Our biggest whirlwind adventure yet.

Pacific Crest Trail, Travel

I’m not very good at talking about my personal life online- hence the radio silence here for almost a year. But a lot of stuff has happened, and I want to blog on the Long Trail. I feel like a lot of things will make more sense with an update.

I finish the AT, I go back to Alaska and I get a job, intending to put my head down and work for a few years until I have the money to go adventure again. Then Shake n Bake comes to visit and everything changes. I never learned how to listen to my body on the trail, but I did learn how to listen to my heart. It’s no secret that I fell in love on the PCT, not just with the wilderness and the mountains, but also with the man walking beside me. There’s so much red tape to keep us apart though, and I find wading through it as I try and get a visa slower and more frustrating than the hardest days on a thru hike.

Spring comes and I find myself quitting my job yet again, this time not for a trail. Quitting my job with the changing of the seasons has become as natural as watching the leaves bud and the flowers bloom. I can’t work in Canada, and can only be there for six months, but it doesn’t matter. It’s time to do something crazy yet again.

There’s an adventure right off the bat, of course, since Shake n Bake knows me better than anyone else. We drive two hours south of Ottawa to Kingston. We’ll spend a week paddling back home. We camp at the lock station at Kingston Mills as Shake n Bake’s friends trickle in. There’s a group of ten, although our numbers will fluctuate as people leave to go to work, or join our little flotilla.

We start our morning with our first portage. I throw my pack on my back, our food barrel on my front, grab the paddles and Chester the adorable dog. Shake n Bake takes his pack and balances the canoe on his shoulders. We make it in one easy trip, but our friends don’t have the thru hiking packing light mentality and it takes them an extra trip or two. Finally, we are on the water and I fall in love a little. I have plenty rafting experience, but this is my first real time paddling a canoe. I immediately love the easy way we glide forward, our constant forward progress and the way the lakes and rivers open up a whole new world. We’re not at the mercy of the current like in a raft and the lack of whitewater makes it easy to relax.

We spend a week paddling back to Ottawa, portaging locks and fighting waves on lakes. By the time we make it back to Ottawa, Ontario feels a little more like home.

The downtime between adventures is hard. I came to Canada without a visa, sick of waiting and long distance, and demoralized by all of the hoops I can’t jump through, so I am unable to work. I explore the city by bike, finding new favorite book stores and donut shops, but I’ve never been very good at downtime.

Then we go to the Yukon. It only took moving thousands of miles away for me to visit the territory right next to Alaska. Shake n Bake is supporting some friends who are doing a canoe race. Then finally the race is over and the fun begins. We hike in Tombstone Territorial park, then find a canoe for a three day trip down the Yukon.

After, it’s back to Ottawa and I feel like we’re running out of time together. Shake n Bake has had a trip to Europe planned for the better part of a year, but it’s expensive for my unemployed butt, and besides, I’d rather go hiking. I’ve been thinking about the Long Trail since I finished the AT, and my knee is finally doing well enough to attempt it.

With the deadline of leaving for different countries hanging over us, and visa red tape making it hard to be together, Shake n Bake and I make a decision that we hope will make it easier. We go to an officient’s house. He takes my hands in his. I slide a ring onto his finger and he slips one on mine. We both say a few words, and then we are married.

I thought the story I’ve been sharing here for the last few years was an adventure story, but really, it was just as much a love story. We still have a lot of steps to take until we can be together properly, without worrying that we’ll have to go back to long distance. But we’re used to hard journeys and there’s no one else I’d rather walk next to on this adventure.

So, Shake n Bake, I’ll always get the ursacks if you make the coffee. I’ll always help you punch raccoons in the face. And I will never, ever leave you on a windy ridge. You’ve made every step I’ve taken in the past three years so much better and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life sharing adventures with you.


Pacific Crest Trail, Travel, Uncategorized

The bus from Manning Park leaves at 2am. We arrive, groggy and disorientated in Vancouver. We sit at a Tim Hortons, drinking awful coffee, waiting for the city to wake up. And then it is a whirlwind of activity. We buy deodorant, clothes, and then before I know it, I’m waving goodbye to Shake n Bake as he gets into a taxi for the airport. Suddenly, I am alone on a busy city street, my last connection to the trail gone.

The next few days are tough as I try to adjust. I explore Vancouver, ducking into Stanley Park to sit under the massive trees whenever everything gets too overwhelming. I walk out to Granville Island and explore the market, sit in coffee shops for hours and watch float planes taxi past the waterfront.

Then, I take the train down to Seattle. Mike, one of my favourite people on the Grand Canyon trip, meets me at the station. He and his wife Wendy have graciously offered to let me stay with them for a few days on the Kitsap Peninsula. He shows me around Seattle as we wait for the ferry. Walking through Pikes Place Market, I see a familiar puffy jacket in front of me. It’s Bear Bait and Legit! I haven’t seen them since Cascade Locks and I am so excited to see some trail family! We catch up in the middle of the market, and then it is time to go.

I crash hard once we get to Mike and Wendy’s, but by the morning, I am ready to go hiking! But first, a favor. I hide in the woods by Mike’s house, ducking behind a fallen tree, dew soaking into my trail runners. Five minutes pass, and then I hear crashing through the bushes. A yellow lab stops in front of me, staring at this strange person hiding from her, before running back to get her handler. It’s Sahalee the search and rescue dog!

Once Sahalee has found Mike too, we load up and head to the mountains. Mt. Ellinor rises steeply and I breathe hard. I’m not used to anything apart from PCT grade now. There is a dusting of snow as we get higher and higher, until finally, we pop out from the clouds onto the summit.

The next day, we head to Olympic National Park. We hike down towards the beach, and stroll along the sand barefoot. Sea stacks rise in the distance. Then, back to the house, where we fullfill one of my most urgent on trail fantasies and curl up on the couch under blankets to watch a movie.

I say goodbye to Mike and Wendy and head back to the big city for a few days. I meet Turtle, a friend from camp, who I haven’t seen in years. She has two beautiful daughters now, and we watch them run around the Children’s Museum. I’m exhausted by the overstimulation after the quiet trail, but it is so good to catch up.

Before I head back to Anchorage, I have one last person I see. A/V posts on facebook that he’s been forced off the trail by snow and is in Seattle. I meet him for dinner and a beer. He’s so fresh off the trail whereas it’s been almost two weeks for me and I suddenly miss the trail so much it hurts. I haven’t seen him since Tahoe, and we swap stories.

Then, I’m back in Anchorage and it’s a whirlwind of trying to adjust to ordinary life. Within three days, I have a house with eight roommates. Within two weeks, a part time job and a second one just a little later. I get to know my roommates- we go hiking, biking, climbing, running.

It’s easy to slip back into the stress of ordinary life, but I try and remember what the trail taught me. Live in the moment. Spend time with the people (and dogs) you care about. Don’t stess about things until they happen. Keep moving. Always keep moving.

And when it gets too much, I plan my next adventure. The CDT is calling my name. I pour over maps, plan what gear I need to replace. In just five long months, I can be back on the trail again.

The end (Snoqualmie to Canada)

Pacific Crest Trail, Uncategorized

We are all ready to leave Snoqualmie, when we go to get breakfast. On the way to the restaurant, we look out of the window- driving rain. All my stuff just dried out. Should we stay another day? In the end, we can’t make ourselves leave, even though it is one day layer to Canada, one day closer to snow.

As we are walking back to the trail the next day, a car pulls over in front of us. A man in a shirt and dressy pants steps out. He asks if we remember him, and something clicks. It’s Walking Home! We last saw him in the Sierra. He tells us he had to get off trail for plantar fasciatis, but it is so good to see him again.

A sign at the trailhead warns that we should expect delays as they are blowing up trees that are blocking the trail. After a few miles, we are stopped by tape that proclaims “Danger! Blasting area!” We sit by the side of the trail and wait with some day hikers. Finally, a massive BOOM splits the air, making us all jump. We climb up to where a trail crew is cleaning up massive splinters of wood.

We are high on a beautiful ridge for the rest of the day. Clouds build on high mountain peaks. Hail starts, then thunder. There is no where to stop and camp so we push on, racing the clouds. Finally, as we drop down to camp, the clouds break. We see snow dusting distant peaks, and in the morning, everything is frosty and frozen.

We play this game for the next few days. We climb up high to massive ridges, before dropping back down, racing the lightening. One night, I lie in my sleeping bag, watching the flashes light up the darkness. In the morning, I find a mouse has  slipped through a gap in my Ursack and chewed up a chocolate bar and a gas station pastry. I throw the chocolate in my trash zip lock, but I tear off the bitten pastry and eat it anyway. I don’t have enough food to be picky and the elevation gain leaves me permanently hungry.

One morning, Shake n Bake’s alarm goes off. Less than 30 seconds later, I hear the patter of rain drops. I stay in bed, hoping it will stop. After a few hours, I give up and pull on my rain jacket. I hike fast and don’t stop- it’s cold enough for hypothermia and I don’t trust my rain jacket to keep me dry. By the time we get to Steven’s pass, I’ve done fifteen miles without stopping and without eating more than a cliff bar. My hands are so cold they can’t undo my pack buckles. I sit by a roaring fire and warm up.

We hitch to Skykomish, where we have boxes at the post office and a warm hotel room waiting. A man picks us up quickly. It’s my turn to sit up front and chat. The man seems normal enough to start with, but he quickly begins talking about Cheryl Strayed. He asks if I remember the Oregon ranger she mentions in her book. “Oh, the creepy one that hit on her?” I ask. He tells me that ranger didn’t exist, but when they were casting for the movie, they based it off of him. I’m not sure what his reasoning is for claiming to be the creepy ranger from Wild, but I am suddenly very glad that Shake n Bake is in the car with me.

We catch a less bizarre hitch out of Skykomish as the weather clears. It is Saturday and there are a million day hikers on the trail. I am so happy that it is not raining.

One day, I am just a little behind Shake n Bake when I see him backing down the trail, a huge smile on his face. By the time I reach him, the porcupine is walking down the trail towards Canada. We walk behind him for a half mile, watching his little butt wiggle and hoping he gets off the trail quickly. We decide to name him Bear Bait, after our absent prickly friend.

We have consistently been doing mid twenties through Washington, much higher than our planned twenty mile days, but Glacier Peak Wilderness kicks our butts. One day features trees so wide and slippery that I need a hand to straddle them, lest I slide down the entire trunk. The trail is washed out in many places, and one hillside is so badly eroded that Shake n Bake turns around to spot me as if I were scrambling sheer rocks, not sliding down mud. We manage 19 miles before camping on a postage stamp sized patch of flat ground by Milk Creek.

We continue to climb and drop down, until we reach Suittle river, where the trail begins to improve. We reminisce as we walk about each section of trail. Remember the time we fought raccoons? Remember Mt. Whitney? Remember the man out of Seiad Valley who read us poetry? There are so many memories and so many good times.

We have just finished climbing and are descending from the pass when we see The Baptist, who is flip flopping. He tells us the last shuttle to Stehekin is at 6pm. We’d planned on camping short, but we think we can make it. It’s all down hill and we run and run. We make it an hour before the last shuttle and sit, waiting.

We pick up our boxes in Stehekin and visit the famous bakery on the way out of town. I buy enough baked goods for a full day and my pack is heavy with scones and cinnamon rolls. Then it is back to the trail. We have to make it 16 miles to get out of North Cascades National Park, where we don’t have a permit to camp. We finish in darkness, night hiking until the boundary, where we make out own campsite surrounded by Devil’s club.

We reach Rainy Pass as the clouds begin to roll in. We climb up towards Cutthroat pass. Near the top, we rise above the clouds and the view is spectacular. We hit mile 2600- just 50 miles to go. I am going to miss this so much.

We count down miles as we walk. The trail is not without its challenges though. With 40 miles to go, I am halted by a shoulder high log. A tangle of fallen trees on either side means I can’t go around. There is a branch to climb up, but nothing to climb down on the other side, and jumping destroys my arches. Shake n Bake finds me still sitting on the log five minutes later, pondering how to get down, and laughs at me.

The ground is frozen in the morning, frost heaves making the trail slippery. We round a ridge and drop down towards Hart’s Pass, the last road crossing before Canada. I lose Shake n Bake when I stop to talk to some day hikers. We’d planned on stopping around Hart’s Pass for lunch, but when I get there, there’s no sign of Shake n Bake. Hungry and a little angry, I push on. I stop to tape my heel- I have a blood blister on my second last day and that makes me even more annoyed. I start asking day hikers if they have seen Shake n Bake. The first couple tells me they haven’t seen him. The second tells me his is twenty minutes in front, the third that they saw him stopped just ahead, eating lunch. When I get to the likely lunch spot, there is no one there.

Unbeknown to me, Shake n Bake had actually stopped at Hart’s Pass. Once he realized I’d missed him, he had started running to catch up, asking day hikers if they had seen me, leading to some awkward moments as they realized they had given me bad information. He finally catches me on a pass, just as it starts to snow. We drop down, together again, as the snow squall stops. That night is so cold that when I wake in the morning, my feet are blocks of ice.

We climb over rock pass, and then woody pass. On the back side of Woody, there is a dusting of snow. “It’s time,” the PCT seems to be saying. “Everything has its season, and it’s time to leave the mountains now.” We drop back down, counting miles until the monument. Then, a narrow clearing through the trees. Is this is? I glimpse the monument at the bottom of the hill. In true PCT fashion, we get further from our objective before we approach it.

Then we are there. We sit in silence in front of the monument, reflecting. Shake n Bake packed out a bottle of wine and we share it while we take photos and write in the last trail register. Then, we have to hike one last time. It’s eight miles to the nearest road at Manning Park. We reach it just as the sun is setting.

Cascade Locks to Snoqualmie Pass

Pacific Crest Trail, Uncategorized

Crossing the Bridge of the Gods is emotional. There are a few places on the trail that you have heard about for so long and this is one of them. 

On the other side, we are in Washington. Within a mile, the rain that has plagued us for days is gone, sunbeams shining through the clouds. And we adjust to the Washington landscape- hills that climb more steeply than anything in Oregon. The trail throws us up ridges, before shooting us down to the valley floor. I get stung on the calf on one climb. Music in one ear and the wind in the other muffles the sound of a bee hive and my calf itches for days.

We arrive late in Trout Lake, catching a ride with a guy who has been out picking mushrooms. He shows us a flat of mushrooms in his trunk and tells us about the variety of berries. We make it to the store just before it closes and pick up our box. Bear Bait has been here before us and defaced it. “Please hold for ginger raccoon and grubby hobbit,” the box reads. We cowboy in a city park, unsure if we are really allowed to be there.

Goat Rocks wilderness

We head out in the morning, circling the base of Mt. Adams as clouds move in. Soon the mountain is covered and the wind picks up. We get low, camping by a trail junction.

It’s after midnight and I am dead asleep when a muffled thump and low, animal grunt by Shake n Bake’s tarp wakes me. I sit bolt upright, still half asleep. 

“AAH! AAH! AAH!” Shake n Bake yells. Has something got him? Is it a bear? I start yelling too, and then hear a voice: “It’s alright! You’re alright!” The scene comes into focus. It’s a group of bow hunters, packing out a kill. For some reason, out of the miles of empty trail, they have decided to stop for a break by our camp. Even more bizarrely, they try and strike up a conversation, asking if we are hiking the PCT, where we are from etc. Finally, they ask if we are trying to sleep and if they should be quiet. I try and fall back asleep, but I am jumpy after my midnight scare.

We climb up towards Goat Rocks. Adams and St. Helens dominate the skyline and we stop for a lunch with a view. Then we are climbing up towards Old Snowy Mountain and the knife edge ridge beyond. 

The trail splits below Old Smokey’s shoulder and here Shake n Bake and I have our first real difference of opinion. The old PCT is longer and climbs higher, but avoids two awful snow fields. I am adamant I will not cross the snow and Shake n Bake refuses to do the extra distance. He reluctantly agrees to wait for me and I set out alone. 

This is seriously the trail.

I scramble up Old Snowys’s shoulder, squeezing between boulder piles and snow fields. Then I am high on a ridge. A man at the crest tells me there’s no snow on the route and points out the trail. A narrow knife edge ridge of stacked shale runs between a cliff on one side and a steep snow field on the other. I pick my way down carefully, half convinced the shale will slide and send me tobogganing down the mountain.

I meet Shake n Bake at the bottom and we swap adventure stories. Together, we make our way along the knife edge of Goat Rocks, trying to simultaneously admire the view of Rainier and watch our feet o the loose gravel. Then, we drop down to camp back in the quiet forest.

I wake in the morning to a splitting headache and waves of nausea. I get up to find a bush, and on the way back to my sleeping bag, I throw up. An hour later and I have no more time to burn. I start hiking even though I feel like I will puke. I reach White Pass and chug two Gatorades, immediately feeling better.
In White Pass, we get a weather update. Two more nice days and then 100% chance of rain. We try to cover as many miles as possible, soaking up the sun.  

Then the rain comes. It starts over night, and we pack up in the rain, walking out into the clouds. By lunch, my rain jacket has soaked through. I shiver while I eat and it takes most a thousand foot climb before I stop worrying about hypothermia. I can’t stop again or I will freeze. I splash through the flooded trail. Then, like a mirage, the smell of smoke and blue tarps. Surely this isn’t real? Trail magic is so rare now, but a wonderful man is out here, stoking a fire. I step under the tarp and am immediately handed a mug of hot chocolate and wrapped in a blanket.

It is hard to head out into the rain, but we do. Just a few miles down the trail though, we are stopped again. Cheeseburgers, beef stew and beer are enough to get us to stop for the night. In the morning, there are breakfast burritos and coffee with home made kalua. It’s 18 miles to Snoqualmie Pass, and we manage to dodge the rain showers the whole way.

Eagle Creek

Pacific Crest Trail, Uncategorized

I fall asleep to driving rain and howling wind. Luckily it is on the outside of the hotel window. By the morning it has cleared. We head down to the breakfast buffet. We’ve heard about the Timberline buffet for almost 2100 miles and it does not disappoint. I stuff myself with eggs, sausage, potatoes, mix berries and chocolate chips into Greek yoghurt, then smother a waffle with real whipped cream and berries. Two hours later, as we head out into the rising clouds, I am hungry again.

As we head down Mt. Hood, it starts to rain. I pull up my hood and turn up my podcast. Halfway down, we meet Maga. Maga is famous on trail for his support of Donald Trump and it is interesting to meet someone I have heard so much about. We talk about berries, swapping info about what you can eat and what you can’t. Then I poke the bear, as Shake n Bake and Mountain House puts it, and don’t change topics fast enough away from politics. We part ways by the Ramona Falls alternative.

We rejoin the PCT after dinner, and hike on til dark. But it’s labor day weekend, and there are weekend backpackers in our planned spot. They have a big fire, a scary dog, and don’t look like they plan on respecting hiker midnight. In a mile, there’s a stream and more camping, but it is full. Finally, we find a flat spot, even if we have to relocate a few small trees.

In the morning, it is cold and damp. I hike in my raincoat, then my raincoat and my puffy. I’ve lost my ability to stay warm in the cold. We leave the PCT and drop steeply to the Eagle Creek trail. Finally, it warms up. We follow the creek along a path blasted out of the rock to Tunnel falls.

Then it is in to Cascade Locks, where we need to wait for the post office to open. We walk up to Bridge of the Gods and look across. The woman in the toll booth says we can walk across, but we can’t. Not yet. In just a day or two we will, and hit the last border before Canada.

Most of Oregon (Ashland to Timberline Lodge)

Pacific Crest Trail, Uncategorized

We take an extra day in Ashland. It’s hard not to. Even after a few days off, I am still so tired. We mail our boxes, then collapse, incapable of doing more than calling out for pizza.

Finally, we find the energy to leave. A PCTA employee gives us a ride back to the trailhead, telling us about the trail work he has been doing. A big winter storm has toppled what seems like half the trees in Oregon. We get a good start. Seventeen miles on the first day, not bad for starting at noon. Then twenty seven the next, ending at a shelter full of coolers of beer and soda. My motivation is flagging though. The first few hundred miles of Oregon is the dreaded green tunnel. It didn’t bother me in Northern California, where it was broken by sweeping ridges and incredible views. But after a while, I miss the mountains, the volcanoes on the horizon, and of course, my ridges.

Then we hit the blowdowns. Shake n Bake is a full foot taller than me, and he vaults over the fallen trees, disappearing into the distance as I struggle behind him. Soon, I lose him completely. I’m exhausted by scrambling over what should be an easy section, so frustrated I want to cry. I sit down alone and eat almost an entire bag of gummies. Immediately I feel better. A mile later I find Shake N Bake, just standing up after taking a break of his own. 

The blow downs continue all the way to Crater Lake, although I start to find my mojo a little more. We eat at the little restaurant at Manama village, then climb steep Annie Creek trail to rejoin the PCT. We have what we think is the perfect plan- hike up to the rim of the crater, watch the sunset, and then camp at Lightening Springs, the only place along the rim where we are allowed to camp. Then another hiker tells us that lightening springs is closed. I’m so frustrated- there are no signs to this affect, and now we are faced with the option of night hiking another ten miles and missing most of the view, back tracking, or illegally camping. We choose night hiking- the moon might be bright enough that we don’t miss too much. But then we reach the rim and it is beautiful and I don’t want to night hike anymore. Suddenly, another option presents itself. A man offers us a ride back down to Manama, and there is a shuttle we can take back up in the morning. He drives us down the winding road, undoing our two hours of hard work. He tells us that he lives out of his car, and often picks up hitchhikers. He talks of rubber tramps and dirty kids and other things I’ve only ever read about.

We take the shuttle up in the morning with new friends. The crater is beautiful and we stop to eat lunch by a tourist overlook. We people watch, playing national park bingo. Then, finally, we leave the rim. 

The scenery stays stunning as we pass Mount Thielson. We chose an alternate into Shelter Cove, taking the Oregon Skyline trail past lakes that shimmer like jewels. The lakes continue past Shelter Cove, and there are blueberries and huckleberries to stop and eat. The miles are supposed to come easy in Oregon, but how can you hike past this without stopping. We swim in freezing lakes and stuff our bellies with berries every chance we get. Smiles over miles, after all.

Just outside of Elk Lake, I feel a familiar tickle in my throat. My ears hurt and my sinuses as well. Oh well, maybe I can beat this cold before it hits. I detour to Elk Lake, hoping for cold medicine and orange juice. Ice cream and beet salad is all I find in the end. Maybe that will help?

We climb into the Three Sisters Wilderness and the views open up. I didn’t realize how much I missed the open spaces until I was back in them. We eat dinner by a creek, chatting with some weekend backpackers. They ask if they can give us some food, maybe some trail mix? I can’t stomach trail mix anymore, but I say sure. Oh wait, they have hard boiled eggs, would I like one instead? My face lights up like it is Christmas. Real food!

I feel fantastic in the morning, cold forgotten about. I flydown the trail, circling the sisters, passing obsidian and lava.The lava slows us down some, ice cream scoop sized rocks turning under our feet, but we make it 28 miles to Big Lake Youth camp, where I have a box. I lie down to sleep and my cold comes back full force. I stare up at the stars, struggling to breathe, snuffing and coughing and feeling sorry for myself.

We don’t leave until the afternoon. It’s only a few miles to the 2000 mile marker. Then the trail climbs and I lose EB and Shake N Bake. I struggle to catch my breath, clawing my way up the climb. I find Shake N Bake eating dinner. He refuses to go any further, telling me I need to sleep. Thirteen hours later I wake up at nine, my latest morning on the trail. I feel a little better though, so maybe it was worth it.

We circle three fingered jack, dropping down into a burn. Smoke hangs heavy in the air, obscuring Mt. Jefferson in the distance. I can’t tell where it is coming from- are we walking into a fire? Finally it clears a little and I relax.

We play the same game with Jefferson we have with all the other big mountains, circling and admiring from all angles. Hood appears in the distance. I love this trend- seeing the next large mountai appear, then disappear again behind you.

We drop down to Ollalie lake, which has a little store. They don’t have much more than junk food and wine, but that’s all we need. We hang out by a camp fire, laughing with friends. In the morning, we are slow to leave. 

The weather turns as we head towards Timothy Lake and Mount Hood. It’s been cold for a few days, but now it spits rain too. I hike up the final climb to Timberline Lodge shivering in my rain jacket. We decide to spend thenight – it’s only fifty miles to Cascade Locks and we have to wait for the post office to open after labor day anyway.

Chester to Ashland.

Pacific Crest Trail, Uncategorized

I leave Chester feeling well rested, for the first time after a zero. Normally it takes me a few days to get my mojo back after town, but this time it is waiting for me at the trailhead. We head through the forest towards Lassen National Park. Mt. Lassen has loomed on the horizon for days, and now we loop around it, past bubbling lakes that smell of sulphur. We head towards the campground when we hear a shout behind us – Bear Bait! We left him in Sierra City, where he came down with the Norovirus that has been spreading up and down the trail, but he has caught us easily.

We stealth camp just outside of the paid campground. In the morning, I am first to leave and I climb, up and up. Bear Bait catches me near the top. He is maybe fifty feet ahead when I see it- beautiful cinnamon-blond fur. “Rob! Bear!” I shout, as he walks towards it, head down. We yell and bang our poles together. It takes a few steps towards us to show us it’s leaving because it wants to, not because it is scared, and then it ambles off into the brush. 

As we leave the park, it heats up. My head spins as we approach Old Station,and I dream of cold Gatorade. A lady tells us it was 96 in town, and 106 on the rim. Tomorrow, when we will tackle the 30 mile waterless, shadeless stretch of hat Creek rim, promises to be even hotter. We form a plan- hang out in town during the day, then night hike until we drop.

We head out at four, when it is still scorching. Up to the rim, past the baleful eyes of cows too weary from the heat to bother us, and on to the long, flat waterless stretch. A fire burning near LA has filled the air with haze, and as the air cools, it drops to reveal our first glimpse of Shasta, the volcano that we will loop around for over three hundred miles.

The sun goes down, the stars pop out, and we stop for dinner. Hodge podge and Danger Dave pass us, and then we are night hiking proper. I am in the middle, sandwiched between Shake n Bake in front and Bear Bait behind. Put the person most likely to be eaten by a mountain lion in the middle, we joke. Mice jump in front of Shake n Bake’s feet, and he does his best to shoo them away. Then, in the middle of the trail, a dead mouse, blood pooled under it. What would kill a mouse and leave it in the middle of the trail? We bunch closer together, talking loudly to warn off our imaginary cougars.

We come up on Hodge Podge and Danger Dave, camped by an old look out. We ask them about the mouse and Hodge Podge laughs, while Dave looks abashed. Turns out Danger Dave tripped over the mouse. Hodge Podge tried to reassure him that it was just stunned, but we have broken that illusion. We leave them, hiking three more miles to camp by the water cache at forest road 22, finally falling down to sleep by midnight.

We wake as the sun comes up and race its heat as we run to water. The trail passes through broken lava fields and my shoes kill me, the cushioning long since worn out, as it feels like I am walking barefoot. Finally, we are to a stream and shade, where we wait out the heat of the day.

We leave the stream, and I am hot, so hot. Like a mirage, a man appears on a dirt bike, telling us he runs a guest house with cold drinks for sale. His daughter in law takes our packs on her four wheeler, and then we are in the shade, where they feed us home made ice cream and we drink cold soda. Then, we are running for Burney Falls State Park, where I have new shoes. They close at eight, so we have to hurry.

3mph is no longer the challenge that it used to be for me, and we are flying, when I hear music playing. Umbrellas are set up by the trail, with a couple sat under them. We have to make it to the store… but trail magic is so rare now. They offer us a beer, and we are lost. The store reopens at eight, which will put us hiking in the heat of the day. We hit the state park as dark falls and struggle to find the PCT camping. The campsite marked on our maps is full of families, kids screaming and not respecting hiker midnight. Grumpy, we finally find a spot under the quiet pines.
The section from Burney Falls to Castella is typical of Nor Cal. We walk along the tops of tree covered ridges, drop to valley floors, then climb back up panting. My new shoes hurt my feet- I have heel blisters for the first time since the desert and my arches ache and burn. It’s easy to forget though, as we circle Shasta. In Castella, a man stops me and gives me detailed directions to the river. He tells me there’s a swimming hole perfect for someone like me. I guess I must look pretty dirty.

The climb out of Castella is long. I nap by the highway, then again the next day. I sit down for lunch and wake up two hours later. The elevation and increase in miles exhausts me. I dream about a motel room in Etna, with a shower and laundry. When we arrive, the hiker before us takes the last room. I resupply hungry and upset and end up buying a weeks worth of food for five days. Oh well. We get a hitch back to the trail as the light is fading and cowboy camp under a radio tower next to the highway.

We hike through the marble mountains, dark peaks giving way to white rock. We are climbing and Shake n Bake is behind me when I hear him shout. Bear! I look up, see nothing, then dart back to help him chase it off, but he just points to the valley floor far below. Two black cubs tumble after their brown mama. That night, I can’t fit all of my food in my Ursack. I sleep with half of it, then wake up in the middle of the night, spooked by a deer running through the bushes. 

We descend to Siead Valley, then climb four and a half thousand feet in six miles. We walk along the California- Oregon divide and bump into a group of people doing trail maintenance with horses. One of them recites a poem he wrote while we eat dinner. We fall asleep to shooting stars and are woken by three owls having a conversation. Then in the morning, we are running for Oregon. Like all major milestones on the PCT, we round a corner and it is there, with no fanfare. From there, it is only a days walk to Ashland and my first zero in almost 400 miles.

Woah-oh, we’re halfway there. Tahoe to Chester.

Pacific Crest Trail, Uncategorized

North California is not what I expect. We’ve been told it is most people’s least favorite section of trail, it’s not as pretty as the rest, and that most people drop out here. Mentally, I have been preparing for a tough section since the desert.

But the PCT throws us high on rocky ridges, where lakes glitter in the trees below and blue mountains recede to the crag of Mount Lassen. Then we are walking through forest, where wolf lichen coats the firs like a jacket.

Nor Cal is not without its hardships. I get stung on the foot by a wasp at lunch and limp in agony for two hours before the burning fades. Every time the trail throws us into a valley, we have to climb the five thousand feet to the ridge above. Sometimes the miles are easy, and sometimes we have to claw them from the trail, scrambling over scree and up slopes that leave my legs burning. But from snowy Aloha lake, to the wildflowers by the streams, Nor Cal is beautiful.

Sitting in Tahoe, we did the math on how many miles a day we need to do to finish. We do 22-24 a day leaving Tahoe, then shoot for over 25 after Sierra City. We manage two marathons before we are derailed by an electronic dance music festival in Belden. We drink beer and people watch, then go swim in the river, before finally heading out to camp a half mile from town. The music thumps all night and I sleep maybe an hour. The next day, we climb five thousand feet and I pause every few miles to curl up by streams, head pillowed on my backpack as I nap fitfully. 

This can’t continue or we’ll never get to Canada. We check the maps- we are 30 miles from Chester, where we need to zero. Our biggest day so far has been 26. Can we do it? There’s only one way to find out.I plug in my headphones, put my head down and go, go, go. My speed creeps up and I am cruising at 3mph. We break for lunch with several trail angels and then we are running for the midpoint.We cross, and for the first time are closer to Canada than Mexico. We keep trucking and reach the highway and 30 miles just as the sun is setting. A kind tow truck driver stops, and we are in Chester.

Red’s Meadow to Tahoe

Pacific Crest Trail, Uncategorized

We take the Devil’s Postpone detour from Red’s Meadow, heading past day hikers to the rock formation. Then, we are back on the trail. I’m hot and tired and it is easy to lay my Z light by a fallen tree and nap for a few hours. Then, I am racing to catch my friends back up, through the lupine and cow parsnip, across the mosquito filled meadows. I find them high on a ridge and set up my bug net as the sun goes down.

I get a head start in the morning, climbing up towards Donahue Pass and ten thousand island lake. I stop at a ridge with the view of the minarets and wait for everyone. It is Canada day and the two Canadians in our group are celebrating. Everyone sports Canada tattoos, and Shake n Bake wears a Canadian flag like a cape.

We head up to the pass, sipping Canadian Rye. People shoot funny looks at us, until we start wishing them happy Canada day. And then we are up, eating dinner at the crest of the pass while a marmot sneaks closer and closer, to try and steal a bite. 

We lose the trail after a snow field. We see our friends far below, scrambling and down climbing a steep cliff face. This doesn’t seem right. I check the maps- the trail curved just a few hundred metres back. We back track, picking up some weekend hikers, and bushwhack until we find the path. We drop down to meet our friends by an Alpine lake.

In the morning, we are running for Tuolumne Meadows and a connection with Yosemite Valley. I lag behind on the steep downhill, getting more and more frustrated with my pace. Then we hit Lyle Canyon floor and I am flying, passing my friends. No one can catch me, until we hit Tuolumne and it’s tourists. We gawk, like we are at the zoo. Then we are hitching down to the valley. Traffic is bad, so our hitch drops us five miles from the backpackers campsite. We shrug and walk, five miles is nothing now and the scenery is stunning.

The JMTers leave from Yosemite, and there are plenty of people here who have obviously never been camping before in their life. Here starts our brush with karma. We watch a couple struggling to set up their tent, suppressing giggles. We joke about making Bear noises when a ranger comes around warning of recent Bear activity, so we can scare the baby campers. It comes back to bite me in the middle of the night. A rustle in my backpack- the pop tarts I forgot to put in the bear locker! It is a raccoon, my arch nemesis on the trail. We hiss and it scuttles off, and I clean up the pop tarts.

Everyone else is lazy in the morning, but I am up early and ready to hike. I catch the shuttle to Yosemite falls and beat the rush. Then, a longer hike to Vernal and Nevada falls. I pass day hikers like they are standing still- no back pack and lower elevation doing wonders for my legs. I come down the JMT, sharing encourement and info about the passes. One girl is incredulous that I want to go hiking on my day off. I don’t warn her that she’ll feel the same in just a few short weeks.
It is a hard hitch back to Tuolumne. We watch hundreds of tourists drive past- no one wants to pick up smelly hikers. Finally, we get back to the trail and our home.

We hike down to the river. I wade across with my shoes on as always and wait on the other side as the others try to find a dry way across. I miss it as they have a misadventure with a log and a waterfall and Shake n Bake walks up soaked to his chest. We’ve been taking it in turns to fall into rivers lately.

We finish out the little passes- Benson first, and Sevey the next day. There is no snow, but they still exhaust us. We sail over Dorothy Pass and out of Yosemite, and hit one thousand miles at noon. I packed out Scotch for the occasion and we sit and sip it under the pines. Then we climb high, up towards Sonora pass. We camp on a ridge, cowboying for the first time in a while. An owl swoops low overhead, silent until he is past us and we hear a whoosh.

Sonora in the morning is one sketchy snow field after another. I opt to scramble around one, and then another, slipping on the loose rock. And then we are safe but shaken, left rattled by the scariest pass. We catch a ride with a woman to Northern Kennedy Meadows to resupply, and then we are back on the trail, running for Canada.The trail hurls us up and over ridges, then down into valleys over and over again. We are lower than the high passes now, but we still have as much elevation gain. Water begins to dry up as we move worth- we see dry Creek beds against, and gradually the landscape cchanges, until we come over an iris dotted pass and see Lake Tahoe below.


Kearsarge to Red’s Meadow.

Pacific Crest Trail, Uncategorized


The Sierra are defined by high snowy passes, calm green meadows, raging rivers, and deep hunger. I have never been truly hungry in my life before, and it shocks me as it builds, until the hunger is like an animal living deep inside of me.


In Bishop, I run around like a crazy person, buying food and gear. New shoes, a new puffy, and then I am ready to go. We catch the shuttle back to Independence as the temperature rises, the driver blasting the Jurassic park theme song. Then it takes forever to get a hitch to the trailhead. I’m feeling sick and it is late. We make it two miles and camp in a cave on the shore of a lake.


And then we climb. Up over Kearsarge Pass, on our way to Glen. We’ve heard so many bad things about this pass – it is the sketchiest on the PCT, there is a steep snow field with a bad run out, it is icy, we are going to die.


We scramble up loose rock where the trail is covered by snow, past high Alpine lakes. And then we are on the crest of the pass, looking at the snowfield we were warned about. Sure, you’d fall a long way, but the trail is basically a trench through the snow. I cross carefully, ice axe in hand, and then it is over, and we are scrambling down rock and snow to Rae lakes below.


There’s a certain pattern you have to follow on this section of trail. Almost every day there is a high pass you must hit, and then get down below snow line to camp. Some passes you should hit early, to avoid postholing. Others are better late, when there is no ice. It is almost impossible to set up each pass perfectly, although we try our best.


The next pass is Pinchot, and it is a long struggle. We climb almost all day, then drop quickly after the thankfully almost snow free pass. Then we are running for King’s River, which we have heard can be a difficult crossing. Spears tries the Ford first, and only makes a few steps before turning back. The end of the day is the worst time for Fords, so we turn to the sketchy log crossing upstream.


Patience and Shake n Bake run back and forth across, ferrying bags and poles. Then it is time to cross. I inch along the log, staring at the water rushing below. Finally, I am safe on dry land again.


Muir is the pass of the day, and it is another long climb. I get a head start on my friends, and they catch me just below the snow line. We stick together as we cross an ice bridge, then it is a long snowfield to the top. Right before the pass, the snow gets steep, and we kick steps to the hut.


The slope on the other side is gentle, but we have three miles of postholing until camp. Camp for the night is a lake and we cowboy on the shore, watching the stars pop out as the jagged peaks are reflected in the water below.


It’s a long haul to Seldon, the next pass and we plan to camp high, after the bulk of the climb, but below the pass itself. Between us and the pass is Evolution Creek, a difficult Ford. Shake n Bake and I are a little ahead of Patience and Spears, and ask the southbound JMTers how the crossing is. We are told it is fine. Patience and Spears do the same to others, and are told to take the high water alternate. We chose a bad line through the river and the water rises over my hips, but then we are through safely and heading for the start of the climb to Seldon.


We start to climb up and I am irrationally upset about everything. I am slower than everyone else, the bugs are bad, I am not having fun. I am about ready to cry from the unfairness of it all before I realise  I am more hangry than I have ever been before in my life. I stop and eat dinner and realise how empty my Bear can is getting. We had planned on going straight through to Mammoth without stopping at VVR, but I am so, so hungry. A few switchbacks up, I find Shake N Bake looking guiltily at his Bear can after eating tomorrow’s lunch. Looks like our stomachs have made our resupply decision for us.


Seldon is an easy pass, and we cross Bear Creek, a difficult Ford, without incident. And then we are running down Bear Ridge, to make VVR for dinner. I eat a massive steak dinner and five minutes later my stomach rumbles. A grilled cheese, banana, and half a plum later and I am finally satisfied, if not full.


It takes a while to leave in the morning, and we climb Silver, our last pass before Mammoth, in the heat of the day. We cross a valley and climb up to camp high on a mountain, passing Bear Bait, who we haven’t seen in a few days. In the morning, we pass Chips and Guac. Almost all of our friends are back together again! We hike down towards Red’s Meadow as a thunderstorm rolls in, making it to safety in the restaurant as the hail pours down.