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!
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.
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?!
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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?
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:
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!
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:
We have no experience of real backpacking i.e. carrying a heavy load and camping
I have serious fears of the indigenous wildlife (and gun-carrying people!)
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
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.