A Soutbound PCT Summary

In preparation for my hike on the PCT, I largely depended on two blog articles, The Southbound Scoop and Why Sobo?, along with the PCTA website for information. I hope this summary will be another helpful account if you are considering a southbound trip on the PCT. 

If you are willing/able to hike the trail in around 4 months and don't want to be with a large group of hikers, south is likely the better direction to hike. You will hit the Cascades with beautiful snow-capped peaks and waterfalls, the Sierras will be snow and bug free, and the desert won't be as hot (it will be dry).  Based on conversations with some northbound hikers, you may even have less snow to deal with in the Cascades hiking south, than in the Sierras going north.


Southern California: The Dry Part

The southern CA stretch was more difficult than expected, partly due to the transition from one of the most visually stunning landscapes (the high Sierra) to one of the most drab (the desert in the fall). I was also expecting southern CA to be flatter. It's not all desert south of the Sierras, but instead climbs in and out of the desert, transitioning from desert, to chaparral, to forest as you go up.

The most difficult part was adjusting to a trail with few reliable water sources.  Clear cold water is abundant in the high Sierras, but south of Cottonwood Pass, water sources quickly increase up to 40 miles apart. Carrying 2-5 liters of water takes some getting used to, as does being dirty all the time. (There are few swimming opportunities.)  Once south of Tehachapi the trail begins to pass through more populated areas, so resupply and support becomes more frequent, offsetting much of the difficulties with the lack of water.  Showers, laundry, cold drinks and food are more accessible.  Unfortunately there were several trail closures due to fires and an endangered frog, so some road walking and/or hitching was necessary.


The Spectacular Sierras

Hikers I met heading north kept telling me the mountain scenery was going to get even better as I got further south into the Sierras. I found it hard to be true, but it turned out to be so.  I'm now south of Mt Whitney and out of the national parks (Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia), so I'm fairly sure I've hit peak Sierra splendor. I still have about 90 miles to Walker Pass and into the Mojave, but a kind local offered me a rest.

There has been lots of hiking company on this section.  Many people hiking the 200+ mile John Muir Trail and many other section hikers. That has been a nice change, and hiker boxes have been well stocked. Weather is near perfect except for a couple cold snaps that included snow and an hour of steady rain. Nights have been chilly with a couple drops into the teens.

I have so many pictures of mountain passes and lakes I'm not sure which are which.  Below are my favorite pics from this section. Lots of panorama shots as the views are have been expansive.
Hiking into the sunset out of Donner Pass.


Ashland to Truckee, Mile 1157

A stretch with some less exciting hiking and temperature extremes.  Over 100 F in the valleys coming out of Ashland and Seiad Valley, and this morning I saw my first frost.  The colder temps got me thinking that I need to get moving.  I thought after my 9 day hiatus in Ashland I was behind the SOBO group of hikers, but in Sierra City there were dozens of hiker packages waiting to be picked up, so I guess not. There will likely be some chilly nights in the Sierras.   

There are a series of Wilderness areas in northern CA, Marble Mountain, Trinity-Alps, Shasta-Trinity that are beautiful and expansive. I suspect one could spend a lifetime exploring them.  I ran into many friendly hunters, some section hikers and a few stray NOBOs.  After Castle Crag and I-5 the hiking is less exciting and goes through a lot of logging areas.  Things get more exciting south of Belden. Here is the picture show:

Mt Shasta in the smoke from fires far to the south. 


Ashland, OR Mile 1716

Only about 30 more miles before I walk in to California.  The hike from Bend to Ashland was a a nice section passing Diamond Peak, Summit Lake, Mt Thielsen, Crater Lake, Mt. McLoughlin,  and hundreds of northbound hikers.  The mosquitoes were ferocious north of Windigo Pass, but practically disappeared after Crater Lake.  South of Crater I was passing 75-100+ northbound hikers per day, a few of which I knew from last year on the AT.

The day before hiking into Ashland was an eventful one.  I hit my first official trail magic with a cooler full of cold soda, beer, and fruit in the Brown Mt. Shelter.  Shortly before that I got stung by a bee.  Shortly after that I had my first mountain lion encounter.  A couple miles south of Dead Indian Memorial Highway, I saw something ahead in the trail, which I first thought were two dogs. As I got closer I saw one crouching down and thought maybe they were coyotes.  When I was about 20' away, an adult mountain lion was standing in the trail looking at me.  They jumped off the trail into the brush and disappeared.  I didn't see them again, but did pick up a couple rocks in case they took an interest in me.  The sighting was at about 4:30 in the afternoon on a busy stretch of trail.  I suspect most PCT hikers are within earshot of mountain lions on a regular basis and never know it.


Elk Lake, OR Mile 1950

I'm enjoying a day off the trail in Bend with friends, Paul, Steph, Theo and Nora.  Nora (2) is taking a while to warm up to me.  Theo (5) is happy to play. I'm taking a day off the trail in Bend, OR.  The weather in Oregon has done a 180.  Washington was mostly 40-60 degrees F with lots of clouds and some rain.  Oregon has been 50-90+ with nothing but sun and long stretches with little shade through burn areas, above tree line and on lava rock.  My hiker tan is improving.

There is an abundance of food on the trail.  The Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood has an all you can eat buffet, which is widely touted as one of the best meals on the trail.  I ate so much it will likely be remembered as the worst experience of my trip.  The food was very good, but it will be my last buffet for a while.  The hiker boxes are treating me well, as northbounders are leaving lots of goodies.

Next stop is to visit friends, Ryan and Jess in Ashland.

Picture show:

Tunnel Falls on the Eagle Creek Alternate Trail.  The trail actually goes under the falls, which is probably why this is one of the most popular trails in the US and most PCT hikers take the alternate route.


Cascade Locks, OR Mile 2144

I crossed the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River and into Oregon yesterday.  Washington has been much colder and wetter than expected, but that helped keep the bug activity down and there have been some sunny breaks for mountain viewing. It seems Washington weather is more often cloudy and drizzle than an all out rain.   I've been fortunate to meet many nice people on and off trail.  I started meeting a slow trickle of fast northbound hikers just south of Snowqualmie.  Overall Washington has been a delight!

The gang at the Dinsomore's Hiker Haven in Skykomish outside the Cascadia Inn, the local breakfast spot.  


To Stevens Pass Mile 2462

About 200 miles of hiking done so far.  The first five days of hiking south to Stehekin were amazing with beautiful weather, stunning snow capped mountain scenery and tolerable bugs.  The last six from Stehekin to Stevens through the Glacier Peak Wilderness were more challenging with cold and wet weather conditions, some snowy passes, overgrown trail, and limited views. Wet feet for 6 straight days and finally started getting some blisters.

The picture story:
Don and Pat, Warm Showers hosts, with cyclist, Penn, who put me up north of Seattle and drove me up to the East Bank Trailhead.


Plans for the Pacific Crest Trail

I'm flying to Seattle tomorrow for a go at a southbound hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). If all goes as planned I'll be hiking by Tuesday 6-28. My plan is to start at the East Bank Trailhead near Ross Lake, and hike 30 miles on the Pacific Northwest Trail to the PCT at Holman Pass.  Apparently starting in Canada and hiking south into the US is not legal, so this seems like the simplest way.  I'll miss 15-20 miles and the CA-US border monument, but I can't imagine that section will be too much different than the 30 miles I'll be hiking on the PNT.

I'm mostly packed and ready. A full gear list is below. I'll be around 10 lbs for base weight, and likely be carrying 10lbs of food on average.  Water doesn't look to be in short supply in WA and OR, so hopefully I won't need to carry much.  Southern CA will be different, but at that point I should be able to hike big days.  The two luxury items I'll have are crocs and a sit pad (2 sections of z-rest).  Nine ounces for these. 


Eating Wild

Hiking up to Bertha Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada) a nice older couple introduced me to the the Saskatoon berry, Amelanchier alnifolia.  They resemble blueberries, but are actually in the rose family. I soon discovered the huckleberry, then the thimbleberry.  I quickly fell in love with eating wild berries, and through Waterton Lakes, Glacier, and Teton National Parks, any chance I got to get off my bike and go for a hike involved a lot of berry picking.  Roadside berry patches also proved distracting while riding, and sometimes the picking was too good to pass up. Often I couldn't help but pull over and wade into the bushes, passing drivers staring at me like I was a bear. 

Hiking the Appalachian Trail I spent a lot more time thinking about what plants I could eat.  Once the berries started to appear around Virginia my picking began and I ate and learned more plants as I moved north.  Wild food is wonderful.  It is a source of nutritious water dense calories that you don't have to carry or pay for, and I'm eager to keep learning more.  Similar to drinking water straight from a mountain creek, it gives me a deep sense of satisfaction, a most intimate way of communing with nature. However, it's not all sunshine and raspberries.


505 of the Appalachian Trail's Roughest Miles in a Pair of Walmart Running Shoes that Cost $16.87

Blisters, plantar fasciitis, sprained ankles, torn muscles and tendons are all painful and good ways to bring a hiking trip to a grinding halt.  Can the right shoes or boots make the difference in preventing injury and pain?  If so, who would dare to skimp on footwear while undertaking a thru-hike? I did, and my only regret is not doing it earlier.

If you've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail you have probably heard of or met, Warren Doyle.  If not, he leads thru-hiking trips with the support of a couple vehicles leap frogging north on the trail in sections, with Warren hiking each section southbound while the group hikes northbound. If you are hiking northbound you are likely to bump into Warren and company at some point, and I was fortunate to cross paths with Warren many times in 2015. He wasn't exactly what I expected. Having heard about a man that hiked the Appalachian Trail 16 times (prior to completing his 17th trip in 2015) I was surprised to see the lack of fancy equipment he used. His glasses were held together with tape, he was using an 70s era ski pole for a hiking stick, and had Frog Toggs rain gear and Starter running shoes, both from Walmart.


Riding with Robots: Sharing the Road With Self-Driving Cars

It's a car's world, but that is all going to change, sort of.  If tech companies with endless resources and eager to compete car makers are to be believed, we are approaching one of the biggest changes in transportation history.  The age of the self-driving car is near, and in my opinion, it can't come too soon.

Recently, one of Google's self-driving cars had a low speed run in with a bus, so apparently there are some details to work out. If Google had asked a cyclist they would have known that bus drivers yield to no one!  Nonetheless, many companies developing self-driving cars say they will be ready to go in 3-5 years.  For example, the Renault-Nissan CEO, Carlos Ghoson recently announced they will have a fully autonomous car ready by 2020 and took CNBC journalists on a test ride in a self-driving Nissan Leaf to demonstrate.

During the ride, Ghoson notes, "One of the biggest problems is people with bicycles, because they don't respect any rule usually." Uh oh. Does this mean self-driving cars are incompatible with cyclists and pedestrians?  Ghoson's comment suggests cyclists and pedestrians are doomed to an afterthought existence in the self-driving car future. I'm tempted to call him an idiot, but I won't. Instead, I will point out how his comment reveals the narrow minded car-centric thinking of people controlling our transportation system, and why self-driving cars are going to fix all that.


Backpacking and Biking Touring with Solar Energy

An early 21st century first world problem: how to keep our electronic devices charged while backpacking and/or bike touring. Is using a solar charger the solution? Maybe.

Several times while bike touring I have been asked if the 5 watt solar charger attached to my handlebar bag is propelling my bike.  This is a clear indication we are accustomed to energy on oil's terms.  Here is a quick reality check.  Burning oil does create carcinogenic, smog inducing, greenhouse gas emissions that may end up killing us all, but oil is an incredibly concentrated source of energy.  In a single gallon of gasoline there is about 114,000 BTU, or 33.41 kWh, or ~30,000 calories. That's the equivalent of 12 16oz jars of peanut butter!


Tarptent Contrail Review and Modification

In 2014 I bought a Tarptent Contrail per the enthusiastic recommendation of another bicyclist.  For $200 and under 2lbs it seemed like the best value ultralight tent around.  It provides excellent bug protection, is plenty spacious for one, and is well ventilated.  The only problem is that it leaks.

After picking up the Contrail in Oregon, I road through Washington, Vancouver Island, ferried to Alaska, rode into the Yukon, BC, Montana, Wyoming, and back east.  I experienced some very wet days and nights and ferocious mosquitoes.  Mosquitoes were kept out, but several times I woke up with a pool of water at my feet.  Upon returning I emailed Tarptent and Henry Shires (proprietor) wrote back: "yes, the Contrail can have water problems if you don’t get the sides down. You accomplish that but [sic] a) lowering your front pole down to 110cm or lower—that drops the front corners—and b) by lowering the rear edges down the rear struts to whatever height you want.  Doing those things ensures that water can’t find the floor edge because the canopy edge and/or mesh low post will be lower than the floor edge"


The Old Duct Tape Coat Hanger Bicycle Fender Trick

I once stayed with a Warm Showers host that saw the flimsy plastic Planet Bike fenders on my bike and asked if they worked.  I noticed his look of disapproval just before I noticed his bike had fancy $100 metal fenders.  The plastic ones do work, and cost about $40.  Perhaps they don't look as slick, but they are for keeping dirty road water off my backside and shoes, so who cares?

On my trip riding down to Georgia to hike the Appalachian Trail I had a hard time finding fenders, even cheap plastic ones, I could use on my road bike with 28mm tires and no eyelets. So, I got creative. And cheap(er).