Tahoe Rim Trail: Echo Chalet to Spooner Lake

TRT Day 7: 20 miles

We got woken up around 10pm when a large group of people showed by at the lake.  Flashlights kept penetrating our tent, and I kept hearing someone shout “there are tents RIGHT there!”  We had to listen to them for probably an hour as they set up camp, made dinner and talked loudly.

We all woke up in the morning very grumpy, and being the considerate human beings that we are, we didn’t make a racket while we packed up, and left fairly quickly.  We did notice, however that an empty bottle of wine was sitting next to one of our neighbor’s tents, and their “bear bag” was hanging about 4 feet off the groud, leaning on the trunk of a tree.   I would call that a bear piñata.

We hiked though a pretty meadow called Big Meadow, and lots of day hikers were out.  That’s what happens on a Saturday close to a road.

Once we crossed the road, and started climbing again, we lost most of the day hikers.  Donner wasn’t feeling great, so we took a long break and I offered him some electrolytes.  We were probably all dehydrated, and the lack of sleep didn’t help.

We had a long and steady uphill, which seemed to go on forever.  I felt completley sleep deprived.  Half way up I started closing my eyes for several steps at a time until I realized that was probably dangerous, and I was on the verge of falling asleep while walking.

We wanted to camp as close to Freel Peak as possible to make a side trip tomorrow morning to reach the top, since it is the tallest peak in the Tahoe Basin.

Luckily, right at the intersection of the Freel Peak trail, we were able to find a couple of small spots to camp. 

We all made ramen for dinner and Donner complimented it with an uncooked, day-old hot dog.  Our diets are pretty disgusting, I’ll have to admit.

This will be the highest elevation we’re camping at – around 9,700ft roughly.  It’s a bit breezy, but hopefully we’ll sleep OK.  The sunset was gorgeous, but I was so tired I just wanted to fall asleep.

TRT Day 8:  22 miles

Our alarms were set for 5AM so we could climb Freel Peak (10,881ft) for sunrise.  Our intention was to get going by about 5:10AM, leaving our camp set up at the bottom, and hike up the one mile trail to the summit.  Unfortunately, that was slightly ambitious, and we didn’t get going till about 5:25AM.  Sunrise is right about 6AM these days, so we still had more than half an hour to get to the top.

We headed out with our headlamps shining the way.  The summit was nearly a thousand feet up, and having not had breakfast, and being at around 10,000ft already, I quickly lost all steam.  I pushed myself to continue as quickly as possible, against the will of my aching legs, and wheezing lungs.  The trail was much steeper than almost any part of either the Tahoe Rim Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail, with many steps and steep sections of deep sand that allowed each step to slide half way back down again.   I let John and Donner pass me so that they could maybe make it to the top for sunrise, since I could tell I was unlikely to make it at my pace.

I made the mistake of blowing my nose, and even though it was still dark, I could tell I had just created a massive nose bleed.  I kept wiping my nose on my bandana as I huffed and puffed up the mountain.

I saw John waiting for me close to the summit, and he shouted words of encouragement.  Donner was already at the top and also shouted that sunrise was moments away.  I pushed harder, but I could tell by my wheezing breath that I was having an asthma attack.  Normally I would stop, but I didn’t and pushed to the top seconds before the sun crested over the ridge.  I gasped for air, and John tried to get me to breath deeply, but until I calmed down, it was almost pointless.

When I had my wits about me again, I admired where we were: on top of the world with the most beautiful lighting.  It was windy and my bandana looked like I had killed a small animal on the way up, but at least my nose bleed had mostly stopped.

We spent about 20 minutes watching the sunlight touch distant mountains, and the mountain we were on was casting a giant shadow down the valley.  Although the climb had been the hardest part of this trail so far, the reward was also the greatest.

Eventually, we climbed down, and once back at the gap, we packed up camp and hiked on.  We descended to Star Lake where we met the first other counter clockwise TRT hiker, named Amethyst.  She was on day 17 and taking it very slow.  We chatted for a while, and while we were chatting, a group of runners stopped to collect water.  One of them was in the middle of trying to run the entire trail in 4 days.  So on one side of us was someone completing the trail in double the number of das we were, and on the another was someone who was completing it in half.  Funny.

I decided to have Ramen for breakfast since I thought I probably needed the salt.

We continued to descend, and the day grew very warm.  We stopped by streams and got our shirts wet, and John decided the Ramen was a good idea, and soaked some for himself.  Donner quickly followed suit.

We eventually got to the last water source for the next 17 miles, and decided to take a very very long break.  It was unbearably hot.  The stream was at the bottom of the downhill and we didn’t want to start climbing again until it cooled off.  We sat by the creek and drank water, slapping the occasional mosquito.  Along came several other hikers – one of which was a clockwise hiker named Song and Dance, and another was a counter clockwise hiker named Dog Man, along with his dog.  Another counter clockwise hiker!!!  The second one today, and only the second one of the whole trip.

We all decided to all have more Ramen and call it dinner.

At 5PM, we finally moved on.  I was full of energy, having eaten quite a lot of food at our breaks (mostly Ramen).  We headed uphill and hiked at quite a decent pace until we found a place to camp, only 10 or so miles out from Spooner Summit where we started this whole thing.

Dirty hiker feet (with dirty girl gaiters!)

Day 9: 10 miles

I woke up excited to get to town.  Mostly for a shower, but also for some food that wasn’t Ramen.

We only had 10 miles to hike, and we got going quite quickly.  The trail climbed up to some magnificent views of Lake Tahoe and right at the top of the hill there was a wooden bench that trail maintainers either built or carried up to this spot.  Not many benches have a view this good!

Not far from the bench we saw Dog Man with his dog “Fox” (Fox was the dog’s trail name, his real name was Pepper).  I asked if I could get a picture of him, and he posed proudly with his dog on his shoulders.

Before we knew it, we got down to Spooner Summit Trail head where we started just 8 days and a few hours ago.  175 miles done, and another amazing thru-hike ticked off the list!

We sat by some smelly toilets that weren’t open due to COVID and assessed the situation.  We definitely smelled objectionable, and we needed a ride into Carson City.  We contemplated changing into other clothes, but all in all we didn’t have many other clothes to change into.  I found a small bottle of tea tree oil in my pack, which carries a strong smell, and Donner got very excited and started spreading it around himself like perfume.  That seemed to be a good way of masking our scent. 

We considered trying to hitchhike, but decided that trying to get an Uber was probably a safer bet, and so 15 minutes later we were in a car with a teacher who was lamenting about having to return to school with a bunch of kids.   He was a Physical Education teacher, and had no idea how he was supposed to conduct such a class safely.  I certainly can understand that parents, especially those who work full time, need to get their kids out of the house.  But teachers, especially in high risk groups are having to put themselves in quite a hazardous position.  I certainly didn’t have the answers.

We got dropped off in town, and wandered into a nearby McDonalds and got ice cream.  It was nice to eat something cold in the heat of the day.  As we savored our first taste of civilization, I went about calling hotels to find the cheapest one in Carson City.  Trust me, hikers don’t need anything fancy.  When you’ve been calling any flat spot in the dirt home each night, anything with running water feels like a luxury.

Soon we checked into this crummy hotel I found and started getting excited for taking showers.  I washed layer after layer of dirt off of my body.  When I got out of the shower, Donner pointed out that there were was buck shot embedded in the wall next to our bed.

We then climbed into the grubby hotel pool, which was roughly the size of a large hot tub, situated right next to a dumpster.  We watched the occasional piece of trash blow out of the dumpster and float towards the pool.  Beyond the dumpster, a barbed-wire fence caught the remaining flying garbage.

“I’m not sure we actually needed to shower first”  I said, admiring the peeling paint, and dirt floating in the pool. 

Somebody had made the effort to spray-paint the fence around the pool with black paint, but in the process, they had spray-painted a tree and part of the dumpster as well.  I guessed this was probably the response to a bad online review.

Once we were completely pruney, we headed back inside, and dealt with our laundry, food and packing for the next couple of days.  Our plan is to check out Donner Summit and attempt to climb Donner Peak.  Donner got his trail name out East on the Appalachian Trail, and had never made the pilgrimage to the area where the Donner Party famously resorted to cannibalism while getting stranded during a particularly brutal winter storm.

We heard a rattling sound outside in the parking lot.

“Do you think that’s a broken down car, or just an empty can rolling down the parking lot?” John asked.

Donner cracked open the door.  “It’s a can rolling down the parking lot.”  He answered.

Days 10-11 (PCT Side Trips)

I slept like a baby and woke up the next morning ready for the next adventure.

Looking at the map, Donner Peak does not have a trail to the summit, but the Mount Judah trail, which creates a short loop with the Pacific Crest Trail comes quite close, so we figured we would just hike off-trail to the summit.

We met up with Jenna, who works for Big City Mountaineers, the organization we raised money for as part of this hike.  She wanted to take some video footage of us, since she lived nearby so that they could help promote similar fundraising events to what we did.  We were glad to help.

We didn’t tell her in advance that we’d be scrambling to the top of Donner Peak, not knowing if there was a social-trail to the summit, but we figured that if she worked in the outdoor industry, she’d probably be up for it.

We met Jenna at the trail head.  She was young, and the type of California girl who says things like “rad” and “stoked” a lot.  We chatted about the outdoor industry and the work that she was doing with Big City Mountaineers.

Once we got close to Donner Peak, the scramble up was well worn, and quite fun.  Nothing like bushwhacking to summits on the East Coast.  From the top, we got views of Donner Lake along with nearby ski resorts.

We decided the next course of action would be going for a swim in Donner Lake.  The water was not too cold, but the breeze was chilly, and we didn’t stay in too long.

Once we parted ways with Jenna, we headed north on the Pacific Crest Trail from Interstate 80, so as to camp for the night.  We were aiming for a Sierra Club hut, which was only about 3 miles in.

Along the way we met a couple who also looked like they were planning to camp out.  I asked them what their plan was, and they told us that they were going to camp out to watch the Meteor Shower.  We hadn’t realized that there even was a Meteor shower, so it was serendipitous that I even asked.

We made plans to wake up in the middle of the night to view the show.

When we got to the hut there was a single man who was camped in the loft of the hut and we decided to camp out.  The hut was quite nice, somewhat similar to the hut we saw at Richardson Lake, but maybe even nicer.

The night was cold, and at 1AM I woke up to pee, and decided to wake up John and Donner.  We dragged our sleeping bags out and laid down on some rocks with a clear view of the sky.  We spent about an hour staring at the sky watching shooting stars whiz by every minute or so.

In the morning, we headed back to I-80, and the gentleman who had stayed in the hut asked us if we could give him a ride to Truckee.  We agreed based on the fact that he had a mask, and we could roll the windows down for the short drive into town.

Before we headed back to the airpot, we made one final stop at In N’ Out Burger, our favorite fast-food joint on the West Coast.  We don’t have anything like it back home, and soon we will have no excuses for eating fast-food.

Just to solidify our Ramen obsession on this trip, we decided to eat a Ramen dinner in the airport between flights.

Do you think Top Ramen will sponsor our next thru-hike?

I’m finishing up this blog on the flight home, but I’m planning to write another blog soon about my final thoughts on the Tahoe Rim Trail with some advice, some thoughts on starting/ending points and direction.  Stay tuned!                         

The Southbound Scoop: What you need to know about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Southbound: What you need to know.
Everyone’s been asking me to write something about going Southbound (SOBO) since there really isn’t much out there on the subject.  Keep in mind that everyone’s experiences are different, and every year is different as well.  In particular, snow conditions vary from year to year and you should do a lot of your own research on current conditions before heading out.  Usually, the beginning of SOBO season is roughly from mid June to mid July or even later depending on snow, and you’ll likely finish your hike anywhere from October to December depending on your speed and start date.
Just to start with, I’ll give you a quick summary of why I think hiking Southbound is awesome and why I think more people should do it with some pros and cons, then I’ll go into the more nitty-gritty of planning a SOBO hike.
Hiking Southbound is great for many reasons:
1. You’re not going to be hiking in huge herd of hikers.  During my SOBO hike, I only met 7 other SOBO hikers (as opposed to 78 Northbounders (NOBOs) I met in one day).
2.  You’ll start your hike in some of the most beautiful scenery, not in the desert.  Let’s face it, more than half of us quit.  If you quit as a NOBO, you will have hiked in the desert, and not up in Northern Washington.  I’m not trying to dis the desert… the desert is awesome in its own ways but really, Northern Washington is more worth your time.
3. Speaking of the desert.  It is much more pleasant to walk through Southern California (“the desert”) in the late fall (late October/ early November) when the days are shorter and cooler.   Plus by then you’ll be hiking 25-30 miles a day, so you won’t spend as many days in the desert as NOBOs do.
4.  You’ll have much more of a “wilderness” experience going SOBO.  None of this fighting over tent space, falling in and out of cliques or worrying about hostels, hotels and trail angels being packed with hikers.  You’ll get a much more personal experience with towns and with Trail Angels.  You won’t need to worry about someone walking up on you while you’re peeing or whatever else you need to do while there’s no coverage.  For those of you East Coast hikers, let me warn you– much of the PCT is pretty “open”. There aren’t many trees or bushes, which is great for views and such, but for finding a spot to dig a hole and minding your business? Not so much.  I often times wondered how NOBOs found any privacy.
5.  You’ll get bugs in Washington, but not so much in Oregon where they’re supposedly worse.  You definitely won’t get bugs in the Sierras, so you’ll be able to enjoy your breaks at the gorgeous lakes up there.
6.  You’ll be following leave-no-trace ethics by not hiking the trail during the most high traffic times (which is normal NOBO season and summer holidays).  During your hike you’ll realize how much impact hikers have on the trail, especially by talking to locals in town about what it is like during NOBO season.
7.  You will always be walking up the northern face (colder and shaded), and down the southern face (hotter, and sunnier).  You’ll appreciate this on hot days.  Carrying an umbrella is helpful since you’ll be walking into the sun most of the time.
Hiking Southbound may not be for you if:
1. You’re not ready to hit the ground running.  Unlike going NOBO where you have the desert to “warm up” with, since there is no real time-frame for hiking in the desert, you’ll need to hit the ground running from day one.  Just as it is for Northbounders hiking from the beginning of the Sierras once the snow is manageable until the Canadian border, before the snow hits again in the fall (roughly 2000 miles), you’ll have the same time crunch.  You’ll be hiking in Northern Washington just as the snow is melting up there, and trying to make it through the Sierra before the snow hits again in the fall.  October 1st is a good date to aim to be at Forester Pass.  The only difference is you’ll get to “cool down” with the desert  with no real time restraints, rather than having the desert as a “warm-up.”
2.  You want to hike with groups of people and make lots of friends. If you’re more into the social aspect of the trail, SOBO may not be for you.  You’ll still meet people, but it won’t be the social scene that hiking NOBO probably is.  But maybe you’ll spend less time and money in town as a result.
Before you start the trail: check snowtel: http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/ and pct website: http://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps-and-guidebooks/ for current snow conditions.  I recommend not starting your hike until after the level of snow at Harts Pass has reached 0 inches.  I’d even wait a while after that.  Don’t think this’ll mean you won’t be hiking on snow.  No matter how late you start, you’ll be hiking on snow.  If you get going once the level at Harts Pass reaches 0 inches, the passes you’ll be going over for the next several hundred miles will be completely covered in snow, and unless you have some significant snow experience, or you’re simply not afraid of death or heights, you’ll probably have a few “what the fuck am I doing!?” moments.  So prepare for it.  Also, make sure the road to Harts Pass is open before you drive out there.  The people at Mazama at Goats Beard can help you figure that out.
Keep in mind that every year is different when it comes to snow, and a low snow year in the Sierra often times means a high year in the Cascades and visa verse.  It helps to talk to locals- preferably hikers.  Ranger stations have limited knowledge for some reason, and we’ve gotten some bad advice.  Talk to Andrea Dinsmore, the Trail Angel in Northern Washington.  She’s not a hiker, but she’ll know if it’s a high snow year or a low one.  From her experience hosting hikers, and being involved in search and rescue she’ll be able to give you some basic advise.
In a normal or high snow year, I would recommend the following gear: ice axe, crampons or microspikes (don’t go with yak-tracks or anything else that’s only really for walking on icy sidewalks), GPS, compass, map, and personal locator beacon.  If you want specific recommendations, let me know, but any and all of these could save your life on the snow.  Also, learn some snow skills before you get out there.  There is no use having an ice axe if you have no idea how to use it.  Google “self arrest” and watch some videos then go out and practice on a snowy slope.  You will need the skills before you have a good chance to practice them on trail.  The Northern Cascades are very rugged and actually quite different from the Sierra, and you’ll want to have practiced in a safe environment before you show up.  Here’s a good learning video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94QFImjdEAo.  Learn to walk in crampons or microspikes- in particular, learn to kick steps.  Learn to self belay.  There are great videos on all these techniques.  Learn about cornices, snow/ice bridges and post-holing.  As you gain experience on snow, you’ll slowly learn how different snow feels beneath you.  The snow will be harder in the morning and softer in the afternoon. You’re more likely to post-hole through soft snow, and you can injure yourself on rocks, sticks, etc that are under the snow.
In Northern Washington you’ll spend a significant amount of time traversing steep slopes and avalanche chutes covered in snow. You’ll be looking hundreds and sometimes almost a thousand feet down on one side and kicking steps into the mountain and you’ll be holding your ice axe in your uphill hand and your trekking pole in your downhill hand.  Estimate that hiking in snow will take you twice as long as normal hiking.  If you’re walking on 50-100% snow, you should plan for 10 to 15 mile days.  Best to plan for 10 miles a day when it comes to food.  The one thing in your favor here is the sunlight.  You’ll be starting your hike at the peak of the summer with the most amount of daylight, and you’ll need it!  Luckily your appetite won’t kick in for the first week or two, so you’ll get away with carrying a little less than you would otherwise, but nonetheless, you should over-pack on food, because that will be your limiting factor.  Many people going southbound in 2014 had to push hard to make it through the Glacier Peak Wilderness before they ran out of food.  We just underestimated the snow.  I never thought it could take me 15 or 16 hours to go 11 miles.  Kicking steps takes time, and navigating takes time too.  Once you get past the snow, you will be done with the hardest part of the trail.  Once you hit solid ground, it’ll feel like you’re floating along watching the beautiful scenery go by and you’ll be loving your thru-hike.
Starting the trail:
First of all you’ll need to get to the beginning of the trail, which is at the Canadian border.  There are practically speaking two ways of doing this, but legally speaking only one.  You can either hike north from Harts Pass or Route 20 (Rainy Pass) to the border to start your southbound hike, or enter from Manning Park in Canada.  It it illegal to enter into the United States from Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, and at least one hiker has wound up in jail for attempting this… not a great way to start your hike.  For that reason I recommend starting at Harts Pass.  To start your hike, go to Seattle, and find someone willing to drive you to Hart’s Pass, then hike north to the border.  If it’s a high snow year consider alternatives.  Hiking on the PCT isn’t the only way to hike from Canada to Mexico.  A great low elevation alternative is to hike along Ross Lake to reach the Canadian Border.  Then you can follow Panther Creek Trail and Thunder Creek Trail going over Park Creek Pass, which will have snow on it.  A map will be your friend here.  Get permits with the local ranger stations here because you’ll be in a National Park, and you’re required to have them.  Stash food at route 20 (we did so in a bear canister), then your next resupply will be in Stehekin.  It’s a short distance from route 20 to Stehekin (2-3 days at most), and if you used one, you can mail your bear canister home at Stehekin.
Bugs and rodents:
The worst bugs you’ll encounter on the PCT are mosquitoes.  There are many types along the PCT, and you’ll slowly learn their behaviors as you move from one type of mosquitoes territory to another.  The clouds of mosquitoes will start with you in Northern Washington.  They basically hatch right out of the snow.  You’ll be concentrating on kicking a step and not falling several hundred feet to your death, and suddenly you’ll hear “bzzzzzzz….” in your ear.  If you have a bug phobia now’s probably the time to start practicing meditation.  At least the mosquitoes in Washington are relatively slow compared to the ones in Oregon.  You have a chance in outrunning them, particularly once you hit solid ground.  The ones in Oregon can land on you while you’re at a dead out sprint, I’m not kidding you.  And wind?  No problem.  They’ll find you in 50 mph gusts.  Then in Southern Oregon you’ll meet another bread that aren’t as fast as their Central Oregon relatives, but for what they lack in speed, they make up for in size.  You’ll be slightly afraid of squishing these pterodactyl-like mosquitoes for the mess that they will leave behind.  Luckily by the time you hit the Sierra, there will be not a mosquito in sight, and you can dilly-dally at lakes taking thousands of pictures.
Also a note on mice – we were told by locals that mice would be a big problem in the Cascades of Washington.  For the most part, they weren’t since we were on snow, but when we got to lower elevation, Dirt Stew was kept up by them running on the tent netting above his head.  There is dense vegetation here, so tent sites are quite established.  Some people have had mice chew through their tents and/or food bags.
Although you’ll be starting with snow on the ground, it won’t be as cold as winter hiking.  In late June early July up in Washington it could get down to roughly freezing, but that’s about as low as it will get.  You may wind up camping on snow, and my recommendation is to cut a few small pieces of blue foam (the kind you find at Walmart), and put those pieces under your butt and shoulders to insulate you from the snow.  Use these in conjunction with your normal sleeping pad.  You can also use these pieces to wrap your crampons in during the day.  Most likely it will be fairly warm during the day, and as a result you’ll be watching the snow melt.  We had a week or more in the 90’s and got completely sun burnt by hiking on the snow in bright sunshine.  Beware of this!  Sunscreen SPF 50 was not even enough.  Sunglasses, sunscreen, and eventually covering every square inch in clothing became absolutely necessary.
Through Central Oregon and Northern California our 10 and 20 degree sleeping bags were too warm, and if we had decided to switch to lighter ones, this would have been the right time to do so.  If I had done this, I would maybe have sent my lighter sleeping bag to Crater Lake, and then sent it back in favor of the warmer one at Truckee or Sierra City.
If you’re a normal hiker, I think you’ll do fine with a 20 degree bag for the whole trail.  The coldest temperatures for our hike happened in the High Sierra in mid to late September.  It went below freezing almost every night, probably into the low 20’s (just a guess, I didn’t have a thermometer).  I’m always cold, so I choose a 10 degree bag, and I know some who sleep more on the warm side who got away with a 30 degree bag.  I would send any extra warm clothing to Tuolumne Meadows, and then send it home again at Kennedy Meadows South.  I was happy to have an extra down jacket for this section.
We wound up keeping our warmer clothing through the desert because we did not know what to expect, but it did not get below freezing for us in the desert.  We were slightly ahead of the southbound “herd” and for some behind us, it did get slightly cooler, and in some of the higher mountains of the desert it could easily snow in late October or early November.  We finished our hike in early November, and never saw snow in the desert.  You can expect some hot sections where the trail is low in elevation (e.g Cajon Pass, and hiking along the Aquaduct), but there is also plenty of high elevation hiking in the desert which doesn’t really feel like desert at all and will be a refreshing change.
All PCT hikers worry about water.  For Southbounders, water starts becoming an issue in Oregon and continues through parts of Northern California, and then again in Southern California.  Water sources during the summer of 2014 were particularly unpredictable because of the drought conditions.  Data seemed often times unreliable, and “seasonal” water was sometimes running while rivers and streams were not.  My suggestion is to try to carry enough water to make it two water sources away, although this isn’t always feasible, and many UL hikers resent carrying too much water.  But I have to say, it really sucks when you run out of water and then you reach a dry water source.  After the Sierra, the Water Report becomes your bible.   Print out the latest version in each town you get to.  The website is www.pctwater.com.  Once you get to the desert, you’ll find water relatively easy to deal with because of the Water Report, having already done 30 mile water-less stretches.  I seriously think water is more of an issue for NOBO’s because they’re starting their hike in the desert and fighting for resources.
Sierra Resupply
On your South Bound hike, depending on your hiking speed, some places in the Sierras may close down before you reach them.  Definitely call in advance to find out the closing dates of Kennedy Meadows North, Tuolumne Meadows, Vermillion Valley Resort, Muir Ranch, and Kennedy Meadows South.  The closing dates vary from year to year, and also are affected by snow.  An early snow storm may cause them to close early.  It is not impossible to through-hike without these resupply stops.  You can hike out at Mammoth/ Reds Meadow, Whitney Portal (you need a permit), and Independence/Kearsarge Pass regardless of time of year.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know.  I’m going to convert this blog post into a page on this website, and the more information the better.  When we did research for our hike, information was very limited.  We had no idea where we’d find the mosquitoes, and so we sent bug netting to Oregon.  Thank goodness for Andrea Dinsmore and her collection of old gear.  We also surveyed the Southbounders we met along the way to try to determine what the desert would be like.  We had imagined that it would get very very cold at night, but in fact it never did.  I really hope that more people decide to go Southbound.  With increasing numbers of hikers on the trail, it only makes sense to spread ourselves out and minimize our impact on the trail.
Here is another resource for Southbounders made by 2016 hikers:  https://www.pctsouthbound.com/
Happy Trails!

Random picture from Sierra

Random picture from Sierra

Summary of our Pacific Crest Trail SOBO hike 2014 in numbers

It has been almost two months since Dirt Stew and I finished our hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I thought I would summarize our adventure with a few interesting facts and statistics from our hike:


We hiked 95.5% of the Pacific Crest Trail (roughly 100 miles short due to wild-fire closures)

The hike took 128 days

We took 8 “zero days” (days off) which included 4 days to go to a wedding

We walked an average of 20 miles a day (including zero days)

Longest day: 34 miles

We spent 97 nights camping on the trail

We spent 19 nights in paid accommodation (hotel, hostel, cabin, etc)

We spent 5 nights with trail angels

We spent 6 nights with friends/other

We had 15 days of rain or precipitation

We hiked on snow for at least part of the day for 16 days

We each went through roughly 5 pairs of shoes

The most north-bounders we passed in one day was 78

Number of other south-bound thru-hikers we met during our whole hike was 7

We spent $4,000 per person during the hike (not including food in mail-drops)

We had 17 mail-drops pre-made and 6 more were made during our hike

Our biggest expense was health insurance ($250/month per person)

Most expensive piece of gear lost: down jacket

Most water carried: 6 liters per person (we didn’t need all of it)

Base weight for Dirt Stew was anywhere from 10 to 15lbs

Base weight for Dormouse was anywhere from 8 to 12 lbs

Favorite sections: Northern Washington followed by the Sierra Nevada

We took 3641 pictures

The most picked up piece of trash was Mylar balloons, followed by plastic water bottles

We soaked ourselves in 5 different hot tubs

We hiked or hitched past 6 wild-fire closures (we found alternates for many, but not all)

We saw 5 bears (none in bear canister territory)

Most obnoxious animal: raccoon waking us up in the middle of the night

Cutest animal: the pika

Number of hikers in bad circumstances that we were able to help: 3

Best food experience: Aardvarks food truck

Cause of most painful full stomach experience for Dirt Stew: 1 medium sized pepperoni pizza followed by 1 large burrito

Cause of most painful full stomach experience for Dormouse: 1 order of mozzarella sticks, 1 bacon cheese burger followed by ice cream

Dirt Stew’s most missed creature comfort: a kitchen with food in it

Dormouse’s most missed creature comfort: sonic tooth brush

Number of voice recordings for the Halfmile project: 1500+

If you are curious about any statistics we haven’t thought of let us know in the comments.

< a href=”https://just2hikers.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/img_1498.jpg”&gt;IMG_1498

Ashland to Etna (making up missed miles)

Highlights:  We decided to go back to the fire closure area that we had missed earlier this year in order to cover missed miles.  Going from the desert up to Northern California was a huge change.  We started hiking on a foggy day.  Everything was wet and cold, and we were surrounded by green trees and ferns and rugged mountains.  It was exhilarating.  We hiked to Seiad Valley where we resupplied and met some very nice folks in the cafe.  We continued on through the Marble Mountain Wilderness which was heavily affected by the wild fires, and several bridges were burnt out.  The last couple days into Etna were extremely painful for me, as the suspected tendinitis in my hips was flaring up.  I knew on the day into Etna that our hike would end there, as every step was painful.  Plus weather was coming our way– precipitation probably in the form of snow was predicted for the day after we walked out.  But by doing this section, we finished the state of Oregon and left a wonderful 100 mile section to do another year.

Burn areas in the Marbles

Burn areas in the Marbles

November  6th:
The night before we started hiking we met another PCT hiker who was also a ranger in this area named Ken.  We were given his information by Halfmile, who met him during his NOBO hike.  When we called Ken, he immediately offered to shuttle us around to do this section, and told us the conditions of the trail (no snow..!)  We met Ken and several of his daughters in a Starbucks in Yreka, and were invited to spend the night.  Ken and his family are all crazy in a really awesome way.  Ken had let us into his life at a ridiculous time: his first grandchild was born today, and they were all going back and forth to the hospital.  Then we heard about his other daughter’s 5 year plan– even crazier!  She plans on doing the triple crown (AT, PCT, CDT) and the 7 summits (tallest point on all 7 continents) from sea level.  She’s already done the AT and PCT, and is working on the 7 summits by going with Ken to Africa in just a week or so’s time to climb Kilimanjaro. Amazing!  We agreed to get up early to depart Ken’s place to get to Ashland to resume our hike where we left off many months ago.
Day 124: Mile 1727 to Mile 1699.5, 27.5 miles
November 7th:
We got up at 5:30AM and Ken drove us in our car out to Ashland.  We thanked him and got on our way.  As we walked away, the thought only just occurred to us: Were we crazy for giving the keys to a car we just bought to someone we only just met the day before?  They already felt like good friends, and we certainly weren’t as crazy as they were!
As we entered the forest once again, we were overwhelmed by how green everything was.  Everything was wet too.  There were ferns and huge carnivores surrounding us.  What a change from the desert.  And no sand!  Solid ground!  No sun!  In fact we were hiking through a huge fog bank.  We hiked uphill for quite a ways and over the fog to see some amazing views.
Fog in the Oaks
We hiked well past dark– dark comes now around 5:30PM.  The moon was full and we didn’t even need our headlamps unless we were in thick trees.  My hips started to hurt, but I expected this as previously taking rest days had aggravated the pain in my hips.  We camped half a mile away from the Oregon border.
Day 125: Mile 1699.5 to Mile 1672.5, 27 miles
November 8th:
First thing in the morning we hit the Oregon/California border.  It was great to finally finish the state of Oregon, as we had only 28 miles left when we had to skip ahead, and it always nagged us that Oregon had been left incomplete.  We signed the register, and noticed that the last hiker through there was Buddy Backpacker (a family hiking with their 6 year old) roughly 5 days ago.

It took a long time to finish Oregon

It took a long time to finish Oregon

As the wet season was just starting, water sources are kind of hard to predict.  There is plenty of water, but it is just hard to tell which sources will be running, and which won’t.
We get beautiful views of Mount Shasta in the distance covered in snow

Lenticular Clouds over Mt Shasta

Lenticular Clouds over Mt Shasta

My hips continued to hurt, but I had hope that maybe it would only take a few days for them to work themselves out again.
Again we hiked well past dark, and as the moon was rising, it looked almost like a sunset, only darker.  Looking down into the darkness I noticed stars reflecting off of a lake.  It was magical.
Day 126: Mile 1672.5, to Mile 1652, 20.5 miles
November 9th:
We got amazing views in the morning with the sunrise over blankets of fog in the valley.

Shasta in the morning

Shasta in the morning


Fog islands

Fog islands

We descended into the fog to get to Seiad Valley, and all of the vegetation was wet from it.  Spider webs were covered in drops of water, as were my eyelashes quickly became as well.

Spider web in the fog

Spider web in the fog

Walking down into fall

Walking down into fall

We hiked through an old burn area with many downed trees, and Dirt Stew and I were able to move several of the smaller ones that were blocking the trail.
We got to town and went into the cafe and ordered burgers for lunch.  We got chatting with a couple of locals, Bill and Peggy, who had done various parts of the PCT on horseback.

Seiad Diner conversation

Seiad Diner conversation

 It was really great to talk to them about the intricacies of doing the trail on horse.  For example, I had no idea that horses do not understand that an approaching hiker is simply another person until they say something.  That explains why horsemen sometimes shout at us from far away.  We thought it was weird that they didn’t just wait until they were closer to have a conversation so that we could actually hear them.  In fact, they were just trying to prove to their horse that we were just humans and not monsters.  Especially hikers wearing big packs or carrying an umbrella.  Suddenly they look like a 7 foot tall monster.  And then if the hiker stands on the uphill side… then they’re a 10 ft tall monster.  And if they step to one side and quietly stand behind a tree… the horse is just waiting for the 10 ft tall monster to jump out from behind the tree.  And the horseman is then sitting on hundreds of pounds of dynamite.  Then it turned out that they were good friends with Ken.  Oh small towns…

Post Office at Siead Valley

Post Office at Siead Valley

Heart of the State of Jefferson

Heart of the State of Jefferson

We resupplied and hiked out, walking 6 miles on a road before reentering the woods.  Here the forest was hit by the recent burn.  Everything was burnt for miles and miles.  As we hiked into the dark, we noticed that one tree that was reduced to just the trunk was still smoking.

Smoking Tree

Smoking Tree

A burn area in the Marble Mt Wilderness

A burn area in the Marble Mt Wilderness

A burn area in the Marble Mt Wilderness

A burn area in the Marble Mt Wilderness

We set up camp near the stream that we had been climbing up next to for many miles, for lack of a better place, and of course camping near water means a cold night.
Day 127: Mile 1652 to Mile 1627, 25 miles
November 10th:
As we continued through the burned area, we came across several bridges that were burnt.  One was still passable, and another was completely burnt out, and we had to ford.

Bridge out in Marbles

Bridge out in Marbles

Dirt Stew tried to rock hop across, but the rocks were slippery, and he fell straight into the stream.  Luckily, it wasn’t too high, but he lost his sunglasses in the process, and of course got wet.  I looked upstream for a place to cross, and thought I found a better spot to rock hop.  I stood on a rock for a while trying to plan my jump, when I decided to signal to Dirt Stew to bring me another pole.  Since the stream was so loud, we couldn’t hear each other, and I was trying to gesture to let him know what I wanted.  He was gesturing something back, but I couldn’t tell what.  Eventually he made his way over begrudgingly and handed me the pole.  Unfortunately, it didn’t help, and I also slipped on a rock, getting both my feet wet.  He had tried to tell me that navigating over to me would be more dangerous than simply having me ford, and I should just get my feet wet.  Having not been able to properly communicate with each other, we were both irritated and annoyed with each other.  It didn’t help my mood that my hips were not getting any better, in fact they hurt more than ever.  I wanted to quit, but with so few miles left… it seemed dumb to do so.

Burn area in Marbles

Burn area in Marbles

Every day was getting colder, and even at 1PM the ground was frozen in many places.  Ponds were freezing over as well.  Luckily we were hiking through some of the most beautiful scenery, and I was happy we were able to see it at last.  The Marble Mountains were rugged, and full of great views.  At one point I saw a bear galloping away from us on an adjacent ridge.  We chose our campsite carefully as it was obviously going to be a very cold night.  I was afraid that we would have another cold night.  I wanted to make sure that we would get a good night’s sleep.

Marble Mountain Wilderness cold and wild

Marble Mountain Wilderness cold and wild

Day 128: Mile 1627 to Mile 1606, 21 miles
November 11th:  Last night was cold, but we both wore all of our clothing and kept warm.  Dirt Stew decided to tie a fleece around his waist and put his long underwear on over top of that to keep his butt warm.  The night before his cold butt kept him from sleeping soundly.
Clouds were starting to accumulate.  We were told that some weather was coming our way by in the next day.  It certainly was cold.  We bundled up, and hiked towards the road to Etna.  Water bodies were especially cold.  We passed “freeze-your-butt-off lake” which was freezing over, followed by “freeze-your-butt-off pond” with a complete layer of ice on the surface, and “freeze-your-butt-off stream” complete with rocks covered in ice.

Shasta in the morning

Shasta in the morning

The Marble rocks

The Marble rocks

Unfortunately, my hips hurt like hell.  It was obvious to me now that there was no way we would finish this entire section.  I could not imagine doing another 100 miles.  I could barely imagine making the 20 miles to the road.  Time slowed down as the pain escalated.  Every mile was a struggle.  By the time we got to the road, all I wanted was to lay on something soft and not move for a week.  We got to the road right before dusk, and it was getting so cold and windy.  We hoped that someone would pick us up soon as we waited with our thumbs up by the side of the road.  A truck stopped, and the guy got out, holding a can of beer, and after finishing it and throwing the can into the truck-bed, he invited us in.  We threw our gear in the back, and nervously got in.  He was actually a good driver (for once).  He was a logger, and worked in the woods on the other side of Etna Summit.  He dropped us off at the Etna Brewery, and we called Ken.
Ken and his wife were out somewhere visiting one of their daughters, but told us our car was at their place, and we were welcome to stay in their house even though they weren’t there.  As we were on the phone with Ken, his wife was busy calling people in Etna, and managed to find someone else they knew in the Brewery that we were in who could give us a ride.  As Dirt Stew hung up the phone, he said “so… we’re supposed to talk to that woman over there who’s going to give us a ride to their place where we can stay…”  I raised my eyebrows and smiled.  He leaned in looking around and whisper “it’s unlocked…!”  Oh small towns….
We got a ride to Ken’s house, and took an amazing shower and then jumped in their hot tub.  I was so happy not to be walking anymore.  My hips were destroyed.  But hey, we once again hiked to a hot tub!  We were both very tired from our last stretch we were eager to get to sleep early.  As I lay down in the comfortable bed and closed my eyes, I thought about how we wouldn’t be spending another night on the PCT.  Not this year at least.  With just around 100 miles left, I had no regrets.  I knew we were making the right decision to call it quits right here.

Julian to the Mexican Border

Highlights:  We hiked on from Julian through Mount Laguna after which we started seeing border patrol more and more.  We saw a tarantula on Halloween, and on Halloween night it rained on us for the first time since the Sierra Mountains.  We arrived at the Mexican Border around midday on November 1st and were greeted by White Jeep, who took us back to San Diego to stay there for a few days.

Day 120: Julian to Mile 60, 17 miles

October 29th:  We packed up and at the breakfast at the hotel we were staying at and headed to the library to write my last blog post.  The library in Julian was probably the best library of the whole trail.  Lots of computers, that actually worked, and didn’t remind you of the 90’s with essentially no time limit.  Wow!

We got a ride with an arborist back to the trail and hiked uphill in the heat… drenching us in sweat.

Day 121: Mile 60 to Mile 36, 24 miles

October 30th:  In my last blog post I commented a lot about cacti, which were the dominant vegetation.  Now we seem to have hiked out of the land of cacti and back into the land of chaperral.  Chaperral covers the hillsides very well, making the look green, and leaving very few spots for camping or doing one’s business.  We hiked into Mount Laguna and were immediately given 10 apples by a school teacher who’s kids hadn’t managed to eat them all.  We wondered over to the Post Office with our fruit, and picked up a package that we had bounced from Warner Springs, and also inquired about a package from KEEN, hopefully containing some socks.  We were lucky enough to have been chosen by KEEN to receive socks every few hundred miles, but we probably completely messed up their system by going southbound.  In any case, we had been trying to get socks delivered to us at various addresses with very little luck, and this time we found out that they had managed to send a FedEX package to General Delivery at the Post Office.  Usually, the US Postal Service will not touch a FedEX package, but the post master there recognized my name and decided to accept it and attempt to forward it to Mount Laguna along with our other package.  Although this wound up not working out, I was very impressed with the Warner Springs post office for doing this!

We wandered around town checking out the mostly closed businesses.  The outfitter looked awesome, but was closed, and the cafe was mostly closed for food, but we were able to order a frittata at the drinks counter before heading out of town.  The folks at the cafe told us the forecast called for snow on Saturday, the day that we would be arriving at the border.  Mount Laguna is at 6000ft, and the border is several thousand feet lower, so there would be only rain for us.  But we couldn’t remember the last time we saw rain, and the prospect was very exciting!

The sunset was beautiful.  Clouds were building in the sky, but were light and fluffy, which makes for a spectacular sunset.  Since there is not much vegetation to speak of, we are always rewarded with beautiful sunsets and sunrises.

Pink sunset

Pink sunset



For the first time we started noticing border patrol aircraft namely helicopters.  From here on, border patrol will be appearing more and more.

Day 122: Mile 36 to Mile 11.5, 24.5 miles

October 31st:  Border Patrol became more and more abundant.  At every road crossing we saw them in their vehicles passing by.  We stopped at a campground with picnic tables to have lunch and one vehicle came into the campground and stopped right where the trail exited the park. Several other vehicles pulled in and out.  We sat there eating our lunch and watching them nervously.  As we exited the campground, passing right by the parked vehicle with the officer inside, the officer turned on the engine and exited the park.  From then on Dirt Stew was convinced our every move was being followed.  We passed a day hiker (undercover border patrol) who stopped and asked us:

“Since when did people decide it was a good idea to go Southbound on the PCT?”

He seemed annoyed.  Dirt Stew imagined this was because normally they have to have extra forces during northbound hiker season.

At some point in the day we realized it was Halloween and joked about dressing up as each other– the only “costumes” we were carrying.  I was excited that in the middle of the trail on Halloween, we saw our first tarantula.  I respectfully stopped and took a step back, pointing him out to Dirt Stew so that he could get his camera out.  Dirt Stew then proceeded to stick his camera about 1 inch away from the tarantula, scaring it into its hole, and all we got was a picture of a tarantula butt.

Tarantula's butt

Tarantula’s butt

Not only were there border patrol helicopters in the area, there were also many military airplanes and helicopters as well, probably carrying all sorts of deadly weapons.  All in all, this didn’t exactly make us feel more safe…  Eventually, we came across this sign:



As it got dark Dirt Stew was still convinced we were being followed by border patrol.

“They have infrared cameras, and they can see us even in the dark”  he said, half jokingly.

“Don’t they have something better to do than to follow a couple of PCT hikers who are hiking TOWARDS the border?”  I said.

Sometime in the night, the rain started.  It rained and rained and rained.

Day 123: Mile 11.5 to the Mexican Border, 11.5

November 1st:  In the morning, it was still raining.  We slept in.  As we had only 11.5 miles to do to reach the border, we weren’t exactly in a rush.  The rain persisted, so we decided to get up and get going.  Soon after we were packed up, the rain abated, and then stopped all together.  The sand we were walking on was now hard from being wet, and the footsteps we had been following for hundreds of miles had disappeared over night.  I suddenly realized that the people those footsteps we had been following were all no longer on the trail.  Sadie must have finished at least a day or two ago, and she was the next one in front of us.  Mother nature was reminding us that our journey too was almost over, and soon the land will forget us as well.

Why wasn't there one of these at the Canadian border?  We got the memo WAY too late...  :)

Why wasn’t there one of these signs at the Canadian border? We got the memo WAY too late… 🙂

We didn’t have far to walk, and as we headed towards a road that we were obviously meant to cross, we saw a truck parked where the PCT crossed.

“Border Patrol is waiting for us” Dirt Stew said, pointing at the truck.  I rolled my eyes.

As we got closer, we saw someone get out and wave at us, and Dirt Stew and I realized at the same time: “White Jeep!”  He had intersected us just 2 or 3 miles before the border to say hi, and offer us a honey bun.  From there there is a confusion of roads leading to the border with the trail winding through them.

So close!

So close!

As we continued on towards the border, we saw White Jeep’s truck again at another intersection, and behind it a Border Patrol vehicle.  “Just keep on going” White Jeep commented, as we passed him.  He drove on to the border, and I looked around for where the trail continued.  The Border Patrol officer, still stopped next to us, stuck his head out of his window and pointed down the trail “you’re on the right path” he said.  As we went on, he drove off, also toward the border.

“Ok, that one was definitely there because of us”  I said to Dirt Stew.

Finally we saw White Jeep’s truck by the gigantic fence of the Mexican Border, and we could just make out the monument marking the end of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Dirt Stew walked up next to me and took my hand so that we could walk the last stretch together, just as we had on the Appalachian Trail.  We walked up grinning, and walked straight up to the monument, looking at it for a moment before looking at each other for confirmation that we would touch it together to mark the end of our journey.

White Jeep was there to take many pictures, and I found the register on the back of one of the wooden pillars.  It was surprisingly cold and windy, so we didn’t linger for too long.

We made it!

We made it!





Signing the register

Signing the register

The border was amazing to me.  I couldn’t have touched Mexico if I wanted to.  There was a huge barbed wire fence with a dirt road behind it that border patrol were driving back and forth on, and a larger impenetrable fence behind it, and then Mexico was somewhere behind that.  We could see Mexico where a hill would stick up over the fence, and that was good enough for me.

The border-- with Border Patrol driving up and down constantly

The border– with Border Patrol driving up and down constantly

And just like that, it was over.

But we aren’t thru-hikers yet.  The miles that we had to skip around the fire closure in Northern California are still nagging us, reminding us that we did not hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail in one year.

Since we’ve gotten off the trail, we’ve showered and stayed with White Jeep and Seminole in San Diego for a few days.

Showering was a bit strange.  It felt like I was washing the trail off my body for the last time.   I was happy to see that even after washing my hands several times, there was still some stubborn dirt stuck in the grooves of my hands. The first shower, however wasn’t nearly as hard as the second.  You never take a second shower while you’re on the trail until you’re totally dirty again, and so it’s hard to convince yourself to get in the shower again once back in civilization while you’re still basically clean.

We decided that we’d better at least try to go back to Ashland.  The weather has turned quite a bit towards winter conditions, so we’re preparing ourselves with warmer clothing and some extra gear, but we would like to at least finish the last few miles of Oregon to have completed two states fully.  If the conditions are miserable, we’ll finish in Seiad Valley, but we’re open to hiking further if weather permits.  Chances are we won’t complete the Pacific Crest Trail this year, but we did give it our all.  There are probably many “thru-hikers” that didn’t complete the whole trail this year.  We have less than 10% left, and maybe, just maybe we’ll be able to get through there before conditions get too bad….  Stay tuned!