The Hoppy Okapi

Occasional posts about hiking and other stuff

Hard Hat Required August 6, 2014

I just participated in my first PCTA volunteer trail crew project!

Obligatory Hard Hat Selfie

Obligatory Hard Hat Selfie

Volunteering is something that I always feel like I should be doing more of, but finding projects that I really connect with is more challenging – many projects require consistent time commitments, or feature skills that aren’t necessarily in line with my strengths. And while I could probably find software development related projects to volunteer for, I’d rather do something less related to the day job, so it feels like a break.

Enter: Trail Maintenance!

Making the Face Cut

Making the Face Cut

The year I hiked the PCT, there was an epic blowdown near Mammoth Lakes, CA – thousands of trees fell onto the PCT, and early season hikers had to consider detours or road walks to continue their hikes because the trail was completely blocked by trees. By the time I walked through the trail was nearly clear, thanks in large part to the volunteer trail crews who partner with the PCTA and National Forest Service to keep the PCT in the best possible condition. I got to thank a couple of trail crews in person in that section, and met several other volunteer crews along the trail; I also walked through a number of sections that really needed some love!

Walking through the Sierras, I became fascinated by the engineering aspects of trail construction, thinking about how much effort it took to build such elaborate trails through such rugged mountains, and inspired by the monument for a fallen worker on the climb up the south side of Forester Pass (the highest point on the PCT, at over 13,000 feet). For these reasons, volunteering for trail maintenance projects through organizations like the PCTA and WTA feels like a natural fit for me.

This past weekend, I worked on a 2-day project at White Pass in southern Washington (just north of the Goat Rocks Wilderness, one of my favorite stretches of trail!). The trail crew convened on Saturday morning at the forest service campground on the north side of highway 12, where we car-camped on Saturday evening.

A Brand New Check Step

A Brand New Check Step

We began the day with introductions, a safety briefing and tool demonstration, and an overview of our goals for the weekend. For this project we would be working close to the trailhead, not more than a mile up-trail, improving drainage and trail tread to prevent erosion and improve hiker and equestrian experience.

Over the course of the weekend, I learned to swing an axe properly, design a drainage dip, and install a check step. I got to scout the trail with Dana, our crew leader and the PCTA’s regional representative for Northern Oregon / Southern Washington, learning how to view the trail through the eyes of a trail builder rather than just a hiker. On Sunday, I got to help select a tree to fell for our check steps, learn how to use a cross-cut saw and make a face cut, explore strategies for dealing with a tree that gets hung up in the canopy instead of falling as expected (a useful lesson, but one that we would have rather not experienced!), and experience the joys of stripping cedar bark.

I also got to work and hang out with some really cool people – I talked with a retired nurse who volunteers regularly for the Washington Trails Association and on the Burke-Gilman bicycle trail (and learned that on week-long backcountry projects, you get to do cool things like build bridges – I love trail bridges!), swapped stories of elk encounters and weird trail food combinations with other long-distance hikers, and answered questions about thru-hiking the PCT for an enthusiastic audience.

Interested in volunteering for a trail maintenance project? It’s a great way to spend time on the trails, learn new things, and meet great people. Head over to the New Volunteer page on the PCTA site (or contact a trail organization near you) and check it out!

 

Felling a tree

Felling a tree

 

PCT Thru-Hike: 1 Year Later October 3, 2013

Filed under: hiking,outdoors,PCT,Washington — Amanda @ 14:00
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I hiked for five months to earn this picture!

I hiked for five months to earn this picture!

I finished my PCT thru-hike one year ago today. Since then, I’ve found a new job, (more or less) run a half-marathon, moved to Seattle, hiked Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon, and day-hiked on the slopes of Mt Rainier. I’ve taken Chuck on two mini-PCT backpacking adventures – one in the Southern California desert of our old San Diego home, one in the magnificent Northern Cascades close to Seattle – to entice him into hiking the next long trail with me. The PCT has affected my everyday life in so many ways – it’s given me a willingness to take on more adventurous pursuits and confidence to attempt them, it’s introduced me to many trail friends whose adventures continue to inspire me and trail angels whose generosity is even more inspiring, and it’s given me a sense of place – a knowledge of the trail, of the geography and the landscape it passes, and of the state of mind of being on the trail. I retrace my journey in reverse every time I fly from Seattle to San Diego for work, watching out the window as the familiar mountains of Washington, Oregon, and California drift in and out of view, remembering the scenery and the people I hiked with in those places.

After the trail, I believe that there’s no better way to understand a place than to walk through it, and I’m looking forward to many more foot-powered, M&M-fueled journeys.

I haven’t let myself read any PCT Trail memoirs until I finished my end-of-trail blog post, and my to-read shelf is getting full, so it’s time to tell the end of the story, one year later:

The last 10 days of my hike, from Stevens Pass to Manning Park BC, were some of my favorite of the trail. I loved the mountainous landscapes of the Northern Cascades, with snowy peaks in every direction, glacial streams raging through the valleys, and fall colors covering the hillsides. Walking along those remote ridges, I came within a few yards of a golden eagle, and saw too many marmots and pikas to count.  I spent the last zero of my hike in Stehekin, a tiny town only accessible by lake or trail but renowned for its incredible bakery, enjoying a perfect fall day before the final few days of the trail. The days were getting shorter and colder as I made my way to Canada, and threatening clouds would roll in over the mountains for a few hours almost every afternoon, but by then I knew that I would finish, and that I had been lucky to hike in a year with an extended summer – almost perfect weather for the whole five months of my trip.

A Mysterious Present...

A Mysterious Present…

The journal entry from my final day:

October 3, 2012
Mile 2668.8
Manning Park, B.C., Canada

I did it!

I can’t believe that my PCT thru-hike is over. I guess it will start to feel real tomorrow, when I’m on the bus to the city instead of sorting through a resupply box and planning my next water source and camping site.

It was cold last night, but my liner and sleeping bag mostly kept me warm (everything but my feet – I should have used one of those hand-warmer packs that i was carrying…or worn socks!) I got up early, and thanks to my sleeping-in-clothes strategy, was on the trail by 6:45. Th climb out of my forested valley was still in shadow, and it got colder and windier as I climbed higher – I saw icicles in a few of the streams along the trail, and my water tube, which was fine when I started out, actually froze while I was hiking! The climbs were a bit challenging, but nothing too bad, and I was having fun reaching the saddles & seeing how the passes developed – I really liked Woody Pass. I could see a whole ridge full of glacier-covered mountains, and wondered if they were all grey and craggy, or if they were vegetated like the one I was climbing and just obscured by the distance.

Time to Celebrate!

Time to Celebrate!

Before long I had started the 7-mile descent to the border, and except for taking my time on a few sketchy bits of trail, I flew downhill, singing and trying not to cry too much before I got there. Finally I could see the clear-cut marking the border that some section-hikers had told me about, and I I knew I was getting close.A few minutes later I could see the Manning Park Welcome sign in a clearing, and the, the Monument! It was amazing! It felt smaller and more intimate than I expected, and the monument was oriented perpendicular to the border, while I’d always pictured it facing south. I took my pictures; cried a bit; checked out the register – a bit of a disappointment because it only started yesterday – Log and Tank were the only entries, so I didn’t get to see what many of my friends had written; opened my present & note from Chuck (a Canadian whiskey sampler & note with a hand-drawn Canadian flag); and then took some more pictures and video.

I am a PCT thru-hiker!

I really am one of *those* people, who have completed the whole PCT in one year – amazing!

The 8.8 miles into Manning Park were tough, especially the first 4 1/2 miles, which were up & down, narrow, sketchily-maintained trail – not up to my PCT standards! The remaining bit was mostly flat & downhill, but my feet were entirely ready to be done. I finally reached Manning Park Lodge around 6:30 & am staying at the hostel. Dinner at the restaurant was a tasty Salmon sandwich, and I finished off my Canadian Whisky and PB Cups for dessert.

After catching up with other hikers at so many places along the way, it feels really strange to be “in town” without them. And even stranger to give my name as “Amanda” instead of “Lava Goat”!

It still hasn’t sunk in that I don’t have to walk tomorrow!

What I wrote: Register at the End of the Trail

What I wrote: Register at the End of the Trail

 

Walking through Washington September 24, 2012

Filed under: hiking,PCT — Amanda @ 10:30
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I’m less than 200 miles from completing my PCT thru hike! I arrived at Stevens Pass yesterday, following the three toughest days of hiking in Washington so far: the terrain was steeper and rockier, the air oppressively smoky from forest fires to the east, and I had to navigate a “potentially hazardous ford” of a creek which was raging down a ravine with rocks and boulders making even getting to the water to cross it a challenge. After averaging 25 miles per day with relative ease for the first two sections in Washington, struggling for 20-22 miles per day the last few days was mentally tough, and has made these last two hundred miles seem much longer and harder in my head. I spent many hours working through finishing-date scenarios while walking: what if I get to Stehekin before the last shuttle on Friday, or after the post office closes for the weekend on Saturday, or…and it began to stress me out a lot! As amazing as it is that I can turn any patch of flat-enough ground into “home” for the evening, I am longing for the comforts of my real home, and my reunion with Chuck (and the cats!) even more as I finally get close to finishing the hike.
Once I stepped off the trail at Stevens Pass, all of the worries magically lessened. I met a few trail friends who are a day ahead, getting ready to start hiking again; got a burger and beer at the ski resort cafe – a welcome respite from my trail diet of chocolate bars, salty crackers, and instant potatoes; and got a ride to Baring, where trail angels the Dinsmores have provided me with a bed, shower, and laundry before I head out into the wilds for my final 10 days of hiking. Canda, here I come!

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Oregon Update August 29, 2012

Filed under: hiking,PCT — Amanda @ 8:27
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After crossing the California/Oregon border two weeks ago, I’ve hiked about 300 miles, and have 150 left until I meet Chuck in Portland next week! I visited Crater Lake for the first time, enjoyed swimming in some of oregon’s fantastic lakes (warmer than the ones in the Sierras!), seen a herd of elk, and walked through fields of wildflowers and incredible volcanic landscapes. It’s hard to believe I only have about five weeks of hiking left!

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Tahoe to Belden: approaching halfway July 23, 2012

Filed under: hiking,PCT — Amanda @ 11:29
Tags: ,

Getting back on the trail after spending a weekend with Chuck at Lake Tahoe was hard – I really wanted to stay with him and return to the comforts of home (and the kitties!) in San Diego. But alas, the only way to justify the massive resupply trip to REI was to start hiking again, so I headed north on the morning of the 17th, knowing that Sierra City was only 2 days away, and my next visit with Chuck would be in Portland, OR in early September. I hiked about 18 miles the first day, and saw and chatted with lots of day-hikers and weekenders (i think i intimidated a couple who were out for a 15 mile weekend trip when I told them I was going “only” 38 miles in two days – oops!), but no other Pct hikers. I visited the Peter Grubb hut, built to shelter hikers and skiers from winter storms – it had the first two-story outhouse I’ve seen on the trail! I also impressed myself with my topo map reading skills – I found a perfect campsite, sheltered from the wind, in the exact spot that I had identified as a candidate from the contour pattern.
The next day was a quick twenty miles into the Red Moose Inn in Sierra City. On the descent into town I came across a bush of purple flowers that was full of dozens of orange butterflies – a beautiful sight! I enjoyed hiking through the Tahoe National Forest, which had lots of trail signs with mileage markers and an informational sign about the reservoir on the way into town. I met up with several other hikers, including GipC Girl and Action Pack, at the Red Moose, and being around them all again made me feel better about being back on the trail again, and a little less homesick.
I had a fabulous breakfast at the Red Moose the next morning, and set off to tackle the climb out of town under a beautifully overcast sky. The cool weather helped me power up the hill, where i passed the 1200 mile mark, and then I hiked with Action Pack for the rest of the day – chatting with her definitely helped the miles fly by. We hiked past Sierra Buttes, an impressive rock formation north of town; parts of the trail were a bit precarious on a rocky ledge, but it was a beautiful place to hike.
The next day was a tough one – I’d planned 27 miles and was actually hoping to do 29, but was really tired toward the end of the day and ended up camped with a few other hikers near the Fowler Peak trailhead after a 26 mile day. The day’s scenery was mostly pine forests and flowered hillsides, with a few expansive views of more pine-covered valleys. The trade-off for hiking among all of these lush plants is a much higher humidity level than I’ve previously hiked in, and the sticky heat is a bit tough to adjust to. I spent most of the afternoon listening to music, trying to crank out the miles and ignore how tired my feet were.
For some reason, the next day was much better. I got a decently early start and sped through the first few flat miles, walked over a fantastic bridge at the Feather River, and climbed for seven miles in the heat of the afternoon before finishing up with a few flat miles to my campsite – I walked for almost 28 miles that day, my longest day yet! I was pleased with how good I felt on the long uphill section, and eased some of my getting-to-Canada anxiety by giving myself permission to take a little more rest than I had planned along the way instead of pushing to finish by the (not really) magic date of October 1 no matter what mileage it takes to get there.
My long day left me with only twenty miles to go into the town of Belden – a short uphill followed by a long descent into town. I had great views of lakes and flower covered rides in the morning, then walked through more pine forests before emerging onto an exposed ridge with sandy switchbacks. The first few miles of the descent flew by, but the last six miles into town seemed to take forever, and my feet were very tired of the pounding descent. The poison oak that the trail into Belden is famous for had luckily been trimmed back to an easily-avoidable level, and just before I emerged for the final road walk I found some much-welcomed trail magic – an assortment of drinks had been left in a nest of ice on a trailside boulder; I picked up a cold can of guava nectar and gulped it down to energize me for the final mile. I’ll be back on the trail this afternoon after getting my fill of town food at Belden Town Resort and Caribou Crossroads diner, ad enjoying the hospitality of the Braatens, who host hikers here in town. The switchbacks out of town look intimidating, but I’m almost to the halfway point on the trail and am heading into Lassen National Park soon, so I’m excited about the week ahead!

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I made it through The Sierras! July 17, 2012

Filed under: hiking,PCT — Amanda @ 6:40
Tags: ,

My high-mountain adventure lasted almost a month, from June 15, when I walked out of Kennedy Meadows and the landscape started transforming into granite hills and hidden alpine meadows, until July 14th, when I walked over Donner Pass (without being eaten!) and met Chuck for a weekend of resupply and relaxation on the shores of Lake Tahoe. 1160 miles down, 1500 to go! The Sierras deserve a much longer write-up, but I have to get back on trail about two hours, so here are a few highlights:

  • A surprise meeting of friends from San Diego on my descent from Mt Whitney
  • Climbing 14,500-foot Mt Whitney and 13,000-foot Forrester Pass on consecutive days
  • Lots of deer and marmots (high-elevation groundhogs)!
  • More waterfalls and pristine alpine lakes than I ever would have imagined
  • Camping above 10,000 feet, and waking up to a tent covered in ice
  • Seeing the dramatic changes in rock formations through King’s Canyon and Yosemite National Parks and the National Forests in the Sonora Pass area and north to Lake Tahoe
  • Many mountain wildflowers – from tiny little plants hugging the ground above 12,000 feet to meadows full of flowers taller than me! I even got to walk through a field of wild irises.

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Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows: last days in the desert June 23, 2012

Filed under: hiking,PCT — Amanda @ 11:42
Tags: ,

I really wasn’t looking forward to the seven day hike from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows: I thought it was all really hard desert hiking, and it was psyching me out, so i decided to get out of town and hit the trail as soon as possible instead if staying in town and getting more nervous about it.

I got a ride back to the trail from local trail angel Jo Walker on the afternoon of June 6th, and walked ten miles between the roads that lead to Tehachapi. Most of the hike was beautiful, around more wind farms and through cattle pastures. After a less beautiful two mile road walk, I found a mostly flat spot in a rocky wash about two miles from the freeway, and cowboy camped under the stars since it was too windy to set up a tent.
The next day started as so many do – with a big climb out of town into the mountains. Once I reached the top, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a pine forest for most of the day – so mush nicer than the seven days of exposed desert that I had feared. At much lunch spot that day I met Young Geezer, Caesar, Skeeter, and Platypus – except for Platypus, who was quite speedy, I would see the other hikers several times over then next week or so. I hiked about twenty miles that day, camping in a pine grove where I found a flat-enough spot around 7pm – my campsite criteria definitely become more lax the later in the evening I hike!

On June 8th I was reunited with Test, challenger, Green Machine, Skeeter and Caesar at the lunchtime water source (if there’s water an shade, you’ll find hikers there!), and Young Geezer came along just as I was leaving. There was moderate elevation gain that day, but I was feeling really sluggish and slow – the highlight was passing the 600 mile marker along the way; Test and I camped at Landers Campground with Mellow Yellow and some of the other hikers we’d met a few days before, under the bridge near the aqueduct. Despite guidebook warnings about noisy off-roaders using the campground, we had it almost to ourselves, and slept peacefully.

The following day was the quintessential Mohave hiking day: the only on-trail water sources were caches maintained by a trail angel named Mary, ad if those were empty we’d have to hike several miles off the trail for water, so my pack was heavy with five or six liters of water heading out of the water sources that day. I was happy to see that the first cache had water, but since there was no shade I filled up and headed out quickly, narrowly missing Mary as she arrived to replenish the cache a few minutes after I left. The afternoon’s hike was crazy-hard: uphill, hot, exposed, sandy trail with mogul ski course-like bumps, and strong side and head-winds that threatened to blow me over, and a heavy pack because I wasn’t sure if the next cache would have water. Caesar and Skeeter passed me in the afternoon, and we leapfrogged a bit as we took turns resting in the shade of Joshua trees and boulders. We all ended up camping at the second water cache at Bird Spring with Test, Mellow Yellow and Gut Feeling, happy to find it full of water. That was a 22-mile day for me, and I was feeling energized by my ability to face the harsh desert conditions and fight through them.
The next day featured a long raid wall and only a little shade, and most of the water sources were either off-trail, contaminated with cow poop, or both, so I was carrying a heavy pack again, and powered through twenty miles by 3pm, getting to Walker Pass in the early afternoon. There I found trail magic hosted by Okie Girl, Jackalope, and Jackalope’s four year old son Julian Walker, named for the pct town of Julian and Walker Pass. Instead of hiking on that evening, I stayed to enjoy the company (and wonderful food) at the trail magic tent – what a welcome break in the middle of a tough seven day stretch of hiking!

The next day I headed up out of walker pass around nine am, after enjoying a delicious egg and sausage breakfast thanks to okie girl and Jackalope. Julian tried to tell me that it was too hot too hike, since most of the other hikers were using that as an excuse to stay until evening, but I actually enjoyed the climb out of walker pass in the morning sunshine. The afternoon was an entirely different story: I stopped for about an hour around four pm, started hiking again for ten minutes, then decided it was still too hot and found another shady spot to sit in until 6pm, when it was finally a bit cooler. I made seventeen miles that day, and camped near the first trail crossing of Spanish Needle creek, which was barely flowing buy ha a pool deep enough for me to get a couple liters of water from.

The next morning I was facing a four mile climb, so I woke up early and kept moving until the sun came over the ridge and my shade disappeared – j made it almost all the way uphill before that happened, so I was pretty happy with my morning’s hike! I descended from that ridge, then took a two-hour lunch break in the shade of a pine tree after meeting section hikers (and recent MIT grads) Isaac and Tzipporah at a stream around noon, then started a seven mile climb, which took me until about five pm because I needed so many shade breaks – it was definitely hot! I promised myself I could camp in the first campsite I came to after 7pm, and found a flat spot in the crook of the trail that was just big enough for one person to cowboy camp. I was a little worried about bears and other critters, but so tired that I didn’t care too much!

The next morning was an exciting one – I was only twelve miles out from Kennedy Meadows, my next “town” stop. I hurried though the morning, passing by the Kern River and through the last if the dry desert landscape, and made it there around noon. I found GipC girl and Hamburger and the store, and hung out with them until they left that afternoon, at which point I pitched my tent, collected my resupply boxes, and settled in for a relaxing zero day before heading off into the mountains.

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