Friday, May 31, 2013

Part 92 - The Jungle River Expeditions

 The Jungle River Expedition

Years ago – mid-1970s, when I was just beginning my career as a professional river tour operator, and had high aspirations of operating a worldwide system of guide service with operations as diverse as trips on the Omo River in Ethiopia to the Tatshenshini River in Alaska, I mounted an exploratory expedition into Mexico on the Usumacinta River that formed the border between Guatemala and Mexico.  This was to be a jungle river expedition with emphasis on visiting Mayan ruins deep within the jungles where few tourists ever ventured.

With two young river guides as companions and I as the driver, none of us speaking any Spanish, we set out from Utah and drove three thousand miles south to the Mexican state of Chiapas, and eventually to the Yucatan Peninsula in a little Dodge van that we loaded with food and water.  My hope was to make the round-trip journey with as little interaction as possible with the locals because of my lack of Spanish-speaking skills.  I only knew two words of Spanish – pan for bread, and yeno, which meant fill it up at the gas stations.

We made it to San Cristobal de las Casas, an indigenous Mayan Indian town high in the mountains above Tuxtla Gutierrez in the Mexican state of Chiapas.  Here, with the help of some American Protestant missionaries, I charted a single-engine Cessna aircraft to fly the three of us over the Lacandon Jungle of Chiapas to the Usumacinta River.  In the rainy season, this river drains a vast territory of Guatemala and Mexico, and where it passed the city of Villahermosa on its way to the ocean, it is hundreds of feet wide and perhaps as much as a hundred feet deep.

My goal was to scout the river from the air to see if there were any rapids that would be difficult to navigate.  I located only one small canyon on the river, close to the takeout point of Tenosique, and from the air the rapids did not look difficult.  This exploratory trip took place in the fall of 1974.  Convinced that the trip was doable, in 1975, I put a small brochure together advertising a Mayan Jungle River Expedition and sent it out to hundreds of travel agencies across the country.  To my surprise, I had twelve people sign up for the trip, which was scheduled for January 1976.

Besides myself, I needed two Spanish-speaking individuals to accompany me on the trip, one to drive the truck and trailer to the takeout point at Tenosique, and the other to accompany me on the river.  It was my intention and hope that I could find two returned Spanish-speaking missionaries from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, forty miles south of my home in Salt Lake City.  I advertised in the student newspaper for several months, but got no takers. 

 With the trip departure date getting close, I then advertised in the student newspaper at the University of Utah.  I only had two inquiries, neither of whom was fluent in Spanish.  Against my better judgment, and because I had no other options, I took them both on.

The trip was to leave the first week of January 1976; to make sure we arrived in time, the three of us left the first of December 1975.  At first, things went well between the three of us, but the handwriting was on the wall. 

 Being proactive against mechanical breakdowns and potential delays, I had purchased a brand-new 1976 Ford F-150 pickup truck.  The three of us rode together in the front seat all the way to San Cristobal.  We all know what hikers smell like after several days on the trail and no shower.  Put that smell in the closed cab of a pickup, and something has to give.  The kid sitting next to me was the worst offender.  I offered to let him use my deodorant, but he nonchalantly said,

“No,” and as he put it, he liked to go au naturel.  After several weeks of driving, we made it to San Cristobal, and we were all still on speaking terms.

First order of business was to visit the airport and get reassurance that the pilots and planes would be available and ready to fly at the appointed time.  Through my interpreters, I got assurance that they would be.  Now the plan was to purchase and pack the food in boxes and ice chests, then load the plane called an Islander with all the boating equipment, food and ice chests, and fly to the jungle put-in two days before the passengers would arrive.  That way, we could have the boat inflated and sitting on the water fully loaded and ready for the passengers.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Part 91 - The Red Moose Inn

Section L – Donner Summit to Sierra City – distance thirty-nine miles, was the shortest section along the PCT.  A determined hiker could go the distance in one day, but most allocate two days for the journey.  My goal for today was twenty miles, with anticipation of pulling into Sierra City sometime late tomorrow afternoon.  From Donner Summit the trail climbed to Castle Pass, and shortly thereafter passed the Peter Grubb Hut, located in Round Valley, a cabin built by the Sierra Club in 1938 for public use. 

 It was built by friends and family of Peter, who was an avid Sierra Club member and who had just graduated from Galileo High School in San Francisco, California.  He was on a bicycle tour in Italy with a friend, Bill Burd, when he died at age eighteen.

Crest ridges, steep volcanic gullies, slippery squishy clay, marshy meadows, and hordes of mosquitoes dominate the trail leading to Jackson Meadows Reservoir.  I was able to hike twenty-two miles today and made camp in a grove of mountain hemlocks.

The trail passed close to Jackson Meadows Reservoir and it was tempting to take a few moments and swim in the warm waters, but I didn’t.  I still had seventeen miles to travel today to get to Highway 49 and then walk or hitch a ride into Sierra City.  The pain in my back muscles is now almost unbearable.  I had to stop often to shift the weight of the pack in an effort to find even a modicum of relief, and whatever respite I found was only temporary; nevertheless, I kept shifting the weight and moved on. 

 My daughter, Allison, is a nurse in Utah; using my cell phone, I put a call through to her and asked if there was any over-the-counter pain medication stronger than Aleve or Ibuprofen that I could purchase.  She said there wasn’t, so I resigned myself to living with the pain.

From the reservoir, it was all downhill to the highway and a bridge that crossed over the North Yuba River.  Just before the bridge crossing, I saw another hiker cross the bridge, then pass to the other side of Highway 49, where he positioned himself to hitch a ride into Sierra City.  I joined him beside the edge of the road; it was Fun Size, the happy-go-lucky hiker from Portland, Oregon, who has a girlfriend that he misses dearly.

Traffic was sparse and after fifteen minutes of waiting, I elected to begin walking the mile and a half into town.  I told Fun Size that if he scored a ride, maybe he would be willing to ask the driver to stop and pick me up also. Two hundred yards down the road, a car passed me going in the opposite direction.  It stopped, turned around, and pulled up alongside of me.  The young lady driver asked if she could give me a ride into town.  I readily accepted.  

From where Fun Size was standing beside the road, he could see that I had snagged a ride.  I asked the young lady that inasmuch as she was willing to give me a ride, would she also be willing to turn around and drive the short distance to where Fun Size was standing, and give him a ride also.  She readily agreed, and in minutes, both Fun Size and I were on our way to Sierra City.  The driver’s name was Ziggy and she said she had hiked the trail last year and was just paying forward all the kindness she had received on the trail. 

Ziggy stopped in front of the Red Moose Inn and the two of us got out of the car.  We thanked her profusely for her kindness and generosity, and stepped onto the wooden porch adjacent to the entrance of the inn.  There were half a dozen hikers sitting in chairs on the porch, eating food or sorting through their resupply boxes.

The Red Moose Inn was a combination restaurant/motel that catered to the hiking crowd. Several years ago, the owners elected to begin receiving hiker resupply packages, as well as allowing the hikers to camp on the lawn in their backyard.  They also had restrooms and showers for use, as well as outlets for charging electronic devices, and a computer with Internet connection for checking e-mails and uploading trail journals and images.  I retrieved the resupply box that I left here several days ago, and returned to the wooden porch to sort through it.  I located an empty table and lay my supplies on top of it.

While sorting through my box, I prepared a packet of Idahoan Instant Potatoes and had that as my evening meal, along with cookies and a peanut butter and jam sandwich.  Even though there was a restaurant just a few feet away where I could have ordered a tasty meal, I didn’t want to spend the money. 

 I discovered long ago that I don’t live to eat; rather, I eat to live and quality of food is not that important to me.  At home, when my wife asks me what I’d like to have for dinner, I remind her that anything above a peanut butter and jam sandwich is fine with me. Kellogg’s Raisin Bran is great for breakfast, and if I had to subsist on Top Ramen and Idahoan Instant Potatoes for dinner, I wouldn’t be put out.  My wife likes to remind me that I’m a cheap date.

The Peter Grubb cabin. It's just off the trail, not hard to find. The ladder to the door shows how high the snow can get during the winter months. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Part 90 - Zero Days in Truckee

Jodie had rented a cabin in Truckee, and after visiting the grocery store in town, we proceeded to our little cabin in the woods.  We would spend two full days at the cabin, where I would rest and enjoy the companionship of friends and family.

Both Ken and I were high school buddies, graduating in 1961, the same year the Berlin Wall went up, and both of us turned seventy this year.  To celebrate, Jodie brought a three-quart ice-cream maker and made fresh peach and pineapple ice cream, along with a scrumptious chocolate cake whose secret ingredients include baking soda and plain yogurt.

The next day being the Fourth of July, we decided to take a road trip and visit the old mining town of Virginia City.  But first, we needed to pay a visit to the REI in Reno so I could purchase a new pair of pants.  The trail was hard on pant fabric and I had already worn out two pairs of pants and now needed a third pair. 

 Back at the McDonald's in El Cajon in Southern California, I had noticed that Nurse Betty was wearing pants made with Spandex stretch fabric, and when questioned about the pants she said that the fabric held up quite well; in fact, in hindsight, Nurse Betty wore the same pair of pants for the entire length of the trip.  So, that’s the kind of pant I went looking for, and REI had what I needed. The pant was an REI brand, manufactured with stretch fabric and I wore it for the next sixteen hundred miles.  I still have the pants, and continue to wear them when I hike.

Virginia City was just down the road a piece from Reno, and we arrived just in time to see the Fourth of July parade.  Virginia City was a tourist town and we enjoyed playing the part of tourists, walking in and out of frontier-style stores selling everything from antiques to new Stetson hats.
Lake Tahoe was the big attraction for this area, so we took the long way back to Reno via the drive around the south end of Lake Tahoe.

I had been carrying my bear vault for 450 miles, ever since I left Kennedy Meadows South.  Now that Jodie was here, I will give it to her to take back home.  I spent the evening sorting through the resupply box Jodie brought with her, but was unable to finish the job; it would have to wait for tomorrow evening to be finalized.

On this second day of R&R, we decided to take another road trip and visit the next two towns along the trail that will be resupply points for me. Rather than mail the packages from Salt Lake to these trail towns, Jodie brought the boxes with her, and we’re going to leave them with the appropriate people in these towns who accept trail packages. 

 The next two towns are Sierra City and Belden, both with a long history of gold mining.  In Sierra City, I left the resupply box with the proprietors of the Red Moose Inn, and in Belden, the package was left with Brenda Braaten of Little Haven.

Today, July 6, it was back to the trail.  I had a wonderful two days of rest; my clothes are washed, including my sleeping bag and backpack, so the final embrace with my wife was a little easier on her.  For a few days I won’t smell like hiker trash.  They returned me to the parking lot at Old Highway 40, and at eight in the morning, we parted ways; Jodie and the Cutlers were heading back to Salt Lake City, and I was on my way to Sierra City.  I’ve been on the trail for two and a half months and have traveled 1,155 miles.

Across Old Highway 40, the trail had been blasted out of solid bedrock in order to climb in elevation.  Along the way, several small lakes were encountered, two of which – Lake Azalea and Lake Flora, were on private land and were sources of domestic water supplies.  Within five miles, the trail passed under Interstate I-80 and continued north, past the Donner Summit Roadside Rest Area.

Taking a couple of zero days in Truckee, and being the 4th of July, we drove over to Virginia City and arrived just in time to take in the parade. Virginia City is strictly a tourist town, so one does the tourist thing when visiting.

Couldn't resist having my picture taken with Ford Model T, year unknown.

Next time I visit California, I want it to be on one of these large Honda touring bikes.

The sheriff insisted I have my picture taken with him.

And of course, this little lady, a resident of the town, who always dressed in style for these parada days, also insisted that I have my picture taken with her.

My wife Jodie and friends Ken and Lois Cutler sitting on the porch of the Red Moose Inn in Sierra City.

Driving between Sierra City and Belden, we found this vintage Model A Ford Phaeton being used as a stand for the mailbox. Definitely not the highest and best use of such an historical artifact. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Part 89 - Who is the PCT Hiker

Tyler Fox, a 2013 PCT hiker who was forced off the trail because of snow, conducted a survey among this year’s class of PCT hikers concerning choices.  He posted the survey and the results of the survey on the PCT Facebook page for the class of 2013.  

He said that the survey was filled out by over a hundred people and the results showed that the average hiker was a twenty-six-year-old white male from California with a bachelor’s degree.  This hiker took twenty zero days off the trail and sixteen near zeros, hiked 2,168 miles by sometime in September and did not finish the trail due to weather.  Final count:  48 percent finished the trail; 52 percent did not finish the trail.  

For clarification, a zero day is a complete day of rest from the trail, whereas a near-zero day is the equivalent of a partial day, i.e., coming into a trail town at noon to pick up a resupply box, then overnighting in town and picking up the trail the next day.

Out of curiosity for the average age of thru-hikers, I conducted my own survey.  I recorded the trail names of ninety hikers I met on the trail, and of this number, sixty shared their age with me Crunching the numbers, I came up with an average age of 34.5 years.

My thoughts on the Donner Party as they relate to Pacific Crest Trail hikers are reflected in the comments of thirteen-year-old survivor, Virginia Reed, who penned these words to a friend,
“Never take no short cuts and hurry along as fast as you can.” (Stewart)

For most of the day my feet feel like they were walking in shoes with small pebbles in them.  Each step was painful, especially in the center of the pads, that area of the foot next to the toes.  I surmised that new blisters were forming, but being in a hurry, I didn’t want to take the time to apply Moleskin and tape to the affected areas.  The last mile of the trail became nearly unbearable as the tread was composed of small chunks of rock that had the appearance of a street paved with setts

 (small angular stone blocks that are quarried and often used in paving European streets, sometimes mistakenly called cobblestones) that had been torn up.

From high up on the mountain where the ski trams were located, I could look to the east and see Interstate I-80 snaking its way up the mountains on its way to the summit at Donner Pass.  Using my cell phone, I called Jodie to see if they were on schedule to meet me at the Old Donner Summit Road; I said I’d be there by 5:00 p.m. 

 She assured me that she and the Cutlers would be there at about the same time.  I was hobbling by the time I arrived at the parking lot adjacent to the Sugar Bowl Academy, a building used as a training facility for ski athletes that fronted onto Old Highway 40.  I walked over to a highway maintenance shed, spread my Z-foam pad on the ground, and sat down to wait for Jodie.

Not having to walk anymore, I removed my shoes to inspect my feet.  I was expecting to see dirt and pebbles fall from my shoes, but there was nothing.  It was then that I spotted the culprit that had caused me so much trouble – it was my insoles.  The fabric that covered the foam padding of the insoles had deteriorated in both shoes and had formed into little balls, like small pebbles right under the pads.  Once the shredded fabric was removed, the problem was resolved except the blisters had already formed.

A half hour later, a white GMC Tahoe pulled into the parking lot, and then standing before me was my lovely wife, dearest friend, and eternal companion – Jodie.  We embraced, and I know I smelled just as bad now as I did when we last embraced at McDonald's on I-15.  But, what the heck, we’re together for better or for worse, and at the moment, she was getting the worse.

My dear friend, Lois Cutler, gave me a warm smile and said she’d hug me later.  As we were standing around the vehicle visiting and chatting, another hiker came into the parking lot.  Without hesitation, and knowing the value of a trail angel, Ken Cutler asked the young man if he needed a ride into Truckee, which was our destination.  

The hiker, who went by the trail name of Kid, said he did.

Kid was small, but he said he’d been in the Marines for four years.  He wasn’t Caucasian and from appearances, he could have been Filipino.  When asked about his nationality, if I remember right, he said one parent was from India while the other was from Japan.  He wasn’t sure where he wanted to go – Truckee or Reno, but when we got to Truckee, we let him out in the middle of town.  I wouldn’t see him again on the trail until Hart’s Pass, thirty miles from the Canadian border.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Part 88 - The Donner Party

A pivotal character in the tragic story of the ill-fated Donner Party was Lansford W. Hastings.  He was a twenty-seven-year-old lawyer from Ohio when he journeyed to Oregon and then later to California in 1843-44.  At the time Hastings visits California, the territory belonged to Mexico. 

When he returned to the U.S. in 1844, he had grandiose visions of wresting California from Mexico, making it an entity to be called the Republic of California, with himself holding a high office.  His methodology for accomplishing this endeavor was to overwhelm the land with emigrants, and to this end, he authored a book titled The Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California.  In this booklet, he made a one-line statement that became the trigger for the struggles of the Donner Party.

"The most direct path would be to leave the Oregon route, about two hundred miles east of Fort Hall; thence bearing west-south west, to the Salt Lake; and thence continuing down to the bay of San Francisco." (Hastings)

This suggestion of an alternate route became known as the Hastings Cutoff, even though Hastings himself had never traveled this route before making it a part of his emigrant’s guide. George Donner had a copy of Hastings' emigrant guide and concluded that he would take the route, as he had been assured it would cut off 350 to 400 miles from the entire journey.  Likewise, knowing that his group was at the back of the pack of emigrant trains that year, heading to Oregon and California, he was concerned about completing the journey before the snow began to fall.

Somewhere beyond Fort Bridger, Wyoming, the regular trail to Oregon continued west-northwest past Fort Hall, Idaho, but here the Hastings Cutoff split from the main trail and headed west – southwest to enter Utah near the present day Evanston, Wyoming/Utah border.  From the bottom of Echo Canyon in Utah (present location of Interstate I-80), the Donner Party had to blaze a trail over the Wasatch Mountains down to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.  

They lost valuable time building this wagon road across the mountains, but on a bright note, it was of great value to the Mormon pioneers who followed this road one year later in 1847 on their exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Great Salt Lake Basin.

Skirting around the southern end of the Great Salt Lake, the Donner Party then entered the great salt desert around Grantsville, Utah.  This turned out to be an eighty-mile trek through mud and muck that saw the heavily loaded wagons sink into the mud up to the hubs of the wagons.  It took six days to cross this extremely inhospitable desert; water ran out after three days, and many of their animals bolted, crazed by thirst.  A number of wagons were abandoned.

As a side note, as late as the 1930s, the wagon tracks and remains of the abandoned wagons could still be seen in the desert salt and mud wasteland.

These delays cost the Donner Party their opportunity to cross the mountains, specifically Donner Pass, to the safety of the lowland ranches on the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  In spite of their heroic efforts to make miles, they missed crossing the pass by only one day before the deep snows forced them to retreat to Donner Lake and set up camp to wait out the winter.

The fate of the Donner Party sends a strong message to Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers – don’t dally along the way, stay focused on the goal, and plan on making it to the Canadian border sooner rather than later before early September snows have a chance to close down the trail, as it did this year.

The historical marker at the trail junction of the PCT and Roller Pass.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Part 87 - 1960 Squaw Valley Olympic Games

In 1956 when the IOC – International Olympic Committee, announced that Squaw Valley had been chosen to host the 1960 Winter Olympics, the ski resort had one chair lift, two rope tows, a fifty-room lodge, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was president; it was also the height of the Cold War.  Because the event was going to be held in America, and because there was so much tension in the world over ideology, Communism versus everyone else, some feared that athletes from Communist countries wouldn’t be allowed to enter the U.S. to participate in the games. 

IOC president, Avery Brundage, put a quick stop to that mind-set.  He flat out stated that if any country which the IOC recognized was not permitted to participate in the Winter Olympic Games, Squaw Valley would forfeit the right to host the games.

The cost to host the games was $80 million, spread between the federal government, the state of California, and private investors who had a stake in Squaw Valley.  Television was not new to the games, but the 1960 Winter Games was the first time that exclusive rights to televise the games were sold.  At the time, it wasn’t recognized how valuable these rights would become.  The exclusive privilege to televise the venues went to CBS for $50,000; the 1960 Summer Olympics television rights also went to CBS, but this time, they ponied up $550,000.  For the 1960 Winter Olympics, the Soviets dominated the medal count, winning a total of twenty-one medals, while the U.S. only garnered ten.

It was getting dark and I had to quickly find a place to establish a camp.  I was still on a steep slope, and even if I bedded down on the trail, the chances of rolling down the slope during the night were great.  Ahead, I could see a very small grove of trees just off the side of the trail. Once in the grove, I looked around for anything that resembled the notion of flat, and found nothing.  Desperate, I selected a site on the uphill side of a very large dead tree, and begin to construct a flat place just wide enough to hold my air mattress and sleeping bag.  I used my shoe to dig into the dirt and to move it from uphill to downhill.  When I was finished, I had a reasonable three-by-six approximation of a flat spot, with the dead tree serving as my downhill anchor.

It was dark when I lay out my sleeping gear, but not so dark that I have no trouble spotting the large, black ants crawling over my sleeping bag.  As long as I was awake, I could feel them crawling across my chest and down my legs.  I nailed several of them, but ants rule the world; they were like the participants in the game Whack-A-Mole; you eliminate one and two more pop up.  Lying on my bed, I could see directly above me several very large dead tree limbs.  If one dropped during the night, it could result in some serious damage.  I paid them no heed, however; I was too tired to worry about such things as I was more concerned about the ants.

The moon was still high in the sky when I left camp this morning; the ants enjoyed their time exploring my sleeping bag, and the dead tree served me well in holding me fixed to the hillside.  I was excited about today, for this was the day I would make it to old Highway 40, the highway that originally crossed over Donner Summit before the new Interstate I-80 was built. And it was at the summit that my wife, Jodie, and friends, Ken and Lois Cutler, would meet me and whisk me off for a couple of zero days in Truckee.  At 4:00 a.m., I was on the move.

The traverse was as long as I thought it would be, and it was a long way before I left the contours of the steep slope and entered forested lands that again offered the potential for a camping site.  I was scheduled to meet my friends at the designated road no later than 5:00 p.m., which was twenty-three miles distance.  Accordingly, I was a man with a mission, and I wasted no time in moving up the trail. 

I encounter the usual forested lands, steep hillside climbs, downhill descents, uphill switchbacks, ridge walking, patches of winter ice and snow, stream crossings, and soggy meadows with mosquitoes and rocky trails.  Every turn in the trail brought a new Kodak moment, and I stopped often to capture the moment with my Canon digital camera.  After passing Squaw Valley and the aerial trams that connected the valley with the ski runs that started at the top of the rim, I passed Granite Chief Peak, Tinker Knob, Anderson Peak, and Sugar Bowl Ski Resort on my descent to Donner Summit.  It is the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort that one can see on the south side of the freeway crossing over Donner Summit.

Several miles before reaching Highway 40, at a bend in the trail, I came upon an historical trail marker, which consisted of two lengths of steel railroad rails welded in the shape of the letter “T.”  The marker designated the path in front of me as being part of the original Donner Party Trail.  It instructed the visitor to walk a short distance to the edge of a cliff known as Roller Pass which, according to the marker, was where members of the Donner Party had to haul their wagons up the face of the cliff using ropes, chains, oxen, and human power. 

I set my pack down in the trail and took the time to investigate the site.  Peering over the edge of the cliff, I contemplate the sacrifice and toil those emigrant pioneers had to give to achieve their goals.  I stepped back from the precipice and sat down on a rock to reflect on what I knew about the Donner Party, and the choices they made that brought them to the base of this cliff.
Looking over the edge of the cliff and down the draw known as Roller Pass, so named for the logs the pioneers used to lay the ropes and chains across as men and beasts pulled the wagons to the top of the cliff.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Part 86 - PCT Record Holders

We made quick time and she let me out at the top of the summit in the parking lot of the Sno-Park; I picked up the trail across the highway and made my way down to the marina/post office/convenience store at Echo Lake Resort.  I didn’t need anything at the store, and could have gone on, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy one more comfort food item, as it would be another five or six days before I would again have that opportunity. 

 I dropped my pack on the sidewalk outside the store and entered the building.  Immediately I ran into Prophet who was picking up his resupply box, and was also buying a few goodies to eat.  I noticed he had a large container of Chobani peach yogurt, and at that moment, it struck me as something very desirous to eat.  I purchased the same size container, along with a quart of chocolate milk and a bag of cookies, and went out on the front patio, and commenced devouring everything. 

My goal was to make at least twenty miles today, so I needed to get moving.  At this end of Echo Lake, there was a small concrete dam with a headgate to control the outflow of water from the lake.  I crossed the dam and then walked for three miles along the east shore of the lake. It was a well-used path, as many day hikers also used the path.  Along the shoreline were numerous cabins, some quite elaborate, while others seem to provide just the basic amenities.

I had entered Desolation Wilderness and a land of many lakes; the trail followed alongside of and around many of them.  Aloha Lake was the area’s most notable lake with many camping sites and was heavily used.  As a side note, the basin that Aloha Lake now occupied was actually a man-made reservoir created by the city of Sacramento when they decided to flood the basin to supply water to the city’s growing needs.

By the time I reach Dicks Pass, I had traveled thirteen miles, and hoped to make another seven before I quit for the day.  Ascending the trail to Dicks Pass, it began to rain.  I was only wearing my polyester, short-sleeve North Face shirt, but for the moment, it was not cold or wet enough to change into a long-sleeve shirt or put on my jacket – the rain was just annoying.

On the way up to the Pass, I encountered a middle-age female hiker who was carrying the largest ice axe I had ever seen.  And not surprisingly enough, her trail name was Ice Axe.  She used the axe like most hikers would use a trekking pole.  When I meet her, she was in the process of putting up her tent, but then when she realized it wasn’t really going to rain, she took it down.  I wouldn’t see this woman again until Washington, where I found her on the trail heading south from Hart’s Pass.  She had been hiking too slow and knew she wasn’t going to make it to Canada before the snow fell, so she flipped north to sign the register at the Canadian border and was now hiking south.

At the top of Dicks Pass, I found a couple sitting on the ground resting from their long climb.  They identified themselves as Weed and Ice Bucket.  I stopped long enough to chat and celebrate the climb with a PayDay candy bar, and then moved on.  It was all downhill for the next few miles, and I moved fast as I didn’t want to be passed by the couple I just met.

I passed more lakes and several trail junctions that lead down to Highway 89, the highway that traveled north to south along the west side of Lake Tahoe.  I knew the lake was off to the east, but the mountain vistas were never conducive to getting a good view of the lake.  I make my twenty miles for the day and found a flat spot a hundred feet or so off the trail to make camp.  By nine that evening, I was on the ground, snuggled in my sleeping bag with no tent.

Just before it was totally dark, I saw two figures moving quickly up the trail; they were moving really fast for this time of night.  I learned later that the two young men were trying to break the speed record for the Mexico to Canada hike, currently held by a tremendous athlete named Scott Williamson, who holds the record at sixty-four days, eleven hours, and nineteen minutes. 

Whoops, must make a correction here.  Scott’s record has been broken twice this year, first by Heather “Anish” Anderson, who made it to the Canadian border in sixty days, seventeen hours, and twelve minutes, for an average speed of forty-four miles per day.  This happened on August 7, 2013.  A day later, on August 8, 2013, Josh Garrett crossed the Canadian border with a time of fifty-nine days, eight hours, and fourteen minutes, for an average speed of forty-five miles per day.

For the last fifty miles, the Pacific Crest Trail has shared the same space with the Tahoe Rim Trail, and now I had arrived at the junction where these two trails parted ways.  The PCT continued north, while the TRT headed east towards Lake Tahoe.  From this vantage point of the trail junction, I could see Lake Tahoe.  The far horizon and the lake seem to merge, but in reality, it was just rain falling on the distant shore of the lake.

Massive lava flows indicated the presence of long-vanished volcanoes, and as the trail approached the rim above Squaw Valley Ski Resort, it marked a very long traverse across an extremely steep slope comprised of volcanic rock.

It was late in the evening when I reached the start of this traverse, and as there was no place to make camp, I determine that I would have to make the traverse, with the hope that I could make it off the rim and to a camping site before the trail was totally enveloped in darkness.  I couldn’t see the end of the traverse, and guesstimated that it was a mile to a mile and a half long.  Halfway across, I encountered snow fences and warning signs that indicate skiing beyond the point of these signs was prohibited.  Looking over the rim to the basin far below, I can see the buildings and infrastructure of the Squaw Valley Ski Resort that had been the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics.

It's wouldn't be hard to lost in these woods. When leaving the trail for any purpose, it's imperative to keep track of landmarks, in order to navigate back to the trail.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Part 85 - Mini-Cooper Ride

As I was walking out the door, I bumped into Bipolar and his wife, Lois; we exchanged greetings and Bipolar offered to give me a ride back to the Motel 6.  I told him, “Thanks,” but I first wanted to grab a bite to eat at the McDonald's next door.  However, I told him if he would be willing to take my resupply box back to my room, while there he and his wife were welcome to take a shower.  (Bipolar and his wife were camping out.)  He agreed and we met later at the McDonald's Restaurant, where he gave me back my room key.

South Lake Tahoe was a very busy tourist town with many motels, condos, restaurants, grocery stores, and equipment rental business for water sports, i.e., jet skis, water skis, etc.  The beaches were crowded with young adults and parents with children, and the traffic along the main drag – Highway 50, was clogged with pickup trucks towing boat trailers, with or without boats, and pedestrians – mostly twentyish kids in swimming attire going to and from their vehicles parked alongside of the road.

Sorting through my resupply box was routine now; I emptied the contents on the bed and make rows of food items corresponding to the number of days I expected to be on the trail until my next resupply drop.  If it were seven days, then I made seven rows, placing the dinner packets at the top of the row, followed by lunch and breakfast packets; then I allocated the snacks to each row, making sure the quantities were equal for each day. 

I always seem to end up with more food than I needed for the next section of hiking, so rather than throw the food away, if there were a hiker box available, I would put the food in the box, and if not, I left it on top of the room table, in hopes the cleaning maids would see it as valuable food and take it rather than dumping it in the garbage.

There was a grocery store across the street from my motel, and I went there several times to buy comfort food – cookies, milk, chocolate pudding, as well as food items I may need for the journey – tortillas, peanut butter and/or jam, cans of Spam.  I found a piece of cardboard and made my sign for tomorrow morning’s hitchhike out of town.  It read, Echo Lake Resort.  I was heading back to the same place I had exited the trail yesterday.

I was anxious to be on my way, so at four in the morning I was up and moving, and by five began my roadwalk back to the highway junction leading out of town.  I arrived at the junction at 5:30 a.m., with hopes of making some last-minute purchases at a large supermarket, however, they didn’t open until six - so much for my early start.  I waited patiently in front of the store, watching employees arrive as well as vendors carrying in food stuffs, and the occasional early morning customer who was looking for fresh donuts and their morning coffee.

When the doors finally opened, I entered, quickly found what I needed, plus a cheese-covered bagel for breakfast, paid for my purchases and went back to the highway, where I hoisted my sign and stuck out my thumb.  It would be two and a half hours before I would get a ride, the longest I ever had to wait.

The ride that stopped for me was a young lady driving a Mini Cooper that was crammed full of stuff from her college dorm.  She was headed home to the Bay Area from her school.  I’m six foot three and don’t normally fit in a Mini Cooper, but I wasn’t about to turn down this ride.  The young girl moved her belongings from off the passenger seat, I stooped and folded myself into the tiny compartment comprising the passenger seat and held my backpack on my lap, and away we went.  

She was a very nice girl and quick with conversation; it always intrigued me why a single girl traveling alone, and in this case driving a tiny car already filled to the ceiling with personal belongings, would stop and offer a total stranger, even a male, a ride.  When I asked her this question, she said she just felt impressed to do so.  I wasn’t about to argue with that answer, and just chalked it up to another tender mercy shown to me by my Heavenly Father.

The Mini-Cooper is a very small car, but I was grateful for the ride.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Part 84 - Bipolar

I enjoyed hiking and talking with Bipolar and hearing his story.  He said his father had been a minister and had hoped that he, too, would join the ministry.  Bipolar said he had attended four different seminaries, but had not graduated from any of them.  Apparently his challenges dealing with bipolar issues had kept him from becoming a graduate.  And he said he had never joined a particular denomination, although his wife was a pastor in her branch of Protestantism.  I enjoyed talking theology with him, as neither of us had an agenda to pursue; we just enjoyed sharing information with one another.  I learned a lot from Bipolar about the Protestant faith and I was able to ask questions about his brand of religion that I had never been able to ask before.

Bipolar confided in me that he wasn’t sure he could endure the hike past Lake Tahoe, and was seriously considering leaving the trail at that point, as his wife, Lois, had traveled from Michigan to Reno by train, and was going to rent a car and meet him in Lake Tahoe.  I encouraged him to continue on, telling him that the time was going to pass anyway, and he might as well spend the time on the trail and complete the journey.  I think he felt he was too old to be on the trail, being in his early sixties, but when I told him I was nearly seventy, I think it gave him a little added incentive to want to stay.

Beyond Lost Lakes, the trail rose to and crossed over the Forestdale Divide adjacent to Round Top and Winnemucca Lake, and then pressed on to Elephant Back, a geological feature that did, indeed, show a resemblance to the rounded backside of an elephant.  The trail contoured around the east side of Elephant Back and then descended down a long canyon.

The scenery on the descent down the canyon on the back (north) side of Elephant Back reminded both Bipolar and me of scenic shots from the movie The Hobbit, so fantastic were the features of dark volcanic outcroppings, waterfalls, and misshapen trees forged by the relentless winds blowing down the canyon.  Climbing up to a ridge, Bipolar got ahead of me – I stopped to take a whiz behind a tree, and I didn’t see him again until Carson Pass.

Descending the trail just above Carson Pass, I encountered a group of day hikers from a Sierra Club outing.  One young lady who had two small dogs with her, wanted to know all about the PCT; she said she’d never heard about it.  I was walking fast at this point, and told her if she could keep up with me, I’d be glad to talk with her.  She did, and we talked all the way to the parking lot at Carson Pass.

At the pass, I met Bipolar who had arrived just a few minutes before I did, and who handed me a Sierra Mist soda that someone had given him - such a sweet, refreshing treat.  Bipolar commented that he was leaving the trail at this point to hitch into Reno to meet his wife.

I was now alone in the parking lot – Bipolar had left as well as all the day hikers, so I took a moment to read the bronze plaques in the parking lot that give the history of Carson Pass.
Standing beside the plaques, I can’t see where the trail continued on across the highway, so I consulted my trail map, and discovered that there are two parking lots, an upper and a lower, and the trail continued up the mountain beginning at the far end of the lower parking lot.  I made my way there, all the while clicking my trekking poles on the hard surface of the highway as I walked.

At the far end of the parking lot, I met a couple who was just preparing to load their horses into their horse trailer.  The PCT will also accommodate horse riders, and they were just returning from a trail ride.  I ventured to ask if they might have a can of mosquito repellent that I could purchase from them, as I was out, and the pests were biting hard.  The lady rummaged around in a side container of the horse trailer and produced a can that was half full.  She gave it to me and wouldn’t let me pay her for it.

It was all downhill now to South Lake Tahoe, and from the highest point on the trail, to the north, I could see vast bodies of water, but I couldn’t tell if I was looking at Lake Tahoe or Lower Echo Lake.  Within miles of the high point, I encountered the meager beginnings of Upper Truckee River, which will increase in size as it flowed downhill to eventually become the mighty river that flowed along the outskirts of Reno, Nevada.

After breaking camp this morning and walking for five hours, I arrived at Highway 50, the highway that traverses the southern end of South Lake Tahoe from Sacramento, California, in the west to Carson City, Nevada, in the east.  The point of exit for the trail is the Echo-Summit Sno-Park, a winter recreational resort for skiing, snowboarding, tubing, etc.  From reading the trail journals of hikers in past years, it appeared that the local police are not amenable to hitchhikers seeking rides into town, twelve miles distance.  Still, with no other way into town other than roadwalking, I would have to take my chances.

Before getting on the road, I took a moment to clean up – brush my teeth, take a sponge bath, apply a little deodorant to try and mask the hiker smell, and put on a cleaner shirt.  The summit was a difficult place to catch a ride, as drivers are zooming up the summit at 60 miles per hour and don’t really see me until they’re right upon me, then they have only a few seconds to make a decision as to whether to stop and/or zoom on by.  But within ten minutes, I had a ride and was on my way into town at South Lake Tahoe.  Neither the driver nor I knew where the Motel 6 was located, my lodging for the night, but with the help of the navigation app on his Smartphone, he quickly located it, and dropped me off at the front door.

After checking in at the front desk, I dropped my pack and trekking poles in my room, then walked the mile to the Lake of the Sky Outfitter store to retrieve my resupply box.  This was a very small outfitter store, whose merchandise was geared specifically towards the hiking community, and in an effort to boost their visibility in the community, the owners had agreed to accept hiker resupply boxes.  I chose this establishment rather than the post office for a resupply, as they were open seven days a week and for longer hours; I had no idea when or what time I would be arriving in town, and should it be on a weekend, I didn’t want to have to wait around until Monday before gaining access to my resupply box.

This was always an encouraging sign to see.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Part 83 - Cowboys and Bears

Sometimes when trying to hitch a ride, I would get to the highway too early when there was no traffic on the road, and I would then have to wait.  Such was the case this morning; I was awake at 4:30 a.m., and by 5:30 a.m. I’m standing beside the paved highway, patiently waiting for a ride.  A few cowboys driving their heavy-duty Chevy Silverados and towing gigantic horse trailers pulled out onto the highway, but they all turned west heading towards Modesto and Stockton, California, rather than east towards Sonora Pass.

Patience was one thing I’ve learned on this trek; nothing can be sped up, everything will happen in its own due time.  One just has to wait for the right sequence of events to coalesce, for the outcome to be of benefit to the person seeking results.  And so it is with my ride back to Sonora Pass.  I had to wait until a fellow, driving his late-model Ford pickup on his way to do some work on his rental property over in Ridgecrest, drove by, felt sorry for me, and stopped to offer me a ride.

I got a good start on today’s hike; I was on the trail before the sun came up, which gave me the opportunity to walk in the shade of the mountains.  Leaving Sonora Pass, the trail was steep as it wound in switchbacks through volcanic fragments to a pass high up the side of the mountain.  The summit was studded with red, orange, and black volcanic outcroppings that dropped a thousand feet to the valley floor below.  There were few lakes and water sources on today’s stretch of the trail, as volcanic rock is porous and unable to hold water.  The small basins that did contain water were formed from granitic rock that predated the younger, overlain volcanic rock.

Judging from the number of wire fences that paralleled the trail or headed off into the surrounding forest, I concluded that this was cattle country but the fences seemed to be old and many were in disrepair; in fact, at some gateposts, the barbed wire had been removed from the steel posts and coiled in large rolls that lay on the ground.  My thinking concerning the matter was that when this area was designated as wilderness, the grazing allotments were retired and the fences were left for Mother Nature to dispose of.

About a mile up the trail, after crossing Highway 4 at Ebbetts Pass, I heard a rustling in the bushes off to my left and saw two stout men emerging from the brush, each restraining a large dog on a leash.  One dog seemed friendly, but the other one was a giant bulldog, and he looked menacing.  It was a total surprise to see them, and they may have been as surprised to see me.  With no guns, they didn’t appear to be hunters, and they had no other tools, backpacks, or water bottles with them; they were just two men with big dogs coming out of the bush.  Immediately out of my mouth came the question, 

“What are you guys doing out here in the wilderness with these two dogs on leashes?”

Their answer was a surprise.  They said they were ranch hands mending fences and that they had repaired about two miles of fence so far this day.  With that answer, I asked them about the miles of fence I had seen on the south side of Ebbetts Pass, some of which was coiled and laying on the ground.  They replied that in the fall after the cattle are off the summer grazing range, they and others come in and remove the strands of barbed wire and coil it.

“If we don’t,” they said, “the heavy snows in the mountains, which can get as high as fifteen feet, will move the fences down the mountainside, effectively destroying them.”

They had been putting the fences back up, in anticipation of cattle being brought back to graze in the forests.  I then asked about the dogs, to which they replied,

“They’re to keep the bears away; they alert us to their presence.”

I thanked them for their information, and as I prepared to leave and hike on up the trail, they cautioned me about a cinnamon-colored bear they had chased off about a mile up the trail.  If I wasn’t alert before, I was now.  

I met up with Bipolar and we walked together for the rest of the day, camping in the only flat area we could find, which was heavily infested with mosquitoes.

Before going to bed last night, I prepared my breakfast so that I could eat it quickly without being attacked by mosquitoes.  Preparation was simply adding water to my breakfast meal of oats, crushed nuts, dried fruit and spices, and letting it hydrate.  Bipolar and I wasted no time in breaking camp and getting out of the swampy bog with its pesky denizens.  

The trail kept us high on the crest overlooking Upper and Lower Blue Lakes, which appeared to be heavily used recreational lakes.  From our vantage point on the crest, we could see numerous motorized watercraft, canoes, and kayaks on the water.  Coming down the ridge, we passed close to Lost Lakes, and found a young lady sitting on a rock beside the trail.  She looked a bit dejected, and we asked her if she was okay.  She said she was and was only waiting for her husband to rejoin her after he’d gone hiking up a hill.

Even if one doesn't have time to do the entire PCT,for those individuals who enjoy hiking, the John Muir trail through the high Sierras should be on everyone's to do list.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Part 82 - Hypothermia and Trail Angels

My journey from today’s camp to Sonora Pass would descend twelve hundred feet in elevation, which was a welcomed relief from the constant uphill grind of the last few days, but of greater interest was that the geology of the landscape was changing dramatically.  I actually passed a point where the granite structure of the Sierras disappeared into the ground, or appeared depending on the direction of travel, and were superseded by rock formations that were volcanic in nature.  The transition was so stark that I had to stop and take several photos of the two geological formations abutting up against one another.  Whereas before, the footpath had been littered with chunks of granite stone, now I was walking on volcanic tuff.  I think it’s safe to say that at this point, the Sierras had come to an end.

At three in the afternoon, I connected with Highway 108, but just before crossing the highway, I found a handwritten note laying in the trail that said, "Trail Magic, straight ahead in parking lot."  I didn’t waste any time hustling across the highway and making my way up to the trailhead parking lot where I found a virtual luncheon buffet laid out on tables, and a dozen or more hikers sprawled on the ground, or resting on their Z-foam pads, eating food, drinking a beer, or just relaxing in the warm sun.

I recognized most of the hikers by sight and even remembered their trail names.  It appeared there were two different groups of trail angels who have set up camp here to provide trail magic food for tired and hungry hikers.  I unbuckled my pack and leaned it against a tree, then went to inspect what was left of the luncheon buffet.  There was plenty to choose from and I loaded my paper plate with a wide assortment of salads, meats, cheeses and fresh fruits, and stuffed a couple of soda pops in my pockets before returning to the picnic tables. 

The big topic of discussion among the hikers was how everyone had fared during the massive storm we just lived through.  From the conversations, I learned that the hiker Bipolar had become so hypothermic that other hikers had to help him down the trail to the pass, stand out in the highway to flag down a car, and virtually demanded that the driver take him to a hospital, or at least a motel in Bridgeport where he could get warm, and have a chance to raise his body temperature.

 In talking to Bipolar later on, he said that the driver had taken him to a motel, where he checked in; he then filled the tub with hot water and spent the entire night in the tub trying to get warm.  No doubt about it, it had been a serious storm, and I was very grateful that I had my air mattress to lay on, which kept me elevated above the water in my tent.

Just before leaving the parking lot to hitch into Kennedy Meadows North, a bright green, vintage VW bus pulled into the parking lot.  I later learned that the older couple in the bus was WeeBee’s parents – whose trail names are Kermit and June Bug.  They also had come to provide trail magic and were giving support to their daughter, WeeBee.  I would meet them four more times along the trail, all the way to Washington as they continued to provide trail magic to hikers, and each time, it was like meeting old friends.

My assessment of the section I had just hiked through – Tuolumne Meadows to Sonora Pass, was that it was one of the most scenic and picturesque segments of the Pacific Crest Trail I had yet encountered.  If I were asked to suggest an area of the trail to hike for a week, without hesitation, I would recommend this seventy-five-mile section of the trail.

An hour later, I was standing beside the road trying to hitch a ride into Kennedy Meadows North.  On the other side of the road, Biers, Ranch, Pia and her friend, Tea Bag, were trying to hitch a ride in the opposite direction, towards Bridgeport, some thirty miles to the east. After a long wait, I succeed in catching a ride, and the driver delivered me to the doorsteps of the lodge/convenience store.  Kumquat and Tour Guide were there also, and together the three of us sorted through our resupply boxes on the back porch of the lodge.

Kennedy Meadows is summer grazing land for cattle, and this was the time of year when the cattle were being trucked in to the summer range; subsequently, there were a lot of cowboys in and around the lodge.  They were decked out in their working clothes – boots, spurs, long-sleeve shirts, big, big hats, and for those who were old enough, long moustaches, curled up at the ends.  It was delightful to watch the really young boys – ages twelve or younger, strut across the open grounds surrounding the lodge in their boots and hats, trying hard to imitate their fathers or older brothers.

Kumquat, Tour Guide, and I had dinner together – standard hiker fare – fries, hamburgers and milk shake, and then headed up the road back towards the highway to find a place among the pine trees to set up camp.  I camped away from the other two, as I knew I would be on the road early.

The grandeur of the Sierras.