Finally took my Pacific Crest Trail hike, well a part of it, that is. The PCT is not just any hike, it requires a massive amount of logistics and planning. For one thing, it’s pretty much impossible to get to many of the trailheads without having to hitchhike, something I’m not great at. Then, since the PCT is so long and has little to none of the usual amenities, one has to pre-prepare all of one’s food in advance, generally by dehydrating, but also by buying tons of processed, packaged foods that will keep for long periods on the trail.
Next is boxing and mailing it. This follows a lot of researching of resupply locations along the way, often post offices, but also other commercial businesses, where said hiker will be picking up these food parcels (and since these pick-up locations are frequently many miles from the trail, the hit and miss of hitchhiking is again suggested).
Another thing that must be considered is getting the weight of one’s pack down to a minimum by bringing only the essentials. That can be no easy task. My pack weight without food and water was around 31 pounds. Others though, seasoned backpackers, boast their ability to get their pack weights down to 10 pounds or less. Throughout this process, one should be training his/her body with regular, shorter hikes.
All of this can be daunting (and expensive). But when the planning is finally done, and at long last you’re really, actually out there, that’s when the adventure begins. A big part of that adventure is knowing that you are now completely dependent upon your own wits. It’s unfamiliar territory for people used to having all the conveniences at arm’s length. But with the miles, one’s confidence begins to increase.
Or at least, that’s what they say. Unfortunately, for various reasons, while I was able to do a sizable portion of two sections, I did not complete the trail, or even a large part of it. I’d like one day to be able to go back and finish it. Still, I hope to show that the PCT is a wonderful trail that’s well worth the trouble.
Following are some notes from a journal I kept. Since I was concerned about weight, I didn’t want to carry an actual notebook, so as I was carrying my phone, it also quadrupled as a navigation, picture and note taking device.
Entry: After arriving late, I hiked out four miles from Hart’s Pass. Spent the night on a high crest with sheer drop offs to either side, subconsciously hoping I wouldn’t sleep walk. It was hard to find a level area of ground, so I pitched my tent right on the trail. A trekker came by and mildly chided me for this, but as it was getting dark, he walked on. The sunset was a dazzling display of color.
Had a bit of a mistake already. The fuel canister I bought, a Big 5 Coleman, did not fit my stove. Fortunately, I’m still able to rehydrate the food with water, though its cold, so slightly off taste. Just can’t stop taking pictures! Everywhere a postcard.
Entry: Well I’m at 6.78 miles into the hike and its a sparkly clear and lovely day; quiet, nothing but the feel of the wind and sound of it in the trees around me. So many beautiful wildflowers in a riot of colors. Unbelievable. Nature left in balance is beautiful.
Entry: What’s interesting is that summer is spring here at altitude! I get into gorgeous places that feel sacred and I find myself whispering. In the dark forest I come across little glowing fields and meadows where sunlight falls like honey on grateful, uplifted blossoms.
Entry: Ten miles in and I trip on a rock and fall. I throw my right arm out to brace myself and feared I broke it at the pain. I lay there a few moments waiting to tell, but in a minutes time the pain’s gone, and I’m none the worse for the wear.
Entry: Up to a bright and early start. Yesterday after a lovely beginning everything seem to be going wrong. Did I mention that I was getting some severe cramps in my legs too? But this morning I’m off fresh. I found that the Coleman gas canister was not the problem. It was that I forgot to attach a piece that was still in the small stove bag. Thus, I had a warm breakfast this morning. Yea! My apologies to Coleman. I’d been having dark thoughts about them.
So I’m off down the path and experimenting with my backpack to see if I can get it not to gouge into my shoulders quite so much. I’m trying thick wool socks under the shoulder straps which definitely helps. I’ve also learned that I have to balance the weight between that on my shoulders and my waist. Too much on the waist and I get the cramping. On uphills however, because the weight sits disproportionately on my hips, I begin unclipping my waist belt altogether.
Entry: Well it’s 8:04 PM, and even though I did 17 miles yesterday, I only did 13 today. So much for my plans for doing 20 miles a day. A lot of that is because I’m dependent on where I can find a campground since the trail is bordered pretty much the entire way on both sides by thick, unruly forest and anything but level ground. I found this place some ways beyond Rainy Pass, not the kind of campground I might normally stay in (and, to be honest, though no one else is here, I prefer not using public campgrounds at all), I’m taking it because of an unexpected sign informing me that I was about to enter the North Cascades National Park and advising that absolutely no camping was allowed at all in any of its campgrounds or along the trail without a permit. To abide by that, though, would require of me significant backtracking to Hwy 20, then hitchhiking all way to town, only (likely) to find everything closed due to the hour. Kind of ridiculous. This campsite on the outer edge of the North Cascades National Park may have been put here for that very reason.
I really need to stretch my back, but these conifer trees don’t have the kind of branches that you can hold onto. They’re all thin and droop downwards, and most are high off the ground – totally different than the deciduous trees back home where I can easily find branches to hang from. So what I did was to get a big rock and, bending over, hold it just off the ground to try to stretch my back. I think it helped some. Carrying that heavy backpack, I need to stretch my back. Another byproduct of these drooping branches that are close to their trunks is that I can’t hang my food bag out of the reach of bears. Luckily, I have my food in an “OP”, or odor proof, bag. Ipso facto, I keep it closeby instead.
My feet are feeling a bit abused, and the looking it too, but I felt a lot better today than yesterday. Tomorrow heading toward Stehekin.
Entry: Next morning. I’ve been doing everything slowly and methodically. Went down to the river, washed my face, came back and treated my feet with some talcum powder, and tape for the blisters. They feel much better now. Then I carefully repack my ruck. Waiting for some packaged Louisiana Rice and Beans to rehydrate. My food bag is getting decidedly lighter.
Entry: Found this interesting plant which, in the sun, seems to “sweat” micro-dropplets [sparkles in the photo]. On a whim I pick a leaf and taste it, finding it to be sweet! Hmm…
Entry: Wow, the trail up is tough, especially with all this weight. I’d been carrying a lot of water, but finally, seeing the regularity of springs so far, poured most of it out. I met someone who asked why I’m taking an ice ax. Told him I read that hikers should have one in the Cascades. He said no, not this time of year. So looks like I’m carrying extra weight for nothing. Note: the pic above is another hiker.
Entry: Came across another small spring and decided to drink some to preserve the water in the my bottle for the 6 miles until the next spring. It tasted like ambrosia. There’s something about the cold freshness of a rushing ice-melt stream.
Entry: Down the trail a couple of hours. Had an issue at a trail junction where I was getting conflicting directions from my app*, Halfmile’s PCT, and the official Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail paper map. Finally figured it out. The app was telling me to go left, or north, but the map, right and south, which is the way I was supposed to be going. I confirmed with a compass, then kept south.
*I should say however that Halfmile’s app was otherwise very good, and I relied on it especially for directions to water, or to let me know when I’d wandered off the trail.
Entry: Down the trail a black bear suddenly burst from the bushes in front of me, maybe 10 feet away, and ran down the opposite direction looking back occasionally. A couple hikers coming the other then way made him stop, pause, and glancing at both of us, decide to lumber off into the bushes on the side of the trail. I’d estimate him at no more than 200 pounds. He was more afraid of me than I was of him.
Earlier, I met a very friendly deer with short antlers who stood near the trail munching greens. I stopped and talked to him a bit, and he approached quite close, showing no fear. Finally I edged by. Not allowed to be hunted in National Parks, it’s refreshing to know that some wildlife can grow up without the usual terror of us. Sadly, in a picture removing episode when I kept getting a warning message about space running out on my phone, I accidentally deleted both these pics and a short video. 😦
Entry: Went through a long section of blueberries that were very tasty! Also through a section of huckleberries and some unknown but exquisite hanging red fruit*. Temptation got the better of me and I sampled one, finding it to be very juicy and flavorful. I’m no more knowledgeable for it however.
I thought I would make it to the shuttle to Stehekin today but I didn’t. So I am now camped (sans permit). Tomorrow I still have to go 5 miles to get to the shuttle and then to “town”. At the moment I am hiding inside my tent from the throngs of mosquitoes trying to have me for dinner. I already have numerous bites. They’ve learned to attack the back where you don’t see them until you feel the itch.
I’ve already removed two or three apps from my phone, including Backcountry Navigator, which was glitching and, frankly, doing nothing for me, but I’m still getting a warning message that I’m running out of space. I must be taking too many pictures.
At about 10 o’clock tonight I saw a large light green colored orb moving quickly and silently through the sky, yet relatively low and horizontal to the ground. I noticed it while scanning photos then catching a sudden light out of the corner of my eye. I turned my head to see it zip by in a gap. My immediate impression was that it was a meteor, but there was no tail. So a UFO to me.
Entry: Well it looks like I again accidentally deleted some of my journal here, including my favorite photo, a lovely view of a distant snow covered arête framed by blue sky and dark forest, so I’ll try to remember what I was saying.
Today I met two elderly Asian ladies that were both amazing. One of them passed me up on the trail early this morning saying that she didn’t want to miss the bus to Stehekin, and I never caught up with her after that. The other one was here in Stehekin and sat down next to me to rest and talk. She’s probably about 70, I’m guessing, slightly bent over, probably from years of carrying a backpack. But she told me that she’s done almost the entire Pacific Crest Trail(!), and seems mystified that I’m having issues with my feet at all. I explain that as a day hiker, I generally only carry a lightweight pack that’s not as taxing on my feet. Also my hiking miles per week are usually no more than 15. As we’re talking, a young woman hobbles by, stopping in front of us to ask if there is, by any chance, an electrical outlet on the wall behind us so that she could recharge her devices. Obviously a long-distance hiker. We look, then answer no, and she slowly, and painfully, hobbles off.
Doing my laundry this morning before the ferry comes. I still have to pick up my resupply box at the post office.
Entry: What’s odd about this town is that though it’s a fairly small place with no road in or out (one can only get here by hiking, ferry or water plane) there seems to be a lot of huge diesel trucks and all kinds of cars and vehicles. As I wait outside for my clothes to dry in the little pubic laundry that has but one washer and dryer, the air is thick with the noxious smell of diesel and a sound like a jackhammer, which a construction worker looking for a restroom tells me is an air compressor. It’s beautiful place, yet the ugliest trappings of man are here too, and I have to retreat inside the laundry room to escape the horrible fumes belching out in thick grey clouds.
Entry: It’s 2:15 and I’m heading down Lake Chelan on Lady of the Lake, a ferry boat. The seat I’m in is directly behind a window and even though it’s quite hot out today, there’s a very pleasant breeze blowing in. The lake is blue/green. Lake Chelan is reputed by a brosure aboard to be the third deepest lake in the country at something like 1,400 + feet. The other two are Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe. The cruise is supposed to be a few hours long. The price is an affordable $24.
Bought a burger and fried chips in Stehekin so I wouldn’t be hungry on the boat, then proceeded to knock them off of the armrest of my chair. Everything landed face down on the ground (of course). I dusted the burger off and ate it anyway as I didn’t want to buy another. The chips I tossed.
Though I’m missing the trail, I will have the possibly once-in-my-lifetime thrill of a trip down the 50 miles from Stehekin to Chelan!
I hope you enjoyed the trip as well!
*Found the name of that plant: “Twisted Stalk”, Streptopus amplexifolius.