Saturday, June 28, 2014

Foot injury- Update #2

When we dropped Arizona back off on the trail after his zero day, I took a 45 minute stroll (no pack) on the PCT from Carson Pass.  No foot pain at all and it lifted my spirits.  Flowers were everywhere, snow lingered in patches at higher elevations.  I breathed in the fresh mountain air, and said hello to the gnarled mossy trees.  I relished the feeling of coming home (if only for a short time!) after exactly two weeks off the trail.  Oh how I've missed the PCT!
See, I'm staying off my injured foot.  Really...
Levels of optimism reached new heights as I strolled on the PCT.  Maybe I will be able to make it to Canada after all!  Arizona told me how he has noticed that other hikers out there are beginning to struggle with the monotony of the trail at this point. The excitement of the Sierra is over and energy reserves are dwindling.  When I get back on the trail (hopefully next week- fingers crossed!) this sure won't be a problem for me-- I've got all this stored up excitement and exuberance. I'll be carrying with me an even deeper appreciation for the trail.
Yay for trees!
Yay for flowers!
But I know I will have other mental struggles due to coming off this injury.  How can I trust my body not to break again?  Will I be less inclined to push myself physically?  I constantly think about how I can maximize the health of my foot- limiting my miles as frustrating as that may be.  What will everyone think (and what will I think of myself!) if I only do 15 miles a day when everyone else is doing 30's!?!  What if everyone is always passing me? I wonder about my shoes, but after going to five different outfitters and running shoe stores, I can't find any alternatives.  I also antagonize about how I can reduce my pack weight further so as not to create undo strain on my foot.  Should I buy cuben rain pants to save 4 oz?   Or send home my down jacket?  Or cut down my sit pad/ leg insulation from 6 panels to 4 panels (unless my feet freeze at night- since I already sent home my down booties already- oh my!)  The real way to save weight would be to ditch my hammock and sleep on the ground (especially if I just carry my tarp).  Oh my that would be horrible now that I am finally into areas where the hanging is so very good.  I love my hammock too much.  I love being able to sleep so soundly.  What if I just bring less food?

Where the PCT crosses 50, we ran into Coppertone making up root beer floats for Acorn and another PCT hiker. He recognized me from when I saw him back at mile 315.   It felt awesome to be recognized as a PCT hiker- I realize I have become so attached to that identity.  So happy to be called 'Hemlock'!  I haven't seen Acorn since the beginning of the trail- he was off a week for shin splints.  Acorn and I commiserated about how slowly time goes when we are off the trail.  

Back at Carson Pass, there just happened to be a geology talk going on right after I got done with my stroll.  I've been hoping to run into someone to explain the geology of the area since I started the PCT.  It was fascinating to learn about the plate tectonics that shaped the region and why the Sierras are so unique geologically.  
At Carson Pass.
My favorite part was learning about the glaciers that carved out the U-shaped valleys and left lateral moraines that help form lakes.  I hadn't understood the geological process that explained the landscapes I had been seeing on my hike before, so this made me really appreciate the Sierra in a way I hadn't before.  He also recommended a few excellent youtube videos by Wendy VanNorden that talk about Sierra geology (be sure to check out "The Geologic History of Southern California" and "Glacial erosion").  Way cool!!!
On the geology walk.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Foot injury- Update

I've been off trail for a week and a half, and in physical therapy for a week.  I'm finally seeing some improvements in my foot. Yay! (For a while I was thinking they were just going to have to cut the darn foot off and give me a replacement- haha!) The pain while I walk is significantly reduced.  I am optimistic about getting back to the trail in the not-to-distant future once it stops hurting completely.
Last application of cortisone (applied with iontophoresis).
While it sucks to be off the trail, I cannot imagine a more ideal situation than the one I have found myself in.  I've been warmly welcomed into the home of my hiking partner's friend/ roommate Steph and it has truly been a joy to stay here.  We've cooked incredibly delicious meals together, had conversations about every topic imaginable, and toured grocery stores in the area. We saw Fault in our Stars (about two kids with terminal cancer)- a total tear jerker of a movie. What a nice change to be in a theater with everyone collectively sobbing.  I've cried a lot over the past month (about this darn foot), and there was something carthartic about not having to cry alone.

Steph has been doing resupply for both Arizona and another PCT hiker as well.  So there is hiker food everywhere.  Steph offered that I could prepare resupply boxes and food for myself for the rest of the PCT from here while my foot heals. Before I started the PCT, I prepared enough food for myself to get me the first 1200 miles of the PCT, so this will be ideal.  I have the advantage of knowing what I like to eat on the trail.
Dehydrated shrimp and sushi rice, plus other Asian-inspired meals.
I've been stocking up on the foods I've been craving  and I can find some new foods that I'm not already tired of.
I crave vegetables.
 Yesterday, Steph borrowed two dehydrators from one of her friends. How cool is that!?!? Trail food prep just got kicked up an extra notch.  Both dehydrators have been running non-stop on the back porch.
Cranberry-Orange fruit leather and mandrin oranges.
Another thing that's been great is that my physical therapist said I could exercise on a recumbent bike. Trying to stay off my foot to let it heal was really tough after being used to exercising for 10-14 hours every day.  Going to the gym has been such a relief- especially to get my heart rate up and feel my muscles burn.
It's not the Sierra, but at least it's getting my heart rate up.
I've also been really happy to connect with a few other friends who are or have been off trail due to injury or illness. Talking to them makes me feel much less crazy because they understand what I'm going through. It's really tough mentally being off the trail, and it helps me stay sane to talk to them.
Bella always cheers me up.
Though of course I miss the trail terribly, it's been fun to enter into this world- I drive someone else's car, wear someone else's clothes, have been adopted by someone else's dog.  It feels like I'm playing a game or like I've stepped into a movie.  Quite an experience!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hammock Gear on the PCT: SoCal & the Sierra

To compliment my post on hammock hanging on the Pacific Crest Trail in Southern California and the Sierra, I will review the hammock-related gear (and relevant apps) that I have used on the first 940 miles of the PCT.  Overall, I was very happy with my hammock setup.  I used a hammock with integrated bug net, 20-degree top and underquilt, short foam torso-pad, and a cuben tarp.
Sunset after the hailstorm in the Sierra.
The Conditions
The weather I experienced was cold but mostly dry.  There was precipitation only two nights: snow while I was heading out from Kennedy Meadows and rain/ hail briefly in the Sierra.  Winds were often strong in SoCal, but night temps were mostly in the 40's.  In the Sierra, it was usually in the 30's (or 40's) at night, but sometimes got well below freezing.  I'd tested my gear into the 20's in Georgia, and the temps in the Sierra always felt warmer than the coldest nights I practiced in in Georgia- I think it was because it wasn't as damp.

When I entered the Sierra, the only change I made to my hammock setup was that I added an extra foam insulating pad (Gossamer Gear thinlite pad) that I found in a hiker box and cut to 2' x 2' .  I put this under my shoulders and torso and it added warmth especially in the wind. I also picked up a warmer set of long underwear that I wore layered with my hiking long underwear and fleece hoodie at night. I carried down booties the whole time which were probably overkill in SoCal, but I still wore them every night and wasn't too hot.  A few cold desert nights would have been miserable without them.
Hanging in a ravine out of the wind.
The Gear
Hammock- Dream Hammock Darien UL, 10 foot, 10 oz.  Loved this hammock! Comfortable lay and lightweight. The integrated bugnet kept the mosquitoes out. The fabric seems impossibly thin so I'm very careful not to snag it. SlowBro, a fellow hammock hanger on the PCT this year (check out his awesome blog here), also had this hammock but had them make it in a slightly heavier material- he still got a small hole in it but showed me how he taped it and it's held OK. Randy at Dream Hammocks provides excellent customer service- he fixed the ends of my hammock which had worn before I started the PCT. If I were to hike a long distance trail again, I'd bring this hammock with me.

DIY Hammock Bishop Bag- This is an extra large double end stuff sack that holds my hammock, underquilt, and sleeping clothes. To make setup fast and simple, I attached my underquilt to my hammock and just leave it on there.  I also leave my sleeping clothes zipped inside my hammock.  So when I pack up it all goes into the bishop bag, and when I set up, nothing touches the ground and everything is instantly right where I need it- simple and easy.
My green, oversized bishop bag at the end of the hammock.
Hammock suspension- 10 foot Dutchware tree straps and 6 foot whoopie slings with Dutchware whoopie hooks, and arrow shaft toggles- I wanted an extra long hammock suspension system to accommodate long hangs and large trees.  This was largely overkill, and I rarely used the whoopie slings.  Instead I looped the hammock ends directly over the marlin spike hitch/ arrow shaft toggles.  This was because I found many more short hang sites- places that barely fit my hammock.  When I tried widely spaced anchor points, I was often unable to push the tree straps high enough to prevent the hammock from sagging onto the ground.  Though a few times I used my hiking poles to push the tree straps higher up the tree when I was really desperate.  I could have saved weight by bringing shorter tree straps, but perhaps they will come in handy when I get to Oregon and Washington.

Tarp- Hammock Gear Standard Cuben Fiber Tarp with Doors (11 foot), 9.2 oz.  I love this tarp because it provides excellent protection and is incredibly lightweight for the size.  However, this tarp was bigger than I needed.  I only set it up twice in precipitation and another two times for extra warmth and protection from wind.  If I'd been caught in really bad weather, I would have been glad I'd had it. But if I were to do SoCal again, I'd bring a smaller tarp. 
The tarp on the day it snowed.
Top quilt- DIY karo-style quilt, 19 oz. I loved my quilt!  I was thrilled with the design of my quilt- it was a narrow cut and that kept it lightweight.  I was always warm in it too.  It sure felt good to use a piece of gear I'd sewed myself.  The DWR Argon fabric from Dutchware was soft and was nice for repelling condensation the few mornings I woke to droplets on my quilt, I just wiped it off.  

Underquilt- 3-season Warbonnet Yeti (3/4 length, 20 degree), 11 oz.  This kept me warm as long as I stayed out of the wind.  If there were large gusts, the underquilt suspension was not sufficient to keep the quilt tight to me, and I experienced drafts (i.e. cold butt syndrome).  Not a problem with the quilt of course.  I solved this problem by stuffing my extra clothes or gear around me, and by adding an extra piece of foam insulation under my shoulders.  Otherwise, this quilt fits me well and is high quality.  I've also had great customer service from Brian of Warbonnet.

Leg insulation/ ground pad/ sit pad/ backpack frame- Thermarest Zlite sol, 6 sections, 6 oz.   This was my most versatile piece of gear!  While hiking, it fit in the sleeve of my Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack, and functioned as a cushion against my back.  At every rest break, I would pull it out and 
sit on it.  At night, it was insulation under my legs (since my underquilt is 3/4 length).  And the one night I went to ground, I slept on it (though rather uncomfortably).  
Rest break sitting on my Zlite.
Ground sheet- I ended up switching from tyvek to a Gossamer Gear polycro ground sheet (1.6 oz) to save weight. I had a medium sized sheet in case I had to go to ground.  But I mostly used this under my hammock as a clean place to sort gear and as a mat.  It has gotten a few holes in it since I also use it to push down vegetation or brush so I don't damage my hammock, so I now only use it folded in half.  Overall, I'm happy with the polycro.

Apps for Hammock Hangers

Apps that I used on my iPhone were really helpful for finding hang sites.  I would plan ahead where to camp by inferring locations of trees.  I annotated my printed Halfmile maps with a lists of hang sites that I got from other hammock hangers (like Luke Sierrawalker's list here) or from a fellow hammock hanger's google earth files that he made from looking at trees from satellite images (Thanks Jim (PITA) for sending these to me!) But those were not complete lists of sites, so I relied heavily on two apps to find trees.

eTrails is a free app for the PCT.  It was my favorite!  It describes campsites and often says if there are trees or if a site was shaded (ie. had trees!) and usually says locations of burns (not places where you should hang).  I loved it because it would sometimes tell the types of trees in the area, and provided lots of excellent and entertaining natural history and historical information.

Guthook's guides are apps that have elevation profiles, maps, and water and camping information.  They are excellent for navigation, though I tended to use Halfmile's app more often.  For the hammock hanger, Guthooks guides were useful because they have photos of campsites but these often don't show trees even if they are present.  It was worth consulting for the rare times eTrails didn't have a better photo though.  Other times I would find hang sites by going to water sources listed.  Even seasonal springs tended to have bushes or trees around them.  

Overall, this gear was versatile and served me well out on the PCT.

Disclaimer: I purchased for all this gear with my own funds.  (Or sewed it myself or took it out of hiker boxes myself.)  The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Hammocking the PCT: Review for SoCal & the Sierra

Readers of my blog might notice that I'm a hammock enthusiast.  I've posted photos of my hammock nearly every night that I've been out on the Pacific Crest Trail (I only went to ground once).  "You really love your hammock, don't you?" I've been told when I gleefully climb out of my hammock bright-eyed after another awesome night's rest. My hammock has been my favorite piece of gear on the PCT- I sleep soundly and comfortably, which ensures I'm ready for hiking the next day.
Breakfast in my hammock on a cold morning in the Sierra.
So in writing a review about using a hammock on the first 940 miles of the PCT (including Southern California and the Sierras- the most questionable sections for hammock hanging), you might expect me to recommend a hammock unequivocally to everyone.  But that is NOT the case!

Especially in Southern California (and to a lesser extent in the Sierra- see below), hammocks are rare for good reason.  Hanging there takes a certain type of backpacker with particular priorities.  It certainly is possible to hang, and I was surprised that there were more trees than I expected.  But for those of you trying to decide if you want to take a hammock on the PCT, you need to figure out if the costs are worth it for you.   If you are an experienced hammock hanger willing to hike extra miles or camp alone, then definitely go for it.  If not, you might be much happier (gasp- I can't believe I'm really saying this!) on the ground.

I know of only three other hammock hangers on the PCT this year.  Out of something like a thousand or so PCT hikers. I read online that there are section hikers that hammock more frequently in the Sierra.  But in SoCal, we are rare. Or crazy.  Or both. 
SlowBro and I camping together in the Sierra- No Problem hanging here!
For now, I believe this rarity of hammocks in SoCal is a good thing.  There just aren't that many hang sites, and establishing new hang sites by clearing away underbrush or branches is not keeping with Leave No Trace principles and so should be avoided.  I would cringe if there was an influx of hammockers in SoCal that cut down branches or made an obvious impact on the environment.  The really wonderful thing about the PCT is how unspoiled it appears- campsites tend to be small and have defined boundaries.  They are pristine.  This preserves the illusion that we are hiking through the wilderness.  When I couldn't find a hang site in an already disturbed site, I would go pretty far off the trail to camp, and then I would leave the site looking like no one had ever been there (at least to my best ability).  This is effective leave no trace practice as long as it's infrequent.  Too many people doing this is not sustainable.
This hang site in SoCal was at least a 5 minute fast walk off the trail.
Back to the question of how to decide if you would like to bring a hammock on the PCT in SoCal and the Sierra.  If you want to hang on the PCT and you don't mind putting in some effort to make it happen, you will really love it.  But it is important to understand what you are getting into in bringing a hammock.  I don't want to be discouraging, just realistic.

When I started planning for the PCT, I was told "there are no trees in the desert!"  This makes me laugh now because it's just not true!  Lack of trees is NOT the main problem for a hammock hanger in SoCal.  Trees can be found in SoCal- at higher elevations and around water sources, and there are sturdy bushes, gully hangs, horse corals, and other anchor points if you expand your ideas of suitable spots.  You do have to be creative, but if you spend enough time looking, there are anchor points out there.

In SoCal, I sometimes had to be willing to hike further to find hang sites (I was really glad I could hike over 20-25 miles) or I had to go further off trail wandering around in the bushes. But often, especially in some of the more forested parts of the PCT like in the San Jacinto or San Bernardino mountains, it was no harder than finding a good tent site was for my ground dwelling friends.  
Hanging in a horse coral.  One of my more creative hangs.
In the Sierra, I planned my hang sites around the passes, so I did not have any difficulty finding a site  There were large stretches of forests between each pass, which worked well for me because I traveled over just one pass a day.  I camped each night right below treeline, climbed up and over a pass in the morning (which was also ideal for snow conditions and avoiding postholing), and then descended below treeline in the afternoon and hiked through the forest until I got close to the treeline for the next pass, which is where I'd camp.  This strategy worked well for me because I wanted to stay warmer at night by camping at lower elevation, and there was enough snow on the passes that I felt it was safer to time the passes for optimal snow conditions.  Other hikers may choose to camp above treeline for the views or because they wanted to do more miles, and might have been more confident about traversing the snow and ice, and more tolerant of postholing.  In that case, planning your days to end below treeline might have made for a less flexible hike.  It really depends on your priorities.
Camping close to treeline before Glen Pass in the Sierra.
Another problem of finding a hang site is that there were often bushes, branches, or poison oak in the way of where the hammock would hang.  And it's not in keeping with leave no trace practices to move these (though I admit to breaking dead branches and to using a rope to tie live branches out of the way, and to using my ground cloth to hold down undergrowth).  Sometimes even if I identified good anchor points for my hammock, I had to not use a site because of the amount of brush or branches- which was really frustrating!
Dense thicket with lots of branches makes for a tight hang.
But the biggest difficulty I found in hammocking in SoCal was the WIND.  Ground-dwellers are usually low enough the wind doesn't get to them or they hide behind rocks.  But in a hammock you are exposed to the wind.  You may think, well I don't care, but let me tell you the wind is fierce, it is unrelenting.  It will shake your hammock so hard that it will vibrate and toss you around violently, keeping you awake all night.  The wind will steal all your warmth, and leave you shivering in the cold.  It will drive you absolutely mad.  I spent a lot of time looking for sites out of the wind.  I learned to tuck my hammock into the bottoms of ravines or inside dense thickets.  Not easy places to find or access, but well worth the effort for the shelter from the brutal wind.
Tons of wind farms on the PCT = HIGH WINDS
So in order to hammock in SoCal, you might need to spend extra time time finding anchor points for your hammock that are reasonably free of undergrowth AND out of the wind.  Phew- and getting all that is not easy.  Sure I was lucky sometimes and a great site just appeared when I was ready to stop.  But more often, this required extra time and walking.  And typical PCT hikers don't like to hike any extra miles, especially at the end if the day.  The reason I didn't mind was that I knew I'd sleep really comfortably once I found a suitable site.  Sleep is everything on the trail.  If you are already a hammock hanger, you know what I mean.  It makes it worth it.  Plus, I enjoyed the challenge of looking for the sites and took joy in hanging in some unusual, super-cool places.
A one tree hang in SoCal near Cottonwood Creek Bridge.
If you want to hike with other people, then sometimes you might end up camping away from your friends if you have a hammock. Sometimes I missed out on socializing at night or had trouble finding my hiking buddies in the morning.  On the other hand, sometimes I wanted to be by myself and rather enjoyed camping off by myself.  But overall, the social aspect of hammocking was less of an issue than I expected.  Especially when I started making some really great friends who didn't mind spending extra time to find places with flat spots for them and trees for me.  One friend even got good at figuring out what tree spacing I was looking for, and would scout on ahead for hang sites for me.  So, I wouldn't make a decision about not bring a hammock based on the social aspect unless you absolutely need to always camp with other people.  It's really not that big of a deal.


I would really consider your experience level with hammocks and the priorities of your hike.  You have to decide how much you want the hammock to dictate your hike, and how much you value flexibility.  If you don't have a hammock already, then it might not be worth it to get one for the PCT in SoCal- if you can sleep comfortably on the ground, then it might be easier to stick with that.  Maybe get one for the Sierra where hang sites are plentiful below treeline.  If you really want to learn to hang on a long-distance hike, go do the Appalachian Trail where hammocks are common and well-suited.  On the other hand, if you are already a die-hard hammock hanger  and are willing to spend the time to find sites and don't mind camping alone sometimes, then go for it and bring your hammock.  That extra energy to find a site will be more than compensated by the quality of your sleep.  Especially if you get a thrill out of the challenge of finding hang sites.  I know I loved bringing my hammock in SoCal and the Sierra.  It made me really happy each day to take that nightly photo of my hang site and feel the satisfaction of knowing that I was able to keep an 'elevated perspective' on the PCT.

For more information:
If anyone has any questions about hanging on the PCT in SoCal and the Sierra, please don't hesitate to ask me.  There are lots of great resources that I have links to on the article I wrote before I started the PCT (link here).  I also wrote up a review of the hammock gear that I used in SoCal and the Sierra and the link to that is here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Foot Injury

I have been off-trail for the past 6 days for my injured foot. This is has been really emotionally difficult- I miss the trail so much. But the good thing is that I've been surrounded by really caring and wonderful people, and I am optimistic that I will return to the trail in about two weeks after I heal.

Arizona and I got off trail at Tuolumne Meadows, and got picked up by Arizona's friend/ housemate/ support-person Steph. Steph opened up her gorgeous home to me, and is proving logistical assistance and helping me keep up my morale. I cannot believe how fortunate I've been to have her as a friend! She has completely spoiled us with fresh food and her incredible warmth. She even had her friend come over to give us massages!
Arizona cooked up this delicious sea bass- yum!
I'm also amazed how Arizona has taken off all this time from the trail to be there for me. Truly incredible! I still can hardly believe we only just met in Kennedy Meadows.

My first priority has been figuring out what is wrong with my foot since it hasn't been getting better while hiking on it these last 150 miles. X-rays at the urgent care center didn't show any broken bones, but they couldn't tell me anything else. Fortunately, a physical therapist was able to see me yesterday (EDIT- this later turned out to be a stress fracture of the 3rd metatarsus and an inflammed MPT joint).
My physical therapist.
I am getting cortisone (applied transdermally using iontophoresis), ultrasound, and taking ibuprofen and applying ice, and staying off my feet. The physical therapist has been awesome.

It's really frustrating not knowing exactly what caused this. Bunions are a possible contributing factor, but I've had bunions my whole life, so why did this happen now? Did carrying the extra weight of a bear canister and microspikes, and trudging over all that snow also contribute? Could switching to shoes a half size bigger (to accommodate gortex socks) at Kennedy Meadows aggravate it, since I was sliding around in them?

My biggest concern is this- What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I am determined to do whatever it takes to finish the PCT. I have never had foot problems before, so I want to learn everything I can about this problem. I am so scared that when I get back out there that the pain will return.

I am struggling with what to do with myself. It is so uncomfortable having to sit still. I want to hike so very badly. My body aches from inactivity. I miss everything about being on the trail- being on the PCT is the happiest I've been probably in my whole life. I couldn't ask for a better place to be off-trail, and yet, it's still difficult not to be doing what I love most which is hiking.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Day 64. Zero in Tuolumne Meadows

Because my foot is still so sore, I took a zero today in Tuolumne Meadows. I can't keep hiking like I have been- being in pain is too exhausting. Hiking over 20 miles every day doesn't seem to be allowing my foot to heal.

It was tough staying off my feet today for a zero. I longed to be on the trail. What's worse is that I am in such a spectacular place and I want to walk through it. This is the first time I've been to Yosemite National Park. And I feel trapped by my busted foot.

Arizona set off before dawn to hike the 20+ miles down the JMT to Yosemite Valley while I rested. But how can I rest if I'm not tired?!?! So I rode the free shuttle bus around for a few hours, out to Olmsted Point for a view of Half Dome, then the other way up to Tioga Pass, then to the visitors center (where I looked up a few wildflowers), then back out to Olmsted Point again.
Riding the bus around Tuolumne Meadows.
I wanted to be moving, to be seeing the rocks and mountains. It turned out being in motion wasn't enough- I wanted to be hiking. I longed to haul my pack up and down mountain, to feel my heart pound, to hear the buzz of mosquitoes and the growling of my stomach. I did my best to relax and be content soaking in the views and finding people to talk to.
View of Half Dome in the distance.
At the store, I hung out with Tortuga, Liverpool, and a few other PCT hikers. We ate burgers and snacks, and watched the tourists. We laughed about how we all were sitting around wearing our puffy down jackets while the dayhikers are in tee shirts and shorts. I still don't quite understand that. One hiker recognized me from my blog which was so cool and cheered me up considerably.

Arizona got back this evening and came up with a great plan for tomorrow. We will go to Steph's house for a few more days rest for my foot. Yay!!! The nice campground hosts will give us a ride to Yosemite Valley (thanks Rob and Donna!!!) where we will get a bus to Mariposa, and then meet Steph.  Getting off the trail is mentally hard since I feel the pull to keep moving north, but I can't imagine a more ideal situation to rest my foot and get healed- a house to go to and wonderful people around! WOW! I really believe it will work out, like everything else out here has so far.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Day 63. Donohue Pass

20 miles
922 to 942
6/11/14

Morning sunrise over Thousand Island Lake was spectacular. I hadn't expected such a beautiful place, but somehow all the JMT hikers knew- they were camped along the banks.
There were tons of JMT hikers today. It was overwhelming to see so many people. It made me glad we'd camped in a quiet out of the way place.

Donohue Pass still had a little snow, but we had no trouble with postholing- the snow was packed solid so walking was easy.
The miles to Tuolumne Meadows were flat and hurt my foot. I'd been doing awesome on the uphill and downhill but the darn flat was brutal. I was nearly in tears when I finally got to Tuolumne- I was so disappointed because all day I thought it was finally getting better too. Tomorrow I will take a rest day for sure.
We met Two More Miles at the backpackers camp and spent a fabulous evening sharing food and wonderful conversation with them.  I'm so mixed with emotion today- happy for the beautiful sights and wonderful friends, but really scared about my foot not feeling better.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Day 62. Devils Postpile

21 miles
901 to 922
6/10/14

Arizona and I got up early to make it to Reds Meadows for breakfast. We were happy to find Tortuga and Glimmer already there, and Bambam arrived shortly after. As we were leaving, we saw Princess and Mr. Sandels too-- so nice seeing everyone.

At the store at Reds Meadows, I picked up some sports tape which I used to wrap my foot, which still has been hurting. Wrapping the foot really helped tremendously. Rest would probably be even better, but for now, I'm hoping this will continue to allow me to hike.

We took a short alternate route off the PCT so we could visit Devils Postpile National Monument. The postpiles are actually huge columns of basalt that cooled and cracked, and then got exposed by glaciers. They were really neat and totally worth the detour. It was fun strolling around all the tourists. We greeted everyone as we always do on the PCT- with a friendly hello and how are you doing. Most people gave us strange looks and steered clear of us. We sure were dressed different than the tourists and we were the only ones with full packs. Or maybe it was the smell, though I don't think we even smelled all that bad, having taken showers just a few days ago. But a few people did talk to us and that was fun.
This evening we climbed up out of a valley to set up for another pass tomorrow.  The scenery here is stunning and quite different.  We had incredible views of an alpine lake with a waterfall cascading down from it across the valley.
As we gained elevation, the sky darkened and clouds were thick. Thunder sounded in the distance. We got a few minutes of hail before it turned to rain.
This is only the fourth time I've had to set up my tarp on the PCT. There wasn't too much rain, but it made for a spectacular sunset.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Day 61. 900 miles!

15 miles on the PCT plus several more on the Goodale Pass trail
886 to 901
6/9/14

Each pass has it's own unique character. Goodale Pass, which we choose to take leaving VVR, was dramatic and still full of snow, yet more gentle.  The passes get easier as we go north.
Suncups on Goodale Pass.
 The views were stunning and there were a surprising number of flat places near the top. I took a break to ice my foot in the snow which felt fantastic.
Good thing there is lots of snow to ice my foot.
Today there were more gorgeous lakes, and some mosquitoes. They aren't as aggressive or thick as the ones in Wisconsin, but I've heard they get worse. They didn't stop me from soaking my foot in the chilly waters of Purple Lake. Yes, the order of the day was keeping my sore foot happy- and it was mostly successful. I had less pain today so I'm optimistic it is going to get better.
Purple Lake.
We reached the 900 mile mark today! I can hardly believe it!  Tomorrow we are stopping at Reds Meadow for breakfast and then heading back out on the trail.
I love hiking out here!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Day 59. A True Angel

Arizona's good friend Steph met us at Vermillion Valley Resort where we took a much-needed zero day. Steph is a true trail angel- she brought us all sorts of delicious fresh foods and we relaxed and feasted all day. It was so great meeting Steph and sharing stories of our adventures.
Steph and Arizona having breakfast at VVR.
We stayed in a trailer that was the same type as the one our family had when I was a kid- a Holiday Rambler. It was totally retro, and brought back fun childhood memories of camping trips. I was really thrilled.
Staying in a Holiday Rambler trailer.
The food that Steph brought made me feel totally spoiled. It was such a treat to stay in the trailer that had a kitchen. I so miss having a kitchen!!! I got to cook French toast and scrambled eggs. And Arizona made salmon and veggies and salad. Steph made fruit salad with fresh berries which was incredible.
Me and Arizona having a feast.
It was perfect to just sit with my foot up and talk to Steph all day. My foot felt much better and the swelling went down as I iced it and rested. I'm optimistic it will heal ok.

I also decided to reduce my pack weight further by sending some of my gear home with Steph. A lighter pack will help my foot. I left gear I really loved and used every day in the Sierra- my microspikes, my down booties (which I slept in every night for the past 800 miles), my warm mittens (which I wear every morning) and my beloved umbrella which I carry on the exposed areas to stay out of the relentless sun. It makes me nervous to get rid of items I use so often, but they are all things that I know not having won't impact my safety, and I'm willing to suffer some discomfort in an effort to keep my foot happy.

What a fantastic day!!!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Day 57. Seldon Pass

19.4 miles
854 to 873.6
6/5/14

I started the day in tears. My foot hurt so bad this morning I could barely walk. I told Arizona to start hiking without me. I hobbled up the trail going pitifully slow. Each step sent stabbing shots of pain through my foot. Why wasn't the ibuprofen working?!?

Dark thoughts clouded my brain. How was I going to make it over the next pass and then across Bear Creek ford today? What if this injury takes me off the trail? My foot hurt so bad! Tears ran down my face. Then as I hobbled down the trail, I started to sob- crying hard. But I kept hiking. And eventually, the tears slowly dried up. I had to just keep going.
 
A few hours later I found Arizona waiting for me while talking to Red. Red told me how his leg had hurt him and how the pain moved around for him as his gait changed. Hearing that helped me because it reminded me that injuries happen to all of us out here- it's part of the PCT experience, part of being a thru hiker is learning to hike through the pain.
More ice-covered lakes.
Arizona slowed down to hike with me over Seldon Pass, which thankfully didn't have much snow.  We took extra breaks which seemed to help a lot.

I was also nervous all day because of Bear Creek ford, the most dangerous ford on the PCT and the one we'd heard a few days before had knocked another hiker off her feet.  I misread my trail notes, and crossed Bear Creek without even realizing it!  The water was above my knees, but I'm tall so I didn't feel unstable at all.  Guess I didn't need to spend all that energy being so nervous!
This isn't so bad.
The whole day we crossed dozens of fords, and our feet are most always wet.   Still, if there was any chance to keep our feet dry, we would leap across rocks or balance precariously on logs.  It didn't matter if we'd just had to wade across another ford a few minutes before and the water was still sloshing out of our trail runners. As if we still held out hope our shoes might dry by the end of the day do we wouldn't have frozen shoes the next morning.
Lots of whitewater.
I'm glad I'll be in VVR tomorrow for a much needed zero day!

Day 56. Muir Pass

23 miles
831 to 854
6/4/14

Muir Pass was endlessly long, and covered in thick snow.  Arizona and I started the day hiking with Red, who is a great guy and really helped us in routefinding. It was hard to figure out where to go because the trail was covered in snow. Red taught us to guess where the trail was by thinking about where they would build the trail given the terrain. That was a great way to look at the problem of routefinding, and helpful for supplementing our maps.  We were all thrilled to reach the summit and see the rock shelter up there.
Muir Hut.
After the pass, the lakes were absolutely stunning- partially frozen over, sky blue, and there was snow as far as the eye could see.  It was otherworldly and vast- a land of rock and ice and snow.  Totally unbelievable!

Endless snow and rock.  No trees in sight.  So beautiful!
We couldn't linger long though.  The risk of postholing in the afternoon kept us pushing ourselves. We saw one guy with a huge gash in his leg from postholing onto a rock. Blood was running down his leg and he looked to be in shock.  Scary!

I landed wrong on my foot today at some point and injured it. It took everything in me to keep going through the pain. I was ok on the uphills, but I hobbled on the downhills. Since I had to change my stride, I got bad blisters on my heel and side of my foot. I really had to push myself to get all the miles we needed to do to set up for the next pass tomorrow. So exhausting! I know we hiked through some gorgeous scenery, but I missed most of it because I was looking down at the trail trying not to step funny on my foot. Ugh!
Trying to keep up with Arizona as we passed gorgeous ice-covered lakes.
I was relieved to finally set up camp in a grove of aspen.  What a long day!
Exhausted upon arriving to camp.