Monday, September 29, 2014

Day 174- Birthday at Drakesbad

Day 174, 9/29/14
1342 to 1354 (Drakesbad)
12 miles

Crisp air, frost down in the valley. Cold granola for breakfast, like every morning, but for some reason it tasted extra delicious as I ate it in my hammock with the clear view of Lassen Peak in the distance. What a way to start my birthday!

With plenty of time before I'd meet my parents at Drakesbad Guest Ranch, every side trail could be explored. 0.3 miles to Domingo Springs (at a car-accessible campground), to the wonder of gushing, clear spring waters and the awesomeness of trashcans- ah what luxury to not have to haul around the clutter of wrappers and used tp.
Domingo Springs.
Entered Lassen National Park, and took the side trail to Terminal Geyser. The scent hit me first- that wonderful sulfur smell. Then the rising plume of steam, then the bubbling water, the colorful rocks around the fumerole. Incredible!
Terminal Geyser
The next geothermal site was Boiling Springs Lake- a green, 130-degree lake with mud pots spewing and gurgling along the edges.
Boiling Springs Lake.
I was warmly greeted at Drakesbad Guest Ranch.  My parents had already been there and were out looking for me, so the staff offered me tea and scones while I waited.  Really hiker friendly!

My parents drove here from Wisconsin to visit and for a vacation of their own, but I must say it was really special to meet them on my birthday in such an incredible place. Feeling so fortunate and loved.
Me and my Dad.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Day 173- Finding that spot

Day 173, 9/28/14
1316 to 1342
26 miles

Tomorrow is my birthday so I had my heart set on finding a special campsite this evening. I wanted to wake up in a beautiful place.

Rain on and off all day. Not as cold as a few days ago when I got so chilled, but I still I had to keep moving to stay warm. No side trails or lingering. I kept my head down, umbrella blocking my view like blinders, not seeing much besides the trail ahead. Regressing back into the mindset of hiking only to get the miles done. It took a conscious effort to not get stuck in the drudgery of slogging along in the dreariness. One might think there is not much to see in the grayness, in the monotonous pine forest, but it just takes more imagination to appreciate the shades of gray, to notice the small things- the tufts of lichen, the shapes of rotting logs, the scampering chipmunks. I could also decide to enjoy the movement along the trail, to feel the strength in my legs, to listen to the rhythm of my breath and footsteps. Deciding to be happy in the rain. Soon, I was cruising along and still savoring the experience.
Seeing beauty in the little things.
Passed the monument for the PCT halfway point. It's not as meaningful to me now that I'm a section hiker, and on the two-year plan. It doesn't feel like I'm halfway to anywhere.
PCT-Midpoint marker.
In the late afternoon, I filled up on water at Stover Camp, the last water for a while, and set out to find a campsite. There were hunters at Stover so I wanted to get well beyond them. Then, there were logging roads so I thought I'd keep going. Then, it was boring logged-out manzanita land. By 'hiker logic' there had to be something better around the bend or over the next mountain.

Weighed down with water for a dry camp and tired from the long day already, still, I felt my pace quicken- gotta get somewhere good before fading light- which is getting earlier since it's well into autumn now. The legs responded with strength- they weren't tired they were moving. Go go go. Up up up.

Crossing the ridge over North Stover Mountain, the snow-covered peak of Lassen was visible in the distance. Ah a view after so many view-less miles! I followed the trail along the hillside across steep volcanic slopes. It was one of the (many) times I was especially glad to have a hammock because there weren't flat spots but boy were there gorgeous trees. I scurried up above a rock outcrop to a grove of huge firs.
Distant view of Lassen.
The rain clouds once again were swirling and making for a dramatic sunset. Going the extra miles to find this campsite was definitely worth it! I made up for some of the monotony of the day by soaking it all in- sitting and really watching and looking. Perfect Birthday-eve.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Day 171- In and out of Belden

Day 171, 9/26/14
1281 to 1295
14 miles

It rained more last night but was clearing by dawn.  Morning fog and clouds swirled on the ridge.  Clouds poured over the saddles.
Sun streaming through the morning clouds.
The mist.
On the descent to Belden, I met Buddha and Girly Girl heading south.  We chatted and when I told Girly Girl that I hadn't seen anyone for over two days, she gave me a big warm hug.  So sweet!
Fog rolling over the mountians.
Though Belden is known as a party place on weekends, it was still quiet at 11 in the morning when I arrived.  Just a few people drinking at the bar.  The waitress was nice and served me breakfast and brought my resupply package, and the bartender showed me gold nuggets he had found in the river.
I was eager to keep going so I didn't even shower or do laundry.  I was out of there within the hour.

I didn't even look at my maps for the next section, or I might have noticed the warning about the mountain lion sightings in this section.  I knew I couldn't make it through the mountain lion area before dark.

 The climb out of Belden was blazing hot.  How could I have been so close to hypothermia the previous day and then drenched with sweat and sweltering today?    My feet were feeling sore from trudging through the mud yesterday too and were complaining loudly.  So I camped early, to listen to my feet.
Setting up camp, I carried around my umbrella (to ward off mountain lions), and then I bundled up in my hammock and am gonna keep my fingers crossed that I don't see any mountain lions.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Day 170- Bucks Lake Wilderness

Day 170, 9/25/14
1259 to 1281
22 miles (plus 1 mile to 3 Lakes)

Woke to rain at 5 AM.  Got up and started hiking. Moving as fast as I could manage to stay warm.  But the trail turned into a river of mud so it was hard going.  Hands got cold.  Wind whipping.  A driving rain.
Morning rain.
The problem with hiking as fast as you can to stay warm in the rain is that eventually I need to stop.  I curled up under my umbrella while shoveling calories into my mouth and trying to give my feet a break.  But soon I was shivering so had to get moving.  The rain came down harder and the wind picked up. I started getting worried that I couldn't hike fast enough to avoid hypothermia.
At the turnoff for Bucks Lake, the road into town, the rain lessened. I ate some chocolate.  Could feel all my fingers and toes again- a good sign.  I debated whether to go dry out in town, maybe get hot food.  But I wanted to be out on the PCT, even in the rain.  The air smelled fresh, the colors of the moss and ferns and changing leaves were vibrant.  

And I had my first sighting of tree foam on the PCT!  Tree foam is an obscure phenomenon- bubbles are formed when water runs down the trunk of trees and picks up chemicals, and drips down.  Back east, I've seen it create basketball sized mounds of bubbles.  The ones I saw today were small but still made me happy.  The thing that I love about tree foam is that it reminds me of the benefits of getting out in all weather, that it's worth being cold and wet and uncomfortable because you get to see things that are unusual and wondrous.
Tree foam.
As I climbed to the Silver Lake trail junction, the rain clouds moved through and the sun came out.
Rain clouds passing.
I had cell phone reception at an overlook, so I got to call my Grandpa and wish him a happy 90th birthday.  Yay!
Front moving on through.
The rest of the day was cold but gorgeous.  This section is really different but has a beauty all it's own.
Lakes far below.
The trail over to 3 Lakes was only 1/2 mile, so I went to check them out.  They were mostly dry and full of old tree stumps.  No swimming for me.  Guess it was a reservoir that had been logged first before building the dam.  In fading light, with more storm clouds moving in, it was decidedly eerie.
3 Lakes.
Now bundled in my down quilt, hanging in my hammock, I'm finally warming up.  Being cold all day took a lot I out of me.  I'm tucked in the shelter of trees in the lee of a rock face cause looks like more rain is on the way.

Today was the second day in a row I haven't seen a single person.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Day 169- A Cougar!

Day 169, 9/24/14
1236 to 1259
23 miles

A short while after sunrise, I saw a cougar bounding away from me down the trail (at PCT mile 1238.5).  Large.  Fast.  Powerful.  Gorgeous.  I'd never seen one before but it was unmistakable.  It's rippling muscles, its tail, silky fur.  Like in a nature program.  Only this was real.  It had been directly in front of me, right here.  A cougar.

I gave my best impression of a fierce crazy unstoppable warrior.  Which I am, at that moment.  Banging poles together, shouting, opening my umbrella to look big.   The cougar might not have needed much convincing, as he did run away, but I didn't want him to even consider stalking me.  I've been through too much getting back to the trail.

It was so incredible to see a cougar, any top predator for that matter.  I'm so glad that they are out here, such magnificent creatures that play a vital role in the ecosystem.  Unforgettable.

Looking over my shoulder.
Still, I wanted it to leave me alone, to keep both of us safe.  Cause for cougars to be out here, they gotta not mess with humans and stay out of sight and out of the way of hunters.

I kept hiking, turning around frequently to make sure it wasn't following me.  I kept going and going.  I didn't know I had that much stamina in me.  Only when I got to the Middle Fork of the Feather River, about 12 miles from where I'd seen the cougar, did I relax enough to take a break and go for a swim in the deep pools.  The water cascaded over smooth rock, cutting a steep gorge, dragonflies were swooping around.  The deep valley was filled with lots of plants I had not seen before.

Middle Fork of the Feather River.
I didn't see anyone else all day.   When I stopped I realized I'd climbed a total of 5k feet and descended over 6400 feet today- no wonder the poor feet were tired.  Seemed a good distance to put between me and the cougar.

Umbrella-plant lined banks.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Day 168- Hunters, loggers, and me

Day 168, 9/23/14
1213 to 1236
23 miles

Thick smoke moved in last night.  Woke with an inflamed throat, crusty, puffy eyes.  What was I doing out here in this smoke? What was this smoke doing to my lungs?  Thankfully, as the morning wore on, the winds shifted, the smoke lessened, and breathing became easier.
Smoky sunrise looking down on the Lakes Basin.
Hazy with smoke.
At the A-Tree spring, I met a hunter in a ATV.  He was getting water at the spring too.  We chatted for a bit.  Hunting season doesn't start for another week, but he was out here getting ready.
Sign for the A-Tree springs.
Ridgewalking and the air finally getting more clear.
At mile 1235 when I was going down the road to get water at the end of the day, I ran into some loggers.  I'm embarrassed to say that at first I was reluctant to talk to them- what would I say to loggers, I mean, I love trees it's my trail name after all. But I strive to be open minded and they were just getting off work, so I stopped to talk with them.  Glad I did really nice, hardworking guys.  Covered in even more dirt than me, which made me feel more at ease.  They were the first people I'd seen all day, apart from the hunter.  They offered me a soda and cookies, and we chatted for a while.  They said this was one of the first days the smoke had been bad, that the winds were shifting.  They knew about the PCT since a couple other hikers had come through.  They wanted to know what animals I'd seen and how I get food. I answering their questions and told them my story about seeing a bobcat.

Didn't see any other hikers today, or anyone else for that matter.  Guess the only people in these woods are the hunters, loggers, and me.
Lovely hang site for the night.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Day 167- North from Sierra City

Day 167, 9/22/14
1197 (Sierra City) to 1213
15 miles

Starting northbound from Sierra City, heading towards Lassen.  I'll be meeting my parents in Drakesbad for my birthday, so I'm on a bit of a time frame but hoping to continue to keep a relaxed, enjoyable pace.
Smoky climb out of Sierra City.
The fire near Placerville created horrible smoke at Steph's house, where I took two zero days.  Made my throat scratchy and when I walked outside it was tough to breathe.  I was nervous how much smoke there would be on the trail.  Fortunately, the smoke wasn't that bad in Sierra City when I got dropped off.  A heartful goodbye to Steph- last time I'll see her for a while- she's become such an incredible friend this summer.

At the top of the climb past Sierra Buttes, a gust of wind knocked off my hat, the chin strap caught on my earrings and ripped them out.   I found one but spent an hour looking in the scree and pebbles for the other with no luck.  It was an earring my mom gave to me, a red-orange opal she got in Mexico.  One that I reach up and touch when I'm nervous.  I'd been fiddling with it all morning while talking to Steph about the smoke and fires.  Loosing it shouldn't have been a big deal, but kneeling on the rocks, the wind whipping, in the faint haze of smoke, I started to cry.  Does anyone else find that they cry a lot on the trail?  One thing about hiking alone is that so much emotion is so easily brought to the surface.

Loosing that earring reminded me of all the things I'd lost or given up to be out here.  Part of it is the nature of backpacking, being disconnected and far away.  Not seeing old friends or being involved with the organizations and hobbies I used to care so much about.  I cried not because of loosing an earring, but because that earring symbolized my  non-hiking life, since it was my only non-functional purely sentimental possession.  I cried because my mom gave it to me.  I cried because I know that as much as I love being on the trail, that I loose out on friendships and relationships by being out here even as new ones develop.  Being out on the trail, sometimes you have these moments of pure aliveness, where you feel what it is to be human.  Guess that's one if the reasons to be out here.

Then I got up.  As I continued hiking, the wind dried my tears.

At the trailhead for Sierra Buttes, I ran into a couple, Marcy and Matt, who were just getting back to their car after a dayhike.  
Marcy and Matt.
They were so excited to learn I was a PCT hiker and started offering me all sorts of food.  They had just gotten married and their car was full of leftover food from their wedding.  They'd actually been hoping to run into a PCT hiker who might enjoy some of it.  We stood around eating croissants and cake, and talking. Being around them and their obvious happiness renewed my spirits.  They said the air had been clear of smoke for their wedding, but that the wind had shifted to being in the smoke recently.  Don't worry, they said, the winds will change again.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Day 164- Return to Tuolumne

Day 164, 9/19/14
936 (Evelyn Lake Trail) to 942 (Tuolumne Meadows)
6 miles

I felt drawn to return to the stretch of the PCT along the Lyell River Canyon.  Like returning to the scene of the crime.  Maybe I would have a major insight about why I got the stress fracture if I returned.  It was the last section I did back in June before I got off the trail for my injured foot.  I vividly remember hobbling along in incredible pain, especially the last 6 flat miles.  Shooting stabs of pain, heartbreak that I was having to get off the PCT due to injury.  So I re-hiked this stretch of the PCT today, hoping for a flash of insight.
Along the Lyell River.
As I walked along in the same direction as I had three months ago, there was… nothing.  No breakthrough about the cause.  No clarity as to why this happened.  Which is an answer of sorts.  It just happened.  Probably a combination of causes that I’ve already talked about ad nauseam.  But the thing is, injuries just happen sometimes.  You deal with them.  They change you.  They start out horrible and you think your life is over but actually they can be one of the best things that ever happened to you.

A guy who had southbounded a few years ago asked me how my hike has been different for the 250 miles I’d been hiking south, compared to the 940 I hiked north with the thru hikers.  There has been a huge difference.  Hiking south I see fewer people, there aren’t trail angels around, stores aren’t open, the sun is in my eyes.  The other southbounders seem more independent and most of them have skipped sections of trail and it doesn’t seem to matter to them that they haven’t walked every inch of the PCT in one year.  But of course I’m generalizing.  Really there is a huge diversity of other hikers around- rather than being surrounded by people that say they are all hiking from Mexico to Canada, everyone out here has a different story and is hiking different sections and are out for different periods of time.  Rather than being united by being on a journey of the same length, we are all united because we are out here TODAY.  That is what is important- that we are out here right now, right here.
Even more important, my mindset has changed since I started hiking south after the stress fracture.  I’m completely free of the self-imposed constraints of a thru hike.  I don’t feel at all guilty of not doing a certain amount of miles every day.  Which means I can swim in as many lakes as I want, spend time taking photos, hike as much or as little as I want, and it’s all OK.  In the end, I know I won’t have the accomplishment of a thru hike, but now I think that is something that I don’t need right now.   I used to think that if I were a thru hiker it would mean that I had achieved success in hiking.  Now I aim for a colorful sunrise, for making a connection with a fellow hiker, for being observant.  I define my own priorities and sometimes I even throw out any goals and I just am.  Each day that I am on the trail, I win.

Steph picked me up in Tuolumne Meadows and we headed down to the Yosemite Valley for lunch.  Stepping into a different world.  Tourists from all over the world strolling around.  After over a week without a shower, dressed in dirt, I dined at the splendid Ahwahnee Hotel.  Delicious!  What an experience I felt so lucky to have woken up on a quiet hillside in the woods, and then to be eating in a gorgeous place surrounded by wood beam and artwork.
At least Steph brought me a clean shirt.
Then we walked to Yosemite Falls, tallest falls in the US, but it was dry- no water.  The air was thick with smoke from the fires.  I learned there was a new fire near where Steph lives, the King fire.  WOW how things change quickly.  I had no idea because I hadn’t had cell service for over a week.
Lots of people enjoying Yosemite Valley even with the smoke.
Dry Yosemite Falls.
Taking two zero days before heading back out to the PCT.  I’m gonna hike as long as I can…

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day 163- Where are you coming from?

Day 163, 9/18/14
948 to 940 on the PCT, then up the Rafferty Creek Trail over Tuolumne Pass, then down the Evelyn Lake Trail, plus out and back to Ireland Lake, then down to PCT mile 936
23 miles or so.

When hikers meet on the trail going in opposite directions, we often ask each other as way of greeting, “Where are you coming from?”  The answer used to be simple- “Mexico!” I’d say.  For this section sometimes to keep the conversation brief I’d say “Sierra City” since I was hiking Sierra City south to Tuolumne Meadows.  But today I took a detour off the PCT and did a loop in Yosemite up to Vogalsan, Evelyn Lake and Ireland Lake.  (edit: this is called the Vogalsang-Lyell Canyon Loop

So the answer to the question "where are you coming from" is that I was coming from a lot of different places.  This morning I started by bushwhacking down to McGee Lake, then hiking 0.8 miles to the PCT, then on to Tuolumne Meadows.  But a week or so ago I was at Ebbetts Pass.  A few months ago I was in the High Sierra.  On April 9th I started in Mexico.  Today, I was just wandering around in Yosemite.
On the way to Tuolumne Meadows.
My hike has taken longer than I imagined, circuitous, taking me off the trail, and back on again.  I explain about the stress fracture, and many times hear stories of other people who have had injuries.  I love it when this happens, because we connect at a deeper level and there is this understanding that passes back and forth about how complex and messy and beautiful our journeys can be.
Climbing to Vogalsang.
On the climb to Vogalsang, I feel like I really have my hiker legs back.  They are strong and I fly and I forget about the stress fracture.  I could hike forever.

It’s like I’m on vacation.  I make it a two-swim day.  Lakes all to myself.  Evelyn Lake has a sandy beach, and I stretch out in the sun.
It's cold up here even at noon.  Taking off the hoodie to go for a swim.
The sign to Ireland Lake says “3 miles” but the nice rangers I met earlier told me that it’s only 1.5 miles each way, 3 miles round trip.  Not many footprints.  Ireland Lake is high up there, no trees, wind.  Huge peaks all around.  I am back in the High Sierras.  I love it up here.  The water is so cold it burns, with rocky bottom though it drops off quick.  I laugh like I’m 6 years old.  Goofing off.  Not a serious hiker at all.
Happy feet at Ireland Lake.
I descend on the Evelyn Lakes Trail, heading back to the PCT.  The rangers at the Wilderness Permit Center told me that my PCT permit covers me in Yosemite, but I still want to camp near the PCT.  It draws me back.  I hang up my hammock up a slope out of sight when I get close.
OMG I'm so far from the PCT.  Need to get closer!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Day 162- Near Glen Aulin

Day 162, 9/17/14
966 to 948
18 miles

Exciting wildlife sighting today.  A frog!!!  Perhaps you might think the bobcat and bears I’ve seen are pretty cool.  But this ranked right up there.  Don’t see many frogs.  Not sure I’ve seen one at all before this on the PCT.  Not like back in Georgia.  So, I spent a good half hour sitting on the shore of Miller Lake, just watching it.  And listening to the lapping sounds of the waves on the pebble sand beach.  Then the frog hopped into the water and swam off, strong leg kicks, then out of sight.  And I can just sit and watch a frog and I think that is one of the most wonderful things about being out here now that I’m not trying to get to Canada anytime soon. 
Exciting wildlife!
Stopping to smell the Mimulus.

Today I met Sea Turtle and Tortoise who are working on their senior year project doing a film about their adventure on the PCT.  They radiated positive energy and enthusiasm, and I sure hope I run into them again.  Check out their facebook page.
SeaTurtle and Tortoise
In the evening, I arrived at Glen Aulin in Yosemite, which is a High Sierra Camp, but it smelled bad, full of horse poop.  So I kept hiking, hoping I’d find something soon because camping isn’t permitted within 4 miles of Tuolumne Meadows so I needed to find something quick.
View from the bridge near Glen Aulin.
After crossing over a bridge and gazing at the sunset view (wow!) I saw a sign for Lake McGee in 0.8 miles.  Fastest 0.8 miles I’ve done in a while, in fading light.  Then, climbed up the hillside for a view and so I’d be away from the lake.  The wind died down and I slept soundly once again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Day 161- To Benson Pass

Day 161, 9/16/14
983 (Stubblefield Canyon) to 966 (Benson Pass)
17 miles

Started the morning listening to the calls of owls back and forth.  Wish I knew what kind they were.  

The Sierra is so different than it was back in June.  Before there was snow and water everywhere.  Plants were in bud.  Now, there are dry creekbeds.  A crispness in the air.  Fall colors.  Berries.  I'm so glad to see these two seasons, the contrasts.
Changing colors.
The maps say this is a "dangerous ford" but now there isn't even a drop.
Early in the morning, I turned a corner and there was Bob eating his oatmeal.  Second time I'd run into him, both times while he was having breakfast.  We'd met a week before at Lake Aloha.  I laughed with delight to see him again.
Hello again, Bob.
Hiked together a bit while we caught up, then went back to hiking alone.  Met up again at Smedberg Lake where I thought I might camp.  But he was going on ahead, up Benson Pass.  I've been stopping early since the stress fracture, but I was feeling pretty strong so I decided to keep going, even though the light was fading.  Later I calculated that I'd climbed a total of 5,491 feet and descended 3,273 feet.  Yah I guess I've been getting my hiking legs back cause I wasn't even that sore.

Followed a pair of deer up to the top of the pass, they glanced back at us before leaping over the crest and disappearing out of sight.  Incredibly, there was a meadow with clear-flowing water up high.  And then further down I found a sheltered site for my hammock tucked out of the wind.
Climbing as the sun set.
Turned out to be a great call to camp high.  We watched the sunset from the view up above 10K feet.  Not as good at taking photos at sunset.  Guess I really was more tired than I thought.  But believe me it was beautiful, seeing the the sky get dark.  Then, 3 shooting stars.  The milky way.  Win!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 160- Quiet in Yosemite

Day 160, 9/15/14
999.8 (Cascade Creek) to 983 (Stubblefield Canyon)
16.8 miles

Entered the Yosemite Wilderness.  I didn’t see anyone on the trail all day.  The mind settles into a quietness when you hike all day alone.  I love how it feels.  The stillness.
Before Dorthy Lake Pass.
Over Dorthy Lake Pass.
Alone, I spent even more time near water.  Swimming in lakes.  Staring at reflections.  Listening to streams.  And no one else around.
Dorthy Lake.

Wilmer Lake
So much time spent looking, taking photos.  Not many words.  More soaking it in.
Stubblefield Canyon.
I set up camp in an established campsite in Stubblefield Canyon, near the trail, too exhausted to bother finding a stealth campsite.  I was surprised to see Caveman and Patches join me in camp.  I’d met them in Carson Pass the previous week.  After not talking to anyone else all day, at first I struggled to find words.  But then we were chatting and talking about our days.

Around dusk, a bear wandered near our camp, and it was so fun- he’d never seen a bear before outside the zoo.  He was so captivated, and watched it spellbound.  What a treat to see such enthusiasm in someone else.  The bear wandered off and we didn’t see it again.  The bear canisters were untouched in the morning.
Stubblefield Canyon.