I’m hiking a few hundred miles again, in the mountains, whatever.

Last year was my first hundred-mile (160 km) hike, and it seemed like a big deal at the time. But by now that I have done two continuous 400+ mile hikes, it no longer feels like such a big deal.

And I’m doing it again.

Right now, I have a permit to go from Etna, California, to Tuolumne Meadows, California. That is more than 600 miles. I would like to go further south, but in order to do so (legally) I would need to get a John Muir Trail permit at Tuolumne Meadows, which may or may not happen. And a John Muir Trail permit would only get me as far as Mount Whitney, and while when I was planning this trip I was hoping to get as far as Walker Pass … in some ways, it would be better to end at Mount Whitney (it is much more epic/symbolic than Walker Pass) and in some ways it would be better to end at Walker Pass (public transportation), but right now I’m leaning towards ending at Mount Whitney.

For those of you who are not familiar with California geography, I’m going to spell it out – I am finally going to be hiking in the Sierra Nevada.

You see, I grew up in California, and backpacking/hiking has somehow become one my major hobbies, yet I have never hiked in the Sierra Nevada before (unlike you count my aborted hike at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada. Even though I know a zillion people get excited about hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, for some reason, I am strangely chill about it. Maybe it is because I grew up within a few hours drive of the Sierra Nevada (even if I rarely visited), maybe the fact that everyone else gets so excited makes it harder for me to get excited, I don’t know. But I think it is a good thing not to try to get my expectations too high.

Since I am planning to hike 600-900 miles (depending on permits/itinerary), I think I will want a break. The most logical place to take a break would be Donner Pass, because that has the best transit connections. I could just return to San Francisco for my break, or I could simply go somewhere else. Right now, I am leaning towards visited Utah for a few days to break up my hike, since taking a train from the Donner Pass area to Salt Lake City would be fairly straightforward.

I was almost hoping I could complete all parts of the Pacific Crest Trail I have yet to hike this year. It now looks like that is not going to happen, and I’m okay with that. I’ve already done a good chunk of the PCT this year, and if I complete this chunk, then I will have hiked most of the California PCT, leaving only a few small bits of the California PCT and the Oregon PCT for me to hike next year.

What this means for this blog is that I have a whole bunch of canned posts coming up, so this blog will continue to update on a weekly basis while I am away from the internet. However, I will probably be very slow to respond to comments during the next few months.


Cold and Windy Spring in California

Cacti, in snow. I’ve posted this image before, but I’m posting it again because it is such a great symbol of my long hike in Southern California.

Going into my southern California hike, I was expecting to have problems with heat. After all, it got pretty warm during my week-long hike on the southern California Pacific Crest Trail last year – one day it got over 100 ºF (38 ºC). I was also concerned about finding shade, which is one of the reasons I went with a tarp which could be used for shade.

Yeah, there were a few brief times when the heat was uncomfortable (the warmest I ever got was on the lower part of my hike up San Jacinto), and a few stretches where shade was hard to come by (also on the ascent San Jacinto, actually) but it was cold temperatures and wind which gave me a lot more trouble during my hike.

The most extreme example of problems with cold weather was on the very first night, which I wrote about before. Thankfully, that did not repeat itself.

However, it also snowed on me while I was hiking through the San Bernardino mountains. Yes, it snowed on me while I was hiking in Southern California, in April. I even did a cowboy camp in the snow, which actually is not as bad as it sounds, especially since it got much warmer in the middle of the night.

Normally, hikers take a midday break in the shade. We were taking a midday break in the sun because it was ~that cold~ (and I am impressed that this guy had bare legs, because I never took my puffy jacket off at all this day). We were happy to see the sun come out, because it had been snowing an hour earlier.

Heck, I have calculated that I have spent more time in SNOWY weather in my PCT hikes in Southern California than I have in RAINY weather in my PCT hike of the entire state of Washington. For that matter, it was definitely colder on this Southern California hike than on my Washington hike – I never had a problem with any kind of cold night in Washington like I did in some parts of Southern California, and I definitely had more problems with heat in Washington. Heck, I experienced more rain during my two days in Texas than I did on my 30+ day hike through the Washington Cascades. I know that I did my Washington PCT hike during an unusual summer, but even so, whenever someone talks about how rainy Washington is, or how hot Southern California is, or how dry Central Texas is, I am going to be tempted to roll my eyes.

This was one of the water sources in the San Bernardino mountains. And yes, those are icicles.

And while I was going through part of Los Angeles county which was away from the coast and near the MOJAVE FREAKIN’ DESERT, a ‘marine layer’ came in a blanketed the mountain valleys with fog. First of all, it made the air surprisingly cold (though not quite as cold as what I later experienced in the San Bernardino mountains), some hikers got caught in rain (though I got lucky and pitched camp just outside the area which got rained on) and also, it was exactly was I was not expecting, especially since I had just come out of the Mojave desert.

Hills covered with chaparral with a blue sky and a valley filled with fog.

When I saw this in Los Angeles county, I was wondering if I had accidently walked all the way back to the San Francisco Bay Area.

And on top of all that, there was the wind.

Sometimes, the wind was nice, or scary, or nice and scary at the same time.

The day I descended from Inspiration Point (near Wrightwood) to Swarthout Canyon (near Cajon Pass) was extremely windy. On the one hand, this was nice, because east of the turnoff to Mount San Antonio there was little shade, but the wind kept me cool. On the other hand, some parts of the trail was in bad shape, and by ‘bad shape’ I mean that the trail was eroding and if I slid off the eroding trail I might have fallen down a long way, and the wind forcefully shoving against my body really did not help.

Going down to Cajon Pass. I know a lot of hikers hate the segment between Cajon Pass and Wrightwood, but it was one of the highlights of the trail for me. It definitely helped that I was going mostly downhill and I did not hike this on a hot day.

And the wind was still blowing really strong that night. All the other hikers I met were desperately looking for a sheltered spot, but there were no sheltered campsites, the only fully protected place to sleep was the Best Western Inn in Cajon Pass and a) that was too far for me to reach unless I wanted to push my body very hard and b) it cost more than I wanted to pay. I know that a lot of hikers spend the night in Swarthout Canyon because it is in a convenient location just five miles from Cajon Pass, but the night I was there I was the only hiker, and it was damn windy. Fortunately, I found the single most protected place near the trail within the canyon. It was a bush which blocked about half of the wind. I literally slept under the bush.

This is the wonderful bush which sheltered me from the wind in Swarthout Canyon.

The worst wind was the day I arrived in Big Bear Lake. It as not so bad when I was hiking, since I was not going through any particularly steep or eroded areas, except for the spot which had the whirling dust storms. But when I got to the highway, there was no shelter from the fierce wind, so I had to wait in the wind and practically shout at the other hikers when I was talking to them (but I was lucky to have a guaranteed ride instead of hitchhiking, so I don’t want to complain).

Here is some dead cactus I saw on that very windy morning.

Once I was in town, even though it was a sunny day, nobody wanted to be outside until they absolutely had to go out because the wind was that bad. In the evening, it was so windy that it was physically difficult just to walk down the street to get dinner. I was very happy to be sleeping inside a building with four walls that night – though I was lucky to get a space in the hostel, since that day a lot of hikers decided they would rather extend their stay another night rather than hike (or camp) in such harsh conditions. The next morning, somebody said that, in TOWN (not on the trail, which is higher up in the mountains), the wind had gotten to be as much as 100 mph (160 kph), and the temperature had gone as low as 21 ºF (-6 ºC). I later met a hiker who had camped out that night, and the wind had damaged her tent. Other hikers did not dare pitch their tents that night, but that meant that they had to endure the cold and windy night without a tent to protect them.

On the plus side, due to the cold temperatures and abundance of March snowstorms, I happened to pass through the Angeles National Forest at a time when the forest rangers were actually permitting campfires. The locals tell me that the forest rangers almost never permit campfires. I did not have a fire permit, but on the coldest night I was in the Angeles Forest, I happened to camp with some hikers who did have the fire permit, so they started a totally legal campfire. I enjoyed the warmth.

It was not just a cold spring in southern California, it was also a colder-than-average late spring up in the San Francisco Bay Area as well. Normally, it is difficult to grow carrots in San Francisco, but this spring, the local garden where I volunteer had the largest crop of carrots ever because the weather had been so cold. And it’s not just San Francisco – the local farmers’ markets are overflowing with carrots because vegetable farmers all over northern California have had a great carrot harvest due to the low spring temperatures.

I suppose the lesson here is that I should never trust the ‘reputation’ a particular region has when it comes to weather. If I had known the weather was going to be like this, I probably would have chose gear less suited for sun/heat and more suited for cold. But I guess unexpected weather makes life more interesting, and my gear worked well enough anyway.

What I Read during My Southern California Hike

When I first started getting into backpacking, I brought books along to read – and discovered that I did not have time/energy to read them, and they were extra weight. I became one of those backpackers who did not carry books, unless it was of practical use (i.e. a guidebook).

Last year, when I was out backpacking for more than a month, I changed my tune. I did not want to go a month without reading any books at all. Thus, I carried an e-book reader. And I discovered that reading books while on a long backpacking trip is awesome. On short trips (2-4 days) I will be too preoccupied with my new surroundings to want to read, but on longer trips, I need to sometimes give my mind a vacation, and books can do that very well. I find that intellectually demanding books are too much for me when I am on trail, but ‘mind candy’ books work very well. What works best are melodramas with good cliffhangers.

Then, a little more than halfway through my long hike, my eBook reader broke. By then I was so used to having a book on hand to read in camp that I did not want to do without, so I picked up the most interesting paperback I could on my next town stop. That was Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurty. It lasted until I reached Manning Park, where I dropped it off.

During my long hike in Southern California, I decided I was going to take paperbacks. I did not want to break another eBook reader, and unlike electronic devices, paperback books can be used as pillows (which turned out to be very handy). Naturally, I was only going to bring one book with me at a time, and then replace it when I finished reading it.

Cover of Heir to Empire

The first book I brought with me from San Francisco was Star Wars: Heir to Empire by Timothy Zahn. It was perfect. I was already familiar with the main characters (except Thrawn and Mara Jade) because I have seen the original Star Wars trilogy, which made it easier to read, like fanfic when you are familiar with the canon. However, it’s also fun to read, had the right kind of cliffhangers, and was more intellectually stimulating than I would expect from a Star Wars novel. Grand Admiral Thrawn is basically Sherlock Holmes, except he is evil, so this was basically a story about Luke Skywalker/Leia/Han Solo vs. evil!Sherlock Holmes.

I had a wide choice of books I could bring my San Francisco, but once I finished and dropped Star Wars: Heir to Empire, I was limited to whatever paperback books were available in whatever town I was in. This is how I learned about the selection of books available in various small mountain towns in SoCal. And these were the books I ended up with, in this order:

Danny, The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov
Perelandra by C.S. Lewis
Jack London’s Klondike Adventure by Mike Wilson.

Cover of Danny, The Champion of the World.

With Danny, The Champion of the World, I almost had no choice. I picked it up in Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce. The hiker box which had all the books had been left out in the rain, which meant all of the books were moldy. Danny, Champion of the World had been put in the wrong place, which meant it was spared the rain. I otherwise would have almost certainly not picked a Roald Dahl book. But I’m glad I did. It has been over twenty years since I read anything by Roald Dahl, and it was nice to revisit him. In some ways, Danny, Champion of the World is a very good book, and I enjoyed reading it, but it also has substantial flaws, and I think that is why it is not as famous/popular as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or James and the Giant Peach.

Cover of Riders of the Purple Sage

Riders of the Purple Sage is the only book I would have chosen to read even in San Francisco where I have an extremely wide choice of books to read. It is not a coincidence that I picked it up in Wrightwood, which has an awesome used bookstore – I had a very wide choice of books there. It was excellent reading for a hike in the southwestern United States. Even though I was hiking through SoCal, and the novel is set in Utah, it resonated with my everyday life – the characters were concerned about finding water, just like I was, they were concerned about slipping off a cliff, just as I was, they kept their eye out for cottonwoods (cottonwoods = water), just like I was, etc. A lot of the characters are also Mormon (it is set in Utah), and I was in the middle of the book as I went through a segment of the PCT called ‘Mormon Rocks’, so that was also thematically appropriate.

Cover of Foundation and Empire

Big Bear Lake also had a used bookstore – ‘Bearly Used Books‘ – but it is much smaller than the used bookstore in Wrightwood, so my choices were more limited. I had a hard time deciding between The Shattered Chain by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Foundation and Empire. The tie-breaker was the fact that Foundation and Empire was slightly cheaper. It has been a very long time since I read any of Isaac Asimov’s fiction, and I had forgotten what it was like. In fact, the very last Asimov novel I had read was The Thousand Year Plan, an abridged version of the first Foundation book, and I had read it in 2003, in Italy (and the Vatican – I distinctly remember reading the book while I was in the Vatican). Methinks I will have to put the rest of the Foundation books on my to-read list.

Cover for Narrow Road to the Interior (translation of Oku No Hosomichi

Bonus: While I was in Big Bear Lake I also read Oku No Hosomichi and a few other travelogues by Basho (in English translation). I did not take it with me on the trail (too big) but it also resonated with me a lot because Basho also travelled a long distance on foot/by horse through relatively wild areas, and had a lot of the same concerns as long-distance hikers today. I’ve also been to a few of the places that Basho describes (Yamadera, for example).

Cover of Perelandra

The wonderful library in Idyllwild sells used books, but unfortunately, most of their books were too bulky to bring on trail, so my options were once again limited. If my choices were not so restricted, there is no way I would have picked Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. Yet, surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it because it was so freaking weird. Here is the premise: Ransom is a devout Christian, so when God tells him to enter a coffin made out of ice, he obeys. God sends the ice coffin to Venus, and since God works in mysterious ways, he does not tell Ransom much – it is up to Ransom to figure out what the f*** is going on. Ransom then discovers that God has created a new Adam and Eve on Venus, except this Adam and Eve are way more awesome than Earth’s Adam and Eve, which means that if Venus!Eve succumbs to Satan’s temptation, it will be EVEN WORSE than what happened on Earth. However, since Ransom is a mere human being, he is not sure what to do about this. Meanwhile, C.S. Lewis waits for Ransom to come back to Earth (yes, C.S. Lewis is one of the characters in the novel).

C.S. Lewis: I don't want anything to do with your creepy aliens; Ransom: But God told me to go to Venus, so wait for me. And if you die, have someone else wait for me; C.S. Lewis: Okay.

This is a summary of a scene in Perelandra.

While I disagree with C.S. Lewis about a lot of things, I am very impressed with his imagination, and I think it is a shame he ‘converted’ to Christianity instead of plunging into ‘madness’ and following his interest in the occult. If he wrote this kind of thing as a ‘sane’ Christian, imagine what kind of novels he would have written as an ‘insane’ occultist (though I suppose it is possible that if he outright pursued occultism rather than constantly trying to resolve the tensions between his Christian beliefs and his attraction to occultism, his imagination would have gotten less exercise). I also like George D. MacDonald, and appreciated the strong MacDonald influence evident in Perelandra.

Cover of Mountain Fire Momma

Bonus 2: While I was in Idyllwild, I read the book Mountain Fire Momma: One Woman’s Story of Wildfire, Family and the Zen of Survival by Melissa Severa. I started reading it at a restaurant in Idyllwild, and then tracked it down at the library and finished it. It’s a poignant account of a woman with children who lost her home in the floods after the Mountain Fire in 2013. As a PCT hiker, I was very aware of the Mountain Fire because that had severely damaged the trail. Also, the writer lives on Apple Canyon Road, which is where I rejoined the PCT after Idyllwild. It was cool to go up Apple Canyon Road and know something about the people who live there, and to know more about the Mountain Fire.

Cover of Jack London’s Klondike Adventure

My last book, Jack London’s Klondike Adventure, came from the bookstore run by the friends of the San Clemente library. “But San Clemente is nowhere near the Pacific Crest Trail” you say (if you know about California geography). True, but it was on the way between rural!San Diego county and San Francisco, and I stopped there for a couple nights. I was no longer hiking, but I wanted a book to read on the train, since the train ride from San Clemente to Oakland Jack London Square is loooooooooooong (I boarded the 6:56 am train departing San Clemente, and I did not arrive at Oakland Jack London Square until 10 pm – and then I still had to travel from Oakland to my home in San Francisco). And yes, I thought it was thematically appropriate that I was reading a book about Jack London when I was en route to a train station which is literally named after Jack London. I remember when the Jack London Square train station first opened up, I went to the opening ceremony as a kid, I think that is the first time I became aware that Amtrak exists, so it was meaningful for me to finally take an Amtrak train to Jack London Square. But I digress.

A train passes through San Clemente (yes, the train literally runs on the beach).

I got more out of Jack London’s Klondike Adventure than any other book I read on this trip, which is a good thing, because it was the only book I brought home. I had not realized that Jack London had such an interesting life. And now I want to go through the Chilkoot Trail, just like Jack London. However, unlike Jack London, I do not think I will carry 2000 pounds of supplies with me, or stay in the Klondike for a whole winter.

Some of these are books which I would have probably never picked up if my reading options had not been restricted, but in the end, that was an advantage. If I always have a lot of choice in picking books, I tend to pick the same types of books to read over and over again. And while none of these are my favorite books ever, I do think it was good for me to step out of my comfort zone and read something different.

My Most Physically Demanding 27 Hours of Hiking Ever

That mountain with snow on it is San Jacinto, the second highest mountain in southern California.

During my 400+ mile (640+ km) long hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in southern California, I went south, which meant that I was hiking from Interstate 10 -> San Jacinto, rather than San Jacinto -> Interstate 10.

This may not seem like a big deal if you do not know the terrain. However, countless hikers told me that, when they were going north from San Jacinto to the Interstate 10 freeway, they thought to themselves “gee, I’m glad I’m going north and not south.” Then they met me, the hiker who was planning to go south. One hiker, once it dawned on him that I was going south into San Jacinto, immediately told me that he could put me in touch with people who could give me rides so that I could go north through San Jacinto instead of south. I rejected the offer. Though I sometimes go northbound on the Pacific Crest Trail, this was a ~southbound~ hike, and for the sake of continuity, I wanted to go south through San Jacinto too.

Hikers take a break under Interstate 10. The local trail angels left water, cold drinks, and some snacks under the bridge – but most importantly, the bridge was the only place a hiker could get shade for miles in either direction.

If you are wondering what the fuss is about, let me explain. Interstate 10 is 1335 feet (407 meters) above seal level. Going south, the trail then dips down to 1251 feet (381 meters) above sea level over the next 2-3 miles, which is easy in terms of elevation, but it is through a hot sandy desert with no shade. Then, going south over the next 21 miles (34 km), the trail rises to 8947 feet (2727 meters) above sea level at the tributary of the San Jacinto river. That is a 7696 ft (2346 m) change in elevation. After taking into account the dips in the trail (because the trail is not entirely smooth), between Interstate 10 and the tributary of the San Jacinto river, I had 8883 ft (2708 m) of elevation gain in the space of 30 hours.

For those of you who do not hike, let me put that into perspective. Going from the 5th station on Mt. Fuji to the summit via the Yoshida trail (the most popular way to hike Mt. Fuji), there is an elevation gain of 4824 ft. (1471 m). Thus, going south from Interstate 10 to the tributary of the San Jacinto river is almost the equivalent of hiking up Mt. Fuji twice in a row – without going downhill. Mt. Whitney is the highest mountain in the contiguous United States (i.e. excluding Hawaii and Alaska). Hiking from Whitney Portal to the top of Mt. Whitney (the most popular route) takes 6,100 feet (1,860 m) of elevation gain. Thus, Interstate 10 -> tributary of San Jacinto river requires more uphill hiking than hiking to the top of the highest mountain in the contiguous United States.

And it gets worse better. There is a water source at 1721 ft (525 m) above sea level, and then there are no more water sources until the tributary of the San Jacinto river, which is 19.5 miles (31.2 km) south on the trail, and 8947 feet (2727 meters) above sea level. That means I had to carry enough water to get me through that stretch, including the 10 miles (16 km) where there was little shade and it was surprisingly warm. And this 19.5 waterless stretch also includes Fuller Ridge, one of the most notorious stretches of the entire Pacific Crest Trail, notorious because far more hikers have disappeared/died on these 4 miles (6.4 km) than any other 4 mile stretch of the entire 2650 mile trail (even Old Snowy/Knife Edge in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, which is notorious for killing horses/mules, has had very few human deaths. Meanwhile, Fuller Ridge seems to kill a lot more humans than horses/mules). On top of all that, the risk of being stung by a bee or encountering rattlesnakes was very high, but since I did not have any adverse encounters with bees or rattlesnakes on this stretch, that was not a problem for me.

For a southbound hiker (like me), this faucet was the last water source before the 19.5 waterless stretch to the tributary of the San Jacinto river. That giant rock was pretty much the only source of shade in the area this hot afternoon, though one hiker (not in the photo) did something creative with an umbrella to make more shade.

The more water I carried, the more weight I would have to carry very far uphill. The less water I carried, the greater my risk of dehydration. It was a tough tradeoff.

I’ve heard from the local people that they hear rescue helicopters several times a day, and that at this time of year, helicopters are generally sent to rescue PCT hikers. I also kept on hearing stories about how such-and-such hiker had just been rescued. This is the only part of the Pacific Crest Trail where I heard about hikers needing rescue with such frequency.

I left Interstate 10 at around noon. I left that last water source before ascending San Jacinto at around 3pm. I reached the tributary of the San Jacinto river at around 6pm the following day. That meant it took me 27 hours to get from water source at the base of the mountain to the to the tributary of the San Jacinto river.

Looking down at the private community of Snow Creek (that’s where the trees are growing) and the valley where Interstate 10 runs.

Of course I camped overnight on the trail. I definitely was not going to do the entire ascent in a single day. I camped 4.6 trail miles (7.4 trail km) south of the water source, at 3339 ft (1018 m) above sea level. That meant my next day was going to be physically intense.

The first stretch hiking up San Jacinto was just about the hottest hiking I did during this entire trip. It was not fair that it was so hot when I was doing a steep uphill carrying so much water, and that there was so little shade, even though I had made a point of hiking this part in the evening/morning. On the other hand, I was very motivated to hike so I could get to a higher elevation. I could see there were trees on top of the mountain, and I was eager to get to an elevation that was high enough for trees to go.

Finally, I reached a place where there were dead trees – the dead trees didn’t help me much, but at least I knew I was at a high enough elevation that I might find living trees too. And sure enough, shortly after I reached the dead trees, I reached a place which had living trees, and that meant I had REAL SHADE! Awesome! Also, the temperatures were significantly cooler around the trees, which was also very nice. I was still hiking uphill a lot, and had no water source, but at least I had shade, it was no longer hot, and my pack was less heavy because I had drunk quite a bit of water. Hiking became much more pleasant.

Trees! It’s amazing! I’ve never been so happy to be among trees in my life!

I reached the Fuller Ridge trailhead, which was the beginning of Fuller Ridge for me. And there was a water cache there! Usually, my policy is to disregard water caches. However, when I was at the faucet, I had to compromise between having more water and carrying less weight uphill, which meant I was rationing my water. I could have continued to ration my water all the way to the tributary, but that meant only drinking what I needed, not drinking enough to satisfy my thirst. Thus, I took some water (about 1.5 liters) from the water cache so that I would be able to drink as much as I wanted. It feels so good to be able to drink freely instead of just drinking the minimum to hold off dehydration. I also got to take a break at a picnic table in the shade and hang out with a couple of hikers.

Fuller Ridge sometimes holds snow well into May. When it is covered with snow/ice, a lot of people get injured, and some even disappear/die. Fortunately for me, even though it was April, Fuller Ridge was totally dry. The trail takes a bunch of weird little turns in the rocks in one part of Fuller Ridge, and I could totally imagine people getting lost in that stretch when it is covered with snow, or slipping off the rocks if it’s icy, but since it was dry, I could keep track of the trail as long as I paid attention, and I was at little risk of sliding down.

I’m surprised I don’t have any photos of Fuller Ridge. I guess I was too focused on hiking to take photos.

And then finally, I reached the promised land. Or rather, the promised tributary.

The tributary of the San Jacinto river.

I ran out of water just when I got to the tributary (though I had been drinking freely ever since I left the water cache – if I had continued rationing the water, I would have drunk less). The photo above does not do justice. This tributary was a series of little waterfalls cascading down the mountain and across the trail. It was a lot of water – a glorious sight for a hiker who had been worried about water for a day. There were a lot of hikers at the tributary who were busy filling up, since all of them were going north and thus would not have reliable water for 19.5 miles.

I was practically jumping for joy at the tributary. Reaching this water source was more exciting than reaching the Canadian border when I hiked the entire Washington PCT.

I would have liked to have gone to the summit of San Jacinto – but by the time I reached the turnoff (which was just pass the water source), I could feel that I had pushed my legs to the limit, and I was afraid that ascending an extra 2000 ft. (which does not seem like much after ascending 8500+ ft.) might push my legs past their limit, and I could get an overuse injury. I did not want to risk an overuse injury, so instead, I just hiked another two miles past the water source, and set up camp (though the fact that I was able to hike another two miles after all that shows you just how much energy I had).

This is where I camped in San Jacinto.

Strangely, though this was my most physically demanding day of hiking ever, it was also my giddiest. Here is my diary entry for the day I reached Fuller Ridge and the tributary (which I wrote at the campsite above):

This has been one of the most exhilarating days on the PCT ever. I made my legs do so much work, but they were up to the task. From hot exposed chaparral to cool pine forest. The views! And the knowledge that I did a mostly uphill 19.5 mile waterless stretch! (w/ a little help from a water cache).

Part of the euphoria was probably caused by endorphins flooding my body. It also helped that the worst part was the beginning, so it just kept getting better. And I think the fact that I was attempting something so ridiculous increased the giddiness.

I have no regrets about doing this segment of the trail southbound. Going south through here is definitely harder than going north, but I do not think I would have found it as memorable – or enjoyable – if I had gone north.

Metabolism on the Pacific Crest Trail

According to the book Where the Waters Divide: A Walk along America’s Continental Divide:

On a long-distance hike, food is fuel, and human bodies are gas-guzzling automobiles. Carrying a pack at high altitude and walking at a fair pace over difficult terrain, a hiker uses up about 300 calories a mile. To walk 15 or so miles per day requires at least 4,500 calories just to keep going.

I suspect that 300 calorie/mile figure is based on male hikers, and that averages for female hikers are lower. Men tend to have significantly higher metabolism rates than women, though this is based on averages – there are individual women who have relatively high metabolism rates, and men who have relatively low metabolism rates.

Based on all of the accounts of long-distance hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail that I’ve heard and read, men hikers do seem to lose weight faster and be more vulnerable to malnutrition than female hikers. I haven’t scientifically proven that this is because male hikers tend to have high metabolism rates, but it’s the most plausible explanation that I can think of.

Reduced vulnerability to malnutrition (and being able to get away with carrying less food) are benefits to hiking with a lower metabolism. However, a higher metabolism rate reduces vulnerability to hypothermia, especially during sleep. Men tend to be ‘warm sleepers’ (i.e. they can get away with less warm bedding), and women tend to be ‘cold sleepers’ (i.e. they need warmer bedding), though, once again, not all women and men are average.

Though I don’t know for sure, I suspect I have higher than average metabolism for a woman, but lower than average for a man. I eat more food than a lot of people (I’m used to people commenting ‘wow how are you going to eat all of that food’) and I think I sleep warmer than a lot of women.

However, if a hiker needs only 200 calories per mile, and they hike 15 miles, that’s still 3000 calories in a day just for hiking. The highest mileage I did in a single day was 23 miles, and some hikers, especially thruhikers, do more than that on a regular basis. My average pace when I was hiking through Washington – including my zero days (when I did not hike on the trail) – was 14.2 miles per day. A lot of hikers, especially thruhikers have a higher average mileage/day.

In my big hike in the summer of 2017, I generally only carried enough food to eat at a rate of 2500 calories per day, and since I usually arrived at my next resupply point with leftover food, that meant most days on trail I was eating less than 2500 calories/day in food. Therefore, even though I don’t know what my exact metabolism rate was, I am certain that I had sustained calorie deficits.

I did not measure my weight before, during, or after my hiking, but the weight loss was obvious enough that I could tell it happened without measuring myself and I think returned to my pre-hike weight about a couple months after the end of the trip.

There are various reasons why I prefer section hiking over thruhiking, and (not) having to deal with months of calorie deficits is one of them. Even though I would be unlikely to reach an dangerous level of malnutrition, I would rather not go there.

Of course, when I was in town, I ate a lot. Towns meant lots of food which I did not have to carry with me. I especially remember really eating it up in White Pass (it helped that the Kracker Barrel Store had surprisingly good food). In Snoqualmie Pass, I remember pushing myself to eat much more than I felt like eating because I knew, intellectually, that I had regular calorie deficits, and I wanted to compensate for that (though I will say that Commonwealth, a restaurant in Snoqualmie Pass, offered me the best meal I ate during my entire Washington PCT hike). By the time I was in Stehekin, I was less concerned about cramming the calories because I was so close to Canada, so I just ate in accordance with my appetite.

I am happy to say I never experienced ‘hiker hunger’ during my 36-day-long hike. I also was not particularly hungry when I was in Manning Park, or when I was on Denman Island.

Then I went to Vancouver (the city, not the island).

When I was in Vancouver, I was eating 4-5 full meals per day. I did not feel desperately hungry, but one meal was not quite enough to make me feel full, so I ate another one two hours later. And I was gorging on restaurant food since it had been over a month since I had regular access to a variety of restaurants (as opposed to 1-2 restaurants in a small town). I have never spent so much money on food per day as when I was in Vancouver.

Did I eat so much food in Vancouver because I was on the edge of hiker hunger? If so, why did it manifest a week after I had stopped hiking, and not in Manning Park or on Denman Island?

Then, during the first month after my return to San Francisco, something strange happened.

If I delayed/missed a meal at all past my habitual time, I would feel painfully hungry. It was hunger unlike anything I experienced during my trip.

My best guess is that I ended my hike just around the time I exhausted my fat reserves. In Manning Park / Denman Island I was probably eating about as many calories as I was burning, so I was no longer in calorie deficit, but I was also not rebuilding my fat reserves. In Vancouver, I started to rebuild my fat reserves (and probably compensating for other nutritional deficiencies with the greater variety of food). But because my fat reserves remained low for the entire month after my hike, any disturbance in my eating schedule was enough to make my belly scream with hunger.

I’m not sure that my conjecture is correct. But I am just as motivated as ever to try to avoid getting hiker hunger while I am on trail.

The Smoke That I Found

My tent in Martinson’s Gap, Norse Peak Wilderness, Central Washington. This part of the trail is currently closed, and possibly destroyed.

On August 7, 2017, I stopped at the campsite next to a creek at mile 2339.3 on the Pacific Crest Trail, near Arch Rock, in the Norse Peak Wilderness. I took a break there, getting more water (it was the first water source I had passed since the afternoon of the previous day) and eating some snacks. As I was filtering water and munching, I noticed that it smelled like smoke. Clearly there had been a campfire the previous night.

Just before I left, I realized that it smelled like smoke because smoke was coming from the campfire ring. In some small way, the campfire was still burning.

Chances are, even if I had failed to notice the smoking campfire ring, it would have self-extinguished anyway. But having noticed it, I did not dare take a chance. Thankfully, it was next to a creek, so it was easy to haul water to completely soak the campfire ring. It stopped smoking after that.

Later, I talked to Ben and Kseniya about that since I knew they had stayed at that campsite the previous night. They told me that a southbound hiker had started the campfire. I had met a couple southbounders that morning before I had reached the campsite with the smoking campfire ring. I wish there were a way to send a message to them, to let them know that they had left a campfire without 100% extinguishing it.

Even though I think it probably would have been okay if I hadn’t doused the campfire with water, there is a tiny chance that I prevented a forest fire, and that I helped the PCT remain open for … two weeks.

On August 11 – just four days after I soaked the source of the smoke – there was a lightning storm which started a bunch of little fires in the Norse Peak Wilderness. These grew into a big fire which is called the ‘Norse Peak Fire’. About a couple weeks after I passed through, the PCT was closed, frustrating the aspirations of many hikers (including Jon). For a while, over 100 miles of the PCT were closed. Now, only about 16 miles are closed due to the Norse Peak fire – including Martinson’s Gap (where the photo at the top of this post was taken), and the place where I found the smoky campfire ring. Since this is the part of the trail which remains closed, my guess is that this is the part of the trail which actually burned (as opposed to being closed because the fire might spread). The trail may be destroyed already, and even if it is intact, it may be destroyed by spring snowmelt.

I hope the trail is okay and easy to repair.

I have an odd feeling, when I think back on that source of smoke I discovered, and the knowledge that that location turned out to be the epicenter of one of the worst fires on the PCT in 2017.

The Stehekin Fiasco & Miracle

My tent at Purple Point Campground, Stehekin, Northern Washington.

Of all of the places on the Pacific Crest Trail to miss a resupply package, Stehekin is just about the worst. On lists of ‘PCT resupply stops to mail food even if you hate mailing food’ Stehekin always makes it to the top three, including in the 2017 PCT thru-hiker survey. There is no grocery store in Stehekin, just a general store with very limited options, and a bakery with few foods which can be easily carried on the trail.

AND I’m vegan, which means ~even fewer~ options at the general store, and the only food at the bakery which was definitely vegan was the wild rice salad (it tasted good, but I could not easily take it with me on the trail).

My resupply package never reached Stehekin. Why not? Because I had ordered it from Sonora Resupply, and they literally forgot to send the package (but they did remember to charge my credit card, though they eventually refunded it). Beware: if you order food from Sonora Resupply, they might forget to send it. I had set things up so that my parents would never need to send me any resupply packages to save them the hassle, but in the future, I am going to ask my parents to handle my resupply packages, because they are more reliable than Sonora Resupply, and since they know about the Stehekin fiasco, they are very willing to take on this responsibility.

The post office in Stehekin, Washington. The postmaster had a letter from my parents (which contained the maps showing the trail between Stehekin and Canada) and he arranged to have a book I bought in Stehekin to be shipped home, but there was no resupply box for me here.

Due to the lack of communication options in Stehekin (no cell phone or landline service to Stehekin, and internet connections either did not exist or were so bad that it was almost the equivalent of no internet) it took me a day to confirm that Sonora Resupply had never even sent the resupply package. But really, as soon as I talked to the postmaster, and he told me that he had no package for me, I knew that the odds were bad.

This was my very worst time during my entire hike of the PCT in Washington. Contemplating crossing about 85

I remember talking to Pony Express, and I was crying a little as I was facing the possibility of no resupply. She immediately offered to give me all of her tortillas. This was in spite of the fact that she was having a worse day that I was – her toe was infected, and she was going south, not north, which meant she was about to enter one of the most physically sections of the entire Pacific Crest Trail (incidently, Pony Express is working on a documentary about her PCT hike – check it out).

At first, I thought I might have to stop in Mazama to resupply. I could get to Mazama after hiking about one day out of Stehekin, though it would involve hitchhiking on a highway, and though Mazama has more food options than Stehekin, it’s also not a particularly good resupply point. Then I figured that, if I were willing to pay the expensive prices (which were actually quite reasonable considered how remote Stehekin is), I could get enough food at the general store to make it to Canada. It would be repetitive and not particularly tasty or nutritionally balanced, but it would keep me alive, and in Canada I could get lots of tasty and nutritionally balanced food.

Then the miracle happened.

Just after the conversation (via satellite phone) which confirmed that there was going to be no resupply package for me in Stehekin, a couple was putting their entire resupply package in the hiker box. It turned out that they didn’t want ANY of the food that they had mailed themselves. I immediately picked out all of the vegan food (they had some oreos, some Bevita crackers, electrolyte powders which also had vitamin C and random minerals, and weird banana chips which I didn’t really like but it was food, and a Harmony House dehydrated vegetable meal). Also, there were more tortillas, though I don’t know if they had come from the couple. It wasn’t my first choice of food, but it was free, and it would get me to Canada.

This completely changed my mood. Whereas just twenty minutes earlier I had been on the verge of tears, I was now skipping with joy, and sharing with every hiker I saw the good news of the couple who had dumped their entire resupply in the hiker box. Since the other hikers were not vegan, they all descended on the hiker box like a wake of vultures to take the food I rejected.

Later on, I checked the hiker box again, and found that someone had left an entire bottle of olive oil. WIN. Olive oil is lightweight yet super-high in calories, and required no cooking. Calories were the one thing I needed from food to get to Canada.

The ferry docked at Stehekin Landing. Stehekin is a very quiet little town UNLESS the ferry has just arrived or is about to depart (warning: do not try to buy anything in the general store right after a ferry arrival or right before a ferry departure). All mail to/from Stehekin is transported by ferry, including the letter I received from my parents and the book I sent out.

I also bought some Clif bars and wasabi peas from the general store, mainly so that I would have a bit more protein. I didn’t really need the protein – I could get protein in Canada (and the only thing I needed to get to Canada was calories) – but it was nice to have more protein.

Many PCT thru-hikers eat tortillas as a staple because they are cheap and easy to find in trail towns, which means that by the time many thru-hikers get to Stehekin they hate tortillas (which is no doubt why I was able to get so many tortillas for free). Since I hadn’t eaten any tortillas before Stehekin, I thought they were alright. And tortillas went very well with olive oil.

Thus, for the last leg of the PCT, tortillas and olive oil were my staples (plus random snacks such as oreos and wasabi peas). I would eat a bite of tortilla, take a sip from the olive oil bottle, take another bite of tortilla, take another sip, etc. And yes, I drank the olive oil straight from the bottle, since that was the easiest way to get it into my body. POUR IN THOSE CALORIES!!! Though I was eating to live rather than living to eat, I think the tortilla + olive oil combo also tasted good.

I even managed to reach Canada with leftover food. Which was just as well, since that meant that I spent less money on food while I was stuck in Manning Park (though I also totally took advantage of the restaurant in Manning Park to eat food that was tasty and nutritionally balanced and was prepared fresh in a real kitchen).

The moral of the story is: things can fail to go according to plan in a bad way on the Pacific Crest Trail, yet the trail sometimes provides in surprising ways just when you need it.