Monday, June 29, 2009

Highway 36 (Mom's house)

I got up really early by headlamp. I had a lot to do. I didn't know why, after having survived the deserts of southern California, but I was worried about the 13 mile stretch without water. I felt I had a lot to do to get ready for it. I needed to pack and I also needed to fill all my water bottles and make sure I took care of all water-related needs like teeth brushing before I left. I had the brilliant idea to make pudding in my cookpot and carry it with me carfully for an extra two cups of water. I put the pot in a ziplock and wrapped it in my warm hats to keep it cool. So I did all that while battling horrendous mosquito clouds and I was off down the trail by 5:45.

The hiking seemed relatively easy and my extra rest had done me good. Before I knew it, I had walked 7 miles in 2 hours. I don't usually walk that fast!

I ate my pudding at Humboldt Summit. I had not lost a drop in the morning's hike, and it was still cold and delicious. A car was parked at the trailhead. Maybe I would meet the owner.

The area around Humboldt Road surprised me. Before I had reached the road, I had been walking through interesting rock formations. It had reminded me of the area near Tahoe a little with mule ears blooming and rocky open areas along a crest. I could see Mt. Lassen in the distance looking larger all the time. I walked through interesting rock spires with vistas of mountains in front of me.

I ended up walking a semi-circular route all along the mountain crests that I could see from the hoodoos before Humboldt Summit. As I neared Butt Mountain, the last mountain of my route, I could see back to where I had come among the spires near Humboldt Road.

As I began the climb from the 6100 ft "lowest saddle" to the 7510 foot Butt Mountain turnoff, I looked up and saw Billy Goat headed my way. It turned out it was his car I had seen at the trailhead. He was nice enough to stop and talk to me a while. We talked a lot about food and how nice it is to be living out in nature. Billy Goat lives on the trail. I told him that I didn't feel that I needed to live on THIS trail to be happy. I had learned of so many interesting and beautiful places in my own backcountry on my journey from Santa Barbara to the PCT. I was looking forward to exploring those in the future. Any trail to live on would do, I figured. Amen to that, he said.

The climb to Butt Mountain was gentle and my two liters plus 20oz of water plus 2 cups of now-eaten pudding were lasting well. I skipped the water at Carter Meadow.

I met a section hiker going southbound who had climbed to the top of Butt Mountain. When I passed the turnoff I had a better idea of his accomplishment. It looked like a windswept, rocky crest surprisingly high in elevation.

I began the descent from Butt Mountain still unsure if I would make it to Highway 36. The trail went down forever. I was glad not to be walking up. I passed the halfway monument and stopped to read the trail registers. Not many of the thru-hikers this year had actually come up north this far. I figured that most of them managed to reach the High Sierra after the weather had improved and that most people would end up doing a regular thru hike. It was going to be lonely up here alone.

I finally reached Soldier Spring after beginning to worry I would run out of water. I drank some lemonade and decided it would be easy enough to complete the 3 or 4 remaining miles, although by now I was limping a little after rest breaks.

I descended through private property, clear-cuts and ranches, and at a sign that said 1.4 miles to the highway I called my mom on my phone to let her know I was almost there.

When I reached the highway, my mom and Lowell pulled into the parking area at exactly the same moment I walked off the trail.

They took me home where I washed my pure black feet and they fed me a delicious dinner. It looked like a zero day tomorrow since I had missed the post office today and I would need to deal with all my packages through to Ashland and also their own schedules. No problem. I felt I had earned it with a trip that spanned 24 mile, 30 mile, 19 mile and 27 mile days.

Here are pictures from this segment.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cold Spring at mile 1308.6

Someone whose trail journal I have followed (crow) says you can't find a place more disappointing than Belden. To me, it did not appear they had breakfast. It was only 6am when I went through, but there were no hours posted on the door and looking in the windows, it appeared the restaurant was more oriented around the bar anyway. I made my own breakfast and ate it on their patio. Then I set off for what I expected to be a long day of climbing.

The climbing began gently, then the trail seemed to become old. The tread was very steep, not like newer PCT tread. I thought I might not be on the PCT, but then Justin, a section hiker hiking from Old Station to Yosemite appeared. We talked for a while. He seemed like a nice young man. He was surprised by the lack of water in some places on the PCT. It wasn't like the AT, he said. I've heard that a lot from people. Plus the condition of the trail with so many sticks and such faint tread surprised him. I told him that almost nobody hiked this section of trail last year so that may be why the trail is almost nonexistent.

I stopped at one nice creek and dunked myself completely in the water. That felt nice. I stopped at another creek and ate like I had been starved for days. I found out that broccoli and peanut butter is a good combination. My snacks overall were woefully inadequate.

After my feast of a lunch, I continued upward. At almost 2pm I finally reached the top after a couple of false summits. That made for an 8 hour uphill slog. I was rewarded for my efforts with both Shasta and Lassen in view at the same time.

On the other side, going down from Frog Mountain, there were still some small patches of snow. A small sign pointed to Frog Spring, 200ft. I decided to visit the spring and take a rest. The spring was a delighful little creeklet bubbling right from the ground.

The trail went down for a little while, then leveled out. There were lots of fallen trees over the trail. Soon I found myself at the lower edge of a long, green meadow. I coul dhear a large, loud animal bellowing somewhere. It sounded like Chewbaka from Star Wars. Was it Bigfoot? It was very loud, but I decided it sounded much like cattle, although much louder and more destressful. I was headed for a cattle trough in a couple of miles so it made sense.

The trail went gradually uphill toward the cattle trough. I was dragging myself. So tired. When I reached it, it was called Cold Spring, and there was a parking area on unpaved Humbug Road nearby with people sitting near their cars. I sat down next to the spring and pulled out the cous-cous I had added water to earlier. It had "cooked" itself perfectly and made a tasty snack.

There was a camping spot next to the spring. I pondered whether to camp for the night so early. It was only 4pm. I was tired. This was the last water for 13 miles. But if I stopped now, that woul dmean 27 more miles to Highway 36. I could get back to mom's earlier if I got in a few more miles now. But I did have food for 5 days, so rushing was not necessary. I decided to take a long rest to think it over and try in the mean time not to let all the curious insects buzzing all around me not bother me too much.

In the end, I decided to stay at Cold Spring. The section hiker in me chose pleasure over pain, I guess.

I set up my tent so I could have refuge from the green and yellow bees that wouldn't leave me a lone, the giant ants that kept crawling up my pants, the small flies and the raging mosquito clouds. I made dinner and set it aside to cool and cook in its own heat, jumped in the tent, chased out the green and yellow bee that follwed me, then shut the door to my refuge from the bugs. Ahh. I could take off my hat and long sleeved shirt and socks and finally really rest. It has been so hard to rest on the trail. Anytime I've almost fallen asleep when trying to nap, ants have crawlen up my pant legs and woken me up.

My hope now was for a good rest that would have me sailing up to 7510 ft. Butt Mountain turnoff tomorrow.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Belden Equestrian Trailhead at mile 1288.6

I got going before 6am. But I kept stopping along the way for water, to eat breakfast, to drink, to snack. Still, I made good time and got to Buck's Summit a little after 10. It was about 11 miles to there.

I looked at the Data Book and Belden was about 12 or 14 miles away, but I didn't want to reach Belden tonight. My preference was to get close, camp out for free, and arrive in town in time for breakfast, if they had any. So my plan for the day was to not rush.

I thought I saw a bear. I saw some prints and then I heard a large animal flee through the brush. All I saw was the rounded, brown back of the animal bounding away. The animal was relatively quiet, especially compared to deer which seem to crash through the brush when the flee. I could hear its soft feet.

The forest was very pretty and lush. Large white flowers adorned the underbrush. Thimble berries were in bloom. Lots of small creeks and springs made getting water easy. Occasional open areas let me see the views. It was very solitary out here, too, walking a trail with few thru-hiker footprints and knowing almost none of the thru-hikers were out here this far ahead.

When I reached Buck's Summit there were horse trailers. I followed fresh horse poop and tracks. At Clear Creek I met the horses and mules and their two owners, two men out on a fishing/hunting trip. It looked like they were going to catch a big bottle of Crown Royal more than anything else. I sat and talked to them for a little while. They let me know about the lack of water between Clear Creek and Belden. I thanked them and then set off. My plan now was to find a nice spot to eat around 4pm and then continue on to a dirt road listed in the Data Book for my camp. The dirt road would hopefully be flat and allow me to avoid the long, steep drop into Belden.

The trouble was, there were few trees on this portion of the PCT and it was very hot out. I never did find the dirt road, or possibly I mistook what the Data Book was referring to. I expected to see a real trailhead or something. Instead, the trail was simply wide like a road for a little while. I had been descending but I finally found a shaded spot near some rocks to cook my dinner and ate there. But there was nowhere to camp in the area, so I continued down the trail hoping maybe either the dirt road was still ahead of me or that there might be a little campsite on a switchback.

I descended through an open area. I could fathom the incredible drop coming ahead. I found a little surprise spring the hunters had not mentioned and drank a little extra water there. The trail was very overgrown and at times I could barely find it.

Soon I began to switchback in earnest. I searched for little nooks and found a few, but it was still too hot and sunny to stop. I felt committed now to the whole descent. I kept arguing with myself: Go all the way to Belden and have an ice cold beer? No, then I'd have to pay to sleep. Stop at the next little nook and get breakfast? No, I really want a beer!

Eventually I ended up all the way at the bottom at the railroad tracks. I crossed them and found a trailhead parking area and disturbed some naked people sleeping in the back of a flatbed truck. I decided to set up camp in the parking area behind the outhouse where the naked people could not see me. Now I did not have to pay to sleep and maybe I'd have a chance at some breakfast in the morning. The bummer was that if there was one thing I wanted more than anything right now in this scortching summer heat it was to have an ice cold beer and to be able to say I walked 30 miles today. As it was, I thought I had hiked only 29.

It was so hot I had to eat my Hershey bar with a spoon and I slept with just my bivy sack and no sleeping bag until about 1am when I could finally use my sleeping bag.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Seasonal Spring at mile 1259.8

I'm not really sure where I camped for the night. I took a guess that I had hiked about 25 miles. I had a hard time finding a campsite at the end. It was getting on toward 8pm so I took the first thing I could find. It was almost level. I could make it work. The mosquitoes were terrible there.

My mom and Lowell drove me up to Quincy-La Porte Road and I began hiking around 10:30 in the morning. The trail went mostly down until I met the Middle Fork of the Feather River around 3pm. There were 50 fallen trees along the way. Someone was camped at the river. I stopped there for something to eat and to fill my water.

I bumped into the remainders of the Donner Party. Only two remain. One was the woman I shared a room with in Lone Pine at the hostel. I couldn't remember her name. They both looked very tired.

I met some section hikers. One was a woman hiking with two young guys. She was friends with Rockstar. One was Trekker, a man from the PCT list. Trekker said I looked too clean to be a thru-hiker. How insulting! I'm not a thru-hiker, certainly, but give me a day and I'll be just as dirty as one. Trekker is part of the reason I had a hard time finding a campsite. I passed one level spot and thought, since Trekker was behind me then, that he would need it more than I. After that spot there was nothing for a very long climb. I hoped Trekker took that spot.

I saw something blue and squiggly run away from me. A skink? I saw a baby faun. It was only about 18 inches high at the shoulder and had strangely stubby little legs. It made a lot of noise as it hopped stuntedly away from me. I had startled it from under a log. I watched it go for quite a long time.

At times the forest was so thick, with warm still air and a thick carpet under my feet, it felt almost like going indoors to walk for a spell. The forest was lush and green and dark like I remembered it from when I left the trail at the end of Section O last year in Dunsmuir.

I played my pennywhistle after the sun set and heard birds chirping around me. So I stopped to listen to them instead. It was warm all night. I realized I did not need to carry around all the warm layers I had used in Yosemite in the snow and cold anymore. I planned to send all that stuff ahead.

I could hear snoring by the wee hours of morning. I thought it was Trekker, but it turned out to be two trees rubbing together.

A ribbon of bright orange on the horizon was beautiful through the trees. It was time to get up, go find water and have breakfast.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Did I complete Section I? You be the judge

Does it count to say that I completed Section I of the PCT if I mostly didn't actually walk on the trail? I say that I did. You be the judge. Here are my most recent posts since my last batch.

Meanwhile, here are photos from my trip east from Santa Barbara to the PCT, Through the Desert and Into the Sierra.

Another night in Bridgeport

Crazy sounding honking noises came from each tree nearby my tent last night as the sun went down. Small birds swirled in circles around my tent in the morning, cheeping as they went by me. It was very cold at dawn, but also dry. Even my clothes, which I had worn in the hot spring were dry by morning.

I set off back to town early enough to do a little shopping before breakfast. I really wanted to find a map to help me through Section J. Lenny's map had been so handy. I could not find any maps of the area, however.

I went to a little coffee place to use the Internet and update my journal. I tried to call Tony but was unsuccessful. I met Lenny and Chuck for breakfast, but I was late and they had already eaten. They waited as I ate an omlette.

Chuck let me take a shower in his hotel room. It had been at least 9 days since I had washed my hair. Even when I had swum in the rivers, my hair had stayed dry and so never had gotten clean. It took four applications of shampoo before it was clean.

I started thinking about my options. I really did not want to go back out there. I had had enough. I wanted to enjoy myself and not just endure. I wanted to experience the beauty of nature and not just survive its extremes. I knew I had pushed the upper limits of my abilities and crossed the line a few times, too. I wanted to feel safe. And yet, a part of me was amazed and proud of what I had just come through. The accomplishment felt great. I felt strong and powerful. Nature had thrown a lot of obstacles my way -- some of my deepest fears involve water -- and I had taken them all. I almost wanted to say, bring it on. I wasn't sure which pulled harder at me, the adventure and great stories to tell or the quieter, calmer, more sublime experiences I really prefer.

Whenever it's hard to decide something, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. So I committed to do nothing today.

As I was sitting in the park I saw two hikers arrive into town. I tried to chase them down, but they disappeared. I figured they would turn up later, and later they did. They turned out to be Rob and Fluffy Puff. They had hiked southbound from Echo Lake through Section J. They told me that it had been mostly covered in snow and that they had spent a lot of time postholing and route-finding and even had gotten off-course by about 5 miles. Elephant Back mountain had been treacherous and frightening. I felt so let down. I did not want to do this anymore. They didn't want to do it anymore either and had come to Bridgeport to rest and figure out what to do next. I told them about our experience in Section I and gave them tips on crossing Falls Creek early before the Tilden Lake outflow in case they were going to continue.

I found Lenny and Chuck at the Pony Expresso and told them about meeting Rob and Fluffy Puff and their experiences in Section J. Chuck looked so let down. Lenny was unfazed.

Chuck mentioned that cellphone service was good from his hotel balcony so I went up there to call Tony. I had a nice talk with him. Then I called my mom. Friends were coming to visit her tomorrow. It seemed like the best thing to do would be to take a bus up to her neck of the woods and visit for a few days. I now had a plan that didn't fill me with dread.

Lenny decided to return to the trail. I said good-bye to him and thanked him for helping me through Section I. I could not have done it without his help. He seemed disappointed I would not be coming with him. He is hard-core, but he needs company, too.

I planned to hike back out to the hot spring for another cheap night under the million stars. But I bumped into Rob on the way and we sat for a while in his hotel's living room. I then realized that if I didn't wash my clothes, I would be very offensive to others on the bus tomorrow. Rob said he'd do my laundry for me since I have nothing proper to wear when my laundry is being done. Since I had nothing to wear, I got a room.

I wasn't sure what I would do after visiting with my mother. But snow would have a chance to melt and days would have a chance to pass. Maybe someone would come out soon with a chainsaw and clear all the deadfall from the section I needed to do between Quincy-LaPorte road and Chester. That section is my last missing piece before I can resume my hike from last year and finish to Canada, weather and conditions permitting. And it's so full of deadfall that it sounds as bad as the snow.

Chuck decided to take the bus tomorrow, too, and try to get to Tahoe. Our group of three through Section I has broken up. It was so good to be with others. I could not have done it without Lenny's snow and route-finding skills and Chuck's moral support. They were my trail magic this section. The trail giving me what I needed just when I needed it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I woke up early after a toasty warm night. My shoes were frozen. It is nice to have a warm, dry haven each night.

I prepared for the remaining miles to Sonora Pass and the end of Section I. I wondered, does it count that I did Section I with all the detours and cross-country travel I did? I decided that the hardships I endured qualify and that I can cross Section I off my list forever.

I left shortly before Chuck and Lenny. Chuck and I were going to take a detour suggested by the guide book as a safer option than the exposed conditions going down to the pass. We really did not want to die. The detour would take us to Leavitt Lake on a dirt road. Lenny was going to try the pass.

There was snow on the trail and as I climbed, the snow became more expansive. I walked a long way around a large patch. At the top of the snow patch I was at a saddle on a dirt road. It appeared to me that the dirt road climbed dangerously up the side of the mountain into scary vertical snowfields. I thought that it could not be right. There must be a branch of this road that went down to Leavitt Lake.

I searched around at the top of the saddle looking for a gate that the guide book said I would walk through. I could not find the gate. Only huge piles of snow and the road going up into the dangerous snowfields.

I looked back and saw Chuck as he walked down the dirt road. I figured I would search for the gate and be able to show it to him. But when I could not find it, I went back to consult with Chuck. But he had vanished.

I backtracked further, thinking maybe I had missed the gate and it was actually behind me. I found a post with arrows that pointed in odd directions. PCT south was 90 degrees off the course I had been traveling. PCT north was pointing exactly back the direction I had come. This made no sense at all. I looked up the side of the mountain in the direction of the arrow and could see a trail traveling way up high on the mountain. But Chuck and I had already agreed we weren't going to take the scary PCT route so there was no way I was going up that mountain.

I was very confused. Nothing on my map matched what I could see. I stared and stared and no matter how hard I looked at it, nothing matched. I wandered up and down the road. I looked at all the options laid out in front of me and the only thing that seemed to make sense was to drop down the other side of the saddle and go cross-country down to the lake. I figured maybe that was what Chuck had done. So I decided I would head out and take the path of absolute least resistance.

As I descended I managed to avoid snow almost entirely. There were only a few small patches and only one that made me take out my microspikes. Those things are a miracle when the snow is hard and slippery. Shortly after I began, I saw a tin can. Then I saw a fire ring. These items encouraged me. I had a feeling something about what I was doing was not quite right, but I also knew I was headed more or less north and as long as I went north I had to run into the highway.

Encouraged by the can and fire ring, I walked faster thinking maybe I would catch up to Chuck. In my haste, I stepped on an icy rock in a creek and slipped and fell. I decided I had better slow down.

Soon I found myself walking on an actual trail. Now I was very much encouraged. It almost seemed like someone had hiked this trail not too long ago, too. So I marched down the valley on a real trail, taking great pains not to lose it despite the avalanch ruined trees and the often times faintness of the tread.

As I descended a lake came into view. Leavitt Lake! My map actually showed a trail leading to the lake and then a dirt road, so I hoped the dirt road would be at the end of the trail. I pulled out my map to look again, but the shape of my lake and the shape of Leavitt Lake on the map were not quite the same. I hoped maybe the lake being extra full accounted for the difference.

I struggled over a large talus field. My stomach was growling so I stopped when I reached the end of the talus to have some crackers and peanut butter. I leafed through my guide book pages, now almost completely dry after all those creek swims, and found a map that showed Kennedy Lake, clear as day the same exact shape as my lake. I was not headed for Leavitt Lake at all.

I remembered that up here there was supposed to be another Kennedy Meadows. I hoped the lake and the Meadows were somehow connected. Another map in my guide book pages showed that they were. I knew now that I was lost but I knew where I was and that I was going to be fine. I worried now about Lenny and Chuck. I worried that they were worrying about me. I needed to make haste to get to Bridgeport so that I could let them know I was ok. My route to Kennedy Meadows was going to be a lot longer than the route to Leavitt Lake.

I lost the trail near the lake but just went cross-country. The meadow by the lake was soggy so I had to pay attention to where I placed my feet so as not to fall into a hidden little creek. At times I thought I could see a trail, but then it would disappear. At times I thought I saw evidence that someone had recently walked through this tall grass before me.

I saw a large deer in the sage. I decided to follow the deer. He led me to where I could see the trail. It was wide and deep. I followed the trail and it led me to an old cabin. I stopped to investigate and take a picture. Perhaps the cabin belonged to someone named Kennedy.

Now on a firm trail, I knew everything was going to be alright. I motored on. Down down down. The trail went on for miles and miles.

Eventually I saw some people. People! Now I knew things were going my way. I asked them if this was the way to Kennedy Meadows. Indeed it was. After a few more hours I asked some day hikers if I was getting close to Kennedy Meadows. They said, no, but that I ought to be there in a couple more hours. I figured I'd be eating ice cream by 1:00 or 1:30.

I crossed a river a few times on big, sturdy steel bridges. Hooray for bridges! I got stuck behind a long line of slow-moving horses. I ran by them at my first opportunity when the trail split in two, after enduring many jokes from uphill hikers about them running out of horses and being forced to walk.

I rinally reached the bottom of the canyon where hordes of people fished the river. I stopped to fill my water and went on. Soon there were tents and RVs and people everywhere. And then the store! I stopped and got two ice creams, paying for them with a still-wet $20 bill.

After my ice cream break, I went on down the road toward the highway. I stuck out my thumb and got a ride instantly to the highway. Then I hitchhiked from there to the top of Sonora Pass. I walked down the pass a little to a safer spot and got another ride all the way to Bridgeport.

Once in Bridgeport I wandered the streets and finally selected a restaurant with outdoor seating, hoping if I sat there for a while, Chuck would walk by. And he did.

Chuck had been overwhelmed with worry for me. He had been ready to call Search and Rescue if I didn't turn up by the next day. He was so happy to see me. Lenny hadn't been worried because Lenny had hiked with me in Santa Barbara and thought I was a pretty good route finder. Obviously that isn't true. I hardly feel qualified to be out there in such an extreme and rugged place.

I told Chuck all of what had happened, about going the wrong way to Kennedy Meadows. I still don't understand where the road had been, but it sounded like I should have climbed up that ridge on the PCT and that there was a second road. I hate that guide book sometimes.

Chuck had checked into a hotel, but they were out of cheap rooms. Lenny supposedly had gone to a nearby hot spring. I decided that I would go there.

I got directions from the local people and hiked the 2.5 miles or so to the hot spring. I was eaten alive by mosquitoes along the way as I walked through a marshy meadow on a paved road surrounded by all kinds of birds. It seemed odd that the birds' home had been bisected by this road. It was like they were still trying to make their living despite the intrusion.

I found the hot spring and spent some time soaking in the water trying to get clean. There were some nice women there and we had a good time talking.

Soon I decided I ought to find a place to camp. I camped near the spring, but not too near. I slept among pinyon pines once again and felt happy.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Near Kennedy Canyon Creek

Today was a much better day!

The meadow we slept in was really wet. OUr stuff was completely soaked in the morning. At least I had slept warm and dry. I had had to sleep nearly naked because my pants and underwear were still wet when we made camp. But I zipped my down jacket over my waist like a skirt and was the warmest I had been in a long time.

We packed up our wet things because it was obvious they would never dry in this corn lilly choked meadow and headed out.

We encountered snow on the descent, but not too much. Soon we followed trail again. Eventually we reached Wilmer Lake, a very pretty lake with a huge trout in it. Must have been over a foot in length. Lenny considered trying to catch it, but instead we continued on.

We crossed the outflow of the lake on two steel I-beams. Then the trail headed right into a river. Falls Creek, I believe. This time the river was so wide it required a ferry boat. There was no way across. I became very angry. This is the Pacific Crest trail, for crying out load. A National Scenic Trail. In a National Park, one of the most popular National Parks in the whole world (Yosemite). They can't put a bridge over this river? The PCTA is always soliciting money from me to save the trail from logging. I say cut all the trees down and make a few bridges!

There was no way for us to cross so we started upstream. We walked for miles past raging whitewater. We would look every now and then for a place to cross. It was all way way beyond my ability. I am only five-foot three and maybe 125 pounds. I cannot handle such swift and deep water. I was not going to swim again, either.

Onward we went for miles. Eventually we reached a trail to Tilden Lake. We followed that trail up for a while toward the lake. We reached the outflow of Tilden Lake and sought a safe place to cross. The crossing was wet and swift but I managed.

Now we headed back down to Falls Creek. When we reached it, it had shrunk considerably. We looked at the water, wondering if we could wade. It was still too deep to walk across. Then I spied a log. We were able to cross and keep our feet dry.

On the other side we stopped to dry out all our things. I did a little dance and sang, "I didn't die! I didn't die!" I felt so relieved after eyeing that river anxiously for so many hours.

After our lunch and yard sale (drying our gear), the trail became exhausting. It was not going uphill steeply, but it wore me out anyway. There was a lot of snow and the trail was soggy. We spent a lot of effort trying to find ways to approach the trail. It was mentally and physically tiring.

We stopped to eat lunch again after a few hours. Now we had the energy to reach Dorothy Lakes Pass. The lake itself was still full of icebergs. The pass was not a steep one, but it was covered in snow. Going over the other side was pretty easy, and once again Lenny's skill at cross-country travel was a big help.

We found the trail again and followed it off and on. Then we had to cross another voluminous creek. We approached the creek and wondered if we really needed to cross. I remembered I had read something in my wet guide book about crossing the creek once and then crossing again on a footbridge. So we crossed wetly.

We found the footbridge a little downstream were another river and combined with this one. We were glad we had forded above. The footbridge had actually been dismantled (which irked me greatly) and was lying in a pile a short distance away. Someone had stuck a log across so with a burst of momentum, I forced myself across.

Now the trail became easy and we motored on for several more hours, making great progress on the trail. We camped in a meadow on the ascent near Kennedy Creek, ready, we hoped, to reach Bridgeport for breakfast the next day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Near Macomb Ridge Pass

By the end of the day I had been not through the wringer but through the washing machine.

First we had to cross Piute Creek, which is not on the PCT yet. It was not a creek but a river. The water was over my head. It was placid and there were some precarious, thin logs partially submerged. Upstream the river was whitewater rapids. Downstream we had seen a large tangle of logs over some very scary whitwater rapids and falls.

First I tried walking across the logs over the placid water. I became terrified and returned to shore. Chuck and I then attempted to scoot across on our butts. I found this very difficult to do without any leverage from my legs. Then Chuck fell into the water. His hiking poles floated away.

I quickly returned to shore and ran downstream to catch the poles. I caught one with my hiking pole and reeled it in. Just as the other was going by I caught it, too. We decided not to cross by the logs after all.

I stood there looking at the water. It was not swift. It almost looked like I could wade, maybe. I said to Chuck, I think I can wade. He thought it was too deep. I started wading and about 5 feet out I started floating away and got scared so I returned to shore once more. Chuck said he was going for it. He plunged in and before I knew it.

Scared of being left alone on the other side, I started across, too. Immediately I started floating across. I could see Chuck safely on the other side. I felt so jealous. I was strapped in to my pack, which actually turned out to be a good thing. I rolled myself over on to my back and flailed with my arms and legs as vigorously as I could, trying to paddle to the other bank. I could see a large log sticking in to the water and I was headed right for it so I relaxed a little. Oh no! The log was cut off and I was going to miss it if I didn't do something. So I lunged with all my might and barely caught the tip of the log. Just then my matches started floating away and I grabbed them. Chuck was on the bank trying to help me to shore. I handed him the matches and then struggled to get a firmer grip on the log.

Soon I had a good purchase on the log and was able to lower my feet. I touched the ground. I walked ashore and started laughing hysterically. That must have looked ridiculous even though it had scared me to death to have been so much at the mercy of the water.

Chuck and I both unpacked all our things on the bank of the river in what little wet, cold sun there was. Miraculously most of our things were dry or mostly dry. I keep all my things in dry bags or garbage bags. My guide books and journals were soaked, however.

We hung our things up to dry and tried to stand in the sun to dry ourselves. Just then, Lenny arrived. He looked at us and asked how on Earth we had gotten over there. We swam, we said. He did not want to get his feet wet so he decided to try the logs over the rapids downstream. He returned 20 minutes later completely dry. I joked we should call him Jesus for the way he always manages to walk on water.

After we packed our things up again we set in for a long climb. There were two climbs wtih two snowy descents. Lenny was a huge help with his good map and all his experience over the last few weeks making his way in snow.

Finally we reached the PCT in Kerrick Canyon. We had to cross another swollen stream, but there was a good log. It was a little short of the other side, but I managed to make it with a little help from Chuck.

We had to climb againand then descend again through snow. Along the way down there was an unnamed side creek that was very difficult and wet to cross.

At the bottom of Stubblefield Canyon was another huge river. I searched and searched for a way across. Lenny of course walked a frightening log as if it was a steel bridge. I was afraid of the log. The river was split into multiple branches. It was really the confluence of three or four different creeks. I crossed them all one at a time. The last crossing was another deep one that had me floating away down the stream. I grabbed Chuck's backpack just as I floated by and managed to swing myself around the back of him while jamming my trekking pole into the bottom. With that leverage I was able to get my feet on solid ground and climb out of the river. This time my things were much wetter, especially my guide books and journal. They were completely soaked.

I was really angry. They can put a bridge over a tiny little creek but not over this monster?

By now it was about 4pm and we were afraid of getting cold so we hiked on hoping to rise out of this canyon into the sun and dry off with our efforts. We climbed 1000 feet or so and found a sunny meadow to camp in.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Above Pleasant Valley at trail junction

We three set off separately but joined together again at what appeared to be a dangerus ford of Register Creek. Chuck and I waded up to our crotches in the cold, swift water while Lenny danced across some rocks that normally would be above the water line. I guess Chuck and I felt too nervous to walk the rocks so close to the edge where there were waterfalls and rapids and logs.

We continued to descend for about 7 more miles. At one point the Tuolumne River was flowing over the trail and we had to climb over rocks and boulders to get around. At that point Lenny said he suddenly felt how mentally exhausting the Sierras had been and what he'd really like is to finish the hike as quickly as possible and go home.

Later we stopped to eat and rest at the trail junction with our trail to Pate Valley. CHuck realized he could not find a green bag of his. I realized I had lost my sunglasses. And Lenny had lost his resolve. Quite a sorry bunch we had become.

Chuck decided his green bag wasn't important and we all headed up the valley. The climb was relentless. It was 3 or 4 thousand feet up. I felt awful the whole way. Sick to my stomach and weak.

Almost to the next trail junction I saw a bear about 20 feet off the trail standing next to a dead deer carcass. He looked up at me. I reached for my camera and by the time I looked back at him he had moved away another 20 feet. I snapped a picture as he stared at me. He was a lovely golden brown. As I walked away, I took a few more pictures.

We all gathered again at the trail junction. It was about 2pm. Chuck realized that his green bag had a lot of important things after all. He set off back down all the way to the Tuolumne River again, all the way back to where the water had flown over the trail and we had had to climb over the rocks. Lenny and I stayed and made camp at the junction, shooting the breeze and enjoying just being out there in the wilds.

After about 5 hours, CHuck returned victorious with his green bag which included his wallet, cellphone, passport, credit cards and deet.

Weather had improved greatly. It had been sunny and warm all day with clouds forming but no rain.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

At 11AM, Lenny, Chuck and I set off to Glen Aulin. When we arrived, we veered off the PCT. The point of no return. We descended into the Grand Canyon of the Tulomne. It was spectacular.

As we descended, the weather became balmy and warm. We were in heaven. We knew we would have to pay dearly for our illicit, off-PCT pleasure with a grueling climb, but we did not care. The roaring river, waterfalls and primeval forest were worth it. Being warm and dry was worth it. Walking on the ground instead of in the snow was worth it.

We made camp by the roaring Tuolumne River. It was raining warm rain as we set up our tents, and then it stopped. We bathed in the river. We had a campfire. We were elated.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tuolumne Meadows again

I was warm and snug last night. I stayed in bed until a ray of sunlight hit my tent. Then I set everything out to dry. A curious bird investigated my things. I took his picture.

I hiked back to the store at Tuolumne Meadows. Then I walked down to the Visitor Center. I bought a map and investigated my options. There was a lower route through Section I that would take me through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. I thought this might be a better way to wait out the stormy weather. It would be lower and warmer and maybe even drier.

I took the shuttle to Olmstead Point. I sat there for a while trying to decide if I should hike down to Yosemite Valley. I would have to pay at least $8 to return to Tuolumne Meadows. I was not sure I wanted to do this, so I decided to go back to the store and think about it. When I got back to the store, my friend from Santa Barbara, Lenny, was there.

Lenny told me tales of his experience getting through the High Sierra in this weather. He thought he might die a few times. He is one of the first ones to make it through. He did it with only a rain poncho for a shelter and a 40 degree sleeping bag. He was sorting through his food getting ready to continue on. I told him about my map and the lower route I was thinking of taking. He seemed to like the idea. He had had quite enough of the higher passes and needed a break. I told him I wasn't sure I could keep up with him, but I could try hiking with him. We agreed to hike together.

I got my package from the Post Office and squeezed as much as I could into my bear can. About 8 days of food. I hoped I would be able to do this. I felt scared.

While Lenny and I were relaxing at the campground, Chuck, another PCT hiker walked by. I had met Chuck in Mammoth. He had taken the bus to Red's Meadow and hiked northbound from there. He had gotten lost in the snow at Island Pass and had struggled over Donahue and was not happy with the experience at all. I invited him to join Lenny and I on our lower route expedition. He seemed extremely grateful not to have to go it alone and to take a lower route.

Our fates were now sealed.

As I went to bed, it started to rain. The sky opened up and it rained very hard. I stayed warm and dry inside my tent.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tuolumne Meadows

Everything always looks better in the morning.

I woke up to a damp tent in my little stealth camp near the church in Mammoth. I packed it up wet and went to the Looney Bean for a muffin and tea. Then I went to the bus stop to wait for the bus to Tuolumne Meadows. The ride up to TM was smooth and easy. When I got there I did not know what to do with myself. I decided I would go to the campground and set up my stuff and somehow try to wait out the day. The campground was closed. It was way to early in the season, it seemed.

So I started walking up the trail, southbound. I figured I would take a look up the Lyell Canyon and maybe sleep there for the night. Along the way I came to a sign with a map of all the trails in the area. I stopped there and unfurled my tent to dry in the sun while I took a look at the map.

It looked like I could make a loop of about 20 miles or so if I went up to a place called Vogelsang and followed Rafferty Creek. This seemed like a good way to get a sense of the snow conditions around here. AFter my stuff was dry, I set off. I felt good, happy to be making some forward movement and hiking again.

I passed a couple laboring under their loads. I met up with a man hiking with the biggest backpack I've ever seen. He even had a blue and white speckled soup pot big enough to make soup for 8 people. He was hiking with his young daughter who wore the coolest hiking outfit ever: pink flowered skirt, pink stripped leggings, pink and orange top and carrying a leopard print stuffed animal purse. I complimented her on her outfit.

Onward I went. I promised myself I would turn around as soon as the trail became difficult to follow. Having no map or compass I didn't want to do anything stupid.

I reached a junction and took the trail to Vogelsang. The trail had become snowy already and I had been following tracks, but on the trail to Vogelsang there were no more prints to follow. Soon the trail became completely snowbound and I could not follow. I could not see the trail on the other side of the snow and the snow was a steep angle I could not walk. I turned back to the junction.

The junction pointed 21.5 miles to Yosemite Valley. I thought maybe I would go ahead and go that way. It would be lower. I followed footprints in the snow as the trail descended quickly. I passed Both Lake, wich was pretty, and a number of smaller ponds, one of which and a duck swimming in it. Oddly, the snow only got worse the lower I went.

I was following recent footprints but as soon as I came to a spot where the footprints seemed like they were having trouble finding the trail, I grew worried and decided to turn back. On the way back, I saw the couple I had seen earlier and they were going to continue. At this point, it had started to precipitate some kind of strange, snow-like objects. Small round pellets but it was not hail. I wore my umbrella and had my rain chaps on and my Subway sandwich bags on my arms.

I felt defeated as I worked my way back to Tuolumne Meadows. It seemed I was about a month too early to be here. I could not think of anything I could do to salvage my hike. I walked back to TM certain it was time to end my quest and go home and try to move on from the PCT.

On the way down I met up with a man with another huge pack. Once you get off the PCT the backpacks people carry are completely absurd. Mine may be small, but I have everything I need to be warm, safe and dry (and in fact, as I write this on the 21st of June after enduring hardships like you would not believe, I have never not been warm, safe and dry). I am much safer with a very light load as I am not unstable on my feet and I'm not laboring. Anyway, I spoke to the man for a while and he told me that a high pressure system was headed our way by the end of the week, possibly Thursday. Perhaps there was hope for my trip after all. All I had to do now was figure out what to do with myself for the next four days.

I made a stealth camp that was hopfully outside the 4.5 mile line where you aren't allowed to camp. You're not supposed to camp within 4.5 miles of the highway. It was still pretty early, maybe 5:30, but I had a pretty spot. I even had my own private waterfall. I hped the bears would leave me alone.

I took off my set shoes and socks and my wet legs of my pants. I hoped I would be warm enough sleeping in shorts and leg warmers. I made a hot meal and prepared to sleep.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A day of frustration

I decided I would take the bus to Red's Meadow instead of to Tuolumne Meadows and just hike there instead. But first I wanted to buy a warm layer.

I packed up my stuff very early before Steve was awake and left him a $10 bill for my share of the night's campground fee. Then I walked over to the Looney Bean for breakfast and to kill some time. I drank a way-too-strong coffee that made me feel sick all day. I asked the barista there if the town had a thrift shop and then I waited around for a few hours until I could go see if the thrift shop was open.

While I was there, Steve arrived and said hello. Someone in the coffee shop knew him and the two of them sat outside chatting for an hour or so.

Eventually I went down to the thrift shop to see if it was open. It was not. I still had two more hours to wait. I decided to go to Vons.

At Vons I bought some gourmet cheese, basil-infused olive oil, whole wheat crackers, bean soup, a baguette and some fruit. I took the bear can out of my pack, now freshly inscribed with giant teeth marks from a bear I never heard last night, and replaced all the Little Debbie peanut butter bars inside with my real food. I gave them all to a little boy visiting his grandparents. Thank goodness I would not have to eat that junk.

At long last it was 11 and the thrift store was open. Selection was limited but I did find a nylon turtleneck. I put it on and immediately felt its warmth.

I had to hitchhike to get to the bus to Red's Meadow. I got a ride easily. People were still skiing at Mammoth Mountain. The bus to Red's dropped me off at the store and cafe. On the way the high mountains looked cold and gray with dark clouds obviously precipitating all over them. Sprinkles were hitting the windshield of the bus. Snow patches lurked in the forest but disappeared as we descended.

At Red's I met three backpackers who told me tales over lunch of wallowing in the snow up to their thighs, route-finding in the snow, spending hours in whiteout blizzard conditions on Glenn Pass, troublesome creeks and 1 mile-an-hour hiking speeds. They had heard Donahue Pass was covered with snow from someone who had hiked southbound. This did not sound like anything I wanted to be involved in at all. I decided to go back to Mammoth and take the bus in the morning to Tuolumne Meadows. I could camp there in the backpackers' site and pick up my package on Monday.

I felt frustrated because I had hoped to come and make peace with the High Sierra like I had with the desert. I had had a terrible time last year. I had hoped I could conquer my fears and loneliness and come to enjoy the high mountain passes. Instead it seemed I would have to make peace with perhaps never completing these sections of the PCT. I would have to make peace with walking away.

So here I sit not sure what I will do after I pick up my package at the Tuolumne Meadows post office. I could perhaps hike a few miles into Section I, camp and then hike back out again. I could go down to Yosemite Valley and wander around as a tourist. The thing I don't want to do is go home. It already feels like I've lost my momentum as it is. If I go home, I won't return. I don't want to skip even further ahead. This bad weather is dumping snow everywhere. There is nowhere to go. There is no summer out here yet.

All I can do is wait.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On to Mammoth

I decided in Lone Pine that I would go to Tuolumne Meadows. The bus would not leave until 5pm and it would make a stop in Bishop and then in Mammoth. The bus from Mammoth to Tuolumne Meadows wouldn't leave until the following morning. So I spent the day in Lone Pine trying to kill some time hanging out with hikers and sitting around at the hostel.

Eventually I went to the bus stop to wait there. A homeless guy from Santa Barbara talked my ear off for an hour. Finally 5pm rolled around and I got on the bus. The homeless man got on the bus, too, but fortunately he found someone new to talk to.

As we drove up the desert, the clouds over the mountains and desert were beautiful, dark and a little frightening. It looked very cold. The desert valley seemed green and lush. I saw a huge herd of elk grazing with a huge herd of cattle in a field.

In Bishop I switched buses and we picked up two hikers. They had been on the trail only as many weeks as I had. They had done Section A and then skipped up to Kennedy Meadows and had hiked another week out of there. We rode to Mammoth together.

When we got to Mammoth they went to the campground across the street but decided that it was too expensive and that they would rather stay in a hotel. The campground fee was $20.

I grabbed a burrito from the gas station, heated it up and walked over to the campground. On the way I saw an interesting looking man, tall and skinny carrying a huge hiking staff and looking like some kind of wizard. I said hello as I passed him.

I ate my burrito sitting on the porch of the outhouse. I looked around wondering if there was a way to stealth camp around the area. The campground host spied me. Eventually he came out to say hi to me. I asked him if he knew whether the bus to Yosemite left on Sunday or just on Saturday, because if it left on Sunday I could maybe spend a day in Mammoth killing time. At least in Mammoth maybe I could find something to do. The host was very nice. He got the others in his trailer to try to find the information for me. They made phone calls and searched online. The bus did also leave on Sunday.

I chatted with two of the hosts for a while. They thought I would be crazy to go hike north from Tuolumne Meadows in this weather. It seemed a little crazy to me, too, but I couldn't think of anything better to do at the moment.

The wizard man came walking by and said hello to the hosts. They all seemed very friendly with each other. The man was traveling on foot and so I asked both the man and the hosts if it would be okay if I shared the camp site with him. It seemed silly that people on foot have to pay full price and take up a whole site when they have no car. I wasn't even planning to stay very long as it was almost already dark. Everyone was okay with me doing that, so I followed the wizard man, whose name was Steve, to his site. (The hosts assured me that Steve was a decent guy as they had gotten to know him over the past few days.)

While I set up my tent, Steve told me how he used to be an investment consultant or something like that but then he got cancer and racked up millions in hospital bills. He ended up losing everything he had. He decided to set off walking. He carries around a big yellow sign that says Ride Needed, Walking to Cure Cancer. I asked him if the cancer he was walking to cure was his own, and he said yes. He had not felt this healthy in years. It seemed to be working. In fact, he said that he felt the cancer had been a blessing. It had made him change what was important to him in life. He felt he was truly enjoying his life now. He loved being out in nature, sleeping on the living earth, living in the moment, taking time to appreciate life. His life was so different now from how it had been when he wore a suit. He was open to the generosity of the Universe, he said. Everything he needed always came to him whenever he needed it. He was amazed how many kind people were out there to help him.

You never know with people like that if they are for real. But he was clear, articulate and truly radiated happiness. I went to sleep thinking about how the adventures of the trail sometimes aren't exactly on the trail.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lone Pine

I tried to stay in bed as long as possible, but I am a morning person. I just had to get going. So wet tent and all, I packed up and headed off to Trail Pass and Horseshoe Meadow.

The hiking went easily. My feet had been hurting by the end of yesterday. Some of my old injuries seemed to have returned. But they were not bothering me today at all. I felt strong and healty.

I found the trail to Horseshoe Meadow and soon I was at the parking lot. There were lots of hikers there who had had their bear cans driven to the parking lot. The hikers could hike to Horseshoe Meadow without their cans and pick it up in the parking lot in one of the bear boxes. A lot of them had arrived at the end of the day and were now getting ready to head off to climb Whitney.

There was sun on the asphalt so I unpacked everything in my pack and laid it out in the parking lot like a yard sale. I got everything good and dry.

My Grapenuts had exploded all over the place this morning. My bear can and backpack were full of loose nuggets. I cleaned that all up and repacked my pack. Then I set off for the long walk down to Lone Pine. I had little hope that anyone would be by to pick me up. Who would be nuts enough to drive up here in this weather?

Within a half hour of walking the road, I saw a van approach. I thought, what would be the chances that that's Chuck Norris' van. Probably zero. Then I saw the pink stripe across the front and all the hiker signatures. It was Chuck! He pulled over and told me to get in. He'd take me to Lone Pine.

We went back up to the trailhead and picked up a few more hikers. Then we went to Lone Pine.

Lots of hikers are planning to skip the Sierra and go up to Donner Pass and hike South instead. I am not sure what to do. I will think about it while I am here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Near a meadow

I stayed warm and dry in my tent last night. I was smart enough to have brought my bivy sack, which is waterproof on the bottom and not waterproof on the top. It helped keep me a little warmer and protected my bag from touching the wet walls.

My tent was not dry at all. It was soaked completely except for the floor. I packed it up wet and hoped I'd see some sunshine to dry it out later.

I passed a big group of people early in the morning. They had a little sun in their spot so I sat and ate breakfast with them and then I was going to try to dry m y tent, but the sun was too weak and it was soon hidden by a cloud. So I went on.

After a while of climbing, I came to a perfect flat rock in the sun. I unfurled my tent over the rock to dry in the sun. Instantly clouds arose from nowhere and blocked out the sun. I packed up again and moved on.

I passed a spot where I remembered I had found a knife stuck in a log. I looked and within a minute I saw the knife still stuck there in the log.

I felt tired today and I had a slight stomach ache. The climbing seemed tiring. I went over 10,000 feet today.

Clouds continued to form, but there was no rain in the morning. I spent much of the morning walking in the snow and in the iced-over footprints of others.

It started to hail around noon. It hailed off and on throughout the day. I leapfrogged with the group from my breakfast in the morning during the day. The only one in the group whose name I remembered was Scholar. I also saw Matt and another guy from Kennedy Meadows throughout the day.

I kept thinking how if I'm going to cross a stream thigh high, I would really rather it be warm and sunny, not stormy and cold. I was glad to be going to Lone Pine soon. I would check in to the hostel and wait until the weather improves.

Toward the end of the day I considered camping in Diaz Creek where I didn't camp last year. I saw where I camped at the turn-off. I went down to the creek, but it seemed cold, misty and damp, so I went back up to the trail and went on, thinking I might as well just go to Horseshoe Meadow.

It started raining again. Just sprinkles this time, but you can never be sure what you're going to get. I saw the group setting up camp by a meadow. I decided to join them. I got my tent up in the sprinkles and noticed my sleeping bag was damp. I hoped I would be warm.

I wore my rain pants all day and then I wore them to bed. It turned out I slept very warmly and had to take off a layer. It didn't rain during the night. The weather appeared to be improving.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Olancha Pass Trail

You know it's time to leave town when the thought of eating anymore food makes you naseous. I set off out of Kennedy Meadows by 9AM.

At the Kern River I met Bubble Party, Hungry and Sidewinder filling up water bottles. At the bridge I did the same. It was already starting to sprinkle. I tore the thingie that holds the umbrella shut. Quite a shabby thing my old, worn out umbrella is with the silver worn off, duct tape patching numerous holes, the handle and knob at the top chewed up by pet birds at home and brush while bushwhacking. And now this latest insult. It still works, however. And it would be put to the test soon.

After crossing the Kern on the bridge, I began the climb into where the forest was on fire last year. Little pink gilia folowers bloomed everywhere in mounds and piles like snow.

It began to rain. It rained very heavily. It hailed, too. I watched small hail blobs hit the ground white and turn instantly gray.

I didn't put my rain chaps on quickly enough and soon my legs were soaking wet. I would have to keep moving to stay warm.

My goal was the bridge over the South Fork of the Kern, the pretty one with all the swallows. I figured maybe I could find shelter from the rain there. Thunder roared as I walked through Monache Meadow.

The trail had me climbing the side of a ridge next to the meadow. The climbing kept me warm. The rain let up a little.

Soon I was at the bridge and found a dry, flat rock where I sat and cooked a hot lunch. As I ate, the sun came out. I watched the swallows.

Now that it was sunny, I decided to continue on to Cow Creek. The sun and walking dried my pants and shirt.

Along the way I stopped to adjust my pack and noticed my rain chaps were missing. I left my pack and walked back at least 1/2 mile until I found them.

I hiked up Cow Creek but never saw the place where I camped last year with Circle. The trail was very confusing and there were numerous fallen trees and thorny, wet overgrowth.

It began to rain again as the trail became quite steep. I passed the junction with Olancha Pass and MOnache Meadows trails. I started thinking maybe it would be best this late in the afternoon just to set up camp and wait through the rain and the night until morning.

As I looked around, I passed a man setting up his tent. He advised me to do the same before I got hypothermia.

I found a spot not too far from him under a tree. As I set up my tent, I tripped and tore a hole in it along the edge. I was very sad that I had done that.

This would be my first time in worrisome rain in my tent. I hoped it would prove adequate shelter.

AFter I set it up, the sun came out. But the tree kept raining on me. Maybe under a tree is not such a good idea.

I got inside my tent and settled in for a long night of hoping my dampness wouldn't keep me from staying warm. It was only 6 o'clock.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

From Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows

Here are the latest batch of posts from this year's hike on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Kennedy Meadows

Ah. The restorative power of sleep.

After dinner last night, I stood up and could barely walk. I knew I could go no further. I found a sheltered spot between two bushes and made my bed. I got into my sleeping bag by 6pm and fell asleep. I slept well. I was warm and the sand was soft and flat. When I awoke, I felt refreshed. My back hurt no more and neither did my feet.

I made breakfast and hiked on. It was only 8 miles to Kennedy Meadows and I would reach the Kern River before then. I hoped it might be warm enough by then to wash up in the river a bit. I figured a little dilly-dallying at the river was in order. After all, Kennedy Meadows wasn't going anywhere.

I arrived at the river around 8:30. I found a good spot to wade in and try to wash off the days' accumulation of sweat and grime. I even washed my hair. The water was ice cold and the sun was only barely warm enough.

After my hair was combed and I was reasonably put back together, I forged ahead. I reached Kennedy Meadows at about 10:30, enough time for a coffee and pastry. Lots of hikers were there, having become stacked up due to the rain. People were heading out anyway, saying they had been there too long.

Word was that there was fresh snow, enough to have closed Sonora Pass. More was on the way. I felt worried about my ability to hike through the High Sierra. I planned to stay here at least a zero day and try to learn more.

It is good to rest. I had hiked further in a shorter amount of time than I ever had before these last few days. I had obviously used up some of my life energy. I needed to take some time to rest gain it back.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

First creek before Rockhouse Basin

I woke up with the birds. It was overcast. I had slept well, warm and dry.

I packed up and went to the spring-fed branch of the creek, the one with the good flow. I stopped there for breakfast of Grapenuts and lemon pudding. I pretended not to see all the sediment in the water.

I began to climb out of Spanish Needle creek drainage. I climbed up into the fog. At first I could feel drops of condensation from the trees. Then I noticed that I felt more drops in the spaces between the trees. So I put up my umbrella. Then it started to rain much harder, but it was still gentle rain.

The bushes were getting my pant legs wet, so I took off the legs and put on my rain chaps. This ensured I would not get too hot wearing them. I also put on my minimal jacket that has only a light rain resistance. With the umbrella, it was enough. I stayed warm and comfortable.

I felt tired today. I was dragging up the inclines and the declines felt painful. There would be a big climb ahead after the creek at Canebrake Road. But I was falling asleep on my feet just trying to get to Canebrake Road. I couldn't think about that big climb yet.

I wanted to rest a while at the creek but the rain started again. The easiest way to stay dry was to keep moving. So I began the big climb.

Going up was very long, but the steepness was pretty static, so I put it in low gear and chugged away at the hours. I had to stop a few times to adjust clothing and eat. At one point I thought the Data Book said 5 more miles to the summit, but in reality I was almost there.

Then began the relentless 7 mile descent. My back and feet were killing me. I was having thoughts of going home. Maybe this was enough.

At long last I reached the bottom where there was a tiny creek and a large, burned tree. Last year there was a beehive in the tree. I didn't see any bees now. It was almost 5pm. I cooked dinner. I took my shoes off. I promised myself I did not have to go any further than this if I did not want to. It was already 26 miles from where I had slept last night.

Friday, June 05, 2009

First branch of Spanish Needle Creek

I slept really well after such a nice trail magic dinner. I enjoyed the company of the others around the fire and then went to bed between two bushes under my rain poncho canopy.

In the early morning I could hear the commuter traffic on Walker Pass so I decided I had better get out there and hitchhike. I got a ride by 6am after the 5th car went by. My ride was a nice Native American man commuting to his machinist job in Bakersfield. He took me to Onyx.

I was too early for the post office and for the store, but the man who ran the store showed up shortly and as soon as the coffee was ready I stepped in for a cup. I spent the next three hours sitting on the porch drinking coffee and chatting with the locals.

There were three nice women and several interesting men. Lots of mullets and long gray beards. A couple of very handsome cowboys. Lots of laughter and gossip. It was probably the most fun town stop I had had yet, including counting all last year.

It was cold and started to rain. I was grateful there was a dry porch to sit under.

Eventually the Post Office opened and I got my package. I said good-bye to all the nice folks on the porch and set off to hitchhike back to Walker Pass campground. One of the women from the porch picked me up and dropped me off in Canebrake, the next town up. I got another ride there from a retired cattleman. He dropped me off at the campground.

Once in camp, I ate more steak and another one of my extra dinners. I had budgeted 5 days to get to Walker Pass and it had taken me only 3. I figured I needed those calories either way. It was getting really windy up there, so I packed up my things, filled my water at the cattle trough and got prepared to leave.

Clouds were still brewing. The word was that there was a freak cold front and storm, dissipating tomorrow. Another was scheduled for a few days from now. Hopefully I would be snug under the porch at Kennedy Meadows when it hit. At the very least, my tent would be there waiting for me.

At 1:15 I set off after thanking everyone for the wonderful hospitality. It was just too cold and windy at Walker Pass to stay another minute. My plan was to seek shelter at Joshua Tree Spring.

This would be my third time through this area. I took my customary photo of the plaque at Jenkins Peak. I hustled down the trail in the high, cold winds. I eyed a lenticular cloud warily.

I arrived at the junction to Joshua Tree Spring much too early to stop, so I blew by without even taking my customary picture of the sign saying the water was unsafe.

I climbed the big hill before Spanish Needle creek and descended to the first crossing of the creek just after the last rays of sun went behind the hills for good.

I set up my poncho in case of wind or rain but it was calm all evening.

All during my walk today I had been thinking about how different this hike is from last year. I have had much better luck. More trail magic has come my way. I have felt very open to whatever good things are around the corner, whether it may be a surprise koffee klatch with the ladies of Onyx, free steak, or getting a ride when I need one. It felt like the lesson the trail had been teaching me before I got off last year was continuing where it had left off. Trust the trail. Stay open. What you need with come to you exactly when you need it. You will always have exactly what you need. I felt very grateful to be here as I fell asleep with the birds.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Walker Pass

I noticed that I had hiked almost 30 miles the day before. I felt pretty good despite having gone so far.

I worried a little that I might get Hanta virus sleeping in a mouse house. I hoped that I would be ok.

I woke up at the crack of dawn and packed up with my headlamp for light. I was on the trail into the cool morning and made it across the desert to Bird Spring Pass by 8:30am. The desert smelled so fresh and sagey. I had come to make peace with this horrible stretch and it had met me half way, easing my way with rain, rainbows, coolness and the ability to hike evening and morning hours instead of heat of the day hours. I left with an appreciation of the beauty of the area. Next to make peace with would be the high passes of the Sierra.

AT the cache I saw Pockets, TrashMan, Hello Kitty and Matt. I wondered how I had gotten ahead of them. They had started the morning I had gone into Tehachapi and I hadn't seen them along the way.

I climbed out of Bird Spring Pass and back into pinyon pine forest. It was still cool but warming up by 11am. At 11 my stomach was growling. The gnawing hiker hunger was gradually catching up with me. I stopped for cheese sandwiches. Ah, American cheese! Specially forumalted to keep poor kids growing and poor people working another half a shift at the plant. It's what I needed to keep going.

I walked through the dry, oakey forest and emerged into the burn zone with the undulating dirt road. I remembered this road well from last year. I whipped out my umbrella to shield myself from the intense sun. I remembered suffering last year. The umbrella was a huge help. Also helpful was the cool breeze.

Walking the road seemed much easier than last year. Shorter, too. It must be that I wasn't vitamin and calorie deficient like last year.

I decided to make the side trip to McGuyver Spring. I hadn't gone there last year. It was a delighful, pipe-fed spring and an open cabin. There were lots of hikers lolling about. I cooked up an extra dinner and relaxed for a couple of hours.

Soon I was on my way to Walker Pass. The walking went smoothly until near the end when my feet were starting to get sore. I had just walked another 29 mile day.

When I reached Walker Pass, there were some old-timers there cooking barbecue for hikers. Trail magic! Meadow Ed, Stone Dancer, Jellybean's dad had chicken, steak, potatoes, beer, cold drinks and salad for us. There would even be breakfast in the morning. I had heard they would be here on Saturday, but today was Thursday so it was a nice surprise.

I was now in position to get to the Post Office at Onyx in the morning. It was the reason I had hiked so many miles so fast.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Into the desert

I woke up very early to thunderstorms gathering on the horizon. I could see lightning over the far deserts to the east. I packed up my stuff quickly and was on the road by 5:30. I passed Mowgley sleeping in a field. I climbed. The trail was steep.

Everything was pretty in this now more lush forest of pines and oaks. At one point it began to hail. I used my umbrella.

I remembered bits and pieces of this trail quite vividly and others were new to me again.

Soon I dropped into the forested valley where I had camped with Gary at Waterhole Mine camp last year. I got to hike new trail here because last time I walked the road instead.

I stopped at Piute Mountain Road for cheese sandwiches of American cheese and Thomases whole wheat mini bagels. I signed the trail register. A lot of people had been through here already today.

It was growing cold and stormy so I did not rest very long before I headed out to the last water source before the cache before the evil desert that vexed me so last year.

I stopped at the last water source, a lovely spring near a drive-in campground. A couple, Snow Plow and Rubber Legs, were camped there waiting for some blisters to heal. They said they had read my book.

I filled up 2 liters, rounding out my supply to 4.5 liters, and headed out into the desert. I hoped to get a distance into the desert and camp so that I could hike half in the last half of the day and half in the first half of the day. Last year I had sweltered through the hottest part of the day.

At around 1pm it started to rain. It did not let up all day. I proceeded to Kelso Valley Road. The cache there was empty. I was quite surprised. A man was parked there in an RV. He rolled down the window and asked if I needed water. I told him I would take a moment to eat something and evaluate my water and let him know if I needed any.

I sat with my umbrella under a Joshua tree and had a bowl of cereal. My spoon was broken. I looked at my water supply. With the cool air it seemed I would have plenty to get to the other cache.

I walked back to the RV and noticed it said Jellybean on it. The man was Jellybean's father, I guess. Jellybean had hiked the trail last year but with only 89 miles to go she had hurt her ankle and had to get off. She was trying again.

I asked Jellybean's dad if he had a plastic spoon. He gave me one.

Away I went into the desert. I made really good time. The desert smelled good in the rain. It was very windy. I was able to attach my umbrella to my pack so that I could hold the front down by the canopy with both hands as I walked.

At 6:30 I sought shelter among the same rocks near Willow Spring Road I had sought shade last year. I propped up my rain poncho to make a strange little hidey-hole with a giant rock poised to fall and crush me. I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge that the rock had probably been balanced like that for decades.

I set up a rain poncho because I did not have a tent with me. The poncho is big enough to provide me shelter from rain. Even so, it was a lousy shelter that I created. The rain had stopped but I was pretty sure if it started up again, I would probably get a little wet.

I made dinner in the hidey-hole away from the wind. I gazed out across the Joshua Tree studded desert hills and saw a double rainbow. The rainbow was almost full with only a portion in the upper middle missing. At the other end of the rainbow, I could see where it went right to the ground.

The clouds seemed to dissipate as I lay there. I watched them move slowly to the east. The wind ceased. I slept well except for the little mouse, whose house I apparently had barged into, who rustled around my food bag.

I put my food bag in my pack and then I saw him run around over my head. Then I could hear him climbing up the rock and sending small bits of sand onto my poncho roof. At least it wasn't rain.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Tehachapi to my first Marathon

I shouldn't have slept in the hotel room with the others in Tehachapi. I yogied my way into sharing a hotel room for $15, but it was smelly and the air conditioning was noisy and the others stayed up late so I tried to sleep with the lights on. I didn't sleep well.

I got up by my alarm at 5:30 and went outside to wait for my ride to the trail at 6. I stopped next door at Kelcy's for coffee. Al was there, too.

Mud Elephant said he had room for all of us, but there was no way for all of us and our big packs to fit. So I got out to wait for a second shift of rides. It worked out better this way anyway since not all of us were going to the same trailhead.

I got to the trail at Cameron Road at 7, which was plenty early. The hiking went well. It was a reasonable temperature and my umbrella helped with the intense sun and heat.

Around 1pm I made it to Golden Oak Spring, a delightful oasis in the middle of dry pinyon pine and juniper forest. Windmills spun furiously like jet airplanes overhead.

Two section hikers were camped there, suffering from blisters and trying to learn from thru-hikers how to go lighter. I wished I had told them that the trick is to think of this not as a camping trip but as a hiking trip. Throw out everything you have that is for camping. Keep only what is for hiking. Then add back only what is necessary to eat and sleep, and keep those to the bare minimum. You want to be warm, dry and safe, but you don't need any "comforts" beyond that.

Instead I showed them some of my gear, such as my cook kit which consists of a yogurt container for a bowl, a 1 liter cook pot with a homemade lid (because the one that comes with is too heavy), a homemade windscreen and a homemade alcohol stove made from a tiny V8 can. It weighs very little and serves me very well. I also suggested they go to Onyx and send home extra weight from the post office there. Get rid of it quick before it ruins the trip.

Soon Al and some other hikers, River and Petal and Mowgly arrived at the spring. We all rested, cooked and drank our fill for about 2 hours. I decided that if I left at 3pm I'd have time to make another 10 miles for my first marathon of the trail.

At 3pm I saddled up and away I went. It was pretty hot out. Sometimes I think it's hotter from 3-5pm than at any other time of day.

At 5 I stopped to make some dinner. I noticed that I was starting to get hungrier lately. I cooked up some delicious cous-cous with tuna, fresh broccoli, curry and olive oil. It was good enough fare to eat at home. I got the recipe from my friend Rik.

Mowgley came by while I was eating and sat with me for a while. When I got up to go, he hung back.

I walked on and found a neat spot to sleep among some low oak trees on a ridge just a quarter mile shy of the 10 miles I had hoped to make. It was a neat spot to sleep, but there were too many foxtails. I could hear cattle lowing as I fell asleep under the stars.

Monday, June 01, 2009


Hikertown to Cottonwood Bridge

Tony and I relaxed at Hikertown at the western edge of the Antelope Valley until 3:30pm. A gathering thunderstorm had by then covered the entire valley in clouds. If anytime was a good time to hike across the desert, it was now. So off we went.

I had done this trail before, but it seemed so much easier in the late afternoon with a cool breeze and moisture in the air. It was sprinkling big fat drops as we left, but the cloud moved off to the east and hovered just out of reach the rest of the evening.

As we marched across the desert, we stepped aside at one point to let a truck drive by. The truck instead stopped and offered us some grapefruit sodas. How refreshing. And the man inside knew who I was when I told him my trail name. His name was Roger and he had been following my journal. We talked with him for a while and then started to worry we were using up too much of the remaining day light. We said good-bye and tried to hustle before it got too dark.

Darkness fell on us for the last few miles. It seemed that wherever we were going was where the thunderstorm had spent most of its efforts. The aqueduct road was muddy and puddles of water rested on the concrete roof of the aqueduct.

Tony seemed tired and I offered to camp on the side of the road a few times. I pointed out a camp site that motorcyclers use that we could have camped at. I offered to stop at one of the concrete, locked access ports of the aqueduct. He just wanted to get there and get this hike over with. I felt bad that I had dragged him out here on this boring part of the PCT.

We finally arrived at the Cottonwood Creek bridge well after dark. The concrete of the aqueduct had captured enough moonlight to show us the way. As far as we could tell, no one else was there. We camped under the lean-to.

I felt bad that Tony hadn't seemed to enjoy himself. I thought the desert had been very beautiful with the clouds and the freshness after the rain and the two shrikes we had seen. It was such an enormous contrast to last year's experience.

Cottonwood Bridge to Willow Springs Rd.

In the morning before dawn, Tony got up and said he wanted to leave. I felt bad he hadn't enjoyed the trip. I hoped he knew how much I appreciated that he came, how nice it was to share the brief experience with him.

I went to go use a bush and when I returned, he was all packed and gone. I found him filling up water at the water fountain. We said good-bye and I returned to my things, packed up and headed onward up the trail.

As the sun rose the air still felt fresh and clean. There were millions of black beetles in the trail and clinging to bushes like black Christmas ornaments. I tried not to step on them, but sometimes I don't think it was possible.

All along the way, the trail had been cleaned of hiker foot prints. After following only bears from Santa Barbara to Hikertown, now I was following nobody. Soon I noticed some huge human prints and then I came upon their owner, a small man who went by Bigfoot. I asked him what size and he told me 15. I said I knew someone with 17s. He seemed relieved someone had bigger feet than him.

Bigfoot walked slowly and I ran into him again when I paused at Tylerhorse canyon to get some water. He seemed to be really enjoying himself on the trail. His method was not to plan too much, to just go with the flow, resupply where and when he wanted. Seemed like a good plan to me, too.

I continued out of Tylerhorse canyon, pausing once in a while to see if Bigfoot was coming. He grew further and further away. I watched motorcyclers tear up the hillsides as I rose into the Tehachapi mountains.

Soon I was on top of the Tehachapis walking through burned pinyon pine forest. I remembered much of this trail from last year. It started to get hot so I put up my umbrella. Then a cloud came by and I put it away again.

Just as I was thinking it might be nice to take a rest, I rounded a corner to find Maw-ee and Paw-ee resting under a tree. They invited me to sit with them. I sat there for about an hour. Maw-ee was very friendly and talkative and we talked for quite a while. They both seemed like really nice people. We planned to camp at the same place later in the day.

I started to get cold in the shade so I decided to continue. Out in the sun it was scorching hot again. But the trees seemed less burned and there was a little more shade.

As I dropped out of the trees, I came upon the Tiger shower. There is a shower on the trail. I turned the knob and water came out of the head. I tried to direct the flow to my head and face to cool off. It was quite windy here near the windmills. I filled up my water bottles with the cold, clean water and headed down to the picnic table where I planned to camp.

It was still pretty early in the day. I had come so far. I told myself I must stay at the picnic table and not continue on. Twenty-four miles is plenty. When I reached the table, there was no shade so I found a tree to sit under for a while. The creek there was disappointingly out of water. I had hoped to sponge off a little.

Maw-ee and Paw-ee arrived about an hour later. When the shadows lengthened enough, I moved over to the picnic table and lay on the ground on my back with my legs on the bench. I fell asleep like that for a few minutes.

Paw-ee said he heard voices. I heard them too. Just then, three hikers arrived. They looked too clean to be thru-hikers. They were clean because they had just cleaned up in Tehachapi and planned to camp at the picnic table and head out in the wee hours. They spent a long time negotiating different strategies to manage the 24 mile waterless stretch ahead. They had a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bottle of Coke and drank it all. They were hillarious. Their names were Trashman, Hello Kitty and Matt. Matt had lost 50 pounds.

At dusk we all went to bed. The men stayed up a little longer talking trash and then also went to bed. In the early hours before dawn, they arose as planned to continue their hike. I could still smell the alcohol. How can they do it?

Trashman had been nice enough to let me borrow his phone to call my ride to Tehachapi. It was all planned that she would meet me at Cameron Rd. at noon. I didn't need to leave very early to hike the 8 miles there, but I left early anyway so I could hike in cooler hours.

The 8 miles were pleasant, hiking through rolling, grassy hills filled with cattle and windmills. I watched some workmen fixing one of the windmills. I scared a bunch of cattle who couldn't seem to figure out that if they ran perpendicular instead of down the trail maybe I wouldn't keep coming toward them.

At the summit of the segment I paused to take my picture sitting on a bench. Then I began the long descent to Highway 58.

Along the way, a very large bull stood in the trail and refused to move. I tried to see how close I could come. Then I got nervous and hiked up the side of the hill around him. He wasn't budging.

I reached the bottom of the trail at Cameron Rd. and found a water cache. I paused there to sit in the shade, planning to wait 3 hours for my ride into town. As I waited a man named "The Dude" arrived and we spoke briefly. He was headed all the way to the next water source 16 miles away. He didn't stay long.

I decided the shade here was inadequate and decided to walk to the overpass. Maybe those distant Joshua trees would be better shade. When I arrived two men standing there said, here comes more trash. Yep, hiker trash I am once again. One of the men was Boots, the Ultimate Trail Hiker. He was a funny guy. The other was the Stumbling Norwegian. Somehow both knew I had lost my penny whistle.

The Stumbling Norwegian had a rental car and drove me into town. I got all my resupply stuff done very quickly. As I was walking back to Stumbling Norwegian's hotel room with my groceries, a lady in a minivan pulled over and asked if I needed a ride. I said yes, and could she take me to a music shop so I could buy a penny whistle. Along the way she told me how she had won the car in a contest where she had to write an essay about why she deserved the car. She was mother of several young children and had no car and had to walk to the store several times a week with all her kids. She swore if she won the car she would give rides to others so they didn't have to walk with all their groceries, too. Trail magic! Magic for her and magic for me.

We stopped at the music shop and they just happened to have one penny whistle. More magic. I bought it and she drove me back to the hotel where I finished packing. I decided to send some of my food ahead to Onyx.

I walked over to the post office to mail my box. Stumbling Norwegian saw me and picked me up and drove me there. I may not get my box because if I get there at all, it'll be on Saturday and the post office might not be open. I will take the risk and hope for the best.

After all that, I went in search of hikers and found some at the old Santa Fe hotel that I stayed at last year. Some offered to let me sleep on the floor. Out to eat, I met some more hikers and yogied my way into an early morning ride to the trail tomorrow. I think it would have been better to hit the trail in the evening, but there's not enough time. I will try to hike really long days to get to the post office in Onyx on time. I think things will work out. I'm letting the magic of the trail just happen. So far it's been full of it.