Tag Archives: hiking

Blogging on the trail is challenging

Ok – Hello friends and family!  Thanks for sticking around even though I haven’t added anything new in quite some time.  A realization I’ve had:  Blogging from the trail is tough.  I hate to admit this truth to myself.  I’d rather not tell myself that I’m going to be catching up in the near future because that would be a lie.  Blogging from the iPhone – not gonna happen.  Since I am not carrying an iPad or similar tablet, this limits me to computer blogging.  Computer/internet cafes are not very common on the PCT so that means my ability to write on my blog is limited.  This coupled with the fact that I would need to write about weeks of trail time in a single afternoon just makes it nearly impossible to keep things current.  While I would love to provide you with exciting stories and funny anecdotes from the trail, I can’t use my limited free-time glued to the computer screen.

Here is my plan.  On the right hand margin of the blog you will see a Twitter feed as well as an Instagram feed.  I will continue posting photos to Instagram because it is easy and not time consuming.  I will start posting my mileage via Twitter so that you can see where I have made it to.  This is the best I can do for now.

The past couple weeks have been chock full of excitement.  Beautiful mountains, scorching desert, friendly thru-hikers and over indulgence in meals are some of the moments that have punctuated a priceless experience.  I am currently in Acton, California, at Hiker Heaven (one of the trail angel houses).  We have hot weather on the horizon and some substantial stretches of desert (the Mojave) to cross before we ascend into the beginning of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  We hikers are excited with our progress and the high alpine lakes on the horizon are driving us forward and keeping our legs fresh.

One other bit of excitement – I received a very thoughtful PayPal donation from an international follower – THANK YOU.  Every little bit helps and even encouragement makes me feel rich.

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Greetings from Idyllwild, California

Well my friends, followers, family, and anyone else stumbling across my writing here, I am in Idyllwild, California.  We (Roi, Sarah, Blake and I) arrived yesterday, driven by our trail friend Evil Goat.  Since getting here, we have eaten ice cream, cooked on a real stove, slept in beds, and resupplied ourselves with the essential items to continue enjoying our lives on the trail.  I personally have had some time to catch up on my journaling, something I am doing daily to document my adventure, a tangible, written memento of what has been.  Some more creative writing in a bit, but for now, here are my journal entries from the past few days.

Desert floor far below.

Desert floor far below.


4/17/2014 Day 7 – Zero day (resting, no mileage)

Very chill day – relaxing with foot baths, food (amazing breakfast scramble), beer, live music courtesy of Roi and Monty and reunions!

After relaxing most of the day, Amanda and I went into town to pick

Sarah, Sunbeam, Amanda, Mike and the famous Monty.

Sarah, Sunbeam, Amanda, Mike and the famous Monty.

up Sunbeam and Mike.  Not too much else today.  Mailed out a resupply to Ziggy and The Bear.  Dinner at Monty’s and back on the trail in the morning!


 

4/18/2014 Day 8 – Warner Springs to Mile 127 (trail angel Mike’s) – 17 Miles

Staying with Monty was a really wonderful experience.  It’s not often you meet someone so selfless, who spends his time and energy helping other people achieve their goals.

After our zero at Monty’s house, we were anxious to get on the trail and bust out some miles.  But of course, we needed to eat a huge

Following Roi on a longer climb in the desert.

Following Roi on a longer climb in the desert.

gut-bomb breakfast.  Spinach and cheese omelets and biscuits and gravy…sausage gravy – the best I’ve ever had.  I had a second helping and coffee as well.

In a blaze of gear-shifting and glory, we braced ourselves for warp speed.  We rocketed towards Warner Springs in the bed of the old pickup, arriving at the trail head in a fury, ready to move.  We thanked Monty for his hospitality and began another day.

The hiking went by as if we were floating, our legs and feet energized and restless from rest.  Before we knew it, the map confirmed 15 miles.  After suggestions from multiple people to stop in at trail angel Mikes, we knew where we were headed.

I ran into Blake at the top of the ranch driveway and neither of us knew what to expect.  We heard rumors of beer, music, food, and

Lots of new faces and good company at trail angel Mike's house.

Lots of new faces and good company at trail angel Mike’s house.

good company.  We were not disappointed.

Everyone I have met in the past week was already telling tails from the journey.  Many new faces showed up today too which is always and enlightened social experience.  There was beer, food, we played music, we met new faces and had a grand time.  Now we sleep.


 

4/19/2014 Day 9 – Miles 127 to Paradise Cafe – 25 miles

Long day – 25 miles.  We stayed at Mike’s place last night and slept out on the porch.  We awoke early to the smell of food cooking.

Tom had the stove up and coffee slowly brewing.  Most other hikers left before sunrise but I took my time.  I drank three cups which woke me up.

Evil Goat, watering his blueberries, what a great trail friend and host!

Evil Goat, watering his blueberries, what a great trail friend and host!

I said my goodbyes and was out the gate running (not literally).  The weather was nice and the first ten miles went by easily – made it to Tule spring by 11:30.

I took a nice rest, filtered water, ate food, washed socks, and dried out the feet.  Roi and Sarah caught up and after some discussion, we decided to push another 15 miles to the Paradise Cafe.  A big burger was in our future.

The last miles dragged a bit but some iphone music helped with that.  Finally we climbed up the side of Table mountain and the road came into sight.  I practically ran down the last mile of trail and was thrilled to see a sign offering free rides to the Paradise for hikers.

We waited a short while for Lee, Brent, and Blake before calling for our ride.  We joked about how we must smell as we loaded into the

GoPro selfie in the desert

GoPro selfie in the desert

van.

As we ate huge (HUGE) burgers and drank IPA, Evil Goat arrived and told stories while we got stuffed.  He offered to let us spend the night at his place.

Blake and I got the RV and Roi and Sarah got the guest room.  We all shared a beer before passing out.


 

4/20/2014 Day 10 – Zero day – Ride from Anza to Idyllwild, CA

We were up around 7 and drinking coffee in Goat’s kitchen shortly after.  He treated us to coffee cake and Mexican breakfast with chorizo sausage.

We spent the morning talking with each other, hearing many storied from Goat’s experience working in Iraq.  We relaxed.

Enjoying the spoils of a 'hiker box' outside of Anza, CA.

Enjoying the spoils of a ‘hiker box’ outside of Anza, CA.

Before long we were in the car making the climb to Idyllwild where we thanked and said goodbye to Goat.

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring town.  We ate ice cream and I found gaiters and sandals.  We also got some beer.

Our room at the Idyllwild Inn is surprisingly nice.  Wish I had more money saved to indulge a bit more in town!

Arctic aka Blake going through his bounce box (or bucket!) in Idyllwild.

Arctic aka Blake going through his bounce box (or bucket!) in Idyllwild.


 

Some additional thoughts…

For anyone hiking the trail this year, I have some advice.  Learn about and visit any and all trail angels.  In my planning process I put very little time into learning about the trail angels that give so much of their time and energy to us thru-hikers.  These people go out of their way to make the experience of hiking much more then just getting from point A to point B.  They are a diverse group of people who all share one common quality – they love the trail and actively support us in our quest to hike it.

The first trail angel that I want to give a special shout out to is Warner Springs Monty.  This former through hiker has a big heart and welcomed up into his home without hesitation.

I first saw his name on a piece of paper that was taped under the overpass at Scissors Crossing.  It was upside down on the concrete wall in front of me and initially, I didn’t even take the time to read it.  After camping near the highway that night, I was preparing my pack the following morning when I finally cocked my head sideways to see what was printed on this piece of paper.  The gist of the note was simple – Monty would pick you up, give you a place to sleep, food, shower, and laundry.  There was no fee although it was suggested that you make a donation based on what you could afford.  In all honestly I thought of this opportunity as a great way to save a little bit of money getting some of my needs met.  I copied down the phone number on the piece of paper before setting off for a long day of hiking.

Eventually I made it to Warner Springs and after a double cheese burger from the resource center, I decided to give Monty a call and see if he had room for me at his house.  A quirky man answered the phone and after I introduced myself, he said something like, ‘I bet you’re looking for some food, a shower, some laundry, and a place to sleep, right?’.  Of course this was exactly what I was looking for and after Monty explained that his house was not a ‘party house’, he said he would be more then happy to pick me up.

Roi and Sarah had already talked to Monty earlier that day and they were planning on going to spend the night at his house also.  We all agreed to a 2 o’clock pick up time and made sure we were all there when Monty arrived.  Another hiker by the trail name Santa’s Helper decided to come with us as well.

When Monty finally rolled up in his old, brown pickup truck, he was not exactly the man I had pictured in my head.  Younger and more spry then he sounded on the phone, Monty burst out of the driver seat and introduced himself.  We asked if we could get a ride to the post office to pick up our resupply packages and he quickly agreed and told us to load up.  I couldn’t immediately locate my ID and fumbled with my pack while I heard Monty say something like ‘I should know better then to wait around for hikers’.  HAH!  I didn’t want to be left behind so I grabbed my whole pack and tossed it in the bed before quickly hopping in myself.  Roi and Blake also jumped in and we were off.

Without going into every other detail of our stay with Monty in painstaking detail I’ll distill our experience into a final paragraph.  Monty turned out to be an amazing host.  His impatience is simply his nature and I learned to love this quality and almost find some humor in it remarking to Amanda, ‘When Monty is ready to go, he is READY TO GO.’  He cooked us breakfast and dinner, piling food on our plates multiple times until we had no room left.  He told us stories of his life, hiking long distances with little weight.  Monty turned out to be an awesome musician, jamming with Roi for about 3 hours, having us sing along with some classics as well as some of his own original songs (all stolen from other musicians he joked).

As Monty drove us back into town so we could continue our hike, I realized something (I think I actually realized it sooner).  This experience was MUCH more then just having an inexpensive place to eat and sleep.  This was the experience of a human being, selflessly sharing his love of something with other people who have that same love.  Travelers and adventurers seek experience, not tangible things.  Monty is that traveler and that adventurer.  He has been formed by the amazing experiences and interactions that only the trail can offer.  He has sought to provide these same experiences for those of us following in the footsteps that he and others have pioneered.  He asks nothing in return.  Enjoying the experience is his toll and it is a rich bounty that money could never purchase.  I want to say, THANK YOU Monty, a hundred times over.  Your caring and enthusiasm has enriched my experience and I only shared your company at mile 109!  I have 2500+ more miles to meet other people like yourself.

Any hikers coming up the trail behind me, give Monty a call and if he has room, stay with him, even if it’s for one evening.  Put some money (it doesn’t have to be a lot) in the donation jug to help him continue doing the amazing things he does for us.

Siestas are a great way to dry out your nasty-ass feet and rehydrate without carrying excessive amounts of water ON the trail.  Tule Spring.

Siestas are a great way to dry out your nasty-ass feet and rehydrate without carrying excessive amounts of water ON the trail. Tule Spring.

The first 109 miles

Hello from Warner Springs!  I just finished hiking the first 109 miles of the PCT and it has been AWESOME.  I have come to a few quick conclusions.  First, hiking 20 miles (on average) a day is challenging but can be fun.  Second, keeping my blog updated is going to be a bit more challenging then I originally anticipated.  I am not giving up though, I just wanted you all to understand that the posts will probably be once a week, maybe a bit less frequently, it all depends on when I have access to a computer.  I AM keeping a daily journal so that I can remember everything I want to write about on here – basically daily notes to jog my memory and help me write for all of you.  So here it goes.

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Day one.  Go time.  Time to start the hike, the journey that I have been looking forward to for roughly 6 months.  All the planning and research and hours spent on the internet and reading books culminates in this moment where I find myself standing next to some white wooden posts in front of a rusty fence in the desert.  To be clear, this is the boarder fence, protecting our (once) great nation.  Maybe it still is great, right now I’m not sure but hopefully I’ll find the answer.  I mean, one would assume that walking across 2600+ miles would give me a good idea.

t’s easy to lose faith.  Just turn on the television or read the newspaper.  Endless piles of bullshit in all directions.  But I know there are amazing places and amazing people – they’re out there.  So enough of MY bullshit.  Here is what has happened so far.


 

4/11 Day 1 – Mexican Boarder to Lake Morena – 20 miles

I’ve finally started the quest.  The days leading up to today have felt a bit tedious.  I’ve been so close, just waiting to jump off.

And just like that, Dad and Susan were taking my photo, immortalizing this moment in time when I began what was once just an idea.  I’m kind of at a loss for words – shocked 20140417-090606.jpgthat I have begun.  A small part of me knows that there is always a chance that I will not successfully make it to Canada.  At this moment though, I’m ecstatic to have life simplified to the point of ‘one foot in front of the other’.

The weather today was quite nice – felt no warmer then 80’s.  Also looking forward to a cooling trend.  There was a little breeze most of the day.

Rolling terrain crossed train tracks and a small creek before climbing to a sort of mesa with evidence of recent fire and lots of wildflowers.

I met and hiked with multiple thru-hikers including Jonata (sp?), Brendan, George, Sunbeam, Meredith, Wilderness Bob and Lucky.

Big climb of the day involved descending to Hauser Creek and then climbing Morena Butte.

Climbed a knobby boulder before rolling into Morena Lake campground.  We received soda from other thru-hikers who will be starting tomorrow.

Tired and sore but very happy to be here and looking forward to whatever tomorrow brings.


 

4/12 Day 2 – Lake Morena CG to Mile 40 – 20 miles

Another day completed.  After a cold night, everyone awoke to uber condensation on inner tent walls.  The morning was typical – I cooked up a cup of cheesy grits and coffee.

20140417-090653.jpgSome folks left camp before the sun crested the surrounding mountains.  A veil of clouds hung low in the valley.

I was ready before the folks I hiked with on day 1 and I decided to hit the trail solo.

I met many other hikers today including the Israeli couple, Roi and Sarah.  Also met Birdman, Christian, Butters – I think that’s it.

It’s likely that I’ll take a shorter day tomorrow and kill some time in Mount Laguna.

Tonight I’m cowboy’d up just south of Burnt Rancheria campground in a beautiful stand of pines with a grass understory.  Tired.  Food.  More tomorrow!


4/13 Day 3 – Mile 40 to Pioneer Mail Picnic Area – 12.6 miles

After a beautiful & calm night sleeping beneath the stately pines, I woke at 6:45 to song birds.  After two twenty mile days back to back, I knew today should be a bit mellower.

I had a very leisurely morning – peanut butter bagel and coffee were enjoyed from the warmth of my sleeping bag.  When I finally rallied it was around 8:30 and I only had about two miles into Mount LAguna.  This little (LITTLE, less then 500 people) town is right off the trail and offers the thru-hiker many goodies.

I’m not craving huge greasy hamburgers yet so I opted out of either restaurant.   I did however stop into the gear shop which is run by Dave ‘Super’.  I swapped out my aluminum tent stakes for titanium and also got a 2 liter bladder, tyvek ground cloth, and20140417-090734.jpg a bottle for cooking oil.

Super gave me a shakedown and helped me shave a few ounces off my pack weight.

While talking with Super, Roi showed up and I returned his trowel which I found on the trail yesterday.

I spent another hour in town at the general store where I enjoyed a banana and root beer.  And Super bestowed upon me the trail name ‘Cheetah’.  I like it!

Hot hiking led to a few shady rests.  Views of the desert floor, Mt. Laguna observatory, and Garnet peak were superb.

Tonight dinner was cheesy pesto tortellini followed by hot chocolate.


 

4/14/2014 Day 4 – Pioneer Mail Picnic Area to Scissors Crossing – 24.4 miles *lunar eclipse

What’s with all the 4’s? Very strange – and a lunar eclipse to top it off.,,I don’t know.

So today, biggest hiking day of my life and I survived.  24.4 miles was brutal on the feet but perseverance paid off.

I woke up at Pioneer Mail early enough to catch the sunrise, beauty.  Bagel and PB for breakfast and coffee was a nice way to get the day started.  The horde of local woodpeckers kept me company while I packed up.

An early start made the first miles a breeze.  I ran into X-ray at the Sunrise Trailhead while getting water.  I also crossed paths with a couple young CA state park trail guys who were hard at work taking a union…haha.

The trail meandered before descending into Mason Valley.  There I met Kit, Backup, Coach, First Class, Mike and Amanda.  Snack and then some saywer squeezing before climbing again – yeah!  The views and nice breeze returned.

I passed everyone and saw amazing cactus blooms on the ridge top.  I eventually descended into Rodriguez canyon and caught up to Roi and Sarah at the fire tank.  They20140417-090810.jpg convinced me to continue to Scissors crossings.

Descending from Rodriguez canyon was AWESOME.  Real desert – cacti everywhere.  The heat increased.  Cacti blooms, sandy washes, other-worldly.

Trudged to Scissors and met Evil Goat, Blake, Seamus.  Roi and Evil Goat played strings while we drank tecate thanks to trail angel Houdini.  Fun stories were shared.  Now bed, exhausted!


 

4/15 Day 5 – Scissors Crossing to Barrel Spring – 24.1 miles

Another 20+ mile day.  Woke up early to the sound of traffic on the highway, time to get going.

Although I was last out of camp, I moved fast up into the hills.  BIG barrel cactus everywhere as well as Ocotillo.  Endless climbing resulted in nice views and a breeze.

Leap frogged with Roi and Sarah, Turkey Feather, Blake, Bilbo, and Seamus.  Everyone met up at 3rd gate water cache for a siesta.

Another 9 miles got us to mile 100!  Passed Billy Goat’s cave at mile 96 and counted to 1000 before siesta (earlier in the day).

Saw poison oak!  Look out.  Camping with whole gang at Barrel.  Evil Goat is playing 20140417-090628.jpgfiddle in the woods near by.  Great, long day – tomorrow leads to relaxation!

ps saw two snakes

pps got scared by a bird


 

4/16 Day 6 – Barrel Spring to Warner Springs – 8 miles

Short morning of hiking.  Only 8 miles from Barrel spring into Warner.  I hiked with Blake and we shared life stories.  The miles breezed by and before we knew it, we were at Eagle rock.

We took photos and hung out with Evil Goat and Santa’s Helper.  Green, rolling fields stretched out in every direction.

Three more miles of hiking got us to Warner Springs where we ate double cheese burgers at the resource center – a thru-hiker mecca.  They also have a small resupply store, ice cream, showers, laundry, etc.

Instead of staying there we called Warner Springs Monty, a trail angel near by.  He wisked us away to the post office to get resupply boxes, and then onto his house where20140417-090751.jpg he cooked us amazing bar-b-q chicken sandwiches.  Desert was ice cream sundaes.

Tomorrow will be a true zero day.  After having a shower, washing my clothing, and having good food and beer in my belly, life is good!


 

Touring Cali

Well, here I sit, 9 days away from starting my hike and I can practically feel the energy vibrating, coursing through my veins. I’ve been folding maps for the past hour, stealing glimpses of iconic places I hope to visit on the ground as I follow that 2660 mile long corridor of possibilities North.
I am in Gilroy, California, garlic capital of the world, visiting my Aunt and Uncle, cousins, etc. The last time I was here was a previous decade and things were very different in my life. If you asked me then, I could NEVER have predicted my current situation or the events that led to this pivotal junction in my life. What was it that Robert Frost said?..

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Part of me always knew this was the path I was meant to be on, I just needed life to drop-kick me in the face to get on track. It hurt and there is still no certainty. But is there ever certainty? I ask myself this time and time again, hoping for clarity in a world that is obscured by layers of purple haze.
A trip to REI for some final provisions will hopefully leave me feeling properly outfitted. I can’t wait for this wild ride to get started.

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When lite IS right

In my quest to prepare for the PCT, I have found myself getting sucked into the game of shedding weight wherever possible. Recently I read a great article by Andrew Skurka “Stupid light”.  Andrew’s article gives some great examples of omitted gear that ultimately proved detrimental to his comfort and abilities on particular trips.  I thought I would give a few examples of my own to further illustrate weight savings, not safety 20140327-165842.jpgcompromise.

As I have been preparing for the trail, water treatment has been one of the areas that I have seen my strategy slowly evolve.  I originally intended to use a chemical purification product called AquaMira. I used this product on a NOLS semester course with success. In addition to its ability to make questionable water safer to drink, it had no unpleasant taste that I could detect in addition to being simple to use and light weight.  Unfortunately it is rather cost prohibitive at $11 (which treats 30 gallons).  I anticipate drinking more then 200 gallons of water during my PCT hike. This works out to a cost of roughly $75 for enough Aqua Mira for my entire hike.

I felt that I could do better then $75 so I looked to my Steri Pen Classic.  I bought it for $50 on sale at REI. Some benefits are the fact that it is chemical free and more compact then most filters. Upon researching this product however, I found that it will only purify roughly 100 liters (under ideal conditions) on one set of lithium batteries ($10).  This would cost roughly $80 for batteries in addition to the cost of the pen itself for a total of $130 for chemical free water purification for the duration of my hike.

Although I had entertained the idea of using bleach, which is highly cost effective and lightweight, I still have a 20140327-165831.jpghard time willingly putting chemicals in my body (even though chlorine is used to purify municiple water supplies…). Before I invested in a dropper bottle and bleach, I was lucky enough to come across the Saywer Mini water filter.  This little gem is compact, easy to use, and for $25, will purify 100,000 gallons.  Also, in my quest to shed unnecessary weight, this filter comes in at 1.5oz less then the Steri Pen including a collapsible water bottle, straw attachment, flushing syringe and stuff sack. If I leave behind a few of these accessories, I can get the weight down to 1.6oz, almost 5oz less then the Steri Pen!  This is a rare instance where the lighter option is also much cheaper (unheard of when shedding ounces) and is actually simpler to use without sacrificing function.

After having so much success in reducing my gear weight with water treatment, I reevaluated my stove – the MSR Microrocket. This little piece of metal is already light, weighing in at 4.5oz including all the accessories. These additional accessories include a hard plastic case as well as a piezoelectric igniter.  Separating these items and putting the stove back on the scale revealed a weight savings of 1.75oz. Leaving behind a plastic case and igniter (redundant items since the stove can stow in my cooking pot and I will still carry a lighter) is a safe move that doesn’t jeopardize my safety or comfort, two important factors to consider when taking items out of your pack.

20140327-165837.jpgOne last example of weight savings is my choice to forgo a long sleeve shirt.  I initially planned on bringing a wool tshirt as well as a long sleeve shirt.  While it would be nice to have to two layers, I came across my biking arm warmers.  I substituted the arm warmers for the long sleeved shirt – a moderate weight savings which doesn’t sacrifice my ability to cover my arms for added warmth or protection from the sun.

With all of these substitutions and omissions, the main question I asked myself was, ‘am I threatening my safety?’.  In all of these examples the answer was no, allowing me to make these weight saving changes without threatening my well-being on the trail.  I recommend using the same criteria when making decisions about your own gear choices – good luck and happy hiking!

 

The long road to California

The weather is beautiful and sunny here in Southern California. I arrived this morning (March 21st) after a week of adventures in the Southwestern US.  This post will be broken down by destinations and travel days to attempt to make it a bit more reader friendly, enjoy!

Getting on the road

As most of you who have been following my blog are already aware, Megan and I had been planning a ‘spring break’ road trip to California, the dates of which lined up nicely for the start of my PCT thru-hike and Megan’s break from CSU.  After what seemed like months of planning our route, acquiring gear, and and coordinating with friends, March 14th finally arrived and to say we were excited would be an understatement.

While Megan finished up some mid-terms, I organized and loaded the last of our gear into the Forester, a task which proved challenging.  The gear necessary for two people to enjoy a 1300 mile road trip including hiking climbing and camping is substantial.  Add to that everything else that I own, which needed to come with us to California, and you are looking at very little space for the two people who are needed to actually pilot and navigate said car.  It seemed improbable but we managed to fit everything, with a little leg room.

We shifted the car into drive some time around noon and immediately made our first stop at New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins.  In addition to the two bombers of La Folie and Tree Shaker that Megan had purloined, we needed to fill her growler, a 64oz. (half gallon) container with some sweet nectar before heading into Utah.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Utah’s liquor laws, lets just say that they make acquiring beer with alcohol percentages higher then 3.2% ‘difficult’.

We ALWAYS have a great time at New Belgium and this visit proved consistent with the past.  Our bartender turned out to be a 2010 Appalachian trail thru-hiker known as ‘Tree’.  Once he heard that I was on my way to California to begin a thru-hike of the PCT, his eyes grew wide and he came alive, recounting his trail experience a few years ago.  We ended up chatting for 45 minutes in which time he offered me that highly valuable information that thru-hiking alumni always seem to posses.  As if that wasn’t enough, Tree wished us well and sent us on our way with tasters and a growler fill, free of charge!  The trail magic had begun and we weren’t even 15 minutes from the start of our road trip.  It is already apparent to me that the community of thru-hikers I am about to immerse myself in are wonderful people.

Beer in hand, we rolled out of Fort Collins towards Boulder to make a few more pit stops before stopping by my friend Jason’s house in Conifer.  I took one last look through some belongings that J is looking after for me.  I grabbed some fly fishing gear and stuffed it god-knows-where in the solid brick of equipment that had become my car before wishing Jason farewell and resuming our momentum West, towards the coast.

Some other highlights of our first day of driving included bar-b-q in South Park, beers in Breckenridge, and an unplanned motel night in Grand Junction.  We had originally planned on driving straight through to Indian Creek that evening to meet up with our friends who we planned on camping with.  Initially I was a little irritated at Megan’s suggestion to stop driving, wanting to get to our destination.  In hindsight, her GOOD idea got us into bed by 11pm, not 2am.  We both got roughly seven hours of sleep, waking up early the next morning to finish the last four hours of driving.

Indian Creek

As climbers, Megan and I had seen pictures, heard stories, and dreamed of the day we would get to climb at the iconic desert sandstone cliffs that are Indian Creek.  This BLM managed piece of land is located in the high desert of South-Eastern Utah.  Heading South through the red rock landscape of Moab, the sun slowly climbed past the horizon and the landscape whispered canyon country.  We wandered across washes and around mesas until turning off the main highway towards an area known as the Newspaper Rock Recreation

Literally on the side of the road.

Literally on the side of the road.

Area.

After climbing through a small window in the sandstone fortress ahead of us, the road angled steeply and drunkenly downwards thrusting us into the canyons below.  Crossing cattle guards and making winding turns led us to the parking area for Newspaper Rock, a sort of community canvas of pictographs and petroglyphs.  Megan and I stopped briefly to snap a few quick photos but resumed our drive, arriving at the Supercrack parking area about 40 minutes ahead of schedule.

Upon stepping out of the car, we immediate dug out our down jackets – it was coooold and the parking area was not yet basking in the same sunshine splashing over the sandstone cliffs above.  We had been on the road since 5am and we needed sustenance.  With the Coleman 2-burner set up on the hood, we brewed coffee, Megan had oatmeal, and I ate some granola and yogurt.

After some driving around, we managed to run into Jeramiah and Kevin, our friends we were looking for.  They led us down Beef Basin road to a fantastic camp site right below the Technicolor Wall.  To say this spot was scenic wouldn’t do it justice.  We were tucked right below the massive sandstone walls we would be climbing that afternoon, in the middle of a valley that winded it’s way between buttresses of red iron.  In the distance, snow-dusted peaks showed winter’s reluctance to let go of this stark landscape.  Not long after pulling into camp, our friend Ian came motoring up the road on a dirt bike he was just learning to ride.  He attempted some advanced maneuver which resulted in him laying the bike down immediately in front of the group, resulting in laughter.  It was quite a grand entrance.  We laughed, met new friends, stuffed climbing gear into packs and headed up the ridge line to the Technicolor wall.

Upon arrival, Ian ‘warmed up’ on a fist and off-hands-sized corner that was damn near 60 meters long.  On top-rope I was humbled by the nature of the climbing as my hands were sanded into submission.  No tape could protect me from the ancient sea floor.  Megan and I marveled at the nature of the climbing, managing our way up the climbs but without the style or grace of our friends who have obviously honed their desert crack climbing technique from previous visits.  We were beat down and we were loving it.  The cracks and chimneys that made up this small part of the climbing area kept us occupied until the sun dropped below the canyon walls and we retreated to our barracks for the evening.

Dinner consisted of meat products (meat stick and bacon) in cheesy mac – let the flatulence begin!  We shared 20140321-170147.jpgbeer and good company around a campfire with a million stars overhead.  My night alternated between moments of deep sleep as well as waking – I often sleep this way outdoors, I can’t quite explain it.  In the early morning I listened to the cries of coyotes.

Day two saw us driving towards the Pistol Whipped wall, a bit further down Beef Basin road.  After a steep approach to the base of the cliff, we traversed right until we found some appropriate climbs to warm up on.  I jumped on lead on a short and think finger crack while Ian set up one of the tightest chimneys I have ever climbed.  After a boost of confidence I got to watch Ian onsite a 5.12- finger crack, impressive.  Ian and Jaremiah mentioned a climb called Jolly Rancher when we had initially hiked up to the climbing area for the day and at 5.10, it seemed like a grade I could manage.  After collecting close to 20 cams, I walked around the buttress until a splitter hand crack came into view.  After the previous day I knew that although this line looked beautiful, the climbing would be strenuous and challenging.

20140321-170135.jpgThe first few moves off the ground were difficult – slightly insecure jams with thin feet.  I managed to reach high enough for a solid thumbs-down jam, camming my feet into the crack, finally feeling secure enough to reach down and select a cam.  After a few more moves the climbing eased a bit more and I repeated the process of selecting a cam and protecting my upwards movement.  After about twenty feet I placed one more cam and decided to take a rest.  Crack climbing is really no different then any other type of climbing when you get down to the underlying strategy.  Conserve energy, hold your body close to the rock with your hands and use your feet for upward progress whenever possible.  I have told hundreds of students those very strategies and thankfully Ian and Jeremiah were there reminding me of these basics.  It’s easy to lose sight of the simple things when your forearms feel like they are about to rupture and you are on the sharp end of the rope.

I wish I could say that after that rest I run right up the rest of the climb.  The truth is that it took me about 45 minutes to finish the remaining 120 feet of the route.  Rock climbing can be extremely humbling and this was a perfect case of ‘first time at the Creek’.  I didn’t give up though, thrashing my way up the crack, running out

The Author climbing Jolly Rancher 5.10, Pistol Whipped Wall, Indian Creek, Utah

The Author climbing Jolly Rancher 5.10, Pistol Whipped Wall, Indian Creek, Utah

of small gear when I desperately wanted it right at the end.  After clipping the anchors and being lowered I rested for a long time.  I was beat down but I enjoyed it.  Jamming your way up a splitter crack, in the middle of a blank sandstone face, in the desert turned out to be an excellent experience.  I look forward to next time.

That afternoon Megan and I decided that we ought to continue our journey South to Blanding, Utah.  Our friends were getting on the road back to Salt Lake City that afternoon and we needed gas in the car as well as water and some other food items.  Simultaneously cracking open beers in the parking area, we recounted our experience that day and laughed together.  Ian bestowed upon me some lighter trekking poles for my PCT hike and he and Jeremiah offered to help out with mailing supplies to me on the trail if necessary.  The trail magic continues and I’m not even on the trail yet.

South-Eastern Utah, Butler Wash

After leaving Indian Creek, Megan and I had a short drive South, through Monticello and Blanding, Utah.  We rolled down Butler Wash late Sunday evening and without too much difficulty, found a spot to park the car.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with South-East Utah, amazing Native American ruins and artifacts reside in the sandy, winding canyons that make up this arid landscape.  Butler Wash road, South of Blanding, gives access to Comb Ridge, a sandstone incline punctuated with many easily accessible canyons.  In these canyons you will find many Anasazi ruins as well as petroglyphs, pictographs, potshards, and many other artifacts.  The Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, by Michael R. Kelsey, is a fantastic resource.

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Since we were climbing nearby, exploring some of the cultural past that Utah has to offer seemed like a fun and relaxing option (not to mention convenient, less then an hour from Indian Creek).  After a productive morning, cleaning and organizing the car as well as cooking bacon and eggs in cast iron over our campfire, we were feeling motivated to do some walking.  We quickly learned (or maybe I already knew) that BLM land often has limited signage.  Having neglected to reset the odometer on the car as we turned off the main road, 20140321-170255.jpgfiguring out the specific turns to access the ruins we were looking for proved challenging.  While I drove aimlessly down the dirt road, Megan glassed Comb ridge with her binoculars and suggested that we take one of the side roads to our West.  Leaving the main road and heading towards Comb Ridge, we eventually found a parking area with trail markers.  With water and cameras in our packs, we began the pleasant walk towards the canyons.

Within five minutes sandstone walls rose on both sides, funneling us towards the cool shade of the alcoves and brush within the confines of the canyon ahead.  We continued down the well-worn path, eventually cross in front of a sign the warned ‘do not disturb cultural resources’.  We were on the right path.  A few more minutes of walking and the canyon opened.  We didn’t see the ruins immediately, they blended into the orange and red rock which they were perched on.  Upon closer inspection, we could now see an overhanging alcove with two levels.  Stone and mud walls were carefully perched on the edge of each level, offering a living space for what appeared to be multiple family groups.

Upon closer inspection we found pieces of pottery, stone flakes from the creation of tools and grinding marks 20140321-170232.jpgfrom processing grain (we guessed).  The walls of the canyons nearby were inscribed with carved images known as petroglyphs depicting events long passed.  As we climbed among the old structures we imagined the people who made this place their home and wished we were so lucky to live in a canyon as beautiful as this.

As we began out walk out of this location, our attention to detail had shifted and we now saw many more petroglyphs on the walls that we had previously passed.  It’s amazing how these ancient pieces of artwork could be sitting right in front of us and go unnoticed.  We had gotten a late start this morning and wanted to visit at least one more canyon before getting on the road.  Getting back to our car, we consulted the map and picked another side road to explore.

The next trail that we found led us to an area known as Monarch cave, one of the deeper and more expansive alcoves we had seen containing similar structures.  This particular site had some features that we had not previously seen including wood incorporated into the stone dwellings as supports and also as roofing.  We found some grinding plates as well as lots and LOTS of carved and drawn images on the nearby walls.

20140321-170322.jpgAfter our cultural exploration was complete, we headed back to Blanding to pick up an atlas and some food items.  We needed an oil change and a destination.  After talking to the caretaker for a local RV campground, we decided to drive a little further to the town of Bluff, to find a campground that might offer showers and internet.  Bluff didn’t disappoint and we were able to get cleaned up and upload email a few photos to our friends and family.

The Grand Canyon

Megan and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Southeastern Utah, but with California in the distance, we had to get on the road and put some more miles behind us. Morning saw us rolling across the Navajo nation through Monument Valley and ultimately ending at the Grand Canyon.

Prior to starting our road trip I had attempted to contact a good friend of mine who has been on a road trip for the past 10 months.  Craig retired, and now that he is receiving social security, he is living his life on the road!  I am impressed that someone such as Craig is able to find happiness and peace living a simple life, enjoying the National Parks and other Federal lands from the comfort of his tent.  I wish more people could see how much value exists in a life lived this way.

As we climbed the long road out of the desert up to the entrance station to the park, I mentioned to Megan that I had not yet successfully gotten in touch with Craig.  His daughter told me that we would find him at the Grand Canyon but knowing Craig, he could be anywhere in the Southwest soaking in the sun in his camping chair.  We took a chance and headed towards the campgrounds on the South Rim, hoping to find my friend.

There are over 250 designated camp sites on the South Rim and we started with number 1.  Megan and I drove slowly around the loops looking for the green Tacoma and L.L. Bean tent.  Winding through the pines, we searched every corner of the campground loops without much luck.  Occasionally we would see a promising site, but no luck, Craig was nowhere to be found.  Driving through the last loop, I was feeling a bit discouraged, preparing myself for the task of finding our own site and setting up all of our equipment when we saw something promising.  Through the trees a big, 70’s style tent came into view, complete with a tanned, shirtless dude, sitting in a camp chair, his white handlebar mustache almost fluorescent in the afternoon sun.

Craig’s familiar smile crept onto his face as he waved hello and we stepped out of the car to greet him.  It was

We found our friend Craig, livin' the life, resident at the Grand Canyon and loving it!

We found our friend Craig, livin’ the life, resident at the Grand Canyon and loving it!

really wonderful seeing Craig who I originally met working in Boulder, Colorado, trimming marijuana in a dimly-lit warehouse.  The two of us hit it off, with similar life experiences and a love of the outdoors.  I was so happy to introduce Megan and the three of us immediately drank a few beers and shared stories from the road.

Craig was happy to have us stay at his site and he offered to let us sleep in his tent as he was using the back of his truck.  We gladly obliged, saving us some time and allowing us to kick back and enjoy some beers.  That afternoon we all hiked to the rim where we watched the sun retreat behind the horizon, painting the canyon walls orange, red, and magenta.

The following morning Craig headed into town for gas and other provisions while Megan and I had a dense pancake breakfast.  We discussed our options and decided that a nice day hike on the Bright Angel Trail would give us a taste of what the Canyon had to offer.  Packing our gear for the day we made sure to put a couple beers in our packs to enjoy during lunch.  Megan and I hit the trailhead at 10:30 and began our descent.

The Bright Angel Trail is one of the most famous hiking trails in the Canyon, eventually winding it’s way down to Phantom Ranch.  As we began our hike, it was clear that the trail was manufactured, carved into the steep side of the upper canyon.  The more switchbacks we rounded, the warmer the air got and the fewer other park visitors we encountered.  We were headed to Indian Gardens, a campground part way down the trail.  Amazingly, there are MULTIPLE bathrooms and water filling stations on the way down the trail (in just 3 miles).  While I laughed and joke with Megan that we better get our $25 worth, it occurred to me that multiple guests probably would have died without these services.  While the existence of these structures don’t exactly lend themselves to creating a wilderness experience, I remembered that this was not a wilderness, this was a park.  There is an obvious difference.

Megan and I eventually made it to Indian Gardens which felt like an oasis, complete with flowering shrubs, Grand Canyon NP sunsetsinging birds, and flowing water.  We had brought PLENTY of water and didn’t need a refill.  Instead we continued on towards Plateau Point, our halfway point and planned destination.  Our new trail diverged from the Bright Angel Trail, and we became further removed from the crowds.  Park visitors were replaced with barrel and prickly pear cactus as the hiking became nearly flat.  Megan and I covered the remaining mile, ending at a beautiful rock point overlooking the Colorado river 2000 feet below.

Megan and I ate some lunch and fended off ground squirrels with my trekking poles, those little bastards, I wanted to smack them over the cliff near by.  It occurred to me that the ‘chiselers’ are only so food agressive because of all the park visitors that have fed them in the past.  While keeping a close eye on our packs, Megan and I snapped a bunch of photos and took some time to relax before beginning our 3000 foot climb back to the canyon rim.  By the time we reached the end of our 12 mile hike, we had both worked up a substantial appetite and immediately began cooking food when we got to camp.

Enjoying refreshments at Plateau Point, GCNP.

Enjoying refreshments at Plateau Point, GCNP.

Our final evening with Craig was enjoyed around a campfire, drinking good beers and sipping some red corn and oat bourbon we brought all the way from Fort Collins.  Megan and I wanted to stay longer and do more hiking and exploring but Megan had some family events to attend and needed to get to the airport in Las Vegas by 3 the next afternoon.  In the morning, right before getting on the road, Craig bestowed upon me a ‘lucky’ coin that has been in his possession for 40 years.  This gesture of generosity and thoughtfulness is a perfect example of Craig’s nature.  He is thoughtful and selfless and we were happy to spend some time in his presence, soaking in the sun in the freedom of the outdoors.

 

Las Vegas, Joshua Tree and the West Coast

We continue rolling forwards, the solid mass of gear that is my car carrying us across the arid landscape towards the most unsustainable city EVER.  This black hole continuously grows bigger, sucking the life out of the Colorado River, beaming electric sex into the atmosphere and the minds of those poor souls that succumb to it’s draw like moths to a light.  This is Vegas.  We pointed the car straight at it and hit cruise..

When we saw the signs for the Hoover dam, it only made sense to burn extra gas exiting the highway to go back in the direction we just came from to see the biggest pile of concrete man has ever crapped out onto the

surface of this beautiful planet.  This massive wall would ultimately stop you if you traveled the length of the Grand Canyon and continued across lake Mead (not a lake but a reservoir).  We looked for the free parking, ran to the edge of the precipice, snapped a picture and got back on the road.  We needed a cheap buffet, probably the only positive thing that place has ever or will ever do for me.

After filling up on the mediocrity that was ‘best Vagas buffet’ or some similar ironic title, we rolled on towards the airport where Megan caught her flight to Florida.  I immediately got on the road towards California, intent to leave the city and get back to the more wild places.  Megan and I had initially planned on doing some climbing in Red Rock Canyon but now that my partner was in the air headed towards the East Coast, I couldn’t see the appeal in hanging around (unable to climb).

California was close and I reached Barstow quickly.  I continued on through the desert, the vegetation changing slowly until Joshua trees abounded and the park felt within my grasp.  I passed the fee station at 8 o’clock and drove on, through the rocks and ridges, looking for a place to camp for the night.  This quickly proved to be more difficult then I expected, surprising for a Thursday evening.

I drove from one campground to the next, cruising every loop without any luck – EVERY single campsite was full.  When I say full I don’t necessarily mean that the sites were packed with tents.  Instead, every single site had a paper ticket on the site number post, showing that someone had reserved it or paid for it prior to my arrival.  As my frustration mounted, my driving speeds increased, carrying me through every campground in the park with no luck.  Eventually I parked at the group camping area, threw my pad on the ground, forgoing a tent, and fell asleep with troubled thoughts.

Awaking to the sound of an owl, just before sunrise, I quickly packed up and looked for a good spot to photograph the changing light.  A few nice photos were the only thing I was motivated to accomplish that morning and after some difficult communications, I decided to leave the crowded park (in favor of LA? geeze…) and continued my road trip to it’s Western terminus.  It only took roughly 3 hours to get from Joshua Tree to my Father’s house.  I had made it.

Stunning sunrise, J Tree NP

Stunning sunrise, J Tree NP

Our trip from Colorado to California ended up being a bit shorter then we originally planned, but Megan and I had a fulfilling and wonderful time sharing the company of each other as well as our friends.  We had the pleasure of spending a few days together in LA when Megan flew back out to enjoy the last three days of her spring break.  We hiked, climbed, and explored the city.

Where one trip ends, another begins, and this is far from the end for either of us.  My head is literally ready to melt after writing this article although reliving the experience in the confines of my mind has been a blast.  The Pacific Crest Trail is 2 weeks away and I’m on the cusp of starting something great.  Thanks for following along so far and I hope you all read along as I take the next big leap.  Stay adventurous my friends!