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.