Right before Mt. Hood, 7 thru-hikers including myself completed a 55 mile day into Timberline Lodge. We all camped together, disposing (eating) unwanted food (you don’t want to carry extra weight in your pack) and prepping ourselves for the big day. Setting our alarms for 3 am, we set off in the dark, only to get rained on an hour into the journey. The rain stopped, as it became light, those who camped near the trail cheered us on asking as we speed-walked by: “Are you part of this crazy double marathon group?”
Not that it was a race or anything, but I pulled in at the head of the pack, and passed a guy not in our group who was doing 50 miles into Timberline. We finished before 6 pm, and were able to grab a warm meal and share a room with all the triumphant victors.
The California lands around the CA-OR border were especially hot and rough, but it seemed like as soon as we passed the border, water became abundant again, snakes and bears disappeared, and everything became wonderful (Update: after completing Oregon, I can frankly say that no bear droppings or snakes were seen in the entire state…’course once we crossed the OR-WA border, the bear scat started appearing again). Kind locals left sodas along the trail for us near Ashland, and we had a relaxing stay for a day with my best friend’s family in Ashland.
OR was incredible. It was quick miles, easy walking, and great views. The skies would open for thundershowers and a bit of rain almost everyday—for a while, quite a welcome break from the scorching heat of Northern California. The trail brought us to Crater Lake, and the all you can eat buffet within the park borders! We picked up some new hiking friends, Miss Information and Pi, in mid-Oregon.
The weather turned rough for a day and near hypothermia brought the four of us to Bend, OR for a day of relaxation. Pi, and I attempted to eat the Ben and Jerry’s Vermonster (a sundae served in a large bucket), but even hungry hikers were unable to conquer the beast. I blame a hearty brunch consumed right before the Vermonster for my failure.
Miss Info’s mom met as at road crossings to take us into town or bring us food, and a kind retired man who lives in Bend also provides hikers with shuttling services while in Oregon. We crossed lava fields from old volcanoes and got to sleep in a lava castle for a night! Restaurants and town food almost everyday made Oregon quite a thru-hikers treat.
Writing from Old Station, California, near Lassen National Park. Northern Cali is hot and dry like the desert again—but with more trees
In the infamous Section O near Redding, California, we encountered the hardest part of the trail. Heat, lack of views, abundant poison oak, unmaintained, overgrown, bushy trails, numerous bears, and countless rattlers make Northern CA a popular destination for PCT hikers to quit. I almost stepped on a rattler.
We’ve passed many a giant volcano in the past month. The PCT takes almost a 300 degree route around Mt. Shasta, allowing us to see it for nearly 3 weeks. We went through Lassen National Park past the volcanic sulphuric bubbling lakes. Unfortunately, I was hoping to catch breakfast before a restaurant closed, so didn’t grab any photos of it. Next time.
I accidentally ate something with peanuts (I’m allergic to) on a long, hot hike out of Belden, and got sick on the side of the trail.
Yesterday was my first 40 mile day. It wasn’t hard, minus a strike of diarrhea (let me tell you, hiking with that ailment is *difficult*). 😉
We slept the night a mile short of Muir Pass when an unthreatening sky turned into thunderstorms and snow at 2 am. As we heard the pass above us get pummeled with lightening—the closest strike less than 1 mile away, we took down the pole supporting our tarp-tent letting the tarp lay over us as it accumulated snow. *That* was not fun.
What was fun? Hanging out with Super Dave on top of Muir Pass. Despite miles and miles of snow in any direction, a marmot seemed to appear out of no where to welcome us. Adorable little trickster!
We saw our first ranger in the Sierra who asked to see my thru-hiking permit. Many thru-hikers ignore Sierra regulations and don’t carry bear canisters (big, heavy plastic containers to “protect” your food from bears). Our bear can was way too small for all our food, and we were terrified of running into a ranger, but he didn’t ask any questions.
Two fords, Evolution Creek and Bear Creek, scared me, but with the help of hiking, we made it past the waist-deep, fast-rushing water alive. Every year, a thru-hiker dies in a ford. In Northern Yosemite, Kerrick Creek threatened to be that ford, especially since we got there at 7 pm when it was raging the highest. We lucked out, though, and found a fallen log to cross.
Lots of mosquitoes in Yosemite. Only one bear sighting around Highway 50 in Tahoe. Despite ditching the bear canister, no bear has gotten our food. Met my parents in Tahoe for a day and my uncle in Truckee. I’m on my 5th pair of sunglasses (broken, bad fit, broken, broken).
When we got to Mather Pass, the trail was covered in snow and we followed a thru-hiker named Colllywobbles up what appeared from the map to be “Mather Pass.” We couldn’t believe there were no footprints and it was awfully steep and terrifying to go over.
“Don’t look down,” I kept telling myself as I saw a the steep snowfield I was traversing go down hundreds of feet below me. “That’s going to be a bad slide if I miss my foot.” In a couple spots, the snow became so soft that we post-holed (fell through the snow) up to our waists and had to dig ourselves out.
When we got to the top, we didn’t see Collywobbles anywhere, but I did see a recent rockfall/avalanche.
“Oh no! Collywobbles is dead!”
It became clear that we were on the wrong pass. The map made it look like the valley we looked down on might connect with the PCT, but it followed a river and some steep slopes—we worried we might face a waterfall and not be able to continue.
As much as I *hated* the idea of going back down the terrifying slope we’d just come up, we decided it best to go down and find the real pass.
By the time we got down and up and over the real pass, the snow was soft and I felt my foot slip twice at the top of the real pass. We left a note for other hikers showing where the real pass goes. (Note: 4 years later, I learned that a friend of mine from the PCT, Super Dave, had found that note several days later and was incredibly thankful that he read it and didn’t end up the wrong “pass.” So glad that it ended up helping someone.)
Epilogue of this adventure: A ranger we met told us a few days later that we went over the old PCT-route. Collywobbles found his way back to the PCT in what ended up being a shortcut.
Our ascent over Forester was done in sunny weather, but soon the weather changed and we found ourselves about to cross Glen Pass (around 12,000 feet) in the evening with snow coming down on us. Crossing Forester had drained me physically and taken an insane amount of time to cover a few miles. Plus, crossing passes in the evening in soft semi-melted snow is a lot scarier and more slippery than in the early morning. So…we camped at 10-11,000 ft below the pass next to a windy lake only to have 6 inches of snow dump on us. We looked out through the crack between our floorless tarp and the ground to see snow pile around us. Shoes and backpacks we used to line the gap between the tarp-tent and the ground had to be dug out of the snow. With the new snow and a white-out, it was impossible to follow footprints of have any idea where the trail went. After going the wrong direction, we used the map to find the steep gap in the mountains where we assumed the trail went. Our response: “We go over *that*?!?”
The decent down was hairier. We trailblazed new footprints down the 45 degree angle decent in a white-out, the only thought coming to my mind was “Avalanche.” By the time we got down, we had barely eaten or drank anything since it had been too cold to stop to do either. The sun came out and we dried our soaking gear, only for it to start raining again. In fact, almost everyday in the Sierra, it rained or snowed on us and it’s cold at even 10,000 feet!
When last I left you, storms were brewing over the Sierra. After 10 days of waiting out the weather, and being told the snow in the mountains would continue for two more weeks, we decided to stop waiting and hit the trail.
The next day, wet feet from fording frozen creeks became the norm. Creek levels are always higher at night than in the morning, and we found ourselves crossing a raging Tyndall Creek right before bedtime. We woke up to climb the much-feared Forester Pass, a snow-covered V-notch between two mountains, the highest point on the entire PCT at 13,200 feet. Though we were the first up it that day, we looked down to see nearly 15 people behind us—a veritable expedition up and over. Although we were climbing straight up hard packed snow, admittedly, Forester was much easier and less scary than all the rumors had led us to believe. The snowfields as far as the eye could see did make us feel like we were in Alaska, though.
The weather has turned horrendous right before we hit the highest point of the Sierra, so we decided to take 10 days off to visit the Eastern Sierra, where I spent 3 summers researching and doing a lot of hiking (quite similar to this year). Why time off? To see Kat (my sister), who is driving from LA, experience the East Side Hot Springs (views of snow capped mountains, full moon, hot water, and mooing cows you can’t see), and to see one of my favorite bands, Blue Turtle Seduction, play right over beautiful Mono Lake. Sigh! I feel like I’m home!
We’ve been outrageously blessed on this trail by kind people who live in the communities along the trail. In Onyx, CA, a small, low income desert town, a kind hippie lady let us stay at her house for the night, fed us, sang 60’s songs, and took care of us as we waited out a storm. A guy we met on the bus in Bishop let us stay at his house, and footed our dinner bill at a fairly expensive restaurant in Bishop. He said he had spent his youth gallivanting in the outdoors, and this was giving back. A hiker we met coming off Cottonwood Pass said he’d wait for us in the parking lot and took us to Lone Pine. Hiking is a wonderful way to see all the goodness in this world.
Now that we’re in the freezing Sierra, it’s hard to believe we were ever in the 100 degree desert. We’ve had two black widow run-ins: the scariest being a black widow hanging right above us in a cave where we took a nap near Cajon Pass. We also ran into a mother bear and three very small, adorable cubs. Quite scary.
The Sierra has had quite a big, abnormal, late snow dump (snowing as I write this). It should be an adventure heading back there!
Greetings from Big Bear Lake, California, mile 265 of the Pacific Crest Trail! It’s so strange hiking in Southern California again. I guess most of my previous desert hiking was in the cooler months because it has much hotter than I remember! The water situation hasn’t been as bad as I was expecting (haven’t gone thristy yet). We hiked for the first few days with Super Dave, a fun lawyer from Virginia, who had a hard time adjusting to the heat. I encouraged him to eat dinner and drink water from a cache. I hope he made it!
We’ve seen 4 rattlers so far, the fattest of which I walked by without even noticing it. I must say hiking uphill in the full sun (no shade) with 104 degree heat is quite exhausting! Everything in the desert is more prickly than I remember. The views, though, have been amazing. It’s so strange to look at the smallest hills here and think that they are bigger than even the tallest mountain in CT.
We did get to see a bit of snow coming around San Jacinto. The contrast between the snow and the outrageous heat has been a bit mind boggling. The 8000 foot descent down Snow Creek was crazy wild. A Desert Water Authority guard gate and incredibly xenophobic neighboring residential community prevent dayhikers from going up this section of the PCT (unless they swiftly and sneakily avoid the guards), which means this trail gets little traffic or grooming. I thought of all of my friends who have snuck past the guard gate to do Snow Creek and how lucky I am to be a PCT hiker who the guard actually welcomed with a smile. What a strange contrast!
We’ve had some great kindness from trail angels, many who cache water for us in the desert where there are no streams or springs nearby. Another kind trail angel brought us sandwiches and popsicles.