Odyssey 2008 Journals

The first few entries are notes from the Nimblewill Nomad’s trip to Campo, California, which is the starting point for Odyssey 2008 trek of the PCT

Thursday–April 17, 2008

I manage to get my things together and loaded into the van, say good-bye to sweetheart, Dwinda, then a little before five in the evening Gordon and I depart for Campo, California.

I’ve never, ever lugged so much “stuff” along on any backpacking trip before–the obvious luxury of having support.  Gordon had told me to bring what I thought we might need. Oh my, have I taken advantage of that offer! Folding table and camp chairs, Coleman lantern and two-burner stove. Free-standing tarp awning, folding toilet seat plus shovel. Kitchen, complete with spacious cooler. A separate bin with pots, pans, cups, plates and utensils. Water jugs, clothes lines and clothes pins. Oh, and an extra large bin for “town” clothes, books, maps, trail data, o.t.c. meds, and spare gear. Oh yes, it’s gonna take a pretty strong wind to blow us off the road!

At the Missouri/Oklahoma line we hit a driving rain storm, which lasts for over two hours. Finally working our way through it we reach Oklahoma City around one in the morning. There we stop at a Wal-Mart where Gordon crashes in the van and I find a spot between stacked palettes of cypress mulch, and in stealth mode, roll out my sleeping bag and call it a day.
Friday–April 18, 2008

We get on the road at nine and manage to make good time into Albuquerque, where we stop for the night at Greg Barnes’ place just off the interstate. Greg is a dear friend from my Appalachian Trail hiking days and we’ve managed to stay in touch over the years. Greg was living in San Diego at the time Sheltowee and I completed our respective 2002 treks, and he came out to Point Loma to help us celebrate that grand day.

It was great seeing Greg again, meeting his father, Ron, and his girlfriend, Anita. Thanks, Greg, Ron, and Anita for a memorable time in Albuquerque!
Saturday–April 19, 2008

We manage to get out from Albuquerque a little after ten.  In just awhile I call Tom and Donna Bombaci, trail angels who befriended me on my CDT trek through Grants last year. We arrange to get together at Denny’s, where Tom and Donna treat–once again.  Thanks Tom and Donna, for your continued kindness and generosity!

We head on west around one, then pick up an hour at the Arizona border. We’re buffeted by hard wind all afternoon.

So, today we don’t make so many miles, rather, we enjoy the company of dear friends. Around nine we reach the rest area at Sentinel, Arizona. Gordon’s at home in the van; I pitch behind some scrub on the desert floor where I try clearing the spot of pricklies and thorns. I finally give up and just drop on the hardpack–don’t want to puncture my new Therma-a-Rest first night out.
Sunday–April 20, 2008

Dan calls around seven to inform us that he’s taking a zero day due to blistered feet. Starting a hike on the trail can be trying. Starting out on the pavement, especially if the tarmac is sizzling, can be pure torture to tender feet. At the gas station in Dateland I manage to get a rise out of the kid running the place when I casually comment that it looks like rain.

We cross into California a little before nine, reaching Campo around noon.  From Campo we continue on west to Potrero and the little county park where Dan and I camped during our ’02 outbound, and where he’s now holed up for the day.
Monday–April 21, 2008

We arrived Potrero Campground in good order around noon yesterday. Dan was sitting with his feet up, in the company of his good friend, Doug Daily. Doug’s a school chum of Dan’s, who now lives south of L.A. He came down to San Diego, Point Loma, to celebrate with Dan and me when we completed our respective 2002 treks.

In an email sent me Thursday, Dan said, “Yesterday afternoon I blistered the balls of my feet, they were very tender today and I only covered 7 painful miles.

I am in Lemon Grove tonight, which is where we took the picture in the rain with the giant lemon and the slogan, Best Weather in the World.”

Friday he made seven more painful miles into Jamul. From there, Doug picked him up and brought him to the campground where he was resting the day.

This morning we get out, to shuttle Dan back to Jamul. The day’s rest plus a little foot doctoring from yours truly, “Doctor Kill Me Quicker,” has Dan in pretty good shape to continue on. We set him on his way in good spirits around 10:30. Gordon and I check on him from time to time, patch his tender feet–one more time, and he makes the 15+ miles on down to Barrett’s Junction just fine.

Dan’s feet are definitely on the mend now, and I’m confident that tomorrow he’ll be able to hike the remaining 15 miles on into Campo and the border. From there, On Wednesday, we’ll head north together, on the PCT, on our journey to Canada.
Tuesday–April 22, 2008

The Potrero County Campground is a fine facility and we return there for another night.

The morning dawns another cold, clear, day in the desert. A final doctoring on Sheltowee’s feet and we’re ready to go. We’re back to Barrett’s Junction a little after eight and Dan’s on his way, his final roadwalk day to close the loop, from the old lighthouse at Point Loma to the border just south of Campo.

We’ve found an inexpensive little campground just west of Campo to move to this evening. We pick Dan up at noon and head there for lunch. After the afternoon cools down a bit we put him back on the road and at a little before five he’s at the border and the monument marking the beginning/terminus of the PCT.

Wednesday–April 23, 2008
Trail Day–001
Trail Mile–21
Location–Lake Morena Campground, Morena Village, California

Let the adventure begin!

Dan, Gordon, and I are up and moving at seven. A dear mutual hiking friend, Kevin Slider Reardon, from Berlin, Connecticut, flew into San Diego, has joined us and will be heading north with us this morning. Gordon gets us loaded and we reach the monument at eight–the beginning of the PCT, at the Mexican border. Other northbounders are here, along with dear friends and well-wishers, WeatherCarrot, Yogi and Squatch. Picture-taking time over, packs finally shouldered, by 8:30, Dan, Kevin, and I are on our way. Southern California, where we’ll be hiking the next number of days is pretty much desert–bare rock, dusty sand, sagebrush, other assorted scrub and grass (all sporting their individual puncture hardware).

At 2.2 miles the trail crosses SR94, where “X” marks the spot. Here, my path of 2002, “From Sea to Shining Sea” meets my path now. My odyssey paths will cross one more time, clear up in the Columbia Gorge, where I hiked east/west, 2004, and west/east 2006, Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, at Bridge of the Gods, Cascade Locks, Oregon. Gordon is here and in his glory, big smile, “Want a cold Gatorade!” exclaims Gordon. This hike is going to be a different hike, not like the long, lonely days on the CDT, or the equally long noisy days on the open road.  I’m pretty sure there’ll be considerably more elaboration concerning this topic as we journey north.

The hike today will remain a particularly memorable one, what with the sendoff at the border, and now towards day’s end, who should come hiking down the trail to meet me other than Honey and Bear. We’re in to finish the day at Lake Morena Campgrounds early evening.
“The only certain freedom’s is departure.”
[Robert Frost]
Thursday–April 24, 2008
Trail Day–002
Trail Mile–12.6/0034
Location–Fred Canyon Road/Cibbets Flat, thence to Lake Morena Campground

This is gonna be hard getting used to–bacon and eggs, coffee with refills for breakfast. Lunch at mid-day trail crossing, water spigot (five gallon can in van) for afternoon recharge, then hot two- or three-course evening meal. We’ll not have these luxuries each and every day, but for most of the way through California it’ll be the daily routine–in addition to the
20-25 mile days on the trail.

Today we meet a number of southbound hikers. They’ve all skipped north to hike back to Lake Morena Campground, location of this year’s ADZPCTKO, an acronym for Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kickoff, which takes place this weekend. Having support, we can keep trekking on north, then return this evening (and tomorrow evening) to meet fellow thru-hikers and enjoy the fellowship of the festival. We’ll actually be taking a day off, a zero-mile day (already) to spend Saturday at ADZPCTKO.

So far we’ve met fellow hikers JB, Freefall, Coyote, Ben, Sauerkraut, Miss Sunshine, Heasy, Potential 178, Montana, Brit, Hiking Cowboy, Eddy, Mattress, Tomato, A-Train, Nafta, Teatree, Hiking Bear, Ducky, Panama, Whoda his son, and Whoda’s friend, Anime, and Neighbor Dave. As we trek on north, Morena Lake backed by Morena Butte are at a distance and behind us now, but they’re still the predominant features in my camera format screen.

Early evening we arrive Fred Canyon Road from where we descend to Cibbets Flat Campground. There, Gordon is waiting to whisk us back to Lake Morena Campground.
“Finite to fail, but infinite to venture.”
[Emily Dickinson]
Friday–April 25, 2008
Trail Day–003
Trail Mile–19.6/0053
Location–Pioneer Mail Trailhead, thence to Lake Morena Campground

Folks are beginning to arive Lake Morena Campground for ADZPCTKO. Honey and Bear have invited us into their campsite, as the campground is totally packed. The evening last was noisy to begin, but settled down nicely. I was pretty much pooped and was off to slumberland in no time.

Well, Dan’s feet have really come around; no more pain, the blisters hardening quite nicely. My feet are fine, but I am suffering the least discomfort from shin splints, an almost-always, common malady when beginning a new journey. Kevin was rocking along nicely until mid-day, when he experienced a “blowout.” Blisters at the ball of both big toes and both heels. Time for Doctor Kill Me Quicker to take over again. Slider’s blisters popped, disinfected, and taped, we’re off again.
The hike today takes us up, and up some more, to 5,000 feet, then to over 6,000. The climb is gentle, however, and the treadway the most forgiving I’ve hiked on in recent memory.
As we climb, the trail ventures to the very edge of the eastern crest escarpment, providing breathtaking, panoramic vistas–to the desert floor 4,000 feet below, then beyond to the Salton Sea, dancing on the far horizon.
At 5,000 feet we have left (for the time being) the desert harshness, to enter the most cool, shady canopy of longleaf pine. We remain near 6,000 feet for the trek on into Pioneer Mail, where Gordon awaits, and we’re soon on our way back down the mountain to Lake Morena Campground.

It’s been a very satisfying day for us; we’re all happily content.

“To begin, begin.”
[William Wordsworth]
Saturday–April 26, 2008
Trail Day–004
Trail Mile–00/0053
Location–Lake Morena Campground

Another night (and a day) at the campground. ADZPCTKO is in full swing; the campground a blaze of color–tents everywhere. We’ll take the day off and enjoy the company of old friends, and make many new.

Pulling in last evening, first dear friends–Jolene JojoSmiley Koby/Burly and her husband, Frank Nomad ’98 Burley. Honey and Bear, Rascal, Sly, Troll and son Oblivious, Billy Goat, Yogi, Sam I Am are here. And vendors, Gossamer Gear (Glen Van Peski), LEKI USA (Dan Ducey of Elevation Sales Group), Six Moon Designs (Ron Moat), Blackwater Press/PCT Atlas (Erik Erik The Black Asorson).

It’s such a joy, really a blessing seeing Glen from Gossamer Gear again. He has a new pack for me, a prototype Murmur that he’s stitched up himself. After he closes down this evening, the pack’s mine. And an amazing piece of gear it is, full harness with shoulder straps and hip belt, 2200+c.i. carrying capacity–seven ounces; yes folks, seven ounces!

In the evening, Honey and Bear prepare a sendoff feast for us. It’s a grand affair. Then, as always, and too-soon, the inevitable time comes–time for the hugs, for the sad good-byes.

We’ve got a 24 to knock out tomorrow and it’s nearly an hour’s drive back up the mountain to Pioneer Mail Trailhead, so we’ve got to get back there tonight and get camp set in preparation for an early departure tomorrow.

Oh my, it’s sure been a grand time at ADZPCTKO. Thanks all, to you who’ve worked so diligently to make it all happen, to make it a grand, memorable affair.
“Ask for the ancient paths where the good way is; and walk in it and find rest for your soul”
[Jeremiah 6:16]
Sunday–April 27, 2008
Trail Day–005
Trail Mile–24.9/0078
Location–Scissors Crossing

We break camp and manage to get going a bit before seven. The trail trends generally north today along and just below the ridge. Wind generated by the rising desert heat knocks us around all morning, but the buffeting is well worth it–breathtaking views down the eastern slope, to the Colorado Desert floor some 4,000 feet below. Yesterday, at near 6,000 feet the trail wound around Stephenson, Monument, and Garnet Peaks. It’s interesting how the rain shadow, a wall in the sky created by these towering Laguna Mountains, prevents the earth-enriching water-laden clouds from passing. All along today, as the trail continues by this eastern escarpment is this stark contrast so evident.

Gordon is waiting for us at six miles out where the trail winds back to meet the road. I drag an old wool blanket out of the chaparral, the last of countless blankets left behind by illegals flooding across the border from Mexico–a souvenir from the desert segment of this trail. At the van, we make sandwiches, then water-up for the remainder of the day.

There’s a water tank at around mid-afternoon, where we meet Running Feather who’s also headed north. I’ve enough water to make it in so I hike on by, and down to Scissors Crossing, our destination for the day. Along the way I pass Bebop from Georgia, and Gil and Ziv from Israel. Also, in a short while I meet Ace. He’s down here from Alaska taking in some of the best the lower 48 has to offer.

Both Dan and Kevin are having doggie problems, all caused by the sand, heat, and these early long miles. Fortunately, I’ve managed to avoid the usual hike start-up issues, save my minor shin splints, which are no better today, but no worse.

It’s been a long, hot hiking day. Great to see Gordon and the van. Cheeseburgers and pasta for supper, prepared by Chef Dan and Chef Kevin. Ummm-umm!
“Happiness has to do with struggling and enduring and accomplishing.”
[George Sheehan]
Monday–April 28, 2008
Trail Day–006
Trail Mile–23.8/0101
Location–Barrel Spring

A difficult night at Scissors Crossing. Traffic all night, heavy trucks hissing their air brakes at the stop sign. The campsite was fine enough, under a dying old cottonwood at least seven feet in diameter. Plenty of sand (say dirt) to go around. The filth and grit gets into everything. Goes right through shoes and socks. Feet turn completely black, what with a little sweat added to the mix.

My back is a little stiff, legs and feet the least heavy and burdened, but don’t you know–this old jitney will soon be up to speed and clanking right along.

I’ve long heard about the drastic temperature swings in the desert; now I’m a believer. 29 degrees in my tent this morning, and before the day’s over, the mercury soars to over 97 degrees.

At lower elevations, below 3-4,000 feet, the desert is totally a-bloom, bright, lush tints, every shade of Roy G. Biv. Yellows and whites predominate, dabs of green now and again are intermixed–grasses always struggling to make a show.

I’m the last one out this morning. The trail leads straight into switchbacks. Up and up we go. As the trail winds out and back, ever climbing, does the desert vegetation also change. Now comes barrel, ocotillo, and prickly pear cactus, all in bloom, and many other varieties, their names I know not. Dainty little wildflowers, so small and fragile, happy and prospering in this harshness. It’s a miracle, no other explanation, just a miracle to behold. Ah, and I am here to see, to wonder at it all.

Another long, hot day. Much climbing again, and the rocky downs–and the heat. What a treat and what a surprise to find water running, filling the tank at Barrel Spring.

Gordon is waiting at the road, by the gate. I help him set camp then head for the spring tank for a cool splashdown. Another long, hot day. No barking doggies, but they’re sure growling.
“People see God every day, they just don’t recognize him.”
[Pearl Bailey]
Tuesday–April 29, 2008
Trail–Day 007
Trail Mile–9.2/0111
Location–Warner Springs, Warner Springs Ranch

A short day, the trail bops along, no big pulls or downs. At lower elevations now, the small stream, San Ysidro Creek, actually has water in it.

Many more wildflowers, countless varieties line the trail today. I stop often to marvel at their childlike happiness, share their joy, and take their picture.

The feature for today is Eagle Rock, an interesting, monument-like natural formation, shaped like an eagle with wings outstretched, as in just landing or preparing for takeoff. Great photo ops here on another perfectly clear day in the southwest desert.

For the past number of days, Dan’s been telling us, quite emphatically might I add, that there’s a Burger King just around the corner. Ha, late morning, here comes Steve, local trail angel, loaded down with bags and a cooler. “You guys like a cheeseburger and fries–some sweet tea?” asks Steve, big grin. I’m not believing this; Slider’s not believing this. “Burger King, right?” asks Dan. “Burger King,” says Steve. I look at Slider.  Slider looks back at me–bewildered–and shrugs. Time for burgers and fries–from Burger King, compliments of Steve. Friends, there’s just no way I could make this stuff up; thanks Steve! Seems Dan knew you were on your way, he just didn’t know when you’d get here!

It’s a short hike on down to Warner Springs. We’re in by one. The trail skirts around, but we cut through town, and on the way, take an overnight at the grand Warner Springs Ranch.

In the evening, oh yes, steak and baked potato at the ranch restaurant.

Fine ending to a memorable day.
“Come forth into the light of things.  Let Nature be your teacher.”
[William Wordsworth]
Wednesday–April 30, 2008
Trail Day–008
Trail Mile–15.6/0126
Location–Chihuahua Valley Road, “Mike’s Retreat-on-the-Hill” Bunkhouse

A grand stay at Warner Springs Ranch; very accommodating folks, old place but neat and clean. Super supper–steak and baked potato, pure, high octane hiker jet fuel.

We’d hiked the road in yesterday, a little longer route than the official trail around, so this morning it’s the roadwalk on around and back out to where the trail crosses again, about a mile. Gordon is here to make sure we don’t trek on past, as the crossing is somewhat obscure.

Ever since hiking together, our respective transcontinental treks in 2002, Sheltowee and I have had an ongoing contest as to who could pick up the most change along the road shoulders. We both got skunked this road-around, but I did pick up a stainless steel round-head Phillips sheetmetal screw–another souvenir for the mantle at home.

Yesterday I’d received a somewhat urgent email from my Webmaster, Cywiz. Her concern: “California wildfires … broke out Saturday in the Angeles Forest (#6 location on the Forestry PCT Trail map). The area of evacuation right now seems to be in and around the foothills of Sierra Madre. There is much talk about the pollution of the air being vast in its outreach, and you, Slider and Sheltowee will be walking through the Angeles Forrest very soon.” We have, indeed, heard about the fires and can see the far away cloud-haze they are creating. We’re in no danger now but wouldn’t be the least surprised to find the trail closed north of us.

Out a short distance, and in just moments I meet Big, and we hike together on up to a trailside camp. Here I wait for Sheltowee and Slider. We hike most the remainder of the day together, making good time, considering. Both continue to have day-to-day feet issues, healing blisters and tenderness. At Agua Caliente we have the first challenge, as to keeping our feet dry. The crossing appears to be, but is a not so easy rock-hop. Dan has to stop and wring out his right sock. Ha, yesterday he washed his shoes and spent 45 minutes tending them at the dryer in Warner Springs.

The trail climbs on up the canyon, presenting many more rock-hops, each crossing being a little narrower. Here in this ribbon oasis, Agua Caliente Canyon, does there present such remarkable contrast–this lush, green coolness, to the arid, sunburned brown of the surrounding desert. Dainty little flowers, tall grasses, gallant, century-old oak–just a remarkable pathway up and through. Ah, but with an occasional prickly pear cactus intermixed to remind us we’re not far from the desert.

As we hike along, do we meet and pass other northbounders trekking out of Warner Springs, first Christina, then Vanity Fair, and her daughter, Wind Breaker.

We stop for lunch near Lost Valley Spring, elevation 4,450 feet. Also relaxing here for lunch are Grandpa Kilt and Spike.

Out from lunch, descending, do we enter the most intense desert burnover. This fire occurred years ago, but the barren desolation remains, exposed boulders and rock, pumice-like dusty sand, charred, blackened snags. The entire scene is depressing, forbidding, certainly not designed to gladden the heart.

Later we climb again to meet up with Spider and E.T. (Energetic Turtle). Now, late afternoon we arrive the little oasis, a weekend retreat in the desert, up on the mountain, called Mike’s. Mike isn’t here, but he’s left a sign on the gate welcoming PCT thru-hikers. What a blessing to get in, as the wind has come up, has turned hard and steady, and it’s becoming very cold.

Many other northbounders have congregated on Mike’s screened-in porch. Sheltowee, Slider, and I look around and find the bunkhouse. It’s unoccupied, complete with three bunks and a cot–and a door that closes snugly. We carry the Coleman lantern down from the van and in no time we’re comfortable and secure for the night.
“Let me enjoy the earth no less because the all-enacting light
that fashioned forth its loveliness had other aims than my delight.”
[Thomas Hardy]
Thursday–May 1, 2008
Trail Day–009
Trail Mile–24.2/0150
Location–SR74, Pines to Palms Highway, thence to Idyllwild

A very comfortable night at Mike’s. Got down to 42 degrees this morning, but we slept just fine in Mike’s bunkhouse. Thanks Mike, whomever and wherever you are.

Today is a long bop-it-along 24 mile day. Lots of side-slabbing around many lesser knobs and crowns. Where the trail follows the south-and/or west-facing slopes, the treadway is hot-hot sand and rock, requiring much concentration–and slow, frustrated churning. We stop often to cool our trail-weary doggies.

Along, we meet some new folks, Hardcore and Latecomer, and Brian and Tangent, Later we pass Christina, Alien March, Grandma Kilt, Spider and ET, and Big.

In some of these long stretches where there’s no water anywhere, the PCT folks have established water caches, jugs of water stored in the bushes or in small, open sheds to keep the sun away. Most welcome today is the well-stocked cache at 13 miles out. Here, we pull up for lunch, then water-up before heading on north.  Sign on the shed reads, “PCT Class of 2008.” Thanks, Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA)!

Earlier in the day, Gordon had left a message for both Slider and Sheltowee concerning new fires that will be causing trail closure just to the north. Apache Peak is on fire, around which the trail passes. As we approach the Pines to Palms Highway, our destination for the day, below we see the green U.S. Forest Service truck leaving the trail crossing. The forest ranger had just posted a hand-written cardboard sign on the kiosk there announcing trail closure for the next 50 miles north.

Gordon is here, as is Meadow Mary. Gordon to pick us up, and Meadow Mary to stock the water cache just inside the gate.

We waste no time heading down to Paradise Cafe–for their grand Jose burger. After, we return to the trailhead to pick up Alien march, who’d asked for a ride on up to Idyllwild, where Dan, Kevin, and I’ll hole-up for a day’s rest. We all dearly need a good hot bath–and a day off.
“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”
[Sylvia Plath]
Friday–May 2, 2008
Trail Day–010
Trail Mile–00/0150
Location–San Jacinto State Park Campground, thence to Idyllwild

Idyllwild was full up last, so we pitched at the San Jacinto State Park Campground. A cool night with no wind. Quiet and comfortable–and baths in the bath house!

This morning we manage a room at the Idyllwild Inn. Kind, sweet smile from owner, Emily. “Bring your dirty clothes in, we’ll wash ’em.” beams Emily. She puts us in #7, a quaint, rustic cabin, complete with fireplace and ricked firewood, clean and neat. Delicious breakfast at the Red Kettle. Nice, friendly trailtown. Not heaven though–at least one old curmudgeon. Boldly written (on the banner below “Welcome 2008 PCT Hikers”), appears, “And thanks for starting the forest fires!” Mention of the mischief to John, postal clerk, has him concerned and the least upset. Ditto for the sweet lady at the pharmacy. Idyllwild likes and very much appreciates PCT hikers.

The remainder of the day is spent updating journals, soaking tired, tender feet in hot Epsom salts, enjoying a fine pizza–oh, and a couple tallneck Sams.
“The sovereign invigorator of the body is exercise, and of all the exercises walking is the best.”
[Thomas Jefferson]
Saturday–May 3, 2008
Trail Day–011
Trail Mile–13/0163
Location–Hike from Falls Creek Road/Snow Creek Canyon to Whitewater Preserve (The Wildlands Conservancy Fish Hatchery) Whitewater Canyon Road

Due to the fire on Apache Peak, which has caused trail closure affecting over 50 miles of trail, we’ve had to move on north today, skipping the San Jacinto Mountains.

We’ve had a very much needed rest in Idyllwild, the stay most enjoyable. Idyllwild is definitely a hiker friendly trailtown.

Gordon finally gets us collected and loaded up around ten. Dan has already gone through a pair of shoes on his hike from Point Loma, and needs to stop at the General Store for some Super Glue to attach his gaiters to the new GoLites he’s just purchased. It’s a long winding climb up and then down to I-10 and Cabazon–thence to Palm Springs. We’re finally on the trail north, north of I-10, around noon.

Looking behind us now we can see Fuller Ridge, the northern-most (snow-covered) mountain we’ve had to bypass. A report received this morning indicates the fire to be 70 per cent contained, and that the trail may be open again by the 7th or 8th. From our starting point here at Falls Creek Road, we’ll hike on north for the next few days, allowing time for the trail to reopen and for the high-mountain snow to melt.

The trail today soon takes us under I-10. In the cool shade of the underpass, Trail Gorillas Don and John (local members of the PCTA) have cached an ice-filled cooler of pop for PCT thru hikers. Over 20 have already signed the cache register (no pun intended) today.

By noon we’ve climbed from the desert floor, up to  Mesa Wind Park, where hundreds of the three-prop wind-powered turbines are cranking in the wind. At the park office, and at the invitation of the Mesa Wind Park folks, we take our lunch break. An air conditioned conference room, a table to sit, and a fridge stocked with ice cold bottle water–really roughing it, eh!

By a little before five we’ve descended into Whitewater Canyon, and in short order we’re at the Wildlands Conservancy Fish Hatchery where Gordon’s already reserved a campsite for us. In the campground are Brian and Lisa, who’ve come out from San Diego to offer some special trail magic. They’re set up for grilling burgers, are stocked with cold pop–and watermelon for desert. Hey, we’re invited! Thanks Brian and Lisa!

Lots of hot sand, little shade, and plenty of climbing today. A tough but rewarding day.
“Hark to it calling, calling clear,
Calling until you cannot stay
From dearer things than your own most dear
Over the hills and far away.”
[William Ernest Henley]
Sunday–May 4, 2008
Trail Day–012
Trail Mile–20.7/0184
Location–Mission Creek Trail Camp

Our stay here at the Conservancy facility has been grand. The whole place whizbang new, with spacious campsites, nearby restrooms, and very competitive rates–free!

A cool, clear morning, we’re out and hiking a little after seven, the earliest hit-the-trail time for us so far.

The PCT leads out and up Whitewater River Canyon, from where it proceeds to climb the East Fork, Mission Creek, a distance today of twenty-plus, almost entirely up, from elevation 2,450 to 7,950, a vertical climb in excess of one mile.

I hike some today with Alien March, Sauerkraut, and Tyler. Late morning, Slider has another blowout, but this one not involving the feet as has been the problem previously. Suffice to say he’s slowed way down and has started moving really funny. Well, anyway, just go to my poetry page and dig around till you find the ditty, Hiker’s Scourge. That’ll explain it!

The scene presented today is not one of beauty, rather one of scorched, barren earth. A raging fire swept up and through here in the recent past, burning everything in its path, so it seems did the earth burn too. Near the upper canyon we cross from the San Gorgonio Wilderness into the San Bernardino National Forest. Spared by the fire, the transition here is abrupt, from one of stark desolation to that of forested beauty.

Late evening and still climbing, Sheltowee, Slider, and I reach our camp for the night. Gordon has arrived and is waiting, to tell us of his adventure for the day–up the steep, rutted road to Mission Creek Trail Camp. Seems he had a few brush-ins, what with his low-clearance running boards–and a few not so low rocks. The rocks won. He was unable to open the right-side door until a bunch of hikers jumped up and down, bending the running board back down to where it belonged–a bit battered and still bent, yet functional.

A very cold evening, but we’ve a fine hot meal, prepared by Slider and Sheltowee. This has been the most demanding hiking day so far.
“Short is the little time which remains to you of life. Live as on a mountain.”
[Marcus Aurelius]
Monday–May 5, 2008
Trail Day–013
Trail Mile–15.7/0200
Location–Broom Flat Road, thence to Big Bear Lake, Big Bear Frontier Resort

The night started cold, then got colder. This morning my Suunto Core ABC wristop reads 25 degrees, brrr! Slow getting up and going. Lots of hot coffee, to warm my innards and my sticks-for-fingers hands.

The hike today will not compare to that of yesterday, much shorter and flatter. I wait to see Gordon off and wish him well on getting out. In a short distance, the trail and the road meet. I can hear the music, the great songs about the trail, recorded by Jim Walkin’ Jim Stoltz. Then I see Gordon again, standing, looking toward the trail, lost to the trail, totally content. He’s got all the van doors open, all the speakers crankin’. It’s a very emotional time as I cross the road. What’s going on here is a mutual feeling of love and respect–and shared understanding. No need to speak, just a solid hug, and a nod, that does it.

Today we near Big Bear Lake, and close-up civilization. The trail winds and works around, but below and along are many road, power lines, and dwellings.

Gordon has dropped down from the main paved road and has worked his way a mile or so over another runningboard bender to where the trail crosses, there to pick us up for the evening. We’ve 200 miles behind us now–o’er the PCT.
“I owe it all to the salt of the earth,
and the friends along the way.”
[Jim Walkin’ Jim Stoltz]
Tuesday–May 6, 2008
Trail Day–014
Trail Mile–19/0219
Location–Van Dusen Canyon Road, thence to Frontier Lodge, Big Bear Lake

We’ve found great lodging in Big Bear Lake at Frontier Lodge. We’ll return here tonight and again tomorrow night, as we hike the huge horseshoe around Big Bear Lake.

Gordon has us back on trail a little after eight. He’ll be seeing us at lunch, at ten miles out where the trail crosses CA18. We’re all hoping Slider can make the ten, and continue the remaining nine for the day, as he is suffering much pain from a very large blister on the ball of his right foot. Dr. Kill Me Quicker waved his magic wand over it last evening and again this morning–but we’ll see.

A short way into the hike this morning the trail drops down into Arrastre Creek Canyon. The canyon is lush, the creek running the coolest clear water. Here in this canyon reside the most magnificent evergreen, perhaps even more majestic than the virgin stand of hemlock in Stover Creek near Springer Mountain, Georgia. I recall being in total awe when I first saw the huge hemlock there. Here in Arrastre are ancient Ponderosa pine and white fir. My reaction is the same. I stand and gaze in silence. It is as if there are grand sky-hinged cathedral doors opening before me, as if I am entering Nature’s very own place of worship. The trail weaves back and forth among these towering giants. Pictures cannot begin to describe their majesty. You must come here and experience their presence for yourself.

Where the trail crosses CA18, Gordon is waiting–time for lunch. While relaxing and enjoying our respite, up drives Erik the Black. Erik lives in Big Bear and comes up often to meet and greet PCT hikers. He’s up today to place a small sign by the trail announcing the availability of his new PCT Atlas. If you’ve looked at this year’s list of sponsors, you know that Erik is supporting the old Nomad. I’ve been test driving his new guide to help us up the trail, and it has proven to be most helpful; thanks Erik!

A good climb to end the day, through jumbles of baseball-size rocks. Been a tough day, but I make it fine–so does Slider!
“It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”
[Robert W. Service]
Wednesday–May 7, 2008
Trail Day–015
Trail Mile–18.2/0237
Location–Crab Flats, Thence to Frontier Lodge, Big Bear Lake

Another grand night at the frontier. We need an early start as there’s a long roadwalk today, but despite our best efforts we’re not on the trail until after eight. Within the hour our paths cross with that of the Pearl Girls. They are One Step, Blue Butterfly and Guardian Angel. I linger and chat with Blue Butterfly. A good exchange of energy.

As we work our way around Big Bear, the trail climbs, offering sweeping views down and across Big Bear Lake–to the snow-capped peaks beyond. Finding the perfect spot, I take a panoramic shot with my little Canon.

Just ahead of us an intense forest fire swept clean thousands of acres last September, closing the trail, and so the roadwalk re-route.

We’re hiking into another cool, clear day, helped along by the gentle breeze, making the roadwalk a most pleasant experience. Gordon is right here on the road with us, bumpy though it is, and he pulls on ahead every hour or so to await our arrival. Toward day’s end the road bails off the mountain, down to Holcomb Creek. Gordon is here and we call it a day.

What we thought would be a shortcut back to Big Bear turns out a round-about scenic tour, which includes a five minute close-up of logs being loaded on a timber truck. We’re the captive audience (loader and truck are blocking the road). We finally arrive back at Big Bear early evening.
“Above me spreads the hot, blue mid-day sky,
Far down the hillside lies the sleeping lake
Lazily reflecting back the sun.”
[Amy Lowell]
Thursday–May 8, 2008
Trail Day–016
Trail Mile–11.5/0249
Location–Deep Creek Canyon near Deep Creek Hot Springs

Getting out of town days are always chaotic. Today is the day to check out of Frontier Lodge, but before loading and leaving we make a trip to K-Mart for a few things–a large pan for cooking our beans and pasta, and some bins to organize our kitchen and personal items. Back at the lodge now–dang, seems we’ve taken up residence here. Load after load of “stuff” must be collected and organized (into the new bins), then hauled to the van. The van was (I say: WAS) Gordon’s home. Slowly but surely he’s become pretty much displaced. “Who shoved all that stuff up in there yesterday?” Gordon asks. “One end of my bed is pushed up so far I don’t have room to lay down anymore.” Oh boy, sorry, Gordon!

The drive back to the trail takes two solid hours, over rough, two-track ruts in some places. The custom running boards on the van are totally shredded, the braces busted loose, the once very nice aluminum diamond-plate bent and fractured beyond repair. To have had Gordon come in to support us at this nearly inaccessible place was a very bad decision. Gordon’s always game though, and we’ve taken advantage of him. That’s got to stop. In the past, when his sister, Sue, was still alive, they had a rule not to venture off paved roads–a good rule. We must consider returning to that rule, before we wreck Gordon’s van entirely.

We’re finally back on the PCT a little before three. Easy enough hiking. The trail leads on down Holcomb Creek, then climbs the canyon wall to cross up and over into Deep Creek. Deep Creek Canyon is properly named, as the narrow, near-vertical walls add effect to the sheer depth.  Along, the trail has been carved from the canyon face, crossing cliffs of solid rock in some places. As dusk approaches, and as we become the least apprehensive about finding a place to set camp for the night, the most remarkable once-in-a-lifetime (trail lifetime) experience happens. I’m hiking a few paces ahead of Sheltowee, who is ahead of Slider a step or three. We’re happily clacking along, each in our own little world, when Sheltowee shouts, then abruptly pulls up. In the time span of no more than a second or two, and between us, a snake rolls down the bluff wall to plop in the middle of the trail right. It’s coiled in a ball, its body wrapped around a mole. No concern for us, just the task of squeezing the life out of the mole, which it’s apparently just bit hold of. We huddle around in disbelief. I grab my camera. Sheltwee and Slider both go for theirs. During the next three or four minutes we each shoot the coiling, recoiling scene–and the futile effort made by the mole to escape. Oh yes, the snake wins! Please remember to check out my photo album in a week or so–amazing video, absolutely amazing.

Just before sunset the canyon opens the least bit, to allow a small knoll, where upon we quickly ascend to pitch on the small flat-spot crown for the night. A short but very eventful day.
“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
[Oscar Wilde]
Friday–May 9, 2008
Trail Day–017
Trail Mile–25.5/0275
Location–Lake Silverwood State Recreation Area

A cool but very relaxing, quiet night, the first, believe it or not, that we’ve camped unsupported. Another glorious day; we break camp and get going a little before seven.

We’re all excited this morning, anticipating our arrival at Deep Creek Hot Springs. We tried to make it in last night but ran out of daylight. Short hike this morning; we’re at the springs before nine. No disappointment here. Lovely, pristine geothermals. The locals know they’re here, but have kept them clean. Two great hot pools, one directly next the creek. The three of us go for that one. A dare sets me to diving into the frigid creek, from there to swim back to the hot pool. Invigorating is the word to describe the experience. A double dare puts both Sheltowee and Slider into it. We all whoop and holler–it’s definitely a hoot!

The hike today is segmented, a very nice change of pace. It’ll turn an impressive mileage day too, the fun diversions keeping it short.

Next diversion: The road crossing at CA173. Trail angels Marlene and Meadow Mary are both waiting–and of course, Gordon. Many hikers trekking along today, and many stop for refreshments and a break from the heat.

We’re away by one, and away to the next diversion: a short hike then a roadwalk along CA173, where Gordon meets us with cold Gatorade.

Then it’s the final diversion, a climb from the arid desert floor, up then around Lake Silverwood, a shaded, crystalline, high-held impoundment of Cleghorn River.

At dusk we’re approaching the lake campground where we’d planned to stay the night, but being the start of the weekend, the place is full. We do squeeze in, however, next the trail, at an equestrian site.
“As the weary traveler sees
In desert or prairie vast,
Blue Lakes, overhung with trees
That a pleasant shadow casts.”
[Henry Wadsworth Longfellow]
Saturday–May 10, 2008
Trail Day–018
Trail Mile–13.1/0288
Location–I-15 Trail Crossing, Cajon Pass, thence to Best Western Motel

Cools down quickly in the desert. Dropped to 39 degrees last night. Warm and comfy in my new Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32 bag, though. Great night’s sleep.

We’ve a short climb first thing, up and out of Cleghorn Canyon, then down and out of Lil Horsethief Canyon. A final climb takes us over to Crowder Creek. There we descend to Cajon Pass, a busy crossing for commerce; crushing commercial traffic both directions on I-10, and B&N and UPAC hauling both ways, seven diesel locomotives pulling the grade through the pass.

We’re in a little before one. Trail marker says .4 to McDonalds. Oh yes, double cheeseburger(s) and biggie fries here I come.

Dan’s cut a deal at Best Western. Much needed rest for all of us.
“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”
[Langston Hughes]
Sunday–May 11, 2008
Trail Day–019
Trail Mile–13.3/0301
Location–Swarthout Road, thence to Snow Canyon above/by I-10, and finally, to our camp below Fuller Ridge

The afternoon and evening last at Best Western, Cajon Pass, was much needed. This morning I clear out their muffins and coffee.

Another glorious day in the desert: a million-mile-deep, blue-perfect sky, and a cool breeze–perfect!

Where we broke out of Crowder Creek Canyon yesterday, to reach I-15, and where the old roadway (and even older wagonway) of nearly a century ago followed down–here we begin our trek anew this morning by an old monument long since passed by. Inscribed on its cracked, sun-bleached surface are the words, “To the Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail of 1849, in honor of the brave pioneers of California.”

First out this morning, an interesting hike, through a 200 yard tunnel/drainage under I-15. Dan’s able to maintain cell phone contact the whole way. The cell folks, indeed, have the interstates covered, above and below.

This will prove Slider’s day for snakes. I’m right with him for two, the first, a respectable rattler. The final one he confronts later in the day is directly on the trail, and Slider doesn’t see him till he’s taken that can’t-come-back step. Sheltowee and I are above on a switchback, maybe 50 yards distant, and we can both hear Slider’s expletives-deleted!

Through the I-15 tunnel, we still have the BN&SF and the UPAC tracks to get over. Just above the tracks presents the perfect spot to photograph the colorful team-coupled locomotives hauling the freight through. Dan and I both stop to get a shot of one passing through.

Our hike today will be segmented, a short five miler up the ridge from I-15 to Swarthout Canyon Road. It’s an invigorating climb up, around, then down. Gordon is waiting at the road.

Here we load and head back to Snow Canyon Road at I-10, the northern end of the trail segment we’d skipped earlier due to the fire on Apache Peak. We’ll hike this 55 mile section north to south in hopes the trail might again be open through the burned section.

Gordon has us with packs up and climbing a little after three. Above us now are snow-capped peaks and ridges. We’re climbing steady, from 2,500 feet, to top out (hopefully tomorrow) at over 9,000 feet.

It’s up and up, toward Fuller Ridge.

By dusk we’ve managed to reach a small saddle at elevation 4,200 feet. Setting camp for the night is difficult, what with the 25-30 mph wind. I get my tent pitched, slap together a cheese sandwich, roll in, then call it a day.
“Over every mountain there is a path, Although it may not be seen from the valley.”
[Theodore Roethke]
Monday–May 12, 2008
Trail Day–020
Trail Mile–19.4/0321
Location–Saddle Junction

We’re all up early, a little after five, trying to break camp in the relentless wind. Last night my fly blew completely off my tent. Never suffered such a problem before, over countless nights in the wilds.

The climb of last evening continues. Shleltowee stops at the first stack of boulders, away from the wind where he tends to his tender feet. Below, I can see Slider still struggling with his tent.

By nine I’ve broken across the lower end of Fuller Ridge at 7,000 feet. I’m above the clouds, well above the clouds, which engulf the entire I-10 corridor below, to Palm Springs and beyond. By eleven I’m into the final pull on up to 9,000 feet, near the shoulder of San Jacinto Mountain. Here I rest, and wait for Sheltowee and Slider to complete their ascent. They wake me around one and we hike together through lingering snow drifts, on down to Saddle Junction.

Our camp tonight is at 8,100 feet. The cold, harsh wind, often resident of these high places has come to spend the night with us. In the topmost of the pine does it shout forth its passing gladness. Pitched now in the lee of an enormous longleaf, I need place rocks over my fully driven stakes to hold my tent down. Another cheese sandwich and this day is done.
“Wind of the East, Wind of the West, wandering to and fro,
Chant your songs in our topmost boughs, that the sons of men may know
The peerless pine was the first to come, and the pine will be last to go!”
[Robert W. Service]
Tuesday–May 13, 2008
Trail Day–021
Trail Mile–22.5/0343
Location–CA74, thence back to Best Western, Cajon Pass

I am so thankful to be blessed with such amazing endurance and stamina at near age 70. To be blister free, to have my knees and feet not ache, to have my back lifting, carrying effortlessly, to find my legs once again under me, strong and responsive–though I’m again a year older, it’s a blessing, a true blessing.

The wind has mostly passed on through, leaving the temperature here above the clouds at 39 degrees. I work with haste to break camp before my fingers turn to useless sticks.

Here at Saddle Junction we had hoped to find the trail open down and through the recently burned area. But alas, the sign placed by the USFS tells us we must use the detour–down Devil’s Slide, through Idyllwild, and from there, a roadwalk back to the trail crossing at CA74. This we’d hoped to avoid by hiking on north for a number of days, giving time for the fire to be fully extinguished. A good plan; just didn’t work.

So this morning we turn from the PCT, to the trail down to Idyllwild, and the long roadwalk.

Down now, in downtown Idyllwild, time for breakfast. Ah, and we pass right by the Red Kettle. Oh yes, in we go. Coffee, corn beef hash, eggs and pan-fried taters. High octane jet fuel–a little more coffee, ma’am!

By four, we’ve knocked out the roadwalk. Lots of fun looking for tossed coins. Dan finds the first, a penny. By day’s end I’ve found two cents. It has turned hot and the tarmac is worrying the old doggies. A mile or so from the end, both Dan and Kevin stop and make repairs to their road-weary feet.

It’s a long, congested drive back through San Bernardino, then on to Cajon Pass, near where we’ll continue our journey north.
“And He–He followed–close behind–
I felt His Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle–Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl.”
[Emily Dickinson]
Wednesday–May 14, 2008
Trail Day–022
Trail Mile–00/0343
Location–Blue Ridge Campground

We’ve decided to take a zero-mile day today, to rest a little from the big pull up on Monday and the roadwalk yesterday. Staying the night again at Best Western was a no-brainer (Dan  managed another deal for us).  Great place, spacious room (three double beds no less), good folks.

Checkout is eleven; we manage to get loaded and rolling by twelve. It’s a short drive to Wrightwood where we stock up on groceries for the next three or four days.

Slider has broken the tip on one of his hiking sticks, so I head for the hardware store to use their vice to replace it while he’s grocery shopping.  I have the broken tip banged off and a new one driven back on in no time. Dan’s finally getting a cell signal here in town, so he’s busy with scout business.

By the time we get out of Wrightwood it’s mid-afternoon. Our stay will be at Blue Ridge Campground tonight, a freebie, no hookups, no water, but a fine spot, Gordon informs us. Map shows a paved road leading up (to the campground at 7,600 feet) but there are more potholes than pavement–slow going for the three mile climb. Finally arriving, we find we’ve got the place to ourselves. By now, we’ve reduced camp setup to a science. Out comes the little folding table, our cook stove, cooler, kitchen bin, water can, folding chairs–and the coffee.

I’ve a fire going in the fire ring in no time (it’s cold at 7,600 feet!). Coffee’s on, feet are up, supper’s cookin’. Well now, this is really roughing it!

Relaxing here by the fire, content, tummy topped off, the horizon framed by the ever deepening shadows across far mountains, I think of this day, a day of such ease, and I think of so many other days on the trail, days that try a man’s soul–and so, should I not be thankful. Thank you, Lord, thank you for all these blessings.
“…trying to understand how you must feel to embark on such a journey, how exhausting and yet exhilarating it must be, and how there are days that you are able to walk a steady gait with such energy and purpose, and days that you must labor and slow down to overcome the difficulties of the trail, the joys, the frustrations, but in every day feeling the overwhelming awe of being surrounded by, and a part of, God’s creation.”
[Linda CyWiz Stolte]
Thursday–May 15, 2008
Trail Day–023
Trail Mile–20/0363
Location–Start at Blue Ridge Campground, end at Swart Canyon Road,
thence return to Blue Ridge Campground

We’ve got a 20 to hammer out, so we’re up and out by seven. The hike today will be from north to south, from the campground back to Swart Canyon Road where we ended our northerly progress on the 11th–from where we returned to fill in the bypassed trail section to the south.

The day starts with a steady climb, on up to 8,100 feet at Sheep Pass.  All along are sweeping views down into the San Bernardino Valley on one side, and Cajon Pass on the other.

Trekking south as we are today, do we meet many northbound thru hikers.  First is Lucky, then Brandon and Laurie,  Next, Princess of Darkness, Disco, Brian, Christina, Carbo, Jellybean, Blacksnake, and Southern Man.  Then comes Sly, Sarong and his brother, Hans, then Grandpa Kilt, Hiking Bare and Truant, Chase, Gopher, Prison Rob, Just Ben, Vanity Fair and her daughter, Breaking Wind.  Later in the day comes Jenny, Ken, Delray, Boomer, Medicare Pastor, and White Buffalo.  Whew, what a busy trail!

We’ve been hiking the extremes today, from the high elevation snowpack, exposed to the cold, howling wind, thence down to the scorching heat and blistering sun of the desert.  Are such times not made for memories–such blessed days in these mountains!
“…however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day;
whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.”
Friday–May 16, 2008
Trail Day–024
Trail Mile–18.7/0382
Location–Islip Saddle, thence to Buckhorn Campground

Another cool, incredibly beautiful day. 24 unbelievable days of sunshine so far. We’ve been hiking in the San Bernardino National Forest.  Today we’ll enter the Angeles National Forest. And this will be Dan’s day. We’ll be climbing Mt. Baden-Powell, named in honor of the man who started the Boy Scout movement in England way back in 1908. Dan’s an Eagle Scout, runs Camp Daniel Boone near Asheville, North Carolina, so he’s very excited.

Our climb begins where CA2 is closed due to rock slides–at 6,550 feet. Climbing, we’re soon in the snow, small patches at first, then large drifts, which make upward progress slow and very laborious. My GPS shows it’s a little over a mile to the summit, but we have over four miles of trail to cover. We’re able to follow the trail for awhile, mostly up snowbanked switchbacks. After getting lost numerous times we finally give up and turn to the mountain to stomp steps in the snowpack and work our way straight up. Early afternoon we finally reach the summit, which stands at a little over 9,000 feet.

Other thru-hikers have made it up with us this morning. We linger, to take in the incredible 360, and to watch with interest as Dan reverently creates, then video tapes a short narrative about Baden-Powell and the creation of the Boy Scouts. He then ends the clip with a motivational pep talk to his camp staff–some 300+.

With CA2 closed due to rock slides, Gordon must drive 85 miles around to link back up with us on the other end. He makes it and is waiting for us at Three Points, on the other end of CA2. From Three Points we hike a few more miles then call it a day.
“The scout training is effected by encouraging the boy through his own enthusiasm to develop himself as an efficient citizen.  To create his own character and his individual self discipline from within.  This is education.”
[Robert Baden-Powell, July 4, 1916]
Saturday–May 17, 2008
Trail Day–025
Trail Mile–21.5/0404
Location–5N04 near Sulphur Spring Camp

Gordon has us back on the trail at Islip Saddle at 7:30. At the highway the trail leaves the trailhead to climb and roll up, then around, back and down to the highway–like a ball of gum rattling around the spiral in the old gumball machine. Back at the highway, across, up, around, and down we go again–the old gumball getting a workout today. Back at the highway once again, we’ve a roadwalk due to trail closure. Something to do with a frog, the endangered yellow-legged frog.  Seems the frog has precedent over the PCT white-legged trekker, a not yet endangered species.

On the roadwalk, are there many snow drifts next the road. We need ice for the cooler, so reaching Gordon, who’s waiting near the campground, he and I load and return to the snow–to shovel the cooler full!

Being a Saturday, many day hikers are out on this (yet another) cool, beautiful day. Along we meet Boy Scout Troop #1 from West Los Angeles. Sheltowee captivates them with a short lesson on telling time by the sun.  Dan is a master at motivational speaking.  He has the knack of lifting all to whom he speaks to their highest level, to appreciate their true potential. It’s always fun watching him weave his magic spell–much the same, I suppose, as did Baden-Powell as he encouraged young lads to seek and enjoy nature–and the height of their own potential.
“Now I see the secret of making the best person:
it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”
[Walt Whitman]
Sunday–May 18, 2008
Trail Day–026
Trail Mile–23.2/0427
Location–3N17, Santa Clara Divide, Messenger Flats Campground

Great time last at Newcomb Lodge. Gordon drove us down. Hot burgers, cool frosties. Perfect ending for the day.

This morning, we’re not back on the trail till 8:30 (Gordon drove us back down to the lodge for breakfast). A segmented day, what with a stop for Gatorade (Gordon’s at the six-mile road-crossing) and then lunch at 14, where Nell’s friend, Phyllis does trail magic for all.  So, even with this relatively long-mile day, we’re in way before dark.

We arrive Messenger Flats to find the campground closed. “Won’t be open till next week.” says the Ms. Lady Ranger as she lets herself out the campground, locks the gate and drives away. From the gate to the campground is 500 yards, give or take. I jump the gate and walk over to take a look. Nothing’s been done to get the place ready, least I can tell. Place remains pretty much as winter’s left it. Someone (like a thirsty hiker who was told they’d find water here) has turned the faucet on–no water. Seems strange, but then again, maybe not so strange. Gotta remember, the USFS is in charge here. The campground will be open when they say it’ll be open. Hey, what’s it to ’em if hundreds of PCT thru-hikers are passing by. Yup, “…be open next week.” Yippee!

We move on down the road (by the trail) a few hundred yards and set up camp on a small sandy knoll. All hikers coming through behind us skip the campground and call it a day next the knoll. Nell’s friends have brought water in; thank goodness. Of course, we’ve got water, but many who are camping here tonight came in dry.

We get our efficient little camp set. Slider fixes hot dogs, mac-n-cheese, and green beans. Way too much food. Moon Pie and Gypsy Lulu end up helping us finish it.

Come to find, our camp location is much better than that at the campground, what with the great view down into the valley below Moody Canyon.
“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect
before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”
[John Quincy Adams]
Tuesday–May 19, 2008
Trail Day–027
Trail Mile–23.7/0451
Location–Agua Dulce, thence to Hiker Heaven, Jeff and Donna Saufley’s home

The hike today is mostly down (except for the long ups) to Agua Dulce. It’s another cool, clear morning, but that changes as we descend once again to the desert floor.

More gumball machine trail as the path winds in and out of every little side canyon. There’s still much color in the desert, bright reds, brilliant oranges, dayglow yellows, and large patches of pure white. Oh, and now with the desert really coming on, are there many varying hues of brown, from light cinnamon/camos to deep, rich chocolates. All bring attention to the otherwise barren landscape.

Gordon is waiting at the six-mile mark with cold drinks for all; a welcome respite on this cool-turned-hot day. We’ve another break near mile 14. It’s really heating up now. We’d planned on lunch at this crossing, but it’s just too hot to eat. Another cold Gatorade and I head across the tracks and back up the mountain. Nothing out here taller than my knees, not a single tree, not even a respectable bush, hardly a living thing. The desert is cooking now, the unmistakable pungence of sage all along. The thermometer on my Suunto wristop reads 105. But (Thank you, Lord!) with the humidity here being nearly non-existent, the least breeze feels cool and refreshing.

This last segment for the day passes oh-so-slowly, much climbing in the loose sand, no shade, stifling heat. I sing and whistle along (as best I can with parched throat). There’s a welcome diversion toward day’s end at Vasquez Rocks, an amazing geological formation. Walking in their shadow helps for the final mile or so.

Agua Dulce is a small community, few services. No problem though, what with the van to shuttle us about, and Hiker Heaven, a pretty remarkable home- yard-grown hostel. At the gated compound, I’m welcomed with grand smiles by Donna L-Rod, and husband, Jeff J-Rod Saufley. Wow, neat place. I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow.

Time now for a shower, thence to get my dirty, sand clogged clothes in L-Rod’s clothes basket–and head back downtown for supper.
“Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert’s little ways?”
[Robert W. Service]
Tuesday–May 20, 2008
Trail Day–028
Trail Mile–11.2/0462
Location–Agua Dulce, thence to Hiker Heaven, Donna L-Rod and Jeff J-Rod Saufley

We wanted to get in some miles today yet stay another night at Hiker Heaven, so we did a short eleven to Bouquet Canyon Road, where Gordon loaded us at 11.30–to haul us right back to Agua Dulce.

And why would we want to stay another night in Agua Dulce? Well, duh–Hiker Heaven is located in Agua Dulce! Oh yes, and let me tell you a little about Hiker Heaven:

Jeff and Donna Saufley are hikers, maybe not hiker trash hikers like yours truly, but they’ve packed far enough down the trail to know us and to truly understand the culture that is long distance backpacking.

In May 1997 Donna and Jeff opened Hiker Heaven, giving up (at that point) any possibility for privacy in their personal lives.  Since then the Saufleys have hosted over 2,300 PCT thru-hikers. This year they expect over 300, nearly the entire “Class of 2008.” Tonight alone they are hosting 60 of us.

Hiker Heaven is truly a remarkable place. The Saufley’s backyard has been totally displaced with (transformed into) hiker oriented conveniences–like a mobile home complete with full kitchen, bath, lounge area (computer/internet, telephone, T.V.), and bedrooms down the hall, and tents, big tents, all over the yard, complete with bunks.  Put your name on the bathroom door to get in line for a shower.

Jeff’s thing is mechanical engineering, electrical engineering to be exact–residential, commercial, industrial.  But certainly he’s right at home when it comes to plumbing as well.  Absolute wizardry is the only way to describe how he keeps hot water running in the shower 24/7–and it is 24/7 with 60 cruddy hikers passing through.  We can totally drain a hot water heater, believe me!  Wizardry, the only plausible explanation.

Finally, Donna’s trail name L-Rod stands for “lightning rod.” Standing alone but not necessarily above the fray, she’s taken more than a few strikes. Seems she’s had the audacity to boycott the ADZPCTKO. And why? Well, because she and Jeff know better than anyone about the “hiker wave” (a term coined by her) that is created annually when hundreds of hikers begin their northbound PCT thru-hike at the same time (right after ADZPCTKO), thence, and in awhile, to converge on and overwhelm Hiker Heaven.

Anyway, nuff of this–just want to say thank you, Jeff and Donna, for your kindness and generosity. Especially, thank you for your friendship.

I know that hundreds and hundreds have passed your door. I know, too, that in the future countless more that pass your way will receive your loving care. And yet–I know–through all times that your friendship to this old man will remain.

Oh, and yes, I’ll see to it that you receive signed copies of both my books, for your great library.
“The making of friends, who are real friends,
is the best token we have of a man’s success in life.”
[Edward Everett Hale]
Wednesday–May 21, 2008
Trail Day–029
Trail Mile–13.0/0475
Location–San Francisquito Rd., thence to Casa De Luna, “Andersons,” Joe and Terry Anderson, Green Valley

Another cool, glorious day. Days now should be really hot, the afternoons here in this desert climate nearly unbearable to hike through, but we’ve been blessed beyond what we may ever have hoped or prayed for.

Much climbing now, as the trail continues trending generally east/west, the mountains and their major canyons, generally trending north/south. So, more gumball machine roll-arounds, up and over the ridges, in and out of the side canyons; and so the trail goes, and so does it work us today.

By early afternoon we’ve managed to reach San Francisquito Road, where Gordon awaits to carry us down to Green Valley, and Anderson Hostel.

We no more arrive, get our tents set in their backyard, than we’re informed by Terry that a fire is sweeping up the canyon toward us, and that we needed to prepare for evacuation. Down comes my tent. Ditto for Sheltowee and Slider. We load all our stuff back in the van–and wait for the order.

Smoke’s coming over the mountain now, chopper hovering above the valley rim, spotter plane whizzing around. Hard to kill time, times like these, but we manage.

A block or so over, when we were coming up to the hostel, I’d noticed what looked like a really neat chop shop. Dan and I saunter down now to take a look. Kind folks, Cindy and Phil. Both busy, but they take time to greet us and invite us over. Cool stuff; an old Chevy pickup, chopped top, old blue-flame, stovebolt six, split manifold–really neat. And a full metal (not a fiberglass replica) ’30 bucket roadster (pics will be up soon). You gotta see this stuff.

Well, the evac order never comes–fire’s been contained. So we unload and set up all over–just in time for the grand taco salad supper, for 20 plus hungry hikers, prepared by the Andersons.

Showered up, full tummy, and now a bit of the old Laurel and Hardy style humor–a little skit performed by the Andersons, and it’s time to call it a day. And what an event-filled day. Blessings. Oh yes, true blessings!
“The most beautiful adventures are not those we go to seek.”
[Robert Louis Stevenson]
Thursday–May 22, 2008
Trail Day–030
Trail Mile–18.2/0493
Location–7N23A, Burnt Peak Road

We’re up and moving early. Loaded and rolling, we make a stop at Heart and Soul, a little mom-n-pop cafe/convenience just off Spunky Canyon Road. Great breakfast burrito.

First off, a climb up the ridge above Lake Hughes for our first view into the Mojave. A strange sight, rain clouds–and rain in the desert. We’ve had 30 days with no rain, and now it appears we may be in for it the next day or so–in the desert!

As usual, Slider has left us in the dust, yet, by day’s end, Dan and I beat him in. Gotta confess, we did some blue-blazing. That being, taking a route other than the marked and designated trail. Truth is, we had both tired of the up-and-around and the down-and-abouts the trail had been taking, so we jumped over to a forest service road that ended in the same place, and hiked it in from there.

Great evening meal prepared by Slider, behind the van at one of the few flat spots suitable for camp setup–right in front of a “Do not Block” gate.
“What do you suppose will satisfy the soul, except to walk free and owe no superior?
[Walt Whitman]
Friday–May 23, 2008
Trail Day–031
Trail Mile–21.6/0515
Location–CA138, Hiker Town Hostel

I was able to pitch out of the wind last, in a small sheltered spot under some trees (Yes, we’re hiking for a short time through trees again!). During the night sometime, it began, just a drop or two on my tent fly at first. Then, as time passed, and as the trees became laden with moisture, down came the rain.

I tarry the longest time this morning, after looking out my tent flap and seeing nothing in the cold, wet gloom, except cold, wet gloom. Slider finally rousts me. Not easy rolling out from a dry, warm bag, to the cold, wet ground. Oh yes, I’ve got my tent down and packed in no time. No breakfast this morning, no coffee, no morning duty–yet. It’s just too cold and wet to bother. We hastily load everything back in the van that we’d failed to put away last evening, shoulder out packs, and set out into it. Gordon’s up too, and sends us off with his usual “Have a good one.” But his encouragement seems to do little for our dampened enthusiasm.

First comes a long, steady climb, pretty much as usual, but this climb brings some surprises: more rain (we’re in the clouds), then sleet, then small, pellet-sized hail. The wind comes up and really gets to whipping. The temperature drops, and the day begins making for one of those “never a bad day” days (but not the best).

We’ve been hiking off and on the past week or so with a young chap, Tyler Lion Heart Wagstaff. Our paths crossed again when he came into camp late yesterday. He wasn’t looking or feeling so hot. Come to find this morning, he’d made several trips outside his tent last night. On the trail this morning, Dan and I soon catch and pass him–unusual.

The initial climb tends to be rather tough, what with the wind, the cold sleet, and the wet trail. Near the ridgetop, Dan and I decide to stop and wait around to make sure Lion Heart is okay. In awhile he comes along. He’ moving fine now, so we hike most the remainder of the day together.

The clouds persist in their rushing by, driving the sleet at us, creating a tiring, not the most fun hike. I stop and try getting a video of the clouds in which we’re suspended. Bailing off the mountain, and at much lower elevation, we finally emerge from the shroud of gloom and from the cold rain and sleet. At a road crossing, near 14 miles for the day, Gordon is waiting. Window cracked–“Get in the van and warm up.” he orders. Don’t have to tell me twice, Gordon!

After the warmup, which gets my sticks-for-fingers working again, we’ve seven miles of (more gumball) trail to finish the day at CA138, West Antelope Valley–and Hiker Town, a weekend retreat-turned-hiker-hostel. At the little office, near the main compound dwelling, we meet Bob, the caretaker. We’re informed by Bob that the bunkhouse is full to overflowing (remember the hiker wave?), but their are a couple of bungalow-like buildings for rent. Dan and I take a quick look, then settle on a deal–for the four of us, including Lion Heart (Gordon always stays in the van).

In the evening now, Slider prepares dinner (Bob’s let us bring our Coleman cook stove in), we relax and enjoy much good company. I have found Lion Heart to be a very interesting young lad–take a minute and check out his blog.
“Wander a whole summer if you can.
Thousands of God’s blessings will search you and soak you
…and the big days will go by uncounted.”
Saturday–May 24, 2008
Trail Day–032
Trail Mile–16.5/0534
Location–Near Cottonwood Bridge, L. A. Aqueduct

Wish I was able to tell you more about Hiker Town, where we stayed last, but I don’t know much. I do know it’s a weekend retreat owned by a movie director from Los Angeles. Apparently he has a soft spot for long distance backpackers.

By the time Dan has breakfast cooked (He’s the breakfast cook, Kevin does dinner!) and we get the van loaded, it’s after nine. Only a 17 to do today, so no rush. We’re finally on the trail by 9:30.

The hike today will be like no other, along the Los Angeles Aqueduct. We’ll trek ever so slightly up, as the aqueduct channels water from the mountains, the Sierras, down to the coast, and we’ll be hiking toward the mountains. Pretty uneventful day, that is until Sheltowee and I decide to blue-blaze a section, where the PCT leaves the aqueduct. Looked like it would be a shortcut, but by the time we get through with the ups, down, and arounds, we’ve added at least another three.

Gordon is waiting at the aqueduct bridge at Cottonwood Creek. Slider gets in first. Sheltowee and I, then Lion Heart finally make it. A pleasant day, as we’ve been blessed once more with cool, cloudy weather. Oh yes, we’re blessed, no question about it.
“Father, thank You that in the average, normal day
we can see the hand of an all-powerful and all-knowing God.
In the deserts of life, You appear in the flame of Your presence.”
[Franklin Graham]
Sunday–May 25, 2008
Trail Day–033
Trail Mile–23.4/0558
Location–Tehach/Willow Road

Our camp last was in the Joshua trees–and the sand.  I thought we’d be out of the wind there, but the wind is never far away, and it came to join us again just after sunset. I did manage to pitch in the lee for a pleasant night.

Dan’s been excited for days about seeing his high school chum, Doug, again. You’ll recall that Doug lives near Los Angeles, and he was able to come up last evening to spend a little time, and to hike awhile with us this morning.

We’re all out and moving around 8:30. A respectable climb first thing. Doug’s in shape, so we’re able to move right along–and up. Seven miles or so, he bids us good hiking and farewell, then turns to return, back down the mountain.

We soon enter an area of intense burnover. Nothing left but ash–and sand. The treadway has been almost totally obliterated, which makes for slow, dangerous going, as the trail through is mostly a sideslab. Don’t want to skid off the side of this place, ’cause it’s a long way down.

Later in the day, just to add to the mix, we get into an area overrun by dirt bikes–churned up trail going every which way. Slider has moved out way ahead and he keeps us on track by making directional stick marks in the sand. We’re able to follow his lead and get through the worst of it.

Late afternoon we enter Terra Gen Operating Company land, the beginning of (guess what) a wind farm. Here are located hundreds and hundreds of wind-driven turbines–and they’re all crankin’.

We’d been concerned for the longest time about the heat through this desert section, but the opposite conditions have prevailed–cold wind, sleet, and hail. My hands haven’t warmed up or worked right all day.

Gordon’s right here waiting for us at day’s end. We pile in and head for Mojave just a short distance down the valley. Best Western, that’s the place. We’re all in, showered, then over to KFC for the biggest bucket (actually two) they make–plus mashed taters, gravy, green beans, and biscuits.

I’ve a bunion-like knot developing on my next-to-little toe, right foot, and today it’s really been complaining. I know I’m old, just don’t want to feel it. Anyway, sure not unhappy to have this day done and in the journal.
“An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick,
Unless soul clap its hands and sing,
And louder sing for every tatter in its mortal dress.”
[William Butler Yeats]
Monday–May 26, Memorial Day 2008
Trail Day–034
Trail Mile–8.7/0567
Location–Cameron Road and US58

Being out of the wind and cold–much enjoyed. A very good continental breakfast. I’m rested and ready to hike again today, a short eight miles.

Back up the mountain, we find the cold wind waiting. Jacket on, pack up, I’m out behind Dan, Kevin, and Tyler.

Tyler’s doing so much better now. He’s eating well; his strength returning–great attitude.

The trail leads up immediately, along the high ground, where stand the wind turbines, all running full tilt.

With such exposure, there’s nothing to deter the wind–20, 30, 40 mph, gusting above 50. And it’s bitter cold. The trail stays the high ground for such a long time, so it seems. My hands turn numb. Can’t hold my sticks. We’re in the clouds now, an eerie sight and sound, the grind and groan of the turbines standing so close, yet invisible in the shroud. I try to get a video, don’t know–much difficulty keeping the camera even half steady.

We’re off the mountain before noon. Gordon needs new tires, so we head for Lancaster, and Super Wal*Mart, some 25 miles south.

It’s late afternoon before we’re back to Mojave, and another night at Best Western. Much foot pain today.
“A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.”
[Emily Dickinson]
Tuesday–May 27, 2008
Trail Day–035
Trail Mile–00/0567
Location–Best Western, Mojave

The democratic way–we took a vote; it was unanimous: Burn a day in Mojave. So here we are again, for the third night at Best Western, Mojave. We first came cruisin’ in here Sunday evening after completing the 23 mile not-so-memorable trudge up and through the burnover. We were all tired, needed a bath and a good hot meal. The 28 piece bucket from KFC did the trick.

Yesterday, after the short-but-tough hike up past the wind turbines, we returned to Mojave again for another pleasant evening.  Great town, fine folks, neat motel (with pool hot tub). Oh yes, no great debate about another night here.

Zero days aren’t leisure days. There’s always plenty to do, like washing the uniform shade of brown out our clothing–and shoes. Desert sand and dirt have a way of penetrating and sticking to everything. Gordon drives me to Tehachapi, to K-Mart for a couple more camera memory cards. I’m shooting more videos now, and they really eat up the memory (should make a great addition to the website). Gotta work the post office in, plus a dip in the pool, and a bit of (Oh, no) leisure in the hot tub.
“A few days ago I rode into the red rocks and sandy desert again and it was like coming home again.”
[Everett Ruess]
Wednesday–May 28, 2008
Trail Day–036
Trail Mile–25.6/0593
Location–Cow Pasture Camp (Meadow near Jawbone Canyon)

Waffles and coffee from the breakfast bar get me going. Gordon has us back to the overpass/trail, US78, and we’re hiking by 7:30.

Here is the official beginning of the Sierras. We’ve now completed Southern California (and that edition of the PCT Atlas compiled and published by Erik Asorson).

We’re faced right off with a steady climb of over 2,000 feet back to the crest at 6,000 feet. We’re still in the desert. Though the sun can be searing, we’re blessed again with a cool breeze. It seems the winds of all the planet are being spawned here–with most remaining. There’s not a respectable ridge along today that isn’t adorned with countless wind turbines. How their builders were able to  construct service roads to some of the sites up here is nothing short of miraculous.

A day off should have helped my foot problem, but the pain is intense, sending zingers clear up my right leg as I stumble along and through the off-camber sideslab trail. Popping coated aspirin every hour provides some relief, knocking the pain the least bit.

In the afternoon, and from a piped spring I fill my 32 oz belt-pouch bottle, then add two liters more in my Platypus, which will be needed for supper tonight and tomorrow morning. With food, and now much water, my packweight has doubled–doubling the weight on my hapless right foot.

Slider and Sheltowee have moved way ahead; I can’t keep up. As I hike the final climb for the day the treadway turns into a pile of rocks, setting my right doggie to barking nearly every step. Reaching this higher elevation the trail changes, from a sandy desert of Joshua to a loamy forest of oak and pine. Here the soft duff of the trail is such a blessing. I am very tired by the time I reach the cool, green meadow where Slider and Sheltowee are setting camp for the night.
“There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.”
[Ella Wheeler Wilcox]
Thursday–May 29, 2008
Trail Day–037
Trail Mile–23.4/0616
Location–Kelso Valley Road

What a nice campsite last, fire ring, lots of firewood, and cows. No water but plenty of wind to go around–and back around, even though toward the end of the day last the wind turbines gave out.

Slider gets going around 6:40, I’m right behind. With the cold morning (41 degrees), our camp was in the clouds. I find out later that Sheltowee lingered in his tent until almost 7:30. The morning remains cold, and we hike in the sullen shroud until well past 10:30.

Our first water is at a lovely place called Robin Bird Spring, ten miles out. Slider and I get there mid morning.

I’m suffering severe foot pain again today. Taking coated aspirin, one per hour, helps. The trail works its way between open stretches of sand to much-welcome shade (and blessed soft tread) in the Jeffrey pine, live oak, and black oak. I have hope–and faith, that my foot will get better, that the pain will soon subside.

Water for the afternoon is at Cottonwood Creek. So far we’ve seen no other hikers. Late afternoon now, the final section is a down, tough, very painful and tough. Slider and I are in by 4:00–along with the wind. Together we pitch camp near the road crossing, only to find the wind too bothersome. Sheltowee comes in and we then break camp, load everything back in the van and move on down the mountain out of the incessant wind.
“Hope is the thing with feathers–
That perches in the soul–
And sings the tune without the words–
And never stops–at all.”
[Emily Dickinson]
Friday–May 30, 2008
Trail Day–038
Trail Mile–22.2/0638
Location–Flat ridge crown just past trail to Lower Yellow Jacket Spring

There was so much wind at Kelso Valley Road that we had to break camp and move down from the pass last evening. We found a relatively flat, sheltered area out of the wind about a quarter-mile below.

It’s a chilly 44 degrees at sunrise this morning. This cold beginning will soon give way to another blessed cool day, a continuation of the absolutely ideal weather we’ve had for hiking the PCT.

We’re out just after eight, first Slider, then Sheltowee, then me. I try keeping up but immediately suffer again with much pain in my right foot. I’ve taped my fourth toe off to the third in hopes of isolating it, to relieve friction and pressure, but it’s not working. Much disappointment, causing not a good attitude–the day soon becoming another head-down, grind-it-out day.

We’ve more gumball machine trail. No memorable features or views, just sand, and the trail winding and wandering through it.

Nearly out of water, Dan and I go down to Yellow Jacket Spring, off trail nearly a mile. A strange place. Hundreds of gallons of water rushing by through knee-high grass, but the run no more than a quarter-inch deep. We search down and around to finally find a small dropoff where we’re able to channel water into our bottles and bladders using a chunk of tree bark.

The trail continues its never-ending sideslab with not a single, halfway-flat spot to pitch anywhere along. The ridge above finally drops as the trail continues its contour. Seeing sky just above, we break from the trail and climb up to a small crown, and a perfect campsite, save a few ants and scorpions.
“I sought the trails of South and North,
I wandered East and West;
But pride and passion drove me forth
And would not let me rest.
And still I seek, and still I roam,
A snug roof overhead;
Four walls, my own; a quiet home…
‘You’ll have it when you’re dead’.”
[Robert Service]
Saturday–May 31, 2008
Trail Day–039
Trail Mile–12.8/0651
Location–CA178, Walker Pass, Walker Pass Campground

Great campsite last, right on a little crown just above the trail. Rocks tall enough and situated just right for seats to cook our evening meal, next the perfect spot for a warming fire. Oh, and what was so amazing–no wind!

We’re out a little before six-thirty to a cool (41 degree) morning, sunny and wind-free.

We’re hiking now at near 7,000 feet. From here we’ll bop along, to finally scrub off 2,000 feet as we drop to Walker Pass Campground.

Early afternoon we round one of the (gumball machine) turns, to an open clearing. Looking northerly, we get out first glimpse of the High Sierras and Mt. Whitney–snow-covered in the far-distant haze. We’ll be hiking up there in those lofty places the next three or four weeks. Ah, and we may soon be out of the desert–but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The trail down to Walker Pass is the perfect grade, just made for Nomad’s Neutral.  Slider and I let ‘er go, cruising at four per. We’re in, in no time. Gordon’s here. Here, also, are trail angels, Meadow Ed, Meadow Mary, Swithback, Jackalope and husband, Eagle Eye, and Katy (the ranger) Warner. Also here are my dear friends, JoJo and husband, Nomad ’98, and Rascal.

Less foot pain, a blessing for sure. I’m not feeling so old today.
“As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.”
Sunday–June 1, 2008
Trail Day–040
Trail Mile–29.9/0680
Location–Canebrake Road, thence to Best Western, Ridgecrest

The decision is to hike it on through from Walker Pass to Canebrake Road, a long day with much climbing. We grab a quick breakfast provided by the many trail angels here at the campground, then bid a hasty farewell to all and hit the trail. We begin climbing immediately–a little past seven.

JoJo and Rascal have hiked out ahead of us, so we’re hoping to see them today. It’s a short distance from the campground to the pass, where Nomad ’98 is working on his pickup. His serpentine belt has jumped track and he’s bent over the radiator trying to route it back on.

Crossing CA178, the climb continues as we head for the saddle between Morris Mountain and Jenkins Mountain. Soon we see hikers on the trail above. Overtaking them, we meet Curtis and Chris, both from Ridgecrest. They’re long-distance runners. However, today they’re out just to hike and enjoy the mountain. As we pass, they hasten their pace and we continue along together, sharing much good conversation and company.

At the campground I managed some repair to my painful right foot, and it is doing much better as the morning progresses.

Up and over Morris/Jenkins, we drop, only to climb a great distance back up to the saddle between Jenkins Mountain and Owens Mountain. In the Sierras now, and at these higher elevations are the vistas most grand, across to the rugged ridge leading to Mt. Owens, and a particularly jagged sculpt of sheer rock known as Five Fingers. Curtis and Chris are familiar with this area, these mountains, and it’s most enjoyable listening as they enthusiastically identify the many different features.

We miss JoJo and Rascal, a disappointment, as they’ve gone down to Joshua Tree Spring, a quarter-mile off trail. Curtis ran down for us, took our water bottles to fill, and saw and met them there.

The final climb of the day takes us up and over the saddle between Jenkins Mountain and Owens Mountain, a very long, steep ascent. All in all, and before we complete our trek this day we will have climbed no less than a vertical mile.

The descent from Jenkins/Owens is most gentle, another blessing, as my right foot has again become very painful–downhills can be pure murder on tired, sore feet.

We reach Canebrake Road in good order, Curtis, Slider, Sheltowee, and me. Gordon and Nomad ’98 are here (Nomad got his belt back on). Chris has taken a slower pace and will not be finishing until near dark, so Curtis loads with us to return to his vehicle at Walker Pass, from there to return and fetch Chris.

It’s sure been a fun and interesting day hiking with these two locals. Thanks fellows!

Not a pain-free day, but my foot is much improved. Oh, joy!
“Run the race with endurance, the course that has been laid out for you.”
[Hebrews 12:1]
Monday–June 2, 2008
Trail Day–041
Trail Mile–00/0680
Location–Best Western, Ridgecrest

Seems there’s never a spare minute when hiking the trail. A day “off” now and then is needed to get caught up on loose ends, like talking to loved ones and friends, getting a bath, washing clothes, having a good hot meal or two–and maybe getting caught up on journal entries.

So, another day in Ridgecrest will go far in attending the neglected.

Perhaps a day of rest might help my tired aching foot.
“No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater.”
[Robert Frost]
Tuesday–June 3, 2008.
Trail Day–042
Trail Mile–21.5/0702
Location–Sherman Pass Road, thence to Kennedy Meadows Campground

What a climb from Ridgecrest back up to Canebrake Road. Takes Gordon near an hour to shuttle us, his van shifting constantly from second to low, a climb of over 2,500 feet. And are we loaded–water, grub, if you can think of it, we’ve got it. Lightweight backpacking? Ah-hmmm!

We’re not back on trail until 8:30. More climbing first thing, from a little over 5,000 feet on up to over seven.

The trail passes through more burnover, sand and ash, typical churn. The joy is in finally reaching actual timber, pine and hardwood. It’s a pleasant change–for a change.

Lunchtime our paths cross that of Yeti and Manimal, locals from Ridgecrest out for a few days.

Water is becoming more abundant now. Numerous spring-fed brooks, then snowmelt rushing down the South Fork of the Kern River. We intersect the river, then hike up its canyon the remainder of the afternoon, to Kennedy Meadows. Gordon is waiting at the road crossing above the little community–and the Kennedy Meadows General Store. The usual trail design and layout. It’s a mile from where the trail crosses the road to the store, which we hiked past and within a few hundred yards of almost an hour ago.

We load and head for the store for our mail drops. Neat old place. Hundreds of boxes, hiker boxes, stacked ten high and forty deep in their back storage area. My drops are here, Sheltowee’s too. Slider is missing one of his boxes. We sort through the stack for over half an hour–no luck.

The store is putting on a spaghetti dinner for thru-hikers this evening, plenty of takers. A little skimpy, far as hiker trash standards, but very good.

Much enjoyable conversation with many friends. Late evening we move up to the campground a couple of miles from the store and call it a day.

Passed the 700 mile mark today.
“Little by little, one travels far.”
[J.R.R. Tolkien]
Wednesday–June 4, 2008
Trail Day–043
Trail Mile–2.5/705
Location–Kennedy Meadows Campground

We’d been advised a couple days ago that the trail just north of Kennedy Meadows was closed due to a recent forest fire–the Clover Fire. But here at the Meadows today we find the trail open to thru-hikers, so we’ll be hiking on up and into the High Sierras without the need for a long detour around.

JoJo is here, and I dearly want to hike some with her. We’ve been friends for many years. Met her, got to know her, also her husband, Frank Nomad ’98 Burley, long before they ever met each other. A bit about this very special lady: JoJo is not just the first woman, but she’s the first person to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Mountain Range. She accomplished this great goal in 2002. The trek covered an incredible distance of 5,400 miles, from Key West, Florida, to Belle Isle, Newfoundland, in the Labrador Sea, off the tip of The Great Northern Peninsula. We’ve both hiked that trail, and many others–but never have we hiked together. And so, my desire to hike some, finally, with my dear friend JoJo.

We’re taking another day off today, but we’ll get in the least bit of hiking, from the road crossing near the store, to the campground above.

Dan prepares a tank-stokin’ breakfast for us, a dozen scrambled eggs mixed and loaded with potatoes, peppers, onions, and cheese, also toast–Oh, and lots of coffee to wash it all down. We don’t get out and going until after nine.

Since we’re hiking from the campground back south to the road, Gordon is waiting right at the same place, again. We load and beat it back to the store. Many dear friends, fellow thru-hikers lounging the deck outside. Great company; delightful afternoon.

We’re back to the campground before dark.

This peaceful time, this rest for this old man’s bones, for his pitiful foot, has been a much needed blessing.
“The value of old age depends upon the person who reaches it.
To some men of early performance it is useless.
To others, who are late to develop, it just enables them to finish the job.”
[Thomas Hardy]
Thursday–June 5, 2008
Trail Day–044
Trail Mile–23.2/0728
Location–Campsite at “year-round creek”

It’s 37 in my tent this morning. Dan has ice on his. This is pleasant weather up here at high altitude!

JoJo, Rascal, Tarzan, Zelda and Greybeard get out at 6:00, Slider at 6:45. Sheltowee and I linger, enjoying each other’s company–and the quiet, crisp, clear of the morning. We finally hit the trail at seven.

It’s a gentle climb to begin, the treadway kind to tired, tender feet. At six miles or so we see a group of firefighters camped in a lush, green meadow below, maybe 15 or 20 of them, mop-up for the Clover Fire that burned across the trail. At mile seven for the day we begin hiking through the burnover. Hot spots (smoke) can still be seen across the mountain. That the fire affected an area so close to the trail certainly casts suspicion on us (trail users). However, and thank goodness, USFS fire investigators believe the origin of this fire was a smoldering lightning strike from a few days previous–not like the Apache Peak Fire, which closed the trail and caused us much inconvenience, the determined cause–a cigarette discarded by a hiker.

In Monache Creek Bowl, Olanche Peak, the trail climbs the sky, from 7,800 to 10,500 feet, one of the longest continuous pulls yet. I’m pleased with my stamina–quite amazing how my legs have come back under me, again, one more time!

Vast vistas reveal the majesty that is the High Sierras, snow-crested sharptop sentinels–to the blue horizon. It’s so easy to simply stand and stare the distant legions, and snap countless postcard scenes.

We all end up, same time, for lunch at the South Fork, Kern River Bridge. A most pleasant brook, spring snow melt running full tilt. Trout are abundant in the clear, swift waters.

Past Olance the trail descends to 9,000 feet where we find a clear “year-round creek.” We’re all in by five; a great campsite–fire ring, water, tent sites for all. Oh, does the warmth and glow of the evening fire prove such a welcome friend.
“If you’ve never stared off in the distance, then your life is a shame.”
[Adam Duritz]
Friday–June 6, 2008
Trail Day–045
Trail Mile–25.2/0750
Location–Trail Pass, down and back, then on to Chicken Spring Lake

The very best campsite so far. Great company, too. Sheltowee, Slider, Zelda, Tarzan, Greybeard, JoJo and Rascal.

Greybeard is daily hiking with us now. Like Slider, he tries to get out to an early start; so now I’m up early, too. Except for Sheltowee and me, all are moving by a little after six. We linger, again, breaking camp, getting our gear packed, and enjoying time together.

The hike today begins at 9,000 feet, then climbs to over 10,000 in the first eight miles.  Though the tread is mostly sand, the vegetation desert-like, there’s plenty of water along the path now.

Sheltowee and I hike with JoJo and Rascal until around eight. During that time I’m able to get a neat interview (check the video link in a few days).

Today we’re offered many good views of Mt. Whitney, which we’ll be climbing early Sunday.

Toward afternoon we descend Trail Pass to meet Gordon at the trailhead below. Here, also, are Shirley, Greybeard’s wife, and Frank Nomad ’98, JoJo’s husband.

Sad news. Have known for the past few days, but couldn’t bring myself to tell you. Sheltowee is leaving the trail here at Trail Pass. The Boy Scouts of America have called him back, so he must go. One of the toughest good-byes in a very long time.

At four, and with heavy hearts, Slider, Greybeard, and I start back up Trail Pass; it’s a long, hard pull. The day proves uneventful as we continue on to Chicken Spring Lake, where we arrive a little past six. Other thru-hikers are here for the evening: Map Man, Robin, Just Ben, Roadrunner, and Delray.

Sitting now by the lake, thinking of this day, do such mixed emotions rush over me, feelings of joy and feelings of despair. I’m overwhelmed by what can best be described as an agonizing void. I manage to finally drive it down by remembering about and being thankful for Dan’s friendship over these many years. He’s been such a positive influence, a motivator in so many ways. His calm composure, his easy way with daily dealings have boosted me many a time. His example has constantly nudged my deeper being toward true, inner peace.

It’s been a sad day, a very sad day, but I am happy in knowing our friendship will endure. I’ll sure miss you Sheltowee; all the very best to you and Waterfall.
“That’s something I’ve gained from the experience [thru-hiking the AT]:
a sense of inner peace and confidence that I can be happy anywhere
because I have that happiness and love for life within me.”
[Nina Waterfall Baxley, ME-GA 2000]
Saturday–June 6, 2008
Trail Day–046
Trail Mile–21.8/0766
Location–Guitar Lake, Mt. Whitney Approach Trail

Slider wakes me. A squinting glance at my wristop (time and temperature); 5:30, 34 inside my tent. Aw my, not sure I’ll be getting used to this anytime soon. I really like the sun shining on me when I head out. We’re (Slider, Greybeard and me) hiking by a little after six. Just before eight we enter Sequoia National Park.

I’m having a real tough time this morning, hiking without Dan. I keep looking back, waiting for the sound of his footsteps, anticipating his upbeat laughter, listening for his offkey sing-songs. But alas, there is naught but silence.

The goal today is to get within striking distance of Mt. Whitney, so we might climb early tomorrow morning while the snow fields are still crusted and solid.

In the afternoon, gnarly trail slows us considerably, rocks piled on rocks, and more than enough climbing, over 2,000 feet for the day. We’re off trail more than on, crossing deep snow drifts or avoiding treadway flooded to overflowing with spring snowmelt.

You may have noticed that my daily mileages don’t always add up to the total mileage. That’s because, like today, we’re hiking on trail other than the official PCT. This afternoon we’ve done part of the side trail leading up to Mt. Whitney–off the PCT, and I’m not including such mileage, other than for daily mileage purposes. In this case we’re so close to Mt. Whitney, and there’s a trail leading over and up there–why, it’d be foolish to pass it by. Oh yes, we’re hiking up Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48.

We reach Guitar Lake early afternoon to find it almost totally covered with ice, and all around, deep snow drifts. But with such a pleasant day (very little wind for a change), and the sun’s radiance, it’s shirtsleeve weather. Time to lounge a bit and enjoy the antics of the many friendly marmots scampering about.

We’re all very tired and it’ll be a long, hard day tomorrow, a climb to over 14,000 feet, so we’re all bedded down before dark. We’ve acclimated best we can in such a short time (above 10,000 feet). Hopefully we’ll all do fine. No way to know though. Perhaps we should have sought a little advice from the wise old man of the mountain.
“If you wish to know the road up the mountain,
ask the man who goes back and forth on it.”
Sunday–June 7, 2008
Trail Day–047
Trail Mile–21.1/0776
Location–Campsite near Lake South America Trail, below Forester Pass

Greybeard wakes me at 5:30. I break camp quickly and we’re out to a very cold morning, climbing a little after six. Getting an early start helps tremendously, as the snowfield traverses are much less risky over hard, frozen snow–no skidding around or postholing.  Such surface is more crusted, like sandpaper.

From Guitar Lake it’s around four miles to the top of Mt. Whitney, all up, to an elevation of 14,495 feet. We’ve left most of our gear back at Guitar Lake, our base camp at 12,000 feet. I’m carrying all by my tent and the food needed to trek on through to Kearsarge Pass.

Greybeard and I summit a little before eight. Slider reaches the top twenty minutes later. On the summit with us today are Map Man, Robin, Roadrunner, Just Ben, Delray, and Simon. It doesn’t take long for an hour to fly by. Lots of photo ops. I plant a small American flag at the most-high point–a formal ceremony filmed by Slider. We’re blessed with a beautiful, clear morning. No wind, just like on the summit of Mt. Elbert last year.

Incredible, breathtaking views, 360. The Sierra Nevadas contain the longest continuous stretch of wilderness in the lower 48. From Kennedy Meadows to Red’s Meadow, the PCT crosses nine passes, all near or above 11,000 feet, the highest being Forester at 13,180, which we’ll tackle tomorrow. For over 200 miles there are no roads, no power lines, just vast, unspoiled wilderness–and below us this morning does it stand in all its glory.

The descent back down to Guitar Lake takes two hours. We linger, have lunch, then break camp and head on back to the PCT, oh, and the JMT–we’re also hiking the John Muir Trail now.

Whitney behind us, the goal now it to get within striking distance of Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT, elevation 13,180 feet, as mentioned. Again, we want to hit the pass with the snow fields frozen. We’ve much slow going again today, snow drifts, flooding, lost trail. Toward evening we must ford two very large creeks, both roaring, the snow melt now in full tilt. We reach our planned campsite a little before six. Oh my, it’s going to be another cold night here at 11,160 feet.

The climb, then descent from Whitney bummed out my right foot again. Tramping through snow drifts and flooded treadway for hours on can wear on even the best-conditioned backpacker. Anyhow, seems the foot problem is setting in as chronic–not a happy thought. Much, much pain. It’s sure been one long, slow, tough-but-memorable day for this old man.

Instant rice seasoned with gravy for supper. Very tired–sleep comes soon.
“I am the land that listens, I am the land that broods;
Steeped in eternal beauty, crystalline waters and woods.
And I will not be won by weaklings, subtle, suave and mild,
But by men with the hearts of vikings,
And the simple faith of a child.”
[Robert W. Service]
Monday–June 8, 2008
Trail Day–048
Trail Mile–24.0/0790
Location–Kearsarge Pass Trails, thence to Kearsarge Pass, Onion Valley, and down to Lone Pine

Cold, cold night last, at over 11,000 feet. Ice crystals on my tent this morning. Stiff shoe laces (wet last night, frozen this morning).

Everyone is up and moving around by five in anticipation of a long day. We’re 4.3 miles from the highest pass on the CDT, Forester Pass. We want to hit the snow fields while they’re frozen and crusted. Much easier crossing them that way. Early morning is best, so we’re all hiking before six. And we’re all carrying a little extra weight. A couple, thru-hikers, Oasis, and his wife Scratches, have met with misfortune. She fell coming down Mt. Whitney last and dislocated her shoulder. They somehow managed to reset it. However, she’s suffering much pain and is unable to carry her pack. She’s going to hike it out (tough gal, eh!), so Oasis has split up her gear, a bit for each of us to carry up and over Forester Pass, so he doesn’t have to lug both full packs. Helping out will be Map Man, Robin, Roadrunner, Delray, Just Ben, Slider, Greybeard, and me.

The climb begins immediately. All’s fine till we hit the first snow field where the trail disappears under the wide expanse of glistening white–to emerge somewhere in the rocks above.

We spread out, to search up, down, and around. Finally Map Man locates the trail again a half-mile or so up the canyon.

This climb is every bit as difficult a summiting Whitney yesterday, and longer. I’m wheezing and huffing toward the top, which seems to loom forever above each successive switchback.

There’s an enormous amount of snow still banked up, both sides the pass. Slow, arduous going, up and over. Side-slabbing on 40-50 degree angle-down snowpack takes intense, very steady, uninterrupted concentration. One slip, one misstep, could prove disastrous–down, way down to the next stop, like a big pile of rocks.

In the afternoon, and while climbing drift after drift, flooded trail between, Slider goes down hard. He postholes in the ever-softening snow, his heavy external frame pack driving him in. Like getting blindsided in a football tackle, his right leg/knee takes a hard side-angle hit. Greybeard helps him up–he sucks it up, and continues.

The goal for today is to reach Kearsarge Trail, turn there, then climb Kearsarge Pass at over 11,000 feet, and finally, to descend to the trailhead at Onion Valley.

The climb up and over Kearsarge is another buster, just not as much snow–but very steep and rocky. Greybeard and I reach the pass half-past three where we meet Sauerkraut coming back up from the other side. He’s aware of and very concerned about Oasis’s wife, and to stash his heavy pack (six days of food), and hike back south to assist his dear friends.

It takes us two more hours to descend Kearsarge, a drop of 3,500 feet, where awaits Gordon, Shirley, and Frank (JoJo and Rascal aren’t expected down until sometime tomorrow). After an hour, we become concerned for Slider, as it’s very unusual for him to be far behind. He finally makes it down, but with much difficulty and considerable pain. We all dearly need a rest–and a better plan to watch out for each other.

Tomorrow will be a much-welcome zero-mile day in Lone Pine.
“Adventure is putting one’s ignorance into motion.”
[William Least Heat Moon]
Tuesday–June 10, 2008
Trail Day–049
Trail Mile–00/790
Location–Portal Motel, Lone Pine

A day off, what a blessing getting clean again. Greybeard and his wife, Shirley, have become great new friends. We dined together last, then had breakfast together this morning. In town Slider’s always finds time to do laundry. Out on the trail, if Gordon can get in to meet us at a trail crossing, I’m the kitchen setup man, working from the back of the van. In that situation, Slider’s the cook.

On a zero day, there’s always so much to do in such a short time–journal entries, postcards to family and friends, clean and repair gear, figure next six-seven days, food, etc.–never ending, and time consuming–but very necessary.

Gordon is doing so much better, seems every day now. He’s been talking about getting rid of his walker. First chance we get, a Goodwill or some-such, the walker’s history; just great news!
“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.”
Wednesday–June 11, 2008
Trail Day–050
Trail Mile–15.2/0797
Location–Near Dollar Lake

I’m still working journal entries this morning. Never seem to get caught up. Regardless, even with severely limited time, I do attempt to keep them interesting and fun. I sure hope you find enjoyment in following along with us this year.

Gordon and I open McDonald’s–coffee and biscuits. Shopping to do. To the sporting goods store, there  I buy new tips for my Carbonlites, and shop for a good pair of gaiters. Get the old beat up tips changed; no luck with the gaiters.

We work feverishly to get going but fail making the motel checkout by eleven. On our way back to Onion Valley Trailhead we make a quick stop at the Independence Post Office to mail cards, etc.

It’s 1:30 before we’re back climbing Kearsarge, a very long climb, 2500 vertical feet. My right foot takes the up okay, and does seem to be doing better–again.

As we descend from Kearsarge, and making good time, we decide to go for Glen Pass today, a climb back up to near 12,000 feet. The trail, the climb–both gnarly. No other way to describe it. Expansive snow fields obscuring the trail. Getting lost takes no effort. Where we’re able to find trail, it’s totally flooded with run-off. We finally reach Glen Pass around 5:30.

The descent is more of the same: snow fields totally obscuring the trail. Scary downs through the slopes of snow, step by step, kicked in indents left by others before us. Down, down, down, grades of 40-50 percent. Concentrate, concentrate, every step is crucial, must have perfect placement. A misstep here–there’d be only one.

Near dark, we find a so-so campsite and call it a day.

I am very glad we tackled Glen as we did. We’re in good position now to get up and over Pinchot Pass, a climb of over 3,000 feet–but that’s tomorrow. Indeed, we’re in the very heart of the High Sierras now.

I’ve doubled up on my enteric coated aspirin, near 4,000 mg per day now, keeps the foot pain tolerable.

Thinking as I nod off: Back at the kickoff event I had the pleasure of talking with Billy Goat again. I’m two months his senior, so we had plenty in common to discuss–like guys our age, they may have the will to take on such remarkable long-distance challenges, however, in most cases their tired old bones are just no longer up to it. Oh yes, our hearts are sure into it, Billy Goat–but we must always wonder, and marvel at our tired old bones.
“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains…
and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.”
[Saint Augustine]
Thursday–June 12, 2008
Trail Day–051
Trail Mile–19.7/0817
Location–Campsite below (before) Mather Pass, near upper South Creek

We’re up and out to a cold, clear morning–at 6:30. More gnarly trail, flooding, snow fields.

Two hours into it, Slider has a blowout (his old worn-out Jan Sport pack breaks). The quick fix done, no sooner are we off again, climbing toward Pinchot Pass, than it’s get lost time–in a huge snow field. Much time lost, little ground (snow) gained; but no matter. Time up here in this “Range of Light” is certainly NOT of the essence. It’s 2:00 before we reach Pinchot Pass. So far, Pinchot has proven the toughest climb. Oh, but I must tell you, the scenery is spectacular. Snow everywhere, much, much snow.

On the descent we’re off trail more than on (lost in the snow, treadway flooding). Descending, we pass many lovely high-held lakes, all above 11,000 feet. Near day’s end, we’re finally in position to tackle Mather Pass early tomorrow.

We (Slider, Greybeard, and I) have hiked today with Gopher, Rapunzel, and Thrust; great company.

The spring snow melt is in full tilt, and today we were faced with many deep, fast-rushing, (and very dangerous) fords–proved good, though, for numbing my pitiful right foot.
“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed
and sent pulsing onward we know not where.
Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time
or make haste than do the trees and stars.
This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.”
Friday–June 13, 2008
Trail Day–052
Trail Mile–19.2/0837
Location–Below Muir Pass, near Helen Lake

I’m up but not moving very swiftly. Everything’s cold and frozen, especially my shoes. Have one heck of a time getting my (wire-like) laces tied, what with my poor, pathetic sticks for fingers.

We’ve been trying to hit the trail early, as our progress is now so very slow. We make it out, and we’re hiking a little before six.

In no time at all we hit the snow, huge fields of it, where the trail simply disappears, never, it seems. to reappear–until we reach Mather Pass. We were able to see the impression of many switchbacks on the mountainside, but no way could we go there. We had no choice–head near-straight up, the most difficult (and scary) 500 yards of tread I’ve ever negotiated (sideslab indent steps kicked in the 40-50 percent slope, high, high above anything in sight). Oh, thank you brave souls, you who’ve ventured here before me with crampons and ice axes.

We finally crest Mather Pass a little before ten. Rapunzel, Gopher, and Thrust have hiked up with Slider, Greybeard, and me. We take a break, and I take time to shoot a neat video.

Descending is treacherous. Again, huge near-vertical snow fields to cross and re-cross. Downs are really scary. Can’t help but look, to see where one slip would lead to–fast. On the ups, looking down can be avoided; not near as scary. But the near-straight downs–white knuckle time for sure.

Everyone makes the descent safely, and our focus now shifts to the goal of positioning ourselves for Muir Pass, our final climb to 12,000 feet. Hopes are to pitch camp at around 10,000 feet, but don’t know yet if we’ll have time to make that climb before dark, since the trail has dropped to a steel bridge, which crosses the South Fork, King’s Rive–at 8,100 feet.

There are many swollen streams to cross today. Over some of the deepest and most swift, we luck out by finding blowdowns over which to cross. But, oh yes, still plenty of dunkings–wet feet.

As luck (and perseverance) would have it, we do reach a flat spot at around 10,000 feet. Room for all–and we pitch for the night.

Another very big day tomorrow, up and over Muir Pass. But I’ll worry about it then. Too tired now.
“…few think of pure rest or of the healing power of Nature.”
Saturday–June 14, 2008
Trail Day–053
Trail Mile–20.3/0856
Location–Campsite near Muir Trail Ranch Trail

Another beautiful day;we’ve certainly been blessed. We’re out and climbing toward Muir Pass a little before six. Another very cold morning–sun’s across the other side of the mountain. Am wearing all my clothing, save my poncho.

We’re into huge snow fields almost immediately. The trail (on the ground under the snow) follows many switchbacks. On the snow it goes straight up. As before, others who’ve passed before me have stomped out footsteps, which makes the going easier. Yesterday, under similar circumstances, I was scared to death. Today I’m stopping to take pictures. Interesting how one adjusts, becomes more confident. But, oh yes, it’s still total concentration time. Slow and easy, one step, then the next, the only safe way.

We have little trouble with the climb, although we’re on the actual trail less than a fourth of the time.

Amazingly, we’re all standing by the stone hut in Muir Pass by eight. The hut is an impressive structure, indeed, built in 1908 by the Sierra Club, in honor of John Muir.

At the pass, here again this morning are Slider, Greybeard, Rapunzel, Gopher, Thrust, and me. We linger, taking in the amazing Sierras–and taking pictures. This is such a very special place. These mountains, this remote ruggedness. Well here, I’ll let Muir describe it: “”There are…old ways graded by glaciers and followed by men and bears…all roughened with gorges, gulches, land-slips, precipices, and stubborn chaparral.” We’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, true, but up here, in “The Range of Light” are we also trekking the John Muir Trail, approved in 1915 and completed in 1931.

On the way down I have a wreck, actually two. First I lose my footing on the rock-hop across the outfall from Wanda Lake, do a full off-load into the frigid whitewater ice melt–and break my right trekking pole in the process. I’m none the worse for wear, though, just very wet and the least embarrassed. Then a while later I lose my balance again, in the snow field below the lake where I fall slap-flat, breaking my other trekking pole. Once again I’m none the worse for wear. Fortunately, I’m able to repair my sticks well enough to continue using them.

Slider has another blowout today. His harness comes apart on his pack frame (again). Again, another make-shift repair. We’re both going to be limping into Red’s Meadow, in more ways than one.

Greybeard is an excellent guide. He always leads out, looking for the trail through the snow,  keeping us on track. We follow along, usually making good time.

In the afternoon I run out of steam, slow way down. My right foot is extremely painful, probably as bad as it’s been. As mentioned, I’ve doubled up on my coated aspirin, near 4,000 mg/day, but it does little good.

We’ve many more fords today, one a real dandy, across Evolution Creek, probably 20 yards across and thigh deep in some places–incredible force, tries to pick me up and carry me down to the falls below. I still possess good endurance, but my level of strength has steadily dropped over the years. Slider helps me across.

Everyone is hiking ahead of me now, way ahead. I’m unable to keep up. Now come the rocks, lots of rocks. Each off-step hobble, with my left foot, brings much pain. My hiking motto has always been: “There are no bad days in the mountains, some just better than others.” Well, as for today, there’s sure been better.

It’s so amazingly beautiful here in the High Sierras, but I’m having the most difficult time enjoying.

We reach the low point (for me) and for the trail a little after five, take water from the creek, and call it a day.
“Calling you still, as friend calls friend
With love that cannot brook delay,
To rise and flow the ways that wend
Over the hills and far away.”
[William Ernest Henley]
Sunday–June 15, 2008
Trail Day–054
Trail Mile–21.0/0877
Location–Trail to Edison Lake, thence to Vermilion Valley Resort

Up at 4:30, yes 4:30–dark, dark. Our plan is to reach the trail to Lake Edison, then hike the mile and change to the lake, and be there in time to catch the ferry to Vermilion Valley Resort at 4:45.

First comes the hard climb up and over Selden Pass at 10,900 feet. We had anticipated snow fields and were prepared to hammer through, but they aren’t at all bad. Good progress; we’re in the pass by eight.

Different trail the other side. Much snow, but we get through in good order, thanks to Slider. He’s been staying near, been keeping an eye on me–and he grabs me in time, just before I slide off the side of the mountain.

We hike a good distance down Bear Creek Canyon today before climbing again, to near 10,000 feet. Then it’s down again to under 8,000 feet, at Lake Edison.

As we lounge here at the shore of the lake, awaiting the boat to Vermilion Ranch Resort (VVR), I’m thinking: What a great group to be hiking with–Slider, Greybeard, Rapunzel, Thrust, and Gopher.

Mike, from VVR, comes to fetch us, then has us back to civilization by a little after five. Free first frosty, free first night’s stay. Wow, I like this place already!
“Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light.  And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all the Range of Light.”      [Muir]
Monday–June 16, 2008
Trail Day 055
Trail Mile–17.2/0893
Location–Above Purple Lake

What a memorable stay at VVR, all the folks there, just great: Paula, Mike, Kevin, Roy, Tod, Scot, and Carmen. Didn’t get to meet Jim Clement, VVR owner, so would like to thank him now: What super folks you have, Jim, a most-friendly place, thanks! Oh, and thanks for the free beer to start, the hot shower, the delicious pasta for supper, the full platter breakfast, and the free stay, great!

The boat ride back this morning is much smoother. Out at nine; Mike’s at the helm again.

We’ve a long, hard pull, up and over Silver Pass, from the lake at just under 8,000, to nearly 11,000 feet. And again today, difficult and dangerous fords (2). This time the crossings at Mono Creek. Slider helps me again, anchoring himself at the deepest, most dangerous spot, thence to strong-arm me through; thanks Slider!

The snow isn’t bad on Silver. Actually it’s a frolic, great fun–glissading down short stretches over steep snow banks. Slider even gets into it with his gargantuan pack. And why not, with a name like, er, Slider! (Watch for the videos–they’re a hoot!).

We caught up with Brit and Irish at the pass, then we all camp together.

My right foot has been doing better the past two days. Perhaps the ice cold water, the constant dunking, has helped.
“Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.”
[Emily Dickinson]
Tuesday–June 17, 2008
Trail Day–056
Trail Mile–13.4/0906
Location–Red’s Meadow, thence to Mammoth Lakes

A relatively short day today, around 13 miles. Greybeard has me up at five. Not as cold this morning, but dang if I don’t have a time getting started. Takes awhile to get this old jitney warmed up anymore. Why is that!

A hard climb right out of the chute. I hang with it, my right foot barking every step up. After the climb to Duck Lake Trail at a little over 10,100 we drop gradually and steadily back down to 7,700 feet at Red’s Meadow. More fords today; cold, wet feet now the rule, so it seems. Foot never really settles down. I just hammer on–and pop more aspirin.

A mile or two above Red’s we leave the Ansel Adams Wilderness to enter the desolation and ruin caused by the Rainbow Fire. Remaining are huge charred snags that were once majestic stands of fir and pine, some over six feet in diameter. How Red’s escaped the inferno is a mystery to me.

Near Red’s now the trail intersects an old stagecoach road and then enters the stables, home to “Red’s 20 Mule Team. “Gordon and Shirley are right here waiting, both very happy to see us after six days out. Over to the restaurant for a burger, then we load up and head for Mammoth Lakes, the highs of the High Sierras all but behind us now.
“And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.”
[Arthur Hugh Clough]
Wednesday–June 18, 2008
Trail Day–057
Trail Mile–8.0/0915
Location–Agnew Meadows Road, thence back down to Mammoth Lakes

A much needed near-zero-mile day today. We’re in the van at six and back on the mountain at Red’s at seven. Eight miles of dry tread, yippee! Another slow, hard, and painful start for me. Everyone hikes away–until they realize I’m not coming along. Twenty minutes or so I catch them, sitting and waiting patiently for me. Slider tells me they’ve decided to let me lead today. Just a very kind way of saying they’ll slow down and hike my pitifully slow pace.

A couple more aspirin, which finally kick in, and I’m able to up the pace to a respectable three per. We’re at Agnew Meadows a little after ten, and back down the mountain to Mammoth Lakes by eleven. Again, so many chores, countless things to get done. My tent is filthy, my Therm-a-Rest is leaking, gators are shot, mail drop to fetch (memory card from Webmaster, CyWiz, and latest card to send), trekking poles to find parts for and repair, laundry to do (Thanks, Slider!), six days journal entries to polish up–and maybe find time for a bath and a few good, hot meals.

Hit the jackpot–my mail drop. Cards from loved ones, and a chock full care package (Say goodies!) from Lindy The Pole Goddess Spiezer, LEKI USA.

It’s 10:30 (the night 10:30) and Slider and me, we’re still at it.

Aw, time’s up–end of a very full day.
“I prefer the…star-spangled sky to a roof,
the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway,
and the deep peace of the wild…”
[Everett Ruess]

Thursday–June 19, 2008
Trail Day–058
Trail Mile–23.0/0923
Location–South junction of JMT/PCT, thence to Red’s Meadow Campground.

We make it out of the motel room by six; amazing! Forty-five minutes back up the mountain and we’re on the trail before seven.

The past number of days we’ve been considering completing a thru-hike o’er the John Muir Trail. We’ve already done the south end of it, from Mt. Whitney, where the JMT begins/ends, (A short distance from there it tracks north on the same path as the PCT). Well, it’s decision making time now, as here near the Ranger Station at Devil’s Postpile, just north of Red’s Meadow, the trails go their separate ways for a number of miles, not to merge again until just below Donohue Pass. We can take one or the other of the two trails, but then there’d be that gap in the trail not hiked. So, plan is to hike up the PCT to where the trails join again, then beat it back down the JMT to the Ranger Station here at Devil’s Postpile. Hiking this loop will give us both trail segments. Problem is: The north trail junction isn’t accessible other than by trail, a distance of some eight miles back up the PCT from Agnew Meadows. We all decide that re-hiking the eight miles of the PCT is worth it, so today we’re off on the loop, and tomorrow we’ll start back again at Agnew Meadows to head on north.

There are only five of us hiking together now. Rapunzel stayed the trail, took no time off at Red’s, so she’s now a day or two ahead of us. Her absence has certainly been felt–we all miss you, Rapunzel.

Lots of climbing today, up the PCT, then much drifted snow and snowmelt coming back down the JMT. A tough hike.

In the evening, we head for the neat campground at Red’s. Severe foot pain all day, kept popping the coated aspirin. Relief from pain, oh, what a blessing that would be.
“…few think of pure rest or of the healing power of Nature.”
Friday–June 20, 2008
Trail Day–059
Trail Mile–28.0/0943
Location–Tuolumne Meadows Campground

Another (needed) early start. We’ve a 28 to knock out today, if we can–depends on the amount of snow in Donohue Pass. We’re up at five, back to Agnew Meadows and hiking quarter-to-seven.

Yesterday, as mentioned, we did a loop hike in order to cover a section of the JMT (15 miles) that’s separate from the PCT. That hike also included eight miles of the PCT, from Agnew Meadows to the northern junction of the PCT/JMT. This morning, we’ve got to hike that eight miles all over again, as it’s the only way to get back to the north junction. From there we’ll continue on north, again on both trails.

Donohue Pass is the last pass to stand above 11,000 feet. In fact, when we cross over it’ll be our last time above 11,000 on this hike.

We cover the eight miles again in good order, reaching the PCT/JMT junction a little before ten. From here we continue climbing, to hit the snow (big time) a little above 9,000 feet. The trail soon disappears. We fan out to find the best route up–and hopefully some bits of the trail, to let us know we’re headed the right direction.

There are many deep drifts and expansive snowfields above 10,000 feet. Here, the trail totally buried–only way is to head straight up through the snow and rocks. Being early afternoon now, the snow is soft causing much dangerous postholing. We finally gain the pass a little after two–totally exhausted. Here presents an amazing panoramic view. Time to shoot my daily video.

Descending Donohue Pass, we’re hiking now in the Yosemite Wilderness. The trail down is rugged. Actually there is no path, just fields of snow everywhere. Luckily, as we slip and slide our way down, Thrust finds the trail and we all fall in. The trail remains much obscured, buried at times under many feet of snow. More straight down through it. Descending in such fashion, we make surprisingly good time. Finally, after many miles, and a couple thousand foot drop, the snowfields end and the trail flooding becomes less troublesome.

We’re on track for getting into Tuolumne (say two-wallow-mae) Meadows before dark, which we manage by six. We all head straight to the dining hall. Great atmosphere, fine evening meal.

Gordon has us to the campground before dark. This day owes us little.

Popped coated aspirin all day. Much foot pain–just part (a discouraging part) of the hiking program now.
“God’s promises are like stars; the darker the night the brighter they shine.”
[David Nicholas]
Saturday–June 21, 2008
Trail Day–060
Trail Mile–20.0/0943
Location–Sheltered area just below Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

A very noisy night at Tuolumne Meadows Campground, but I slept through most of it.

Here at Tuolumne the PCT and JMT split for the final time, the JMT passing Half Dome to descend into Yosemite Valley where it ends/begins at Happy Isles, Yosemite National Park, while the PCT continues on north, along the Sierra crest, to Sonora Pass.

Today and tomorrow morning will be our final two days on the JMT, with less than 30 miles remaining to complete our thru-hike. The goal today is to reach the approach trail, off the JMT, which leads some two miles to the top of Half Dome.

Not too good a start this morning. We’re unable to locate where the JMT leads out from the campground. An hour and a half later we finally give it up and walk the campground road, out to the JMT.

It’s a respectable climb first thing, from 8,550 to over 9,700 feet at Cathedral Pass. Lots of wildlife, grouse, deer, even a black bear. Slider, Gopher, and Thrust all get a look at him–and a few fleeting, butt-end pictures.

By 3:30 we’ve reached the approach trail to Half Dome. Hundreds of people, who’ve climbed up today, are coming back down. Through a gap in the tall pine we can see them, like a line of ants, descending the cables over the side of Half Dome.

We climb to within a mile of the summit, but must retreat back down into the timber when a thunderstorm comes driving through. We’re able to get back down in the tall trees and pitch just before the storm hits.

Cold pop tarts and cheese crackers for supper.

Much pain and continued discomfort with my right foot. I have prayed for some relief, but to no avail.
“Every evening I turn my worries over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway.”
[Mary C. Crowley]
Sunday–June 22, 2008
Trail Day–061
Trail Mile–9.2/0943
Location–Happy Isles, Yosemite National Park

Our plan yesterday was to reach the plateau, a small, flat area just below the cables leading up Half Dome. We arrived in good order, but at that very moment did we hear thunder in the distance. Oh yes, dark, ominous clouds had been forming all around the Dome. Our planned camp area being exposed, we decided to beat it back down to the tall trees some 300 feet below, there to try our luck at finding a flat spot, then to pitch before the storm drove through. Luck was with us on both. We found (relatively) flat ground, got ourselves secure and were in just before the rain and wind arrived. The storm amounted to little and quickly abated. In an hour or so the whole thing blew through. That’s when Slider and Thrust decided to catch the sunset from the Dome. They were gone till well after dark. I heard them return but promptly fell back to long, restful sleep.

We are getting up earlier and earlier every morning, always for what seems a good reason. This morning we’re stirring at 4:30. The reason: To be on top and catch the sunrise from Half Dome. We make it with not a moment to spare. Sunrise this morning is 5:47. We’re on top at 5:48. Ah, but the sun is a minute late as it must rise from behind one of the very tall, distant peaks. As it does, I manage a sensational sunrise video, 360, from Half Dome. The early effort, getting up in the dark; it was certainly well worth it.

The Dome–how to describe it. For sure, it’s like no place I’ve ever been to or ever before seen. Standing as it does, alone and reaching heavenward at 8,800 feet, nearly 5,000 feet above the valley floor, it dominates. It first became visible yesterday, miles and hours before, while we were still at a great distance. Next to Stone Mountain in Georgia, it’s one of the largest and most impressive rocks I’ve ever seen. And the final climb–how can I possibly describe both a heart-stopping adrenalin pump, and a truly life-altering experience? I’ve read, over and over, Muir’s account of his harrowing experience, his struggle on Half Dome–adrenalin surge, yes; heart-stopping experience, oooh yes!

Every day many are lured to the raw adventure that is the climb to Half Dome, there to labor for hours with their personal struggle, up, some 4,000 feet from the valley below. The final 500 feet, near straight up, are the most strenuous and scary. Holes have been drilled every 20 feet or so, into the solid rock, there to support pipes, which in turn support the two-foot wide corridor of steel cables anchored above and below.

We linger the longest time on the huge crown of rock, taking pictures, and watching in total fright as Slider climbs around, between, and through the heap of boulders, to emerge at the very edge of the overhang that is Half Dome, there to sit casually with feet dangling some 4,000 feet above the valley floor. The descent down the cables proves not near as difficult nor as scary as I had anticipated, and we’re soon back on friendly and familiar trail. Ah yes, the side trip up Half Dome and back down will long remain in my memory.

Today we complete our thru-hike o’er the John Muir Trail, as we descend past Nevada Falls, and on down to Happy Valley. Yosemite Valley, on this first summer Sunday is a zoo. We stay only a short time before heading back to the peace and quiet of Tuolumne, where camp has been set. I manage a shower, make-shift though it be, using the van doors to create a shower stall. The evening I spend making repairs to Gordon’s driver’s side running board–one more time.
“Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge [in his day]
from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands.”
Wednesday–July 2, 2008
Trail Day–062
Trail Mile–15/0958
Location–Lower Parking Lot/Trailhead, Carson Pass

Well, you’ll no doubt notice right off the 10 day gap between Trail Day 61 and 62. Okay, so I’ll tell you what’s happened:

Sunday, June 22nd was not the most pleasant day. That night the pain in my right foot became so incessant, so intense that I had difficulty sleeping. Next morning, the 23rd, as all my friends hiked out from Tuolumne Meadows, I remained behind. An agonizing decision, a very sad, tear-filled time. Reality: I had been holding my companions back for the past number of days as I blundered along with much pain, great discomfort, and difficulty. Not fair to them or to myself, the hike having long failed to bring the least joy.

Later that morning the decision was to have Gordon drive me down to Sacramento, to the J Street Clinic there, in hopes of getting one of the podiatrists to take me in. Many weeks and hundreds of miles of unending pain, with only occasional improvement or letup–it was certainly time.

Gordon has dear friends in Sacramento, Cameron and his wife, Romel. He’d been in touch with them. In fact it was Cameron who’d recommended the clinic, and he’d invited us to stay while in Sacramento.

On Tuesday, I was indeed fortunate to get in to see Dr. Kerbs at J Street. One look was all it took for him to diagnose what I had long suspected–a badly infected foot. Weeks ago I had torn away the lump-like layer of flesh, a corn that had developed on the side of my 4th toe. Removing it left a large cavity. After, I had diligently applied triple antibiotic ointment and bandaged it. But with constant wet conditions, with the never-ending grit and mud of the trail, it was impossible to keep the wound clean and dry.

Doc scolded me, gave me a script for systemic antibiotics and ordered me off the trail until my next appointment (in 11 days after completing my daily regimen of meds).

During the down time, Gordon and I continued supporting many thru-hikers as they trekked on north without me: Slider, Greybeard, Thrust, Cruiser, J.Z., Neighbor Dave, Chickety, and others.

Yesterday morning, the 1st of July (at South Lake Tahoe, below Echo Lake where the PCT passes), Gordon and I bid final farewell to our many dear friends. Another agonizing, tear-filled time. He then drove me back down to Sacramento, to Cameron’s, where we stayed the night. Dr. Kerbs had also insisted I get a new pair of shoes–ones with a much larger and wider toe box. So we’d stopped at REI on the way in for shoes.

This morning Gordon has me back to J Street. Actually I’m a day early, as my appointment isn’t till tomorrow, but my toe is much improved and I can hardly wait to get back to the trail, back hiking again; so here we are.

The kind receptionist at J Street informs me that Dr. Kerbs is out today, but with much tolerance and continued kindness, she sees that I’m taken in by Dr. Smalley. He spends much time with me, looks my foot over, then gives me the go ahead to return to the trail.

Sacramento, for its size, is a beautiful city, its citizens most kind. We’ve gotten in and out twice now, from clear downtown, with not the least difficulty, all drivers patient with us and most courteous. And thank you, Cameron and Romel, for taking us in. You’re a perfect example of the kind, tolerant and caring folks of Sacramento.

Gordon has me back to Echo Lake in good time. We’ve decided that it’d be best for me to hike south from Echo Lake to Tuloumne as the section of trail just out of Tuloumne has been reported to be wet and muddy, what with the snow-melt. Hiking south will give me at least three days of relatively dry trail, no deep crossings or fords, no muddy bogs. So it’s shoulder-the-pack time at Echo Lake, and I’m back on the trail again a little after two.

Much discouragement and disappointment right off the bat. My right foot starts barking almost immediately, same old stick-the-hot-match-to-it pain. It’s almost impossible not to limp as I attempt to maintain a normal stride.

The trail offers some climbing, a few decent views. Camera stays in my pack, though. Gordon’s waiting for me at Carson Pass Trailhead where I call it a day.

Great joy in camping with JoJo, Rascal, and Frank again. By the time I reach Tuolumne, then get back up to Echo, they’ll be far ahead.
“So thou shouldst kneel at morning dawn
That God may give thy daily care,
Assured that he no load too great
Will make thee bear.”
[Anna Temple Whitney]
Thursday–July 3, 2008
Trail Day–063
Trail Mile–28/0986
Location–Trailhead, Ebbetts Pass

The beginning of this day, the second day back to the trail, brings much hesitancy and trepidation. Seems all the time off, the professional treatment given with sincere caring, the new shoes, seems all has been for naught.

I’m out from Carson Pass at six, the old jitney cranking reasonably well, considering. After some three hours on the trail, begins a surprising (and miraculous) occurrence. Quickly, and for no apparent reason, the pain subsides and my right foot settles down. No words can describe my “glory-be” reaction, my thankfulness, joy, and absolute glad-hearted elation–to be hiking, finally, pain-free. Oh, I’ve certainly done my level best to remain true to the trail, to stay the journey, no matter, with what determination I’ve managed to muster, day-to-day. But my good effort, my  stay-it resolve, that hasn’t turned this hike around. Nope, had nothing to do with it. Divine intervention; that’s the only plausible explanation I or anyone could ever come up with. Thank You, dear Lord, thank You, once more, for Your never-ending grace and loving kindness.

Much climbing again today; some great photo ops, with the right state of mind now–to appreciate this incomparable “Range of Light” sky-filled wildness that is the High Sierras.

Twenty-eight miles for the day, yet I’m in to Ebbetts Pass Trailhead by six, where Gordon and I get a cooking/warming fire going. Hot dogs over the coals. Fresh bag of chips and plenty of iced-down Gatorade for my evening treat, compliments of Gordon.

What a day; what a day!
“This day be bread and peace my lot;
All else beneath the sun,
Thou knowest if best bestowed or not,
And let thy will be done.”
[Alexander Pope]
Friday–July 4, 2008
Trail Day–064
Trail Mile–31.4/1017
Location–Trailhead, Sonora Pass

A strange feeling, staying last at Ebbetts Pass Trailhead–Gordon and I alone. We’d camped there earlier in the week while supporting our friends hiking north. Pretty sure it’ll be the same reaction this evening at Sonora. We camped with all our friends there, too.

Kind of a bummer, going the opposite direction, getting further and further from dear friends with each passing day. They’ll all be over 200 miles north of me when I finally return to Echo Lake, where I’ll resume my journey north. Perhaps, and not likely will I ever see them, ever again–bummer.

I used to do well if I hit the trail by eight. One thing I learned (not that I didn’t know–just not daily applied) was to get out and going, to hit the trail early, like at six or before. First light, Greybeard would roust us all, “Gotta get going, gotta get going,” he’d always say. Slider picked up on it right away. Turned to being a contest; who’d roll out first, Greybeard or Slider. Sorta funny, all the tents lit up before first light. The “old dog, new trick” thing gets harder and harder for this old curmudgeon, but the early-rise change has apparently stuck–I’m out and hiking quarter-to-six this morning!

One very neat and unexpected consequence of hiking backwards (south) is the pleasure in seeing so many friends I’ve not seen since way back in southern California. It’s embarrassing, having my name called out so often, and not remembering in return. I’ve found that simply begging my old age to be an acceptable excuse for forgetfulness. All is forgiven. Ha, and isn’t it interesting that I’m often remembered as “the hiker Gordon’s following.” The pleasure of a cold (out-of-the-blue) Gatorade is sure hard to forget, eh Gordon!

The northern High Sierras are a jumble of jagged razor-topped ridges. Hoodoo-like formations abound. All are eerie looking forms, from the bizarre to the grotesque. And the common colors: Dark volcanic-like browns, even mixtures of black. Oh, and today–reds. We’ve all been to and have seen places like Red Rock, Red River, Red Canyon, Red Desert. Today I hike for just a short time through red, I mean red-RED dirt. Just a small patch on the very top of the crest.

A 31-mile day, no big deal. But throw in nearly a mile of elevation change, up and down, and you’ve got yourself a hike. I hadn’t really planned on hiking all the way through, from Ebbetts Pass to Sonora Pass, but arriving early the last big (2,400 foot) pull, up to the crest above Sonora, and having remaining good energy, I decided to give it a go. Some small patches of snow, nothing like back on Mather or Muir. I get off-trail only once, in the boulders above the saddle, leading to 10,500 feet. Vistas wide and glorious. Sharp tops piercing the heavenly blue, 360. Lots of pics today–and a fine video you’re certain to enjoy. Should be up in a couple of weeks. Don’t miss these shots!

As the ups have gone up today, down goes the final down, a bail-off across cliff-angled rock, the narrow tread literally hacked out of the rock face. An exciting climax to a most memorable (and almost totally pain-free) day.

I arrive, and am alone at Sonora Trailhead, no friends like before, to cheer me and share good tidings of the day. I’ve done plenty of long, solitary days on the trail, just not during this trek. Will take some getting used to.
“The land of the great woods, lakes, mountains and rushing rivers
is still mysterious enough to please anyone who has eyes to see and can understand.”
[Norman Collie]
Saturday–July 5, 2008
Trail Day–065
Trail Mile–00/1017
Location–Trailhead, Sonora Pass

We’ve decided to take today off. Much to do (besides getting a couple good hot meals), so we head down the mountain and take our chances. Instead of turning toward Bridgeport, we head for Topaz and the state line, for gas and the AYCE buffet at the casino.

Along the way there’s a neat mom-n-pop for breakfast and a campground to get showers and do laundry. Luck’s with us!

Really nice to be clean and have clean clothes, and the buffet was just super. Manage to get back up the mountain just before dark.

Want to do the remaining 76 miles to Tuolumne in two days plus, so gotta get my tent pitched and hit the hay–4:30 comes early.

Sunday–July 6, 2008
Trail Day–066
Trail Mile–31.7/1049
Location–Above Wilmer Lake

Camped on Sonora for the 4th time last. The place is getting to be like home (not).

I’m up at first light, wake Gordon so he can see me off, pop a Pop Tart, break camp, then at a little before six I’m out and climbing, from the Pass up to the crest.

When we were waiting here for all our friends to come in a week ago, we could see where the trail crossed two good-sized snow patches way above. They’re still here, and I must cross them, but they’ve shrunk a bunch. I do believe summer is finally here.

The hike this morning, in these northern High Sierras, is one of the most spectacular of all to date. From the crest, at nearly 11,000 feet, the highest point since Donohue Pass, the trail weaves back and forth through wide-open notches, saddles and passes. Hundred-mile vistas abound full around, and they’re heart-stopping stunning.  The bit of far haze keeps the distant-most snow covered sharp-tops dancing the dusty blue, such mirage-like fantasy enough to make one wonder, to doubt if they’re really out there at all; a mysterious thing, as if enough mysteries weren’t already lurking beyond the horizon.

The trail soon drops from the high ridge to descend Kennedy Canyon, the first of countless canyons through which the trail will make its way for the next forty-or-so miles. Down a thousand feet it goes, to ford the ice cold stream below, then right back up it wends again, usually a thousand feet–and then some, to repeat the exercise over and over (I’m hiking south now, entering the High Sierras from the north now!). The tread today is mostly rocks and boulders, heaped upon heap, rugged, difficult, making for very slow and cautious going, the only way to keep from busting it, what with the ascents and descents totaling over 7,000 feet for the day.

By eight (14 hours on the trail) I manage the 30.  Rocks, boulders, fords, climbs, and the largest, most amazing hatch of mosquitoes I’ve ever dealt with (even worse than in the Florida Everglades).

It’s been a day. And what a day, one to remember awhile, for sure.
“The blue crest of the distant mountain, tops
The green crest of the hill on which I sit;
And it is summer, glorious, deep-toned summer…”
[Amy Lowell]
Monday–July 7, 2008
Trail Day–067
Trail Mile–30.4/1079
Location–Virginia Canyon Creek

I climbed far up the trail from the canyon last, in hopes of rising above the mosquito zone, but to no avail. Tried ignoring them while pitching for the night, Ha! Then tried cooking my evening gruel by reaching out my tent, Ha, Ha! Very uncomfortable night, what with the zipper on my tent door broken. Skeeters out here in the High Sierras work three shifts. They stay at it (at me) 24/7.

I’m up at first light; the early morning shift is here. I skip the Pop Tart, break camp and move out. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that by hiking briskly along one might be able to outdistance the little spitfires, but no such luck. The elbow and back-of-the-leg demons move the fastest. One of the northbounders I chanced to meet yesterday (well, I really didn’t meet him) lamented in passing, “These mosquitoes are just crazy!” I returned with, “Hi!” but that was our total exchange–kept his head down and continued plodding, an entire squadron encircling him, two in hot pursuit. Headnet, Deet, my attempt to thwart their search and destroy mission. Again, no help.

More canyons, more climbing the heap of rocks, but hey! fewer skeeters today.

In Lower Kerrich Canyon, near Bear Valley Trail I come on this northbounder standing on a rock, waving his arms and screaming to high heaven. When he sees me approaching, he hollers and waves to me to “STOP! There’s a bear over there, there’s a bear over there.” He keeps hollering “Hey bear, hey bear,” but apparently the bear isn’t buying it and hasn’t moved. I look, can’t see him. Sure enough see him, though, when he climbs a tree 15 yards away. Had my camera at the ready, already. Oh yes, I get the shot, totally unobstructed. Remarkable, just a remarkable bear sighting!

The guy finally quits hollerin. I pass the bear. The northbounder follows along with me–40 yards back to where he’d dropped his pack.

I’ve been hammerin’ on another 30 today, but the miles are grudging and tough. The canyons have their own charm, the cold browns and grays, the heaven-high spires, the ridges with their rows of lined up sky-piercing needles. Crossing over to each new canyon, and with unlimited views across, each pass sets me to wondering, totally bewildered as to how the trail will ever get through such a confusing jumble. Ah, but as always, one look at the trail data sheet reveals the 1,000 (more or less) climb up the far canyon wall. I hope for the low spot, and that’s usually where the trail goes–just that the low spot isn’t really low. For this day, today’s trek is certainly “Over the hills and far away.”

The day is done, a satisfying one. I’m sure done, energy totally spent.
“We shall remember, and, in pride,
Fare forth, fulfilled and satisfied,
Into the land of Ever-and-Aye,
Over the hills and far away.”
[William Ernest Henley]
Tuesday–July 8, 2008
Trail Day–068
Trail Mile–15.6/1095
Location–Tuolumne Meadows, then back north to Echo Lake, to continue on north

One of the best campsites last. Great cooking and warming fire, few mosquitoes (still picking dried up ones out of my nose).

I think that today I’ve forded my last stream, for awhile. Faced now with mostly rock-hoppers. Dry feet for a change.

I’ve a short hike today and am most anxious to finish this southbound trek, to return back north to Echo Lake where I’ll be hiking north again.

I’m up and out before six.

Toward Tuolumne Meadows the trail levels out, fewer rocks and boulders, and I haul. At Tuolumne Falls, the trail turns, to climb right beside the falls, then the rapids, then the swift running river, all the way to Tuolumne Meadows. What a spectacular bit if trail, certainly impressive–plenty of snowmelt yet.

Gordon is waiting for me at the very spot where I bid farewell to my friends almost two weeks ago.

We’ve a long drive back to Echo Lake. First stop in Bridgecrest for lunch. As luck would have it, we end up with a long detour around, clear into Nevada, then back to California–semi wreck on US395. Mid-afternoon, we make a stop at Topaz Lake Campground for showers and laundry. Then after, to McDonald’s in South Lake Tahoe for our evening meal.

We’re back up the mountain before dark, where we call it a day at the Echo Summit Trailhead.

Sure glad to have this southbound segment behind me. I’ve prayed for this day, this success; thank you, Lord!

I’ll resume hiking north again tomorrow–alone.
“Prayer is not a weakness but a strength.
Its benefits are insight, patience, endurance, and the power to cope with anything.”
[Franklin Graham]
Wednesday–July 9, 2008
Trail Day–069
Trail Mile–32.9/1128
Location–Route 3, Barker Pass

Today will be a very long day, so I’m up, out, and hiking at 5:45. Echo Lake (Lower), also Middle and Upper Echo are picture postcard lakes, with many small, unique cabins reachable only by boat. I can’t resist taking a picture of one of them. The owner, architect, and builder–all likely one in the same person. Neat place, the kind of cabin we’ve all dreamed of owning one day.

Past Echo, the trail soon enters the Desolation Wilderness. Isn’t it interesting how Ma Nature has her way with beauty, even the most stark and forbidding aspects–and the brooding silence always there! Rocks and water, not a hint of green, just cold, grey rocks–and water. The Desolation Wilderness soon ends, but the Desolations go on. Much uphill climbing today, especially the long pull to Dicks Pass.

My time soon becomes occupied with gazing the many picturesque lakes, like Lucille, Suzie, Velma, Margery, Heather, Gilmor, Tamarack, Aloha, and Lake of the Woods.

Since Tuolumne Meadows the PCT has been sharing tread with the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail (TYT), and there’s been much traffic, both ways, both trails. Towards day’s end the TYT and PCT part ways, the TYT heading for Lake Tahoe and the PCT continuing north.

Gordon is patiently waiting at Barker Pass. He loads me, then we drop off the mountain for Tahoe City and a good hot meal. Late evening, but not yet dark, we’re back up the mountain to Barker Pass Trailhead.

The couple I met earlier today, Philip and Wilma from Switzerland, have made it in and are camped in the meadow. Mosquitoes not so bad for a welcome change.
“Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us,
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.”
[Robert W. Service]
Thursday–July 10, 2008
Trail Day–070
Trail Mile–29.3/1157
Location–Old Donner Pass, then to Pooh Corner, Bill and Molly Person, Trail Angels, Truckee

I’m out at 5:45 to another long day, with a long climb to the crest right off. Get to meet Scott Williamson as he cruises by. Scott’s a speed hiker on a fast trip up the PCT.

More lung-choking smoke from all the fires. Also much ash in the air.

I’m faced with more long climbs as the day progresses–through the Sierra Nevada rocks. Stumbling through sets my right foot to complaining again, but nothing like before. There’s a couple of snow patches to cross, but they’re very small. The snow is nearly gone now, the traverses fewer and farther between. I’ll be entirely out of the snow before long.

Today the trail seeks then follows the crest for a good while. I’ve grown accustomed to stunning vistas, but the haze/smoke prevents seeing the far-distant mountains I know are out there.

My lungs become dry and scratchy from the stifling smoke.I must slow my pace to breathe easier.The Data Book shows long, waterless section toward the end of the day, but there are numerous small brooks along with plenty of water–the snowmelt isn’t over yet.

By late afternoon the trail drops from the crest to Old Doner Pass, where Gordon is waiting with an iced down coke. A call to Bill at Pooh Corner and we’re invited to enjoy their hospitality for the evening. Great meal, lots of thru-hikers, laundry too.

It’s dark before we get back to Donner Pass, from where I’ll be able to get going early.
“The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail.”
[Louis L’Amour]
Friday–July 11, 2008
Trail Day–071
Trail Mile–31.4/1188
Location–FR70 near Jackson Meadow Reservoir, thence to Pass Creek Campground

Don’t know why I didn’t go ahead and hike the other three miles yesterday evening, from “old” Donner Pass to the rest area at “new” Donner Pass (at I-80). We ended the day, before heading to Pooh Corner, by shuttling a couple of hikers over to the rest area. Could have had Gordon wait there for me; just didn’t think about it.

We camped last at “old” Donner, so it’s an easy out for me this morning. We were welcome to stay with Bill and Molly at Pooh Corner, on Lake Donner in Truckee, a lovely home-turned-hiker-hostel (all provided by and through the kindheartedness of Bill and Molly Person), but they really had a house full, and I needed to be out and going early, to get the 31 in on up to Jackson Meadow Reservoir, so after supper (a super hiker-stokin’ meal prepared by Bill and Molly) we thanked the kind couple and headed on back to Donner.

Many branching trails just north of I-80. I take the wrong one. Never would have believed it’d be possible to get lost on the PCT, but this morning I manage–hike the wrong trail for over three miles (and 1,000 feet elevation gain) before I realize my error. Bummer! Told Gordon I’d be finished for the day around 5:30-6:00, but no way now, with a 37 starin’ at me. It’s head-down-and-haul time for sure. No time to stop and dally. Be lucky to finish before seven now.

Lots of climbing, again, and rocks, but better arranged rocks. 25-30 horsemen out. Pulverized trail. Two inches of talcum consistency dirt with rocks mixed in; slow, careful churning it through, for five or six miles.

It’s nearly seven, and Gordon’s left a note posted where he’d been waiting for me. “Gone to check the other crossings, be right back. 6:00 Gordon”  Dang, I knew he’d be worried. My last time to get lost on this hike?  Probably not.
“It is one of the blessings of wilderness life
that it shows us how few things we need in order to be perfectly happy.”
[Horace Kephart]
Saturday–July 12, 2008
Trail Day–072
Trail Mile–30.2/1218
Location–Small brook near county line crest saddle

Rough day last. Gordon had gotten me a sub and chips for supper–and a case of Coke. I was so dehydrated that I chugged five of the Cokes, one right after the other. Would have downed more but ran out of ice. A delightful stay at Pass Creek Campground, near Jackson Meadow Reservoir. Managed a fine fire and worked journals for a short while before nodding off. I was weary and very tired after doing 38.

I’m up at first light this morning; get Gordon up at five. Not as smoky or hazy today. I’ve three segments of hiking to break this day up. First, 11.5 from Jackson Meadow Reservoir to the road down to Sierra City. Noticed something strange coming down to Sierra City Road–a leaf carpeted trail, oak trees all around, the first oaks in hundreds of miles. Gordon is waiting at the crossing and runs me down for a great breakfast at the Red Moose (beat the 10:00 a.m. cut-off by ten minutes). Second segment, 9.8 from Sierra City to FR93 above Packer Lake Lodge. A short section but with an incredible climb up the wide open Sierra Buttes. Gordon is waiting again at the end, and this time drives me down to Packer Lake for a couple of cold ones.

I make ham and cheese sandwiches for tonight and tomorrow, plus I put together some snacks and energy bars for the overnighter. By hiking a few miles off tomorrow’s longer section–doing it today, I hope to shorten up the time needed to reach Quincy/La Porte Road where the fire closure/roadwalk begins. As to the fires: There are a number of active ones. First, the BTU Lightning Fire (38 separate fires). Second, the Canyon Complex (50 separate fires). And finally, the Cub Complex. These are the fires responsible for 100 miles of trail closure. It’ll take a 74-mile roadwalk to get around them and back to where the trail’s open again.

All three segments today–pleasant hikes. Lots of mosquitoes, though, on the last. Makes for fun pitching. Do manage to set my tent, roll in, swat mosquitoes–and down the other ham sandwich.
“All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body Nature is and God the soul.
[Alexander Pope]
Sunday–July 13, 2008
Trail Day–073
Trail Mile–32/1250
Location–End of PCT (for now) at Quincy/La Porte Road, (Roadwalk, first nine miles around fires)

Managed to make it last to the water source just below the crest near the county line. The mosquitoes were fierce. I’d made two ham and cheese sandwiches at the van earlier, so as mentioned, I downed one for supper.

I’m up at first light, along with the mosquitoes. Over the years I’ve pretty much learned to live with them, but they’re a blessed nuisance this morning. I break camp with haste and get moving, the mosquitoes in hot pursuit.

Got a 20 to finish this section to the point of closure where the Forest Service has posted “Trail Closed” signs, $5,000 fine for violating the closure order.

More ups and downs, and rocks, but I make good time until the last mile-and-a-half. The Data Book shows a gentle down, but I begin climbing, over 400 feet, with no letup. Must be lost again. I finally turn back and backtrack over a mile (and scuff off the 400 feet) as I try finding where I made a wrong turn. Then I see a PCT marker on a tree indicating I’ve been on the trail all along–just erroneous trail data. So now it’s hike it back the mile, and up the 400 feet, then on in to Quincy/La Porte, where Gordon is waiting. The screw-up cost me an hour–and 1,200 vertical feet.

At the van I down two Cokes, then head out on the roadwalk. Get another nine miles in by six.

Gordon loads me again and we drive down to Quincy and the local Mexican place. Good steak and fries–and two cold frosties. We find the motels way too expensive for our budget (California for you), so it’s back up the mountain to pitch in at parking area/trailhead near where I’ll resume the roadwalk in the morning.
“The feeling remains that God is on the journey too.”
[Teresa of Avilla]
Monday–July 14, 2008
Trail Day–074
Trail Mile–25/1275
Location–CA89 past Keddie, thence to Taylorsville County Campground (Roadwalk)

Recent early starts have been beneficial. And so today I’m out and hiking the roadwalk down Quincy/La Porte Road at 5:30. Must keep my hands in my pockets awhile; oh yes, a very cool morning.

Smoke from the many fires proved very bad early yesterday, but it’s tolerable this morning.

Gordon meets me at the CA70/89 junction around eight and we head back to the little Mexican restaurant in Quincy for breakfast.

While in Quincy I stop at the drug store to speak with the druggist about a possible topical anesthetic for my right foot. Oh yes, the barking doggie is still at it, just haven’t mentioned it recently. I ask him if there’s such a thing as Anbesol (for toothache) for corns. Ha, end up with Anbesol! He says, “Apply it to your toe; it’ll help.” I also get a pair of shoe inserts, but find out right away when I try them that they’re no good.

At Church Street Laundry, Keith refers me to Ardell Waters, a seamstress he knows where I can get my pack repaired. There are no serious structural problems with it, but I want to make sure it keeps going. I told Glen (Glen Van Peski at Gossamer Gear) that I’d try to make it all the way with the little seven-ounce wonder, and I want to give it its best chance. So I have Ardell stitch around and patch it up for me.

Oh, and what a remarkable and interesting lady, Ardell Waters. She just celebrated her 80th birthday. Family and friends held a party for her, 140 of them!

She shows me pictures of her family. She’s proud of them all, but especially of two of her grandsons. One, Chris Hoke (recognize the name?) is defensive tackle for the Steelers. She’s got an autographed Christmas card (signed by the entire team and staff) on her mantel/bookcase). I take the card out and show it to Gordon. He looks at it and looks at it, shaking his head in disbelief. And Luke Adkins, grandson–recent graduate of Annapolis, another of the many 8X10 mantel photos. Shiny-faced, bright-eyed young lad, parade dress. Proud grandma? Oh yes! Ardell’s got a big mantel/bookcase. Good thing! “Had a hunch I’d meet someone special today; that’s you.” she beams (same bright eyes and shiny face–at 80).

As I rise to go, she gently takes my hand, in both her hands, and softly prays the most thoughtful and caring prayer for me. What a joy meeting you, Ardell Waters!

A detour to the bank and I’m back on busy CA89. I’ve been in rough traffic before, but the rush and roar that’s CA89 is crushing–logging trucks, hundreds of logging trucks constantly coming and going. Narrow road, no shoulder, blind curves, and rock bluffs right up to the white line. Scary, very scary and dangerous; never walked anything like this, ever. Already I yearn for the quiet solitude of the mountains.

I manage to knock out 25 for the day, then we head over to Taylorsville County Campground for the evening. We both take showers. I hand wash clothes, then work journal entries till after ten.
“When from our better selves we have too long been parted
by the hurrying world, and droop.
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
how gracious, how benign in solitude.”
[William Wordsworth]
Tuesday–July 15, 2008
Trail Day–075
Trail Mile–24.8/1300
Location–CA89 at Lake Almanor, thence to Sandy Point Campground (Roadwalk)

Another glorious day to shoulder my pack and hike out (and into the teeth and jaws of it). Most hikers hate roadwalking. I (usually) find much enjoyment in it. But what a roadwalk this morning! More logging trucks, three to five every minute, plus empties coming back. And no shoulder to speak of, the white line only a couple of feet from the vertical rocks. Tough as any roadwalk I’ve ever done, and I’ve hiked a fair distance down these-here roads!

At all the U.S. Forest Service campgrounds we’ve been able to use our Golden Age Passports, which saves us half. The fee at Sandy Point is $18.00, so I seal up nine bucks and drop the envelope in the pipe. In awhile the campground hostess pays us a visit–to inform us that this campground is indeed federal land, but that it’s managed by a concessionaire. So guess what? Our Passports aren’t honored here. Yup, time to fork over another nine bucks. During the conversation I mention that I’m hiking the PCT. “Never heard of it.” says she. Give her my card, and Gordon hands her a PCT brochure. Hour later, her husband comes by. “Since you’re hiking such a very long distance, you’ll stay at Sandy Point tonight for free.” says he, big smile. Hands Gordon back the 18 bucks!

Less than 15 miles of roadwalk left. Somewhere up there, in the closed section of trail, the Sierra Nevada Mountains end and the Cascade Range begins. Oh, and I’m nearly half-way through this journey now.
“I prefer the…star-spangled sky to a roof,
the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway,
and the deep peace of the wild…”
[Everett Ruess]
Wednesday–July 16, 2008
Trail Day–076
Trail Mile–30/*1354
Location–Lassen Volcanic National Park, Warner Valley Campground (Remainder of Roadwalk)

First light comes later each morning now. It’s still dark at five when I roust Gordon. Very quiet here in the campground, not a soul stirring this early. We break camp quietly and head out. A cool, crisp morning, first time for gloves and jacket in awhile. I’m back pounding the tarmac a little after 5:30. The loggers are also up and out pounding the tarmac–a little after 5:30. Tough, dangerous roadwalk. No emergency lane, blind curves, overhanging rocks–and logging trucks coming and going, steady, a very busy road.

Another segmented day. First, a six-mile hike to the junction of CA89/36. I arrive before eight. Gordon loads me and it’s down to Quincy for breakfast, a grand affair. Second, the final 5.7 miles of roadwalk up to where the trail crosses CA89/36. And finally, it’s back in the woods for an 18 on up to Warner Valley Campground.

An okay hiking day, but very little redeeming value (“Some days just better…” applies here). The highlight for this day is Drakesbad Guest Resort. A hiker friendly place, even though they cater to an entirely different crowd. Free shower and use of their natural, thermal-heated pool. Evening meal for only ten bucks (after guests have been attended). Tonight’s fare consists of a 14oz steak, baked potato, salad, corn on the cob, and an assortment of desserts–and all the wine one could possibly care to enjoy with dinner. An absolutely superb meal, with cheerful staff to boot. For sure, it put a happy cap on this day–for this old man!

A little before dark we head up to Warner Valley Campground, where many thru-hikers have pitched for the night.

*mileage adjusted for roadwalk
“I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life.”
[Baden Powell]
Thursday–July 17, 2008
Trail Day–077
Trail Mile–20/1374
Location–FR32/12 near Twin Bridges Campground, thence to Old Station

While at Drakesbad, and dining the evening last, I chanced to speak with a thru-hiker who, at the time, had just finished hitchhiking the road around the fire-closed trail section, and was there where it crosses CA89/36 when Scott Williamson and Tatoo Joe came out of the woods. You will recall my mention of meeting Scott as he cruised by me a few days ago, and that I commented that he was on a speed-hike up the PCT. What I didn’t know at the time was that he and a (hiker trash) friend named Tatoo Joe were attempting to break the PCT thru-hike speed record. I’m not sure what that record might be now, or who currently holds it (My friend, David Horton, did and still may). I believe David’s run was supported. Scott and Joe are hiking unsupported.

Anyway, what’s interesting is how this whole exciting adventure of theirs is unfolding, the fact that they defied the U.S. Forest Service trail closure order, hiked on past the signs, into the fires–and got caught.

Both emerged covered (scorched) with soot and char. Both had fried shoes and burned feet. Scott had a burned arm and leg. Joe suffered severe eye pain from hot cinders. Incendiaries had been dropped from above them on the fireline, to start backfires. Apparently they were right in the middle of it.

When the Forest Service became aware of their reason for hiking through, they weren’t held back. What the authorities ultimately might do, I’m sure, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the two adventurers have cleaned up, have sucked it up, and are speeding on north. Good luck, Scott and Joe. I hope the trail proves a little less bumpy from here on.

My hike today is through the Lassen Volcanic National Park. But as is customary with the trail, it passes some distance from all points of interest. It’s almost as if the PCT thru-hiker is unworthy of such discovery and enjoyment–without sidetracking, sometimes great distances, off-trail. And so, Lassen sounds like a very neat place to hike, but the trail through, such as it is, proves totally unredeeming, and will quickly be forgotten.

I’m now in the midst of the swell of northbounders, the “wave” as it has become known. Taking ten days off to recuperate has set me back and in with the masses. So now, from day-to-day, I’m hiking with many other northbound trekkers.

Early afternoon (I dearly need some time off-trail) Gordon loads me a few miles short of Old Station, and drives me on down to the motel there. Hot shower, clean clothes, a night’s rest in a soft bed–oh yes! For sure, I’m a total lazybones compared to Scott and Joe.
“Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired.”
[Jules Renard]
Friday–July 18, 2008
Trail Day–078
Trail Mile–24.5/1399
Location–FR22, Hat Creek Rim

Good start today.  Well, good meaning we got to sleep in till eight.  And now we’re down at the J&J Cafe for their full breakfast.  Back at Hat Creek Resort, we beat the eleven o’clock checkout by ten minutes.  A short drive back to the trail and Gordon has me out and hiking at eleven.

Got a 24 to do today.  Two segments: First, an eight miler to CA44, where Gordon will have a fresh case of Cokes iced down.  And the second, a moderate climb up and onto Hat Creek Rim, where I’ll be hiking most of this afternoon and evening.

Neat the way these last two days are working out.  Did a 20 yesterday; will do a 25 today–and we’ve had most near an entire day off.  Now how did we do that!

Thought by now we’d be past the smoke, but no such luck.  Guess the wind has changed because there’s as much, perhaps even more smoke now.  Visibility is very limited and the smell of smoke fills the air.  Sure hope we get by this soon.  The orange sun casting eerie yellow-tan shadows is eerie.

The first eight miles pass quickly, and I’m at CA44 a little before two.  Iced-down Coke hits the spot.

My Therm-a-Rest has totally given it up.  It sprung a leak some 400 miles back.  A patch and it held a couple hundred miles before it started leaking again.  Patched it again, and now it’s leaking again.  So, finally took time while resting a few minutes with Gordon at CA44 to call my dear friends at Travel Country Outdoors in Altamonte Springs, Florida.  Ah yes, a new sleeping pad is on the way; thanks, Ryan!

The short climb up to Hat Creek Rim has me tripping through volcanic rock, sort of like those encountered in Acoma-Zuni along the CDT in New Mexico–but not nearly as extensive.  On the Rim, the trail is a cruise, following the edge of the rim along, for miles.  Take my first video in days.  Not much to see, though, what with all the smoke, limiting visibility to perhaps no more than six to eight miles.

Much of the area I’ve been hiking through today, the nearly flat terrain, the lose, deep sand, and the scattered longleaf pine with its understory of scrub, it all reminds me of Big Scrub, the Ocala National Forest in Florida.  Just no palm or oak!

Wow, has the rest yesterday and this morning done wonders for my hiking attitude and my energy level.  The recent stack of long mile days, especially the mental fatigue caused by the crushing roadwalk had taken their toll on these old bones.  Ah yes, I’m hiking with the lightest step today–and no barking doggie, so far.

By seven-thirty I’ve knocked out the 25.  Gordon is right here waiting at FR22.  He gets the van setting level in a little pull-off next the trail.  I find a soft spot to pitch under the pine.

Ah-ha, don’t have to cook tonight–Gordon surprises me with a foot-longer from Subway!  Another fine day, just the way I like it.
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night
and in between does what he wants to do.”
[Bob Dylan]
Saturday–July 19, 2008
Trail Day–079
Trail Mile–24.4/1423
Location–Burney Falls State Park

Gordon gets to sleep in this morning, as we set camp right next the trail last.  I need my little Micro-Light now to get my stuff together and break camp as first light is noticeably later each morning.  As the day dawns I’m out and hiking.  Much less smoke this morning, but there’s enough still present to close the distant mountains down.

After CA22, which crosses the Rim, and where we camped last, the trail climbs again, as Hat Creek Rim climbs again. There’s still plenty of Rim left, and the trail seeks the very edge of the precipitous escarpment, following it along till where it drops to the volcanic jumble of rock in the high desert floor below.  Water alerts on the data sheet warn of no water along the trail for most of this day.  I’ve brought extra, and I’ll sure need it as the day really gets to cooking.

Today I diligently concentrate on not tripping, as countless toe-stumpers scatter the trail, firmly fixed jutters Joe Dodge has affectionately referred to as “jeezly rocks.”  Despite my best effort, I do little better with the process.  So I decide, if I must stumble, to try and stumble a little more gracefully–doesn’t work either.  Okay, I know when to give up.  Listen old man, just try to keep from falling; that’s the plan now.

There are hundreds of burn-over areas all across the mountains of California this season and I’ve just entered one of them.  The terrain here is desolate to begin with, but after everything has burned, the scrub, every tree, it’s absolute, total desolation.  Pulverized rock, gray-black pumice, and deep, loose sand defines the trail.  I hike (churn) through this wasteland for the better part of two hours before I’m able to see anything green, anywhere.

Mid-afternoon now, the trail descends gradually to Burney Falls State Park.  I get off track coming in (yup, nothing new) and waste nearly an hour finding my way across to the park.  Gordon is waiting, anxiously.  We decide to stay the night; get a site, cook some hot dogs, and call it a day.
“Have you camped upon the foothills, have you galloped o’er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the Wild–it’s calling you.”
[Robert W. Service]
Sunday–July 20, 2008
Trail Day–080
Trail Mile–38.9/1463
Location–Grizzly Peak Road before Pigeon Hill

Lots of folks making lots of racket last night but all was quite by ten.

Thru-hiker Nitro Joe came by for awhile, then ended up pitching at our site for the night.  Also, Wiz Kid stopped to chat.  Talk was mostly about pack weight, their 30+, my 7-.

Shortly after leaving Burney Falls the trail descends to the dam at Lake Bretton.  Just across, the climb starts at 2,760 and never lets up until 5,410, an elevation gain of almost 3,000 feet.  Another, a 1,000 footer late afternoon, and after just shy of a 39 mile head-down-and-hammer day I hang it up at Grizzly Peak Road.

The day’s highlight–first sighting of Mt. Shasta, some 60 miles to the north.  Shasta is a snow covered sharptop standing all alone.  Most impressive.  The day, otherwise, hasn’t been the smoothest or the most memorable.
“We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it,
we go to smooth it.  We get it rough enough at home.”
Monday–July 21, 2008
Trail Day–081
Trail Mile–28/1491
Location–Road in saddle above Squaw Valley Creek

Hike along some yesterday with Gator from Gainesville, Florida.  He’ll be remembered as the young chap who carried the backpack guitar the whole way.  Actually, he’s from Melrose, home of my dear friend Edna Melrose Octogenarian Williams.  Gator also knows Edna well; they’ve been friends for a long time.  Make sure and say HI! to Edna for me, Gator.

Getting some downhill in today, but it’s bound not to last.  Water availability has been an issue off and on recently and today is no exception.  On the ridge there’s no water, and the trail continually seeks the high ground–above the water. A nearly 14-mile dry stretch, and it’s hot, hot.  Brought an extra 20-ounce Gatorade bottle.  Today I fill them both at every opportunity.

There’s no decent road anywhere along here where Gordon can get up to the trail for almost 70 miles.  So today I’m carrying my full pack, plus a few extra pounds in food.

Plan is to hike the distance in two days.  Ah, and today I’m well on my way.  An energy sapping one, though.  I’m tired and totally beat by seven-thirty.  But the day’s been a satisfying and rewarding one; I’ve given it my best.
“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment.
Full effort is full victory.”
[Mohandas Gandhi]
Tuesday–July 22, 2008
Trail Day–082
Trail Mile–15.3/1506
Location–Castle Crags State Park

A short day, relatively.  Just want to get into the park and call it a day.

Pack’s up and I’m haulin’ by a little before six.  Decent climb right away, 1,500 feet to the ridge.  But it’s a cruise, almost five miles to pull it out over beautiful graded trail.

The views of Shasta are supposed to be some of the very best from this vantage, but the smoke’s moved back in, dropping its shroud over the entire area.  This smoke is no doubt coming from the complex of fires north of Etna.  I’ll have another roadwalk around again in a few days.

After the climb to the ridge, the trail wiggles its way down the other side–all the way to Castle Crags State Park.  On the way down I get a momentary glimpse of the crags, very strange and mysterious looking in the smoky surrounding.

I’m down by 11:30.  Gordon guides me across the tracks and under the interstate, to the end of the section.  We load and head for Dunsmuir for breakfast, then to the park for a campsite.  Plenty of hot water to chase the dirt, then to hand wash my hiking garb.

Great day, a short (and sweet) saunter!
“Now these mountains are our Holy Land,
and we ought to saunter through them reverently…”
Wednesday–July 23, 2008
Trail Day–083
Trail Mile–24.7/1531
Location–FR26, Gumboot Trailhead, Trinity Alps

Oh my, I’ve overslept this morning; don’t often have this problem.  By five I usually have Gordon up and am ready to hike.  But this morning it’s already five-fifteen and I haven’t even rolled out.  Gotta get a move on.

A few weeks back, at Pooh Corner, I weighed myself on their bathroom scales.  Was alarmed to find that I weighed only 142 pounds.  When I had to leave the trail, Slider and Greybeard moved on.  They did all the cooking.  Since, unless Gordon and I have been able to get into town, meals in camp have pretty much amounted to hot dogs, a pretty sorry diet for both of us.  Recently, during long hiking days, and especially in the afternoons, my energy level has been way down and at times I’ve felt lightheaded–and I know why: I’m not getting enough nourishment.  Gotta change this program, and soon, or I’ll end up sick and off the trail again, like in 2005.  I’ve talked this over with Gordon and this morning he takes charge by getting me slowed down long enough, at his insistence, for me to make a couple of sandwiches, one for now, and one to take along today.  Also have doubled up on the Pop Tarts and will carry more energy bars.  For dinner tonight we’re switching to beef stew and chunky soup!

Despite getting up late, Gordon manages to get me back to the trail and heading north by a little after six.

The hike today will be relatively short, twenty-four plus, but I’ll be faced with one of the longest continuous climbs so far, nearly 5,000 feet, and as a result, I’ve allowed extra time and have told Gordon not to expect me in much before four.

The climb starts out easy enough, a gentle grade that holds steady.  Once climbing, and to my surprise, the easy grade continues for nearly five miles, making for an effortless ascent.

From Castle Crags State Park, the trail climbs up and into the Trinity Alps, appropriately named for the jagged peaks all around.  The smoke is dense again today, limiting visibility to perhaps less than eight to ten miles.  But its presence adds a mysterious over-glow to the scene, by dimming what would otherwise certainly present as utter starkness.

My path has crossed recently with that of Packman.  He catches up with me and we climb together.  Other thru hikers I see today are Mercury and Gator.

By four, I’ve got the day’s hike behind me.  Gordon is right here waiting for me at the paved road.  Down the mountain a short distance is Gumboot Lake–and down we go, for a cool swim and a waterfront campsite.

Climbed to near 7,000 feet today.  There will be few remaining days now, where the trail climbs above that altitude.
Thursday–July 24, 2008
Trail Day–084
Trail Mile–35.1/1566
Location–CA3 at Scott Mountain Summit

I’m up at 4:30, get Gordon up, we break camp and I’m back on the trail at 5:30.  That’s great as I’ve a 35 to do today.

From Gumboot Trailhead the trail starts a long, steady climb, nearly 1,200 feet, up to over 7,000.  It isn’t going to be the last time I’ll be above seven, but few times remain, mostly in Oregon along the rim at Crater Lake.

A few miles into my hike this morning I pass a backpack laying on a deadfall beside the trail.  A closer look and I see the name, Billy Goat.  I’ve been hoping our paths would cross, as I knew he’d be hiking south this summer, from Seaid Valley to Castle Crags.  In just moments, here he comes down the trail.  We share great conversation, then it’s time for pictures and an interview!  The interview video turns out great.  It’ll be up in a week or so; make sure you check it out.

I had mentioned to Mercury yesterday that we should be seeing Billy Goat soon and to keep an eye out for him.  The two have been the best of friends or years, hiked many a mile together.  But wouldn’t you know, when I catch up with Mercury, he hadn’t seen his friend; somehow they missed each other.

The trail between Deadfall Lakes and Parks Creek Road is busy today.  First I meet a family headed for Lower Deadfall to do some fishing, then comes a couple with a pack train of Llamas.  Get another neat video.

I’m hiking most the entire day on sideslab trail, not the most pleasant treadway.  But here in the Trinity Alps, the mountains so remarkably steep, there’s really no other way to get through.

Smoke from the many wildfires is much thicker today, limiting visibility to less than two miles.  Not much to see from any of the vantages along, so I just put my head down and plod.

A long, difficult 35 miles.  Make it in by six-thirty, set up camp, fix a good hot meal for the two of us, and call it a day.
“Do not pray for easier lives, pray to be stronger men.”
[Phillip Brooks]
Friday–July 25, 2008
Trail Day–085
Trail Mile–19.9/1586
Location–Forest Highway 93 at Carter Meadows Summit

Great stay last at Scott Mountain Summit Campground.  Flat spot to pitch plus a great warming fire!

Gordon had brought much food from town, mac salad, fruit chunks, cans of stew, soup, and vegetables.  Oh, and ice cream, plus cheesecake!  Inchworm and Freedom came in and camped with us; just a great evening.

Another day begins with a steady climb of over 1,600 feet.  I’ve entered the Trinity Alps Wilderness once again.  Incomparable, rugged beauty, what I can see of it, with the dense wildfire smoke.  Sunrise this morning comes a little after six, but it takes over three hours for the sun to burn a hole through the smoke, enough of a hole that is, for it to cast eerie orange-tan shadows all about.

The climb which began this morning continues, to over 7,000 feet.  At this altitude alpine vegetation prevails.  I stop, marvel, then snap pictures of many delicate, miniature wildflowers clusters, all perfectly content in this harsh environment.  I linger the longest time knowing the beauty I’m taking in now–this will probably be near the last for this journey.

Gordon gave Slider a call the other day.  Slider had broken his backpack again and repaired it–again.  Developed a sore on his side from the pack problem, which became infected.  Had to go to the clinic in Etna and have it lanced.  Relieved to know he’s back on the trail again, somewhere in Oregon now.  Slider is strong of will and of body; I knew he’d be okay.
“…we grow strong or weak and at last some crisis shows what we have become.”
[Brooke Foss Westcott]
Saturday–July 26, 2008
Trail Day–086
Trail Mile–20.1/1606
Location–Somes Bar-Etna Road at Etna Summit (Beginning of Roadwalk)

What a fine camp last, at Carter Meadows Summit.  A primitive site, large and level under the tall pine, rock fire ring, even a stack of firewood, and not five minutes down the mountain from the trail.  Plenty of daylight to set up.  Pulled the table out, Coleman cook stove, and chairs to sit around the fire.  Spaghetti, mac salad, and hot dogs (diced up in the sketty) for supper.  Gordon worked our days/mileage schedule for Oregon, studied and marked maps where he’ll be able to meet me–and we just sat the delightfully warming fire the remainder of the evening.

I think I mentioned that my Therm-a-Rest gave out miles back, that I’ve been unable to give it a permanent fix.  Called Travel Country Outdoors in Altamonte Springs, Florida.  The kind folks there (one of the old Nomad’s longest and most steadfast sponsors) pulled a new pad down and they’ve got it in the mail to me.  Should be waiting in Independence, Oregon when we get there in a few days.  In the meantime Gordon’s loaned me one that his sister, Sue, used for years. I’m in (like) Best Western again, thanks Gordon!

It’s light enough to see the trail by five-thirty, and I’m out and truckin’ a few minutes later.  The morning begins a bit on the crisp side; got my short sleeve, long sleeve, jacket, and gloves on.  Another climb first thing, over 700 feet to regain the crest.  That gets the old jitney up to normal operating temperature in no time!

Yesterday I departed the Shasta/Trinity National Forest to enter the Klamath, where I’ll be till I reach Oregon. Another wilderness today, the Russian, one of Billy Goat’s favorite sections of trail.  Others who’ve hiked the PCT have also told me that the hike through the Russian Wilderness will be memorable.  As I pass the wilderness boundary sign, and in only minutes do I understand what they’ve all been talking about.  Immediately does the Russian present its most imposingly rugged side.  Seems I scarcely get moving that I stop, then stop again, to marvel, and to take photo after photo.  Here these mountains stand, not so tall as the Sierras, but every bit as grand.  Unmistakable evidence of the near cataclysmic forces of ice–jagged pinnacles, vertical walls, scoured cirques, such breathtaking features presenting all around. In the shrouded veil of the ever-present wildfire smoke is there created such a mystical, dream-like aura–silent, still, the grey-white stone (one spire appropriately named “The Statue”), the softened green sentinels, the tan sky–not the least forbidding but certainly not the familiar mountain place I’ve come to know, that’s befriended me for so many years.

Much climbing, as the trail continually seeks the crest, past vertical granite cliffs, only to plunge to the next saddle, and from there to pass the other side, through the most amazing jumble of boulders and rocks–and on and on.  And snow, still patches of snow across the trail.

It’s late afternoon when I reach the road where Gordon is waiting, where wildfires have closed the trail.  Roadwalk time again tomorrow, early.
“The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far away the road has gone,
And I must follow it if I can.”
[J.R.R. Tolkien]
Sunday–July 27, 2008
Trail Day–087
Trail Mile–20.3/1626
Location–Etna, thence to Migginsville, Quartz Valley Road (Roadwalk)

When I’d completed my hike yesterday, Gordon loaded me right away and we headed down the mountain to Etna and the Alderbrook B&B (Hiker Hut), owned and managed by Dave and Vicky Harrison.  Neat bunkhouse with internet, shower, kitchenette, laundry, and a full-sized motorhome out back to handle any overflow.  Vicky gave me the tour, showed me around.  I chose the motorhome.

Gordon had checked with the postmaster–where to get some sewing done.  More repairs needed on my little seven-ounce pack.  And my tent, it’d be a blessing to get my tent repaired, especially a new zipper; clothes pins to hold the no-seeum door closed just don’t cut it with the mosquitoes.  My lucky day.  Called Claudia Russ (postmaster’s friend).  Got her first thing.  “Bring your pack over, I’ll see if I can fix it.”  Kept her on the phone.  Three minutes later she’s guided us directly to her place.  Easy fix, pack and tent.  Claudia even had the right size and length zipper to do the tent fix.  “Be ready later this afternoon.” says Claudia.  What an absolute stroke of luck, and what a blessing!

Time then for some good hot grub, preferably steak and baked potato.  The local mom-n-pop is Bob’s.  We headed for Bob’s.  Top sirloin and baked potato.  Oh yes, pure high-octane jet fuel!

Today we’ve planned a day off, except to get in twenty of the forty-mile roadwalk.

Up at 4:30, Gordon at 4:45–we’re back up the mountain at 5:30 and I’m hiking the diverged path (a paved road) down to Etna–along with Flop (who’s with us today).

We’ve got the ten to Etna knocked out by 8:40.  And, oh yes, back to Bob’s (right on the way) for a tank-stokin’ breakfast, three eggs, short stack, biscuit’s ‘n gravy.  We’re hiking again a little before ten.  Want to get another ten in by two, which we  manage easily.

Ah, and now, back to Etna, and Dave and Vicky’s place, to relax the remainder of this day.  Neat trail town, Etna.  Kind, friendly folks here.  So too, the Harrisons.
“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
[Robert Frost]
Monday–July 28, 2008
Trail Day–088
Trail Mile–19.6/1646
Location–Lover’s Camp

What a luxury, sleeping in.  I hear Gordon drive out at six with Flop. He’d ask Gordon to take him back up to the point where he ended his roadwalk for the day yesterday. I went back to sleep immediately and didn’t wake again till 7:30. Oh yes, pure decadence!

Gordon returns a little after eight and we head back to Bob’s (one more time) for their grand breakfast. Sparky and Doc tag along.

Back at the motorhome I work journals and get caught up on my correspondence. Don’t get loaded till 11:30, to head back to where Gordon picked me up from my roadwalk yesterday. A trip to the post office on the way and we’re off. Tangent, Jelly Bean and Carbo are along. They skipped the roadwalk but want to get back on the trail where it’s open again. So, after Gordon drops me off at Mugginsville, where I resume my roadwalk, he hauls them on up the mountain to Lover’s Camp where they’ll catch the trail back up to the crest. After I’ve done my final twenty on this roadwalk today, I’ll end up there too, and Gordon and I’ll pitch at the trailhead for the night.

Even though I’m not back hiking till noon, I make good time, arriving at Lover’s Camp a little before seven. Gordon backs ‘er up to the picnic table. I set up the kitchen, fix coffee, get an evening fire going, then prepare supper–Dinty Moore Beef Stew.

Had most the morning off and still got in a twenty!  Mighty fine day.
“Going to the mountains is going home”
Tuesday–July 29, 2008
Trail Day–089
Trail Mile–30.2/*1656
Location–FR46N66, Grider Creek Campground

A really fine evening at Lover’s Camp. We sat the evening by the fire, right at the picnic table not ten feet away. And I was able to easily reload the coolers, cookstove, kitchen bins, as the van was right by. Yup, a fine evening.

I’m up way before first light. Seems to take me forever to get organized and break camp anymore. I try not disturbing Gordon, but I must get in the van for a minute, and in the process I wake him. He wishes me a good day and I’m off, up he mountain, at a little before six. With the ever shorter days, I need to use every bit of daylight.

Most thru-hikers are not only skipping the roadwalk, but are also passing by the Marble Mountain Wilderness section I’ll be hiking through today. A bus runs from Etna to Seiad Valley, so it’s easy to get back on the trail there, and that’s what many have chosen to do–but I will tread the different way.

On the climb out of Lover’s Camp I see my second bear this trip, a little cinnamon colored fellow. He was walking down the trail, right toward me.

I’d be in Seiad Valley now but would have missed Marble Mountain Wilderness.

By ten-thirty the wildfire smoke completely socks in again.

As usual, there’s a climb up–to 7,000 from 2750.

I’d like to make good time, get in the miles today, but there being many different types of trail to slow you down. Connectors–hammer out like Scott Williamson. Grider Creek Canyon–cross bridge 3 times. Long day. In at 5:30. Another neat campsite.
“The trails of the world be countless,
And most of the trails are tried;
You tread on the heels of the many,
Till you come where the ways divide…”
[Robert W. Service]
Wednesday–July 30, 2008
Trail Day–090
Trail Mile–21.6/1677
Location–Cook and Green Pass

A very peaceful night last–campfire put me to sleep. Since I’m hiking out right from camp, Gordon gets to sleep in. I’m out and moving a little before six. From Grider Creek Campground, the trail is a roadwalk for six and one-half miles into Seiad Valley. A few homes there, and a general store, that’s about it–cafe on one side, post office on the other.

On the way to Seiad Valley, the trail crosses the Klamath River via CA96. A pleasant roadwalk; Gordon and I both reach the Seiad Valley General Store about the same time–time for breakfast!

Many thru-hikers, perhaps as many as 15, have already beat us to the cafe. Specialty–pancakes, and they’re the best. A full inch thick, dinner plate size. If you can eat five in two hours, they’re free. No takers this morning. I’m sure not going to try, what with the near 4,500 foot climb out of Seiad Valley first thing–nope, sure not going to hurt myself that way!

After a fine breakfast (not quite two, but almost two of the super pancakes, and a couple eggs) I’m able to shoulder my pack and get going again–a little after ten. On days when Gordon is waiting the end of the day, I’m able to eliminate a number of items from my pack, like my tent and sleeping pad. So my pack, on such days, may weigh no more than two or three pounds. With the long climb ahead, all are envious. Gordon has been listening in and he offers to slack (haul packs up to day’s end) for those interested. Eight take him up on the offer, Milk Jug, Dewey Duck, Noel, Bear, Tenderfoot, Moondog, Gil, and David.

The climb is not the least unpleasant, a steady grade with a few switchbacks over an eight mile distance. I reach the crest around one. There should be grand views from up here in the Upper and Lower Devils Peaks, but the smoke has returned, limiting visibility to less than three miles.

From Devils Peaks the trail descends steadily to Cook and Green Pass, my destination for the day. Gordon is here. We set camp right in the pass, and build a fine fire in the fire ring. One-by-one most of the hikers who were at the general store come in–and linger by the fire. A memorable day–and evening.
“Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.”
[Christina Georgina Rossetti]
Thursday–July 31, 2008
Trail Day–091
Trail Mile–33.6/1711
Location–Long John Saddle

For this day we’d planned around a 25. Problem is: That would leave another 25 tomorrow into Ashland. We dearly wish to get there early afternoon, even before if possible. The “we” are Flop and the old Nomad. We’ve been hiking together the past couple of days; Gordon’s been slacking him, and with only a day-pack, he’s a strong, fast hiker. Anyway, today it’s heads down and hammer; hopefully we’ll be able to get in a thirty-plus, which would leave a relatively short day tomorrow.

We get off to a good start a little before six–and as customary, it’s up, and up some more first thing, a pull of near 1,000 feet.

This is a special day, a day we’ve all been hiking toward for months–our final day on the PCT in California. For me it’s taken 91 days to cover the nearly 1,700 miles. I reach the state line a little after one. Others are with me: Flop, Carbo, Jelly Bean, Tangent, and Bear.  It’s a happy time of whooping and celebrating.

In Oregon, the climbing continues, just Oregon climbs now instead of California ones. By three, Flop and I have reached Jackson Gap, where Gordon should be waiting–no Gordon. We spend the next hour looking for him, and waiting anxiously. Not a good time. He finally comes bouncing up the cobblestone-like road at quarter after four.

Flop and I decide to hike on another hour or so, thence to find a flat area where we can all pitch for the night. Ah yes, as luck would have it–the ideal spot, Long John Saddle. We repair the fire ring, get ‘er fired up, set camp and call it a (long) day.
“Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer.”
Friday–August 1, 2008
Trail Day–092
Trail Mile–15.4/1726
Location–Old Oregon Highway 99, thence to Ashland, Oregon

Shed-the-crud day–Ashland here we come!

I’ve gotten to where I can break camp in the dark, the routine being so, well, routine, a task repeated day in, day out. Oh, I might need my little Photon for a minute or two to make sure I’ve got my left sock left and right sock right (They’ve mirror image arch sections and the toebox angles are a little different), but that’s about it for needing light. By quarter-to-six there’s enough daylight to hit the trail. Flop’s ready, I’m ready, so we’re off.

Plans are to meet Gordon at the old highway next to I-5 and from there, beat it to Ashland where we’ll split a room for the night.

All through the last couple of sections there’s been much horse traffic. Horses absolutely pulverize the treadway, leaving loose, shoe-top-deep, powder-consistent dirt. Tripping along brings up a constant cloud of it, which totally engulfs and encircles you the whole long day. Remember the ever-present dirt halo suspended over Pigpen, the happy little fellow on the Peanuts Show? That’s us!

The trail is mostly down, after one more climb over 7,000 feet near Mt. Ashland. We’re at I-5 before noon. First stop is breakfast, a real sit-down, hot, cooked breakfast–washed down with pots of steaming coffee. Then it’s to Ashland Motel for a room.

Ashland is a university town, a preppie, hob-knob sort of city. Sushi bars every corner, two Starbucks, Ben and Jerry’s (mostly freezer burned–yippee!) at all the jiffies–you know the sort of community. Had hoped by the time we reached Oregon that the “cost of living” might be a little more within my budget range, but no such luck. Ashland sure ain’t it! Don’t get me wrong, I liked California a lot, the people, the mountains. But figure double, though, then add some, and you’d likely hit the price of everything pretty much spot on. California’s way overpriced–the end result of “Uncle will take care of us.” mentality, I suppose. Too rich for my blood for sure. I’m hoping Oregon and Washington will be better. Recall from my Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail odysseys that around the Portland, Astoria areas, food and lodging were much more affordable. Anyway, FLOP and I split the room bill, each paying about what it should have cost us both.

In the room, de-crudded, feet up now–not too far behind on journal entries for a change, but much correspondence to get caught up on. And I’ll be loading my Webmaster, CyWiz, up with a bunch of additional work. I want to create a new page for our website, a page to be known as “Nimblewill’s Great Western Loop,” or something to that effect. Tell you more about it in the coming weeks.

A very relaxing day, capped off with a trip to Oscar’s Steak House. Time to stoke the old fuel tank with a steak and baked potato. Ah yes, I’m a happy camper–life is good!
“The virtuous man is happy in this world,
and he is happy in the next; he is happy in both.
He is happy when he thinks of the good he has done;
but he is still more happy when going on the good path.”
[Buddha, The Dhammapada]
Saturday–August 2, 2008
Trail Day–093
Trail Mile–17.5/1744
Location–Highway 66 at Green Springs Summit

Unbelievable how filthy all my clothes were. I had to wash everything in the motel room sink, then rinse three times to get the water looking halfway decent, and that was before running them through the washing machine! A joy having clean clothes again.

Back to Wild Goose Restaurant at I-5 for breakfast–then to the post office. Gordon and I both received mail. My new Therm-a-Rest arrived from Travel Country Outdoors, and a dandy care package from girlfriend, Dwinda. Back to the motel now; checkout is eleven. We check out at eleven. Gordon has me back to the trail and I’m hiking by 11:30. And I’m finally headed the right direction, as the trail’s finally headed the right direction, north–for the first time in weeks. Discouraging hiking the wrong way, but that’s what I’ve been doing since south of Mt. Shasta. To get around Shasta the trail turned west to make a big horseshoe curve to the north and east. So, today, my shadow is being cast the right direction, left of me in the morning, and right in the afternoon.

The trail starts out as usual today–up. I’ve a steady pull of 900 feet over the shoulder of Pilot Rock. A cool morning though, with a gentle breeze, which makes for an easy climb.

No smoke today! Great views from Pilot, perhaps 20-30 miles to the hazy blue. Standing in silence, looking and trying to understand such a mysterious tugging–the wanderlust that dwells deep within us all.

A short, pleasant day, only six hours of hiking, the last three mostly down to Green Springs Summit.
“The land of the great woods, lakes, mountains and rivers
is still mysterious enough to please anyone who has eyes to see and can understand.”
[Norman Collie]
Sunday–August 3, 2008
Trail Day–094
Trail Mile–25.2/1769
Location–Dead Indian Road

Didn’t have to set camp or cook last evening. Directly down the mountain from Green Springs Summit is Green Springs Inn–cabins, rooms, even a restaurant. Oh yes, we head straight down to the restaurant. Good folks, great food.

We had planned on staying at Hyatt Lake Campground last, but being Saturday, summer vacation days in full tilt, the place was totally packed, not an campsite available anywhere. So back up the mountain to Green Springs Summit we went, ending up at a small dirt trailhead there. I maneuvered Gordon till he had the van reasonably level, then I found a spot under the trees to stealth camp. Not a bad night at all.

A cold morning, low 40s at five. Got 25 to do today, so a Pop Tart down, I’m out chasin’ my dreams, the old jitney crankin’ along a little before six.

The hike today, and for the next number of days, will be through one of the least scenic sections of Oregon. That’s according to Jeffrey Schaffer, author of Pacific Crest Trail, Oregon and Washington. In the introduction he writes, “Section B will certainly be shunned by many and its trail will likely be taken mainly by long-distance hikers passing through to a more scenic section.”

Well, Section B certainly lacks in scenic quality, which makes other sections more popular. However, I think Section B has been given a bum rap. To me, I’ve found it offers a certain charm not found elsewhere. And the trees, the forests here are among the most magnificent anywhere along.

And my hike today takes me in and out of the forested mountainsides, some climbing, but not to the extreme as in other sections.

The day is broken up nicely, first as a result of finding a camera (Sam’s) lying directly in the trail, then lunch with Gordon at around the 17 mile mark. A ham sandwich followed by a blueberry muffin trumps the usual Pop Tart and an energy bar any day!

Getting out early makes for finishing early. By a little after three I’ve the 25 in the bag. There’s a gravel trailhead at Dead Indian and we set up right there. Sam comes in and spends the evening with us. A satisfying and rewarding day.

Concentrated very hard on not stubbing my toes today, and my (still occasionally barking) right doggie greatly appreciated the effort.
“Not many people really get to chase their dreams.
Not many people get to do something no one else has done.”
[David Horton]
Monday–August 4, 2008
Trail Day–095
Trail Mile–11.5/1781
Location–Highway 140, thence to Fish Lake Resort/Rogue River Recreation Area, Fish Lake Campground

Gordon’s got a schedule worked out for me. It’ll put me at Manning Park just inside the Canadian border around the 17th or 18th of September. The ALDHA West annual get-together takes place the 19th through the 21st at Snoqualimie, Washington, and I want to attend. Purpose being: I’ll get my little bit of fame–the Triple Crown Award. They’re handed out annually at that event. Gordon and I will also get to see many dear friends we haven’t crossed paths with for a long time.

So today, I’ve only an eleven and change, into Highway 140 and Fish Lake Campground, a short, very leisurely sort of day.

I get out as usual this morning, around sixish. That’s so I can finish the day’s jaunt in time to hit Fish Lake for breakfast. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together–hike’s done, we’re here at Fish Lake, breakfast’s ordered, and we’re having seconds on coffee–a little after ten!

The highlight for this day, what will remain in my memory–the remarkable treadway constructed through miles of glacial terminal moraines. Where the glacier stopped pushing millions of tons of fractured earth, and dropped what was left as it receded, created the most jeezly jumble of boulders, rock, and gravel one could ever imagine. Well, then imagine building a trail through such obstacle fields for miles, all by hand. Amazing how it’s been done, a perfect pathway winding and wending it’s way. Treadway so incredibly smooth, one could rollerblade it. To me it’s just nothing short of amazing. Check the next photo album in a week or so and you’ll see what I mean; got some neat shots.

Also amazing is the fact that anything could possibly grow in such barren rock, let alone enormously tall trees. But between the rock fields are lush stands of spruce, beautiful sentinels all, green and thriving.

Yes, a very short hiking day, but one to be long remembered–oh waitress, more coffee, please!
“Bids me dream and bids me linger–
Joy and beauty are its goal;
On the path that leads to nowhere
I have sometimes found my soul.”
[Corrine Roosevelt Robinson]
Tuesday–August 5, 2008
Trail Day–096
Trail Mile–34/1815
Location–Just past trail to Ranger Springs

The next two days I’ll be hiking nearly 50 miles, with a full pack. Sounds like a long distance, but not really. I expect to knock it out with ease–perhaps a thirty-plus today, which will leave a short hike on in tomorrow.

I’m off to a good start a little before six–into a climb first thing as usual. But this one, amounting to a pull of over 2,000 feet, will continue throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, a distance of some 25 miles.

The gentle, continuous climb goes well–well that is, till I reach the junction with Sky Lakes Trail. A confusing intersection, I take the wrong path–to follow Sky Lakes Trail for almost two miles (descending when I should be climbing), until I finally figure it out. On the way back I meet Drew, who’s out for a day hike. Coming to a halt, then shaping me up, he asks, “You Nimblewill Nomad?” (inquisitive grin).  Find out he’s also a friend to Billy Goat.  “Billy Goat speaks very highly of you.” says Drew.  Ah, such good energy–sure makes this off-track diversion all the worthwhile!

I’ve been totally frustrated, trying to keep track of where I’m at any given time. Been that way for the past number of days. Seems the folks who put this PCT Data Book together have made a conscious effort to use obscure or nonexistent reference points. I know you’ve oft heard me repeat what my momma said–“Son, if you can’t say something nice, keep your mouth shut.” Okay, okay mother; suffice to say that I’ll sure be glad when I reach the Washington line at Cascade Locks. Erik’s new Washington Atlas will be waiting there at the post office for me (and I won’t have to rely on this [expletive deleted] Data Book any longer).

This entire section, for nearly 50 miles has little water near or directly on the trail, as the path continually seeks the high ground–the crest. Honeymoon Creek, where the trail drops to cross it at 30 miles is dry. Both my water bottles are empty. I hike on hoping for the best–a small pond, a spring-fed trickle, anything. But no luck.

It’s now seven and I’ve been going for 13 hours on 40 ounces of water. I did chomp on some snow from a lingering patch near Devils Peak, but that’s been it for hydration. I’ve more climbing to do, back up to 7,000, close to the elevation where snow remained earlier. So, as I climb, hope-on-hope, I’ll find more snow soon. Ah, and what luck, back to near seven again I find one ever-so-tiny snow patch–and the trail crosses a small saddle. Hey, flat ground! Double-the-luck, I’ve water and a comfortable spot to pitch as well. Soon a fine warming (and snow-melting) fire is glowing in the fading light. Camp set, dinner cooked, plenty of water for the night. Yup, my lucky day. Thank you, Lord, thank you for this day, a day devoted to the exercise of patience, then to one You’ve so lovingly turned to a day of satisfying reward.
“Everything that slows us down and forces patience,
everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.”
[May Sarton]
Wednesday–August 6, 2008
Trail Day–097
Trail Mile–15.4/1830
Location–Highway 62 near Mazama Campground, Crater Lake National Park

Around 3:30, as usual, the “Old Man Syndrome” kicked in and I woke to lightning flashing and illuminating my tent. No thunder, just lightning. My duty done, and concluding the flashes were heat lightning, I went back to sleep. But at 4:30, thunder not so far distant got me up. Half yet in slumber, I’m thinking, “There’s no thunder with heat lightning; this is the real thing.” A storm is definitely approaching, not a good time to be making or breaking camp.

I’m up, reluctantly. By five I’ve struck camp and have my pack shouldered. I clamp my little Photon Micro Light to my cap bill, and I’m off truckin’ the trail. In no time the wind starts really driving, bringing rain. Surprisingly, the downpour quickly turns to gentle and steady. In another 30 minutes the trail and everything near it is wet, including me. The rain continues, turning very cold. In yet another 30 minutes my fingers quit working, a scary deal. Soon, I just gotta take a whiz, but aww, what great difficulty unzipping my fly. Finally manage, but then have trouble putting my hands through my stick straps again. As the rain continues, I’m able to hike through it, making reasonably good time.

I’m not whining, certainly not complaining. This is the first rain since passing through the desert in Southern California.

More climbing, and some rocks today, but it’s a short pull, and the hike quickly concludes near Crater Lake (Mazama) Campground. Gordon is waiting at the road, we load and head for the campground.

Hamburger and left over noodles, not a bad meal for the evening, prepared by yours truly. Come to find, Gordon’ll eat most anything!
“I’m a feather for each wind that blows.”
Thursday–August 7, 2008
Trail Day–098
Trail Mile–22.5/1853
Location–Highway 138, Cascade Summit

I’d hand washed my clothes yesterday afternoon, but rain threatened all evening and we had drizzle off and on. Certainly no warm sun to dry my wet laundry. So this morning I’m chillin’ out with very soggy hiking garb.

I’ve a short hike to reach the rim at Crater Lake. Want to get it done, then head to the lodge for breakfast by eight. Good plan. Gordon has me hiking by six and I’ve got the short climb behind me by seven-thirty. Off to the beautiful old lodge atop the rim. Reasonable prices and great food. We have three egg omelets–plus a couple pots of coffee.

I’ve been excited for the longest time about the remainder of the hike today, actually since deciding to hike the PCT–I knew the trail followed the rim around Crater Lake for a fair distance. I recall vividly my childhood visit to Crater Lake. We used to take a trip west almost every summer. Mom, dad, sis and I always looked forward to that time. When I was around nine or ten, that summer our vacation included a trip to Crater Lake. Year-to-year we’d done a lot of touring out west, and I’d seen some pretty amazing places, but that trip to Crater Lake has always remained as one of my fondest memories, a very special time and place. So, I’ve never forgotten that day we all peered down from the overlook, here by the lodge. The enormity and starkness of the crater, the sheer cliffs all around, the most perfect-blue water I’d ever seen. And Wizard Island, I just stared at it and stared at it for the longest time.

So now, after nearly 60 years have I returned to Crater Lake. Can you imagine why I’d be the least bit anxious and apprehensive about being here again? How will these old eyes perceive what that child’s eyes saw back so many, many years ago? As I look down from the overlook once again, what will my reaction be? Will I be disappointed, or will I see as a child again! Will there be the hushed silence as I stare in disbelief, or will my reaction be world-weary and jaded? Who will stand to look, the humbled child or the hunched old man?

Well dear friends, I must tell you that my childhood memory of Crater Lake has not failed me, nor has that excitement and awe faded, not the least. As I gaze once more across the wonder of it, do I marvel at its vast, magnificent, heart-stopping enormity. Crater Lake has not changed, nor has my reaction to it changed, the shudder and overwhelming impact of being here–not the least change, not a bit in 60 years. And so, am I now reminded of a quote by Maurice Brooks: “…Blessed is the land whose fulfillment is greater than its promise.”

The hike out from the lodge takes me along Crater Rim Trail, around the northwest edge of the lake. Rain had threatened earlier, but the day has turned perfect, just enough cirrus and cumulus above to lend the perfect backdrop–for a bunch of videos and a hundred or so pictures. What a spectacular hike, probably the most grand and scenic six miles I’ve ever trekked.

Another ten or so to close out the day, down from the rim to the forest below. The day ends at Highway 138 where Gordon awaits. More thunder–we beat it to Crater Trailhead where we set camp for the night.

An incredibly emotional day, fresh new memories to heap on the old, unfaded ones–enough memories to last another 60 years.
“At the first view a dead silence fell upon our party.
A choking sensation arose in our throats, and tears flowed over our cheeks.
I do not pretend to analyze the emotion, but…to me it was a revelation.”
[Frances Fuller Victor, author, describing her 1873 visit to Crater Lake]
Friday–August 8, 2008
Trail Day–099
Trail Mile–30.4/1883
Location–FS60, Windigo Pass

Rain again threatened toward the end of my hike yesterday–dark skies, lots of thunder, and driving wind. I hastened to reach the highway, to load, then get to our campsite. Then as quickly as the threat came, did the whole thing blow over, not a drop of rain from it. The evening ended perfectly–a dandy warming fire and flat ground to pitch.

Another 30 coming at me today. That means hit the trail early, and haul. Gordon has me back to the road, my pack’s up, and I’m in the woods a little before six. Trail magic first thing. Large shopping bags loaded full with all kinds of treats, from trail mix to energy bars, to jerky. I choose the trail mix. Thanks, kind and generous trail angel.

Not a mile into my hike today comes on the breeze an old familiar smell–smoke. I’m hoping it might be someone’s campfire. But after an hour, the smoke has become more intense, limiting visibility to less than three miles. We’ve had much thunder and lightning the past two days, and I fear that nearby wildfires have been started as a result. I’m able to reach Gordon by cell phone to have him check with the USFS. In awhile he calls back. My hunch was correct; there are a number of fires, but none are threatening the trail. What a relief to know I’m not hiking into one!

A scenic and enjoyable hike today. Dramatic views of Mt. Thielsen, Sawstooth Ridge, Diamond Peak, and Mt. Yoran. Plenty of climbing too, but the trail is well graded, making for easy going.

A few miles from the end of the day’s hike, I have a blowout. My left doggie starts really barking. I stop, take my shoe off, and give it a look. No blisters or hot spots, just a small lump on the top of my second toe. I tape it, put my shoe and sock back on, and I’m out and moving again.

Gordon’s waiting at the road. We load, then head for the trailhead by Windigo Pass. Bumpy gravel road, remote spot–but flat, fire ring, and toilet. Ah yes, this is home! How do you find these places, Gordon?
Saturday–August 9, 2008
Trail Day–100
Trail Mile–30.9/1914
Location–Highway 58, Willamette Pass

Pretty amazing, how Gordon finds these places–our campsite last. Up a narrow rutted-out road. Strange deal though, as the ruts lasted for only a couple-hundred yards. From there a fine graded gravel road lead off to a hunter’s camp, complete with pull offs and fire rings. Oh, and right next, a clean, well kept toilet. Yup, had the whole place to ourselves, and no scrounging around for firewood, like at the fee area campgrounds where every twig’s been scavenged. Just a great spot, perfect evening.

And to make it even better, just before dark who comes strolling in other than Sam. Sam’s a really nice young lad; always a joy seeing him. He’s the chap Gordon and I managed to get the camera back to at Hyatt Lake. Sam sits the fire a spell, then accepts our invite to camp the night. Oh yes, just a perfect evening.

My hike today takes me through the Diamond Peak Wilderness. Here, again, there’s no lack for climbing–up and over the shoulders of three remarkable sharptops: Cowhorn, Diamond, and Yoran. I’ve easy treadway to Diamond. But from Diamond, I encounter many small snow patches and a respectable snowfield, with plenty of rocks in between. Getting over the shoulder of Cowhorn requires a climb above 7,000 feet, the last for Oregon.

Sam and I hike together some, off and on. He’s young, much stronger, so he ends up way out ahead most of the time.

Smoke still lingers. I can see waves of it drifting through the forest canopy. Visibility as a result (and unfortunately) is limited again to just a few miles. However, by one a southerly breeze clears it out nicely. Great views of all the sharptops around, most still sporting their pure-white ridged veins of snow. Plenty of picture postcard shots–and a very scenic video from the alpine zone below Diamond Peak.

Another long, hard hiking day, 31 miles–to the next road crossing at Willamette Pass. I sure prefer carrying a light pack (around three pounds without certain of my gear). Having support offers that advantage. So, hoofing the miles to the next road crossing as opposed to doing less miles and carrying my full pack with a day’s food for the overnight is a no-brainer. So it’s head-down-and-hammer. Hiking fast and covering the miles doesn’t compromise my hike, so don’t misunderstand. If that were the case we’d sure have a different plan. Believe me, I am seeing and smelling the flowers along the way.  Here’s how I see it: Through these long, same-old, same-old sections, and there will be more, the sort of treadway designed and intended to get the hiker from one place to the next, getting through them in good time is actually hike-quality enhancing.

Thought I’d be way off pace today, but to my great surprise I’m at Willamette Pass before 4:30, a ten and one-half hour day for 31 miles. Not bad for an old codger, eh!

Gordon’s right here. Iced down Coke, just the ticket. “How about prime rib and a baked potato tonight?” asks Gordon with his usual broad-faced grin. “Duh,” is my reply. Oh-ho, we’re sitting the dining room at Odell Lake Lodge in less than fifteen minutes.

All the major roads, where the PCT happens to cross have trailhead parking, and for thru-hikers (and their support crews) there’s no hassle about plunking down for the night. I pitch not 20 yards from the morning trail out, and Gordon will be sleeping level in the van. A great day, just a great day.
“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”
[Henri Matisse]
Sunday–August 10, 2008
Trail Day–101
Trail Mile–18.4/1932
Location–FR5897, thence to Willamette Pass Inn & Chalets, Crescent Lake Junction

A short hiking day today; happy for that. I came in very tired last, my feet especially so after two thirty-mile days back to back. Today, my left foot, the one that suffered the blowout Friday begins complaining. Neat in a weird sort of way–having some other problem bother me more than my right foot for a change.

I want to finish early so I can have the afternoon off. Have already made reservations at Willamette Pass in for tonight and tomorrow. Oh yes, I’m finally going to take a day off, after many a day and many a mile.

Plenty of climbing, along the ridge mostly, thence to sideslab the taller and more rugged crest-toppers. Lots of water for a welcome change, plus a bunch of snow patches to get over.

The hike goes well and I’ve got the 18 in by twelve. Gordon is waiting for me at the road. We load and head straight for Crescent Lake Junction, and AJ’s for lunch. Super spacious room at the Inn. Got near everything, even a fireplace plus wood to burn. Welcome time of rest.
“Without weariness there can be no real appreciation of rest,
without the ancient responses to the harsh simplicities of the kind of environment that shaped mankind,
a man cannot know the urges within him.”
[Sigurd Olson]
Monday–August 11, 2008
Trail Day–102
Trail Mile–00/1932
Location–Willamette Pass Inn & Chalets, Cascade Lake Junction

A well-earned day of rest, a zero-mile day. And not a finer place to spend it, the Inn at Willamette Pass. Dianne, the Inn’s kind owner, listened patiently while I explained my plight to her (my meager budget), and that I dearly wanted to stay two nights. She was very sympathetic when Gordon brought me to talk with her Saturday evening. He’d also stopped and met with her earlier that day. “Come in when you finish your hike tomorrow. We’ll work it out for you to stay the two nights.” Warm smile from Dianne! And so I did. And so, her generosity, just as promised. Thanks, Dianne, you cannot know how much I appreciate your kindness!

What a blessing, being clean, having clean clothes (hand washed them yesterday afternoon), having my feet up and keeping them up, catching up on journal entries and correspondence, and just relaxing for a day–such a welcome blessing.
“The invariable mark of a dream is to see it come true every day.”
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
Tuesday–August 12, 2008
Trail Day–103
Trail Mile–28.2/1959
Location–Elk Lake, Island Meadow Trailhead

Our stay at Willamette Lodge and Chalets, Crescent Lake Junction, was the best. Dianne, lodge owner, made sure we lacked nothing. Having a real wood fire in the fireplace both nights was such a treat. Yes, our room had a fireplace!  I could long remain content sitting a glowing fire, as I did these last two evenings–but I would soon long for the silent contentment only found deep in the wildwood. Thanks, Dianne, for your kindness and generosity!

A bit of a bumpy start this morning. Get Gordon up. Clear the room as usual. Get everything loaded and ready to go. It’s five-thirty. Gordon turns the ignition key–errr, errr, clickety, click, click. That’s it. Dead battery. Push the van out in the parking lot. Raise the hood. In and out of the van, slamming and banging around. Dianne’s boyfriend apparently hears the racket and comes down in his robe. Luckily, Gordon’s got jumper cables, and we get the thing started.

The drive back up the mountain takes nearly an hour, so I’m not on the trail till almost seven. Not a problem though, as I’ve a relatively short day today, less than thirty. I head up the mountain; Gordon heads down the mountain–to the auto parts store.

I’m hiking in the Three Sisters Wilderness today, rugged and remote, a land of pristine, placid lakes. And mosquitoes, countless mosquitoes. And they’re everywhere. Endless swarms all through the cool forest. Even up on the dry, hot ridge do they persist and dog me. No stopping at the lakes to look or rest. Don’t have my headnet. Don’t have my DEET. Gotta hike faster!

Surprising number of folks on the trail today, mostly day hikers. Did see a couple of thru-hikers, though.  One, Guardian Angel. Hadn’t seen her since the desert in southern California.

This is BBB day, blowdowns, bugs, and burnover. The trail passes through two very large burn areas, both having occurred long enough back for the snags to be rotted–enough to fall. Don’t think I’ve ever seen so many blowdowns in one place before, hundreds of them beside and over the trail. Crews have been through, but to keep the trail completely clear would require daily sweeps. So, lots of climbing–over blowdowns. As for the mosquito count, only the good Lord could ever know.

I’m able to stay on trail and make good time. To meet Gordon, I’ve got to take a spur trail about a mile down to the trailhead. I’m down by 4:30. Gordon’s waiting. “Want a steak and baked potato again tonight?” beams Gordon. Hey, hey, ten minutes later we’re sitting the bar at Elk Lake Lodge. Great steak (and a couple cold ones). High octane jet fuel. Burn that off tomorrow.
“I could not, at any age, be content to take my place by the fireside and simply look on.”
[Eleanor Roosevelt]
Wednesday–August 13, 2008
Trail Day–104
Trail Mile–32/1988
Location–Lava Camp Lake Trailhead

Glad I decided to do a day hike yesterday and hike the mile down to Elk Lake Resort rather than carrying three days of food and hiking through. Certainly much easier, and the time spent at Elk Lake Resort (great steak dinner) was singularly worth the trip down.

So, this morning I’ve got the hike back up, then 49 to do in the next two days, which will require an overnight. I’m carrying enough food for today, along with some snacks for tomorrow. I’ll be shooting for around a thirty today, which will leave twenty or less for tomorrow, setting me up to finish around one.

I’m a tad late getting out, and with the mile back up to the trail, I’m not covering any trail distance until after six-thirty. The climb goes okay (there’s almost always a climb to start the day), but up and over and starting back down I run into one of the largest trail-blocking blowdowns I think I’ve ever encountered. Trees the diameter of your dining room table wind-rowed across and blocking the trail for better than 50 yards. Up, over, and through is the only way. Heading in, I try to keep track of the trail below through the tangle of limbs and huge mounds of dirt (root-wads). Finally, unable to keep the trail in sight, I concentrate on the climb, crawl, and scramble through, hoping to find the trail again on the far side. I get through fine but am unable to locate where the trail comes out.  I climb up the mountain, then down the mountain–no trail. Could it be the trail did a switch-back somewhere under the pile of trees, and simply came out below on the same side?  Convincing myself that the trail could not possibly be above where I had climbed, or below, I work my way back through the heap. Sure enough, 50 feet below where the trail entered the downed maze, I find the trail. Had I known of the switchback I would not have even needed to enter the maze. Cost me nearly an hour–and much energy.

Many lakes to pass again today, which means more mosquitoes, lots more. Gordon has loaned me his headnet, and I have bug repellent with me now, both of which I use, to little avail. There are so many mosquitoes, seems they’re almost pushing me around.

I’m hiking once more in the Three Sisters Wilderness. I passed one of the sisters yesterday. And today, the other two, plus a husband and a brother. On north sister, there’s a glacier. I’m hiking well below it, but am able to get some good pictures.

The feature of this day, well, there’s two actually. First, another wildfire ahead, which I can see burning on the east slope of Three Fingered Jack. And second, the special treat and excitement of hiking into the Belknap Crater lava flow. Jumbles and piles of lava, the trail weaving through. Much slow going just at the end of the day.

A short side trail, less than half a mile, leads over to Lava Camp Lake, a neat campground just off McKenzie Pass, which is closed. So there’s no one around. Fine campground beside a small, crystal-clear lake, toilet, picnic table and fire ring–and mosquitoes!

It’s dark before I get a fire started, take water from the lake, and get my tent pitched.
“To me, this lunar-like landscape…
is one of the most remarkable natural sights I’ve ever seen,
beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
It looks like the earth exploded yesterday.”
[Karen Burger]
Thursday–August 14, 2008
Trail Day–105
Trail Mile–18.5/2007
Location–US20, Santiam Pass Trailhead

I did the long-mile day yesterday so today would be fairly short. Hopefully, I’ll be able to finish around one. Oh, but I hadn’t figured on such a long, circuitous trail through the lava fields, two dandies. The second one also involves a pretty  steep climb to boot. A distance that could otherwise have easily been covered in less than an hour takes well over that. No use rushing through though; no use fighting it. Nature has chosen this harsh and utterly wicked place to tell an enlightening story–that of eternal creation. One need only pause and listen.

Coming up from the lava field, the trail turns abruptly west, then north–to pass Three Fingered Jack on the west side. What a relief, as the wildfire I mentioned previously is burning on the east side. Hopefully, the trail won’t be affected.

Mosquitoes don’t seem so bad today–no water to speak of! Have carried an extra 20 ounces, but that’s quickly gone. Only twelve more miles in; I’ll get by.

Less than a mile from day’s end I head off on the wrong trail, and end up at the Hoo-Doo Snow Park. Neat place, but not where I’m supposed to be. A call to Gordon and he gets me straightened out. Waste only half an hour getting to the trailhead to end the day.

During the evening we see Mercury, Carbo, Jelly Bean, and Tangent. It’s ten before I’m caught up and ready for the sack.
“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks.
Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.”
[Linda Hogan]
Friday–August 15, 2008
Trail Day–106
Trail Mile–33.1/2040
Location–Whitewater Creek, Mt. Jefferson Wilderness

At the kiosk above Santiam Pass the USFS has posted a notice asking all PCT thru-hikers to skip the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness and hitch on up to Lolo Pass. The notice comments on the unusual amount of snow and about the treacherous conditions there, especially in Jefferson Park. I have many friends who’ve already hiked the Jefferson Wilderness and all have made it through in good order, some having done so weeks ago. As I age, it is becoming harder and harder to scare me–I’ll hike through; I certainly do not want to miss the experience of witnessing Jefferson Park.

As usual, I’ve a climb first thing, nearly 2,000 feet. A gradual grade and kind treadway makes for an easy go of it. At the first overlook I get some great shots of Three Fingered Jack.

The forecast for the next couple of days is for warm to very hot conditions, but up here (on high) it’s very pleasant this morning.

I’m out with just my long-sleeve, following Mercury’s footprints–to finally catch up with him around eleven at Rockpile Lake. From there we hike together on up to the Escarpment where we stop to rest and have lunch. Great place to relax and just take it all in. What an eye-popping view of Mt. Jefferson–in all its presidential glory!  Met a group of young folks from Outward Bound here. They’d just climbed Mt. Jefferson–a remarkable accomplishment!

At altitude 6,000 feet and above, which the trail seeks out today, I’m in and out of lingering snow patches, none of which are of any consequence. I’m able to find and follow the trail easily.

Mercury stretches lunch. I hike out–to promptly take a wrong turn, down the Pamelia Lake Trail, an old PCT route. I stay the Pamelia. Doesn’t take long to understand the reason for the PCT reroute; this Pamelia Lake Trail has seen its better days. Rutted-out tread, rocks and roots, all compounded by neglect, resulting in an overgrowth of brush. The hike, though not unenjoyable, is also one I’d not return to anytime soon. A degree of redemption though–the section along Pamelia Lake, a large, most impressive recreation area. Lots of families camping and enjoying one of the few remaining summer vacation weekends. A short climb and I’m back up to the official PCT.

The remainder of the day goes quickly.  A climb to ford Milk Creek (first wet feet since back in the Sierras), then Russell Creek, which turns to be an easy task, as I simply cross it over a large snow bridge.

At Whitewater Creek, the last ford (there’s a footbridge over this one now), I  decide to call it a day, as there are restrictions on fire use along the trail above. I want a cooking and warming fire for the evening, so it’s stay below Whitewater for the night. I take water from the river and pitch in a pleasant, secluded cove back in the spruce.
“As a man grows older it is harder and harder to frighten him.”
[Jean Paul Richter]
Saturday–August 16, 2008
Trail Day–107
Trail Mile–13.4/2053
Location–FR4220, Skyline Road

I get out and on the trail later this morning than anytime in weeks. The temperature really plunged during the night, down in the 40s this morning. I hiked out without my gloves yesterday–dumb. Told Gordon when I decided to leave them in the van that I’d probably regret it–yup. Had a time talking myself into breaking camp. Didn’t want to get up and face the cold. Almost seven before I’m moving back north again.

From Whitewater River the trail climbs to Jefferson Park. It certainly is a park, a place of amusement, just a different kind of amusement. In Jefferson Park there are no Ferris Wheels or Merry-go-rounds, just Mother Nature’s best alpine show: lovely (as if groomed) meadows, and crystal clear ponds and lakes. Above Jefferson Park looms Park Cirque, a semi-circular cathedral up and into which the trail ascends. On the rim, Park Rim, there’s a spot simply referred to as “Viewpoint.” In my opinion, Viewpoint is one of the most spectacular overlooks anywhere to be found. Looking south, and framing the skyline looms Mt. Jefferson, with Jefferson Park presenting below in full grandeur. Turning now to the north do I have my first view of Mt. Hood, sitting the hazy-blue horizon. Yes, a stunning panorama. Remember to check out the video in a week or two.

It’s taken me awhile to get past Mt. Jefferson; not like Mt. Washington and all the other sharptops to the south. Seems folks out here in Oregon hold a special place in their hearts for Thomas Jefferson. Back in Siead Valley, folks there claimed they lived in a locale simply known as the state of Jefferson! Certainly understandable; hadn’t been for Jefferson, his foresight and leadership in acquiring the Louisiana Territory from France, might not be a state of Oregon today, let alone a state of Jefferson!

Interesting that Mt. Jefferson was first seen (and named) by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. They saw the majestic sharptop during one of their exploratory journeys into the Willamette Valley. That was in 1806. As you may recall, Lewis was sent by President Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Territory (and points west–today’s Oregon and Washington).

Down from Park Rim, the snowfields obscure much of the trail. Tracks go every which way. Many of my friends had difficulty finding the trail here, and this is the area warned about by the USFS. But today, I have a relatively easy go of it as I am passing through much later, and there’s been enough snowmelt to reveal numerous sections of the trail below. I must scamper over and down through the ice and snow, but this is pretty much “old hat” to me now, after traversing the snow-choked passes back in the Sierras.

Down and into the forest below, clear of the large snowfields, I sigh a deep sigh of relief. For some reason I had become very anxious with each passing day as I listened to reports and rumors about the difficulty I’d face in the snow and ice on Jefferson. Don’t know why I feared. Perhaps my increasing age. During my hikes in Canada, in Forillon, and in the Chic Chocs, especially, I was constantly faced with much worse snow conditions–and thought nothing of it.

A very short hike today. I’m in by a little before one. I load and we head over to Olallie Lake where we find a campsite and squeeze in for the evening.
“An area unexcelled in the Pacific Northwest as a natural alpine garden
sprinkled with lakes and streams,
above which rises graceful glacier-hung Mount Jefferson…
a fascinating land of picturesque and friendly beauty.”
[Clinton Clarke]
Sunday–August 17, 2008
Trail Day–108
Trail Mile–54.1/2107
Location–Timberline Lodge

Olallie Lake Campground was jammed, what with the great weather we’ve had, plus this being summer vacation time–in full bloom. We did manage to squeeze in. Had camp set, fire built, and supper cooking nicely on my old two-burner Coleman when, at a distance, we could hear thunder. We hastened to get through with supper and load everything back in the van as the thunder intensified and drew nearer.

I no sooner had my tent pitched for the night than the rain came. After all the thunder and commotion it lasted only 20 minutes, what little there was of it.

No one is stirring; it’s still dark in the campground as Gordon gets us out as quietly as possible this morning. It’s a short but bumpy ride back to the trail. With a thirty staring at me, and with the expectation of more gnarly tread, as was the case coming in yesterday, the need is to get haulin’. I’ve my pack up and am hiking right at six.

To my surprise, the trail is most-near interstate, smooth and wide, the least variation in elevation. I’m moving along nicely and really covering the ground when the smell of smoke comes drifting the breeze again. In no time visibility is down to less than five miles, then two.  he lightning of last evening has apparently started more fires. I hope and pray they’re not burning across the trail. I’m unable to reach Gordon, to find out about this one. Choppers have been passing over since mid-morning. The smoke persists and remains heavy until early afternoon, then finally dissipates and clears out. Flags have been flying at half mast recently for firefighters lost in a helicopter crash. This has been a very bad fire season.

Early this morning I entered the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Through here the trail is remarkably well maintained. By noon I’ve had to climb over only four blowdowns. Here on the reservation, the trail crosses a number of logging roads. Just past one I meet an Indian woman and her child out picking huckleberries. The low bushes are full and so is her basket and gallon can.

I reach Warm Springs River by twelve, over 20 miles in six hours. By three I’m at Highway 42 where Gordon is waiting.  I’ve hiked thirty miles now in only nine hours.

Ever since the beginning of my backpacking “career” I’ve always wondered what my personal best day might turn out to be mileage-wise. Never dreamed, in my wildest dreams, that it’d  be such an astounding and amazing number, or that I’d accomplish it on the PCT in Oregon with a backpack on at near age 70. Sure had no thought of going for my personal best when beginning my hike this morning. But now, finished up by three, I know this is the time to go for it. I’ll hike on for who knows how many more miles. This will be the day, my longest-mile day, ever.

Just after setting out this morning I started seeing familiar footprints in the rain-settled trail–Mercury’s. I was thinking then, “I’ll probably catch him around noon, like on Friday.” But noon came and went, and no Mercury, his footprints still right there ahead, marking the trail. When I reached Gordon at three, he told me that Mercury had made the same decision that I’d reached–to go for it! I finally catch him late afternoon, by a blowdown beside the trail, slouched down against his pack, appearing exhausted. “I think I’ve got well over forty in now.” he says, sounding dejected. “You can do better.” I reply. “Come on, get up, lets go.” I move out. Mercury’s up, pack shouldered, and he’s right behind.

I’ve hiked into the high 40s on a number of occasions, all roadwalks. Not a fifty in the bunch, though, and today I want to break 50. From Olallie Road to Highway 35 near Barlow Pass/Government Camp, where Gordon can meet us again, it’s 49.1 miles, a scant nine-tenths short of 50–not good. Past Barlow, the next place Gordon can get in is up at Timberline Lodge, another five miles distant–and nearly 2,000 feet up Mount Hood.

I give Mercury the news, “We’re hikin’ it on up to Timberline. I think we can make it in before midnight.” Mercury gives me a nod. In a short while we pass Gordon again. He’s come around to Barlow Pass. Looking anxious, he expresses concern that I might be jeopardizing my hike. I calm him and we move on through.

Pitch black now, lights on, we’re movin’–when the little flashlight Gordon loaned me blows a bulb. My little Photon is really dim, having been used almost every evening (and morning) since Campo, to set and break camp. Nothing else to do but stumble along behind Mercury. At half-past-eleven we see Gordon flashing his lights from the Timberline Lodge parking lot. And by twenty-to-midnight, we’re in.

Ah, and so folks, the old Nimblewill Nomad has hiked this day from Olallie Lake to Timberline Lodge, a distance along the Pacific Crest Trail of 54.1 miles. What an absolutely amazing accomplishment (Remember what Walt Whitman said–“If you done it, it ain’t bragging”!). As I think of such a distance, write down that number and look at it, it’s simply astounding, like a dream–a dream that’s come true.

Thanks, Mercury, for sucking it up, for coming along, for your help, and for being part of one of the most thrilling times in my life–thanks!

And thank you, Lord, for this remarkable day, for my good health and strength, for the determination and resolve, and for the tenacity you’ve instilled in me–thank you!
“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”
[Edgar Allen Poe]
Monday-Tuesday–August 18-19, 2008
Trail Day–109-110
Trail Mile–00/2107
Location–US30/I-84, Columbia River Gorge, Viento State Park between Cascade Locks and Hood River

Cold and windy on Mount Hood/Timberline Lodge at midnight last. Much to celebrate, Mercury and me, but we’re both exhausted, so we tarry little.

Congratulations, Mercury, your 50 mile day! Oh, and hey, what are the odds of us ever experiencing another day like the one we shared Sunday? Uhh, probably way less than 50/50, eh!

I pitched last on the “No overnight camping” crown just above Timberline Lodge parking lot. Mercury went back on the mountain; he’s gone. And so, dear friend, should our paths not cross again, it’s been one memorable time, Mercury, a pure blast!

Time now for a couple days rest. Thought for sure this morning (Monday) I’d be stiff and sore, my poor old doggies barking, but I’m feeling fine. And so, first things first–breakfast at Timberline. Then it’s down and off the mountain, 5,000 feet down and off, to Columbia River Gorge, there to bask awhile in the sun, reflect a bit, and try to number (though infinite the number) the countless blessing, the daily bounty of goodness and mercy God has seen fit to bestow this old man.

In the Gorge now we soon find just the place to rest and while away a couple of days–beautiful Viento State Park, off US30/I-84 between Cascade Locks and Hood River. We know we’re home when, on the park entry kiosk we read: “Showers for non-campers, $2.00.” Hey, we’re campers here. That means we’ll get squeaky clean without dumping four quarters in the slot just to reach hot water, another four quarters to soap down, and a final four quarters to rinse! Oh yes, we’re home.

In awhile the ranger comes by in her Mule, chains up to a dead snag and pulls it down. Well now, free firewood even! Gordon goes over and dices it up with his bowsaw and we’re good for firewood.

Cascade Locks lies only a short distance west; we head there, to the post office where I’ve mail waiting. Then we’re off to dinner. Returning to our campsite it’s soon time for a warming fire, to end a most restful and carefree day.

Many trains pass during the night, but the clatter and racket disturb me only the least.

Tuesday, another day of rest. Some chores, like doing laundry, and a pass by Wal-Mart in Hood River. Supper, can’t wait–Dinty Moore prepared by Chef Nomad on his sputterin’ old Coleman. Time then for another fine warming fire–to rest some more and close ‘er out.
“Beyond the last horizon’s rim,
Beyond adventure’s farthest quest,
Somewhere they rise, serene and dim,
The happy, happy hills of rest.
[A. B. Paine]

Wednesday–August 20, 2008
Trail Day–111
Trail Mile–00/2107
Location–Timberline Lodge parking lot

A most welcome and restful sojourn in the Columbia Gorge. Time now to head back up to Timberline and the trail, from there to hike it back down.

The rain began just after supper last and continued, gentle but steady the entire night. It’s still at it this morning, so no rush to start back up the mountain. We’re finally out and on our way by nine (slackers), to stop in Hood River for breakfast. While there, it begins looking like the storm system might pass on through–some patches of blue above. But the mountains, the high ground both sides of the Columbia are still enveloped in the shroud.

We head back up around eleven anyway. Not far into the climb we’re right back in the clouds. And what’s the least unsettling now (say scary) are the swollen streams that we see rushing down, all a dark shade of brown, running bank-to-bank, not good. Along the 18-mile trail section just ahead there are numerous stream crossings. If any are like the ones we see here they’ll be difficult if not near impossible to ford.

Back in Timberline parking lot now, we wait, as the soup thickens and the rain intensifies. As we’re waiting, it’s becoming windy and cold. Time is slipping away as to getting in an 18 today.

At one, reluctantly, this hiking day is scrubbed. Gordon levels the van for the overnight stay, I head for Rams Head Bar for a couple cold ones. Patience, old man, patience. Canada will be there for you.

Evening now, the rain still coming through in sheets, driven by the cold, relentless wind, I decide to improvise a bunk (the two front seats in the van) and move in with Gordon. Good decision as the driving wind and rain rock the van all night.
“Knowing God’s own time is best, in patient hope I rest.”
[John Greenleaf Whittier]

Thursday–August 21, 2008
Trail Day–112
Trail Mile–00/2107
Location–Timberline Lodge parking lot

The gloom isn’t beginning to lift, no bright signs. The cold rain and wind continue, to greet us once again this morning. Indeed, this is a time for and an exercise in patience.

I slept well all night, in my makeshift bunk across Gordon’s front seats. The Ford Econoline is a large vehicle, plenty of width, so I was able to stretch out completely. Warm and dry, a blessing. Thanks, Gordon!

It’s three in the afternoon now; this storm is not going away. Forecast is for improvement tomorrow, but we’ll see–tomorrow. Looks like another day and another night here at Timberline Lodge, in the parking lot.

During the days remaining, this odyssey, and from time to time, I’ll be taking a moment or two to tell you about the great folks who support this old man and his ramblings about.

They are companies and people I’ve sought out, people that provide superior products or services, or both. These are the folks that are the best of the very best. I’ll start with one today (please see below), my longest and most steadfast sponsor, Travel Country Outdoors (TCO).

Another night at Timberline. Another night in the van. This storm has got to let up soon.

“Do not save your loving speeches
For your friends till they are dead;
Do not write them on their tombstones,
Speak them rather now instead.”
[Anna Cummins]
And so, I will introduce you to, and “Speak them rather now instead.”–the companies and so many dear friends who’ve supported the old Nimblewill during his many and varied odysseys.

TCO has been with me since the beginning, since I first shouldered a pack and headed off into the unknown. Based in Altamonte Springs, Florida, and now with a complete online store (www.travelcountry.com) they’ve got travel country and the outdoors covered. Anything I need, anytime I need it, they’ve always been right there for me. Latest example: My Therm-a-Rest gave it up a few weeks ago. A quick call to TCO did it; a new one was in the mail to me–and waiting right there at my next mail drop. Thanks Mike, thanks Ryan! It’s been not only your unflagging support, your enthusiastic encouragement, but above all, it’s been your friendship that has meant so much to me over these many years.  Thanks, dear friends, thanks!

Friday–August 22, 2008
Trail Day–113
Trail Mile–17.6/2125
Location–Lolo Pass
The storm was supposed to break during the night. So hopes are we’ll wake to a clear morning. What we wake to, however, and this is amazing–Gordon’s van was one of perhaps seven or eight vehicles in the lodge’s 500+ lower parking lot when we rolled in last night (I crawled in the van again to get out of the cold rain). This morning when we wake, the entire lot is full!  Oh yes, we’re right in the middle of some kind of event, but we don’t know what.

And the storm? The storm’s finally cleared out. Some lingering local clutter still passing, but that’ll burn off soon enough.I try to arrange everything in the front of the van the way I found it before converting the place to a bunk. Then I venture out to see what in the world is going on.

Come to find this is the weekend for one of the biggest relay races anywhere, The Hood to Coast Relay. Teams here from every state around, all age groups. The first wave is off the line at eight.

Gordon and I had planned on hitting the breakfast buffet a good lick again this morning, but now, I’m just wanting to get back up the mountain and on the trail, as Gordon hopes to get down the mountain, through all the runners and traffic, to his turnoff to Lolo Pass. I’m on the trail and out of the confusion by 8:30. Sure hope Gordon gets through headin’ his way.

I’m about halfway around Mt. Hood on the west side now. Ahead will be a number of water crossings, including a couple of rivers that are fed by the glaciers on Mount Hood. In so passing, the trail will climb and drop as it works its way north past these drainages.

I was expecting to get wet feet right off the bat, but the smaller crossing are rock-hops, and the glacier-fed rivers are crossed by bridges, so my feet stay dry the whole day, yippee!

By eleven the local clutter has burned off leaving the most serene cirrus-dotted sky, the perfect backdrop for some amazing shots of Mount Hood, which is sporting a fresh cape of snow clear down to timberline.

My energy level is down today, don’t know why, just haven’t been able to get crankin’ as usual. Tired legs, tired feet. Told Gordon to expect me at Lolo Pass between 2:30 and 3:00, but I don’t come tripping off the mountain until after 3:30. Only an 18 for the day, but happy and relieved to get it done. Hood is in my rearview now, also happy for that.

A grand evening at Lolo. We set camp not thirty feet from the trail. Everyone coming through, and there must have been at least twelve or fourteen, everyone stopped. Gordon handed out Gatorade to all, then cranked up Walkin’ Jim. Wonderful fellowship, great evening. Check out the video in a week or so.
“If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.”
Saturday–August 23, 2008
Trail Day–114
Trail Mile–15.5/2140
Location–Wahtum Lake, thence to Wahtum Lake Campground

I had much difficulty sleeping last, stopped up sinuses, sore throat, a dull, nagging headache. The whole mess hit me around ten.  And so explains my lack of energy during the day.

This morning I load up on regular aspirin, also enteric coated, as my lower back invariably locks up during these cold/sore throat episodes. I’ll be able to hike today, but at a slower, more deliberate pace. Sure glad Gordon’s got a short day planned. Okay old man, quit whining, get your pack on and go.

From here to Columbia Gorge the crest winds down but there’s no lack of climbing this morning, from 3,420 at Lolo Pass to Buck Peak at 4,500. The trail then stays the crest, side-slabbing the more rugged, steep sections.

Around nine I have the good fortune of catching up with Rachel, a petite young lady who’s hiking the Oregon section of the PCT. Our paths have crossed a number of times since first we met at High Point a week or two ago.  Since, we’ve been working on a trail name for her, and this morning the decision is reached. In a most formal ceremony, with much pomp, the old Nimblewill (in his official capacity as Grand Trail Sorcerer), christens Rachel (henceforth and forevermore to be known as) Little Bit.

Just past a spectacular viewpoint, which offers a breathtaking 360 of snow capped Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens, the trail finally drops off to pass Wahtum Lake, and there the spur up to Wahtum Lake Campground where Gordon is waiting. My energy is totally spent but I have managed and have endured the day arriving Wahtum a little before one, thankful to have this day done.

A side-hill campground, Wahtum, but we manage a flat spot for the van right next a flat-set picnic table, a fire ring–and toilet. Oh yes, this is home for this day.
“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on.'”
[Rudyard Kipling]
Sunday–August 24, 2008
Trail Day–115
Trail Mile–15.4/2155
Location–Trailhead, Highway 14, Near Bridge of the Gods, Washington
*Sponsor acknowledgement

I slept so much better last after loading up again with both regular and enteric coated aspirin.  A little slow getting up and going this morning, but manage to hit the trail a little after six-thirty.

I’ll be hiking the official PCT route for only two-tenths of a mile today–backtracking to the junction with Eagle Creek Trail; I’ll be hiking it instead.  The two trails are near the same length, but Eagle Creek is much more scenic, what with the largest concentration of waterfalls along any trail anywhere.  I’m dropping to the Columbia River Gorge, over 3,500 feet, so Eagle Creek Trail is down, and down some more.  From Whatum Lake to the most spectacular of the falls, Tunnel Falls, the trail is poorly maintained, many blowdowns and much overgrowth.  But once at Tunnel Falls, an amazing bit of trail work, the trail is wide and beat down.

Eagle Creek Gorge is not such a big place in relative terms, but it’s certainly one of the most picturesque of any so far.  Shear rock walls, the trail blasted from them, the tumbling, cascading creek, very special, very scenic.

Around twelve, who do I meet coming up the trail but Belcher and Navigator (Dawn and Paul), friends from Tagart, Washington, near Portland.  Happy greetings, then a grand hike together down to the trailhead, all four of us (Dawn is expecting in just weeks).  Near the trailhead, we meet Gordon, who’s also hiked up a ways.  He’s getting around much better now.

I hike the three miles on up to Bridge of the Gods, Cascade Locks, where we have a long, leisurely  lunch at Char Burger.

I’ve Oregon behind me now; less than 500 remaining.  And today I’ve also completed “Nimblewill Nomad’s Great Western  Loop.”  A special “bragging page” (featuring this accomplishment) will appear shortly.

Day by day, do I feel more confident about this journey, that my trek o’er this trail is, indeed, within my grasp.  A rewarding and very happy day.
“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
[Benjamin Franklin]
*I’d like to take a moment to thank Leki USA, another of my longest, most loyal sponsors.  Every year they insist on me starting that particular odyssey with a new set of trekking poles.  And every year, just as I think they’ve perfected the hiking stick, Leki makes them even better.  This year I’m sporting a pair of their remarkable Carbonlites, lightweight, yet strong and stable.  Thanks Chris and Lindy, dear friends, for your continued support and encouragement.
Monday–August 25, 2008
Trail Day–116
Trail Mile–31.2/2186
Location–FR43, Trout Creek

I’m getting used to the trains shaking the ground during the night. They run both sides of the Gorge. Our stay at Viento State Park last week was right beside the tracks on the Oregon side. Last night’s camp was right beside the tracks on the Washington side. Can pretty much sleep right through the clatter and shake now.

My introduction (say initiation) to Washington took little time. The storm clouds set in and the rain came just after supper last. Barely had time to pitch my tent, which became soaked immediately. And it’s still raining off and on this morning as Gordon drops me at the trailhead by the north side of the bridge. Five minutes up the trail and I’m totally soaked from my hat right down to my shoes, as the first couple of miles of trail follows a power line cut overgrown with weeds, then the edge of a clear-cut, also overgrown with weeds. Wet shoes and socks, wet clothes, wet pack, wet me.  Welcome to Washington, Nimblewill!

There was an amazing bail-off yesterday, down Eagle Creek Trail to the Gorge. Today comes the climb back to the crest, over 4,800 feet.

I’ve a 31-mile day planned, but have asked Gordon to meet me at County Road 2000, 19 miles out, just to be on the safe side, in case my energy becomes spent from the first climb.

I manage it and the miles in good order, arriving Road 2000 at 1:30. A change to dry socks, a couple of energy bars and I’m right back out for the remaining 11 miles.

This morning, after becoming totally soaked, I thought myself fortunate to be warm. By the time I reach the crest again it has become very cold. Wet and cold, I thought myself fortunate that the wind was calm. In just moments, and as I reach the crest again, the wind starts kicking.

The sun makes a show for an hour or so, then the next wave begins driving through, bringing more cold rain. Before becoming totally soaked, I stop and dig out my poncho. More wind, more rain. But I am content with the weather, with the wind and rain. Such a blessing given, these days, to this old man. To the distant whitecaps, the far horizons, the breathtaking vistas, be they the climber’s reward. But the rain brings everything nearer us, to sharpens our awareness of the close-by. Our senses must shift lest we miss the rain washed sheen so masterfully created. On those farsighted days we raise our eyes. On these nearsighted ones we must gather in.

Second climb for the day behind me, I follow the trail down to Trout Creek where Gordon awaits–again.

Neat picnic area just down the road, complete with pavilion, picnic tables, charcoal grill, and toilets.

As the rain comes once more, we remain warm (got a fire going in the grill) and under the pavilion we also stay dry, to enjoy supper. I drape everything around to dry, including my tent. A most enjoyable evening.
“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.”
[Roger Miller]
Tuesday–August 26, 2008
Trail Day–117
Trail Mile–21.4/2208
Location–FR60, Carson-Guiler Road

What a great find for camp last, Trout Creek Picnic Grounds, complete with running water, flush toilets, and a fine pavilion. With off and on rain still, we set up shop under the pavilion. Level picnic table, perfect for preparing and enjoying our supper. With a nice warming fire in the charcoal grill right next, we relaxed in the warm and dry.

A relatively short day today, so I make no great effort to get up and going. Finally heading north around seven. Another day of climbing, nearly 4,000 feet to the ridge near Grassy Knoll. Stunning views back toward Mount Hood, and east to Mount Adams.

A high pressure ridge is coming in, bringing cool, clear weather. Supposed to hold the next couple of days. Carried a dry pair of socks today, figuring my feet would become soaked again, but the trail is wide, clear–and dry.

After climbing most all morning, the afternoon is spent descending back down–to FR60, where Gordon is waiting. Another successful day completed in this amazing adventure. Thank you, Lord, for the determination and will to see it through.

Right by the trail are picnic tables, fire rings–and a toilet. This is home; we share the early fire and the afternoon with many dear northbound friends as they pass.
“We never become truly spiritual by sitting down and wishing to become so.
You must undertake something so great that you cannot accomplish it unaided.”
[Phillip Brooks]
Wednesday–August 27, 2008
Trail Day–118
Trail Mile–17.2/2225
Location–FS24, Indian Heaven Wilderness
*Sponsor Acknowledgement

Weather up here in the great northwest (Washington to be exact) comes at us pretty much as expected–rain and cold.  Beautiful evening last though, not a cloud in the sky, heaven full of stars.  But by four this morning the rain comes again, slow at first, a few drops to start, then steady and stubborn–to stay.

In the van this morning we listen and listen for the weather report, but no luck.  Finally, at 8:30, I shoulder my pack and head into it; another day of adventure–toward a great future.

Overdose came in after dark last evening and today we end up hiking together.  Steady climb, steady rain.  All who came through last are still in their tents this morning as we pass them by.  The clouds and wind stay with us, especially where the trail passes to the west side of the crest.

Huckleberries are now ripe, but we shan’t pick them.  A handshake agreement made with the Yakima Indians in 1934 protect the Sawtooth Berry Fields, spiritual ground to the Yakima.  I suppose, to them, huckleberries would be what we know as manna.

In the evening, and returning from a great supper at KJs down in the little village of Trout Lake, and by the road, we pass a snow park complete with warming hut.  “Pull off Gordon.”

Ah, this is home!  Double-barrel stove, plenty of firewood around, picnic table situated center-room.  A glowing-hot fire in no time, and in no time a warm and cozy hut!  Lantern for light.  Pegs to dry everything out, a neat place.  I roll out my Therm-a-Rest and sleep on the picnic table.
“The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating.
The paths to it are not found but made,
and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.”
[John Schaar]
*A great new sponsor this year, most generous: Mountain Hardwear.  They let me choose most anything my heart desired from their online store.  I had sought them out because they make the very best in outdoor clothing and gear.  Their name is not just some catchy play on words.  Their products are the toughest of the tough, unbelievably durable.  I’m decked out from hat to gaiters in stylish, lightweight Mountain Hardwear gear, and it’s lasting me this entire trek.

Thanks, Chris, thanks Suzanne, for your great sponsorship.  How is it possible–You’ve made this old man look really good!

Thursday–August 28, 2008
Trail Day–119
Trail Mile–34.0/2259
Location–Muddy Fork
*Sponsor Acknowledgement

What a great night at the snow park hut.  I was comfortable on the picnic table right next the fire, which I kept going all night.  Cozy, warm, and dry.

The sky remained clear all night (old man makes numerous trips out), but by daylight the clouds have already began arriving.

We’re back to the trail by seven, me and Overdose, first to tarry and chat again for awhile with Billy Goat.  He’s hiking south to Cascade Locks this go-round.  Great seeing you again, Billy Goat!

Gordon is able to get in and meet us for lunch at 14 miles, at which time he informs us he’ll be unable to support us this evening, as the road he’d planned to come up is closed.  So Overdose and I sort our food and other needs for tonight and tomorrow night, seeing we’ve now some forty-plus miles ahead of us before seeing Gordon again.  We’re back hiking north with heavier packs around one.

We’re in the Mount Adams Wilderness now, below the most impressive glacier.  By late afternoon we’re faced with crossing three of the glacier drainages.  Late afternoon is the very worst time to cross these streams, as the warmth of the day swells them to capacity.  We make it across Lewis River and Adams Creek with little effort, but late evening we hit Muddy Fork, which brings the day’s trek to an end.  A narrow stream, yet is it running deep and incredibly swift, way too risky to ford.  Indeed, this is not your normal or usual babbling brook!  So we pitch for the night at a nearby campsite.  We’ll tackle Muddy Fork early morning when it’s much more manageable.

We try building a warming fire, but there’s not a dry twig to be found.  Despite out best effort, the fire sputters and dies.

Overdose no sooner sets his tent than a mouse comes to check out his food bag.  Funny watching him chase the mouse away, just to find the little rascal scurrying right back again.  The little fellow isn’t the least interested in me, but manages to annoy Overdose the entire night.
“The babbling brook doth leap when I come by,
because my feet find measure with its call.”
[Jones Very]
*Glen Van Peski, formerly GVP Gear, now Gossamer Gear, has been a dear friend and one of my most steadfast sponsor for years.  Glen is an innovator with extraordinary vision as a designer of functional, durable, and lightweight gear.  He insists I have a new pack to begin each odyssey.  The little Murmur he’s put me in this year is incredibly lightweight (seven ounces), yet durable to the extent that I’ll finish this year’s trek with just one of them.

Thanks, Glen, for making my load bearable.  God Bless you, dear friend!
Friday–August 29, 2008
Trail Day–120
Trail Mile–32.6/2292
Location–Lutz Lake

We had judged the stream crossing situation correctly; glacial runoff is diurnal, being much less during early morning than late evening. The creek is at least a foot lower this morning, perhaps two, exposing a blowdown, across which we’re able to pass easily.

Another enjoyable morning hiking with Overdose. We chat as we hike along, about everything from his love of Jeeps to how he might reduce his pack weight.

By late morning we’ve covered good ground. Overdose stops for a break and I hike on, as I’m concerned with the beginning cloud buildup. My hike up and into Goat Rocks Wilderness will carry me above 7,000 feet, which can be risky if undertaken during bad weather.

This section of the PCT is regarded by many thru-hikers as the most memorable of their entire trek. In short time I can see why. Above 7,000 feet now, I’m in the alpine zone, with open views across to Mount Rainier, and up and into the pinnacles that are Goat Rocks, a sawtooth sculpted ridge that forms the crest.

By four I’m hiking the exposed ridge–into rapidly deteriorating weather. Comes now driving winds, pushing wave after wave of local clutter through. I must work to maintain my balance along a very narrow section known as the Knife Edge. Above Packwood Glacier the weather takes a turn for the worse–30-40 mph winds that are driving rain intermixed with hail. In a small lee I stop to don my poncho, which proves a half-hour ordeal, what with my wet, cold sticks-for-fingers, caused by the freezing rain.

Climbing still, then rounding a very large pinnacle above Packwood I’m faced with a very narrow (and scary) side-slab along a treacherous section of trail, which crosses a 60 per-cent slope replete with nothing but loose scree and dirt. Here an amazing thing happens. A rock dislodged from a snowfield some 50-75 feet above careens directly down to strike me in the right elbow and shoulder, knocking me silly–and clear over the side. I could hear it coming, the noise of it reverberating above the wind–clankety clunk, crash. I had not an instant to turn or look, no chance to dodge before the incredible, explosive impact. Somehow, could there be the least good fortune in this, I land heads up, such that I’m able to stick in the loose dirt and rocks. However, every time I try stabilizing my position, I just keep sliding further down the slope. Finally, slowly, and totally deliberate, I’m able to kick in a small toehold and slowly work myself back up to the trail. Damage control shows no serious injuries, nothing busted, just a cut-up and badly bruised elbow and shoulder. Thank you, Lord!

The wind and rain intensify, which slows my pace even further. The Knife Edge traverse seems interminable. By the time I’m able to begin descending to timberline, I’m totally soaked and very cold. It’s pitch black when I finally reach Lutz Lake. Very worried for Overdose, also for Inchworm, Freedom, and the young section hiker with them.

I manage to cook enough 33 degree water to hydrate a hot meal using two Esbit tablets. A cold, rainy night, but I’m warm and snug in my Mountain Hardwear Phantom 32 bag–in my little Nomad Tent.

Dear Lord, this day I will remember. Thank you for lifting me up, for carrying me through.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
[Psalm 23]
Saturday–August 30, 2008
Trail Day–121
Trail Mile–12/2304
Location–US12, White Pass Village Inn

A short hike today, on up to White Pass, but with a 1,600 foot climb it’ll surely be late afternoon before I’m in. I’ve a stiff arm and shoulder from the rock blow of yesterday, that split-second incident that knocked me off-trail and nearly unconscious.

And now, please forgive, please grant this old man just a moment–a little time for thought and reflection concerning that fateful occurrence. For it must serve as a reminder to me, a reminder of my frailty as a mortal being, how life as we know it can so easily be snuffed and ended at any given moment. Had that deadly projectile struck me just a few inches higher, in the temple, or had I landed on that near-vertical slope in any position other than upright, well, from this moment on I’ll never take life for granted again, never again. Rather, and moment-to-moment, will I more fully live each and every day. Ah, and do I know, and have known, without the least hesitancy or doubt, that this old man has been granted such remarkable longevity, such good health, stamina, and a passion to live life to its fullest–by the grace of God.

The rain of last has passed, but a cold front is dogging its way in. It’s 40 this morning as I shoulder my pack to depart, with little warming as the day wears on. Remarkably, I’m able to grip and dig my hiking sticks in with little difficulty. By early afternoon the cold rain returns. Arriving White Pass, the Village Inn, I’m fortunate to be offered, to share, a room with Irish, Flop, and Mercury. In the evening, Gordon’s friends, from here in Washington, Troll, Oblivious, and Anchor, stop by to give us a visit. We prepare spaghetti and potatoes for dinner in the little kitchenette; plenty for all.

The evening remains cold as the rain continues; so glad to be in and out of it for the night.
“Your dreams die before you do, so pursue, pursue,
before your stores of time and energy dwindle…
There are not enough lifetimes to apply
to the ‘could-be’s’ of the truly driven.”
[Will Landon]
Sunday–August 31, 2008
Trail Day–122
Trail Mile–00/2304
Location–US12, White Pass Village Inn

At seven I raise my head to check the time. Comes then a knock at our door. Stumbling over I swing the door wide–to find Troll standing there, big smile. “Ready for some breakfast!” he beams. Everyone hears; everyone’s up. Great meal, prepared right here in our little kitchenette, potatoes, eggs, wieners, toast and gallons of coffee. Thanks, Troll, Anchor, and Oblivious!

By eleven, Irish, Flop, and Mercury have returned to the trail. Gordon and I decide to burn a day. That’ll give me a little more time to set my mind straight–as to the trauma of Friday–and back to the great feeling of joy that is this PCT trek. Angels have long rested both my shoulders. This I know for certain. Then how could I ever have doubted God’s purpose, ever?

At three we move to a smaller room, then put out the word that we’ve empty bunks. By late evening the room’s full, and takers keep coming. First, Hops, then Rabbit and Tumbleweed, Laces, and finally Parkbench. Easy fix for supper, right in our (very) little kitchenette. Fine company, great evening.

Gotta get ready to go first thing in the morning, say sixish; I’ve a 27 to bang out tomorrow.  Zzzzz.
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
[Isaiah 55:12]
Monday–September 1, 2008
Trail Day–123
Trail Mile–29.4/2333
Location–SR410, Chinook Pass

A fine evening of fun and laughter (and lots of popcorn), the six of us. Lights out at eleven and all is quiet.

I’m out the door by 5:30, to roust Gordon in the van. A cold morning, clear skies. Hops gets out too, and Gordon has us back on the trail by 6:45.

A moderate climb to start the day, over tread totally plowed up by horsey-back riders. For sure, horses can well enough mess up a trail when it’s dry. But when it’s wet, look out! This morning we deal with it. Mud a foot deep, five wide, pitiful. Oh yes, and don’t we find as the morning wears on, that the horsey-back folks have stayed the PCT all the way up, as I churn in their wake (say mud)–all the way up. C’mon old man, get your mind out of the mud. This’ll pass; set your mind to better thoughts!

Just as the sun rises to warm the day the blue skies disappear, and the variegated gray returns. I stay bundled up to keep warm, even with the exertion from the mud-churning climb. Got my short sleeve T on, over that, my long sleeve, then my down vest, wind jacket, and finally, my rain jacket. Oh, and mittens, too; they stay on all day.

The trail meanders forested slopes and glens most the afternoon, passing many glistening lakes. A few lingering weekenders remain about, today being Labor Day, the last hurrah for the summer.

Dang if I’m not still half in a trance, still shaken, my mind muddled and befuddled by the trauma of recent past. I just can’t shake it, although I know right-well that I’m in the Lord’s safe keeping, that God is ever with me. Late afternoon now, concentrating not the least better, seems I’m going the wrong way. So I retrace my path a mile or so back to the last intersection only to find I’ve been on the right path all along. Add two more miles to the 27!

It’s late evening as I arrive Chinook Pass. Gordon awaits patiently. There’s no place to camp nearby, so we head down the mountain to a horsey-back trailhead where we find a mostly-flat spot. Here we hasten to set our evening fire and fix supper–and call it a day.
“Frequently remind yourself that God is with you,
that He will never fail you, that you can count upon him.
Say these words, ‘God is with me, helping me’.”
[Norman Vincent Peale]
Tuesday–September 2, 2008
Trail Day–124
Trail Mile–23.2/2357
Location–FR787, Near Government Meadows
*Sponsor Acknowledgement

The horsey-back trailhead (with a large enough flat spot for the van, a fire ring, and my tent) worked just fine.  By supper, finished, the evening turned very cold, so we huddled the fire for the longest time.

I find it hard to get up, out, and going on cold mornings like this.  There’s definitely frost on the pumpkin (and my little dink tent).  It’s eight by the time Gordon deposits me back at Chinook Pass.

As usual, the day starts out with an “up,” the climb this morning being in excess of a thousand feet.  But there is joy to be found in it, as the skies are clear, visibility unlimited.  Nearing the final pull and rounding a ridge spur does there open this stunning view back toward Mt. Rainier.  Rainier is a massive mountain, commanding the sky about and nearly the entire horizon.  I take picture after picture as vistas continue opening along.

Friends have told me that I’d like Washington, but until today I’ve found little to crow about, what with the rainy days, the churned up tread, and the traumatic rock incident.  Today though, with the sweeping vistas and the kind trail as it now seeks and follows the crest, well, Washington will be grand.

By ten I’m able to remove my jacket, vest, and mittens, and by one I catch Hops once more and we hike along together.  There are other folks on the trail today too–hunters scouting the ridges and coves.  Elk season opens soon.

I’d been concerned about Gordon making the long climb up the mountain, by the gravel road to where the trail again crosses.  But should I not have known–he’s right here when I arrive a tad after five.

Ah yes, Washington and these North Cascades, my final days here along the PCT, they’re sure to remain among my most memorable.  They will be…

“Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God.  Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day…[Ah, and] Of all the fire mountains which like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.”  [Muir]

*A short word now, of appreciation and thanks to David Allen, President/Founder, LRI Photon Micro-Light.  The Photon-Micro-Light uses LED technology to produce light that is bright, long-lasting, and compact (about the size and weight of a quarter).  The Photon Micro-Light II, which David’s provided me for this trek is serving all my needs for light-after-dark, from setting/breaking camp, to hiking the trail.  It’s a perfect complement to my ultra-lightweight gear.  Thanks, David, and all dear friends there at LRI; your sponsorship, support, and encouragement over these many years have proven a true blessing!
Wednesday–September 3, 2008
Trail Day–125
Trail Mile–27.0/2384
Location–FR54, Stampede Pass

We camped on an open crown last, there to enjoy the remaining late afternoon sun and it’s warmth. However, what neither of us had counted on in the bargain was the arrival of a cold wind. When it came to stay, we made haste to finish our outside chores, Gordon to the van and me once more to the “comfort” of my little tent.

A cold night, no frost, but this morning the temperature continues hovering around the freezing point. I fumble and have great difficulty breaking down my tent. Sticks-for-fingers again. I hasten to finish, climb in the van with Gordon, then crank the engine to get the place warmed up. I do manage, somehow, to get out and on the trail by seven–bundled up in every item of clothing I’ve got: Short sleeve T, long sleeve T, down vest, wind and rain jacket. My mittens are on too, but when my hands are cold to start with, they do little good.

The trail begins a run through clearcuts, lots of brush and overgrowth. There’s dew on everything, and I’m not on the trail five minutes before I’m completely soaked from head to toe. Not so good a start. Comes now the typical climb, around 600 feet. But again, as yesterday, are there presented good views back south, toward Mount Rainier. And to the north, the North Cascades, the main range, where I’ll be hiking after leaving Stevens Pass.

As the day unfolds and as I journey forth, do I find my attitude greatly improved. Indeed, there is much joy to be found here, along this path, high in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington. Ah, but this trek is winding down. Calculating my current rate of progress, there remains only 11 more full days, less than 300 miles to reach the Canadian Border.

This has been a beautiful, warm, cloud-free day. Oh, for just two more weeks of such fine hiking weather.
“The greatest discovery of any generation is
that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude.”
[William James]

Thursday–September 4, 2008
Trail Day–126
Trail Mile–18.4/2402
Location–I-90, Snoqualmie Pass

I’m out and going in good order by 6:30; would like to make Snoqualmie Pass before one, get a room, get cleaned up–and caught up, laundry, journals, correspondence. The plan’s working fine till about four miles from the Pass, my destination for this day. Stopping to talk with some southbounders, and wanting to get their picture, that’s when I realize my camera’s gone. I simply can’t believe it; I grope and grope the little pocket in my pack where my camera’s kept–but it’s not there–it’s gone. I lose it, right in front of the dear folks.

This afternoon, resting comfortably with my feet up, plans were to edit the 200-300 pictures and many videos, then get the 2-GB card in the mail to my Webmaster, Cywiz, to create and upload probably what would have been one of the best and most impressive albums yet. But all is for naught, all is gone now, all the pictures, all the videos since just past Mt. Jefferson, all the great shots of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and the amazing videos during the storm on Goat Rocks–all gone.

So much for closing this day out before one.  I’ve just finished an up, over, and down, a thousand foot pop and drop–up a thousand, down a thousand, for the last seven miles. Regardless, it’s turn around and head back south–up, over, and down again–looking for my camera. And so I trudge the seven miles back to where I’d taken my last picture–no camera.

After retracking the seven miles north again, plus the last four to Snoqualmie, it’s dark. Gordon runs to fetch a couple sandwiches from the store cooler as I set up camp by the trailhead past I-90. He soon returns; I down the sandwiches, trying not to look too glum or dejected in front of him, while I resolve to hammer the remainder of this trail, daylight to dark, every day till its done.

I’m whispering under my breath now, “Dear Lord, what is happening here?” Sorry folks, but the fun’s clear gone out of this journey. So much for the recovering good attitude. Something really weird has been and is yet developing–and now floods over me very bad vibes about the remainder of this trek. The cannonball that knocked me silly, took me off the mountain, nearly doing me in, losing my Therm-a-Rest (yup, walked off and left my new pad two days ago), this camera incident. And today, also, if you can believe this: A bird came out of the bush and tried to knock me down. I’ll get my mail tomorrow, hit a bank for a little cash, pick up some groceries for the remainder of this long (lost) journey, then hit the trail to hammer out the remaining 250 miles.

My trail life has been one of joy, total connection with Nature’s God, and more recently, great inspiration to so many because of what I’m still able to accomplish at my age. But right now, I’m not fit to be around. Never would have believed I’d ever be one to whine, “Why me, Lord?” but I’m in that mode, and I’m a total basket-case. So, it’s to the trail, away from everyone–to try and get my confused and jumbled mind straight–and to climb up and over these last remaining mountains. I’ll get these North Cascades done, or they’ll get me done, one or the other.

Please, dear Lord, have mercy on my soul.
“Every path hath a puddle.”
[George Herbert]
Friday–September 5, 2008
Trail Day–127
Trail Mile– 21.6/2424
Location–Lemah Creek
*Sponsor Acknowledgement

This trek seems to be coming apart, and I’m having much difficulty with that reality.  Last night proved fretful, very little sleep due to the anguish–facing up to the reality of losing my camera and all my precious pictures and videos.  The Devil is sure enough dealing and I’m not used to such dealings.  All dear family and friends, indeed, all you who’ve followed along know that I’ve been blessed so very long, every day on the trail, with angels resting both shoulders.  But, so it seems, Lucifer has sent them flying when that rock sent me flying off the mountain up on Goat Rocks.

I camped right next the trail at Snoqualmie trailhead last, so I need only break camp to move back up the mountain this morning.  But returning to the trail will take awhile, as there’s much to do today, a trip down to North Bend to the grocery, to the post office, and the bank.  We’ll also take time to tape up “Lost Camera” notices around.

It’s 12:15 before we’re back to Snoqualmie Pass, where I bid Gordon a half-hearted farewell and head back up the trail.  I’ve a 54-mile stretch from here to Stevens Pass where Gordon will be unable to provide support.  So I’ve at least a two-nighter here on the mountain, more likely three, before re-supply.
I’m carrying my heaviest pack (four days worth of food), since the High Sierras, and as usual, there’s a hard pull up, over 2,600 feet to start the day.  Upon reaching the crest, the trail bounces up and down through the rocks, from 5,000 to 6,000 feet all afternoon.  Numerous vistas open and close, toward Glacier Peak and all around, offering stunning photo ops.  It’s sure strange just passing these places without stopping to capture the scene.  Today I see my first elk this trek.  Missed that shot, too.

I’d planned on staying just below Chikamin Pass, but arriving late afternoon I discover there’s not a flat spot to be found.  So I hike on, into dark, my little Photon lighting the way, all the way down to Lemah Creek.  At Lemah, I’m able to squeeze in next to a group of section hikers.  It’s been a long, frustrating day.
Each morning is a new beginning of our life.
Each day is a finished whole.
The present day marks the boundary of our cares and concerns.
It is long enough to find God or loose Him, to keep faith or fall into disgrace.
[Dietrich Bonhoeffer]
*GoLite is a world leader in lite-weight outdoor equipment and apparel.  They manufacture hiking and climbing gear, including shelters, sleeping systems and clothing, all designed to be incredibly lightweight, yet functional and durable.  For this trek, GoLite provided one of their latest innovations, the new four-ounce Ether Wind Jacket.  I’ve worn it nearly every day, sometimes all day.  It’s sure carried its weight!  Thanks GoLite, for your support, your sponsorship.  Especially, thank you, Kevin and Colin, for your kindness to this old man!
Saturday–September 6, 2008
Trail Day–128
Trail Mile–29.6/2454
Location–North of Swift Creek

I’m out and on the trail early.  The goal today is to knock out a 30, but that’ll be very difficult.  To do so I’ve two 2,500-foot pulls to deal with, separated by a 2,500-foot descent, nearly a mile-and-a-half of vertical elevation change, mostly through the rocks.

The North Cascades are rugged terrain.  But gnarly tread most always makes for incomparable mountain scenery–so this day.  I’ve my first clear view of Mount Baker to the north, piercing the clear-blue sky.

I manage the 30 by late evening, to search for water and a flat spot.  I’ve wanted to get past Swift Creek, as Erik’s Washington Atlas lists it as a “difficult ford.”  The USFS has also posted alternate routes at junctions each end with a “closed to stock” notice to equestrians warning that Swift Creek crossing is impassable by horseback.  Just after seven I manage the crossing, over a makeshift jumble of rocks and a precarious pile of blowdown logs. Indeed, there are places where horses cannot go–Swift Creek is one of those places.  I find my campsite for the evening, an elk bedding area sheltered in the spruce just north of Swift Creek.
This has proven one unforgettable day, the most physically demanding since the High Sierras.  Oh, am I trying with all my heart to return my mind and my thoughts to the gladness of this trail.  The angels, they will return, they will return.
When a man feels throbbing within him the power to do what he undertakes as well as it can possibly be done, and all of his faculties say “amen” to what he is doing, and give their unqualified approval to his efforts, – this is happiness, this is success.  [Orison Marsden]
Sunday–September 7, 2008
Trail Day–129
Trail Mile–22.6/2477
Location–US2, Stevens Pass, then to the home of Jerry and Andrea Dinsmore, trail angels, Skykomish
*Sponsor Acknowledgement

Not so much a climb this morning, a couple more stream crossings (more gullies, like Swift Creek) then a short pop up to Deception Pass.  From Deception, the PCT heads northeast, dropping to cross Deception Creek then a number of its tributaries (more gullies).  At Deception Lakes, a shortcut leads up and over Surprise Gap.  And no surprise, the trail is overgrown and difficult to follow.  Descending the Gap, quickly do I realize why the official PCT goes another way–as a bail-off ensues, straight down through an incredible and precarious jumble of boulders and rocks.  I’m relieved when the shortcut again joins the PCT. Looking back now, doesn’t seem that big a deal.  But from the upper vantage, and looking down a short while ago, did it seem an entirely different matter.

More beautiful, rugged mountains today, glorious views across Glacier and Surprise Lakes toward Lynch Glacier, Mt. Daniel, Mt. Stuart, Mt. Index, Mt. Baring, Glacier Peak, and Three Fingers.

Late afternoon, the trail finally descends past Josephine and Susan Lakes, to return to civilization under power lines and chairlifts, to four-lane US2 at Stevens Pass.

Dependable Gordon, he’s waiting patiently.  Glad to have this rugged, remote section behind me.  ‘Twas a time for introspection–that life as this old man knows it could sure be a lot worse.  Indeed, these mountains have lifted me and my spirit!
Life, the way it really is, is a battle not between Bad and Good
but between Bad and Worse.
[Joseph Brodsky]
*Another faithful, longtime sponsor, PocketMail.  Their little PocketMail Composer has enabled me to keep in touch with family and friends throughout my far away journeys, and it’s also been a Godsend in writing and keeping my journal entries up to date.  Weighing less than eight ounces, the dependable little device seems to run forever on two AA batteries.  Only a telephone connection (to my mailbox) is needed to send and receive email.  An amazing little gadget.  Thanks, PocketMail, and thanks, Ernest, Customer Care Manager, PocketMail, for providing your incomparable service these many years!
Monday–September 8, 2008
Trail Day–130
Trail Mile–00/2477
Location–Dinsmore home, Skykomish

Gordon had taken some other of our friends, thru-hikers, down to the Dinsmore’s earlier yesterday, so he knew how to get to their lovely home. When we arrived the evening last, both Jerry and Andrea greeted us as if long lost friends.

Theirs is a beautiful place right on the South Fork, Skykomish River. Adjacent to their lovely home they’ve built a large two-story structure. The lower floor is Jerry’s shop. The upper, the entire area, has been designed to accommodate us thru-hikers, PCT Class of ’08. There’s room for great numbers. Great numbers are here and more keep arriving. Their home is also open to us, their shower, laundry, and kitchen, where Andrea prepares the evening meal for all. Ah yes, the Dinsmores, kind, gentle (and totally contented) folk, who have a very soft spot in their hearts for the forlorn, we trail-weary intrepid who ply the rocks, roots, and the forbidden high ground that is the North Cascades.

Both Jerry and Andrea have invited me to dwell the day. So here Gordon and I remain. No resistance, no brainer! First thing this morning, Gordon loads Parkbench, Laces, Moneyshot, Freedom, and me and we head down the road to breakfast. On our way back, at the post office, Skykomish, I hit the jackpot, lots of cards from family and friends.

In the afternoon I invade Jerry’s shop, borrow his tools, and replace the carbide tips on Gil’s and my trekking poles. Evening comes, time for Gordon to load us again for the short trip back down to Skykomish and the grand evening fare at the old Cascadia Inn.

After only one day, after resting without roaming the miles, after such a brief time–I’m impatient and feel the compelling need to go. And after such a short time, after getting struck by the flying rock above Packwood Glacier, then shortly after that incident, losing my camera, after those short times, I’m still so emotionally distraught. Ha, and I think I have gained patience!

Ah, but this has been a most welcome and restful day, and I must be patient with it–and thankful for it.
“Please, Lord, grant me patience.  And I want it now!”
Tuesday–September 9, 2008
Trail Day–131
Trail Mile–33.6/2510
Location–Kid Pond
*Sponsor Acknowledgement

I’m up before daylight, rarin’ to go. Gordon’s up too, after I tap the van window, then rummage around in the back. We’re back to Stevens Pass by 6:30, in just enough light to set out.

The trail leads along an old rail grade, an easy start for a change. Three per, a very comfortable pace, but I’m not keeping up with J.B., Charlie, Hops, Joker, or Kevin. The rail grade soon ends, and the climb begins, by Mt. Valhalla, then down to Lake Valhalla. More climbing, through Union Gap, then back down again past a lovely waterfall, a tributary to Rapid River, sure the beginning of an up and down day.

The trail finally seeks the crest, to cross the shoulder of Grizzly Peak late morning. We’re in the Glacier Peak Wilderness now. In the afternoon, and as I press on, I’m joined by Kevin. We’ve hiked together off and on the past couple of days. Lots more climbing, to Scenic Point, Crest Camp, and Wards Pass. We’ve many great views toward Mt. Baker. At Kid Pond, below Indian Head Peak, Kevin and I call it a day. Great camp; a fine warming fire. Ah, the unfettered freedom of the trail. I think my angels are returning!
My angel, – his name is Freedom, 
Choose him to be your king;
He shall cut pathways east and west.
And fend you with his wing.
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
*Bridgedale Outdoor Ltd. is the market leader in the manufacture of technical outdoor socks. Their innovative process called WoolFusion® combines natural fibers with man made fibers, making them both durable and unbelievably comfortable. For Odyssey 2008, Bridgedale provided me terrain-specific socks, for both the desert and the mountain. Thanks, Giles, for your support and sponsorship!
Wednesday–September 10, 2008
Trail Day–132
Trail Mile–30.4/2541
Location–Dolly Vista
*Sponsor Acknowledgement

Ahead of us today and tomorrow is a forbidding section of trail that’s been closed for years due to storm damage. To avoid it means taking a detour for miles around what has been reported to be a have-to-see section that includes Glacier Peak in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Others ahead of us have made it through, but we’ve been warned about the incredible maze of blowdowns, the overgrown, obscure trail. But there’s no turning back now. We made the decision already yesterday when passing the detour turnoff at Indian Pass.

The 1,200-foot climb right off the bat this morning keeps us occupied, our minds off what looms ahead. Up and over White Pass and Red Pass prove little difficulty, but the worse is yet to come with much more climbing, through the most incredible maze of blowdowns I’ve ever encountered. Descending past Milk Lake and Ptarmigan Glaciers the trail crosses the eroded and washed out Milk Creek, a very scary ford.

So far today, we’ve climbed over, crawled under, and whacked our way around countless blowdowns, hundreds of them. One encounter involves a climb of over ten feet, up and over the gargantuan stump of one downed tree, only to descend from there into the dark root-wad hole under another–slow, arduous going, and dangerous. Not a hitch so far though, thank you Lord!

It’s late when we call it a day at Dolly Vista. It’s been one harrowing (but clear-perfect) day in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.  That’s WILDERNESS, all caps! I had the pleasure of hiking some with Reason, Cruiser, Parkbench, Laces, Joker, and Kevin.  Kevin saw another bear. We camp together.
We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it.
We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there….
We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope.
[Edward Abbey]
*Suunto is a state-of-the-art maker of wristop timepieces. Actually, keeping time is one small function of the CORE provided me by Martin, Suunto’s Sports Marketing Manager. Besides letting me know how late and far behind I am time-wise, it also gives me barometric pressure and altitude, with log-keeping capability. It has a compass, thermometer, alarm, sunrise/sunset times, and all the stopwatch features. Wearing the CORE this entire journey has proven a great addition to my meager gear. I especially like the automatic barometer/altimeter feature, which switches from one function to the other, depending on whether I’m still or moving. Thanks, Martin, Suunto, for your support and sponsorship!
Thursday–September 11, 2008
Trail Day–133
Trail Mile–28.4/2569
Location–Five Mile Camp
*Sponsor Acknowledgement

Though a tad on the cold side (ice crystals are swirling in my tent this morning), we shared a great camp, a memorable night at Dolly Vista. Kevin and I hike out together. We’re on the trail quickly as I try getting the old jitney up to normal operating temperature.

Just ahead of us this morning, and we’ve got a number of technical trail issues to deal with today, is the descent from Dolly Vista, over 2,500 feet to the valley of the Suiattle River. Once down, through a continuing maze of blowdowns, do we find incredible washouts caused by enormous floods at both Vista and Gamma Creeks, tributaries to the Suiattle. The roiling runoff from glaciers above is frightful and daunting. We successfully cross both after deliberate care. Once past, I shudder, trying not to think about the crossing of the Suiattle River, just ahead.

We’re deep in the clutches of the Glacier Peak Wilderness now, and there’s no turning back. The deafening roar made by the swift-running Suiattle River can be heard for most a half-hour before reaching the crossing. Too soon we’re confronted by it–the infamous bridge crossing over the Suiattle River (a huge downed tree). I look at the madness of it, the strange milk-white water surging in a rage, the huge downed tree–the only means of ever crossing–there it is, sagging high above the treachery. Kevin shows the way. He makes it look so easy. But this old man, now consumed with fright, will not have such an effortless go. The tree trunk is fixed to the far bank. With the lesser end now beneath my feet, I edge out, trying to steady myself with both trekking poles. The raging river, as it fills my peripheral vision, and as I attempt concentrating on my footing, is making my head literally spin. Greybeard, Slider and others had warned me about this distraction, the rushing confusion below. I inch along. Time and distance seem eternal–Oh, Lord, please be merciful; if I fall now, I’m a goner for sure. Kevin and others who’ve successfully crossed encourage me. I can faintly hear them, as seems both my vision and hearing are shutting down. Somehow, I know not how, I find myself standing on solid ground. I try settling myself, the confusion, as everything continues spinning around. Oh, thank you, Lord, thank you; the Suiattle River is behind me. I tarry not, nor do I look back where I’ve just passed. My legs are mush and I’m a trembling mass as I head into the climb up and away from the Suiattle.

There are other climbs today, many vistas toward Glacier Peak and all around. But mostly it’s down as we leave the Henry Jackson and Glacier Peak Wildernesses. We pitch for the night at Five Mile Camp, just short of the Stehekin River, which we’ll cross tomorrow morning on a highway bridge.

I am certainly a better man for having met and endured this day–with the strength and courage within me. This I know.
Promise me you’ll always remember:
You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem…
[Christopher Robin to Pooh]
*BackpackingLight© is the Internet community for lightweight hiking and backcountry travel. Their enthusiastic support and sponsorship for Odyssey 2008 has been a true blessing. Thanks, Ryan, Addie, and Karen, for all your help and encouragement!
Friday–September 12, 2008
Trail Day–134
Trail Mile–5.0/2574
Location–High Bridge, thence to Stehekin
*Sponsor Acknowledgement

This morning we are hiking in the Chelan National Recreation Area, only five miles to High Bridge where we’ll await the bus to the little isolated and secluded village of Stehekin.  We cross the bridge and arrive the warden’s cabin early morning, time to spare.  The bus soon comes; we load and bounce our way on down.  First stop, Stehekin Pastry Co., a short visit before heading on to Stehekin.  Hurt our own selves?  Oh yes!

Stehekin is located in the glacier-carved Stehekin Valley, at the upper reaches of 55-mile long Lake Chelan. To say that Stehekin is remote and detached is an understatement. The little picturesque, sparsely populated village (less than 100 permanent residents) is accessible only by ferryboat (Lady of the Lake), air or float plane, or mountain trail. No telephones (one pay phone), no TV. The community does have a road, but it’s not connected to the outside world. Everything here has been barged up the lake, including the few cars and trucks. Stehekin is truly the ultimate get-a-way for those searching for a quieter corner of the world.

And here we stay the day, in the (downtown) National Park Service campground.  Our tents soon pitched, little time is wasted getting to the task of lunch.  After lunch, and in the presence of Free and Easy, both trustworthy witnesses, the old Nimblewill Nomad, with full authority vested in him as Grand Sorcerer of the Trail, and in the most solemn of ceremonies, officially christens Kevin, hereafter and forevermore to be known along the trail as Bear Spotter.

As the day warms, we lounge, taking in the glorious view of the North Cascades across Lake Chelan. And as I rest do my thoughts return to the many trail-weary days now past, how oft’ this season the paths I’ve taken have surely crossed with those traveled by Muir–and how, for those moments now locked in time, I am much the better person.

Our sojourn here in Stehekin, this day spent, has been most relaxing and memorable.
Wander a whole summer if you can.
Thousands of God’s blessings will search you…
the big days will go by uncounted…
The time will not be taken from the sum of life.
Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.
*Wanderlust Outdoor Gear–This little company, operated by Kurt Russell from the dining room in his modest home down in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has been closed down for years. Yet, and to this day, out of deep respect and admiration for this man, I continue listing his company as one of my sponsors. I’m still carrying (in my meager 6+ pounds of gear) the little Nomad tent and lightweight poncho Kurt made and gave me over ten year and 20,000 miles ago. Thanks, Kurt, dear friend–wherever you are.

*New Balance–This statement by New Balance pretty much tells it:“While most of the footwear industry has moved its production overseas to take advantage of low labor costs and generally cheaper production costs, we continue to make many of our shoes in the United States and have expanded production substantially. Since 1995, we have increased our manufacturing jobs by 45%. We at New Balance are proud to provide jobs to the U.S. workforce, and proud of our well educated, high quality associates who can compete with anyone in the world.”

New Balance has provided shoes (too many pair to count) for the old Nimblewill Nomad (too many years to count). I use their great shoes because they’re the best. Thanks, dear friends at New Balance, for your continued sponsorship and support!

*Will Richard Photography–Will has studied nature photography with Jim Blair, Gary Braasch, André Gallant, David Middleton, Freeman Patterson, and Brenda Tharp. Currently, Will is serving as Smithsonian Research Collaborator. He’s a Registered Maine Guide, with licenses in general recreation (hiking, skiing, canoeing) and in sea kayaking. Will is also the official photographer for the Maine Chapter, le Sentier International des Appalaches/International Appalachian Trail, and he’s often present to capture the moment at events that fill the life of one Nimblewill Nomad. Thanks, Will, for your enthusiastic support and sponsorship!

*Stolte Studio–Linda Cywiz Stolte is Webmaster for http://www.nimblewillnomad.com. Her talent and amazing creativity, involving computer generated arts/graphics (her creativeness applied generously, her time unselfishly), is evident throughout this website. Linda’s untiring service, her help, has been a true blessing to this old man. Thanks, Cywiz, for your kindness and generosity!
Saturday–September 13, 2008
Trail Day–135
Trail Mile–20.4/2595
Location–Highway 20, Rainy Pass
*Sponsor Acknowledgement

We rush to break camp and get down for breakfast before catching the bus back up at 9:00. Ah yes, one more stop at the Stehekin Pastry Co.–high-octane jet fuel to go! Climbing above the warden’s cabin, we’re back on the trail, Bear Spotter, Cuddles and me. We’re trekking now in the North Cascades National Park, Wenatchee National Forest. Passing Coon Lake we pick up a faint old wagon road and follow it to Old Stehekin Road. There we turn up Bridge Creek to begin a gentle 2,000-foot climb to Rainey Pass/SR20, our destination for the day. We’re in by six.

We’ve not seen Gordon since Tuesday, clear back at Stevens Pass. He’s had a long drive around, then the climb up, but he’s here, patiently awaiting our arrival. We gather by a horsey-back hitching post, build a fire, set camp, and call it a day. Here this evening, camping with Gordon, Bear Spotter and me, are Parkbench, Laces, Cuddles, and J.B. We prepare a huge pot of spaghetti, plenty for everyone. Ah, the simple pleasure of a hot, nourishing meal!

It’s been a glorious day hiking the rugged, unspoiled North Cascades–splendid views, as through an open window to Heaven.
I get away a mile or two from the town into the stillness and solitude of nature,
with rocks, trees, weeds, snow above me…
and it is as if I had come to an open window.
*PCT Atlas–This is the first year for the PCT Atlas, a series of five guidebooks covering the entire Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.  Only two of the five volumes were ready this year: Volume 1, Southern California, and Volume 5, Washington.  All will be available, however, for the 2009 hiking season.  Erik the Black Asorson, author/publisher and fellow thru-hiker, has created a sure winner here.  A concise, lightweight guidebook with at-fingertip data for the PCT has been sorely needed for a very long time.  And this PCT Atlas is it!  Erik graciously provided me both the Southern California and Washington volumes to test-drive, er, test-hike.  Thanks, Erik–I wish you all success with your great PCT Atlas!

*Transitions® Healthy Sight in Every Light™–Photochromic lenses, lenses that darken when the sun get brighter, have been around for a long time.  However, early attempts proved little use to outdoor enthusiast due to their limited light filtering ability and slow response to varying light conditions.  That’s all changed now with the advent of Transitions.  I’ve worn their great polycarbonate (plastic) lenses in prescription bifocals during my last two treks, and they’ve performed flawlessly–clear under marginal light conditions, rapid-change squint-free comfort under bright-sun conditions, like on top the mountain, eh!  For this trek, Transitions Optical, Inc. provided Healthy Sight in every Light prescription bifocal lenses for the old Nimblewill Nomad.  Thanks, Mary, thanks, Transitions Optical, just a super pair of glasses!

*Head Sweats®–For years now I’ve tried eliminating unnecessary baggage, especially unneeded items in my backpack, “things” lugged along during long-distance treks.  I’m down to less than seven pounds now, including my headwear.  Thanks, Matt, thanks, Head Sweats, for allowing me the joy of becoming lightheaded!
Sunday–September 14, 2008
Trail Day–136
Trail Mile–30.6/2625
Location–FR700, Harts Pass

We’re up before daylight preparing for a very long day, over 30 miles to Harts Pass, through some very rugged mountains. Gordon pumps us full of cinnamon rolls, then gets us out and moving by 6:45. We’ve a very stiff climb first thing, nearly 2,000 feet in less than four miles, up and over Cutthroat Pass. Once past Cutthroat, the trail stays the crest pretty much all the way to Granite Pass, touching 7,000 feet along, before a pop down and back up to Methow Pass at 6,000 feet. Before climbing to Tatie Peak, some ten miles distant, we do a tailspin bail-off, over 2,000 feet to Brush Creek. Comes then the climb back to Tatie, at near 7,000 feet, followed by a gentle descent, mostly on the crest, on down to Harts Pass.

Bear Spotter stays with me, keeps an eye on me the day. And as we trek along, we have the pleasure of great company–as we share the trail from time-to-time with Free and Easy, Parkbench, Laces, Cuddles, and J.B.

We’ve hiked the crest many miles today and have enjoyed wide-open vistas, splendid views of the snow-capped cathedrals all around–in the Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie and Okanogan National Forests. Many thanks I give, this day, a splendid day to go to the mountains.
There’s a campground right at Harts Pass where Gordon, Frank (Nomad ’98, Jojo’s husband, who’s supporting) and Ruth, (Rascal’s wife) are waiting. Gordon introduces me to Bob, manager of the Hart Pass Guard Station/Campground. He shows us a campsite, we take it, and we’re in.
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way.
[Theodor Seuss Geisel]
Monday–September 15, 2008
Trail Day–137
Trail Mile–31.6/2656
Location–Canadian Border

This is the day we’ve all been looking forward to, or perhaps not looking forward to, our final day on the PCT.  Ahead of us, a little less than 32 miles, is the Canadian Border, the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.  I’m still a day behind Jojo and Rascal, but hopes are that I’ll see them this evening as Rascal is hiking with a broken leg and is no longer able to hike long days due to intense pain.  I should catch up with them this afternoon, or for sure see them at the border this evening.  Frank and Ruth have told me the two will be camping at the border tonight, before hiking the final eight miles on into Manning Park trailhead tomorrow morning.

I’m the last one to get moving, as usual.  J.B. was gone before daylight.  Cuddles, Parkbench and Laces were out just after first light.  I give Gordon a final salute (won’t see him again until late tomorrow morning, in Canada) and I’m finally on the trail.  Bear Spotter has lingered and is intent on keeping an eye on me again this final day.  The kid has been so kind to me.  He’s now serving as the old Nomad’s official photographer, taking many pictures, certainly more than usual, at my request.  He’ll be sending a DVD with all his photos for me to upload to my final album, the one that would have remained empty since I no longer have a camera.

Much more climbing today but we’re used to it.  The day begins with a nearly 1,000-foot ascent, up and around Slate Peak to Buffalo Pass.  As we maneuver Windy Pass, Foggy Pass, and Jim Pass, we’ve unrestricted views along the crest toward Tamarack Peak (which stands above 7,000 feet).  What a glorious day.  It started out on the chilly side but we’re sure warmed up now!  At Jim Pass, we leave the crest to sideslab Jim Peak and Devil’s Backbone.  We’re over a thousand feet above the Oregon Basin now, with splendid views down and along the West Fork Pasayten River.  Comes now another long descent, 2,000 feet–down, down, down to Holman Pass.  We rejoin the crest as it descends, just before reaching Holman Pass.  As we struggle up, down, and along this final day, I’m reminded of one of Yogi Berra’s succinct and terse little quotes.  When fighting to the finish, after the 1973 Mets trailed the Chicago Cubs by 9½ games in the National League East, Yogi is known to have said: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  The Mets took the division title on the next-to-last day of the season that year.

From Holmes Pass, and in a little over three miles, we climb in excess of 1,500 feet to a place called “South Junction,” next Powder Mountain.  Here’s the description in Erik’s guide: “High-route is dangerous. Avoid.”  Oh yes, we’ll not go out there, the shortcut across.  For, should one lose footing anywhere along the near-vertical face, there’d be the final (as in conclusion of life) excitement of pure ricocheting acceleration for over 500 feet!  We take the lesser bail off, following the circuitous, indirect, rocky trail down, around, and back up–to “North Junction”–thank you very much!

Beyond Woody Pass the trail sideslabs a good ways before the final 1,000-foot climb past Mountain Home Camp and Three Fools Peak, to Devils Stairway at 7,050 feet.  As we descend the rocky Stairway past Hopkins Lake, to Hopkins Pass, it is pretty much over: “From here on up, it’s down hill all the way.” [David J. Farber], for from here all that’s left for this day, and this journey on the PCT, is the final descent, a gentle down of 3,000 feet, over the final eight miles, to the Canadian Border.  Ah, but are there even more glorious vistas now, o’er these final miles through the Pasayten Wilderness, views of snow-capped Blizzard Peak, Castle Peak, Freezeout Mt., and Mt. Winthrop.  What a remarkable ending for this, the Odyssey of 2008!

We reach the wide, clearcut swath marking the boundary between the United States and Canada at 7:00, just as dusk arrives.

And now descends the overwhelming emotion, the realization that the good Lord has seen me through this great challenge, this unbelievable adventure.  Of the many thoughts whirling my mind, returns now the distressing misgivings, the doubting, the fear of failure when I finally set my mind to seeking the Triple Crown of hiking.  I recall, that when my name got around, when I became fairly well known back east–the result of my long treks there, the books I’d written, folks would often ask how I liked the CDT and the PCT, assuming that I’d hiked those trails.  Invariably, they would express much disappointed to find that I’d hiked neither.  Those exchanges also left me with a hollow, nagging feeling of doubt, doubt that I had within me, deep down within me, what it’d really take to endure treks the magnitude of hiking the entire Rocky, Sierra, and Cascade Mountain Ranges.  But here I am now, and what an incredible sense of accomplishment, to have endured, to realize now, finally, that within me, indeed, I had the grit to stick it out and see it through.  Dear friends, I wish I could express to you how I feel right this moment, as I stand before this monument marking the northern terminus of the PCT.  I have for so long harbored such great doubt, but I prayed, I prayed hard, I prayed that I could somehow make it happen–and here I am.  Thank you, Lord, thank you!

And thank you, my family, and all you dear friends I know and know not, who’ve encouraged and supported me along the way.  Thank you, my sponsors.  Thank you, Gordon, Sheltowee, Slider, Bear Spotter, and all dear friends here on the trail.  Thanks for helping this old man see his dream come true.

Here, in Canada, at our final campsite this night are J.B., Cuddles, Parkbench, Laces, Bear Spotter, Jojo and Rascal.  Yes, I finally caught back up with Jojo and Rascal.  What a joy to spend this last day on the trail with them.  And to have finished this journey with Rascal, both of us now, this very day, Triple Crowners, what a joy.  One final note.  Talking about grit, the sheer will and determination to see a near-lifelong goal to its end, please take a moment to read this incredible article about Rascal, who’s trekked the final 100+ miles of this trail with a broken leg.  What an amazing story!
There is no land discovered,
That can’t be found anew.
So journey on intrepid,
Into the hazy blue.

And as you seek your fortune,
And near your lifelong quest.
There’ll still be countless peaks to climb,
Before your final rest.

[Nimblewill Nomad]

A Long Time Ago

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