What To Wear 

In an earlier post I covered all the gear i’ll be using on the PCT, now it’s time to talk clothing.  One question you may have is how much clothing I’ll bring with me and the answer is only what is necessary.  This means that I’ll be wearing the same thing for most of my time on the PCT, washing it periodically and only replacing items as the wear out.  Here are the basics.

Columbia Thistletown Park T-Shirt – Basic T-shirt that is advertised to wick away moisture. I’ll probably swap  this with a Merino wool shirt. Merino wool is great in both cool and warm weather, wicks moisture away, is quick drying and resists odor.

Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants – My go-to hiking pants as they are light, wick away moisture, offer sun protection and easily convert into shorts.  Although I found that they can restrict movement in some situations so I may switch it up and go with a pair of shorts that allow for better movement.

Darn Tough Hiker 1/4 Socks – Merino wool socks! Really durable, comfortable and odor resisitant, what more do you need?

Altra Lone Peak 3.5 Shoes – Obviously footwear is very important. These are arguably the best through-hiking shoes. They are light with natural foot positioning, gaiter attachment points, drainage holes and are quick drying.  I definitely go through a few pair of these.

Two Beers Hat – I need something to wear on my head and Two Beers is awesome.

So that is what i’ll be wearing most of the time, but since the the PCT crosses through almost every type of climate I’ll need to switch it up a bit as conditions change. The first thing I need to be prepared for is the desert, where sun protection is of the utmost importance. While in the desert I’ll swap out my t-shirt for a white long sleeve shirt, which provides SPF 50 protection, and swap out my hat for a big dumb floppy sun hat. I’ll also have my pair of Julbo MonteBianco Sunglasses. Another item i’m considering is a pair of light weight gloves to protect my hands from sun exposure, I’ve heard of hikers getting pretty nasty sunburns on the top of their hands when using trekking poles in the desert.

When I get into colder climates I’ll start layering up with my favorite material for outdoor activities, Merino wool! I have a pair of Icebreaker Lightweight Leggings and a Icebreaker Lightweight Hoodie (Which I would link to but apparently it’s no longer available), and an Icebreaker  Sierra Beanie. These do a great job of keeping me warm in cold weather while i’m moving but for the times it gets really cold or i’m relaxing after a day of hiking I also have the Mountain Hardware Ghostwhisper Down Hooded Jacket, which is super light, really warm and packs down nice and small.  Other items that will keep me warm are a Merino Wool Buff for my neck and face and Mammut wool gloves.

The final thing I need to be prepared for is something I’ve been dealing with my entire life… rain. For the rain I have the Outdoor Research Helium HD Jacket, which packs into it’s own pocket. I considered getting the matching pair of rain paints but since i’ll most likely be wearing my convertible pants as shorts, I would rather avoid the extra weight and just dry my legs off when needed.  I have come to terms with the fact that no matter how hard I try to avoid it I will end up being wet.

Speaking of getting wet I also have a pair of Xero Z-Trail Sandals for water crossings and for at camp. Like the Altra Lone Peaks they have natural foot positioning and I’ve heard that some people will actually hike in these, I may end up being one of those people if they are awesome as they sound.  Also, when it comes to feet, I have a pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters to keep debris from finding its way into my shoes and a super comfy pair of heavyweight wool socks to wear after a long day of hiking.

The last thing I need to figure out is what i’m going to wear when I need to wash everything at a laundromat when I stop in a town…..

All The Gear, All Lined Up

When I fist started looking at gear for my PCT adventure I planned to carefully weigh my options for each item I would be bringing with me, by not only reading reviews but physically inspecting and testing items out before making my final decision. You may remember earlier posts about backpacks and tents, where I outlined different option sand attributes with the intent to dive deeper to each option. Well, that didn’t happen. After discovering the wealth of detailed reviews and ranked lists of backpacking gear I just started buying things, here is what I ended up with.

For my backpack I ended up with the ULA Circuit.  I didn’t necessarily chose this backpack, it just so happened that my brother had one that he never used and was willing to part with for $100 (Thanks, brother!).  I love how it carries and the way the hip belt moves with you while you’re hiking.

For a tent I ended up with the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2. It was at the top of many lists and while I could have gone with something lighter (and more expensive), I felt better getting something I believe to be more durable and sturdy, call it my security blanket.  It’s super easy to set up and nice and roomy. I also picked up the footprint for it too. However, while the extra space of a 2 person tent is nice I’m wondering if I should switch to the 1 person version for the PCT.  I wonder if my decision was a subliminal one.

After considering going with a sleeping quilt I decided to go with a sleeping bag, the weight difference wasn’t substantial enough for me to risk having drafts of cold air attack me while sleeping. I landed on the REI Co-op Magma 10 and apparently so did a lot of other people because it wasn’t easy to track down, all the REI locations were sold out when I went to buy it. The first time I tried to buy it I had made a special trip to Portland to avoid sales tax , the second time I had a 40% off coupon for the REI friends and family sale. However, third time’s a charm; Cristina and I went to some outdoor event only to find REI was handing out 35% off coupons and had it back in stock!  The sleeping bag itself was well worth the wait and effort, it’s not named “Magma” for nothing.  I also picked up a silk sleeping bag liner to help keep it clean, I can only imagine how filthy i’m going get.

For a sleeping pad I went all out and picked up the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xtherm Max. I didn’t realize how important sleeping pads until I started looking into my sleep setup. With a down sleeping bag it’s the trapped air that is keeping you warm, when you’re laying on the down it is compressed causing it not to provide insulation from underneath, so a good sleeping pad will provide the insulation your sleeping bag doesn’t.  This one is nice and comfy but it does make crinkly noises when you move around it, a small price to pay for warmth.

My last major gear purchase was a new camera, the Sony A6000! I had already accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be bringing my heavy DSLR and was planning on just using my phone for photos. However, I just couldn’t do that, I need (heavy emphasis on the word “need”) an actual camera for my hike. I considered a compact point and shoot but was concerned about the lack of zoom, so I went the mirrorless route instead. Having a digital display viewfinder takes some getting used to but I’m amazed by the pictures it takes. While it barely fits in the hip pocket of my backpack I’m happy I decided to get it.

In addition to the major items here is the rest of the gear i’m taking with me.  I’ll cover clothing in another post.

  • BearVault BV500 – Extra big ass bear can! While i’m not overly concerned about bears a bear canister is required in sections of the PCT.  This thing is huge, I have yet to figure out how i’m going to carry it with me.  It does double as a seat, so I have that going for me.
  • Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe – Another item I will only need for parts of the PCT but this one is a little more important, as I learned when learning how to keep myself from sliding off a mountain in the snow. I could have gone with a lighter version but if i’m going to need it I want to make sure it’s not going to fail.
  • Leki Corklite Treking Poles – A friend of mine pretty much demanded that I get Leki poles when I started hiking seriously and I’m glad I listened. I’ve put a lot of miles on them and they’ve held up great.
  • Kahtoola MicroSpikes – Added traction for the icy bits of the trail, makes it super easy to not slip and fall on your butt.
  • MSR Titan Kettle – Since I’m planning on dehydrating a majority of my food in ziploc freezer bags (easy clean up) I really just need something to boil water in, this will be more than sufficient. It can also double as a coffee mug.
  • MSR Pocket Rocket 2 –  While I currently have another canister stove I’ve decided to pick up the Pocket Rocket 2 as it’s lighter and probably a bit more reliable than a no-name brand.  I don’t have it yet, I will soon!
  • Long Handle Spoon – With the plan to eat most of my meals out ziploc freezer bags having a spoon with a long handle will keep my hands clean. So while you think my spoon might be too big, it’s not, but this guys is.
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – Yep, it’s a phone.  The same phone I have with me every day. However, more importantly, it functions as a GPS and there are some great PCT apps out there, some of which I mention in my PCT Resources post.
  • Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter – This water filter and I are going to be best friends. I’ve used a Sawyer Squeeze on my backpacking trips and while it takes a little work it gets the job done. Not to mention it fits perfectly on top of a smartwater bottle, which my backpack is designed for.
  • Generic First Aid Kit – I’d link to it but i’m not sure what brand it is. I’ll probably switch it out with a more compact single use kit.
  • Huntsman II Swiss Army Knife –  It took me a while to find a pocket knife that had scissors, a can opener, bottle opener, saw and tweezers.  This one has me covered.
  • The Deuce Of Spades –  Super lightweight, just a tad over half an ounce, shovel for digging holes. I mean how could I not buy it with a name like that?
  • Generic USB Battery Pack – The one I have now is nothing that special, i’ll probably upgrade it soon. Not only can I use it to charge my GPS (phone), it can also charge my camera as well!
  • Klymit Pillow X – Tiny little inflatable pillow. I’ll probably end up using my puffy jacket as a pillow most nights.
  • Petzl Tikkina Headlamp – Cristina had an extra so I adopted it as my very own, the one I had wasn’t very bright. Might look into upgrading it to something even brighter! (not pictured)
  • Sunto A-10 Compass – A compass that works great!  However, I should probably upgrade to one that I can adjust the declamation on.
  • Other Stuff – A lighter, tooth brush, tooth paste, dr. bonner’s soap and a camp towel.

While this is a lot of stuff it does fit in my backpack with room for my clothing and food, both of which I’ll cover in a future post.  Wait, I feel like i’m forgetting something….. that always happens to me when I’m packing for a big trip.

Backpacking is in tents

Picking out a tent you’re going to spend months living in isn’t a decision one should take lightly, especially when you’ll be facing a plethora of weather conditions and having to set up and tear down your tent almost every day.  Finding the right balance between weight, function and durability can be a difficult one.  There are some really lightweight tents out there but I find myself questioning how well they will hold up on the trail, the last thing you want is for your tent to fail when your days away from civilization in a massive storm.  While I currently have a hand me down 2 person North Face Tent which does the job, is a bit bulky and heavier than I’d like. Plus it’s a bit old, so I don’t know if I trust it.

I considered making weight my top priority, looking at tarps and bivys ,but decided an actual tent would provide me with an extra bit of comfort and sanity that I’ll need while out on the trail. As I started my search  for a new tent my only prerequisites were that it be a 2 person tent and weighs under 3 lbs. While I am in fact only one person I like the idea of  having the extra room a 2 person tent offers, allowing me to either protect my backpack from the elements and critters by keeping it inside the tent, or have enough room for Cristina when she joins up with me to hike some sections.  Here are the tents I’ve taken into consideration:

 

MSR Carbon Reflex 2  

Nice and light weighing in at 1 lb 13 oz with  zipper free vestibules and dual doors.  It also has a “Fast & Light” configuration where you combine the rain fly with a footprint, cutting 6 ounces of weight when conditions don’t call for a full tent setup. This was my first pick when I began looking for a new tent but the negative comments about the rain fly, comparing it to saran wrap, made me reconsider. There were other comments stating that the materials were prone to punctures and tears, which doesn’t sound like a fun thing to have to deal with. Another point that I realized is that I needed to take into consideration is that the Carbon Reflex 2 is a non-free standing tent, like the North Face tent I currently have. The idea of having a tent that can be completely freestanding is appealing because finding the right area to steak out your tent can be difficult, especially if the ground is hard.  The Carbon Reflex 2 retails for $499.95, which I would gladly pay if I wasn’t so worried about the durability.

MSR FreeLite 2 

Another light MSR tent, heavier than the Carbon Reflex at 2 lbs 7 oz but still well under 3 lbs, and freestanding!! Awesome! Like the Carbon Reflex it has dual doors and a “Fast & Light” configuration which reduces the weight by 7 ounces. I was ready to order (and it was actually ordered by accident) until I  read a review stating that when the rain fly was added the ceiling was lowered by by 4 inches and the walls bowed. Being tall I need all the room I can get, so that was an immediate red flag. Also, it’s not really freestanding! with only one point of contact on one side it needs to be staked down as well. The Freelite 2 is a bit cheaper than the Carbon Reflex at $439.95 but the alleged space issue and my added criteria of a freestanding tent kept me from going through with the purchase.

Mountain Hardware Ghost UL 2 

This tent looks amazing on paper.  2 lbs 9oz , freestanding and 2 person! Unlike the MSR tents the Ghost UL  only has one door, which in itself isn’t a deal breaker. However, I once again lost interest when I read the reviews and saw comments about the tent being fragile. One reviewer stated that the material ripped when it brushed against a rock. Another reviewer called out the fact that the rain fly sags and design flaws which makes it hard to get in and out of. The Ghost UL is priced at $449, the same as the MSR FreeLite 2, but the potential for frustration seems high with this one.

 

Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2

When Cristina and I went to the PCT class at REI a few months ago the presenters mentioned the popularity of Big Agnes and after taking a closer look I can see why.  The Copper Spur HV UL is freestanding, has 2 doors, and a maximum height of 40 inches!  At 2 lbs 12 oz it’s the heaviest out of the tents I’ve considered but a little extra weight can go a long way.  It has a “4-way high volume hub design” for added strength and some magical “Proprietary random rip-stop pattern nylon” which makes it extremely durable. It also has some nice pockets for keeping things organized. The price is inline with the other tents I considered at $449.95 and at this point is my choice. Let’s see if that remains the case when I go to buy it this weekend.

There are a number of other great 2 person tents which weigh in over my self imposed 3 lb limit, such as the Nemo Dagger 2P and the REI Co-Op Quarter Dome 2 , both of which are cheaper than those above. If you’re looking for a lightweight tent for backpacking I’d take a look at those in particular.

PCT Resources

I am finally moving past drooling over new backpacking gear and starting to dig into the actual planning of my trip on the Pacific Crest Trail.  There are a lot of things to take into account such has how much you can hike in the day, resupplying, rest days  and making sure you know where you’re going.  Luckily there are a lot of resources out there to help you plan your trip and help you while you’re out on the trail.  While I still haven’t read that book I mentioned in my first post I have found a lot useful sites online, here are a few of my favorites:

Pacific Crest Trail Association – The obvious place to start, the groups that preserves and promotes the PCT,.. and issues your permit. Tons of information about the trail, it’s history an the volunteers that support it.  Throw a few bucks their way if you can.

Halfmile’s PCT Maps – The name says it all, maps. Not just any maps but  the most current and accurate PCT maps available. They have maps that you can print (which would take a ton of  paper), GPS downloads, apps for Android and iOS, and  my favorite, a Google Earth map (really, take the time to load it up and check it out, it’s pretty awesome).

Craig’s PCT Planner – A really cool tool that lets you plan out your hike section by section. By just picking your start date, entering your pace and set the hours you want to hike in a day it will generate an itinerary for your journey. It accounts for increased travel time due to elevation gain and allows you to insert rest days into your schedule.

LighterPack –  A nice little tool that lets you track what you will carry with you and manage weight.  It also allows to share your list with others, once I get my list a little more flushed out I’ll be sure to post it here.

Yogi’s PCT Handbook – Not exactly an online resource but still very important. Yogi’s handbook is probably the only PCT planning book you’ll need. It includes tons of tips and advice from people that have hiked the PCT as was  information about the trail itself and the towns it passes through.

PCT Class of 2018 Facebook Group – A great way to connect with others planning on hiking the PCT in 2018, ask questions and help others.

I’m sure there are many more great resources out there that I’ve yet to come across, I’ll be sure to update this post when I find them. I’ll also be adding a dedicated list of resources to the sidebar in the near future.

What condition my condition is in

When hiking on the PCT people generally shoot for hiking, on average between 15 to 20 miles a day. When I first heard this I didn’t think much of it because that’s 15 to 20 miles in an entire day, whereas I generally do around 8 miles in half a day.  That was until I pushed myself last year and did over 20 in one day, those extra miles really made a big difference.  Not to mention that was last year when I was hiking a lot more than I have been in recent months (I blame the snow for that). I clearly need to figure out how i’m going to be able to hit my stride and get ready for months of hiking.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to physically preparing for the PCT.  The first is the obvious one, exercise like crazy, work out and do everything you can to get in shape so you’re ready to hit the ground running.  The second is pretty much the exact opposite of that, don’t train at all and let your body adjust on the trail. While it’s very tempting to go with option number two I’d rather spare myself the extra mental and physical stress on the trail.  Someone once said if you can’t do 20 miles in a day now, there is no way you will be able to do 20 miles in a day on the PCT.

So, what’s the best way to get in shape for a 2,650 mile hike?  Strap on your backpack full of gear and go hike, a lot. What are affectionately known as conditioning hikes. For some, like those that live where it’s completely flat, this might be a little tricky, luckily I live within a short drive to some pretty awesome and challenging hikes.  However, my choice in awesome challenging hikes has been somewhat limited due to the amount of snow in the mountains. Yes, I’ll have to deal with snow on the PCT but i’m not ready to go there just yet.  However, there is one hike in particular that is easy to get to, challenging and snow free and that is Mt. Si.

My first memory of Mt. Si was as a child, my family would make regular trips toeastern Washington to visit family a few times a year and I would always seem to find myself  staring up at Mt. Si in amazement as we drove by North Bend.  The mountains further east are much taller and awe inspiring but there was something about how
Mt. Si. sat by itself that drew my attention. I remember on one trip my mom mentioned that people would hike to the top and it kinda blew my mind.  However, despite fond childhood memories, accessibility, and a challenge I have a bit a love hate relationship with Mt. Si.  Well, not so much the mountain as some of the people that hike there.  Being so close to Seattle the trail has continuously gotten more and more popular over the years. The parking lot at the trailhead is huge yet it will still fill up and cars. On a recent trip I actually noticed that one of the local residents has a sign out advertising trail parking for $10, and it’s probably over a mile from the trailhead.  While i’m all for people getting outside and hiking you should always follow some basic trail etiquette.  It doesn’t bother me so much when people don’t know when to yield or don’t respond when you say hello, but I do have a problem with people that do things like throw their trash into the forest,  or blast music out of portable speakers.  So while I enjoy hiking Mt. Si it’s not always an enjoyable experience, but it’s become my go to hike and there is a great view from the top.


Luckily this year hasn’t been so bad (yet), this could be due in part that I always try to start hikes early in the morning, usually arriving at the trailhead before 7am ready to hike.  What’s new this year, as I get ready for the PCT, is that i’m hiking with a 35lb backpack and timing myself.  The Mt. Si trail is a little over 8 miles long with 3,150 feet of gain, not exactly a walk in the park, most people in decent shape make it to the top in 2 hours.  The first time I hiked Mt. Si this year was with a hiking group from work, I was not prepared for their pace.  They were all in excellent shape and were hiking light, meanwhile I was carrying a full pack and trying to overcome my winter of gluttony and laziness.  While I was able to keep up with them for a little bit they eventually left me in the dust, luckily one of my co-workers was with me and we seemed to keep the same pace while pushing ourselves to not let them get to far ahead of us. We ended up making it to the top in 1 hour and 45 minutes, the rest of the hiking group seemed a bit surprised that we weren’t too far behind them when they passed us on their way down.

Since then I’ve hiked Mt. Si two more times in just a few weeks, once making it in 1 hour 34 minutes and then 1 hour and 29 minutes, with my goal of 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Not only is it a race to 1 hour 15 minutes, but it’s also a race between me and the return of undesirable hikers as well as the snow melting on some more enjoyable hikes.  When I finally move on to another go to conditioner I’ll still enjoy staring up at Mt. Si as I did when I was a child. However, this time it will be while i’m sitting in the Starbucks drive through in North Bend waiting to order some cold brew after completing some other hike.

 

 

Wilderness First Aid 

In my continuing effort to not die while out on the Pacific Crest Trail, or in general,  I recently attended a NOLS Wilderness First Aid class, which was hosted by REI, with my girlfriend Cristina. The class was two full days and covered everything from treating blisters to what to do when someone is struck by lightning.  Luckily this class was nearby and didn’t require a long drive to some shady place like my ice axe class.

One of first things we learned  is how to perform a patient assessment (PAS), which was full of of  lists and acronyms.  When performing a  patient assessment you first want to check the scene, identifying any hazards, determining the method of injury (MOI),  put on gloves to protect yourself from any bodily substances (BSI), determine the number of patients and the general state of the patient.  In an emergency situation it may be difficult to remember all this so the provided us with our first list, which rhymes! (who doesn’t love a rhyming lists?)

  • 1 – I’m number 1 – Check for hazards to make sure it’s safe to provide assistance
  • 2 – What happened to you? –  Try to determine what happened
  • 3 – Not on me – Be sure you have your gloves on
  • 4 – How many more – Look for additional patients
  • 5 – Dead or alive  – Don’t say this one loud enough for the patient to hear

Once you make it through the list, guess what comes next? That’s right, another list!  The next thing to check the patient for any life threats, after introducing yourself and gaining consent from the patient of course.

  • A – Airway – Check for anything blocking the airways
  • B – Breathing – Look and listen to asses breathing
  • C – Circulation –  Check for pulse and any bleeding
  • D – Disability – Stabilize neck and head if chance of a spinal injury
  • E – Expose – Expose any serious wounds

Unfortunately the next section isn’t part of a list let alone one that rhymes.  First, perform a head to toe exam using your hands (appropriate touching! hands slightly curved and thumbs up (Our instructors explained that none of our scenarios would include any injury to the genitals so we skipped that area, which was for the best.) Talk to the patient asking them if they feel any pain or discomfort as you as you perform your exam.  Ask them to squeeze your fingers, push  their feet against your hands and then pull their toes against your hands with their feet.  After your head toe exam take the patient’s vitals, noting the time they were taken including:

  • Level of Responsiveness (LOR) –  Awake and oriented (AO), Awake and disoriented (AD) or Unconscious (U)
  • Heart Rate (HR)  – Including rhythm and quality
  • Respiratory rate (RR)  – Including rhythm and quality
  • Skin color, temperature and moisture (SCTM) – Pink / Pale, Warm / Cold, Moist / Clammy

The final part of the PAS is the SAMPLE (Yay! another list!). After asking the patient what their chief complaint is and cause of injury / illness gather the following, asking clarifying questions as they answer :

  • S – Symptoms – How they’re feeling beyond their chief complaint.
  • A – Allergies – Food, medication, plants / animals
  • M – Medications – What they are currently taking and when they last took it, including supplements or performance enhancing / recreational drugs
  • P – Pertinent medical history – Medical conditions or recent illness / surgeries
  • L – Last intake / output – What did they last eat / drink and when.  When was the last time they went to the bathroom and if there was anything unusual (heh. poop.)
  • E – Events leading up to the injury / illness –  What happened? Did they fall, drink some untreated water, or get abducted by aliens?

If you want to see what a full PAS looks like here is a great video by NOLS. After completing the PAS you will provide treatment and make a decision around evacuation. Even if you don’t know what to do with this information it’s good to gather it if you’re in an emergency situation as it will be helpful when help arrives.

After we learned about how to perform a PAS we got to practice! We split up into groups where one group would play the patients and another would be the rescuers.  The instructors would provide the patients with a scenario and pertinent information, sometimes we even had fake wounds.  We covered falls, head  and spinal injuries, dehydration, shock, burns, infection, musculoskeletal injuries, dislocations, hypothermia, frost bite & non-freezing cold injuries, heat exhaustion and many more scenarios.

On the second day we moved into practicing treatment, mainly around musculoskeletal injuries. I was lucky enough to be the recipient of an arm sling  and an awesome improvised leg splint. I will admit, the main reason I volunteered to be the patient in this scenario was due to the fact that it involved laying down and the instructor looked pretty exhausted after demonstrating the improvised leg splint.  I did however practice taping up a sprained ankle, which is the most common injury in the backcountry.

In one of the last scenarios Cristina and I were both patients and  paired up as a couple. The scenario was that we just flown from Seattle to Denver, hopped into a car and drove up to Pike’s Peak, essentially going from sea level to 14,000 feet in a matter of hours and resulting in altitude sickness. I had walked around a rock to go pee and ended up tripping dislocating my knee.  Things got fun when the instructor told us that one of our symptoms was irritability and that we had to argue with each other.  Now, I wouldn’t characterize Cristina as an angry person, she is very outgoing, friendly and kind.  So, when she started yelling “This is all your fault, I didn’t even want to come on this dumb trip! I hate hiking!!” I couldn’t stop laughing even though I was supposed to be irritable myself, not to mention in extreme pain. I’d try to regain my composure and yell back, saying something like “This wouldn’t have happened if you would have just stopped at a gas station so I could go to the bathroom instead of having to go behind a stupid rock!”. We, and our rescuers, ended up laughing a lot during the scenario, so much so I didn’t even feel any pain from my dislocated knee.

I’m really glad I invested the time to go to the class, I feel much more prepared to help out if I come across an injured person and really glad that Cristina is trained as well so she can help me when I do something dumb like trip over a rock. I’d highly recommend the class if you spend a lot of time outdoors, check the classes at your local REI or NOLS if you’re interested.

Oh snow! 

One of the things I will most likely run into on the PCT next year is snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Since I have no idea what to do in snow other than, sled, build a snow man and throw snowballs, I jumped at the opportunity to take a free ice axe class from a complete stranger that simply posted about it in a PCT group on Facebook.

The class itself was at Hurricane Ridge out on the Olympic Peninsula, which is about 3 hours away.  Rather than wake up extra early to make drive while half awake I decided to drive out the night before and spend the night in Port Angeles. This seemed like a great idea at the time but after spending an hour there and grabbing something to eat I was mildly depressed and afraid of being stabbed.  A quick google search reveled that the crime index of Port Angeles is 3, with 100 being the safest 3 is also the percent of cities in the United States that Port Angeles is safer than. After learning that I decided to stay in my room and play video games.

In the morning I packed up and made my way to my car, ignoring the drug deal going down in the parking lot, and made my way to the Olympic National Park Visitor Center to meet up with everyone. When I arrived and met everyone Steve, who was teaching the class, pointed out the monitor showing a live view of Hurricane Ridge… it was pure white, luckily the road was open but the weather was  going to be challenging.   We piled into a couple cars and slowly made our way up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.  Everything was going smoothly until we saw a car coming down the road way too fast as it began to slide in front of us, everything seemed to move in slow motion as the car passed just inches in front of the car I was in before plowing into a snow bank.  A little shaken we got out made sure everyone in the car was OK and the car was quickly pushed out of the snow bank to continue down the mountain.  We made our up to the top, going even slower than before.

Hurricane Ridge lived up to it’s name being very windy with lots of blowing snow.  We quickly grabbed the ice axes and snow shoes  and made our way inside the visitor center.  Due to the weather Steve started going over a few of the basics of handling an ice axe in the visitors center.   Key points are:

  • When picking out  an ice axe  it should come just above your
    ankle when you are holding it by your side.
  • Always carry the ice axe in your uphill hand.
  • Carry the ice axe with the adze facing forward and the pick facing backwards.
  • Ice axes are easy to attach to a gear loop on the bottom of your backpack. Just slide it in, twist so the pick side is facing inwards and flip it up towards the top of the pack so the spike is secured at the top with the head at the bottom.

Steve also demonstrated how to perform a self arrest which seemed a bit tricky to do indoors.  After covering the basics we headed outside, strapped on some snowshoes and made our way to the ledge.

After Steve went over some of the basics again the fist thing we had to do was make a snow slide, somewhere that we could slide down and practice stopping ourselves with an ice axe.   Going down was the easy part but getting back up was a little more challenging. Luckily there was about 10 of us so after a few passes we had a nice slide and a set of snow steps going back up to the top.  Then it was time to practice a self arrests in every position possible sliding down on your tummy, on your back, on your belly head first, on your back head first and then eventually Steve just started pushing people over.  I was at a bit of a disadvantage since my jacket and pants, while very waterproof, were very slick and I picked up speed rather quickly.

In addition to performing self arrests we also practiced performing a self belay, which should be how you actually stop yourself before you start sliding down a mountain and having to self arrest, but practicing self arrests was much more fun. We also practiced climbing up, traversing and descending from a small snowy hill. At that point we grabbed our gear and headed back in side.  If you’re interested in how to do all this crazy ice axe stuff here’s a video that goes over some off the techniques.

Once we trekked back the extremely cold blowing snow and made it to the warmth of the visitors center Steve went over a few additional points about being out in the snow.  One side point he made is that in recent years there have been a lot of less than desirable  people hiking the PCT, the kinds of people that don’t pack out their trash or follow common trail etiquette rules and asked everyone to call them out if we someone being a jerk. Some of the things that I took away regarding being out in the snow were:

  • If you’re camping on top of snow you’ll stay warmer by putting extra martial under your rather than on top of you
  • Bury your water bottles upside in snow to keep them from freezing completely. Since water freezes from the top having the bottle upside down keeps the mouth from freezing solid.
  • Don’t stuff your sleeping bag full of clothes to stay warm, this stretches out your sleeping bag and compresses the fill, which makes it less effective.
  • If you get caught in an avalanche you have about 30 minutes before you’re dead and the snow becomes as hard as concrete.

After the class concluded Steve passed out some cans of PCT Porter and spent time answering other questions from the group (most of whom are probably out on the trial right now as I was the only one not hiking this year).  When I asked him what we could do in thanks for facilitating the class free of charge he just said to pay it forward.  So, if you you want to learn some ice axe basics and practice with me, i’ll be more than happy to show you what I know.. and then you push you down a snowy hill.

Start with the basics.

Since I’m starting with little knowledge of what I’m actually getting myself into I wasn’t quite sure where to start. First, I bought myself a giant map of the entire Pacific Crest Trail and hung it on the wall.  I would glance as it as I walked by but never really took  the time to look at it closely. When I eventually convinced myself to study it a bit I found myself feeling slightly overwhelmed, especially when I found the chart showing all the mountains and their elevations.  After that point I would have the occasional stare down with the map before it just started to blend into the background and go unnoticed. So while it’s a nice map all it’s done at this point is intimidate me and win multiple staring contests.

I also bought a book, The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hikers Companion. Much like the map it would occasionally catch my eye but I never invested the time to really gain any benefit from it. I would pick it up and flip through it from time to time, never reading a substantial amount, then I got a new coffee table with a nice shelf which the book somehow made it’s way onto and still lives there today. I did however learn that the Mojave is home to 10 or more species of scorpions!

When I would talk to someone about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and start to thinking about planning  again I would tell myself that I had plenty of time to prepare (which I  do) and kept pushing it off.  That was working great until my girlfriend told me that that there was a free “Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail Basics” class at REI. There was no excuse to pass up a free class. I mean this is something I’m excited to do, right?

The class was taught by “Skittles”, who section hikes the trail as she can and “2Patch” who through hiked the entire thing like I will be doing.  So what did I learn?  Well let’s start with what I just said,  “section hiking” is hiking section(s) of the trial at a time while “through hiking” is hiking the entire trail in one go.  The trail itself is approximately 2,650 miles with which will generally take 4 to 6 months, time commitment being one of  reasons someone may chose to section hike rather than through hike.

You may also be asking yourself “What kind of names are Skittles and 2Patch?” Rest assured these are not the names they were given at birth or had given themselves as part of some identity crisis.  When hiking on the PCT you will pick up a trail name along the way, hopefully I don’t end up with a lame one like “Rupert.”  I also learned other vernacular such as NoBo (hiking northbound), SoBo (hiking southbound),  hike your own hike, and my favorite….

Trail magic is when you find or experience something totally unexpected that lifts your spirits, 2Patch mentioned finding entire cooler full of beer on the trail. Once this years class (more vernacular, each year is a class. For example, I’m class of 2018.) ends up near Snoqualmie Pass I plan on creating some trail magic of my own.  Other terms of note are “Trail Angeles” which will help hikers by offering anything from rides to a place to stay and a hot meal. “Hiker Boxes” are like the leave a penny take a penny tray at 7-11 but for hiking stuff and a box, sometimes you may want to shed some weight by dropping the dehydrated meal you’ve been eating for weeks straight and are completely you’re sick of.

Speaking of meals you may be wondering how I plan on feeding myself over 4-6 months on a trail.  The short answer is i’m not entirely sure yet but I did learn about a few different options.  I could mail myself, or more likely have someone else mail me, resupply boxes along the way and pick them up when I get into a town or I could simply resupply whenever I come into a town or pick up items at a gas station along the way.  One thing that was stressed during the class was the important of snacks, especially Cheetos. I don’t know why Cheetos were mentioned so many times during the class, maybe they are some kind of super food. It’s much easier to eat snacks than it is to stop and prepare a meal.  When planning your meals you want to pick foods that are dense in both calories and fat.  In the end I’ll probably end up preparing and mailing most of my meals ahead of time but also picking up stuff on the way, I’m sure I’ll be posting about meal planning and sharing recipes.  Or, I could be like this guy and just eat McDoubles.

Skittles and 2Patch then went on to talk about different gear they would bring. In short lighter is better, merino wool is awesome (it really is), hike in trail runners and not boots, and try to carry things that are multi-functional.  Ideally your base weight, which consists of your backpack, tent and sleeping bag should be is as low as possible, i’m shooting for under 10 pounds. One of my favorite thing they mentioned was a long handled spoon, anyone who has ever tried to eat directly out of a pouch of re-hydrated food can appreciate how brilliant this is.   They also talked about  housekeeping things like permits, forwarding your mail, setting up auto-pay for your bills, and boring stuff like that. They wrapped up by sharing more about their experiences on the trail and the stories behind their trail names and took time to answer questions. During the Q&A I learned that some hikers will take a side trip to summit Mt. Whitney, the highest point on the PCT at 14,505 feet, which I am now planning on doing as well.

I came away from the class feeling very excited to start planning my trip, less intimidated by the map hanging on the wall…. and craving Cheetos.

You’re doing what?!

In a little over a year I will be boarding  a plane bound for San Diego with nothing more than a backpack full of, hopefully very light, gear. Once I land I will somehow find my way 40 miles west to the town of Campo, which sits just north of the Mexican border. From there I will then head north on the Pacific Crest Trail, hiking all the way through California, Oregon and Washington before crossing the border into Canada.  In doing so I’ll cross through a desert, numerous mountain passes and a few national parks. In total the trail stretches 2,650 miles with 420,880 feet in elevation change.

This blog will primarily be about my preparation for, and time on, the Pacific Crest trail.  I have purposely avoided learning about the ins and outs of the trail and what will be entailed.  No, I have not seen or read “Wild”, nor have I read John Muir’s “My first summer in the Sierra”.  I have picked up a few pieces of knowledge from talking to people that are also planning on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail but not too much.  I know that i’m going to have to mail myself supplies on the way,  I might be hiking through a lot of snow or crossing a river and it rains a lot in Southern California, among other things.

Check back each Tuesday for something new, I’ll do my best to make things informative and entertaining. Who knows, maybe I’ll freak out and have some sort of meltdown when the reality of what i’ll be doing finally sinks in.