Day 4: Obstacle Course

Thursday 23rd June

Start: Klum Landing, mile 1738

End: South Brown Mountain Shelter, mile 1761

Miles: 13

Firstly I am happy to report that Conrad has not dropt dead following his suspected tarantula bite!!! Whatever is biting us though it not very considerate.

bitten legs

Camp departure down to 1.5 hours today, we made some good first miles whilst still cool. On the way uphill to the first spring a number of fallen trees had been freshly logged to maintain the trail. We thought all the horror stories we have been hearing about the down trees would therefore have now gotten ‘sorted’. The issue seems to be that this part of the US has experienced 2 years of draught, followed by a heavy snowfall last winter. The result? Well we witnessed it in abundance later in the day! Hiking uphill, with a large heavy pack on the back is difficult enough without having to keep climbing up/ under/ circumventing fallen trees. They are a real pain. This slowed us down somewhat. I would also like to point out that today’s mileage does not reflect the ‘extra’ miles spent walking around this debris!

the trail
trail gate no longer

On the final 2 miles of the day we passed a couple from Ashland who were foraging for mushrooms. I personally hate mushrooms. However, thanks to them if the time comes when we are desperate for food we have something to fall back on!

At 4pm we arrived at South Brown Mountain Shelter. This is a small RUSTIC wilderness shelter kindly built in 1993 by the National Guard. We gave it a little inspection and decided to put our tent up outside! I’m sure the wooden benches would have been real comfortable, but there were lots of insects inside and so far our track record of being bitten is not good. I’m also scared of mice. Inside there is a wood burner to heat the place and a PCT register so we spent time reading the comments of the hikers who have come before us. Unfortunately no one has come southbound so there is no trail info on the conditions up there.

We were not alone for long. Whilst sitting outside trying to address my foot issues (on a wonderful picnic bench no less) people started swinging by. Firstly the mushroom couple arrived to take a look at the cabin. They were real chatty! Then a female couple called Teach and Chong (trail names not real) who were section hiking stopped by. Finally an older gentleman from north of Seattle named Loren arrived for the night. He is out to finish his section-by-section hike of the entire trail ending at Timberline Lodge.  He is twice as fit as us!

With Loren aka ‘Yurt Man’

That evening Loren was good company.  He is full useful hiking advice, kindly going out of his way to share tips and show us pieces of kit and food.  From talking to him (and others) we have added a few extra things to our shopping list.  We especially want to switch our stove to a gas one as everyone else has always finished eating before we can even boil water.

I enjoyed our evening in camp with the Yurt Man, despite the cold.  I was a little unsettled going to bed though after his story of seeing a local mountain lion, and of a male marathon runner who was recently killed by one in southern California!

Special fajita lunch

Day 3: This bag is going to kill me

Wednesday 22nd June

Start: Hyatt Lake Resort, off mile 1740.2

End: Klum Landing camp, off mile 1748

Miles: 9.5

In the PCT world, today was what is known as a ‘nero’ – near zero miles.  The reason for this was two-fold.  Firstly we thought we would stop at a proper campground at the next lake to enjoy a shower.  More importantly we had pack issues, having just filled them with a 5-day food supply.  Food is heavy!  Even dehydrated rubbish.  I blame the trail mix (contentious inside-issue).  Having woken in the comfort of a cabin we had a hot breakfast and borrowed some scales to review the damage….

My pack was 30lbs.  This did not include water.  After I made a circus of hoisting it onto my back for the first time I wanted to cry.  How could I possibly carry this to Canada?

big bag
fake smile

We plodded along the lake slowly, reaching the campground a mile away in what felt like an eternity!  There we found Micha, Brandon and Maya situated in a nice little spot with what looked like a very comprehensive camp set up – it must help carrying 70lbs!  They are staying put for another day to rest and enjoy the lake.  I felt jealous as we trudged on.

On trail inspiring comments

The trail was very quiet today, we didn’t see a single person.  We did disturb some deer at various points, but otherwise our world was silent.  The tranquility try was only broken by a mid-trail ‘discussion’ between us on pack weight.  I will not go into details, but it was resolved.  Due to the discomfort of the bag on my shoulders and feet I probably didn’t enjoy the trail as I should have.  I did think towards the end of the day that it would have made for a really great day hike – minus the pack.  I was consumed in my agony.  Why am I so weak?  I have to tell myself to take this day by day and hope that it starts to feel easier soon.

Shoulder rest

We reached Klum Landing, a state campground at an early time of 4pm.  This was welcomed as it gave us time to unwind.  It was strange though, as not a single other campsite was occupied.  We could hear a few boats out on the lake, but otherwise nothing.  It became quite eerie after dark when we were still alone – you don’t expect that in such a place.

shoot out right near camp!

Just before dark we had met just one person.  A fellow hiker who had driven around from the other side of the lake with her dog Oscar.  I wanted to adopt Oscar.  He could be our trail companion and mascot.  His owner had been up hiking near Fish Lake where we are due in 2 days and warned of mosquitos and snow in the Sky Lakes Wilderness – basically the stretch to Crater Lake.  This is not the first warning we have had saying similar.  Back at Hyatt Lake we had been told the same, but reports are sketchy.  A Crater Lake Ranger told us they have over 200 trees down in a 4-mile stretch, but couldn’t elaborate on if the trail is still passable.  They haven’t seen any thru-hikers yet, so remains to be seen.  This may be an issue.  We will see once at Fish Lake.

Oscar the french bulldog- boston terrier
Howard Prairie reservoir

The day ended better than it started with a campfire, s’mores, and a very starry sky.  It was really windy by the lake though and I eventually fell asleep to the pounding on the tent.

We are under no disillusion that so far we have been very fortunate. For a start it hasn’t rained! Secondly, we have just enjoyed the last 2 nights with access to a shower and somewhere to sit. Much to my surprise I actually think that having a picnic table is even more useful than a shower as cooking and eating on the ground sucks. This is a very rare amount of amenities so close together on the PCT, so things are set to get much tougher.

Day 2: Are we there yet?

Tuesday 21st June

Start: Bushcamp, mile 1728

End: Hyatt Lake Resort

Total miles: 13.4

Today ended with a frantic power walk along Hyatt Prairie Road road in the blazing sun.  The longest 1.4 miles of my life.  We had to make it to Hyatt Lake Resort before they closed at 5pm.  On the promise of a hot meal from their cafe, but more importantly to collect a resupply box – basically if we hadn’t of made it we would have gone hungry tonight.  Success came at a cost – burning feet and Conrad’s butt chaff issues – but we made it with just 20 minutes to spare!

The reason it had taken us all day to walk 13.4 miles?  We are baffled.  I guess the fact that we still don’t have this camping lark down yet didn’t help.  From our alarm going off at 7am it had taken us nearly 2.5 hours to leave camp!  That’s a poor effort.  We must get better than that.  Even Maya the dog caught us up eventually and Brandon is carrying a 70lb pack and left camp after us!  Why are we so slow?!  We don’t feel like we’re cruising along or even breaking much.  I only hope that trail fitness finds us quick!

Keene Creek Reservoir

The scenery today was much the same as yesterday.  We were in and out of pine forest, climbing up and down at around 5000 feet.  In the sections of older growth forest it feels darker as the thick canopy of tall trees block out the light leaving the lower branches dead and stark.  The floor is coated in pine needles and cones.  A few fallen trees sometimes blocked the trail, that’s one good excuse for being slow at least.

Where is a chainsaw when you need one?
Quick on-trail breather

To our list of hiking buddies we added a new member – Joel from Portland.  He started hiking Oregon last night and hopes to complete it in 20 days! Yikes.  We couldn’t have been going too slow as we kept catching up with him for chats.  Lucky all these nice people keep finding us, as after 6 weeks in the US together what is there left for Conrad and I to say to each other?!

Conrad and I with Joel
11 miles and we finally reach water! Hyatt Lake Reservoir

Despite the difficulties faced today I think we both [secretly] still enjoyed ourselves.  It is invigorating to be out here.  That said, what has made my day is a hot shower and a pizza!  The simple things.  Also it may only be day 2 but we couldn’t resist the opportunity for a real bed and to not have to erect a tent tonight…

Home for the night 🙂

Day 1: Into the Wild

Monday 20th June

Start: Callahan’s, Oregon Interstate 5

End: Bushcamp, mile 1728

Total miles: 12.5

The day finally arrived to be let loose into the wild.  I felt a strange sense of calm – probably denial – in the cab ride to the start point.  That calm was swiftly quashed as the cab driver informed us about 2 packs of wolves now living in the vicinity. Thanks a lot! I now have the addition of wolves on my ‘things to be scared shitless of list’!

We had breakfast on the terrace at Callahan’s, a PCT haunt by interstate 5. It was a good ‘last meal’, but annoyingly we didn’t realise it was over a mile to the trail junction from there so we added a hot road walk with full packs to arrive at our official start.  The packs feel heavy.  Really heavy! In the [limited] training we did we never carried this sort of weight. It makes walking very taxing.

The first few miles took us through damp pine forest, broken occasionally with sunny meadows of long grass and wild flowers.  Whenever we saw open vistas they showed a sea of green as far as we could see.  The only exception standing out like a beacon was Mount Shasta, a pointed colossal volcano coated in show in the distance.  We could still hear the faint sound of the interstate, but it increasingly became muted by the birds.  Giant black and white butterflies hurried their wings.

Finally about 4 miles in we met another soul.  So good to know we are not alone out here!  Checkerboard Red, a solo hiker covered head to toe in this heat due to a skin issue, is flip-flopping his way up and down the PCT in an attempt to defy the weather.  I’m sure he will make it – he is averaging 30-mile days! Maybe we will met again when he turns around at some point, otherwise we are unlikely to catch him.  Shortly after we met a young female solo hiker. She had just started today too and was heading south to Etna before flipping back to Ashland and onto Sisters.  She wore an impressive-sized knife on her chest that signalled not to mess with her.  I wish her a safe trip.  She is very brave.

Mount Shasta standing proud

More people joined us when we finally reached a water source 10 miles in.  Ken came and sat with us, having started at the same point as us today on his hike of Oregon.  Whilst we were airing our feet out he started cooking like a seasoned camping pro.  The amount of food he is carrying is astonishing.  Also joining us was a couple of older local guys who have been hiking 50-100 mile sections of Oregon over the last 10 years.  They complete it tomorrow and promised to be celebrating with beers by this time!  Inspiring.  I was relived when they informed us that bears are not a problem in this mountain range, but I’m not going to take their word for it!

someone please get me a drink
lunch of champions – crisps and Babybell

We made camp 2 miles later at the next water spring hidden in a meadow.  We were greeted by Maya, a very excited retriever dog.  She carries all her own supplies whilst hiking with her owner Brandon from Tennessee.  What a companion.  Hopefully she will deter any bears too.

Maya goes for a swim

We were jealous about some of Brandon’s set up.  Chatting to him we found out he likes the camping aspect more than hiking (the opposite to us), and carries the most ridiculously heavy pack imaginable.  We could probably learn a lot from him as it took us 2 attempts to get the tent up due to an inside out rain sheet.  Ops.

Conrad needs a camp seat

It remained sunny and warm until 20:30, shortly before which another solo hiker joined our meadow campsite.  Micah is on his way up to Cascade Locks and will probably arrive there before we have even left Crater lake!  So our little community complete, we enjoyed a campfire together under a starry sky.

On a side note, I couldn’t help noticing that everyone we met today have bigger packs than us! Maybe that is a good thing – I certainly don’t think I could carry much more weight – but it also makes me question whether we have enough supplies or they all know something that we don’t?  Only time will tell.

Lassen National Park let down

16th June 2016

Lassen National Park to Redding

Continuing north on our journey to Oregon we had just one day to do a quick ‘highlights’ tour of Lassen.  We had our plan.  It was going to be intense.  We would drive the park road from the southwest entrance exiting through the north.  This would allow us to marvel at the geothermal wonders, take lots of pics, and hike the famous Bumpass Hell to Kings Creek trail.  Hiking up Lassen Peak was also a potential option. Continue reading Lassen National Park let down

Where to start?

Preparation, preparation, preparation (or lack of)

Putting one’s life on effectual hold whilst also getting ready for the hike has entailed an awful lot of admin.  I have checklists upon checklists.

In Massive Summary:
1. US Visas

As Brits we need an extended stay travel visa (a DS-160) which allows a 6-month stay. $160 plus a lovely trip to the US Embassy for an ‘interrogation’ and we were all set!

2. Flights to the US

It never ceases to annoy me how much flight prices have increased in the last few years! That aside, we booked tickets with Virgin Atlantic to San Francisco to arrive 3 weeks before our start date.  We will be staying with relatives in California so we can train and buy the bulk of our gear/ food supplies.  This we be no 3-week holiday!

3. Secure permits – PCT & Canada

Both simple to do online.  The Pacific Crest Trail Association limits the number of people on the trail and staggers start dates from the southern terminus in order to maintain the wilderness.  Any thru-hikes or section hikes of more than 500 miles require a permit.  This is free, but a donation to the PCTA which maintains the trail is encouraged.

For entry to Canada in the backcountry you will need to carry written permission from the Canadian Boarder Agency.  The permit is free, and requires completion of just one form.

[We would have also required a Californian campfire permit if crossing through the state]

4. Decide route 

Our PCT hike forms part of a longer US trip.  We have the summer, so wanted to choose a section of the trail that fitted into our timescale.  To decide I firstly consulted Half Miles’ PCT maps which are free to download.  I knew that we would be too late in starting to realistically cross the desert sections.  It would be too hot and have less reliable water sources.  We like the idea of splitting the hike into 2 sections that we could later return and complete.  Reading fellow hiker blogs convinced me that Oregon-Washington offered spectacular scenery and were a good bet for our situation.

5. Research & buy gear

Gear reviews!!! I have become slightly OBSESSED with reading gear reviews in a desperate attempt to carry the lightest pack possible. It’s a little over-whelming though.  The reviews don’t all agree, and the choice kit costs some serious whack!  How much of an ‘investment’ in this stuff do we need/ or should we really make?  And do we really want to be ‘those 2 British Muppets with all the gear and no idea’?!  Other thru-hiker blogs proved very useful here (see below). 

Most of our gear was purchased through REI, the US-based outdoor cooperative who offer a 10% dividend on all purchases to members.  They are also renowned for their ‘no quibbles’ return policy.  Other sites we used were Campsaver, who run a lot of promotions, and Back Country, who have a very fast delivery.

6. US SIM card 

Unlike in the UK there doesn’t appear to be a concept of no contract (PAYG) SIM cards in the US.  We set on a monthly GoPhone package for $40 + tax from AT&T.  It provides 3GB of data, free texts and domestic calls.  This was based on requiring some data whilst on the trail, and online information which indicated AT&T will have the best area coverage.

7. Travel insurance 

Boring but essential, especially in the absence of a US public health service.  Companies really hike up the prices on any trips lasting over 30 consecutive days.  They also take issue with hiking with ice axes.  Luckily we hope to not require these – wishful thinking maybe?

8. Resupply strategy

See full blog post here

9. Acquire some useful skills

Full disclosure: We have no upfront knowledge of camping or useful outdoorsy skills to rely on.  This seemed amateur.  I do not underestimate how vulnerable we will be in the middle of nowhere!  Watching YouTube videos became an evening staple (sad I know).  The stuff that people post on there can be priceless.  Other niche sites such as Clever Hiker have great information, though I did feel a renewed sense of fear when watching the videos about bears and other hazards!  I would recommend taking a first aid course.  Many companies offer specific ‘wilderness’ training.  REI stores also run a program of local training  courses on various helpful subjects – just a shame we were not in the US for any of their dates!


My favourite PCT bloggers who go out of their way to give awesome advice are:

Kat Davis: Following The Arrows

Brad McCartney: Bike Hike Safari

Anna & Chris: Wandering The Wild