PACIFIC CREST TRAIL: Still Living the Dream

Life is our own personal version of the Pacific Crest Trail, filled with adventures on a long and wandering route through space and time.


Hiking down from Trap Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail on a perfect summer day, I saw a single hiker ahead, trudging up the trail toward me. It was a man of roughly my age, carrying a heavy backpack. When we met and exchanged greetings, he asked if I was with the Forest Service. I said no, but I realized that I was wearing a light green shirt and dark shorts, and it did look a bit like a U.S. Forest Service uniform.

Then he remarked on my “Michigan” baseball cap, with its indigo color deeply faded by many days in the high country, but the maize embroidery of my alma mater’s name still bright. He said he had gone to the University of Michigan as well. He asked when I attended and I said I was there from 1968 through 1972. He said he was there from 1970 through 1974. He asked what I had studied, and I said I was in the School of Natural Resources. Turns out, he was too, so our paths would have crossed many times during the two years of overlap. Alas, neither of us recognized the other’s name, but I would have been two years older, and our classes would have been different.


In the 1960s and early 1970s, most of us entered the School of Natural Resources because we loved being outdoors and dreamed of a career that would keep us close to the forests and lakes and mountains that we loved. I loved hiking and fishing; others loved hunting ducks and deer, but all of us had the wilderness in our souls. The school had a feeling of camaraderie at the time, and I think most of us thought of ourselves as natural resource students first, and University of Michigan students second. In addition, both of us were at the school when the first Earth Day happened, so our environmental interests coincided with the awakening feeling that caring for the environment should become an urgent national priority.

He asked who my favorite professor had been, and I answered S. Ross Tocher, a charismatic man who taught park planning and nature interpretation, and who introduced me to photography and spurred my buying of a good quality camera. Dr. Tocher gave me a start on my careers in interpretation and photography through his classes, and asking me if I would like to participate in an arboretum design for Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, Michigan, along with a landscape architecture student. This was the first time I participated in a project at a professional level, and it was thrilling. Tocher later moved to the Puget Sound region and spent his retirement years about ten miles from where I now live, though we didn’t get reaquainted in later years, something I now regret, since this great man passed away several years ago.


My new trail acquaintance had spent the early part of his career working for the U.S. Forest Service in the Monte Cristo Ranger District in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains. He wasn’t a forester, but he recalled asking his forester colleagues if the timber harvest they were hauling out of the woods was sustainable. That would have been in the early 1980s, when logging was increased dramatically on Forest Service lands. They laughed and said absolutely not, but there was nothing they could do about it. One of their agency’s goals at the time was to make sure that all the old-growth timber on the district was harvested by 2010. They didn’t quite reach their goal, despite a valiant effort that left much of the Pacific Northwest with a brush cut, because the increasing scarcity of the Spotted Owl intervened and effectively cut off the harvest. Thank God and his little owl.

I told my new friend about my zigzag career path, having worked as a nature center director in upstate New York and as a freelance nature photographer in the years since, as well as shorter stints with the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management. I even did three summers of challenging work fighting forest fires in the California mountains.


He spent the latter part of his career working for Seattle City Light doing environmental projects. And he spent lots of his own time in the mountains, enjoying the glorious yearly summer respite between spring and autumn rains in this moist region.

This conversation got me thinking about others I went to school with and the paths their lives have taken. Most I lost contact with, of course, but I’ve run across the names of some through the years in various ways. My roommate at forestry summer semester went into the Peace Corps and spent five years working on natural resources in Columbia, before the drug trade turned it into a terrifying place for outsiders. He later became a craftsman, creating a company that forged decorative bronze bells. I ran into him at an art show some 15 years ago in Cleveland, where we each had a booth.


Another friend, for whom I was an usher at his wedding, went to graduate school, and later became a professor in Arizona. I heard him talking on NPR’s All Things Considered a few years back about tourism, his specialty. Another worked at a nature center, then departed for grad school and spent the rest of his career in Wisconsin doing graphics and photography for a university.

I was in college at the peak of the hippie era, and some of the guys I knew followed their passions in completely different directions. One formed a band performing in the style of old western music: they had an NPR program for many years and did a gig at the White House for Ronald Reagan (this guy also started the “Paul is Dead” rumor that swept the USA like wildfire–though Paul McCartney just gave a dynamite performance for 45,000 people in Seattle a week ago, so the report of his death was a bit premature, or else he’s had a great imposter for 40+ years). Another man–a man with a talent for talk–became an agent booking country and bluegrass acts out of Nashville. Still another became a restaurant manager in Cleveland.


Our lives and careers have taken many routes. But as my new friend said as we departed: “It’s good to see some of us are still living the dream.” Indeed. I cannot imagine a life without spending a great deal of time outdoors in beautiful country. I invited him to join us on a week-long hike in The Enchantments, but he declined. He had other plans, and another route through life.

One last thing: the man remarked twice to me: “I can’t believe how young you look!” Well, take off the baseball cap and you see the lost hair that once flowed long and blond, while the sunglasses mask skin damage from so many days spent outdoors in the days before sunscreen. I like my disguises and have no illusions of youthfulness.


We departed. He headed up the trail toward the pass and I headed down the trail to join my wife and our friend on the hike back to the trailhead. Old times and early ambitions were coursing through my head as I thought about forks in the road I’ve taken. Some with regrets, but most just are what they are. At this point in life, I’m as happy as I’m likely to be, and things have turned out pretty well. Life is our own personal version of the Pacific Crest Trail, filled with adventures on a long and wandering route through space and time.






To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to (just ask me to email you a small version of a particular photograph you like if you can’t find it on the site; my website is not up to date). 

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PACIFIC CREST TRAIL THRU-HIKERS: Drop Dead, Hercules, and Bookworm

Meet Drop Dead, one of ten thru-hikers we met along the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington State’s Goat Rocks Wilderness. He is wearing a necktie, just in case of a job interview along the trail, though he has so far hiked nearly 2,300 miles along the trail this year without landing that elusive job. Or meet Bookworm, another thru-hiker who loves to read his Kindle while eating a cold dinner, night after night after night … Or Hercules, widely known along the trail for hiking 62 miles in 24 hours so that he could gorge himself at Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge.

Drop Dead wearing a necktie in case he needs it for a job interview along the Pacific Crest Trail

“Drop Dead,” the trail name of a hiker looking dapper in a Panama hat and necktie, greeted us with a friendly smile and enthusiastic responses to all our questions. First, as to why a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker would be wearing a necktie:

“I was laid off in April, and you never know when you need to be prepared for a job interview.”

Good point. If I was hiring, Drop Dead would be a top choice. After all, this fit and energetic man in his mid-30s shows remarkable persistance; he has hiked nearly 2,300 miles at this point, where we met him in Washington State’s Goat Rocks Wilderness, averaging 30 to 35 miles per day. He has met and defeated the challenges of desert hiking and traveling through mile after mile of snowy wilderness. His creativity in looking neat and businesslike (far better than me after three days hiking!) after all those miles speaks to his ability to dress for success. Though he might have to work on that name …

Looking a bit sheepish, Drop Dead said his name came from the expression “drop dead gorgeous.” I’ll let the ladies be the judge, but with his red beard, partly done up in front with a thin braid, my guess is he would be a hippie girl’s heartthrob. Without the beard, he might be a boardroom lady executive’s passion.

The loneliness of the long-distance hiker

We asked Drop Dead about his diet; it turns out that he is a vegetarian, which is confirmation enough for me that a vegetarian can be in supremely good health. For breakfast, he eats uncooked quick oatmeal combined with dried fruit and dried milk. By not cooking in the morning, he can get on the trail fast, though I’m not sure the quick oatmeal would do much for me. At noon, he heats ramen mixed with peanut butter and chili paste to create a kind of low rent version of Pad Thai, using a tiny alcohol stove. He also supplements his diet with olive oil, and he was glad to accept a bit of chocolate and cheese from us.

We eventually ended our eager questioning, allowing Drop Dead to continue his hike north toward the Canadian border. I hope he gets just the right job interview along the way …

A rock cairn echoes the shape of Mount Adams, one of Washington State’s dramatic stratovolcanos

This stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail is high and beautiful; in fact, the spot where we met Drop Dead is within a mile of the highest point along the Washington State stretch of the PCT. Thru-hikers (those hiking the whole trail in one year) begin in early spring near the Mexican village of Campo, and finish in September or October at the Canadian border, in Manning Provincial Park. 2,650 miles long, the trail is a test of physical and psychological endurance.

Some 400 people started the trail this year, a higher number than the typical 300, largely because a lot of people are out of work because of the endless recession. When a person is out of work, and with poor prospects, why not take to the trail and pursue a long-repressed dream?

The Pacific Crest Trail travels the mountain ranges of California, Oregon, and Washington as it makes its run from the Mexican border to the Canadian border

This year, the trail turned into a real test of fortitude and guts. The High Sierra received tremendous amounts of snow last winter. So, after the hikers had endured the heat of the Mojave Desert, they ascended into the deep snows of Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks. Progress was exceedingly slow along the icy trail, and stream crossings with torrents of meltwaters were slippery and frigid hazards. Many hikers decided that this was not the year to complete their dream. Hikers also have to deal with forest fires and washouts along the way. We found it fascinating that many hikers carried umbrellas in their packs for rainy days; this would enable them to hike in lighter clothes and see better in the rain (most of us hikers wear Gore-Tex for rainy days, which can get uncomfortable inside during vigorous activity) than they could while wearing a hooded parka.

During our four sunny days in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, we encountered about ten thru-hikers, and chatted at some length with several.

Hercules was an energetic young man, wired with an iPod, with a big name to live up to. He did. Another hiker, Steady, told us that Hercules had hiked 62 miles in 24 hours in Oregon. It seems that Hercules was about out of food, and the lure of a good meal at Timberline Lodge was strong. When he got to the lodge, he consumed three enormous platefuls of great food! Hercules actually took his name on the first day of the hike, when a woman driving him to the trailhead suggested he needed a powerful name appropriate to his ancestry. Hence Hercules.

The Goat Rocks, dramatic in evening light, are the remains of a volcano that blew its top some two million years ago

Steady was an older hiker, from Cool, California (isn’t everything in California cool?), roughly my age, who averaged “just” a steady 20 miles per day. He was being accompanied through Washington by another grizzled friend, a man from Alpena, Michigan.

Bookworm, a thru-hiker from Maryland, had started with 50 lbs. of food and gear, but had whittled that down to about 30 at this point. His body weight had also been whittled down by over 20 lbs. Why “Bookworm?” Because he carried a Kindle for reading books. I asked him when he could possibly have time to read, and he said that he was able to read while preparing meals and a little bit before falling off to sleep. He was averaging one book per 100 miles, so at this point he had completed over 20 books. Bookworm also remarked that he was on his third pair of hiking boots, and that he now ate only cold food to avoid the weight of a stove and fuel.

Bookworm, looking thin and fit after months on the trail

Other hikers we met included Top Shelf, Picker, Slapshot, and Caddyshack, all of whom were strong and fast twenty-somethings. There was only one thru-hiker who hadn’t taken a trail name.

I will now raise a lightweight plastic cup of cold instant coffee to toast these Americans following their dreams. Hear, hear!

The dramatic terrain where the PCT winds through the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Lovely meadows of lupine, with Mount Adams in the distance, at Snowgrass Flats, just below the PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

For information about the Pacific Crest Trail, a good starting place is the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Some of the hikers write blogs; you can find an index to some of these at PCT Journals. An even better source is Trail Journals, where one of the guys we met posted his observations of the Goat Rocks Wilderness (he loved it!), and scores of hikers blog about hiking the PCT this year.

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Aug. 29 to Sept. 2, 2008 The Goat Rocks Wilderness

An exhilarating Labor Day weekend hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through Washington’s Goat Rocks Wilderness in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

2008_wa_11601Backpacker choosing an off-trail route down the snowfield below Elk Pass

There are places on earth to which my mind wanders in quiet moments, thinking back to great hikes through alpine wilderness. The Goat Rocks Wilderness is one of those places. The Goat Rocks are the remains of a 12,000 foot Cascades volcano that blew its top some two million years ago, leaving jagged peaks reaching to over 8,000 feet. Located in Washington State between two “living” volcanoes, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, the Goat Rocks Wilderness is part of the Gifford Pinchot and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests. But enough geography. What I want to tell you about is one of the great hikes in America.

Five of us left the North Fork Tieton Trailhead at the start of Labor Day weekend, for a five day backpacking trip. I was the lone male with four ladies, including my wife, Karen, and friends Betty, Sue, and Joan. As we shouldered our packs, a group left just ahead of us on horseback, which would be an easier way to go if we had horses. We don’t. Plus I think my photography of natural details would suffer if I was always looking way down from the high perch of a horse.

The first part of the trail is a long, but gradual ascent to a ridge where the North Fork Tieton Trail meets the 2008_wa_12141Pacific Crest Trail (PCT, also known as Trail 2000). This trail leads through old-growth forest with huge hemlocks and firs; streams trickle down off the high ridges. When we reached the PCT, we turned left and marched toward the McCall Basin, where we planned to camp for four nights. Along this stretch of trail, we encountered a series of Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers, which I detailed in a previous blog entry Pickles, Seven, Money and More. 

We camped the first night in lower McCall Basin, along a bend in the North Fork Tieton River. In the subalpine meadows here, wildflowers bloomed late. On our previous hike to this basin on the same weekend some six years

2008_wa_10911Tieton Peak catching the last light above McCall Basin

before, we encountered only late gentians in bloom; this time, the wildflowers were at a peak of color. The snow must have melted out late this year. The mountains above McCall Basin were catching the alpenglow on this clear evening. As we drifted off to sleep, the trumpeting cries of a band of Elk drifted down from the nearby mountainsides.

The next morning we decided to move to a different campsite in what we call the Upper McCall Basin. While the lower McCall Basin is gentle and flat with beautiful meadows studded by pointy firs, the upper basin feels raw, as if the glaciers left just yesterday. It is a distinctly different experience to be up there, but it is lonely and has the feeling of real wilderness, where humans can only be visitors. We set up our new camp in a patch of woods, then set off to explore the upper basin.

2008_wa_46661A waterfall plunging into an ice cave in the cirque of Upper McCall Basin

The day was cold and windy with a threat of rain from low, gray clouds overhead, so layers of fleece and down and wind-blocking shells were the rule. With warm woolen hats knitted in Nepal. Again, we were surprised at the lush wildflowers still in bloom. Near a series of cliffs and waterfalls, we found a family of Hoary Marmots, 2008_wa_12261with three youngsters sitting on a big rock while the mother looked on nearby. Unfortunately, that was the only wildlife we saw in the basin, other that the freshly-picked bones of an Elk fawn. When we had hiked here six years ago, we counted 32 Mountain Goats and a band of 10 Elk. Later, back in camp, we met a man who reminded me of Moses; he carried a tall staff, had flowing gray hair, and was leading a flock of fellow hikers on a long day hike. We told him that we were disappointed at the lack of Mountain Goats. He then told us a long story, relating how a rogue hunter had entered the basin in early autumn six years before and had singlehandedly murdered an entire band of 44 Mountain Goats, leaving their carcasses to rot on the cold ground. He said that the authorities were still hoping that the killer would blab in some bar, bragging at what he had done, and would eventually be caught. Moses described this terrible story with such earnestness that we were all bummed for the entire weekend. Well, maybe that’s overstating our degree of bummedness, but we did indeed feel bad. Moses also told of hunters who had killed a 600 pound bear very close to where we made our camp. That put us on edge, so we made sure to hang our food high. Then Moses led his flock out of our basin and back out of the wilderness.

An addendum: When I returned to civilization, I made inquiries to the U.S. Forest Service, to a state DNR biologist, and to a prominent local outdoor writer about the killing of the Mountain Goats. None of them had heard of it. The writer said that he had been hearing stories of massive goat kills in the Goat Rocks Wilderness since he was a teenager, and that once he had even gone up in a helicopter to try and confirm a story. None of these incidents had ever been confirmed, so he thinks they are all merely myths spread by word-of-mouth. While many people are fooled by urban myths on the internet, we were apparently duped by a wilderness myth told by Moses. Anyway, I’m glad it wasn’t true … or was it?

2008_wa_10861The Pacific Crest Trail climbs through high subalpine forests

The next morning we rose early to make breakfast and prepare for our hike to the high and barren ridges crossed by the Pacific Crest Trail. Unfortunately, the day dawned gray and cold again, so we would have to hope for better weather as the day wore on. It didn’t happen.


Snowfields and raw rock on a peak hidden by dense clouds

As we walked upward along the PCT, we walked into the clouds and it began snowing. Scraggly fir trees wore a fresh coat of ice, and we wore every layer we had, including mittens. As we approached Elk Pass, I found a high gravel plateau overlooking the valley below. Here Mountain Goats had rested.


Shallow bed created by a Mountain Goat on a high overlook

We saw where they had used their feet to scape rocks out of the way, forming roughly circular beds where they could comfortably rest. There was also plenty of scattered goat scat. I picked up a piece of chert that looked out of place; about 2.5 inches in diameter, its edges had been worked into a tool by ancient hunters. It may have been used to scrape Mountain Goat hides in this very location several thousand years ago.

2008_wa_09311Chert tool left on a high overlook, perhaps for several thousand years

The sense of timelessness of wilderness came upon me in a rush. Looking around, I also found numerous obsidian flakes that had been made by native Americans long ago. In researching this location later, I found out that early Indians had an obsidian mine site at Elk Pass that archaeologists say was used from 6,500 to 500 years B.P. (before present); they came up here both to hunt and to mine the volcanic stone from which they could create arrowheads and other tools. I can just imagine people looking out from this high ridge for thousands of years. But if they were here on a day like this, they would see only gray clouds.


Twisted trees enduring fresh snow blowing through the high country

We climbed higher, eventually reaching Elk Pass. We passed hikers coming from the other side of the Goat Rocks, including one young man who had just emerged from the clouds. He said apprehensively that he had never done anything like this before. He may never again, but at least he will have the memory of a solid accomplishment in his life. While resting at the pass, I decided that Elk Pass should be renamed “Dead Elk Pass,” at least for this hiking season. On a snowbank just below the pass lay the carcass of an adult Elk, with the nearby remains of either a very young Elk or an Elk fetus. The bones had been recently picked clean, with Gray Jays still doing their wilderness duty of visiting the bones to get the last remnants of meat as we watched. We don’t know if the Elk may have died in birthing its young, or if it was surprised by a Cougar at the pass. A predator–probably a Cougar but perhaps a Coyote–had left scats right atop the rib cage bones of the younger Elk. I’m not an expert, but the constrictions in the scat would indicate Cougar, which may be more than you wanted to know.

2008_wa_10162Adult Elk skeleton at Elk Pass (above) with skeleton of fawn or fetus about 30′ away (below)


I spent perhaps an hour at Elk Pass photographing, while some of our group hiked higher into the clouds. They got very cold and soon returned. We decided that the threat of hypothermia from blowing snow on the exposed ridge was too great, and we began our long descent back to camp, regretting that the views weren’t better.

Warming ourselves around a campfire that night, we talked about a strategy for the next day. We decided that if it was once again cold and gray, we would hike out a day early. But if the first person to get up the next morning saw clear skies, at least some of us would again attempt the same hike as we did today. Awakening at 4:00 a.m. to answer nature’s call outside, I saw only a heavy cloud cover. But when I was the first one up two hours later, I was greeted by a sea of blue sky. I woke everyone and suggested we try again. So we ate a quick breakfast and motivated our tired bodies to again begin the long trudge up to Elk Pass. But this day was different, exhilaration was in the air.

As we hiked higher, we encountered several Hoary Marmots who didn’t mind posing for pictures. The views from the ridge were wonderful and became better the 2008_wa_09811higher we climbed, though there were some clouds forming. We went still higher beyond Elk Pass, passing a Mountain Goat chilling out on a snowfield and a couple of Gray-crowned Rosy Finches foraging in the talus–true residents of the high country. We could see for miles on the exposed ridge and felt the exhilaration that always comes in high places. Maybe it’s the thin air!  

This ridge is steep and narrow; there are old, wind-blasted U.S. Forest Service signs dating from way back in the last century that warn travelers that it was only safe to take 30 stock at a time over the next stretch of trail. We met PCT thru-hikers who proclaimed that this was the most magnificent stretch of the long trail since the best of California’s High Sierra mountains. And still higher we climbed, to the highest point along the trail. Then the time caught up with us and we realized that it was time to descend quickly to camp. We arrived back at deep twilight, satisfied with a day well-spent in the mountains. We slept well on our last night, happy after the day’s wonderful experiences.

2008_wa_12011The Pacific Crest Trail winds through subalpine meadows north of Elk Pass

2008_wa_11371Lupine and other wildflowers border an alpine stream


Mt. Ives viewed from the Pacific Crest Trail in the Goat Rocks

2008_wa_10251The PCT follows a steep ridge near Elk Pass

2008_wa_10651Remnant snowfield with watermelon snow

The highlight on our last morning was when Betty put on her bright magenta camp slippers–a nice complement to the violet-blue lupines around camp. Then we packed up and began the long trek down out of the Goat Rocks, another memorable trip to add to the stories of our lives.

2008_wa_09141Betty’s “Fairy Slippers” for wearing around camp

Trail Statistics:  7.5 miles and 2,000′ elevation gain from North Fork Tieton River Trailhead to our camp in McCall Basin (4.9 miles to PCT, 1.6 miles along PCT, 1 mile along side trail into McCall Basin, where there are plenty of horse and backpacker campsites).  Our camp in the upper McCall Basin was at 5,320′ elevation.  The round-trip hikes to Elk Pass were about 8.5 miles and a 1,500 foot elevation gain.  The highest point we reached above Elk Pass was about 400′ higher and half-a-mile farther.

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Click on the photographs below to see them in a larger size, with captions.

Sept 2, 2008: Pickles, Seven, Money, and More

I and my four companions trudged up a short section of the Pacific Crest Trail toward the Goat Rocks, an extinct volcano in Washington State. Then we encountered a breath of fresh air in the form of “Pickles,” the trail name for a glowing young woman who this year had already hiked over 2,000 miles …

Sweat was streaming down my face.  My 51 lb. backpack felt as if it was loaded with rocks. My breath came in short pants as I and my four companions trudged up a short section of the Pacific Crest Trail toward the Goat Rocks, an extinct volcano in Washington State.  Then we encountered a breath of fresh air in the form of “Pickles,” the trail name for a glowing young woman who this year had already hiked over 2,000 miles on the PCT–all the way from the Mexican border. 

First, some background about the Pacific Crest Trail, then I’ll return to Pickles and other intrepid hikers we met along the trail.  People who intend to hike the whole trail are known as “thru-hikers;”  in a typical year some 300 start the hike, with about 60% finishing.  The PCT starts at the Mexican border,  leading through the hot Mojave Desert, over the High Sierra and the John Muir Trail and Yosemite National Park, past Mt. Shasta, into the forests of Oregon, through Crater Lake National Park, leading over the flanks of Mt. Hood, descending into the Columbia River Gorge, then into Washington and past the Mt. Adams volcano, up and over the Goat Rocks, through Mt. Rainier National Park, winding over the central Cascades and into North Cascades National Park, and finally, Canada!  2,650 miles of hiking through some of the most beautiful landscapes in America!  Most thru-hikers take five to six months to complete the hike.  

Thru-hikers enjoy the passing scenery, certainly, but I think the main draw of the long hike is the physical and mental challenge of hiking the whole trail.  It is incredibly hard work, involving desert heat, high elevations with thin air, hard rains, cold nights, ticks, mosquitoes, and inevitable autumn snows.  Even the logistics of supplying food is daunting, with pickup points scheduled scores or hundreds of miles apart.  Mostly it’s the young and strong who make it. 

Here are a few success stories of thru-hikers we met on a six mile section of the PCT where it passes through the Goat Rocks Wilderness.  The Goat Rocks, in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, are the remains of a volcano that has been dormant for several million years.  Now populated by Mountain Goats, Marmots, Bears, and Elk, the Goat Rocks has alpine landscapes rivaling the High Sierra.



Thru-hikers each take a distinctive trail name rather than using their real name; I love the name Pickles, but I forgot to ask her why she adopted that moniker.  Pickles is a tall and lean and pretty woman who enthusiastically talked to us about her journey.  Her pack had a base weight of 15 pounds (not including food and water), which is really low.  She said it took about $2,000 in outfitting to get the best lightweight equipment she could, including a good Gregory backpack and two trekking poles.  She wore a short, knit skirt and a pair of knee braces and trail running shoes rather than boots.  On her third pair of shoes, she liked the Montrail and Merrill brands; with her light pack she didn’t need to wear heavy hiking boots (like the ones I use).  She slept under a tarp rather than a tent to save weight.  Averaging 25 miles per day, Pickles hikes with a loose and constantly changing group of people who travel at about the same rate.  I commented that she must be in the best shape of her life; she responded that she didn’t feel that way–that she was starting to feel a bit broken down and her feet were bothering her.  But she looked great, and enchanted our group with her enthusiasm.



Seven was born on 7-7-77, hence his name.  If you do the math, you will realize that Seven turned 31 years old somewhere along the trail in California.  Bearded and thin and handsome, he looked the epitome of health.  I asked Seven what he ate on a typical day: said that he didn’t carry a stove, so all his food was cold.  Breakfast was 600 calories of granola,  During the day he ate meal bars and power bars, which have a good balance of carbs and protein and fat, so these kept him going.  He also found that packets of instant oatmeal, mixed with cold water, was a really effective way of getting carbohydrates that lasted all day.  Seven was averaging 30 miles per day, and he felt he was getting stronger all the time.  He said that whenever he had a physical problem, after a good night’s sleep he could completely recover [blogger’s note: it must be nice to be young and strong!].  

While talking with Seven, Ridgewalker and Accent came along.  It turned out that they knew a PCT-hiking friend of one of our group, whose trail name is Guardian Angel.  58 years old, Guardian Angel had hiked for a month, then was sidelined for eight weeks with a stress fracture in her right foot.  Back on the trail, she traveled on a while, then wrenched her back.  The PCT is an extreme physical challenge, and I’m afraid I wouldn’t get very far.  Guardian Angel is one of the three Pearl Girls, who wear pearl necklaces while hiking the trail.


Chinaman and Rambi

Hiking together, this pair of young teachers was doing a big section of the PCT this year; their teaching schedules limited the amount of time they could spend on the trail.  Chinaman was named for the conical hat he wore during the Mojave section of his 2004 thru-hike.  Rambi took her name in New Zealand: Chinaman named her Rambo for her aggressive hiking, but she softened it by combining Rambo with Bambi–hence Rambi!  They had both been sidelined with two illnesses this summer.  They picked up Giardia from untreated water in a wilderness area in southern Oregon and ended up sharing the awful experience of horrendous diarrhea.  Then they picked up the Norwalk Virus in northern Oregon and spent several days of vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and body aches.  Which is a terrible thing when you’re stuck in a tent in the wilderness.  They had also been through a raging thunderstorm in central Oregon and the smokes of forest fires near the trail in northern California.  Despite the challenges, they looked happy together and were averaging 20-25 miles per day.

Chinaman also posted his daily trail log to the internet using an electronic gadget called a Mail Writer, which he explained was a kind of precursor to the Blackberry.  They carried a stove and tent, so their base weight was higher than some of the others.  

Super and Visor

At the top of the spectacular Goat Rocks, we encountered Super and Visor.  Young and strong, this married couple had great equipment and appeared to be glowing with health.  Visor wore a visor, of course; I’m not sure where Super got his name, but he worked for the Clif Bar company and was sponsored by them during their hike.  They were from Seattle, so they were getting close to home.



Full-bearded and hiking fast, Money stopped only long enough to tell us that the weather was getting cold.  Which we realized, since it was snowing and clouds were blanketing the mountains.  He posed briefly for me to take a quick snapshot.  I should have taken two, since his eyes were closed.  

All the Others

We met 15-20 thru-hikers on our Labor Day weekend hike.  As far as I’m concerned, they are all outstanding Americans who were willing to take on a challenge that most of us could not accomplish.  It was a delight to chat with them for a few minutes before they tore off again in pursuit of those 20-30 miles per day.

To read trail journals by the hikers themselves, with entries constantly updated, explore the site:  On the home page, go to Journals, then 2008, then Pacific Crest Trail.  There is a lot of good stuff on this site if you are dreaming of hitting the trail.

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Click on the photographs below for versions with captions.