When Curt first shared that he wanted to celebrate his 75thbirthday hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was not surprised. He has 50 years of backpacking experience and loves wandering in the woods. Then he added the 1000-mile goal. That surprised me! There were so many questions. Reading about the challenges faced by Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woodsand Cheryl Strayed in Wildadded more. Their combined ages when they started their adventures was less than Curt’s. The conversations and planning began.
The first question was, can we (yes, we) physically do this? I had every intention of joining Curt on the trail whenever possible. He had introduced me to backpacking in 1980 and I, too, had fallen in love with the sport. But there was this age thing— for both of us. I’m 68, a child bride perhaps from Curt’s perspective, but not in the reality of miles traveled in life. Off we went for a week’s backpacking trial run on the 40-mile Rogue River Trail. Other than Curt falling down a cliff (well, only 20 feet head first) after his trekking pole collapsed, suffering minimal damage to his arm, and bouncing back on the trail, it was a beautiful adventure and a confirmation that we could still backpack longer distances with a bit of practice and preparation.
The next question was how much could I backpack with Curt and still provide support along the way? I was to be his ‘trail angel’ in PCT lingo. I’d be driving our 22’ Pleasure Way RV/van as the support vehicle. We had been traveling in it for years sharing driving responsibilities, so I was confident I could manage. It was to be my first solo trip, however! My job included carrying three months of food and other backpacking necessities and resupplying Curt between trail segments. There was the fine print of course— and other duties as required (grin).One was that I’d greet Curt with a big smile, a hug, and a cold beer when he came off each segment. Given that my young/old husband had survived another 70 to 100 miles of backpacking through the wilderness over challenging terrain, the smiles and hugs were really easy! My presence would also offer a comfortable break from the trail and provide the flexibility of changing mileage, timelines, and length of breaks if needed. It was an advantage that few PCT hikers have. Curt is spoiled rotten, what can I say.
Realistically, I would not be able to backpack much of the way without someone moving the van from Point A to Point B. However, we could backpack the first segment together from Mt. Ashland to Seiad Valley which would be a great confidence builder for both of us. The rest we would figure out on the run! Once we hiked into Seiad Valley, 6 days and 60 miles later, I was assured Curt could do anything he put his mind to! (So could I.) Still, waving goodbye to him as he left Seiad Valley on his first solo segment up through the Marble Mountains was hard. “If you don’t come out, Curt, I am coming in after you,” I told him and meant it. He had looked nervous and said, “Call Tony first.” I am geographically challenged when it comes to finding my way around in the woods. Tony is our Coast Guard pilot son who has participated in numerous rescue operations.
NEXT POST: When the unexpected happens along the PCT. Peggy’s perspective: Part 2.
I was late, like the white rabbit, for a very important date. Peggy was waiting for me at Sonora Pass and I had miscalculated the distance and difficulty of the trail. The night before I had found this lovely little campsite on the edge of a creek that I couldn’t resist. Later, as large ashes began falling on my tent, I began to question the wisdom of my decision. The 97,000 acre Ferguson fire near Yosemite and the 229,000 acre Carr fire near Redding that had been filling the skies with lung-choking smoke for the past month were now contained. Another fire was lurking out there— close by somewhere — and it was suggesting that I get on down the trail.
My goal, I decided, would to be get up at four and on the trail by five. But sleep had been as elusive as my knowledge about the fire. My eyes had popped open around 6:30. There would be no early start. The good news was that the smoke had partially cleared. All that remained of my previous night’s threat was a thin layer of ash. By 8:00 I was fed, watered, packed and raring to go. I figured the 1000-foot, three-mile drop into the East Fork of the Carson River would fly by. I figured wrong. The last part of the trail was steep and narrow over loose rock. It was not the type of trail that one flies over, at least not at 75 . I was ever so glad that I hadn’t tackled it the evening before when I was tired.
It was with relief that I began hoofing up the Carson River. While I had a 2500 foot climb ahead of me up to 10,000 feet, the first part of the trail was relatively gentle. I was making good time when a small root hiding out in the shade caught the toe of my boot and I went crashing down. This wasn’t one of those stumbles where you catch yourself, or at least slow your fall. It was a nose crunching, glass breaking fall. Thankfully, I bounce well. Lying there face down in the dirt, I reached up and touched my nose. It was solid and not spurting blood, although my finger came away bloody. Even my glasses had survived without a scratch. I picked myself up, shook the shock out of my head, and babied the scratch on my nose.
Right about then a through-hiker came hurrying by, going in my direction, moving out. We said hi as he disappeared down the trail. A thought passed my mind. “Can I ask a favor,” I called out to his disappearing back. He stopped immediately and walked back.
“My wife Peggy is waiting for me at Sonora Pass, I explained, “and I am running a couple of hours behind time. I know she will be worried. Could you carry a message for me?” I figured he would be there by mid-afternoon.
“Sure,” had been his response. I provided the details and we introduced ourselves using our trail names. “I’m Bone from Portland,” he told me. I imagined a small squeak in my pack and yanked Sierra Bone out. I made the introductions. “Bone meet Bone,” I said. Naturally there had to be a photo of Bone with Bone.
Relieved that Peggy would get the word that I was alive and well, I continued my journey and started the slow, steep climb out of the river canyon. I spotted a couple near the top who were off the trail eating a snack. One called out, “You must be Wanderer,” she said. “Your wife is worried about you.” Of course. Turns out Camilla and Bastien were from Leon, France and Peggy had met them while they were waiting for resupply at Sonora Pass. She had fed them scones loaded down with peanut butter. Peggy, Camilla explained, was concerned because the parking lot closed at five and she would have to move. Bastien chipped in that he didn’t think I would get there in time.
I wasn’t concerned. I had two hours and it was only four miles. Still, I moved out and made it in a little over an hour. Bone was waiting with Peggy when I arrived. She had offered our van to charge his phone. He was enjoying a beer. While Peggy got me one, Bone and I discussed the wind we had encountered up on the mountainside. He had put his pack down and barely caught it as the wind had pushed it down the narrow trail toward the edge. My pack was fine but the wind had almost sent me tumbling off the cliff. We estimated that there were gusts between 50 and 60 miles per hour. I’d had to lean in toward the mountain to keep my balance.
The wind was having another impact as well, pushing a fire up the mountain. As we watched, a small plume of smoke had grown to cover half of the sky. It was the Donnell fire that had dropped ashes on my camp the night before. It was frightening to think of being out on the trail facing a fire pushed by 60-mile an hour winds. An hour after we left, the Sonora Pass road was closed. The next day, the PCT was closed between Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass, the trail I had just hiked.
The following photos are taken along the Pacific Crest Trail between Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass traveling south.
NEXT POST: You met the large mutant vehicle animals of Burning Man in my last post, now it is time to meet the small mutant vehicle animals.
The Grand Canyon is truly one of the world’s great natural wonders. It’s celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year and I am quite pleased— and a little proud— that I have been returning there on a regular basis for 50 of those years. I’ve posted on my trips into the Canyon by foot and boat many times. Today, since I am still working on Burning Man photos and don’t have another Pacific Crest Trail post ready yet, I decided to reach back into my WordPress archives and put up some Grand Canyon photos. Happy 100th Grand Canyon!
NEXT POST: Either on Burning Man or the Pacific Crest Trail. Depends on what I get done. (grin)
I remembered Noble Lake from my 2003 trek when I backpacked 360 miles from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney to celebrate my 60th birthday. For some reason, it didn’t seem as ‘noble’ this time. Maybe that’s because of all the other lakes I had passed on my hike down the PCT. But the views looking back toward the Mokelumne Wilderness were spectacular.
NEXT POSTS: Time’s limited since I am preparing for the San Francisco Writers’ Conference. I have one more post on this section of the PCT and then Peggy has two posts on her experiences as ‘trail angel.’ I think I will hold on these three posts until after the conference. In the meantime, I will put up some Burning Man eye candy since Peggy and I are hoping to go this year, assuming we can get tickets.
I left you in the last post about my hike down the PCT with photos of spectacular rocks and impressive trees. I say goodbye to the Mokelumne Wilderness in this post, hike across Highway 4 at Ebbetts Pass, and continue my journey southward. Of course there will be more pretty trees, but roots, snags, flowers, a family from Taiwan and through-hikers are the main subject for photos today.
NEXT POST: Adios, Puerto Vallarta… with a few spectacular sunsets.
Peggy and I had lunch yesterday with Barbara and Carl, the couple that dropped us off at Mt. Ashland for the beginning of our trek south down the PCT. It was the first time I had seen them since the beginning of the adventure. There was a lot to tell.
Naturally, I talked about both the challenges and the rewards of backpacking for 700 miles over difficult terrain at 75. I also discussed how 50 years of backpacking had prepared me for the trip, and threw in a few of my more humorous adventures from those years. They will be in my book.
“Knowing what you know now, would you do the PCT hike again?” Carl asked.
“Absolutely,” I replied. This doesn’t mean I will forget just how hard it was. It’s an important part of the story. But the beauty and the nature of the adventure are what will stick in my mind. I once had a woman who had been on one of my hundred mile treks tell me it was one of the most difficult tasks she had ever undertaken. But in the end, she said, it was an incredible, life-changing experience. The pain faded; the experience remained. “The only thing I can equate it with, Curt,” she had related, “was having my first baby.” Ouch, and then ‘Oh my!’
For the first 25 years or so of my backpacking, I hadn’t carried a camera. Those were the days before you could expect to obtain quality photos from a small camera, and I didn’t want to add the extra weight to the 60 pounds I was already carrying. I was also reluctant to spend the time that good photography required. And often I was leading groups that demanded my full attention.
I am sorry now. “I can’t believe you go to all of these beautiful places and don’t carry a camera,” my father had told me time and time again. He was right. I wish I had those photos now to remind me of where I had been and what I had seen. But there is more. Photography helps you see the world in different ways. It encourages you to focus in on details you might miss, it helps you notice the differences that light and varying perspectives make, and it forces you to stop and look around.
Today’s photos pick up where my last post left off, hiking down the PCT from Carson Pass on Highway 88 to Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4. The first four illustrate the value of stopping and looking around. They are all of the same scene from different perspectives.
NEXT POST: Variety, being the spice of life, it’s back to Mexico.
I was surprised by the sheer beauty along the PCT south of Carson Pass. I had hiked through the region several times over the years, but my trail had always been slightly to the west. Somehow I had missed the incredible rock sculptures. That, and the junipers. If you have ever wandered the West, you are familiar with this gnarly, photogenic tree. Most of todays photos were taken near Pennsylvania Creek in the Mokelumne Wilderness, maybe 15 miles north of State Highway 4 and Ebbetts Pass. I’ll let the photos speak for the area.
NEXT POST: Back to Puerto Vallarta. P.S. I will be playing with various themes over the next few weeks, so don’t be surprised by the changing looks of my blog. ALSO: For those of you who haven’t read “The Bush Devil Ate Sam,” I will be posting a chapter once a month on the top ‘pages’ to give you a feel for the book and encourage you to buy it. Many thanks! This chapter reflects our first night in our Gbarnga home, appropriately titled: Armies of the Night!
Today, I just want to wish each and everyone of you who follow this blog a very happy and healthy New Year. And I want to thank you for joining Peggy and me on our journey as we wander through time and place. We are privileged to have you along.
What better way is there than to say it than with flowers. It works for Valentine’s Day, it works for Mother’s Day, and it works for numerous other special occasions, so why not New Years! I’m sure the floral industry would love this, but I am not talking about the flowers you buy from a florist. I am talking about the beautiful, wild, and free flowers you find growing along the trail, or the roadside, or on a vacant city lot, or in a park— the list goes on. Here, I am talking specifically about the flowers I found along the Pacific Crest Trail on my 700 mile backpack trek this last summer. You’ve already seen some of these. I have bunches. I suspect you will see more on Valentine’s Day. Enjoy!
AGAIN— WISHING YOU THE BEST. We look forward to seeing you in 2019. Curtis and Peggy
As a year filled with seemingly insurmountable national and international problems draws to a close, my mind turns to the beauty and the peace of my 700 mile journey down the PCT this past year. The issues of the everyday world fade as you are hiking up a mountain, providing a different perspective on what is important. As the renowned naturalist John Muir noted, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
There were tough days out there— as tough as any I have ever faced— but even the most difficult were countered by the beauty of the areas I hiked through. It was a beauty that ranged from towering mountains down to the cheerful monkey flower above. Today, I will continue to share that beauty in my third post about the Pacific Crest Trail between Carson Pass and Sonora Pass in the central section of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
The 65-year-old Hob McConville was on a mission: finish his second trip over the PCT. (His first trip had been back in 1976 when I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.) He had already hiked the Appalachian Trail twice, and the Continental Divide Trail once. He and his wife had walked across Europe three times. In other words, hiking long distances is pretty much what Hob does. He didn’t know whether he would do the Continental Divide again. Large bears, i.e. grizzlies, worry him.
“I’ve camped under this beautiful sugar pine,” he informed me, “because it is my tent’s last night and I want to give it a good experience.” Obviously he liked his tent. In fact, it was well-loved, like a child’s teddy bear after five years of hard loving. The tent was literally falling apart at the seams and Hob had been repairing it with Post Office packaging tape. “My wife is meeting me at Echo Summit with a new tent,” he sighed, more sad than excited. Hob deeply believes that anything you purchase should be used until it is beyond use, and then a little longer.
I hated to tell him that his beautiful sugar pine was a white pine. I’m not sure why I did, except older mountain men like the two of us enjoy knowing our trees. He wanted to debate until I pointed out the cones. And the tree was a beauty, regardless of the type of cones it produced. I am sure that his tent felt well-honored. I wondered if Hob would take it home and bury it in his Connecticut backyard, like a favorite pet. Hob’s pack was in similar condition, but apparently it had a lot of miles left.
The next morning, our discussion turned to the PCT and Hob’s philosophy on long-distance hiking. “It shouldn’t be a race,” he proclaimed fervently. His feeling was that it was becoming more and more like one. He could foresee the day when companies like Nike might sponsor races to see who could finish the trail in the shortest amount of time. I agreed. Just completing the trail in a season leaves little time to appreciate the beauty of the region. Jumping from the already long 20-25 mile days to 30 or 40-mile days would make such appreciation much more difficult. I see nothing wrong with the pride through-hikers feel in finishing the trail; it is a pride well earned. And Hob was quite proud of his accomplishments. But the ultimate value of the hiking the PCT— beyond personal satisfaction and growth— is in experiencing nature and developing a commitment to protecting wilderness areas. The PCT is not a race track.
While the conversation had been stimulating, Hob had miles to go to meet up with his new tent (and wife), and I had more nature to go appreciate. We parted company with Hob heading north and me heading south. Here are some of the things I saw along the way.
I passed a few more lakes and then the PCT did what the PCT always does.
I met a young woman who was talking on her cell-phone with her brother. “I just saw a bear up the trail,” she told me breathlessly. I didn’t see the bear, but I did see…
The last time I had hiked through this area, we had walked around the lakes. The night before, one of my long time trekkers, Nancy Pape, had choked on pills. My friend Ken Lake had jumped in with the Heimlich Maneuver and saved her life. The time before, we had hiked out from the lakes to the small town of Markleeville, California and happened upon the Clampers holding their sacred initiation rites. Men were walking around with toilet seats over their necks shouting obscenities. They were quite upset that we had women along who witnessed the ceremony. The women were amused.
NEXT POST: A walk down Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon and an exploration of the public art along the way. After that, I will do a post on Huichol art in PV and then another post on the PCT.