Dangers

Okay I am now five days from the start of my little adventure. And it is appropriate to ask…

So just how dangerous is it?

The following rigorously compiled list of fatalities on the PCT is from PCT Fatalities:

  • FALLING | 3
  • CARS | 2
  • HEAT STROKE | 1
  • MOUNTAIN LIONS | 0
  • BEARS OF ANY SORT | 0
  • POISONOUS ARACHNIDS | 0
  • VENOMOUS SNAKES | 0
  • DEADLY INSECTS | 0
  • MURDER | 0
  • ALIEN ABDUCTION | 0?
  • ILLNESS | 0
  • SUICIDE | 0
  • TERRORISM | 0
  • LIGHTNING | 0
  • HYPOTHERMIA | 0

I don’t think you can count on the ALIEN ABDUCTION statistic. I mean, they could have abducted lots of people and brainwashed them. I was kind of surprised there were no heart attacks. Speaking as a 59 year old.

So, number 1 is “falling”, followed closely by cars. This is not a big surprise. 80-90% of the trail is along mountain ridges. But the real problem is snow. Traversing a steep slope that is snow covered can be dangerous.  I plan to have my micro-spikes (mini-crampons) and ice ax when and if I hit those spots. And I will be skipping over the highest part of the Sierra this year (since I did it last year) . The picture below shows my friends Jim and Leigh Ann  coming over Forester Pass (the high point on the PCT) last year. This is late June in a very low snow year.  We did NOT have spikes or axes because we had talked to some south bounders at Kennedy Meadows and they said they were unnecessary and they were right.

Snapshot 1 (4-19-2016 6-45 PM)

Next is cars. Another no-brainer. You do have to cross some major freeways (I-10 comes to mind) and hitching requires standing near moving cars so I guess I understand this. Gotta be safer than walking in Houston though!

 

Questions

Here are some of my favorite questions I have gotten since I announced to friends and family that I plan to walk 2,000 odd miles this summer…

Why?

Okay, this one is kind of tough. Here’s an answer…. If you can, how can you not? Let’s say someone told you that there was a wilderness trail that started at the Mexican border and wound 2600 miles along mountain ridges through some of the most stunning scenery in North America all the way to Canada. How could you hear that statement and, assuming you have the time, money and ability, not want to throw on a pack and go?

Are you taking a gun?

What? Why? Just in general I am a bit confused by the American obsession with firearms. The “personal protection” argument, which on the surface seems valid, falls apart when you look at the statistics – a lot more people are hurt with their own guns than are saved by them.  And they are heavy. I am debating whether to take a 1 oz  or a 1.2 oz toothbrush.  A 3 lb handgun is out of the question. So… No.

How heavy is your pack?

Over the past 30 years or so the approach to long distance backpacking has changed dramatically. When we hiked in the 80’s  (for a 3-4 night hike) a 50 lb pack was not unusual. The ultra-light hiking movement has changed all that. A tyical base weight now for a PCT thru-hiker (everything but water, food and fuel) is 15-16 lbs. And some people get it under 10 lbs! That means with 2L of water and 6 days of food you’re carrying a 27-30 lb pack. My base weight is about 14.5 lbs. This is about 2 lbs lighter than I had last summer.  How do you do this? You don’t take anything you won’t use. No extra batteries, no spare fuel canister, no extra anything.  And, at the end of a week, assuming water is not a problem, you can end up hiking into town with an 18 lb pack!

For anyone who thinks the obsession with weight is silly, I propose the following experiment. Get a pack. Load it up to 40 lbs. Go to the gym and get on the stair master and step for 30 minutes. Do the same thing the following day, with the stair stepper set at the same pace, with a 20 lb pack. You’ll understand.

What kind of shoes will you use?

In the ultra-light world nobody uses hiking boots anymore. Everyone uses trail unners (10-14 oz versus 2-3 lbs). I will be using Saucony Peregrine 5 trail runners (10.25 oz each). Most people go through 3-5 pairs of shoes if they do the whole thing.  I’m pretty easy on shoes so I expect to get 6-700 miles out of a pair.  Don’t your feet get wet? Yep. But they would with hiking boots also and they dry a lot faster.

What about bears?

What about them? I’ve seen a lot of bears hiking and never been bothered by them. The California Grizzly is extinct (which says something about who should be worried about whom) but there are Grizzlys in the north. Roughly 1-3 people a year are killed by bears annually in North America. This compares to about 25 people a year killed by dogs and 90 or so killed by lightning.  There is no recorded instance of a bear killing a hiker on the PCT while at least two people have died in car accidents.  So, not gonna worry about bears…

What about… you now…okay… pooping?

People, modern people, people just like you and me, have been pooping in the woods for thousands of years. As far as I know this has not caused any problems. In fact, there is some evidence that the modern “porcelain throne” toilet puts the body in the wrong position. But, in any case, anyone who has travelled outside the US has probably encountered squat toilets. The only difference is that, if you use TP, you have to pack it out. I personally like wet wipes for clean up. If water is not a problem, a squirt bottle and a hand works pretty good.

One of my favorite Francis toddler books was “Everyone Poops”.  That pretty much sums up my feelings about pooping.

What about food?

There are two basic approaches to resupply on the PCT, buy-as-you-go and mail-drops. There are pros and cons to both. Most people do a combination of both.  You can only carry about 6-8 days of food. In the Sierras, where a bear can is required, you can only stuff about 7 days of food in the can. The rule of thumb (which is pretty accurate in my experience) is 1.5-2.0 lbs/day/person.  This means that, every 7 days or so, you have to get someplace where you can buy food or get to a post office or someplace where a package can be mailed.

The mail-drop aproach is a logistics nightmare. Imagine having to plan every meal for the next 5 months. Now, you have to bag it up and place the meals in roughly 20 different boxes, all addressed to different places with different ship times. Then you have to find someone you trust enough to regularly, every two weeks or so, ship the boxes out. You can’t ship them all before you go because the post offices won’t hold them that long. Now, imagine that, after two months, just thinking about that veggie, freeze dried, thai noodle concoction you thought was absolutely fantastic three months ago makes you feel physically ill. And, you still have 15 more boxes , each with three servings of thai noodles, still waiting up the trail!

So, I am doing the buy-as-you-go almost exclusively. There are places, especially in Washington, where this is difficult.  In those spots I plan on using one of the on-trail shipping services (e.g. zerodayresupply) that allow you to select meals on line and they will box them and ship them to a location.  This option is more expensive but it allows you to tailor you meals as your tastes change. Very important to me

How often to you go to town?

Because of food mainly, you have to hit town about every 7 days. Because of the way the trail works, sometimes this is 5 days and sometimes it is 8. But you really can’t go much longer than 9 days in a pinch.  Most people take  “zero days” in town – i.e. They take a day off from the trail. I found last year that these were important. Hit town in the afternoon – get a room at a hotel or a hostel – do laundry, shower, eat. Eat some more. Next day you spend resupplying – buying food, fuel. Note that this does not mean no walking – you usually have to walk several miles to get to a decent grocery store. Spend another night, then hit the trail early the next morning

Double-zero’s are a bad idea, I found. One day allows the body to recover. Two days and your body starts to forget the trail and you have to spend a day relearning.

Getting to the Trail

So, I am roughly 10 days out from the start of my hike (I fly out to Sand Diego on April 23, my permit start date is April 24).  I had originally planned to get a cheap hotel in San Diego and then take the 894 bus from the El Cajon transit center to Campo. Unfortunately the 894 does NOT run on the weekend and I will be arriving on Saturday. Fortunately there is a legendary trail angel couple (Scout and Frodo) that live in San Diego. I contacted them a couple of months ago and got a very nice, informative, email. They open their home every spring for hikers starting out on the PCT. From the email: “We’ll pick you up, give you a place to stay, and get you out to the trailhead.”

They also provide meals, sell fuel canisters and allow hiker to ship packages to their house. And they don’t accept money for this…

“We are in the fortunate position of not needing to charge money for hosting hikers; we do not even accept donations.  We do encourage hikers to join the PCTA if they are not already members.”

It’s kind of amazing. They had 325 hikers pass through last year and I expect they will see at least that many this year.  So, if everything goes according to plan, they will pick me up at the airport, let me camp in their yard, feed me, and get me to the trail the following morning. Not sure how they handle all this but I guess I will get to see.

Outside Magazine Story about Scout & Frodo

 

PCT Lake Fire Closure

Well it looks like the Lake Fire Closure will remain in effect for all of 2016. I had hoped that the trail would be open this spring but it wll remain closed. There are a couple of other closures but there are alternate hiking routes around all the rest of them. This one pretty much mean no hiking between Cabazon and Big Bear City – or about 50 miles of trail. Will just have to hook up with other hiker and bum a ride – I’m guessing there will be trail angels available to help out.  This does mess up my plan a bit – will probably hit Agua Dulce a few days earlier than planned.

 

Pre-Trip Update

This is my first post using my Iphone and the WordPress app. Since this is how I will be posting from the trail wanted to try it out. I am about three weeks out from my start (April 24).

  
I have all my equpipment ready to go. I am using basically the same equipment I used on my section hike last year so am fairly confident I won’t have equipment issues. I have trimmed my clothes and a few other things to get my base weight down to about 14 lbs. This is about 2 lbs lighter than last year.

And it looks like this has been an above average snow year in the Sierras, so doing the highest part of the trail last year may work out really well. I didn’t bother taking my ice ax or micro-spikes last year but it looks like I may be bringing them along this time.  

Lake Tahoe Snowpack

Resupply Thoughts

General 

So, last year I did about 350 miles on the PCT starting in Agua Dulce. This is the section I plan to skip this year.  I had 4 re-supply points. Two of them I shipped food ahead and two I bought in town. This year I plan to go 100% buy in town. Some reasons:

  1. The logistics of planning 5 months of food, purchasing, preparing, packaging and having someone mail the packages.
  2. I found my tastes changed over the month I was out. I did not want the stuff I had sent. Buying allows you to  modify your meals as your tastes change.
  3. I learned (from other hikers) that you don’t need those expensive freeze-dried camp meals. Knorr sides, mac-and-cheese, idaho potatoes all work just fine.
  4. Buying as you go is more expensive but unlike the majority of hikers, money  isn’t a major concern for me. 

For most of the trail it is fairly easy to get decent trail food in the trail towns. The exception is near the end but I will deal with that when I get there.

The other issue is town arrival days. I modified my plan to ensure that I would arrive in town during the week – stores tend to be closed in small towns on Sunday.

Also there are a couple of online trail resupply services (zerodayresupply.com and sonorapassresupply.com) that allow you to shop online and they will box it up and send it to you care of a trail town post office. I may use these guys a couple times just to try them.

Foods That Work

  • Laughing Cow cheese wedges. Don’t need to be refrigerated. Easily last a week.
  • Mac-n-Cheese bowl. Last forever and you end up with a bowl! Useful for scooping water out of “creeks”.
  • Knorr side dishes. All of them. 
  • Idaho Potatoes instant potatoes.
  • Hard salami. Lasts forever – just scrape off the white stuff.
  • Tortillas. I love bread but it doesn’t last and doesn’t pack. Tortillas last a week easy and pack up small.
  • Peanut Butter. I did get tired of it last time. But it’s hard to beat for calories/weight.
  • Breakfast bars/energy bars. They get old fast though.
  • Nuts – any kind really. they last a while and are great for snacking. Ditto with raisons.
  • Coffee. Starbucks vias. Yes!
  • Gatorade powder. Not every day but after long/hot stretches. Also makes warm water taste better.
  • Oatmeal….NOT! Okay those oatmeal packs work okay BUT – stuff turns to concrete and requires lots of water to clean. Water is precious (often). You don’t have a 1/2L to spare for cleaning.
  • Nothing fresh. Apples last longest but they are calorie-poor. Decent cheese spoils in a day or so. Basically all the stuff I normally eat. No Arugula!!!!

Typical Food Day

Breakfast: Coffee/couple of breakfast bars.

Lunch: Cooked meal. Knorr side or mac-n-cheese. With a tortilla if I can spare it.

Dinner: Tortilla/peanut butter. Or Tortilla and some salami.

Snacks: Couple of energy bars.  Maybe some gorp.

Plan

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2650 mile foot path from Mexico to Canada.

Okay, so here is my plan….for 2016. There is a three week break in June for personal reasons. I will skip the part of the trail I did in 2015.  The last two stages are continuous, I split it to make it easier to manage the planning.

Stage 1 (4/24 to 5/29, 455 miles): Full Graph

Mexico boarder to Agua Dulce (Hiker Heaven), PCT 0 to PCT 455. This gets me to where I started my section hike last year. I am scheduled to arrive at the end of May. Will fly back to Houston to join Roberta, Francis and my brother John and his wife Christin for a trip to Mexico. John spent the past year dealing with colon cancer and I promised him I would take him to Mexico if he didn’t die. He didn’t die.

Stage 2 (6/24 to 8/7, 823 miles): Full Graph

Back on the trail after a three week hiatus, approximately where I left it last year (near Mammoth Lakes). PCT 907 to PCT 1727. Getting back on the trial is not easy but I have a plan – fly into Reno and catch an Eastern Sierra bus to Mammoth Lakes on 6/23. Hopefully back on the trail by early on the 24th.

Stage 3 (8/8 to 10/6, 937 miles): Full Graph

Last stage – hopefully getting to Manning by early October.