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Archive for July, 2007

2007-07-31 The long descent

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

The deer continued to be unafraid last night. Even to the point that it got a kick on the nose when it tried to lick the bottom of Rocket Cop’s sleeping bag.

We started with a tough climb and I was certainly glad we hadn’t tried it last night. After reaching a saddle with views back to an impressive rock formation called King’s Castle the trail goes along the crest, dips to a saddle and climbs steeply up the other side. Unfortunately we turned west on the more prominent trail at the saddle and descended a few hundred feet before finally stopping to consult our maps. We retraced our steps and before long found Tiki and RestStop taking a break, also on the wrong trail. We were glad not to be the only people dumb enough to make the mistake, and they were too because they hadn’t noticed anything was wrong and were still heading down.

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Kings Castle

Together the four of us got back to the saddle and took the real trail northwards. From that ridge we could see the smoke filled valley of Happy Camp, evidently still burning but luckily for us it is over a ridge from the PCT.

All afternoon was spent descending towards and then along Grider Creek. According to Tiki, the humidity, the forest and the lack of views are comparable to the Appalachian Trail. A hike I never intend to do.

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Tiki and Rocket Cop

After a short eternity we finally reached Grider Creek Campground, which is really just flat areas with picnic tables and a gravel car park (an American hiker told me “car park” sounds like a place cars go to have fun). It also have a flowing river with swimming holes which I intend to use before dawn tomorrow.

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A creek with no name

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Etna to Ashland

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2007-07-30 Hiking as two

Monday, July 30th, 2007

It was a good day to hike. Bright sunshine but not too hot and the trail was relatively flat for the first ten miles to the spring. In a little while the terrain became steeper and we stayed close to the crest for quite a way. Traversing across past Marten and Fisher Lakes (which as Yogi says were far too ‘organic’ to get water from) the trail goes through a profusion of wildflowers beyond anything I’ve seen so far. The most common ones were the pale purple daisies. The Most Exotic Award would be shared by the orange flower whose petals curled so much it was almost inside-out and the red one which looks like a spikey pine cone just opening up. Off to the right there was room for a very small meadow before it dramatically plunges off into the valley below. I hope my photos do it justice, if not you’ll all have to make the trek in from the road to see for yourself.

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Blue Sky on the trail

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From there it is up steeply to a tiny saddle for lunch. It reminded me a lot of FenĂȘtre d’Arpette on the Tour du Mont Blanc, except for the trees below. I remember how much of an effort that was and how worried I got about it. Now I’ve crossed that sort of thing dozens of times without a care, still huffing and puffing though.

On the way down the guide book points out Man Eaten Lake (near Kleaver Lake, I think it must have been a Who not a What that did the eating) and calls it ’stark’. I’d have called it pristine. You could see where the granite rock slides had fallen into the cool water. It was deep blue and so inviting and if I’d not been 400ft up the hill I’d have totally gone for a swim.

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Man Eaten Lake

Hiking with Blue Sky is working well. We have very similar speeds, but that makes it hard to catch up if one drops back for something. A couple of times I went past trail junctions and then waited to make sure she made the same choice. She always did so I really shouldn’t worry. We’re at Marble Valley Guard Station now where the local deer seem unafraid and have walked within a dozen feet of our camp spot.

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Rocket Cop and Tiki have just turned up too and I know Troll and Oblivious won’t be far away. Tiki has kindly given me some replacement hiking pole tips. I had mine replaced at the Kick Off and have since worn them to stubs. I couldn’t do this hike without them. On the ups they take some effort from my legs, on the flats they increase my speed, on the downs they save my knees.

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More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Etna to Ashland

Google Maps

2007-07-29 BlueSky’s in Etna

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

I think the first thing I heard today was a deer. Whatever it was it seemed to be having nasal problems, snorting and sneezing a few times before bounding off down the trail. I got up for a little walk (bear in mind it is about 2:30am) and look out across the smoke filled valley below. The moon was halfway down and I could clearly see a ridge protruding above the white cloud like an island in the mist. I took a while getting the right camera settings, hopefully it looks good on a bigger screen.

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Early morning smoke (2:40am ish)

When I really got up a couple of hours later the moon was tinted orange from the ash in the air and just setting. The run to my camera yesterday seems to have triggered shin splints again so I set off slowly and managed to keep my speed under control. The eastern valleys were worryingly full of smoke and I was watching for planes or helicopters as a sign that I should turn and run, but none came and I think the fires are a long way away.


Smoke over Etna

The first person I saw was Starman going south. He reported on trail conditions and hikers ahead. The second group included Jake the timid dog. So scared of strangers was he that as I walked past at his owner’s beckoning, he slipped his collar and took off down the very steep rock slide we were crossing. She was hysterical, but he only made it a few meters and I just got out of there. The next guy was with them and explained the dog was on heart-worm medication, and that had made him afraid of people in hats. I couldn’t help but wondering what havoc one could cause by slipping it into the water at the Melbourne Cup :-)

I reached the road well ahead of time, left a note for BlueSky and Vortex, then hitched into Etna where I ate lots and was about to head to the California Campers Training Center when the adventure duo and Aaron showed up.

CCTG trains volunteers to go do charity work in Africa, and if that wasn’t cool enough they also let PCTers stay, shower, do laundry and use the internet totally free! Someone deserves a big Christmas card.

It feels so good to be clean again. It was my 9th day since Old Station and the sweat in my shirt and trousers was quite horrific. We all went to eat at The Trailhead but to get Vortex and Aaron back on the road in time I had to rush my burger and I felt very, very bad.

So BlueSky and I are back on the trail. It sure will be different to hike with a partner again but she’s happy getting up early and we’ve both got people further north to stay with so it’s going to be good times ahead. The only downside of today was being so rushed that I didn’t replace the memory card in my GPS device and have missed 1 mile of the trail. I’m not prepared to re-hike it.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Castle Crags to Etna

Google Maps

Etna

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

Hey peeps, I’m in Etna now, 230 miles from Old Station in less than 9 days. Understandably knackered but feeling a whole heap better than in Castella. Have met up with BlueSky and will sort a plan for then next few weeks. Thanks for the videos, looking forward to seeing ya’ll soon :-)

2007-07-28 Crazy Crickets

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

Two gadget accidents today. At the first good water source I slipped on a rock and plunged my foot into the creek. Jumping quickly to get it out, my shirt pocket swung open and dropped my iPod in the water. It seems to work ok, but it has paused three times when I didn’t tell it to. At the last water source of the day I tried to avoid that mistake. I pocketed my iPod and set my camera down safely. I was more than an hour away and 1000ft higher when I realised I hadn’t picked it back up again. After a bit of shouting and swearing I took off down the hill. Without my pack on I can move pretty fast. I’d seen a car at the road not far from the stream and the fear of a day hiker taking the camera away made me risk shin splints and face-planting into the trail at full speed. As I thundered down the path to where I hoped it would be I found Old Corpus and Gary just 30 yards from the stream carrying my camera. Major relief.

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Old Corpus and Gary

So I hiked back up the hill and to my pack where I found the weirdest thing. There were dozen of crickets swarming over my pack. Some of them in pairs all over each other. I wonder what made them so keen on the bag.

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Castella had a limited and expensive selection of snack foods so I’ve run a bit low on this section. I have found I need at least 5 bars per day, one of which needs to be a big chocolate boost (Snickers or PayDay Chocolate Avalanche do well) and one protein bar. Then I need lunch, a box of Wheat Thins with peanut butter or cheese can do three days. Dinner is a choice of instant noodles with foil-packed tuna or chicken, or mac-n-cheese, couscous with meat or a freeze-dried meal if I’m splurging. When I send my food boxes from Ashland I’ll be including all that, plus some dried fruit.

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Pitcher plants

today’s food fantasy: Real, juicy mangoes. Dried ones will do in a pinch, but I just ate the last one.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Castle Crags to Etna

Google Maps

2007-07-27 Day 100

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Today is my 100th day on the trail. If I’ve remembered everything correctly this is how I have spent my nights:

17 in my own tent
6 in perma-tents at trail angels’
7 in houses
8 in motel/hotels
62 under the stars

I think I’ve had 20 zero days so far, and now for today….

I hit the trail much later than usual, so cozy in my sleeping bag and watching sunrise next to Mt. Shasta. It wasn’t that long ago that I was on the other side watching sunset, I wonder who’s over there now looking this way. The miles were surprisingly easy. So easy in fact that I can’t help but wonder if the book has exaggerated the distance between points. There were pleasant lakes, nice rolling hills and little grassy meadows. But there is no way this stuff compares to the majestic high sierras. I kept the music going all morning and soon discovered I’d come a lot further than I expected and had to slow down or I’d risk hurting myself again. So at a nice saddle above Bull Lake, with Shasta popping up just above the opposite wall, I took a good lunch break and watched through the videos again while eating the second Baileys truffle bar Bex sent me, truly a luxurious day for any hiker.

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Morning view

I’ve mostly been getting water from springs, right near the source, and thus not bothering to treat it. It’s so cold and refreshing I just can’t resist gulping it down. When I got moving again I put on some ‘chillout’ sounds to try to slow my pace. Music has such an effect on me that I can’t help but fall into step. Sometimes you could even see me dancing down the trail to a bit of Gnarls Barkley or that “Pictures” song.

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I have had to make the hard decision to send Dad’s pack home. After the belt broke I was worried about anything else going wrong. Then I removed the extra padding I used down the back because it made me sweat too much and now it’s really making my shoulders sore. I’ll be sorry to see it go, the thing’s got class and I love having several dividable pockets rather than one large one, but it’s starting to endanger my trip I don’t want anything to make this harder.

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today’s food fantasy: Chinese take-away from The Flying Horse in Takapuna

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Castle Crags to Etna

Google Maps

2007-07-26 A spring in my step

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Considerably buoyed by the audio-visual mood enhancers sent from home I had a really good day, especially considering the numbers. Over 4,000ft elevation gain, 27.6 miles and all done in 12 hours.

The climb up the Castle Crags was a steep one so I was glad to be getting it done early. Once I got to the ridge it was much easier and I just dawdled the day away eventually catching Gary Myers and Old Corpus at my target water source, a trail side spring so clean and cold I drank a litre straight away. About an hour before that I passed three boxes near a road. Brad has set up a PCT cache there but all the edibles were gone. The only stuff left was soap, lip-salve, bug repellant (which I took) and a large number of new socks.

I ate well tonight, which is good because I am very low on snacks and will try to eat little tomorrow. I had instant noodles mixed with instant gravy, instant mashed potatoes and tuna. While that was settling I made Maple Bulgar in a pouch from a kit I found in the hiker box in Castella. It’s a kind of wheat breakfast thing, and went well with the strawberry jam Bear Bait had given me. Yes, I am full and it feels great. Two nights ago you could have put a plank of wood between my hip bones and it not touch skin. Tonight I have a belly!

I also have a great view. On an open gravelly saddle I’m watching the sun set and turn Mt. Shasta pinky orange. I won’t be here for sunrise but I expect I’ll still be on the ridge.


Home on the ranges

Today’s food fantasy: Slushies! A giant cup, one of those brightly coloured ones you see in malls continuously rotating, and when you suck it down you can hear the ice in the back of your throat. There may not be one until Ashland (185 miles away) and by then I’ll need two!

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Castle Crags to Etna

Google Maps

2007-07-25 1500cc (Castle Crags)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

The first thing I said this morning was “bugger”. I said that a few times followed by “I’m late”. It was still dark but I now only had 12 hours to do 24 miles to reach the post office and my memory cards. As it happens the trail was pretty easy and I was cheered by the great view of Castle Crags (or as I prefer to misunderstand: Craig’s Castle).

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Castle Crags

There was a considerable climb but tackling it early and in the shade helped a lot. I would have flown up it if I knew what was waiting for me in Castella. Just before the road I found LumberJack’s bag of plums. They were all fresh and I took as many as I could. With a pocketful of fruit I started the walk to ‘town’. As soon as the plums were gone I started finding blackberries and had a hand full of them when I got a lift from a nice girl who works at the park so by 2pm I was unwrapping the two mystery packages. From Ireland I got a Baileys truffle bar and a card which I’ll read at the top of tomorrow’s ascent (Tuesday was 1,000ft, Wednesday was 2,000ft, tomorrow is 4,000ft. I don’t like the way this is heading).

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In the other packet was a memory card that almost brought me to tears right there at the post office. Videos from a night at my old flat with my friends, from my family and even the guys (and gals) from work. I was grinning the whole way through and especially when they were going to drive to the local chinese take-away. “I hate walking” said Sam “let’s take five cars!”, Shardonnay with her “mmmm, food we didn’t have to carry” and Tony with his “oohhh, I’ve been on my feet all day”. Yeah whatever dude!

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After a few really tough days it was exactly what I needed. Thank you so much to everyone involved. I’ll be keeping that card with me the rest of the way. Even if I have to use it to take photos I won’t be erasing the videos. I miss everyone back there so much, I miss everything. Yes even work. I’ll miss the trail when I’m done too but for a while this afternoon I was wishing I had just 200 miles to go and not 1200. Still, there are many high times ahead. I’m looking forward to seeing BlueSky and Vortex in a few days. Having someone to hike with is nice and since Lucky Joe just took a few more days off to visit his woman it’ll be a while before I see him again.

Panther, Bear Bait and the other Billy Goat were at the Castella gas-station/minimart too. We swapped spare food, ate a lot of ice cream and generally hung out. It took me until almost sunset to return to the trail (because I stopped to pick more blackberries). As I neared one of the very few houses on this road a lady and her little daughter were watching me,
“Are you going back to the trail?”
“Yes I am. 1500 miles now”
“how far?”
“1500, it’s worth it for these berries”
- she translates into American for her daughter -
“Well done, where ya from?”
“New Zealand”
“Good luck, good bye”

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I waved and carried on down the road. It was like having my own little cheer squad :-)
Then I found myself the victim of a Simon-Says game that I didn’t know I was in. Try this:

“You enter by a locked gate, and immediately turn left (south) on an old road. North, it goes 80 yards to refreshing Root Creek. You follow this narrowing road, hiking under pleasant shade of…”

I kept walking south, then a bit west, re-reading this trying to figure out if I’d missed a turning. I’d seen no creek and though the definition of a road has always been sketchy this was just a good flat path. I finally worked out that the road goes north, the trail does not. A subtle distinction but once I’d spotted it I walked on, found the next trail junction and set up camp to watch, and rewatch, those awesome little clips. I really feel like I can’t thank you enough. I’ll be back home in early October but until then I’m glad to have you all in my bag too.

p.s. Fresh fruit is the business. That and Baileys chocolate.
p.p.s. In all the excitement in town I forgot to edit yesterday’s entry to include how I set up the inflatable pink flamingo tent stake to cheer me up after that exhausting day. It’s just the most useless gear ever and putting it up made me smile.

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More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Old Station to Castle Crags

Google Maps

2007-07-24 So good when I stop

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

On the final climb of the day, with more moisture dripping down my back than in my water bottle, I began to feel a little defeated. I composed an entry basically pleading for mercy and telling everyone with a roller-chair and air-conditioning how lucky they are. But now that I’ve rested and mostly dried off I am feeling more positive and ready to walk again tomorrow.

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From my rock-top perch this morning I heard “the other” Billy Goat come by. At 5am it was still dark enough that he didn’t see me until he was quite close. The first song on my iPod set the tone.

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Eagle-Eye Cherry – “Are you still having fun?”
  You are on your own
  You do as you please
  Having so much fun
  Gone and lost your reason
  After all is said and done
  Are you still having fun?
  How were you to know when you’ve gone astray?
  That happiness would go like a lost emotion
  You have always gone your way
  Are you happy today?

Not every moment here is fun. The last few days have been incredibly hard physically but that’s my fault. I’ve set an aggressive schedule again and I’m throughly exhausted. I’ve run four marathons now. And at the end of each one I made a mad dash to the finish line. Moving my legs so fast I couldn’t feel them, just the frantic raising and falling of my thighs until just as they are about to burst I cross the line and come to a sudden stop. I stagger around for a while, quite uncertain what to do next then things kick in. Rest, refuel, recover. That’s how I’ve been feeling at the end of my hiking days recently. Totally beat and just a little disoriented. I look forward to reaching Etna not just for BlueSky rejoining the hike but the return to a more healthy pace.

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I am of course sticking with it. Just now I heard a squirrel talking loudly about something, and there is a serious amount of leaf-rustling and branch-breaking going on over there. You just don’t get this at home. I’m off to investigate the strange sound.

…whatever it was it didn’t like the look of me in underwear and Crocs so I didn’t get to see it. Deer I don’t mind, it’s the bears and mountain lions I worry about. And whatever little critter snuck into my bag and gnawed one of my breakfast bars last night.

I saw a rattle snake today. I was surprised to see one in this humid shadowy forest, such a world apart from where I saw my first one in the arid lands near Campo nearly 100 days ago.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Old Station to Castle Crags

Google Maps

2007-07-23 Coming apart

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

About midday today as I chugged up another bushy hillside I heard a worrying ‘pop’ and all the weight of my pack sagged onto my shoulders. The canvas strap that was laughingly called a hip-belt by the designers had given up and I had to rig up a replacement using two straps that came with my sleeping mat. It’s no less comfortable than before but I’ll need to find a new way to secure my mat next time it rains.

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Broken hip belt, repair

Hoping to reach Castella before the post office closes on Wednesday I made today a long one by getting on the trail at 5:30am and not getting off it until after 8pm. I took breaks for lunch and dinner but mostly it was walking. And it’ll be the same tomorrow and the next two months I guess. Today was more endure than enjoy but it did get me to a great cliff-top view of sunset right next to Mt. Shasta. I’m sleeping on rock slabs tonight, each up to a few inches thick and a couple of square feet in size. Hopefully the lumps beneath me are in the right places and I’ll fit right in, no bed of soft pine needles tonight.

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I forgot to mention a few animal encounters recently. On Saturday when sitting with Chigger and Stretch a carpenter ant crawled across my hand. I was just about to take a great macro photo when the little git bit me! According to tv I should soon develop ant-like powers of lifting 20 times my weight (like my pack isn’t heavy enough now), the ability to climb up walls and the idea that biting something a million times bigger than me is a good idea. It wasn’t, as the ant would tell you if he wasn’t dead. And an ant.

The next day I saw a skunk, or was it a cat with a white stripe painted on it? I had to make a lot of fuss to get a snake off the trail later and today I saw a massive bird of prey, an eagle of some sort I think. Its wing span was at least 4ft.


Lesson for the day: Though I can do 15 miles in the morning on less than 2 liters of water, that does not hold true for a hot afternoon.

I arrived at Moosehead Creek springs very thirsty. As I filled my second bottle the condensation on the first made it so appealing I drank the water before even bothering to treat it. We’ll see how wise that was later.

More photos of this day’s journey can be found at Old Station to Castle Crags

Google Maps