The physical challenges of thru-hiking are nothing to scoff at- clambering over snow chutes, lugging a 25-pound pack, the constantly changing muscle and joint pains- but the biggest hurdle I’ve faced on trail has been entirely mental. Continue reading
Miles 1715 to 1598
We faced a hard decision when we reached Lone Pine. The Sierra route was approaching peak melt in a year of unprecedented snow levels, which made for perilous and exhausting creek crossings. After much deliberation, we decided to flip to Ashland and tackle California from the north. This would hopefully give the Sierra time to melt before we got there.
Our new chapter started a few miles north of the California / Oregon border. Our camp sites here have been mainly under trees, but the thick vegetation and steep slopes have reduced the number of viable spots. Water is never an issue thanks to the dozens of unmarked snowmelt streams that we cross every day. We don’t need to carry more than two liters each.
Progress has been slow due to the thick snow that still blankets north-facing hills above 6000 feet, but the day temps have been in the 90’s so the remaining snow is doomed. We should hit our 20-mile-per-day stride soon.
Flipping has been surreal and disjointing, but also exhilarating: the trail is almost deserted out here, and it feels like true wilderness.
Mile 652 to 744
This is it. The start of the Sierras. And also the end of them, because we are skipping north to Ashland. The record snowmelt this year has made the Sierra creeks dangerous to the point of recklessness, so we are tackling the rest of California from north to south: this will give the worst rivers time to subside. Once we’ve arrived back in Lone Pine, we will flip north and continue our northbound hike from Ashland.
The camp spots in this section began in arid desert, climbed up to forest at 10,000 feet, then descended back down to desert in Lone Pine. Things will be very different next week as we flip a thousand miles north. We have no idea what to expect. All we know is that we’re committed.
One of the thru-hiker’s articles of faith is “Hike your own hike” – go at your own pace, use the gear that makes you happy, don’t let other hikers’ opinions change your experience. This also means setting your own goals and rules for the hike. With fire closures, snow hazards, and other obstacles, it’s impossible to literally walk 2,660 consecutive miles of trail (and as the trail moves around hazards or requires extra hiking to water sources, that’s not even the exact length of the trail anyway), so it’s up to each hiker to figure out how they’ll best approximate a complete hike from Mexico to Canada. As they say, the PCTA pays you the same no matter how you hike it. Continue reading
Mile 517.59 to 634.93
This was the section where the Sierras, hitherto a distant and vague idea, suddenly started to loom large in everyone’s minds. Mile 702 (Kennedy Meadows) marks the real start of the Big Stuff, although we have been walking in the Sierra foothills for some time now.
Our feelings regarding the desert have become schizophrenic: on one hand we’re utterly sick of the 25-mile days with no water and we’re very ready for a change, but on the other hand, we’re a little terrified of the snow and roaring creeks that await us. This is one of the highest snow years on record, and it will test us.
Our tent sites in this section have been dictated by the sparse water sources, which has made for some crowded evenings, but we’ve greatly appreciated the chance to catch up with old friends whom we doubted we would see again.
Mile to 383.9 to 517.59
This section took us through three of the most famous trail angel establishments, each almost within a day’s hike of the next: Hiker Heaven, Casa de Luna and Hikertown. It felt like a much-needed final party before we enter the vast mountain wilderness of the high Sierras. Our hike is about to become a mountain survival expedition, which is why our beer intake has increased severalfold this week.
Mile 151.8 to 369.6
Another two hundred miles of trail down. Our mileage is approaching 20 per day, which should stand us in good stead to hit the Sierra at just the right time. There are more long sections without water now that we’ve reached the desert proper, which sometimes entails carrying six liters each in addition to our food.
Our homes are often thrown up in the fading light and dismantled before dawn as we seek to maximize our mileage. Such long days puts pressure on feet and knees, so this section ended with a luxurious double zero in Wrightwood while we recovered.