Monday, September 8, 2008

West Coast Trail

It started innocently enough. A group of us were sitting around a picnic table at the ADZPCTKO in Lake Morena, sharing hiking stories. I started describing my 2006 hike on the West Coast Trail, and the scenery and ruggedness got the attention of a few. Fortified by beer, 3 or 4 of my new friends expressed interest in a late summer WCT trek.

4 months later, there I was making a trip to the ferry to pick up Brian (Tomato) and Leila (Swifty). My fiancee, Rebecca, kindly offered to drive us all to the Bamfield trail head on Monday, Sept 1. We had a campsite reserved at the beautiful Pachena Bay Campground right by the trail head. After a dinner of campfire-roasted hot dogs and a quiet night by the beach, we said goodbye to Rebecca and Shadow and proceeded to the Parks Canada office for our orientation.

All hikers on the WCT are required to take the 1.5 hour orientation, which is offered 4 times daily. We diligently watched the PowerPoint presentation, grabbed our permits, and hit the trail at 10:45. When starting at the North end of the trail, the terrain is quite easy and the miles go by quickly. Our first stop on the way to Tsocowis (km17) was at the Pachena Lighthouse. The Lighthouse grounds are open for exploration, and panoramic views give a preview of the scenery to come. The guest book entries at the Lighthouse provided much hilarity, and started some running gags that lasted the duration of our trip. You really had to be there to appreciate them.

After a bit more inland hiking, we reach Michigan Creek and the beginning of beach walking. A sealion haulout rock provides ample entertainment for a lunch stop, and we're blown away by the size of these massive creatures. Swifty presented us with a list of wildlife she expects to see on the trail, and the first one is crossed off. Moving on, we explore the shipwrecks of the Michigan and Uzbekistan, as well as some nice rock shelves and tidal pools. The low tide enabled shelf-walking, often referred to as a hiker superhighway. Because we were making such good time, we walked right by our destination and didn't realize our mistake until we reached the impassible Valencia Bluffs. After my cohorts teased their "experienced" route planner, we realized the fortune of our mistake and explored some beautiful waterfalls and rock formations. A short backtrack took us back to Tsocowis and a soft, sandy campsite. The evening presented a stunning sunset and plenty of wood for a fire.

The next morning began with some forest walking, which on the WCT inevitably means mud. Lots of mud. Fortunately, there had been no rain for a couple of days, so the mud wasn't as bad as it can be. The three of us had very light packs, trail runners, and hiking poles, so we were able to hop over and navigate our way through the mud with little effort. Heavily-laden hikers coming the other way took a look at our relatively clean feet and assured us that the mud got much worse. We were offered advice such as "You haven't seen anything yet" and "Hope you brought your gators.. or a life jacket!". While well-meaning, their comments became more fodder for our trail banter, and the theme of inflatable flotation-device gators began.

Tomato and Swifty have extensive hiking resumes, both having done successful Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikes, among many other accomplishments. I had warned them that it was a different breed of hiker on the WCT, but I don't think I could have prepared them for the absurdity we witnessed. 80 lb. packs were commonplace, and we even saw several people with a pack on their front as well as the back. Although we all started heavy in our earlier hiking days, it was unbelievable that people would attempt a trail as rugged as the WCT without any research at all. "At least they're out there" we agreed, and kept our observations to ourselves.

I digress - back to the trail. At Trestle Creek we're rewarded with more beach walking, taking us to our first cable car crossing at Klanawa River. A group of fellows heading South demonstrated how to help each other across, and waited around to give us a hand. Having people on the cable car landing to pull the car across makes it much easier than pulling yourself when you're in the car. The pulleys were also in much better shape than my 2006 trip, so the crossing was fast and fun. A few more inland miles, along with some impressive ladders, took us to Tsusiat Falls for lunch. The tides and storms change this beach annually, and what in 2006 was a large freshwater pool at the base of the falls was now a tidal bay with steep banks. Swifty and I braved the cold water for a quick shower under the falls, while Tomato settled for the mist bath available nearby. The waterfall is astounding to watch, but the strutting alpha-males offered scenery we didn't come to see, so we packed up and headed back up the ladders to the trail.

Moving on through more inland mud, our next stop is to wait for the ferry at Nitnat Narrows. We chat with some fellow hikers here for half an hour until the ferry comes for the short trip across the narrows. On the South side we're offered beer and seafood, but decide to keep trekking. There is quite a crowd there, and we agree we'd rather be hiking. Right after the ferry dock is a swampy area, flooded several years ago by a beaver dam. The boardwalk is in rough shape, but we motor on through to the beach access at Cheewhat River. Some fun beachcombing with a few inland detours around surge channels brings us to Cribs Creek, our campsite for night two.

Cribs Creek is a large, picturesque beach and a popular camping spot. There's probably 40 people already camping there when we arrive, so we cross to the south side of the river which is currently unoccupied. After finding a small spot between the logs in which to cram our three tarptents, we count another 20-30 hikers come from both directions. Every available spot near us is occupied, but once the sun goes down a bit it doesn't feel so crowded. For some reason nobody decides to camp on the gently sloping beach at the far North end, where I camped in '06. Wood is scarce, but we scrounge up enough for a comfortable fire and enjoy an evening of stargazing and conversation. I suggested it would have been nice to have grabbed a few beers from the Nitnat ferry dock, but, alas, hindsight is 20/20.

Day three brings us an overcast morning, but a feature-filled day of hiking is ahead of us. After a beautiful beach walk to Carmanah Point, we head up the steps to explore Carmanah Lighthouse. A few photos and sights keep our interest, but the thought of breakfast at Chez Moniques keeps the visit brief. Soon we're heading down the ladder to the makeshift "restaurant" and its charming hostess, Monique. We all opt for the breakfast plate of eggs, potatoes, bacon (for some) and toast. Fresh cowboy coffee is served while we occupy a table with the best view for miles around. While we're waiting for our breakfasts, (actually second breakfasts, Tomato pointed out) Swifty notices an uninvited guest behind the restaurant. A black bear, muching on the salad bar, has decided to join us. I let one of the cooks know, and he chases it away. Another wildlife sighting is crossed off the rather demanding list given to me by Swifty.

After breakfast, a fantastic beach walk lies ahead. Our second cable car crossing, over Carmanah Creek, goes smoothly and leads us to Bonilla Point. Here we're treated to a large pod of Grey Whales surfacing and spouting not far from shore. We gawk for a while, then eventually have to keep moving. One more off the list. The next obstacle is Walbran Creek, which we're told isn't in flood so is crossable. When we arrive, it looks a bit higher than we feel like crossing so we take a side trail up to the cable car. From here, the trail moves inland to avoid the Adrenaline Creek surge channel, site of numerous injuries and evacuations in previous years. A mix of mud and slippery boardwalks is our price for the previous fun on the beach. When we get to Cullite Creek, we decide to check out the camping area. A short side trail heads down to Cullite Cove, with a few small tent spots crammed into the trees. There was nowhere we could set up three tarptents, and after discussing the option of rigging up a tarp and sleeping out, we opted to get back on the trail and stick to the original plan of Camper Creek.

video

And we were so glad we did. Camper Creek, while fairly busy, offered a less crowded option of camping on the peninsula reached by a quick river crossing. Tides can be an issue here, so we chose a high spot carefully and proceeded to set up. I had been having trouble getting a good pitch on my new Contrail, so Tomato helped me achieve my first perfect pitch. A small breeze helped us air out our damp gear, and we settled in for another fun night around the campfire. Wood was once again scarce, but Tomato's fire building skills outshone even his tent setup skills. Swifty shared some marshmallows procured at Chez Monique's, and I used the time to quiz my hiking friends about long distance hiking. I learned a lot from them this trip, and the reality of a PCT thru-hike in 2010 started to sink in.

We arose early on our fourth day, eager to explore Owen Point at low tide. A long beach shelf, followed by tidal caves, boulders, and even bigger boulders were the highlights of this day. I think anyone hiking the WCT owes it to themselves to consider this optional, difficult route as part of their itinerary. It is definitely the most rugged and dangerous part of the trail, but offers West Coast scenery at its finest. Much to Swifty's delight we saw a sea otter and a seal, and the list was quite complete. Tomato, an accomplished rock climber, bounced across the boulders and disappeared from sight. Swifty had a bit more trouble with the large boulders, but admirably kept a strong pace and we arrived at Thrasher Cove at lunch time. Our original itinerary had us spending the night at Thrasher, but the campsite is purely functional so we chose to keep going to the end.

Heading inland at Thrasher, the only option, reveals 5km of ladders and hill climbs. A straight line on the map, it's actually a considerable amount of switchbacks and altitude gains. The hiking is fairly easy though, and we get to the ferry with plenty of time. Some overloaded hikers we passed were going to have to rush for the last crossing at 4:30, as the camping options at the ferry beach are very limited. Once over Gordon River we take a short bus ride into Port Renfrew for a hot meal and a cold beer, and I call a surprised Rebecca requesting an early ride home. She's unable to make it, but luckily my mum steps up to the plate and zips out from Sooke to drive us home.

I'm really glad my new friends were able to join me on this trail, and hope they both take back the fondest of memories (and forget the bad ones). We've already begun discussing where we can hike next year, and I know we'll follow through and get together again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Walking in the Rain

With next week's West Coast Trail hike looming, I find myself thinking back to soggy shoulder-season hikes I've done in the past. September is a bit of a gamble in this part of the world - it could be warm and sunny, or it could rain heavily the entire time. Lately, the nights have been quite chilly, and in the last week we've had a mix of sun and very heavy rain.

With this in mind, I thought I'd share some things I do differently, or at least more carefully, when I know the weather is going to be rough.
  1. Take a couple of spare pack liners (I like the Glad Forceflex garbage bags) as these inevitably get torn. They're good for sitting on, putting under your mattress, a makeshift parka or tarp, collecting rainwater, all sorts of things.
  2. Lots of nourishing, warm, easy to prepare food. When you're cold and wet, nothing warms you up more than a hot meal.
  3. Label a set of clothes as "must stay dry". I usually make this my sleepwear (longjohns and a tshirt). They stay in a plastic bag until I'm in the tent and have as much mud off me as possible. Even if a bear eats your hiking clothes, wear the abovementioned garbage bag for hiking, and keep these clothes for when you're in your tent.
  4. Take care of your feet. You'll never be able to keep them dry on a trail like the West Coast Trail, but when you get to camp, take off your wet shoes and socks and dry off your feet. Even if you're going to be out in the rain, wear your sandals and let them air out. When you get into your tent, towel them off and change/remove any blister treatment.
  5. Wear a hat. I find a hood limits your field of vision and your hearing, both of which are important on the trail. A hat with a brim will keep water out of your eyes and prevent it from running down your neck.
  6. A small silnylon tarp is a luxury well worth the weight. Those who know me to weigh out the peanuts in my trailmix might be surprised, but having dinner under a tarp with your hiking friends makes the rain much more bearable. If you can get a fire going just outside the tarp you can almost forget the previous 10 hours of mudslogging.
  7. If you know you'll be spending long hours in the tent, some simple entertainment is nice. A book or mp3 player if you're by yourself, or cards, dice, and travel games are always good in a group.
  8. Only take what can get wet. Maybe skip the SLR this time and take a cheap or waterproof camera. No amount of bagging will keep away rainforest humidity, and if you don't take it out to use, what was the point of bringing it?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Vanishing Summer

Although I got a good amount of hiking in early this year, I've spent a lot of this nice weather working in my back yard on a new deck, patio, and pergola. But don't worry kids, I'll be on the West Coast Trail in less than a month!

Speaking of the WCT, for any of you thinking of tackling it this year, I thought I'd forward this note along:

I have a two-person permit for the West Coast Trail for park entry from Port Renfrew on Saturday August 23rd, 2008. Unfortunately I have broken my ankle and will not be able to make the trip. I am also no longer able to obtain a refund as I am within the 21 day cancellation window. I thought that you might be connected to a network of folks who may be interested in using my reservation as I know they are difficult to come by. My cost was $300 US, but I would consider any reasonable offer. Thank you for your time.

Nick Juhle

734.717.7294

I don't know this person and am not involved in the sale at all. I just know what it's like to be stuck with a reservation you can't use.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Success!

I got back yesterday evening from my two-day hike of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. I managed to hike the entire length in the short amount of time I had, and hiking solo was an interesting adventure.

I started out at the China Beach trailhead at 7:30 am on Saturday. The weather was cloudy but warm and dry, and the trail was in reasonably good shape. Signs warned of the trail closure due to the bridge out at Ivanhoe Creek, but I knew froma previous visit in March that there was a bypass trail. I actually didn't even need the bypass trail, as the water levels were low enough that a log over the creekbed proved enough. By 9:30 I was at Bear Beach where I stopped for second breakfast. I didn't see anybody at Mystic Beach, and only 2 small groups at Bear. One couple at Bear were turning around and heading home due to their 70lb packs. Ouch!

Not the most technically difficult, but definitely the most arduous section of the trail is between Bear Beach and Chin Beach. Roughly 10km of ups and downs take a toll on your legs, and I was feeling pretty worn out by the time I got to Chin. I stopped and had some lunch, but as it was only 1:30 I decided to press on to Sombrio Beach at km 27. I passed a few hikers from Chin on their way to Sombrio, but otherwise the trail was deserted. Being by myself in bear country, I was a little bit nervous, and did a lot of whistling and peering around corners. My hiking poles did double duty as noisemakers, clacking against rocks, tree trunks, and each other.

When I got to Sombrio I was still in pretty good shape, but my legs were ready to give out. I staggared a few more yards down the beach and plopped on the first level spot I came to. Shortly thereafter, one of the fellows from the site next to me came over to say hi, and invite me back to their site. After I relaxed for a while, I joined Stewart and his friends for an evening of wine, fresh mussels, and conversation. Stewart gave me his number so we could meet up to brew some beer, but I appear to have lost his card. If anyone sees it, let me know! The hospitality of this group was amazing, and I went to sleep well past hiker midnight (10:30) and zonked out immediately.

Sunday morning I woke up feeling pretty good, and not too stiff from my previous day's exertion. I lay in bed for a while, as I "only" had 20km of comparatively easy terrain to make today. As long as I was at Botanical Beach by 5:00, when Rebecca would meet me, I'd be fine. I packed up said goodbye to my new friends, and was on the trail around 9:00. Sombrio River was quite low, so I opted to wade through it rather than trek up to the suspension bridge. The sun was shining, so I wasn't too worried about wet feet. After a bit more beach walking, my spidey-sense was tingling. In a field of grey boulders, I saw one furry black boulder that looked out of place. Sure enough, a small bear was eating something, probably a dead seal. Luckily, the tide was out, so I was able to give him a wide berth. I had a chat with him on the way past, and we came to an understanding. I wouldn't eat his dead seal, and he wouldn't eat me. At one point I looked up and there was a bald eagle, a sea otter, and the bear all within my line of sight. I tried to take a picture of all three, but couldn't get the angle right. Rather than dwell on this, I figured it would be prudent to move past the bear and get on with my day.

The rest of the day proved to be quite uneventful. I kept up a good pace, with just a brief stop at Pyzant Creek for water. At around 2:30 I was nearing Botanical Beach, so I stopped at one of my favorite resting areas at Tom Baird Creek. I made myself a big lunch, and stretched out in the sun with my book for a couple of hours. At 4:30, I packed up and headed to Botanical to meet Rebecca and Shadow. I could tell they both wanted to go down to the beach, so I added another couple of miles to my trek and walked down to Botany Bay with them. After that, we went for dinner in Port Renfrew, then made our way home.

I'm glad I was able to meet my two goals: hiking alone, and completing the trail in two days. As for the former, hiking solo has its benefits, I got to get lost in my own thoughts, and not worry about anyone else's pace or fitness level. I did, however, find I was quite jumpy and nervous about bears, which I'm normally not around other people. As for the timeline, I don't know if I'd want to hike that distance regularly, but it was good to know my body is capeable of it, and I'm proud of my accomplishment. I still enjoyed all the scenery and solitude of the wilderness, but spent it hiking rather than sitting at a campsite. What's next.. maybe the West Coast Trail in three days? We'll see :)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, again

Tomorrow I'm planning to hike some/most/all of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail again. A couple of things make this different than my usual journeys on this trail: I'm trying to do as much of the trail as I can in two days, and I'm going by myself.

To hike the JDF in 2 days is a bit ambitious, and I'm not going to push to the point of carelessness, and will just hike as far and fast as I'm comfortable doing. I know the trail can be run in 8-10 hours, but that's not for me. The trail is 47km, and while normally this isn't an unreasonable distance to cover in two days (I've done 30km days on the Pacific Crest Trail and at Mt Assiniboine), the terrain is very hard on the body, and my knees have been giving me a bit of trouble lately.

So, I'm leaving my itinerary open, and will take it as it comes. Fortunately, there's not much rain the forecast, so that will help. Nothing slows you down more than mud and slippery boardwalks. I also have my base pack weight down to under 9 pounds, which is half the weight I previously tackled this trail with. Couple that with only 2 days' food instead of 3, a decent amount of training, and my stubborness, and I should be able to cover a lot of ground.

I've been wanting to try a solo hike for some time now. My future plans may involve a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2010, so I want to make sure I'm comfortable with the solitude now. The JDF is a well travelled trail, an hour rarely goes by where you don't see another hiker. I always bring a book on a hike, but this time I'm also going to bring an MP3 player. I don't like to load up on gadgets, but I did really enjoy music now and then on my last hike. And yes, the mp3 player is included in my 9 pound base weight :)

Check back for photos and trip report next week!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tell It On The Mountain

For a few years, the hiking community has been teased with the release of Tell It On The Mountain, a documentary/reality video about the Pacific Crest Trail.

The latest trailer is here, and for those familiar with the PCT it will definitely peak your interest!


Trailer - Tell it on the Mountain from TellitontheMountain on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Onion

One of the characters I met at ADZPCTKO is Garret Christensen, aka The Onion. When I hung out with him at the kick-off, he seemed quite normal (as normal as any of the other long-distance hikers, anyway...) and it wasn't until I got home until I realized just what this gentleman did in his free time.

Described by his sister as funny, and by himself as the "smartest person in the world," Garret is a mild-mannered (but not too humble) superhero disguised as a backpacker. When not hiking or studying economics, he runs. And boy does he run. 80 mile jaunts up Mt. Diablo, 24 hour ultra-marathons, you name it.

"Adventures in Onionism", The Onion's regularly-updated (more than this one) blog is a fun read, peppered with book reviews, political commentary, hiking potpourri, run reports, and random witticisms. I suggest adding it to your RSS feed!

Oh yeah, Garett was also the first person to Yo-Yo the Continental Divide Trail. Roughly 6,000 miles in one season. He mentioned that this 6 month hike was "good conditioning for ultra-marathons." Your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

ADZPCTKO

Following my Pacific Crest Trail section hike last week, I had the good fortune to attend the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off (ADZPCTKO, 'the kickoff', or just ADZ).

I didn't really have an idea what to expect. Sure, I'd read about the kickoff in trail journals, and Paul (Potential 178) told me how much fun he had at the '07 gathering, but it was still something of an enigma. In thru-hiking circles the kickoff is both praised and opposed to both ends of the spectrum. Proponents laud the camaraderie, education, and nostalgic benefits, while detractors complain of the 'herd' (too many hikers starting at once) and lack of solitude. In the end, the 'hike your own hike' mantra seems to prevail.

So, it's the Thursday before the kickoff weekend as Paul and I hike South into Lake Morena. Already there's so many tents scattered about it looked like an REI truck exploded. Of course, on closer inspection, most of the lightweight shelters wouldn't be found at REI, being a breed currently known only to thru-hikers and well educated backpackers. Silnylon, Tyvek, and even some Cuben Fibre tents prevailed.

We found the registration tent and received our name tags and camp site assignments. After setting up, we went up to the disappointingly provisioned 'Malt Shop' to get a snack. Fortunately, a local entrepreneur had set up his chuck wagon, 'Ray's Bitchen Kitchen', to augment the food supply. Ray had never met a vegetarian before, so I was happy to enlighten him on the ins and outs. I had a 'bitchen' plate of beans and corn with a warm tortilla and "seriously, no meat at all?".

Once we had settled in, I followed Paul around to meet some of his friends from previous hikes. I quickly took a liking to Squatch and Jester, as they shared my immature joy in bathroom humour. Squatch is a famous character on the PCT, being the producer of numerous movies about trail life. He also has an unfeasibly large fanny-pack which provided for hours of entertainment. Near our campsite we met up with a group we had run into back at Warner Springs, where we recycled some trail jokes and stories. Nitro, Tomato, The Onion, Heinz, Swifty, Ducky, Nano, Bearcant and I formed an entourage for the remainder of the weekend, staying up late by the fire and disturbing as many people as possible. This nucleus attracted many visitors, and we were regaled by stories of both the trail and real life.

I should make a side note about trail names here. Hikers come from all walks of life (pun intended) but mostly none of us were ever those cool frat guys with names like "Pinto" and "Flounder". In response, the concept of trail names was invented. The best trail names are given on the trail, by other hikers, usually inspired by an event or character trait. Some trail names stick for life, while others are only for that year's hike. Paul's trail name, 'Potential 178', is one of those names that comes with a fantastic story. Let me explain. No, there's not enough time. Let me summarize. Paul was given a hard time by US Customs last year, where it was deemed he may be a burden on the US economy, or a 'potential 178' in border-guard lingo.

Anyway, back to the kickoff. Besides sitting around in the shade drinking beer, there were other events and happenings. We saw slideshows from previous year's thru-hikers, a screening of one of Squatch's movies, gear contests, auctions, and informative seminars on trail conditions. The highlight of all these events had to be the ones involving trail legend Eric Ryback. Eric is famous in the hiking world for being the first to thru-hike the PCT, among other achievements. He has been detached from the hiking community (in fact, he didn't know there was such a thing), and it was only after some family members of his who hiked the trail last year that he got in touch with the ADZ planners.

The first presentation involving Ryback was a panel of 'old timers' giving their views on the trail from the 70's compared to now. A few of these were trail-hardened octogenarians who enjoyed berating us youngsters and our cel phones and MP3 players. The panel started to slip into a "you damn kids these days" speech, but then it was Eric's turn to talk. He was so positive, and excited about the trail community, that the whole auditorium gained a buzz of electricity. His now-famous comment was "I'm tempted to go and call my wife and tell her I won't be home for 5 months" (or words to that effect). Eric was astounded to discover the sense of community and fellowship among the hikers. He didn't lecture us on how hard he had it, instead he shared his excitement in the new gear and technology available. Not to dismiss the other panel members, some did have interesting comments and it was fascinating to hear about their adventures, but I couldn't help wanting to hear more from Eric Ryback.

Fortunately, there was more. Saturday evening presented us with a slide show and talk from Eric, featuring slides (yes, actual 35mm film positives, no Powerpoint!) from his 1970 hike. Equipped with jeans, a wood framed pack, and no sunglasses, Eric started in a snow-covered Washington and hiked south to the Mexican border. The crowd was very receptive, and nobody soured the mood with questions about the controversy involving his thru-hike (witnesses claim he hitchhiked around some of the areas. We all chose to not care. Hike your own hike.) The day also gave me the opportunity to explore the specialty gear makers' displays, and meet the people behind the gear. I chatted with Henry Shires (Tarptent) and got a preview of his new tent design. I'm ready to order when you are, Henry!

On Sunday, Swifty hiked down to the border (I really wanted to go, but my knee was acting up and I didn't want to do any more damage). Instead, the entourage piled into two cars to drive down to the border and meet her. We stopped for a gallon or two of ice cream before hitting the dusty road to the border fence. The border was an odd mixture of barbed wire, sheet metal, and sponsored placards from insecure Americans. I'm sure the scene of a bunch of dirty hikers posing for photos made the minutemen nervous, but they didn't interfere.

Other memorable times involved cooking burritos for 500. You've never cooked until you've cooked refried beans on a barbecue. The volunteer spirit was in full-force in the kitchen area, and there was never a shortage of volunteers. We also performed interventions, helping overpacked hikers lower their pack weights. The remainder of the time was usually spent hanging out with other hikers, while my evenings were spent with the entourage around the campfire. One evening was spent at 'the cabins' which is an area noisy hikers are encouraged to go to, to avoid disrupting people at the campground who need an early start the next morning. The party at the cabins was a riot, and, after a bit of night hiking, I got to bed at around 4:00am. Not typical hiker bedtime!

On Monday morning the air around the campground was quiet and solemn. The thru-hikers left for the next leg of their trip, and the rest of us packed up for home. It was sad to say goodbye to my new friends, and we promised to keep in touch. Hopefully, a group of them are going to visit me in Victoria late summer and hike the West Coast Trail. I'm already counting down the days!

For more photos check out Mad Monte's and Splash's photo pages.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pacific Crest Trail section hike (Warner to Morena Southbound)

For my first backpacking adventure of 2008, I joined my friend Paul (Potential 178) on a section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). For those not familiar with the PCT, it runs through the Western states, from Campo on the Mexican border to Manning Park in Canada. More information can be found on the Pacific Crest Trail Association web site.

Paul and I both were able to lower our base pack weights to well under 10 pounds, and were very excited about testing out our new found buoyancy. On April 17 I took a ferry to Vancouver, enjoyed dinner with a friend, then made my way to Paul's apartment. After a bit of last minute gear organizing and food packing, we had a short sleep before heading to the airport the next morning.

Not wanting to risk misdirected baggage (you wouldn't believe how often this happens to me) we opted to pay extra for a direct flight to San Diego. We arrived midday and proceeded to the tin-man statue to wait for two other hikers, and a ride from Pea "Girlscout" Hicks (more on trail names in a future post). After stopping for tacos, Girlscout took us back to his place where he generously has made space and amenities available to hikers. The plan was for Girlscout to drive some people to Campo in the morning, then come back and take Paul and I to Warner Springs in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we had a severe case of trail fever and couldn't wait, so we called up a cab. A very expensive cab. The driver and his co-pilot had no idea where they were going, and ended up going 20 miles out of the way. By this time it was nearly midnight, we were hungry and grumpy, and didn't argue the price. Much to Paul's dismay, I even gave them a small tip.

The next hiccup was on checking in to Warner Springs Ranch. The lady at the counter insisted that as it was after midnight on a Thursday, she had to charge us weekend rates. This obviously made no sense, but we didn't have much choice so she left a note to the manager to discuss it with us in the morning. Sure enough, as we're walking across the road to find breakfast, Maureen, the manager, comes running out to apologize for the error. Our spirits are lifted, and we enjoy a great breakfast at the golf course club house. Overall, I'm very impressed with Warner Springs, all of the staff went out of their way to make sure we enjoyed our stay, even the night-shift security guard was chatty and curious about our hike. Next time I definitely want to stay longer to enjoy all the serves the ranch has to offer.

Okay, so we're finally on the trail! Our destination for the day was a short 9 miles to Barrel Springs. Maureen had described a horse trail we could use to get to the PCT and avoid some road walking, which was a nice start to the day. Once on the PCT we followed CaƱada Verde Creek, gracefully lined with Oak trees, until emerging into chapparel covered hills and ranges. One of the famous landmarks on the PCT is Eagle Rock, an appropriately named mass of rocks that no hiker wielding a camera will ever bypass. Paul commented that it didn't look remarkably like an Eagle, but then we proceeded to the correct side and were properly impressed. We stopped here for a snack and plenty of photos. The land here is quite dry, but there are some seasonal creeks. We stop off at San Ysidro Creek to dip our feet, then hike the last few miles to Barrel Springs.

Setting up camp at Barrel Springs, we meet a few thru-hikers, including the infamous Warner Springs Monty. Monty is a character who helps maintain the water pipe at Barrel, among many other duties. He also is very involved in the annual kickoff party, ADZPCTKO (report to follow), and took the opportunity to drum up our interest in helping to prepare food at the kickoff. Our night at Barrel was otherwise uneventful, and we were serenaded to sleep by a chorus of frogs, crickets, and owls. And crazy drunk redneck women screaming at their cars at 3:00am. In the morning, I briefly chatted with a couple of turkey hunters heading up into the woods to catch something to put in their sandwiches.

From Barrel Springs we proceeded up into the hills, past Billy Goat's Cave, (Billy Goat is a well-known hiker who, rumour has it, was born in this cave. Or maybe he just took shelter here on a particularly hot day. Trail gossip is great.) The trail in this area wasn't overly spectacular, but still nice to be out and about. Small flowers attracted butterflies, and small prickly vegetation attracted my buttocks. Water promises to be scarce, so we tanked up with 3 litres of Barrel's finest. Midday we arrived at the Third Gate Water Cache, an oasis of bottled water for thirsty hikers. As the day wasn't too hot, and we still had a bit of water from Barrel, we just took a splash each. The cache is resupplied by trail angels (and hikers with spare time) via a 1 mile spur trail down to the road. We contemplated camping here and playing Gungadin, but it was still early in the day so instead opted for more miles. The databook promised a "sandy wash" ahead, so we saddled up and hit the trail again. The winds started to pick up, and by the time we got to the sandy wash, it was evident we'd need to find a sheltered spot to set up camp. The wash had a lot of flat ground to choose from, so we spent half an hour walking around, eventually settling on nice spots protected by shrubberies. The wind brought cooler evening temperatures, so it was early to bed to read, justifying the extra weight of the book I brought along (The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams).

The next landmark on the trail was Scissors Crossing, where the trail intersects a couple of highways. We must have been hungry when we got to the road crossing, as we took a wrong turn and headed a mile up the highway in the wrong direction. After a bit of frustration, we narrowly avoided fisticuffs by finding the correct trail 10 feet to the right of where we turned left. Shortly after the road crossing we found a small patch of shade we shared with a couple of thru-hikers and prepared some lunch. Spirits lifted, we walked another mile to the next water cache. The Scissors water cache is right by the road, so we felt a little better about filling up our supply as nobody had to hike the water in. A gaggle of section and thru hikers was gathered in the limited shade, and we enjoyed a few trail stories and a brief rest. A mile of flat, treeless land lead us to the looming hills ahead. We were told there wasn't too many flat spots after we crested the first batch of hills, so we agreed to look for a camp spot once we had made a few miles into the hills. We passed quite a few nice spots, but really weren't ready to make camp, so kept on hiking until just before the crest. A little worried that we had passed all the good spots, we agreed to stop at the next reasonable area. It turned out to be a very nice spot with a view of the valley below, and the trail from the previous day's hiking back into the hills.

Although we each had a bit of trail damage to our feet, we woke up in otherwise good spirits and health, eager for a solid day of hiking. Plenty of ups and downs today, punctuated by flowering cactus, panoramic views, and wind. Our first rest was at the Rodriguez Spur fire tank, the biggest bucket of water around. Just below the fire tank was a spigot where we could fill up with water and rest in the shade. We heard a voice from up at the tank, and upon investigation met Eric, one of the only two people to yo-yo (hike the trail both directions in one year) the PCT. A humble and friendly chap, Eric remembered Potential from the trail last year and was happy to answer our gear-related questions I'm sure he'd been asked countless times before. With a base pack weight of under 5 pounds, Eric's spartan gear list made our previously ultralight packs fall into the shameful category of just plain lightweight. From the fire tank, we almost took another wrong turn up the spur road, but quickly realized there were no footprints or other clues of the trail. A gate with a PCT sticker on it revealed the correct path, and we quickly moved on. Just around the corner we spotted a hiker perched in a field of yellow flowers who was excited to hear that he was just a few hundred feet from the fire tank. Shortly thereafter we started up a steep hill climb where we ran into Ridgewalker and Lynn, the other hikers who shared Girlscout's ride from the airport with us. Once reaching the summit, we hunkered down in a nice shady spot for a long lunch and rest. Rejuvenated, we decided to push on to the Sunrise Trailhead, which offered clean outhouses with a nice.. umm "backdraft." From Sunrise we kept on going, eventually hitting Kwaaymii Point, a fantastic stretch of abandoned road perched on the edge of a massive cliff face. Popular for hang gliding, the rock-strewn ledge had several memorials to fallen hang gliding enthusiasts. From Kwaaymii, we proceeded to the Pioneer Mail trailhead, a picnic area with outhouses and a water tank. The water tank was polluted with dead rats, but luckily a local Samaritan had provided jugs of fresh water for the hikers, which we shared with the 15 or so others camped in the picnic area. Dusk arrived quickly, so we tucked into bed shortly after Paul tried to warn some night-hikers about the dangerous water. They stormed past, upset that Paul's flashlight was ruining their night vision.

After a cold night at Pioneer Mail, we quickly packed up camp in eager anticipation of our first town stop at Mt. Laguna. The miles flew by, and before we knew it we could see the radar station that marked the outskirts of Mt. Laguna. A little bit of road walking, and the glowing beacon of the Mt. Laguna Lodge general store. The store is a hiker's paradise, offering such delicacies as microwave burritos, ice cream sandwiches, beer, and plenty of packaged food for a resupply. The brothers who run it are helpful and very hiker friendly, always happy to sit on the deck and hear some trail news. The deck at Laguna is a part of hiker lore, and almost every hiker has a story that starts with "so we were sitting on the deck at Laguna..." We booked a cabin for the night, loaded up on burritos, and plunked down for about 4 hours on the deck with some other hikers. Russ, a former gold miner, regaled us with tales of stripping the land bare. Pheeew, after a few hours of unsuccessful hitchhiking in the sun, demonstrated gravity's awesome power by falling off the deck and breaking her ankle in two places. (I'm told she's had it splinted and is resuming her thru-hike. Look forward to her book!). This prompted a visit from the local emergency services crew, who were very helpful and professional. Later on, a group of hikers showed up who will end up playing a major roll in my enjoyment of the kickoff, and hopefully will be hiking with me on the West Coast Trail this Fall. The evening was punctuated with some horrible television and good beer in our cabin.

Although we enjoyed our 20 miler the previous day, we were in no rush to get to the end of our hike, so we broke up the trip to Morena by stopping at Cibbets Flat campground. Cibbets was a picturesque spot by a creek, with clean outhouses and private camp spots. As it is about half a mile off the trail, we didn't see any other hikers for the night. In the morning, we had our last on-trail breakfast and began the final leg of our journey.

On the way to Lake Morena and the kickoff, we stopped at Boulder Oaks campground where some trail angels were handing out Gatorade and sandwiches. We were fine for supplies, but couldn't pass up an ice cold drink. The last of our food was consumed under the shade of an oak tree, then the lure of the Lake Morena Malt Shop's famous fries beckoned us onwards. The miles went quickly, interrupted only by the occasional rattlesnake. When we arrived at Lake Morena, there must have already been 100 tents set up for the kickoff party, even though it didn't begin until the next day. We found our assigned spots and set up camp, then headed up to the store. To our bitter disappointment, the shopkeep informed us that he wasn't going to open up the deli for another month, thereby denying over 500 ADZ attendees and countless more hikers the chance of a cold milkshake or tasty french fries. The store had a pathetic selection of food, mostly just potato chips and beef jerky. Fortunately, it had beer and ice cream sandwiches, so all was not lost. Fortified with San Diego's Red Trolley Ale, we headed back to the campground to settle in for 4 days of fun at the ADZPCTKO, which I will review in a few days.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

In which the remainder of my overtime pay gets spent

Although I'd love to take an SLR with a range of lenses, flash, filters, and tripod, it wouldn't really work with my style of hiking. Aside from the weight and bulk, if I have to spend 10 minutes setting up a photo, I probably won't bother to stop. On the other hand, if I have a camera in my pocket ready to go, I'll probably end up with a decent amount of good quality photos.

With the decision made to bring a small and portable, rather than large professional quality camera, there's still a number of other options - but the largest one is probably film vs. digital.
Film cameras, although becoming obsolete for anyone other than a traditionalist or specialist, do offer some benefits over digital. Weight, price, and durability to name three. A moderate quality, feature sparse film camera can be had for under $50, weighs a couple of ounces, and can survive most punishment you throw at it. A lot of them don't need batteries unless you want to use the flash, offering further weight savings (not to mention 6 months on a thru-hike without having to recharge). On the downside, you have to buy film, carry plenty of it, and pay to have it developed.

Digital cameras are generally heavier than film cameras, there's no getting around that. Up until now, I usually carried a Kodak EasyShare DX4900, at nearly 10 oz. including battery, memory card, and wrist strap. Although I've had excellent results, often comparable to pictures taken with much higher end cameras, I had to keep it in a padded case, waterproof bag, and be extremely careful around sand and wet areas. It is also fairly bulky, and feels uncomfortable in a pocket. The advantages of a digital camera, including holding hundreds of photos, still made it worth it to me over a film camera.

Last week, I decided it was time to replace the aging Kodak with something more suited to the outdoors. I did quite a lot of research online, and narrowed it down to either the Olympus Stylus 850 SW or the Pentax Optio W30. Both cameras came in at roughly the same price, and had a pretty similar feature set. Both are water and dust proof, lightweight (around 5 oz inclusive), and small enough to fit in a pocket.

I went into my local camera store and asked the clerk to help me narrow down my selection to one camera. He suggested that the Olympus had one major advantage: it was shock proof as well as waterproof. Knowing how rough I can be on gear in the outdoors, this sounded like a great feature. I paid the man, came home, and crossed another 5 oz. off my gear list!
In two weeks I head off for a section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, so I'll be sure to post some photos and a review of the camera when I return.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spring Gear Splurge

Last year, I finished the season with a respectable base weight of around 16 pounds. While discussing our upcoming Pacific Crest Trail section hike, I proudly mentioned this to Paul. "Wow," he said, "that's a pretty heavy base weight." Ouch, there goes my ego!
I've recently worked a lot of overtime, so I have a bit of extra spending money. Well, I did, until 15 minutes after Paul's comment. I've ordered a new pack (Mountain Laurel Super Prophet), water bladder (Platypus Big Zip 1.8L), mattress (Gossamer Gear NightLight), Wind Jacket (GoLite Ether), and a few other bits & pieces. I've also tweaked some of my existing gear, including streamlining my first aid kit, repackaging hygiene items, and eliminating items unnecessary for the specific locale.

The verdict? My base weight is under 10 pounds! I've posted a spreadsheet, please feel free to take a look and offer any suggestions. I plan to review all of the new gear, and detail the optimization steps to get to this weight.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Crunch time

In an effort to compensate for a winter of sloth-like activity, I've started an exercise schedule to help me get back into shape. Using a Google Apps spreadsheet, I'll keep track of my daily mileage and fitness routine. It's a bit geeky trying to use a spreadsheet to get in shape, but I find having a visual aid helps me stay on track. Shadow, my training partner, is really enjoying this new fitness routine as well. She's getting at least 6 or 7 kilometers of walking/hiking/running a day, rain or shine. She doesn't much care for the spreadsheet though.

The other geeky thing I've added to my fitness routine is my GPS. Not exactly a necessary item, but I really like knowing how far I've hiked, what my average speed was, as well as learning to use the darned thing. I don't know if it will join me on any backpacking adventures, but at 5 oz it isn't too unreasonable to bring on some trips. If there's any interest, I'll write up a review and usage guide for it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Out of Hibernation

I'd like to start by apologizing for my shockingly long absence from posting. I could give you the usual excuses about being busy and all that, but really it's because the dog ate my homework.
Anyhow, spring is here on the West Coast, and my desire to get back out on the trails is in full bloom.

So far I have two hikes confirmed to tell you about. First, I'll be joining my friend Paul (Potential 178) on a week-long Pacific Crest Trail adventure in late April. We'll be flying down to San Diego, hiking a section of the trail southbound, and finishing up in time to participate in the ADZPCTKO. Paul has hiked the southern section of the PCT twice now, so I look forward to learning from his experience.

My second confirmed hike will also be on the PCT, but this time with my brother, Nathan. In August, we'll be tackling a section in Southern Oregon, around the Crater Lake area. I've vacationed in Crater Lake, but I'm very excited about getting onto the trails in the surrounding area.

I really need to get in shape quickly, as it's only 6 weeks until I'm on the trail. I have a layer of winter fat to shed, some gear to update, food to prepare, and itineraries to plan. I'll keep you up to date with my progress!