Tag Archives: trail

Adventures in the Sequoia National Forest

This weekend was a good one, full of well-documented adventure.  Oh how I love to get out of this terrible, oppressive sprawl.  It’s not so much the density of people, or even the urban-ness of an existence here.  Honestly, it’s the air, stagnant and thick with hot exhaust and particulate.  I’m certain that I’m shaving years off my life every time I take a deep breath of this city’s vapors.

Andrew navigates the craft.

Andrew navigates the craft.

We found ourselves packed like sardines into the black GTI.  It’s elegant German engineering lost beneath the provisions and equipment for four of us to enjoy a weekend of camping.  We sacrificed ergonomics and leg room (temporarily) for a taste of the natural world which exists somewhere outside this concrete labyrinth.  Speeding North, the early morning pinks and reds slowly began to illuminate the sky.  Every now and again I caught a glimpse of the PCT as it paralleled parts of our trek to the Southern Sierras.

Breakfast found us in an outdated beige and tan building serving Mexican inspired cuisine.  Juevos rancheros filled my belly and would give me some discomfort later.  Over cups of coffee my travel companions and I discussed the details of life.  We also discussed whether or not the painting of the waterfalls on the wall behind us had the ability to turn on, projecting tranquility on the patrons of this affordable dining establishment.  We never could find the switch.

The Desert

After eating up miles of asphalt through the desert and hugging the corners of a winding canyon, the People’s Car zipped us through the isolated town of Kennedy Meadows.  We blinked and it was gone, Tom’s disc gold course a blur on the side of the road.  Jeremy recorded high-definition, time-compressed video while Andrew piloted the black rocket ship through the pines.  Marcy and I grasped the ‘oh-shit’ handles and felt secure under the groceries and other assorted wares.

Choosing our campsite and erecting tents, we explored our new surroundings.  A curious place, this forest.  We found ourselves perched on the edge of a large meadow, three strands of barbed wire separating us from it’s golden openness.  Trees rose up giving luscious shade, shelter from the alpine sun and it’s radioactive ways.  We walked amongst these elements concluding that we were happy and eager to trek.

We began by eating, a great way to begin.  Setting off on foot, our objective was clear – a rocky outcropping rising up from the far edge of the meadow.  We chose it because it was a high point and we explorers are always drawn to these types of places.  You know what I mean.  A place high above everything that surrounds it.  A place aching with the freedom of unbridled views and brisk winds.  From this aerie perch we viewed the landscape as if it were a model, a perfectly represented miniature world stretching out below us and outward to the horizon.  We ate more food.  We scrambled across and gripped at the rock with our talons.

Jeremy navigates some rock terrain.

Jeremy navigates some rock terrain.

Upon returning to camp, we promptly assumed horizontal positions on the ground or in a hammock.  The shadows lengthened, the sun turned more golden.  The woods embraced our tired souls and comforted us with a quiet that only a living landscape can provide.

Waking abruptly, we got back into our transportation and drove on dirt roads, upwards to the Bald Mountain Fire Lookout.  A brisk walk saw us to the base of a steel tower rising upwards into the afternoon sky.  Our natural instinct as adventurers is to climb upwards, upwards, higher!  And right there, at the top of this metal geometric fortress was a man.  His duty: viewing this stunning landscape of granite.  He watches the heavens, carefully identifying Vulcan’s electrical outbursts, plotting the locations where they smash into the earth.  This wonderful BLM employee is named Tom.

Tom points to coordinates on his specialized apparatus.

Tom points to coordinates on his specialized apparatus.

A day fully enjoyed.  We retreat to the comfort of our dirt patch to kindle a fire and fill our stomachs.  All manner of fancy appetizers whet our pallets for some schlongs which Marcy tosses on the cast-iron grate above our flame.  Wine is uncorked.  Memories are shared.  In this tradition of eating, drinking, and enjoying the company of others, great bonds are forged between friends.  We take time to play with the camera at night, truly a fun group activity.  Later, as the last one awake, I bask in the warm glow of the coals, red and orange, pulsing radiant heat.

Day two greets us travelers with cold morning air.  Reluctantly our entourage breaks camp, eats cold yoghurt (Noosa, the best), and piles back into our vehicle.  We’re rolling further West through the forest, over a mountain pass, and into the Kern River Canyon.  The landscape is changing.  Gone is the dry, thin air that once desiccated our lips and noses.  Now, the shadow of large trees holds in the damp smell of the forest floor.  Lime green moss clings to the red, deeply-furrowed bark of old giants as we turn at a sign labeled ‘Trail of 100 Giants’.

That sense of insignificance we all feel in the presence of great things is washing over me from high above.  This colony of giants is both welcoming and unsettling.  Are these trees happy or vengeful?  Would they say to us, ‘thank you for preserving this grove’?  Or maybe, ‘fuck you Henry Ford’.  I’d like to think the former.  I just hope they don’t drop an un-needed branch on my head in an attempt to settle the score.

Marcy navigates the forest.

Marcy navigates the forest.

Our troop frolics and meanders through the ancient sentinels, heads cocked at an awkward angle to glimpse the highest reaches of the canopy.  Some of these trees are over two-hundred and seventy feet tall.  Strolling right up to them like they are old friends, we run our hands over their spongy bark and duck under their exposed roots or into their burned out centers.  This amusement park beats the hell out of anything made by the hands of men.  Individual cells organized themselves over millennia into these magnificent organisms.  How humans could commit such a crime as defiling this amazing planet that has nourished and provided for us is beyond my capacity of understanding.

The weekend is coming to an end and we must return to the coast.  We would love to remain in this mystical place, among rocks, sticks, and soil.  These places are not ours to keep.  Embracing the impermanence of ourselves we can embrace the impermanence of the world, the dynamic and chaotic collection of matter that makes up our reality.  Organizing and reorganizing, elements and thoughts blend together into a collective consciousness which vibrates and echoes out into the black void of the cosmos.

Photo Credit - Jeremy Rousch

Photo Credit – Jeremy Rousch

Jeremy’s photo really shows just how large these giants are.

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Dirtbag World

I’ve been sitting in the small cafe now for about an hour.  The staff mill about behind the counter, refilling refrigerated coolers and food prep stations.  Chris is reading the LA Times which I have already thumbed through.  I read an article about the impacts of recreational marijuana legalization on states bordering Colorado as well as a few other paragraphs from different news stories.  A mudslide in Colorado, a psychotic killer in Southern California, a promise from the President to Veterens, etc., etc., and so forth, and so on.  I put the paper down and begin writing this blog article.  A few minutes later Choop walks in the door, high-fiving Chris.  The two just met yesterday, just as Chris and myself met this past week.  One minute we were total strangers, the next all sharing living and sleeping quarters in the tiny town of Lone Pine, California.  Is my world really the same world I was reading about only 20 minutes ago in the newspaper?

I glance up at the flat screen looming in my periphery, images of Katy, Jennifer, and other beautiful celebrities flash across the screen before and add for some terrible movie involving who-knows-what.  It’s all very distracting and it’s very common.  Have you ever taken note of how many flashing panels of moronic nonsense fill YOUR periphery?  In a society that is shocked by violent outbursts fueled by sexual frustration, is it so hard to see the media shoving violence and sex in your face every chance they get?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m terribly disturbed and saddened by the recent tragedy that took place in SoCal and I feel for those poor people who were affected.

But trail life is different.  I’ve hiked roughly 700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail this season so far and I foresee myself making it to Yosemite Valley, maybe further before I have to return to ‘real life’.  But wait, the trail life IS my real life.  *Ring Ring* My cell phone screen comes to life and my Father is on the other end telling me that I need to figure out the registration on my car.  It expires in two months…ahhh, the REAL world is calling.

Back to the issue at hand.  I’ve been sleeping in the back yard of a friend I made less then a week ago, with two other friends I met in the woods.  The house we were welcomed into remains unlocked so we can come and go as we please, use the kitchen, take a shower, whatever we need.  This is my reality right now.  It’s this beautiful alternate-reality I have talked about previously.  It’s the community of like minded individuals who value relationships, travel, experience.  They remain undistracted by all the bullshit that’s flashed in front of our faces like a steak in front of hungry dogs.  We don’t bite or even lunge.  Our satisfaction is found in the aerie crags, the evening conversations over a beer, the afternoon dip in an icy mountain stream.  It’s true, our lives are touched by all that pervades society.  Divorce, suicide, loss, and sadness.  In the open-natured hearts of the characters I’ve meet we’ve discussed all of these issues.  A sort of therapy session exists out here that you don’t pay for in dollars but instead earn in sweat.  

Now I’m glancing up at a commercial for furniture – NO INTEREST, LOW MONTHLY PAYMENTS, BUY NOW!  It reminds me of the impermanence of our existence.  We accumulate stuff for the purpose of…what exactly, I’m not sure.  We can’t take it with us to the next life.  My experience is that the more crap you own, the less freedom you can easily find.  Less then a year ago I gave away my furniture, sold my beloved blender, packed all the rest of my life into my Subaru and submitted to the call to go West.  It was a good decision.

And with impermanence in mind, I realize that these friends, these dirtbag, homeless, traveling friends will continue their journeys.  We are here for only a short moment, the intersection of four people’s dreams and adventures converging at this special in time and place.  Maybe this is the only adventure we will share together or maybe our trajectories will cross again, it’s uncertain.  What is certain is the beauty of this existence – this adventure together.  It’s far from a ‘typical’ lifestyle, but from what I see flashing across the TV screen right now, I’m glad that we are experiencing something different.

Thoughts and ideas on the PCT: Lone Pine, California

Friends!  Family!  Acquaintances, hiker trash, travelers, walkers of all continents, hello!  I’ve been looking for an opportunity to sit down and write for quite some time now, a difficult prospect given my current lifestyle.  Walking along the PCT, the last thing I find myself wanting to do is sit

Just outside Big Bear City.

Just outside Big Bear City.

down and write although my head is filled with stories and ideas.  There are worthwhile, interesting adventures around every corner, certainly worthy of my time for reflection.  In this world of technology and modern conveniences you might think it would happen easily, but no!  When you are walking 20 miles a day, life becomes simplified – wake, eat, walk, eat, sleep, repeat.

Here I am in Lone Pine, California, taking a break from my long walk North.  I have covered some 700 miles by foot and find myself resting in this wonderful town on the edge of the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains.  The massive granite monolith that is Mt. Whitney, among many other prominent peaks, stare down at us eager travelers.  It’s as if they say, “come to this high wild place, bring only your sense of adventure”.  We marvel at their beauty, we are drawn in like moths to a light.  Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in the lower 48 states and it’s not even on our immediate route but we are drawn to it.  Before I elaborate on my current location and what lies ahead, I will get a little abstract.

Banana Boat trying to get us a ride out of Lake Isabella, quite challenging.

Banana Boat trying to get us a ride out of Lake Isabella, quite challenging.

Let’s address the idea of trail time – it’s a kind of time travel, alternate reality situation.  I was in Idyllwild roughly a month ago.  The terrain and time covered by foot since then has given me a sense of great distances that have been lost to modern modes of travel.  It’s possible to cover large distances by car, train, or airplane in a single day.  Traveling by foot however quickly transports us back to a time when the world was a BIG place.  All of a sudden 20 miles has a much different feel – it’s not an easy distance to cover, at first.  The hiker who is new to long-distance travel will quickly find that with determination and hard work, walking 30, 40, maybe even 50 miles in a single day is attainable.  But don’t worry, the world is still a big place within the limits of walking.

Idyllwild was a great mountain town and I enjoyed the cool air and breezes there for two days.

In the pavilion at kick off, waiting out the rain.

In the pavilion at kick off, waiting out the rain.

Continuing North, I headed up over San Jacinto peak and then down Fuller Ridge into White Water, CA.  There I stayed with Ziggy and the Bear, wonderfully elderly trail angels who greeted us with cold drinks and open hearts.  My first big eat-a-thon at the Morongo casino was a welcome adventure before getting a ride with our friend Sandizzle back down to Lake Morena State Park for ADZPCTKO, the annual PCT kick off event.  Backtracking the miles we had hiked from Lake Morena jolted us back to ‘small world’ as we moved at incredible speeds thanks to good old ‘Merican fossil fuel.

Kick Off was enjoyable but I think my favorite part of the event was seeing all the ultralight gear put to the test as a low pressure system moved through, bringing with it torrential rain and wind gusts up to the 50s.  A $500 cuben fiber tent might weight 1 pound, but does it hold up in

Eating some lunch with Banana Boat and C-Lion

Eating some lunch with Banana Boat and C-Lion

these blustery conditions?  I will admit, that evening when the weather was the worst, I awoke at 3am to my tent walls deflecting the wind and rain.  As I lay there awake, two of my tent stakes simultaneously pulled out of the ground and my tarp collapsed on my face.  Scrambling for my headlamp and rain shell, I jumped out of my former fortress in an attempt to re-pitch my house.  I worked as fast as possible, the whole time thinking in my head, ‘don’t let your down bag get wet’.  Although I got soaked in the process, all my gear that was under my tarp stayed dry and within about 20 minutes I was sleeping once again.

Me reclining by the 1/4 distance marker.

Me reclining by the 1/4 distance marker.

Making our way back to the trail from kickoff proved more difficult then I originally anticipated.

Resting after 6000 feet of climbing.

Resting after 6000 feet of climbing.

The ride board that was supposed to help us hikers hook up with people who might drive us to our desired destinations was not as useful as expected.  I had come to kickoff with Roi, Sarit, and Arctic but I found myself driving North with a different group of hikers.  I was sad to leave my friends but the opportunity of an open seat in a car could not be passed up.  I took one more partial day off when I got back to Ziggy and the Bear’s house before sprinting North, covering 98 miles in 3 days.

From White Water I began the long climb to Big Bear, another small mountain town in SoCal.  It was during this stretch that I reconnected with my friend Borealis who was also down at kick off.  The two of us enjoyed an evening of camping together before the 6000 foot climb.  I had an afternoon resupplying in Big Bear where I met a lovely trail angel named Alicia who offered to drive me back to the trail.

From Big Bear the trail jogged West and took us towards Silverwood Lake State Park and then down to Cajon Pass.  My Dad and his Partner drove up from LA to meet me at this major road crossing and had lunch together before they took me to purchase more food.  I was excited and

Near Swarthout Canyon, just passed Cajon Pass.

Near Swarthout Canyon, just passed Cajon Pass.

dreading the next section of the trail – the biggest climb on the PCT, from Cajon Pass to Wrightwood, over 7000 feet in one single push.  Wrightwood was AWESOME.  One of my hiking friends, C-Lion has some friends that live there who welcomed us into their home.  Steve and Shannon fed us baby back ribs, tacos and beer.  They brought us to their local country club for a relaxing afternoon.  They made us feel like family and we will be forever grateful for their kindness and generosity.

We were apprehensive to leave Wrightwood but knew that we needed to continue North.  We climbed out of town towards Mt.Baden Powell where the ancient trees showed their character.  Days of hiking took us into the small town of Agua Dulce where the famous Hiker Heaven can be found.  When I met Donna Saufley I was greeted with a big hug even though I hadn’t showered in a week.  We were given showers, internet, mailing services, cots to sleep on, and rides into town.  C-Lion, Banana Boat and I got a ride to REI to pick up some needed supplies.  Banana Boat’s Aunts and Uncles meet us and treated us to a large Mexican lunch where we

Climbing a nice old tree on Mt.Baden Powell.

Climbing a nice old tree on Mt.Baden Powell.

feasted on burritos.  We were amazed by our appetites and less then an hour after this meal we stopped into In And Out for burgers and milkshakes.

From the Saufley’s, we took one long day and hiked straight to Casa De Luna, aka The Anderson’s place.  Terry welcomed us in and once again we felt the love.  Dinner and breakfast were generously provided for us hungry hikers.  Although we would have loved to stay we continued out the next day, making a brief stop into the Rock Inn for second breakfast.  I let my friends get ahead of me while I made some overdue phone calls before hitching forward about 12 miles and then walking the last few miles on the road into Hiker Town.  This funky little ‘village’ was a nice afternoon stop, but after raiding the hiker box for supplies, we continued hiking at 5 o’clock that evening to get some miles done in the cool of the evening.  We hiked until 2 in the morning,

Hiking through wind farms is pretty cool.

Hiking through wind farms is pretty cool.

collapsing into a pile of unconsciousness, surrounded by wind turbines in the desert.

Continuing North to Tehachapi our friend C-Lion came to the conclusion that he needed to get off trail for a bit to deal with some real life stuff.  He rented a car and Banana Boat and I drove down to San Diego with him to say good bye.  We were welcomed and enjoyed a nice good bye dinner that evening before getting some good rest.  The next morning we woke up very early so that we could drive through LA to stop in at my Dad’s house to wish him a belated birthday and enjoy some coffee and doughnuts.  I grabbed a few pieces of gear that I needed and we made our way North, back to Tehachapi.  Banana and I finished our resupply and did some night hiking that evening, again finding ourselves sleeping under wind turbines.

Hiking through Vasquez Rocks outside Agua Dulce.

Hiking through Vasquez Rocks outside Agua Dulce.

Walker pass was the next major milestone which we reached.  This area was exciting in the sense that there are no natural water sources, just a couple caches.  After some extended

Having fun near Silverwood Lake State Park with C-Lion, Pilsbury, Star Rider, and Dawn Patrol.

Having fun near Silverwood Lake State Park with C-Lion, Pilsbury, Star Rider, and Dawn Patrol.

waterless stretches of hiking, we made it to Walker where Banana and I hitched into Lake Isabella.  We ate pizza and bought more food before attempting to get back to the trail.  2+ hours of attempted hitching got us nowhere until one of the guys who was working at the pizza joint saw us and gave us a ride 10 miles up the road.  More unsuccessful hitching and eventually a couple that had driven by multiple times offered us a ride if we could just give them some gas money.  We happily took this ride and ended up sleeping at Walker Pass that evening before getting back to our march North.

From Walker Pass we began the climb to

Outside Wrightwood, CA.

Outside Wrightwood, CA.

Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the Eastern Sierras.  We got very lucky with weather (we had mailed our tents and rain gear ahead from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows to save weight).  As we walked into town a weather system moved through bringing rain (and snow to the higher elevations).  Banana and I enjoyed the company of many other friends in town for two days at the General Store in front of the wood stove.  Temperatures dropped into the 30’s at night, we were in the mountains again.  Due to some personal obligations, I made the decision to skip the next 50 miles of trail and get a ride from Kennedy Meadows down to Lone Pine to take care of some legal paperwork (which I ended up not being able to accomplish, F you Boulder County court system!).  I had also developed some painful shin splints in the last 100 miles of hiking and this was a good opportunity for rest

On the summit of Baden Powell with Banana Boat and C-Lion.

On the summit of Baden Powell with Banana Boat and C-Lion.

and recovery before my friend Megan arrives and we head back into the mountains on the John Muir Trail section of the hike that begins here.

Upon arriving in Lone Pine I met some very friendly climbers who welcomed me into their home and let me put my tent in their back yard.  The experience here has been wonderful.

Wow, that was a lot of stuff to catch up on.  Hopefully it didn’t get too boring although I’ll admit that after typing 1800 words I got a bit bored.  It was fun to recall all of the events that led to this moment, a rare moment in every day life but quite a common one of the PCT.  It really is amazing how complete strangers will relate to you like you are an old friend, doing what they can to make this epic journey a little more realistic.

Sunrise on the Tehachapi wind farm.

Sunrise on the Tehachapi wind farm.

Planning for a PCT Thru-hike

Recently a friend asked if I might be interested in writing a blog article about the planning process for the PCT.  Until he had suggested it to me, I hadn’t thought about detailing the steps of planning the hike.  Sure, I have been loosely documenting my experience with this blog, mentioning my experiences so far with little tidbits about the process of getting ready to hike.  But so far, I have not written any specific articles detailing the process as a whole.  So here it goes.

Getting the Bug

It all starts with an inspiring series of events.  At least that’s how I would describe my experience with ‘catching the bug’ for a long distance hike.  Rewind a few (15+) years.  When I was a middle school student I got involved with a fantastic program known as Overland (www.overlandsummers.com).  They are based out of Williamstown, Massachusettes and offer summer outdoor recreation based camp programs for students from middle-highschool.  I had never attended any kind of sleep-away camp and was a bit apprehensive at first.  With some coaxing from my family I participated in a two week program in the North East, hiking and mountain biking.  Some of our hiking took us on the Appalachian Trail, one of the most famous long-distance hiking trails in North America.  This was not the specific moment, but this was the beginning of my love of hiking.20140321-170158.jpg

I participated in other trips with Overland as a student, later returning as a trip leader for three years.  I took students mountain biking in Colorado, backpacking in Yellowstone National Park, and on my final year as an instructor, co-led a cross country bicycle tour from Georgia to California.  Up until our cross-country ride I had never completed a long distance journey and to say we were thrilled with our accomplishment would be an understatement.  This trip, which lasted six weeks, was a testament to the ability of the human body, given time, motivation, team work, and the desire to accomplish something ‘great’.  Our group of students and my co-leader amazed me with what we all accomplished together.

Fast forward.  Some time after my coast to coast bike tour it occurred to me:  I biked 3000 miles in 6 weeks, why couldn’t I hike 2000+ miles in 5-6 months?  During college in Maine, I had some opportunities to hike on the AT near it’s Northern terminus in Baxter State Park and on occasion I had the opportunity to meet and chat with some AT thru-hikers.  They seemed like an odd breed, talking about eating gallons of ice cream in mere minutes, carrying VERY simplified backpacking setups, and sporting strange ‘trail names’.  I wanted to be one of these people.

I didn’t catch the bug at one specific moment, I had lots of opportunities and experiences that conspired to make the idea of thru-hiking a long distance trail something that I wanted to do at some point in my life.

When is the time right?

While getting excited and deciding that you would like to attempt a thru-hike might seem like a big step (actually wanting to hike thousands of miles you say?), deciding when the time is right is a much more difficult task.  We don’t exactly live in a society that embraces the idea of leaving your job (or career?), home, and responsibilities (who needs those anyway…) behind, in favor living in the woods for 4-6 months.  And even if this sounds appealing, how realistic is it to just pick up and go?  Could you leave your job and would it be waiting for you 5 months later to pick up where you left off?  Do you have the ability to move out of your home so that you don’t have a mortgage or rent?  Can you afford your other bills – phone, health insurance, student loans while not working?  Regardless of money and societal expectations, you also have your family and loved one’s who will no doubt have an opinion of the hike you are about to embark on.

Luckily for me conditions have been just right.  It hasn’t been an easy set of events to get to this point though.  In addition to a nine year long relationship ending, I was laid off in late September, a month before Thanksgiving.  While both of these events have conspired to make my thru-hike attempt possible, I would not wish divorce or loss of work on anyone.  They are both terrible and will make even the most confident person examine their self-worth.  Instead of getting depressed about the shitty hand I was just dealt I decided to remain positive.  I no longer had any responsibility to anyone other then myself – this is a good place to find yourself if you want to go hiking for 5 months.

Without speaking too much longer on ‘when the time is right’, it has become clear to me that often there is no ‘right’ time.  You simply have to get off your ass and DO IT.  Don’t wait.  You are only going to get older and fatter (it’s the American way).  You are only going to become more entrenched in your way of life, having commitments, obligations, bills, events, Jesus, you might even have kids.  You either take the steps necessary to make it happen or it won’t.  You have to be proactive here, it’s the only way.  If you wait, the opportunity could slip by without giving you the slightest chance to embrace to unknown and get out there.

Some stuff you HAVE to do

I already mentioned some big picture stuff like leaving your job, your home, and almost all of your responsibilities.  But let’s backtrack a tiny bit.  What do you know about the trail?  Where does it start?  Where does it end?  How long is it and how much will it cost you to hike it and what do you need and where will you sleep and…  What I am getting at here is research.  You have to do some.  Behold, the greatness of the interwebs.

I personally started with The Pacific Crest Trail Association website.  You will find more information on this site that you can easily digest in one sitting – it is a fantastic starting point complete with maps, trail journals, photos, phone numbers, distances, and any other information regarding this hiking trail you could desire.

Another great course of action would be a Google search for ‘PCT trail journals’ or some similar keyword combination.  In the past few months I have come across multiple journals and blogs of previous and aspiring PCT thru-hikers.  The experiences and lessons they have learned will no doubt help you refine your planning stages, avoiding some of their mistakes, and learning from their successes.

PERMITS

This is really part of ‘stuff you have to do’ but deserves a small, separate section.  The two big ones you will need are:

My long distance hiking and Canada entry permits.

My long distance hiking and Canada entry permits.need are:

Long Distance Permit – Information and forms to obtain this are available on www.pcta.org.  The paperwork is easy to fill out and straight forward but you will want to do a little bit of general research about the trail prior to filling out the forms.  The PCTA will want to know things like your anticipated starting and ending dates in addition to where you will be starting and finishing your hike.  This permit is only needed if you are going to be hiking more then 500 continuous miles.  I received my permit roughly 2 weeks after sending in my paperwork but the closer you get to April/May, the longer I would anticipate waiting – best to secure this one early.

Permit to enter Canada via PCT – Like the Long Distance Permit, I would recommend securing this as early as possible.  I have read about other hikers having to wait over a month to receive this permit after mailing in their paperwork.  I got mine in two weeks.  You will need a valid US passport and drivers license and color copies will be required in addition to an estimated date of entry to Canada and itinerary while in Canada.  While it sounds a little daunting, filling out this paperwork was not very difficult.  Write legibly and be as complete as possible to avoid having your paperwork returned or denied.

*There are a couple of other, less important permits you will likely want to secure.  All the information regarding permits is provided on the PCTA website – I’ll let you figure it out, it’s part of the adventure!

GEAR

Current gear selection for my 2014 pct thru-hike attempt

Current gear selection for my 2014 pct thru-hike attempt

I won’t mention every item because YOU will have to decide what you can and can’t live without.  Here is the breakdown as far as I am concerned:

  • Three big items – Backpack, Sleeping bag, Tent.  These are usually the heaviest items.  I am using an internal frame pack (Gregory Z55, my heaviest piece of gear).  I am using a silnylon tarp-tent (Black Diamond beta lite).  I am using a 20(ish) degree down sleeping bag (Rab neutrino 600).  Don’t get hung up too much on weights, but if possible, shoot for under 10 lbs (it’s very doable with today’s fancy-pants materials).
  • Cookware – Stove and other cooking items.  I am using a small canister stove (MSR micro-rocket) and a titanium (Evernew) cook pot.  While I have used and read about others using alcohol stoves (exceptionally light) this is not possible due to fire restrictions in California and possibly other areas on the PCT this year (2014).  Consider eating utensils, mug, seasonings, etc.
  • Water treatment – I will most likely be using bleach.  There are lots of options out there, filters, uv sterilizers, chemical treatments.  I would suggest something that is lite, fail-proof, and cost-effective.
  • Clothing – Upper and lower body layers.  The criteria I am using:  Can I wear everything all at once.  I am choosing layers that compliment each other and can all be used together (comfortably).  Minimalism is key here to avoid bulk and excess weight.  In the past month and a half I have removed almost half the items I originally planned on bringing.  An important note – you will likely need to make changes based on the region you are in.  Your clothing selection for the Southern California desert will most definitely be different then what you need in the Cascades.
  •   Footwear – Not too much info here.  The amount of support you should seek for footwear depends on a couple factors.  Do you pronate or supinate?  Do you know what these two terms mean?  Also, the ‘burliness’ of your footwear should be relative to the weight that you are carrying on your back.  The less weight in your pack, the lighter footwear will PROBABLY be sufficient for you.  I plan on using trail running shoes.  Test your proposed footwear PRIOR to your hike WITH the FULL WEIGHT you anticipate hiking with for DISTANCES THAT ARE EQUIVALENT to what you expect to hike on the trail.
  • Other items – Lots of things can be included here.  Some extras I am bringing include trekking poles, a camera, a digital voice recorder, a journal, a PLB, and some other small items.  Keep in mind ‘even small’ items add up.

My original pack weight was roughly 20lbs.  I removed some items and got it down to a little over 15lbs.  I am aiming to reduce that number by 2-3lbs more before I get on the trail.  Am I a fanatic about pack weight? No, but having hiked with packs as heavy as 85lbs (thanks NOLS) and also with lightweight ‘minimal’ backpacking setups, I have concluded that going light rather then heavy is the correct choice for me.

Training

There is no true consensus here.  Some people do a lot of training, some do a little, and some do none.  If you have never been on a backpacking trip I would suggest trying it out prior to making all the aforementioned preparations.  If you know what to expect then I would suggest incorporating SOME sort of regular physical activity into your daily life.  Other then being generally fit I think your thru-hike will kick you into shape.  Sure, it will hurt a little at first.  The short answer here is that everyone is different when it comes to physical activity and you should train in a way that will prepare YOU so that you can have the greatest chance of success.

Food

Two main options here: buy as you go or resupply via mail.  There is also the obvious middle ground where you do a little of both.  Using pre-packaged resupply boxes will likely give you better financial control over gear/food but can be limiting.  How can you possibly anticipate accurately everything you will need in advance?  Also, how will you know exactly how much food you will ACTUALLY consume?  I plan on purchasing as I go, but occasionally sending boxes of food/supplies ahead when availability/cost of resources dictates the need.

Sponsorship/free stuff

All I have to say is that this stuff exists.  Get creative.  Send letters, emails, and make phone calls.  Your chances of success will depend on a few factors including what you can offer potential sponsors as well as your persistence and professionalism.  Be polite, expect to get turned down a lot, but stay positive and you just might find some great opportunities.

In conclusion…

The above describes SOME of what I have experienced in getting ready for this endeavor.  It is highly likely that I have left some key information out (thanks recreational substances!).  The important take-away here is that preparing for a trip of this magnitude will be different for everyone.  Don’t expect the same experience as I have had.  Planning to thru-hike the PCT might be much more complicated, but it might also be simpler.  Do your research, have fun with it and make it yours!

Getting organized: the gear…

Current gear selection for my 2014 pct thru-hike attempt

Current gear selection for my 2014 pct thru-hike attempt

Ok, here it is, the blog article going over the gear I plan on using for my 2014 thru-hike.  While I occasionally indulge in gear-geekery, I try not to get caught up in all the little gadgets and gizmos designed for those of us that like to recreate outdoors.  Why?  Let me ask you this question, if no new gear was developed ever, would it prevent us from enjoying our outdoor pursuits?  The answer is most definitely no.  All those companies out there who come out with newer, lighter, more advanced gear are mostly doing so to have a new product to sell you.  Now I don’t want to give the impression that this gear isn’t great or that I don’t find some of this stuff fascinating and awesome. I have bought a few new pieces of gear specifically for my thru-hike.  I will however be using MOSTLY gear that I already owned.  The point I am getting at is that you should not feel the need to buy gear just because there is a newer, lighter, brighter-colored version.

I did think it would be fun to mention all the different gear and geek out for a bit in hopes that some of you who read this might have some suggestions for me to cut a bit of weight.  My base-weight at the moment is right about 20lbs.  I was hoping for something in between 10 and 15.  And while the 20lb weight includes some things that I will actually be wearing and not carrying on my back, there were a few items that I realize I did not add that I will in fact be bringing (stakes, socks, maybe some other small stuff…).

So lets get to the gear.

Starting on the top left of the photo above – the pack, one of my new gear acquisitions for the trail.  This is a Gregory Z55.  This is a size small and weighs in at just over 3 lbs.  It has a frame (yeah I’m not sure if frameless appeals to me for 2600+ miles) and 55 liters of capacity.  Gregory packs graciously provided this pack to me for use as an ambassador while on the trail, communicating with others about my experience using their gear.  Thanks guys, I look forward to putting the Z55 to the test!

On the far right of the picture are two sleeping bags.  A Rab neutrino 600 down bag and a Mountain Hardware ultra lamina synthetic bag.  Both are rated for 20 degrees.  I plan on using the down bag in the desert section and switching over to the synthetic bag once I hit the mountains.

As for upper body layers: Patagonia lightweight wool tshirt, Ibex hooded long-sleeved wool shirt, Patagonia R1 fleece, Montbell windbreaker vest, Montbell Fleece, Patagonia Houdini windbreaker, Wildthingz alpine shell, Patagonia Nanopuff hooded jacket.  I’m already planning on ditching the Ibex base layer and one fleece (probably the R1, even though I love it).  I may add arm warmers.  I may also ditch the Houdini even though it weighs next to nothing.  Count the ounces and the pounds mind themselves right?

Lower body layers include:  Montbell expedition weight wool long underwear, Rab hiking pants, Patagonia hiking shorts.  Socks (haven’t picked them out yet).  And hopefully a pair of wool boxers.

My tent is a Black Diamond beta-lite tarp (19oz).  It is made of sip-nylon, pitches with my trekking poles and gives surprisingly good weather protection – I have used it above 9k feet in Colorado during a spring snow storm, and on the coast of Maine in high winds.  It has held up well.  I am forgoing a footprint.  I have a Big Agnes sleeping pad as well as a silk sleeping bag liner.

I am currently using an MSR 6 liter dromedary bag with a drinking hose attachment.  I might look for a lighter weight camelbak bladder which will most likely have 3-4 liter capacity and have to add a few lightweight water bottles.

As for cooking I am using an MSR micro rocket stove (new this year) with an Evernew titanium pot (.7 liters I think).  I also have a long-handled Sea To Summit spoon and an MSR titanium mug.

As far as other small items, I have a journal, signal mirror, whistle, pen, Black Diamond headlamp, mosquito head net, blister treatment kit, SteriPen, wide-brimmed hat, GoPro, extra batteries, and backup water treatment (iodine).

I know I haven’t gone into much detail on these items, their individual weights, their strengths and weaknesses, etc. etc.  I’m hoping that I’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t work while I’m on the trail (and I plan to blog/tweet about it).  I will also likely add items at certain points such as ice axe and crampons, helmet, etc.

Ok, I’m already losing my patience for this post.  Those are the items I’m brining.  I will attempt to ditch roughly 5 pounds of gear in the next month to get my base weight down into the sub-15 pound zone, I’m sure my feet and back will thank me for it.  Any suggestions or criticism is appreciated!

Later!

A Left Coast kind of Christmas

At the moment I am writing to you all from Studio City in Los Angeles. Spending the holiday on the West Coast is a nice change of pace, warm weather and palm trees – not a typical Christmas for me but still enjoyable. I am staying with my Dad, enjoying a nice visit.

After tying up some lose ends in Nederland, I drove down to Denver to catch an afternoon flight out of the Mile High City. I don’t typically fly any airline other then Southwest, and for good reason. While everyone I interacted with at United was friendly, they charge $25 and $35 respectively for your first and second checked bags. You ONLY get free sodas on your flight, no solid food (unless you want to spend $8 for some ritz crackers).

I spent a productive hour at my gate talking with a lovely woman from Kansas who works in the outdoor recreation industry among many other interesting art-focused jobs (including helping design the monument for the fallen fire fighters from the South Canyon Fire!). After talking with her about my current situation and plans she offered some wonderful career/life advice. ‘Picture where you want to be in five years,’ she said, ‘and then start taking the steps to make that dream happen.’ The advice seems simple enough, but I find myself asking, ‘what is my dream?’. I have some direction but my end goal is not totally clear yet. I suspect that is the goal of the travel and adventures that I am in the process of organizing for the next year. More on that later.

After an extremely bumpy climb out of the Front Range, our flight was pleasant. It’s funny celebrating a holiday that you associate with snow in a place where the temperatures are in the 70’s and 80’s during the ‘winter’. I’m not complaining about wearing shorts, sandals, and a tank top, it’s just a little strange this time of year.

And speaking of this holiday, I find myself caring less and less about the materialistic focus that seems to exist in our country. Sure it’s fun to exchange gifts, but the excess that typically exists is such a turn-off. If you are a fan of The Office, Michael Scott has a great quote regarding the exchange of gifts:

“Presents are the best way to show someone how much you care. It is this tangible thing you can point to and say, ‘Hey man, I love you this many dollars worth’.”

And while this is obviously made to poke fun at the state of affairs, its scary how accurately this seems to depict where this holiday has gone. While I don’t have any religious beliefs, I still appreciate Christmas and for me, it’s about spending time with family, being kind and thoughtful to others, and these two foci don’t necessarily have to be demonstrated through the giving of things.

Now after all that discussion about the excesses of materialism during this holiday you might laugh at me when I mention the one gift I received – a GoPro camera. Yes, this was a big gift. It was given very thoughtfully though and you all should be thankful (joking, kind of) because now I have a means to photograph and capture photo of the journey I am about to embark on. Hopefully I will produce some enjoyable media, I’ll let you all be the judge.

Enough of my rambling about my personal beliefs. This visit has really been wonderful and I am thrilled to be able to spend time with some of my family during the holiday season. My happiness at the moment though is focused on another opportunity that has just been preposed – a trip with an old climbing partner to attempt an ascent of Mt.Rainier in May. While I would love to attempt this climb, some logistical concerns are raised. My thru-hike attempt of the PCT this year will have a start date between April and May meaning I would have to leave the trail, get to Washington, attempt this climb, and make it back to the trail, loosing roughly a week (that’s a guess) of trail time. I am not too concerned with loosing trail time, I will likely have a month or more of ‘zero days’ during the duration of my hike. The issue comes with missing a SOLID week of trail time, and right at the beginning of the hike, in the desert, a place where you don’t want to waist time when the weather starts getting warm. We will have to see how the opportunity develops but all I can say for now is that I am thrilled at the possibility and I will attempt to make it happen if at all possible.
Until next time, be well friends and family, I look forward to writing my next update.