Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Pacific Crest Trail, Castella to Ashland: Walking to Oregon

The snowfield stretched far above and below the trail. How was there even a snowfield here in July? I began to kick steps, following someone's ancient, melted tracks. Too late, I realized that only a thin skiff of snow lay over thick ice. As I was thinking this, my foot slipped and I slid at a high rate of speed toward some waiting rocks.

This was not a good thing.

Cautiously I assessed the damage. Nothing was broken. It was time to hike on, though this close call made me think about how quickly things can turn around. Just read this story, at a place I have been many times.

I had been lucky. With only a few lacerations, I skipped across the Etna Bar road and back on trail.

The Marble Mountains were a place to savor, even though my highly anticipated afternoon swimming at "Paradise Lake" turned into a quick retreat from a scummy cow pond. Who names these places?

This is what the trail looks like for long sections. See how there's nowhere to camp for miles?

This is "Man Eaten" Lake. It's well below the PCT and so I didn't go there. Plus, the name!

I took a side trail to this lake. 

More contouring through some pretty country.

Then it was time to descend through the poison oak gauntlet and do the roadwalk to Seaid Valley. At 92 degrees, it wasn't pleasant. A guy in a pickup offered me a ride, but the road is part of the trail and I wasn't about to skip. Later I found out that most "thru" hikers accept rides here, despite their elitist attitude toward day and section hikers (not everyone, but many have this view).

The tiny town of Seiad Valley baked in the heat. What would it be like to live here? I'd be lying in the Klamath River all day, I thought. A small group of us pitched tents at the RV park for the night, positioning ourselves for the scenic yet steep climb from 1,000 feet back to 7,000. 

Blurry, but I was captivated by these enterprising girls and their lemonade stand (yes, I bought some)

Shortcut and Half Fast looking at maps.
By the last night on the trail, I was feeling the effort of hiking 200 miles. Several people have asked me why I hiked so many miles in such a short time. Partly I wanted to see what I could do. You are also dictated in this terrain by campsite availability and water. Sometimes you have to walk far to get to either one. But nearly a week after finishing, my feet still ached. It took me four days to want to hike again.

I think that's an old lookout tower on Devils Peak?

Lily Pad Lake on the climb out of Seaid Valley

I've now completed 1330 miles of the PCT. On the last day, heading down to Interstate 5, a milkshake, and a bed, I contemplated breaking up with the PCT. Maybe I'd done enough? But only a few hours later I knew we weren't quite finished. I might not travel the entire distance, but there's still a few miles left to go.

Hiking into Oregon was strangely very cool!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pacific Crest Trail, Castella to Ashland: the first hundred miles

By the afternoon of the second day, I had gone completely feral.

Castle Crags state park

Well on my way to a twenty-six mile day, the farthest I had ever backpacked. I stopped wearing underwear (with a long skirt, who needs it?). I talked to myself, and answered. I plopped down in the dirt when I felt like sitting. I saw nobody for miles and miles. The people I saw, I never saw again: the Weed Brothers, who took frequent smoke breaks and fell behind; Daniel, who had just gotten on the trail himself and was hoping to make it to the Bridge of the Gods. It was his first backpacking trip. "I guess I could have done something less challenging," he said. In the first six miles, he had lost his hat. He was also carrying a large knife, a GPS he didn't know how to use, and a full size bottle of sunscreen. He stopped to take a break when I did, and asked where I was going to camp. I recognized someone in need of a buddy, but I knew if I wanted to get very far, I would have to leave Daniel to his own devices.

There was Chuck, who mansplained that I should change socks every five miles, and who said that doctors had diagnosed a hairline fracture in his foot, but instead he kept hiking, and it healed itself. Never saw him again either. Nor Dizzy and Brownie, two older thru hikers who claimed they "aimed for twenty miles but rarely made it." Or L-Rod, a legendary trail angel who was finally doing a hike of her own. They could have been five miles back, or twenty. There was no way of knowing. The trail stretched out, empty and glorious.

First night's camp

Stormy weather 
I climbed through the Castle Crags and camped with a view of a thunderstorm and Mount Shasta. . Since the trail largely stays up on the crest, many lakes shimmered tantalizingly below, just out of reach. Most campsites are dry on the PCT, and so water must be carried accordingly.

So many lakes, so little time.
On the fourth day I came to a burned forest. Beekeeper, who had met me with cookies at highway three, and who had hiked five miles further to camp with me for a night, had warned me of this, but I wasn't prepared for how completely torched the Russian Wilderness was. Everyone behind me had gone into Etna for food and showers, and so I saw nobody for the whole day, walking through endless miles of completely burned forest. I camped alone in a creepy hollow, deer (I hoped) bounding through my camp all night.

While I missed having a hiking partner, I loved the freedom of being solo. When to stop, when to go: it was all up to me.  I paid a lot more attention to the maps and the next water source without someone else to figure that out. This was my longest solo trip, and the first one where nobody asked me if I was solo, or why. The PCT is like that.
This "Bloody Run" trail junction seemed a little ominous.
I was almost to Etna Summit, with one hundred miles completed. I had done those miles in four days. This trip, I realized, was about seeing what I could do, and pushing past that point. Most of my trips aren't like that--I don't have to prove anything. But it was interesting to see how well my body was responding to big miles.

My feet were a little sore, and the long miles could be a little lonely. But I had survived them, and I was almost halfway. What could go wrong now? I was, in fact, about to find out.

to be continued...

Friday, July 8, 2016

Pacific Crest Trail, Castle Crags to Ashland, Day Zero

Greetings, friends, I am at Callahan''s lodge near Ashland. In about 11 days I will be hiking back to here, another section of the PCT completed.

I am carrying 8 days of food so my pack is not light. In the past few days I have been eating myself to a calorie surplus, the way I wish I could still eat normally.

At any rate, I will not blog from the trail, buy look forward to posts when I return. Thanks for following along.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The wolf and me

In my days on the road, when I moved across the country every six months, I thought staying in one place and with one person meant the end of independence. Most people I knew who did this seemed entwined in a way that wasn't acceptable to me. I've always been more independent than most women I have known. It took me forever, but I found someone who lets me breathe, and so I decided to celebrate "Independence Day" in my own way--a solo backpacking trip. (J was on his own biking trip, so he wasn't pitifully left at home.)

I had to work on Friday, so I didn't get to the trailhead until twelve-thirty, a miscalculation, I realized, since temperatures have unreasonably soared into the nineties. I slogged along at a 2 mph pace, wondering how I would ever pull off 20 mile days in the Marble Mountains. 

A youth in huge hiking boots caught up to me as I reached Aneroid Lake. I showed him the nice camping spots and he plopped a tent down near mine. That was all right, I thought. He was by himself, and his dogs would keep bears from coming into camp. He was only staying one night, he said, as he set up his tent.

I was filled with the relentless desire to explore, so I headed out for a day hike to see how far up the pass I could get. I soon climbed into a basin that always intrigues me. It is so wide and open and wild. I hardly ever see anyone here.

Looking toward Tenderfoot Pass.
 Having not grocery shopped, I wasn't carrying much food, so I wasn't sure if I had the energy to climb off trail to Jewett Lake. In the end, of course, I couldn't resist. There was still plenty of snow to cross.

 As many times as I have been here, I still can't control the huge smile I get when I see the lake. It is just too perfect.
 I settled near a log and took a couple of pictures. Then I noticed an animal on the other side of the lake. It was....A WOLF!

I wasn't afraid. I held my breath as it stared back at me. For just a moment, the world stood still. Then the wolf ran across the snowfield and was gone. I felt incredibly lucky to be there at that moment.

I returned to Aneroid Lake, hoping the caretaker of the private cabins was around. Maybe he would have food. Alas, he wasn't, so I returned to my camp for tuna and crackers. But...something was missing! The guy's tent was gone! What had happened, I wondered. He wasn't camped anywhere else along the lake. Had he discovered he had forgotten something? Had the eternal quiet been too much? Sometimes, independence comes with a price.

At any rate, he was gone, the mystery never to be explained. I sat next to my tent and looked out over the lake. Up there, somewhere, wolves roamed.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

How much food do YOU eat in 8 days?

I sit surrounded by Kind bars, peanut butter packets, shelf stable hummus, apple chips, and, because it can't all be healthy, M&Ms. It's that time of year again, when I start out carefully calculating how much food I need for a PCT section hike, lay out each day carefully, and then give up and shove it all in the pack, only to unpack and take things out.

My pack right now with everything (food and water too) weighs about 32 pounds. Which seems like a lot, but then again, when you consider I am hiking 155 miles before a resupply, isn't that much. Is it enough?

Eight days. How much do you eat in eight days? How much would you eat if you were walking all day, every day? I have everything else in my pack figured out. I still haven't gotten the food right. Probably because I don't really eat like a normal person. In a perfect world I would never eat meals. I would just graze, like an elk. This where long distance hiking approaches the perfect situation for me. I keep snacks in my pockets and I eat whenever I feel like it, not when the clock says I should eat. If I am not sharing meals with a buddy, I don't eat real dinners either, not the kind you crouch around a stove stirring, anyway. A lot of people make a big fuss about food in every day life, it seems like. What to make, how to make it, when to have it. I was once on an overseas trip with someone who "needed to have a hot meal" at dinnertime. I was once horribly entangled in a relationship with someone who needed to have the ADA pyramid at each meal and even referred to needing to have a "starch".

But back to food. Hikers get a little wrapped around the axle on this one. Some people meticulously dehydrate their own food prior to the trip. Some people calculate ratio of fat to carbs to weight. Way too much work for me. I pick what sounds good and throw it in the bear bag. This has sometimes worked out great (yay protein shakes) and bad (I never want to see a Builders bar again). To this day I recall the deliciousness of a bag of kettle chips in the Emigrant Wilderness and  the sad disappointment of a freeze dried ice cream sandwich in the Alpine Lakes.

I am going stoveless on this trip, which I have done before, but not for this long. Not having a stove makes life easier, but can make food more complicated to figure out. Some people cold soak their beans all day in an empty plastic peanut butter jar. No, just no. I am hoping the tortillas, tuna, and cheese work out like they did on the last stoveless trip.

In the end, all will be fine. I used to carry a 70 pound pack back in the day, and it didn't slow me down any. If I get too hungry, I can probably yogi* some food. If I have too much food, I can give jellybeans to thru-hikers. If history serves right, though, I have way too much food. No Donner party here.

* Yogi=lurk looking hungry/in need of a ride/in need of an essential piece of gear you left behind because it was too heavy

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Walking the line at Legore Lake

Legore Lake, highest lake in the state. You have to work to get here.
I slid on the snowfield, wondering if I had reached the line. You know the one: it divides pushing yourself beyond what is comfortable and what, actually, isn't very smart. Some people never learn this line, and get in trouble over and over again. Some people don't get very close to it, and never learn what they can achieve.
I knew I could climb up this snowfield, but I wasn't sure about getting down. It was steep and angled right toward some rocks. You could pick up a lot of speed if you fell. It probably wasn't a YFYD* snowfield, though. I made a bargain with myself: I'd climb to the basin, and if the remaining trail to the lake was covered in snow, I would turn back. When I pulled myself to the lip of the basin, a mostly snow-free path waited.
Lookin' over at the Lostine drainage over the saddle.
I've been to this lake, the highest lake in Oregon, a handful of times, and each time I tell myself I won't ever go again. The trail is a nasty mess of eroded pebbles, and there's no breaks, just a steep climb, 4,000 feet in as many miles. It's easy to face plant, and you are reduced to a slow trudge. 

I keep going back, though. I've never seen another person at the lake, and it's a peaceful little place, under snow most of the year. On June 25th, it is still partially frozen. I have never encountered the infamous boulder field in this much snow, and while it eliminated the tedious picking through shifty rocks, I'm not a big fan of the uncontrolled slide. 

But still. This was a time when bumping up against that imaginary line worked. The climb down the snowfield wasn't as bad as I feared, and I even glissaded a little. The mountains were big and deserted, everyone else choosing to stroll to a waterfall on a level trail. I love it when things work out like this. 

Looking down the boulder (snow) field. Yikes!
Whew! Made it.

*You Fall, You Die.

Guys! I don't talk much about my books on this site--I have another one, http:\\ for that purpose. But this news is so huge I must share it. My second book just got accepted by a New York publishing house. I never thought I would get one book published, much less two. This one is a memoir about fighting fire from Florida to Alaska. I don't really fight fire anymore--just help at the helibase--because it just isn't the same as it used to be. But those times were some of the best of my life. I can't wait to see it in print.

Monday, June 20, 2016

We fought the law, and the law won

I'm an outdoors rule follower. As someone who has sat on the other side of the desk making the rules, I know most of them are for a good reason. (Some are just dumb. A 200 foot setback at camping at lakes, when people are just going to drag their stuff down there and do everything but sleep there? Dumb. But I follow it anyway). I dutifully stick to the switchbacks, even if you only go about five feet up in elevation each long-ass turn (erosion). I didn't bust the fire closure on the PCT this spring even though other people did. I don't build fires when they aren't allowed, ride a bike where it isn't permitted, or avoid LNT.

So when my intrepid friends suggested a hike up the evacuation route of the tramway, I hesitated a little. "I don't think they allow you to do that," J said thoughtfully as he prepared to (legally) take the gondola to the top. But after the first small piece of tram property, it was all Forest Service, I argued. There's no closure order. It has to be legal!

So we headed off without anyone stopping us. We skirted around tram property and gained the trail. The trail was extremely steep, but we were doing it, climbing several thousand feet in an hour. It was a great occasion to be on a trail I had never been on before. Until we passed under the gondola's path.

A man opened the door of the gondola (!) and screamed at us. "YOU CAN'T BE HERE! I'M THE TRAM MANAGER! I'M CALLING THE POLICE! GET OFF THE TRAIL NOW!"

He only had a few seconds to make his point as the cable car drifted out of sight. We looked at each other. Was this an empty threat? If we kept going, would they be waiting for us at the top? I knew we were in the right, because we were on Forest Service land. But it wasn't worth it. We reluctantly descended. There were no police in sight (I think they have better things to do).

Later, at a party, my other friends were not divided. "We would have kept going," they announced. Of course, it is easy to say when you don't have a gondola car full of crazy. It's hard to stick to your guns when someone is so angry. Even if you are right.

Disappointed, we gathered at the parking lot and pointed out the lack of signs indicating the grave wrongness of our actions. But in the end none of us wanted to end up in the Police Blotter. I trudged over to pay for a gondola ticket. I had to salvage a failed hike, and it was worth the exorbitant price to see some skiers dedicated to finding the remaining snow.

Determined skiers.
I recalled all the times I had hiked into someone's camp and avoided giving them a ticket for egregious wrongs like building a fire in a fire restricted area. I never made the rule breakers feel scared or stupid. There's a way to make your point, and a way to do it wrong. With them, I carried ziplock bags of water from the lake and we put the fire out together.

What's my point? Be nice. Even if you think you're right. I see so many people these days lashing out immediately without taking time to think. It can be such a mean world; let's not perpetuate that in our own little circles. (And: if you hike up the evac trail, sprint between the tram lines. You are on public land. Don't let anyone tell you differently.)