Welcome! To my friends, family, and colleagues who are interested, I invite you to follow along on what I hope will be a safe and successful journey over the next 5 months as I follow the Pacific Crest Trail over 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. My goal is to update this blog with journal entries and photos as much as I can throughout the trip, so feel free to hit the "Follow Stone and Sky" button to automatically subscribe.
Pacific Crest Trail 2016
Daily dispatches and photos from the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2654-mile footpath running from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon, and Washington.
2 Hours and 20 Minutes
Two hours and twenty minutes. That's how long it took to travel from Seattle to Dan Diego today--nearly the same distance that will take me 5 months to cover on the trail. It's a humbling thought.
Today began at the oh-so-early hour of 4:45, when we woke up at Scout & Frodo's, packed, ate breakfast and were off to the start of the trail just before 6.
To the Shade
Just before 5:30, our little collection of thru-hikers at Lake Morena campground began to stir. A bit of a misnomer, Lake Morena is really a reservoir and one that had no water within sight of the campground itself. As Rich, Gazelle, Emily and I left at 6:30 the early morning light was beautiful and the cool temperatures reminded me of how wildly different the days and nights here can be.
We awoke this morning tucked on the edge of a meadow along with Rich, XC, and Gazelle. Three short miles up the trail was our first resupply at Mt. Laguna, and also an opportunity to address a couple of nagging problems, namely Emily's blisters and our failing pack frames.
Rain and Reset
Little known fact: it does, in fact, rain in Southern California. In what can only be described as hypothermia on a silver platter, the first half of our day was spent managing the 40ish degree temperature, rain, and wind while making our way down towards the Anza-Borrego desert. Not surprisingly, we stopped only for 10 minutes in the first 9 miles of the day.
With yesterday's weather having blown through, we found ourselves with the most favorable hiking conditions thus far and with an early start we tried to take full advantage.
XC rolled into our camp at Barrel Spring late last night, and we laughed until well after hiker bedtime, i.e. 9pm. I know, really letting ourselves go. It was great to see him and catch up on the news of where Gazelle, Beardoh, Sweet Pea and Lid were. It turns out they had all hitched into the town of Julian the day before, and so were now just behind us on the trail.
Just a short post tonight as we lay in our sleeping bags cowboy camping under a sea of stars. After picking up a resupply box from the Warner Springs post office with the rest of the crowd from the community center, our little hiker train of Proton, XC, Gazelle, X-man, Ace and I set off on a bit of cross-country travel to reconnect with the PCT.
The Sun is Winning
After drifting off to sleep to the sound of Frank Sinatra at Mike's Place last night (true story), the gang was back on the trail at 6am this morning. Another perfectly clear sunny day and by 7, I was already getting hot as we climbed up. Today was a day of lengthy ascents and descents, all of it under a sweltering sun.
The sun was hot and again we walked. Sensing a pattern yet? I'm starting to sound like a broken record. Just 3 miles down the trail, it was decision time. We walked along Highway 74 for a mile to the Paradise Valley Cafe where both a resupply box and a monster breakfast awaited.
Ah, the "zero" day, a.k.a., a day off. Since we arrived in Idyllwild a day early, we'll actually be taking a double zero and the timing couldn't be better. Idyllwild is a town filled with hiker-friendly people and we spent most of the day truly relaxing--Epsom salt foot baths, doing a puzzle on the deck…
Ode to Ace
My best friend, my hiking buddy, my partner in all things. The extrovert to my introvert, the emotional to my rational, Emily is truly my better half. We have countless things in common, but it's our differences that constantly have us learning from and leaning on each other.
With X-man leaving after only one zero day and Emily having flown home to Seattle, our little hiking group has been whittled down to just four. We set off from the cozy confines of the Idyllwild Inn at 6am, hoping to get a hitch to the state park where a side trail would take us back to the PCT on the north side of the trail closure.
The day began just before sunrise at 5am, hoping to finish the marathon descent from Mt. San Jacinto and cross the 5 miles of desert before the heat of the day set in. As much as I've never been a morning person (Emily can attest), I love the morning light in the moments that both precede and follow sunrise.
The four of us rolled into the hostel at Big Bear Lake around 8:00 last night and quickly dashed off to a nearby restaurant for the $5 PCT thru-hiker special of breakfast-for-dinner: eggs, bacon, hashed browns, and biscuits & gravy. I wouldn't say my hiker appetite has fully kicked in, but it's certainly on its way.
Today marks two weeks on the trail and even so early in the trip it's hard to wrap my mind around all the beautiful sights I've seen and all the wonderful people I've met. Other than the storm north of Mt. Laguna, today also marked the return of something that I'd seldom seen these first two weeks: clouds. Little white puffy ones.
Our usual start time of 6am came, and off Proton and I went. At 7:15 we came to the crossing of a little used road and parked there was an RV, of sorts. Out popped Coppertone, a former PCT thru-hiker turned trail angel (pictured in the red hat below) asking us whether we'd like a root beer float or pie ala mode. Not exactly your typical breakfast, but in hiker-land, anytime is the right time for pie.
Water is Heavy
It's an inescapable scientific truism, and one we would be cruelly reminded of today. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, so let's rewind to the morning. After cruising down 10 miles of descending trail by 9:30am, we reached the crossing of Interstate 15 at Cajon Pass.
Into the Wind
Midway through the night, it began. From our protected camp site on the leeward side of the mountain just 20 feet below a small saddle in the ridge, we could hear the wind begin to howl. The wind warning we saw in yesterday's weather report was coming to fruition and it would mean that our plans for the next 24 hours were about to change.
The wind had abated and we were back on the trail under clear, cold skies after a fantastic evening with some fantastic hosts. Back up on the PCT, we quickly realized what kind of night it had been when we saw hoarfrost still clinging between the needles of the piñon pine from the frozen wind.
Mountain Yellow Frog
A pretty uneventful, low-key day today. After a cold night, our little gang of now 6 with Sweet Pea and Beardoh set off hoping to warm up a bit. Just 2 miles into the day, we hit the pavement for a roadwalk detour around a section of trail that has now been closed for years in an effort to protect the habitat of the endangered Mountain Yellow Frog.
Poodle Poodle Everywhere
So here I am, after all the other hikers have gone to bed, tending to the dwindling campfire on the beginning of what promises to be yet another cold night. It's blogging by firelight rather than headlamp for a change. I can't remember the last time I had a campfire on three consecutive nights on a trail--I don't recall having that many on the entire Appalachian Trail…
Out of the Cloud
With a short day on tap, the order of the morning was sleeping in...until 6:30 anyway. Another cold night in the books, the morning began much as the previous evening had ended, the air thick from a low lying cloud having settled into the high mountain saddle.
Weather dictates all manner of things out here--moods, miles hiked, the amount of water needed and thus pack weight. In exchange for the cold of the last few nights, moving down the trail during the day has been unseasonably comfortable. In truth, I continue to win the weather lottery.
Everything is some sort of small calculation. Just as the move of a single chess piece becomes a sequence, becomes a strategy, so too are the decisions made on each day of this journey. How far to the next water source? To the next resupply? At the end of the day, will there be terrain level enough and vegetation sparse enough to pitch a tent?
The sky feels so imposing, massive, as though it threatens to press down on you ever so gently from above. The first time I ever saw sky like this was on my first trip west of the Mississippi, on a canoe trip down the Missouri River from Great Falls, Montana. I had heard the name "Big Sky country" before, but never could discern its purpose. How, after all, could the sky appear any bigger…
Raindrops in the Desert
The 4:30am alarm on my watch came early, but I quickly pulled my gear together and set off just before 5:00. Is it possible to hate the morning but love the sunrise? Minutes down the trail, that was the question I asked Gazelle, sensing that like me she struggled to greet the day at such an hour but enjoyed the soft glow of its pastel beauty.
Farming the Wind
Any day that begins with the promise of real food and a shower at the end of it is a great day and after nearly 400 miles since my last day off in Idyllwild, I'm ready for both. Another early start to beat the heat, we took off one by one in the early morning hours just before sunrise, marching east directly toward another beautiful installment of the waking sun.
Donald Trump is a Clown
Full Disclosure: this post is a hard right turn, temporarily detouring from trail life into the land of politics. Feel free to skip it if a brief, though impassioned political rant is not your cup of tea. Upon reaching Tehachapi and hearing the news that Donald Trump had essentially become the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, it seemed high time to take stock of how exactly the state of the 2016 presidential election had come to this....
Rest, Rest, and More Rest
Like most zero days, today was the usual choreographed sequence of rest-eat-rest-eat, with a resupply trip to the grocery store. The two days here in Tehachapi have been a welcome break, though it's easy to become restless sitting idle for such a long time after being in the routine of moving up the trail everyday.
The alarm went off at 3:30am, and with it came a change in plans. After battling a stomach bug for the last three days, Gazelle decided it would be best to rest another day in town before taking her woozy stomach out into the heat. It was a disheartening start to the day…
The Milky Way and all the stars that studded the sky were perfectly clear as I rolled out of my tent at 3:30am, bleary-eyed from another night of little sleep. The scheduled days of the desert--waking before sunrise to beat the heat, resting for hours during the worst of the heat, and moving again in the evening--have begun to exact a toll.
Today marks one month since I set out on the trail from the border of Mexico--it's hard to believe it's gone by so quickly. When my 3:30am alarm went off yet again, I awoke to find that a mouse had taken to using my sandal straps as both a salt lick and a bit of a chew toy during the night despite them being two feet from my head. No major damage.
Forty-five minutes after a final 3:30am wake-up call, Proton and I were off into the darkness. It was a lesson in micro-climates, as certain stretches of trail were easily 10 degrees warmer or cooler than where we had camped…
Another zero, another day of alternating binges of eating and resting. The closest thing to a semblance of self-control came when, upon eating the first half of a pint of Ben & Jerry's cookie dough ice cream, I put the lid back on and waited 10 minutes before eating the other half. Not exactly the greatest imaginable display of willpower, but it somehow seemed important at the time.
Have Mango, Will Travel
My first true "nearo" day, i.e. a "near zero" miles day, I decided to eschew an alarm for the second day in a row, sleep in, and catch the afternoon bus back to the trail rather than the one that left at 5:15am. As we whiled away the hours, I could hold out no more. The sirens song of the mango I'd been saving as a final treat was simply too great to resist any longer.
A Raisin in the Sun
"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible."
A Desert Farewell
It was as if the sun was trying to exact one final measure of punishment, beating us down one final time as a send-off in honor of the previous 700 miles that apparently hadn't been quite hot enough. Miles of hiking through barren, previously burned areas didn't help, despite having easily one of the best water sources of the trail so far to begin the morning.
Additions and Subtractions
Five boxes. That's what awaited me this morning when I filed into the Kennedy Meadows General store this morning and put my name on the list for mail pickup. The relief of all of them arriving without issue soon morphed into a pseudo-Christmas-morning unwrapping of each.