Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Table Rock State Park with the Georgia and South Carolina Trail Dames

This post was originally published on the Trail Dames blog.

Women from both the Georgia and South Carolina chapters of Trail Dames met on a chilly fall weekend for camping, hiking, and bluegrass music at Table Rock State Park in South Carolina.  It was the first joint trip between these two chapters, and it was so much fun I’m sure there will be more in the future.
Dames goofing off. Photo by Wendy.
 Wendy and Julie, who founded the South Carolina Trail Dames chapter at the beginning of this year, greeted everyone in the parking area.  They direct us to the Owl Tree group campsite, only 1/4 mile down the trail and with a lovely view of the lake through the trees.
Jules and Donna show off their winter hammock setups.
 After settling in, the sun set early, as it does this time of year, and we came together around the campfire.  Women who have been with the Georgia Trail Dames chapter since its beginning (7 years ago!) were joined by a few who were brand new to the Dames.  As happens so easily in the outdoors, everyone started sharing stories, exchanging tips, and telling about our past adventures.  Laughter and conversations filled the night air, warming our hearts, even if our backsides remained chilly. 
Around the campfire.
 As the sun came up the next morning, women slowly emerged from tents and hammocks.  The freezing temperatures had provided quite a challenge during the night.  Some had stayed warm, but others hadn’t fared as well. 
Fall color.
We began the day with a 1.8 mile hike on the Carrick Creek Trail.  The fall colors were incredible!  Waterfalls cascaded over rocks covered in brightly colored leaves.  Fallen leaves crunched beneath our feet as we hiked. 
Hopping across the rocks during the hike.
 After the hike, some decided to go out to eat, while others grabbed a picnic lunch and then went to listen to traditional bluegrass music at the lodge in the park.  A few Dames joined in the dancing in the aisles.  What an (interesting cultural) experience! 
Local musicians playing bluegrass music.
Our second morning, the early risers in the group took Pam’s suggestion to watch the sunrise over the lake.  Morning fog rose dramatically over the water and provided a picturesque ending to a fun-filled weekend. 
Donna, Brenda, Joan, Leah, Julie, and Kathy. Photo by Wendy.
On a more personal note...
 I was so glad to spend a wonderful weekend with the Trail Dames. I definitely missed hanging out with these gals.  Some of these women have known me since even before I learned to backpack, and have given me so much support in hiking the PCT.  It was so cool how they'd read my PCT blog and asked me so many questions about my adventures.  Spending time with them out in the woods reminded me just how much they've taught me- especially about how to laugh about everything and how to slow down.  Sure love the Dames!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Food for the PCT

I got a request to write about my food for my 2014 hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, so here I describe my strategy for resupply, menu planning, my favorite meals and snacks.  All my food was no-cook/ stoveless, which is how I've been eating on the trail for a long time.  I prefer the simplicity and it saves me time.  Enjoy!

Maildrops vs. Buying in town
There are two general strategies for resupplying food on the Pacific Crest Trail.  You can mail yourself food (or really have your friend or family member mail it to you) or you can buy food in towns as you go.  I didn't know which I would prefer, so I planned a hybrid approach, preparing and dehydrating meals for about half of my stops, and figuring I could buy food in town the rest of the time.
Buying food in town.
This hybrid strategy turned out well for the first 940 miles before I had to get off the trail for the stress fracture.  They say sending yourself food works best for those with specific food requirements, and that's the case for me- I am hypoglycemic so that means I need more protein and fats with every meal and I'll crash if I get too much sugar.  The boxes of food that Still Waters and my parents sent me were filled with all sorts of delicious snacks from Trader Joe's, and whole-foods-type stores or International Markets, and dehydrated meals that I made from recipes I'd developed over the years.  More veggies, more nutrient-packed foods, less sugar.   So I found that I ate much better from my boxes than when I shopped in town where the choices were more limited. 

When I bought all my food in town, I found I had less variety, since there were fewer options in the small towns.  I mostly ate fresh foods like tortillas and cheese, but did pack out more veggies which was great.  But I had less energy when I ate the sugary foods common in convenience stores like pop tarts, hostess cakes, and candy bars.  It was a nice change once in a while, but I looked forward to my resupply boxes when I could get more variety.
Fresh tomatoes and green peppers taste delicious on tortillas.
Preparing and dehydrating meals for the trail
Last winter, I dehydrated many of my favorite winter meals.  These tasted great on the PCT.

When I was healing from the stress fracture, I prepared trail food for the second half of my hike while I was at Steph's house (Thanks again Steph!).  I had the advantage of knowing exactly what foods I wanted, and I could incorporate what I'd learned from the first 940 miles into my menu planning.  What I had learned was that I wanted to eat food that had flavors like I normally eat at home.  I also learned that the food I could make or buy myself was so much better than what I could find in towns.

I made meals by dehydrated a few ingredients and combining them with other ingredients that I ordered online.  I generally followed several recipes found on the Backpacking Chef website.  (Note: Below I only list ingredients, not amounts, because I didn't measure anything.  If you need a recipe, check out that website.)

I dehydrated rice that I'd flavored before dehydrating (see below) and also creamed corn to make corn bark.  I also dehydrated shrimp and deli ham.

I ordered pre-made dehydrated veggies (from Harmony House), freeze dried cheese, and freeze dried meat online to add to what I made.   
Mixing up dried veggies with other ingredients.
My favorite meals
The key thing was thinking up what dishes I like to eat at home, and then figuring out how to mimic those on the trail.  I love Indian, Mexican, and Asian food, so I took those as inspiration to create meals from the dehydrated ingredients I had.  

    -Green curry- dehydrated Trader Joe’s Green Curry Simmer Sauce over cooked jasmine rice, then added dehydrated shrimp and freeze-dried peas.
Dehydrating Trader Joe's Thai Green Curry sauce mixed with jasmine rice.
    -Corn chowder- dehydrated corn bark, dried corn and dried potato, nido milk powder, cheese powder, dehydrated shrimp or ham.

    -Sushi in a bag- dehydrated sushi rice (prepare sushi rice as you would for regular sushi by seasoning it with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, then dehydrate it), dehydrated shrimp, dried cabbage, and broken up dried seaweed.  I'd put it all together in a bag, then add cold water. It wasn't rolled since that would have taken too much time, and the seaweed turned sort of mushy, but all the flavors were there and it tasted close enough for me.
Making "sushi" for the trail.
    -Fantastic foods tabouli- with added dehydrated corn, carrots, and peppers.

    -Tortilla soup- dehydrated corn, peppers, tomatoes, squash, dehydrated refried beans, freeze dried  cheese, dehydrated beans, with fritos sprinkled on top.

    -Lime-cilantro rice with corn and beans- dehydrated rice with lime juice and cilantro, also added corn bark, dehydrated beef, and taco seasoning.
A favorite.
Meal plan
I followed a rough schedule for eating that involved frequent meals.  Breakfast at 5-6 AM, 1st snack at 8 AM, 2nd snack at 10 AM, lunch at 12, 3rd snack at 2 PM, 4th snack at 4 PM, dinner at 6 PM and evening snack right before bed.  Dinner was probably my smallest meal.  I felt more constant energy when I ate continuously and never had a big meal.  When I did fewer miles and didn't need as many calories, I skipped the evening snack.

Breakfast was always granola with nido milk powder and jerky or cheese sticks for protein.  I ate this every single morning and never got sick of it.  I mailed myself nido milk but bought granola in town.

Lunches and dinners were just-add-cold water meals.  Sometimes I had tortillas with cheese and pepperoni, or with peanut butter and dried fruit.  Because I am hypoglycemic, I always had protein with my meals in the form of cheese, tuna, nuts, or freeze dried meats.
Blue Yonder makes up some tortillas with peanut butter and dried cranberries.
Snacks were bars, pudding, dried fruit, dried veggies or veggie chips, or nuts.   Plus some protein like cheese or jerky at every snack break to avoid sugar spikes.  An equal number of sweet and savory snacks worked well.  The evening snack was usually peanut butter.  Salty snacks were especially important in the heat. High calorie snacks were really important in the Sierra.  We were all really hungry by that point, and needed extra calories in the cold and difficult terrain.
Snack break after crossing Forester Pass.
Bars
I didn't like bars as much as other people.  But they were easy to buy and carry so I still ate them sometimes.  Traditional bars were usually too sugary and boring, but made OK treats when paired with some jerky.  A few times other people gave me bars they were sick of like ProBars and these were great because I hadn’t had them before.  I liked bars that had higher calorie content like some of the protein bars, builder bars, and pemmican bars.  I also found a few unusual bars in natural food stores that were delicious and high fat (which was great!) like Halvah and Oskri coconut bars.
The key to bars is variety and not eating them too much. 
Dried fruits
I didn’t anticipate how much I would enjoy dried fruits and fruit leathers.  Especially tart and tangy fruits.  I didn’t dehydrate any fruit for the beginning of my hike because I thought dried fruit would be easy to buy.  I was wrong- all the dried fruit was too sugary and not nearly as good as my home dehydrated fruits.  (The exceptions are dried ginger which soothes the tummy, and Trader Joe's Mandarin oranges.)  So while I was healing from the stress fracture, I dehydrated bananas and made low-sugar fruit leathers (cranberry-orange and mixed berry were favorites).  I added yogurt to the fruit leathers to up the protein.  Most of the time I ate the dried fruit directly, but it was also delicious when I added cold water to it and let it soak and turned it into a “smoothie”. 
Dried fruit and fruit leathers.
Other sweet snacks
Instant pudding with nido powder and chia seeds.  Instant cheesecake mix.   Chocolate was also a very important thing to carry for chocolate-emergencies.  Tictacs and jolly ranchers for SoCal.
Don't forget the chocolate!
Dried veggies
Veggie chips were a favorite.  Also, wasabi peas and kale chips. 
Loved all things veggie.
Nuts and nut butters
Nuts were one of my favorite things in SoCal.  Then I got sick of them by the end of the Sierra.  Nut butter single serving sizes were good at the beginning, but once hiker hunger set in, I always carried a jar of nut butter.  One time I mixed nutella and chunky peanut butter half and half and it was divine, though probably had too much sugar for me but I didn't care at that point.
Nut butters.

Jerky
I ate a lot of jerky.  Lightweight and packed with needed protein.  I loved Simply Snacking jerky strips.  Krave brand jerky (Pork black cherry barbecue) was another favorite.  Jerky was really expensive on the trail, so I tried to get it sent to me because it's much less expensive at Costco or online.

Cheese
I usually carried a block of cheddar, but occasionally got something fancier like gouda.  String cheese was another favorite.

Drink mixes
EmergenC, gatoraide (low sugar), and any kind of drink mix packets added flavor.  These were especially good when water was scarce and I would want to “tank up” and drink a half liter (or a liter) at the water source to rehydrate. 
Drink mixes.
Fresh food
Packing out fresh food added nutrition and tasted delicious.  Things that held up especially well included apples, tomatoes, and carrots.  Other favorites to pack out included baked goods and hardboiled eggs.  Tortilla, cheese, and pepperoni was my standard lunch fare. 
Nothing like packing out a fresh apple.
To be honest, I didn’t do as much fresh food after the stress fracture because it tended to weigh more and it was more important to me to keep my pack weight down.  To make up for it, I did take more zero days and ate a lot on in town.

Final notes
The thing about food on the trail is that everyone is different.  Some people say they get more variety from buying in town, but I just saw they could get more variety of poptart flavors.  Read a lot of different blogs about food on the trail, and try to read between the lines to see what strategy fits your tastes.

My experience was hugely shaped by having to get off the trail due to injury.  I imagine I could have gotten sick of my food if this hadn't happened.  But then again, I had a lot of variety and a specific diet, so perhaps not.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Gear review for the PCT: pack, hydration, kitchen, electronics, etc.

This is the third part in my gear review series from my 2014 PCT hike.  Here, I describe what I liked and disliked about my pack, hydration system, kitchen, electronics, and other misc. gear.  If you just want to go directly to my gear list, that link is here.  I covered my hammock related gear and clothes in separate posts.

My base weight (no food or water, and without counting the clothes I wore) on the PCT was 12-13 pounds.  I get cold easily so I used more insulation and I carry a hammock.

Pack
Pack: Gossamer Gear Mariposa Pack  (25 oz w/out pad)                      
I got this pack for free since I am a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador.  Overall, this pack fits me well and I like the design.

Pros:  My favorite thing about this pack is that it was extremely comfortable and made the pack feel like an extension of my body.  I also liked that my sit pad could be used as the backpanel and could be easily removed for rest breaks.  Especially after the stress fracture, I must have taken that sit pad out at least a half dozen times every day so I could sit and rest my feet comfortably.  I also loved that I could access the right side pocket without taking off my pack.  That allowed me to take out (or stow away) my umbrella, gloves, and buff as I hiked.  The mesh pocket was great for storing damp items like water containers and a ground cloth.  It was also large enough to carry 7 L of water and 6 days of food in SoCal or a bear canister (vertically) in the Sierra.  

Cons: I had a problem with the straps on this pack.  Over time, the shoulder strap rubbed against the hip belt pocket, and eventually made the pocket zipper break.  I told Gossamer Gear and they eventually sent me a new, modified hip belt which was great because it fixed the problem that I was having.  But getting the new belt took months which was frustrating.  Gossamer Gear is working to improve their customer service, so hopefully this sort of thing won't be a problem in the future.
Gossamer Gear Mariposa.
Pack Liner: Trash compactor bag (1 oz)
Simple, effective, and inexpensive.  I always keep my quilt, hammock, sleeping clothes, and puffy jacket in it so they wouldn’t get wet when my water containers leaked.

Hydration system
I switched between the sawyer mini filter and aquamira.  I used the sawyer filter in SoCal but I hated  how long it took to filter water.  So I switched to aquamira for simplicity in the Sierra.  After the stress fracture when I was hiking alone, I ended up carrying both the sawyer mini and aquamira.  I felt better having a backup system when there was no one else around, and I also liked that I could use the aquamira if I didn't want to stop, and I had the option of tanking up at water sources with the sawyer before the longer water carries.
Sawyer mini.
For SoCal, I had 9 liters capacity for water, though the maximum I ever ended up carrying was 7 L.  I had a mix of shapes and sizes of collapsible bottles so that they fit into my pack and served various functions.  I liked being able to sip my water from a platypus.  I had two 3-L platypus hosers that I switch out.  I also had a 1 L platypus collapsible container for drink mixes.  The 1 L size fit perfectly on my side pocket so I could reach it without taking off my pack.  In addition, I had a 2 L “dirty water only” platypus, which is what I used to collect water.   After SoCal, I tossed one of the 3 L platypus containers.

Kitchen: Stoveless
I’ve been stoveless for several years, and it really suits my hiking style.  I always had a meal rehydrating in cold water in my pack, so when I got hungry I could eat whenever I wanted.  It made things easy in SoCal where water sources were spread out- I would filter water directly into my meals at water sources so I didn’t even have to plan how much water I’d need for meals.  Super easy.

In the Sierra, I was worried I might be cold due to not having hot food.  But being cold for me was due to not enough calories or having cold, wet feet, not the temperature of my food.  On cold nights, I’d have spoonfuls of peanut butter before bed.

I ate everything out of plastic bags.  No bowl, plate, or cup.  I preferred ziplock brand pint sized freezer bags.  Lighterweight or cheaper bags leaked more often.  I always double bagged the food I was rehydrating. 
Cold lunch and boiling hot fumerole, Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Spoon:  Sea to summit alpha light longhandled spoon (0.5 oz)            
I love this spoon.  The long handle allows you to reach into quart sized ziplocks instead of pint sized which trust me you will have to resort to at some point.  The squarish shape allows you to really scrape the sides of the bags or jars.  A metal spoon doesn’t break like plastic.

Food bag: Sea to summit, ultrasil stuff sack (1 oz) 
Light, durable.  This is not waterproof, but it dries quickly.

Opsack Odor proof bags
I stored my food in Opsack odor proof bags.  I still don’t know if it mattered because I typically camped in lesser used campsites, or where no one had ever camped before.  I usually hung my food at night too though.  I never had critters get into my food.

Bear bag rope: Kelty Triptease
Most PCT hikers sleep with their food.  I hung mine in trees with rope.  It is reflective, which really helps for finding it in the morning because I'd usually be up well before dawn.

Skin care (soap, sunscreen, foot care, toilet bag, pee rag)
   
Soap: Dr. Bonner’s peppermint soap repackaged in a Mini-dropper bottle
I used a drop of Dr. Bonners in a ziplock bag for washing.   I washed my socks frequently, and found adding a little soap really helped when they got really gross.  I used a drop of soap in a plastic bag of water to wash my hands (if water was available) after I pooped.  I always make an effort to disperse the soap as far as possible from water sources, and I only used a tiny amount of soap.  Even though it is biodegradable, that doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful to aquatic environments.

Sunscreen: Neutrogena SPF 70 (2-3 oz)
I burn easily, so I had to frequently apply sunscreen.  I carried a 3 oz bottle of sunscreen, because I used it so quickly especially crossing over all the snow in the Sierra.  At first I was pissed off that some other people didn’t use any sunscreen, but then I thought about how many times my dad has had to get the skin cancer removed from his face and I hope these extra efforts spare me from all that in the future.

I used various brands of sunscreen but these were my two favorites: Neutrogena ultimate sport 70+ and Neutrogena ultrasheer liquid 70+  They didn’t feel as slimy or have terribly offensive odors. 

Foot care bag  (duct tape, sports tape, anti-friction cream, moisturizing lotion, knife)
I took out my foot care bag at every rest stop and used it in the morning and at night before I went to bed.  I used a baby wipe to get the dirt and sand off.  I massaged my feet with anti-friction cream (trail toes) during the day, and then with moisturizing lotion at night.  The scissors on my Swiss army knife classic SD (0.8 oz) worked great for trimming toenails, and I kept it in my foot care bag because that’s where I used it most often.  Duct tape and sports tape were used to tape up blisters.

Toilet bag  (ziplock with pre-cut paper towels, pack of baby wipes)  (1 oz)
I prefer paper towels as toilet paper- they hold up better.  I used natural material first (i.e. sticks, smooth rocks, certain leaves, snow), and buried them deep in the hole with the poop.  Then I polished off with a small amount of paper town and a baby wipe (if needed).  I always packed out used TP, baby wipes, and tampons- double bagged in ziplocks.  Then, I wiped my hands with a baby wipe and washed them with soap and water if possible.  Regular hand washing helps prevent GI problems!

Bandana: pee rag w/ snap (0.8 oz)
A pee rag may sound gross at first, but let me tell you what’s gross: finding toilet paper along the trail.  My pee rag is a cotton bandana with a snap on one corner.  The snap allows the bandana to be attached to the shock cord on my pack (for easy deployment without taking off the pack) or to my hammock ridgeline in camp.  You want a snap because the PCT is windy.  You don’t want your pee rag getting blow off your pack because then someone might pick it up and give it back to you and then how awkward is that going to be?!?

The UV light from the sun kills any bacteria that may be on your pee rag.  I also rinsed out my pee rag using my ziplock bag washing machine and scattering the dirty water far from water sources.
Pee rag attached to pack via snap and shock cord.
Electronics
Thoughts about technology on the trail:  When I was planning my hike, I had mixed feelings about using my iphone while on the trail.  But on the trail I naturally found a good balance.  I wasn't overly distracted by social media or email because the trail was so absorbing and fulfilling.  I usually didn’t even want to make phone calls unless I was in town.  Disconnecting helped me focus on being in the moment, rather than checking my email or facebook ever few seconds as a way to escape like I do when I'm off-trail.  But I also really liked keeping a blog and being connected with friends and family with my posts.

Thoughts about not carrying a camera: I did send home my camera and just used my iphone to take photos.  I carried a camera the first 500 miles but I didn't like having to take time in town to find wifi to transfer my photos to my iphone and charging the camera battery was a pain.  I was much happier with photos that I could share instantly from my phone. After the stress fracture, I got more interested in photography, but I found that I could still take adequate photos on the iphone when I put more effort and thought into lighting and composition.

Phone: iphone 5S with AT and T (4 oz)
I used my phone as GPS unit, camera, computer, ipod, kindle, and (rarely) a phone.  It was easier to have one unit do everything rather than have to fiddle with multiple devices.  Fewer cords, easier to get everything charged in town.

I was glad I took my friend Pathfinder’s advice and waited (and saved) to get a new phone right before my hike.  I like iphones but that's probably because they are all I've ever used.  I should have gotten more memory so I could store more photos because 16 GB filled up quick.

Phone case: Lifeproof fre (1 oz)
Waterproof.  Lightweight. Expensive but totally worth it.
   
Phone battery: itorch 5200mah  (4.4 oz)
Charging my phone on the trail with an external battery was easy and didn't require any fiddling like a solar charger does.  This size was more than enough for me, but I tended to use my phone less than others.

Satellite GPS messenger: SPOT Gen2  (4 oz including 3 AAA batteries). 
Pros:  I felt that it was the responsible thing to do to carry this in case of emergency, especially for when I went off bushwhacking to find a hang site.  My family and friends felt better when they received my “OK” messages.

Cons:  It doesn’t allow you to receive messages and you have no way of knowing if your message got sent.  It also doesn’t do text messages like the inreach.  You have to get to an open space without tree cover to improve the chance that the message will go through, and often times it didn't.
Watching the sunset and sending my evening "OK" message using my bright orange SPOT.
Headlamp: Petzl Zipka plus (2.5 oz  including 3 AAA batteries)
I debated whether to carry this or my lighterweight but dimmer eLite.  In the end, I was glad I used this one because I ended up nighthiking a lot.  Also, when I stealth camped in my hammock I was often far away from the trail, so I’d be starting my day bushwhacking in the pitch dark.  

Pros: This headlamp didn’t turn itself on in my pack like other headlamps that I tried.  The cord is retractable so it didn’t tangle up.  I used the same set of lithium AAA batteries for 940 miles.  I like that the headlamp uses the same type and number of batteries as my SPOT satellite device so I didn’t carry extra batteries.  I just figured if one ran out, I could use the others until I got to the next town (though that never happened).

Cons: Weight.  There are lighter options available.  Next time I’d check out the lights that run on a single AAA battery.
Bushwhacking by headlamp.
Watch:  Timex expedition indiglo  (1 oz)
A watch is a very helpful tool for backpacking.  It is key for measuring distances/ dead reckoning.  In the Sierra, it was critical for timing the passes to avoid postholing.  And for estimating how fast I needed to hike to get to various stores, restaurants, or the post office before closing.  This watch is simple and durable.  It lights up so I can tell the time in the dark.

Everything else

Notebook + pen: Rite in Rain (1 oz)
I wrote notes as I hiked so I could get the thoughts out of my mind or make notes about names that I’d likely forget.  I typically wrote in my paper notebook during the day, and then typed up my blog entries at night from my notes.  I don’t think the waterproof paper was necessary but this sized notebook fit in my pocket.
Writing in my notebook.
Poles:  Black Diamond Distance FL (15.5 oz)
Loved these poles!  They are very light and they never collapsed, unlike so many other poles I've tried.  They folded down super small when I wasn't using them.

One trick- I put reflective tape on them.  Then I could use them to mark my hammock campsites when I went off to go watch the sunset.  Otherwise, it'd be hard to find my way back to my hammock in the dark.
Reflective tape on my hiking poles.
Halfmile paper maps
I am somewhat old-fashioned in that I used paper maps in addition to the navigation apps on my phone.  I made notes on my maps about potential hammock hang sites and water sources.  It also saved my cell phone batter to not have to always rely on it for navigation, so I could carry a smaller battery charger.  After the stress fracture when I was doing more off-trail exploring and side trails, I was especially glad I had the extra information on side trails and off-trail lakes (for swimming!) contained in the paper maps.  

Wallet (with ID, cash, credit card, PCT permit)
I carry a butterfly wallet (0.3 oz) and preferred it to a plastic bag because it was more durable and easy to carry in town in my pocket.  I did carry more cash than I normally do.  Most places took credit cards.  Only got asked for my PCT permit once, but definitely have one.

Gear used in the Sierra
 It was a low snow year, but I entered the Sierra early, leaving Kennedy Meadows on May 24th.  I encountered lots of snow.  I found the snow terrifying but also totally exhilarating.

I used microspikes in the Sierra, but not an ice ax.  I took a snow course (highly recommended) where I was trained in self-arrest, but I decided not to take an ice ax anyway.  When I crossed over Forester Pass and a few other passes, I was with other people that did have ice axes.
Crossing the chute on Forester Pass in my microspikes.
Traction: Kahtoola microspikes
Pros: I was a fan of the microspikes for the Sierra.  They griped the ice which made me more confident on the traverses.

Cons:  It took extra time when I took them off and put them back on very frequently whenever the terrrain switched from rocks to snow to rocks again.  Eventually I learned from another hiker (Thanks Red!) that you could just leave them on in the rocks and it wouldn’t damage them too much. 

Bear Canister: BV500
Loved my bear canister.  Bear canisters are required in the Sierra, and it made me feel good that I was doing my part to help protect the bears.  This bear canister is inexpensive, and I liked that I could see through the sides to find what I wanted to eat.  Opening the BV500 was fine for me because I used the library card trick.  It wasn’t as horrible to open as it had been in the winter in Georgia when I was practicing carrying it.  I suspect because there was less moisture so it didn't freeze shut. 
Bear canister.
That's it for the gear reviews.  As I said, my clothes and hammock gear were reviewed in other posts, and I discuss apps here.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Disclaimer: I am a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador, and I got the Mariposa pack from them for free.  All other gear was purchased by me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dayhike on the Colorado Trail

I never forget the feeling I have the first time I set foot on a new trail.  Anticipation mixed with enthusiasm, plus a dash of apprehension for the new challenges it may present. 

The Colorado Trail (CT) extends 485 miles from Denver to Durango through spectacular scenery.  It shares part of it’s length with the Continental Divide Trail.  I’d heard a lot about it, but had never hiked on it before.  I was really excited when Still Waters suggested we go up for a dayhike to check it out.
Fancy trailhead sign.
Still Waters drove us up a bumpy 4-wheel drive road to the CT trailhead at Kennebec Pass.  I was a terrible passenger and kept exclaiming, “It is so WRONG that a road goes up here so high.”  When we got to the trailhead at 11,600 feet, I could see why she’d been so insistent to take me here before the snows fly.  We were in the heart of the stunning La Plata Mountains.  Snow-covered mountain peaks were all around us. 

I headed north past Taylor Lake, up to the Indian Ridge Trail.  Heart thumping in my chest with the altitude.  Unforgettable beauty.
Crossing over a little snow.
After less than a mile of climbing, I gained a 12,000 foot ridge with incredible views to both sides.  These mountains were unfamiliar with their jagged shapes and the geology was different than anything I”d seen on the PCT.  And yet, being up high, I felt like I was in my element. 
Ridgewalking.
I took out my compass and shinny, crisp new map to get oriented.  I could identify the peaks and valleys, and could make out the trails switchbacking up distant passes. 
Map and compass.
I probably won’t have a chance to explore the CT more this season.  Other hikers I met up there said it’s unusual to be able to up there this late in the fall because early snows usually dump snow up there.  But I know I’ll be back someday.  I felt the pull of these Colorado mountains.  The dreaming has begun again.
Gazing in wonder at the Colorado Trail.
For more information:
Colorado Trail Foundation
PMag's Colorado Trail End to End Guide

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

After the PCT: Road trip through Utah

After picking me up from the PCT and driving through Nevada, my parents and I continued our road trip eastward through Utah and into western Colorado.
Me and my dad at Bryce Canyon National Park.
The scenery we traveled through was unbelievable.  We visited Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Grand Staircase/ Escalante National Monument, and Hovenweep National Monument.  We didn't spend more than a few hours at each park, but we stopped at the viewpoints and did short walks.  At first I found it difficult to see things this way, but I adapted to the pace.  This trip was about sharing places with my parents, and getting a taste for what's out there.
Stopping to check out the cliffrose.
Adjusting to off-trail life has been slow going.  My body still aches from lack of activity.  Car travel is still too fast for my brain to take in the scenery.  I find indoor air too stuffy and hot.  Showering everyday seems excessive.  I continue to wear the same things everyday, even though I have more than one outfit now.  We stopped by a thrift store to get a suitcase because everything doesn’t fit into my backpack anymore, but now I can’t find anything.  I miss the simplicity of the trail.
But I do like traveling with my parents.  Our camaraderie makes up for how much I miss hiking for 12-14 hours a day.  I love how we oh and ah at the scenery together.  I love seeing our similarities.  Like how my mom and I laugh at all the same things.  Like how my dad and I both wake up insanely early, all bright-eyed.
Dad nimbly climbs up the slope at Capitol Reef National Park.
As we drive, we generate lists of historical and natural history questions to research.  Such as: who was Mather, and why are so many places in parks named after him?  Is the cottonwood tree native here?  What is the difference between a butte, mesa, and a plateau?  So many questions, everything out here is so new and exciting.
Stopping to ask questions at the visitor's center at Capitol Reef National Park.
Remember the last week on the trail, how I was struggling trying to come up with things to look forward to after the PCT?  Well, I'm definitely adding "Utah Parks" to that list, as well as, "unlimited access to google" "informative interpretive signs on nature trails" and "having time to browse through the plant reference books at visitor centers."  Yes, these are a few of my favorite things (that I didn't have on the PCT).  After being so intensely focused on the PCT for the past year, it's helpful to see that there are more wonderful places to explore besides the PCT and so many ways to enjoy the outdoors besides being on a long hike. 
Mom, me and Still Waters reading an interpretive sign at Hovenweep National Monument.
Next we traveled to Cortez, Colorado to see Still Waters, who just moved here from Georgia and has invited me to stay with her in Colorado for a while.  My parents spent several days sightseeing around the area with us before they continued back to their house in Wisconsin.  I'll definitely miss them.
Anasazi ruins at Hovenweep National Monument.
One thing that was really wonderful was that my parents seemed to really support me and understand my experiences on the PCT.  They got how having the stress fracture and returning to the trail in the off-season allowed me to have a different type of hike.  They really respected how I changed my attitude towards my hike and learned the lesson that "the journey is the reward" and we had some really good conversations around that.  I haven't spent so much time with my parents for many years, and I feel very fortunate to have made this time to spend with them. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

After the PCT: Great Basin National Park in Nevada

After picking me up from the PCT at Castle Craigs in Northern California, my parents and I headed east and crossed the great expanse of Nevada.  Flat sagebrush alternating with narrow mountain ranges that extend north to south.  The land has been stretched here creating this basin and range topography.  By car, we traversed the expansive sagebrush plains and climbed mountains before descending again, then repeated the pattern.  Our journey has a rhythm that is soothing and makes traveling at these (high) speeds much more soothing.  We reached our first stop on this road trip, a national park none of us had even heard about until we started driving.  It turned out to be quite a jewel.

Great Basin National Park in Nevada rises thousands of feet above the flat sagebrush plains.  My parents and I drove to the Wheeler Peak trailhead at 9800 feet.  Wheeler Peak Scenic Driver twists and turns with switchback that reminded me of being back on the PCT.  My parents opted for the 2.7 mile Alpine Lakes Loop Trail.  I set out for the Bristlecone and Glacier Trails (4.6 miles), and did the Lake Loop on my way back.
Up to the Bristlecone Pines.
The scenery is breathtaking.  I hiked out to the end of the trail and spread out my sit pad and took off my shoes and wiggled my toes in the crisp air just like I was out on the PCT. 
Rock glacier.
The rock glacier at Great Basin occurs below the ice glacier.  Water freezes between rocks, and the mass of ice and rocks forms a rock glacier that flows downward.  I could see the ice and I marveled at the rocks and imagined the huge glaciers that must have carved out this cirque.
View down the cirque.
The Bristlecone Pines are incredible!  Bristlecone Pines are the oldest living individual organisms on earth.  The ones at Great Basin are 2-5,000 years old.  Can you imagine!  Extremely slow growing, they survive in harsh environments like high elevation mountains, exposed to snow and wind.  Being in their presence, you feel small and insignificant.  What a great feeling!
Bristlecone Pines.
Massive peaks rise above the lakes on the Alpine Lakes trail.  I started feeling the pull of the mountains.  I passed the turnoff to the climb up Wheeler Peak, the second highest peak in Nevada at 13,063 feet.  I was overcome with this desperate need to climb this mountain, to stay here and see the stars and the sunrise.  I’m not ready to leave these mountains yet.
Along the Alpine Lakes Trail.
Back at the trailhead, I met up with my parents again.  I begged them, “Can I stay here tonight and climb Wheeler Peak tomorrow morning, while you go into town?”  I was overjoyed that they agree to come pick me up the following day. 

I grabed some trail food and my hammock, and my parents left me at the trailhead while they went in search of a burger and hotel room.  I added cold water to some couscous, and hung my hammock in a grove of aspen.  It got below freezing during the night, but the stars were bright and I could see the milky way. 

****
I am hiking as the sun rises, back to my old, PCT rhythm.  It is jaw-droppingly spectacular when the first rays of sunlight meet the yellow leaves of the aspens. 
Starting up the Wheeler Peak Trail.
Switchbacks and 3,100 feet of elevation gain ahead.  My legs remember this routine.  The climbing makes them feel alive and full of energy. My lungs suck all the oxygen they can from the thin air.  I feel marvelous.   I love being this high up.  I get above treeline and the views radiate out all around.  Different than anything I’d seen on the PCT, though the rocks and lichen and switchbacks all make me feel at home.  I love it! 
Heading towards that highest peak.
The wind picks up, fierce and strong.  Gusts like you couldn’t imagine.  I put on more clothes.  The fleece mittens I wore through the snow in the Sierra.  I keep climbing but the wind gets stronger and stronger.  I though I was used to the wind- certainly I had enough wind on the PCT.  But this is like nothing I’ve ever felt.  I have trouble staying upright.  I am literally getting knocked off my feet.  The icy gusts penetrate right through my clothes, driving away all warmth.  Still I climb, but I can’t keep warm, and I kept getting knocked around. 
Climbing above treeline.
The trail starts getting even steeper.  I am well past the saddle.  All the way to the last, stairmaster-like push to the top.  Steep rocky steps.  I figure I am somewhere above 12,000 feet.  The wind is getting worse and I still have trouble keeping upright in the gale force winds.  My fingers and toes are going numb in the cold.  I finally get to the point where I can't feel all ten fingers and all ten toes.  That’s when I know I’m too cold and have to do something different.  That’s my limit.  It would be possible for me to reach the summit, but being alone and with the wind, I know it's not a good idea to keep going.  Especially with the numb toes which make it ever harder for me to keep my balance.  So I turn around and head back down the mountain.
Windswept and cold, but still smiling.
Back on the saddle, I ran into two other hikers, the first I'd seen.  One guy was on his way up still, but the other guy had turned around even before I had.  The wind was too much for him too.

I thought I might feel disappointed in myself for not reaching the summit.  But I wasn’t.  The summit didn’t mean anything to me.  I got to climb, to breathe mountain air.  I got to watch the sunrise and to see the incredible views.  I felt the cold of the wind whipping around me, the rocks beneath my feet.  Those are the things that are important to me.  I attempted to make it to the top, but I made a good decision to turn around.

Other people might have kept going under these circumstances, or maybe they might have not gotten as cold or been as unstable in the wind.  But I can’t compare myself to others, like I always used to do.  In the past, not summiting would have prompted me to start feeling like I am weaker or not as brave other hikers.   But I am beyond that now.  I realize this is one of the important lessons of the PCT- now I am more comfortable in the decisions I make on the trail.  I know what is important to me, and I understand that the things that I value may be different from what others are out there for and that our goals and how we derive meaning are different.  And I understand that’s OK.  I do what I think is right for me at the time.  No regrets.  It is a good lesson for life.