Post-Hike 2016 Gear Review

I’ve been off the trails for two months now, my body slowly recuperating from walking 3,500 miles. In the meantime, Pat and I have settled in Ashland. We moved into an apartment and transitioned into working life, home-cooked meals, and (almost) daily showers.

My pack is empty now and sits dejectedly in our closet. The tent, stakes, sleeping pad, and trekking poles are clustered nearby. My hiking clothes are washed and join other gym clothes. Pat happily threw my tattered hiking shoes away, and I got new ones. We still have a hiking food surplus, stuff I couldn’t eat when Pat got off the trail, which now make up his lunches. I have not touched a energy bar since leaving the PCT.

The love and yearning I feel for long distance hiking is tucked away in my heart for now. Sometimes this life, the one with utility bills and endless paperwork and roads without sidewalks, feels like a big joke. It is certainly simpler, and cheaper, to live outdoors in a tent, to walk all day, to carry very little. But it is a seasonal life.

I can’t help but dream and scheme new adventures. There are so many trails, so many mountains, so much coastline! And imagine if I was to bike, or kayak, or run. What I really need is a winter sport. I’m open to suggestions.

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to look back at this hiking season to see what worked and what didn’t. 

Gear:

The Zpacks Hexamid Twin held up well in all conditions. It weathered snow in northern Arizona and in the Sierra, high winds in Southern California, torrential rain in Washington. The only hole in its mesh was from a hungry mouse in Northern California. Luckily, I covered the hole with my ground cloth and kept the voracious Oregon mosquitos out. The Hexamid Twin was cozy for Pat and I, and it was downright luxurious as a one-person. Perhaps the only benefit of hiking without Pat was being able to spread out at night.


The rest of my sleep system: Tyvek ground cloth (cut to fit the Hexamid), torso-length Thermarest foam sleeping pad, and Western Mountaineering Versalite sleeping bag. This set up was great. I used my backpack as insulation for my legs and feet, and I usually put my food bag in my pack to elevate my feet at night. The foam pad, a relic from our AT thru-hike, held up nicely and will probably join me on future hikes. My sleeping bag is my absolute favorite piece of gear. I looked forward to curling up in it every night. It got wet occasionally from condensation, but I was able to dry it out the next day almost always. It got drenched for three days during one nasty rainstorm in Washington. That was miserable.


I used two pairs of trekking poles. I started with Lekis and they lasted until I broke one in half the morning that I hiked into Sisters, OR. The timing was fortunate, since I needed them to set up my tent and could replace them at REI in Bend before getting back onto the trail. I hiked out with Black Diamond poles, also telescoping. I didn’t notice much difference between brands. I liked using poles to take the strain off my knees and move my upper body a little. I didn’t use them in 2013 on the AT, but I will probably use them on my next hike.


I went through three pairs of shoes. The first two were New Balance Leadvilles in an obnoxious pink color. They were OK, probably too narrow in hindsight. I wore them until they were in pieces. Pat and I bet on who would have to replace their shoes first. We both lost, giving up in Aqua Dulce and suffering from foot problems later. I found my final pair of shoes in the hiker box at Callahan’s, a used pair of Altras. I switched because they looked less worn than my beat-to-shit New Balance. I wore the Altras all the way to Canada. I had to throw away in insoles when they got so shredded that they bunched up under my feet and gave me hot spots. I definitely wore them too long. Though I was diligent about stretching and tried to eat well, my negligent foot care definitely contributed to the foot injury that I am still recovering from.


Clothing: I used a versatile layering system. I always hiked in spandex shorts and a hooded long sleeve sun shirt (the shorts were standard athletic shorts, the shirt was Patagonia Sunshade and frayed a little at the wrists but otherwise held up well). If it was cold, I put on long underwear bottoms and top (I liked a mid-weight shirt in a large size. I had a fleece lined spandex legging that I liked but sadly left at Papa Smurf’s in Big Bear, then a small pair of wool leggings that fell to mid-calf for the Sierra. When Pat got off trail I took his ripped lightweight bottoms, and they got me to Canada). If it was very cold, I wore my nano-puff synthetic down jacket. If it was windy or raining, I wore my rain jacket (Frogg Toggs to Oregon, replaced by lightweight Houdini found on sale. Frogg Toggs are cheap and plastic and I recommend them. The Houdini jacket is very lightweight but got soaked in the rainstorm in Washington). I always wore the trucker hat that Pat gave me for Christmas (Big Foot on the home stretch). I carried a lightweight fleece hat and wool gloves for cold weather through the Sierra. I wore one hiking bra the whole 3,500 miles. I went through many pairs of socks, starting with Darn Toughs, then Pat’s socks, then hiker box wool socks, then thin athletic socks, then a gifted pair of woolies that I wore the last 300 miles. I liked to carry two lightweight pairs for hiking and one heavyweight wool pair for sleeping.


For the Sierra, I carried an extra layer (fleece jacket), the rain pants that came with my Frogg Toggs (used only in the snowstorm we hiked through to get over Kearsarge Pass), and Kahtoola micro spikes, which I used many times to get over icy snow in the Sierra, on the Mt. Whitney side trip, and over snow north of Sonora Pass. I sent these home in South Lake Tahoe, along with the regulation bear canister that we each picked up in Kennedy Meadows.


Water treatment: On the AZT, we used a Sawyer Squeeze. We almost certainly let it freeze and probably broke it early in our hike, then continued to rely on it as we drank from fetid stock ponds and tanks. Hence the giardia we both got. Even if it hadn’t made us sick, we were happy to switch to a Steripen when we hit the REI in Flagstaff. Squeeze filters are tedious and ours was always clogged. The steripen worked beautifully for the whole PCT, never running low on battery (I charged it in towns every week or two).

Some miscellaneous items:

  • Headlamp: an old Petzel, I think, that broke in Oregon. I didn’t night hike much anyway, and relied on the moon or my cell phone for night light needs.
  • Food bag: a cuben fiber sack. Any plastic shopping bag will do, though.
  • Water bottle: 1-2 1-liter Gatorade bottle. For the AZT and Southern California, Pat and I also had empty platypus bladders that we used for very long dry stretches. Max capacity: 5 liters each.
  • Pat and I used the cold soak method to rehydrate meals in a Talenti plastic jar during the AZT and on the PCT in Southern California. In the cold Sierra, we hated eating cold mush and mostly ate snacks or went without. When Pat got off trail, I switched to bars and snacks entirely and threw away the Talenti container.
  • Anker external battery (3-4 charges), USB cord, iPhone cord, IQ fast charger. Great for 3-8 day resupplies. Only ran out of battery once, when we tried using a smaller external battery. Essential for using GPS/maps on my phone.
  • Guthook guides for AZT and PCT. Downloaded maps from the AZTA and Halfmile, respectively. I downloaded Halfmile’s app in Oregon when I took the Skyline Trail. It isn’t as nice as Guthook’s app in my opinion, but it is free and is great for alternates that Guthook doesn’t include.
  • Mini Swiss Army knife: a great help for cutting salami, opening stubborn plastic packaging, clipping fingernails, etc.
  • Two bandanas: one as a pee rag, one for bathing/filtering water/blowing my nose/whatever else you need a bandana for.
  • Gaitors: Dirty girls for the AZT and on the PCT until the Sierra. After that, my shoes had so many holes in them that gaitors weren’t effective at keeping sand and rocks and snow out of my shoes. The gaitors were torn and mended many times, then finally thrown away in Northern California.
  • Sunglasses: cheap gas station sunglasses. Often scratched, replaced twice.
  • Earbuds.
  • Dop kit: mini toothbrush, floss, seldom-used toothpaste, mini sunscreen, lip balm, toilet paper, Deuce of Spades trowel (0.6 oz!), extra plastic Ziplock baggies for packing out TP. ID card, credit card, small amount of cash ($5 and $10 are best for gas/small donations. $20 good for trail angel donations. I never carried coins).

I think that’s everything. Things I did not carry: camp shoes, town clothes, soap/shampoo, mini towel, a stove, pots and pans, a book, a notepad, a lighter, a camp chair, etc.


How did I decide what to carry? By trying it out on other hiking trips. I had an idea what to start with from hiking the AT in 2010 and 2013. I knew what I wanted to experiment with this year (going stoveless, a new tent). And there were some simple/cheap upgrades/replacements I used along the way (like wearing a bright, flowery XL skirt when my spandex shorts got indecently holey). My advice is to try things, see where you feel comfortable saving money, see what you can’t live without, etc. Pat and I made a ground cloth from a discarded piece of Tyvek instead of coughing up $100 for a cuben fiber one, which makes sense for our budget. I probably could have saved more money buying Goodwill synthetic shirts. An overnight or weekend trek will help you figure out what gear works for you.

I would use a lot of this set up on my next hike, depending on where and when I go. One thing I did not like was cold-soaking in cold weather. I hate hiking food in general, but hot food in big mountains on cold mornings and nights sure makes you feel like royalty. Or, bars and other easy to eat snacks are good for getting calories on the move. 

I can’t wait for the next hike and experimenting with this set up on new adventures!

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PCT Day 120: Canada

August 19

Mile 2627.7-2650.1 (22.4 +8.5 to Manning Park)

My shoes are in tatters, my socks are threadbare, my legs move mechanically.


I have walked a very long way this year and seen so much beauty and wildness. Now all I want to do is curl up in Pat’s arms and go to sleep.


I cling to each mile I walk. I say goodbye to my surroundings, the mountains and trees that have kept me company. The blue sky and snowy peaks. When I reach the monument, I break into tears.

Then I am all smiles and laughter as McGyver appears and we are celebrating and taking pictures and reading the logbook. It is a beautiful hot day and I just finished walking from Mexico to Canada.


I set out for the final 8.5 miles to Manning Park. McGyver catches up in the last mile and we walk together. I think we are both lonely. At Manning Park, I sit for a while in the steam room. I think about Northern California and the last hot week on the trail, sweating in the forested valleys. This room is closed in ceramic tile and the hot wet air blasts from vents near the ceiling.

It takes a long time to get clean. I shower and do laundry and barely make it to the lodge restaurant before the kitchen closes. My meal is huge and festive. McGyver and I talk about the PCT and other trails over dinner, then make our way back to the lobby to wait for the 2am bus that will take us far, far from the woods.

PCT Day 119: Fifth Full Moon

August 18

Mile 2592.4-2627.7 (35.3)

An early start today. When my alarm went off at 5am, the moon was still out. I watched it disappear behind the mountains to the west, then started packing up. Hiking by 5:45am in the cool, dim light.



I climbed up to Cutthroat Pass in shadow and met the sun at the top. Partially blinded, I could still make out the jagged peaks of mountains all around me. Small squirrels scurried over the talus as I hiked along. It was so quiet, so lovely. Short switchbacks led me down to another pass. I let a train of six llama by on their way back to Rainy Pass after delivering supplies to trail maintainers. Then I passed the trail maintainers, including Anke, who I last saw at Tuolumne Meadows. It was really good to see her again.


I hiked down into a valley, through forested switchbacks and across trickling streams. The trees thinned out and the sun beat down on me as I started climbing back up to the ridge. It was a long climb, and I felt tired. But as I got higher and higher, I could see the beautiful mountains all around me, some still dotted with patches of snow. It was quiet except for the rustle of a small breeze. Not a cloud in the sky. I switchbacked up to the ridge and stood in wonder at my surroundings. I have been in a constant state of awe for two weeks. Really, for four months. This trail is amazing.




I walked along the ridge, scree falling away to valleys and mountains rising on the opposite side. I could see the trail far in the distance. There were many section hikers out, especially near Hart’s Pass. One kind couple asked if I was thru-hiking and offered me licorice.



I crossed the road at Hart’s Pass, the last road until Canada, and climbed through a meadow buzzing with grasshoppers and squirrels. I hiked through small passes on the rocky trail, my feet feeling every sharp edge. My shoes, the ones I found in a hiker box at Callahan’s, are nearly worn through.



Windy Pass, Foggy Pass, Jim Pass. The sun went down and I found a nice spot on the ridge for cowboy camping. I am so happy to be cowboy camping tonight. It is my last night on the trail and I want to sleep under the stars.


As I was falling asleep, I noticed the bright white glow of the full moon peaking through the trees. I remember back at Scout and Frodo’s, under the April full moon,  they told me I’d see five full moons over the course of my hike. I thought I might be too fast but I guess they were right. Four month hike, five full moons.

PCT Day 118: Body in Revolt

August 17

Mike 2569.4-2592.4 (23.0)

I slept poorly, feeling feverish and nauseous. Woke at 6am, packed up, and started walking to the bakery. The cool of the morning helped. The quiet walk along Lake Chelan helped, too.

Hot coffee, two pieces of quiche, and treats for the trail. I hung around the bakery for an hour, chatting with locals and hikers and soaking up the feeling of nourishment and coziness, until the shuttle came at 8:30am. I tucked myself into a corner seat in the crowded, stuffy bus, and was deposited back at High Tunnel Ranger Station.


It was already pretty hot when I got to the trailhead. It just got hotter and hotter. I roasted, searching for shade but finding little. I tried to will my body to hike faster but it wouldn’t. It was like walking through oatmeal. Heat + sun + biting flies + heavy pack + achy body. Thru hiking!
I did see a bear in the forest, very close to the trail. It had been in the berry bushes until I startled it and it bounded noisily away. That was the third bear I’ve seen on the PCT, the large brown bear on trail in Northern California and the small black bear on the Eagle Creek alternate being the other two. So cool!

I plodded along at my sludge-like pace. Eventually I will get to a cooler elevation, I thought, with shade and a breeze. Eventually I will eat nutritious food and not have a constant stomach ache. Eventually I will get to lay around all day if I want, rest my painful feet, take a shower every day.


Canada is so close. I try not to think about it while I’m hiking, but on this final stretch I am always aware of how many miles left.


I walked through forest all day, very gradually gaining elevation and cooling off. Black flies and mosquitos took turns tormenting me. I camped early to give myself a little extra rest, so I can better enjoy these last few miles on the PCT.

PCT Day 117: Stehekin

August 16

Mile 2541.9-2569.4 (27.5)

I woke, ate snacks, packed up, started hiking. No real urgency, sure I would make the 6:15pm bus to Stehekin. A mile in, I noticed I was hiking at a good pace and took a look at my map. I calculated that if I cranked up my pace a little, and didn’t take any breaks, I could make the 3pm bus and give myself a nice nero in town. Maybe go swimming. It sounded so nice I thought I’d give it a shot. 27.5 miles in 8.5 hours!


I am not a fast hiker. I don’t enjoy feeling rushed. But today, spurred on by the thought of a few hours of vacation and motivated by a physical challenge, I was game.
So I booked it over the big climb, totally happy on the cool and beautiful ridge. Even when hiking fast, you can still take in the scenery. I saw the valley I would be hiking into, saw the mountains standing like sentinels on either side. Took a couple deep breaths of the fresh air, then plunged into the sauna down below.


I wasn’t expecting this heat wave. The forest was thick with stagnant air. I haven’t felt humidity for a while. I was sweating like mad. I wished a glacial lake would appear in the middle of the valley so I could jump in. I guessed that helped motivate me to Lake Chelan.


I jogged a little through the hot forest at the end, only because I was worried about missing the bus by a minute or two. As it happened, I ran up just as the red shuttle was parking and passengers were getting off. I stood in line to board, then sat on the bus for 10 minutes until it left. My body was vibrating.

We stopped at the bakery first. I bought two slices of quiche, a lemon bar, a slice of pie, and two day old treats. I barely knew what I was doing at the counter, felt almost like crying. Sometimes town is really overwhelming. I bought all these sweet things, but all I want is savory. I was really happy, only jarred from the sudden transition to quiet forest kingdom to lines at the cash register and finding the post office.

As soon as I could, I jumped into the lake. I needed to cool off. I scrubbed the sweat off my body and swam around a little. Then I lay my shirt out to dry and talked with some hikers. I found a site at the campground and tried to get in touch with family. I ate some of my treats, wandered around. In the evening I wanted to go swimming again but knew my clothes wouldn’t dry before bed, so I abstained. I tried to sleep at 8pm, but mostly just lay in my tent sweating. It was so warm. I slipped in and out of consciousness, sometimes waking up to snippets of other hikers’ conversations. When I dreamed, I dreamed of their hikes, of situations I wasn’t a part of and had never experienced.

PCT Day 116: One Eye on the Trail

August 15

Mile 2513.2-2541.9 (28.7)

The moon woke me up twice last night: once when its silver light flashed out from behind the mountains, and once when it became a golden orb sinking toward the horizon. Both times I got up and out of my tent and stood for a moment in its glow. In the morning I felt recharged. When my alarm went off and I opened my eyes, the sky was bathed in a pale sunrise, the mountains still in shadow. I want to feel that good forever.



In the morning, I crossed Pumice Creek and climbed to an exposed pass with incredible views. Jagged mountain peaks in all directions. I started down the other side, passed Mica Lake with its alien blue water, down down down past blueberries and salmon berries and lots of blowdowns. 



The mountain slope was steep and overgrown and more than once, searching the bushes for edible fruit, I stepped slightly off the trail and fell. Once I caught myself with my other leg, and once I nearly fell down to the switchback 30 feet below except for a lucky grab of a spiny plant. I did this all day. Got my head in the clouds, can’t keep an eye on the trail.

Crossed Milk Creek at started immediately back up to the next ridge. Drop 3000 feet, climb 3000 feet. The ridge walk was worth it. I could walk those few miles back and forth for the rest of my life. Mountains, wildflowers, clear streams, grassy knolls, conifers. Paradise.



Then a final long descent, 3500 feet. Walked a few miles alongside the Siuattle River, crossed it on a very long wooden bridge, walked a little further. Camped tonight by Miners Creek. Down here in the valley the forest floor is all moss and pine needles and the air is warm and stagnant. Next to the creek it is a little cooler and I am so thankful for the occasional breeze.


PCT Day 115: Glacier Peak Wilderness

August 14

Mile 2484.2-2513.2 (29.0)

Just as I was nodding off last night I heard a southbounder tell the couple who camped nearby that she just saw a cougar about a mile back. Then I fell into a deep sleep.


In the morning I got going quickly to make up the miles I had put off yesterday. Five miles in, I had climbed up to a beautiful vantage point cutting alongside a steep mountain. Bright sun, trees and grass a deep green color, distant mountain peaks dyed blue. Wildflowers. I was in awe. I stopped and spread out my tent to dry and stared out at my surroundings in wonder. I can’t believe I have so little time left on this trail. How can I give this up?


Sometimes I am glad to be almost done. When I open another packet of “food,” when I feel the sharp pain in my right foot, when the bugs bite and the sun wears me down and I’m covered in grime–at these times, I am eager to reach Canada and transition back to regular life. I want to be reunited with my patient husband, to make a home together, with my fat cat and maybe soon a big dog and one day a big garden I can tend. There is a lot to look forward to.


But then there are moments, hours, out here in the wilderness that I can barely describe, that resonate with the very core of my being. These mountains whisper to me to stay. To swim in glacial lakes and wander dirt paths forever, subsisting on berries and meltwater.

As I hiked today, every turn opened up another stunning vista. Distant peaks capped in snow, dramatic valleys bordered by steep mountains, hillsides dotted with wildflowers and granite. Streams where the water looks invisible.
I followed the trail down a valley, into the living breathing forest, across healthy creeks, then back up to the ridge. I found a beautiful, quiet place to camp between streams, watched the orange sun disappear behind the mountains, went to sleep.

PCT Day 114: “Only 190 Miles to Go”

August 13

Mile 2461.7-2484.2 (22.5)

I was the first one awake at 6:30am. I ate breakfast outside, packed my pack, and was ready to go an hour later. A sobo hitched out with me as far as Skykomish. Our ride had just finished his PCT hike that he started in 2013.


A few miles in, I started seeing lots of day hikers. I felt overwhelmed at the groups and the traffic on the trail. There was a nice lake nearby but I wanted to get away from the crowds.
It got better eventually. I slowed down and ate huckleberries. I marveled at the crystal clear streams. I felt tired and walked slowly in the sun. Another hot day. Breezes up on the ridge felt like magic.


I climbed to Grizzly Peak and saw mountains in all directions, only Mt. Baker robed in snow. I imagined coming back and hiking this section in thirty years. I wonder if I will still feel as breathless and inspired.


I stopped for water at Pear Lake, a huge and amazingly clear body of water, then continued on. I felt tired from last night’s late bedtime on top of my normal fatigue. So I camped at 7:30pm, a little earlier than normal, and ate snacks in my little tent, safe from the flies and mosquitos, listening to the trickle of a mountain stream.  

PCT Day 113: Stevens Pass

August 12

Mile 2440.1-2461.7 (21.6)

Up before dawn, packed and walking in the early morning glow. Felt like I was sleepwalking. Took a few miles to warm up.


There were a few short, steep climbs between me and Steven’s Pass. I aimed to be at the post office before it closed at 3:30. Given my variable energy level over the last few days, I gathered all my tools: green tea powder, instant coffee, upbeat music, sugar snacks.


I charged up Piper Pass, totally awestruck and in love with the forest and mountains all around me. There was a clear and inviting lake below and I wanted to go swimming. Alas, the trail did not descend to it and I trudged on, now sweating profusely under the strong sun.


Two more nameless climbs composed of wicked switchbacks. I climbed without stopping, pretended I was on the AT, glad at least that the climbs were still shaded.


The final climb was not shaded, and the bugs came out in full force. These biting flies draw blood. When I hiked into the ski resort at Steven’s Pass, I was covered in sweat and dirt and dried blood. I smelled like vomit.

It was 2pm. I was in good shape to get to the post office as long as I got a ride to Skykomish, 15 miles west, within an hour. The highway was busy and in a few minutes a silver truck pulled over. I felt so bad about my smell and grime that I sat upright so as not to contaminate the car with my sweaty back. 

In Skykomish, I picked up my package then connected with Tote Bag and Hot Wings, who said someone would be by shortly to take us to the Dinsmore’s. I gathered food for myself from the hotel restaurant and the deli and the fruit vendor in the parking lot, then sat on the shady porch and called Pat.

Whistler and his girlfriend drove up in the Dinsmore’s truck and all us hikers piled in. In no time at all, I claimed a bunk in the garage and had showered and started a load of laundry. Then I sorted my resupply and ate the rest of my town food sitting on the back porch talking with all the other hikers. So thankful for the generous Dinsmores! 

PCT Day 112: Huckleberries > Hiking

August 11

Mike 2412.1-2440.1 (28.0)

Woke up this morning, after walking three days through fog and rain, to jagged peaks and clear rivers. I’m in these beautiful, wild mountains and I have no idea how I got here. This is some of the loveliest trail I’ve seen. But man, am I tired.



My pattern: fresh and positive in the morning, really tired in the afternoon heat, slight stomach ache, second wind as the sun starts to set.


Two long climbs of 2500 ft each, two long descents, and a final steep uphill to cap off a weary day. Total elevation change: +7200/-6000. Nothing crazy, just tiring.


When I was hiking, I stopped every few feet to gather another handful of huckleberries. My hands and face were smeared purple.

I took a break by the Waptus River and stared for a long time at the clear running water. It helped center me. I could have stayed there all afternoon with my feet soaking in the cold water. 

Instead, I powered through a few more miles to set myself up for tomorrow. Now I have this campsite all to myself. Just me and this curious deer who is investigating where I peed.