Our Wild Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail
August 1, 2014 | By Mandy Shintani
Mandy Shintani & Garth Taylor (written by Mandy)
Dedicated to our fathers Norm and George who always led us to believe that Life could be an Adventure.
“No running water, cell phones, stores, toilets or showers?” These were my thoughts just before leaving for our 8-day trek on the beautiful Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon! Just dehydrated food, a GPS, camping essentials, 2 spare underwear (ok, maybe I snuck in 3) in my 30 lb backpack (my husband’s was 45 lbs) and of course my trusty Urban Poling Adventure Poles. While I left the planning of our trip to my husband, I did happen to glance at one of the trail books and read about the “tremendous number of mosquitoes” until mid-July. Yikes! So in went a mosquito head net and DEET. I had found about the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from another occupational therapist who, in her twenties, had bravely hiked the entire trail on her own from the border of Mexico to Manning Park in Canada in 4.5 months! Once I heard her stories about this trek, I knew this was one Adventure that had to go onto the bucket list. Likely, the PCT will be included on many buckets lists after the major motion picture “Wild” is released this December (the book is on the current best seller list) based on a woman’s journey on the entire trail.
Our Journey of 115 kilometres near the border of North California to Crater Lake Park (Central Oregon) Hwy 140 to 138.
Day 1 – 14.4 kilometres to Summit Lake
As a newbie to long distance trekking, I was pretty nervous about heading into the bush for 8 days with my husband, “BioGee” (It is a tradition for everyone on the PCT to assume a trail name and my husband, Garth is a biologist who explained a lot about the beauty of nature on the PCT) . We were quite surprised at how well the trail was maintained as well as the low gradient. A great trail built for long distance hiking versus challenging and steep climbs.
The trail was apparently designed to be no more than a 4% grade and away from commonly used public spaces. Quite a bit less technical than trekkers who regularly hike in Coastal BC or mountain ranges are used to, in particular compared to the West Coast Trail. In fact, most of the young fellows who were trekking the entire trail or long distances (called “THRU-hikers”) actually wore running shoes as the trail is flat and basically free from roots or puddles. Most of the THRU hikers that we met were young men hiking on their own.
The landscape is spare forest and almost desert-like on the ground. Along the way, you see a few swallow lakes so crystal clear you can see to the bottom and very dry conditions alternating with wetlands (hence the “wall of mosquitoes,” as described by our fellow THRU hikers). We were a lower caste of trekkers called “Section –Hikers” who only get to look down upon the day or overnight hikers.
We met a few people on this trek, including a father and son duo who were trekking for 30 days but walked miles alone at their own pace, eventually meeting up at certain times of the day.
At the end of the day, we found a secluded lake and we gladly took off our heavy packs (and smelly hiking boots) and set up our camp. Designated campsites in the PCT consist only of a flat area large enough for a tent and sometimes a circle of large rocks for a campfire.
With our first day of hiking behind us, believe or not, we actually ate Spaghetti Carbonara! We used a combination of powdered milk and grated cheese – check out the book by Gretchen McHugh with recipes for awesome meals out of dehydrated food. Even a foodie would agree it was delicious! Bio-Gee can work miracles on a single element lightweight camping stove but also, what is it about eating during a trek that makes even water taste fantastic?
Eating away from the tent and slinging our food bag up in tree at least 10 feet off the ground (even your toothpaste and soap goes into the bag) helped rest my mind that hungry bears might leave us alone (the bear spray in the tent helped, too). Bedtime was at 7:30 pm, and I nearly dove in to escape the evening mosquitoes! After bandaging up Garth’s blisters, I tried to settle into a night of blissful rest but was too preoccupied with the thoughts of curious creatures of the night and my greatest fear: having to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
On day 2 till the evening of day 4, we did not see another soul. On Day 2, we really started to settle and began to really love walking all day in the peace and quiet of the forest. Each step became automatic and almost like mediation. Deep in thought and tired, conversation slowed down to the occasional comment like, “cool breeze eh” or “wow, look at the view.” I loved the simplicity of our time on the PCT. Our only concerns or material needs for the day: what we carried on our backs and locating the next source for water. Peaceful is the one word that most comes to my mind to describe our time on this trail.
After a day of 21 kilometres of hiking, we settled down at Heavenly Twin Lakes and, as the only trekkers, we landed the best spot, right in front of a lake so beautiful that we spent hours that evening just watching in silence as fish jumped and damsel flies skipped along a very still surface.
On this day, which I felt was one of the highlights of our trip, we hiked 20 kilometres up Devil’s Peak which is a favourite for day hikers or overnight trips. In order to keep the trail at a 4% grade, the trail consists of switchback which was very much appreciated walking uphill with a very heavy pack. At the top we were treated to fantastic views!
This trek gave me a chance to see firsthand how our Adventure pole performed on long distance treks. We used the Adventures poles continuously to take weight off our backs (with my pack being 30 lbs and BioGee’s pack being 45 lbs), stabilize ourselves in steep conditions (like the one above), keep our posture more upright and help to prevent falls. The wide base of the handle was so handy for pulling ourselves up hills and stabilizing ourselves going down. The ergonomic handle was very comfortable for all day, even on days that we hiked up to 10 hours. Also, the secure locking system never gave out during steep climbs and very long days, while the anti-vibration features helped maintain the peace and quiet of the trail. This 3 sectional pole was small enough to be secured easily on the back of our packs.
Day 4 – Zero Day, otherwise known to the rest of us as a rest day
BioGee felt it was best to take a zero day on day 4 as we need to prepare for trekking 30 kilometres to the nearest site for water and BioGee needed some time to take care of some nasty blisters. On this day, we washed our clothes in the spring and just took a lot of naps.
That evening we finally saw humans! 3 young fellows who were THRU-hikers and generally hike about 32 kilometres per day. We met Kun, a young man from Belgium who was quirky and very funny – like most of the THRU hikers (young men on their own who have picked all of their gear & food based on weight).
Although well suited up for light travel, Kun arrived haggard and on the verge of losing it after deciding to wear a long black light fleece jacket in 36 degree temperature to discourage mosquitoes. He looked enviously (as only a fellow PCT hiker can) at my beige long sleeve REI shirt (SPF 50) that BioGee said made me look like a nun in safari wear (see photo below for verification of this description) but kept me amazingly cool in the hot temperature and, along with a hat (Outdoor Research, also SPF 50) and long pants, kept the mosquitoes and sun stroke away. Kun decided that the only recourse was to head off the trail hitchhike into Medford to buy the same shirt.
This was definitely the most difficult day and one that sears in your mind the value of water as we hiked across the Oregon desert.
We decide to wake up at 5 am (early morning is much cooler for hiking) and go as far as we could to get to the nearest dependable water source, which was 32 kilometers away. The trail is divided into sources of water which are either designated as being dependable or seasonal. We decided to bank on the dependable sources.
On this day, no water could be spared for cooking so we ate power bars and gorp (which I never want to eat again) for breakfast and lunch. We did see patches of snow that we gathered as a back up source for drinking water. BioGee also ate the snow or put it on the top of his head.
What kept me going on this stressful and hot day was the treats along the way: wild flowers, tiny frogs on the trail, a cool breeze, a flying hawk or a deer going to drink at the lake.
At one point during this day – which I found at times stressful and I spent reflecting more on the mosquitos than the beauty of the PCT – my husband turned to me and said, “Mandy, it doesn’t get better than this. Here we are alone in the forest, miles away from another soul.”
On this day we were thrilled to arrive to our water source after 16 kilometers of trekking!
Our water was treated with an MSR water purifier. The process takes about 40 minutes each night and made the fresh mountain water taste unbelievably fresh! We noticed THRU trekkers used tablets to keep the weight down and also for convenience
This was our last time that we saw Kun on the trail. I was sad when I no longer saw him again – on the PCT trail, other hikers quickly become your friends and in some cases, your only salvation. The day before, Kun had found an older fellow who had lost his glasses and taken a wrong turn on his search for water and had given him a litre of water. Seeing Kun for the last time reminded me of all the people I have met in my own travels – or even in life – that you say goodbye to with the hope that one day you will meet again, but that I, now at 50, know I will likely never see again. Kun, if you are reading this, my one regret is that I never had the chance to tell you that you are welcome at our home anytime in your next adventure!
That night, we slept with the fly off our tent, as many PCT hikers do not even use a tent after mid-July. Thanks to our see-through tent, I was treated to an unbelievable clear dark sky filled with stars when I woke up in the middle of the night. I could barely get back to sleep – I was trying to stay awake as long as I could to star gaze!
We hiked for several miles and headed off the trail to arrive at Crater Lake Park at 7:30 am. A volcano erupted 7,000 years ago, creating this spectacular lake – it’s the bluest lake I have ever seen!
The end of our fantastic Journey on the top of the Watchmen!
Day 8 – Our journey with hitchhiking (Hwy 140)
When I asked my husband how we would arrive back to our car, to my horror he indicated the only way to return to our car was by hitchhiking, something I don’t recommend and haven’t done for 25 years! However, along the way, we met interesting and colourful characters for which I am eternally grateful. After 1.5 hours, Eli picked us up, a movie reviewer and a genealogist in his spare time. We received lots of movie reviews and recommendations on our way to Beckie’s for lunch, famous for homemade pie and down-home cooking. We celebrated with Eli with our first drink in 8 days of the craft beer that Oregon is known for. Eli took us as far as he could and I fear he missed his airplane due to our long lunch!
Next was Justin: a young ex-Marine with stories of returning home to deal with his family tragedies – but he was concerned about us hitchhiking in 40 degree temperatures! I was so touched that although burdened by his own worries, he would take the time to pick us up. I wondered why it seems the very people who would give you the shirt off their back are the ones that have the least to give. Finally, David took us on the last leg of the trip. When he first spotted us at the side of road, he drove to his home and then dropped off a bag of drinks. However, torn by pity for us, he turned around and said he would drive us the rest of the way in his old pickup truck. Dave, a down to earth hippie, explained how he was able to live off the grid using solar panels since 1972.
Before we knew it, we arrived back safe and sound to our own car.
With a kiss and a congratulatory hug to each other, BioGee and I headed off to drive home along the Coast of Oregon back to Vancouver. Was I proud? You bet I was!
The most important aspect of Nordic walking is to just enjoy yourself. After a while, the technique will become second nature and you will feel confident, efficient, and ready to take on the world!
– Mandy Shintani, OT