I liked walking 500+ miles so much that I’m doing it again.

It probably surprises nobody who has been reading this blog in the past year that I am planning to go do another long trip on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

This spring, I plan to walk approximately 550 miles from Walker Pass to Warner Springs/Barrel Spring (I am undecided on whether I will end in Warner Springs or Barrel Spring, but they are only about 10 miles apart from each other, but I definitely intend to end my hike in a place called ‘Spring(s)’ this spring). Walker Pass is technically in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and is the southernmost road crossing of the Sierra, and is in Kern County. Barrel Spring is where I started my hike last spring, and is in San Diego county.

Last year was an exceptionally wet year in Southern California. When I was in Campo, one of the locals commented that they had never seen Campo Creek still flowing at the end of April before (it was flowing quite well, in fact). There was also a snowstorm in early May last year. By contrast, this looks like it’s going to be a drought year, though even in drought years it can snow in May (i.e. it is very possible that I will encounter a snowstorm).

Some things will make this hike different from both my hike last year in San Diego and my 500+ mile hike through Washington:

– Off-peak season – so far, I have only hiked the PCT during peak hiking season. However, because I am going southbound, and I am starting at the gateway to the Sierra, for the first couple weeks I will be hiking during the off-season. For example, I estimate it will take me about 6 days to walk from Walker Pass to Tehachapi Pass (my first resupply point). This is a section of the PCT which is unpopular with anyone who is not trying to hike at least a large portion of the PCT, and I will be there before the thru-hikers are there. Since somebody has been updating the PCT Water Report this year, there are a few people out there, but I might not see them. Maybe I will run into the very few people who hike this trail before the thru-hiker tsunami, or maybe I will not see a single person other than myself for five days. If I run into other people, that would be awesome (assuming they do not have harmful intentions). If I go five days without seeing another human – that will be tough for me psychologically.

Though I am most concerned about the psychological impact of not seeing any people, there is also the practical aspect that I will be cut off from the hiker grapevine. The hiker grapevine is an amazing (albeit unreliable) source of useful information, but without other hikers, there is no grapevine. On the other hand, once I get far enough south to meet the northbound thru-hikers, I will receive an abundance of information, just as I did last year.

Then again, I underestimated how many hikers I was going to run into in Washington, so I may be underestimating again. If so, great.

– Water – did I mention that this is looking like a drought year? Also, Walker Pass to Tehachapi Pass is the driest section on the entire PCT. It contains the infamous 40+ mile stretch between reliable water sources (and that is no doubt one reason this section is so unpopular). I’m hoping there will be some unreliable water sources (though, of course, I’m not going to rely on them), and that the temperatures will be lower (because I am starting in Walker Pass, and thus getting there earlier), but even with some unreliable water sources and milder temperatures, it’s going to be rough. So far, the longest waterless stretch I’ve hiked on the PCT was 14 (downhill) miles.

(grumbling: I keep reading things like ‘ZOMG, hikers in the 70s and 80s managed to hike the PCT without water caches/water reports/blah blah blah, and they did just fine, hikers today are so spoiled.’ Yes, but in the 70s and 80s, the trail was not complete, and the ~temporary~ PCT between Tehachapi Pass and Walker Pass went through an area which had more water sources than what became the permanent PCT. The trail planners must have had a compelling reason to route the permanent PCT through such a dry area, though I don’t know what that reason is).

– Snow. One of the things which is harder about hiking the Southern California PCT (compared to the Sierra PCT, the Oregon PCT, or the Washington PCT) is that one day you could be hiking on a hot day through a waterless stretch in the desert, and the next day you could be freezing your ass off as you exhaust yourself slowly making way through some @$#@$^# snow (the Northern California PCT can also be challenging like this). Even a section hiker myself has trouble timing my trip because of this problem (given that I don’t want to do short sections). By choosing the time I did, I was making a bet that this would be a low snow year, and it looks like I’m winning my bet.

That said, there are a few areas where I am worried that I may run into snow on trail. I have chosen to take microspikes (which I have never used before, but whatever) but I am not going to take GPS. If I can’t figure it out with a map and compass, I’ll turn around. There are some infamous problem areas (I’m looking at you, Mt. Baden-Powell and Fuller Ridge) where I will take alternate routes if the snow is impeding my travel.

When I am out there (which is not quite yet), this blog will continue to update with scheduled posts I wrote in advance, but I will be very slow to respond to comments.

I’m not sure what will happen during this hike, but I doubt it will be boring. Okay, maybe I will be a little bored after seeing endless chaparral, but I will probably be too exhausted to be bored by anything.


Lakes of the Washington Pacific Crest Trail, Part 2

In Part 1, I described the lakes where I camped. In this post, I am going to share lakes which were special to me even though I did not camp there.

Blue Lake, where I refilled my water before I met No Fucks, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Southern Washington

Blue Lake in the Indian Heaven Wilderness is special because a) it’s beautiful b) that’s where I did my water refill in Indian Heaven Wilderness and c) it’s beautiful. I had planned my hike so I would not stay overnight in Indian Heaven Wilderness (due to all of the mosquitoes) but if I were going to stay overnight in Indian Heaven, I’d try to claim one of the coveted campsites by Blue Lake.

“Small Pond” at mile 2240.6 on the Halfmile maps, Mount Adams Wilderness, Southern Washington.

Okay, this is a ‘pond’ not a ‘lake’, but it allowed me to take a Shiretoko Lakes style photo of Mount Adams, so this ‘pond’ counts as a special lake for me.

Sheep Lake, near Chinook Pass, Mount Ranier National Park, Southern Washington.

I know that Part 1 also has a photo of Sheep Lake, but it’s such a wonderful lake that I have to include it in this post too. It’s a great place to each lunch!

Mirror Lake, near Snoqualmie Pass, Central Washington.

Like most hikers, I think the PCT between Tacoma Pass and Snoqualmie Pass ranges from okay to awful (actually, I did not think it was as terrible as some of the guidebooks claim it is, but I suspect that’s because there have been some improvements since those books were written). But then there is Mirror Lake! Coming from the south, I first saw the waterfall created by the lake outlet, and then I got high enough to see the lake itself. Wonderful! And to make a magical place even more magical, there was trail magic – I got to eat some fruit, a sports drink, and some snacks. Thanks, Trail Angel! Mirror Lake is an island of fantastic in a sea of ugghhh. So, unless you want to complete the Washington PCT, my recommendation is to go straight to Mirror Lake (it’s only about an hour’s hike away from Ollalie Meadow, which has a road) and ignore the rest of the PCT between Tacoma Pass and Snoqualmie Pass.

Spectacle Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington.

When I first saw Spectacle Lake from that ridge, my reaction was ‘WHOAAAAAAAA!!!’ Looking at the pictures now, my reaction is still ‘WHOAAAAAAAA!!!!’

Waptus Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington.

Waptus Lake is a really big lake. I remember I took a break to dry out my gear (it had rained that morning) at a viewpoint where I spent a lot of time looking at this lake.

Deception Lakes, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington.

Deception Lakes was fantastic! (That is, it was a fantastic place to eat dinner and enjoy the scenery, I think I would have had problems if I camped there overnight). Just when I thought I couldn’t be more impressed by the lakes in Alpine Lakes Wilderness, I find these lakes which are beautiful in a *different* way from the other lakes I had seen.

Trap Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington.

I don’t know why Trap Lake caught my eye compared to other lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Maybe it’s special to me because it was my reward for ascending Trap Pass (the other reward was meeting some cool hikers who had camped at Trap Pass and had slept in that morning – I later met one of those hikers again at another lake, and then at Stevens Pass).

Pear Lake, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, Northern Washington

Pear Lake is another one of those lakes which is the only water source for miles around it (and it’s also slightly off the PCT – I naively assumed there would be some place it would cross the PCT, but no, I had to backtrack to the side trail which leads to the lake). It’s a beautiful lake nonetheless, and worth visiting even if it wasn’t an important water source. And the water looked very clean and clear by the standards of sitting water.

Lake Sally Ann, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, Northern Washington.

Lake Sally Ann is yet another beautiful lake. What I find special about Sally Ann (besides the local guy I met there) is the location. It’s on a mountain ridge where one doesn’t expect to see a lake, and while I was hiking up there I was wondering where the lake *could be*, and there it sits, improbably.

Reflection Pond, near White Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington

Some guidebooks describe Reflection Pond as being ‘gross’ but I thought it was a really cool spot. Yes, I drank the water here. I thought the views were excellent, and there was shade too.

Mica Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington

Last but NOT LEAST is Mica Lake. Mica Lake has the distinction of being my ~favorite~ lake on the entire Washington PCT.

Mica Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington

Mica Lake is an awesome place to hang out. I ate lunch and did some foot care there. I got water from the outlet (running water is usually better than standing water).

Outlet of Mica Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

I noticed that someone had even built a little stone wall to offer a little wind protection for a campsite. Though I’m sure the wall helps, and even though this IS my favorite lake in Washington, I do not recommend camping here – the condensation will be horrible (one hiker I met, Chatterbox, did camp here, and he confirmed that the condensation is horrible). But if you don’t camp here, then condensation will not ruin your experience of this fantastic lake!

Mica Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

Since this is my favorite lake on the Washington PCT, it is the perfect lake to end this post.

(Lack of) Racial Diversity on the PCT

Hikers enjoy shade and trail magic at Scissors Crossing, San Diego County, California.

The Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve noticed, is very white. And I’m not just talking about how much snow you see on the trail.

Among the hikers who live in the USA or Canada, the vast majority are racially white. After ‘white’ the most common racial category (among hikers who live in the USA or Canada) was Asian American. However, considering that about half of all PCT hikers live in California, Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia, all of which (except Oregon) have large Asian-American (Asian Canadian) populations, there are surprisingly few Asian-American hikers. During my entire hike on the Washington PCT, I met one black hiker (who remembered seeing me at Scissors Crossing in Southern California, though I did not remember seeing him – I’m impressed that he remembered me four months later after such a brief encounter).

This blogger noticed it too.

89% of people who responded to the 2016 PCT Thru-Hiker Survey said they were ‘Caucasian’ (and 5% declined to answer). 74% of the people who responded to the 2017 PCT Thru-Hiker survey said they were ‘Caucasian’ and 20% declined to answer. In both 2016 and 2017, only 6% of thruhikers said that they were a race other than ‘Caucasian’. Though the survey only goes to thruhikers, my experience is that the racial diversity of section hikers is similar to the racial diversity of thruhikers.

Notice how, so far, I’ve only talked about hikers who reside in the USA or Canada, which is the majority of hikers. However, a substantial minority of PCT hikers (especially thru-hikers or hikers doing very long sections) do not live in the USA or Canada.

Most of the non-USA/Canada hikers are from Europe, especially from countries which are dominated by Germanic-language speakers and/or French speakers. However, the PCT is becoming increasingly popular among Eastern European hikers (I met the guy who claims to be the first Bulgarian to thru-hike the entire PCT) so the proportions of European hikers may change.

The PCT is also becoming much more popular among East Asians. This year, I met 7 Taiwanese hikers on the PCT (considering Taiwan’s relatively small population, that is impressive). They told me that more Taiwanese hikers become interested every year as the word spreads in Taiwanese hiking communities (also, the movie Wild – the only hiker I met who admitted to hiking the PCT because he saw that movie was from Taiwan). Japan and South Korea are also well-represented, which does not surprise me since, like Taiwan, Japan and South Korea have very firmly establishing hiking cultures, as well as a substantial middle class which can afford to travel to North America.

(Aside: I notice that the only Asian countries mentioned in Halfmiles 2016 survey are India and Israel, assuming one counts Israel as being part of Asia. I met Japanese and Korean hikers on the PCT in 2016, so I know they were there, but I suspect they are less likely to respond to surveys like this than European hikers.)

In fact, I met a lot more Asians from Asia than Asian Americans (Asian Canadians) on the PCT, and the Asian:European ratio was much higher than the Asian-American(Canadian)/White-American(Canadian) ratio.

It gets even more extreme when it comes to Latinx hikers. I met a few Latinx hikers who reside outside the United States and came to the USA specifically to thru-hike the PCT. The only Latinx hikers I met on the PCT who live in the USA were day hikers who did not even know that the PCT ran outside of Mount Ranier National Park, let alone from Mexico to Canada until I told them (and on the Bay Area Ridge Trail – not on the PCT – I met a Latino PCT hiker who grew up in San Diego, and I later ran into him again in Ashland, Oregon).

The only African hikers I met were white hikers from South Africa.

A sign which informs hikers that they are entering Yakima Reservation.

It’s worth noting that I (usually) see more racial diversity in the trail towns than on the trail itself. I tend to see Latinx people in trail towns (yes, including Snoqualmie Pass in Washington, though this is especially true of the trail towns in California). Some trail towns also have significant populations of American Indians or Canadian First Nations People. For example, Milt Kenney a.k.a. “Mayor of the PCT”, who was the most famous trail angel before Donna Saufley started Hiker Heaven) had Karuk ancestry (the Karuk people are the indigenous people of the Klamath River valley). Heck, the PCT runs through some Indian reservations. One of the trail towns (Julian) was historically a town with a relatively large black population (at one time, half of all of the black people in San Diego County lived in Julian). Trout Lake (Washington) has some residents of Asian descent (for example, the man who kindly let me ride in his vehicle from the Forest Road 23 trailhead into Trout Lake was born in Vietnam).

The hikers from Asia and Latin America prove that some people of Asian and Latin American ancestry have a strong interest in hiking the PCT, so there is clearly nothing intrinsic about being Asian or Latinx which would stop one from wanting to do it (and I strongly doubt that there is anything intrinsic about being black which would stop one from wanting to do it either).

(There are also hikers who primarily use the PCT to enter the United States from Mexico without documents, and they generally only hike the southernmost 40 miles or less. They are more likely to be found dead on the trail than any other type of hiker. I am guessing that most of them are Latinx.)

This is a sign about 15 miles away from the USA/Mexico border written in Spanish, warning people about how life-threatening the trail is.

Why is there so much more racial diversity among the hikers from abroad than from the hikers from USA/Canada?

Part of the answer is probably related to finances. It generally costs roughly $6000 to thru-hike the PCT, though some people can get the cost below $1000 if they are lucky/clever/willing to make a lot of sacrifices to reduce cost, and some people end up spending a lot more than $6000. Section hiking (which is what I do) is cheaper-per-trip, though hiking the entire PCT by section is more expensive in the long run than a thru-hike. However, even the thruhikers who can squeeze the costs down to $1000 still need to have that thousand dollars available (and people doing section hikes – unless they already live in or near a trail town or are able to obtain decent gear for free – will generally need to get at least a few hundred dollars together if they are backpacking for multiple days). According to data from the Federal Reserve, 47% of Americans can’t pay a surprise bill of $400 without selling something or taking out a loan. That means that at least 47% of Americans cannot financially afford to go on a long hike of the PCT without sponsorship (and most hikers cannot get sponsorship). And the Americans who cannot pay that $400 surprise bill are disproportionately ‘Hispanic’ and black (I do not know the data on Asian Americans).

Keep in mind that, so far, I’ve only mentioned funding the direct expenses of PCT hiking. I haven’t even touched issues such as how going away on long hiking trips would affect one’s employment/income situation.

However, while I think finances are a partial explanation, it does not entirely explain the disparity. For example, though Warrior Expeditions sponsors PCT thru-hikes for veterans (so the veterans do not have to spend any of their own money for their hike), every veteran I’ve met hiking on the PCT was white. If finances were the only major barrier, then wouldn’t the sponsored veterans who hike the PCT reflect the racial diversity of the veteran community? The Warrior Expeditions website does feature a few Latinx hikers and one Asian-American hiker, but the vast majority of hikers they show are non-Latinx white.

What do American long-distance hikers of color say about all this? Here is an interview with Robert Taylor, who claims to be the first African American to thruhike both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Here is an interview with Rahawa Haile interview, who thruhiked the Appalachian Trail (no, it’s not the PCT, but since it’s a long American hiking trail I think it’s still relevant). The blog Brown Girl on the (P)CT only occasionally discusses race explicitly (as opposed to implicitly), so it’s hard to point to a specific link where she discusses race explicitly for people who don’t want to read the entire archive, but here is a post with more explicit discussion than most. As it so happens, I met Zuul in Etna in 2016. And here is a very interesting interview with Double Sprainbow, the Japanese-American PCT hiker who founded the ‘Hikers of Color’ group on Facebook.

Yes, about the ‘drama llama’ which surrounded the Hikers of Color group.

First of all, I don’t use Facebook, and I don’t even know how Facebook discussion groups work. My own reaction to learning that there is a ‘Hikers of Color’ online group is ‘Hike Your Own Hike’. If hikers of color want there own discussion group – and it’s clear that some do – why not? While I have never seen anything of the PCT group(s) on Facebook, I did see the comment thread to that podcast, and I am rather struck by comments such as this one:

The trail has got to harbor the most inclusive, most accepting population this side of tall ship sailing.

To claim there are special needs based on skin color is simply absurd. Claiming to have special knowledge of this due to skin color still makes it absurd. The rain, blisters, wild life, rangers and fellow hikers don’t care who you are.

First of all, I think saying that the ‘special needs’ of hikers of color are ‘absurd’ is not an effective way to support one’s claim that the trail has a very inclusive and accepting population. Though I am not a hiker of color, if someone approached me saying that they belonged to an ‘inclusive’ and ‘accepting’ population and that my claim that I have ‘special needs’ is absurd, I would not be convinced that they want to include and accept me – quite the opposite. I think a better way to demonstrate inclusivity and acceptance is to try to understand and acknowledge the concerns of hikers of color.

Second, I completely agree that the rain, blisters, and wild life do not care about human racial categories at all. I disagree about the rangers and hikers. Humans (including rangers and hikers) sometimes do care, and even dogs sometimes care. Heck, I care. If I were indifferent to human racial categories, then I wouldn’t be writing this long post. I can tell you that, when I was backpacking in East Asia, and I encountered another backpacker who was non-Asian, I would care that they were non-Asian like me (I admit that I cared more about their non-Asianness than whether they were Guatamalan, Québécois, Turkish, etc.)

For example, people who might offer rides to hikers hitchhiking between the trail and town sometimes care about race. One of the concerns I’ve seen PCT hikers of color express is that someone who would offer a ride to a white person might not offer a ride to a person of color because the driver thinks people of color are scary. Thus, the hikers of color are afraid that it will be harder for them to get rides. When drivers pass them by, they wonder if they would have gotten a ride if they were white. Since male hikers of all colors are also concerned that people who would have given rides to female hikers may not offer them rides, I would think this would be an easy problem for them to understand (as a white female hiker, I generally never wonder whether someone is not offering me a ride because I am white or female).


The Pacific Crest Trail is my first, and so far only, exposure to outdoor culture in North America (excluding various school trips, such as the time my entire middle school history class camped on Angel Island, and my hikes in Marin County). Before I started hiking the PCT, I would have expected that the racial diversity of American hikers on the PCT would have roughly correlated to the racial diversity of the United States California. It was a surprise for me that this is not the case.

As some of you know, I got started on hiking/backpacking when I was living in Taiwan, and I’ve also done a fair bit of hiking/backpacking in Japan/South Korea/Hong Kong, so I was introduced to East Asian hiking culture before I got to know North American hiking culture. When I started hiking on the PCT, I had to culturally adjust (thinking about miles instead of kilometers while hiking? weird!) In the beginning, even the fact that English was the primary language on the PCT was weird, though I got over that very quickly.

In the backcountry of East Asia, I was used to being the 洋妹 (non-Asian young woman) and having my race be one of my outstanding/memorable features (it usually wasn’t a big deal, it was more of a background thing). The exception was Hong Kong, where there are just enough white hikers/backpackers around that my whiteness was not remarkable. So being on the PCT, where my whiteness is generally not going to be considered my distinguishing feature, feels different. Of course, even if only 30% of PCT hikers were white, I would still not stand out as a white person.


Lakes of the Washington Pacific Crest Trail, Part 1

The Pacific Crest Trail passes by quite a few lakes in Washington, which is not surprising, especially since about 70 miles of the PCT goes through a place called ‘Alpine Lakes Wilderness’. Heck, just a few miles north of the Bridge of the Gods there is a lake – Gillette Lake.

Gillette Lake, near the Bridge of the Gods.

Some names for lakes appear over and over again – for example, I passed by three different lakes called ‘Sheep Lake’.

Of the three different lakes called ‘Sheep Lake’ I passed in Washington, by far the most beautiful was the ‘Sheep Lake’ a few miles north of Chinook Pass in Mount Ranier National Park.

First of all, lakes often provide good camping! In a land full of mountains, it is sometimes hard to find a good flat spot to pitch a tent, but lakeshores tend to have flat places for tents. Of course, camping is bad for the vegetation around lakes, which why most (all?) wilderness areas have a rule saying that camping is prohibited within 100 feet of the lake. However, a lot of people ignore this rule.

Though I appreciate the camping opportunities offered by lakes, they do have a few disadvantages. First of all, they may be havens for flying insects which bite humans. Second of all, they increase the risk of condensation in tents, which was an important consideration for me since my tent will get condensation if I do not choose a good site for it. These two problems are the may reasons I would prefer to camp next to a creek over camping next to a lake. But the most important consideration for picking a camping place is whether it is where I am at the end of a hiking day, and sometimes my hiking day ended at lakes rather than creeks or dry camps.

Anyway, here is a run-down of all of the lakes where I camped:

Pipe Lake, William O. Douglass Wilderness, Southern Washington, about 7 miles north of White Pass.

Pipe Lake is a lovely lake, but what I remember most about the lake is that I camped next to some people from the Tri-Cities area. It was a pleasure to share the evening with them.

Dewey Lake, Willaim O. Douglass Wilderness, Southern Washington.

Dewey Lake was magnificent in a way which my photos fail to capture. It was not the best camping spot due to the abundance of flying insects which like to bite humans, but it worked well enough as a place to sleep. Besides, did I mention that it was magnificent?

Ridge Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington.

Ridge Lake was an important water source because it was the last water source for over five miles (unless you were desperate enough to get water from puddles), and those were five of the hardest miles on the PCT in Washington at that. I didn’t just get water at Ridge Lake, I slept there (and many others camped there too, including rock climbers).

Lake Janus in the morning, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, Northern Washington.

Like many hikers, I decided to camp at Lake Janus since it was the last major camping area (not to mention the last campsite with water) before an uphill climb that none of us were in the mood for that evening.

Near Purple Point Campground, Stehekin, Northern Washington.

Purple Point Campground, which is where I slept in the town of Stehekin, is just a stone’s throw away from Lake Chelan, which is the largest lake in the entire state of Washington (!), the third deepest lake in the USA (!!) (the PCT also passes the deepest and second deepest lakes in the USA – Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe).

Hopkins Lake, Pasayten Wilderness, Northern Washington.

Last but not least is Hopkins Lake, the very last place I camped on the PCT before I completed my hike through Washington. I admit that I was not having the best hiking day, and I was really looking forward to seeing the lake. I wasn’t thinking much about reaching the USA/Canada border, I wanted to see the lake because that meant I would be able to stop hiking. And indeed, when I first saw the lake from above, I was really happy, because even though it took a little while before I was actually at the lake, I knew that I was near my place of rest. Furthermore, it was the first water source after 10 miles of no water – getting to a water source after 10 dry miles is always a relief. A lot of people camped there (it’s arguably the best campsite near the USA/Canada border), and it had great meaning for most of us because it marked the ends of our hikes, however long or short they were. I couldn’t believe that it was my last night in my tent! For those of us who were continuing into Canada, it was our last night in the United States.

There were, of course, lakes where I did not camp but are still extremely worthy of mention! I will share them with you in Part 2!

I have to share with you another photo of Hopkins Lake because I love it so much! Seriously, if you ever find yourself in the Pasayten Wilderness, I highly recommend spending some time at Hopkins Lake.


Does My Palace Cause Cancer? What Can I Do?

Is my palace (tent) spreading toxic chemicals?

I’m working on a draft of a blog post about Leave No Trace and my experiences with camping. Working on that draft, I started thinking about the chemical impact of tents on the environment, so I decided to do some research, and then decided that this topic was important enough to merit its own blog post.

Spoiler: My palace (i.e. tent) is probably carcinogenic.

Most backpacking tents contain toxic chemicals. There are different types of toxic chemicals they may maintain.

One types of toxic chemical is fluorocarbons. They help waterproof fabrics, including tent fabrics. They also wash off fabric when it rains or water is otherwise applied to the fabric, and they damage the ecosystem, and since they are persistent (i.e. it takes a long time for them to break down) they can spend a lot of time damaging the ecosystem. Lovely. Oh, and fluorocarbons are also bad for humans because they are hormone-disruptors.

I had already been aware that many rain jackets / shells / etc. contain fluorocarbons, that they are a toxic pollutant, that fluorocarbons have been found in even the most ‘pristine’ wilderness areas, and that was one reason I chose fluorocarbon free rain gear for my big hike in Washington (which I ended up not using much because it only rained twice, but if it had rained a lot, my rain gear would not have poisoned the trail ecosystem with fluorocarbons).

However, I had not thought about whether my tent contained fluorocarbons.

Does my tent have fluorocarbons? I do not know, and I have not asked the manufacturer (Big Agnes). Based on my research, my guess is that my tent probably does not contain fluorocarbons. However, that is an educated guess, not a certainty, and maybe I’ve guessed wrong.

Another common type of toxin found in tents are PVC and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). They cause cancer and mess up the ecosystem. The manufacturer of my tent says that my tent is PVC and VOC free, so I don’t have to worry about that, hurray! I will have to pay attention to that if I ever get another tent.

And then there are flame retardants. You can learn many of the gory details by reading this article. The TL;DR is: flame retardants cause cancer, do NOT improve fire safety, and for legal reasons, are found in the vast majority of the tents sold in the United States and Canada. Lovely.

I did contact Big Agnes (the manufacturer of my tent) to ask about flame retardants. Their answer was: ALL OF THEIR TENTS CONTAIN FLAME RETARDANTS. They have not told me which flame retardants they use, but the range for flame retardants (in terms of toxicity and effectiveness in fire safety) is not good thru bad, it’s bad thru horrible, so if I get a list of the specific fire retardants they use, all that would tell is is whether they are on the bad end of the spectrum, or the horrible end of the spectrum, and I do not think that information would affect my decisions.


I understand that they probably do it for legal reasons, and I thank them for telling me.

Though I did not get this information from Big Agnes, based on my research, it seems that the flame retardants are most likely in the PU coating. If this is so, that means that they are probably not leeching much into the environment (like fluorocarbons, flame retardants are bad news for the ecosystem). On the other hand, they are in the area where I sleep.

So now what? Here are my options:


I love my tent! This would make me sad. But knowing that my tent might give me cancer will definitely affect my love for my tent, and will possibly make it harder for me to sleep in my tent.

This would also raise the question of how I would dispose of my tent. Landfill? Let it sit in my closet indefinitely? Sell it – “Hey, I’ve stopped using this tent because it causes cancer – want to buy it?”

Also, this means I would have to get a new shelter. High-quality shelters tend to be expensive, so that would hit my wallet hard. Or I could get a tarp shelter, but they require a lot more skill than tents.

Oh, and I would have to make sure my new tent was also fluorocarbon and flame retardant free, which would exclude most of the tents sold in the USA and Canada because of the legal requirements to poison campers. What tents are fluorocarbon & FR free? The Moonlight tents are fluorocarbon and FR free – and the lightest one weighs about 5 pounds. That weight is a dealbreaker for long-distance use (and I don’t use tents for short-distance purposes often enough to justify buying a tent just for short-distance trips). It looks like, based on the description, that the tent has a lot of cool features, but I would be happy to get rid of some of those features to reduce the weight.

Based on this, its seems that for legal reasons, any tent sold by a major retailer in the USA (such as REI) will have the flame retardants. A tent manufacturer based in the USA but not located in any of the states which require flame retardants in tents and which does not sell through retailers in those states is not legally required to use flame retardants, which limits me to tent manufacturers who do not distribute through retailers across the USA/Canada.

I do not know whether cuben fiber tents contain flame retardants or not. If I ever decided I wanted a cuben fiber tent, I would ask the manufacturers about this. Since I do not want to buy a cuben fiber tent, I am not going to research it at this time. However, one manufacturer of cuben fiber shelters, Mountain Laurel Designs, says that all of their bug netting fabric has flame retardants. That rules out any shelter with bug netting, cuben fiber or no cuben fiber.

It seems the best way to get a lightweight shelter without flame retardants is to import from the UK or the EU. Their laws do not require tents to contain flame retardants, so most tent manufacturers there do not use flame retardants. Which means I may have another option…


I have used my Taiwanese tent on my PCT section hikes before I received my palace, so I know it can work on the PCT. It is also a brand which is not sold in the USA or Canada at all, so the manufacturer did not care about US/Canadian law. Does Taiwanese law require putting flame retardants in tents? I have no idea. I would have to do more research. I also do not know if my Taiwanese tent contains fluorocarbons. It is unlikely to have PVC or VOCs, but I would have to do additional research to confirm that. And doing research would be challenging since the tent model I have has been discontinued (which does not surprise me, since it is a pretty weird tent).

However, while I CAN use my Taiwanese tent on the PCT, there are reasons why I was willing to buy a new tent for use on the PCT (I continue to use my Taiwanese tent for all non-PCT camping trips). The most important reason was weight, though it also has less interior space and I think the tent poles are annoying (I prefer the 12 stakeouts on my palace to putting up the tent poles on my Taiwanese tent, which tells you just how much those tent poles annoy me). If I put my Taiwanese tent to serious use again, I would also want to buy new stuff sacks, because the current stuff sack sucks.

Nonetheless, if I did the research, and found that my Taiwanese tent had no fluorocarbons / PVC / VOCs / flame retardants, then that would be an option which would not require me to spend any extra money (beyond a new stuff sack, which is a lot cheaper than buying a new tent).


As I said, the most toxic chemicals are probably in the interior coating, not the exterior coating, so continuing to use this tent may still be consistent with the principles of Leave Not Trace (I wouldn’t be leaving a trace on the environment, I’d just leaving a trace on my own body by exposing myself to carcinogens).

Research shows that the flame retardants rub off on hands when pitching a tent (you can read more about that research in the article I linked above), and that if those hands are later used to, say, eat food, the flame retardants can enter the body. However, when I am pitching my palace, I am mostly touching the exterior of the tent, not the interior, so I may not be getting into direct contact with the flame retardants. Finally, I usually pitch my tent with my gloves on (even in summer, I do all long-distance hikes with gloves), and I usually eat with my gloves off. I could make it a rule that I ONLY pitch my tent with gloves on and ONLY eat with gloves off.

When I’m inside my tent, I do put my gear in contact with the fabric. Research shows that flame retardants can rub off on gear too, but I would expect touching gear which touched flame retardant to be less bad than directly touching flame retardant. I do not directly touch the interior tent fabric often, and I can try to limit my direct contact with the interior tent fabric even more.

Not enough research has been done to show if there are other ways the flame retardants in tents can enter the human body. It is possible that it may coat dust in the tent, but AFAIK, this has not been proven. Just because is hasn’t been proven does not mean it’s not happening.

I have read that old PU coatings will flake, and I guess that the flame retardants would be in the flakes.


For now, based on what I know, I am going with option three. If I ever see signs that the PU coating is flaking, then I will retire the tent, but until then, I will continue to use it with caution.

Another thing I’m going to try to do is bring more attention to this issue in the trail community. Even if I am successful in taking care of myself, I do not want tent manufacturers to poison my fellow hikers, nor do I want my fellow hikers to spread toxins around the wilderness. And if the trail community does not pay attention to this, then the situation is not going to get better.


Mortality on the Pacific Crest Trail

The trail register at the California / Oregon border on the Pacific Crest Trail.

I looked through the trail register at the California/Oregon border on the Pacific Crest Trail. I found a place where hikers listed all of the ways they have died on the Pacific Crest Trail. It was started by Mike [from Canada] and the first eight entries are in his handwriting. However, other hikers saw it and decided to add the ways they ‘died’ on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is why every additional entry is written with different handwriting. Here is my transcription:

7/27/16 Mike [From Canada], You guys, we’ve been through so much together, and I can’t thank you enough for supporting me through all the times I’ve died on the trail. Here’s to all the fearmongers who have pushed me this far!

1. Carried 20 L out of Campo. Died from water overdose
2. Froze Solid at Mt. Laguna
3. Lost in snow on San Jacinto
4. Run over by Ziggy & bear shuttle
5. Slipped off Baden Powell
6. Sunk in quicksand @ walker pass
7. Spent too much money @ kennedy
8. Slipped down ice chute @ forester pass
10. Drunk Piss, lived then tried to seduce a bear – Dead
11. Left Seiad w/ 0 liters of water – Heat Stroke
12. Spent 2 nights in Hikertown – died of exposure
13. Fed chipmunk; was eaten in the night by chipmunks
14. Went to drop a deuce in KM; drowned in PortaJohn
15. Stayed in Etna for two nights – died of boredom
16. Tried to walk under Mount Shasta
17. Kidnapped by “that guy” in Sierra City
18. Too much EVERYTHING @ Casa de Luna
19. Lost too much weight – dead.
20. Shot by a hunter
21. GOT LOST FOR 2dAYS in The SieRRA’s.
22. Narrowly escaped the Lemurians
23. spent too long @border, died of starvation
24. GOT ATTACKED by MARMOTS! Don’t trust them. R& H.
25. Fell down a switchback looking for copper ore
26. Got a blister or two… or a hundred
27. Ate 5 lbs of pancakes @ Seiad… exploded
28. Fall in love
29. Twisted ankle taking photo, hit a rock, fell off cliff
30. Went for water @ lost Creek – fell, died
31. Fell down ice chute @ Sonora Pass
32. ^ so did I!!
33. Breathed in too many of husband’s farts
34. Farted too much (or not enough)
35. Died in the fire before Kennedy Meadows
36. Spent too much time reading the Facebook page -> Heartattack
38. Asschafe
39. Almost dyha dihadrated before Casa de Luna
40. Lightling storm at Mt. Whitney

I think most people, when they first contemplate hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, ponder on the potential of dying on the trail (rattlesnakes! dehydration! mountain lions! falling off cliffs! etc.). I know I did when I first contemplated it, and a lot people who I talk to about it are also concerned about the potential of death. I think the hikers who put together the list above were responding both to all of the ‘fearmongers’ who expressed their concern about dangers on the trail as well as responding to their own fears. I also appreciate this post by Mac at Halfway Anywhere.


Several hikers (they just look like specks in this photo) cross what is reportedly the most dangerous stream crossing on the PCT in Washington. It was not that bad when I was there – I even managed to cross with dry feet – but I can see how this crossing would be a lot more risky in early summer or after a few days of heavy rain.

I know that I am going to die. That knowledge motivates me to do things like hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The knowledge that the trail itself is impermanent (climate change, maintenance failures, erosion, fire closures, etc.) increases the urgency of hiking it while I am still alive to hike it and it is still there.

I can die at home too. Thus, staying at home is not a good strategy for avoiding death.

One of the top causes of death on the Pacific Crest Trail is … being hit by a motor vehicle while crossing a road. Most people do not expect that to be the top causes of death, especially because one rarely has to cross a road with much traffic on the Pacific Crest Trail. However, motor vehicles are so dangerous that even occasional crossings of roads with traffic greatly increase the danger of death on the PCT. However, I think that most people underestimate the risk of being hit by a motor vehicle on the PCT because it is a risk that most people in the United States live with every day. We have been trained to tune it out so that we are not in a constant state of panic as we cross streets.


The Dinsmores’ Hiker Haven, Baring, Washington.

I spent two nights at the Dinsmores. The Dinsmores are some of the most famous trail angels on the Pacific Crest Trail – you can learn more about them by reading this recent blog post.

This might be the last year that Andrea Dinsmore hosts hikers (and bikers – they host bikers too). I only saw her a couple times when I was at the Dinsmores, and only for short periods of time, but I felt privileged that I was able to meet such a legend of the PCT. This might be her last year – and she has spent less time with hikers than usual this year – because she has pancreatic cancer.

When I was on the train returning home, I met a couple of hikers who had stayed at the Dinsmores last year. They were shocked when I told them about Andrea’s condition. There was one point when I was sitting at the Dinsmores and I was shedding tears for Andrea.

I know some hikers say that they avoided the Dinsmores because they knew Andrea was sick and they did not want to be a burden. However, one of Andrea’s friends told me that they still wanted hikers to come. The hiking season is Andrea’s favorite time of year, and they do not want to be socially isolated at this time in their lives – they want to continue to participate in the Pacific Crest Trail community.


Blooming manzanita bush on Mount Laguna. This is where I met the Chinese hiker. She was probably Chaocui Wang.

This was an especially dangerous summer in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Many thru-hikers skipped the Sierra Nevada for that reason, or did a flip so they hiked in the Sierra Nevada at a safer time. At the Dinsmores’ Hiker Haven, a hiker who hiked through the Sierras told me that, though she did get through the Sierra Nevada unharmed, if she had understood how dangerous it was, she would have skipped it too.

I heard a few hikers went through the Sierra Nevada very early (by ‘very early’ I mean ‘May’). Even though they had to deal with lower temperatures and more snow/ice, I heard it was safer to go very early than to go in June/July, which in most years is when most northbound thru-hikers go through the Sierra Nevada. That is because, if a hiker entered the Sierra Nevada early enough, they could cross the streams on ice bridges. Stream crossings are the most dangerous part of hiking in the Sierra Nevada in early summer.

There is the story of Marcus Mazzaferri, who lost his pack during a dangerous stream crossing, lost all of his gear (including sleeping bag, shelter, and anything he could have used to start a fire), his food, and his glasses (he is near-sighted), and was all alone in the Sierra Nevada while it was still mostly covered with snow, with no way to contact another human being. He was lucky to survive. You can read his story here.

Two thru-hikers drowned in the Sierra Nevada this year – Rika Morita and Chaocui Wang. I first heard about their deaths while I was hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail from other hikers.

I talked to a hiker who had hiked with Chaocui Wang for a while in the Sierra Nevada, though he had split from her before her death. He said that she had told him that she had lied to her family in China – she told them that she had come to the USA for a job, not to hike the PCT. He hoped that she had told her family the truth before she died.

I never met Rika Morita. However, I did meet one Chinese hiker as I was approaching Mount Laguna during my section hike on the San Diego PCT this year. I recall that we were surrounded by manzanita bushes in full bloom, and I think we talked about how many bees were buzzing around us. The face I see in the photos of Chaocui Wang looks familiar, and the personality of the Chinese hiker I met matches the descriptions of Chaocui Wang. I am not completely sure, but I think it was her.

She died around the time I was crossing the California/Oregon border on the Pacific Crest Trail, where I saw the trail register with the list I transcribed in the opening of this post.

I have a weird feeling when I think back on my encounter with the Chinese hiker, now that I know it was probably about three months before her death and that she was not going to finish her thru-hike or return home, though I will never know for sure if it *was* her. I know that hikers who hiked with her and got to know her rather than just crossed paths with her as I (probably) did must have stronger feelings. The trail community misses and will remember her.


My Palace on the Pacific Crest Trail

A huckleberry bush brushes against my tent. Lake Janus, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, Northern Washington.

Fond as I am of my tent from Taiwan, last year I decided to buy a new tent to use on Pacific Crest Trail hikes (I still use my Taiwanese tent for all non-PCT camping). Specifically, I bought a Big Agnes Scout 2. I used it for the first time in the Trinity Alps, and I invited the PCT thru-hiker who was at the campsite to check it out. His comment was “That tent is a palace.” Ever since then, I’ve thought of this tent as being my palace on the Pacific Crest Trail.

This was my final campsite in California. Since this tent was used first in California, maybe I could call it my ‘Californian’ tent (as opposed by my ‘Taiwanese’ tent).

Since UV rays damage my tent’s fabric, it’s not supposed to be in the sun. Since I usually pitched my tent in the evening and packed it in the morning, it was usually easy to keep it out of the sun, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid a little sun. Miners Creek Camp, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

What makes this tent a palace? Space. To keep weight down, most hikers carry small tents, which means it can get cramped inside, especially if they are storing all of their gear in the tent. Some hikers just carry bivy shelters, which are basically tents which only have space for a single sleeping bag.

This is what my tent (in the front) looks like before it is pitched. The other tents in this picture each had 2+ occupants. Unfortunately, I could not get any tree cover, but the condensation was not too bad that night. About two miles from the border of Goat Rocks Wilderness, Southern Washington.

My tent, however, is a two person tent. A REAL two person tent. Officially, my Taiwanese tent is also a ‘two person’ tent, but in reality putting two people in my Taiwanese tent would be very uncomfortable. My palace on the PCT, however, could accommodate two people without having them lie on top of each other. Some hikers assumed that I had a partner simply because they saw how big my tent is. That means that, as a single person, my tent can accommodate me and all of my gear and still have leftover space. Compared to most of the tents used on the Pacific Crest Trail, my tent feels luxurious.

Look at all of that space!!! (I took this photo while I was lying down inside my blue sleeping bag). WELCOME TO MY PALACE!

One hiker told me “It’s great to be one person in a two person tent, but I wouldn’t want to carry the weight.” I then told her that my tent, including stakes, only weighs 1 lb. 9 oz. (710 grams). That’s less weight than nearly all one-person tents (including my Taiwanese tent). By contrast, the two most popular tents on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Big Agnes Copper Spur and the Big Agnes Fly Creek, weigh 2 lb 3 oz. and 1 lb. 11 oz. respectively in their 1-PERSON sizes (and many hikers choose the 2-person sizes even if they are alone because the 1-person versions of those tents are too small).

My tent, with Dewey Lake in the background. William O. Douglass Wilderness, Mount Rainier National Park, Southern Washington.

Even though this is a great tent, it gets very mixed reviews on the internet. In my opinion, the big disadvantage of this tent is that it has a steeper-than-typical learning curve for learning how to use it well, and that most of the complaints which people have about this tent could be fixed by changing the pitching. For example, some people complain about the placement of the trekking poles – it is true that in the beginning I sometimes knocked them down in my sleep, but eventually I trained myself not to do that. It does take practice to learn how to pitch it well so that it will be sufficiently taut, but after using this for over a month, I am very good at pitching this tent, even in non-ideal tent sites. Tip one: if the ground is too hard for staking, use rocks. Tip two: if the tent site is too small for full staking, tie the guylines to whatever is blocking the staking (usually a tree or shrub).

Since this campsite was basically an abandoned gravel road, I could only drive my takes half an inch into the ground, which is not enough. Thus, I used a combination of rocks and tying guylines to bushes. It was not a taut pitch, but since it was not a stormy night, the lack of tautness was okay. One mile away from Stirrup Creek, Central Washington.

One hiker commented that they would not want to use my tent because he did not think it was storm-proof. It’s true that it’s not ideal for going through a harsh storm, but I did use it in Mount Laguna in San Diego county (a very windy place) and it held up, so it’s got enough wind resistance for my purposes. Pitching the tent well goes a long way to making it hold up well in the wind.

This was a nice campsite – but the deer were a bad sign. Fortunately, these deer turned out not be a nuisance.

Another hiker said that he would not want to use my tent because it requires 12 stakes. I asked what was wrong with 12 stakes. He said it was too much labor to set up. I responded that I consider it to be a labor saving tent because of its relatively low weight (also, it does not use tent poles, and I consider setting up tent poles to be more tedious than staking).

The hiker who was impressed by how many stakes my tent required also took a photo of my tent at this very location. Trout Creek, near Wind River Experimental Forest, Southern Washington.

The last common complaint about this tent is the condensation. I, however, rarely had condensation in my tent during this hike, and the few times I did get condensation it’s because I put it in the wrong tent site. Basically, this tent will have condensation unless a) it’s pitched under tree cover or b) it’s very windy.

Unfortunately, there was no good place to pitch the tent at Callahan’s Lodge (i.e. I was doomed to have condensation). Fortunately, I was going into town the following day, and it was a sunny day when I had time to dry gear, so waking up with a wet tent was not so bad (heck, I even washed the tent with soap in town).

Wind is unreliable, so I almost always pitched the tent under trees, even if it meant that I had to put it under a steeper slope or have more awkward pitching. Having used this tent for over a month, I can attest that this tent does not get condensation under trees.

I squeezed my tent into this spot under the trees, even though it was a steep slope (other hikers joked about how I might slide out of my tent) because this was near a lake and I knew I needed the tree cover to keep dry. Guess what – my tent was totally dry the next morning. Pipe Lake, William O. Douglass Wilderness, Southern Washington.

Even though it’s such a spacious and low-weight tent, this is an uncommon tent on the Pacific Crest Trail. Most PCT hikers had never seen this tent model before, which meant they could learn to recognize me by my tent (i.e. if they saw my tent in a campsite they knew that I was around even if they did not see me). And even though I think this tent deserves to be more popular on the PCT, I like that I have an uncommon tent. It makes me feel special.

Here you can see how the trekking pole helps my tent stand up. Near the tributary of the Cispus River, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Southern Washington.

When I was using my Taiwanese tent in Hokkaido, I discovered that one of the cool things about travelling with a tent is that it’s like having your own portable room. Even if you are in a totally unfamiliar place, when you crawl in to go do sleep, it’s the same tent that you have slept in many times before. I felt that effect even more strongly this summer with this tent – though I was in a different place every day, at night, I was able to retreat into my own familiar palace.