Tuesday, August 23, 2016

PCT Prep- 2016 style

In just a few days, I fly out to start hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) again. In 2014, I hiked from Mexico to Castle Craigs, 1500 miles. That means I still have Washington and Oregon, some 1100 miles.  Here I go.

I can’t quite believe it either. Mentally, my head is still swirling with ideas for projects for my park in Montana.  (Guess I can't say "my park" anymore.)  The school field trip programs, interpretive talks, additions to the trail map I redid, and oh no it’s Wednesday my day to clean the bathrooms. Funny how when we work, there really isn’t any such thing as days off. The brain is still working on solutions to work problems. There are people that turn it off, but I’ve never figured that out. Once I get into something, I’m all in.

Which may be the best explanation for why I’m heading back to the PCT. As much as I’ve loved finding work I enjoy so much, I still can’t get the PCT out of my mind. I long to see this trail to the end. To see the places that inspired this hike in the first place- growing up with vacations with my parents to Crater Lake, Stehekin, Sisters. And even if I don’t finish, again, just giving myself the chance to try will be enough.

Will the experience of hiking the PCT be as joyful as it was in 2014, when it was the best thing I’d ever done, happiest I’d ever been? Certainly I was in a different place back then, burnt out. Am I a different person now, after two years of AmeriCorps?  How will it feel to do something so seemingly self-centered after finding such meaning in engaging in national service?  As AmeriCorps members, we'd joke about getting things done "for America!" even if it was really mundane like stocking toilet paper or picking up trash.  But that's what if felt like.
Leading a Wildflower Walk... for America!
Teaching a school field trip program... for America!
Will I have a different perspective traveling through on our public lands after working in Montana State Parks, organizing trail work projects and land improvement projects and engaging children with the natural world?  Will the PCT mean something different now?  What will it feel like doing something... for me!  Will I get something different out of hiking?


As crucial as the mental aspects are, I know you all really just want to know about planning the food and gear, right?  Well, there’s not much to say….

In 2014, I spent six month preparing. It was my first long distance hike. All that planning paid off.  Plus it was fun and I learned a lot. And wrote a lot.

This time around, 6 days getting ready seems like enough. Food prep took 3 days for 7 resupply boxes. Picked up backpacking staples at Trader Joe’s on my drive through Salt Lake City and Nature’s Oasis in Durango, Colorado.
Ingredients for stoveless dinners
At Still Water’s house, I dehydrated my two favorite meals- sushi rice with tiny shrimp and green curry vegetable. Ah what would I do if it weren't for Still Waters always opening her home to me, always supporting me when I need it? And she’s even got a garden this year. Thank you Still Waters!
Home-grown veggies from Still Water's garden
Dehydrating rice and curry veggies.  A stoveless, just add cold water favorite.
Getting my gear ready took a few days. For the past two years serving with AmeriCorps, I’ve been on the No New Gear Budget. Which means I pretty much have all the gear I had last time on the PCT and it has gotten even more use the past two years. A few extra patches, replacing worn cords and guyline, reinforcing stitching— hopefully all of this will give me another thousand miles.

The No New Gear budget is now officially over with three purchases (that I’ve had on my list for a year and a half!)- a new raincoat, the InReach (to replace my SPOT), and a custom-made hammock overcover— hopefully will keep me a bit drier.  No time for much testing. The PCT will be enough of a test.

Finally, shoes. In 2014, I got a stress fracture in my foot at mile 840 in the High Sierra. Have I figured out how to prevent another stress fracture? Do I know what shoes will give me the best chance at making it? Do I have plan for my feet?

Ummm… I still have a few days…

Monday, August 22, 2016

What's hard about saying goodbye to Montana?

That last blog post about falling in love with the Montana landscape and then leaving — none of that feels important anymore.  What’s breaking my heart is saying goodbye to friends that have come to feel more like family. 
Missing this the most!
How will I ever find people again like this— who make me feel alive and challenged and respected and cared about?

Two weeks before my AmeriCorps term ends, I move out of my trailer and begin couchsurfing.  Friends open their homes to me and fill my evenings with stories and homemade pie, ice cream, pulled pork, and grilled salmon.  

As I plod around in my pajamas through their kitchens, I get this other glimpse of their lives and it makes me even sadder that this is all the time we will have together. I think about what an impact they’ve had on me and wonder if I’ll ever see any of them again. But it also makes me grateful that I got to connect with such wonderful people.  And really, that's what life is all about.
Coffee and homemade scones
Aren’t I used to all this leaving by now?  But the only thing that is easier about moving is the packing.  How all my stuff fits neatly in rubbermaid boxes that stack in tetris neatness in my tiny car. If only I could make such sensible order of the direction of my life now.


On the drive out of Montana, I stop to visit a friend in Salt Lake City.  We scramble over rockfields to a waterfall in the Mount Olympus Wilderness and laugh and talk about old times.  

Playing in Utah
If I hadn't have made all these moves, and said goodbye each time, I'd never have met her, or any of the other people I've crossed paths with over the years. I remember that each move is an opportunity to meet more kindred spirits. It makes me hopeful that in the next few months, I'll have more chances to connect with new people that I wouldn't have had if I stay put.
One of my last Montana sunrises
But I sure will miss all of you, my Montana friends!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The thing about Montana

The thing about Montana is that it is insanely beautiful.  I forget this constantly-- especially when I'm running errands or sitting at my computer at work.  Maybe this much beauty is too much to hold in one's tiny brain- it's bound to make one distracted or daydreamy.

But step out on the trail and Montana comes full force flooding into consciousness.  Fresh.
Bond Lake in the Swan Range of northwestern Montana
A 2,300 foot climb up the Bond Creek Trail to Bond Lake.  No one is around so I jump in.  Cool waters, fish jumping.  There is something about immersion in freezing waters that makes this landscape more comprehensible.  Or maybe it's just the brain slowing down in the cold.
Above Trinkus Lake
Going around blind corners, I hear my voice echoing across the entire valley as I announce my presence to possibly bears.  Deep, resonating, a powerful voice that means business.  I think back to the weak, quavering voice of my first few solo hikes in grizzly country.  This place has changed me.  Now I have a voice that penetrates around corners.
At the junction with the Wire Trail, there is much not-knowing.  Will the next few miles to the lake wear me out in this heat?  Do I have enough water to get me there/ will the lake be dry/ drinkable?  Will there be grizzlies?  Will the clouds bring a storm and if so will I be stuck high on a ridge in the lightening?  I weigh what I know with all the uncertainty of new territory.
Closer to sky.
The name of the next lake is “Crevice Lakes.”  I don’t know what crevice means when it comes to lakes but it sounds like something I’d like.  Time to move forward despite the uncertainty.  Don’t I have everything I could possibly need right here on my back?  Don’t I have the experience to go along with it?  Isn’t an open heart even more critical than all of that?

Strong legs carry me forward. Where they get their power, I never know.

I feel the heat in the form of light nausea at the pit of my stomach.  How far is the next lake?  Two miles in this heat seems endlessly far and I recheck my water supply to see if there is enough to spare to soak a bandana for my neck.  Then up ahead, an unexpect gift.
How is there still snow in July?  In this heat?
In mid-July!  Snow is packed into my hat cooling me off instantly. More snow goes down into my shirt— the melting water drips down cooling me twice.
Rocks cradle water
Rock spines slice through Crevice Lake
Sight is restored as the snow cools me down.  Breaking through the trees, the endless mountains with impossible angles stretch out.  Tears start to run down my checks.  Sometimes I can’t stand it all, this beautiful Montana landscape.  I shout my frustrations into the wind, “How can I ever leave you, Montana?”
Epic ridgewalking along spines of mountains, views stretching east and west
Mountains don't respond though.  There are no answers. It's up to me to make sense of all this.

The scent up here… not overly sweet, just… right. The Swan Range smells like the fitting end of a long beloved book- deliciously complex, satisfying, provoking.  I love this smell, I think.
Close up.
I wonder if this is how it goes with all wild mountain places.  Certainly I felt like this with the High Sierra.  But Montana- isn’t this more beautiful than even that?  Is it even right to compare?  What even is beauty?  What is it about the power of a place to make us gasp, to make us wonder?
Time to make camp
Then there is the slowly creeping evening light. Eager to go to bed in my hammock, but I have to wait and watch.  Bird dart and chase each other.  What if I fall asleep before all the colors turn?
Yellow hour
Pinks start to appear
Nearly there orange
I laugh because it matters not if I am hear to watch it or not.  It happens here, day after day, all of this.  Somehow that is comforting, knowing this continues to be here even when I'm back in town, even when I leave Montana.  This will all be here.  Maybe some of this will stay with me.  Maybe there is some of this that I will never forget because it has changed me so.  If not the beauty, then the scars this place has left.
Breathing it in.
Morning again
This trip will be my last solo in Montana.  I'm completing my second term with Montana State Parks Americorps.  I thought I'd stay here forever, but it's clear I have to leave now.  How can I possibly be anywhere else though!?!?  Guess I'll find out soon enough.

Trip information
Bond Creek Trail
Alpine Trail #7
Crevice Lake

Monday, July 18, 2016

Rainy Harrison Lake

Thunder rumbles in the distance.  The intensity of the rain picks up.  I splash along the shoreline- my shoes are soaked anyway and I can only feel half of my frozen toes, but a little more wet won’t matter.  The lake water has risen to cover the gravely bank but I’m determined to get to the survey site before the storm rolls in.  I'm out here doing surveys for Glacier National Park's Citizen Science Program, and there is still a view of the steep, snow-speckled Glacier Park peaks that I hope harbor mountain goats.
Is this storm coming in or heading out?
Balancing my umbrella in my poncho, I pull out my binoculars and scan the cliffs.  Binoculars fog up, get wiped clean, fog up again, then get rain-soaked.  Goat-shaped rocks or rock-shaped goats?  Is that goat-snow patch moving?  Binocs are too blurry to tell.
Foggy binocs frustration.
I retreat back to the ranger cabin porch to wait it out.  What if the fog rolls in further?  What if the rain keeps pouring all night? I don't know why it matters so much.  I'm not getting paid.  If I can't survey, it's OK.  But still, I care.  I want to see if the goats are out there.  Curiosity, ah yes, you powerful modivator.
Waiting, watching, trying not to be cold.  How could we be this cold in July?
No sense in what- ifing.  There is only listening to the rain drops through the forest.  Watching the sparkle of light on wet forest.  Marveling at the wonder of found-shelter.  Soaking in the here-and-now.  Breathing it in.  There is only waiting and being present.

(Oh why is this stillness, this softness with the present moment so accessible out here, but sometimes hard to find inside buildings, inside cities?)

Slowly, very slowly, there is a brightness that appears in the distance.  Is it moving this way? 

Ah blue sky- what are you even?  A little patch.  But there nonetheless.
Blue skies.
I move down again to the water’s edge where I can make out the distant peaks.  Are you out there, mountain goats?  Through the binoculars, there is a possible goat-rock or it is a real goat? Are those legs- oh it’s moving!  It's a goat not a rock!  Out come the spotting scope and tripod, and oh there are four goats sure enough.
  One, two, three, F-O-U-R goats.
Their locations is recorded in my citizen science data sheet.  I watch them for a while longer.  They move the way goats do, across impossible cliffs, nimble.  Ah goats!

All it took was some waiting, some watching.  Without the spotting scope, without that break in the weather, I'd never have seen them.  How many things are like that?  Without knowing how to look, without waiting for a clear view, you'd never even know that four goats were up there.  I wonder how much more I'd see if I had this kind of patience in other situations.
Socked in with fog the next morning. But ah the stillness.

Trip Info

The Boundary Trail led 7.2 miles above the Middle Fork of the Flathead from Headquarters to the Harrison Lake Trail.  Then it was 4.8 miles to the Harrison Lake Campground, and 0.5 miles beyond to the goat site.
Along the Middle Fork of the Flathead.
Only saw two other people in two days, and there was no one else at the campsite.  No one.  On a weekend in July.  They say that Glacier National Park is crowded, but it’s not if you know where to go.  Just don't tell anyone about Harrison Lake.  Or tell them its a terribly overgrown trail.
Which is true.  Here we are fighting through the bushes.  The trail was only like this 75% of the time.
The Belton Bridge was not the place for solitude, certainly.  When returning to the trailhead, it was packed with people playing loud music and sunbathing in bikinis and whooping as they leapt into the water below.  What a shocking onslought of humanity to return to after such a quiet and restorative two days.  I strode by with my sun-umbrella, knee high gaiters, and long-sleeved shirt, feeling feral and free, determined to carry the peace and wildness with me in my heart as I venture back into the week.
Harrison Lake- let's keep it quiet.
Date Hiked: July 16-17, 2016
More about Glacier National Park's Citizen Science Program.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

CDT in Glacier: Pitamakin and Triple Divide Passes

For Day 1 between Two Medicine and Oldman Lake, click here.

The second and third days of our Continental Divide Trail trip in Glacier, Renee and I went walking through a gorgeous painting.  How can the peaks jut up at these incomprehensible angles? How can this possibly be real?
Above Medicine Grizzly Lake.
Glacier feels so alive and vibrant.  Almost like I shouldn't be here. What is our impact having?  Rather than feeling at home like I do on other trails, here I am constantly aware that I am just passing through.  This place belongs to the wildlife, not us humans.  It is wild.
Carved by glaciers
This area is known for a high concentration of grizzlies.  We make lots of noise, and I scan the trail and hillsides, ever vigilant. My voice penetrates the quiet, cutting through the birdsong.  Does Renee think I'm excessively paranoid with all my shouting and reminders to be alert?  I think of all the quiet mornings we've spent hiking together on other trails across the country, sharing peaceful sunrises.  Being with her reminds me of how different my mental state is out here where I'm not at the top of the food chain.  A deep awareness of what I give up to be here.
Taking a break, we finally sit quietly and watch the lake ice melting before our eyes as wildflowers dance in the breeze.
Sitting for an hour doing mountain goat or loon surveys provides a quiet counterbalance, stillness, and a way to cope with being in Glacier.  It makes me feel like I can help out the wildlife, in the small way that scientific research does, by raising awareness and deepening human understanding- I still believe this can make the difference, can't it?  Surveys also focus our observations, and makes us look deeper.  So if there is no tangible broader impact, at least the surveys change us in small ways.  Sometimes that is enough.
Renee spots goats and sheep at Pitamakin Pass
Sitting still, tracing the binoculars and spotting scope across the landscape.  Otherwise the landscape, and these problems, are just too big for my tiny brain. 
Marveling at how fast the mountain goats run across snowfields at Triple Divide Pass.
A tiny newborn goat follows behind its mama.  How they can be so agile on impossibly angled slopes?  How can they survive the winters here?  How quickly they disappear around the corners, out of sight. 
Distant waterfalls
Further on down the trail, two CDT hikers greet me, "Hello Joan!"  I'm surprised they recognize me-- we just hiked together for part of one day on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014 near Sonora Pass (read about meeting them on here).  I remember being so inspired by them- how they were going off to hike the High Sierra Route, and how we had that sort of intense and real conversations that can happen out while backpacking.  But still, they must have had a good memory to remember my name!  I asked and they said, "Well you're wearing the same outfit too!"
Despite the new bear spray and binocular accessories, I've still got pretty much the same look.
We catch up on two year's worth of hiking and life.  (The Sierra High Route was incredible, they said.) It's old trail friend moments like this that make me want to do another long distance hike.  Oh how I've missed this feeling of instant connection, of being part of a community. 
The afternoon heats up as we descend into the burn area.  There is water all around, but there are times where it seems so far away.  Whenever we cross a stream, I soak my clothes and head and feet.  Not being adapted to these temperature extremes.
Water and green amid the burn
Whenever we pause, the mosquitoes descend upon us. At least one critter is glad we are here. I keep up my racket of announcing our presence into the wilderness.  We see no bears.
Even the burn has a beauty I wasn't expecting.  How life has recovered.
Bear grass and regrowth
A way across
At camp, we spend the evening talking to a couple who is finishing up their last section of the CDT.  Ah what stories they share.  A group of college buddies arrive later- obviously on their first camping trip.  They leave food out unattended while they go get water, so we all try to educate them about proper food safety and etiquette without being preachy.  It seems to come across well and they ask question after question about long distance hiking and how our packs can be so small.  This type of exchange is one reason I really like these shared food areas-- how wonderful to share and listen and educate, to inspire and learn from one another.
Evening at Red Eagle Lake Campsite
We hiked on the CDT in Glacier National Park on the Pitamakin Pass Trail from Oldman Lake to Altlantic Creek Campground.  Then, over Triple Divide Pass to Red Eagle Lake Campground.
Date hike: June 28-29, 2016

Monday, July 11, 2016

CDT in Glacier: Oldman Lake

A three night backpacking trip with Renee along the Continental Divide Trail in Glacier National Park. 
Among the many reasons I love hiking with Renee is that we share a passion for maps.
In preparation for Renee’s first trip in grizzly country, we went over proper use of bear spray the night before with some demo practice spray.  Hands-on demos are best for figuring out how close bears need to be before using the spray and how the spray acts in wind.  Learning how to put the safety cap on and off, and seeing just how easy it is for the spray to go off unintentionally, helps prevent accidentally spraying oneself or one’s hiking buddy.
Grizzly habitat.
During our four days, we completed five mountain goat and two loon surveys for Glacier National Park's Citizen Science Program.  Renee used her hiking umbrella so she could look for mountain goats into the sun using the spotting scope and stay cool for the hour-long survey.
More uses for the umbrella.
Our first survey yielded no goats, but a few miles down the trail, I spotted four goats way up on the hillside.
A sheep moth visits us as we are conducting our bighorn sheep and mountain goat survey.
I wasn’t sure if there would be trees for my hammock on this trip.  In Glacier, you have to camp within the designated sites.  Renee was generous in bringing both her tents so I could try them out.
Two tents, no hammock
Sleeping on the ground was awkward at first but it was enjoyable working on my ground-dwelling skills.  In the middle of the night, a powerful storm rolled through, but I stayed dry.
Using Renee's technique of using an umbrella inside the tent for protection from horizontal rain.
Oldman Lake was one of the prettiest campsites I've been to in Glacier.  Though perhaps that is something that I say at every campsite.
Oldman Lake
From the Two Medicine North Shore Trailhead, the Pitamakan Pass Trail climbs 6.4 miles to Oldman Lake Campground.  Backcountry permits are required.

Day hiked: June 27, 2016