PCT 2011

Pacific Crest Trail (2664m)

California (1703m)

SoCal:


My morning of the 9th, standing at the monument, was a little anti-climatic. It was cold and dreary, a complete opposite from '07 when it was hot and dry. I had a brief moment with my mom, said our goodbyes and I ventured forth. I made it to Boulder Oaks Campground today. There is water everywhere. It is cool and mild. I am counting many, many things and laughing to myself.


The morning leaving from Scissor's Crossings I was fortunate to blessed with one of life's great pleasures: a cool, mild desert walk filled with light, airy barrel cactus blooms and deep dark red-magenta ocotillo blooms. I was immersed in the desert singletrack and hit 3rd gate cache around noon under stifling heat. On the way down to barrel spring, succumbed to the heat, I twisted an ankle and ambled in to the spring rather grumpy--I didn't say much to the other thru's. However, when Tenderfoot, Dreamcrusher and Hoodlum arrived and sat down next to me I felt better, I felt no more alone. I decided then and there to take up there offer to spend a 'nero' day with them, especially to rest the ankle. Fortunately, this was a chance to slow me down and enjoy the experience.



The day of the desert-San Jacinto ridge I feel was a day of re-birth. I ambled in to Highway 74 just as the storm was beginning to hit. And I felt an urge to strive forth among it. I hit the desert ridge saddle amongst 50 mph winds and decided to hunker down near Live Oak Spring thinking I would avoid the high wind gales. I put up my tarp and kept on doing that as the wind was now roaring up the canyon blowing my tarp down. I ate dinner amid frustration and after eating and taking a short nap I was shaken awoke amongst a windy maelstrom. I decided that I was not going to sit there and get my ass kicked and take it: I wanted to fight back. So I stormed up, packed everything and marched into the eye of the storm. Two hours and 8 miles later amid a rage of dark moonlit skies I wrapped myself in a tarp burrito and tried to sleep. The windstorm raged and the rip-rappin' tent-flappin' flagged my face incessantly. I could not sleep, not even a wink. The night began to ice-freeze over with frozen fog and the wind would splash frozen crystals upon my face after whipping the condensation from the tent. It was brutal and I felt I was in survival mode. I kept wanting to leave to stay warm but I knew that would only be more dangerous. I was in my 20degree quilt but I was not freezing and I knew my best chance would be to stay hunkered down. Around 430am with probably no more than a couple hours of sleep I began to plan my escape plan and spoke aloud of my procedures in exact order to avoid wasting time in freezing temps. There was no time for dilly-dallying and hypothermia was an imminent, dangerous reality. I got up in a mad-rush and stuffed everything in my bag. Most everything was frozen and the only thing I packed away securely was my quilt. If shit went further down that was my only safe warm option. I then marched all the way into Idyllwild amidst winds that could hold my 6'5" 200lb frame up. As I was trudging my way along cliffs I noticed the sun rising as dawn's rosy fingers gripped the distant desert mountains and began pushing her way upward. I stopped to soak this in and took an up-close facial shot of myself so I will remember what I always looked like after the night I felt so alive. Upon saddle junction I took my first sip of water after plodding in 16 miles because the water had been frozen solid from the dreaded although invigorating evening.


On the 19th I headed for Fuller Ridge. Most everything was frozen and at the ridge frozen rime clinging to the pines began to thaw and to bombard me and 2 others from high above. CRASH! BANG! The thunderous raucous noise sounded like massive rock slides crashing all around us. Ice blocks up to 10 lbs were falling precariously close to us which made our hike under clear blue skies a tad frightening. We had some close calls from the aerial ice-assault but we pushed on and at the end of the day we went 30 miles going from winter-like conditions to desert-like conditions some 7000feet below.



This particular stretch between Big Bear and the Angeles Crest is like walking back in time to step forward through time. I can see Mt. Baldy and other peaks in the area that I have scaled and they bring back youthful exuberance as well as the counter youthful recklessness. There are memories from my early 20's that spring into my head and heart, shit that I thought I dealt with that now seems to be coming to terms with me, and I on its terms. "Free Dirt' is a state of mind, a philosophy, that gears you towards facing your insecurities, acceptance of your foibles. But at the same time it's fighting for who you are, for what you believe in, especially against all who try to quell that self. So, at times I am in this section reflecting on events and mistakes not only accepting them but trying to grow and learn from them. As I walk through time and the trail, I realize now that there are black splotches, clods of mud if you will, that aren't free. Some dirt within me is still not free. But I believe we work on that for our whole lives. The point is to keep working at it: free your dirt. 


A pleasant surprise of the hike has been Mission Creek Canyon. I was totally surprised by what I saw. It was a long slow plod up the canyon but when done at the right time of day it is really enjoyable. Ever since the long down hill of San Jacinto I have had a swollen, painful right lower shin. The Mission Creek day the pain climaxed and upon reaching the creek I immediately soaked my right foot into its cool clear waters. Eventually, when I climbed the canyon it was early evening and the pain subsided on the uphill trudge. The creek began to hypnotize me and my cadence was entranced amongst the rhythms of the water. I crossed the creek in the canyon a total of 25 times before bedding down, not before soaking my foot again.

I hiked from Big Bear to the Van Deusen trailhead and began the next sojourn. I have to tell you I was astonished by how much water there was around. Holcomb Creek was raging, which caused me to contemplate why some creeks are called creeks and rivers rivers. Holcomb was roaring and winder more than Whitewater River. I pondered drainages, divides and other dissections within what water flows and cuts, erodes. Then it brought to my deep conscious about how we as humans erode over time, we deal with things very stubbornly at first especially in our younger years, then learn to flow with the punches, letting the water cut it course through our dirt settling the sediments in further reaches from where we started; weathering down the area but growing in actual space.

Back in the woods, I was reminded of what has become so familiar to me: the bird whose song reminds me of a reggae tune, the soughing of the boughs and needles in the massive ponderosas with whistling wind, the smell of dust and burnt bark of pines as the late afternoon sun hits a wind-free mountain slope, you could see the haze floating up all around you, you could smell the hot dust envelope your senses and smother you; and the chickadee whose song out here reminds me of a waltz, different than the chickadee from Montana whose trill sounds like 'cheez-bur-ger.' I felt relief and at home and was amused by the notion of how one place you are so familiar with infests another physical place within your head and all around you are reminders that no matter where you are home is all around you. My curiosity was piqued by the ties or strains between what once was and what is is and my soul stirred whirling in the physical realm around me. I pondered how people use music while they hike when there is so much music around them. I don't figure out other people's dirt, so I don't know; we each have our own way to free dirt. I ambled forth.


I met a thru on the trail who told me why he wanted to do the PCT. He said while hiking in the Sierras he stumbled upon Vermillion Valley Resort. He saw how much they revered the thru's who hike the PCT. He said they treated them like gods and he wanted to be treated like a god. "Like vermillion gods of solid rock we shall be." "Then lets go be one."

Though my left shin hurt like holy hell, the rest of the Angeles Crest was more of an inner journey. Memories and past decisions of my younger years flung their way inside me upon every contour turn of the trail. Goddam I didn't realize how well I know this area. It's not that I stopped loving the area enough to forget it but I thought I despised the area enough to blur. The mountains out here represent L.A., they represent a part of my life in which poor decisions were made. The mountains were my escapism from everything but even then I could not accept the fact that something in this area could save me. My dirt back then was too far underground. So, when I trampled through the high country peaks, it all came back to me; I still knew. Visions within went to years past and emotions of the past. As I plodded up Blue Ridge and Baden I was astonished at how big some of the trees are, how amazing and windswept they are. Then I would reflect on the last time I was here, so many times, some 9 years ago and I don't remember the trees. I know they were there but I can't recall the cedars, white bark pine, the ponderosas, and the bristlecone. All I remember were that there were trees there, just a green blur. Plodding up Baden was growing up for me. I reflected that as a young man I dreamed of high peaks and distant hazy views. As I ascended now everything I yearned to know, not just dream. I wanted to know what stood right in front of my friggin' face.

When I ascended the east bald peak of Baden I shed a couple of salty tears. I was face to face with things I didn't like about my self. I looked towards L.A. and the high desert and was happy to know this is where I am from. I have hated that notion for a long time, being from there, and I have ran from it for years. But there I was observing it all, with years of memories, bad decisions, good times, regrets, and failings. I signed the register: "I moved from L.A. 5 years ago to be a Montanan. But at this moment, I feel goddam proud to be an Angelino. Free Dirt!"

I pondered my sense of place from then and now. I pondered how my dreaming as changed from fantasy to action, from wishing to doing; a man of my word. I asked myself "is sense of place 'home'?" I couldn't answer that yet. All I know, this place is special to me then and know. It has made me a dirtmonger. Maybe sense of place is coming to terms with the place, with your self...

After Baden, I summited every peak on the ridge line feeling strong and young again, feeling determined and a man of my word. I felt of the time I ran this section in 26 hours, some 100 miles. I thought of learning to trail run, far, then looked towards L.A. and thought of learning to hide things, stowing things away under a curtain of alcohol. Now I was stomping through that on this ridgeline. Maybe I have grown. And this place has grown with me.


The Sierra Pelonas may have been the most striking of the trek so far with stunning views of the Tehachapis as well. Each day the shin got stronger and the views grew more rewarding too. During one stretch of Liebre Mountain the clouds rolled in furiously being whipped by the wind and sank among the haunches of the mount. The trail weaved and lazily rolled near the top as the storm misted and occasionally dripped big drops on my head. The colors of the oak woodland were astounding and I felt in a fairy tale. The small lily-type grass and the massive oaks shone in early Spring form and late fall hues, all in one. I walked briskly and I streamed through the humid, cool damp forest. I felt refreshed and plowed below the clouds pushing them aside until I found a spot to camp. During my furrowing I walked over structures I had helped build while volunteering with the PCTA. I felt a part of the trail and all that was connected with the trail. I was more than just another footprint on the trail. My face was covered with the dirt of the trail; I had been scarred forever with the countenance of the crested hilly features which now resembled my face.


The feeling of thru's and the perception of the Sierras, including myself, seems to have changed. About a week ago people seemed to be really excited, then the past few days anxiety seem to set in, and the vibe at KM is more of an exciting buzz. People are getting through though it is challenging, wet, and covered in shit-tons of snow. So my plan is to leave Thursday the 16th along with a couple of others with similar hiking qualities and mash through the Sierras from KM to Mammoth. It is definitely daunting and challenging but the full experience of 12 days in the Sierras is too hard to pass. I feel strong and good emotionally and am stressing to myself to be patient, stick to my priorities, and hopefully make woods-savvy decisions. There are bailouts points if need be if it is beyond skill level.


Sierra Nevada:

My original plan was to hike all the way through to Mammoth, total Sierra experience, however that plan changed within 2 days. And thankfully it did. I had packed 24 lbs of food, including 55 ClifBars. Immediately I felt the affect of doubling my weight but got through it. One of my hiking partners struggled with new boots in the areas of blisters and such and decided to bail out at Horseshoe Meadows. This unfortunate incident for him was a new-found motivation in dumping off 15 lbs of food for him to ship to Independence. Because of his unfortunate feet I became a light hiker again. I cannot tell you how happy I am not carrying that meat locker through the slushy, high depths of Sierra snow.


We made the trek to HM in 2 days, dropped off Wet Sheep, then me and Sly plodded to Crabtree Meadow. The Sierras seemed abound with early spring snow and conditions felt like it. Overall, we are still averaging about 20miles a day but we are working extremely hard at it. Leaving CM our intent was to get to Forester Pass before noon. However, with condition we got to FP at 410pm then glissaded steeply down the cirques filled with heavy snow. That day, for me, felt more toilsome than any other day: 18.5 miles over sheets of snowfields only to summit the highest point on the PCT at 13,200. No matter how cold my feet were after the 4th and final raging creek crossing of that day nothing could take away the feeling of exuberation I felt of that day. That hard work was so utterly rewarding. I also want to add that we hooked up with Easy Strider, Jake, and Scouts and now have a five man team that seems to working pretty good. If I had things my way I would like all of us to cross the Sierras together.

My highlight of every day could be the extraordinary views and living such and adventuresome hike but I must tell you that route-finding I find challenging, fun, and mentally rewarding as in using my intelligence. I like finding our way for our team, at least trying until Easy takes over. I feel like a true frontiersmen. looking at the lay of the land and figuring out which way to go according to the contours of the land, meandering through the frozen forest just to see a glimpse of trail makes me feel independent and strong. Here's to more route-finding and finding your way.

 
We made it through, slugging through together. And I got to tell you that I wish everyday was like what I experienced in the Sierras. Embrace the challenge was the motto. It was like an adventure race and after this adventure I am thinking about getting involved in that realm. Before the Sierras I was fairly much a lone hiker but collaborated with a band of hikers with similar styles to get through. Sure I could have travelled the miles faster alone but to get through the Sierras in challenging conditions together was ever more rewarding. It was either Easy Strider or myself trailblazing the way, route-finding through massive snowfields and finding manageable ways across roaring creeks. We ended up averaging close to 20 miles in the tough conditions and I feel even stronger as we made it together. 


I relished the feeling of being in an expansive snowfield, blindingly white as the albedo reflected immense heat. I felt in a white hot desert; my eyes squinting so hard it made it tough to close my eyes to sleep. I kept on seeing snow and high granite peaks. I sit here now typing wanting and yearning to spend everyday of my life like each day I had in the Sierras. Was it tough? Sure, but not so much as people were rumored to say. In fact, I think the tougher the conditions could have been I would have liked it more. I'd wake up in the morning craving of high mountain passes, above tree line where life is incredibly veracious.



Pinchot Pass was probably the easiest pass to summit but then came the South Fork of the Kings River where we almost lost Scout. We came upon the river in late afternoon and the blasted waters were ferocious. I made it across with no problems, then Easy, Sly, and Daybreaker. I noticed Scout on the other side bank and began wondering why he kept on checking his watch. I realized he was shook from 5 minutes earlier of losing one trekking pole after nearly succumbing to the treacherous waters. So, Daybreaker went back across to retrieve Scout and all seemed well. Then within 6 feet of the bank something happened underneath and both went down. I had the rope ready immediately downstream but the lunged for shore. Daybreaker was secure while Scout clung to a rock looking in shock and looking like he was going to go under. He was completely soaked with the frigid snowmelt waters as he was grabbed and put on shore with the other trekking pole lost forever. My adrenaline was pumping and I whooped out a yell. What a friggin' rush! We marched on to find camp, the area utterly in snow. We found a bare rock to fit 3 people and called it a day. We could not dry off completely and we knew we were in for a cold, cold night. The next morning we awoke with frozen shoes which took us nearly 45 minutes to put them on. We got ready in as much of a hurry as we could considering the environment and plodded forth upward towards Mather Pass. Mather was the best pass to do because it scared the dickens out of most people. I felt real good up there looking like spider-man upon a snow wall with only my toes and trekking poles to hold me up above the 500 foot drop straight down. We all managed the cornice at the top, then took the steep icy slopes down into the Palisades. I was now in areas that I had been looking at on the map for years and to see it in front of my face drew a picture of a place that I longingly needed.


Each day we forded raging creeks, as many as 8 in some days. Mind you: all cold. But I could feel my body adapting to the conditions. Even though my feet were always wet with cold water or plunging in snow that that felt like a freezer I got used to it. My feet no longer felt cold. I hardened, both inside and out. I could feel my body burning working hard but burning calories slower. Before the Sierras a ClifBar would last an hour and a half but with me adapting to the conditions a ClifBar would last 3 hours. Maybe because I was so focused or maybe because I was getting stronger or maybe because I just didn't care. I want it all out there. All rush all the time yet incredibly simple and pure; the way we are supposed to live and be.

Muir Pass was my favorite. Climbing up frigid LeConte Canyon felt as if you were walking in a refrigerator. The sheer granite cliffs serrated like a saw shone with white refulgence I have never seen before. Then came the stone hut on top of the pass in which I immediately felt I want to build one when I get done. The walk down the pass turned into a trot as I felt like we were in Antarctica discovering the snowy high plain for the first time. I felt like a true pioneer and realized how anachronistic I may be. I should have been born many centuries ago leading groups across unknown areas, pioneering their way. I feel what I was born to do is to explore. Mashing down Muir Pass I was who I am; everyday should be that day. 


We then scaled down to Evolution Valley which even highlighted the day even more. Roaring falls after roaring falls, the cacophony of the waters inundated my head in which I felt incredibly weird when the din was gone, or missing from my head. Eerie.
Embrace the challenge...everyday.


The trail from Agnew's Meadows to Thousand Island Lake was snow free. We were all relieved and moved at a brisk pace. We neared Thousand Island Lake for camp and saw scattered all over the place in tattered trash bags camping gear and food. Turned out some boy scouts had to jettison their gear up there as they got caught in a blizzard. It seemed like a good decision to get out of a blizzard but to leave all their stuff? Huh? But, I wasn't up there at that time. I can foresee a huge bear problem in the area soon.

The rest of the trek to TM went smoothly and upon getting to the campground and the store everything seemed like a ghost town. All was closed so that left a hitch to the valley floor to hopefully get there in time as the P.O. was only opened for 2 hours on Saturday. It turned into another unforeseen zero day. It was nice to be at the valley floor, at first. The water from all the high country roared through down massive waterfalls. Then a headache set in as the towards roared up from low country. I was a little peeved at the way it was a theme park. I couldn't believe that tourists come to YNP to go swimming in a pool! There was museums on outdoor ethics but I found it hard to fathom it being taught there or understood there. Take 'em to the backcountry in a real life lab. I can't see someone finding self there in the valley floor in that auditorium with all the ruckus and cacophony. Go farther, that's what I say...

I took a bus back to TM with the nausea relieved from the throng ready for the next section without Scout (shin splints), Daybreaker (wedding in Delaware), Sly (a bit behind because of different itinerary), and Strider (needed more rest).



I found a group to start the section. I had heard so many rumor/horror stories about Return Creek that I figured to hitch along with a group to gauge the situation than decide to venture on or not alone. Water was everywhere! In fact I believe the cascading falls of the Tuolumne River is one of the most powerful things I have ever witnessed. The sheer brute force shook the massive granite boulders around me. I was awestruck. We crossed Glen Aulin Bridge and 2 members turned back not feeling comfortable with the conditions at hand.  As I crossed the ridgeline that entered Virginia Canyon and Return Creek the roar of the river consumed all thought and I felt my spirit swell up.

I forded McCabe Creek with ease, then Return seemed easier that McCabe. Return was just below my knees, swift, but manageable and not very threatening. I continued on together getting to Matterhorn Canyon which was strikingly beautiful. It seemed a shame that the most people in Yosemite Valley would not and could not witness the beauty of the canyon. Go farther, I say...

I crossed flooded Matterhorn Creek on a sketchy log with little tension and felt relieved and confident as I set up camp for the night in a green, green meadow in which the deer would not stop nibbling near the tents. That evening I felt the urge to move faster and harder, even with still some major crossings left ahead.

Awakening early I stormed out of camp, climbed a high snowy saddle and continued to do the same thing the rest of the day until I hit Kerrick Canyon. The canyon creek was roaring with thunder and belching with tenacity. Frankly, it was a little frightening, especially being later in the afternoon. However, I did not take off my backpack while scouting for a safe place to cross. I was fiercely determined to get across and was going to do so. Along with the others, we found a log crossing the creek, half submerged through the raging torrent that angled up 3 feet into another tree across the creek. I led the tightrope and everything went quiet, like what a MLB pitcher goes through when starting a World Series game. All was silent. And right before making it across I heard whoops and yelps of celebration. Then I exalted in a furious yell and the canyon echoed with our human, non-watery roar. All made it across. I forgot to mention Rhino finally caught up to me, so with the high we had we departed the others and headed for Stubblefield Creek.


Impasse; that's what we hit there at Stubblefield Creek. It was the most powerful creek I had seen on the trail so far; a savage puissance. The high that we had gone. Vanished quick like a frog in a pond ducking for cover. I did, however, notice 3 logs near where the trail crossed that were completely submerged but may be showing the next morning when the creek lowered. I went to sleep that night dreaming/visualizing for the competition. I knew we were going to beat it.

And sure enough, we scampered across the log and started moving fast. Rhino and I have a very similar pace, style, and tenacity. It has been working ever since, constantly pushing each other. We hit Falls Creek which seemed as wide as the Yellowstone River, flooded the plain all around with whitecaps speeding swiftly through the main channel. We had to cross, that's what the map said. So, we headed up the same bank we were on for about 1.5miles until we found a safe and reasonable enough spot to cross. I found one and though it looked a little deep it did not seem that deep, but at least we could see the bottom. So, we ventured into the sea of fast moving water. Immediately, I knew we were up for our biggest challenge yet, but it made me want it more. I felt like a sea captain staring into the eye of the storm knowing it was going to rock the ship, perhaps sink it, but knew it was not going to win. I had to stomp upstream to navigate around a huge submerged boulder. Come on feet, don't be mean! Slowly sidling across around the boulder I noticed Rhino going down and extended to him my trekking pole. He grabbed it and up-righted himself. I then realized that my height was helping me get through. The water was up to my lower chest, but to Rhino--neck level.

I continued sidling across the creek, angled into the force with determination. I began yelling at the creek-- "You ain't gettin' me today!" I was gone mad, laughing hysterically. This is where I want everything in life to be; I was loving it and wanted more. Then I noticed Rhino going down again, even farther than the last time, behind me. I extended the pole again. We were almost across but were in the deepest part. I planted my feet firmly in the sandy creek bed as well as my left arm with trekking pole. The right arm was overhead towing Rhino trying to pull him forward to upright him. He managed and we waded the rest of the way over. Safe and sound. We made it to a huge flat boulder and let our gear and clothes dry. I had been angling and leaning so far forward in the water that my pack did not even get wet.
Whew! We got our motor going and had a hard time stopping. We were so giddy with new conditions that we finished the section in 2 1/2 days even though there was still snow, route finding, and still snow.

This section, for me, has been the prettiest section of the trail. Spring was abound and hillsides were covered in brilliant lime-green shades spackled against a deep red and sometimes black volcanic rock. This all shown in a sea of sky blue sky with the sun reflecting the powerful strength of the whiteness of snow. I was enamored of the area and wanted to summit every bare, treeless red peak. I yearned to always be here on top of the world in a stark landscape that showed itself truthfully to all of us.

And for once in a long time the constant roar of raging creeks was absent. I longingly missed the noise as it became a part of my mental mindscape.



NorCal:

I took 2 full rest days in Tahoe on the Nevada side with Rhino and his family. After the rest I hiked solo to Sierra City as Rhino stayed an extra day with his parents. Within a couple days dirt appeared on trail. And lots of it! I pushed and pushed; my motor could not stop and it felt so good to be trampling down on trail begging for feet. So, instead of getting to Sierra City Saturday morning I made it on Friday evening. To my amazement, Rhino even managed to get to town that Friday night around 10pm after banging out 37 miles and 42 miles respectively.

The first day had only about 20% snow coverage which was basically pretty nothing to us as we have been dealing with snow for the past month. It did seem the snow recently melted. Red snow plant blossomed its un-chlorophyll self abundantly along the mountainside. Spring was abound with the scrub foliage bright with lime green. It was refreshing to be in stomping through trail through a fecund area. I felt more alive. Also, the trail for many miles had been recently maintained. So with the life inducing season of spring teeming with life and the fresh cut trail it made us mash up the miles with renewed energy. We straight dominated.


The section so far is in great condition trail-wise. Crews had been hard at work last fall from what I can gather from snowmelt and growth along the edges. The one snag on the trail has been down trees. It must be frustrating in the way of resources to send crews to do so much good trail work only to have to come back the next year to cut-and-run the downed trees. I mean, they are everywhere and are causing constant obstacles. These obstacles are proving to be fun in the way of reacting quickly while hiking fast. We saw a lot of avalanche slides in the Sierras, which were expected with the elevations. But I am surprised to see all the avalanche swaths in such lower elevations. Just total trail destruction! I am in awe of nature's fury and the weight of snow.

Drafting behind one another has proven to be a motivational tactic. One will draft behind the other, drifting off mentally, resting the head in cruise control. After some time, energy is stored up and coiled enough to snap. Then we release the beast and out blasted like a cannon Rhino or I begin to mash miles at a furious pace. The person who was in front who is now behind is motivated to keep up. Next thing we know, we have found, is 24 miles before 2:30pm. Hat Creek Rim was hotter than sin and towards the end of the rim I released Rhino and boom! he mash out 6 miles in 1 1/2 hours through water-sucking heat. I was forced to keep pace and kept stumbling towards our next water source. He was waiting in the shade guzzling water. I felt a bit of a rush because I realized the heat was getting to my head. Rhino put out such a fiery pace I had trouble keeping up. I would turn a corner and see a huge volcanic rock cairn which to me looked like a resting Rhino. I would get my hopes up in head thinking a brief shady respite was ahead but then I would clearly distinguish the rocks. Disappointed, I kept going however I was keenly aware of my hallucination; I was aware of my heat-trip looking at the inside of my head from a balcony perspective. So, when I saw Rhino at the water source I yelped with fervor. It was so cool to feel that hot and parched and be aware of bodily and mental changes as it happened. We took an hour break under giant oaks and fattened up off water to rejuvenate ourselves.

That stretch would've been difficult by oneself but having a partner helped alleviate mental stress. It's been a huge relief to have a partner with similar skill and drive, especially since the past 300 miles or so has been desolate as a lonely hell. I was concerned about our feet heating up on Hat Creek Rim but ours seemed to sustain our witch-tit leathery toughness through the scorching dirt floor. So with all this in mind and a re-supply of water we cruised into Burney Falls State Park after a furnace-like hell of a day and 36 miles. This section is done and we are moving more north.




...or now westward as we are turning an earthly left, south under Shasta, and heading towards Dunsmuir, then the Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps. The California Blues has not slapped us with her gloomy hand, we are not afflicted by her lengthy doom. I had heard of this northern gloom after hiking California for so long and the anxiety of getting to Oregon. It hasn't and will not happen to us. We have had time not to think about bluesy shit as we had so much focus to exert in the Sierras and other places. We really had no time to reflect on how we felt about a section because there was always more work ahead, the trail
always loomed even into the reaches of tender sleep. We have been setting small goals to keep us motivated and to keep us striving for things that can be accomplished which helps our mental psyche stay positive. We are constantly rewarded with these smaller goals knowing our larger goal is being accomplished.


Mt. Shasta is big, as big as the sky. As big as the sun, engulfing your whole summer's day. It is like driving among downtown L.A. skyscrapers: you know the tall buildings are there but you absentmindedly forget. You get used to the largeness. Mt. Shasta has massive girth and is such an anomaly that it shocks your system or your walking trance. The forest swallowed your focus at times in this section and enwrapped you in a spiral staircase. Weaving around and around, in and out of contours until you zoned out. Then in a brief opening Shasta appeared in all its splendor. It is like knowing Andre the Giant your whole life and forgetting how big he is. Then you go out for a meal and see people gawking like gargoyles at his sheer size and appetite and you remember: Andre is a Giant. 


We left Etna on a ride from an elderly man and hiked our way into the Marble Mountains. This craggy range of reflective colors in green, red, and black was visually appealing. At times it was hard to keep balance on the trail. I kept sidling off trail because of all the marvel on display. Man Eaten Lake was what the Sierras were supposed to look like without snow. It was strikingly beautiful and I was eaten alive by the stark contrast of precipitous cliffs and crystalline lake. What splendor! Then upon nearing Black Marble Mountain the rock reflected white like snow. Actually it had the reflective quality of a dusty pearl but brighter, the albedo similar to snow just not as intense. We thought we had to cross a giant snow field but we were fooled by the glimmering gritty rock as we weaved in and out of the melting rock sludging down hill.

 



Oregon (458m):


Upon the saddle of Devils Peak rhino pointed straight ahead to where Crater Lake should be. I didn't see a thing except for distant craggy peaks and trees. I told him I did not see a bowl out there. All the sights we have been told to take in have been high, up. The High Sierra, Mount Shasta among other mounts, Mather and other passes, this rock or that rock. Hell, even the Mojave Desert is the High Desert. So, I had a hard time fathoming something that was below us, or in the ground; I am always looking up. So when Rhino pointed the view of Crater Lake I said What friggin' bowl?! That stupid bowl turned out to be one of the most beautiful sights I have ever beheld.

I was stunned, shell-shocked. I felt everywhere at once: from the ocean to the high country, from the desert to the rain forests. The crystalline blue colors baffled me with the resemblance of a glacier mirror and the destruction of a raging, gouging river. The wind befuddled my mind and sent spindrift spitting from my dirty hair. The bowl was a wonderful kaleidoscope flitting before my eyes constantly changing that caused me to become entranced. The bowl was a giant magician hypnotizing the audience with optical illusions. He whipped up tricks to wow them. The crowd oohed and aahed over his spectacles. Crater Lake is such. Crater Bowl is the Giant Prestidigitator.
 

There are times on the trail where irony plays little games with your head. The trail can be tough. It is more of a mental game where it hits you the most. However, the absurdity of the moment brings such laughter as to hoarse your throat. It is all so random and so what-the-frig of a moment that you are glad you are alive. It brings excitement to life, it brings lust for life. For instance, when you have been hiking all goddam day in the same hot, drab forest and you come upon a beautiful spring. You run down the switchbacked mountain uncapping your water bottle ready to quench your thirst, hoping to horse-gulp 3 liters while you lay in the cool shade. You kneel down feeling the coolness envelope your skin and the cold water soothe your ears. Next thing you know the mosquitoes hit in full fury. So much so, you cannot even drink half of a liter. You have to retreat; it is too insane to be down here. Your long awaited respite is no longer and you are back on the trail with a full bottle of Deet on you after hightailing it from the beautiful spring.  


There have been countless false summits that raise hopes only to have them crash down. There have been certain snow fields you have traversed and only after you feel good about yourself you realize there is a swath of down trees lying across perfectly good dirt trail. But I found my 2 moments in this section that made me laugh the hardest.

There is a 29.5 mile waterless stretch from CLNP to Mt. Thielson Creek. You try hard to conserve your water though the urge is immense within your gullet. You lose strength both mentally and physically while you hike this stretch. Then the thought of impending water enters the brain and the urge to drink is even greater. You are even climbing up, up towards to the lofty reaches of Mt. Thielson expending more energy. You taste salt on you upper lip from sweat, your shirt is attained white. You notice snow as you climb higher but the snow is quite hard, too much effort to get any ice. Then on the map you notice how close you are to the creek. You start salivating. You are on your way to horse-gulping water and getting fat in your belly with liquid meat. You contour the hillside and enter the ravine. No noise. No noise of rushing water. What the fuck! enters your brain. As you near the drainage you understand why. An ice bridge obstructs your way to heaven and the crystal waters below. You found a way to get to the water underneath but you are now on shaky ground and, literally, thin ice. All this, right after a 29.5 mile waterless stretch. Garrumph!
 


The last one happened today as we were hurrying to Highway 58 to meet my cousin who was providing trail magic for us. We did 40 miles the day before to get closer to the goal so as to meet her earlier. We awoke in the chilly a.m. and started to mash, quite literally running up the trail. Weaving in and out of the contours of the trail, we were focused. Digging and mashing, digging and mashing. Even the mosquitoes and their heavy clouds could not hinder us; we were on our way to some magic. We kept pace with each other, route-finding through spotty snow but losing no momentum. At this rate we will be there in 4 hours. Mashing and digging, up in the Diamond Peak wilderness, we were digging and mashing. We encountered more snow and thought nothing of it. We were focused and were sailing on the wings of a turkey vulture using the thermals for momentum.

Then it all hit, all at once. Shit tons of snow. We thought the massive snowfield would be it, no more than that, say 2 miles. Wrong. It turned into 5 miles with route finding becoming difficult. And we were in a hurry. We wanted my cousins trail magic real bad.



I have not mentioned the Oregon Challenge until the last blog. The next couple entries will follow our mission to complete Oregon in 2 weeks. I decided not to mention it in detail till now because I was unsure if it would be possible with our half-day rest day at Odell Lake Resort near Willamette Pass. The previous 2 weeks we have been doing high miles strategically to train for the push at the end of Oregon. We are using this challenge as a motivating factor to challenge ourselves and to see what we are made of. The last week of the challenge the four credos running in my head were thus: 1). Keep workin' hard. 2). Embrace the challenge. 3). Stay safe. 4). See what we are made of, to show our true character. We needed to average over 35 miles the next 7 days. As the days went on and the miles became easier our mental focus became to torpid; we became sleepy. Then the mosquitoes struck like a whirling maelstrom. We hiked through clouds of the whirring flying insects while swatting them with our hands. We began to think that now we knew why people hike Oregon fast: 1). The mosquitoes are friggin' insane! 2). There ain't shit to see in Oregon when there is so much goddam forest! 3). The terrain is flat and forgiving on the body enabling us to mash miles.


The next day the mosquitoes drove us up early into a quick pace. We were cursing the flat, forested section. We wanted out of there, so we just plain mashed. Next thing we knew we were looking up at the South Sister in thunderstruck awe. We were elated to near timberline again. Then we hit snow. Not just minor snow but 6 miles worth. Luckily it was easy to navigate. The sun was hot and the snow was slushy and melting at an enormous rate. We sat for a half hour watching a creek over-flood its snow banks as it made its way down stream in the gully we just walked up through the snow. It was amazing to see how nature could put such a stranglehold on things then immediately release the clutch to quickly free the meadow unto summer. We were also stoked to be here as the mosquitoes suddenly vanished. We walked through volcanic rock fields in wonderment and finished the day mashing out 41 miles. 

After the youth camp we crossed Santiam Pass and Highway 20 and began the ascent up Three-Fingered Jack. As we climbed we could see the Sisters in the distance and we were surprised to see how much ground we covered, especially with Mt. Jefferson looming in the distance. We had traversed an immense slate of land and as we neared the high point of the trail on Jack we saw the next slate of land towards Mount Hood. The spectacular mount seemed so far away but now Jefferson was so, so close. 


The next day Jefferson was upon us with spectacular glory. I was in amazement as kept looking up at the Cascadian beast; it took my mind off my heel pain. Before we knew it, we were climbing up and down, a true roller coaster of a ride and we knew we were in for a grueling day. We wanted to hit Ollalie Lake Resort for dinner and a soda to spell relief for the day. But before we were within 10 miles of the resort we hit a high point in the Jefferson area. The high saddle had stunning views of the giant lily pads of mountains north of us. If we were giants we could hop from one to the other like we were boulder hopping across a glacial creek. We slid down the massive snowfield with a joyous ease and hit singletrack.

Under near-full moon we mashed out 49 miles to Timberline Lodge with Mt. Hood refulgent in earnest majesty. My pain in my arch was gone. I beat it to the ground and the next day it felt better.







Washington (503m):

We moved quickly through the first quarter of the state and I realized the Oregon Challenge prepared us for the mashing of Washington. We seemed to be moving faster in smaller amounts of time. We are averaging 35 miles a day in a tough state. Washington has scoliosis of the spine. It is like the x-ray of some really old person with a mangled backbone through years of work and overuse. The state zig-zagged its way up and down, this way and that over steep mountains. The mountains aren't incredibly tall either just friggin' really steep. In contrast Oregon had a svelte, long and straight spine with a flair at the south end of the state where the coccyx would be. Oregon seemed much younger than Washington. Either way we are mashing the miles.



Scott Williamson said it best: "I'd rather be hiking on a bad knee than being at work in the office. Whether moving at 10 miles a day or 40 it's just great to be out here." We found Bink on the side of trail in a position we never expected: sitting down having a backpack explosion. For those who don't know Scott Williamson, superhuman, is the Michael Jordan of through hiking and he is attempting to break his own speed record on the PCT in 65 days. He has his agenda literally pinned down to hours while we are more like half days. Crazy! He is doing at least 40 miles a day on a bad knee. One tough hombre.



We neared Goat Rocks after we blasted through the Mt. Adams area. Rhino is a force if you don't know already and when he is focused he mashed like no other. So, thankfully he was leading the Rhino charge up the final major climb in Goat Rocks when he made a gutsy although smart and right decision. He decided to go up and over the Goat Rocks in one push. At the pass I noticed the ominous gloomy clouds approaching and knew we were in for some weather. Not just any weather too. This would be Goat Rocks weather; nasty shit! So, when Rhino got that hair up his butt he scrambled across the glacier field and tip-toed his way across the knife-ridge where trail undulated like a seismograph. No ice axes or crampons, just our feet shaped like the hooves of mountain goats did we scramble across the beautiful, striking terrain. If there is one place to go in life to see and visit Goat Rock is it! I followed feeling ragged and hoping to beat the storm. We did and like I said the force of Rhino is a powerful one. We camped under rainy skies though on dry ground.




The views of Rainier were stunning. The hulking beast loomed over our shoulders like death to gloomy persons. We ridgeline walked most of the second day with the constant presence of Rainier looking down upon us. It was a tough day for us as well though are spirits were high. From Chinook Pass to Sourdough Gap I counted 23 people hiking up trail. It was like a parade for us thru-hikers: Rhino and Dirtmonger. The day hikers were shouting in glee at us for our near accomplishment. One lady even said she admired us. I cannot tell you how special that made me feel. They looked at us as if we were something more than what we are. I will never forget that. 

Our picture was taken at least 3 times that day lastly by one-in-a-million Not Phil's Dad who was holding the best trail magic ever. The magic was even more special because it was Rhino's 30th birthday and the day before I told him how cool it would be it there was trail magic on his birthday though we thought that to be a longshot, say, a million-to-one type odds. So, on our way in what seemed like the boondocks of Washington I began to bonk towards lunch. No matter how much I ate I couldn't get enough in me. I began to drift mentally and feel every ache, including my blasted heel and arch. I thought I told that arch who's who around here! But when bonking you feel everything. I stumbled down switchbacks nearing Tacoma Pass and while rounding one I found a birthday balloon dangling from a debarked stick. I thought how cool to find a birthday balloon on Rhino's birthday especially since we had not seen a balloon in about 1000 miles after seeing a ton in the Sierras. Then I floundered my way towards the other switchback, the lulling of trail putting me to sleep. I noticed a small sign on a decomposing log. Trail magic up ahead and I let out a whoop! We feasted on hot dogs, chili, plums, and soda. My spirits rose to new heights and I felt ready to tackle more trail. We ate and chatted for an hour and a half before, lo and behold, a vehicle strolls up with Bigfoot Jim and guests. I have not seen him since I58 near Tehachapi Pass. We swapped stories and they wished us good luck for the rest of the way north to Canada. That 2 hours is one of the special highlights for me of the trail. I will never forget people's generosity on this trail and I cannot wait to pay it forward.

I lied about getting to Steven's Pass late afternoon. I actually meant early afternoon; laugh spit roar. I keep under-estimating how many miles we will be doing per day due to terrain and other conditions. Honestly, I am not under-estimating on purpose. Well, I sort of use it as a motivational tactic, for me at least. But this time I really thought it would take a lot longer to finish this section than it did. But it didn't. I am at the Trail Angels Dinsmore's house and I still cannot believe it. I know what I am capable of mentally but my physical body is surprising me a little bit. Sometimes my experience with physical endurance, all my time in the mountains before this trail leading crews, long distance trail running, and peak bagging get in the way and I become a little conservative. That is funny too because you can ask anyone who knows me well enough that I am not friggin' conservative when it comes to anything.


This section of the trail was absolutely incredible. I did not expect the mountains in this area to be as rugged and weathered and strikingly violent. I was in awe looking up at the ragged peaks and azure glaciated lakes and tarns. I became enamored with the brutal climbs. I only wanted to go higher up. That is what is so marvelous about this section: it surprises you. On paper elevations only go up to 5000 or 6000 feet but you feel like you are in the Sierras looking at all the serrated ridges and pinnacles. It is like standing in a great white shark's mouth with its jaws about to clinch upon you at every turn. The shark's teeth were your bear trap locked around your ankle only your eyes were ensnared and pierced by the mountainous shark's teeth.


I am in a thoughtful mood, pensively regurgitating what's on my mind. Everything is not scenery, nor speed, nor how many miles. I found myself listening to the sounds of alpine mountains. The roaring of the creeks came back like an old friend from the Sierras and I instantly felt alive. I even got my feet wet fording a glaciated flooding creek. The I heard another roar and instantly looked up. I saw an airplane. A big one at that. Five minutes later another scream from 25000 feet above. Then another, and another. It dawned on me that we were near Seattle and the SeaTac Airport was in full swing. I felt more alive, connected again with the carousel of humanity. The world is bustling and I am crossing a raging creek. Just like it is always supposed to be.


We had heard this section north from Stevens Pass was tough and we were told no way would we do 35 miles a day in this terrain but we have been told a lot of things this year on the trail. Here's some of the mongering: Carry a gallon of water through SoCal. You need crampons on San Jacinto. There is too much snow on Baden-Powell. The Sierras are impassable- turn around, skip, you can't do it! The river crossings are perilous and stupid to try. The Sierra passes are uncrossable. There is no return from Return Creek. The Marbles are socked in. So is Oregon. So is Washington. You will never finish this year with all the snow. Hell I have been told a lot of things since my failed attempt in '07: You were not sick; you just quit. There is something wrong with you. You are a 'jobless wanderer.' You are a hobo just like your real father.


By the way, this section to Stehekin was absolutely incredible. So visually stimulating. The 2nd day, which we knew to be our toughest, we made it to Reds Pass. As we neared the top Glacier Peak appeared through heavy, swift-moving clouds. The clouds, reminiscent of a foggy shoreline in Oregon, parted enough for us to see the surly peak. 

The next 20 or so miles were tough. Up and down a thousand feet or more, then 500, the terrain uneven and trail overgrown due to some major flooding some 8 years back. The area is under so much erosion from snowmelt, avalanches, brutal weather, and raging creeks that no matter if the Forest Service was able to get back and maintain the trails it would not make a difference. The 3rd day was the toughest though. We slogged up 2500 feet in the early a.m. through horrid, thick brush as tall as my slender 6'5" frame. At the pass we were inundated with soggy clouds which immediately froze our feet.



We were in and out of Stehekin. On the trail by 12:30pm, we were still able to slog 20 miles by the time we settled in for camp at 7:30pm. We were pretty bushed from the previous section and the bakery goods that we decided to set camp early at Rainy Pass. The terrain became different. The elevation profile rose in the peaks above and the creek drainages lengthened and widened so as not to hold as much snow as the previous section. It seemed weird to me that the higher up we went the less snow we encountered but then I remembered the last section's mountains hovered within Glacier Peaks lofty realm which held nasty weather more. We were now ridge walking which has always been my favorite. I have relished to be above timberline and my temperament proved stasis in this emerald green environment. Soon this area became one of my favorite places on the trail.


At our Washington high point of around 7100 feet we took our final view of the lofty, cragged summits around us. Looking southward, I thought of all the miles we logged together and all the miles I put in since Mexico. Rhino and I have mashed over 1650 miles together, slept near each other every night on the same ground within the same campsite, spent our rest days together and we are still a solid team. We have worked well together, complimented each other's traits very well, and have motivated each other through what we individually lack and need in own self. We have been partners, compadres, but most importantly brothers.

He let me lead the way from Castle Pass heading downhill for 4.5 miles to the clear cut swath of an imaginary boundary, our finish line. I led swiftly while we both we eerily quiet with what I suspect to nervousness. It was like Christmas morning except the hallway from my bedroom as a kid to Santa's gifts under the tree was the trail. I kept in check my emotions using deep breathing tactics. Rhino and I almost tripped multiple times scrambling down the trail as we kept looking up expecting to see the monument at any moment. We hit the swath of the border. We stopped. We could see the swath climbing steeply up the green mountain on the western side of the drainage. We switchbacked down then suddenly the monument appeared. We stomped across the border! Then turned to see the monument. I kept my distance from the monument no believing it was real. We hooted and hollered and yelled loud enough to hear our echoing voice vibrate across the whole valley. I bet Mexico could hear us.







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