Partly for fun, but of course for work too, we closed up the office and went up to the trail. The goal was check out one of our major projects: the re-alignment of the Pacific Crest Trail north of the Sierra Buttes.
On Thursday, we day hiked and a few of us jumped in a lake. In the afternoon, we joined the ACE corps crew at their base camp. They cooked up dinner of pork, potatoes and carrots. We played ring toss, set up tents, chatted, and enjoyed the evening.
Yesterday, we picked up tools and joined the crew for a day of trail building. It’s a many-year project. I worked on clearing brush along the flag line. It’s the step before cutting new trail tread (which another team was doing).
It’s really neat to build new Pacific Crest Trail. It’s done with so much intention, planning and very high standards. Laying out the trail and constructing it in a way that will make it long-lasting with little maintenance is the basic goal. When it’s open in a few years, the PCT will be further away from roads, pass by more water, mountain views and a nice campground.
It should come as no surprise that PCT Days would be something that I’d like. It’s a PCT festival after all. This is my third or fourth PCT Days but the first one where I didn’t camp. I’ve been traveling a whole lot, and have been generally a bit stressed out with so much going on. When I saw that heavy rain was forecast, the first time in at least six months, I decided to book a last minute hotel room. It also helped keep the electronics that I needed for work charged and me showered and a bit more presentable.
Again, since this was a work event, I’ll write about it at my work’s website later. Probably this week.
On the personal front:
- I won a pair of Danner boots in the raffle. I’d been lusting after a pair of their shoes for a year or two, but they were far out of my price range. Winning a pair was a real coup. I ended up squeezing in a stop at their store before my flight home and now I’m the owner of a fancy new pair of shoes.
- Bridge Walk, when we close the Bridge of the Gods to cars and invite the community to enjoy it, was also a huge success. We’re building support to build a non-motorized path on the bridge. It felt like we nearly filled the bridge to capacity with a wide cross section of people.
- It’s oh-so-great to talk to people that are passionate about the PCT. I work for the PCT day-in, day-out and it’s incredibly necessary to spend some time with people that are inspired by the trail. I spent time with friends and met a whole bunch of new people too. This trail brings together some really wonderful people. It was busy and fun.
- The rain was really enjoyable. It came mostly at night, and in short, heavy waves.
- We hosted Dan Ogden and Jean Mathews at our booth. They were key people behind the National Trails System, Wilderness Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers, Land and Water Conservation Fund and so many other things of incredible importance. Dan’s love of the PCT, at 93, and his genuine interest in how “his” project is going, was very moving. I’m glad that I got to spend time with them.
- I got a tour of Thunder Island Brewing and got to spend some time there with good friends. I was especially excited to hang out with Thyra, the volunteer that manages our Instagram.
All in all, PCT Days was a fantastic success in my mind. Turnout was much higher than in years past. More vendors showed up (and gave away incredible amounts of quality gear to everyone). And, the vibe is one of a small community of friendly, passionate people.
This hike was pretty unique. With my coworkers and partners from the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service, we hiked the PCT today from Carson Pass to Meiss Meadow and the Truckee River. It was a field day during a week of training about the science behind hiker’s impacts on trails. We brought out one of the world’s only Recreation Ecologists to do some extra professional development in light of the increasing popularity of the PCT.
I won’t go into what we talked about during the workshop (we’ll do a post at pcta.org about it), and instead just say that it was a beautiful day on the trail. I do love talking trail management and relish the few days I got to spend diving into it with other professionals.
I feel it in my thighs.
We just hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the South Climb Trail on Mt. Adams, around the mountain, through the forest, up an over the Goat Rocks and all the way to White Pass. It was eight days in the wilderness. My longest stint of the year. The longest trip Lindsey and I have taken together.
And it was utterly groovy.
First, a shout-out to Ali and Colin for being outstanding hiker friends the last three days on the PCT through Goat Rocks Wilderness. It was fun guys. And truly, you made this trip possible by dropping us off at Mt. Adams then days later setting up cars on the northern end, at Walupt Lake and White Pass. PCT section hiking is a mess of impossible logistics. You made it possible.
The Portland portion of vacation was quick: flugtag (flying machines crashing into the river), brewery, Next Adventure (saw PCTers), chores, backyard BBQ, and a comedy show.
Then, hiking. There’s too much to tell and I’m not one for sharing in detail.
Circling around half of Mt. Adams was beautiful. We had nice camps, walked through a large burn area, ran into a friend, and did two side trips. High Camp was very much worth the effort and provided grand views of Adams immediately above, Saint Helens and Rainier. Lookingglass Lake wasn’t. It had burned.
A quintessential sketchy guy, deep in the wilderness, completely unkempt, with a machete, gnarly infected eye and a you-wouldn’t-believe-it charming and nice demeanor, gave us mushrooms on the shoulder of Mt. Adams. We ate those King Boletes and they were delicious with couscous.
As often happens, we slept a lot. Wonderfully long naps. Early bed times. Late starts. Walking 10 miles per day is really darn pleasant. I also read a book (What is the What?), usually with Lindsey cutely reading snippets over my shoulder instead of doing math or reading scientific papers.
I really like section hiking the PCT. Yes, i’ve seen it all. But it’s oh so nice to return to familiar places.
On our fifth day, I swam, read, relaxed, ate the crumbs of my food bag and twiddled thumbs long enough to start to worry. Then, Ali and Colin finally walked up to our backcountry lake, with the food and smiles we were expecting. Whew.
From there on, it was the heart of Goat Rocks Wilderness. It’s for that scenery that I flew up to the northwest. On my thru-hike, I had decidedly mixed conditions through the area. Partly cloudy skies, then rain and fog. This time, wonderful blue skies and puffy clouds dominated. We had one of the most epic PCT camps that I’ve had with full views of Mt. Adams, Saint Helens, Rainier and Goat Lake. We climbed to the summit of Old Snowy and I walked the Old Snowy alternate as well as the actual PCT. Then we hit the iconic Knife’s Edge and did the still very enjoyable miles down to White Pass.
I gave my conditions report to my coworker who is in charge of the area and it was full of details. The major bits were: a bit of ATV incursion near Potato Butte, generally excellent trail, mild brush above Walupt, still incorrect signage on the alternate on Old Snowy, really bad tread collapse on the Knife’s Edge, and the wonderful experience of walking northbound right after logout and new trail around Shoe Lake. Also: every camp had an actively used fire ring, usually far too close the the trail, and during a fire ban. And, too much toilet paper from people that buried it an inch deep, plus multiple outright surface turds. Remember to teach newbies pooping and make sure they comfortable with doing it right.
I saw WILD, the movie, as part of a pre-release screening last Friday. I loved it.
Already in SF, I headed over to Dani’s house to ride with him up to Lake Tahoe. We made it before I fell asleep.
Saturday, we met Kyle and Simone at Meeks Bay, left a car and drove to Echo Lake. We’d walk the thirty some-odd miles between the two over the next day and a half.
We slept at Fontanillis Lake, up high in the rocks, after a long day of walking.
The cabins on Echo Lake really are special. Those that own them are incredibly fortunate. Lake Aloha on the other hand was at its most depressing. Come fall, it’s always low, showing bathtub ring lines, stained rock and dirt. I’m not sure if it was especially dried up because of the drought, or if it’s sorry state was nothing unusual.
I’d only ever crossed Dicks Pass on my PCT hike. That day it was one of the scariest ice sheets of my hike. This weekend there was just a dusting of snow from a recent October storm. Still, I was surprised at how steep the north side of the pass was. I imagine that it’s always a challenge when it’s covered in snow.
We left the PCT just south of Middle Velma Lake. We’d thought of going all the way to Barker Pass (or crazily, to Donner Pass) but a shorter trip was still more than plenty walking. Leaving via Phipps Pass was a perfect choice. The views, especially south of Phipps Peak looking back toward where we came from, were great. It really gave me the feeling of having walked across all of Desolation even though we technically didn’t.
I have my first real blisters in years. One of them is the good type: blood spreading up between the soft space near my big toe. After eight days on trail, I’m not walking anywhere today. This is trip two of my hiking vacation.
Deciding to hike a bit of the PCT, and wanting to finally visit Huckleberry Lake, I slept in my car just off Highway 108.
Southbound from Sonora Pass is one of my favorite sections of the Crest Trail. It’s rare to be so high for so long on an alpine ridge. Add the fact that it’s volcanic, rather than granitic, and it’s a stretch of trail that has stuck strongly in my mind since 2006.
I camped that first night on the West Fork of the Walker River – a place that I figured would be lame because it’s in the forest and I’m snobbish towards the sub-alpine zone. Bedding down off the PCT, I found an old trail sign standing guard over tread that no one walks. Sitting alone, thinking, staring at my map, I thought of the long-ago routes like the one we walked the day before down Post Peak drainage. Tonight’s area had important names: Fremont Lake, Walker River, Emigrant Pass, Emigrant Wilderness. I’m a sucker for early frontier history. Joseph Walker and John Fremont are high up on my list of history’s cool guys. It turns out that the West Walker Route of the California Trail was first walked by the Clark-Skidmore Party in 1852. It wasn’t a good one.
The rest of the trip was marked by walking obscure trails – while technically speaking, not actually going cross country.
I looped down into Yosemite from Hoover Wilderness and then crossed into Emigrant via Bond Pass. I stopped to explore the Montezuma Mine – which I assume predates the 1930s declaration of Emigrant as a primitive area. Before the trip, I compared my four maps of the area and found trails that aren’t included on newer publications. I walked those. At one of the remotest lakes of my week, I was surprised to find two other guys. Pounding miles, I crossed once again into to Yosemite then missed an obscure junction. Foot sore, I ended up at Huckleberry for the night.
The area is pretty damn abused by commercial pack companies. My end of Huckleberry Lake was disappointing with it’s huge, dusty, shit-filled camp and braided stock trails.
Day three was another highlight – swimming between islands, a fun chat with a trail crew (they took my book, Water for Elephants, that I had finished that morning), another scarcely there historic route and the linking of the Emigrant Lakes all the way from the granite domes to the volcanic peaks at High Emigrant Lake.
Being alone for four days was wonderful. Time to read, think, reset, look at birds.
This week’s hiking was made more delicious by my effort with the dehydrator the week before. I should fire that up more often.
Yesterday was a bit of a misery hobble. Sore feet, a race to the car and crazy strong winds – I tried to enjoy it. The gusts were enough to blow me around. One pushed me off balance while I was traversing a steep slope. It was the closest I’ve come to “being blown off the mountain”.
We closed down the office, and invited some of our volunteers and all of the organizations in our building for a day hike north from I-80. I’m so glad that we did.