1999 Pacific Crest Trail | The 1999/2000 PCT Thruhikers
My dream was to backpack the 1,700 mile California section of the Pacific Crest Trail, coaching clients via cell phone on the way. My reality was that the absence of cell phone coverage made coaching impossible, and after 4 months away from home and 600 miles of hiking, I was done.
It was a great adventure. The first time I did a big trip on my own, without an accompanying group. Most days I saw, walked with, and/or camped with other hikers. And they were not a part of my group. Physically, I was on my own; spiritually, I was accompanied by the connections with friends, Nature, and Spirit that are such an important part of my life. It was an extraordinary journey. I invite you to take a look at my journal entries (link) to share in it.
For those of you who may be considering a hike on the PCT, I’ve included a list of PCT thruhikers for 1999 (link) and 2000 (link) (at least the ones I know about) as well as my favorite Trail Angels (link) and their emails from that time. These folks are a great resource for anyone planning to hike any part of the PCT.
April 21, 1999
6:20 am I am packed, not quite dressed and will soon head out to the San Diego Hostel to pick up Dana and Jason. Then we’ll head out to the trailhead, accompanied by several friends to begin this journey, 2700 miles for them, 1700 for me, that I have been dreaming of for 8 years. My back and foot, both injured in the last month, are doing well, everything is organized. It is finally time to leave.
The ADZPCTKO (First Annual Day Zero PCT KickOff!) was held at Lake Morena Campground last Saturday and was great fun. About 40 people, altogether, with lots of stories about past hikes and weight and food and gear. My first impression is that we long distance/section hikers are a bright, hospitable, friendly, inquisitive bunch. It was a delightful evening, and I’m glad I came out early to attend. The last couple of days here in San Diego have been filled with last minute food shopping and gear fixing and friend visiting and phone talking. When I left Aspen on Saturday, I was aware of a deep sadness at leaving my home and kitty and friends for so long. More aware that with all my previous trips. And at the same time, filed with joy and anticipation at the journey to come.
I have no clue what this trip will bring me. It is completely different from anything I’ve ever done, and although I’ve planned about where I will camp each night, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I slept at not a single one of the planned places. I am not as trained as I wanted to be, and my body is ready. What I know as truth is that this trip is 10% physical and 90% mental. When feet hurt, I can choose to focus on my feet or focus on the beauty around me and the essence of the adventure. The choice is mine. Just as it is the choice of each of us as to whether we approach life with positive desire or negative resignation. Choice makes the difference between peace and discontent. That will be my “principle to ponder” for the next three days, the first leg of this 1700 mile journey.
Enough for now. I will dress and head downtown to pick up my companions for the next several days. My heart sings quietly. It is the beginning. Another dream coming to fruition; the latest of Margo’s Great Adventures. Join me on the journey. Bookmark this page and come back often. Namaste.
April 22, 1999
9:15pm (MDT-Fort Collins, CO)
Margo just called from the trail to report in…it’s raining, she’s in her teal tent, dry and very happy. She’s holding up well over the first two days of hiking, feet are sore, but she expected that. She’s loving being with Jason & Dana, and the three of them were sent off by Judy, Davenia, Bob, Becky and Tim. Tim turned into their first “Trail Angel” by retrieving something Margo had left in Becky’s car, then meeting them for lunch on the 22nd along the trail. The terrain is gorgeous, Indian Paintbrush and sandstone and sage. What a trip this technology is…what an adventure for us all. RCB
Sunday, April 25, 1999 – San Diego
Obviously this is not where I had expected to be today. I have several blisters on my feet that are manageable but both my little toes have developed very, very deep blisters that are like walking on a knife blade. The 4 miles to Mt. Laguna yesterday were close to a nightmare, and when I reached the wonderfully funky little motel that exists alone with a Post Office and store in Mt. Laguna, I was a hurtin’ puppy.
The walk, however, was exquisite. We had been caught in a snow/thunder storm in the late afternoon on Friday. Dana, Jason and I had camped in a gorgeous meadow, protected above by Jefferson pines and below by many years of their needles, adding softness to my Thermarest bed. It snowed hard for almost three hours: an ethereal, mysterious, lovely oddity in April in San Diego County, even at 6,000 feet. The heat of southern California certainly has not reared its head as of yet.
When I got up this morning in Mt. Laguna, it was clear I could not continue with Dana and Jason. I was unable to walk in any kind of normal manner, even without boots on. So I called my dear friend Becky in San Diego who said, “Of course, I’ll come get you.” I hugged the boys farewell and watched them walk to the trailhead. A sad and frustrating moment. I am hugely grateful to be at Becky’s house rather than in that little motel. I am soaking my feet and staying off them. Will be back on the trial as soon as possible.
Wednesday, April 28, 1999 – San Diego
Once again, packed and ready to go. Feet are doing well, and I have new boots. We shall see what happens. Once this entry is sent, I will get out the Second Skin and duct tape and construct padding for the toes that were so painful. They are so small to have caused so much havoc! The interruption of the trip has allowed me to be here at a time when Becky needed some support, so the Universe has once again proved to be perfect. Not what I would have chosen, but perfect nonetheless. It’s a cloudy morning, and according to the weather man, more storms are possible this afternoon. I’ll be on the trail by 8:30 and hopefully well tucked into camp before the rain comes, if it does. Pray for sunshine! I am delighted to be getting back on the trail. For those who care about details: We (Dana, Jason and I) covered 11.5 miles the first day, camping on top of Hauser Mountain; almost 15 on Thursday to reach Boulder Oaks Campground where we camped in a light rain; 13, partly in snow, to the meadow on Friday, and about 4 into Mt. Laguna on Saturday morning. Exactly as I had planned which is somewhat of a miracle. I greatly enjoyed Dana and Jason’s company and am hopeful that many others will show up on this journey. I get the solitude I want during the day, hiking on my own, and enjoy having company in camp at night. Once again, I invite you all to think about joining me for a section or even a day hike along the way. Namaste.
Friday, April 30, 1999 – Mt. Laguna
Becky drove me up to Mt. Laguna Wednesday morning, and I started walking a bit before 9. Clear skies but very strong winds. The walk for the day to Pioneer Mail Trailhead was an easy 10 miles through high chaparral, with sage and manzanita, Indian paintbrush and globe mallows and many, many birds. The wind made the easy walking difficult as there were times when I had to actively lean forward to keep from being blown backwards. Temperature was good so the wind was more an inconvenience than anything. Reached Pioneer Mail before 1, thinking I’d have some lunch and head on for a few more miles.
Wasn’t sure if there were spots to camp, and as I was once again retaping my toes to take off, a car arrived and let another hiker out. Greg Cullen, a retired marine, hiking on his own, just returning from picking up his resupply box at Mt. Laguna. We chatted for quite a while as the wind increased and decided it would be best to find a place to camp there that might be a bit protected from the wind. Found a spot a bit below the trail, just big enough for Greg’s bivy sac and my Nomad Lite. We talked all afternoon, and I found Greg to be much more gentle-hearted than I thought possible for a 20-year marine. The snow started about 6 and we both retreated into our own space. The wind and heavy snow continued through the night and by 5 I was aware of the dampness creeping into my down bag, concerned about what might lay ahead. My Nomad was as wet inside as it was outside, and the condensation was permeating the water resistant cover of my bag. By 6 with the wind and snow continuing, I knew it made no sense for me to continue on and even less sense to stay where I was, and I made the discouraged choice to hitchhike back to Laguna. I am not equipped for winter camping. Greg decided to continue on, and I wished him well as he disappeared into the swirling maelstrom.
I trudged only about 2 miles through it before getting a ride back to the welcome warmth of Room 26 at the Mt. Laguna Lodge. Took a hot bath, had some breakfast and as I was beginning to read on my bed, there was a loud knock on the door. I opened it up and there was a very wet, very cold marine. Greg had turned around after 7 miles. I admit that it greatly validated my own decision. When the marines turn around, you know the weather is awful!!
There was a whole community of us waiting out the snow. Nick and Whitney, a young couple from Oakland; Skitz, a 32-year-old chef traveling on his own, who dyed his hair blond last night and is looking forward to sending photos back to all his “suit” friends in Washington; a second young couple, whose names I’m afraid I have forgotten at the moment, who left — in shorts– despite the low, windy clouds and 40 degree temperatures of this morning; Karen Davis and Jen who did the same; Rainmaker (David Mauldin) and Timbo (Tim ?) arrived this morning and will stay the night; 4 friends/brothers from CA, who are section hiking to Werner Springs, two of who have bad blisters and will return to San Diego tomorrow, leaving Jeff and Lyn to continue on; and finally Don and Scott who came in late this afternoon, Don with a mis-fitted huge Dana external frame pack with everything but the kitchen sink in it, a classic example of someone walking into an outfitter with not real well trained people and saying, “I’m going to hike the PCT. What do I need?”
Yikes! I will leave tomorrow unless the weather is truly awful. I am just too antsy to sit here any longer. Skitz also hitched back from Pioneer Mail so we will get a ride back there late in the morning tomorrow.
Sunday, May 2, 1999 – Julian
It is raining hard and very windy – again. Hitched in from Scissors Crossing with Nick and Whitney. My feet are bad again, and Whitney is completely hobbled. We will both return to San Diego tomorrow, Whitney going on to Laguna to stay with her mom while her feet heal. It’s hard not to be discouraged. The question of whether I’m supposed to do this trip or not has come up more than once. The answer I keep getting is “yes”. So I will handle this foot problem and head out once again. I believe it is simply that my boots are too narrow. Fine for hiking but not for carrying a pack. Ugh!!
The walk from Pioneer Mail to Chariot Canyon was quite lovely yesterday. Finally beautiful weather, not too hot. An easy 12 miles to a lovely campsite about half a mile down the canyon from the trail. Water, grass, frogs, wonderful bird songs. An ideal spot. Leap frogged much of the day with Jeff and Jeff, two ultra-light thru hikers who are carrying all their food for Idyllwild and already averaging well over 20 miles a day. They are hobbling from their 30 miles day yesterday but determined to keep on. I asked one of the Jeffs where he had come from that day, and he replied, “I don’t know. I don’t pay attention to those kinds of things.” It’s a very different philosophy from mine. And they were giggling madly under their tarp, clearly enjoying themselves immensely. Part of what I love about this trip is the enormously wide variety of people I have already met. It’s been more social, than I had thought, partly from the delays and partly because that is just my nature. Nick and Whitney arrived a bit after 6 after a 21 mile day from Laguna, and Jeff and Lyn were not far behind them. I have a great deal of respect for that kind of distance. I could not do it. At least not yet. Chatted with Nick and Whitney during dinner. I have become very fond of them. Nick is 6’9″ and yet is a gently, sweet spirit. Whitney is grounded and delightfully curious about the world and people around her.
Left for the 15-mile walk to Scissors Crossing this morning, about a half hour after Lyn and Jeff and an hour or so before Nick and Whitney. Jeff and Jeff were long gone when I got up at 6:30. My feet were not good this morning, and the walk was a balancing act of cutting up one pair of orthotics to create more space for my toes, walking with no insoles in my boots which relieved the pain in my toes but raised havoc with the bottoms of my feet and putting the whole orthotics back in which helped the bottoms but put the knife edge back on my little toes. It felt a bit like tap dancing down a hot trail running from something. And yet — overall, it was quite an enjoyable day until the last couple of miles when the tap dancing ceased to work at all, and the knife blades were back in my toes with no way to relieve them. Leapfrogged with Lyn and Jeff all day, and each time I saw them, it was a lift to my heart and body. We stopped in different places so I saw them several times as I did the day in three 5-mile chunks. Perfect view of the days to come in the San Felipe hills but my concern was with getting to Scissors Crossing, the end of this day. Whitney and Nick arrived there about an hour after me, with Whitney barely able to walk. The three of us hitched a ride into Julian in the back of a pickup of 3 dirt biking marines, arriving in high winds and low clouds. Again.
So here I sit, in this sweet Victorian room in the Julian Hotel, lovely quilts on the high beds, a fabulous mirrored chifferobe in the corner, the wind hurling the rain against the porch. I have no idea what is going to happen. I only know it is my intention to continue this journey, even after two false starts.
Thursday, May 6, 1999 – San Diego
I have a special order pair of boots arriving tomorrow that have a wider last than my Lowas. We think that will solve the problem. At this point I’d much rather deal with a bit too much volume than the too little that has caused so many problems.
Have decided that what makes the most sense is for me to resume my walk at Idyllwild on Saturday which will put me close to my original schedule. Drove up to Idyllwild yesterday to retrieve my resupply box and organize food for the next leg. Ran into Sly and Snoop, two hikers who I’d emailed with quite a bit and who were ahead of me on the trial, and a third man whose name I have simply forgotten. Delighted to finally meet them. Played trail angel a bit and shared some care packages (thank you Shari and Irene!!) with them as I drove them from PO to campground, to trailhead. fun to be both hiker and trail angel. On the way home, as I turned from Route 74 onto Route 371, a junction about a mile from the trail, I spotted the easily identifiable blonde hair of Skitz in the parking lot of the Paradise Cafe. Honked the horn and pulled in, and he was clearly dumbfounded by anyone honking at him out in the middle of nowhere. He and Jen had hoped to have dinner at the cafe but it wasn’t open. I drove them back to the trail and sent them on their way with a bit of chocolate and a bag of potato chips. Stopped off at Kamp Anza to meet Paul and Pat who are the angels of all trail angels. To any of you who will hike the trail in the future, don’t miss their kindness and hospitality. Found Greg there as well as Ray Tomlinson and Dave Busha (sp?), lounging on the lovely green lawn, laundry hung everywhere, the smell of garlicky lasagna emanating from Pat’s kitchen. Don’t miss this treat! It was a very fun day.
So, although this trip has looked nothing like I thought it would, it has been and continues to be wonderful. The people connections are much more a part of it than I had imagined they would be. Perhaps the quality that I have needed the most so far is adaptability. I’m blessed with the willingness to continue to do the footwork to handle my feet problem without giving up and going home. To Barb and Leelee, thanks you for the cards. I invite any of you to drop me a note at a resupply place. They mean a great deal. My website contact will be away for about 10 days so it will be a while until the next update. Until then, stay well and think good thought for me.
Saturday, May 15, 1999 – San Diego …Hopefully for the last time
I am heading up to reenter the Trail at I-10 near Cabazon. The toe problem turned out to be a structural one rather than a boot one, and I have worked with a podiatrist and a chiropractor to come up with ways to deal with it and the tendonitis that it has caused. We believe we have some good solutions as long as I keep the mileage down to 10 or so for a few weeks to get used to the toe separators I’ll be using. It’s been an up and down 10 days, and I have been blessed to have my best friend Becky as my host. I have loved the time with her if not the reason for it. Have taken time to look at the spiritual issues around all this toe stuff as well as the physical ones and will take slightly different eyes back to the trail. Thanks to all of you who are in touch by email and phone. The support has been invaluable. I will be somewhere in the vicinity of a week behind the original schedule from Big Bear City on. I’ll update the itinerary and section information in a couple of weeks when I see what my daily mileage will settle into. It will certainly be lower for a while than I had thought above Big Bear. More clarity that this trip is not about daily mileage for me, it’s — once again — about putting one foot in front of the other in a way that is present with the world and people around me, in a way that is enjoyable not effortful. The only factors that matter in how long it takes me to get from one place to another are water and safety. Anything else is extraneous. I’ll report in from Big Bear City. Until then, take good care and enjoy the spring. Namaste.
(Margo was last seen about 3pm, 5/15, hiking north up the trail from I-10 on her way to Big Bear City. Her spirits were high and her toes were carefully wrapped. RCB)
Thursday, May 20, 1999 – Big Bear City
The 5 day walk from I-10 to here has been very encouraging. My toes are not perfect but they are much improved and the problems I’m having are some blisters not the little toe dilemma of before. Big progress. I spent the first night out by myself in Whitewater Canyon after a pleasant 9 mile hike from the highway. Was visited by a small coyote at dusk and a huge owl flew silently overhead about 6 times during the course of my dinner. Only 10 feet above me, it made not a sound. It was a magical night, filled with my gratitude to be back on the trail. The next two days were spent ascending through Mission Creek Canyon, almost 6,000 feet over a distance of about 25 miles. A beautiful narrow canyon, with many stream crossings, sandy terrain, cottonwood trees by the creek, desert shrubbery and sand on the canyon floor and canyon walls of varying steepness. Quite lovely and quite hard work. I paid the price of the two weeks sitting on my duff in San Diego! The second night found 7 of us camping at the same spot: the Pennsylvania Plumbers whom I had met in MT. Laguna, accompanied by a young man named Barclay; Stephanie and a young man whom she was hiking with whose name I can’t remember; and the trio of Haiko, Laura and Ishmael. I enjoyed the camaraderie and conversation greatly.
Spent the third night on my own on a saddle at 7600 feet with incredible views both north and south. The north wall of Mt. San Jacinto dominated the southern view, with snow still in its gullies. There was a new moon that night that smiled peacefully at me while I ate my dinner. The terrain eased off on the fourth day, and I made great time covering the 12 miles to Arrestre Trail Camp which I shared that evening with Steve Fonseca and his friend Richard, Wanda and Rafi, Tom, Scott and Lindy. An evening of fun conversation and lots of laughter. I am finding the people I’m meeting to be a great joy. People who lead traditional lives don’t choose to make a journey like this so we are a community of individualistic, nontraditional people, following a dream with as many different reasons for being here as there are hikers on the trail. It is marvelous to be a part of it.
On the 9.5 mile walk into Big Bear City yesterday, I experienced for the first time on this trip, the true bliss of walking on a trail in a beautiful place with nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other and be there. Yes, my feet hurt but not badly, and it’s clear, at least at this point, that they will continue to improve, so my focus could soar to the beauty and peace of my surroundings. A very sweet day, arriving in BBC around noon.
There are a bunch of us here and we tend to congregate, sharing information about the trail, telling stories, talking about gear and how to go lighter. I have learned an enormous amount, particularly from Annie and the Salesman and Lindy about the importance of eliminating as much weight as possible from my pack. I will leave here on Saturday with about 5 pounds less in my pack than I arrived with. A big plus for my feet and general level of enjoyment.
I leave today for Wrightwood with a young man named Jason and Rainmaker, David Maudlin who is my age. We are of the endangered species of laidback PCT hikers, doing low mileage and taking the time to appreciate the scenery and be kind to our bodies. I am grateful to have hiking partners for this 8 day section. I love hiking by myself and equally enjoy having company in the evenings in camp.
I continue to be hugely grateful for the opportunity to follow this dream of mine. All the problems with my feet have changed my focus and allowed me to slow down, take the emphasis off the mileage and return it where it belongs, to the entire experience, to being on the trail not just to hiking the trail. I am blessed to be here. Namaste.
Saturday, May 22, 1999
I am camped on a point above Holcomb Creek with Rainmaker and Jason Hoevet, with gorgeous views of the valley below and mountains beyond. It is a treat to be in the company of these two men. Jason is 27, bright, inquisitive, kind; Rainmaker, 51, calm, peaceful, much more about being than doing. We continue to be members of the endangered species The Laidback PCT’ers. I hiked with Jason today as we left later than Rainmaker, and we made great time doing the 9.5 miles we covered but also stopped many times to ooo and aahhh at the views of Big Bear Lake and the surrounding mountains. It was a mostly level walk through pine forests with the trail soft with sand or pine needles. It has been, quite simply, a joyous day. This is what the PCT is about for me, much more than mileage, much more than reaching Oregon. It is about being in the company of wonderful people in exquisite surroundings. I am blessed.
Sunday, May 23, 1999
14 miles today along gorgeous Holcomb Creek. Wonderful birdsongs, lovely sound of water flowing on the canyon floor, just plain beautiful. We are camped on a wonderful little beach under a 90-foot steel bridge which spans Deep Creek. Jason is using a fish hook and line he found in a bush to lure the trout that are visible in the creek. No luck yet. Standing knee deep in a cool creek after a day of hiking is almost orgasmic. A sweet place to be.
Monday, May 24, 1999
10 mile traverse high above Deep Creek then dropping down to a hot spring that flows into the creek. What a treat! Almost a scene from the 60’s. Naked bodies soaking peacefully in the soothing hot water, someone playing a guitar, dogs lounging on the grass. The feel of the hot water on tired muscles is almost indescribable. We spent two hours there and left only because we knew that if we spent the night, we’d lost most of the morning to the delicious hot water. The campsite we expected to find two miles away didn’t exist so it was an unexpected 15 mile day. Very, very tired and equally as proud. Back to back 14 and 15 mile days are a step up for me.
Tuesday, May 25, 1999
A 15 plus mile day. Surprisingly easy. We decided we’re having way too much fun. 7 miles to the Silverwood Country Store where we filled up on junk food and soda and juice, had Polaroids taken for the PC register and weighed our packs. I was quite pleased with my 20 pound base weight. That was my goal. Another 5 miles around Silverwood Reservoir to a place where the trail passed within 10 feet of a lovely little beach leading into the lake. It was simply too good to resist, and our hot, sweaty bodies reveled in the coolness of the water. I listened to an oldies station on my little radio as we continued around the lake to the hike ‘n bike campground for the night. Just a wonderful time despite the sudden sprinkler activation that tested the weatherproofing on our tents. I knew this trip would be many things: spiritual, difficult, painful, wonderful, up and down. But I never thought there would be as much pure fun mixd in with it all as there has been in the last few days. Harmonious hiking partners make all the difference.
Wednesday, May 26, 1999
The hardest day since I returned to the trail. Another 15 miles, this time in great heat with not much water, ending in what the guidebook described as a “tortuous descent”. It was, and by the time we reached Highway 15 and the most-welcome-ever McDonald’s, my feet were extremely sore, achey to the bone. Simple overuse. I was not altogether unhappy when a logistical glitch necessitated one of the three of us getting a ride to Wrightwood, skipping the final 22 miles of dry, 5,000 ascent into town. My feet were still very sore the next day, and I was glad not to be walking.
Saturday, May 29, 1999
We are packing, getting ready to leave for Agua Dulce in the morning. I did a lovely 10 mile day hike today along a section of the PCT I hadn’t yet walked. Steep uphill for two miles, then a lovely ridge walk at 7,000 feet in the pines, across the wildflowered meadows of a ski area, back down to Highway 2 where we will begin again tomorrow morning. This has been the best section yet and that has a great deal to do with the people I am with, both as hiking partners and other hikers who I come in contact with more briefly. This trail is rich in experiences and people. I continue to feel incredibly blessed. Special thanks to Betty Malloy and Irene Morris for their care packages. I send fond greetings to you all and thanks for your continuing support. Till the next town…Namaste
Sunday, May 30, 1999
A day of up and down – in altitude. Left Wrightwood, walking through lovely black oaks and white fir, whitethorn and bitter cherry, crossing the Angeles Crest Highway twice, dropping from 7400 feet to 6500, then beginning the 3000 foot climb up Mt. Baden-Powell. I was in my glory, putting one foot in front of the other up the 4-mile trail, at a pace that was comfortable despite my fully loaded pack, breathing rhythmically, using my go mode to reach the windy summit ahead of Jason and Rainmaker, to revel in the 360 degree views and the sheer joy of climbing a peak, this one 9399 feet high. After a half hour of celebrating our ascent and simply enjoying the views and the 2000-year-old gnarled conifers that dot the top of the peak. Then on again to Little Jimmy campground where we were joined by hikers whom we had met in Wrightwood: Laura, Kim, Drew and Jeff. Jason built a fire in one of the fire rings to chase the chill of the evening, and we shared the marvelous camaraderie that is such a big part of this trip. Laura and Kim are long time friends who are doing this trip together, and I greatly enjoyed chatting with them about “girl things” and a level of feelings that I don’t have access to with Jason and David. A very sweet evening, ending what has been the best day of the trip. I wonder how many days I will call the best day of the trip. We covered 14 1/2 miles and a total of more than 4000 vertical feet, and I went to bed feeling tired, proud and painfree. Thank you, God.
Monday, May 31, 1999
An easy 11 mile day to Cooper Canyon Trail campground, strolling along the trail, making our way up almost to the summit of 8300 foot Mt. Williamson, but electing not to do the 1/2 mile side trail that reached it, stopping at each of the 3 streams we crossed to admire the beauty and soak our feet in the cold water. Lots of laughter, butterflies, and wildflowers. Again, Jason built a fire and we, the three of us chatted into dark over hot chocolate and the warmth of the embers. As soon as the sun goes down, despite it being late spring, the long pants, fleece jackets and hats come out and without Roadwalker’s fire, we would have crawled into our bags much earlier. Jason has been given the trailname Roadwalker due to his penchant for detouring to a dirt or paved road whenever the road is shorter or has less up and down than the trail or has a convenience store with beer and cigarettes. It’s an interesting way to do the PCT! I have taken on the trailname of Maggot. It sounds awful but is the name that was given to me by Gary Ball in the Antarctic in 1990 and used by both Gary and Rob Hall, so it has a special meaning. So we are now Rainmaker, Roadwalker and Maggot. Another totally delightful day. I had imagined this trip would be many things: exciting, challenging, rewarding, difficult, even enjoyable but I didn’t think that there would be as much pure fun as we’re having. It is all the other things as well, but the three of us do well at bringing fun in even in the face of adversity. (Little did we know how soon that quality would be pulled into play at a whole new level.
Tuesday, June 1, 1999
It is almost impossible to believe it is the first of June. The morning was an indication of how strong I am growing as I covered the 9.5-mile stretch to our lunch spot at Sulphur Springs campground with only a short break in considerably under 4 hours. The only doctoring of my toes is now putting on the guards built by the podiatrist in San Diego. Blisters almost healed, the aching of the bottoms after 10 or so miles decreasing greatly, assisted by a magic potion called Flexall which I use on my feet at lunch and the end of the day. It is a great luxury which has hugely diminished the pain in my feet. We noticed over lunch that the sky to the west was looking decidedly stormy, and we packed up and headed quickly to our planned campsite.
It was clear by 6 that a storm was indeed brewing and I moved all my gear inside my little Nomad Lite tent to keep it dry. We were joined that evening by Tim Fearn who I had emailed with before the trip started. He’d been keeping an eye out for me and decided to slow down his pace to walk with us into Agua Dulce. A nice addition to our laid back crew. The rain began in earnest about 7:30 and continued throughout the night.
Wednesday, June 2, 1999
Awoke many times during the night to the continuing sound of rain on my tent, wiping away the condensation that forms on the inside of my single wall Nomad. Poked my head out at one point to discover we were deep in the clouds with a visibility of about 10 feet. Like that in the morning as well, although we had a respite from the rain as we packed up camp and headed out in the raw, blustery weather. We were truly in the San Gabriel mountains now, walking in Jeffrey pines floored with rabbitbrush, moving in and out of ravines, following the contours of Pacifico Mountain and ridges beyond. We could only imagine the wonderful views as they were completely obscured by the clouds in which we walked. I had to work a bit to not get stuck in the unpleasant part of the morning as the wind increased, blowing the water from the trees as if it were still raining. The good news was that the weather was very conducive to moving fast, and I arrived at our lunch spot at Mill Creek Ranger Station, 9 plus miles, in record time with no stops at all. The weather granted us a window of blustery sunshine, and Roadwalker, Tim and I dried our gear on the back patio of the fire station. The weather report for the remainder of the day was pretty awful but I knew that with a dry sleeping bag and tent, I would be fine. We expected to see Rainmaker at lunch but he never appeared and we headed out thinking he was probably ahead of us having passed up the fire station. Roadwalker opted to avoid the ups and downs of the trail to walk a dirt road leading to our designated camp for the evening.
The weather quickly closed in again, and we spent the afternoon fighting cold rain, low clouds and a bitter, increasing wind. And no sign of Rainmaker. When we reached a sign saying Big Buck Trail Camp – our planned camp – 2 miles before we should have and discovered it was a virtual wind tunnel, unfit for human occupation, Tim and I were confused and a bit concerned. Jason was on the road somewhere, Rainmaker hadn’t been seen since 9:30 that morning, the wind was howling, and it was getting dark. We continued on for a bit and pulled out our maps at a fork in the dirt road which the trail was following to see which way to go. As we studied it, suddenly out of the gloom loomed a giant red fire truck with its bright lights on. Completely startled, Tim and I jumped to the side of the road as the truck pulled up short. The driver rolled down his window, and Roadwalker leaned over from the passenger seat and asked, “Want a ride?” Too surprised to think, we threw our packs in the bed of the truck and climbed into the dry warmth of the backseat. 10 minutes later we were inside Camp 16, in front of a roaring fire, with another truck out looking for Rainmaker. Turns out Camp 16 is a fire camp manned by half a dozen firefighters and crews of prisoners from the prison camp attached to the fire camp. So, yes, we spent the night at a prison camp! Fire, laundry, showers, beds, hot food (they took us into the prison camp mess hall to get dinner, breaking into the line of denim-clad prisoners to give us dinner in those institutional metal trays with compartments to take the place of plates. As the only woman in the place, I was grateful we returned to the firehouse to eat. Crew Supervisor Chuck Lovers who was on duty that night took incredibly wonderful care of us. They are not a PCT stopover but go out looking for hikers when the rare, very unseasonal storm like this one sweeps through the San Gabriels. The whole thing felt a bit like a magical fantasy, with the only downside being we didn’t find Rainmaker and he spent a second night in the storm. The trail magic that I had heard about makes itself evident once again. I understand it now at a new level. The PCT, and other long trails, are filled with people and energy that truly are magical and make the difficult times much more doable.
Thursday, June 3, 1999
An 18-mile day, my longest yet, done more easily than I ever could have imagined. I love it! Walked in the rain much of the day, descending 4500 feet to Soledad Canyon Rd where we put up our tents on the lawn of an RV campground, the four of us clustered together in the rain. Only 5 miles from the town of Acton, we had pizza delivered to our lawn and munched greedily on it from our tent doors as the rain continued to fall. We laughed out loud more than once at the image we presented.
Friday, June 4, 1999
A short 10 miles into the town of Agua Dulce where we were welcomed by the archangel of the PCT, Donna Safely, and driven to her marvelous home. She and her husband Jeff have made it their ambition to house and do laundry for every PCT hiker that comes through town. Their hospitality and generosity is unbounded, and creates a haven for hikers that is almost indescribable. 6 dogs, 2 cats, 2 birds, 1 rabbit, incredibly beautiful roses, unfettered views of the San Gabriels now bathed in sunshine, laid back atmosphere. It is a true haven.
Sunday, June 13, 1999
Still at the Saufley’s. I elected to skip the desert, fearing what the heat would do to me and my feet. Have spent the last week playing Trail Angel, delivering water to long, hot, dry stretches of the trail – taking my rented Dodge to places it was never designed to go; driving along the hot flat stretch of the trail that runs on top of the LA Aqueduct, handing out juice and chips to hikers in need of fluids and salt; ferrying people from here to Tehachapi, from the trailhead into town, etc. It is a wonderful way to stay connected to the trail and still avoid the intense heat of the Mojave desert. As the thermometer moves toward the 100 mark, it’s clear I made the right choice.
Roadwalker also skipped part of the desert and today we leave for Tehachapi to meet Rainmaker and take him into town to rest up for the last 6 days of desert. Tomorrow I will drive to Kennedy Meadows for what I believe to be a gathering of PC hikers, just to say hi to people who are ahead of me on the trail. Later I will return my rental car and get back on the trail at Walker Pass (Kernville) to rejoin Roadwalker and Rainmaker, and head for Kennedy Meadows, this time on foot. I so look forward to getting back on the trail and into the Sierra. My affinity for the mountains continues, and it will be wonderful to be back in them.
This trip continues to be one of surprises, new experiences, laughter and occasional tears. I miss home and the people I love, sometimes acutely, but for the most part, my heart is filled with the wonder of where I am and what I am doing. I am blessed.
I have a long gap where there is no phone so the next journal entries will be a while in coming. Check back around the end of the month for further adventures of Maggot on the PCT.
Sunday, June 14 – Saturday, June 19, 1999 – Kennedy Meadows
Kennedy Meadows is a lovely campground about 700 miles into the trip and is sort of a demarcation between Southern and Central California, between the desert and the Sierra. PCT’ers tend to take a rest there and many of us arrive around the 15th of June. I spent 6 days here camping, day hiking and enjoying the company of many other hikers, some of whom I had met earlier in the trip and some who were new. The camaraderie continues to be an extraordinary and in many ways unexpected gift. Because I knew I was walking less mileage than the vast majority of hikers, I had expected to be alone much of the time. That has not been the case and the people are one of the brightest highlights of this journey.
The Kennedy Meadows days were spent walking through some of the incredible Sierra meadows – verdant green lawns which sprinkle the pines and firs and aspen trees of the low Sierras, once with a bear feeding 100 yards away, more often with the quiet sound of a creek meandering through the grass, such a welcome sound after the dry desert. On Friday I did a 13-mile day hike with two delightful young men named Josh and Kris, up the Jackass Trail and scrambling up the 500-foot rocky crag known as Jackass Peak (there must be a good story about that name!) from where we had an extraordinary view of 7 snowcapped peaks. Mountains, real mountains. My heart still beats a bit faster when I see mountains, and sings when I get to be in them. On the walk down from the peak, we saw 7, yes 7, bears. One adult male and two moms with twins. We spooked one cub as we walked along a mosquitoey creek, and he scooted about 15 feet up into a tree, clearly frightened. First question was “Where’s mom?” Both his question and ours. We backed off about 100 feet to be sure we weren’t between the cub and his mom, the one time when a black bear can be truly dangerous. In his fear, the cub, now 15 feet off the ground jumped 2 feet to another tree. I was astonished. Had no idea they could do that. He half-climbed, half-slid down the tree to join his sibling at the moment and mom showed up a few seconds later to gather her babies and herd them up the hill away from us. It was a special experience and I’m sure not the last of our bear encounters. From Walker Pass on up, bears are plentiful, and in Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks they’re a real nuisance as they’ve become accustomed to the knowledge that where there are people, there is food. These were not “park bears”, however. They don’t know much about humans and food and are just out there living their lives. The sightings did much to calm my ongoing concern about the bears further north. They don’t care about us people, and as long as we store our food appropriately, there will be no probe.
The highlight of this week was a spur-of-the-moment climb of Mt. Whitney. A hiker named Richard and I left Kennedy Meadows for Lone Pine on Saturday morning in the hopes that our PCT permits to climb Whitney from the west side would also be good to climb it from the east. They were not but we were able to get a permit just by walking into the park ranger’s office. This is almost unheard of as most people obtain theirs 3 to 6 months ahead. We headed up the 6 miles to Trail Camp, a 4,000 foot climb, and so walked in the beautiful light of late afternoon and early evening. Huge granite walls, fast running cascades, waterfalls, lovely huge trees, clear skies, peaks above us. It was quite simply wonderful.
We reached camp about 8pm and by the time we scrambled down to a snowmelt lake to get water and found our way back to our tents, we were navigating by the bright light of the half moon. We sat for a long time watching the stars appear, reveling in the beauty of the moonlight on the granite walls and frozen water below. Although we were at 12,000 feet, it was surprisingly warm, and as I sat watching the wonder that is our country, Cat Stevens’ song Moonshadows played through my head. It was an extraordinary night, and as much as I loved summiting the next day, it is that evening I will remember the best.
Tuesday, June 22, 1999 – Ridgecrest
I’m sitting on a motel bed, with Rainmaker and Jason packing beside me. We will return the rental car shortly and get back on the trail. Hooray! This past two weeks has been a time of supporting other hikers, marvelous connections with people, seeing new parts of California, laughter and gratitude that I was not out in the heat of the desert hiking. The time I spent in the desert delivering water and handing out Gatorade, assured me that I made the right choice. And I am antsy to begin walking again. 1000 miles to Oregon, with no expectation of extended time off. I am very much looking forward to getting back into the rhythm of the trail. As far as I know I won’t have access to a phone for almost two weeks. Think of me in the beginning of the Sierras, camping among the trees, snowcapped peaks in the distance. Onward!!
Tuesday, June 22, 1999 – Joshua Tree Spring
Walker Pass Campground – Joshua Tree Spring. 12.5 miles, 1800 feet up, 1700 down. So good to be hiking again after the long break. Standing on the Jenkins-Owens saddle and clearly seeing the desert on one side and the Sierra on the other. Not there yet but not in the real desert anymore, despite the 90 degree temperatures.
Wednesday, June 23, 1999 – Chimney Creek
17.3 miles, up 2500, down 1400. Very hot, long day. The ascent up from Spanish Needle Creek seemed endless. Every now and then I would come around a corner and be surprised and energized by the brilliant fuchsia of a sunlit cactus flower. Amazing how a simple thing like a flower can improve my attitude and energy level! My feet are doing great, and I am pleased with my strength level on this return to the trail. Very grateful!
Thursday, June 24, 1999 – Rockhouse Basin
Chimney Creek – creek in Rockhouse Basin. 12.9 miles, 2500 up, 2200 down. Woke up lethargic and found the ascent, though not steep, to be hard work. I was rewarded by a lovely camp, gorgeous evening light, and a deep feeling of contentment and gratitude. David has a great appreciation for and love of nature, and it is nice to share that with someone. Incredibly beautiful 3/4 moon lights up the night sky.
Friday, June 25, 1999 – Kennedy Meadows Resupply
9 miles, level walk. The South Fork of the Kern River marks the entry into the Sierras for many, and I was drawn to tears as the trail entered a bedrock gateway through which it flows. The beautiful sound of flowing water so welcome after the scarcity of water experienced in the desert. I was grateful for it even without walking the desert. David’s silence spoke volumes about how welcome the river was. It was a gorgeous stretch of trail.
We arrived at the store at Kennedy Meadows about 11 am and spent the afternoon going through resupply boxes and reorganizing our packs. After a wonderful Mexican dinner at Grumpy Bear’s, we set up camp in the weekend-full campground, a bit shell shocked by being around so many people. I fell asleep in the bright moonlight to thoughts of the 8 day walk to come and how my body will react to 12 days in a row. I’ve never done that many, and I don’t know how I will react physically. But there is no walking to do tonight, and the moon comforts me as I fall asleep.
Saturday, June 26, 1999 – Top of Cow Creek
16 miles, 2900 up. A joyous ascent, truly into the Sierra now. Half hour break and wade in the shallow bed of the South Fork of the Kern, meeting other hikers who lounged under the metal bridge which crosses it, watching the swifts fly in and out of their nests beneath the bridge. I got off the trail going up along Cow Creek and was a bit lost for close to an hour. We are in bear country now, and I in no way relished the idea of camping alone. I admit to a neurotic level of concern about the black bears. They are basically timid and interested in our food not in us. Still…I was relieved to finally spot David’s burgundy tent.
Sunday, June 27, 1999 – Corral Spring
15.5 miles, 1300 up, 1500 down, 1300 up. The trail passed through Death Canyon which, despite its name, is a fairyland of greenery and water and flowers. Most of the day was dominated by the 12,123 foot high rugged rock pile of Olancha Peak, the most dominant peak of the Kern Plateau. The day was hard work, ending in a frustrating search for the faint trail to the spring. David found it after a frustrating, mosquito plagued search, and I pumped 4 liters of water and retreated to our camp a half mile from the spring and its bugs. We have indeed entered mosquito country, and the next few weeks, magnificent country and all, will be tainted by the constant company of the pesky critters wherever there is water. It is simply a fact of early summer in the mountains. The rangers say it will be a short season this year because of the dryness, and the skeeters should be gone in a couple of weeks. I certainly hope so!
Monday, June 28, 1999 – Below Cirque Peak
17+ miles, 800 down, 1700 up (to 11,320 feet). The trail reached Cottonwood Pass today, providing us with astounding views eastward, the rock dropping away steeply, almost clifflike, to the Owens Valley floor, 7000 feet below, and the subtly multicolored Inyo mountains beyond. I don’t know how anyone could be in the magnificence of this place and not believe in some sort of Higher Being.
We had a most welcome footsoak in the surprisingly warm waters of Chicken Spring Lake this afternoon. We had been looking forward to it all day and decided early on that Chicken Spring Lake was a terrible name. David called it Chicken Little Lake most of the day and by the time we arrived, it had become Falling Sky Lake. Perhaps we had too much time to think today! It was a welcome break in the hot, annoyingly deep sand in which we walked the last miles of the day. What is sand doing at 11,000 feet?? It is one of the things that surprises me most about the High Sierra: even at treeline with the tortured Foxtail Pines struggling to survive, they grow in sand.
We were looking for a tarn – a high mountain lake – described in the guidebook to camp by but never found the No Stock Grazing sign that announced the path to it. Tired and frustrated, we camped in a grove of dramatically shaped Foxtails and awoke to the sun spreading its early morning light on Big Whitney Meadow far below. A lovely sight that we would not have seen from the tarn. Once again, a sign that all is exactly the way it is meant to be.. We found the sign 5 minutes out of camp the next morning!
Tuesday, June 29, 1999 – Crabtree Meadows Ranger Station
Tarn – Crabtree Meadows Ranger Station, 14.6 miles, down 1800, up 1400. To the foot of Mt. Whitney once again, this time from the west. A walk of water today: beginning to experience the wealth of water in the Sierra, creeks and streams and brooks and rivers, flowing sweetly even in this dry year. The trail followed bubbling Guyot Creek at one point, and as I walked along I was aware of movement on my right. I looked, and my eyes met those of a lovely doe, not 15 feet away. She was not afraid, and we gazed at one another for 15 seconds before she quietly turned and walked away. We had entered Sequoia National Park earlier in the day, and it’s clear that the animals, protected in the parks, are much less afraid of humans than elsewhere.
Being in the park also means that we are in the land of park bears. Black bears are, by nature, timid but in the national parks, protected like the other animals, they have come to associate humans with food and grow increasingly clever about getting at it, teaching their cubs as they grow. So we humans need to get more creative about protecting our food. The bears don’t mean any harm, they want the food not us. But it is a point of concern for me, and I am grateful for David’s knowledge of bears.
The mosquitoes are not out in swarms almost everywhere there is water, simply a fact of life. I use DEET only when they are really bad. It’s such nasty stuff, but sometimes it seems the only solution for sanity. And it works great. Had a lovely heart conversation with a young man named Gavin tonight. Talking about feelings and yearnings and spirit and dreams. Sort of leaned against one another, each of us skin hungry, each of us walking with people who are not by nature touchers, enjoying the contact. A very sweet hour in the light of a full moon.
Wednesday, June 30, 1999 – Mt. Whitney
Mt. Whitney to the junction with the Whitney trail, 12 miles, 3200 up and down. The up felt very hard today, and I was grateful I had reached the summit two weeks ago and needed only to go to 13,500 today to reach the junction with the part of the trail I did two weeks ago. The John Muir Trail begins at the top of Mt. Whitney and runs up to Tuolomne Meadows in Yosemite. I will walk the whole length of it, hence the trip up to the junction. I would not have minded a rest day in the least, but I ended up having a great day.
Ran into the Crabtree Meadows Ranger in the afternoon. She had climbed Whitney that day to discover that the outhouse at the top had been destroyed and scattered in little pieces all over the summit. I chatted with a couple an hour later who had camped at Guitar Lake the night before and had heard, after dark, what sounded like an explosion and then cheering from the top of the mountain. It would appear that some radical environmental group has made a statement! David summited Whitney proudly, and I ran into several PCTers I hadn’t seen in a while. An enjoyable day, despite my fatigue.
Thursday, July 1, 1999 – just below Forester Pass
Tarn camp at 12,000 just below Forester Pass, 12+ miles, 1500 up. A reasonably easy day (what a miracle that 12 miles is an easy day!). Reached our exquisite camp before 5 giving us time to relax and truly experience the beauty of where we are. Above treeline, next to a lovely, crystal clear tarn, clear view of the plateau below, surrounded by granitic, jagged walls, camp set up, I sit with my shirt off in the heat of the early evening sun, as at peace as I have ever been in my life. Incredible sense of calm and wellbeing, gratitude and awe, amazement that I am alive and experiencing this journey. A time I will remember with deep joy for the rest of my life.
As we were cooking dinner, a marmot showed up, very interested in David’s tent. He (the marmot) was as bold as he could be, undeterred by rocks thrown in his direction, stern words, or even a warning with David’s hiking stick (the marmot bit it!). I watched, unable to keep from giggling as David and the marmot had a standoff for about a half hour. As bedtime neared and we began to be concerned for our food overnight (marmots are more likely to chews than bears), the marmot ceased to be cute and David took more serious measures, although being careful not to hurt the pesky critter, and managed to send the little guy home. He showed up the next morning, with a friend this time, and they played sneak attack until we broke camp, cute once again not that they weren’t a threat to our food. They never were interested in my tent at all, so I enjoyed the role of entertained observer, trying hard not to laugh at David’s frustration. A delightful interlude to add to the richness of being in this miraculous place.
Friday, July 2, 1999 – Kearsarge Lakes
14 miles, up 1200, down 3500, up 1500. Forester Pass, at 13,180 feet is the highest point on the PCT and can be dangerous when there is snow on the route. We had heard that the north side was a bit tricky and headed up with a bit of trepidation. Only one small snowfield on the way up, but it hid the trail and it took us an hour to find it. It switchbacks many times up what appears to be an unclimbable wall of rock, and the switchbacks are not easily visible from below. It was a frustrating and somewhat concerning hour as we scrambled up the rocks looking for the small flat line of the trail.
David’s sharp eyes finally spotted it and we continued up to its peak without incident. The views both north and south from the summit are almost indescribable. Jagged, rock peaks and wonderful green valleys on both sides, yet each very different. We sat for an hour, one foot in Sequoia National Park, one In King’s Canyon, reveling in the incredible magnificent awe-inspiring beauty. I realize I am repeating myself but I simply have run out of words to talk about this country. The descent was long, beautiful, without incident despite a couple of snow crossings, and we were both glad to have this obstacle – infamous among PCTers – behind us. Spent the night at Kearsarge Lakes, ready to descend into Independence for resupply tomorrow.
Saturday, July 3 – Tuesday, July 6, 1999 – Independence
Spent Independence Day in the town of Independence, population 560. A true taste of a small town celebration. This town has a wonderfully generous spirit and our stay has been very hospitable, with the 4th of July fireworks and parade a most delightful occasion. We were delayed a day because of the holiday, and I am taking care of the last of the details, ready to hit the trail again in an hour or so. David and I have decided that our hiking styles are different enough that we will do better each on our own, so I will head out on my own today. The first time since I10 more than a month ago. Some trepidation but mostly excitement about what experiences await me. As always, I trust the process of my life and know that the Universe will give me exactly what I need for my highest good. 7 days to Vermillion Valley Resort which doesn’t have a phone, then 4 days to Tuolomne Meadows. I’ll be out of touch for almost two weeks once again but will have more stories then. I ask that you hold me in your thoughts and hearts. Until then, namaste.
Tuesday, July 6, 1999 – Charlotte Lake
Between 9 and 10 miles, 2500 up, 1300 down. Independence is 9 miles off the PCT and then a 15 mile hitch into town so we had to reverse that today. Took a couple of hours to get a ride out of town as everyone was leaving the mountains after the holiday rather than returning to them. Reached the trailhead just after noon with David and Brit John Williams. The hump over Kearsarge Pass, at just under 12,000 feet, felt bigger than it really is due to 3 days in town and 7 days of food and an iceaxe in the pack. Probably the heaviest load yet. The walk through Onion Valley is gorgeous, however, the switchbacks at the top granting fabulous views of the valley below. I opted for a short day to honor the down time in town and prepare myself for the 5 passes to come. Our camp at Charlotte Lake was serenely lovely, with fewer mosquitoes than we’d seen the section prior to Independence. I refrained from mentioning them here, hoping I’d forget them that way, but no such luck. They have been at best an irritant and at worst maddening almost right out of Kennedy Meadows. It’s just that time of year. Thank heavens for headnets and DEET! I sat for a half hour or so at the north end of Charlotte Lake watching the sunset, reflected in the water of the lake, quietly thanking the Universe for being there. The water lapped gently at my feet, reminding me clearly of Camp Asquam where I spent my summers as a girl. Happy memories reflecting a happy present.
Wednesday, July 7, 1999 – partway up Pinchot Pass
14.5 miles, 1700 up over Glen Pass at 11,978 feet, down 3500 to Woods Creek, 1600 up to a lovely forested camp on my own partway up Pinchot Pass. The talus-riddled trail approaching Glen Pass seems to disappear into a wall that appears impassable, like Forester. However as we neared the foot of the wall, the trail became visible seeming out of nowhere, switchbacking very steeply to the notch at the top that is Glen Pass. The views both north and south were rocky, barren landscapes with scarcely any green visible. I came to recognize this as a pattern of these high Sierra passes. The green of the valleys generally remains hidden from the barren passes, and sometimes I had to close my eyes to visualize it at the foot of rocky, switchbacked, sometimes snowy descents. There were two snowfields on the descent from the top of Glen, and David had another opportunity to use his brand new ice axe. This man from Georgia, on whose least favorite list snow would be high ranking, made his way through the snow, axes held properly in his uphill hand, like a pro. I followed a few minutes behind him, and when I caught up, he looked at me with a marvelous little-boy grin and said, “My ice axe has scratches on it.” We both laughed out loud. The snowfields weren’t big, the longest one maybe 70 feet but this was a whole new experience for a southern man who is not real comfortable with heights. He did great! Marvelous views all the way down (had to be careful not to look and walk at the same time!) of the Rae Lakes, Painted Lady and Dragon Peak. I was moving real well and got ahead of David and would not see him again until Vermillion Valley Resort. Rae Lakes had the worst mosquitoes yet. Even walking without DEET was maddeningly impossible. And every time I stopped, DEET or no, I was swarmed. It is truly the height of the mosquito season. As the descent took me lower, I walked through marvelous stands of Aspen trees, sprinkled with unexpected Columbine, burgundy with yellow centers which spoke softly to me of my home in Colorado. Woods Creek is crossed by a marvelous suspension bridge that reminded me greatly of the ones in Nepal. Then up once again, as the trail rose toward Pinchot Pass, following the tumbling Woods Creek, crossing numerous tributaries, some requiring removal of boots and/or careful boulder hopping. I found a gorgeous little campsite hidden in the trees, blanketed by years of pine needles and felt enormously proud as I cooked dinner under the branches, reveling in being in this incredible country on my own. It was a day of finding my own rhythm and begin incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
Thursday, July 8, 1999 – Upper Palisade Lake
Oh my, oh my! 17 miles, 2100 up over Pinchot Pass at 12,130 feet, 2100 down to South Fork King’s River,2100 up over Mather Pass at 12,100 feet, 1000 down to camp. Certainly my biggest day yet. Have done this much mileage but not over this kind of terrain. Hooray for me! A big push energized by the exquisite country. A one foot in front of the other day, supported by spiritual energy and rewarded by an unexpectedly delightful campsite above Upper Palisade Lake. I had been told that the mosquitoes by Lower Palisade Lake were truly abominable and that I would be well served to camp above the upper lake. It was after 7, however, and I hadn’t found anything suitable in the rocky terrain and was debating between an uncomfortable camp and a buggy one, when I rounded a bend and was presented with this lovely little patch of sand, just big enough for my Nomad. It overlooked the lake, and the sun warmed it until after 8:30. Bugs not too bad, water close by – an unexpected gift. Acknowledging that I’m probably sounding like a broken record, I continue to be dumbfounded by the beauty of this part of the country and deeply grateful for the opportunity to be here. As I sat in the warmth of the setting sun last night, I was struck once again by the miracle of my life. There are so many reasons for me to be dead rather than alive, and yet here I am, not only alive, but in this miraculous place, having this miraculous experience. I am a grateful woman!
Friday, July 9, 1999 – part way up Muir Pass
15.5 miles, 3100 down to Middle Fork Kings River, 2600 up to a rocky camp at 11,000 feet, below Muir Pass. The descent from The Palisade Lakes, down the “Golden Staircase” quite simply knocked my socks off. Very steep short switchbacks – many many of them – covered in the the most extraordinary quilt of wildflowers I have seen yet, perhaps ever. Indian paintbrush, columbine, lilies and many others whose names I don’t know. I stopped in awe over and over as the flowers swayed under the loud roar of Palisade Creek which descends as quickly as the trail, tumbling over huge rocks through the narrow , steep gorge. In places the switch back of the trail was no more than 10 feet from this roaring body of water. This was the most extraordinary scenery of the whole trip for me. The sun shone brightly, lighting the flowers as if someone were putting spotlights on them, and the spray of the water created mini-rainbows which danced along the rocks. It was truly magical.
The sun was playing hide and seek among the gathering clouds by the time I stopped for lunch by the Middle Fork, at the foot of Le Conte Canyon, and the walk up the canyon along the river was covered by increasingly gray skies and sprinkles of rain. I had been told by many people how gorgeous Le Conte was but I found that it didn’t hold a candle to the Golden Staircase. Another 10 or so southbound JMTers crossed my path today, and I enjoy taking time to chat with them, as I have ever since the PCT joined the JMT (John Muir Trail) at the top of Whitney. Especially now that I am traveling by myself. The power of nature continued to be reinforced as I followed the powerful Middle Fork up the canyon past Big and Little Pete Meadows to a small oasis in the rocks below Muir Pass. It drizzled from about 5 pm on, with rain starting in earnest later that night. I fell asleep wondering what the morning would bring. It had been clouding up each afternoon since Independence, worsening each day. This was the first rain, and there was no thunder but I feared I might be walking into a full Sierra storm. Once again, I put my trust in the Universe and slept soundly.
Saturday, July 10,1999 – San Joaquin River
16 miles, 1400 up over Muir Pass at 11,955,, 3500 down. Dark, threatening clouds were already pouring over the surrounding peaks when I left camp at 6:30 the next morning, and I feared I’d be rained and perhaps snowed on during the day. The 1400 foot climb up and over Muir Pass was annoyingly wet and snowcovered. This east side of the pass gets only early sun and so the snow stays longer than even on many north-facing slopes. The trail was running 6 inches deep with snowmelt in many places, and I resigned myself early in the day to having wet boots. The water and snow also made the trail difficult to follow in more than a few places, and with the clouds moving ever lower, I had a level of fear on this pass I hadn’t had on the others. No real reason; I was just a bit out of my comfort zone, and with no one else around, it was easy to be occasionally mired in what-if thoughts: what if it’s a whiteout? what if this isn’t the right trail? what if I get hit by lightening? what if I can’t make it? Thoughts that stole my energy much more quickly than the steepness of the trail and the thinness of the air. I talked with God a great deal on this ascent! It was raining steadily although not hard by the time I reached the summit of the pass and took refuge in the Muir hut at the top, very grateful to have the worst part of the day behind me. Fatigued by the mental stress of the ascent, the descent felt like forever. My energy is always better in the sunshine than in the rain! A one foot in front of the other kind of afternoon, with a few tears of frustration and fatigue mixing with the misty rain on my face. Lost the trail at one point, fearing I’d never find it again; a river crossing that was higher than expected so my shorts got wet; mosquitoes that seemed to find every hole and crevice of my body to invade. All made into bigger deals by my mental and emotional “offness”. Had very few of these kinds of days on the trail but the were tough when they happened. A day of reaching down deep spiritually, emotionally, and physically to continue putting one foot in front of the other. It would have been very easy to just put up a tent and hunker in at the first flat spot below the pass. And I didn’t. I reached my goal of the San Joaquin River. One ankle and both knees as sore as they’d been in weeks, body and spirit tired and in need of food, I crossed the first bridge over the San Joaquin and looked for a campsite. A half mile later, the sun poked through the grayness and shone on a lovely, pine-needle covered flat site, and I gave a prayer of thanks and set up camp for the evening. I settled in and began cooking dinner, watched a chipmunk and a woodpecker have a staring contest, thinking the only thing that would make the evening even more perfect would be some company. Literally 2 minutes later, a couple walked by headed for the second bridge, only a few hundred yards away. I invited them to share my flat spot, and shared a delightful evening of conversation, laughter and instant friendship with Tim and Anne Umstead. A marvelous, rewarding end to a day that was difficult and a source of pride and gratitude.
Sunday, July 11, 1999 – Top of Bear Ridge
21 miles, 600 down, 2200 up and over Selden Pass at 10,900 feet. Tim and Anne left camp a half hour before I did so I walked much of the day on my own, watching incredible, huge clouds swirl their storms all around, everywhere but on me, fortunately. I found myself whistling and humming a great deal today, a sure sign of joy and serenity on the inside, partly a result of the DEET that kept the swarming mosquitoes away. They are such an intrusive nuisance! The crossing of Bear Creek looked deep enough to soak my shorts again, and I had just about decided to take a chance on no one coming by and dropping trou to ford it, when several horsepackers showed up and crossed from the other side. Chatted with them a bit, and one of them offered me a ride behind his saddle to cross the Creek. I said sure, and he pointed me to a rock I could stand on to climb on behind his saddle. The problem was that there was a tree close to the rock, and he couldn’t get his horse close enough to the rock to make it manageable. On a third and last try, he said, “Here, grab my arm. I’m strong and I can pull you on the last bit that you can’t reach.” Well, with doubts and a 25 pound pack on my pack, I lurched from the rock, throwing one leg up, with the would be cowboy hauling on my right arm. But it was not to be. I got about 60% of the way on, and clearly that was going to be it. It was a most clumsy effort and must have looked very comical, and as I climbed back down onto the rock, I heard loud laughter coming from the trail. I looked up and there were Tim and Anne, laughingly accusing me of trying to yellow-blaze across the creek (for those of you who aren’t long distance hikers, yellow blazing is getting a ride to bypass part of the trail), wishing they’d had a camera. I was glad they didn’t! The three of us forded the Creek (my pants only got a bit wet at the bottom), and I walked with them for the rest of the day, laughing and chatting. (I couldn’t’ figure out how they had gotten behind me but they had stopped for a nap by the side of the trail, and I had missed them altogether, bypassing them unknowingly.)Most enjoyable. We had dinner by Bear Creek and then made the ascent up to the top of the ridge, hoping to get away from the mosquitoes. It was not to be, however. They were worse at the top than they’d been at the bottom. I made most of the ascent with my headnet on which is not a comfortable thing as I sweat like crazy with it. We hastily put up our tents and dove in. The only sound for several minutes was that of hands clapping together as we killed the bugs that had entered our tents with us. After comparing enemy death counts, we swapped stories of earlier hiking experiences, with much laughter, between the mosquito-barriers of our tent walls. My longest day yet, done without pain or fatigue. Good company makes all the difference. I had made it through the High Sierra and was greatly looking forward to a good rest at Vermillion Valley Resort.
Monday, July 12, 1999 – Vermillion Valley Resort
6 miles, 2100 down to Edison Lake. Up at 5:30 to ensure reaching the ferry landing for the 9:45 ferry. Tim and Anne again out ahead of me, but I wasn’t far behind them and thought I might catch them up on the descent to the lake. No sign of them however, and something about the trail I was on didn’t feel right after an hour or so. Not enough switchbacks compared to what the guidebook said, and when I caught a view of Edison Lake and saw I was above the middle of it rather than the northeast end, I knew I was on the wrong trail. Spent a bit of a nervous half hour wondering what trail I was on, whether it would descend to the lake and how I’d get to the resort. It all worked out just fine, however, and I actually reached the Resort before the ferry left to pick up hikers. I rode it over and as we approached the dock, I could see Anne looking back up the trail wondering where I was. We had all three talked about how good the first can of Diet Pepsi was going to taste and how good it would be to sleep on a regular mattress and how much we wanted to make the morning ferry. (There wasn’t another until late that afternoon.) She was concerned. I stood at the bow of the ferry and waved at them, and laughed out loud at the expression of surprise when they finally spotted me. We laughed at my explanation that I’d taken the wrong trail which actually turned out to be the right trail. (For those of you who will someday be on this part of the trail, at the top of Bear Ridge, there’s a side trail off the PCT with a sign that says Edison Lake. If you’re going to VVR, this is a faster way than descending to the ferry landing. The trail descends maybe 5 miles to the bridge at the end of the lake. You walk across the bridge, then about a mile down a dirt road and there is the resort. It takes about the same amount of time to walk to the resort as it does to walk to the ferry dock.)
Monday, July 12, 1999 – Wednesday, July 14, Vermillion Valley Resort
The two and a half days at VVR were quite simply marvelous. Butch and Peggy Wiggs are welcoming, humorous and gracious hosts at this funky lakeside oasis. Since purchasing the resort several years ago, Butch has made it his mission to support backpackers in every way possible. He said that this year he would process approximately 800 resupply boxes between PCT and JMT hikers. Lovely scenery, great people, hiker tentcabins for less than $10 a night, and great food (Peggy’s pies are a must!). At any time during the day or evening you could enter the dining room and hear 4 different hiker stories being told at the same time. There are also non-hikers there so it’s a great mix of vacationers and backpackers. I recommend it highly. It’s a highlight of my trip.
Wednesday, July 14, 1999 – Somewhere along Fish Creek
15 miles or so, 3000 up and over Silver Pass at 10,900, down 3500 to Fish Creek. I left VVR with Ke Kaahawe and Fidget (Mike and Ellen), half a day later than we planned, having been delayed by a violent string of thunderstorms that had passed through the area Tuesday afternoon. The clouds that had been building for almost a week had become a true storm system (though thankfully with no snow), and although it was sunny this morning, by the time we arrived at the trail at 10:15, the clouds were already moving in quickly and thunder was rumbling on three sides of us. It was drizzling as we reached the top of Silver Pass, and we were greeted by an exquisite view of the Cascade Valley, darkened by the menacing black clouds that hung over it and the veil of rain which was falling hard below us. It was not an inviting sight, and the thought of returning to VVR crossed my mind. As much as I love my little green Nomad tent, it gets wet on the inside as well as the out when it rains, and for one night it’s fine, but packing it wet creates a soaking environment for the next night, and I feared for the comfort of the next few days. I don’t mind hiking in the rain at all but I hate camping in it. Just as we headed into this maelstrom, for the first time the thought that maybe I was done flitted through my mind, stopping to sit for several minutes, then passing on. I felt uneasy in a way I hadn’t up to this point, even during the time spent alone the previous section.
We had decided to take the Cascade-Fish Creek-Rainbow Falls Trail rather than the PCT/JMT into Red’s Meadow because there was a hot spring there and because it was much lower and so the weather offered less of a threat. This choice turned out to be not a good one. It was very, very wet from all the rain, stream crossing were, although not dangerous, very time-consuming, the mosquitoes were abominable, and the trail didn’t at all resemble what it looked like on the map. At an intersection that didn’t appear on the map, waiting for Mike and Ellen, covered in the swarming mosquitoes despite a headnet and liberal coating of DEET, not really knowing where we were, discouraged by the difficulties, the thought returned. Am I done? Maybe I’m done. Maybe it’s time to go home. I am for the most part very at home being out in Nature. But this was beginning to feel foreign, almost hostile. We did not reach our goal of the Hot Springs that night – as a matter of fact we never found the Hot Springs – and finally at 8 pm gave up trying and set up camp in the only flat place we found for a half mile in either direction. No rain at this point but everything was soaked. I had no appetite as I cooked dinner anyway and forced myself to eat, and the thought popped up again and this time stayed: maybe I’m done.
Thursday, July 15, 1999 – Mammoth Lakes
13 miles, 1800 up into Red’s Meadow. That’s a guess, as we had no map for this section. Woke up with the thought still in my head, despite the blue skies above. It stayed clear all day but the farther I walked the more I felt like I was done. The feeling was solidified at the top of the big up out of the Fish Creek drainage. Mike and Ellen had chosen to stop for lunch before the climb. I was going to wait until after it so I was a good bit ahead of them. When I reached the top of the climb and traversed across the top of the ridge, I arrived at a spot where the trail bore right and ahead of me was a huge drop into another drainage. I could see for miles and miles of mountains and valleys, ups and downs, with absolutely no sign of another human being or civilization. It was the kind of view that normally fills me with awe and gratitude. This time, however, I felt scared. The trail did not go in the direction I thought it should in order to reach Red’s Meadow. I feared I had taken a wrong trail somewhere and was going in the wrong direction and had no idea where I was going and had no map of this area to work with. This kind of fear, almost a panic, had not occurred anywhere on this trip up to this point. Yes, there had been places where I’d been afraid at some level, but this was very different. I had to focus on breathing and say a prayer to calm myself down. For the first time the backcountry felt hostile rather than inviting. I knew at that point that I would take at least a night off in Mammoth Lakes. And there was a strong feeling that I was, indeed, done. Tim and Anne and I had had a conversation about being done, and Time said that whenever they felt like they might be done, they’d go to town for three nights. If they still felt like they were done, they went home. He said that usually they were back on the trail before the third night. It had made sense when I heard it, and it made great sense now. The thought of staying in a motel that night kept me going for the rest of the day.
I had just turned around to retrace my steps, fearing I had made a wrong turn somewhere (knowing that there had been no place to make a wrong turn but still fearing I had done it) when I heard Mike and Ellen coming up the trail. I was as glad to see them as I had ever been glad to see anyone and altered my pace to remain in sight of them all the way to Red’s. My fears obviously had been mistaken but the sense of hostility in my surroundings remained, sourced by me not by the environment. We completed the long, uphill traverse into Red’s Meadow about 6, and I gave a quick goodbye hug to Mike and Ellen and jumped on the last bus down to Mammoth at 6:10, breathing an enormous sigh of relief. I was gratefully in a bathtub in a hotel in Mammoth Lakes by 8. I didn’t need to know tonight if I was done or not. I knew I’d made the right choice to come off the trail for at least a night or two.
Saturday, August 21, 1999 – Carbondale, CO
Sunday marked the third day, and I knew I was done. With this part of the journey anyway. Not done with backpacking but done for this summer. I wanted to be home. I believe the fear and feeling of the backcountry becoming hostile were the Universe’s way of telling me it was time to go home. The decision felt right then, and it feels even more right now as I write this in my office in Carbondale, CO. I traveled to San Diego Monday and flew home Tuesday to be greeted warmly by my housesitter and my wonderfully kitty, Annie. There have been no doubts about my choice, no what-ifs, not second thoughts. It is wonderful for me to know that my life is settled in a way that I don’t want to be away from home for long periods of time anymore. I plan to return to the PCT each summer for a month or so until I make my way to Canada. Don’t have plans to revisit the 350 miles of desert that I missed because of my feet or chose to skip but do want to finish the rest of it.
It was an incredible journey for me with many memories that will stay with me for a lifetime. Sitting topless in the warmth of the setting sun just below Forester Pass; playing Trail Angel in the desert; summiting Jackass Peak with Kris and Josh; the camaraderie with Rainmaker; the rite of passage of hiking the High Sierra on my own; the night in the prison camp in the San Gabriels; an owl silently flying back and forth over my head in the dark at Whitewater Canyon; and the people. I think that, beyond any of the wonders of the scenery and the hiking itself, the people are what I will remember best. We long distance hikers are not average people, and I treasure the conversations I had with many of them, doing interviews for my book or just simply talking about anything and everything. I met no one I didn’t like. And there were special ones: Rainmaker, Nick and Whitney, The Lost boys (Kris and Josh), Kathleen and Corey; Blisterfree (Brett Tucker); John Williams, Donna and Jeff Saufley; Butch and Peggy Wiggs; Tim and Anne Umstead. And so many others. These are friendships that remain off the trail. That is an enormous gift.
No I didn’t reach my goal of the Oregon border. Was it a successful hike? You bet! In many, many ways. Reaching the Oregon border was the excuse for being on the trail where I experienced so much in so many ways. It’s all about the journey. Ursula Leguin said,”It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.” That says it all for me. I thank each of you, both on the trail and in support off the trail, who played a part in making this journey such a wondrous, soul filling journey.
Thank you and Namaste, Margo (trail name Maggot)
Margo’s Favorite Hosts Trail Angels
(These are my opinion only, and only go as far North as Reds Meadow.)
Donna and Jeff Sauffley, the Agua Dulce Hilton. A trailer and motorhome turned over to us thruhikers, full kitchen privileges, and a great sound system make this a place not to be missed. Donna is not only the PCT Archangel, ferrying hikers to camping stores and banks where needed and stashing water in dry places but also does everyone’s laundry, getting out stains you’d swear were there for the rest of the trail. Donna takes it personally when thruhikers don’t visit her. She and Jeff take great pleasure in taking great care of us hikers. Indulge yourself at the Agua Dulce Hilton! firstname.lastname@example.org.
Folks at Vermilion Valley Resort. Tent cabins with bunk beds are free for the first night for hikers along with the beer of your choice. Even better as far as I was concerned was the hospitality. Butch goes out of his way to make hikers welcome and to meet our needs in any way he can. The lake, the peace and quiet, the friendly staff, and resident pooches make this a most welcome oasis in the Sierras. No, the prices are not the lowest you’ll find, and in my opinion the stay was worth every penny. P.O. Box 258, Lakeshore, CA 93634, 559-259-4000. info@EdisonLake.com.
Pat and Paul Miller at Hiker’s Oasis, Kamp Anza. What a treat this couple is, and the green grass and showers are a welcome site after miles and miles of chaparral. They hold hiker packages and provide a most welcome homines. 41560 Terwilliger Rd, Space19, Anza, CA 92539. 909-763-4819. thebear1@JPS.NET
The Middletons in the pink stucco cabin about 1 mile after you cross I-10. This recommendation comes from all the positive reports I received rather than from personal experience. I skipped the Middletons because I reentered the trail at I-10 so didn’t a place to resupply. Everyone who I spoke with who stayed there raved about it.