Tahoe to Tuolumne Meadows


Aloha Lake


Quick post to let you know I’m still on the trail.  Actually through most of the Sierra: Donahue Pass, Island, Silver, ,Selden, Muir, Mather, Pinchot. Just Forester to go.  But I get ahead of myself.

Subfreezing night joined by friend Corey, then snow through Aloha Lake, an impulsive hitch to South Lake Tahoe for a motel and food, deer hunters and a game warden, Ebbetts Pass, Sonora Pass, and a final 26 miles to reach Tuolumne Meadows in time for the June Lake Beer Festival. With an infected toe, somehow the nail bed of my left big toe got blistered. Whew.  An amazingly beautiful stretch of trail.

We spent a triple zero in Mammoth Lakes!  The beer festival was fun, good beer, good food, good friends Noreen, Vicky, Joan and my sis Dogwater. I got antibiotics for my toe, a winter weight shirt, new hiking sticks to replace the one I splinted with tent stakes and overall rested up for the big passes of the High Sierra.

Chester to I-80


We had a zero in Chester because I had to pickup resupply boxes at the post office. There was a delay as one was in that days delivery. We waited forever for a hitch out of town and so got a late start towards the half way point. Hail beat us up for a couple of hours, huge big pellets that left me too cold to open the ammo box that houses the halfway register at Mile 1325.   Then it quit, the day turned warm again and Northern California reminded me of how beautiful the views are along the Pacific Crest.

The next day we pushed to get to real food in Belden, my longest mileage this year:28.9. It was worth it. Quiet little place mid week, just 4 hikers and 4 construction crew.  Saw Ninja Tortoise heading north just a few miles from Belden.  Last time I saw him was in Washington north of Harts Pass.

The hike out of Belden was as hard as I dreaded, uphill forever. That night as I lay in the dark, I listened to snorts in the dark. We decided that since there were no elk around, it must be deer.  Jorts camped nearby, he took a week off trail to heal up and was resuming big miles to get to Tuolumne Meadows to meet a friend who is going to hike the JMT with him.

Day 4 I lost my second toenail of the hike, my foot looks much better.  Seriously I wrote this down as a highlight of the day.

Day 6 we dropped into Sierra City and stayed at River Run, a home stay with an absentee owner.  There was a wedding and all the motels were booked.  Susan returned my call, took my info and we rented a room in her house.  Amazing, trust in an unknown pair of hikers.  It was the magic words, “We are a couple of PCT southbound hikers looking for a place to stay,” that made her call back.  Thank you!  As many have said, hiking this trail renews my faith in the goodness of people.

More deer in the night. Thought I would wake up to one curled up next to my tent.  Munching pee spots?  Why are they out at night?

A short day, 18 miles, to I-80 and a warm welcome by Corey.  Picked us up, took us shopping and eating, put us up for the night and dropped us back at the trail with the intention of hiking in the next day for a little backpacking trip of his own.

Mt Shasta to Chester: Shield Maidens

Lucky @ Burney Mountain Guest Ranch
Lucky @ Burney Mountain Guest Ranch

Osprey nest
Osprey nest

Sunset on Hat Creek Rim
Sunset on Hat Creek Rim

A day without views has its own loveliness

Following Puff Puff

Reunited, Puff Puff and I hiked out of Mt Shasta, or rather we hiked the PCT south off Exit 726 of the I 5.  Shield Maidens.  The night we spent on the Hat Creek Rim, the same place I camped last year with Sticky Buns and Milkshake, there was a brilliant red sunset, a nice little breeze and a herd of free range cows munching all night next to our campsite.  I slept just fine while Puff Puff kept them at bay.  The following night, we camped by a lake in a bunch of deadfall with deer coming and going all night long.  Why are they sneaking around at night in a known “human bear interaction” zone?  I hadn’t seen any fresh bear sign all day, nonetheless I made sure that no bear was infiltrating the deer plodding loudly through all the downed, dry and quite crunchy branches around our tents while Puff Puff slept soundly.

There are fewer and fewer hikers on the trail–a bunch of SOBOs have flipped from fear of the snow arriving in the Sierra, we see maybe one or two people claiming NOBO status, and section hikers are sparse as well. What’s a flip?  It goes something like this:  get a ride to Kennedy Meadows South, then hike north to where you left the trail, then flip back to KM and hike south to Mexico.   Does that still count as a SOBO hike?  Nah, I don’t think so.  It may come back to bite me in the ass, but I tell people that in my experience, the high country in October is usually great weather, clear and warm enough in the daytime, cool to cold at night.

Just when I get done writing that I allot 5 days for 100 miles, Puff Puff made me hike 170 miles in 7 days, and 6 nights.  Not only that but we had to stay at Burney Mountain Guest Ranch for a fabulous home cooked dinner and breakfast and hike into Old Station for breakfast at JJ’s a day later. And the guest ranch had cats, pure Siamese, dad Ninja, expectant mom Bonzai and adolescent Lucky.  Insult to injury, if we did a 27 and a 26 back to back we’d be forced to zero in Chester while I waited for the post office to open Monday morning.  Killing me.

This stretch has been warm, but with a dwindling number of daylight hours, 2 days ago I finally made good on my threat to set my alarm for 5:45 in the dark so I can be hiking by 6:30 in the light.  We’ve managed to camp before dark every night, the latest was 7:06 pm according to Puff Puff’s calculation.  The fact that this habit suits us both makes for a solid partnership.  That and joining forces as Shield Maidens or Warrior Women for mutual defense against the boredom of solo hiking and other perils of the trail.

It’s hard to explain or understand why I love this life, there are hours of walking everyday that are tedious, slogging through dust and burn areas, or trudging uphill for miles through Manzanita and other brush, hours so boring that listening to an audiobooks is the only way to keep a pace.  Sometimes it seems we should just hop in a car and road trip to the places we get to eat real food and sleep in a bed rather than walk.  I measure a day by tiny goals: make it to a water source; get to a point where there are less than 20 miles to go, less than 10 miles to go; check the map only on the hour;  make it to the top of a climb before eating a Snickers.  Small, little delights spice it up, like startling a squirrel or seeing a snake, looking through a sudden opening of the trees to a vision of red rock and ribbons of ridges green and brown stretching into the hazy distance.  If I don’t even know why I’m happy out here, on the trail and in towns, how can I answer the question “why?”

For those keeping track and confused about where I am: I’ve hiked all of Washington SOBO, I’ve hiked all but 235 miles of Oregon SOBO (or 8 days at Puff Puff pace), and I didn’t have to skip any part of California SOBO so far (fire forced many SOBOs to skip from Ashland, OR to Etna, CA). I’ve hiked 1100 miles so far.


Smoke and Cows

image image image image image image

It is about 100 miles from Etna to the I-5 where I caught a ride to Mt Shasta.  I think of a 100 mile stretch, plus or minus, as 5 days, 4 nights, and that’s how I calculate how many days of food I need.  The mileage usually gets broken up with a 12-16 mile Day 1, then Days 2, 3 and 4 have to be 22-25 miles depending on where water and campsites are located, and Day 5 is shorter if possible so I have time to do town stuff like charging all my devices, showering, washing clothes and eating real food before heading back to the trail the next morning with a new supply.

The NOBO numbers are dropping but I warned a bunch about the fire and trail closure north, including charming Bo Peep who was going to call his mom and let her know he was OK.  “She wants to hike the PCT too!” he said.  So I told him to tell her she could do it if I could and that I did the whole thing last year.  Fun!

The daylight hours are shorter now, light at 6, dark at 8:15 and there’s been a few hiking with headlamps at night that are still sleeping when I walk by in the light of morning.  I got water out of a little spring at 7:45 one morning, listening to cowbells nearby.  Coming around a corner there were 2 lovely black cows standing in an empty campsite with room for several tents.  I talked to them and they stared at me like I was putting on a really fantastic Broadway show.  A minute down the trail I nearly fell over a couple of hikers cowboy camping in a wide flat spot in the trail.  One guy apologized and said it was the best they could do in the dark last night.  I laughed and said the cows had a pretty good campsite just up the trail.

The smoke thickened and settled and blew off depending on the time of day, but the last night was pretty bad and Mt Shasta was nearly obscured.  Or maybe that night was bad because I pitched my tent on a slope and a rock and was sliding to the bottom of it all night long, then scooching back to the top and lying cattywhompus to avoid the rock.

I like this part of the trail, it continues along the ridge, weaving from side to side.  The last day I made 15 miles by noon and called for a shuttle pickup to Mt Shasta because they had an outfitter and I needed new shoes and to take a zero to do some computer research for my job that pays me.  The Altra Lone Peaks 3.0 plus the little Velcro arch support I found at Rite Aid have nearly resolved the plantar fasciitis that has crippled my uphill hiking since the beginning of this trail.

And then Puff Puff arrived after having to skip the fire closure around Seiad Valley.  Wish I had been forced to skip that hell.  I am so stoked to have her to hike with for the next while, hopefully through the Sierra!




image image imageI hauled water and camped after 23 miles, considering what I wanted to do about Seiad Valley the next day. There’s an RV Park with showers and laundry, and the store has my resupply box, but the cafe is open for just breakfast and lunch and I wouldn’t get there till dinner time.   Some NOBOs told me that they were woken at 4 am by the truck traffic 12′ from their tents. So I  wound up camping about 1 1/2 miles above the road near Fern Spring. Perfect.  The walk down to the valley was as hellish as the walk out last year.  Rocky, steep, hot and with poison oak encroaching on the trail.

I strolled into the cafe for breakfast and they recognized me with a smile and, “You’re back!  Have you seen Art yet?”  Wow, this place has so much emotion for me.  In this cafe, via wifi, I learned of my Dad’s death. In this place, I was helped and comforted and transported away. Today, however, I eat an amazing bacon and avocado omelette with wheat toast and then go to the RV Park to try to track down a shower and laundry so I can start the 23 miles of uphill south before it gets too hot.  The first 6+ are a road walk, the next 8 along a creek through a burn area, where I will stop and camp at the last WACS because I will not carry 3 liters of water uphill to dry camp and then I will keep hiking up the next day until finally I reach the ridge and can continue to Etna Summit.

Apparently the hikers at the RV Park stayed up till midnight, and somehow were sleeping in at 8:30 in the morning, and the guy who runs it was MIA, and it was getting hotter by the minute, and nobody would sell me quarters for the laundry, so I hiked out of Seiad Valley by 9:15 without seeing Art.  And still dirty.  And there’s no beating the heat anyway.  I hated that day, and I hated the next day, which I pushed a bit so that I’d have less than 20 miles  to Etna.  The last 25-30 miles are beautiful trail which runs just below the ridge line, crossing back and forth so you have traverses and views both east and west while dodging in and out of shade without sustained ascents and descents.  Lovely country.

Waiting for me at Etna Summit was my buddy Poppy who whisked me into town for all the usual chores and a stay at the motel.  She had just completed the John Muir Trail (JMT) in 2 weeks south to north including Mt Whitney, whew!  Since she didn’t need to be back at work in Spokane for a couple of days, I quickly decided a zero would be fabulous.  So fun to spend time building our friendship and relaxing.  Last year she met me at Snoqualmie but I’d messed up my schedule so it was the end of a long weekend and we only had time for dinner before she had to drive home.

We went to the Etna Brewery for dinner the first night, scene of my infamous besmirching by a cowboy.  Turns out that was “rodeo time” which I guess explains all,  but tonight there was just a sprinkling of locals and one drunk cyclist from Texas, not Lance Armstrong, on a barstool.  Nobody should wear spandex shorts and a cycling jersey while getting drunk.  He’d been drinking for hours but told the bartender that if he couldn’t ride, he’d push his bicycle back to where he was staying.

Back on the trail, a few miles in, I got a text from Puff Puff saying there was a fire near Seiad Valley and she might need to skip ahead closer.  Of course I texted back that I wish I had been forced to skip that section.


Oregon in 4 Days

We walked over to PCT Days Friday evening for beer and food trucks and had great conversations.  Teflon drive up from Portland, Couch Man was there, met MC Hobo and Peach Pie.  I faded off as it was getting dark.

The Luebber Driver picked us up Saturday morning, dropping me at a motel near PDX and taking Dan to Whidbey Island, then Seatac.

I flew to Medford, it’s just normal if you live in Alaska to fly places rather than drive or ride a bus.  Jackie picked me up, looking great, and we went to REI before Callahan’s Lodge where we had a beer.  I picked up my resupply and headed south, hiking, Monday morning.  It’s still Oregon, it’s still August, it’s still hotter than Hades.

image image

It was odd hiking and camping by myself the first night out of Callahan’s.  I was glad when some people pitched their tent nearby and I slept soundly.

Just before reaching the Oregon/California border, there was Spoon!  Brewing fresh coffee for hikers with an Easy Up tent providing shade.  He hiked last year, but I never met him, just saw his name in the registers.  His buddy, Night Shift, though, my brother of the skirt, (Purple Rain skirts of course) was one of my favorite hikers on the trail.  We shared stories and I learned they were Army Rangers together.  Here too I met Ginger, another SOBO, although she’s got a more ambitious schedule than I do, and hikes faster.

I reached the OR/CA border in 4 days from Cascade Locks.  Cheater!  My plan is to come back, this year, and hike Elk Lake to Callahan’s SOBO, picking up the stretch I missed, but meanwhile I have to walk to Tuolumne Meadows by the end of September to meet friends and family for a beer festival.  Of course I could always catch a flight, right?

Slide Rule’s Guest Blog Part 1

Why Dan, would you want to spend 5 precious weeks of the short Alaska summer hiking in Washington?

Three reasons I think:

1. As a boy we lived in Coulee Dam, Bridgeport, Entiat, Winthrop and Connell, Washington, all part of what I consider the greater Columbia River basin. The eastern Cascades was a playground where as a family we fished, hiked, berry picked and camped. Places like Chelan, Stehekin, Methow, Twisp, Mazama, Harts Pass, Chewack, Tonasket, Loop Loop, Omak, and Okanogan were household words. As I age out both mentally and physically, the urge to revisit the wonderful Okanogan Wenatchee Forest of my youth was irresistible.

2. My wife of 35 years, Alison (Catwater), hiked the PCT NOBO last year and soon yearned for another long through hike such as the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). When I mentioned my poorly conceived notion of section hiking the PCT from Canada to Oregon she leaped on it…and the planning began. At least, I thought, I’ll get to see more of her than I did last summer.

3. Just to see if I can.

Nine months later (no, no baby) we found ourselves heading for Mazama (thanks to brother Dave and wife Teresa, and Rick Luebbers and Vickie Colton) where we met Jackie Dwyer (thanks Nick Merrill) and Puff Puff (Alex Mason), another 2016 nobo hiker (thanks Martin Van Horn).

On July 15 about 12:30 pm the 4 of us began the 31 mile hike north to Monument 78 at the US/Canadian border under threatening skies. Sure as shit it rained. For 3 days. The views were less than stellar, the camping was forgettable, and the hiking was tough; I had bad thoughts. But as we approached Canada the sun began to shine, we dried out and began to smile. At the border we pranced around for multiple photos and hilarious video clips (thanks Puff Puff) all the while slipping back and forth across the border thumbing our noses at US Customs and Immigration. And then we turned south….

Washington Complete!

I planned 4 nights from Trout Lake to Cascade Locks, but we did it in 3. Last year I learned that a nero with a pack fully loaded with food works best for me on the first day out of a resupply spot. We hiked 14 and pitched our tents in a scrubby second growth patch of trees, which left 20-21 the next day to a “WACS” according to Halfmile’s maps. That’s Water Campsite. A sweet spot under big trees uphill from a clear, cool spring. We met a couple SOBOs, southbounders, in Trout Lake, Deadman and Couch Man, and along with Andy, a sweet guy with a bum ankle, and new to us, Old Big Feet, there have been familiar faces in this stretch to balance the flood of NOBOs we cross trail with every day.

Slide Rule examined the maps and decided we should do 16, 17 and 13 mile days to get us to Cascade Locks on schedule. But when he saw the, literally, shitty condition of the WACS at 16 we opted to pack water another 4 miles uphill to an abandoned dirt road that Guthook describes as a campsite in a pinch. It was perfect and 3 NOBOs joined us later on in this lovely high point with a slight breeze that kept nighttime temps relatively cool in the heat wave we are in.

That 20 left just 26 to air conditioning. I called the Best Western at 6:30am and secured a room for that (third) night. Game on. Dan was noncommittal about making the miles, having never hiked that far. In fact, this whole hike has been a series of “most miles ever hiked in a day with a backpack” for him. 13, 18, 20. To get to the Bridge of the Gods, there was an 11 mile water carry, with a lot of uphill, and temperatures that rose from overnight 70’s to over 100. When I got to the hotel 11 hours later, I nearly passed out. I hate the heat almost as much as I hate being cold. Why am I not back living in Hawaii? I could walk around each of the islands as a hobby.

Anyway, I took a shower and went to The Bridge restaurant and watched for Dan. See photo from inside. I was too tired and it was too hellishly hot to go back outside to take a proper photo. Plus the nearby NOBO would probably have taken advantage of my french fries.

Dan, Slide Rule, walked the entire State of Washington! Not bad for an old guy of 68 with a pig’s heart valve in his chest. “Better not let him eat pork anymore, he might be eating a relative,” said some random fisherman on the trail. And his last day was huge, 26 miles! Now he gets to go home, kick some cats, deal with a kitchen remodel and plan the fall moose hunt.

Me, I get to keep hiking south. I think I have the better deal.

Just a lovely bridge after a long, long hot, dry down climb.

image image image

White Pass to Trout Lake

This trail crew rocks: they built a freestanding wall through a scree field

Saddle tree, been there awhile
Toenail fungus
The white one had an empty saddle and obviously implored me to fill it

image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image

I had been looking forward to Goat Rocks and the Knife’s Edge for 100’s of miles.  Last year on the NOBO, this stretch nearly broke me.  It rained for days, I was cold and wet, and I couldn’t see a thing which made the endless uphill trudge even more pointless than usual.  When I got to White Pass I hung out at the White Pass Village Inn for days waiting for the rain to stop.  I hid from other hikers in my little condo trying to get warm and summon the will to live and hike on north. I understood how thru hikers could quit when so near the end.  I am glad I didn’t.

Our daughter, Sarah, Catwater’s Kid, drove up from Seattle to White Pass. Nick drove up from Grant’s Pass with his and Jackie’s dog Daisy and cat Gracie in the camper: the whole famdamnily. All 5 of us drove down to the nearest restaurant 20 miles away in Packwood and had a feast.

In the morning we hugged Sarah, Jackie and Nick goodbye.  The dog and cat heaved big sighs of relief that they had Jackie in the truck with them for the long drive home to southern Oregon.  Slide Rule and Catwater shouldered our packs for a short day.  We camped about 6 miles below the Knife’s Edge.  That day I had the best ride offer, ever, on the trail.  A guy came riding a horse with a saddled spare behind him.  They were all training for a longer trip a few weeks in the future.  He said he would put my back in front of him and I could ride Magic.  Is it continuous footsteps if the feet are hooves?  I considered the ride, but adding saddle sores to my other miseries?  Not.

The Knife’s Edge had about 4 snowfields left, the first we’d had to cross in a long time.  And the trail and views were spectacular!  Tons of day hikers and short haul backpackers and NOBOs, all pretty pleased with themselves and the fine day.  It was a challenging day with lots of uphill and I wound up camping a few miles ahead of Slide Rule.  I waited in the morning to make sure my murder plot had failed and we continued together.

Near PCT Mile 2248, a NOBO woman warned me that just ahead was a truck on the trail “with a bunch of moms and kids berry picking next to it.” “Are you f*ing kidding me?” I said. “That’s what I wanted to say.” ” Thanks for the heads up, I’ll be calm when I get there.” Later Dan told me when the NOBO warned him, he asked if she’d told the woman in pigtails (me) and when she said yes, he told her I’d take care of it. Am I so predictably confrontational?

When I saw the truck, I asked the first woman if she was the driver and asked “Did you know you’re on a National Scenic Trail, no motorized vehicles?” “We didn’t know, we just kept picking and driving a bit ahead.” I walked on as she yelled “Andale, andale! To the truck!”  Maybe it’s the hat I wear, it has the very official looking PCT logo on it, although combined with a filthy and faded turquoise button down shirt and my equally filthy but beloved black Purple Rain hiking skirt, I hardly present as an Official. Anyway, I hiked on and a few feet later saw the jeep road access and a few feet later another jeep road access closed to the trail with pilings. Pretty sketchy road access and the PCT where they drove on was obviously single track, but a sign or rock block might be a good addition here.

Two minutes later I crossed lovely gravel road 5603 and just beyond that, my first trail magic of the PCT SOBO: I drank a Rainier in 45 seconds, woot woot! 15 minutes of excitement all bunched together within 500 miles. Thanks Hayduke for the beer!

We booked it downhill to the paved road leading to Trout Lake and got a ride from a family in about 6 cars.  Amazing!  I did not go into Trout Lake last year, thinking it was too iffy of a hitch.  Wrong. What a great trail town, everybody relaxed and friendly.  Bev, and everybody else at the store go above and beyond to help hikers.  Since the motel had a fire and is closed, rooms are scarce.  Bev made some calls and found that wonderful Jean and her dog Max, just up the road, would be happy to have us, showers and laundry too.  What a lovely time we had!


Snoqualmie to White Pass

Inside the abandoned weather station, it’s true, it’s haunted!
Power line and mountain view, perfect!
The abandoned weather station that saved my sanity last year
Crystal Mountain ski resort from the PCT

image image image image image

We hiked a short day, then picked it up over the next four days.  This stretch was in good shape, few blowdowns, hardly any scree slopes and the tread was relatively flat and groomed.

We stopped to visit the abandoned weather station on the second day.  Inside there are data sheets on the kitchen counter dated 1960. Archaeology in the making!  I imagine there are a bunch of obsolete weather stations scattered around like this one.  Are they on the National Historic Register? The White Alice stations in Alaska have been “preserved” by photography, so the buildings can be repurposed or torn down or whatever.  Anyway, last year I stopped in and spent two hours drying all my wet gear out.  This year I just wanted to relive the creepiness, but it was less weird because I had Jackie with me.

The third day we stopped by the Urich cabin thinking we might camp in the area so we could cook inside out of the rain but the outhouse smell was penetrating so we hiked on and pitched our tents a bit down a stock trail.  It was peaceful and quiet in the rain.  I saw Throbbing Thrillhammer, Dan, heading north.   The last time we met, we camped just south of Chester about a quarter mile after I’d seen a bear and I invited him to help me scare it off if it came by camp.  No bear.  In fact, he has still not seen a bear on the PCT.  I told him he’d find a bear north of Stehekin.  Fingers crossed.

The PCT between Snoqualmie and White Pass is glorious, even in the rain.  The trail follows the ridges, crossing from one side to another, in relatively gentle traverses.  At one point I rounded a corner and looked down at ski lifts and groomers.  Having a momentary blip of cell service I posted a photo on Facebook asking my snowboard and ski friends where I was.  Almost instantly Tarcey and Kiana told me it was Crystal Mountain.  Yup, another stop on the winter snowboard PCT tour.

After a lovely switchback up the pass before Sheep Lake, on the descent, Jackie rolled her ankle for the second time this hike.  She made the difficult decision to hike the 30 miles left to White Pass and seek medical attention back home.

And then there were two.  When you live and hike for days and weeks in the wilderness, your character, your personality, your essential qualities glow.  We are really going to miss Jackie on the trai!, but we know where she lives!  Jackie has hiked all of the PCT in Oregon except for a tiny section.  One of her observations is that she expected the trail to be like Oregon.  But like I discovered last year crossing the Columbia River into Washington, everything changes,  the country is completely different than Oregon: steep ups and downs, different construction techniques, longer stretches between civilized outposts.

We have seen more NOBOs the last couple of days but I still think the herd is south of us and many will stop in Cascade Locks and enjoy PCT Days coming up in a week or so.

I have always sucked at taking photos, just ask my kids why they have so few baby photos, but Puff Puff is great at it and her blog is stellar, detailed and daily with excellent visuals.  Check it out at masonalexandra.com

The Nearly Dead
The Nearly Dead