A Winter of Fits and Starts

Note: This was supposed to go up last week, but I accidentally didn’t set it to publish before leaving town to hike to Badwater Basin. 

Michigan seems to be the heart of the NCT, the NCTA is headquartered there, and I had near constant contact with trail volunteers for much of the state. It should be noted however that I wasn’t in touch at all throughout OH, PA, or NY, so its hardly a complete sample. The first bit of real harsh winter was mostly mitigated by them, although slack packing daylight hours in winter does cut the mileage just by virtue of not holding myself to 13+ hours a day of trudging. One of my longer stays was with my Aunt Kim, who breeds puppies on the side. She mostly deals with smaller breeds, but she has an enormous dog named Bao, that I spent a couple zeros debating… physically. I somehow don’t have many pictures from this period of my trip, probably due to cold, photographic apathy, negligence, or having written off this blog as untenable. So while this is still the Internet, I have to withhold animal photos. (Sorry)

The thaw is often worse than the freeze, and such was the case, many times on the NCT. Leading up to crossing Mighty Mac we had a pretty good thaw, enough that I thought winter might be over and I would have to zip thru to ND quickly if I wanted to avoid the mosquitos of the north woods. Mostly it lead to me charging across breaking ice in wilderness state park over a flooded section of trail. Not the main route, I took a slightly more southern route thru the park to try and check out their shelter. Didn’t find it, got wet up to my thighs anyways. I’ll call that a win for adventure, and a loss for me. It could’ve been a lot worse though, in almost typical MI fashion I was spontaneously rescued by a trail volunteer’s walking partner. (Thanks Nancy, that one would’ve been terrible for a week.) 

Also around this time, I had my second birthday on trail. It was much nicer than the first, In which I spent a cold day, hiking up a steep hill to a clouded out fire tower, while being pretty sick, but that is no longer either here nor there. This one was spent with Yorkshire Pudding and people who have a suspiciously similar last name to mine. (Thanks Bob and Patti!)

Boots on the Ground v2: Boots on the Snow

From the top of Mt. Wynne, only a few days ago. You can see Pinchot pass is pretty clear, but unfortunately the trail is enough of a rut that it has protected the snow, leading me to still be snowshoeing on about 4 to 6 inches of snow, when about half the surrounding ground is clear… that horizontal line of snow on the left about in the middle is the trail down.

A sign atop Donahue Pass on the south border of Yosemite NP, I don’t know how tall it is, but looking back to that last significant snowfall we’ve gotten a lot of melting don in the past couple weeks.

Right around shasta we got a little bit of snow, just enough to make climbing Shasta inadvisable. but in the following days I found quite a few tracks thru the remaining snow. this one seems to have stuck around a ways after the snow it was made in melted away. Such is the power of dirt.

Here’s my pruned foot, neither in a boot nor on snow.

Near Crater Lake I got my first snow of the PCT, and did a fair chunk of trudging. This was the second day of constant wet feet, and it shows a bit. Got to stop in at South Brown Mountain Shelter, build a fire and dry out. Some  of those divots didn’t really go away with the wetness though.

A Return, Greeted by Winter Haze

Returning to trail after an extended holiday stay at home, I found that I had skipped what would’ve been the easiest portion of winter, as temps were still barely holding below freezing. western OH is mostly follows an old canal line, occaisionally with bike path routed on it. this makes for excellent stealth camping as few bike through even the light snow. I passed through Dayton, an inadequately stealth camped, and thus was woken up and evicted. It happened without much trouble or fanfare, but I’ve become a little more cautious as a result, next time may not be so easy. Little in the way of running ground water was left, and I found myself melting snow for water each night and again each morning. This practice, while simple enough is incredibly fuel intensive, leading me to run dry near Defiance. I was able to reach out to the NCTA and the Buckeye trail Association for some assistance and was greatly helped by Anita, Clark, Greg, and Joe in finding an extra fuel cannister. Getting in touch successfully this time lead me to a series of trail angels, whom would pass word of me forward, leading to many, many, more homestays than I anticipated. I probably could have avoided camping entirely if I had wished, finding ways to slack pack instead. I think I ended up spending about four in ten nights inside, throughout northwest OH and most of MI.

Overall this Section had only a few notable mishaps, including accidentally opening up my waterbag inside my sleepingbag on one of the colder nights. This lead to much discomfort, and quite a few crunches as I tried to use body heat to dry my various down garments. Overall the next day was sunny which helped me warm up, although the nightly ramifications lasted for several days. This would be my second worst accident of the season. 

Aside from being aided by Trail volunteers (of whom there are too many to thank individually, without specifically making this post about it) it was not uncommon for me to be offered a homestay when I would stop into a cafe or bar seeking some water I didn’t have to melt. One such encounter that was particularly interesting; I was passed by a man and child in a car, walking on a minor country road, north of Lowell MI. They stopped, and backed up; asking what I was up to. After a short explaination he offered to let me stay in a home he was nearly finished remodeling with the intention to flip it soon. I took him up, and once I had found my way to the home he asked if I liked pizza. (what kindof question is that?!) Leaving me there, I did my evening chores and slept in the empty living room, only to be awoken by the man who now bore Pizza and beer! Turns out, in addition to flipping houses he owns a pizzeria in Lowell. I spent a couple days in town as I passed thru Lowell, I was able to cover a bunch of gear maintenance, cleaning some mold off my sleeping pad, drying out my sleeping bag, and getting my pack swapped out on warranty from the nearest outfitter. Semi-relevant as I recently replaced that pack some 5000 miles later, and some minor patching of my tent.

Animals on the Trail v2: little guys

Preying mantis in NorCal, I’d never seen one in real life. They look super cool, I dunno if it was cold, or something else, but it seemed unable to move significantly. Nice for photos, not so much for its survivability, especially given its right in the middle of the trail. I even passed a NoBo 15 or so miles past who might be the one to spell its doom. Hope you can make it outta there little bug buddy!

This finger sized frog hanging out on a privy seat in ND, I usually avoid picking up little animals, but he was chilling out pretty hard and I wasn’t really looking to sit on him, or wait for him hop off on his own. I see a lot of toads, and hadn’t seen many frogs, atleast not since I was in the southern AT. Then they’d been mating, you could hear the frenzy of croaks for a quarter mile in either direction!

This big ol’ Beetle (?) was trying to roll this rock around ID, wasn’t making much progress, but I sat and watched him try for a few minutes. Kinda wonder why it was so intent on this little stone, probably something mundane, yet nefarious. 

Tiny Spider crawling around some asphalt near an earthen dam in OH, might’ve posted this one on the previous iteration of the blog, but it wasn’t till now that I noticed the the thin thread of silk being spun behind it.

Snowfall, and routing around and after the Sierra

This is a bit late, but after some deliberation I chose to re-route around the Sierra from Sonora Pass due to mixed signals about storms that were passing through in the last week. I intend to go back into the Sierras yet, possibly via Tioga Pass, Mammoth Lakes, or further south depending on conditions.

Keeping this contingency opens up some opportunities to hike by Mono lake, and possibly into Death Valley later on. Also given that I already have future plans to hike the John Muir Trail, I should be able to easily fill in my gaps. While maintaining a continuous footpath for this trip. (I am open to the possibility that if I get ahead of schedule on the CDT I may hitchhike back out here to do the Sierra while still on this trip, but that is less likely)

Finally, I intend to hike west from the PCT near Tehachapi, to complete my coast to coast objective, and return to trail by foot soon after.