Tuesday, January 2, 2018

In Retrospect – Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

This post was written in October, it's my fault it took so long to get posted.  There are a lot unfinished projects in my life. I am finally getting around to this one.  Thanks for keeping up with us.  Becky


It’s hard to believe that I have been off the trail and home 4 weeks.  One week after getting home I gave a report to our church.  What’s below is an attempt to process the trip and what I did this summer.

Final Thoughts
After coming off an 1800-mile hike, you could say I like hiking a lot.  On the trail I was served much more than I served others.  I am challenged to love God more, to serve others more, and let it reflect in every aspect of my life.  I want to adopt the hiking lifestyle – meet people where they are and take them with you as far as they will go.

Fundraising for Camp Korey
·         I want to thank everyone who contributed to Camp Korey
·         I expect that we will have raised more than $4000.  Many thanks to all!!
·         Camp Korey is still a great cause.  There will always be time to contribute

The Goal
My goal was to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, all 2,660 miles.  In three separate sections, I only hiked 1,716 miles of the PCT and a total of 1,828 trail miles.
·         Section 1: From May 12th to June 27th I hiked northbound (NOBO) from Mexico (PCT mile 0) to the junction with John Muir Trail (PCT mile 767).  Hiked 767 PCT miles.
·         Section 2: From July 20 to August 18 I hiked southbound (SOBO) from Ashland, OR (PCT mile 1716) to South Lake Tahoe (PCT mile 1102.  Hiked 614 PCT miles.
·         Section 3: From August 25 to September 16 I hiked NOBO from Lone Pine, CA (PCT mile 750) to South Lake Tahoe (PCT mile 1102 & back to PCT mile 1092). Hiked 362 PCT miles

Why I Didn’t Complete the Thru-Hike and Why My Plan Kept Changing
In 2016 Garrett completed a continuous-step thru-hike of the PCT.  One year later I failed in my attempt.
·         The conditions in 2017 were completely different than those in 2016.  In 2017 there were:
o   Near record-setting snowfall in the Sierras.  Oregon and Washington also had heavy snowpack
o   Due to stream flow in the Sierras 90% on more of NOBO thru-hiked bounced around all or part of the Sierras. 
o   On June 27th Rock Creek was impassable at the PCT, so we had to detour around.  Rock Creek was a second-order stream.  As snow melted during the heatwave, streamflow fluctuated wildly from day to day or even within the same day.  Several streams north of Rock Creek were considered downright dangerous.  There were reports of people losing their pack, perhaps people had died attempting a stream crossing
o   On June 28th I stood on top on Mt. Whitney, elevation 14,500 feet.  Looking north every slope and ridge was snow covered.  Northern California, Oregon and Washington were all snow bound.  In late June there was no place to go that wasn’t covered in snow
o   Virtually everyone going into the Sierras at that time did so as part of a group.  Conditions in the Sierras called for multiple sets of eyes and heads to figure the best course of action at every stream crossing. 
o   Most hikers I talked to who went in the Sierras in May or June said it was hard, very hard.   Navigation was difficult, the going was slow.  Folks who did this used their phone app almost continuously.  I was using paper maps

·         My decision to go home on July 3rd
o   I am 63, hiking solo and did not feel comfortable going into the Sierras alone. 
o   Also, I wanted to hike trail instead of hiking on snow. 
o   Instead of meeting the challenges head-on, I wimped out, retreated to Lone Pine and went home via bus, plane and car. 
o   The plan was to let the snow melt, get back on trail at McKenzie Pass, OR and to hike SOBO through northern Calif. and the Sierras, thus completing the PCT.  Not a thru-hike
o   Many hikers I talked to thought this was a good decision.  I’m not so sure; hiking conditions were improving just as I went home.  I should have found a couple of hiking partners and went in

·         Second section-hike – plan changed from McKenzie Pass to Ashland
o   The snow in central Oregon was not melting fast enough.  After three weeks at home, I caught a bus to Medford, OR on August 19.  On July 20th I got back on the trail at Ashland, OR to hike the 600 miles to South Lake Tahoe SOBO.
o   After reaching SL Tahoe the plan was to go home again to hike Washington and Oregon, and to save the Sierras for a friend
o    In my haste to meet Neal Jones, a long-time friend, in South Lake Tahoe, I missed a turn.  Instead of coming out at Echo Lake I came out to Falling Leaf Lake.  I secured an immediate ride to town but this would add an extra day of hiking to tie in steps later. 
o   The time spent with Neal and Melanie was terrific, so it was totally worth it.

·         Third section-hike – plan changed quickly
o   A change in circumstances opened all options including the Sierras.  So, I returned to Reno and to Lone Pine, CA to hike the Sierras. 
o   The next 3 weeks (August 25 – September 16) were amazing.  The hiking was hard, but the high Sierras rewarded me with stunning landscapes. 
o   I had the pleasure of hiking and camping with a man from Hamburg, Germany.
o   My last afternoon was to hike 10 miles to tie in my steps to where I had missed a turn on August 18th.  This ensured a chain of unbroken from Mexico to Ashland, OR.  The next morning, I returned to Echo Lake.
o    My hike ended at Echo Lake (SL Tahoe) due to fires and trail closures in Oregon.
o   September 17 rode the Airporter to Reno airport and flew to Spokane
o   I only need to hike 266 miles from Ashland, OR to McKenzie Pass, OR (PCT mile 1716 to PCT mile 1982) and to complete the PCT in its entirety.

·         For most people it takes 120 to 150 hiking days to complete a 2600-mile thru-hike
o   My original plan (May 12 – September 29) was 141 days.  Enough time but left little room for zero days
o   It takes most hikers 120-140 days to complete a PCT thru-hike
o   I gave away way too many days
§  June 28 – July 19 =   22 days
§  August 19 – 24 =         6 days
§  These 28 days sealed the deal.  There would be no thru-hike for Kevin.
§  I took zero days in Big Bear City, Lone Pine and Mojave
§  Issues with re-supply boxes cost two days in Seiad Valley, and a half day at Vermillion Resort. 
§  Climbing Mt. Whitney was another zero day
§  I needed an extra day (to tie in steps due to missing a turn on August 18
§  In all I gave away more than a month of hiking.  Sure death for a thru-hike.  YIKES!!!!!
§  Most hikers that hiked both Mexican and Canadian borders have one or more gaps in their trip.  Truth be told – very few will have completed a continuous-steps thru-hike in 2017
§  704 hikers in 2016 registered that they completed the PCT.  So far in 2017 only 9 hikers have registered completion.

Trip Summary
·         PCT miles                                                                                              1716 miles
·         Non-PCT trail miles
o San Jacinto Peak                                                                       10 miles
o Mt. Whitney                                                                              15 miles
o Kearsarge Pass (both ways)                                                  15 miles
o Wrong turn getting to South Lake Tahoe                        10 miles
o Horseshoe Meadow to Cottonwood Pass 4x                 18 miles
68 miles
·         PCT miles done more than once
o Mile 750 to mile 767 3x                                                    34 extra miles
o Mile 1102 to 1092 2x to tie in steps                                 10 extra miles
44 extra miles
·         Total trail miles hiked:  1716 + 68 + 44 = 1,828 miles
·         With 100 hiking days I only averaged 18.3 miles per day (includes town days where I only hiked part of the day)

2017 was an Epic Year for the Pacific Crest Trail
·         Epic year for snow (near record snow in the Sierras)
·         Epic year for high stream flow
·         Record setting heat (a week where temperatures ranged from 107 to 112 degrees)
·         Epic year for fatalities
o   2 drowned attempting stream crossings
o   3 died from heat exhaustion
o   A 6th person has been missing so long he is assumed dead

The PCT is a trail of extremes
·         The trail took me through a variety of landscapes – desert shrub, forests, subalpine, granitic alpine, and both lotic systems (springs, creeks, streams, rivers) and lentic systems (ponds, lakes, marshes).
·         I crossed Interstate-10 at 1,000 feet of elevation and climbed over passes as high as 13,100 feet.
·         Climbs and descents of 2,000 feet or more are commonplace on the PCT.  In one stretch there was an 8,000-foot descent (from 9,000 feet to 1,000 feet)

Hiking the PCT you are filthy dirty, you stink to high heaven, and dog-tired at the end of the day.  Why put yourself through all this?
·         Life on the trail is simplified to a few essentials – stay on the right trail, find good water, eat, sleep, talk with other hikers.
·         Becky reminded me of my only obligation each time we talked – “Kevin, you stay safe”
·         Meeting people from all over the world
·         Amazing landscapes
·         Since I did most of my hiking solo, I was asked, “Do you get lonely?”  My answer: “Each day I get to walk with God”

Did the trip meet my expectations?  Absolutely
·   I met people from all over the world
·   A life-time worth of experiences in a few months
·   Amazing Trail Hosts / Trail Angels
·   I hiked in or past a wide variety of landscapes – desert, forest, subalpine, alpine, streams, lakes, granite

Fact: God Blessed Me and Protected Me the Entire Trip
·         There are too many incidents to chalk this up to luck or coincidences
·         On Day 1: I received a bracelet from a young woman named Sun-Up.  The bracelet has a paraphrase of Joshua 1:9 – “Be strong.  Be courageous.  Be fearless.  You are never alone.”  I wore the bracelet every day I hiked
·         Just past Deep Creek Hot Springs, I am dizzy and short of breath on any uphill.  A young couple (Captain Planet and Flask) helped me hitch a ride to town so I could see a doctor.  Evelyn took me to Hesperia, CA urgent care, to the ER, and after being released, to her home where she did my laundry.  Next day she took me back to the trail
·         The two-thunderstorm day in the Marble Mtn. Wilderness.  The rain -a downpour.  Some hailstones as large as golf balls.  Wet, cold and hungry I stumble onto a trail crew camp. Thanks to Sarah Borman, they fed me dinner.  I have known Sarah’s dad for many years.  What are the odds of finding a camp and a person I have a connection with in the middle of a wilderness?
·         The day in the Granite Chief Wilderness I cart-wheeled off the trail onto the rocks below.  I lost a little hide.  Could have been much worse
·         3:30 am in the Desolation Wilderness.  There is crashing and banging near camp.  The bear was only 15 feet from my tent and my food was next to me.  The bear ran away
·         The rattlesnake I almost stepped on
·         The day I climbed Mt. Whitney, I remembered the entire route back down, but was confused about the location of camp with all my food and gear.
·         Numerous times on dicey stream crossings I momentarily lost my balance.  Each time I recovered.  Not once did I fall
·         Many instances where Trail Angels helped me – a ride to town or back to the trail, to their home for a shower, a meal and a bed
·         Just the right set of circumstances brought me and Carsten together.  Carsten is a 38-year old from Hamburg, Germany.  He and his wife Anika had a baby girl.  But she was born with a heart defect and only lived 3 weeks.  It was hard for Carsten and harder for hi wife.  We had several deep, spiritual conversations.  What an honor!


For a trip like this you need support.  I had the best – Becky
·         Every re-supply box she sent was on time
·         When we realized that I absolutely needed to “eat more”, Becky made sure that “more” was in every box
·         My plan changed several times due to trail conditions and Becky just rolled with the flow
·         She made travel arrangements 3 times to get to the trail and 3 times to get home
·         Becky allowed me to focus on the hiking and relating with other hikers.  She made sure I had food and maps
·         Becky also typed my handwritten notes for the blog and uploaded photos.  This was no small feat

Although I only hiked 1,800 miles (Mexico to Ashland, OR), I had enough experiences to last a lifetime
·         Climbing Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the Lower 48
·         Losing a little hide when I cart-wheeled off trail to the rocks below in the Granite Chief Wilderness
·         The thunderstorm that dropped hailstones as large as golf balls.  Being wet, cold and hungry, and stumbling onto a trail crew camp in the middle of the Marble Mtn. Wilderness.  A young woman in a pink coat asked if they could feed me.  Turned out this was Sarah Borman, daughter of a man I’ve known for many years.  What are the odds of this happening??  AND getting fed and dried out. 
·         The bear that was 15 feet from camp in Desolation Wilderness
·         The rattlesnake I almost stepped on
·         A short stay in the Hesperia, CA hospital
·         The Jose burger at Paradise Valley CafĂ©.  The Chinese food in Lone Pine.  The cucumbers from the South Korean gardener
·         At elevations above 11,000 feet, seeing plant life hanging on and surviving – craggy, old bristlecone pines, heather, yarrow, sedge (carex)

Here are a few things I especially liked:
·         Every day on the trail is a gift
·         Meeting people from all over the world.  It’s all about the people.  The PCT just brought us together.  There was an instant bond with other thru-hikers
·         Getting to spend time with Neal and Melanie Jones near Lake Tahoe.  It had been years since I last saw Neal
·         Getting to town and having my re-supply box awaiting my arrival.  THIS IS HUGE!  Every box Becky sent was on time!!!
·         The cool night air and seeing countless number of stars when cowboy camping
·         Hiking before first light to watch the day unfold before me.  I had the trail to myself.
·         Land the mountain men would call “high and lonesome” (subalpine and alpine zones).  Landscapes so stunning that words and cameras are inadequate to capture their magnificence
·         The fabulous stone hut on top of Muir Pass
·         Having a shower, clean clothes and “town food”.  Then, getting back on trail
·         I had many wonderful Trail Angels / Trail Hosts.  I’ll list a few below
o   Bob Riess – a ride from San Diego Airport to his home and to the start of the PCT
o   John Wilson – heirloom tomato, brought me a wonderful dinner
o   Laura Ember – laundry and shower, great meal and ride back to the trail
o   Evelyn Brasher – took me to urgent care, the emergency room, to her home for shower and laundry, and to the trail
o   Neal and Melanie Jones – picked me up at South Lake Tahoe, took me home, fed me and then to Reno Airport
o   Hospitality of Jenna and the Scolari family at Reno
o   Susanne Stuck – a ride from Echo Lake to South Lake Tahoe and to a motel
·         The days I hiked with Carsten from Germany
·         Getting hugs from three young women PCT hikers in Lone Pine.  I had not seen them for a couple of weeks.  When they saw me, the ran to me and gave me a hug
·         I repeat, every day on the trail is a gift


In the Hospital – Older Hikers Need to be Careful, We Have lost our resiliency
·         On May 30, hiking from Deep Creek hot springs, every uphill was killing me.  I was dizzy and short of breath
·         I was taken to Hesperia, CA Urgent Care and admitted to the hospital emergency room.  They ran many tests.  They released me the next evening with 4 words – “Drink more, eat more”
·         Later I ran into Kevin Smith & Dorothy Haskell (retired doctor and nurse from Moses Lake, WA).  When I related my incident, they said “electrolytes”
·         Drinking, eating and electrolytes are all important
o   Hiking all day in the heat, we sweat a lot.  So, we need to drink a gallon or more of water each day
o   When we sweat a lot, we lose electrolytes – sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate.  We need to replace electrolytes up to 4 times each day.
o   Long-distance hiking is a calorie deficit situation.  We burn 5,000 to 8,000 calories each day.  cannot carry enough food.  After several weeks on the trail, “hiker hunger” is a constant companion.  We need fat, carbs and protein.  We need calorie-dense food and good nutrition, we need
·         Weeks after Deep Creek I am hiking in the Marble Mtn. Wilderness.  The day before I get soaked during a thunderstorm.  The exact symptoms reoccur – dizziness and short of breath
o   I absolutely need to hike 20 miles that day
o   I also decide to figure out what the real problem is
§  I start downing water and Skratch (think Gatorade but w/ less sugar)
§  Water and Skratch do not touch my symptoms.  I am still dizzy and short of breath on any uphill
§  Then I started eating more frequently.  By early afternoon I am no longer dizzy hiking uphill.  By the end of the day I am no longer short of breath
§  My symptoms were totally due to a lack of fuel.  I needed to eat more
Our Bodies Are a Miracle
·         After hiking 20+ miles my body would be beat up and exhausted
o   When I sat down for a bit, I’d get so stiff and sore I could hardly move
o   My knees just ached
o   But after a night’s rest, I’d be ready to go the next morning
·         Last full day on the trail, a rock rolled from my right foot and I landed hard on my left side on a rock
o   One rib was cracked. 
o   The rib was very painful during the night.  I was certain that I’d be unable to hike the next morning
o   The rib caused no problem at all during the 10-mile hike back to Echo Lake parking lot

Injuries – just walk it off
·         A child gets hurt and starts crying.  The dad says, “Stop crying and walk it off”.  Sounds cruel
·         Injured hiking the PCT.  You have no option but to walk it off
·         Every day on the trail a pain would surface somewhere – a foot, a knee, my back.  How did it treat the injury, I walked it off.
·         The day I cart-wheeled off the trial to the rocks below, my left shin lost a chunk of skin 3 inches by 5 inches.  I washed my leg as it was filthy dirty, I dried the injured area and then painted it with New Skin.  Last thing I did was to resume hiking.

Nutrition System: Trail Food, Town Food
·         Town food had to be a part of the hiker’s nutrition program.  Burgers, pizza, Chinese
·         My meals were in freezer bags.  Cooking consisted of pouring hot water into the bag and waiting 5-15 minutes for the food to rehydrate.  No dishes other than my spoon
·         Breakfast
o   I start with nuts or gorp (trail mix) while breaking camp or as I start hiking
o   Grape Nuts or oats with raisins, Craisins, whole milk and regular milk powder.  Could eat cold or hot
o   Cream of Wheat with same additions.  Had to be cooked
·         Lunch and snacks
o   6 different types of bars
§  1 Snickers or Pay Day
§  Nature Valley – Oats N Honey, Protein
§  Kind
§  Kirkland – Nut Bars (good), Protein
§  Lara Bars
§  Pro Bars – spendy, but oh, so good!!!
o   Peanut butter with darn near anything – crackers, Nature Valley Oats N Honey, Snickers
·         Snack while getting dinner ready – Gallo dry Italian salami w/ crackers and Gouda cheese
·         Dinners (I cooked the dinners, then dehydrated them)
o   Mexican (shredded beef, red chile stew, green chile stew, etc.) with dehydrated beans and Spanish rice.  Topped with Fritos
o   Non-Mexican (BBQ brisket, pulled pork, roast beef, mac N cheese) with dehydrated veggies, instant potatoes and crackers or Fritos
o   MSR Rocket Pocket stove, fuel cannister, lighter, titanium pot with lid
o   Used the cozy Becky made so that dinners would rehydrate and stay hot
·         Several times I woke up in the middle of the night hungry.  Fritos were wonderful

Hydration System
·         Sawyer filter (not the mini-Sawyer) w/ squeeze bag.  When the bag burst I used a Platypus bag.  Almost every PCT hiker used the Sawyer filter
·         Aqua Mira drops for questionable water.  Did not use but once
·         2 one-quart Smart Water bottles (Sawyer filter screws on) and 2 one-quart Power Aid bottles
·         In the desert I also carries 2 20-ounce Gatorade bottles




Sleep System
·         Cowboy camping in the desert – ground cloth, Z-Rest pad, silk cocoon, sleeping quilt (Becky made the quilt)
·         Started with 6 Moons tent.  I got tired of having no head room.  I put Garrett & Becky on a mission of finding a different tent for hiking the Sierras.  They came up with a 2-person Nemo.  Great tent
·         I used my clothing dry bag as a pillow
·         I slept in clean socks and base layer to help keep sleeping quilt clean

Navigation System
·         Altimeter watch (from Leanna) – used to track progress on climbs and descents
·         Halfmile PCT maps (GPS w/ notes on water and campsites)
·         Silva Ranger compass
·         Hafmile app on my phone (used a few times)

Clothing System
·         Hiking shirt – started w/ short-sleeve, switched to a nylon long-sleeve when the back of my arms were getting fried
·         Hiking shorts
·         Darn Tough wool socks – went through 4 pairs
·         Shoes – I switched back and forth between Asics trail running shoes and Brooks Cascadia shoes
·         Go Lite wind jacket and rain pants.  Pants ripped; repaired with duct tape
·         Mont Bell rain jacket (from Garrett)
·         Puffy down vest
·         Gloves & stocking cap

Gear
·         Leatherman knife and tool
·         Scissors and tweezers
·         Headlamp
·         Microspikes – great traction when I came down icy Forester Pass
·         Black Diamond hiking poles



Dates (not part of In Retrospect)
Here’s What I did
·         May 12 – June 27 hiked northbound (NOBO) from Mexico to PCT mile 767 miles; hiked 767 PCT miles

·         June 28 climbed Mt. Whitney (not on PCT)
·         June 29-30 retreated to PCT mile 750 Lone Pine, CA
·         July 1-2 in Lone Pine waiting for the bus
·         July 3 rode the bus to Reno airport and flew to Spokane
·         In Ephrata July 4-18
·         July 19-20 rode the bus to Ashland

·         From noon July 20 to August 18 hiked southbound (SOBO) from Ashland, OR PCT mile 1716 to South Lake Tahoe (PCT mile 1102); hiked 614 PCT miles

·         August 18-19 w/ Neal & Melanie Jones
·         August 20 flew from Reno to Spokane (due to a misunderstanding)
·         August 21-22 in Ephrata
·         August 23 to Spokane airport; flew to Reno
·         August 24 rode bus to Lone Pine, CA

·         August 25 shuttle to Horseshoe Meadow trailhead w/ Carsten and hiked back to PCT mile 750
·         August 25 – September 16 hiked from PCT mile 767 to PCT mile 1102; hiked 335 PCT miles

·         Note: because of fires and closed trail I was unable to complete the PCT this year