Easy 30 mile days in the desert.

Here is the secret to getting big easy miles when hiking the desert section of the Pacific Crest Trail( PCT).   It’s amazing as you can get a 30 mile day in and still spend most of the day laying in the shade.    Your pack will be light because after about 6:30 at night you don’t need much water.   Your feet will feel great because they get a 5-6 hour rest in the middle of the day.

  • Start hiking at 4-5am  and hike until about 10-11am taking breaks as needed.   Get your first 15 miles in.
  • Find some shade and sleep.  Be sure to sleep with your feet elevated.
  • Get hiking by 4:00-5pm walk until 10-11pm.    Get your next 15 miles in and then call it a night.
  • Repeat.

It you only want to do 20 mile days, well then, it will be really easy.

If you hike when it’s hot, you are going to need a ton of water and the trail will be brutal.    If you hike when it is cool, it will be easy and you won’t need to carry much water.

Related posts: Backpacking lights

How to keep your umbrella from blowing away while you take your siesta.

Escape from the rat king

“The Herd” should be at least 400 miles along by the time I hit the trail. Unless they come back to hike a section that they skipped because it was icy or on fire, I shouldn’t have to deal with them for a month, maybe more.'Don't worry, a trail angel will help us

The Herd is a teeming rat king of 50-75 hikers that hike within a day or two of each other. Last year, I would meet people, who were hiking in the opposite direction, that would tell me about them. They would shake their heads and laugh and say they weren’t like hikers. There was one report that they had drank up an entire town’s beer supply.

For a long time, I would just hear about them; I was meeting few hikers. The reports started getting closer and closer to me. Then, one early morning, as I was walking on the aqua-duct, all these hikers started rising off the desert floor and joining me. It was like something out of “Night of the Living Dead.” I knew if I couldn’t get out of that mire of hikers my trail would be done. Through fear spawned tenacity and great effort, I quickly escaped.

The scariest place on the Pacific Crest Trail(PCT)

Place just north of Packwood Glacier in the Goat Rock Wilderness.

Up in Washington in the Goat Rocks Wilderness is where I think the scariest place on the PCT is; it’s this huge steep slide area. When I first went across it in September of 2001, there wasn’t much snow and it was late in the day so what snow there was, was soft. It looks like the whole mountain above you is just about ready to come falling down on you. I would look up and see rocks starting to fall. After I crossed it, I thought, “This is totally unsafe, there is no way this is the PCT. Somewhere I must of taken a wrong turn.” So back across the huge slide area, back across Packwood Glacier, and back down the trail trying to find where I went wrong. After I figured out that the slide area was the PCT, I went back across it again.

The next time I crossed it, in August of 2006, I got there first thing in the morning and there were 3 solid ice shoots to cross on the big slide area. I walked across the first one fine, reminding myself of Jardine’s wisdom, ” You don’t fall until your mind falls.” But after taking a few steps, out into the second ice shoot, my legs started shaking. I thought, “This is bad.” Carefully stepping backwards a few steps, I made it off the ice shoot; I crossed the one that I had just crossed and walked back to Packwood Glacier.

There is another trail that goes up and over the top of this area. It’s about a 500-to-600 foot elevation gain but the trail is good going up. Once on top you are walking a 2 foot wide crest that is very dramatic. I thought, “This is the way to go. This is a much grander route.” But coming back down it on the other side, the trail just disappeared and was nothing but these little round marbles of rocks to slid down on. After getting back down to the PCT, I felt like I needed a drink.

The next time I crossed it, in August of 2007, I knew to wait until the sun had soften the snow and since it was the section of trail my son had joined me on it was logistically easy to have him bring the ice ax and take it back with him when we were done. There was only one snow shoot to cross last year. I carried the ice ax and made good steps for my son to follow in. You should probably always kick steps as if someone you care about is following you.

This year has been a big year for snow in Southern Washington, I may carry my ice ax through here again. I will also make sure I’m not crossing it first thing in the morning.

The Goat Rock Wilderness in Washington in August is the most beautiful place on PCT. Often you walk on the crest and the crest is just three feet wide. There are wild flowers and green mountainsides. I saw at least 60 mountain goats last year through there. It will make you happy. If you can only hike one section of the PCT, that would be the one I would recommend. Don’t go if it’s raining.

Logistics: My son and I drove his car up to White Pass Cracker Barrel where they let us park it for the week for free. Then we drove back to Portland in another car and his girlfriend drove us to the trail head by Stabler’s Store–about 35 trail miles north of Cascade Locks. Then we hiked together to White Pass.

When we got to White Pass, I said that I was done hiking and I wanted to go home to Portland with him. He said, “Fine. Why don’t you go in the store and pick us up some Cokes for the road.” I went in to get us some Cokes and he drove off. I kept hiking to Canada. Thanks, James.

I have the whole PCT in my GPS

The whole PCT!This is my GPS; it’s the Garmin 60c. It weighs 6.7 ounces(190 grams) with lithium batteries. I bought it in 2004 for hiking the Continental Divide Trail. Since I have it, I thought it might be fun to bring it on the Pacific Crest Trail(PCT) with me.

I was able to get all the topos for the entire trail plus quite a bit of the area around the trail on it. To figure out what maps I needed, I marked all the towns along the way on the program “mapsource” and than just clicked on all the maps that they were in and the ones that connected them.

At first I was just kicking around the idea and seeing if all the topos would fit but then I started thinking that it might be useful and fun to bring it along.

Last year as I was hiking through the Sierras, I thought, “You know, if a bunch of new snow fell, I would have a really hard time navigating through here.” I don’t want to be a person who follows footprints.

Another area where it might come in handy, is if there is a fire, I would be able to see the ways around it. The guide book maps are great when you are on the trail but if you, say, asked me where I was in relation to something outside of the guide book maps, I probably couldn’t tell you. It’s nice to be able to get a big picture of things.

It could also give me more freedom and confidence to try different routes. Often I just stick to the PCT because it’s easy to follow and my maps cut off other routes.

I’ll just see how it goes. If I decide that it’s not useful, I can put it in my resupply/bounce box and ship it along.

Note: The DVD with all the topos on it is called: Garmin MapSource Topo U.S. 2008

Update: I have switched to the Garmin 60CSx

Related Posts:
My GPS
Keeping your GPS screen from getting scratched.

How to put thousands of waypoints on your GPS

My big independent resupply box

My resupply box.This is my resupply box. It took me a trip into town and all day with a tape measurer to find it. My ice ax just fits in it. Even if I had Photoshop, I don’t think I would put a big sunburst coming off of it, but I guess it will do. In the picture it looks pretty good. After I took the picture, I wrapped more cardboard around it so the ice ax won’t punch a hole in it. I used tape and wood glue. Now it looks like a big mess that is going to be caught up in the automated machine at the post office.

I have made big signs with my name and brightly colored dots on them to decorate each side. I did that so that at the post office I can say, “It’s the big box with my name and big colored dots on it” and they can quickly find it.

Once I used a plastic bin to mail my maps and stuff I needed for a trail. I think the post office thought it looked suspicious because it disappeared and I didn’t get it until my trip was done.

My dream box is a plastic or waxed corrugated box with a lid that fits all the way over it so that it’s doubled. I would make it a couple inches too big so that my ice ax could be seated in foam to keep it from gouging my box. When I wasn’t off hiking, the box could be used to store my gear in.

Maybe that is too big of a dream for this year but I did find a a place on the internet called custommadeboxes.com that makes boxes like this. I wrote away for an estimate.

Update: custommadeboxes.com got back to me with a quote. The price for 1 of a double cover box in a coroplast material with the dimensions 26 x 12 x 14 is $37.58 plus shipping. That sounds like a nice box but I think I will use the box I have for this year and continue to think about my options for my permanent  resupply/gear box.


My beautiful resupply plan.

My resupply strategy for my upcoming PCT(Pacific Crest Trail) hike is stellar. I won’t need anyone to mail me anything, or anyone to mail things home to, there will be only 3 post office stops to make, and everything is lined out so there will be no headaches in town. Since this beautiful system includes going to 3 stops that I have never made before and includes the sketchy Echo Lake post office, I should probably wait to post it till after it has been tested.

It’s pretty much an organized version of last years resupply plan: throw everything into one big box and keep mailing it on.

Now I have to find a big box.

Etiquette tip

When you set out hiking a long trail and along the way, in a hot exposed waterless stretch, someone gives you water and a place to sleep out of the wind and when next morning you are rattling around in their kitchen fixing yourself a cup of tea and they tell you that you need to leave because something has come up, you should cheerfully thank them for their hospitality, leave a donation and hike on. Staying on to do your laundry, stiffing the donation box, angrily huffing off, and taking a picture of you flipping off your host’s house is considered very bad form.

Yeah, I’m reading trail journals, again. Maybe, I understand the former resident a little better.


Kicking around logistical ideas

Trying to figure out a mailing schedule. I don’t need mail drops for food but I have a load of supplements and the guide books and data is a lot to carry plus there is the whole ice ax and bear canister thing.

Last year I just threw everything into a big box and kept mailing it along every 500 miles. It worked, but post office hours sometimes dictated my hike.

My sister said she would be willing to mail out some stuff for me. I don’t like saddling someone with sending my stuff. I’m off having a great summer and I don’t think it’s right to be adding to others burdens just because it’s easier for me, so I’m not sure I will take her up on the offer.

Another thing I have to look at is avoiding crowds. Crowds make me tired, irritated, and sad. In order to avoid them I have to predict where most of the hikers will be and make sure I’m not there; that further dwindles down my choices for receiving and sending on my box.

I keep thinking there is a perfect way to do it… but there might not be.

Promises to my feet

In 2001 when I first hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, almost immediately, I had terrible pain in the balls of my feet.

By 78 miles I had already taken the bus to a nearby town to buy new shoes. The next section was the San Felipe Hills which got a lot of ink as being torturously hot and without water. I started hiking it at 5pm when the bus dropped me back at the trail. The new shoes didn’t help, maybe even made things worse. I hiked until 10pm and had to stop for the night, not because I was tired but because of my feet. I lay down, just off the trail, and the pain started shooting through my feet and would make my whole body shudder. I was worried that my feet wouldn’t get me out of The Hills before the sun got high in the sky. I said, “Please feet, get me out of here and I will take two days off and give you anything you want” Pretty much the whole trail went like that— bargaining with my feet.

Last year they did pretty well, as long as I carried two pairs of shoes, kept the callouses down, grease them up with Carmex, Super-Glued the cracks together, massaged them, and kept them elevated while on breaks and while sleeping. I had some problems but a good improvement.

This year, for the past few months, I have had a new foot problem. At first I thought something was broken . Now, from reading stuff on the Internet, I think a hammer toe is the problem. I have been taping it down, splinting it to an adjacent toe with a rubber band and wrapping in an ace bandage. I think it’s getting better, but today I purchased a gel hammer toe straightener, hopping that I might experience a quicker recovery. If it doesn’t work I might seek out a foot doctor.

Already the bargaining has begun. Hiking with my feet is like hiking with a whining 5 year old.

.Whinny feet

Califorina fire permit

If you want to use a stove or have a fire in California you need a permit. It looks like in some areas, alcohol stoves, wood burning stoves, and fires are prohibited even if you have a permit. Here is a link to the permit. You just print it out; it’s already signed.

I don’t need one, because I won’t be bringing my stove. I carried my stove for awhile last year, but couldn’t find any food that was so good that it was worth carrying a stove plus fuel and a pot for, so I sent it all home. Having a stove also eats up a lot of time. I use to lay in my bag until I had drank 3 hot beverages in the mornings; last year I got earlier starts–and early starts are key if I want to get some good mileage in. There were a few times that I missed having a hot beverage.

Sleeping break in a “No Camping” zone.

In Northern California on the Pacific Crest Trail, there is a long hot exposed waterless stretch–Hat Creek Rim. In 2001, the guy at the store in Old Station knew how many hikers had come through and kept a water cache stocked with water mid-way through it. He would guarantee that there would be water for you at the cache, so even though water caches are usually of little use to me–because you can’t depend on them–and because they attract annoying needy people who do depend on them, I found that one useful.

The store owner either had moved on or wasn’t there to guarantee that there was any water in the cache last year, but there is a trail angel in Old Station. I didn’t go there because I just wanted to get my business taken care of and get back out on the trail. I met another hiker who was staying with the trail angel. He said that the trail angel asks that you not take much water from the cache.

“How much is ‘not much’?? I asked.

“I don’t know? he replied.

I decided that “not much? probably meant 1 liter, so, I brought plenty of water–well, enough to get by.

Later, I met up with that other hiker. Apparently he took as much water as he wanted from the cache and he got someone to cache him even more water further up the trail. I suspect I was duped–that he was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough water for him so he told me to not take too much. It’s one of the many things I don’t like about water caches: the sense of scarcity they breed.  About nine o’clock, I passed him camped on a nice savanna but I kept hiking because I was thirsty and wanted to make the water source before I camped.

When I finally reached the water source there wasn’t anywhere to camp, so, I hiked on. Then I came to a house; I hiked on further. Next, I came to a big power plant.

So, it’s like 11 o’clock at night and I have my 1 watt led shining all over this power plant trying to find the way. Something about power plants has always scared me. Power plants in the middle of the night and the night watch men who guard them, very scary stuff. I imagined there was a serial murdering, night watchman around or at least one of Bush’s minions aggressively protecting the power plant, but I made it through without meeting up with either.

I had to go past a lot of man made stuff. I was standing at an intersection, looking at my guidebook trying to decide which way to go when I skunk came from under a chain link fence and walked towards me. I shone my light on it, but it kept coming. Then it turned around and lifted its tail at me. I quickly chose a path and moved on.

I was still in the “No Camping? zone when I came to a small lake. I was tired. I knew from when I hiked before that the lake would have fisherman around it come morning. I made camp, though. It was forest and the forest floor is often very buggy so I put up my tent.

Five the next morning, I was still tired but I knew I needed to get out of there. I packed up, moved 100 yards up the trail, laid out my pad, got into my sleeping bag and thought, “There, I’m not camping anymore. I’m just taking a break.?

Show down on the PCT(Pacific Crest Trail)

If you ever hike around White Pass in the North Cascades, you know the horses are bad there. It takes all of my powers to ignore them, but that’s not good enough for the horse people. They shout out orders for me to talk to their horses and get out of the way. They take away the sweet smells of lupine and conifers and make the world smell like horse shit and piss. I hate them.

One year, another hiker and I were walking down a narrow section of trail with a cliff on one side and a hillside on the other, when we came to two women riding horses.

The women were all dressed up in English riding clothes—the little hat, goofy pants, whip–the whole package.

We step off of the trail to let them pass, but one of the equestrians shouts out, “Trail regulations require you to move to the low side of the trail.”

I said, “I don’t go to low side of the trail because it’s a cliff and if your horse spooks it will knock me off the cliff.”

She kept repeating, “Trail regulations require you to move to the low side of the trail.”

The other hiker said, “So what are you going to do, arrest us? Look, we will climb up the side of the hill and sit down. Then you can pass.”

The equestrian said, “No, because if they even see a leaf rattle they will spook.?

Irritated, I said, “If your horses are that easily spooked, you have no business bringing them out on the trail.”

The other hiker and I, climbed up the side of the hill, sat down, and started talking to each other. The equestrians stood their ground and blocked the trail.

After about 10 minutes, the women dismount their horses and walk them past us. While they walked them past us one of the woman pleaded, “Please, say something!” The other hiker said something but I wouldn’t say anything to them.

My mountain lion story.

On the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), this year, somewhere around the California/Oregon border I saw a mountain lion. It was just off the trail and had its back to me. It was looking in the base of a tree, probably hunting rodent and didn’t hear me coming. Startled, the first thing I could think to say was, “Whoot! Whoot! Whoot!.” It turned around and stared at me with the most serious looking face I have ever seen. Because I had my MP3 player in my hand, I couldn’t clap so I made motions like I was clapping and said, “Clap! Clap! Clap!” and it trotted off.

An hour up the trail I met a southbound hiker, a guy named Starman who had hiked the PCT in 2001 and was now doing a section hike. I told him about the mountain lion up ahead. He said, “About an hour up the trail? No! That was where I was stalked by a mountain lion at night in 2001.” He said he couldn’t see it then, but he could feel it stalking him and he took a picture of its eyes glowing at him.

Note: I would have stolen a picture of a mountain lion to post with this, but I couldn’t find one that captured the dead serious look on that cat’s face.

The secret to my immaculate appearance, albeit fleeting.

On this summer’s PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) hike, nobody ever accused me of being too clean to be a thru-hiker. Instead, the comment I most often garnered was, “Wow, you look like you’ve been out there for awhile.  The longest I went without washing my clothes was 450 miles. That’s a record for me.

Even after washing, my clothes still looked dirty. I found that if I washed them twice, they looked a lot better after the second wash.