Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Pacific Crest Trail

September arrived in a whirlwind- after wrapping up work and moving out of our apartment in 24 hours, I found myself home in Tennessee frantically counting calories and weighing grains, nuts, powdered gatorade, and coffee. Perhaps the biggest challenge of long distance hiking was planning how to eat 4,000 calories a day- for those unfamiliar with specific calorie counts: that is a lot of food. I found myself adding powdered milk to my coffee (9 calories!) and flax seeds to my oatmeal (70 calories!) to try to get enough calories. A normal day looked something like:

     - 3 packs instance oatmeal (390)
     - Flax seeds for the oatmeal (70)
     - Instant Coffee (20)
     - Clif Bar at 10:00 AM (250)
     - 1 quart Powdered Gatorade at lunch (200)
     - 3 servings of almonds (510)
     - 3 servings of dried apricots (240)
     - 3 servings of pita chips (260)
     - 4 tortillas (200)
     - 3 servings of peanut butter (380)
     - 2 servings of jelly (112)
     - Clif Bar at 3:00 PM (250)
     - 4 servings of instant rice (600)
    - 1 package of chicken (210)
    - 3 servings of olive oil (240)
    - 4 cookies (240)
    TOTAL: 4,172 Calories (So. Much. Food.)

I spent 2 days measuring out my first twelve days of food and mailing food packages to myself to pick up on the trail (something like 50,000 calories!!!).

Before I knew it I found myself on a flight to Seattle, where I boarded a bus to Stevens Pass, and then voila: the trailhead.

It was an emotional moment: the beginning of new chapter after ten weeks of planning. My plan was to hike south as long as the weather held up. 

For those unfamiliar with the Pacific Crest Trail, the PCT is a 2,663-mile trail that starts at the U.S.-Mexican border at Campo, CA and ends seven miles into Canada at Manning Park, British Columbia, following the crest the whole way. Hiking the entire trail is a monster undertaking, normally requiring around five months from late April to late September, and each year roughly 1,000 people attempt the feat, the vast majority (90%+) of whom hike from south to north. 

Due to my late start, I decided to start in the North and head south, and my goal was merely to hike as far as I could before the weather turned nasty. I had completed a handful of backpacking trips longer than a week, but this was to be my longest trip by far, somewhere between four and eight weeks on the trail.

After hiking past the eerie skeletons of the Stevens Pass Ski Resort, I arrived at my first camp and settled in just before a HUGE storm hit. Here's the view as I hurriedly cooked dinner before retreating into the tent.

I was reassured the next morning when fellow hikers ensured me that the storm was, "the storm of the past decade" (or two). Unfortunately, the weather wasn't much better on Day 2:

My first full day on the trail passed slowly, and although the clouds did lift for an hour or two,

the rain moved back in that evening. Here's me trying to dry my gear during a lull in the rain. For those who have never hiked in persistent rain (I hadn't), it's amazing- even with a shell jacket, shell pants, and a pack cover, EVERYTHING still gets wet. I have no idea how, but it's just impossible to stay dry, a real downer after a couple of days...

Day 3 was more of the same- beautiful views....entirely obscured by clouds. In spite of the bad weather, I continued passing northbound thru-hikers, 20-30 per day. Since most people walk south to north and I was near the north end of the trail, I passed the main body of thru-hikers, at this point a close-knit gaggle, hiking in small groups. As a southbound hiker, my primary role was messenger. "Hey, have you seen Simba?" Thru-hikers famously bestow trail names on each other, such that no one actually even knows anyone's real name, and I was continually asked if I had seen various hikers (or where the next water source was). Sadly, I didn't receive a trail name since I was hiking south by myself.

Finally, Day 4 dawned blue and clear. It's amazing what a little blue sky will do for your mood! I even got my first (of many) look at Mt Rainier, towering ninety miles to the south.

I also, got my first view of the surrounding landscape as I worked my way up to Chikamin Pass. Here's looking back to the north (the views I didn't see any of as I hiked through them). You can see the trail up to the pass in the bottom left of the photo.

It's amazing how rugged the terrain is- what you would see at 11,000 or 12,000 feet in the Sierras in California is at less than 6,000 feet here. The next day I started early to get to Snoqualmie Pass, where I hadn't planned on spending a rest day, but decided to stay to let my wet gear (and aching bones) rest. Here's the view down to Snoqualmie Pass (and the I-90) with Mt Rainier lurking in the background:

After a delicious meal at the Summit Inn Pancake House: a plate of pancakes, bacon, sausage, fried eggs, hashbrowns, and coffee, I spent the day (gloriously) not on my feet, preparing for the next 4-day, 90-mile leg to White Pass, WA. Lots more to come!

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