Friday, August 9, 2013

Back on the PCT!

Big Meadow
When I woke in the morning, Amanda was already gone. Off to the airport in Reno in the dead of night.

I ate breakfast, brushed my teeth and packed up camp like usual. I had the use of a picnic table to sit at, which was a nice convenience that I usually didn't have available on my backcountry adventures. I also disposed of what little trash I had in the bear-proof trash cans before I hefted on my pack and started walking.

It would be my earliest start yet, on the trail and walking at 6:30 in the morning. I had to hike a half-mile back to the Tahoe Rim Trail, and although it was all uphill, it didn't bother me as much as when I had to hike down into the campground. Amanda wasn't around to drive me to the trailhead, after all. It was also morning, cool, and my feet were freshly rested.

But I needed a very early start because I looked at my Desolation Wilderness permit late the night before and realized, holy cow!--the permit was only good for tonight. For some reason, I thought I had asked Amanda to get the permit for the next night. Nope, it was for tonight. Which, by my calculations, meant I needed to hike over 20 miles (20 miles!!!) to reach the Desolation Wilderness.

Technically, if I was short, that wasn't a big deal. It was okay for me to camp pretty much anywhere outside of the Desolation Wilderness without a permit. The problem with that, however, was that the next day, I'd have a tough time making it completely through the Desolation Wilderness without camping. From end to end, it's about 20 miles. I could hike completely through the Desolation Wilderness and legally set up camp on the other side, but that would be over 20 miles. The next water source was even further away, though--I might have to do over 25 miles to keep my campsites legal.

Round Lake
So I decided that my best option was just to hike my brains out and try to reach the Desolation Wilderness today, which would still require over 20 miles of hiking. I've hiked 20+ miles many times in the past, but it's usually been weeks and months into a thru-hike when I'm at my peak strength. This was only day 4 on this hike. I was at peak anything. I wasn't sure I could even do 20 miles for the day, but I was going to give it my best shot.....

Within an hour, bugs started coming out thick. The non-biting kind didn't bother me so much, but the mosquitoes.... I don't like mosquitoes. Nobody likes mosquitoes. And they were far worse than anything else I had experienced thus far on the TRT. I've suffered much worse on other trails and hikes, but this was definitely the worst I had seen it so far on the TRT. I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of bugs up until this point. Now that I was getting to the "wet" side of the Tahoe Rim Trail, though, it looked like I'd have to consider the bug issue a lot more closely while setting up camp.

About five miles into the day's hiking, the trail intersected with the Pacific Crest Trail. I looked south on the trail, knowing quite well I could follow it about a thousand miles to the Mexican border. I've hiked that path before. And I looked north on it too, knowing it traveled all the way to the Canadian border. I've done that side of it too. Mexico to Canada. It's still a staggering concept in my head, even though I've actually done it.

Meiss Meadow
But that was another trip. For now, I'd only travel northward on the PCT for about 50 miles where it overlapped with the TRT. I'd probably even see some thru-hikers along the way as well. This was the same time of year when I passed through on my PCT hike, so there should definitely be thru-hikers on the PCT somewhere nearby.

The trail continued onward. It's southern direction now a definite northern direction around the west side of Lake Tahoe. The trail descends some steep slopes towards Echo Summit, which I distinctly remembered having quite a few large patches of snow during my PCT thru-hike. There was no snow now. Not a spec. I could even remember postholing through a patch of snow which banged a shin, and I wondered where exactly that happened. I heard it was a low snow year this year, but I still couldn't get over the sense that the trail felt wrong without patches of snow here. It was the same time of year as before. Just a lot less snow.

I shouldn't be complaining, though. I hated that snow. I loathed that snow from the PCT. But it seemed unfair that thru-hikers of 2013 weren't going through it. I had to go through it, so they should too! =)

I still passed no hikers on the trail, not until I reached Echo Lake and the Echo Lake Chalet. I stopped at the store where I purchased ice cream and a Coke and mailed a bunch of postcards.

And this was also where I met my first two PCT thru-hikers: Coyote and Roadkill. They looked like thru-hikers. Cleaned-up thru-hikers, as if they just got back on the trail from a visit to town, but they still had that thru-hiker swagger.

Back on the Pacific Crest Trail!
I didn't talk with them long, but did learn that they had indeed come out from two days in South Lake Tahoe. They also told me that there was practically no snow anywhere on the PCT for them.

"Fuller Ridge?" I asked.

"It snows on Fuller Ridge?" they replied.

Oh, yes, it snows there..... They said that even the highest passes of the PCT, there was never anything more than just patches of snow on the trail. I told them about postholing for ten miles over Muir Pass during my thru-hike.

"Yeah, we didn't have any of that."

I was jealous. Why didn't I thru-hike the PCT in 2013? *sigh*

And none of the river crossings were very bad, they told me. Apparently, a low snow year also means low water levels.

"So you didn't cross a single river that was waist-deep, fast-moving water?"


Curse them. Curse them both!

"You might have to come back and re-do the PCT then. You're missing out!"

I continued on the TRT, working my way towards the Desolation Wilderness now just a couple of miles more away. Coyote and Roadkill stayed behind, eating ice cream cones.

This section of trail had enormous quantities of people on it. Day hikers, weekend backpackers and thru-hikers. Most of them I passed with nothing more than a wave or a "hi." A few asked me about my "nose thing," wanting one for themselves.

Then a solo hiker caught up with me who, by the looks of him, I pegged as a PCT thru-hiker. He was.

"I'm Broken Toe."

"Let me guess.... you broke your toe while hiking, but kept on hiking anyhow?"

Lunch break!
Which was exactly what happened, except that was when he thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail earlier. Now that's dedication for you.

He told me he started the trail on June 1st, which--holy crap! He's moving fast! (Later, another thru-hiker would tell me he actually started in Idyllwild, nearly 200 miles into the trail. Which is still a pretty fast pace, but not nearly as impressive as starting from the Mexican border on June 1st would have been.)

He also told me that next year, he intended to set a new PCT speed record. The last I heard, the current speed record for thru-hiking the PCT is about 66 days, set by Scott Williamson, which means averaging more than 40 miles per day! Scott was the first person to yo-yo the PCT (hiking from Mexico to Canada then back to Mexico in a single season), and seems to regularly break his own speed records on the PCT. He's a hiking legend in the thru-hiker community.

"You plan to beat Scott Williamson?" I asked.

"There are actually three of us that are going to try to beat him next year."

I don't know Broken Toe well enough to judge his chances of success, but it's an ambitious goal. It'll certainly be interesting to find out if he can succeed or not. He also told me that he heard that Scott is on the PCT this year, hiking southbound, in an attempt to beat his current record.

"Let me get a photo of you," I told him. Just in case Broken Toe because the new hiking legend--the guy who out-hiked Scott Williamson--I wanted proof that I had seen him on the trail. =) But I gotta admit, I'm kind of hoping he fails. I like Scott. I haven't met him before, but I did once watch a presentation he gave in Seattle and have seen him in countless interviews and videos and there's a story about him in Backpacker magazine that I found inspiring, and I just like the guy. Even if I never actually met him. I want Scott to win. =)

(Sidenote: After I hiked this section and wrote this, I found this article about a thru-hike this year who apparently is on the verge of beating Scott's record.Which I guess will make setting a new record that much harder for Broken Toe next year!)

But I'm willing to hedge my bets too.... ;o)

I finally reached the boundaries of the Desolation Wilderness--an incredibly beautiful place with an abundance of lakes and granite. Glaciers carved out this granite wonderland eons ago. And I had finally reached my goal for the day. I was ready to stop and set up camp. I could legally camp anywhere in the Desolation Wilderness, as long as I stayed at least 100 feet away from water. Which was fine by me--I wanted to stay away from water. The mosquitoes like water, and I don't like mosquitoes.

For 50 miles, the PCT and TRT overlap.
Except, I had about half a liter of water in my pack. I definitely needed more water before I could set up camp. So I kept hiking. Just until I got to the next water source. This was the Desolation Wilderness, though. I remembered water being everywhere. Apparently, that wasn't the case this year, however, as I had to hike several miles into the wilderness before I finally reached water that was actually by the trail: Lake Aloha.

I stocked up with water and examined my maps, looking for the next good place well away from water and found.... absolutely nothing. Lake after lake after lake for miles. The best place that would likely be free from mosquitoes would be Dicks Pass which was another seven miles away. I didn't have the energy or the time to hike another seven miles. Crud. I could backtrack, but that would be even worse.

Well, maybe there might be mosquitoes, but you have to give Aloha Lake credit--it's certainly a beautiful place to camp. At least I could admire the wonderful views from camp.

So I set up camp. There were definitely mosquitoes, which were worse than anywhere else I'd seen on the TRT thus far, but they also weren't near as bad as I had feared. Not bad at all.... perhaps another perk of the low snow year. (Those PCT thru-hikers just don't know how good they have it this year!)

In completely unrelated news.... August is once again here, which means it's time for the annual Hike-a-Thon drive! Amanda and I are trying to raise money for the Washington Trails Association which does some great work building and maintaining trails in Washington state, and please, if you can help us out, even if it's just $5 or something, please do so! Sponsor us now!

This year, I've decided that anyone who sponsors me will be in the running to win an autographed copy of my book, A Tale of Two Trails about my exciting adventures on the West Coast Trail and Juan de Fuca Trail. For anyone that donates at least $40 to the cause, I'll send you a free autographed copy! The catch is.... you have to sponsor my page. Yeah, Amanda and I are a team, and everyone likes her more, but we also have separate accounts and I'll only be looking at those who donate under my account. So if you donate $40+, I'll mail you a free copy of my book. If you donate less than $40, I'll put all of your names into the proverbial hat and choose one at random who will get a free book. =)

That $40 also can give you a membership to the WTA which includes a subscription to the Washington Trails magazine. A book, a magazine subscription and all for a good cause--just $40! =)

Roadkill (foreground) and Coyote (background), PCT thru-hikers.

Lower Echo Lake

Overlooking South Lake Tahoe.

A lot of day hikers had their dogs, but none of them would stand still
long enough for me to get a good photo!

Paddlers on Echo Lake

Broken Toe, the guy who plans to set a new PCT speed record next year.

Pika on the trail!

Sunset over Lake Aloha


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I, too, was passed by Broken Toe in 2013. I wondered about his 2014 attempt -- that's how I found you-- and there's nothing on the net. I did meet Scott on his first yoyo and he IS a nice guy.