Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Mosquito Attack

I lost the trail here at Dicks Pass, but I knew it headed
down to the lake below. I just had to get down there.
July 11: Mosquitoes were becoming an increasingly annoying problem on the trail. Especially in the mornings and evenings. So I woke up this morning with buzzing in my ears, and drew myself deeper into my sleeping bag. Maybe I could wait the little buggers out.

But it didn't work. As the morning started to gain momentum and heated up, I started roasting in my bag. I heard the other hikers breaking down camp and getting ready to go, but I pulled the hood of my bag over my head to keep the mosquitoes at bay. First I started feeling a little warm. Then I started sweating. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and threw off the sleeping bag.

I was alone. Little Engine, Plain Slice, Motor, Shroomer, Neon, and Fully Loaded had already left. I applied a liberal dose of DEET to myself, ate breakfast (quickly), packed up and started hiking. As long as I walked, the mosquitoes didn't bother me. I just needed to keep moving until they went back to sleep.

Another creek crossing without a bridge... *sigh*
The trail passed over Dicks Pass--the highest point for the day and still holding onto a significant chunk of snow causing me to lose the trail for the first time in several days. Nothing serious, though. Basically heading downward anywhere towards the large lake at the bottom would eventually get me back to the PCT.

I caught up with GQ several times throughout the day, pass him, then he'd return the favor a couple of hours later. I first met GQ back on Cinco de Mayo, then didn't see him for nearly a thousand miles until the last few days where we seemed to pass each other every few hours. He's from Scotland, and--I soon learned--his days on the trail were numbered. He decided to hike the PCT at the last minute and was only able to get a 90-day visa, so only had another two weeks or so before he'd be forced to leave the country. It seemed a little sad to me, but he was optimistic that he'd go home, do a little work, and save enough money to return and finish the trail next year. This year, however, he only planned to hike to the halfway point of the trail, Chester, another 200 miles up the trail.

My biggest surprise today was bumping into Wyoming. I'd heard rumors that she quit the trail--the snow was just too much--but I found her late in the day hiking southbound. She hadn't quit the trail at all. No, she jumped ahead to Ashland and started hiking southbound in the hopes of avoiding the worst of the Sierra snowpack. She gave me the welcome news that the snow still ahead (for me, at least) wasn't a big deal. I gave her the unwelcome news that the snow in the High Sierras was bloody awful, but perhaps much of it will have melted by the time she gets to the worst of it.

Despite her jump ahead to Ashland, Wyoming hadn't managed to avoid the snow completely. Apparently a late-season snowstorm hit the area and cool temperatures caused the snow to stick around considerably longer than normal forcing her to hike through sections that sounded as bad as the High Sierras. And, it would seem, there was an enormous amount of fallen trees blocking the trail somewhere up the trail--an infuriating section that another southbounder said he hoped we'd hit because it would be unfair for us not to have to deal with it like he did. (In reply, I wished him all the worst of the snows that the High Sierras could throw at him--it wouldn't be fair for him to escape the horrors us northbounders had to deal with.)

I passed four people today thru-hiking the trail, heading southbound after skipping up to Ashland, but Wyoming was the only one of the them I had met before. I rather enjoyed meeting the southbounders, though, since they had a lot of good advice and knowledge about what to expect up ahead on the trail. I didn't know how long it would last, but I'd take it when I could!

At one point, the trail came up onto a road, and my maps showed the trail following the dirt road for 0.4 miles before turning off again to the north, but when I reached the road, I noticed a small trail on the other side of it that looked suspiciously like a continuation of the PCT. Should I follow the road like my map suggests, or follow this trail on the other side that my maps don't show at all? Hmm....

The trail on the other side of the road curved sharply to the left, as if to follow along the length of the road, and I decided to stick to the trail, but to keep the road in sight--at least for a half-mile or so when the trail was supposed to veer off to the north again.

It was a good decision. It was the right decision. My maps were wrong. Occasionally, they had errors. Sometimes, when you reach a point on the trail and it doesn't "feel" right to follow the map, there's a good reason for it. I decided to deviate from the maps, but kept a very close eye on the terrain and my direction through it for a couple of miles to make sure this unknown trail I followed was taking me in the correct direction.

Motor, Little Engine, Plain Slice, and such. They're
actually too small in this photos for me to figure
out who's who, but I took this photo while hiking with
that group. =)
As more and more hikers discovered that there are errors on the map, the guy who publishes them--Erik the Black--is affectionately referred to as Eric the Liar. Seems a little unfair to me. I'd like to see those guys do any better, and they've still been good enough to get me over a thousand miles in many areas where I lost the trail completely. It may not be perfect, but it'll do. =)

At Barker Pass, late in the afternoon, I caught up with Little Engine, Plain Slice, Shroomer, Motor, Neon, and Fully Loaded and started hiking with them for the next hour or so. Most of them had taken the wrong turn on the road, blindly following the maps, and they had some concerns about where the road was taking them. Would it intersect with the trail further up? They naturally didn't want to backtrack of it wasn't necessary, but they also didn't want to keep going forward on the road if it was going to lead them in the completely wrong direction either. It was probably a bit longer than following the official trail, but the road did eventually intersect the trail at Barker Pass where I caught up with them. In fact, had they not taken that wrong turn, I'm not sure I would have caught up with them again.

Out of Barker Pass, the trail climbed up a ridgeline, finally coming out at a fantastic view over Lake Tahoe, and I stopped. I dropped my pack and decided to camp right there. There was no water nearby, which I hoped meant that the mosquitoes weren't as thick there. It was high up on a ridge with a pretty decent breeze, which I also hoped would discourage those blood suckers. And the view was awesome! So I set up camp, right there, along the ridge.

The others continued on, not ready to stop. Or at least not ready to stop at a location that clearly was not an official campsite. There wasn't even room for that many people there anyhow, and they all wanted to camp together, so I set up camp by myself, quite pleased with scoring what I felt might be the best campsite so far on the trail.

I drop my pack and decide, "Yes! I shall camp here!"
The good news just coming, though. Given the unobstructed views of Lake Tahoe, I thought maybe my Peek device could get a cell phone signal (which it did), and I could check my e-mail (which I did). My cell phone didn't work, but I was connected to the outside world. Life was good. I posted to my Facebook account bragging about watching the sunset while camped out with a glorious view of Lake Tahoe--suckers! =)

While cooking dinner, a section hiker going southbound stopped briefly to chat with me, asking all sorts of questions about my hike and my gear. He was thinking about thru-hiking the PCT next year, and I warned him not to. It was hard. It was miserable. It's not worth it! Fortunately, I think I talked him out of it. He would, I'm sure, thank me later for my advice. ;o)

I'm just kidding about talking him out of hiking the trail next year. But I did stress the difficulty involved. It's a huge commitment, but look at my campsite! "This," I told him, waving towards Lake Tahoe, "makes it all worth it."

He continued on, then I left was to myself for the rest of the evening, free from the mosquitoes that had been plaguing me for days. Life was good....


amanda said...

Melaleuca oil is fantastic mosquito repellant (natural much safer than deet)

Anonymous said...

I've heard dryer sheets also work.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Your perch above Lake Tahoe sounds incredible, even more so if you escaped the wrath of the mosquitoes, too.

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers