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!

Sunlight Solar!

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Luke with our new Solar Charger!

We’re happy to announce a new sponsor of ours- Sunlight Solar Energy! They were nice enough to give us a small solar charger/ backup battery, made by Sunpower. Thanks for the generous sponsorship!

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Sunlight Solar sells complete Solar Photovoltaic energy systems, both residential and commercial. Their service territory is Oregon & Washington, as well as Southern New England! If you’re interested in going solar, definitely check them out!

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Soaking up the Sun(power)!

Lake Tahoe!

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Iris along the trail.

Wow! Its July and the heat is on in Central California! Ever since dropping down out of the High Sierra it has been HOT! After our few days off in Mammoth Lakes, we’ve been alternatively hiking 25-27 mile days and taking short, slow days. Hiking in to Yosemite NP, a big rain system moved in, and we woke up in Tuolumne to cold temps and blowing rain. We had originally been planning to hike in to the Valley, a 25 mile hike, ending at Happy Isles, to finish up the John Muir Trail- but due to rain we ended up hitching in to the valley, to see the sights, and to meet up with Gingersnap, a trail angel I had met while hiking the Appalachian Trail. She also happens to be a ranger in Yosemite, and has a house just below Yosemite Falls- so we called her and piled a few hikers in to the house to dry off and relax on the couch.

Hiking north of Tuolumne, we were basically in a swamp for two days- and with the moisture came the bugs. LOTS of BUGS. We were probably surrounded by 200 mosquitoes at any given moment for about 2.5 days. The terrain was steep, and tough- adding to the challenge. Both Becky and I agree that the section of trail north of Tuolumne was the hardest section yet- we both faced difficult mental and physical challenges.

The tough hiking was rewarded with both some beautiful views and the reappearance of lots of trial magic! The mosquitoes were less of a problem after 3 days outside of Tuolumne, and the views just opened up- see some photos below. Additionally, we got trail magic three days in a row around Sonora pass, which bumped us up to South Lake Tahoe, where we are now, with ease.

Looking forward we kind of don’t know what to expect! We knew what we were getting in to with the High Sierra, but neither of us really knows what the hiking will be like in Northern California. We expect it to be hot- but we also know the walking will be getting easier- really it already has. Less vertical feet climbed and descended per day, and smoother trail should make for plenty of bigger days.

Anyways, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves from here on out- they are in reverse chronological order, so check them out from the bottom of the page, up!

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Since leaving the High Sierra we have been hiking through some gorgeous alpine meadows, smelling of mint and sage, with wildflowers in bloom!

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Ditching our Bear Canisters!! They were required for the last 300 miles of trail, and we couldn’t be happier to get rid of them!!

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Leaving Sonora Pass

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A typical Afternoon storm in the Northern Sierra.
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PCT hikers near Sonora Pass

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Spider with a Mosquito

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We are both 1000 milers!

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Sunset at Glen Aulin, Yosemite NP.

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Lotus enjoying some of the best spring water on the trail with Billy Goat, a living trail legend. He may have hiked more miles on the PCT than anyone else.

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Yosemite NP

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Hitching to the Yosemite High Country in an RV! This Welch family was kind enough to drive us around and feed us Green Tea and Cookies- This may have been our favorite hitch on the trip so far.

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Staying in a Yosemite Park Ranger’s home, just beneath Yosemite Falls. EPIC!

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Vernal Falls in Yosemite Valley!

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Next to a giant Sequoia!

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Walking to a Sequoia grove, L to R- Robin Hood, Trail Angel who drove us around, Lotus, and Mermaid.

Into the Sierra!

Yesterday we made it to Kennedy Meadows- 700+ miles into the trail and the entry point into the Sierra! Our last 140 miles from Tehachapi to here were eventful. We stayed an extra day in Tehachapi due to the 75mph winds that shut down the wind farms in the area, even so the day we hiked out we found ourselves in some crazy winds! Tehachapi to Walker Pass was hot but beautiful and we had some great climbs. We heard rumor of trail magic at Walker Pass, which is located in the middle of an extremely dry section of trail, so we decided to push a big day to arrive at the potential trail magic. We did 26 miles into Walker Pass and we were greeted by WATERMELON, vegan dinner, cold sodas and beers, tons of fresh fruit and some of the nicest trail angels we have met yet. This was the most amazing trail magic we have received yet and I was so so grateful. 

At Walker Pass we took a quick side trip into Lake Isabella and resupplied for the next two days to get to Kennedy Meadows- a major milestone in the trail. The hike from Walker Pass to Kennedy Meadows was gorgeous- big rocky mountains, more trees, a river (!), and we were surrounded by our friends Frosty, Ashleigh, the Dillweeds, and Funsize. I also got to see my first bear and a baby rattlesnake. 

We will leave Kennedy Meadows tonight and head off into the Sierra. With a little over 100 miles to go until Bishop, our packs are heavy. We picked up our bear canisters and have around 7 days of food to carry. Luckily about 50 miles from here we will have an abundance of water and can start carrying less of it. With no wi-fi in Kennedy Meadows we aren’t able to post any photos, we should be able to do a blog post from Bishop and get some pictures up.

Overall, spirits are high and Hermes and I are having an amazing time!! 

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!