Pacific Crest Trail Blog Part 3
17th May 2010 – Achievement
I crested the brow of the hill and looked down at the view that met me. Stumbling Norwegian, Pigpen, Bernie, Pony, Yvo and Origami were just behind me. Cliffs striped with differing hues of colour fell abruptly into the White Water River, a few thousand feet below us.
We stumbled down, letting our legs run away with us because of the steep gradient, dumped our packs by the water, stripped down to underwear and let the frigid water rush over us. We stayed there for 2 hours, laughing and relaxing under the shadow of the cliff and making the most of an escape from the sun.
I left before the others, sensing a little time on my own would be good. I walked for a couple of hours following a creek bed before a burst blister forced me to camp by the water. The following day I woke early, cooked some oats and was just on the verge of leaving when Yvo caught me up, he had started on the trail at 6.30am, as most of us do when the sun comes up.
We walked all day. Yvo is Swiss, his scruffy hair meets an unkempt beard, spaced by wiry spectacles. He bears a striking resemblance to John Lennon and walks quickly but appears to exert no effort. He just glides along without breaking sweat, stops every 30 minutes, comments on the view and carrys on with me gasping somewhere behind him, leaving a trail of perspiration in the grit. It’s like trying to keep up with a pacemaker, if you need to be somewhere quickly, Evo is the guy to stick with, if you can.
We fumbled our way aimlessly along Mission Creek, hemmed in by towering cliffs either side of us. Feeling the heat of the sun as we walked out of the shade, and a chill when we returned to it. With the constant gurgle of water with us, we must have crossed the Creek 30 times, hopping from one side to the other searching for the right place to cross. Sometimes we balanced our feet on one side ready to leap over and the weak soil would give way beneath us, the icy water chilling our toes.With strained eyes we tried, sometimes in vain, to locate a trail playing hide and seek with us. A Rattlesnake glided casually across the path startling me. Normally they would signal as a warning but this one was silent, without malice or confrontation and my fear subsided. White trees, the remnants of a past forest fire where the bark had burnt away to be left with a stark albino finish twisted and bent into bizarre shapes clawed at us from the trail edge.
We climbed up, and up, and up. Praying for an end to unrelenting hills, the end came 10 hours later. Yvo, who had long since pulled away from me, had camped under the fir trees at 8000 feet. I nodded a greeting and gestured I was carrying on, he signalled that he understood.
2 miles further on, 21 miles for the day and some 4500 feet of climbing later, I pulled off the trail at 7.30pm. I lay down my pack, set up the tent, watched the sun sink over the mountains to my west and a crescent moon rise. Stars slowly began to pierce the black sky as my saucepan lid rattled, signaling food was near. It was the only sound up there.
I collapsed into my sleeping bag at 9.00pm, this is bed time out here. You get up when the sun comes up and you sleep when the sun goes down.
My feet after only one days walk – this is nothing to compared to what was on the way.
18th May 2010 – Update (Mile 250)
I am currently in Big Bear Lake, up at 8000 feet or so altitude. The surrounding hills still cling onto the remnants of the winter snow fall and there is a definite chill in the air. I have walked around 250 miles to date out of a total of 2,650. This equates to around 10% of the distance I need, which puts the whole thing in perspective.
Physically fine, a few new blisters on account of some nasty descents and the odd calf twinge but nothing serious. Phsycologically fine, at worse I feel like a hot shower and some bacon and eggs, normally after 6 days without either. You get used to how you smell, which doesn’t seem too bad, it’s everybody else that stinks like.
Food constantly on my mind. At town stops such as here in Big Bear I have already had a huge breakfast, lunch, large mid afternoon ‘snack’ (just to stave off the hunger pains until dinner), and then I will eat later as well. I am, however, losing weight. This problem obviously means only one solution, I have to drink far more beer.
Hope you’re all enjoying the blog. Thanks for all the messages, it makes all the difference. Poky, Sarah and Watertank it was nice to read your notes. If you would like replies it’s easier to leave your email address when you reply to a post. Thanks!
18th May 2010 – Video Update No. 3 – The easy way down Fuller Ridge
Resting for 2 days in Wrightwood
Mile marker 369.8
Snake count: 8.
The end of the day always brings on a feeling of anticipation. I wonder where the camping spot I have usually already planned for is hiding. Sometimes I swear it must be over the brow of the next hill, and I crest only to be met with the sight of the trail winding up even further. A classic single track path weaves from side to side, up and down, hugging the contour of the hill. Occasionally snow spills over the trail as I tread carefully to the next safe haven of track. My feet are cushioned by millions of pine needles, a rich smell of butterscotch emanates from the tree trunks. I kick pine cones into the air, clamber over or crouch under huge fallen tree trunks as I pull my jacket a little tighter around my neck, the evening chilling by the minute this high up.
Then I catch a faint smell of burning wood and I know someone has already made the camp spot. I clamber precariously up a snow slope and am met with 3 hikers huddled around the orange glow and warmth of a camp fire. Faces peer at me through the twilight and smile.
“Hey Fozzie, fire’s warm. Come sit and rest,” says the Professor.
I join him, Pony and Teressa, holding my palms against the heat and spreading out my fingers. The breeze catches the smoke and I move to one side before I cough.
By the time I have set up tent, we are 11. Hikers homing in on the laughter and chatter, the light from the fire and the smell of camp food like fishes caught helpless on a hook. I sip on hot chocolate whilst my rice bubbles away, my pot lid rattling.
I turn in at 8.30, as most of us do every night, but not after spending a few minutes just standing there by my tent listening. Listening to the tall pines creak and watching them arch over in the strengthening wind. I watch the moon becoming brighter leaving a silver hue to the ground as my shadow becomes clearer. A faint, orange glow of a town a few thousand feet below me and many miles distance gradually comes to life.
I get into my tent quickly, the temperature plummeting to around freezing. Hastily I undress and cringe as I get into my sleeping bag, the cold material against my skin. I lie there motionless for few minutes whilst my body heats up the bag and I hear the tent canvas slap in the wind.
Another day finished. A new one to savour in a few, short hours.
Nothing for miles (K. Foskett)
27th May 2010 – Californian Hospitality
A fews days ago, Hojo (a thru hiker I have walked with) and I were sitting in McDonalds on Highway 15 pondering if we could get a ride into town to sort out some gear we needed. Whilst procrastinating, the Mad Hatter asked a couple who had just walked in the door for us.
Mary Becraft (pictured below) and her boyfriend Ian McGarraugh promptly drove us the 30 or so miles to where they lived. Ian was dropped off at work and Mary spent the rest of her day, and time, driving us around various shops, checking on her computer for information, and then driving us the 30 miles back.
American hospitality continues to surprise me. Californian hospitality amazes me.
Thank you Mary, thank you Ian.
Me, HoJo & the ever hospitable Mary
Video Update No. 4 – The Silver Spoon
29th May 2010 – Eat Well
Trail food, or food in general out here. The most talked about subject. Is it possible to eat good food on the PCT, or any other walk? Take a look here and change your mind about great food in the great outdoors:
3rd June 2010 – Hiker Haven
I hoped that my ears had deceived me. Then I heard it again. I sat up in my tent and momentarily had the familiar, secure feeling that this flimsy piece of erected canvas would keep me safe. It wouldn’t, maybe from the odd snake or spider that would not be able to find a way in, but from a mountain lion? I hoped I had been dreaming, then it roared again and this time it seemed closer. I looked at my watch, it was just after 3am. Mountain lions hunt mainly at night and stalk their prey, not much comfort as I dwelt on the possible fate that seemed to be creeping closer.
I woke up at 6.30am, dressed quickly and got out of the tent. Bigfoot was still outside in his sleeping bag but awake.
“Mate, did you hear that roaring last night. I thought I was a gonna. Sounded like a mountain lion or something”? I said.
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “There’s a farm up the way that keeps a couple of lions and a bear. They use them in the movies.” He rolled over started snoozing again whilst I stood there feeling like a prat.
After a wrong turn up the railroad, I began to climb. Nothing too serious but with the ever increasing heat of the past couple of days, I was dripping with sweat. It rolled down my nose and caught the edge of my mouth where I could taste the salt. My arms shone as I gulped down more water.
I passed Elk, Logic, Mojave and Cheeks who had made camp on a small ridge and listened as Logic recounted how she had woken last night and watched two Coyotes sniffing around camp before she shooed them off.
I walked further, steering a course around a bees nest that was in the middle of the trail. The PCT wound down a few switchbacks, across a level section and then under the highway via a tunnel, perhaps 100 metres long. It was dark, damp and I walked to one side to avoid a small stream of water in the middle. As the circle of light at the other end grew bigger I could make out the silhouette of someone sitting by the exit. The familiar features of Tomer emerged as I reached the end. He looked up at me casually.
“Welcome to the other side,” he offered.
After the wide space of the trail in the morning, a canyon suddenly condensed and enclosed me like I had been wrapped in a massive blanket. Rocks, outcrops and cliffs loomed up from either side as I walked along the course of a small creek, hopping over the water as the trail crossed it. Layers of different coloured rock, millions of years old, streaked across the cliff face as they plunged diagonally into the earth. They looked like a huge slice of layer cake angled into the ground.
I spilled out onto the road, a mile or so from the town of Agua Dulce. Suddenly to be swept out of wilderness into ‘reality’ always catches me off guard after days on the trail. I reached the intersection of Darling Road and made a left for the last mile as I approached what is fondly referred to as ‘Hiker Haven’. This house set up on the hill is home to the Saufleys who every year offer the grounds and outbuildings to all thru-hikers who choose wisely to stay here. I was given the guided tour by John, my laundry disappeared and re-emerged later smelling as good as new. I collected my packages that they had held for me and found an empty camp bed in one of the outside tents.
I leave here tomorrow, refreshed and rested up. I have around 250 miles before I hit the High Sierras. The temperature over here in the next few days is due to hit the 100′s. I am looking forward to the mountains.
This looks worse than it is – really! The two toes on the end of my right food have given me a few problems since the start but believe it or not, this is the healing process. My new shoes are bedding in and my toes now have far more freedom inside to move about as opposed to being crushed by my old ones. Once I’m walking they’re fine, it’s just the getting going that hurts!
9th June 2010 – 500 Miles!
The big 500 miles completed! I didn’t realise until I was virtually on top of it and happened to check the map. No great ceremony, Hojo was with me and we shook hands in typical bloke fashion.
“Well done Canadian,” he said (he refers to me as the Canadian for some reason, something to do with the fact that I’m a foreigner).
The temperatures are in the high 90′s, flies constantly buzz annoyingly around my face and are replaced with mosquito’s when the sun goes down. The heat is stifling, the only respite coming from occasional shade when I walk through a forest, but that never lasts long.
My feet are still not in good shape. They should have bedded in and the blisters should have been dealt with but only this week I have had another 4 to contend with, as well as a dead toe nail and to cap it all, I stubbed my toe yesterday and took a chunk of skin off.
I have had enough of the desert, the heat, the dirt, the constant lack of water. Everybody feels the same, it was a different environment at first, and it is beautiful, but we’ve been here for too long and crave new scenery.
In 200 miles we hit Kennedy Meadows and the start of the High Sierra. Higher elevation, stunning views, an abundance of water, cooler temperatures. It’s what everyone is craving, we need new scenery like never before.
I have 2 x 20 mile days and then I’ll have a days rest in a place called Tehachapi. Then, about 10 days walking to the start of the Sierra. Word is that late snowfall means there are some difficult sections to contend with but it is melting.
Next update with video in about 3 or 4 days.
500 miles in !
27th May 2010 – Video Update No. 5
2nd June 2010 – Video Update No. 6
12th June 2010 – Walking with a Norwegian
After some uncomfortable temperatures of late, the PCT made life a little more bearable in the heat department and has cooled over the past few days. You never get anything for nothing, so the consequence of this has been some incredibly strong winds. I left Hiker-Town, a small hostel in the middle of nowhere on 10th June and walked with the Stumbling Norwegian.
‘Stumbling’ is not an accurate description. In fact, it’s about as far as you can get from the truth. In his mid thirties, he is tall, I guess 6 feet plus and is already a PCT veteran having completed a thru-hike only last year. His lanky frame and long legs appear to move effortlessly over any terrain, taking strides so long that I admit to being a little jealous. He probably covers 20% more ground in one step than I do. A beard grows perhaps 8″ long from his chin, reaching his upper chest. He strokes it occasionally and comments that it needs washing or combing. He wears a Seattle Sounders football shirt with Ljunberg blazoned across the back. The Stumbling Norwegian is a long way from conventional.
We hit the Los Angeles Aqueduct after 30 minutes or so. This huge, man made construction carries water from the nearby mountains to supply a fair proportion of the cities water supply. It is capped with concrete and looks like a normal road. We followed it as it snaked along, occasionally listening to the millions of gallons of water gush beneath us from inspection points. The Norwegian showed me how to get water, as he had done last year by finding a small hole in the concrete. He fitted an extension to the plastic tube on his filter and dangled if through the hole. Sure enough, as he pumped and I held the bottle, a steady stream of prime mountain water dribble through.
A snake, perhaps 5 feet long surprised both of us as they often do. Lost in day dreams, we often do not see them until we are about to step right on them. It stretched lazily on the trail, sunning itself and appeared docile, perhaps even friendly. My snake phobia diminished even more as I stroked it’s tail before it moved off into the undergrowth.
We reached Cottonwood Bridge late afternoon, about seven miles short of our target for the day. I submerged my sore feet in the cold, grey water and shivered as the aches started to fade. We introduced ourselves to Hannah and Matt and were soon joined by another new face, Reckless. Each day I am constantly surprised by more new characters. I ate from dwindling rations. A dry, tasteless rice dish was not helped by a couple of pale and insipid hot dogs. The closer a hiker gets to a town re-supply, the more uninspiring and disappointing their dwindling food bag becomes.
We struggled up and carried on to kill off the last few miles. An optimistic schedule of 2 hours was soon being re-calculated as the trail started to rise to meet our destination of Tylerhorse Canyon. Then, strong winds increased and we struggled against side gusts. We squinted as sand stung our faces and battled sometimes to even move forward. At one point the Norwegian was blown off the trail and had to execute a jump over a low bush to remain upright.
Mountains to our left soon turned black as the sun moved below them. The orange sky faded over our heads into blue as sculptured, twisted cloud formations had us gasping at their beauty.
At 9.00pm we made it to the canyon bottom where Hannah and Matt were struggling to cook a meal as the elements raged around them. The wind was still gusting but had been humbled a little by the high rocks sheltering us. To tired to eat or to battle erecting my tent in the wind, I lay out my sleeping pad and bag, washed my feet in the creek, and climbed into bed. I was soon warm and watched in awe as stars began to intensify and multiply above me. I felt like a spectator at a massive outdoor light show.
Clouds at Tylerhorse Canyon (K. Foskett)
20th June 2010 – A good idea at the time
Some things seem a really good idea at the time. Like renting a good movie whilst nursing a bottle of Rioja. Or spending some time pottering about in the garden. Walking 56 miles in 2 days a few miles from the Mojave Desert and Death Valley, however, is a bloody stupid idea.
I didn’t really have much choice. I was convinced England played Algeria on Saturday in the World Cup and had calculated on 3 x 18 miles days to get to a motel or bar and watch the game. I realised a couple of days ago that it was actually Friday, not Saturday.
I stumbled down to Bird Spring Pass where my map advised there was a water cache. Sure enough, some kind soul had left around 50 containers of water, plenty to refill the several thirsty hikers on this section.
Elk was squeezed under a bush trying to stay in the only minuscule portion of shade available. He was slurping a cheese and broccoli soup which looked like something I don’t care to mention. Elk is thirty, his face is framed by a dark beard, as most of the guys have on the trail. He is tanned dark, although most of this is probably dirt from the trail and has upper legs that make mine look like a couple of pencils. An interesting guy to chat to, he is very knowledgeable on a lot of subjects. He also has some pretty wacky, alternative views and angles.
“Did I tell you about my Sierra fantasy?” He asked whilst stuffing tobacco into his pipe.
“No,” I replied. “But carry on.”
“I’m on the trail and I come across a bear fishing at a pristine mountain stream,” he muses, trying to decide whether to leave the pipe in his mouth while he talks or remove it. “It has caught a golden trout about the size of my forearm.”
“I’m all ears,” I say, looking expectantly at him.
“Now, what I will do in this fantasy is to scare the bear with only my anger,” he roars with laughter at the thought. “Then, I will steal the trout. I will take a quart size ziplock bag half filled with lemon juice and section the fish so it fit’s inside the bag. I will hike with it for about 15 minutes then take a rest and build a fire. I will sprinkle it with salt and pepper and eat my bounty. Finally I will let out a huge roar of triumph. There, the fantasy ends.”
“Do you hike with your shrink, or does he come out and see you on the trail?” I joked.
We climbed up the 2000 feet to Skinners Peak, my arms caked in a mixture of sweat, sunblock and dust which grated against my forehead as I wiped it across. Cresting the saddle at the summit we looked northwards and for the first time glimpsed the snow covered Sierra mountain range in the distance, the peaks still covered in snow.
The 750 or so miles that make up the longest section of desert walking are nearly over. It is a beautiful section but we are tired of it. The heat, dust and lack of water has taken it’s toll on all of us and we are relishing going up to an altitude averaging 10,000 feet and climbing to a high of just over 13,000. It is cooler up there with hopefully more shade, crystal clear streams and mountain lakes offer abundant opportunities to kill a thirst with pristine, chilled water.
(Many thanks to Richard and Nora Nuckless in Ridgecrest who work at the local Tourist Information. When I explained to them that it was nigh on impossible to find a computer with Internet access in town, Richard promptly drove me to his house and let me use his. Thanks to both of you).