Archive for August, 2010

Backpacking on the PCT Day Three

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

We woke up at 6am and were immediately set upon by swarms of mosquitos. Packed up and were almost running out of Salvation Spring camp site. The mosquitos didn’t clear out for another couple miles. Looking at the map, that stretch of trail was at slightly lower elevation between Lost Lake and Bull Run Lake, which was clearly a mosquito breeding ground like no other. Funny thing was, despite the sheer numbers, I received very few bites; only a couple around my face and ankles. Apparently, they were very picky.

After four miles or so, we reached a side trail to Buck’s peak. The PCT skirts the peak, but it marked the start of the Waucoma ridge, a long, very dusty and sun exposed stretch of a couple miles.

Buck Peak

The Waucoma ridge also quickly earned the nickname “The Star Trek V” ridge, because at this point we entered into a long discussion of the relative merits of Star Trek V (almost none) and also had to review the plot for Dan, who apparently only remembers the camping portion at the beginning, Kirk and Spock locked in the brig, and the camping trip at the end. While that would have been a much better movie, I felt compelled to fill in the detail. I also had to explain that Kirk did not tell anyone Spock’s ears got caught in a mechanical rice picker in Star Trek IV (that happened in “The City on the Edge of Forever”, great episode).

And yes, I am clearly a massive nerd.

All too soon, we began descending off the ridge and arrived at Indian Springs camp site. Initial impression wasn’t good — large sunny field with a lot of trash, but it turned out there were several smaller, much nicer campsites. Sites even had a picnic table. We had done ten miles by Indian Springs and it was only lunch time. Jeff and I still had some miles in the tank, but Dan’s knee and feet were causing him a lot of pain, so we decided to stop for the day.

It can be surprising hard to fill hours in a camp site. Took a nap, then spent some time looking at the maps to determine the best route for tomorrow. Jeff’s original plan had been to follow the Indian Springs trail down into Eagle Creek, mine had been to follow the PCT around Wautum Lake. My route was longer, but was a gentler descent while Jeff’s was looked pretty steep. After some discussion, mostly around the relative states of our knees and what a steep descent would do, we chose the easier, Wahtum Lake, route.

Then it was dinner time! Jeff and I cooked up some Chicken Italian while Dan had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Dan also recorded some video for our new show, “Trail Chefs” or “Trail Cooks” or something like that. After, Dan built a fire for his new show, “SurvivorDan”. Not yet on youtube, but I’ll add the clips once I’ve uploaded them.

At the time, that all seemed really cool…oh well.

Jeff and Dan hung the food bags while I gathered more water for the next day. We decided to forgo the tarp again and sacked out cowboy style around the fire. Far better when there aren’t swarms of mosquitos trying to suck your blood…

Backpacking on the PCT Day 2

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Day Two of our PCT Trek started at 9am. I had slept reasonably well, which isn’t always a guarantee for me. Had a gourmet breakfast of granola, dried fruit, and powdered milk. Got packed up and were on the trail by 10am. First challenge, crossing the mighty Sandy River, which we accomplished with our normal aplomb.

After that, we had a long stretch of “AT” style hiking; lots of uphill with no switchbacks. The overall elevation gain wasn’t that bad, but it was tougher than the day before. Only other issue was with the water filter. For this trip, I was using a 4 liter platy bag with Aqua Mira purification tablets in combination with the Aqua Mira Frontier Pro water filter. I’ve used this set up before and it had worked well in the past. Basically, I just fill the water bag, drop in tablets, wait thirty minutes, and then use the water filter in gravity mode to fill the water bottles. Simple, no pumping, and the combination of purification tablets and a 3 micron filter work well for catching small and big bugs. At lunch, I tried filtering some very silty water that wrecked havoc with the filter. Water throughput dropped drastically and had to spend lots of time trying to get the water through it. Managed to get the four liters filtered and kept moving. Important to note that the filter isn’t necessary; I could have just let the water sit after putting in the tablets for the full four hours, but using the filter lets me speed up the process slightly (30 minutes is long enough to kill the little stuff and the filter gets the big stuff).

After we got back up on the ridge after crossing the Sandy, we came to a fork in the trail where the official PCT and the Ramona Falls trail split. We took the Ramona Falls trail (listed in the guidebook as more scenic) and weren’t disappointed.

Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls was pretty impressive. After ten minutes admiring the view, we continued on, climbing another thousand feet or so, up and onto Yocum Ridge. Next cool sight? Crossing a bridge high above the Muddy River.

Then it was more “AT” style hiking up to and around the summit of Bald Mountain. Dan and I argued about his “seeing blue through trees means we’re close to the summit” theory; in my opinion, all that could possibly tell you is where a local maximum is, but he’s convinced. The fact that he’s said that on many trips without us being close to any summits hasn’t made any difference…

We reached Lolo Pass, around 4:30 pm. We were looking for a camp site, but the “site” at Lolo pass (right off a dirt service road) was pretty trashed. Plus, not a fan of camping near roads. We continued through the pass, which was basically a stretch of tall grass between two ridges, when Dan pointed and said, “Look, a deer!”. A second later, about thirty yards away, leaped something definitely not a deer; a couger took off out of the long grass and ran up the hill into the woods. The whole encounter was over in seconds. This was also the largest animal I’d seen on any of our backpacking trips and easily the most dangerous (although, the rattlesnakes are right up there).

We took a few minutes to reflect on the beauty of nature and to review both how cool and how frightening it was that we were about to go into the same woods into which the cougar had vanished. We then continued into the woods and after a few minutes came to our next water source. As we were eating and filling up the water bag, I mentioned that I bet we’d find cougar tracks in the mud around the stream; there were vague tracks that could have been cougar, but they were indistinct. There was a small spot down hill from the stream where we could have camped, but the area was very buggy (black flies) and the site itself was slanted and small. Also, a cougar had just come through…

At this point, the water filter had pretty much given up. We hiked another mile (to get away from the flies) and sat down to try to get water through the filter. Around this time, a trail runner came up from the South (where we’d been) heading North (where we were going). After calling it quits with the filter, we managed to get another three liters through it, but that was it. We started moving again and after thirty minutes ran into the same trail runner heading back South. He warned us that in another mile, the terrain changed and the mosquitos were insane — told us to break out our sleeves if we had them. We thanked him for the info, but didn’t pay too much attention; we hadn’t seen more than one mosquito the entire trip so far and we were well supplied with bug spray (especially Jeff). We were singing a different song when we hiked another mile, though.

I’ve never seen mosquito swarms like I saw on that stretch of trail. It was like a switch was flipped. We were literally wiping mosquitos off our arms and legs; dozens, if not hundreds, were landing on every part of exposed skin. I put on my wind jacket and pulled up the hood to protect myself. Jeff and Dan covered themselves with bug spray, to no effect. By that point, we’d already done about 13 or 14 miles and were hiking as fast as we could, trying to get out of the mosquito zone. After another mile or so, we were still being attacked and we were running out of steam. About the same time, we reached “Salvation Spring” camp site. I went down to check it out and it looked pretty good, although lacking on the “Spring” part; the water source was just a trickle. We got down there and lit up a big smokey fire, which still didn’t keep the mosquitos away. We were all so beat we didn’t bother with the tarp or a hot dinner, or even hanging the food bags; we just spread our sleeping pads around the fire and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The mosquitos finally “died” down around 9pm — as Jeff put it, that meant they dropped from one hundred mosquitos to about eighteen mosquitos for each of us to deal with. It took me a while to get to sleep, since there was one mosquito who just loved to fly around my ear.

Some lessons from this day’s hiking:

1) Mosquito head nets are a good idea
2) Prefilter silty water (stupid me, I knew this and didn’t do it, but did for the rest of the trip)
3) Probably should have brought either a second water filter or bought a fresh one for this trip anyway.

Backpacking on the PCT Day Zero and One

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Several months ago, I started planning a trip to Oregon with Jeff and Dan. Jeff had moved out there several years ago and neither Dan nor myself had been out to visit. Also, since Jeff has missed all the backpacking adventures Dan and I have gone on, it made sense to also make it a Backpacking Adventure — a trip for Guys, with Guys.

And so, the Great PCT Adventure was hatched. I mapped out Section 11 of the Oregon portion of the PCT — Mt Hood to the Eagle Creek trail head at the Oregon/Washington border. Not entirely PCT, Eagle Creek was supposed to be more scenic than the PCT. I made food, Jeff bought his first set of backpacking gear, flight reservations were made, and life was good.

Life continued to be good the day Dan and I went to the airport. We got a nice, early start and took public transportation the entire way (Metronorth to Grand Central, walk to Penn, LIRR to Jamaica station, Air Train to JFK). We got to JFK and a nice Delta employee helped check us in. That same Delta employee then informed us that even though our seats had been “confirmed”, we would actually be sitting in totally different seats, each at one end of the plane. Apparently, in the year 2010, Orbitz and Delta can’t figure out how to make sure confirmed seats are actually confirmed. Pretty amazing.

Anyway, I considered it a minor annoyance. We get through security without too much trouble (despite Dan’s best efforts) and find ourselves with hours to spare. Maybe our start was a little too early. Dan and I retreat to a bar and spend an hour or so talking to various passengers and a pilot. That hour was probably the most enjoyable one we would have for the next 20 hours or so. After we’ve quenched our thirst, we head towards our gate only to discover our flight has been delayed an hour. Since we only had an hour to catch our connection in Seattle, that’s a problem.

After a six hour flight that felt far longer, we finally get to Seattle. Of course, we got there far too late to actually make our connection. We get on standby for the next flight to Portland and don’t make the cut. Next flight — 6:30 am the following morning. We call Jeff to fill him in and go off in search of food and shelter for the night.

Turns out, sleeping in airports is only fun on television or in the movies. I ended up sacking out on the floor while Dan tried curling up in one of the seats. Neither of us slept much and were up in plenty of time for our flight.

The flight to Portland was fairly uneventful and quick. Jeff was pulling in about ten minutes after we arrived. By 8am we were at Jeff’s place, packing and sorting our gear. By 10am we were leaving for Mt Hood and the Timberline Lodge. This had been the original starting point until about three weeks before the trip when Jeff scouted the area and discovered it was covered by several feet of snow. We had decided on an alternate trail (Paradise Park) as our starting point, but we still wanted to see the Timberline Lodge. When we got there, we discovered that all that snow was gone and the trail was mostly clear, except for some large drifts of old frozen snow. We decided to leave from our original start point and by 12 we were heading North.

Also, just a note — there’s a Park Ranger at Timberline who was nice enough to tell us that the entire trail was completely closed. While I’m sure she was telling us that because, let’s face it, we look like the Three Stooges most days and she didn’t feel like having to rescue us from some ravine, it was pretty obvious that the trail was clear and that tons of people were using it.

Snow on the Timberline Trail

The Timberline Trail on the first day mostly stayed level, traveling around Mt Hood on a ridge line. Every so often, the trail would dip in the a ravine, usually with a stream or river flowing through it, and then back up onto the ridge.

View from the ridgeline

Stream in ZigZag canyon

About an hour before we reached the Sandy river, we ran into another hiker coming from the North. He gave us some beta — apparently there were some logs across the Sandy that only reached about 2/3 of the way across the river. We’d need to jump the rest. Around this time, Jeff found an unwitting companion — a hiking stick he planned on using to help him cross the Sandy. We got to the Sandy around 6pm or so after hiking roughly ten miles. Jeff scouted the crossing while Dan and I cooled our heels (literally, the water was freezing, being glacial melt). The Sandy crossing looked rougher than we felt like doing, particularly given the time of day and the distance already covered. Luckily, there were plenty of nice campsites along the river and we made camp for the night, complete with a camp fire. For dinner, Dan had Cheesy Tuna and Ramen, while Jeff and I had Cranberry Chicken and Rice. That turned out to be a tactical error — I didn’t have my hiker appetite yet and it ended up being too much food. However, my cook kit (complete with Unican alcohol stove) performed flawlessly).

The Sandy River

After dinner we hung the food bags and sat around the camp fire for another hour or two before retreating to bed.