Mountains Beyond Mountains

What does it take to make an entire group of PCT thru-hikers sleep like a rock, wake up late, and bonk after 10 miles the next day? Simply put – Washington. Though we’ve had quite a few tough areas on this trail, Washington seems to be the kicker at the end. The biggest day we’ve had recently- 28 miles, and 8000 ft. of climbing, in hot, exposed alpine areas wore us out.  Of course, none of this is without reward. We’re continually bombarded with beautiful alpine passes, and views that are only hindered by towering rock spires and glaciated peaks. Friday, we saw for the first time Glacier Peak and Mt. Baker, the last of the Cascade Volcanoes. Cold, stunningly clear streams feed into equally cold, blue-green alpine lakes, carving steep canyons through the eroding mountainsides. Forested mountain slopes can rise 2000 vertical feet for every lateral mile, making the peaks look more like a vertical, cresting wave than a stationary rock.

Needless to say Lotus and I have been  pooped. The long flat days in Oregon are certainly over, and hiking is more akin to the High Sierra than anything else. Leaving White Pass we were inundated in a true Northwest rainstorm. After sitting out overnight thunderstorms in a Packwood, WA Hotel, we knowingly walked out in to a full day and night of cold rain. It was a damp night without a doubt. The next morning, with almost everything soaked through (save the sleeping bags- bone dry!) we woke up to cold clear sunny weather. Of course, the weather clouded over by 10 AM, and we walked all that day in the cold, with intermittent light rain. Our morale was pretty high, knowing good weather was on the way, and it was gorgeous to see that area what might be its natural state- cloudy. We were lucky enough to hike most days in this section with Blur and Goodall, though we unfortunately left them behind in Snoqualmie Pass, as they spent the night resting up.

Arriving in Snoqualmie pass, we knew we were in for some amazing and difficult hiking. For a day and a half, we had been seeing 8000 ft. peaks in the distance to the North. In the pass, the first of these peaks rises up 3000 feet- right in the path of the trail. This was the first of many of these giant climbs. The heat wave Western Washington is in right now isn’t helping. Our mantra has been “The heat is better than the rain,” and its true- Lotus and I would both rather be in the heat for the rest of the way than in the rain. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be, and now there is rain in the forecast.  We’ve been hiking around several friends from far earlier in the trail- Robin Hood, Blur, Goodall, and Dinnertime. Additionally, we’ve enjoyed hiking around Spark, Instigate, Carrot, and Jack Rabbit.

As you might have presumed, we’ve only got about 9 days left on the trail. Canada is 184 miles away. We are both excited, terrified, happy, sad, confident, proud, and unsure. As on the Appalachian Trail, the end has crept up faster than I’m ready for. The journey is only half over at the Canadian Border. Adapting back to the front-country world is a challenge on its own. Finding our way back to a job (Anyone want to hire us?), back to the things that string our happiness along, back to a (at least somewhat) regular schedule. I won’t get too sentimental yet, but these things are all on our minds.

Extra Special Thanks to Becca and Emma for sending us some fine care packages- they were both so welcome!

Unfortunately, we can’t get any photos up for this blog entry, but we’ll get them to you as soon as we can!

This is likely going to be our last blog post until the end of the trail! 184 miles to the end. We’ll see you on the other side!

Tarantula Wasp!

 

We ran across this wild scene the other day.

The waspy- fly like thing you see is a ‘Tarantula Wasp,’ and its prey, of all things, is a Tarantula. Well, Prey is the wrong word. The wasp temporarily paralyzes the tarantula with its sting, and drags it to a specially prepared nest. It then lays an egg in the tarantula’s abdomen, which soon hatches a small wasp larva. The larva then eats its way through the tarantula, avoiding the vital organs, keeping it alive as long as possible. Eventually, after a few weeks, the wasp breaks free of the tarantula as it becomes an adult.

Oh, and the sting of the wasp has been described as “immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations.”

Good thing we didn’t know about that as I filmed it.

 

-Hermes & Lotus

P.S. We’re in Wrightwood, CA, 369 miles North of the border, and its day 23!

New Sponsors and a few goodbyes to Burlington

The last week has been a great week in the long experience that is trip prep. Tuesday of last week, we learned we were going to be sponsored by not one or two, but FOUR additional sponsors!! Each of these wonderful companies has been extremely generous in helping us walk to Canada. Keen, the shoe company, will be sponsoring us with a dozen pairs of socks per person- we are testing out a new “Thru- Hiking” sock for them. Look for it in stores soon. Bearded Brothers, an organic, raw and vegan energy bar company, will be generously sponsoring us with monthly supplies of their *delicious* bars. Diva Cup sent Becky, well, a Diva Cup. And Kamut Khorasan wheat will be sponsoring us with a variety of their heirloom wheat products. Definitely check out these companies on our sponsors page, we are happy to represent their products!

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We’re finally at the stage with our food prep where the food is (mostly) portioned out, labeled, in bags, in boxes, and properly assigned to the right place. In fact, its gone so well that we actually have extra pre- made dinners to ship to ourselves if we need them, or else they could become fodder for hiker boxes- other PCT hikers take note! (To those who don’t know a hiker box is basically a box of FREE leftover/ extra food Thru- Hikers leave behind)

Good-bye Burlington Going Away Party!

Good-bye Burlington Going Away Party!

Our gear is all but dialed in, and though we haven’t had the chance to get out on any real overnights (I know the apple blossoms are blooming elsewhere, but here in Vermont its still ski season), we’re pretty confident with our setup. All that’s left is saying goodbye to friends… Not the easiest thing to do. We’re unsure of when we will return to this wonderful city, and its hard leaving town knowing that. Stay Classy, Burlington.

In other news, I ran a half marathon on Saturday, coming in with my second Personal Best of the season, although, again this was also my personal worst- my first time at this distance- but whose counting anyways?

An additional shout out here to all the Boston Marathon runners and fans today. I hope the best for all those involved, and am totally distraught by today’s events. It had been a short-lived dream of mine last fall to qualify for Boston, enabling me to run this year, but registration closed before I ran an almost- qualifying time in Philadelphia in November. My sympathies go out to the victims of today’s disaster.

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Leaving Burlington?

IMG_3246Eagerly awaiting the start of our hike, Becky and I have passed the one-month-to-go mark. Our gear is mostly dialed in, and dehydrated food is steadily accumulating in boxes. It’s impossibly exciting to see the progress we are making, and to check those days off the calendar.  That said, as we get closer to our departure, the idea of leaving Burlington grows more and more bittersweet. Its a place both of us have grown to love over the last half-decade or so, and neither of us are sure when we will return. The combination of people, landscape, opportunities, and culture is like nowhere else, and we are both privileged to have had the chance to live in such a great place! Trying to jam everything in, we’ve made a short list of “Burlington” things left to do, experiences to be had. I(somewhat secretly) hope some remain un-done, so I have good reason to come back…

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On a lighter note, we had a lucky (read: cheap!) break the other day, as ArtsRiot, who are liquidating the now- closed Fresh Market Cafe’s old supplies, practically gave away a healthy selection of foods just suited to our hike. We got industrial amounts of  beans, canned tomatoes, pasta, and raisins from them. We appreciate it Arts Riot! Stay tuned on exciting developments on their new cafe and music space, opening early this summer.

We’ve both been trying to stay healthy, while taking care of our bodies so that we will be able to start the hike pain and worry free. Over the weekend I ran in the Spring Fling 10K, over a hilly and windy course in Shelburne, and set a Personal Record of 40:12! Well, it was only the second time I’ve run that distance, but nonetheless it counts for a PR! The race was in anticipation of the Burlington Unplugged Half Marathon on April 13th. Becky is graduating her 200 hour Yoga teacher training program at Yoga Vermont this weekend, and you’ll hear more about that soon! Stay Tuned!

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Gear, Gear, Gear

Disclaimer: At this point I feel like I could write a few weeks worth of entries just about gear.

What do you take with you on a six-month hike?

Becky and I must have been asked this a hundred times- and we finally almost have it pinned down. Briefly- you don’t bring much; everything we bring we’ll use nearly daily. We’ll be trying to ‘ultralight’ the length of the hike. Ultralight means, simply, minimizing your ‘base weight,’ or the weight of your pack empty of food, water and fuel. Everyone has their own idea about what constitutes ultralight- for some that means base weights in the 5-8 pound range. Not that anyone’s counting, but I’m shooting for 10 -11 pounds- all inclusive of the pack itself, tent, sleeping bag/pad, warm/ rainproof layers, stove,  and accessories like a headlamp. There are two ways to get to a weight like that.

1- Take gear out of your pack. Weekend backpackers may be familiar with some of the following

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I love gourmet coffee, chairs with backs, and plates and bowls, but none of these make the weight/ usefulness ratio. If its not going to help me get to Canada, or to be warm while sleeping, I’m not going to bring it. So this cuts out a lot- clean t-shirts, numerous layers to suit all conditions, a five pound med- kit to solve all the world’s problems, and your digital SLR to get the best shots.

2- Change the gear that’s left. Once gear has been narrowed down to the necessities, its time to change the gear in the pack. Changing out your backpack, tent, and sleeping bag are great spots to start. This can get pretty expensive pretty quick, but shopping around, checking out forums on ultralight hiking, and maybe a Flyin Ryan Adventure Scholarship can help you get there. I’ve settled on a Gossamer Gear 16 ounce backpack, a Henry Shire’s 36 ounce tarp-tent, and a 22 ounce enLightened equipment quilt as my Big Three- the three heaviest pieces of gear in my pack. Becky is hiking with a Granite Gear Crown V.C 60 coming in at just over 32 ounces with an internal frame and hip belt that will help distribute the weight more evenly, a Mountain Hardwear 15 degree Phantom woman’s bag weighing in at 2 pounds and she will be carrying the tent’s extra things- stakes, the one small pole that comes with it, etc. We’ll also be carrying a small alcohol stove. Most backpacking stoves run on liquid white gas, or propane/isobutane canisters, we’ll be taking a stove made out of a cat food can, with 95% denatured alcohol being the fuel- very cheap, and readily available (you can also use the fuel line Antifreeze solution ‘HEET’), and most importantly- ultralight. Our stove and fuel storage, empty, will weigh in around an ounce.

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Fancy Feast Stove

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Becky in her new Sleeping Bag!

As the hike is longer, more remote, and goes through more ecosystems, planning for this hike has been considerably harder than for my 2011 Appalachian Trail Thru-hike. We’re working not only to dial in our gear, but to organize gear shipments to ourselves along the trail, food shipments for those remote areas, and planning beginning end logistics. Needless to say, we’ll both be excited to leave the planning stage behind and get hiking!

Flyin Ryan

In a stroke of good luck, we have been lucky enough to receive a “Flyin Ryan” Adventure scholarship. This will in part fund our thru-hike- the funds will cover several of our expensive pre-trip gear purchases. We learned about Flyin Ryan when mountaineering legend Conrad Anker came to Burlington to give a talk. Peter Hawks, founder of the organization and Ryan’s father, said a few words, mentioning the scholarship.

Flyin Ryan is an organization dedicated to extending the influence of the life of Ryan Hawks, the free-skier. Ryan Hawks passed away in the spring of 2011, after a fall in the Freeskiing World Tour. Flyin Ryan promotes Ryan’s Core Principles:

 Live every day, all day : Never stop exploring life : Never lose my adventuresome attitude : Be the best friend I can be

Be the best brother, son, uncle I can : Look out for others : Look out for myself : Look out for our surroundings

Play like I’m thirteen : Be self-sufficient : Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Work hard : Live easy : Live simply

Flyin Ryan, among other practices, gives out adventure scholarships to help live out the values above. Find previous recipients here.   Above all else, Peter is looking for passion, character which reflect’s Ryan’s principles, and financial need. Becky and I are proud to say we are Flyin Ryan recipients and are excited to build a relationship with the organization and other scholarship recipients!

Luke Neumann, Peter Hawks, Becky Cohen

We received the scholarship at the BANFF film festival at UVM, this past Friday. For me this was a great event, on multiple levels. Going to BANFF (and Telluride) film festivals over the last three or four years has been a mixed experience. While I’ve been simultaneously inspired, I was always saddled with the thought that I wasn’t out there, making my dreams come true, like many inspiring people in the films. This year felt dramatically different, and not just because I needed to stand up in front of 700 friends, former classmates, co-workers, and strangers- but because I felt like I had an outlet for the energy that inspiration like that comes with.

So we left this past weekend with a few more milestones under our belts (hiking shorts?):

1- We are one scholarship closer to making it to day 1 !

2- We have both given our 3-month notice at work. Against the advice of some, we told our boss (singular) (yes, we work for the same organization…) we were leaving. We are lucky to work with such great people that we found our plans to be well received.

PCT Tracker:

Day: 0

Miles: 0