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
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


A quick update from Etna August 9, 2012

Filed under: PCT — Amanda @ 10:50
Tags: ,

I’ve now hiked over 1600 miles on the PCT, and will be crossing the California-Oregon border in less than a week! I love California, but I’ll be so happy to hike out of here! The scenery for the last couple of weeks has been incredible – I’ve seen a geyser and boiling mud pots in Lassen National Park, admired the snowy peaks of Mt Shasta and the Trinity Alps, and seen my first bear – with two cubs! I got into Etna, CA yesterday afternoon and have enjoyed everything the town has to offer hikers: a trip to the brewpub, a milkshake at the drugstore soda counter, and pie for breakfast at the local diner.









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?
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:


    A (mostly) successfully suspended food bag:



    Beginning a Thru-Hiking Adventure April 12, 2012

    Filed under: hiking,PCT — Amanda @ 20:29
    Tags: , ,

    My 2012 Pacific Trail Adventure starts in two weeks! I’ll be setting out from the Mexican border near Campo, CA with the goal of getting to Manning Park in British Columbia, Canada in about five months, before the winter snows start in the Cascade mountains. The trail is over 2600 miles long, with around 300,000 feet of elevation gain – it’s a long walk, and one I’ve been planning for for about 2 1/2 months – a much shorter time than many people, but I feel (almost) ready to get started. I’m looking forward to writing more about this epic journey!

    Map of the PCT, courtesy of


    Book Review: Pacific Crest Trailside Reader January 6, 2012

    Filed under: hiking,reading — Amanda @ 6:38
    Tags: , , , ,

    Pacific Crest Trailside Reader: California: Adventure, History, and Legend on the Long-Distance TrailI’ve recently discovered The Mountaineers Books, a small published with a great catalog of books related to outdoor adventures. I just finished reading one of their recent releases, The Pacific Crest Trailside Reader: California, and am itching to hit the trail!

    Pacific Crest Trailside Reader: California: Adventure, History, and Legend on the Long-Distance Trail by Rees Hughes

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    A great compendium of historical and contemporary accounts of travel along the Pacific Crest Trail in California. The Trailside Reader offers a glimpse of the evolution of the California wilderness through US history and offers glimpses into the modern trail experience and culture. Fair warning, though: reading this book will only feed thru-hiking obsessions, and may result in the planning of extended backpacking trips!



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