Thursday, September 19, 2013

PCT Aftermath: What Worked, What Didn't

I've had three weeks to think about my section hike, which should be enough time to come up with a coherent life plan according to what I learned. Maybe I need a life coach. Oh well. Anyway, at least I can report on the gear I loved and the gear I did not love so much.

First, the numbers:

Miles: 280, give or take
Blisters: ZERO.
Bugs: Nearly zero. Used repellent maybe twice, on first few days.
Injuries: Strained Achilles, cleared up in four days
Rain: Five days out of 17.5
Days cowboy camping (sleeping without a tent): two
Strangest campsite: A trail bridge
Best campsite: Base of Glacier Peak
Trail name: Monkey Bars
Strangest person we saw: Disheveled man hurrying down the trail carrying a stuff sack and demanding to know where the lake was
Most people camped near us one night: Ten
Number of trail crews seen: Three
Number of wilderness rangers who asked to see our permit: Zero
Most pack weight: About 32 lbs
Least pack weight: About 20 lbs
Longest food carry without resupply: 103 miles
Shortest day: seven miles (day one)
Longest day: 21.2 miles (twice)
Fights with trail partner(s): Zero

I don't have a good spreadsheet of gear that I took because I'm just not that organized. Here, though, are the things that worked well:

Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek 1. LOVE. I have probably spent 100 nights in this tent. It weighs two pounds. Sets up fast. Bombproof. What's not to like?

Pack: Granite Gear Vapor Ki. Not sure they make this anymore, but it was the right choice for this trip. My lighter pack would have tugged at my shoulders with the heavier weight days. Carries well, not a problem with it at all.

Sleeping bag: Katabatic Gear 10 degree quilt. Yes, it costs half a mortgage payment. But it weighs less than a pound, dries fast and I don't feel constricted. Never felt cold. It has clips that you attach to cords that you put around your pad, so you can either have it snuggled all the way around you or loose. Love this feature.

Water treatment: Sawyer Squeeze. If you backpack, do yourself a favor and get this. It is the best thing ever invented. LOVE LOVE LOVE. Both Scout and I had these and we wouldn't go back to pump style filters.

Sleeping pad: Thermarest NeoAir (short). 11 ounces, comfy, no complaints here.

Shoes: Brooks Cascadias. See "no blisters" above.

Clothes I loved: Smartwool long underwear, even though mine now have too many holes to be worn decently; super lightweight Montbell puffy; Patagonia light rain shell and my duct taped Arcteryx rain pants. Sent my fleece home at Stehekin.

Luxury item: Kindle. I really liked reading at night in the tent. Scout had an Ipod and listened to podcasts. I could often hear her laughing from her tent.

Stove: Scout's, and she carried it. I carried a ginormous fuel canister. We had no issues with her stove except on one rainy night when we left it out. I can't remember what kind it is, but it's similar to a pocket rocket.

Food: Both of us agreed that we could have done without all the freeze-dried food. It did a number on our stomachs. If we had to eat it, the Pack-It Gourmet stuff was the absolute winner. Food we both liked: Idahoan mashed potatoes, Lipton Sides Spicy Thai, and chocolate, lots of chocolate. Scout, knowing that downhills were difficult, also gave me some of her licorice jellybeans and said, "On this downhill, use these wisely." I chomped a lot of Sports Beans, cheese, and jerky. I never really got all that hungry on this trip for some reason.

Guthook App: This was Scout's too. She had it cached on her phone, and while looking at a mobile device in the wilderness felt strange, it saved us by letting us know if there were campsites ahead and how far, and most importantly, water.

Hairbrush: It became our ritual to brush our hair in the morning. Because, you know, you have to look pretty on the trail. Funny and true: I was wearing braids one day and an older couple thought I was a little kid. Ha, ha.

Baby wipes: YES. There were a lot less lakes than I anticipated.

Bladder: Many people nowadays just carry Gatorade bottles and I can see the appeal, but I still think I drink more with a hose right by my face. Would carry it again.

Stuff that wasn't so hot:

Camp/river crossing shoes: Teva Mush. Some people don't carry camp shoes, but I like them. These are super light but I was apparently packing for the Sierra, not the cold and rainy Cascades. You can't wear socks with these and I really, really wanted socks. I'd do the crocs method next time.

Solar charger/phone: Basically useless bricks. There wasn't a lot of direct sun and there was no cell phone coverage except for Stevens Pass.

Hiking skort: Don't get me wrong, I hate pants. HATE HATE. But, it was colder and rainier than I expected. Some quick dry convertible pants would have been a better choice.

Long-sleeved sun shirt: See lack of sun above. Although, I wore this when I did laundry, which beat wearing only a rain jacket.

Tyvek: I carried this mostly to sit on or to cowboy camp, and sometimes I put it under my tent. But it's not waterproof and a tent shouldn't need a groundcloth (good marketing by tent manufacturers make you think you do). Would not bring again.

Dirty Girl Gaiters: I really love these, but I love them on dusty trails. Most of the time we were walking through wet undergrowth or just plain not-dusty trails. Really did not need.

Hat and mittens: Rarely wore these, but they were good to have "just in case". I wore one pair of socks and underwear and carried another set, and washed the ones I wore out at night.

The other miscellaneous stuff I carried: headlamp, toiletries, matches, rain cover, etc, all were fine and unremarkable. Scout carried the trowel, which became a necessary item. People who say they can "dig a hole with their shoe" aren't doing it right. I also had three stuff sacks, one for breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner. That helped keep bulk down and helped me organize my food better.

So what incredible conclusions did I come to? There have to be some, right? Sadly, many of my thoughts varied on the mundane:

This is hard.
This is beautiful! 
Why can't I get Joan Jett lyrics out of my head?
Why can't I just do this all the time?

So what's next? I may do another section next year, and it's a toss-up between south to the Washington border, the Trinity Alps in California, or north from Yosemite. Anyone done these? What would you suggest? I'm looking for a bit of a shorter distance next year, maybe 150 miles this time, maybe 200.


  1. If you do the Trinity Alps, let me know if you want company. I don't know about 200 mi, but definitely a few days.

    I got a Neo Air for my birthday. Can't wait to try that out!!

  2. Thanks for the tip on the water filter. I've been using the same Katadyn Hiker unit since like 2003, and it's really time to graduate to something that weighs less than a pound.

    I think it's cool you're section hiking the PCT. I think about that trail often but of course I feel compelled to do the whole damn thing all at once, and that's quite a large chunk to carve out of a year. I don't think I'd record-chase the PCT like Anish (really, you need a lot of backcountry backpacking experience to even have a shot), but I also wouldn't want to spend four or five solid months out there. Section hiking is probably the way to go.

    I've also not heard too many positive things about the Oregon section. Mostly in the range of "meh" and "a lot of hiking through forest." Thru-hikers seem to appreciate it because it's easier than other sections.

    Glad to hear you had a good trip. I enjoyed your write-ups and photos. Washington would be my first choice for a PCT section. The of course the Sierras, then Northern California, then Oregon. Southern California sections last. I do not like heat. :)

  3. If you think of it, please do another review of your Sawyer Squeeze after you've had it and used it more. I needed a water filter this season and went with the Sawyer gravity system primarily because I didn't like the idea of forcing anything into the filter. Anyway, I'd be interested to learn if you encounter any problems with it in the future and after more use.

  4. Dude, I know. I did a summer of long distance hiking to help me get some clarity and for 300 miles, it was just the same Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's song over and over and over and over and over and over and...

  5. Would Dirty Girl Gaiters be useful in wet underbrush for keeping socks dry? Great endorsement for Brooks Cascadias...made me go look them up....wild colors!

  6. I've loved your write-up of our hike. Its so descriptive and brings back sections of the trail instantly for me. Of course, you are not writing about how strong you were on the hike. I mean push-ups on Day 14 - seriously :-) I'm with you on the Sawyer Filter and the Cascadias being great gear. Carol (Scout)


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