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Book Review – Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

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Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
Washington:  Section Hiking from the Columbia River to Manning Park
By Tami Asars
286 pp. Available through Mountaineers Books for $24.95

hiking the pacific crest trail

Tami Asars is quickly becoming one of the Northwest’s most cherished guidebook writers.  Her latest work will serve as the definitive source for anyone considering hiking Washington’s section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  What makes Tami’s work so great is that she takes her years of experience as a former REI guide and brings that detailed knowledge and expertise to her guidebooks.  She knows what you need to know and what questions you will have before you ever think to ask.  Want to know the reliable water sources between Hope Lake and Stevens Pass?  Tami will show you.  Want to know where to find the best pastries on earth after a long day on the trail?  Tami will give you directions (here is a hint… p. 185).

Tami provides exceptional detail and is a thorough researcher.  Her Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail guidebook breaks down Washington’s portion of the PCT into sections and legs that Tami took years to document.  Each leg is illustrated with a detailed relief map that will tell you much of what you need to know at a quick glance; mileage, water source, trail numbers, camp sites, and elevation gain/loss are all at your fingertips.  Sections itineraries are also suggested to help you plan your time on the trail.

The book is full of guide tricks and knowledge only gained when you lead people around in the wilderness for a living.  She quickly and easily demystifies the web of rules, permits, and land management agencies you encounter on the trail.  She also provides advice and helpful hints about camping spots during busy seasons along the trial.  Besides this very specific advice, Tami also gently reminds you of trail etiquette and hygiene considerations.

While Tami’s book it packed full of must-have PCT knowledge and entertaining writing, the information is not the only reason to purchase the book.  Tami is also an accomplished professional photographer and her book is beautifully illustrated by her own photos.  Glimpse into the wild through Tami’s lens and see the sights you can hope to see when you take your own journey on Washington’s PCT.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail
Tami Asars is a Washington based writer and photographer. Her latest guidebook – Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is available through Mountaineers Books.

Future PCT publications by Mountaineers Books

hiking the pacific crest trail

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Oregon by Eli Boschetto (January 2017)

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Northern California by Phillip Kramer (Fall 2017)

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California by Shawnte Salabert (Fall 2017)

Part 2 – Tami Asars PCT Experience in Her Own Words

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Tami Asars
Hiker on the PCT enjoys the view above Joe Lake north of Snoqualmie Pass. Photo by Tami Asars.

Last week we introduced a two-part interview with guidebook writer and photographer Tami Asars.  This week we complete the series with Tami Asars giving us expert advice for trekking Washington’s PCT.  From shoes to pastries, Tami Asars tells us what we need to know to make the most of our own PCT experience.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing the Washington part of the PCT?  If someone is stage hiking is there a “must do” section?

As I always say, that the feather in your cap is not that you hiked X amount of miles along the PCT, but rather that you experienced the wild backcountry with the muscle and mental power of your beautiful, human self.

Every single section of the PCT has something to see.  Near the Columbia River the landscape occasionally echoes our east coast neighbors with deciduous trees, riparian brush, quiet forests, dribbling creeks and view of Mount Adams and Mount Hood.

As you head north the trail curves around the broad shoulders of the giant Mount Adams and truly introduces “purple mountain majesty” with meadows of lupine and aster lining the rocky soil. Volcanic views make you realize just how tiny you are in the grand scheme of the universe.

From there, it’s up and over to Goat Rocks Wilderness where an ancient strata volcano guides hikers into subalpine meadows, spectacular views and alpine landscapes before crossing one of the most exhilarating and somewhat nerve wracking stretches on the entire Pacific Crest Trail- the Goat Rocks Knife Edge or The Spine. The cliffs below you drop off into valleys up to 3,000 feet below the trail.  Goat herds click and clack along the exposed rocks while grassy meadows below the trail offer rich grazing grounds for elk and deer. This view will knock off your socks and maybe even your boots.

Tami Asars
Dramatic open views are provided at Cispus Basin in Goat Rocks Wilderness. Photo by Tami Asars.

North of White Pass the grade is gentle to moderate and lakes and tarns abound.  There are so many in fact, that you might lose count of how many you’ve passed.  The peacefulness of the place attracts visitors who wish to saturate themselves in backcountry magic on the many shorelines of this tranquil landscape.

Rumors you may have heard about the trail between Chinook Pass and Snoqualmie Pass being all clear cuts is just not true. Sure there are a few here and there, but the trail also crosses the grand backcountry near Crystal Mountain ski area and the beautiful meadows and historic cabin near Government Meadow. When clear cuts present themselves, there are often herds of elk grazing on the young, green shoots.

Snoqualmie Pass to Steven Pass is one of the most popular sections for a reason!  The vast views of jagged peaks such as Mount Daniel, Bears Breast, and Cathedral Rock will have you reaching for your camera over and over again. Tranquil lakes, green meadows and running rivers provide hikers a brilliant opportunity to metaphorically take a load off.

From Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass the countryside looms large, rugged and breathtaking. From the high country of Glacier Peak Wilderness to the rumbling, deep valleys there is something for everyone, provided you are motivated, as this is the longest section in the guide. The tiny town of Stehekin is in the mix of this stretch, giving hikers an opportunity for a side trip.  The ponderosa pines of the east side of the Cascade Crest make more of an appearance and at times you feel like someone has dropped you into the set of a John Wayne movie.

North of Rainy Pass the trail hits one of the most majestic stretches of the North Cascades- the vast area known as Cutthroat Pass with sweeping views of mountains as far as the eye can see. Staying on the eastern side of the crest, the trail eventually meets up with the car camping area of Harts Pass, a popular access spot for those looking to sync up with friends.  From there, it’s more peaks and valleys until you arrive at Monument 78, also known as the wide swath of cleared land differentiating the US and Canadian borders. Folks looking to travel into Canada and end up in Manning Park, B. C. must have appropriate paperwork arranged in advance. With that in hand, you’ll sleep like a baby once you reach the cozy Manning Park Lodge off Highway 3, the final destination for many weary hikers.

I really love the North Cascades from Rainy Pass to Manning Park, B. C.! That stretch is extremely panoramic and, if you can wait until fall, you’ll be in the thick of yellow larch trees and fewer people in the backcountry.  When you get closer to the Canadian Border, the only evidence of people is the trail you are following. Simply put, it’s undisturbed serenity.

How did your experience guiding the Wonderland help with this project?

I actually guided on the Northern Loop Trail in Mount Rainier National Park which connects in with the Wonderland. During that experience, I saw people with a variety of athletic abilities carrying a pack, many for the first time, over challenging terrain. I made a few notes of ways to make this guidebook extremely useful.

  1. Water sources. Folks new to backpacking will often carry way too much water, fearing that they may not find more up ahead. Carrying too much heavy water can weigh the most athletic hikers down to a snail’s pace and create potential for injuries. A good guidebook, like my PCT guide, will have information on where water sources are found and can be a tremendous asset in your planning. When you are training, learn your body’s hydration needs and carry only the amount you require until your next water source. Also, when you get to your water source, fill a bottle and drink it before you leave. As a guide, we helped people do the delicate dance between carrying too much water and carrying too little.
  1. Camping challenges. While the Northern Loop and Wonderland Trails have prearranged designated camps, the PCT does not.  In the beating heart of the summer, on some of the most popular PCT sections, camps get very full. When this happens, section hikers have no idea how far they need to keep hiking on tired feet and sore shoulders until they reach the next viable flat spot to call home for the night. I spent two years documenting all the camps along the trail including them in the guide’s elevation profile, maps and trail descriptions so that folks know exactly how far it is from one to the next. There is even a camp to camp distance chart at the end of each leg to further help those folks who want hard numbers.

Are there any pieces of gear you would recommend as a “must have?”

There are many, but if I had to pick one, I’d say my Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes.  Years ago everyone wore heavy backpacking boots, but these days it’s much more common to see folks traipsing down the trail wearing a lightweight, sneaker-style shoes designed to handle off- road terrain with reinforced foot protection and more aggressive stability.

The trail shoes were a game changer with respects to foot and leg fatigue and allowed me to cover much more ground than traditional hiking boots. Not only are they lighter, but the wide toe box provides plenty of room for my swollen, weary feet to spread-out without rubbing, pinching or impeding in anyway. Since I’ve started wearing them, I’ve gone from 15 mile days to over 20 with very little foot pain or exhaustion and for a professional hiker like myself, those are precious, deadline miles!

Any places off the trail (towns, restaurants, coffee shops, post offices) that you would recommend?

Don’t even think of missing the town of Stehekin! It’s one of the most amazing micro-towns you’ll ever get the chance to visit. There is so much to see and do in this historic villa located at the northern tip of Lake Chelan. Waterfalls, a historic one-room school house, a rustic bakery serving mouthwatering pies and cinnamon rolls, a gorgeous garden selling local produce, cheese and honey, bicycle rentals, kayak rentals, petroglyphs, fly-fishing adventures, and a handful of salt-of-the-earth residents are just a few reasons to visit! My new guidebook has contact information for a variety of lodging and activities you may want to enjoy.

 

 

Tami AsarsGuide book writer Tami Asars on the Pacific Crest Trail. Tami’s new guide book will be out in September 2016 in a full color coffee-table style edition.  An e-reader version is available for those that want to take the book with them on the trail.  Tami Asars says that her book is one in a series of PCT guide books that will be out this fall, other books will cover the California and Oregon sections of the PCT.  For details about where Tami Asars will be signing books and talking about her adventures go to her website at www.tamiasars.com

Renowned Guide Book Writer Tami Asars – The PCT Experience in Her Own Words

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Tami Asars
As you head north the trail curves around the broad shoulders of the giant Mount Adams and truly introduces ‘purple mountain majesty’ with meadows of lupine and aster lining the rocky soil. Volcanic views make you realize just how tiny you are in the grand scheme of the universe. Words and Photo by guide book writer Tami Asars.

This fall, photographer, former REI guide, and guide book writer Tami Asars will release her third backpacking guide book.  Tami’s critically acclaimed books are known for detailed trail information and beautiful photograph.  I caught up with Tami this summer after her two-year odyssey to write the definitive guide book of Washington’s portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  This timely book follows a 137 percent increase in PCT usage between 2013 and 2015.

In this two-part series, I will explore Tami’s experiences writing the book and her advice for those thinking about taking on the challenge of backpacking Washington’s PCT.  Not wanting to change a word, I present Tami’s responses unedited.  Enjoy!

Part One:  Tami Asars in her own words

What gave you the idea to write the guide book about the Washington PCT?

As a guidebook author, I’m constantly thinking of ways to share my passions with other hikers.  While I love day hiking, I’m absolutely smitten by backpacking and love doing long distance trips, especially in Washington State.  Because it’s so beautiful, section hikers are becoming increasingly more prevalent in the backcountry and I wanted to give them a tool to help them discover the best way to see the trail from logical point to logical point.

How long did you spend on the PCT?  Was it continuous or did you break it up?

I spent two summers pushing up every pass and traipsing down every valley with the GPS rolling. I documented every water source, every camp site, every trail intersection, every river ford, every challenge and every reward.

The first year, I hiked from Snoqualmie Pass to Manning Park, B.C a distance of just over 267 miles. It took me roughly 13 days and it rained, hailed, and drizzled consistently for 9 solid days out of those 13. Washington weather is extremely fickle and I was able to represent the landscape and countryside in photos and trail descriptions having experienced a wide variety of conditions.

Tami Asars
Lodge Lake near Snoqualmie Pass. Photo by guide book writer Tami Asars.

The following summer I bobbed and weaved through lightning bolts, rain and sunshine from the Columbia River to Forest Road 23, near the town of Trout Lake, a total of 81.8 miles which took me 3.5 days.  During those days I enjoyed the splendor of the deciduous forests and riparian landscapes near the southern Washington border, and wandered through Indian Heaven Wilderness elbow deep in huckleberries.

I took a break at that point and explored the Columbia Gorge before hopping back on the trail and hiking from Forest Road 23 to Snoqualmie Pass a total of nearly 163 miles. During that stretch there were moments of peacefully, haunting quietness save for the occasional lone Clark’s Nutcracker call in the Mount Adams Wilderness.

What was your experience on the trail? Your time alone, people you met, wildlife encounters, observations of nature, photography.

I hiked half of the state solo which I always enjoy.  Don’t get me wrong, I love company too, but I believe all of us seek to peel back the layers and find out just how strong we are, both emotionally and physically, and hiking completely alone does just that.

When you spend time deep in thought simultaneously hyper aware of your surrounds, you actually begin to use all of your senses more keenly. Because we live in a modern world, I think we forget about the fact that underneath it all we are mammals and those senses are there for our survival; they are just a little buried underneath computer screens and central heat.  Out on the trail I could smell where there had been herds of elk before I came to their tracks. I could hear water dripping down creek beds long before I saw them. And, at one point, I felt as if I was being watched, so I stopped and took a hard look around. I thought I was going crazy before I discovered a beautiful, red-tailed hawk perched on a tree branch not more than 30 feet above me.

One night, I met a thru-hiker who offered to let me pitch my tent not far from hers.  It was late and getting dark, so my options were limited and she seemed happy and chatty. We talked for a long time about her med school ambitions and shared stories about our love of wild creatures and places.  We were so deep in conversation that we nearly missed the most brilliant sunset I’ve ever seen!  As we starred at the hues of reds, pinks, yellows and turquoise melding into the setting stars over Mount Adams, we were hypnotized into a stilled state of awe.  Sometimes the most brilliant of life’s moment unfold at the most unexpected times.

As for wildlife encounters, I’ve seen many animals along Washington’s PCT.  All have been quick to scamper off much to the chagrin of my waiting camera. Deer, elk, bear, bobcats, pikas, marmots, martens, toads, frogs, snakes, lizards, and too many birds to list have crossed my path along the way. And, it’s likely I chatted with every animal who would listen to me talk.

What obstacles did you face on the trail and with the book?

The most challenging part of the book, hands-down was the data and ensuring it was as accurate as possible. Collecting data is challenging in the best of conditions but add in a dense forest in places and/or an overcast sky which prevents the GPS from seeing the sky/satellites and data can get messy. What’s more GPS’s are often slightly inaccurate.

GPS technology used for recreational purposes is simply not an exact science, so unravelling the mysterious data tracks took a lot of imports and exports on a variety of mapping software as well as comparisons with numerous paper maps and other trusted sources. In the end, I proudly stand with my conclusions.

 

Check back next week when Tami gives sage advice for those thinking of backpacking Washington’s PCT.

PCT SignGuide book writer Tami Asars on the Pacific Crest Trail. Tami’s new guide book will be out in September 2016 in a full color coffee-table style edition.  An e-reader version is available for those that want to take the book with them on the trail.  Tami says that her book is one in a series of PCT guide books that will be out this fall, other books will cover the California and Oregon sections of the PCT.  For details about where Tami Asars will be signing books and talking about her adventures go to her website at www.tamiasars.com.

Summer Book Review – Almost There

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Seattle Backpackers Magazine Summer Book Review

ALMOST THERE
Stories and Musings along the Pacific Crest Trail
By G. William Jolley
231 pp. Amazon. $14.95.

 

summer bookWriting a book is difficult.  Writing a good book is herculean. In Almost There, G. William Jolley has written a good book.  The book is a memoir of a complicated life woven into the 500 miles trekked by the 70-year-old author on Washington State’s leg of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  If you have ever wondered what it would be like to take a long backpacking trip with your grandfather, this book will let you know.  Jolley is honest and unvarnished in his account of his life, his experiences on the trail, and his descriptions of a person still under construction.  At times, the narrative reflection is insightful and even wise.  At other times, the reader must become the careful observer and understand Jolley’s behavior in terms of the layered contradictions that contain a life.  The author berates a group of Boy Scouts he encounters for their use of cellphones, yet Jolley is thankful when his wife sends him one in a resupply package and then calls her in tears from the trail.

Reading this book we get to live the author’s life vicariously and in so doing get a better understanding of our own life and the lives of our elders.  We get to see the ghosts that visit Jolley in his quiet moments alone, their shadows cast by imperfect memories on the wall of the tent.  Jolley reflects over the ashes of a deceased comrade, “In the end, the weight of my friend is less than two pounds.”  The book is well written in short bite-size pieces, easy to digest, and perfect if you are looking for a good summer book.

 

Summer book reviews from Seattle Backpackers Magazine, find your next great trail read.

Fear and Lightning on the Pacific Crest Trail

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Pacific Crest Trail
One man’s experience with lightning and a guiding angel on the Pacific Crest Trail.  Photo Source: thornhillradiotv.org

I crossed Mackenzie Pass, Oregon at about 9:00am on Day 33 in the late summer of 2013.  I had just completed solo hiking 500 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail and in 200 miles would reach my goal at the Columbia Gorge.  But now I faced a grueling five miles across sharp, uneven lava beds and charred treeless devastation from an earlier fire on the Pacific crest Trail. Utter silence surrounded me and black clouds loomed, giving an ominous and foreboding feel to the morning.

Hoping I could reach Big Lake Christian Camp by mid-afternoon where I would retrieve my next supply box, I had just picked up my pace, when suddenly my thoughts were disrupted by a flash of lightning so bright it lit the entire area. The ensuing thunderclap was deafening.

With no trees in sight, I felt totally exposed. Seconds later came more thunder and lightning, the entire sky bursting open in torrential rain and hail driving with such force, I removed my glasses in fear they might shatter. It felt like a battlefield, and I ran as if, at seventy-two, I could outrun the weather.

And then it happened. As if dropped from the sky, a man ran up behind me, screaming as he approached, “Run like hell! We gotta get out of this mess. Don’t stop for noth’n.”

I swung around to see him, but as I did, he whisked by and yelled, “I’ll take the lead. You blow that whistle every few seconds to let me know you’re okay.” And for the first time since starting this trek in Northern California five weeks prior, I had a use for the whistle attached to the shoulder strap of my backpack.

As we ran, the storm grew increasingly fierce. The trail disappeared under the hail and rainwater pouring down the slope. There were no trees or landmarks that I could use as a guide, so I kept close behind him, my Trail Angel. I blew the whistle whenever he became less visible in the late afternoon darkness. Lightning crashed around us every few seconds, showing he was still there.

Should I ditch my trekking poles? They might act as lightning rods, but I needed them to keep steady as I ran. Still, I had no idea where I was. I just followed the ghostly figure in front of me. And every few minutes, I heard him yell, “Keep running, Partner. We can’t stop!”

I did keep running, stumbling through the muddy water, feet so numb I couldn’t feel them, whether they landed on solid ground, stubbed on unforgiving rocks, or crashed into holes hidden by the washout.

For an endless six miles, my Trail Angel led and yelled to keep up the pace. I blew my whistle mainly out of fear, hoping against hope I wouldn’t get hit by lightning, and thinking this would be a really crappy way to leave the world. I tried to remember when I last told my wife and kids I loved them, and I prayed a silent and desperate prayer:  “Oh God, help us. Please, please, help us.”

We finally reached the shelter of trees. This stranger tore off my pack and pulled out dry, thermo clothes. I stood shivering violently, unable to unbutton my shirt. He ripped off my wet clothing, helped me dress, stuffed everything back into my pack, and lifted it onto my back. All this while rain poured, thunder crashed, and lightning snapped across the sky.

Two hours later, we stumbled into Big Lake Christian Camp, drenched, shivering, exhausted, and near hypothermia.  A hot shower thawed and revived us, but revealed I had broken my right foot.

He was a couple shower stalls away so I yelled out, “So what do you do when you’re not rescuing hikers in distress?”

“Oh, I just retired from being a college linebacker coach for the past twenty five years!”

Go figure.

I will forever be grateful for whatever forces put us together at that place and moment in time. My gratitude for Trail Angels along the Pacific Crest Trail remains constant.

 

 

Glenn Jolley lives on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound, Washington, with his wife and two cats. With a damaged foot and ample amounts of Aleve, he continues to backpack.

Trail Angel: Generosity on the Pacific Crest Trail

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Thirteen days from the Columbia Gorge and fifty yards from Sheep Lake, I broke camp around 8:00 a.m. to begin another day of hiking.  My goal was to reach Razors Edge before late afternoon shadows created even further challenges to my poor depth perception. At 72 years of age, that reality had to be factored in to any day of hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail.

trail angel

My morning trail led upward about two miles to the base of Cispus Pass, where other hikers had told me I would have to traverse a steep and expansive snowfield. I had already encountered several over the past week and the thought of what lay before me gave cause for palpable anxiety.  I would need to hike across a hundred yards of snow, then scramble up another hundred feet of loose shale to reach Cispus Pass.

trail angel

My decision to forgo packing crampons now felt particularly short-sighted and foolish. At less than ten ounces, they would have added little weight and taken minimal space in a side pocket of my pack. Had I calculated that a few snowfields wouldn’t be a problem to an old seasoned backpacker like me?

Doubly foolish.

Within an hour of breaking camp, I stood at the foot of the narrow trail that led across the snowfield. I shook my head in disbelief.  There were several hundred feet down the side of the mountain and nothing to break a slide if I lost my footing.  And looking up, the way to the Pass was equally steep and foreboding. But there was no other option. I took a deep breath, mustered some courage, and tried to set aside my usual fear of heights. Yet with my pack still strapped on and my path clear, I hesitated.  I stood waiting for something to convince me it was time to begin.

A man with two large dogs had gone just minutes before and left his boot imprints in the snow. I figured I could simply use his tracks. But just then a group of young men I had meet the day before came up behind me, so I stepped away from the trail and let them pass. They were young, virile and fearless. I hated them! I silently convinced myself that if they could do it, by God, so could I.

Once again, I stepped out onto the snowfield and crunched into the first boot imprint left by the last hiker. One imprint after another, I slowly followed. But in less than fifty feet I felt my boots slipping on snow that had turned to ice the previous night. I stood still for a few seconds, took another deep breath, and gingerly continued. About five steps farther, my feet slipped out from under me. I instinctively twisted my body, falling so that I landed on my butt. Immediately, I began to slide down the side of the mountain. I hastily jammed both feet and my trekking poles into the snow to slow my slide. With my pack strapped securely to my back, I feared I would become an enormous boulder gathering snow and velocity until I flipped over and barreled down the long slope to the rocky bottom.

Miraculously, after about thirty feet, I suddenly stopped. My stomach, though, accompanied by my pounding heart, continued on down the mountain. I sat, determined not to move an inch, while I tried to collect myself before I went into a full-on panic attack.

I heard one of the men yell down to me.  “Stay put and I’ll come down to you!”

I yelled back over my shoulder, “No way! I got myself into this mess. I’ll figure it out!”

After a long couple of minutes, I began cautiously to scoot myself upwards and backwards towards the spot where I had slipped, moving carefully, inch by anxious inch, and the entire time whispering, “Be calm. You are just fine.  This is part of the adventure.”

Actually, I was terrified beyond words but I dared not acknowledge my fear. In this situation, fear was my enemy. I needed calm and resolve. Up and up I scooted towards the icy trail of boot prints until I could feel my cold, wet butt on the flattened trail. Finally! But the ordeal wasn’t over. I sat considering how I was going to hoist myself back on my feet.  With a heavy pack on my back, hoisting wasn’t going to be an easy task, and I had spent so much physical and emotional energy over the past several minutes that I questioned whether I had enough reserves left. Yet somehow I found the resolve, and using my trekking poles as support, I hoisted myself back on my feet. But in so doing, I got turned around, facing back to where I had begun. “Oh crap!” I blurted, but, gratefully, I was vertical and not splayed out on some boulder below.

trail angel

As it turned out, facing in the “wrong” direction was fortuitous. I needed to return to where I had begun, sit down, and collect myself before attempting the crossing again.  I backtracked to the edge of the snowfield, about fifty feet away, dropped my pack, and collapsed on the soggy ground.

After a few minutes of rest, I heard footsteps crunching towards me. I sat up and saw that someone familiar was a few feet from where I sat.  It was one of the guys from the group that had begun the crossing just before me. When he saw that I had slipped, he broke away from the group and came back over the snowfield.

“How ya doing, buddy?” he asked.

“I feel like I’m going to throw up.”

“That was a rough go back there,” he said with a broad smile and calm voice.  Without another word, he took off his pack and began riffling through it. In seconds he pulled out a set of crampons still in their package and thrust them towards me.

“Here, take these. I don’t need them and you sure as hell do.”

I fitted them on my boots and asked, “Where can I meet you on the trail and return them?”

“No need. I own a restaurant in Bellevue, so someday after you’ve returned, assuming you return,” he chuckled, “bring your wife or girlfriend in and return them. I trust you.”

I wrote down the name of his restaurant, and with that quick exchange, he turned around and hiked back across the snowfield.

The crampons worked perfectly, and I was able to get across without further incident and up to Cispus pass. There I sat under a scrubby pine tree that seemed to be growing out of solid rock, wrote several pages in my journal, and chewed on some trail mix. From where I was sitting, I could see down to where I could have landed if I hadn’t stopped my slide. It wasn’t a pretty sight.  I felt calm and peaceful and deeply grateful for all the kindness and generosity that others had offered me over the past several days and on that day in particular, a gift from a Trail Angel who just happened to have a set of crampons.

And, too, it struck me that in the wilderness we seem to become transformed into people we have always wanted to be…more kind, more trusting, more generous, just as my Trail Angel was…but for some reason fail to be in our busy lives back home. What gets in our way? I wondered.

Several days after I returned home, I sent the crampons back to my Trail Angel with a gift and a note of gratitude, both for his help and for reminding me that kindness is its own reward.

trail angel

 

This story is excerpted from Almost There: Stories and Musings along the Pacific Crest Trail.

 

Almost There: A Chance Encounter along the Pacific Crest Trail

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glenns pacific crest trailIt was the first day of September, 2013, and I was feeling a little impressed with myself. Starting at the Columbia River Gorge, I had been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for nearly 30 days, 10 to 12 hours every day, and covered nearly 400 hundred miles. Along the way, I met some amazing people whose generosity and kindness were humbling, and I had a new pack that REI had switched-out for me simply on my word-of-honor over the phone. Indeed, trail angels abounded.

Aside from my blindingly painful left big toe and assorted blisters, I was in relatively decent shape, and though I had lost nearly 15 pounds, I felt stronger by the day. At 71 years old, that was an overflow list for gratitude. Nevertheless, there were many nights I awoke from pain I was feeling somewhere.  At those times I would simply lie still and wait until it passed, trying to fall back to sleep knowing that the next day would demand renewed vigor and energy.

glenns pacific crest trail

I began this new month on the Pacific Crest Trail with a sense of contentment I had rarely known before. I sat by Sitkum Creek sipping another wretched cup of instant coffee, writing a few sentences in my journal, and chewing on a breakfast bar. It was crumbly and stale, but I washed it down with generous sips of coffee and opened another. I would need the extra calories for the challenging miles the day would extract. I wanted to make Dolly Vista campsite, about 16 miles north from where I sat.  The terrain was as rugged as I had yet encountered, so it would be a long and difficult day of hiking. I would start at 3,800 feet and climb to 5,800 by the day’s end. That meant an entire day of ups and downs and multiple switchbacks; a hiker’s nightmare. Demanding, yes, but the views were glorious beyond description, which helped my aesthetic spirit prod my weary body into moving forward.

glenns pacific crest trail

About seven miles into the day, I met a man sitting by the side of the trail next to his teenage son. They had started at the trailhead 15 miles outside of Stehekin, and were hiking south to Stevens Pass. They had taken the three-hour boat ride from the town of Chelan to begin their own trek.

The man invited me to join them, so I unstrapped my pack and dropped it at my feet. I plunked down on a tree stump close to them. Our conversation led from one topic to another and eventually to his telling about his childhood in India where his father had been the tailor in their small village, supporting a family of eight children. His mother had died while giving birth to his youngest sibling and they were poor by any standard. Forty years ago he’d come to America to create a better life. He went to college, settled into a career, married, and had a large family. He told me that when he came to America he brought only the clothes he wore for the trip, an extra shirt, a pair of sandals, a windbreaker, a pair of shorts, assorted toiletries, and several pictures of his family. To the present day, it remained a mystery how his father managed to scrape together enough money to pay for his passage. He told me that as he become increasingly successful, he sent money to bring his entire family to America, where they all thrived and where his father and several of his siblings are buried in a family plot.

As he spoke, tears brimmed. Then, after a short pause, he continued, “Now I am retired, and I have a closet full of clothes, more than I can wear, and a house full of things I rarely pay attention to.”

And there, in the presence of his bored son (who’d probably heard the story a thousand times), he told me he was happier when he possessed nothing than he was today. He claimed that he would happily return to those earlier days of simplicity. He laughed when he said he was the American success story, but in the end, he succeeded in nothing but collecting more things than he wanted or needed.

“No, my friend, my greatest treasure is my family and my great joy today is that this son is with me here. If you have family and health, you have everything.”

By now it was close to lunchtime, so we sat on the side of the trail and shared our food. I had more stuff than they, and the boy smiled broadly when I pulled out a Snickers bar and handed it over to him. The father watched as his son tore off the paper and devoured the candy before he ate the lunch his father had prepared. I detected sadness in the father as he watched his son. It was if the father had somehow failed to impart the values he himself had been taught as a child.

After lunch, I stood up from the stump I’d been sitting on to continue my own hike. I sensed I had been in the presence of an itinerant guru imparting wisdom to whomever would welcome it. I thought of these encounters as gifts spread along my pathway for me to open and explore. It was another example that proved the best things that happened to me along the Trail were not planned.

With my pack securely strapped on, I gathered up my trekking poles and stood on the path heading north. As I began my first step, I turned around and asked, “About how far to Dolly Vista?”

The man replied, “You’re almost there.”

“Really? Seems like it’d be farther.”

He slowly shook his head and reaffirmed, “Nope, you’re almost there.”

“Well, enjoy the rest of your day,” and I headed north.

glenns pacific crest trail

Being “almost there” is an all-too-typical response to enquiries about distance from one point to another. I soon learned that what one person considered “almost there” wasn’t the same for another. For a 20-year old, five miles was a couple hours walk. For me, at 72, depending on the terrain, it could mean half a day of hiking. Receiving such information from someone 20, 30, or even half my age, was usually not helpful. So at some point during my PCT experience, I stopped asking.

“Almost there” is different for each hiker. But then, in a different meaning, heading into my 73rd year on this remarkable planet, “almost there” might be more accurate than I want to admit.

I reached Dolly Vista after a long and daunting 15-mile day. I felt every year of my life that night. Yet no matter how weary, the taste of ice-cold stream water and being in the midst of perfect beauty was an elixir that restored me.

A gentle breeze came from the north, and I fell asleep with that sound as the last I heard for the day.

glenns pacific crest trail

 

Excerpted from Almost There: Stories and Musings along the Pacific Crest Trail

      

 

Appalachian Trail Speed Record Falls to Seattle-Area Woman

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Appalachian Trail Speed Record Falls in just 54 days to Seattle native Heather Anderson. Source: kuow.org
Appalachian Trail Speed Record
Appalachian Trail Speed Record Falls in just 54 days to Seattle native Heather Anderson. Source: kuow.org

Endurance trekking speed records have been falling on America’s iconic trails for the past year. It started last summer when Seattle native Joe McConaughy set the supported thru-hike record on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), then this summer Scott Jurek set a new supported thru-hike record on the Appalachian Trail. Now Seattle native Heather Anderson has set the unsupported record on the Appalachian Trail reaching Springer Mountain, Ga., on Sept. 24, in just 54 days, 7 hours, 48 minutes.

Anderson averaged more than 40 miles per day on the 2,189 mile trek cutting four days off the previous record held by Mark Kirk. Anderson told reporters she was able to consistently maintain this daily mileage by making the most of every day, “I woke up every morning at 4 a.m. and was typically hiking by about 4:30. And I walked all day without taking a break until 10, 11 sometimes at night and just was very consistent.”

Appalachian Trail Speed Record
Anderson averaged over 40 miles a day on her record setting unsupported thru-hike. Source: blog.altrazerodrop.com

Anderson said she never took a day off and would only stop on the trail to get water and for other necessities. When Anderson went into towns to resupply she had the goal of staying no longer than an hour. This discipline and focus over the 54 days helped make Anderson successful in setting the record. Anderson said she developed this strategy while setting the unsupported thru-hike record on the PCT in 2013.

Anderson told National Public Radio that she started hiking a little over a decade ago while in college to boost self-esteem and become more fit. Her first long trek was the Appalachian Trail, before moving on to her record setting effort on the PCT.  But after recent struggles on other record setting attempts, Anderson saw the Appalachian Trail trek as a way to revisit that first hike and reground herself in the things that brought her to trekking in the first place. Anderson said, “That was empowering and helped me to see that I have value not only as an athlete but as a human being and helped me really overcome these inner demons.”

 

Pacific Crest Trail Could be Impacted by Proposed U.S. Army Training Area

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Pacific Coast Trail Could be Impacted by Proposed U.S. Army Training 1
U.S. Army Training
Army plans to use North Cascades for dangerous helicopter training. Source: THC News

If the U.S. Army has its way, there will be combat helicopters landing within a mile of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in Washington’s North Cascades. The plan, submitted by aviation officials at Joint Base Lewis-McCord (JBLM), would create seven areas for high-altitude training in pristine U.S. Forest Service lands with one landing site actually within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area near Leavenworth.

U.S. Army Training
Planned Army training areas would land helicopters in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and within a mile of the PCT. Source: Seattle Times
U.S. Army Training
Landing zone MTA 1-6 is less than a mile from the PCT and could accommodate multiple helicopters. Source: U.S. Army
U.S. Army Training
Landing zone MTA 1-4 is within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, home of the unspoiled Enchantments near Leavenworth. Source: U.S. Army

According to the planning document, the Army needs the high-altitude training area because aviation units must be prepared for ongoing combat operations in Afghanistan. The document outlines problems associated with high-altitude flight, “High altitudes and mountainous terrain pose several challenges to Army helicopter pilots. High altitudes are associated with high wind, high-density altitude (i.e. pressure altitude that is corrected for temperature and humidity), turbulence and atmospheric instability. These factors greatly affect the performance of a helicopter engine and the handling characteristics of an aircraft.”

U.S. Army Training
Army says pilots need practice landing in mountainous terrain. Source: The Smithsonian

Currently, Army aviation conducts high-altitude training in Gypsum, Colorado, but argues it is too expense and time consuming for JBLM aviation to go to Colorado to train. The proposed training area would cover an area north of I – 90 and east of the crest of the Cascades north to the Canadian border. The Army has planned training areas near Leavenworth, Lake Chelan and along Highway 20 between Twisp and Concrete.

The Army told the Seattle Times that up to 75 landings could be conducted in these areas in a month and that aircrafts could fly as low as 25 feet. Andy Stahl, executive director of the group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE), told the Seattle Times that training areas would also impact two mountain biking trails and that one site was located in a wetlands area. Stahl commented that the Pacific Crest Trail could be impacted by proposed U.S. Army training saying, “Our national forests are not some annex of the Defense Department. We think that, except for a few sites, they should be off-limits to the military.”

The Army is still conducting an environmental impact study on the proposal. The environmental study considers 13 areas to include the impact on wildlife, vegetation, recreation and endangered species. The Army plans to have a draft document ready for public review and comment on September 1, 2015 with public meetings to follow.

Daring Duo Set Winter Thru-Hiking Record of the Pacific Crest Trail

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Winter conditions make route finding difficult on the PCT (Photo from pct.org)
Winter Thru-Hiking Record of the Pacific Crest Trail
Backcountry skiing across frozen Duck Lake near Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Source: pct.org

As if thru-hiking the mountainous Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada wasn’t enough in the best of weather conditions, Justin “Trauma” Lichter and Shawn “Pepper” Forry decided to be the first thru-hikers to complete the trek in the dead of winter.

The two finished the 2,650-mile long journey last Monday, reaching the California/Mexico border in just 132 days, making them the first hikers to complete the entire trail in hostile winter conditions. Lichter, 34, and Forry, 33, endured wet weather and freezing temperatures for most of their journey. Lichter said he was surprised by the back-to-back storms they encountered during most of the trek. The wet cold weather caused foot problems for the two from blisters to trench foot to frostbite.

Winter Thru-Hiking Record of the Pacific Crest Trail
Lichter crosses a mountain pass during a storm. Source: pct.org

One of the unexpected challenges came early as Lichter and Forry made their way through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation of Oregon. The two got frostbite from post-holing through two feet of snow for hours. Forry affirmed that there were few miles that didn’t include some kind of foot pain, “It’s amazing what you are capable of when you are in the moment and the options are limited.”

Lichter and Forry are experienced hikers, skiers and climbers with multiple endurance treks under their belts. According to Forry, the two needed all that experience and a little bit of stubbornness to get through the hard days on the PCT. They also said they couldn’t have made it without the outpouring of support from the PCT community that encouraged and helped them along the way.

Winter Thru-Hiking Record of the Pacific Crest Trail
Lonely trail – Lichter and Forry saw few other hikers on the trail. Source: pct.org

The two started their trip in Washington on October 21, 2014. They used hiking boots and snow shoes to get through Washington and Oregon before transitioning to backcountry skis for the 450 miles of California’s High Sierra. According to Lichter and Forry, the only other known attempt of a winter thru-hike was in 1983 and ended tragically when a husband and wife couple veered off of the trail and fell to their deaths near Wrightwood, California.

Winter Thru-Hiking Record of the Pacific Crest Trail
Winter conditions make route finding difficult on the PCT. Source: pct.org

The two highlighted the need for winter map and compass navigation skills since the trail was mostly covered by snow, and trail markers were difficult to find. Snowpack awareness was also critical in the remote alpine regions to avoid dangerous avalanche areas.

Winter Thru-Hiking Record of the Pacific Crest Trail
Forry takes in the view while snowshoeing on the PCT. Source: pct.org

Lichter and Forry walked away from their record setting endeavor with an appreciation of the unique qualities of the PCT and the self-discovery that happens on the trail. Forry told the Northwest News Network, “I think it will be something I continually reflect back on and pull nuggets of wisdom from,” Lichter concluded, “You learn a lot about yourself – what you can tolerate and overcome.”

Winter Thru-Hiking Record of the Pacific Crest Trail
Lichter and Forry reach the Mexican border on March 1, 2015 after 132 days on the trail. Source: Pea Hicks pct.org

 

What to Checkout
See more amazing pictures of the record setting expedition and interviews with Lichter and Forry at pct.org.

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