Oregone!

Posted on August 18, 2015

Greetings from Portland, Oregon. This morning we hiked over the Bridge of the Gods into Washington. Another milestone, to be sure, and a signal that we’re really in the fourth quarter of our trip. Our friend (and former AT alum) Ry met us in Cascade Locks on the south side of the bridge, gave us root beers to drink while we walked over the Columbia, then met us on the other side to whisk us back to Oregon. What a dude!

Ry welcomes us to Washington!

 

Washington is rumored to be challenging, wet, and stunningly beautiful. We’re eager to see for ourselves, but not before a few days of R&R on this side of the river.

Since our last post, we’ve woven our way through precious and infinite lakes and around the bases of towering volcanoes. The hiking has been easy, generally, though dusty and frustratingly exposed at times. We met many people attempting to backpack all of Oregon in a summer -It’s possible, and worth it, if you can get out here!

 

Lara and Mt. Hood

Here are a few highlights:

Three Sisters: Leaving Elk Lake we were surprised to find ourselves beneath three large volcanoes, the three sisters. Though we had a hard time distinguishing them from below, they made numerous appearances as we popped in and out of the trees. Obsideon and lava flows dotted the landscape trough this section, as did spot thunderstorms. 

Big Lake Youth Camp: The kind folks here deserve a shout out for their hospitality. They allow hikers to send mail drops, shower, swim, and eat for a small donation. We felt like we were back at summer camp for a few sweet hours.

Mt. Jefferson: Another doozy. We were fortunate enough to enjoy day-long views of Jefferson before a cold front and thick fog rolled in. Jefferson Park, a large alpine plateau, was a popular spot with locals from Salem and Portland.


Special mention in this area also goes to Three Fingered Jack. Can you spot Angie hiking below?: 

Little Crater Lake: As the name implies, it’s small and 45 feet deep. Worth the side trip. The crystal clear water hardly looks real. 

Eagle Creek Alternate: Oregon ended spectacularly with an alternate route off the PCT onto the Eagle Creek Trail. Here’s Veggie at Tunnel Falls, one of the many falls along the route.

 So, Oregon, so long. Washington, see you soon.

Love,

Zack (Square)

Wrong Turns, Smoke and Magic

Posted on August 11, 2015

 

Mount Thielsen

Howdy from more than halfway through the great state of Oregon! Compared to the time it took us to trek through California, Oregon is flying by. It’s been a smoky, gorgeous, frustrating and magical nine days since we left Ashland.

 

Smoky sunset

 

Smoke filled the skies in southern Oregon, though we were reassured that the wildfires causing it (in Northern California and further west of us in Oregon) were a safe distance from the trail. We walked over both wooded and rocky terrain, formed as lava hardened from long-ago volcanic activity.

Speaking of (former) volcanoes, we entered our fifth national park of the PCT: Crater Lake. Created when the once 12,000-foot volcano, Mount Mazama, erupted some 7,700 years ago, Crater Lake is one of the most stunning and strange natural wonders we have seen. After the enormous explosion, the mountain lost about 5,000 feet of elevation and caved in on itself, forming an enormous crater. Over time, it filled with water and is now the deepest lake in the country, with depths of up to 1,900 feet.

 

Crater Lake by morning

The water is strikingly blue, and the cliffs drop off straight into it – no sandy beaches on this intense lakeshore. Walking along the rim trail that circles the crater, we felt like we were being let in on a big, beautiful secret.

 

Sunset at Crater Lake

After Crater Lake, we entered the land of much smaller lakes. We’ve enjoyed camping at beautiful lakesides each night. But this idyllic section hasn’t also been without its challenges. We took three wrong turns three days in a row, which took us off-course and tacked on some unproductive miles. It may seem that going a few extra miles in the scheme of a 2,650-mile hike would be a drop in the bucket, but in the moment it always seems like the worst. thing. ever. We let ourselves be very melodramatic about it, and then within a few hours, we regained perspective. Lessons learned on the path less traveled.

 

Square at Diamond View Lake

Finally, the trail miles…Among PCT hikers, Oregon is known as the place to crank out “the big miles.” The terrain is more forgiving and shaded than the trail in California or Washington, and hikers tackle 30+ mile days on the regular. We have been very consistent with our 25-29 mile days, keeping up with our friends who did bigger miles by taking less time off and staying steadily on schedule.

 

Trail magic at the right moment

But we saw the perfect opportunity to try our first 30+ mile day yesterday. The weather was cloudy, the trail was smooth, and the timing was right. With the help of our friends Roadrunner and Pretzel, and some amazing midday trail magic that fueled us through, we made it all 31.3 miles to Mac Lake and celebrated with much silliness.

Pretzel, Roadrunner, Veggie and Square

Today we are taking a half day on the shore of Elk Lake. Not a bad way to mark the halfway point through this amazing state. And while there is still much more time left on this journey (we probably have about five week), we know that many more miles are behind us than lie ahead. It’s hard to soak it all in, but we are just plain grateful to have made it here.

Love,

Lara (“Veggie”)

Oregoing

Posted on July 31, 2015

California, it’s been real. After nearly 1700 miles we unceremoniously crossed into Oregon, leaving the desert, the Sierras, Lassen, Shasta all in our rear view. But! Before we bid CA adieu, one last blog post (mostly) about her. 

We’d heard two things about Northern California: dry and hot. And was it dry and hot? Sure it was! But it was so much more. Our route took us up and around Castle Crags, through the Trinity Alps, and along ridges in the Russian Wilderness. Around us, camp counselors led groups of mosquito-bitten youngsters to the multitudes of nearby lakes (they were very curious about us) and locals packed in picnic lunches. In the old burned areas, colorful birds stood out starkly against the deep-black char. And, through it all, Mt. Shasta loomed prominently. Know this: Mt. Shasta always steals the show. 

We eventually wound our way down – waaaaay down – to the tiny community of Seiad Valley, where, at 105 degrees, it was legitimately hot and dry. There isn’t much to the place save a store, a post office, and an impossible pancake challenge. The cashier at the store told me she’s never seen anyone eat the entire five-pounds of pancakes. Too much pancake, even for thru-hikers, it seems. We spent a lovely evening camped at the RV park, watching Monty Python and trying to stay cool. 

 The climb out of Seiad received a lot of hype (4800′ in eight miles), but we did it in the morning and made it up to higher elevations before it got too warm to walk. Soon the milestones began: last day in California, 1700 miles, OR/CA border. The scenery in Southern Oregon sure looks like Northern California, but these landmarks, however arbitrary in the scheme of things, give us motivation. Cheers to a new state! Cheers to more hiking!

Veggie has been keeping the Instagram well-fed, so check out the photos there. Also, a loving shout-out to Christine and Linda for hosting us last, and to Gwen for hosting us now.

Onward,

Zack

Extremes 

Posted on July 22, 2015

Hello from Mount Shasta! When we last checked in, we were just past the halfway mark on this National Scenic Trail. We have since walked well into the second half, which is both exciting and a reminder that it won’t last forever…so we need to savor it!

Boiling Lake

We started this stretch by entering Lassen Volcanic National Park, where Mount Lassen loomed large, and geysers and boiling lakes bubbled. It was unlike any other landscape we have encountered on the trail.

Mt. Lassen

From there, we climbed to Hat Creek Rim, a long, waterless and exposed area where we got our first view of Shasta in the distance as the sun set. To our left, Lassen towered; to our right, Shasta dominated. For the rest of the week, our hike was bookended by those two beautiful beasts.

 

Zack on Hat Creek Rim, Mt. Lassen in the distance

After hiking under the sun all day on the rim, we hiked down to tree cover. The next few days we alternated between being under the trees and being on ridges with views of Shasta as we hiked nearer to the behemoth. Each morning, the mountain would appear against a perfectly blue sky. By late morning, she had garnered one cloud, and by early afternoon a whole storm system sat over the volcano. She has a very commanding presence!

Mt. Shasta at sunset

In a week of extremes, we also visited Burney Falls State Park, where gushing, gorgeous waterfalls provided a refreshing break from the hot and dry stretches.

It was also a week of reunions! Because we took five days off for our family trip, we didn’t think we would see some of our favorite hikers again (after all, they kept on hiking). But this week, we joyfully reunited with some folks we hadn’t seen for hundreds of miles. We had the best time catching up with Pretzel, B.K. and Prickly Pear. We’ll catch you yet, Minty Fresh! 

Breaking news: It’s HOT. This was our first leg of the trip without chilly nights. The heat made for some extra blisters and impromptu swims, but it is summertime, so we can’t be too indignant or surprised. 

After this hot week, we are gladly resting up with our friends Christine and Linda and their merry band of animals. Their Shasta home has already been a beautiful and cozy respite for these two sweaty, dirty hikers.   

Returning to the trail tomorrow, we will have less than 200 miles left to hike in California. If we hadn’t realized it before, we now know that this state is HUGE. It’s hard to believe we have covered so much ground and seen so many different sights, and we’re still in the same state.

On that note, onward!

Love,

Lara (“Veggie”)

Welcome Back

Posted on July 14, 2015

After a restful and indulgent week with family, we were a bit apprehensive to return to the trail. Had we lost our hard-earned hiker legs? Would we think to ourselves, “why are we doing this, again?” After a while away, you start thinking of the trail as something someone else is tackling. Still you, but a different you.

Back to the trail!

Mama and Papa E graciously ferried us back to Graeagle, CA, where we picked up the trail right where we’d left it. It was a beautiful blue morning, and we cruised for several hours, practically whistling. “Hey! This great!” Our esteem soared.

Until the clouds rolled in. It downpoured for more than four hours. Within an hour, our raingear was soaked through, and we were sure the interiors of our packs would be, too. The dry terrain struggled to absorb so much water so quickly, so the trail became a mix of dirt slurry and puddles. For the first while, we said, Zen-like, “this, too.” Soon after, we said, “get me out of here.” So much for our Buddha Natures.

We stopped early, awkwardly set up our new tent in the rain, and slept. A fine “welcome back.”   One more thing: we officially passed the halfway point yesterday, at mile 1325. People are still telling us “the best is yet to come.” It’s hard to believe them, but it’s been true every step of the way so far.

If you’re interested in getting direct updates when we write on this blog, don’t forget to follow us. Also, Veggie’s adding new photos to our Instagram all the time. Pictures like these:

 Love from Northern, CA,

Zack/Square

Halftime!

Posted on July 8, 2015

The last 10 days have been packed to the brim with all sorts of people, places and things. We left South Lake Tahoe supremely happy after our visit with AT friends Pixel and Shazam, and enjoyed a gorgeous hike around Echo and Aloha Lakes. The PCT overlaps with the Tahoe Rim Trail for some miles outside of South Lake, and most days we had stunning ridge walks with views of the enormous lake below. We are continually surprised by how, even as the landscape changes, it is always beautiful.

Summer is here, and we pushed through some really hot days in this last stretch. We also got a huge storm, and watched the lightning strike a few ridges over as we ate dinner one night. Then we burrowed into our tent as it moved our way, and the sky lit up around us.

But through all the miles, our main focus on this leg of the journey was our rendezvous with family. We are just shy of the halfway point of the PCT, but we were very ready for a halftime break. We met my mom and grandma near mile 1,211 and were gratefully whisked away for a while. We’ve spent the last five days resting, eating, sunbathing and spending time with family.

A storm brewing over the Sierra Buttes.

Given that our hike through the Sierras came to a close this last week (as we hiked through Donner Pass), it seems fitting that we are exactly where we are at the moment, sharing time with family in a special place.

Donner Pass, the end of the Sierras.

A bit of backstory: My mom grew up in California, and as a young girl, her parents would lead her and her three brothers on trips into the Sierras. They would set up a base camp and stay for 10 days at a time when the kids were as young as four. I grew up on stories of trips to Lake Spotty and each summer’s adventures. I wanted to hear them over and over.

Before hiking the PCT, my experience backpacking in California was always paired with family. I feel honored and humbled to have hiked the Sierra range now, like I’ve followed in the family spirit of adventure and relishing in the great outdoors. And on the particularly hard days, when I was feeling low or beat, I could always conjure up some extra courage and strength by thinking of my Gaga and Popoo, Uncles Dan, Tim and Jamie, and my mama Andie out on the trail. 

 We’ve spent our halftime break at the house that my grandfather designed and built in the Sierra National Forest, a place he loved so much. It’s long been my favorite house in the world, and being here always feels like coming home. This week, my family was together, and every moment felt like a treat.

Family!

Heading back to the trail is hard after such a wonderful time with family (and creature comforts), but I feel like I’m following in the best footsteps. It may take a few days to readjust, but the trail has a way of making you feel like you’re right where you need to be.
Love,

Lara (“Veggie”)

P.S. – It is with some sadness that we announce that our trusty tent won’t be sheltering us for the remainder of our trip. “Tenty” endured the whole AT and half of the PCT. It has been our trail home, but alas, it must be sent away for much-needed repairs. Now, we’ve added a new tent to the family. We did a test run indoors with my three-year-old niece, and it passed!

Yosemite, Wildfire, Tahoe

Posted on June 27, 2015

A lot’s happened since we last wrote. Like, a lot. So bear with my scatterbrained writing here.

After saying goodbye to our Fresno family (who, again, drove us back up winding mountain roads), we hit the trail and found that it was much more populated than when we left it. With Father’s Day weekend around the corner and summer about to officially begin, we encountered many people out for a night or two in the woods. The section of trail between Sequoia/Kings Canyon and Yosemite is also popular with dog owners (no dogs in National Parks), so we met lots of dogs, too.

After Devil’s Postpile National Monument, the PCT and the John Muir Trail (JMT) diverge for about 15 miles. We’d been instructed to take the JMT through this section, which was bumpier terrain, but much more scenic, and we weren’t disappointed. Alpine lakes were around every turn, each a destination in itself. The chain ended with Thousand Island Lake, which, you guessed it, had lots of islands, and brought us to Donohue Pass, the entryway into Yosemite.

Rosalie Lake, along the JMT near Yosemite.

Rosalie Lake, along the JMT near Yosemite.

That day we crossed paths with 75 hikers, only a handful of which were thru-hiking like us. It was a bit of a shock, seeing as we typically run into about 10-20 people a day out here. As one fellow thru-hiker put it, “you start to feel entitled after a while.”

So, feeling somewhat entitled, we entered Yosemite. The mosquitoes were bad, as anticipated, but not intolerable, and we had an easy walk along the river into Tuolomne Meadows. There we picked up resupply boxes (which had been ardently defended by hiker-helping post office employees) and treated ourselves to a night at the Tuolomne Lodge, which is comprised of canvas tents with cement floors, beds, and wood-burning stoves. We avoided the gorgeous but crowded Yosemite Valley on this trip, so staying at the lodge was our “Yosemite Experience.” During our breakfast there, we dined with an older gentleman who’d been the piano player at Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel for 40 years. When asked if he still liked coming to the park after all this time, he smiled and said “River still sounds good!” We agreed.

Waterfall near Glen Aulin / Tuolomne Meadows.

Waterfall near Glen Aulin / Tuolomne Meadows.

The remaining 60 miles within the park were typical of Yosemite – meadows, big slabs of rock, waterfalls – but were also rugged and just plain hard. Even with our Sierra-trained legs, we still struggled through days with steep ups and downs, loose rock, and, of course, les bugs.

We soon crossed the 1000-mile mark, and, feeling triumphant, proceeded up an unexpectedly epic ridge walk. The views were outstanding, as the picture below from our campsite (literally 10 feet from the tent) will attest:

Veggie catches a sunset from our (so far) favorite campsite.

Veggie catches a sunset from our (so far) favorite campsite.

There was snow on the backside of the ridge, even in this dry year, so we cautiously proceeded to Sonora Pass, where we picked up a resupply box and learned that a large (and, as of the time of this post, still growing) wildfire, the Washington Fire, was raging nearby. There were many rumors flying about the severity of the fire and the impact it would have on the trail (the nearby town of Markleeville lay in its path, so highways were being closed), but the official word was that the trail remained open. Others who had come from the north reassured us that we might see smoke, but that there was no real danger on the PCT. Fortunately, that was our experience, too. Some haze one day, but otherwise entirely clear. In the distance during the day, we saw plumes of smoke and steam rising from a few ridges over.

photo 3(1)

View of the Washington Fire from the PCT, near Ebbetts Pass.

After sidestepping the fire, we were surprised to find an abundance of wildflowers in a Land of the Lost-esque landscape. It was surreal:

photo 1(1) photo 4(1)

In sum, it’s been an unusually diverse 10 days. We now sit with our friends Pixel and Shazam in South Lake Tahoe. Appalachian Trail AND Pacific Crest Trail alums, they know just what hikers need on a day off. We’re grateful to be with them, and eager for what’s to come.

Love,

Zack (Square)