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

Hike the PCT? You can’t be serious

As I gaze out at another grey and rainy London day it doesn’t seem like a bad idea to jet off to the Californian sun.  We could find a beach, eat lots of ice cream, work on our tans… except this time my husband Conrad and I will be loading our lives into a backpack and hiking through Oregon and Washington states along the Pacific Crest trail north to Canada!

Photo Credit: http://thetrailsmag.com

The Challenge

OK, so many attempt the full hike in a season, and over the last couple of weeks I have been following handfuls of excited individuals set out on their mammoth pilgrimages from Mexico. And good luck to them, I am in total awe. We have chosen to instead ‘section’ hike the northern 942 miles, which if we complete it will be a personal feat for a number of reasons:

  1. We have no experience of real backpacking i.e. carrying a heavy load and camping
  2. I have serious fears of the indigenous wildlife (and gun-carrying people!)
  3. We are not match fit! Due to some health and logistical setbacks we haven’t had the chances we expected to physically train for the challenge ahead
  4. Did I mention camping, in the wilderness, with bears, snakes, mountain lions?!

I don’t know what scares me the most right now – the lack of shower facilities, or the wilderness itself. Will we be physically and mentally tough enough to just ‘get on with it’? I’ve always considered myself pretty hard, but then again I haven’t ever put myself in this sort of outlandish situation, and I do like my creature comforts – throughout the entire winter I have taken a hot water bottle to bed! And I can’t quite get my head around not showering.

Yet there’s nothing like having family members laugh at the very idea of us camping, and taking bets against quit dates to makes me want to show them!

Why Oregon & Washington?

Well, firstly I wanted to avoid the desert! For 2 hiking amateurs, I didn’t think that setting out into desert, where water sources are limited would be a very cleaver idea! I had visions of us needing to be airlifted out as our sickly pale skin is over-exposed and our bodies fail through severe dehydration! No one wants to be that idiot. We need a chance to build up our strength and stamina on the hike. Oregon seems smart. No heavy bear canister to carry, and by doing so we are able to start later than most.

I would like to complete the entire PCT eventually, so this way I figure we can ‘split it in 2’ and start with the shortest part. Lastly, we get to end in Canada which is pretty cool, I love poutine!

What makes our hike different?  

The most obvious answer is our lack of skill/ hiking/ camping knowledge. But we are not total idiots, and have spent the last 2 months reading countless books/ blogs/ watching YouTube videos to try and educate ourselves, but nothing beats experience. So we need to learn-as-we-hike and will be starting based on an assumed daily mileage of just 12 miles, with rest days. In comparison, the main thru-hikers heading up from Mexico will probably easily be crunching off 25-35-mile days by then in a race to beat the snow! I hope we don’t have that same tight deadline.

We will also be hiking this section ahead of the majority, so the weather and trail conditions are harder to ascertain from the wealth of general trail info already out there. We hope to start on May 30th, 40 days from now. Crater Lake is still covered in snow. Fingers crossed.