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March 4

   

 

 

 

*Please read with a grain of salt.  It's all opinion.  We all have them.  They are not necessarily right, nor wrong.

 

   

My thoughts and advice for the Pacific Crest Trail and long distance hiking in general.

Feet

Your feet are your #1 priority. You MUST take care of your feet. You may be out of food, it may be raining, it may be cold, you can still use your feet to keep you warm and get you to food. Here is some of my best advice and observations as well as those of others.

Inexpensive shoes  I used the Hitek Discovery model. It had a wide toe box. They were 29.00$. I could order them directly from Hitek when I needed them. I got 1100 miles out of my first pair before a puncture wound did them in. I got 1200 miles out of the second pair. I could've gotten more. I think others were getting a max of 1500, but they said that the shoes were flat and starting to hurt their feet.

If you are early through the Sierra, a pair of boots might be nice. I started from Kennedy Meadows with a pair of La Sportiva Makalus. I saw others with the same boots. I got 10 miles out, realized that this boot logic was crazy and hiked back, put on my trusty shoes and walked back, leaving my boots behind. I was glad I did. However, if you are going in perhaps late May from Kennedy, then a pair of boots and gaiters may be just what you need.

After I had caught up to the first people who had made their way through the Sierra, most of them had been wearing shoes.

2. To avoid blisters, I changed my socks often, like every 5-7 miles. I washed my feet with soap and I washed my socks out with water, often using soap. Keeping my feet dry was why I didn't have any blisters the entire trip. After about a thousand miles, I changed them less. Keep them clean. Your feet are Holy.

3. I heard that people were using corn starch as foot powder rather than the foot powder you buy specifically for that purpose. The people that were using this seemed extremely stoked on the idea.

4. Socks. I noticed that one pair of socks were my favorite one day, but another day they would make my feet hurt. I was glad that I packed a few different kind of socks. I used Thorlo, Ultimax, and Smartwool. The smart wool’s were the most comfy, but they only lasted half the trip. I had two more pair sent to Crater Lake. The Thorlo’s were comfy, but the least so, they occasionally made my feet ‘flare up’, but they also lasted the whole trip. The Ultimax socks were consistently nice.

I carried 4 pair of socks and usually they all hung on the back of my pack in various stages of drying. I had multiples of no other gear. I think that this is how important socks are. Even after your feet have ‘broken in’, you may be 1500 miles into you trip, but you can still get blisters! Put on the old pair of trusty comfortable socks and they may tear your feet up for no obvious reason. That’s why I think it’s wise to have a few pair of different styles and brands.

Sometimes, just taking my shoes and socks off and putting them on again and relacing would solve the problem.

5. Footbeds. I had a pair of Superfeet insoles sent with each pair of new shoes. I cut the forward section of the insole of the old pair and tucked them under the new pair. This gave the pads of my feet a little more protection. I needed the arch support. I cut the foot beds out on the sides of my heels or in other places where they caused rubbing.

Food

1.  My appetite was diminished through the desert.

2.  I wish I had fewer cooked meals in the dez.  I craved moist foods like dried fruits, energy bars, protein bars, protein drink powders, raw tuna, and lots of water and drink mixes.

3.  Vary your diet to the terrain and climate.  I would pack more peanut butter, butter, hot meals, in areas like the Sierra or northern WA.

4.  My stomach became more sensitive.  By Washington, anything much different from my packed food would often disturb my stomach when I came into town and pigged out.  I had many a sour belly.

5.  When pigging out at a resupply, instead of buying one of everything that sounds good, try theming foods that will settle well together!

Shelter

1.  Many people I met on the trail had made their own tarps.  I hesitate to say 'tarp' because they had added so much creativity to these tarps that resembled tents.  Many used trekking poles as the supporting structure.

2.  Most of these tarps had no-see-um netting sewn down the outside.

3.  For the first 600 miles think about using no tent at all.  Many people had just used a roll of Tyvek to sleep on or under when they needed.  If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't take a tent through the dessert.  Just a ground roll to sleep on.

4.  You may want to seriously rethink your sleeping system if it's more than 1.5 lbs per person.

5.  I used a Sierra Designs Ultra Light Year CD, evidently the lightest single wall tent made.  After Tahoe I left the body of my tent behind.  I bought the footprint to which the poles pitched and just used the rainfly, keeping the total weight to about 1.5 lbs.  This brought my shelter weight down to what most people had.

Sleeping Bags

I've been using Feathered Friends gear for almost ten years.  For this trip I chose the Swift model.  It weighs 2.0 lbs and is rated to 20 degrees.  It scruntches down to the size of a Nerf football.  It has open baffles so you can wisk the down from the top to the bottom of the bag (or vice-versa) as needed.

2.  Consider making your own sleeping bag.  The people I saw that had the lightest packs had made their own bags.  I saw some bags that looked like they were professionally made.

3.  If you choose to go tentless, then you may want to consider getting a bag with a protective coating.  Early mornings and late nights with your bag in your pack leave little time for it to dry.

Stoves

1.  Here I say an emphatic MAKE YOUR OWNLearn how to use an aluminum can stove.  They cost about 5 bucks to make.  They are not quite as convenient as a propane stove or an MSR style stove, but they win out by a mile because they're so light!

2.  I used a propane stove.  The stove is deceptively light, but the cartriges are heavy and bulky.  They are also hard on the environment when you toss them into the trash.  The plus is that I feel comfortable using it under my tarp or in my tent.  If you do have a propane stove that you will take, I received all my resupplies that had propane cannisters in them.  Don't ask, don't tell.

 

Planning

1.  I had done several long distant walks before so I went through my journals and looked at what sort of distances I covered.  I gave my self room to 'get into shape' increasing my milage by small steps.

For me, started at 20 mile days.  I then figured how many days I'd want to carry food.  After the whole trip, I think 3 days is a good resupply frequency.  Then I did the math and figured which towns were closest to my resupply periods.  Of course I had to vary it a little.  Here is my actual resupply sheet I carried (laminated) with me the whole trip.

 

Resupply Number

Resupply Point Name Day to: Miles From Last Resupply Total Miles From Campo

1

Mt. Laguna 2.2 @ 20

43

43

2

Warner Springs 3.4 @ 20

67.8

110.6

3

Idyllwild 3.2 @ 22

70.4

180.2

4

Big Bear City 4.4 @ 22

96.1

276.3

5

Wrightwood 3.9 @ 23

89.4

365.9

6

Agua Dulce 3.9 @ 23

89

454.9

7

Mojave/Tehachapi 4.5 @ 24

109

563

8

Kennedy Meadows 5.6 @ 24

135

698.6

9

Mono Creek 9.6 @ 18

173

871

  Red's Meadow/Devils Postpile 1.6 @ 18

29

900

10

Tuolumne 2.1 @ 18

38

938

11

Echo Summit 6.1 @ 25

153

1091

12

Donner Pass/I 80 Truckee 2.3 @ 27

63.7

1154

13

Sierra City 1.3 @ 28

38.4

1193.2

14

Belden 3.1 @ 29

91.7

1284

15

Burney Falls 4.5 @ 30

134.3

1419.3

16

I-5 Castle Crags 2.7 @ 30

82

1502.2

17

Seiad Valley 5.2 @ 30

156.6

1658.8

18

Hyatt Lake Resort 2.8 @ 31

87

1745.1

19

Crater Lake N.P. 2.5 @ 32

80

1825.3

20

Shelter Cover Resort 2.5 @ 33

82

1907.1

21

Ollalie Lake Resort 4.3 @ 33

140

2047.8

22

Cascade Locks 3.1 @ 33

102.4

2150.2

23

White Pass 4.8 @ 31

148

2298

24

Snoqualmie Pass 3.1 @ 31

98

2396.5

25

Skykomish 2.4 @ 31

75

2471.6

26

Stehekin 3.2 @ 31

98

2569.4

  Manning Prov. Park 3.0 @ 30

89

2658.7

3Totally Pre-packed vs. Shop-As-You-GoI pre-packed everything.  It was a mistake.  This is how I wasted a lot of money.  Often, I came into a resupply town in the evening.  Do you really think you're going to eat corn pasta (mush) and that sauce you're tired of when there are burgers, Ben and Jerry's, and Espresso (Or whatever you are craving)?  So I'd throw that meal into the free food bin if they had it, often it went into the trash.  Then in the morning, I'd eat several boxes of cold cereal, a muffin, some Cafe Francais, which meant I'd throw the meal away that I had packed.

I think going about 70 percent pre-packed, 30 percent As-You-Go is the best.  You should have an extra 'any-time' meal just in case the store is closed or gone, but for the most part, you'll eat that restaurant/convenient store food when you have access to it.  Plan on it.

Drift Boxes.  I didn't know about these until I was well into my trip.  Here's the idea.  Keep on forwarding a box full of things you need access to but don't want to carry.  A cell phone charger.  A full can of protein powder.  A knife sharpener.  A different tape for your walkman.  Moleskin.  Crystal Meth.  Whatever!  You could keep your tent/tarp in the forward box and then if the weather looks bad you pack it.  Lot's of ideas.

Alternate Routes

 

Injuries

Damnit, Jim.  I'm an EMT, not a Doctor.

1.  There wasn't one injury that I couldn't walk through.  Anything I did to myself was caused by over exertion.  After slowing down for a couple days, I seemed to heal right away.  There are two types of injuries, I think.

A.  Blisters, Strains, Sprains, Tears when they are caused by the act of walking were easy to deal with.  They healed up if I took it easier for a while.  

B.  Strains, Sprains, and Tears when they are due to a hyper-extension, twisting injuries, or blunt traumas, there is less of a chance that you're going to be able to walk through it.

On Painkillers.  Pain.  Your body's way of telling you to stop.  Pain killers are perfect for when you've injured yourself and you need to get out to civilization to see a doctor or get to a hospital, but they are not made to mask pain day after day.  I think it's because I didn't use any the whole trip that I healed so fast when I did injure myself.  Here's how:

When your senses aren't deadened, you can feel each twinge of pain telling you 'don't do this' or to 'keep doing that'.  Pain that you can live with every day, may be the kind of pain that will go away.  

Blisters.  Hiker's Bane.  We all get them occasionally.  Like I said in the Feet Chapter, change your socks often.  My way of dealing with blisters is to NOT put moleskin on them.  I cut the loose skin off immediately.  I try to keep that red skin as dry as I can.  I change my socks even more.  After a few miles of limping, the pain seems to abate for the most part.  The goal is to get new skin growing and eventually callous replacing it as quickly as possible. 

Regional Concerns

In the Desert!

Walk at Night!  I started late, the 12th of May.  I was the 2nd person to finish on the 8th of August.  I passed about 400 other through-hikers.  I spoke to a good 3/4 of everyone on the trail.  No one, it seems, walks at night but on the rarest occasions.

You will not see snakes at night.  This was the reason everyone was unwilling to walk at night.  Think about it.  When is the coolest time of the day?  0300-0500 in the morning.  Are snakes cold blooded or warm?  Cold!  Late-night/early morning is the least likely time of day you'll see them.  I saw many snakes, mostly at 0830-1030 am on SE facing slopes soaking up the morning sun.  Scared the shit out of me.

The biggest problem with night walking is finding a time that you can sleep.  I usually tried to be in my bag at 1900-2000 pm.  I'd sleep until 0130 or so and get up immediately, start moving, and make 10-12 miles before the sun came up.  Then I'd eat, make another 10-12 before 1000-1100.  What I did with the rest of the day varied.  But most of my my walking was done before noon.

I found that I didn't drink anything for 10-15 miles each morning. This saved a lot on how much water I had to carry.  It was often cold!  I was chilled in many sections where folks were panting and heaving through the heat. Imagine walking on a chilly winter day.  How often do you need to drink?

If you walk at night, why do you need to bring a tent and a sleeping bag?  Think about it!  If there is one thing that I recommend doing, it's keeping it down to a bare minimum.  The desert can be a very fierce place.  You'll stay hydrated easier, you won't carry as much water, you won't see snakes, you could potentially go very light, you won't get as sun burned.  Is that a win-win, or what?

The Sierra. 

No matter how good of shape you are in, you'll slow down 

I was maxing myself out at 29-30 miles per day.  Those were some hard ass days!  

I craved more meatier food.  

I think, though, that my coldest nights were in the desert.  

Some people were getting off the trail in Independence or Bishop.  I really think that it's best to just go for it and go big.  Go all the way to Vermillion.  Yeah, you'll be heavy, but it's a pain in the ass to get off the trail in the Sierra.  I only took 6 days from Kennedy Meadows to Vermillion, but I packed for 9. 

Don't worry too much about the bears, especially if you're early season.  People are often more worried about the rangers.  One of my friends is a backcountry ranger at Tuolumne.  Be it known that PCT hikers are granted a certain amount of amnesty because of our special predicament.  The rangers aren't stupid.  The rangers aren't waiting to rail PCT hikers for not having bear proof storage container.  Nevertheless, the do reserve the right to give tickets, but if you're doing everything else right, they are much less likely to do so.

Southern Cascades. Belden to Castella.

Many people view this part of the trail as the least scenic.  It was my favorite.  I started this crazy walk because I love to walk.  I walked the PCT for the meditative action of walking.  The qualities of the trail in this section were especially suited towards walking.  No stones, just soft forest floor for the most part.  Easy hills, but often deep.  Switch-backs that made more sense.  And very, very few people because there aren't any big National Parks or Wilderness Areas to attract people.  I felt more wilderness in this section than I did in many of the Wilderness Areas.

You'll start to crank out some miles in this section.  Plan for an increase 

Marble Mts. CA to White Pass, WA.

After you surmount the Marbles you'll really begin to cruise.  Oregon is flat.  The rumors are true.  

Chances of inclimate weather greatly improve the farther north you go.  So make sure you have a bomber sleeping system.  

Towns

Here I thought I'd give an At-A-Boy to the mostly Exemplary Towns and bad-dog some of the others.  Realize, these were my experiences.  Yours may be different.

Mt. Laguna.  They were sort of ambivalent, but heh, think of all the people that come through!  They didn't have much in the way of supplies, but you could certainly find something to get you to Warner Springs.

Warner Springs.  It's amazing, but there was nothing there.  I only saw a convenient store with almost nothing, but I didn't look around.  

Idyllwild.  Nice place.  The first big town.  All you could ever want.  Nice attitude towards hikers.

Big Bear City.  Perhaps the most welcomed I felt in any stop along the whole trail.  The entire city of Big Bear should be commended!  Plenty of good restaurants, cafes, and a good store kitty corner across from the Post Office.

Wrightwood.  Not as nice as Big Bear, but it seemed like there was a lot of trail sympathizers in town.  Homestays are possible.

Agua Dulce.  Well, I let you find out about this one on your own!  Incredible.

Tehachapi/Mojave.  I went to Tehachapi.  If you plan on going there and you don't have a confirmed ride to take you around, it's going to be a pain in the ass.  It's a nice town, but some developer gave the post office some free land out on the outskirts of town that is basically a defunct strip with a gas station, a Denny's, and the PO.  That's it.  It's a few miles into town to the shops!

I heard that people had a very, very good experience in Mojave.  The hotel came an picked them up from the trail.  Everything was very convenient.  I'd have to say that I'd probably chose Mojave.

Kennedy Meadows.  There's no other choice.  The feller at the counter largely seemed to have had to develope a resistance to the through hiker because everyone stops there.  Oh, yeah, it all was amiable enough, but it wasn't an enthusiastic like we got in Vermillion or Old Station.  We mailed packages from there postage due by stapling a dollar bill onto the package!

Vermillion Valley Resort.  See alternate routes for a shorter more efficient walk right down to the resort.  It was great.  I was expecting to be treated like the dirty, smelling worm I was.  First thing she said was, "Thru-Hiker?  Go get yourself a beer, the first one's on us!."  That about says it all.  Put it on the tab.  I spent a bit of money there, but heh, they were worth it.  Meals and a small, small store.

To-all-of-me Meadows.  Well, the park shuttle was nice and convenient.  The store is an outfittable store.  Post office in the store.  No one to be really nice and helpful unless you know park rangers!

Echo Lake Resort.  It was a little tart.  It caters to more of an upper crust, it seems, and us being a little crusty, I felt like was being merely tolerated.  They had a fairly nice store.  They are real strict about ID and take the package holding pretty seriously.

Squaw Valley.  This wasn't my official stop, but I ended up stopping here.  There is a natural foods store in the village!  It's only about 3 miles off the trail.  A post office, too.  96146, Olympic Valley, CA.

Belden.  I didn't have a good experience in Belden.  In fact, it was the worst one on the trip for me.  Although, to be fare, I have to say that other people had good experiences here.  Maybe they were just having a bad day.

Old Station.  Great!  Enthusiastic reception at the Grocery.  Nice restaurant/diner style meals.

Burney Falls.  Lot's of people.  Everyone was so busy, I didn't really get a chance to have a conversation with anyone.  It's all a state park operation.  The concession hold and charges for the packages.  Decent store you could resupply from.

Castella.  Not really a town.  Another state park.  Odd but friendly post office.  No restaurant.  Convenience store.  Showers and 1 dollar camping at the state park.

Seiad Valley.  Take the pancake challenge!  Not a big town though, and you're quite a ways from anywhere.

Hyatt Lake.    Short business hours, but they were willing to get out of their house and go get my box.

Crater Lake.  Don't make the same mistake I did.  I even addressed my packages to Crater Lake Lodge, Rim Village Drive, but they still went to Mazama Village like everyone else's.  Mazama Village is down by the entrance station in the park.

Shelter Cover Resort/Willamette Pass.  They were very nice here.  Although it was very busy.  Did I mention it was very busy?  They gave me special attention that they didn't need to give.  They were willing to run me a tab.  They had a fairly adequate store to resupply.

Olallie Lake.  This place was a lot like Vermillion Valley except they didn't offer me a beer!  They ran me a tab.  They had actually a very good store to resupply and get fat on.  They are pretty remote so don't think you'll get anything very fast there.

Cascade Locks.  Another very nice town.  A number of nice grocery stores/supermarkets in very nice proximity to the post office.  The fellow at the PO had a soft spot for PCT hikers.  There was a food box at the PO.  The free place to stay in town was at the Port of Cascade Locks.  It was about a 5 minute walk from downtown.  They have live music on the week ends.

White Pass.  Ski areas generally wreak havoc on the environment.  White Pass has done an excellent job keeping things fairly aesthetic.  The folks at the store were very, very nice.  They have a fairly decent store.  They took very good care of their packages, like many of the stops.

Snoqualmie Pass.  Two Thumbs DOWN!  What a pit.  I didn't get half the packages I had sent.  It was the only place that I didn't receive what I had sent.  I watched as they looked my packages.  The 'post office' was disorderly and a part of the kitchen.  No wonder things got lost.  I wouldn't place too much faith in this place.  I asked at other places if they would accept packages after I explained my experience.  They said that they were infamous for less than adequate experiences.  No one else will take the packages though.

Steven's Pass.  Well, albeit inconvenient, the hitching is easy, the people are very, very friendly in town, and the convenience store is adequate.  One old fellow lets you stay in his back yard.  Inquire at the PO, but I think that no matter what time you collect your packages the hitching is so easy that you'll get a ride very quickly back up to the pass.

Stehekin.  A little bit of Paradise.  It is impossible to drive to or from Stehekin.  It costs at least 22 dollars to take the slow boat to Chelan.  There are no ATMs.  Bring Cash.  There is a great bakery, better than any you've ever seen, you'll want to spend some time there!  Showers are free.  Laundry right next to shower.  Shuttle is 6 dollars for the one-way down to Stehekin from the Trail.  Camping is free.  Very limited store.  Un-enforced buffet, all you can sneak.

 

Going Light

As you take things out of your pack, you will replace them with awareness and skill.

It's a hard sell to someone who's never done it, but I say with all my conviction and vigor I'll never go back.  I was most skeptical of ultra light enthusiasts touting going light as being safer.  Now, after 2700 miles of lightweight experience, I have to say that I do think it is definitely safer

1.  I often carried my 'back-pack' on one shoulder.  It sometimes draped underneath my arm like a purse!  This allowed my back to breathe.  My sores that I had from hip-belt chafe went away.

2.  I would venture to guess that everyone that finished in front on the trail either designed all their own gear (or nearly) or bought a GOLITE or other ultra light system.  They finished first not because they were stronger or 'faster' but I think they had the easiest, most trouble-free time of it.  They were the least encumbered.  It's not a race, but those with the lightest packs will be the most mobile.

3.  If I rolled my ankle, it was with much less force.  The daily wear on the pads of my feet was noticeably less with 13 lbs rather than 26 lbs.  My feet at 35-40 miles felt like they had before just having walked 20-25 with the heavier load.  My knees did not hurt after I had donned my GOLITE.  Often my knees would ache going down hill with a load of 30-40 lbs.

MOST OF ALL

4.  Because I had to be more aware, more skillful, and smarter as I made my decisions each day, I felt like this brought me markedly closer to nature and my environment.  I noticed the weather more because it was more important to me.  I noticed more animals.  Because I was less encumbered, sweating, less taxed with each step, I was more lively and my head was up, my focus was not on my exertion nor my 'pain', it was more aware of the country through which I was passing.

People seem to cling to their heavy weight hiking habits as devoutly as a pious shi-ite Muslem.  They often say, "Well, that's great you can do that, but I just need my stuff."  I may have used to say that, but now I can honestly say that when asked what I took out of my pack, I can't remember.  I can't think of anything I'd need beyond what I have in my pack.

They say, "You must not have a tent.  You obviously are not carrying a stove.  You can't be carrying a sleeping bag."  I've heard it all.  And they are so puzzled when I say, "No, I have a tent, a sleeping bag, a stove, a pot, a sleeping pad, everything you do."

5.  Going light frees your feet, your mind, your thoughts, your dreams, everything.  See the philosophy section and how I think this affects your life. 

Philosophy

There are many parallels between the trail and life.  There are too many not to notice.

1.  Here's a typical trail interation:

Hiker, "So where are you coming from?"

Me, "Mexico, actually."

Hiker, "Really!  When did you begin?"

Me, "The 12th of May."

Hiker, slowly after thinking, "Wow, you're cruisin'."

Me, "I'm going pretty quick."

Hiker, "Do you ever stop and enjoy yourself?"

Me, "Well, now, that implies that I don't enjoy walking.  It wouldn't be very smart to try to walk 3000 miles if I didn't enjoy walking."

HEREIN lies the basic difference between through hikers and normal back packers.  In my opinion, the typical heavy laden backpacker isn't out for the enjoyment of the walk as much as the beautiful destination.  This realization came to me when after our interactions the backpacker would turn away and often their backpacks would completely eclipse their bodies.  Completely sweaty with knee braces they would stare at their feet as they walked by me on the trail without notice.  Sometimes I was close enough to the trail to reach out and grab them as they passed.  Then the same people would say after a long conversation, "Don't you think you'd see more if you went slower."  I'd snicker and say, "No."

I think that this can be applied to life and living.  Think of the hike, the distance, as the work week.  Think of the destination as the week end.  Think of the backpack, the weight, as what you must support, you bills, etc...  I think the analogy is obvious.  You bet they'll get defensive and self conscious when I come skipping by them after 40 miles, backpack on one shoulder, smiling and grinning, seemingly effortlessly.

I think that going light through life increases vitality and energy while decreasing effort and stress.  One doesn't need to work so much because there is NO debt to pay off.  I think that just as with hiking light, living lightly one needs to be more aware and more skillful.

Take courage, though, because our social and commercial institutions are not set up for you to be independent.  People will call you irresponsible for living simply without debt.  Do not neglect your life.  It flows every day.  If you're not liking what your doing, if you're not the change you want to see in the world, then you are wasting your life.  What more pitiful thing is there to do than waste years being where you don't want to be.

 
           
   

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