August 11th 2016, to February 2nd 2017.
A far cry from my original plan to complete the PCT within 100 days, but I self sabotaged that plan almost immediately. Second crown in hand, and onto San Diego to complete the coast to coast portion of my trek. The CDT is almost in my sights.
As I am getting back on the PCT post-holiday break it seems that I may have made the wrong choice with regards to weather. Had I stayed on trail I would have finished out SoCal without much trouble, but it seems we’ve caught a few decent storms since then, so I’m coming back in with a pretty similar kit to what I carried thru the Sierra, basically just minus an Ice Ax. Carrying the snowshoes unnecessarily feels a little silly, but I think I may get some use out of them given how low snow line is on San Jacinto.
Although, my kit doesn’t change that much season to season, I try and keep my budget a little too tight for that. Most of this stuff has come a long way, and my use conditions for this trip put a bigger premium on durability (or warranties) than I would if I were doing a single trail. Both puffy jackets were acquired on trail, although the top one I picked up on mile 40 o the AT… the second is perhaps a bit overkill now, I’ve only worn them together a couple times. (namely atop Mt. Whitney) While keeping weight down is important, preventing gear failure (especially in winter conditions) is paramount; both from a sense in that if I am carrying it, then I need it to be not broken, and in a sense that replacing gear cuts into the coffers, which ultimately will be what forces me off trail.
The red and silver sleeping bag liner is a vapor barrier, which really does extend the range of comfort. Although I already sleep quite warm, and early in the trip found that my 20°F bag I could sleep comfortably into the teens. This has since receded a bit as I think I may have worn or otherwise damaged the down. Despite washings it never seems to recover its original loft, it is however still quite warm, and with VBL layers and some midnight crunches I haven’t found too much trouble sleeping below 0°F. Also of note slight modifications to my tent, having added a set tension distributing guy lines, I reduced the number of stakes required for setup by 4, bringing minimum setup to 4 stakes and fully battened down at 6 stakes. I recently modified it further. Using some small plastic rings cannibalized from my backpack, to minimize the cord on cord action, which should prolong the life of the guylines a bit.
Jetting thru WI’s 200 miles in 6 days neither left room for error, nor was a section prone to it, with a gentle elevation profile and overall easy to follow tread. Its greatest challenges came in the mundane challenge of mustering quickly in the morning and bedding down quickly at night. Such sections aren’t the most interesting to recall as a narrative, but are often wonderful in the moments; a simple pleasure, wherein talents learned in previous hardship aren’t tested, but exercised. Hiking the North woods in the spring, preseason to the more crowded summer offers cushier conditions than I think most expect. Cool, but not bitter cold temps, combined with longer daylight hours, keep you up and moving in the day and resting easily at night. The bugs that swarm from the upper Midwest’s many waterways aren’t out yet in any significant force. The woods are most often empty of people, as schools are still in session and vacation season is a ways off; and aside from turkey, hunting seasons are closed. Autumn is still my favorite time to be outside, but trading the foliage for more daylight, and less consideration for being downrange of hunters doesn’t seem unfair at all.
None of that is to say that my way through WI was wholly unremarkable, I trudged long into the night to find shelters that were perhaps overly ambitious targets. Once of which was a small hardly optimally shaped building with a door, and made up my first night in the state. The next, and last was more a standard Adirondack style shelter, but with columns closely spaced instead of wall near the open end, as an architectural flourish to an otherwise simple building. Or finding myself sleeping beside a stream underneath a low clearance bridge, having left the day unplanned and ending with miles of road before the next bit of trail, without knowing if camping is even permitted near that trail head. Or getting mixed results hoping for shortcuts by following jeep trails.
Spring thaw was in full effect as I tromped thru WI, as the contrast between these pictures show. I’m sure I would’ve encountered more places where the trail becomes a pond, had off trail section of WI been weighted more towards the end, but as it was I found myself practically snowshoeing into the state and wading out into Jay Cooke. Where I got spirited away by my friend Lars, first back to his cabin, and then back home to the Cities to have myself a bit of a spring break. I seem to diverge from hiking quarterly, and then inevitably get delayed in getting back to trail, as I often put myself at the mercy of whatever cheap or free transport I can find. (Friends and Family have been super helpful on this front, although I suspect some foul play has perhaps been involved in some of my delays.)
Ever maligned, often deservedly so. Road sections have something to offer, especially if you count making peace with the death that speeds past, not but an arms length away.
In the final section of the NCT, while following the ill fated McClusky Canal; ya gotta take what elevation change you can, and this ten foot embankment is about it.
Finding a roadwalk route from Lake Sakakawea to Glacier NP isn’t too hard, but a little effort and some extra miles to get you off of US2 in Eastern MT is worth it. Even if you do see the rockies for an extra day before reaching them.
The Joys of having left the plains, to the point where turning around yeilds a view to Chief Mountain, instead of the seemingly endless horizons.
Crossing 138, (not walking along it… I know) into Crater Lake NP, even the road caught some of the sunset’s reflection. Climbing Mt. Thielsen that afternoon put me behind enough to catch this here, rather than somewhere in the forest without a clear view to the skies.
I mostly travel went without incident. Something that should perhaps be surprising, given how many icy tree bridges I balance beam across. (This didn’t fail me until near Donner Pass, CA actually. So I call that a win.) However my worst accident of the North Country Trail came while travelling on what I assume is regularly an (unmaintained?) jeep trail, or perhaps snowmobile route, I broke through ice, into a stream that had covertly washed out part of the road. Luckily landing only about thigh to waist deep in water, but getting pretty wet up to my stomach or chest. The kicker being that it happened while snowshoeing. Which proves exceptionally unwieldy in deep and rushing water. This delayed my escape to dry snow, so I couldn’t waste any time, and decided to press on for the day. Fueling myself with the necessity of a far away ration, and the possibility of inadequate food stores. A hint of warmth returned to my legs before nightfall, but a sense of existential cold lingered for a few days, settling in my extremeties. I camped near a stream, off a back road, where I was happily able to maintain immediate self sufficiency. Streams seem to have a moderating effect on the surrounding tempuratures; or atleast I have convicinced myself as such, which within limits may even be more important. I get by on positing minor factors that may be aiding me in the face of obvious detrimental factors more often than I’d care to admit.
I had been receiving the occasional warning about a long unmaintained section of trail in the second half of the UP; which I seemed to navigate deftly as I am not wholly sure where exactly it was… although there were many sections that were slowed by white-out, such that blazed painted on trees aren’t visible at a useful distance. Durring where I thought it had been I was able to find blazes semi regularly or otherwise follow what seemed like an established path. Although quite a few little stream crossings required a bit of walking up or down stream seeking a suitable fallen tree to improvise myself a bridge with. The Porkies, whom I had been hyped up for, did not quite live up to the hype; though it may have been due to them missing such excitement as taking an unexpected swim, or just being foggy my whole visit. I was pleasantly surpised to find they had backcountry huts, then dissapointed to find them lock, then rode the rollercoaster of trail emotion back up when their privies were unlocked! Leaving the Porkies, signs signs of civilization became increasingly recent, until I was in small state parks, and with a long final thaw began the long roadwalk out of MI after 1150 or so miles. Making it the longest state at the time; only to be beaten later by CA, which would end up exceeding 1800 miles.
Second to last stop before catching the PCT. Camped out in an abandoned miner’s cabin, thatvhas since been refurbished for recreational use. The Map said it was a Tungsten Mine, and being on the side of Wolframite Mountain seems appropriate. There was quite a spread of old heavy machinery strewn about, I spent a couple hours photographing, and didn’t even check it all out! Deserves another trip honestly.
Eby’s Stamp Mill, across the river from Belden, CA and just along the roadside. Used to Process Gold from ore, now its mostly a nice place to have a roadside picnic. Complete with privy.
A saw measured for cutting square-set timbers, for the Comstock Lode in Virginia City, NV. I got to take a short side trip out there from South Lake Tahoe with one of the women who was also staying at the hostel there.
Saline Valley Salt Tram Crossover Station. This used to be the top of a system of Gondolas that could transport people and salt from Saline Valley (just west of Death Valley proper, and inside the National Park) to the Owens Valley, and thus the rest of California. In the brief research I did for this I feel like I should’ve poked around a bit more, I was in quite a hurry to badwater though. Will return here aswell.
Freezes and thaws continued to define my way thru MI’s Upper Peninsula. Spring was trying its hardest, its success was somewhat limited to a near permanent overcast cloud cover, and the occasional flooded trail section. The swings between quality of trail maintenance in the UP is immense; from blazes marked on seemingly alternating trees, to unmarked sections where I could never be quite sure I had just begun cross country travel. I certainly spent more milage of the UP moving cross country, sans trail, than any other bit the trip I have thus far. Both routing around flooded sections, finding stable ice or tree bridges for flooding creek crossings, or just having lost trail.
Hitting the beaches of Superior was one of my NCT high points. The massive lake really moderated the temperature nearby, and gave me my first clean view to the horizon since the endless farmlands of OH. The whole of the NCT as it keeps to Lake Superior’s perimeter is worth the hike in lieu of committing to a full thru-hike attempt. (Mile for mile it’d maybe be most rewarding to do Ely, MN to Lowell, MI)
In Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, I met my first backpacker on trail for the year. It was still a pretty isolated event, the next wouldn’t be for a month, till I had made it onto the Superior Hiking Trail in MN. Heading westward thru the UP also heralded a return of shelters, with some pretty interesting ones tucked about the woods. (Pictures of these may come later, as I seem to have about a month long gap in pictures onboard. Hopefully I backed them up at some point.) from the locked shelters in the Porcupine Mountains, to sitting alongside abandoned (historical) Old Victoria. Some must’ve been built recently, or atleast repaired, as they were permeated with the smell of fresh cut wood. A nice thing in the moment, but frequently serving to return my own smell to my consciousness upon my exit.
This week comes with some extra pictures, since I messed up last weeks post.
Benson Hut, just a little south of Donner Pass on the PCT. The shelters out west don’t get the love they do on the AT, but they are generally super nice. Combining unique construction and eclectic feature sets, I dunno why most thru-hikers out here aren’t super pysched on them…
A little old gem in the Pasayten Wilderness, I didn’t end up staying here, but despite the disrepair I could see myself doing so. Its got bunks, a dirt floor, and a tree on the roof, what’s not to like? Elmo was still keeping up with me fer this one, but the PCT and TK were almost in sight and I was getting a little over-excited to do high mileage.
Not the shelter I stayed at, but Lakenenland had a little adirondack shelter out back, complete with cots, a table, and full window exterior doors. This little picnic shelter makes a better picture what with the sculpture an all. Also I don’t seem to have a picture of the actual shelter…
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!)
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.