Training Update

The combination of the holidays and sub-zero temperatures have slowed my training a bit. I bought some micro-spikes at Costco for $9.99 and I did some hiking in the snow last week and I hope to do more. They are great for the urban trail, but they would last about ten minutes on the PCT.  They are very light weight, however.  When it gets below zero with a wind chill of -25, it is best to stay inside.  It is supposed to warm up next week.

With three months to go, I have worked with a trainer and put together a more aggressive workout program that I will start January 1st.  With my legs tested with back-to-back 18 mile hikes, I can focus more on my core to help improve my endurance.

I still need to get my permits.  I need to get a box together for Warner Springs, one of the only towns I’ll send a box.  I haven’t thought about what I’m going to wear other than my base layers.  All my gear is purchased.  In theory, I could leave tomorrow.

So, I wait…

State of the Trail – December

While it is way too early to be sure, there are some indications that the PCT is going to be dry for 2018.  That is good and bad.  The PCT Class of 2017 struggled with heavy snow in the Sierra Mountains.  Many skipped, flipped or quit.  It looks like 2018 will not be like that.  In fact, 2018 might be the year of the forest fire.

There is a total fire ban in the Angeles National Forest which affects the PCT.  If it is still in force by April, miles 345 to 510 will require me to go completely stoveless.  That is a pretty big section starting from Cajon Pass all the way to Hikertown.

This is a good reason why I’ve decided to resupply as I go.  I’d hate to have shipped myself all these dinners that require heat, only to be unable to cook them.

The question I’m asking now is should I give up coffee completely?  If I do, do I do it before I leave or do I piss off the people I love at home?


Trail Orthodoxy

What does it mean to successful hike the Pacific Crest Trail in one season?  Is that even possible?

The orthodox answer is to hike straight from Campo, California to Manning Park, British Columbia with footprints on the trail the whole way.  When I leave the trail, I always return to the exact point that I left.  I always hike the PCT and never deviate from it.

Unfortunately, to hike the actual 2650.1 miles is impossible.  There are sections of the trail that are closed and will remain closed.  For example, a fire near Idyllwild, California in 2013 damaged the trail.  By order, the trail is closed between miles 168.6 and 177.3.  There is a section in Southern California that has been closed since 2013 to protect an endangered mountain yellow-legged frog.

The forest fires in Oregon and Washington have closed significant portions.  In many cases, there was no alternate route to take.  One simply skipped that part.  The heavy snow in the Sierra Mountains in 2017 forced a majority of hikers to skip that section, continue north, and return later in the season when it was safer to hike.

To make matters more complicated, there are trails that split off the PCT that are ascetically more pleasing than the trail proper.  There is an alternative route that allows you to walk the rim of Crater Lake.  Do I skip that?

Finally, there are some additional alternative routes to avoid dangerous sections.  For example, there is an alternate road hike between miles 187 and 191 that allows me to avoid hiking Fuller Ridge during heavy snow and high winds.

So, what am I going to do?

My hike is my hike.  The trail is what is presented to me when I get there.  If a section is closed, but there is an official alternate route, and that route is safe, I will take that alternate.  I will monitor the weather when I’m in town.  If conditions are dangerous, I’ll stay in town an extra day or two.  Despite my best efforts, if a commonly unsafe section like Fuller Ridge is dangerous when I physically walk there, I’ll take the alternate.  If snow conditions in the Sierra Mountains are the same in 2018 as they were in 2017, I will consider flip-flopping.

I may be crazy, but I do not have a death wish.

That leaves the ascetically pleasing alternates.  I may have only this once chance to do this hike.  I will choose the best quality over orthodoxy.  I’m going to hike the rim of Crater Lake.  I’m going to see the best there is to see.

What I won’t do is skip a section because it is too hard.  If I have to flip-flop, but the clock runs out, I will not consider it complete until I hike that section.  However, if a section is closed, I’ll consider that section as not part of the trail.  I’m not going to wait until the endangered section is reopened to claim victory.

Does this mean that I will hike 2650.1 miles?  No probably not.  I’ll be short a few.  Will I say I completed it?  If I skip a section with the intention of returning, but do not return because I ran out of time?  No.  Otherwise yes.

But, you didn’t hike all 2650.1 miles!!!  How can you say you hiked the PCT if you didn’t hike all 2650.1 miles!?!

Sometimes in life you just have to say close enough.  Get over it.



Resupply Strategy in a Nutshell

Instead of looking at this hike as one really big hike, it is better to view it as a series of smaller five-day hikes.  Series means about twenty-eight smaller hikes.  Each of these five-day hikes will end in a town where I can resupply for the next hike.

I could buy all my food in bulk at home and ship it to every resupply point.  In theory, this would save me money, because certain foods are much cheaper bought in bulk.  As a family, we do much of our shopping at Costco.

Many of these towns are big enough that they have their own grocery store.  Buying local has some major advantages.  First, my taste is going to change as I go. I might like Chocolate Mint Cliff Bars now, but three months into it, I might rather eat earthworms than one more Minty Cliff Bar (unlikely!).  Second, waiting for box may require that I stay in towns longer than I want.  If I get into a town late on a Saturday and miss the post office before it closes, I’m stuck in town until Monday when the post office reopens.

Therefore, buying local is the better strategy.  However, not every town has a grocery store.  I would rather not survive on urinal mints from a gas station bathroom.

To assist me, I am looking to what my sisters and brothers who have hiked this trail before me recommend.  I’m using the Halfmile Anywhere 2017 Survey as a guide.  Based upon that survey there are thirteen towns were I will need to ship a box.  They are the following locations:

  1. Warner Springs (Desert)
  2. Kennedy Meadows South (Sierra)
  3. Kennedy Meadows North (NorCal)
  4. Sierra City (NorCal)
  5. Belden (NorCal)
  6. Crater Lake/Mazama (Oregon)
  7. Shelter Cove (Oregon)
  8. Timberline Lodge (Oregon)
  9. Trout Lake (Washington)
  10. White Pass (Washington)
  11. Snoqualmie Pass (Washington)
  12. Stevens Pass/Skykomish (Washington)
  13. Stehekin (Washington)

It turns out that my very first resupply point after about five days is one of the towns on the list — Warner Springs.  So, before I leave, I will ship a box to Warner Springs.  That box will have four-days of food in it.  That may be overkill, because will stop at the Paradise Cafe for lunch and get a burger.  It is a rite of passage on the trail.

For Kennedy Meadows South (Yes, there are two towns with the same name in California), I will do a gear swap.  Before I can enter the Sierra Mountains, I will need a bear canister, an ice axe, micro-spikes for my shoes and a warmer base layer.  I will keep this heavier gear only as long as I need it.  I will also nee

For the Northern California towns, I will ship boxes myself.  I will ship a box from Tuolumne Meadows to Kennedy Meadows North.  From South Lake Tahoe, I will ship a box to Sierra City and Belden.

For Oregon I will use a similar strategy.  From Ashland, I will ship a box to Mazama and Shelter Cove.  From Bend, I will ship a box to Timberline Lodge.

That leaves Washington.  There are not many options there.  The most likely strategy there is full resupplies from home.  I’ll worry about that when I get there.

Using this strategy, I only have to pack one box before I leave.  That makes this trip much simpler.

Change in Footwear

I was completely settled on the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 trail shoes for my hike, but Altra has upgraded them to 3.5.  I tried ordering version 3.0 on-line, but they are discontinued.  So, I’ve ordered a version 3.5 and I have to say they are an improvement.

From a size and foot feel, they are the same.  What has changed is that there are now four points to connect your gaiters, they have improved the outer structure by reinforcing the skeleton, and they changed the ventilating fabric.

My Dirty Girl gaiters only have two connecting points, so the four point gaiter doesn’t help me.  The outer structure improvement will hopefully improve durability.  The biggest complaint about them on the trail is that you go through four or five pairs.  I didn’t have any issues like that with my 3.0’s and they have a good 400 miles on them.

The fabric change might be a big deal.  They are now using a fabric with smaller pores.  This should reduce the amount of sand and dust that gets in while still allowing the shoes to breathe.  Reducing the sand and dust will reduce one of the key ingredients to blisters.  On my six-day shakedown, my feet were always wet and muddy.  The 3.0 shoe did a great job of drying itself off as I walked.  We’ll see if the 3.5 version does just as well.

Skills, I Got Some

Last year was a pretty tough year for the PCT.  There were a number of emergency rescues on the trail and unfortunately a few thru-hikers died.  That has led to a discussion on survival skills.  One of the side effects of ultra-light hiking is that you do not need to be a manly mass of muscle to attempt it.  I certainly could not do it if I took my camping gear instead of my light weight backpacking gear.

So, what skills do I have verses what skills am I lacking?

As a small-town kid from Wisconsin, I spent much of my time outside.  I lit fires.  I made shelters.  I hunted and fished.  I’ve camped in the snow.  I hiked a good portion of the Ice Age Trail as well as the Superior Trail and the Boundary Waters.

As a young man, I was in the Boy Scouts until I was 16.  While I wasn’t an Eagle Scout, I had quite a few critical merit badges for this hike like, camping, first aid, hiking, life saving, weather and wilderness survival.  I still know my knots.  I can read a map and use a compass.

After high school, instead of going to college right away, I joined the Navy and was a Sonar Operator on the P-3 Orion aircraft.  Before I could hunt submarines, I needed to complete the training program which included Aircrew Candidate School and SERE school.  I also was Red Cross trauma first aid and CPR qualified, although it has been a long time since I renewed my certifications.

So, I have a good base of survival skills for this hike.  I’m also modest enough that I’ll avoid endangering myself too much.  I won’t walk the knife’s edge and take a selfie at the same time.  I won’t make a water crossing alone.  I’m modest enough to wait for others.

However, I’m still missing a few skills, some of which I will not be able to learn here.

The Desert

While many of my classmates are concerned about the snow, I’m more concerned about the desert.  I generally get 5 miles per liter of water when it is hot.  For the 43 mile stretch without a reliable water source, that means I’m going to have to carry about 10 liters if all I can get is 5 miles per liter.

The Sierra Mountains

I will have little training for high altitude backpacking.  It is a concern of mine that I might push myself too hard at 10,000 feet.  The thought of hiking one mile-per-hour is kind of scary.  I have watched videos on self-arrest, and I will take an ice-axe, but I have never done it.

Foot Care

The one part of my body I’m going to push the most is my feet.  I am hopeful that three years of aggressive hiking means my feet are strong enough to handle this, I feel like I do not know enough.  I’ve bought a book on foot care and I’ve been following what I have learned there by taping my toes and feet, but if anything is going to fail, it is my feet.

Moving Forward

I am in the process of updating my skills.  Having done two shakedown backpacking trips has given me quite a bit of confidence with my gear and what I’m capable to doing. I’m renewing my first aid and CPR certifications.  I’m learning how to be a better photographer.

For the desert, I’m going to take advantage of night hiking and sleeping during the day.  If I get up before the sun rises, take a siesta when it gets too hot, and hike until dark, I should still be able to get my miles in while avoiding the worst of the heat.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the Sierra Mountains.  I’ve considered buying a high altitude mask and start hiking with it, but they are expensive and probably overkill.  As water is plentiful, packing more food and taking my time is probably my best strategy.  Honestly, with 800 miles under my belt by then, my heart, legs and lungs should be very efficient.

I’ve watched videos on self arrest.  I have not found any courses here, so I’ll have to practice when I get there.

Feet?  Tape and stretching, tape and stretching.

Do I know enough to go?  Yes.  Do I know all I need to know? No.  What I don’t know, can I learn it when I get there?  Yes.

Thoughts on Water

There have been a number of discussion on water purification products for the PCT.  I’ve chosen to use the best of class Sawyer Squeeze.  When it first arrived, I took it to my back yards, scooped some Milwaukee River water and tested it.  It worked great.

During my first shakedown, a six-day hike of the Ice Age Trail in northern Wisconsin, I learned a valuable lesson.  On my very first stop, the water source had a ton of algae.  I did not bring anything to screen the water before filtering it.  My Squeeze was clogged.  To save weight, I didn’t take the means of properly flushing it.  For the rest of the hike my Squeeze would take 15 minutes to filter a liter.  My attempts to flush it were unsuccessful.

On my second hike, I had the means of properly flushing it and it worked great.  I’ve seen some videos on using the sport cap from a Smart Water Bottle to flush the filter, but for now, I’ll bring the syringe.  I also designed a simple contraption to filter the bigger chunks before I start filtering.  I cut the top off a water bottle and using a bandana, I can significantly reduce the larger solid deposits in the water.  The bandana ties to my backpack.  The water bottle is slightly larger than a smart water bottle, to it takes no room in my pack and the extra weight is essentially nothing.

The big decision I have been mulling over is whether to take a backup method of purifying water.  The most likely way my Squeeze would fail is if it freezes.  I’ve slept with it in my pocket on freezing nights.  I have Aqua Mira drops as a backup.  However, they weigh three ounces.  As of now, I’ve decided to not take a backup.  Three ounces is three ounces.  In a worst case scenario, I would just drink the water.