Backpacking on the PCT Day 2

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.

Comments are closed.