Thursday, August 1, 2013

A journey completed

With only 85 miles of PCT to go, I headed north to finish my journey. Since I pulled off the trail at Stehekin last year I needed to go back and do the stretch from High Bridge to Rainy Pass. I chose to go in over Cascade Pass and then turn north. Cascade Pass was as advertised - one of the most spectacular trailheads I have been to. Rockfall and glacial movements echoed through the valley as I readied my pack. Then up the switchbacks I went.

Spoke to the ranger at the pass for a while. Nice guy. Then it was down to the Stehekin River. On the way I met a girl who was waiting for her boyfriend to come over the pass. I pointed out the many switchbacks coming down from Pelton Basin so she could watch for him. Her sister is doing the PCT and was near the halfway point.

Once I hit the old road it was smooth sailing down to Bridge Creek. I decided to camp here even though my permit called for High Bridge. It just made more sense to leave my camp here and hike the 4 miles south to High Bridge and then return to Bridge Creek where the PCT left the Stehekin River. I was able to change my permit with the ranger. After dinner, I hiked down the road to High Bridge and returned via the PCT. I didn't arrive back at camp until after midnight.

Had a leisurely morning in camp before pounding out the 13 miles to Rainy Pass. That stretch was hot and buggy. Trail is high above the creek and I finally dropped down to cool off near the junction to Twisp Pass. I met my parents as planned at Rainy Pass where we camped for the night.

The next day it was up to Cutthroat Pass, a place where Flatlander and I turned around in knee deep snow conditions last November. Here is the spot we decided to turn around.

As I made the descent down to Granite Pass and the long traverse to Methow Pass, I kept wondering how difficult things would have been had we kept going. I was glad to be hiking this stretch in summer conditions. I ended up cooking at the West Fork of the Methow and doing another 3 miles after dinner. The next day I climbed up to Glacier Pass along Brush Creek. When I topped out from climbing near Grasshopper Pass, I met a couple who I had seen a few days prior at Cascade Pass. We walked and talked for a while. I also met a southbounder who was just starting his journey to Mexico and wished him luck. Eventually my Dad came up the trail from Hart's Pass and we walked the PCT to Meadow Camp. I dropped my pack and eventually slack packed the few remaining miles to Hart's Pass.

The next day I readied my pack for my last days on the PCT. Dad walked as far as Windy Pass with me. I met a lot of people here who had gone up to the monument and turned around. Billy Goat was on this part of trail and I spotted him the next day. We dropped our packs and talked for the longest time. What a really nice guy and very knowledgeable about the trail.

  I took 2 days to do the last 35 miles because I wanted to enjoy the last days of my thru hike. I camped at the spring near Goat Lakes and then just north of Castle Pass in an old site off the trail. I arrived in camp at 5:00 made dinner. Then it was a quick 3 mile hike down to the monument where I had some time to myself. Then back up to camp.

The next morning I packed up and began to re-hike the last 3 miles of US PCT. As I was heading down, a thru hiker, Dogcatcher, caught up to me. He had started this year around April 15th and skipped the Sierra due to snow. He was very excited to be nearing the monument. Before long we were celebrating, taking pictures, and signing the journal. I was delighted to have someone share this moment with.

Eventually, we parted ways and he turned back to go out Hart's Pass and I continued north to Manning Park. I met my parents again at Hwy 3 and we celebrated the end of my journey. I've hiked every one of the 2,663 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail!


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Trail angels

Can't finish the blog or the hike without thanking the trail angels and people who helped me along the way.
Special thanks to my parents who not only inspired this dream long ago, but also became the best support team a hiker could ever have.
It was like having your bounce box on wheels. Their RV became recognizable to other thru hikers and would often help fellow hikers with rides at road crossings. They handled my requests to gather my gear or clothing, shipped resupply packages, did my laundry, navigated forest service roads, drove thousands of miles, set up or broke down a spare tent, got up early and stayed up late.  I really enjoyed the times when I would be meeting them at a pass and there would be a sign in the trail or my father's footprints. It was really great when he would walk up the trail to meet me with cold beer in his pack! At times, it seemed like they were having more fun than I was!

Thanks Mom and Dad! Trail names Wing and Prayer. 

Sierra City to Hwy 30

Recap - In 2012, I hiked most of the Pacific Crest Trail. There were several fires in Northern California that closed the trail. When the Chips Creek fire closed the town of Belden, the group I was hiking with made a collective decision to skip from Sierra City up to the Hwy 36 crossing near Chester. This was a 140 mile section.

Luckily, I made it through the Lassen fire just in time. I cut it very close as people who had departed Drakesbad Guest Ranch the same morning as I did were turned back by fire crews who had come in on the Twin Lakes trail. While hiking that day I could see smoke very close to the trail and an aircraft circling above. Eventually I heard chutes open and saw smoke jumpers parachuting into the fire zone. I camped at Badger Flat near the spring and had an uneasy night as smoke drifted across the meadow. When I arrived at Old Station the next day, the fire had erupted into an inferno and ash was falling from the sky.

There was another fire in Seiad Valley. The fire was burning along the PCT just north of town I really hurried to try to get through before another closure. I skipped the 8 mile road walk down to Seiad Valley store attempting to get through but the trail closed the next day. Fire officials were still permitting vehicle traffic on a long windy and steep gravel road up to Cook and Green Pass. This was another 14 miles of trail + the 8 mile road walk down Grider Creek Rd that I didn't get to complete.

Some hikers walked the road making their journey continuous. A few hikers who skipped claimed they completed the entire trail because that section of trail was closed. My goal was to - and still is - to hike every inch of the 2650 mile trail. That meant I needed to go back this year to complete the fire skipped sections.

Earlier this month I went back to hike the reopened sections of trail. I wasn't sure if I had my hiking legs but made great time. Pounded out the 140 miles in 6 1/2 days. Now I can officially say that I've hiked all 1697.5 miles of PCT in California. Oregon was completed last year with no skips. This leaves only 80 miles to go. Stay tuned as I plan to hike from Stehekin to the Canadian border later this summer and complete my goal of hiking every inch of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Climbing up to Sierra Buttes

Looking back down on the North Yuba River. PCT trail bridge is barely visible. 

 It was 105 degrees! Made the climb go very slow.

Looking back at Sierra Buttes North side.


Looking down on Oakland pond. Not much water on roue.

Gold Lake. 

PCT running the ridge

Day 2

On trail water. Just grab and go.

Middle Fork of the Feather River

Getting close to Belden Town

Looking towards Chips Creek canyon north of Belden

Dropping into Belden.

Miles of switchbacks

Heading up Chips Creek canyon

2012 fire damage

1300 mile mark - still there from 21012. Needed a little reassembly

heading towards Devil's peaks in the Siead Valley burn section

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Final thoughts

I arrived at High Bridge ranger station about 2:00 on Friday, 11/9.  The station was all closed up for the season and I was preparing to road hike into Stehekin when a truck drove up the road.  Wrong direction for me but I decided that if I start hiking, the truck would be returning.  Sure enough, I had a ride after a few minutes of road walking.
I had a warm welcome when I got into town.  Even though everything was shut down, I received some needed food from a NPS worker - thank you!  I was permitted to make a phone call and left a message with my parents that I would be coming out at Chelan.  Then I was invited to join Ranger Kate and her partner for dinner.  We mostly talked about I'm Fine and his account of being lost for 2 weeks.  Last she knew, he had caught a ferry out to Chelan and ended his hike.  (little did she know he came back the day before and continued on to the border)
Spent 2 days waiting for the ferry since it was on a limited schedule for winter.  The boat arrived and my parents were on it, along with Flatlander.  He had gotten off trail during the Oct 18th snowstorm, gone back home to the Midwest and then drove back out for another attempt at finishing.  We decided to combine forces for the last 70 miles and headed to Chelan.  We would come back for the 20 miles from Stehekin to Rainy Pass at another time.
It started to snow that night.  We woke up to 8" of powder the next morning.  That did not deter us as we made our drive around to Rainy Pass.  In Winthrop, I resupplied, rested and readied myself for the last push.    We devised our plan, exit strategy if needed, and such.
At 5:30 am on 11/13, Flatlander and I headed up to the pass.  It was snowing pretty hard and it was difficult to get motivated with the uncertain weather.  The forecast had called for clearing skies.  We started up the trail after seeing a small break in the clouds.  Trail conditions were fine but it was slow going once we climbed above treeline.  I accelerated once I saw the pass and found myself in the lead - breaking trail - from that point on.  Cutthroat Pass at 6800' had deep snow cover and locating the trail was a little difficult.  What complicated the situation was the prior snow that had iced over but was hidden under the new snow cover.  The cleats from my snowshoes had trouble gaining traction and the side slope that we were on became difficult.  Wished I had crampons at that point.
I waited for Flatlander to catch up and asked him to go first since I was getting a little tired from breaking trail all day.  After he went about 20 yards on the steep sidehill, we decided we had enough.  Clearly it was going to take longer than 6-7 days at the pace we were going.  Our speed at this point was about a mile an hour.  We agreed to turn around at that point.
I regret the decision but I would not have gone on alone.  The trail was passable but more snow was expected in 4 days which could have complicated the situation.  I'm not an avalanche expert and I didn't want to learn any lessons the hard way.  
Its been hard trying to readjust to city life.  Nice to see my friends again.  Trail life is started to fade into memory.  Gear is put away, beard is gone, hair is cut, and weight is being put back on.  I'm glad there still is some of the PCT that I haven't hiked.  It gives me something to look forward to next year.      

Stevens to Stehekin

I decided to try and finish the trail 2 weeks after going home to Portland, Or.  The freezing level had rose to 8500' so I knew that it was possible to continue.  I set a goal of at least finishing the section.
I drove up to the trailhead that Storytime and I had exited 2 weeks before.  I quickly hiked the 9 miles up to Dishpan Gap.  It started to rain so I quickly set up the tent and dove inside - here we go again!
The wind had picked up next morning but the rain had stopped.  At least the wind dried out the tent and I eagerly packed up and started up the PCT.  I passed the campsite where Storytime and I had last seen I'm Fine.  The sun broke out as I rounded Indian Pass and my confidence grew.  Soon, Red Pass and White pass were passed.  I descended into the White Chuck drainage where camp was made.  It felt great to be back on the trail!
I was up early the next day to take advantage of the daylight.  Fire Creek pass was my next goal and the weather held - overcast with really dark clouds.  The sky looked just like it did when it dumped snow 2 weeks prior.  Sure enough, the rain turned to snow overnight and I grew concerned.  I left the tent at 6:00 am and considered bailing on the old PCT down Milk Creek.  At the junction, there was a sign stating the trail was not maintained.  I wasn't about to deal with that uncertainty so up to Vista Ridge I climbed.  It was slow going on the brushy switchbacks and had to knock the snow off the heavily weighted branches.  It snowed harder as I climbed and the trail was really difficult to follow above treeline.  I almost lost the trail before the GPS put me back on the right track.  It was very cold and windy as I passed the Dolly Vista campsite and descended down to the Suiattle River.  I took the new route and arrived at the old junction where I set up camp and built a fire.  One more pass to go!
The next morning I saw the fresh tracks of Dancing w/Lizards and Silent D.  I followed them up to the pass where they turned off to Holden via Cloudy Pass.  I continued on the PCT and made it to Hemlock Camp just before it started snowing again.  It was really cold the next morning and the aluminum tent poles had to be unfrozen to be separated and packed away.
I didn't have enough food to continue to Rainy Pass so made up my mind to exit at Stehekin and reassess.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Last leg ?

Libby for Bouncer again.

So much has happened.   To backtrack.  Bouncer due out of the Alpine Lakes area  by Saturday October 13th.  The predicted rains did indeed hit on Friday.  It had been an unusually dry summer and early fall.  Those who made it through before the rain started are fortunate indeed.  It poured with rain as we sat at the trailhead at Stevens Pass.  We discovered that the rain found its way through the roof seams of the RV so Maks was in for a wet night in his loft bedroom- with 2 buckets to catch the drips.

We waited all the next day, reluctant to move from our spot.  At 5 pm Maks donned his rain gear and started to hike south. Not 10 minutes later I heard the whoops and hollers that signaled they had met on trail.  I was delighted to see that Storytime was with Bouncer.  Always safety in numbers when bad weather hits.
I'm Fine and Bouncer at the Skykomish Hotel
We drove down the pass to Skykomish- a sweet little railroad town that has a hotel catering to hikers.  The guys shared a room and, as they settled in, we ran into I'm Fine in the cafe.  He also had just come off trail and was eating a very large meal.   We all had dinner and  the hikers were able to watch Sunday night football.  The three ended up bunking together.
The next morning after breakfast in the cafe we drove to Baring to the Dinsmore's Hiker Haven.  They are the most northerly of the trail angels and Andrea takes her role as PCT mom very seriously- she frets and worries and rejoices with all the moms involved.  Once again, the hikers settled in.  We drove in to Gold Bar where the hikers bought their supplies for the next section.  Then back again for Monday night football.
Notice the sky in the background

I'm Fine at Hiker Haven


Bouncer ready to hit the trail

Storytime carries I'm Fine as a backpack

On Tuesday we took Bouncer and Storytime up to the pass.  It was snowing there, quite cold and very unpleasant.  Bouncer sat deliberating for an hour.  They had planned to hike in 5 miles as it was already afternoon.  The next day was forecast for sunshine.  Decision was made to return to the Dinsmores and get an early start in the morning. That way the tents and boots would stay dry.
Back at Hiker Haven a young couple had come off trail.  They were 30 miles north of Stevens Pass when their tent collapsed in the rain.  They turned back and were glad to be in the comfort of the wood stove as they dried out their wet sleeping bags and tent.
Oct 17 ready to hike north

Storytime with duck tape on his shoes.

posing under the web cam

To Canada
Stevens Pass Oct 17 doesn't look bad at all
On Wednesday we hit the pass again.  There was some snow built up but it was sunny and it wasn't raining.  Looked like it was going to be a win.  We took our usual pictures and said our farewells.  Storytime had covered his shoes with duct tape hoping that would help.  There was some apprehension for their safety.  This stretch is 117 miles without cell phone coverage, in a remote wilderness with Glacier Peak in the middle of it all.
Maks and I waited at the pass for 2 hours.  When they didn't come back we thought we had the all clear and we drove off for a 4 day mini-vacation around Lake Wenatchee, Leavenworth  and Lake Chelan.  The weather was gorgeous.  It was warm and very sunny. We had a very relaxing time doing a bit of shopping, sight-seeing and reading our books.
On the 3rd day  it was time to stop the denial and check the weather to the west. There were rumors of cold weather and snow. We drove 27 miles up the Entiat River road " Gateway to Glacier Peak".  It was still sunny. At mile 28  the rain had started.  At mile 30 it was snowing with wind swirling around and it was so very cold.  I could not imagine Bouncer and Storytime out there- 20 miles west and another 2000 to 3000ft.
Entiat River road
higher - right in the heart of the storm.  We drove out in silence.  Only one thing to do: figure out how to rescue them.
Entiat River Rd.
We headed for Winthrop where the following day we would try to find a way to get to them.  Around 5 pm we had a call from Bouncer.  They had turned around and found a side trail that took them down to the N. Fork of the Skykomish.  It was a decent trail and was accessed by a forest road that was intact.  They were back at the Dinsmores and  getting warm.  Wonderful to see them again.  They had hiked for two days in sunny weather and got 30 miles in.  Then it rained all day Friday and they stayed in their tents.  By Saturday morning they were in 2 feet of snow and it was really cold.

I'm Fine had hiked past them.  He wanted to keep going even though it was getting difficult to find trail.   Gonzo was also out there somewhere.   We later found out that Gonzo also turned around.
I'm Fine took 16 days to get the 100 miles to Stehekin.  He went 5 days without food.  His will be one of the oft-repeated stories of the challenges of the North Cascades.  The SAR was called out but he walked into Stehekin under his own power.  The same storm meant the end of a dream for  some hikers in Stehekin:  Flatlander and Flower, Special Delivery and the Canadians.  End of hike.  A very determined group hitched into Winthrop to borrow snowshoes and were able to complete their journey .  Bouncer and Storytime were elated to get out alive with all fingers and toes.  Later their emotions changed to the reality that they were done.  No thru-hike for them. They had made the right decision and came out alive.  I think it is more of a failure to lose your life than to fail to reach Canada.
We drove home down I5 , Storytime came home for the night with us , and they stepped back into every-day life.

We kept watching Facebook and reading blogs of those who made it through- and those who came so close.  They were getting texts from those who made it to the monument.
Then I'm Fine was missing - he was way overdue and had not picked up his package in Stehekin. The Facebook page lit up with the hiking family expressing their heartache that their friend was in trouble.   Two days of anxiety- and the good news that he is okay.
Now a break in the weather has put the snow levels back up to 9000 to 10000 feet.  Do you think there's a chance to get it done?  Will let you know how it all turns out next time this is updated.  We will be leaving this Sunday for Stevens Pass and maybe points north.  Will let Bouncer write the next post.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Chinook to Snoqualmie

Libby for Bouncer again. By special request.

We left off at Midway with Bouncer ready to get into Goat Rocks Wilderness.  The crossing of the knife-edge crest went smoothly and Bouncer made it to White Pass a day ahead of our scheduled meeting so he kept on going and made it to Chinook Pass.  The weather had started to change and it was very cold.  The fall colors were very vivid and there were lots of elk hunters in the area.  One group of horsemen coming out with their trophy.
We met Bouncer coming out in the dark- always a relief to see him again.  We drove to a lower elevation to camp so that we could be warmer.  The next day we went into Yakima for boots anticipating possible snow. Bouncer had a companion on his hike on Saturday and we were planning to meet up again on Monday at Tacoma Pass which is accessed from the Snoquolmie Pass area and involves a 12 mile drive up gravel roads.  Thankfully, there were signs to Tacoma Pass and the road was in good shape.
We spent our free day on the Cle Elum River and were very interested to see the wild salmon that had gathered in the river to spawn- they had journeyed up the Columbia past Portland, the Tri-cities, into the Yakima River where they spent the summer and then into the Cle Elum river for their last hurrah.
We waited at Tacoma Pass and saw Gonzo go past.  We also rescued an injured section hiker who needed a ride back to his truck.  He had hurt his leg and was in quite a bit of pain.
Bouncer came down the ridge hoping we had waited for him- so he was very happy to see us.  We gave him his resupply and cooked a nice steak dinner for him - and then we left to do our last farmer's market and have our retirement party.

Bouncer made it into Snoquolmie Pass and was hiking out of there on the way to Steven's Pass by that Wednesday- October 10th.  The weather still holding but rain expected on Friday.