Saturday, June 28, 2014

PCT Diaries: Yosemite Detour

Technically I've been to Yosemite National Park before, but only technically.

Once as a teen my family drove into Yosemite Valley, was turned off by the hordes of people more than turned on by the majestic beauty, and promptly drove out after spending a couple hours looking around. A couple years ago I made a similar visit and neither of them came close to doing justice to this place. 

This is me standing atop Cloud's Rest with Yosemite Valley behind and beneath me. Famous Half Dome can be seen on the left...

So now that I'm in Yosemite with no schedule to keep I believe it is time for me to do it up right. That means taking a detour from the Pacific Crest Trail hike for a week or more and exploring the place that first sparked the idea for national parks. 

Not bad, eh? Fifty shades of grey, indeed. 

And in how many places do three bucks cross a river right toward you?

 ...or can you see a coyote stalk a prairie dog?

The prairie dog was no fool -- it simply went underground. 

In order to keep hiking here I'll have to get backcountry permits and will need to go see a ranger about that. On the southern end of the park is the Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees which was the original impetus for protecting this area. I'd like to see that. And Hetch Hetchy is a famous valley that was sadly dammed up for the damn southern Californians who keep reproducing in a place that doesn't have its own water supply. 

So that's the plan for now. I won't make it as far north on the PCT a originally planned, but this feels like a much better use of my time than just ticking off northbound miles. 

p.s. The most facial hair I've ever worn enjoyed waiting out the first real rain of the past five weeks. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

PCT Diaries: A Day in the Life

Of course every day is slightly different, but this one is pretty typical of a day spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014. I'll do five or six of these in a row and then hit up a small town for resupply of food (beer) and a night or two in a hotel to rest up my feet and mind (beer).

• Awaken around 5:30 to the sound of the birds welcoming the dawn. 
• Depending on how cold it is, get out of the tent around 6:30. If it's super duper cold like that night cowboy camping by the Kern River then I'm already up and on the trail trying to warm my ass up. And no, I'm not using a donkey to carry my gear. 
• Eat a Clif Bar or Pro Meal Bar for breakfast. 
• Hit the trail around 7am. If I'm planning to hike around 20 miles then it'll likely take me 10 hours to accomplish that, including appropriate rest and one good foot soak in a cold lake or stream. 
• Second breakfast around 9 or so. I'll stop for 5-10 minutes, eat something and rest my feet for a bit. 
• Keep on hiking, snacking, occasionally resting and admiring the gorgeous views until mid-afternoon, say 2ish. Food consists of sausage, cheese, Triscuits, nuts, dried fruit. 
• I've probably got a good 15 miles in by 2ish and the dogs are barking. It's time for a nap. Find a lovely spot preferably next to a babbling brook or singing stream and lay down. Shoes come off, socks come off and get hung in a nearby bush to breathe, and I spread eagle it out on my back and feel the fatigue flow out of me. Remain here for 60-90 minutes. 
• Crank out the last five miles with my rejuvenated body and search for a good campsite. Above 10,000 feet I'm more selective because the nights can get cold -- stay away from water and avoid geological depressions. For the past week I've been at low enough altitude that that hasn't been an issue. I'm using a 35-degree sleeping bag while most hikers are using more like a 15-degree bag. That means mine is smaller and lighter but I need to be more thoughtful about where I sleep. So far I've only had two nights that were too cool for comfort (see Kern River above) and the high mountains are behind me. Every night I wear long underwear, my puffy down jacket, rain jacket atop that, and a balaclava on my head. Maybe gloves. 
• Make dinner around 7pm. I'm eating one hot meal per day and that's normally at dinner. Beef Stroganoff is my favorite and the scrambled eggs with bacon are horrible. Note to self: try to trade rapidly accumulating bags of freeze dried scrambled eggs for beer or cheap liquor at next town. 
• 8pm hit the sack and read for a bit. Right now I'm reading "Lonesome Dove" and enjoying it very much. I've struggled to appreciate fiction over the past decade  so I'm happy when I find one I can get into. 
• 8:30 lights out. I'm beat. But twice tonight I will arise to empty my bladder and enjoy the glory of the Milky Way, the stars, and the moon when she is shining.  I think there has only been one cloudy night out of more than 30 so far. 

What Do You Think About?
That's 10-12 hours of hiking every day. Doesn't it get boring?
What do you think about?

The answers are, quite simply...
  it can
  mostly useless crap. 

Allow me to explain...

When faced with hours of contemplative time day after day, I've found that mostly my mind thinks of worthless crap like "how would I describe this experience to someone who might ask me about it in the future" or "would I rather own a ski condo at Bridger Bowl that has no cell service or internet or own a condo at some bullshit Colorado faux resort where the ski terrain is lame?" Actually getting a song stuck in my head is a relatively good thing. Recently I've been reminded of amazing Minneapolis summers courtesy of Semisonic's "Sculpture Garden". 

Perhaps half this hike I've been hiking with other people and that can provide occasional stimulating conversation. When alone, I'll put on headphones about half the time and listen to music or podcasts that are good at energizing my brain. 

What I've found about myself is that left to its own devices, my brain is a long ways from solving world peace. It loves to ramble on and on about worthless crap. Perhaps it is self-indulgent crap. 

So far I have had two lucid thoughts:

1. See the prior post about abortion. Ha! You may not deem it lucid and it's only semi-formed and to be clear I still love abortions, but I think it makes a sound debate point at the very least. 
2. Upon my return I will be a sign spinner for SuperCuts DU. Yaaaay SuperCuts!!

Given what I've learned in my recent practice of mindfulness and meditation, I take this to mean that I have simply not yet reached the point where I'm able to clear my mind of all the noise and clutter that come with being a part of modern American society. It is also my understanding that few actually achieve this but I believe it is something worth striving for. I've read the blogs of other PCT hikers who talk about all the demons they are trying to overcome and I'm thankful that I don't have demons. 

So yeah. That's what I think about. Or don't think about. 
When I solve world peace you'll be the first to hear about it. 

p.s. Nice marmot. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Pro-Life Stance Doesn't Go Far Enough

In the abortion debate that has thankfully taken a backseat in recent years to far more important national issues, the pro-life stance states that life begins at inception and that a fetus should be protected from being murdered. 

I don't believe that protecting a fetus from murder goes far enough. 

If the fetus is to be considered a citizen with human rights, then I believe we should protect it In other ways too - specifically from pollution (

Millions of babies each year are born at a disadvantage because they were not allowed to develop properly due to all sorts of chemicals being forced upon their developing minds and bodies. There are established pollution laws outside the womb in our society, so why not inside too? If life begins at inception then I believe that life deserves the right to good health, too.

I'm Pro-Health, Pro-Happiness, Pro-Future, Pro-Hope. 

For instance, a pregnant woman who smokes cigarettes would be committing a crime. As would one who ingests too much processed food containing certain chemicals known to be unhealthy to a developing child. 

Obviously this wouldn't be the easiest law to uphold, but what it would do is teach young people over the course of a generation that it is wrong to poison children with toxins of many forms - not just drugs and alcohol, but junk food and soda. It would help us as a society to be more thoughtful about how treat our bodies and especially for those who don't have the ability to make their own healthy choices. 

PCT Diaries - Day 30 Mile 450

Kings Canyon National Park needs a new Marketing Director. Sure, there's a canyon there but its nothing compared to the Grand Canyon so most people aren't aware of it. Did Evel Knievel jump over it in a rocket car? Nope. 

This land is far too awe-inspiring for its national park to be so unknown.

In Kings Canyon National Park the PCT and John Muir Trail (they're the same for about 200 miles) wind through some of the most spectacular and majestic land I've ever set eyes on. 

The past week was highlighted by four mountain passes over 11,000 feet that linked together five gorgeous valleys, each unique in its beauty. 

There was snow and ice and boulder fields and many many switchbacks. Lakes and rivers and streams and waterfalls. 
Cliffs and buttresses and cathedrals of rock at every turn. 

One valley was narrow, above timberline and the still frozen lakes gave an Antarctic vibe. Another was filled with glistening lakes connected by a stream like jewels on the necklace of a Barroness. 

To wit... Some High Sierras porn... 

Cool clouds.

My finger ready to go for a chilly swim.

Our gang outside the John Muir hut atop the pass of the same name (l to r: The Original Polar Bear, Wild Card, Beacon, me)

A cold morning hike down from Muir Pass.

Today I'm in Mammoth, CA taking another well-earned day off and shopping for gear. 450 miles in and my Oboz shoes are still in terrific condition, but they do need new insoles. REI staffer appeared to have been right when she told me they'd last 1000 miles. But my sleeping pad has seen better days. It's five years old and I've patched a couple holes and still need to re-blow it up twice during the middle of each night. And even after submerging it in a motel swimming pool it is super difficult to locate what I now believe to be a number of very tiny holes. So I've bought a new one that will hopefully lead to better sleep at night. 

Next up is Yosemite in two more days of hiking. The trail just skirts through the park and I want to spend a few days there, so I'm going to try to score a home base campsite for a couple nights and get out on some bonus hikes. 

The part of this journey that initially drew me out here is almost done -- the John Muir Trail. I've been out a month and have one month left, a month in which I expect to try to slow it down a bit and enjoy more days off. My goal is not to bust my ass hitting certain mileage, but to maximize the time that I have in this beautiful country. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

PCT Diaries - Day 22

It's been two weeks since I last had cell service aside from a brief signal at two high places.

The highest and highlight of those high places was atop Mt. Whitney, the crown of the contiguous USA at 14,505'. 

Some friends (Polar Bear, Beacon and Wild Card) and I decide to summit Whitney for sunrise. There is a trail to the top and we began our 3.5 mile and 4000' ascent from Guitar Lake at 2am. 

This was the view from my tent...

And this is the more famous view from the other side of the mountain (via

A couple other hikers spent the night on the summit, including our crazy Aussie friend who brought along a bottle of rum which tasted pretty good at 6am from the top of the world. 
(L to r: Polar Bear, Solstice, Aussie, Beacon)

The top of Mt. Whitney is the southern terminus of the 210-mile John Muir Trail which is the reason I'm out here. It begins the stunningly gorgeous hike through the Sierra Nevada mountains including Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks. These photos will not do it justice. 

Guitar Lake from where our Mt Whitney hike began...

Wild Card hiking among the Kings Canyon cathedrals...

In the photo below see that notched low point? The one with the little slab of snow in it? You might need to zoom in to see the snow. That's Forrester Pass and we are hiking up and over it. The trail carved out of the near vertical face felt like something out of Lord of the Rings. 

Atop 13,200' Forrester Pass that's me (Cut-Out) on the left, then Beacon, Wild Card and Polar Bear...

Today I write from the town of Lone Pine, CA where I'm picking up a resupply box. 
It was fun to hit the bar last night and my feet are appreciating another full rest day. 
Last nights bar where I watched game four of the Stanley Cup with some Kings fans and had latenight beers with Wild Card, Beacon (both sisters from WI) and Polar Bear (from AK). 

I'm feeling good and getting into the groove. Most days I hike around 20 miles and the next week will be defined by more idyllic mountain scenery and several difficult climbs up and over mountain passes. The passes are tough because the north side of each still has snow. It's important to get to the snow early in the day before it softens up too much. So some logistical planning is required. 

One challenge I'm facing is that my 35-degree sleeping bag isn't really warm enough for the cold mountain nights. Most nights are fine because I'm now sleeping in my tent and wearing many warm layers of clothes to bed. But I've had two nights so far that were a bit too chilly. I'm learning not to camp near water  or in a depression in the land that would collect cold air. Sometimes camp options are simply limited. 

Many hiker faces reflect the ecstatic and exhausted trials of the trail. 
(oldest to newest clockwise from upper left)

That's it for now. Not sure when I'll have communication connection again but it could be another couple weeks. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What's In a Name?

Long distance hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail adopt trail names that they use when hiking. I believe this practice started years ago on the Appalachian Trail and has been carried over to the PCT.

For example, in the past few weeks I've met Camel, Camelita, Sideshow, Wild Card, Sad Fish, Banjo, Uke, Ewok, Shrek, ManBearPig, Leftovers, That Guy and Just Another Guy. The trail names are much easier to remember than normal names because they're so much more interesting and descriptive. 

My name is Cut-Out and there are two potential stories behind how I got the name. Which is most accurate?

1. While taking a zero day (day off) in Tehachapi, CA it was proposed by Camel that he and Salty Dog and I go see a movie. We went to the local theater for the late showing of the latest X-Men farce and may have been slightly under the influence. In the theater was one of those cardboard cutout movie ads for a summer buddy cop blockbuster starring Jake Gylenhal as the square desk cop and somebody else as the hip streetwise cop. Gylenhal's character was wearing nerdy glasses like mine so it was noted that he kind of looked like me. After the movie ended close to midnight we may have still been under the influence and thought it would be a good idea to steal the life size cardboard cutout. As the three of is exited the empty cinema we were greeted by the short "whoop" of a cop car siren that was parked right outside. Oops. Busted. 

2. I had to cut out a chunk from the side of my left hiking shoe because it was rubbing against that bone that sticks out from the side of my ankle. 

One of the above is true and left me with the trail name Cut-Out. 

PCT Diaries - Day 14

This post was originally penned a week ago. I'm now standing atop Mt. Whitney watching the sunrise at 14,505' the highest point in the lower 48 and only cell service for miles. More on that later. 

Day 14
Mile 250
The temperature was in the 90s, there was no shade for miles and I hadn't seen a cloud in a week. 

The next water stop was forty-four miles down the trail, unless the water cache set up by some trail angels 20 miles in still had water. 120 gallons was reportedly there 5 days prior. 

Unlike some others hikers, I'd planned to not rely on the cached water, but in order to do so I had to ration my 8 liter capacity over two days and those 44 miles of scorching heat. 

As I approached the cache around 7pm I was tired and thirsty. 24 miles hiked through temps in the 90s and absolutely no shade. It was hot. Damn hot. I was thirsty. Damn thirsty. 

I passed  three hikers going the other direction - back the way we'd all come. The cache was empty. They had relied on  it to provide a much needed refill and when it turned up dry they had to hike back 10 miles each way in the dark to a spring that was two miles off the trail. 

I had about 3 liters of water left to hike the next 21 miles to a cistern at a USFS campground that would almost assuredly have water. The strategy that worked in the heart of the Mojave desert would be tried again - the 3am departure to beat the heat. 

Hiking that early in the morning is quite peaceful. I liked to play a game with myself as I kept my eyes peeled in the 6' lit diameter of my headlamp: Stick, Shadow or Snake. 

The shadows were always the scariest cuz they appeared to be moving as my light bounced along the terrain. Tonight there would be no snakes.

The best part of early morning hiking is watching the unfolding of a desert sunrise and this one timed out perfectly as I topped out after a long climb. 

But after that all I could think of was slowly rationing my water and favoring each small sip by rolling it around in my mouth in an attempt to get the most out of every drop. 

This was the terrain...

Then this...

And this is what still lie ahead...

After trudging along at a sluggish 2mph pace the magic happened. As I approached the camp where the cistern was supposed to be located, I heard some clapping. It started out slow and then it grew. It was a slow clap, the mark of other hikers welcoming me to the trail magic of pop-up party tents (shade!), chairs and food!

It was glorious. A 10-yr old kid came up to me with an ice cold can of Pepsi. Despite not caring for sugared soda for the past few years I chugged that can in under 5 seconds. So good. 

These are the wonderful folks who provided me with 4 meals, water, Gatorade and a wonderful rest spot... 
l to r: Oakie Girl, Jackalope, Bear Bait (in front), Cut-Out (that's my trail name), Yogi

Fast forward two more days of desert hiking as I approach Kennedy Meadows which marks the end of the desert and the start of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  

Hold the phone...
What's that?
Could it be...real actual flowing water?
I haven't seen real water in 250 miles. 
Hallelujah! A river!

Felt sooooo good to soak my feet in the cold water of the Kern River. 

A few miles later I arrived at Kennedy Meadows and their General Store where 30 hikers greeted me with another slow clap.

And here is The Grumpy Bear Saloon down the road where a bunch of us had breakfast...

...and drinks later that night. 

War stories are flowing. Beer is flowing. Gonna take a full day off here to do laundry, take a shower and rest up my feet. 

The Thrill of Vic-toe-ry
When last we spoke about my feet I was battling through blisters. Thanks to some suggestions I crafted a solution that's been working for a week so far. First, I got Vaseline to rub into the balls of my feet in order to ease the friction. Then I got a pair of compression socks to use as liners. Vaseline + 2 pair of socks is doing the trick. My feet are still getting tired and sore after 20+ mile days, but overall they're in very good shape. Rest days are also helping a lot.