Thursday, March 27, 2014

Holy Moly, I think it's coming together!

After almost 3 months of planning, purchasing and dehydrating, I think the end is in sight. It still doesn't feel real but today I was able to start packing up all the food I have been preparing. Finally feels like progress is being made. Twenty-two days until launch and more things to do than I care to think about but it's coming together fast!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

PCT Info, FAQs, Links and Random Stuff


Questions from friends and family (if you have any that I haven't covered feel free to ask in the comment section below)

What will you do about food?

- See my resupply post

There is currently a very bad drought in the West, how will you get water?

As of mid-March the drought outlook is pretty grim. There is still a chance that we will have some late season storms bring more water into the area. But, even on a good year there are some long stretches where no water is available. Fortunately, there is a very active community of people supporting the PCT and thru hikers. Other than word of mouth, which will probably be the most up to date way to keep track of water sources, there is also the water report. This is a very useful resource for keeping track of water sources (there is an app for it as well). Yogis PCT guidebook (which is quite useful) also has good information on water sources. And, a little bit of common sense will also go a long way as well. Strategies for keeping water needs down include resting in the shade during hot parts of the day and hiking in the early morning and late evenings. I plan on using an umbrella as my own personal shade provider, which I think will help with moisture management. Of course, having the capacity to carry large amounts of water (5-7 liters) is also important.

What about wildfires, how will you avoid them?

There is always potential for wildfires along the PCT in any year. This year, due to the drought there could be an increased risk of fires. Again, word of mouth and the trail community are going to be the best source of current information. The forest service is also very good at informing the public about fire dangers and closures. There may be some detours off the PCT to avoid current fires, there are some detours due to fires from last year, this information is also provided by the Pacific Crest Trail Association and is updated very regularly.

Are you worried about wild animals?

No. As far as animals go, I am more worried about mice getting into my food than anything else. Rattlesnakes are generally not a threat, try not to step on them. Bears will be around at some point, I have not had any problems with them so far I don't think that will change. Mountain lions are probably the most dangerous animal and they are rare and generally not at all interested in eating people. I would be very surprised if I ever encounter one. I might get licked by a deer at some point, they seem to really like salt.

Here is a great list of 17 things other than bears to worry about.

Where will you sleep?

On the ground most of the time. I have a very cozy air mattress that will hopefully not fail on me. I am carrying a bivy sack and tarp and that is all the shelter I need. Of course, the periodic overnight in a motel or hostel will also be refreshing.

Are you bringing a personal safety device?

I do not plan on carrying a personal safety device. With preparation, common sense and some basic knowledge, most of the potential for danger on the PCT is mitigated. There can, of course, be accidents but I trust that I can get myself out of most situations. The PCT is also quite well traveled and as I am hiking in the "herd", I have no doubt that I will be around people should an accident occur. The one area where I anticipate the most chance for mishap would be in the Sierras, where snow and fast moving rivers can be dangerous. If the conditions in California do not improve, this year will have minimal amounts of snow and dangerous water crossings. Either way, I plan to do the Sierras with other people I meet on the trail.

Do you have a first aid kit?

Yes, I have a small first aid kit. I have also taken a wilderness first aid course so, hopefully I know how to use what I bring as well. Gear is no substitute for knowledge.

Links to information

Thru Hiking Terminology:
via Scott Bryce's blog  click here
via   here 

General PCT Information:
Pacific Crest Trail Association
PCT databook
Plan your Hike - pretty comprehensive website for planning
Pmags - check out the rest of his blog for great info

PCTA permit page
CA campfire permit

2014 PCT Blogs I am following:

Chase Your Dreams not the Magic
Loveline's PCT 2014 Blog
Rob's Blog 
Blog aggregator for PCT blogs- I am not reading all of these but I do browse from time to time

2013 and earlier PCT blogs of interest:

A Bear in these Woods
BOLO  (quite entertaining)
Find a Bear and Ride It
Russel Mease
Walking with Wired - very extensive blogs about the PCT and CDT, soon to be AT as well
Not a Chance
Boston and Cubby
Lisa and the PCT
Carrot Quinn

Food Preparation:

Backpacking Chef  (Really good source)
Trail Cooking 
DIY Backpacking Meals
Section Hiker
Mountain Ultralight

Monday, March 17, 2014

Resupplying on the PCT

Considering the length of this walk, there is no way I could (or would want to) carry all the food, fuel and other consumable items that will be required. For example, the total food weight I will need is somewhere around 300 lbs. So, a resupply strategy is necessary.

There seem to be three main options for resupplying on a long distance hike in the U.S.:

1. Self resupply along the trail and mailing boxes to areas where there is not a good selection of food. This requires access to a grocery store and post office. There are a number of advantages to this option. Pre-trip planning is kept to a minimum, if you tend to procrastinate (like me) then this allows you to do it on the fly. This option allows you to adjust quantity of food based on appetite, appetites change over the course of a long hike and being able to adjust to these changes allows more efficient meals. You can change your menu based on current cravings/needs, if you can’t stand to eat another dinner of mac and cheese, then don’t buy any more. However, there are disadvantages as well. You are limited to what you can find in the grocery store, this can be a real problem for me sometimes. You may be able to adjust your menus as you go but if your selections are limited to what can be found in the store, this may not be much help. Some stores can be expensive, so costs are potentially higher when not buying in bulk. When making a town stop, there is the stress of shopping, repackaging and shipping when all you want to do is wash up, eat in a restaurant and sleep.

2. Preplan every meal and have a really nice person mail these to locations along the trail. This has some significant advantages as well. Much of the logistics and resupply work can be done ahead of time, this allows time in town stops to be focused on eating, resting and relaxing. Any special dietary needs can more easily be addressed. More healthy meals can be prepared so better nutrition is more likely and better nutrition = more happiness. Preparing meals ahead of time allows a more varied diet, you can prepare countless different meals to give more variety. Buying food in bulk can result in substantial cost savings. Some disadvantages include the risk of preparing too many of the same kind of meal and getting tired of them. I am sure it would be pretty bad to be getting sick of a dinner in the 3rd week and know that you have to eat that meal for 3 more months. Appetites do change over time, it would be very difficult to know how much you will be needing to eat 2 months into a trip, unless you are experienced with long distance hiking. Many of the resupply locations are at post offices, you are restricted to the hours of these in order to pick up the resupply box. There is a cost associated with sending resupply boxes, it is recommended to use priority mailing and this can cost an average of $12-16 per shipment, this can also add up.

3. The third option is the hybrid approach, using a combination of prearranged supply points and re-supplying at larger grocery stores when available. This gives both the advantages and disadvantages of the previous two options. This hybrid option allows some preplanning and cost savings for buying in bulk but also allows some flexibility by buying at certain points along the way. A variety of meals can be prepared beforehand but some meals can be prepared on the fly to suit the tastes and needs of the moment. There is still the difficulty of preplanning meals and shipping to resupply points but not as many need to be preplanned.

My current thinking is that I will go with the 3rd option. I think it allows the most flexibility while still allowing me to customize the meals I think I will want. I like the idea that I can do much of the work ahead of time so that I don’t have to worry about it as much as I go along. I also like the idea of buying some foods along the way in order to get the full thru hiker experience. Therefore, I am working on a timeframe for the walk and a tentative list of resupply points.This is going to be a bit tricky and I will need to allow for some flexibility as I cannot know for sure how things will go. So I will make a list of the places along the PCT where it makes most sense to have a mail drop and a list of where it makes sense to resupply on trail. I will need to include in this list the places where I can supplement my mail drop with perishable items such as cheese, meat, bread and other goodies, as well as snacks. I will also need to note where I can pick up alcohol or fuel canisters for the stove.

My very tentative schedule, I really have no idea how it will work out. The one hard fact is that I have to finish by October, otherwise weather starts to get a bit dicey. Each section is where I will resupply, either by mail drop or by local shopping. I have a total of 22 resupply boxes and I will resupply out of local towns seven times. The longest section of trail between resupplying will be 147 miles and the shortest will be 42 miles.

Tentative Schedule courtesy of Craigs PCT Planner
For those who have expressed interest in meeting me at some point along the trail, you can use the above table for initial planning. But, this schedule is subject to change so we will need to be in touch before any final plans are made.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

PCT Gear List

You will be hard pressed to find a blog about the PCT without at least some mention of gear. People love to talk about gear! And who can blame them? Gear is an important consideration as it can save your life in certain circumstances, and can make the difference between an enjoyable walk or a death march.

However, I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the most important piece of gear, that thing between your ears. Paying attention and using common sense is going to be more important than any single item. There is no substitute for experience, and if given the choice between researching every minutiae of the latest sleeping bags or going on a backpacking trip, take the trip! No amount of gear is going to replace the knowledge gained from practical experience. What I choose to take with me is based on thorough research as well as thorough testing in the field under as many different conditions as I can find.

I have written reviews on a few things but if you are really curious about something I mention, feel free to ask a question in the comment section below.

The following gear is what I plan on bringing with me on the PCT, it supersedes my previous blog entry on what I carry on most of my 3 season backpacking trips. Although I have most of my gear decisions nailed down, there may be a few changes made before and during the trip, so this is somewhat of a work in progress. This list does not include consumable items such as food and fuel. I will break it down into six categories:

1. The Big Three
2. Clothing
3. Cooking and hydration
4. Camera and electronics
5. Everything else
6. Sierra specific gear

1. The Big Three:
The big three refers to what are generally the three heaviest items; shelter, sleeping bag and backpack. For me, it is actually the big six as my shelter is a two piece affair and I would also include the sleeping pad with the sleeping bag.

Zpacks Hexamid solo tarp (see my review)
MLD superlight bivy (see my review)

Zpacks Hexamid and MLD bivy

Enlightened Equipment RevelationX 20 quilt (with 2oz overfill)
Gossamer Gear 1/8" thinlight pad
Thermarest NeoAir regular sleeping pad (see my sleeping pad post)

EE RevX quilt, Neoair and thinlight pad

Zpacks Arc Blast 60L (see my review)

Zpacks Arc Blast

2. Clothing:

Clothing worn while hiking
Columbia Tamiami long sleeve shirt
Nylon shorts
Synthetic boxers
Darn Tough ultralight wool socks
Brooks Cascadia 9 shoes
Outdoor Research Sunrunner hat
Simblissity Levigaiters

My usual hiking outfit, minus the Llama

Other Clothing
Patagonia Houdini windshirt
Montbell stretch wind pants (no longer made)
Patagonia Capilene 1 long underwear (top and bottom for sleeping)
Montbell Ultralight down jacket
2nd pair Darn tough socks (for sleeping)
Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket
Zpack cuben rain wrap
Mountain Hardwear liner gloves
MLD rain mitts
Fleece hat
Cheap Flip Flops

Montbell down jacket, polypro top and bottom, darn tough socks
OR jacket, Patagonia wind shell, fleece hat, fleece gloves, montbell wind pants, zpack rain wrap

3. Cooking and Hydration:

Snow Peak Litemax canister stove (for California)
1100 mL Evernew titanium cook pot
Snow Peak titanium mug
Insulating Pot Cozy

Soda can alcohol stove + Caldera Cone system (for Oregon and Washington)

Sawyer mini water filter
2 - 2.5 liter Platypus bladders
1 to 2 misc. water bottles (Gatorade or Smartwater bottles work well)

4. Camera and Electronics:

Camera, lenses and accesories
Olympus OMD EM-5 camera (see my initial review)
Olympus 75mm f1.8 lens
Olympus 12-40 f2.8 lens
filters + filter holder (polarizer, 3 stop reverse grad. ND)
Cleaning cloth, blower
Battery charger
Hipbelt pouch (for carrying camera)
Lens case for extra lens
Zpacks multipack for carrying extra lens and accessories

picture from

Smartphone (Motorola Moto G)
Solar charger (Homemade - Thanks Dad!)

5. Everything Else:

First Aid kit
Gear repair kit
2 Zpacks cuben fiber stuff sacks for clothing and sleeping bag
1 cuben fiber stuff sack from Lawson equipment for tarp and bivy
Homemade silnylon sack for misc. items
Large sized Alocsack for food
Brunton ADC Pro
Headlamp (Petzl Tikka)
Black Diamond Trail hiking pole
Halfmile maps
PCT data book
Swing Lightflex umbrella
Polycro groundsheet
8 titanium stakes
Zpacks hipbelt pocket
Brunton Compass

6. Sierra Specific Gear:

BV500 Bear Canister
Sea to Summit headnet
Sea to Summit Nano Pyramid Net (see my review)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Long Walk

Have you ever felt like going on a really long walk? I mean one that lasts for days or weeks. Sometimes when I am out hiking, I wonder, what would it be like to just keep going? Those of us living in North America are really blessed, in that, if we wanted, we could just keep walking. Canada and the U.S. are such huge countries, with so much to see and explore. Since I moved back to the U.S., I have been trying to visit as many different parks and wilderness areas as I can. One of the greatest things about America is the system of national parks and more specifically, the system of long trails. I am so happy these trails exist, very few countries in the world have such well maintained trails in such a variety of terrains. Truly something to be proud of.

In total, I believe there are 11 official national scenic trails as well as many other long distance hiking trails (link to National Trails System). The national scenic trails range in length from 220 miles (New England National Scenic Trail) to 4600 miles (North Country National Scenic Trail). The three most well known trails are the Appalachian Trail (2180 miles), The Pacific Crest Trail (2660 miles) and the Continental Divide Trail (~ 3100 miles, trail is open to interpretation), AKA the triple crown. All three of these trails run North to South and can walked in sections or in their entirety. The links will take you to volunteer organizations associated with each trail. People attempting to hike one of these trails are known as thru-hikers. They are a special breed of people who think that hiking for months, being hungry and sore every day and smelling terrible is fun.

Those of you who know me, know that I love the outdoors. I have been hiking and backpacking since I was child. The feeling of being in the wilderness has no comparison and I treasure my time and experiences there immensely. Life gets put back into perspective really fast. As a young man, growing up in the east, I imagined myself hiking the Appalachian Trail at some point in the future. While I didn’t seriously make an effort to do this, it has been in the back of my mind for a long time. After moving to California, and falling in love with the mountains, deserts and forests, that longing to hike a long trail came back very strongly. I started to think more seriously about this a couple of years ago and now it has coalesced into a plan of action.

I have decided to make an attempt of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014. This is quite an undertaking and requires full commitment from me and no small sacrifice from Lori. It will require me to leave my job and us to give up our residence, it will require Lori to make changes that will not be easy. It will require resources, planning, a little luck, and a hell of a lot of determination to pull off. Fortunately, I have a loving and supporting wife who understands my need to do this. Over the course of the next six weeks, I will focus much of my free time and energy on preparation for this undertaking. I don’t expect many people to understand why I want to do this but I invite you to join me as I prepare and attempt to hike the PCT. So, follow along as I stumble my way through this unique experience.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pacheco Falls in Henry Coe State Park

Just back from another weekend jaunt to Henry Coe. This time was not a solo trip and it was great to have some company. Jacob came up with the idea to check out Pacheco Falls, +/- 14 miles from the Hunting Hollow entrance. After nailing down dates and transportation logistics, Jacob, David and I came up with a plan. I met Jacob at his house and we took the Bart over to meet David.

The ride to the entrance was fine, I snoozed in the back of the car for a bit (I did get up at 5 am). We ate lunch at the trailhead and then David realized that he forgot the rest of his food and had to go back into town for more. Therefore, Jacob and I headed out, planning on meeting David later at our campsite. The day was just about perfect for hiking, good temperature and a nice breeze. It was a good thing too, those hills are pretty serious and we were sweating our way up and down trails.

Great exercise but as we headed up our last major climb my legs were like "Dude, you want me to do this again?" I had to give them a little pep talk, and they agreed to cooperate. We dropped down into a valley where the falls were located and made it there about an hour before dark. David joined us about a half hour later and we enjoyed the falls while trying to avoid the loads of poison oak everywhere.

Pacheco Falls

We made camp up by Wood Duck Lake, with the ducks making grunting noises all night long, it was pretty funny. Do those things sleep?

Evening by Wood Duck Pond

I spent the morning wandering around taking photos. The red-winged blackbirds were especially rambunctious, spring is in the air.

The rather odd Zpacks Duplex

David was rocking the hammock

I slept in my bivy, as usual and had a wonderful nights sleep. Had some weird dreams about horses and bees but its all good.

After a leisurely breakfast we cranked out the miles to get back to the trailhead.

Jacob messing around

David, test subject #1

Jacob and I both had a number of ticks on us, David seems to be immune.

After getting dropped off at the Bart and getting back to Jacobs, I had to hit up Punjabi Dhaba on the way home for some awesome Indian food!

Overall, it was a great trip with great company, I can't think of too many better ways to spend the weekend.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Secret of Oh-Bay-Yo-Yo

Every place with a history has its secrets, Joshua Tree National Park is no exception. Before it was protected as a national monument in 1936 (to become a national park in 1994) the land was open for exploration and exploitation. Although Native Americans had lived there for the previous 5000 years, it wasn't until the 1800's that the area began to see drastic changes. Cattle were brought in to graze on the once abundant grasslands, miners were lured by rumors of gold and finally, in the early 1900's, homesteaders began to settle the area. Scattered evidence of all of these people can be found in the park, if you know where to look.

It has become a yearly ritual for Rakesh and I to make a stop in the park on our way back from planting trials in Arizona. In fact, it is hard not to stop, the park is right on our way home and is so beautiful and interesting that we too are lured in. We have made it a goal to explore the park and find some of these secret places. Two years ago we searched for and found Cary's Castle. That was a bit tough, mostly because of the 100 degree heat but also because it was in a fairly remote part of Joshua Tree N.P. Last year we found some abandoned mines as well as an old prospectors house. This was also our first attempt to find the holy grail of secret places in Joshua Tree, Oh-Bay-Yo-Yo cave.

Oh-Bay-Yo-Yo was built back in the early 1900's, so the story goes, by some kids that used to hike from 29 Palms to the Barker Dam to swim. They constructed a "room" that would be stocked with supplies and where they could spend the night. If true, these were some pretty hardy kids! During our first try we failed miserably, the very vague route description we had was totally off (now that I know where it is, I would say it was deliberately misleading).

There is very little information and this time around we only had those vague descriptions as well as photos of some rock formations on the way there. We started the day at White Tank campground. Rakesh spotted 4 large coyotes near our camp, unfortunately I didn't see them but I had heard them during the night.

Rakesh drinking his morning tea

Ryans Ranch Ruins

We drove over to the Boy Scout Trail trailhead and parked the truck. After checking that we had everything we needed, and lots of water, we headed out towards the Wonderland of Rocks. The first four miles are pretty easy walking along mostly dried out stream beds. There had been rain the previous night, so there was actually quite a bit of water.

We passed Willow Hole and headed into a maze of canyons and washes that quickly get confusing. For our second attempt we were relying on technology to help us out. I had my compass (but no detailed map) and Rakesh had his Ipad (with a few screenshots of some rock formations). With these unlikely tools we were hopeful that we would prevail.

Navigation by Ipad

The going quickly became difficult, traversing over boulders and through some pretty unfriendly vegetation.

There is no trail and not really sure where we were going
For most of the day I thought I knew where we were. Foolishly, I trusted the JTNP official park map. In hind site, it is really not detailed enough to navigate from.

I took a little spill, the granite here is not forgiving to skin

But it could have been worse....

Around 3 pm we realized were were off track and headed in the wrong direction. At this point, we had no clue where to look. We turned around and started back down, going to the left of a hill that we had passed on our way up.

We had a series of directional choices to make, many side canyons to choose from. Basically, we just guessed and kept going.

This slab was the first clue we had that we were on the right track
Amazingly, we started to notice some rock formations that Rakesh had on his Ipad. This gave us renewed hope that maybe we would find it.

After seeing the large slab we started down a canyon which required some seriously gnarly bouldering to get through. Neither of us said anything at the time but we were both thinking that one mistake here would result in broken bones or worse. So, with care we made our way down the canyon climbing over, under, and around giant boulders and following a small stream of water.

At the bottom of the boulder field, the canyon opened up into a flat sandy area and after searching for more clues we finally found what we were looking for.


rusted .50 caliber (?) shells
We were pretty stoked to have finally found the cave.

The next day, I still thought I knew where we were. I figured it would be only a couple of hours before we were back at the truck. Instead of heading back up the way we came, we descended down an equally sketchy boulder field into Rattlesnake Canyon. It was as dicey as the previous day but we carefully made our way down.

We took a wrong turn and, after more death defying bouldering, ended up in Indian Cove... twelve miles from the truck.

Fortunately, the way back was easy to navigate. We just had to hike over to the Boy Scout Trail and take the trail back to our truck. The scenery was pretty with lots of little wildflowers blooming.

View down towards Indian Cove from the Boy Scout Trail

After a few hours of fast hiking we made it back to the truck. Then it was time to drive the 8 hours back home...

We paid with blood and sweat but for us, it was totally worth the effort.