Colorado Trail! Gear and other pre-hike thoughts

In less than a week I’m setting off on my next adventure: a thru hike of the Colorado Trail! The CT begins just outside of Denver and ends in Durango, arcing 480 trail miles to the southwest. Along the way I will enjoy views from the ridges and meadows along the continental divide, climb a 14er or three and hopefully catch the spring bloom. There will be some new challenges too. Like angry moose. And afternoon thunderstorms charging through on an almost-daily basis. There’s also some lingering snow after a cool spring, but hopefully the melt will precede me. And it’s nothing like the current situation in the Sierra or Cascades! But I’ve been practicing just in case:​

 

​Other than possibly carrying microspikes, mostly I’m just bringing my PCT gear. I already own it, and know it works for me. Two very important qualities in gear! You can see my even-the-diva-cup complete CT gear list here. I have replaced a few worn out items, mostly socks and shoes, but also my Marmot Essence rain jacket that no longer beads up and is starting to de-laminate after three seasons (not terrible for such a lightweight item). I will re-waterproof the old one and still bring it on shorter trips, but wanted some factory-coated certainty for the whole summer monsoon thing. Also the new red really pops against stormy skies.Having re-sealed the seams after last summer’s storm debacle, my TarpTent Notch is still going strong after 150+ nights. I will be bringing the inner net because mosquito season, but would probably just go with the outer tarp for an August start. I keep dreaming about replacing my reeking-with-the-stench-of-a-thousand-armpits but still perfectly functional ULA circuit pack with something slightly smaller and more colorful. The ULA OHM in orange and Superior Wilderness Designs 35 in teal (swoon!) are top contenders, but I’ve talked myself out of it so far. Sorry airplane seat neighbors. It’s not me, it’s my pack. Actually, I have been fighting off the urge to buy all kinds of shiny-clean new things, but seem to have kept the consumerism mostly at bay. It wouldn’t be too hard to justify an upgrade to a full-sized Saweyr filter, but would it still feel like thru hiking without my daily mini squeeze struggles? I’ve made it five months patiently filtering through a pinhole, surely I can make it one more?

I am slowly learning not to invest big $ in hiking shirts since I tend to trash them (literally). I found a shfancy ex-officio Halo shirt on Sierra Trading Post for $30. It has some magic (anti?) fairy dust that keeps bugs away and hopefully won’t give me cancer. I’m not especially in love with the pale color, but it looks (excessively) respectable with my purple rain hiking skirt (as seen on Half Dome). Am I even hiker trash anymore?Resupply boxes are (mostly) packed. Data book torn into sections with care. And I’m even starting with a friend – Steph who I met on the High Sierra Trail last summer. We have hostel reservations in Breckenridge for the 4th of July (mile 104). I’m only bringing five days food as ‘motivation.’ I might not have told Steph about that part. Follow along and see if we make it on time!

Catalina Day 4: The High Road

January 13, 2016
Parson’s Landing to Two Harbors
Miles: 8

I roll over and poke my head out of the tent just in time to see the sky glow pink with sunrise. I am relieved to see that the ocean has stayed mostly in its place through the night. No need to test the limits of the crumbling seam tape on my aging tent’s bathtub floor. Still in my sleeping bag, I lean out a little further and boil water for breakfast in bed. I decide to relieve Hanie of some freeze dried yakisoba she’s carried all this way but left untouched. It’s terrible. Note to self: bring real food on short trips.DSC06055Hanie has decided to take the road back to town, content with seeing what we’ve seen, still feeling a bit under the weather. I think she also wants to test out solo hiking before hitting the Camino de Santiago later this spring. I will be looping back to town on the high route, climbing back up to the ridges for another dose of stunning views.

I wander lost a bit looking for the right trail since I’ve decided to skip the last out and back to Starlight Beach, the true end of the Trans-Catalina Trail. I’ve heard it’s anti-climactic, not nearly as nice as Parson’s Landing. I find the correct path, and am soon suffering the consequences. The ridge looms 1750 feet above the beach, and most of this elevation is gained in a single mile of trail. I tackle what is rumored to be an exceptionally steep – even by Catalina standards –  fence line trail in reverse, each step barely in front of the last. There are several stretches where I could have easily used my hands if they weren’t holding trekking poles. Hanie would have hated this, I muse, as I attempt to giggle while gasping for oxygen and instead choke on my own laughter.  It’s always impossible to really show how steep the grade is, but with that in mind consider the following:DSC06065

DSC06075After a few demoralizing false summits, I am back up in the sky. And, as always, on this captivating island, the views are so worth it. The ochre earth, saturated with recent rains, so bright against the deep blue seas. And finally, I have found a bit of island devoid of tire tracks. A sign reminds me that Starlight Beach is only 3.5 miles away. But it’s not really in my plans. I stop to reconsider, but do not want to tease the ferry – it’s Wednesday and the next boat doesn’t leave Two Harbors until Friday. No need to create a stressful day by power hiking an extra 7 miles with a deadline. Besides, I have nothing to prove (I lie to myself) so this is a good challenge in choosing fun over miles [Update: a year later I regret not doing those last miles. Darn purist ethics or ego or both].DSC06078After a few hours of ups and downs, the trail weaves its way back down to sea level, passing through a public works yard and back to town. I find Hanie at the beach. She seems surprised to see me, assuming I would have caved and added those extra miles instead of coming straight back. Hanie ended up walking with the dude from the beach.  His GPS conforming that the distance by road is closer to 8 miles, the same as by trail. The many signs and mile markers, while reassuring do not feel particularly accurate here.DSC06084 Though the trail is officially 37 miles end to end, we’ve manage to log 43 miles without even tagging the far shore of the island. I nap on the beach in the winter sun, rolled up in the tent against the ocean breeze, food bag and ziplocks strewn about. “That was very hikertrash” declares Hanie when I wake. 

On the ferry ride back to Long Beach, a friendly long-time local answers forty miles of accumulated questions, topped off with bonus stories aplenty. Hanie’s veterinary background makes for easy conversation with a live-off-the-land local. We learn that the many fences were built to assist in managing (read: culling) an out of control population of wild goats and pigs. The first attempt, you see, at machine guns slaughter via helicopter was not entirely successful. So they divided the island into quadrants, which were then meticulously  walked by teams that shot everything in sight. Oh, island life. It’s so gentle and peaceful. Less distressingly, we also learn that the bison are, ironically, one the the genetically purest populations. The original prairie herds where they originated  have since mixed with cattle. So now there’s an exchange program, whereby SoCal bison are deposited into South Dakota winter, and left to puzzle the mystery of the cold white stuff on the ground.

The ferry makes a stop in Avalon, and the sun sets as beautifully as it rose four days ago. A fitting end to a pretty trip with eventful skies.DSC06094

2031 Bridge of the Gods

I sleep in, having bought myself some extra time by making miles last night. And because the alternate is actually a bit shorter than the official trail. I have plenty of time to enjoy the string of magnificent falls along Eagle Creek, each more spectacular than the last. Though every step is blister pain today, raw skin jostled against each rock underfoot, I barely notice with so much to see. There’s Twister falls, spinning off into the abyss; the famous tunnel falls, draped in moss and ferns dripping with mist. No one is here, so I take a million terrible selfies before ceremoniously walking through.

So much of this trail, like the tunnel, is dynamited through the rock face, the kind of aggressive trail making that would never happen here today. Paths blasted from the cliff faces, strung with thick cables to provide handholds between mossy cliff and sheer drop offs. IMG_7708The crowds thicken as I near the trail head, hoards of day hikers at Punchbowl falls, where a day hiker plunged to his death just last week. The falls are mostly obscured by vegetation and he fell after having climbed the safety barrier for a better view.

At the trail head parking lot I rush to use the facilities – there’s been nowhere at all to go, stuck between the cliffs and the crowds. Then the last miles on the paved bike path parallel the river. And during these miles, the tears well up as they do when something so deeply burrowed into your soul is coming to an end, until the Bridge of the Gods makes me cry. The bridge is named for Native American legend-as-oral history, in remembrance of a landslide that once connected these distant banks. Now a lacy expanse of steel spans the river-as-colonial-border. IMG_7759I feel excited and sad, proud and guilty all at once. I’ve made it so far, yet still have that 80ish mile stretch back by Crater Lake tugging at my conscience. This year has been so strange, being on and off trail so much. But I guess that’s to be expected when you attempt a long-distance hike while technically holding on to a full time job. So I head to town to eat my feelings until family arrives to whisk me back to my default life (and the biggest nicoise salad of my dreams), though already I’m dreaming of fall in the Sierra.

August 6th, 2016
Miles 14
Trip: 644 PCT Miles for Summer 2016
Total PCT Miles Hiked: 2070ish
PCT Mile Marker: 2144

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2098 Thirty + One

Spoiler: I did it!

My alarm goes off early, too early. It’s August now, and I have forgotten how much the days are shortening toward fall. I wake up all ambitious, but it’s still dark out, darker than I enjoy wandering alone in the woods. I wait a bit for things to brighten, but eventually anticipation overcomes fear and I wander into the barest dawn light to fetch my ursack from a nearby tree.IMG_7926I am off to a clunky start, all stiff in the cool air, slow on the downhill and there’s a lot of it today – almost 11,000 feet. But the views are plentiful, waterfalls crashing into steep ravines, sky rosy with sunrise. Eventually I make it down the first big hill, not feeling super optimistic about my mileage goal. There are several creeks to cross, cloudy brown and swift with glacial melt. Sandy Creek on a slapdash pile of branches that somehow support my weight, and Muddy Creek on a sketchy double log situation where you can’t see your feet and everything gets narrower as you go. At Ramona Falls, I take a break I wasn’t meaning to take, because I had them all to myself. For the next few miles, repeated from yesterday, I half expect to see my dog leading the way. But she’s home safe in Portland and it’s just me vs. the miles.IMG_7654After the creek obstacles, there’s a massive hill of switchbacks, unusual for Oregon. But at least they are lined with berries – ripe excuses for pauses on the way up. Over the next few miles, I gorge Hungry caterpillar style: blue huckleberries, blueberries, red huckleberries, salmon berries, thimble berries. I even score a trail magic banana to add to the fruit salad accumulating in my belly. But miles! I am supposed to be making miles… Luckily I can go a very long way on a bit of caffeine and some good tunes. Also, voodoo donuts help. I made a detour to add them to my resupply on the way to the trail.IMG_7540On I push, trees opening up here and there to reveal ever-shrinking views of Mount Hood, until my feet force a break. I peel off the tape and inspect my feet. Small blisters have sprouted on heels and toes; worse than they ever were even in the desert PCT last year. But at least not swollen and tender on the bottom like those first weeks back on trail in NorCal this year.IMG_7662These last miles before the gorge are like a mini-review of Oregon: forested ridges, distant lakes, paths through lava. And the volcanic peaks, those in Washington now looming closer as Hood shrinks in the distance.IMG_7929I stop for dinner at a picnic table, just where the Eagle Creek alternate, the path almost everyone not on a horse or chasing a record takes, branches off. The sun is sinking below the hills, but I decide to bravely go on. The trail careens downhill, like some daredevil mountain bike track. It makes no pretense of easing you into the terrain. There are no switchbacks, no campsites, no water sources. Up or down are the only options. To my relief its not especially slippery either, a relief considering the angle. Make short work of it all the while glad to not be going up, particularly after 26 other miles.

The rewarded is an Eagle Creek trail so blissfully flat, soft and well maintained. The last lingering rays of sunlight filter through the trees, warming all the greenery, Oregon grape drooping with bunches of ripe purple berries. I think about Elk Lakes a few weeks back, where one of the section hikers who I joined for dinner asked me, upon learning that I was doing 25+mile days, what the last few miles felt like each evening. While (gasp!) I don’t love every mile I do (maybe less than half are smiling in the moment type fun), I responded that the last miles were not necessarily the most tedious or painful, it really depended on the circumstances. Today is an excellent example, where the hardest miles terrain wise were followed by three most pleasant last miles, and the worst of the day was somewhere in the middle, when the trail turned rocky and I realized I was sprouting all kinds of unexpected blisters.IMG_7930Three more miles to a beautiful creek side campsites (there’s one dry camp option a mile or so sooner), and I arrive just before dark. So I make my 30 plus one and change. Despite the 6,000 feet of elevation gain and 11,000 feet of loss. Despite all my waterfall gazing and berry grazing. I collapse in my tent, so happy to claim my first 30, after 10 days off trail. And unbelievably, my knees still appear to be working, without much pain at all.

August 5, 2016
Miles: 31.5 (New Record!)
Trip: 635
PCT: 2030 (ish) hard to say because alternate.

2094 North Again, Alone Again

Today started with a day hike. And with the idea for what was supposed to be day hike. I’ve been hanging out in Portland, editing a journal article, and doing other such default work. But I was itching for some trail time and I’ve wanted to go to Ramona falls for several summers now, independent of the PCT. When I suggested the day trip, Stephen offered to leave me at Timberline afterwards so I can finish the 50 mile stretch to Bridge of the Gods and the Washington border (woot!).IMG_7916Ramona Falls: The Day Hike takes pity on worn knees. It’s a very rewarding gentle loop, and the washed-out bridge makes for a water crossing that adds a touch of excitement. I have been worried that Onyx, who is not exactly a water dog, would refuse to cross on the log. But it’s only myself that I needed to worry about. Onyx tears across like a pro, tail wagging. But part way over, I chicken out, knees shaking because my adult brain has somehow stopped being able to handle the idea of logs over water, and my walk devolves into a humiliating butt scoot. Just keeping it classy.

The waterfall itself is nice, but a bit underwhelming because I have read so much about it for so long. I end up enjoying the return walk the most, following close beside the moss-lined perfect little creek, trail soft and forest extra green. I will be repeating this stretch tomorrow and plan to take the prettier alternate again.

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IMG_7601Then back up to Timberline I go, this time, no confusion about finding the trail. It’s already 6pm, so I head off mostly with camping in mind. The trail is sandy-gravel, with steep melt-water carved gullies to traverse. I pass by a large waterfall just upstream, glowing golden in late day sunlight, but I’m already partway up the hill before I look back and notice the perfect creek side campsite. I think whist fully of the waterfall passed by and promise not to pass up a view campsite should I see one further up.IMG_7917And a mile or so later I do, following a use trail to a sandy bit of forest just big enough for my single tent, on a ridge with sweeping views south and east. To Jefferson and all the ridges in between, blushing with the setting sun. IMG_7628My alarm is set for too early. I’m hoping to finally do a 30 mile day tomorrow, though almost two weeks off trail and the not-so-flat-for-Oregon terrain is going to make it tough. Still, it’s my last opportunity to do so this year. I’ve set myself up for 30s a few other times this year, but always made saner choices: stopping to swim at a lake, to grab a beer, or because I knew it would mean hurting the next day. So why do I want to do this? To say I did. For all the times I get asked about the most miles I’ve done in a day. And, to see if I can. Wish me luck!

August 4, 2016
Miles: 4 PCT + 7 day hike
2016: 602
PCT: 2014

1923 Shelter Cover for Now

When I wake just before dawn, the mosquito chorus is already there, whining at my door. I pack quickly and take off down the trail, mosquitoes in pursuit. I am so over this buggy-flat forest without views. Without friends. I come up with a list of reasons to go home: the dog is sick, my blister is infected, the mosquitoes. But really, I am content with what I have done this year, I tell myself, I am ready to leave the trail graciously and move on to other adventures for a while and to responsibilities. Like the job I am currently being paid to do (that is not hiking).

IMG_7454Ten miles from Shelter cove, I get phone service and call Stephen and ask if he can drive down to pick me up. Working out the details is taking too long, and as I wait, standing still so as not to lose the precarious signal, the mosquitoes have found me. They are  biting my shoulders through the supposedly bug-proof shirt, crawling through the gaps between my button holes, working their way up under my head net.

Then, only a few miles after I make the call to bail, the mosquitoes magically dissipate, even as I walk past the string of perfectly sparkling Rosary Lakes, waters a tropical blue (note to self: come back here some day!). Instantly, I regret making the call. I regret caving in to the bugs on a bad-mood day. But the blister, I try to reason, not quite convincing myself. But such are the dangers of section hiking to close to a home base.

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IMG_7807At Shelter Cove hiker friends gather in the shade of a tent beside the store. Autumn Leaves is here, and Sarah and Zach too. A hundred miles, gritting my teeth and plodding through the mosquito-lake-forest alone and the others were mere miles ahead the entire time. Stay, they plead. It’s only a few more days to Crate Lake and finishing the section. Nah, I say. I’m good. I’ve tried this section from both ends, thwarted once by snowstorm and a broken phone, and again by too many lonely days with a fishy-blister in the swamp-forest. And to make my point, I ceremoniously dump my filthy, hot, ineffective “bug” shirt into the trash. IMG_7914In some ways, I really am content. I have walked 600 miles in a month. I have reached my personal 2000 mile mark of the PCT.  Through freezing rain and snowstorms, heat and poison oak. Across treacherous snow bridges, and vast lava fields. I have woken up beside sparkling lakes, above the clouds. Stuffed myself with sweet purple berries, and terrible cheap hiker box ramen. And while some days doing all of this alone is enough, in the long-run it’s really about sharing things with others. And so I go, with my partner and our dog back to the city, at least for a while.

July 23, 2016
Miles: 19 + 2 To Shelter Cove
PCT: 1903
Trip: 598

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1951 Doing the Mosquito Dash

Everything is dominated by the mosquitoes today. Everything. They determine my pace, limit my breaks and keep me from swimming in the many, many shallow warm lakes. I cruise right past lake after turquoise lake, which I see instead as mosquito hatcheries, as danger zones where blood-suckers spawn. Oh Oregon, one day you are the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, the next your are the worst.

IMG_7440I take only the most cautious brief breaks in random places that offer some respite: a dry sunny rock pile, a sunny campsite with a hint of breeze. But mostly I keep walking head net on, speeding ahead to get away, all the while knowing I am only speeding deeper into the mosquito zone. I try so hard to keep my cool, but I am flustered by the winged menace. I am so distracted that one rushed attempt at a bathroom break ends with a shoe full of my own warm pee. Such is the glory of long-distance hiking.

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Today’s view: mosquito-spawn puddlles through head net.

It is cruiser trail at least, the soft flat trail of Oregon rumors so the miles come easily and there are some interesting humans headed north, breaking the monotony of the never-ending previously logged forest. There’s a group of 13 from South Korea out section hiking. I pass them spread out over several miles, some stop to ask questions. A man in an orange shirt, struggling near the end of the pack, South Korean flag obvious on his pack, stops. He pauses for a moment to gather his words and asks, rather hilariously, “Have you seen Asian people?” I do my best to keep a straight face, and reply through my grin, that if he is looking for the team from South Korea, they are just a few minutes up ahead. A few minutes later another man stops: “Is your boyfriend up ahead?” he asks. Seriously, here I am trying to crush miles and out-hike the mosquitoes, and you stop just to ask me about my “boyfriend?” My potential rage-turns to total amusement as I spend the next few miles wondering who my “boyfriend” is and if I will get to meet him.

My blister-wound is feeling off, the one that filled with volcanic dust a few days back, so I stop to investigate. The tape has shifted, open wound with dirt in it, red at the edges, tender at the bottom, and most worrisome, it’s emitting a kind of fishy smell, which I confirm is not just my feet in general. It is definitely nowhere near healing and it has been five days. I will try to find Neosporin at the lake where others will be on a weekend. But I might be ending my hike at Shelter Cove if it’s not looking better tomorrow.

Charlton Lake is everything it is supposed to be. Just big enough, not too cold, sandy-rocky bottom. It’s only 6:30. I could easily push on, try to make the 30 mile day I keep talking about, but this lake. And what am I out here for anyway? I set up my tent right near the shore as refuge from the bugs and dive right in. The cool water washes away three days of stickiness, rescuing my day from being all bugs and drudgery.

Revived, I meet Drew, a PCT hiker doing a giant section south to Whitney. He’s a solo-hiking twenty-something white dude, who was just ahead of me this afternoon. “You’re my boyfriend!!!” I exclaim, laughing, and then explain away his confusion. Then I head over to another site, where car campers have walked in a massive amount of gear – coolers, tents, chairs – to set up by the lake. Their dogs have been barking, so I introduce myself to see if it will help them calm down. Apparently, the dog in distress is not theirs, they offered to take care of it for the day after learning that their camp neighbors had planned to leave it alone in the tent all day (!). Seriously, who does that? It’s near dark now, but the dog’s owners are still not back. The kind humans offer me beer, which I accept. And I head back to my tent, eating behind the safely of bug mesh, watching as the setting sun tints the world a gentle pink: even the mosquitoes cannot ruin this view, this swim, this perfect evening at the lake.

July 23, 2016
Miles: 27 + 1 from Elk Lake
Trip: 576
PCT: 1923

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