then!” She said.

And they were, Ron and Karen came back and drove us to the trail where PipersMom had left trail magic coolers.

We got back and hiked to the first water.  All the same suspects were there listening to Kristo and Heehaw play guitars except Hop-a-long, Funk, and Trooper who got later rides and didn’t make it that far that night.  Overall, it worked out, but mostly sucked because the half-way point was burning.

On the pct-l, reports have been coming in over the Chip’s Fire explosion and saying it’s going nuts, there are more evacuations and Hwy 70 will probably soon close.

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We got into Sierra City after a long, drown out descent.  At the road, Hop-a-long and I hitched a ride with 1/2 of the Red Moose Inn, trail angel Bill.  He gave us a ride there, we dropped our packs, and ran across the street to the General Store where we had sent resupply boxes.  Several bags of chips and soda later, we went back to the Red Moose and enjoyed the most awesome resupply help from Margrette and Bill.  They let us have free showers, laundry and $1 cheap beers.

A huge crowd had become sucked into the vortex.  G, Splinter, Inspector Gadget, Snow Turtle, Aggassi, and Swanson had all gotten there 9:30am the morning before and were still there.  Other suspects included: Hollywood, Chow Down, Lorax, Chimney Sweep, Dr. Huss, Dancing Feet, Not-so-bad, Drop Zone, and Scallywag.  It was Scallywag’s birthday, so naturally, we all celebrated quite a bit.

Hop-a-long and I worked hard to have our first “in and out” trail resupply, so we whipped through showers, laundry, and eating as much as possible, which included dinner at the Red Moose.  The only people to make it back to the trail that afternoon were Snow Turtle, Aggassi, Swanson, Splinter, Dancing Feet, Not-so-bad, Hop-a-long and I, yet the two of us only managed to get out at dark and night hike to a nice flat spot that we found off of a switch back, not more than a mile out.

We got up early and went for it to knock out a 3,000 odd foot climb up to the crested buttes that we looked directly up at from Sierra City.  Since there was no 1200 mile mark, we stopped and created one.  Three miles up, the trail began a giant upward contour instead of switchbacking.  That’s where we found Dancing Feet and Not-so-bad barely awake.

Once up and over, we began to hit side trail after side trail and a shit ton of jeep 4×4 roads as we went from ridge to ridge.  At one point, we came across three jeeps blocking the entire trail as they figured out how to get one unstuck from the bottom of a hill.

“Excuse me, sir?  Do you know you are parked on the PCT?  A footpath. No motorized vehicles…” I said annoyed that they had kicked up enough dust to line the insides of all our lungs.

In a dirty, grumblely voice, “you can walk right there,” pointing to scrub bushes around his 7 mpg jeep that was destroying the environment.

I threw them as many dirty looks as I could and kept walking.  Due to all the dirt roads, many day walkers were out and about the whole damn day.

After having to get gross ass water from Summit Lake, the A Tree spring tasted fantastic, although, the Sawyer Squeeze filter worked fantastic and I was definitely glad to have it.  Aquamira-ing that would have sucked, especially since all around the lake was a marshy mess.

We ate dinner and then kept hiking to where Yogi mentions we should “descend to a spot with some campsites – good water” at mile 1225.  Yeah, Yogi lied.  Both of our headlamps were starting to die, for some reason there were a ton of blowdowns and we neared the end of a 27 mile day tripping everywhere.  At 10pm, we knew we were half a mile further than where she said the flat spot would be and had seen nothing the whole time, so we called it and camped right smack in the middle of the trail.  Our logic was that the only person behind crazy enough to night hike past us was G and he would find it hilarious and no one would be up before us.

No one ended up passing us, but we found Snow Turtle, Aggassi, and Swanson in semi-flat areas half a mile further.  We cruised along, up, and over and eventually ran into Splinter who had slept until about 10am or so and just starting out.

“How far did you get out of town?” Hop-a-long asked.

“Uhh 13.  I had a good buzz going and I just kept drinking and smoking cigarettes until it was 1am,” Splinter laughed.

When we got to the road with the water .3 off, Hop watched our stuff in the parking lot while Splinter and I got water.  On the way back, we saw Hop talking up some nice looking day walkers.  They ended up offering us each a beer which made our day!  While we sat there, the woman came running back with a coffee mug type thing and said, “We’re really bad hikers…I bring two of these every time and I only need one, so you guys can have this and leave the mug in the back of the truck.”

It was a frozen Piña Colada that tasted especially delicious and soooo refreshing.  We shared all of it with Snow Turtle, Aggassi, and Swanson when they came a few moments later.

We had motivation with that coursing through our system to get to what was described as the best swimming hole on trail at the Middle Fork of the Feather River.  It was indeed the best one yet: the water was a perfect temperature, there was a large rock perfectly submerged to sitting depth in the middle, there were campsites nearby, and someone had left a goggle face mask there! The 15 miles to get there after lunch was so worth it rounding us off at a 25 mile day and swimming by 8pm.

Hop-a-long and I got up early and prepared for a really long day in order to make the Belden Post Office hours which were severely limited to 9am-1pm Monday through Friday.  The entire long day, we pretty much climbed out from the river to the tallest ridge around.

We ran into Splinter again about 9 miles further by the last water for 8 miles.  After chatting and hanging out, he realized he did not have his headlamp and he left it where he slept some 3.5 miles back and down some 1500 ft at least.  He ended up going back for it.

Hop-a-long and I kept plugging and ran into Sea Hag and Robo Knee getting water before the last climb.  It wasn’t a bad climb, but we had climbed all day.  They ended up camping at the top of it while we kept going over the very bumpy ridge.

The two of us ate dinner by a side trail and Aggassi, Snow Turtle, and Swanson passed us.  I turned my phone on for the hell of it and Dead Animal had texted me, “fire north of Belden, trail closed.”

“Details?” I texted back.

“All I know is info in Belden Town Resort,” the text came back.

Well, it was north of Belden, so we proceeded with our plan to do a 30 mile day so we only had 9 miles down into town.  When we managed to get to the campsite just before 10pm, we found a tent there with someone asleep and we didn’t know who it was, so we snuck around and found something behind it and set up quietly wondering what the fire was about.

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