2014 Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike Photos

On my 2014 thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail I was amazed by how dramatically and how beautifully the land (and everything on it) changed as I hiked from Mexico to Canada! Though I posted some of the photos I took with my iPhone to Instagram (patchesthru) along the way, I also took thousands of photos with my ‘good’ camera (a Sony Nex 5N with two lenses:16 mm f/2.8 and 55-210mm, f/4.5-6.3). Now that I’m home, I’ve started going through my pictures and am falling in love with the trail all over again! The photos below (and those on this 2015 calender) are amongst my favorites so far:

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Ode to California

I’m not sure that this qualifies as an ode, but I figure that before I post what I wrote as I was leaving Oregon, I should post the one that I wrote as I was leaving California.

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California, they said it
Was a mythical place
It’s where people headed
Done with the rat race

California is where dreams
Or nightmares come true
Hurry up and come join us
We’re waiting for you

My friends all head westwards
Abandoning the east
Heading to California
Where they hope to find peace

Now that I’ve been here
And seen it up close
It’s not all that different
Here on the wrong coast

I’ve walked through your deserts
your mountains, your plains
I’ve dealt with your weather,
Your heat, wind, and rains

I’ve been welcomed into your homes
Both fancy and poor
And wherever I’ve turned
Someone’s opened a door

California I’ve seen you
What you have at your core
Now I see what it is
That they all adore

Though I don’t want to move here
It’s too hot! It’s too dry!
I as I head into Oregon,
I’m not ready for goodbye!

Pancake Challenge (PCT Days 111-113)

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I was pretty sure that the PCT only went through three states: California, Oregon, and Washington. How was it then, that I found myself standing in front of the post office for a different state? And a state that I’d never even heard of before? I must have hit my head harder than I thought when I took that nose dive!

Though I’d never heard of the state of Jefferson (the 51st state) before, I liked their motto which was something like, “politicians: one term in office and one term in prison.” It was hot out, I was hungry, and in addition to having a post office, the state of Jefferson also had at least one cafe, the Seiad Valley Cafe.

It was gloriously air-conditioned inside, so I sat down and made myself comfortable. Before the menus even hit the table I ordered a root beer float. I’d been dreaming of ice cream for days! As I browsed the menu, I sipped on the root beer float that had magically appeared in front of me… Hmmm… What did I want to eat?

Pancakes… I definitely wanted pancakes. The only pancakes I saw on the menu were the pancakes for the pancake challenge (I’ll admit I wasn’t reading the menu all that carefully). The challenge was to eat five challenge-sized pancakes in under two hours… If you completed the challenge then you’d get your pancakes free of charge. Five pancakes in two hours… I felt hungry enough to do that… I wasn’t sure what challenge-size pancakes were, but I figured there was only one way to find out…

When the waitress came back I ordered the pancake challenge. “Are you sure?” she asked, “they’re really big.” I was sure… I was hungry, I wanted pancakes, and I wanted to see what the challenge was all about.

As she placed the order people around the cafe began to murmur… Someone had ordered the pancake challenge! I was sitting in the back room with Whitewater (he got bit by a rattler on the day I took my nosedive) and GearSlut. We were tucked in the corner, so none of the customers in the main room could see who had placed the order.

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GearSlut, overwhelmed with curiosity about my challenge-sized pancakes, got up to take some pictures of the pancakes on the griddle. One of the guys at the counter said to him, “You’re an awfully small guy, do you really think you can eat that many pancakes?” He responded with a smile, “they’re not for me, they’re for her,” and pointed towards me. It was a great redirect :) If they were dubious about his ability to eat those pancakes, they were definitely dubious about mine!

Eventually my curiosity got the best of me and I had to get up to take a look at these legendary pancakes as they were being cooked. They were definitely big! Not only were they at least a foot in diameter, they were also really thick, probably half an inch of bubbly white pancake between the golden edges. They were so big they needed a special spatula to flip them (it looked more like a shovel than a spatula to me!).

I watched as the first couple of pancakes were finished and she poured the next couple out onto the griddle… They looked good, and the longer I waited for them the hungrier I got!

Eventually all five challenge-sized pancakes were delivered to me on a silver platter. I could barely pick the platter up it weighed so much!!! This was definitely the largest stack of pancakes I had ever seen, never mind consumed. “Clock starts now,” said the waitress as she brought over a bowl of butter and two containers of Aunt Jemimah’s maple syrup. I lathered butter onto the top pancake and prepared to dig in.

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For some reason a fork didn’t seem up to the task to me, so I lifted the platter to my mouth and took a few bites before deciding that the platter was way too heavy to hold up while I was eating… I was going to have to employ a different strategy…

I picked up one of the pancakes with both hands and took a bite out of it. Not bad… little dry though, so I lathered on some more butter… Just right!

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In order to come even close to winning the challenge, I was going to have to eat each pancake in 30 minutes or less. I finished the first pancake in just under 30 minutes, I was still on target time wise!

However, just two bites into the second pancake I was starting to slow down. Though it might be hard to believe, I was starting to get full! I was also starting to get tired of pancakes…

With plenty of free wifi, I got distracted from my pancakes and started checking Facebook instead of eating… Every now and then I’d remember that the pancakes were there and nibble at them… I ate another couple of bites with marionberry jam, which made those bites more palatable, but it still wasn’t enough to encourage me to eat more than a couple of bites…

An hour into the challenge I was still working on that second pancake. I stared at the pile… Even with another whole hour there was no way that I would make it through all five pancakes… In a couple of hours my parents would be meeting up with me… I wanted to be able to hug them without worrying about covering them with partially digested pancake…

With that thought I decided that I was going to stop eating pancake before I got too uncomfortable… I continued nibbling at the second pancake for the rest of that hour, as I chatted with some local gold miners. The youngest of the group had ordered the challenge the previous week and had managed to eat one and a half pancakes before the time was up, so I set a new goal, I wasn’t going to try to eat all five pancakes anymore, I was just going to try to eat a little bit more than he had.

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When my two hours were up I’d managed to eat two or three bites more than one and a half pancakes… Just a smidge more than the youngest gold miner :) After the challenge was over I chatted with the waitress and the cook for a while… It turns out that only two people in the last five years had successfully completed the challenge.

Even though I hadn’t eaten all five pancakes I had a lot of fun trying… It reminded me that happiness often comes from just getting out there and trying things… That you don’t always have to win to have a good time (especially since in this case I’m pretty sure winning would have made me sick!).

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Where there’s smoke… (PCT Days 95-97)

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As I hiked up the hill leaving Baum Lake I started smelling smoke… It smelled like campfire smoke. Who in the world would have a campfire when the temperatures were in the 90s in July in Northern California during a drought? Didn’t they know that this place is just primed and ready to burn! Over the course of the next half mile or so the smell of smoke got stronger and I got grumpier. I was preparing to give the campers with the fire a stern talking to, whoever they were.

As I approached the crest of the hill I started to see smoke, but no signs of people anywhere! As I got even closer I saw plumes of smoke rising out of the bushes about five feet to the left of the trail. I leaned my hiking poles up against a nearby tree and then pushed through the bushes to check it out. This was not good… Not good at all!

There was a patch of ground covered with forest debris that was smoldering… It looked almost like the coals of a campfire that someone had tried to kick to break up, but more dispersed, and definitely no signs of a campsite… This was something different… Something that I’d never encountered in the woods before… It was an unintentional fire of some kind.

It was a patch of earth roughly 3 feet long and 3 feet wide with a dozen or so charred/smoking sticks and piles of leaves in it… There were no open flames, and it wasn’t spreading quickly. I tried to kick dirt over one of the small smoking piles and then tried stepping on it to put it out, but that didn’t come even close to subduing the smoke. This was going to require more water than I had, and more water than I could easily get. I needed help dealing with this thing. It was still so small that it didn’t seem like it warranted panicking (at least not yet), but it was Northern California, in a heat wave, in a drought… This thing needed to be contained and soon.

It looked like there was a road just up the hill from me and I thought I heard some kind of vehicle up there and maybe a radio. I called out, “hey, there’s a fire down here, is anybody up there?” But I didn’t hear a response so I started bushwhacking up the hill towards the road to find help as I pulled out my phone. My friend hotshot would know what I should do, so I tried calling her… I was pretty sure she’d just tell me to call 911 and get the fire department out there… She didn’t answer… 911 was next on my list…

As I got to what I thought was the road, I instead found a bunch of bulldozer tracks criss-crossed with fire hoses. A fire hose was exactly what I needed!! Well, that and somebody that knew how to use it! I heard another radio squelch… The fire department was already here, somewhere nearby… I just needed to find them.

As I starting walking towards the squelch I saw a very happy sight indeed, a fireman turning the corner and walking towards me with what looked to be another thru-hiker by his side. “There’s a patch of the forest smoldering by the trail,” I exclaimed.

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He nodded, “are there any flames yet?” I replied, “no, not yet… Just charring and smoking.” As I led the way back down to the scorched, smoking earth, the fireman explained to us that there had been a fire in the area yesterday that burned 68 of the adjacent acres, so this was probably just a spot fire that had escaped from the bigger fire. That made sense and explained why they were already in the area.

After we showed him where the fire was he thanked Easy Bee (the other thru-hiker) and me for our help, and for taking time out of our hikes to report the fire and followup on it. He then called it in to the rest of the crew who were going to get water and deal with this mess.

“Where is the trail from here?” He asked. We both pointed to the trail five feet below us. I then asked him a question that I’d been meaning to ask my friend hotshot for a while, “what should we, as hikers, do if/when we encounter a forest fire?”

1. Write down your GPS coordinates if you have them (halfmile’s apps will give them to us).
2. Call the local fire department or 911 to report it.
3. If you don’t have cell service make sure you get the GPS coordinates of the location of the fire, and the next time you get cell service call it in to report it.

If it is a small fire (like the one I encountered), he said that you can try to kick a perimeter around it down to the bare earth (it’s ok to include bushes within that perimeter if you need to). He kicked about a foot an a half to two foot wide buffer of cleared earth around the fire and said that that was likely to keep it contained. Even if you do that, still call it in.

If you come across a campfire that someone has unsuccessfully tried to put out, call it in. Chances are you won’t be able to completely put it out either. He said it’s funny the number of times they end up coming to an abandoned campfire site and find a note from a hiker saying they tried to put it out (signed with their trail name).

If there’s a large fire on the trail he said the biggest thing you need to do is keep your wits about you and pay attention to the wind directions. You want to go whichever direction the wind is coming from because it will be whipping the smokes and flames the other way. He said that usually you can tell just by looking at it which direction the fire is moving in… Don’t go that way, even if it means that you have to go back the way you came from. He also said that most fires around here burn to the northeast, so if you’re unsure which direction to go, you’ll probably be best off if you hike in a generally westerly direction. Avoid canyons, ravines, or anyplace that funnels the wind because that will also funnel the fire. Lastly, if you circle behind the fire, your best bet may be to walk along the edge of the section that has already been burned and charred… You know that that section isn’t going to burn again, even if the wind directions change.

I thanked him for his advice, and headed back up the trail. I hope that I don’t encounter anymore active burn sites on the trail, but at least I have a better understanding of what to do now if I find another fire.

p.s. Last night I saw another section of trees go up in flames in the valley from the overlook I was sleeping at. Be careful out there! For anyone near dunsmuir today:

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official news about the fire

Addendum:
I finally got a chance to talk to my friend Hotshot, who said:

“Only thing I would add to his ‘escape’ advice is that around here fire is often slope driven, not wind driven, going uphill from a fire can be really dangerous… No one can outrun a fire uphill.”

“Also, be careful walking through old burns… Fire weakened trees can be blown over pretty easily so try not to take a break or set up camp under them & keep your head up when you are hiking through a burn scar in the wind!! Welcome to west coast crazy:)”

Chomp, chomp, chomp! (94&95)

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“Snap! Crack! Boom!” Sure it was the 4th of July, but this wasn’t fireworks. It was 5:30 am and we were in the middle of a pine forest. “Crash! Boom! Bang!” The noise was startling and loud, and was a constant grinding/gnashing sound in the background. It was incredibly disconcerting, and it was getting closer!!!

We could hear it, but we couldn’t see it. What the heck was it? Where was it? Where was it going? Was it coming for us? It was just so loud and it sounded like pure destruction… It was downright scary.

As the sun continued to rise we saw the aftermath of whatever it was littering the forest floor. It wasn’t like the logging and lumbering areas we’d seen before. There, the stumps of the trees had cleanly cut edges, and so did the remaining felled logs. Here, there were plenty of stumps but they looked like they had been chewed up by a giant and then spit out all over the forest floor… It was really weird, and all of the shredded tree bits were fresh… Not more than a day or two old.

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“Griiiiiind! Smash! Crunch!” As the sky got brighter we saw bulldozer tracks criss-crossing the trail everywhere and we finally figured out what the noise was coming from. It had to be some kind of bulldozer/chipper combination… And it was headed our way… Would it be able to see us through the remaining trees? Did it know where the trail even was? Would we see the trees crashing down with plenty of time to get out of the way?

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I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to find out, so I picked up my pace… I’d feel much better once we were out of this area. I kept looking back over my shoulder… I still couldn’t see the roving menace. I’d never heard anything like it before in my life, but the longer it went on, the more frightening it became. It had me looking over my shoulder even more often than I had the day that the mountain lion hissed at me!

Eventually we came to a dirt road, and on the other side of it a steep hill with untarnished forest on its slopes. I don’t think I have ever been so excited about going uphill before in my life! It meant that the chipper wasn’t going to get me! The whole scene reminded me of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. As thru-hikers, I feel like we stand for the trees, and there are some things that are just hard to see.

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