Thursday, June 5, 2014

Torn Tattered and Battered: A poem about my Sierra struggles

The first week in the Sierras was both extremely beautiful and challenging. The mountains and passes I went over were the tallest and snowiest of the entire PCT. We started the Sierra section from Kennedy Meadows where it takes two full days to get into the real mountains. I carried about 25 lbs of food out and expected it to last until Vermillion Valley Resort about 8 days later. I climbed Mt. Whitney(a spur trail) with a group of friends and then split off as they went to resupply in the town of Lone Pine. On that day I went over both Forester and Glen pass, the two hardest passes of the PCT. The magnitude of Sierra Mountains is something I am still trying to grasp. The passes are all covered with snow above 10,000 feet and my walking speed turns into a crawl as I punch through waist deep snow and scramble over rocks. After a day of this you are more tired than  you ever thought possible. Keep in mind that I have been hiking for more than a month straight. I mean really tired. 
With enough food and a healthy body this section is very doable and fun for the most part. About 3 days out from my next resupply my body and food supply became a big issue. 
My skin was in total rebellion as my feet cracked and my back rubbed raw from my pack. I didn't carry enough lotion to care for all my failing limbs and each hour my skin got worse. My legs were also raw and covered in cuts from post holing in the snow and my hands had half inch cuts at my thumb and hand joint making gripping things very painful. I also was badly sunburned through my shirt! I don't think my skin has ever been in such bad shape. All of this was exacerbated by my dwindling supply of calories. 
The miles were coming allot slower than I expected and what should have taken 8 days, took 10. I had to spread 5,000 calories over three days which is ridiculous in terms of mountain hiking. I can eat 7000 calories a day while hiking and still loose weight! The hunger lead to depression and hopelessness that slowed the hours and blinded me from the beauty all around me. I am terribly regretful for not resupplying in lone pine, not because how shitty I felt, but because I didn't appreciate every second in those wonderful mountains. 
This poem was written in my head and was sort of a turning point as I hit rock bottom eating my last meal by a raging creek. It became my mantra as I powered over the last pass before resupply.


Torn, tattered and battered 
These last few miles have nearly left me shattered

Walking for days on barbie doll rations
The hunger destroys all passions

Look through my pack for an upper
Scarf cold mashed potatoes like its my last supper

The pain comes as I begin to hike
How can I even tell you what it's like

My hands are cut 
My feet are cracked
Im scared to even look at my back

So sunburned, dry, and raw
I wonder why I am out here at all

Curse God, Curse Moses
Why do I have to carry this Ichythyosis

The snow is too soft
The ice is too slick
The mountains are too tall
The water is too deep
My feet are too cold
I am too tired


This is not me
I don't sit on a throne of self-pity

Plow through the snow 
Like an angry buffalo

On the pass, scream in wild voice
Tears in my eyes cause happiness is a choice. 

am now in the town of Mammoth Lakes, taking a much needed day off. Lots of fresh vegetables, pizza, and brewery tours.  

What the PCT desert section is really like

A few months ago I was sitting on a futon in Beijing, beginning the plans for walking from Mexico to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail. The pollution index in the city had been hovering around 500ppm all week. Considered to be, a toxic level of pollutants and is un-heard of in the rest of the world. Anything above 500ppm is technically off the charts because the measurement system was not designed for such an un-thought of and extreme air toxicity level. The air pollution spiked into the 600s atleast twice during my 6-month stay. It is recomonded that you wear a mask and limit your outdoor exposure when the pollution is bad(+200), but there is no escaping the emotional torture; the entire city is cloaked in a gray low light haze of dust that can hide entire buildings and make noon feel like 6pm. I don't know how my brothers have functioned there for so long. I find the city almost un-in habitable during pollution spikes. 

Pollution aside, my time in Beijing was awesome but after a few months I was craving the outdoors like the dickens. So choosing to run off into the hot, dry, waterless dessert was an obvious choice. Any place in nature and away from urbanization would have been paradise. I believe going to the desert straight from Beijing was instrumental in my enjoyment. 

So what is the desert really like? Before the trip I imagined long endless stretches of flat torturing nothing-ness. It turns out the desert section of the PCT is extremly diverse ranging from pine forests, to oak groves, to miles off joshua trees, and never ever flat. Every day brought new scenery and smiles to my face. I think I may have been the most consistently happy I have ever been in my entire life during the desert section. Nearly everyday I became so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that I could not help but get choked up. Everything just seemed to work out perfectly and the miles glided by.


The three dangers of the desert: Water, Sun, Snakes. 

The water situation in the desert is a big deal and needs to be taken seriously. As long as you follow the PCT water report, sip water, and carry extra you will have no problem. I also got very lucky with finding full caches of water left by trail angels. This is due in part that I got ahead of the big heard of hikers so the water was not depleted. The true longest stretch I went without a water source was only about 15 miles. Without caches this could be more than 35! 

My biggest fear going into the desert was the sun and heat. My skin is very sensitive to the sun and overheats easily which can turn dangerous very quickly. The key to beating the heat is simple: don't walk when it's hot. On hot days I cut myself off and dove for cover under anything I could find, sometimes hunkering under a 3 feet tall chapperall bush for up to 5 hours. This lead to some epic night hiking to catch up on miles. The night hikes are some of my favorite memories of the desert. Walking solo into a dramatic desert sunset is an un-equal experience. It is cliche but the night certainly plays tricks on your senses and the posters about mountain lion atacks didn't help.


The locals seemed to talk up snakes more than anyone. This was concerning but I only saw a rattle snake once and it quickly darted away from me. Aparrently the Mojave Green Rattle Snake will pursue people and it's bite is known to kill. Luckily I never saw one of those. 

The desert was an irreplaceable experience that I would certainly reccomend and do again.  

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Day 28: Mile 700, Out of the Desert!

After a 5 day, 150 mile charge from Tehachapi, we made it to Kennedy Meadows, which marks the end of the desert and the beginning of the Sierra!

The desert dished out some cold, rainy, and windy weather before we could escape it's sandy grip. A few people got hypothermic during a rain/sleet storm. I stayed warm and found out my backpack is water-proof.  

We had a great little party in Kennedy Meadows to celabrate the end of the desert and the begining of the Sierra. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Day 10- 21: Idyllwild to Hiker Heaven

Apologies to the five people that read my blog; 12 days and 274 miles have passed with no update. Wonderful, exciting, and gay things have happened, are happening, and will happen, but finding the time and energy to write them down has escaped me. For one, I have listened to The Great Gatsby two times in the last week.
I was going to do a recap of everything that has happened in the last 12 days but I feel that would be way to boring for both me and you. Instead I am going to post some photos from the last week and try to talk about highlights and quarks of the PCT thus far. In short: I am having an absolute blast.

Big Boy Tiny Pack
Snow bath for my dogs halfway up San Jacinto Mt.

Dropped back into the desert the morning after climbing San Jacinto. It went from freezing to 105 degrees! This was a much needed trail magic stop by Tarzan.

Got an early start leaving Ziggy and the Bears.

Thunder Gun!

Zero in Big Bear Lake 
The man! Pappa Smurf hosted me in Big Bear for two nights with food, shower, and laundry!
Leaving Big Bear

Coppertone coming through with root beer floats!!
The infamous Poodle Dog Bush. This will be getting its own post.
Poodle Dog Detour 
"Hiker Heaven" Truly a hiker heaven. Everything you could want and more. Also getting its own post soon.

New Shoes!
Walmart Freak out!!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Night 7 and Day 8: Pissing in the wind

Pack, poles, water, food, and Allman Brother's "Midnight Rider" at full volume. Thats how you walk into the desert sunset. 

I left the Warner Springs resupply with high spirits and big goals. I planned to go completely nocturnal starting that night and chug my way into the morning light with brute force and will. I planned to sleep during the day at my resupply but I ended up chatting with some good folks all afternoon. I even pleaded with some to join me on my night-hike, but nobody had the huevos. 

So I took off alone and enjoyed an epic sunset in the river bottoms just outside of Warner Springs. The desert isn't all "desert" like you may think. Where there is water there is an abundance of life and sometimes huge trees like in this picture. 

Soon out of the bottoms, I began a 2500 foot climb into the high moonless desert. Lots and lots of smooth switch backs made way to a mountain ridge glazed with stars. 

The solitude is wonderful but it does get lonely at night so I popped on my phone and happend to have great signal. I video chatted with some friends and family in Beijing! 
My spirits lifted again, I powered through a few more hours of switch backs before I got too sleepy to keep going. At 1am I called it a night at a campsite in between some big boulders. Made dinner and passed out instantly without setting up my tent.(I have stopped using my tent for the most part because its not needed in the desert) 

I woke up at 8am to the sun beating down on me and some other hikers walking through my bedroom. The wind had picked up through out the night and was now howling in between the boulders. I stood up and walked to the corner of my ground-sheet to take a leak.  I judged the wind to be at my back and let loose my nightly buildup. Woosh.. My pee went sailing about 10 feet and hit the boulder in front of me with a patter. Before I could smile with the satisfaction of harnessing the power of mother nature, she flipped sides on me. The wind shifted with equal strength in the opposite direction. Good morning!

I made it to trail angel Mikes' around 10am and found a note for me in the log book from Fitty. Log books are used all over the trail so friends can see where you are at on the trail. It is also a good way to thank trail angels. 

Fitty's message fired me up and I got cook'n down the trail. By 9pm I made it 25 more miles to Paradise Cafe. From there I  got really lucky and caught a hitch to Idyllwild. This sweet old lady picked me up and talked my ear off about horses. I was so tired that I couldn't keep up with any conversation so I just nodded and listened.

I camped at a really cool spot right inside the town of Idyllwild. There was huge pine trees all around me and hardly angbody at the camp ground. I looked for Fitty but he was no where to be found. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Day 6-7: Night Hiking and Warner Springs

The night before day 6 I stayed in Julian,  12 miles off trail. While in town, we decided to hit the trail late the next day and focus our time on night hiking. The hike from scissors crossing is a long waterless and hot stretch that is really tough in the the heat of the day. What further convinced us to night hike was the weather, hotter, and hotter the next three days. 
I am going to do a separate post dedicated to the thrills of night hiking when I have a few more nocturnal outings under my belt.  

So the plan was to leave town in the afternoon and start hiking when the sun was setting and hike through the majority of the night. We ended up leaving town much earlier than I would have liked, and because I wanted to keep up with Fiddy, I joined. At noon we started hiking; thr worst part of the day to begin hiking on a southern face in the desert.  

The afternoon heat is hard on everybody but for me it quickly becomes dangerous and reckless. My skin does not sweat at a normal rate so I can become quickly over heated. I dove under a bush at about 2pm when I was getting woozy from the heat. 

The desert is a bipolar mistress. In the beating sun you can over-heat and dehydrate in less than an hour, and in the shade, during that same hour you could be shivering. I'd rather be cold. 

I began hiking again at 7pm, after popping out of my refuge bush 3-4 times to test the heat. At this point the sun was casting dramatic shadows on the valley below and the temperature was dropping rapidly to a comfortable hiking temperature. Time to cruise!!

At first you think it's dark then it gets a whole lot darker. To quote the Big Lebowski: "darker then a black steer's tookus on a moonless prairie night". 

 I took down about 13 dark miles and called it a day at Barrel Springs. The sleepiness caught up with me and I called it a night earlier then I wanted but the trail will still be there tomorrow.  Overall, a great decision to night hike and I will be trying to go more nocturnal as the days pass. 

I woke up at about 7am and made my way to Warner Springs to take a long break until night fall. Awesome setup here. Ran by volunteers that make food and provide utilities for hikers. Tonight I will be attempting a dusk to dawn hike. Woowoo 

California cows are frisky