PCT DAYS

Day 91: Nancy, oh Nancy

Miles 1004.4 – 1016.9

July 16th, 2017

Just after you climb up and through Sonora Pass, you descend on down towards Highway 108. Depending on the current snowpack in the Sierra you are either going to hike down . . or in my case slide on your ass a few thousand feet on what would later be remembered as the longest, most painful glissade of the entire trail. I had wondered if I should put my pants on for this one, it looked steep . . but every glissade by this point was a total breeze; not worth the time to take off your shoes and put the pants on. GOOD LORD DID I MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION. I put ’em on, pushed off with my ice axe and away I went. Immediately I realized this was no everyday slide on my ass, this was going to be something else altogether. I began moving, like . . really moving. I jammed my axe into the snow in attempt to slow down this out-of-control-train-with-no-breaks but it didn’t seem to help at all.  Jagged ice, gaps in the track, by the time I stopped I was bleeding and afraid to look. 

Sonora Glissade

By the time Dixie and I made it to the road we had lost the others in the group, but at this point in the hike we really weren’t too worried about each others well-being. We figured they were fine, so we went out to the road and gave the passing cars the good ol’ thumbs up. The first hitch we got was two guys in a decked out van, one of them fancy sprinter vans. They had left the wives at home to come up and camp for the weekend, andddd I’m pretty sure we had only gotten the ride because of Dixie’s blonde hair, so I made sure to let her know as soon as we got out. They dropped us off at Highway 395, still leaving about 15 miles to get to the town of Bridgeport. Again, our thumbs raised high in the sky as people zipped past us at seventy-five miles per hour. The second ride was from three guys of Middle Eastern descent, nice enough . . they cranked out some Bollywood Indie-Pop tunes that I was pretty okay with. I mean . . the car had air conditioning.

We met everyone at the Sportsmen’s bar in Bridgeport, and as I walked in I saw all the guys sitting quietly at the bar drinking their beers, gazing away at their newfound love: Nancy.

Nancy

Nancy was a bartender that for no other reasonable explanation must have been on the run from the law. It sure wasn’t fitting for such a gorgeous girl to be living and working in Bridgeport, California . . population five hundred something. We figured she was a serial killer, or someone along those lines, but we were totally okay with it. She was nice, to look at – not much of a bartender or employee though, as she mostly stood off to the side glued to her phone. Halfway through a gulp of my beer I had a revelation. I stopped, and made the comment, “SHIT, IT’S BEEN FOREVER SINCE WE’VE SEEN A GIRL!” Dixie, at that moment dropped her fork, turned to me and said, “Really Butt’rs?!” I recklessly backtracked and reassured her that we were now brother and sister in hiking arms, and to think of her in that way would be super weird.

Many beers later, well past 2 am, we made it back to our rusty old hotel room and wrote a song for Nancy. An homage if you will. The song’s title read: Nancy, oh Nancy.

Day 90: 1000 miles later

Miles 982.3 – 1004.4

July 15th, 2017

The next morning three hikers casually walked across a part of the river where not but ten hours prior we were swimming but alas, it was now a slow knee-high trickle. If we would’ve just stayed on the other side of the river we could have had a different experience, but you live and learn. Often times it’s the failures in life that create the best stories but at the time of true failure all you can think about is how you wish you would’ve done differently. We ate our crap food, packed up and climbed towards Dorothy Lake, stopping along the way to give our best shot at catching some High Sierra trout with Dixie’s fly rod – to no avail. Didn’t matter not one bit, we were only a few miles from hitting the 1000 mile marker, and we were shitting our pants with joy.

file-5

Hitting a thousand miles puts everything into perspective. All the hardships, the grandiose views of the Sierra, the rash in between your legs where the sun don’t shine . . really it all felt like a blur. A splendid blur. Best blur ever. We hung around that marker for a little while, savoring our newfound accomplishment. It was pretty sweet.

Four miles later we were in our tents, dreaming of the next thousand miles, and what might be around each corner.

Day 89: Between A Rock And A Cold, Hard Place

Miles 967.5 – 982.3

July 14th, 2017

Before we set out for each day, we go through our maps and look to see what kind of day it’s looking like it might be. Today didn’t look too rough, a nice five-mile downhill stretch followed by a smaller than usual climb up towards Seavey Pass (1,500 feet). There was nothing that stood out to us, nothing out of the usual, at least on paper. Little did we know that there would be nothing typical about this day . .

Climbing up towards the pass was nice; there was snow every so often but it wasn’t debilitating by any means, just some tricky maneuvers and stand up glissades, which to me was always fun. We got up to Seavey Pass and quickly realized that our day was about to change. The descent was steep and covered in snow, constantly zig-zagging from side to side between trees and rock, and it eventually led straight down to Kerrick Creek. There wasn’t a trail, or even a defined path in the snow at this point, we just knew that our maps told us to head south along the side of this dangerously fast flowing river. At one point the path led straight in-between a massive granite rock wall and ice, where we had no choice but to climb up the ice and then walk up on top of the spine of this ice. One slip to the right and you are in the water, hoping to not drown, and one slip to the left you would fall in between the rock and ice about thirty or so feet. BOTH options were not an option, this was a moment where none of us were speaking. We had to keep 100% concentration on the task at hand.

seavey2
Beginning the climb up towards the spine of the ice

 

seavey1
One slip to either side would be real bad

 

I read later on that a female PCT hiker from China, Chaocui “Tree” Wang, just 27 years old, passed away at this very water crossing. It is believed that she more than likely died on July 17th, just three days after we had passed through.

Chaocui-Tree-Wang-Pacific-Crest-Trail
Rest In Peace

 

After we got through Kerrick Canyon, we had a steep 850-foot climb straight up followed by an even steeper descent down towards the creek in Stubblefield Canyon. Everyone was a bit confused on how to approach this crossing; the water was raging and had different legs and stretches of the river to choose from. Dixie and I were looking for a mellow point upstream to cross while Lt. Dan, Rooster, Pacman and Pistons decided to put on their micro-spikes and cross over a log that lay just underneath a fast flowing portion of the river, by about an inch. I watched as Lt. Dan went first, thinking of just how stupid this decision was. Everyone made it across that sketchy fallen tree, but Dixie and I decided to continue searching for a safer place to cross. She wasn’t going to take that route, and I wasn’t going to leave her behind to fend for herself. This group is a ‘leave no man behind’ kind of group, the only way it should be. We ended up trying our luck a bit downstream, and thankfully Pacman had an inkling that we might need help so he decided to head down to lend a helping hand. As we stepped into the fast flowing river he appeared in true savior form from the bushes on the other side and reached out to me as I crossed over. Just as I grabbed his arm I felt the sheer force that this river had, there was a good chance that if not for Pacman being there I would’ve gone for a little swim. When I locked arms with him I turned back for Dixie and locked arms with her, and using a human chain we both pulled Dixie in. We thought this was it, but on the other side of this canyon was yet another stretch of river. This leg of the river was by far the deepest we would ever encounter along the entire 2,650 miles of trail, but luckily it was also one of the slowest moving stretches as well. The river was about fifteen or so feet wide, and about six feet deep, so you had no choice but to swim across . . which was extremely difficult to do when wearing a heavy waterlogged pack. Pistons went first, followed by Rooster; the two tallest people in the group, and I went in third. We all made it with relative ease, except for Lt. Dan and Dixie. Lt. Dan’s issue was that he stands in at a whopping 5’5, so deep crossings aren’t really his thing. Dixie . . well Dixie just made a poor attempt to get across, but it’s a good thing we love her because we were all there watching to make sure she made it. She entered the river and instantly started floating downstream, luckily just before she attempted I thought it may be a good idea to go a bit down the creek in case she didn’t make it right away. As she floated down the river, I reached out and grabbed her arm and pulled her in.

 

Watch the video of this day on Dixie’s YouTube channel and go to minute 12:20 in the video to watch myself and her cross the river.

 

Directly on the other side was a tent site that could fit the five of us comfortably. We were all ice-cold from the crossing, so before setting up our tents we started a fire. I think one phrase was said a few times over about our days travel that night around the fire: it was a great team-building experience.

Day 88: Family Turmoil

Miles 951.1 – 967.5

July 13th, 2017

For lunch we stopped at Miller Lake at mile 959.8, which sits at an elevation of 9,470 feet. This particular lake was named in 1894 by Lieutenant N.F. McClure for one of the soldiers in his detachment, he must’ve been quite the badass. Reading this little tidbit, as well as many others about the history of the Sierra and all of those who have passed through before me many, many years ago is so fascinating to me. They didn’t have all this top-of-the-line “ultra-light” gear, they were more than likely carrying over a hundred pounds on their back and wearing fifteen pounds of clothes; true mountaineers and the ultimate pioneers of this great land. Miller Lake was somethin’ else though, it had a perfect sandy beach just past the edge of the fescue grass, you could walk out into the water on a sandbar for roughly twenty feet before you would drop off the shelf into the deeps. The water was cold, but that didn’t stop us from taking a midday swim to cool down in the hot High Sierra sun. We also gave Dixie’s collapsible Tenkara fly rod a shot, but the fish weren’t having any of what we were serving up.

 

Miller Lake 2
Miller Lake

 

For a while now the group had been going back and forth about how many miles we all should be doing each day, and at times the conversation would be an unfavorable one. The majority of the group was extremely worried that we might not be doing enough each day in order to finish in Canada by late September, myself included, but there was one person in our group that didn’t seem too concerned about it, Pistons. He had a flight out of LAX late September back to his home of Australia, so to me this deadline of his should make him most concerned about finishing on time. I was starting to get very frustrated with him at times, when it would constantly be him at the end of each day trying to persuade the group to stop at a campsite when there was more than an hour left of sunlight. It was beginning to fester inside of me, and I was starting to think that I would soon need to break free from the group if this were to continue. This was the last thing I wanted to do, for this group had become my family and the thought of pushing on past without them was a sad thought . . but I knew that there was a good possibility of this needing to happen. I was a thousand percent dedicated to making it to Canada before heavy snowfall whilst keeping my continuous path, even if it meant hiking by myself for the remainder of the trail.

That evening we made it to a really nice flat spot a few miles north of Benson Pass, down on the edge of a cliff that overlooked the valley below, but we were short by just one mile on the agreed upon mileage for each day. We figured that we needed to do AT LEAST twenty miles each day throughout the rest of the Sierra, and once we got north of Lake Tahoe we would have to pick it up closer to an average of thirty miles per day.

 

Flat SPot
Campsite at mile 967.5

Day 87: A Bent Tent

Miles 942.5 – 951.1

July 12th, 2017

I decided to sleep in on this particular morning, well past the time that everybody else had gotten up. We camped just up the road from the Mobile Mart, on a small grassy field located in the center of a roundabout dirt road with car camping spots along the outer edges, overlooking Mono Lake. We noticed the night prior that there were sprinkler heads in this grassy patch so we asked the employees about if or when they would turn on, and they casually assured us that they don’t turn on until the middle of each day. Of course, at around 8:30am, as I was lay there half-asleep in my tent and as the sun was just coming up and over the hills to the east, I heard the horrific sound of sprinklers popping above ground. Complete and utter chaos ensued. I got up in a flash, threw my pack and random belongings out fifteen-feet or so onto the street, and dragged my tent and everything that was left inside the tent through the grass forgetting to take out the tent stakes, almost snapping the frame into a few pieces. I was now the proud new owner of a bent tent, but at least my friends got quite the kick out of what happened to me, narrowly avoiding the disaster themselves. I went from calmly resting to pandemonium, from dry and cool to cold and sopping wet all within the matter of a second; from a resting rate of 50 BPM to 160 real quick.

 

WhoaNellie
Whoa Nellie Deli

 

We hung around the Mobile Mart and Whoa Nellie Deli until around 2 pm, eating multiple lunches and resupplying on a few different items there in the stations general store. We split the group up into two hitches, with Dixie and I again looking for a ride back up into Tuolumne Meadows on our own. We were picked up by three kids who just had finished up a five-day acid trip in Yosemite perched up on top of some rock, or so the story goes. I wasn’t listening intently, I was more focused on how this kid was driving like he was Jeff Gordon on these winding mountain roads, sitting on the edge of my seat a few breaths away from allowing my inner grandpa to come out and tell this kid to slow the hell down! We got back to the trail, hiked only for eight-ish miles and decided to call it quits at a random tent-site we had come across. We had packed out some pizza and a small thing of whiskey earlier from the Mobile, so we were in good company.

 

Day 86: Whoa Nellie Deli

Miles 921.7 – 942.0

July 11th, 2017

I had been applying lotion every few hours to my feet in order to try to heal them as quickly as possible, but the cracks were still spreading and bleeding so today would not be the first day of pain-free feet. We had two passes to climb up and over for the day, the first being Island Pass which didn’t feel like much of a pass at all, and the other was Donahue Pass. At the top of Donahue Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail is where you enter into Yosemite National Park, and this would be the first and only time I would ever be checked for my Long Distance Hiking Permit. When we reached the summit we ran into a ranger, some young kid with fresh college degree and badge who popped out behind some rock as we approached. He was nice enough, but any sign of authority that far into the backcountry would make me automatically dislike anybody, so naturally I hated him. I understand the permitting system, and why they do it, but at the same time I’m not too fond of feeling governmental control while standing in one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever stood on Earth.

There was a few miles coming down off of Donahue Pass that was covered in many feet of snow, but after an hour or so we finally arrived to a dirt (mud) trail once again. When we got to the floor of Tuolumne Meadows we had about nine miles of some of the most beautiful trail I had seen to date. I had been to Yosemite many times growing up, but this was far different from what I had grown accustomed to, which was the hustle and bustle of Yosemite Valley. I pictured thousands of people every which way with their fancy cameras and tour shuttle’s lining the streets but there wasn’t any of that. Just the most amazing landscape I could ever possibly dream up, for nine perfect miles.

 

Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows

 

Dixie and I fell back a short distance from the rest of our group for a short period of time as we were getting closer to where we would take a hitch down through Tioga Pass, in order to get to the Whoa Nellie Deli at the infamous Mobile Mart. Just before where we were supposed to get off trail we took a short side trail on accident that led us to a random parking lot. As we sat there on our phones trying to figure out our mistake, a random guy and girl living the “Van Life” called over to us and offered us a couple of Miller High Life’s. All too often the mistakes you make will lead you to good fortune, I’ve learned not to force anything in life and for the most part just roll with it.

The best part about hitch hiking with Dixie: she gets picked up quick! It was funny how fast we got a ride that evening, definitely had nothing to do with her long legs and blonde hair . . couldn’t be . . As we drove down HWY 120 towards Lee Vining we passed our friends who were still out on the road trying to hitch their way down into town. They had been there for about an hour, and the look on their faces as they realized we had already gotten a ride as we drove by: priceless.

Day 85: Capture Your Attention

Miles 907 – 921.7

July 10th, 2017

There are ways to live in the present moment, to be conscious of this very instance. As much as I had fought it in the past, the reality of my life is always now.

Caught up with what was to be expected of me and my life, I found myself living in the Midwest in 2016, working for a company that was literally killing me from the inside-out. I had trapped myself in my own mind, and it wasn’t until I randomly decided to reread the book “Into The Wild”, and instantly followed up the book by watching the movie a dozen or so times that I took notice of a good friend who seemed to have figured out a way out from the harsh realities of life. He was on the Pacific Crest Trail, and sitting in my apartment one evening after work that September I, for the first time, began to plan my escape.

The only thing we truly have in this world is this moment in time, this very instance that we can connect with the present moment itself. Constantly trying to plan for the future that will never arrive or trying to solve for a problem that doesn’t exist yet to me, is the worst thing a person can do to themselves. There will come a time in your life where you are suddenly thrown out of the “norm”, where you might find yourself working full-time at just trying to stay alive. This is when you will look back upon your life and realize that A: You did great, and you cared about all the right things in life or B: You wasted an awful lot of time; that you cared about all the wrong things.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was my first step towards living a more fulfilled, purpose-driven life. A life truly worth living.

What captures your attention?

 

1000il
1000 Island Lake

From Reds Meadow to 1000 Island Lake, the day’s hike was just a measly fourteen miles. My feet were still badly hurting, and I was beginning to think that this was a pain I might have to get used to for some time to come. This was also the worst I had seen mosquitos up until this point. You literally couldn’t stop for five seconds without getting swarmed on, which kept you moving along at a relatively fast pace but also left you wishing you had packed a few Snickers bars in your belt pocket so you didn’t have to stop and dig through your pack for food while getting bit. Still, amongst all these minor complaints, life was so good. There wasn’t one second out there that I wished I wasn’t, or one second where I was thinking about quitting. Not one second.

 

 

Day 84: S’more of What?

Mammoth Lakes – Mile 907

July 9th, 2017

As much I love Mammoth Lakes, I was ready to get back to my new home. Every moment I walked on the Pacific Crest Trail was something new; nothing was ever repeated and was different from one moment to the next. The trees, the creeks, the views . . everything was constantly evolving, and so was I. Becoming stronger than I’ve ever been before felt good, I was beginning to feel like I could run up and down these Sierra peaks with ease.

Today would be a short hike, we just wanted to get back on trail so we could wake up the next day and really get moving. We took the side trail by Horseshoe Lake back to the PCT at mile 903.3, where we maybe went a few miles up-trail to a really nice spot by a creek. I was dealing with a new pain, something I hadn’t felt in the previous nine-hundred miles. Because I wore flip-flops at the wedding the day prior my feet had dried up, so badly in fact that the soles of my feet were cracking and beginning to bleed. Each and every step was painful, it felt as if every time my foot landed on the ground the cracks were spreading wide open. It was no fun and I was concerned that because I my feet are in my shoes all day that the healing process would take a long time. The only thing that kept my mind off of this was knowing that Dixie had packed out some marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey’s chocolate to make S’mores by the fire at camp. It’s the little things . .

dix
Jessica Mills, AKA Dixie, AKA homemadewanderlust

Day 83: A Wedding in the Woods

Zero in Mammoth Lakes

July 8th, 2017

I made a decision that went against the advice of all of my fellow hiker friends, a decision to free myself of my old hippie-ways, I had decided to cut my hair. This trail-blasphemous act wasn’t a popular one, but out of respect for my friends Travis and Alisa, as well as for the poor wedding photographer, I believed that this was best. So, on my way to the wedding I stopped at the first salon I came across.

The jingle of the bell attached to the door got the attention of the hairstylist, and as she turned with a smile I noticed that it quickly faded into an expression of sheer horror. In a desperate attempt to get me to leave she ever so delicately said, “Umm . . I’m sorry but I’m all booked up for the next . . umm . . the next few days.” The sudden absurdity of the situation was comical and frustrating at the same time, but I figured it was best to just move on. I found the only other place in town that cuts hair, and it was at this second shop I realized that all forces in the world were working against me and my need for a presentable look, or more likely that Salon-Lady #1 had called her friend warning her of a homeless-looking man wandering the streets like a zombie needing a haircut. I got the exact same response about being fully booked, but this time I wasn’t laughing. I was out of options, and was left wearing a borrowed pair of dress pants and shirt, flip-flops, long matted hair and a beard that had grown well past the socially acceptable three-inch length. I had given it my best shot, it just turns out that hair stylists aren’t champing at the bit to cut hair that looks like it might house a few dozen different species.

Moeg
The Mammoth Wedding Crew

 

Word spread quickly at the wedding about the Pacific Crest Trail hiker who barely made it into town the day prior to attend his good friends wedding, and it was pretty damn obvious who that might be. I looked as if someone gave a homeless man a pair of nice pants and said “Go get ’em, kid!” But, as the day turned to-night, the wedding guests slowly became more and more intoxicated and people started coming up to me asking about my adventures thus far. It was a great night, and as narcissistic as it might sound it feels good to see how excited people get to hear my story. To see their faces light up in amazement, yeah . . it feels pretty good. For the first time in my life I finally felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. I was a Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hiker.

Day 82: Oh Lovely Trail, Take Me Home

Miles 891.4 – 906.6

July 7th, 2017

It was January, 2006 and I had just graduated from High School. I had decided, along with six of my closest friends, that our first step into adulthood would best be spent up in Mammoth Lakes – an amazing mid-sized mountain town. What an amazing time it was in my life, we all worked for the ski resort and lived in a small apartment perfectly equipped for young people with only one concern: snowboarding.

 

'06
2006 Butt’rs, not too much has changed . .

 

Flash forward almost twelve years, and I was on a path that was taking me from Mexico straight into the backyard of my old home. Over nine hundred miles later I was reuniting with an old friend, both figuratively and literally since a good amount of my old friends still lived in Mammoth. I spent the first half of the day hiking and texting along the way, trying to line up some old buddies to meet up and maybe grab a few beers with. It just so happened that two of my best friends were getting married, in town, the very next day. Perfect timing I’d have to say, for one hungry hiker to fill up on some wedding cake.