The Hoppy Okapi

Occasional posts about hiking and other stuff

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

Filed under: hiking,outdoors,PCT,Washington — Amanda @ 14:00
Tags: , , ,
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

 

Backpacking practice in Balboa Park April 22, 2012

Filed under: outdoors,PCT — Amanda @ 13:53
Tags: , ,

On Sunday I took my tent, hiking poles, rope and stuff sacks full of stuff to Balboa Park to practice setting up my tent and hanging a food bag from a tree to keep it away from bears. Since it was Earth Day, there were a lot of people at the park, most giving me strange looks, and some stopping to ask what I was doing. A park ranger drove up while I was hanging my “food bag” from the tree, and when I explained that it was practice for an upcoming backpacking trip, he said “I’ve never seen anyone doing that before!” hmmm. I wonder where other city-dwellers practice this stuff?
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Here are some of the things I learned:

  • Pay attention to the wind when pitching the tent – even in a light wind, the narrow side of the tent should face the wind
  • The tent stakes need to be as far into the ground as possible. I think I was running into a tree root on Sunday, and the stakes kept coming out of the ground.
  • If the stakes can’t be flush to the ground, tying the guy lines around the stake with a clove hitch helps make it more secure.
  • Throwing a stuff sack containing a rock over a 15 foot high branch is harder than you’d think
  • When hanging a food bag using the “PCT method”, keep knot loops and stuff sacks as close to the carabiner as possible to maximize hanging efficiency.
  • It’s possible to get your rope caught on the branch, suspending your food sack many feet in the air with no way to get it down unless a bear comes along, climbs out on the branch, and eats it. This would be considered ineffective bear-bagging technique, and should be avoided.
  • My food bag hanging practice kit:

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    A (mostly) successfully suspended food bag:

    20120424-211040.jpg

     

    In Which My Hiking Boots Fall Apart June 6, 2009

    Yikes!

    Yikes!

    One week before our backpacking adventure to San Jacinto Peak, Chuck and I went for a training hike in Mission Trails Regional Park, one of the best hiking locales in San Diego. We hiked up Cowles Mountain, one of the most popular trails in the county, and then added another three miles to our hike by taking the trail to Pyles Peak, which is 200 feet lower than Cowles but accessed by a trail that goes down and up, and then climbs steeply to reach the summit. It was a little warmer than I would have preferred that morning, but the trails were fun and I was happy to see that wild flowers were still in bloom in the park in late May. Despite the crowds on the main trail to Cowles, the extension to Pyles Peak was almost empty – the only other people we saw on the way out were members of the San Diego triathlon club, and they were trail-running all the major peaks in the park in one day (wow! and also, crazy!).

    The most significant part of the day for me however, was the disintegration of my hiking boots. I usually wear a pair of lightweight Merrils for day hikes, but on this hike I was wearing my more hard-core hikers, an eight-year-old pair from LLBean. By the time we reached Pyles, I noticed that the soles were separating from the boot on the inside of both boots; by the time we reached the bottom, a four-inch long piece of metal had fallen out of one shoe and I felt lucky to make it to the bottom with the soles still attached, even if I did almost trip on them a few times!

    Old boots!

    Old boots!

    Sole barely attached...

    From fine to falling apart in one day!

    Hmmm…so I definitely wasn’t wearing these boots on our trip to San Jacinto! I was just glad they fell apart on the training hike instead of during our three-day weekend trip – I’d last worn them on our Yosemite trip last year, and hiking 3 miles with falling apart shoes was bad enough – if we were on the ten-miler it might have been better just to switch to bare feet (or the flip-flops I brought along as camp shoes).

    So, one week to go until our hardest weekend of hiking EVER, my hard-core hiking boots have fallen apart, and my comfy lightweight Merrils are not quite backpacking caliber. Luckily, there was still one day left in the REI Anniversary sale, and I had a 20% off one item coupon to burn. So I headed off to my local REI and tried on three types of hiking boots, finding my almost-perfect match in the Asolo Power Matic 250. They were ultra-comfy when I tried them on in the store, and didn’t feel too bulky or heavy despite being a pretty serious pair of backpacking boots. There was no way I was wearing these on a big trip without at least attempting to break them in (a few websites recommended wearing new boots for 50 miles of dayhiking before using them for backpacking, but that certainly wasn’t going to happen in one week!), so I woke up early that week and went hiking twice in the mornings before I went to work. I first tried out my new boots at Florida Canyon in Balboa Park, a pretty easy three mile trek, but enough to start getting a feel for them. (Also, I got to see the velodrome – smaller and more run-down looking than I was expecting, but I still want to go watch the racing there!) I also went out to Mission Trails again and hiked Kwaay Paay peak, a short-but-steep hike starting accross the street from the Mission Dam parking lot (it took about an hour and a half, but only because I wandered around the summit trails for a while trying to figure out where the true summit was…).  I got in enough hiking to know that my new boots are pretty comfy, but need to be tightened often, and tend to give me blisters on my pinky toes if not well-tightened while going downhill – just enough info to get me through our three day adventure!

    IMG_2788

    My New Asolos

     

    Backpacking in Anza Borrego November 5, 2008

    This weekend, we took a mini-backpacking trip to Anza Borrego State Park. Why mini? All told, we were away from home for less than 24 hours, and only hiked about 5 miles in the park.

    Looking ahead to the canyon from the trailhead

    Looking ahead to the canyon from the trailhead

    After driving the long and windy road from Highway 8, through Julian and to Borrego Springs, we stopped for lunch at Carlee’s Bar and Grill, where the sandwiches were good and the homemade potato chips were brilliant. We then headed to the Park Visitors’ Center – it was big and well-appointed, with information exhibits on par with those at Grand Canyon – maybe not surprising considering that the park is California’s largest state park, covering 600,000 acres!

    Palm Canyon Trail Description

    Palm Canyon Trail Description

    We started our backpacking adventure on the Palm Canyon Nature Trail, one of the most popular hikes in the park. It was mid-afternoon when we started out, and it felt like summer instead of the first day of November – it was about 92 degrees and very sunny when we started out along the desert trail.

    Trailhead

    Trailhead

    There are trail markers at strategic spots along the trail, but we hadn’t picked up an interpretive brochure and so tried to guess at what we were supposed to be learning (rocks? plants? dust mites?) as we made our way to the first palm grove.

    Clear skies over the valley

    Clear skies over the valley

    There are a number of trails branching off along the valley floor, and so we only saw about two-thirds of hte markers as we made our way into the canyon. After about a mile of very slow hiking (those backpacks are heavier than we remembered!), we got to the shadier part of the trail, protected from the sun by the canon walls.

    Oasis Ahead!

    Oasis Ahead!

    The official trail ends on the other side of the palm grove,

    End of the Trail

    End of the Trail

    but we continued on deeper into the canyon, scrambling over boulders and through thorny acacia shrubs.

    Heading Upstream

    Heading Upstream

    As we got further up-canyon, the streams were running at slightly more than a trickle and the pools were more numerous, and most importantly, we saw a lot of frogs! They were fairly tiny and hard to get pictures of, but it seemed like there were at least two different species hopping around.

    Have you seen my frog?

    Have you seen my frog?

    It was fun to come accross the pools of water, but everytime we saw one, it meant there were more boulders to climb over as we made our way upstream – four days later, and my legs still have bruises and scratches!

    the stream pooling along the trail

    the stream pooling along the trail

    After a while (making sure we went further than the other backpackers we knew about, since Chuck is all about competitive hiking…), we came across our chosen campsite. We could see another grove of palms another third of a mile ahead and around the bend, we had a nice little pool of water to relax near and soak our feet in, and there was a sandy stretch for us to set up the tent:

    The view to the north of our campsite

    The view to the north of our campsite

    Our very own wading pool

    Our very own wading pool

    Our wading pool had some frogs and water bugs, but as we were getting out we noticed an ultra-scary mean looking bug on the rocks right below where we were sitting – it looked kind of like a rhinoceros beetle, except it was under water – ick! Normal water beetles and little black grubs were ok, but this guy was creepy!

    Chuck set up out tent

    Chuck set up out tent

    Good color coordination!

    Good color coordination!

    The downstream view

    The downstream view

    Since it was still pretty warm in the evening, we left the rain fly off our tent and huddled in our sleeping bags and enjoyed the breeze coming through the tent…until one in the morning, when we were suddenly awoken by…raindrops! in the middle of the desert. The rain only lasted a minute or two, but Chuck threw the rain fly over the tent just in case there was more. We didn’t get swept away by a flash flood, but in the morning it was interesting to see how the stream had surged overnight, with the rocks and sand around our wading pool showing new high-water marks. After a night of tossing and turning (I still haven’t figured out how to sleep comfortably in the tent, even with my new packable feather pillow), we woke up early in the morning and headed out in the morning light.

    Morning sun over the canyon

    Morning sun over the canyon

    A baby palm tree growing near the stream bed

    A baby palm tree growing near the stream bed

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    Ocotillo

    Ocotillo

    We didn’t spot any bighorn sheep on our hike, although they were rumored to be in the area, so that’s another reason we have to go back to Anza Borrego. We did come across the skeleton of a baby sheep, presumably killed by a mountain lion – it looked like it had been laying in the stream bed for quite a while. We also heard a scary growling noize once on our way out of the valley, and quickly movedaway from that spot to the other side of the stream bed in case we were being stalked by a mountain lion ourselves!

    We got back to the car shortly after eight am, and stopped at Los Jilbertos in Borrego Springs for breakfast burritos before driving back to San Diego – it was the perfect post-backpacking breakfast!

    Our trip to Anza Borrgo allows me to cross #59 off of my 101 Things list. Now that we’ve made the trip and know how much fun it is, we’ll definitely be going back!

     

     
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