Last year I summited Mt. Whitney on Father’s Day and climbed up and over Forester Pass on my dad’s birthday. If I wasn’t already thinking about Dad, my encounters with three separate fathers-with-daughters hiking the JMT seemed to say “Hey Girl, who taught you to backpack? Way back, when your little legs were strong enough to carry only a sleeping bag and some snacks, who led the way into the Montana mountains in the summertime? That’s right, your pops.”
When I exited for resupply in Bishop, I wrote my dad a letter telling him that, before life gets in the way, we needed to go for a good long walk in the woods together. So we agreed to hike the John Muir Trail.
After scattered phone conversations and broken email chains, criss-crossing lists of gear and food and to-dos, today we walked side by side, weaving through the aisles of Costco, inspecting nutritional information and debating between granola bars (though I’ve learned that they’re all pretty bad after a while). Afterwards we heaped the food onto the dining room table to examine, divide and ziploc.
In some ways this hike will resemble the summer backpacks of my childhood. In most ways it will be very different. This time around, I hope to be more of the guide, to share a bit of what I’ve learned since then.
Remember that time that you hiked to meet me at the Northern Terminus? This is my thank you for that, and my thank you for engraining in me a love for the wild.
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So, Backcountry Ninjas, the t-shirt company we’ve been developing along the road- from Montana to Texas to California to, as of tonight, Seattle- FINALLY has some GIRL STUFF.
We are now selling women’s athletic shirts, women’s cut-off t-shirts and PURPLE RAIN ADVENTURE SKIRTS, hand-made by our friend and fellow thru-hiker, Purple Rain, right out of Portland, OR.
As always, Backcountry Ninjas is devoted to the enjoyment and stewardship of nature and all it has to offer. For this reason we will always donate 7% of proceeds- 3% to each the Pacific Crest Trail Association and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and 1% to a third, rotating charity, currently For Love Of Children.
We hope you are gearing up, wherever you are, for an awesome summer! Keep on rocking in the tree world!
One year to the day since I started hiking the PCT and we’re back at the southern terminus. With Hippie Long Stockings and Solstice, an unexpected replay of those first 20 miles. Leaving after dark, we hike until 4 in the morning. The night hike obscures time and fatigue and I grip my trekking poles hoping to keep my feet under me over the rocks and drops. With only a single beam of light to orient, the trail becomes tricky and two-dimensional so I fix my light on Hippie’s leopard-print spandex and try to keep pace with her steps and conversation.
The Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off, ADZPCTKO, takes on a different tone as an alumni. No nerves, no need to rest up for what lies ahead. It’s a reunion, and a year later we’ve got the experience, we know the beauty. Now we know what they were all talking about last year. And since we’ve proven ourselves to ourselves, we take on the job of giving the pep-talks, the encouragement, the warnings. All of us, reassembled a year later, have been changed. It just shows how big this thing is. It’s a game-changer.
After a couple days of celebrating the new hiking season, we somehow cram Coincidence, Hot Tub, and gear into Old Faithful and drive from Lake Morena to the Salton Sea. The foul-smelling beach, a landscape of fish-bones and barnacles, salt-encrusted and rotten, crunches under our feet as we make our way to the lapping water. Garbage everywhere, an unsprung-armchair resting at the water’s edge.
Water has come and gone from this place over hundreds of thousands of years. What we call the Salton Sea is the latest incarnation of this body of water, forming in 1905 when the Colorado river flooded the area. Without an outflow, the salinity of the sea increases about 1% each year. The land-locked sea briefly served as a luxurious oasis in the middle of the desert until salt levels reached a point causing the fish to dye. The stench overwhelmed the glamour and drove away vacationers.
Take the 86 north, turn right on the 10, then left onto Cottonwood Springs Road. South entrance to Joshua Tree National Park . A construction crew repairs wreckage from the most recent flash flood. After the sunset, the stars are amazing. Always the first thing to hit me when we’ve escaped civilization.
Joshua Tree is the meeting place of the Colorado and Mojave deserts. Ocotillo, Creosote Bush, Cholla Cactus. Fried Liver Wash. White Tank Granite. We hike up Ryan Mountain for a view of the Dr. Suess landscape. Joshua Trees with their hindu-god limbs scattered across the desert, flat aside from the sporadic, hill-sized rock piles.
Much of Joshua Tree is undeveloped. There are only a few places to fill water and no other amenities. The landscape is quiet and bizarre.
Trunk of a Cholla Cactus. Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Hot Tub and Coincidence. Joshua Tree National Park.
Summit, Ryan Mountain. Joshua Tree National Park.
Coincidence, Hot Tub, 30 Pack, Outburst. Overnight on Boyscout Trail.
Coincidence, Boy Scout Trail.
Trails in the desert. Joshua Tree National Park.
Boy Scout Trail. Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Coincidence and 30 Pack. Boy Scout Trail, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Joshua Trees at sunset.
Desert Flowers. Joshua Tree National Park.
Coincidence, 30 Pack and Hot Tub. Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
30 Pack, Coincidence and Hot Tub. Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Sandblasted and ready for showers, we wind our way west and into the mountains to revisit Idyllwild, an evergreen oasis, perched at a mile high in the San Jacinto wilderness, PCT mile 179. The little mountain town is welcoming and walkable, a perfect place for hikers. We arrived last year, soaked and shivering from our first storm and took a zero day to recover and enjoy this mellow sliver of civilization.
Hike up the Deer Spring Trail to Strawberry Junction. Soak in the evergreens mingling with blooming Manzanitas. With trees of this magnitude comes shade and water and we lap it up. Hot Tub and Coincidence hike ahead while 30 Pack and I dilly dally, just like old times. Neon sunset and thumbnail moon.
Dear Spring Trailhead. San Jacinto Wilderness.
Ponderosa puzzle pieces.
View of Taquitz Peak from Suicide Rock. San Jacinto Wilderness.
Manzanitas in bloom.
The wind picks up in the night but calms by sunrise. My eyes first open to birds going crazy at first light and Hot Tub’s silhouette, the first to emerge from the cocoon. I let myself drift in and out for a while and think, “Aaaaahhh, we’re back on trail.”
We climb San Jacinto Peak, second tallest in SoCal at 10,834 feet, that afternoon, passing PCTers periodically, looking adorably fresh and energetic. I can only imagine how fresh and energetic we seem in comparison. Camp at Round Valley amidst granite boulders. On the hike back to Idyllwild we clamber around enormous trees fallen across the trail. An agitated Timber Rattler lunges at 30 Pack, sends him flying off trail, the fall tearing up his arms and pants.
From the mountains to the beach.
We arrive at the ocean in San Clemente in time for sunset, the sun a slightly squashed apricot hovering above the waves. Gobs of seaweed drifting in on the waves, left sprawled like bodies in the sand. Surfer bodies out in the waves, graceful and seal-like in their wetsuits, at home in the water.
We spend two nights at San Mateo Campground, just across the I-5 from town. During the day we wander through town and watch surfers from the beach. It’s got a Mediterranean spirit lodged in its terracotta roves, white-washed walls, occasional lemon tree. We sit around the campfire at night and look up to a muted sky- not so many stars here, near the metropolis. We make an after-dark trip to the shore along a dirt road, under a bridge, through a tunnel, onto a broad beach. Run into the water and have your breath taken away by the crushing waves.
We got to talking about time travel, rewinding to save the day or walk with dinosaurs. Wondering about technicalities, and, if time travel is really possible, wouldn’t we have seen or heard of future-folks roaming around in this time?
Hiking from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and time traveling are likely not very similar experiences. However, traveling to those places untouched and unaltered, we glimpse now what was back then. The layers of the landscape mark years by the tens of thousands, a time frame we strain to understand.
The Grand Canyon is the river’s masterpiece, its portfolio from the last six million years. At the deepest point, six thousand feet below the rim, the exposed rock is 2,000 million years old.
We haven’t planned ahead so we have no idea whether or not we will get a permit to stay in the canyon. We’re lucky- there have been cancellations and we leave the backcountry permitting office with a reservation at Bright Angel Campground for the following night.
My cousin and her friends are staying in Mather Campground at one of 300 sites spread across a maze of culdesacs. We spend the afternoon with a frisbee and a few beers at the close-to-empty campground. Elk laze in the shade nearby.
Yavapai Point for sunset. From the white rocks we can see the switchbacks leading from the canyon floor to Bright Angel Trailhead.
Morning of. Wake up, make coffee, eat breakfast, organize food for the next 36 hours, pack backpacks, snag neighbor to give Old Faithful a jump, arrive at the South Kaibab Trailhead at 11am.
A 7 mile, 4,780 foot drop to Phantom Ranch.
Rim temp: 72° Phantom Ranch temp: 94°
The bottom of the Grand Canyon can be accessed in a variety of ways. You can hike, carrying your own food, water, shelter, etc. You can hike, carrying water and a change of clothes, and stay in the cabins at Phantom Ranch. You can take a boat. You can ride a mule. Though we pass a string of mule-riding guests looking happy enough, my ego would never go for that.
The first mile and a half is congested, people clogging the destination photo-opps. Past that, the numbers dwindle and the rim of the canyon slips from our sights, a series of false summits plaguing the upward-hiker. The trail alternates between steep, two way trails and conveniently placed plateaus where the rest stops are located. As our elevation drops, the temperature increases. It’s a beautiful day, the sun is harsh, the shade is sparse.
We’re gaining on another hiker. He stands out with a mangled bike strapped to his back. As decrepit as a hermit crab, he is hunched and moving slowly. We catch up to him as he breaks and I let go my flood of questions
His name: Elliot DuMont
Trail name: Bike On
Purpose: Arizona Trail 750, Mexico to Utah, longest single-track bike race in the world, mandatory 24 mile portage across the Grand Canyon, began April 11 at 7am. Destination: the border of Arizona and Utah. He’s hoping to be there in the next 48 hours. Jargon: hike-a-bike (to push one’s bike while walking alongside); bikepacking (to disassemble, strap and carry a bike on one’s back)
He tells us his back is killing him, yet his smile is fixed. He’s got the look of accomplishment, determination, hilarity. “I’m enjoying the celebrity”, he says when I appologize for all the questions.
We catch our first glimpse of the Colorado River about four miles in. Shortly thereafter we take a bathroom break at Tip Off. A thermometer hanging on the wall of the outhouse reads 100° F, 40° C.
Down, down, down, we pass a few hikers in the last miles, faint and red-faced in the shade. The sun takes its toll. Down, down, down, through the tunnel, over the bridge, onto the beach and into the water. It’s 3:30pm. The water is clear and cold. Strained through the Glen Canyon Dam from the bottom of Lake Powell, the usual sediment has been filtered out leaving the water the same green as the Little Mermaid’s tail. We can only sit for a moment before our bones start to ache. After the initial plunge, I wade in just long enough to rinse my socks, relishing in the return to those old hiking rituals.
Everyone knows that John Wesley Powell led the first expedition down the Colorado River in 1869. Along the way, the explorers camped on the beach of what is now Phantom Ranch. At the turn of the 20th century, the place began its evolution into a tourist destination. A hunting trip brought President Theodore Roosevelt to the ranch in 1913, helping the Grand Canyon attain national park status in 1919. During the Great Depression the CCC was employed to make improvements to the ranch and access trails.
Dark brown Park Service buildings appear amidst the cacti and cottonwoods. The trail follows Bright Angel Creek and a string of campsites appears on either side of the trail. We walk the gauntlet, eyeing the set-ups of our fellow campers. Backpacks hang from metal racks and metal boxes for food storage sit on picnic tables to keep the squirrels away. At this point, we’ve seen the sign repeatedly (squirrels = fleas = plague = no touching, emphasized by a picture of a hand with a nasty squirrel bite) and take their warnings seriously.
We drop our gear at the far end of the lineup and head to the canteen/restaurant for water, 5 minutes further on the opposite side of the creek. The canteen serves beverages of all sorts and a few snacks, but dinner is limited to those with reservations made ahead of time, extinguishing our fantasies of burgers on the canyon bottom.
A pipe has burst. The ranger talks it down, a frequent occurence due to the high pressure and old pipes that transport the water across the Canyon. It’s happened three times over the past three weeks. We learn that all water on the South Rim comes from one source: Roaring Springs, located on the North Rim. Despite the burst pipe, drinking water is still available, but we have to flush the toilets with buckets of creek water.
Our friend Bike On is inside refueling, a couple cans of soda and bags of snacks laid out on the table in front of him. After a quick rest he’ll continue his journey up the North Rim.
The mules are housed between the campsite and the canteen, ten or so swishing their tails in the corral. The handlers tell me that the outfit has 140-some mules that hike the canyon and 60-some mules that stay up at the rim. The animals make the trip down and back, then rest for two or three days up top. “They get more days off than us!”
It’s serene in this little green canyon. The various types visiting are similar enough to get along and diverse enough to mimic a community. Unlike the typical resort, the range of cost to access this place, physical and monetary, keeps the clientele interesting.
A park ranger accompanied by a volunteer makes the rounds, checking permits, informing us of the spawning fish and proper use of headlamps. At dinner the gas runs out and I make a trade with the neighbors: two packets of hot chocolate in exchange for access to their fuel canister.
It’s still hot. Even as the sun sinks, the heat persists. We take a walk back to the river before we lose all light. In the dusk we see the cacti on the verge of a massive bloom. We sit and talk on the rocks, watching bats whoosh over our heads until the dark envelops all of it. We find our way back to camp, weaving through whispers and bobbing lights of other campers. The heat keeps us on top of our bags for most of the night and the starlight is incredible.
My eyes open at 5:20am and we’re on trail by 6:30. After yesterday’s heat we don’t want to push our luck.
We finish the five miles to Indian Garden and water by 9:30. Though we’re half-way, we’ve got a 3,000 foot grunt ahead of us. Luckily the weather is mild, the sun filtering through clouds and the temperature dropping as we make our way up. We leap-frog with another family coming from Bright Angel and make friends with Payton, a fifth-grader from Oregon. The trail’s grade forces us to break every mile or so but the 70° air assures us that there is no need to rush.
We reach the rim at noon, racing another new friend and fifth-grader Rhiannon the last mile or so, finding that we can’t compete with the energy of eleven-year-olds. Payton is also waiting at the top with a smirk on his face.
18 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation gain. We revel in our accomplishment, pigging out next to the snack bar amidst cleaned-and-pressed tourists. Another delightful hiking ritual, dirty and smelly, downing town-food with audible joy.
The Grand Canyon is such a celebrity-landmark and it feels like a great accomplishment to have hiked to the bottom and back. The beauty we see is delicate, a continuous transformation by the tiniest forces, building up and tearing down, grains of sand and drops of water that weather, sculpt and carve. A great work of art, perfect and balanced. And though we leave wanting more, I am glad that only a sliver of this place is accessible to us so that we can appreciate without entirely disrupting. Let the artist work.
Day 106, between Miles 1440 & 1470
I’ve had some sort of break through today. Walking I feel energized and relaxed, peaceful and mindful. The clouds in my head are dissipating.
Ran into a group of 3 men, about my dad’s age. Stopped and chatted and they made me an espresso in the middle of the woods.
The trail provides.
Day 112, Mile ???
Walked 23 miles.
Red rocks, ridge-walking. White rock islands in a sea of green forest.
22 miles till Etna.
Day 116, Mile 1630
First south-bounder sighting!
Less than 70 miles left in Cali.
Being asked often if I’m “on schedule” and I say “what schedule?” and they start talking about finishing and snow in Washington.
Time goes so slowly out here, yet it’s already mid-August. Oregon should take 3ish weeks…mid-September. Then 4ish for Washington…mid-October. As much as I try and calculate the future or conceptualize “finishing”, today’s steps are challenging enough.
Day 117, Mile 1662
Arrived in Seiad Valley after a 6.4 mile road walk lined with blackberries ripe and glowing in the morning sun.
Ate an epic waffle sandwich, drank an epic amount of coffee, downed an epic glass of milk.
Hung out and took showers at the RV park. 30 and I played badminton under the trees, listening to Old Crow Medicine Show and drinking Rolling Rock.
Made it after dark to the spring 6 miles out and up from town.
The clouds are moving and it makes it look like the moon is moving. We get to Oregon tomorrow or early the next day.
Today was Friday.
Day 123, Mile 1725
Back on trail after 3 sick-days in Ashland. Fever, headache, muscle-ache, the whole shebang. Hadn’t zeroed since Tahoe and it took it’s toll. On top of that, got the x-ray and 30’s foot is officially broken. So we’re taking care of eachother.
Smoke is rolling in from the forest fires in Northern Cali.
Day 124, Mile 1748
Late start today but still managed 23 miles. Flat, cool, relatively smoke-free. Trying for a 30 tomorrow.
Was in some sort of mood all day and was giving 30 earfuls about all sorts of nonsense.
Found a toad on the trail- had to pick it up just like I would’ve as a kid.
Day 125, Mile ????
4-Month Anniversary On Trail!
Celebrated with a short day. 18 miles.
Started the day with a hornet-bite on my right butt-cheek. Hurt like a mother.
Spent much of the day dreaming up crazy plans for post-hike.
Day 127, Mile 1810
Woke up cold and wet from yesterday’s rainstorms.
A postcard and bracelet from Hot Tub waiting for me at Christi Spring. Made me laugh and cry.
We’ll arrive at Crater Lake tomorrow evening.
Day 133, Mile ????
Camped under the stars at Bobby Lake. We got in at dark so I don’t know what to expect, but I’m sure it will be beautiful.
Last day/evening/night of being 23. I hope 24 is adventurous, satisfied, motivated, spontaneous, playful, loving.
Day 134, Mile ????
Slept straight through sunrise. Steam is rolling off the lake’s glassy surface and there are dragon flies and ducks. And the yellow jackets are out, feisty and buzzing though it’s still early.
I was a morning-baby and, 24 years ago, my parents were holding me, fresh and new. Mama didn’t know I was going to be a girl and in the home video of that dark, hectic, hospital room, you can hear the words “It’s a girl!” from the doctor and she repeats his words over and over with such joy.
23 was the first adult year I spent out of school. I baked bread. I lived with Lacy and Lily. I hiked and skiid and cooked, biked, played kickball, listened to music, had great house-parties, made new friends, kept old friends. Bolt died and Debbie’s cancer got worse.
I planned my trip on the PCT and walked 1800 miles.
My friend Julie asked me yesterday how I typically celebrated my birthday, triggering a flood of memories from past celebrations- family dinners, 20 people around the table, unimaginable amounts of pasta, bread and wine being consumed; the themed parties of my childhood (deep-sea, soccer, jungle, etc.), party favors, jump-roping, squealing and screaming; the celebrations of my 20s starting dance parties in the bar.
Today is an exceptionally quiet, subtle, sober take on my birthday. Just me and 30 Pack, waking on the shore of a lake, drinking instant coffee+hot cocoa in the sun, reading cards from my family. You ain’t got nothing but time.
And time ain’t got nothing on you.
Day 139, Mile 2000ish
Hit mile 2000 today.
Day 147, Mile 2142
Last day on trail in OR and hoping it doesn’t rain on us.
Taking the Eagle Creek alternate past Tunnel Falls. About 13 out from Cascade Locks.
Excited for a bed- haven’t had one in 450 miles.
Day 150, Mile ????
Made camp, real camp, with fire and spring water, dinner and hot cocoa.
Did 22 today. New shoes’ve got my feet hurting.
Coming up on a full moon again.
Day 152, Mile 2,300ish
Made it to Trout Lake alright. The town is more or less a general store and a gas station- my favorite kind of stop.
400 miles from Canada…how the hell did that happen!? For all the work it took, all the fear and anticipation I felt before I got here, it all seems easier in retrospect.
Day 129, Mile ????
Cold and damp. Days are getting shorter and we’re slowing to 20 miles per day in order to sleep-in in the morning and have a fire at night. Anyway, why rush through the best thing I’ve ever done for myself?
Should be to Snoqualmie by Sunday evening.
Day 162, Mile 2,402
Off trail for a few days to avoid super rain/wind/snow.
Weathered 3 days of continuous rain. Set a record on our way in to Snoqualmie- 20 miles in 7 hours. Arrived at the pass soaked to the bone.
Prepared to modify and continue on after the weather clears. Need to boost our trashbag/ziploc reinforcements.
Over 150 days since leaving the border.
Approximately 750,000 calories devoted to walking.
150 cat holes.
Day 165, Mile ????
Elizabeth has joined us, a whole new dynamic. Gives me and 30 a break from one another.
Cold and wet, but we’re in good spirits.
Tired. The cold makes me tired.
Day 169, Mile ????
Spent two nights in Cle Elum and bought snow shoes.
Back in the woods, in the tent, eating chocolate bars and cheese, making sandwiches for tomorrow.
Feeling content and at home, despite the weather. Hearing about people calling it quits and being asked when we will. We haven’t reached our limits yet.
Day 172, Mile 2,472
We made it to Steven’s Pass. First group to make it from Snoqualmie since the snow hit.
Eating pie at the Baring Store/Restaurant. Read an article in the Seattle Times about PCT hikers finishing the trail with a 100-plus mile road walk to Canada. The Wenatchee newspaper shows a picture of Hippie and New Orleans walking on the highway.
The words are circulating: “hiking season is over”. Very discouraging. It seems that then entire hiking community is throwing in the towel. The excitement and optimism that keeps us all going has been extinguished, replaced by doubt, fear, even criticism towards those of us who choose to keep trying. Facebook is the worst, a petri-dish of fear-feeding-fear.
The conditions haven’t worsened, but a few hikers got stranded in the mountains and had to be retrieved by the local SAR.
No one has made it the 120 miles from here to Rainey Pass since the snow hit. Several groups have attempted and turned around. We know the risks of going back into the mountains, and we’re doing everything we can to prepare- exit strategies, new gear, extra food.
Day 173, Mile 2,482
Camped 10 miles in.
Seven of us left from Steven’s Pass this morning. Me and 30, old friends- Hot Tub, Sweet Tooth, Elizabeth, and new friends- Luna, Werewolf and their dog, Supdog.
Snowshoes, gaiters, rain pants and coats, 3 pair gloves, 4 pair socks, 2 pair long underwear, fire starters, hats, extra batteries, etc. etc.
We’ve got a two week weather-window, food for eleven days and are expecting between 10 and 15 miles/day.
Day 174, Mile ????
Climbed over 3,000 feet, wore snow shoes for the first time, animal tracks everywhere, camping on packed snow, cold feet, no campfire.
Day 175, Mile ????
Day threee of the Expedition.
Becoming more competant in snowshoes, but still exhausting. The mountains look beautiful and intimidating all covered in snow.
This long trail has transformed so many times.
90 miles to Rainey Pass.
Day 176, Mile 2520
Elizabeth exited. The snowy slopes were too much. I thought we had seen the worst of it yesterday, and told her as much, but I’m glad she didn’t believe me because today was much worse.
The 1.8 miles from White Pass to Red Pass took us 2.5 hours. The steepest, sketchiest shit I’ve ever done. Combined with maneuvering in snowshoes, it was the most stressful 2+ hours my body has ever endured.
After a long break at the pass, we cruised down the back side, plodding through the powder, the freedom of an open snow-field after those excruciating hours.
Three more big climbs before we’re through this. Weather is looking good.
In camp, safe, happy and warm.
Day 177, Mile ???
6:15 Alarm goes off, turned off, doze
6:30 motivate to make coffee, first few sips provide motivation to make oatmeal
6:45 Make first exit to pee.
Day 178, Mile 2546.7
Day Six of the Expedition.
Slept on snow but stayed warm. Did 13 miles today, 4000 feet of descent and 5800 up. We’re getting good at this whole winter camping thing- drying shit out in the sun at lunch, making fires to dry out shit at night.
We have one big climb tomorrow, Cloudy Pass, then we’re headed downhill to Rainey Pass and hotels and hot showers.
Day 179, Mile ???
The snow is disappearing quickly.
Hot Tub and Sweettooth got a fire going this morning to help us motivate to get up and out of camp.
About 35 miles from Hwy 20/Rainey Pass. Two more days till we hit town.
Dry and happy, though fatigue is setting in. Still good on food.
Day 180, Mile ???
Day Eight of the Expedition
15 miles of dirt. Took our time getting to High Bridge where, generally, you could catch a shuttle to Stehekin. But all that is closed now.
We’re all tired after this long stretch. But tomorrow is town.
We did it. We made it.
***The conditions only got better along the 70 miles from Rainey Pass to the Canadian Border.
I reached the Northern Terminus of the PCT on the morning of October 26. I finished with a handful of my closest friends from the previous six months. It was the most surreal moment of my life.
One week off trail.
Picking at my callouses in the bathtub. Developed over six months, layers upon layers of hardened skin. My big toe on my right food tingles more than it feels.
I’ve heard that, after doing any one thing for a thousand hours, you become proficient at that thing. At an average pace of 2.5 miles per hour, walking 2668 miles would require 1067.2 hours. 133.4 days of walking, 8 hour shifts each day. My walking-hours were spread over a period of 186 days and, after all that, I can say I’ve become a proficient walker.
I spent my summer zigzagging up and over mountains with my head in the clouds. To stay afloat, I broke it down, from months and thousands of miles, to days, minutes, sunrises, sunsets, water sources, lunches, snack breaks. Broke it down to climbing and falling. Now I understand. The balance and repetition, the congruence of the trail.
It’s going on a year since I started the Big Hike. I wasn’t immediately willing to go back and relive those steps through my journals and, when I did, it took a lot of energy. But it was also rewarding, seeing my gradual progress/evolution/transformation to which I was blind in the moment.
It is hard to determine what is meaningful to me versus what is generally meaningful, or at least interesting. As I filtered through the endless rambling that came from days and months and miles of writing, I tried to extract those bits that seem revealing of my mental and physical well-being.
It’s a weird and self-serving impulse to publish all of this, and I’ll justify that by saying “It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to.”
But beyond catering to my own needs, I hope that an honest depiction of the hardest thing I’ve ever done will encourage someone out there to try something they never thought they could do.
Day -1, Mile 0 April 23 The Night Before.
Wasn’t able to write all the thank yous, organize all the shit, spend all the time, make all the phone calls, etc. etc. And now I’m walking away from it all, putting those pressures on hold, prioritizing. For the first time, I’m completely without a plan, other than to walk North.
I’m pretty sure it will all be okay. Mom and Gin will drive me the 30 minutes to the trailhead tomorrow morning. It’s all uphill from there.
Day 1, Mile 8.5
6:01 pm and pretty well settled.
We reached the trailhead around 11 am. It’s located just outside of Campo, along the border. The wall between the U.S. and Mexico is made of rusted metal, gaps between the panels, razor wire on top. A few Border Patrol SUVs rolled past while we were standing at the monument…maybe gawking at us hikers, fresh-faced and hopeful in contrast to the unforgiving landscape.
Set up camp around mile 9 with four other hikers, all men. I saw two other women today but they’re some where back. My body feels tired. My hips and shoulders feel alright but my feet and legs are sore. I’m self-conscious of my pack, like I’m carrying more than everyone else. Like I look like a total amateur.
Day 2, Mile 12
Strange dreams- all of them came back to me having to go somewhere but fighting my way back to the trail to finish hiking. Things pulling me away- my mom needing me to let the dogs out, a party to go to- but me insisting on coming back to hike. I guess that’s a good sign.
Stopped for lunch and to take my shoes off. First blister sighting, three on my left toes and one on the right.
Sitting at the foot of the hill that leads to Lake Morena and Kick Off. Thermometer reads 70°. Nice breeze. Six people just passed me on the trail. I guess the rush has begun.
Day 3, Mile 20
Kick Off, Lake Morena.
9pm, eating a melted Snickers in my tent. A lot has happened since getting here. There must be hundreds of people- trail angels who want to chat and give advice, PCT alumni, tons of hikers. I’m camped near a bunch of other lady solo-hikers. It’s been relieving to just sit and talk with them all, share concerns and advice.
Being in the company of all these awesome people has made me doubt myself. All day I’ve been worrying, stressing about this or that. But in reality I’m pretty well set, if I could just remember that.
Day 4, Mile 26
The day I left Lake Morena.
Big Day. Woke up early, filled with dread, feeling intimidated. Being around other hikers too long makes me second-guess all the decisions I’ve already debated.
Went to yoga down by the lake- the instructor talked about the fleeting nature of all things and read a poem. It said: “everybody is the same as everybody”.
Shakedown- people dissecting everything in your pack, snipping tags and tossing stuff sacks to save weight, something I’ve dreaded. To my surprise, the guy shaved off 5 relatively painless pounds and gave me a new tent! I left feeling streamlined.
Set out with my new friend Heather around 4:45. Got into Boulder Oaks Campground around 7 or so. Saw a rattler on the way.
Leaving as early as possible in the morning, alarm set for 5.
Day 5, Mile ??
Walked 21 miles. Exhausted. But it was a great day. Met a lot of people- a lot of boys. But hiked mostly alone. By the end of the day my feet felt like raw hamburger. That’s Heather’s description. Painfully accurate.
Started the day in hills covered in Manzanita trees and Indian Paintbrush. The terrain is mostly rolling mountains. We hike up and up, winding along the sides of mountains, and then across plateaus, the sun beating down.
Today I felt hopeful, like I really could complete the trail.
Day 6, Mile ??
Hiked most of the day on ridgetops- green to the West and desert to the East. I’ve found a good pace, can generally go 2+ hours before I need a break.
Walked 16 or so miles today without much trouble. Feet are beat.
Day 8, Mile 100
6pm. Long day on trail, but made it to mile 100. Tomorrow I walk to Warner Springs for my first mail drop. I’ve heard rumors of showers, laundry, burgers…
Day 10, Mile 135
Amazing mountain views with the sunset. Frustrating to be too tired to really appreciate it all in the moment. Feet are killing me…a kind of dull, sharp ache that starts after the first 5 miles every day.
I’ve been hiking with a group, three women: Heather, now Hot Tub, DJ Feels Good and Scotty Pippin.
I got one too: Outburst. Something about getting over-excited about marshmallows in my hot cocoa.
Day 13, Mile 178
Safe and sound in Idyllwild.
Yesterday- a beautiful hike through boulders and wildflowers, into the San Jacinto Wilderness. Weather was moving in by afternoon and we ended up rushing to camp at Apache Spring- a box in the ground full of sulfuric water and dead grass. Disappointing.
The storm got worse as the sun set and the thick mist collected on our clothes. Our new friend 30 Pack made a fire and we all huddled around, drinking hot toddies and bracing ourselves against the wind/rain. In the morning, everything was wet- I was silly enough to leave my pack outside and it was completely water-logged.
Those 10 remaining miles to Idyllwild felt like the longest yet. Beautiful moments of mist and rocks, but mostly it was hard and I was so wet and cold and miserable and it all made me question myself. But we made it through.
Day 17, Mile 210
Ziggy and the Bear, Palm Springs.
Made it here last night after 15 miles of downhill, 5 miles of sand and Scotty P sick with dehydration all day. She’s feeling better today but we’re gonna chill so she can recover in full.
Feeling pressure to stay with the crowd, but over the urgency of trying to keep pace with 20-some people.
Saw another rattlesnake yesterday on the way in- rounded a corner and saw her stretched across the trail. We stared at eachother for a minute, then she recoiled and went the other way. 3.5 feet, brown with tan diamonds.
I’m beginning to find my footing a bit. Still not sure exactly what I’m doing out here, but the enthusiasm of others is contagious.
Day 18, Mile ???
Napping along the side of the creek. We got out and did 12 miles pretty quick this morning.
Things to get in town: Cheez-its, a new pen, tuna, tortillas…
Need to clean up and wash my socks. Then back to the trail.
8:49pm- made it to camp, took off sweaty clothes, had only the energy to drink cocoa+breakfast essentials for dinner. A dozen or so hikers here. Everyone in bed by 8:30. Talk of food, water resupply, maps, gear.
A different world.
Day 22, Mile 252
Trail Magic at Papa Smurf’s. Big Bear City.
Woke up and hiked 9 miles to Highway 18. Amazing how hard a half-day can feel when you’ve got the prospect of food/shower/laundry on the horizon.
A hand-written sign at Highway 18 gave us a number to call for a ride into town. Mountain Mama picked us up, drove us to the P.O. and then to the house. Her and Papa Smurf have been taking in hikers for a couple of years. They are amazing- cooking, housing, laundry, showers, rides for all of us, and there must be 20+ hikers camped in their yard for the night. They haven’t hiked the PCT, but they’ve opened their doors to all of us.
Day 25, Mile 318
Woke up to Hot Tub pouring coffee in my mug. We hiked fast, crossed 300 miles, and arrived at Deep Creek Hot Springs a little after nine. Hikers filed in as the hours passed and we stayed as long as possible, swimming, basking, swimming, eating, swimming, before hiking out to make 20 miles. I lagged behind as usual, but Hot Tub’s notes in the dirt kept me going.
Got into camp after dark. Could see the L.A. haze from the trail. Camped with Hot Tub, 30 Pack, Sneaks, Wocka Wocka, Giddy Up, Rub-A-Dub and Hitch.
Day 27, Mile 342
30 Pack’s birthday. Cajon Pass.
Hung out at a hotel all day, drinking and eating and swimming. 30 Pack kissed me in the bathroom. Not sure how I feel about that.
Hiked out with Tubs around seven, now we’re camped on top of a mountain. Hope to make it to Wrightwood tomorrow…would be my first 25-mile day.
Day 32, Mile 436
Been dodging POODLE DOG BUSH for the past few days. We didn’t get into camp till late yesterday, our progress slowed by trying to avoid all of the overgrowth since we couldn’t tell what was what. Such a relief to climb into sleeping bags.
Today was much better- Hot Tub and I walked and talked. 10-mile road-walk to avoid the Poodle Dog.
Day 39, Mile 535
The Mojave Desert.
Walking through miles of wind farms and the wind is relentless. Spent last night in a grove of Joshua trees but the wind still managed to blow the tent over in the middle of the night. Woke up with sand in my teeth.
Day 42, Mile 574
Walked until well after dark and watched the red blinking lights on the wind turbines and the forest fire grow. The Mojave is full of smoke, made for a beautiful sunset.
Reason not to night-hike: risk of blindly cowboy-camping on an ant pile. Spent the night pinching and slapping at those unfortunate enough to find their way into my bag. Woke up exhausted and my bag full of tiny ant-corpses.
Day 45, Mile 631
5 pm and finally starting to cool down.
Today was hard. Left camp at 7 am but the heat made for slow progress. I’ve been sitting under a tree getting sapped on since noon. A whole group of hikers at the water cache, waiting for the temperature to dip.
20 miles to Walker Pass and no water between here and tehre.
Day 48, Mile 683
Kennedy Meadows, the end of the desert, looming less than 20 miles away and people are getting antsy.
Walked 10 miles this morning to find trail-magic beers sitting in a creek.
Day 50, Mile 704
Spent a little over 24 hrs in Kennedy Meadows, wrote some letters and some postcards, drank lotsa beers, called the parents, got my bear canister.
Apprehensive again for the first time since kick-off…lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Day 51, Mile 710
I can’t remember the last time I walked through anything close to resembling a meadow. We’re in a new world of grass, flowers, butterflies. It feels like stepping into the Land of Oz.
Day 54, Mile 767
Camped near a creek at the base of Mt. Whitney. The forest this high up is so stark…the trees are huge…twisted and weathered into gnarly modern-art-like sculptures. Temperature allows us to sleep in and take breaks throughout the day. No longer relegated to siesta-schedule.
Been walking with 30 a lot.
Day 55, Mile 767
Summitted Mt. Whitney. Back at camp we were all there- Hot Tub, Sweet Tooth, Coincidence, 30 Pack- all in one place. It had been a while.
Day 56, Mile 781
Happy birthday Dad!
Up and over Forester Pass today and surrounded by mountains and creeks and endless beauty. The splendor of the Sierras is so contrasting to the hot monotony of the desert.
Peanut butter and hot cocoa for dinner. Too tired/lazy/uninterested to make anything else.
To buy in Bishop: hot sauce; emergen-C; hot cocoa; nail brush; new canister that doesn’t suck
To do in Bishop: call: M&D, Brother, Lily, Alisha, etc. ; eat a shit-ton of Mexican food; go to the bakery; go to the brew house; internet shit; charge everything; movie theater
Day 61, Mile 793
Woke up with frost on the sleeping bag- makes it hard to motivate.
Camped at Rae Lakes, found a rock shelf 20 feet above the surface where we could look into the water and see the Golden Trout darting through the green water. Full-moon and it lit up the surface. The water was bubbling with fish rising.
Since entering the Sierras the 15 mile-days have left me more exhausted than ever. The altitude, the extreme ups an downs. We’ve been going up and over a pass daily, hard but predictable. Only small patches of well-worn snow.
Day 67, Mile 873
Ran into two men hiking the JMT- said “You PCT-ers are crazy”
That’s what I’ve heard.
Aspen groves for the past few days, tall and spindly. Ferns and wildflowers cover the ground- Mule Ears, Indian Paintbrush, Larkspur, Lupine.
Day 69, Mile 900
Mammoth Lakes, CA.
It’s nice to be in town, to have everyone together. But at the same time I just want to mind my own. Surrounded by so many non-trail people. Back into a world of social norms/competition. I’m sitting at the coffee shop, making funny faces at a little girl across the room. At least the kids are still honest.
***July 2-9: Off-trail. Hitch-hiked with Hot Tub and Paul Bunyon some 240 miles from Tuolumne Meadows to Quincy, CA to go to the High Sierra Music Festival to Quincy, CA. Spent four days exhausting our bodies, dancing and staying up way past hiker-midnight. Hitched back to Tuolumne from there. Parted ways with Hot Tub who stayed in Tahoe to rejoin Sweettooth.
Day 81, Mile ???
UNDER MOSQUITO ATTACK. Humming in my ears all day long. Can’t stop for any amount of time before the swarm surrounds you.
Day 82, Mile 1010
Long lunch/skinny dip at Dorothy Lake with Paul Bunyon. A note from 30 Pack at the mile marker. It was good to hear from him.
A bear watched us as we ate dinner. Ran when we called to him.
Shopping List: wet wipes; NO MORE SARDINES.
Day 84, Mile ????
Outside is starting to feel like home. I feel comfortable, not just a random speck amidst a million trees.
Sage, indian paintbrush, lupine, mint, bee balm, asters and more today.
Paul Bunyon turned back this morning with a head cold. First day/night on trail completely on my own.
Day 87, Mile 1090
Break through: frequent eating/drinking breaks = much more enjoyable hiking. 12 miles by noon.
Ranger station at mile 1078 had a cooler of chicken-salad, fruit, cookies, chips, hard boiled eggs for thru-hikers. Sat and ate and chatted with day-hikers for a few hours. Felt very impressive.
Five miles out from South Lake Tahoe.
Day 95, Mile 1250
Middle Fork of the Feather River.
Walked another marathon today- that makes two in two days.
Passing beautiful Giant Sequoias- tall, thin, straight as arrows.
A rattlesnake stalked me at dinner this evening, got within a few feet, made me feel nervous and flattered.
Day 99, Mile 1320
Just shy of half-way.
Got my daily-dose of 25 miles today. Body feels good, but mind is more of a struggle as usual.
Time passes so strangely. One minute you’re in the moment and the next you’re looking back at it the same as if it had happened years ago.
Guadalupe Peak, our last stop before leaving Texas, is the highest point in Texas, 8,749 feet. The trek to the summit, 8.4 miles round-trip, is a beautiful one with awesome views and 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
Guadalupe Peak Trail
View of El Capitan’s backside from the summit of Guadalupe Peak. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX.
Guadalupe Peak Monument
Exploring the fossil garden. Guadalupe Peak, TX.
The Guadalupe Mountains hold the fossils of an ancient marine reef, “El Capitan Reef”, spanning 400 miles. Up close, the fossils are amazingly intact and abundant.
Limestone layers, Guadalupe Mountains.
We camped right near the trailhead at the Pine Springs campground for $8. On our next visit, we’ll camp (with a free backcountry permit) at the awesome site just shy of the summit. The perfect vantage for the sunrise and set.
All in all, a wonderful send-off from the vast and varied state of Texas.
WAY DOWN SOUTH, turn at the little town of Marathon Texas, onto a road stretching towards Mexico. Lined by the barbed wire fences and branded gates of ranches, the black strip of asphalt has one intention: Big Bend. The subtle contours of Texas Hill Country, dotted with yucca blooms and tangled mesquite, are deceptive. Follow the road through the park entrance and the land transforms; slopes and ridgelines grow into breathtaking mountains and cliffs, the expanse of blue sky above enhancing their majesty.
The desert is a place of such wonder. Appearing unlivable, yet supporting an abundance of life that is so unique and perfected. Not only existing but thriving, parched and scorched and wind-weathered.
We spent four nights in this spectacular place and left with scraped-up legs, sun-reddened faces and the regret of leaving so soon.
Over a hundred million years ago it was all under water, a sea. Two different seas, actually, that came and went, leaving layers of limestone and fossils. These layers were exposed by the same tectonic disruptions that formed my beloved Rockies. The Mariscol Mountains in the south of Big Bend are the southernmost extension of the Rocky Mountain Range.
The park’s high and low points have a difference of nearly 6,000 feet, reaching 7,825 ft. at the summit of Emory Peak, and dropping to 1,850 ft. at the Rio Grande Village. The Chisos Mountains- rugged, reddish lava towers- are grouped in the park’s center. Emory Peak stands the tallest of these formations, severe slopes uniting at a jagged summit. Casa Grande, at 7,325 feet, acts as a formidable sentry, casting her shadow across the winding road leading to the Chisos Basin.
Big Bend’s disparate elevation and dynamic geological history fosters a variety of ecosystems and tremendous diversity amongst the resident flora and fauna. The park is a sanctuary for thousands of species, many of which are endemic and/or endangered. Plants range from Juniper and Oak trees to more than sixty species of cacti, from delicate wildflowers to viciously-spiked-and-barbed everything else. The animals include some 450 species of birds, of which we saw only a handful. Though cougars, bears and other creatures inhabit the park, we saw only jackrabbits, sprinting and springing across the gravely hills, and heard the wailings of coyotes in the early morning hours.
Claret Cup Cactus
Prickly Pear Cactus
Prickly Pear Cactus, buds
Prickly Pear Cactus, blooms
Purple Prickly Pear Cactus
Dr. Suess plant
Century Plant, blooms once in its life time
Funnel Web Spider
We find beauty within every inch of the natural landscape. Patterns, spiraled, spotted, layered; textures, smooth, curved, rugged. They catch the eye in a way modern-day clean-cuts and white-washings cannot; they captivate the mind erasing the droning, buzzing, beeping world of walls in which we eat, sleep and work.
In nature, we awaken and play.
WHERE WE WALKED
Buro Mesa Pouroff. 1 mile, round-trip. A fairly level path, across the sand, through the cacti, to a break in another one of Big Bend’s giant rock walls. Step down into the river bed and follow it back, the towering walls narrowing till they meet. We hear there can be water, but it’s bone dry. It’s left it’s mark over the years, a giant chute formed where the rock walls meet.
Emory Peak overnighter. Climb from Chisos Trailhead. After 4 miles, reach the saddle and spur trail to Emory Peak. The 1.5 miles to the summit ends in a technical rock-scramble to the top.
From Emory Peak, we coast down Boot Canyon to camp. It’s cool and lush and the setting sun illuminates the cliffs around us. Our camp is quiet and protected amids Oak, Juniper and Pinon Pines. Big Bend’s backcountry camps are complete with bear boxes and composting toilets.
The park service warns that there are no reliable water sources in the backcountry of Big Bend. Climbing out of Boot Canyon to the South Rim, Boot Creek is dry, a stream-bed of lava rock, polished and sculpted from past flows.
Morning view of the Sierra Quemada Wilderness, South Rim of the Chisos Mountain Range. The land, shaped by volcanic activity some 40 million years ago, was one of the last strongholds of the Apache tribe. The Chisos Mountains are thought to have inherited their name from the Apache word “chishe” meaning “people of the forest.” A windy day in Big Bend, the dusty haze lasts into the evening.
Return to Chisos Basin on the Laguna Meadow Trail, downhill all the way home. Makes for 16 miles round trip, a nice breaking-in for our legs and feet.
We can see Boquillas Del Carmen, a village across the border, i.e. across the Rio Grande. Stashes of hand-made walking-sticks and copper-wire figurines are tucked along trails and overlooks. The cardboard signs request money to bus the children of Boquillas to school. Buying such “contraband” is explicitely stated as illegal by the park service and federal government. Tourists can visit Boquillas through Big Bend with a passport.
Boquillas Canyon, accesible via an easy trail along the Rio Grande floodplain.
The hot springs are located in the Southeastern corner of the park. The ruins of an old hotel nearby, the rudimentary foundation built around the spring is dated 1912. Respite for weary bodies.
The short walk to the springs threads its way between the tall grasses bordering the Rio Grande and limestone walls where you can see ancient wall art mixed with modern vandalism. Art as defacement, defacement as art.
The setting moon illuminated by the rising sun. Morning at K-Bar 2, one of many primitive car camping sites. A $10 backcountry permit allows you as many nights at primitive and backcountry sites as desired.
Off-roading in the name of geology.
Walking through an old burn area, this nasty pierced through the sole of my shoe up on into my foot. Deep breaths.
Under two miles, the trail to the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook was one of the most serene and spectacular moments in the park. 1.8 miles round trip. Through tall grass to the river and the mouth of the canyon. Then up a few paved switchbacks with cacti jutting across the trail and fossilized seashells peeping out of the rock walls. A gradual descent on a sandy path to the river bank where you can sit and hear the river, watch the big birds circle above, see the sun shine on the rocks. The sediment in the water turns the river a murky, sea-foam green and the rocks of the canyon are smooth, as if polished.
Interpretive trail. Took the Lost Mine Trail a mile up to the saddle and turned onto a faint trail leading to Casa Grande.
The furious calm of the wild, so many sprouting, growing, blooming, dying, decaying things. Effortless transitions between states of being, occurring and intermingling. In every death there is life.
This entry is in memory of my late Aunt Deb. A woman unafraid to be smart, to be beautiful, to stand tall.
We made it! From Montana to the Gulf of Mexico, how sweet it is! Here is a jumbled look at the last few weeks as we’ve roamed the giant state of Texas. We’ve been so lucky to see all these beautiful things, even more so to visit so many good friends along the way. It seems that everywhere we’ve been, we are met with open arms.
Now, onward to Big Bend National Park! Yeeehaw!
View from the pier
Big dead fish
Mili out to sea
Little sea birdies, all in a line.
Beautiful Cousin Michelle and darling son Jesse
Iced over, Katy TX. We’ve dragged the cold from MT to TX. Sorry folks!
We’ve reached the Gulf of Mexico! South Padre Island, TX
Down Town San Antonio, TX
Courthouse, San Antonio
The Esquire. Dern Hipsters…
….but they make a dern good Old Fashioned
Alone in a sea of buildings.
Day hike, Hill Country State Natural Area, TX
30 Pack, Rampage and Moose. Hill Country State Natural Area, TX.