This is why we keep coming off the trail when it gets stupid hot!
The Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office and Kittitas County Search and Rescue have responded to three medical emergencies from back-country hikers in the last two days, all related to heat exhaustion and dehydration. One subject was airlifted out of the Deep Lake area after a rescue ground team reached him and found him unable to walk or even ride a horse due to severe dehydration. Two others had to be provided emergency care in the field, including IV fluids, before they could walk out with the help of ground teams to get full medical care. All three were experienced hikers in good physical condition.
August in Kittitas County sees hundreds of northbound Pacific Crest Trail hikers and other backcountry users in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. In the kind of extreme weather in our near-future forecast, all backcountry users need to have ample water (and a water filter) and electrolytes to mitigate the heat. Hiking up switchback trails and over passes in 90+ degree heat will deplete even the toughest of hikers. Heat-related illness and emergency can come on very suddenly and can be deadly.
Wow, we got to the border on Tuesday and saw the smoke - three days later the PCT is closed, and hikers can no longer get to the Northern Terminus - imagine that news when you have been hiking for 5 months, and are just a few miles from the border 😢🤬
From the PCTA - The PCT is CLOSED near the Northern Terminus. Heartbreaking news that we're so sorry to share.
The trail is closed north of Holman Pass (mile 2636.5) to the Canadian border.
This week I hike through mile after mile of fire-ravaged forest, have my first of several close encounters with a deer, and I pass the halfway point. Forest fires are a way of life in the West coast of America. Most are started by lightning strikes, some are started accidentally, by camp fires or discarded matches or cigarettes, and very few are started maliciously. The Dixie fire of 2021 started when an old tree fell onto a power line, and caught fire. Flames and sparks from the burning tree spread to neighboring trees, and spread further, fanned by a moderate breeze. The resulting wildfire burned out of control for over three months, covering an area equal to Suffolk and Norfolk combined, destroying everything in its path. It was the largest single-cause wildfire in Californian history. About 90 miles of the PCT pass through land that was decimated by the Dixie fire, and hiking through it was a shocking experience. I've hiked through several burn areas before, but these were caused by fires several years ago, and the forests were recovering, with clear evidence of new growth. The land within the Dixie fire zone was different. Burnt trees stood in isolation. New grasses and plants had yet to take shoot around them. The ground was still covered in deep, dark ash. With every step I took, fine ash would rise into the air, and the forest stank of burnt wood. It will take years before this wasteland recovers. Further up Northern California I returned to green and lush land. Here, I started to regularly meet wild deer, most of which were not overly concerned by my presence. They would often appear on the trail and, upon seeing me coming along the trail in the opposite direction, would casually walk off the trail, and pass me a few feet away in the forest. This week was also notable as I passed the halfway mark on the trail. So, 1,330 miles down, only 1,330 miles to go!
I continue to be amazed, and amused, by pine cones that are bigger than my head!
Aftermath of the Dixie Fire.
Sad and eerie forest.
Happy hikers at the halfway point (credit to Bon Jovi)
Meeting deer on the trail.
Close encounters of the deer kind.
I find that I haven't left the snow behind in the Sierra Nevada, I have to unexpectedly use my flip-flops to hike along the trail, and something happens for the first time since I started on the trail almost 3 months ago - I get rained on! I can't say I'm sorry to leave the Sierras. Yes, the sights and scenery were spectacular, I feel privileged to have summited Mount Whitney, and the sense of being really out in the wilderness, so far from civilisation, was captivating. But it was SO TOUGH. Not just because of the physical challenges of traveling through a major mountain range covered in snow, but also the mental stress of putting myself into dangerous situations that were totally out of my comfort zone. For instance, climbing up Muir Pass, where I had to take on the most dangerous river crossing of the whole trail, and then be constantly petrified at the thought of crashing through rapidly melting ice bridges into the streams below the ice, was particularly taxing. So I was a little perplexed to find that the snow didn't end when I left the Sierras. Thankfully, there was much less of it, but just enough to focus the attention. The summer snow melt continues to provide many opportunities to collect drinking water, but it can also make life difficult. One such occasion was when I had to wade through a tunnel where water was flowing down the trail. Fortunately, I am carrying a pair of flip-flops, for wearing in the evening when I finish hiking for the day. Having taken off my hiking shoes, the flip-flops proved to be ideal footwear for this couple of hundred metres of soggy trail. And talking of soggy, I actually had to put up my umbrella to keep the rain off me! Since I started on 4th April I have been snowed on twice, but this was the first time I used my light-weight trekking umbrella for anything other than providing shade from the beating Californian sun. Fortunately, it was just a couple of light showers, and it wasn't long before the umbrella could be packed away.
Leaving the Sierras behind full of hope.
Still working on calorie deficit - Korean BBQ in Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Aloha, and the first sign of more snow.
More mountains, more snow!
Almost into July, and yet, more snow.
Trying to get back to the trail after resupplying.
The summer snow melt, part 1.
The summer snow melt, part 2.
I shouldn't be surprised!
This week I've been wading through more raging rivers, I've passed the 1,000 mile marker, and I have escaped from the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains. Crossing rivers continues to be an exercise that requires utmost concentration. It's surprising how strong the force of the flow can be, and any trip or stumble could be disastrous. Major river crossings are planned for early morning, when snow melt is lowest, and hence flow slowest, but this is not always possible. In these cases, rivers are never crossed alone - it's definitely a case of "the more the merrier" if someone has to be rescued after falling and possibly being swept down river! The thousand mile marker was reached, which meant that the end of the Sierra Nevada mountain range was only 20 miles further on. Sonora Pass, at 10,000 feet, had to be crossed, then it was down the other side to Kennedy Meadows North for resupply and a first shower in 8 days. Stopping for a break at the top of Sonora Pass I saw what was to be my last sighting of a fluffy marmot, but I did get it on video. Then it was down through more snow, to the Sonora Pass trail head where, to save us an 8 mile road walk, three of us hitched a lift to Kennedy Meadows North. The guy who picked us up was an electrical contractor who had decided to take a few months off to go gold prospecting in the area. Back in the gold rush in the 1800's, large gold deposits were discovered, and some remain to this day. So we all squeezed into the back of his van, which was full of all his contracting paraphernalia, plus a bed, cooker, fridge and TV! It was cramped, but we were glad of the lift.
I continue to cross snowy mountains, cross icy-cold rivers, and meet furry friends in the Sierra Nevada. It's been strange walking across the snow fields in the Sierras. It's very cold early in the day, but after mid-morning the June sun can be very hot. And when on snow the heat from the sun is reflected straight back onto you, raising the local temperature considerably. And because I am at high altitude, with little air pollution, the risk of sunburn is extreme. If we know there is much snow ahead, like when crossing the high passes, it's a must to set the alarm, and get up with the sun, aiming to be on the trail by 5.00am. It's not easy getting up and out of my tent at that time, as it's often below freezing. But the snow is so much easier to walk on when it is still frozen from the night before, and progress is faster, and safer. I'm seeing lots of Marmots, most of them seem to be almost comfortable with people around. I suppose they don't see too many humans, as this is a wild and barren wilderness, so they don't think of us as a threat. Next week, I hope to clear the Sierra Nevadas, and head into the Southern Cascades.
This week I have been cold - so cold I have had to hike in my trousers - and that's unnatural for me! I've moved further into the Sierra Nevada and climbed across several more passes, most at around 11 or 12 thousand feet.
The weather has definitely turned, with cloud cover and much lower temperatures, around 7 or 8 degrees C by day, below freezing overnight - not what I'm used to experiencing in June.
I have also started to come across rivers and streams, swollen with often raging snow melt water, that I have to wade across. These can be treacherous and, in the last two years, have taken the lives of at least two PCT hikers. The water is also icy cold so, even if it is only knee-high, it's a real shock to the system!
I have also had to get used to crossing and climbing large snow fields. This is a slow and laborious task and, at times I have to admit, it's scared me. When you're climbing across snow, on a 45 degree slope, with a 500 foot drop onto rocks below you, it really focuses the attention. That's all for now.
Just over Sheldon Pass - What a view - Worthwhile!
Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet, is the highest mountain in America, outside of Alaska. Although not on the PCT, it is only 8 miles off the trail, and I would summit that before Forrester. The effects of altitude are a concern at anything above 10,000 feet.
Rest, hydration, and acclimatization are the watchwords. I had been gradually climbing for many days before Whitney, and rested for a day before moving on to Forrester.
Most PCT hikers do the same, but things can still go seriously wrong. On the day before I climbed Whitney a young lady, who I had met days before, tragically died of altitude induced complications as she passed over Forrester. The climb up Whitney was long and tortuous. Thank goodness there was barely any snow, because the climb took almost 7 hours. I started before first light, at 04.30, and summited just before 11.30. That was a tough, tough four and a half thousand feet.
Even though my body was reasonably accustomed to the altitude, I was still huffing and puffing, needing to take frequent breaks to catch my breath, and let my heart slow down! But that's no surprise, as due to the lower air pressure as I climb, my body will struggle to cope with the reduction in available oxygen. At sea level air contains about 21% oxygen - at the top of Mount Whitney that falls to about 12%.
The weather was kind, sunny and not too windy, always good news when one is clambering over boulders on the side of a (very high) mountain.
I stayed at the summit to have my lunch, and found that I had phone signal, so decided to phone WhatsApp my wife. She was suitably Unimpressed at my achievement, and just chastised me for walking so many miles off the PCT!
Coming down the mountain was very tricky near the top, where it was ragged and required a lot of scrambling, but became much easier further down. It took about 4 hours, and I was so glad to get back to my tent, which had been left set up at our base camp. A unique facility was available to me at camp. I have never before seen an open air toilet of such majesty - a delightful throne atop a wooden covered pit, with a single sheet of corrugated iron providing the merest modicum of "privacy".
I found it strangely liberating to sit in such conditions, but I would feel uncomfortable to make a habit of it. And I met the first of many furry new friends in the Sierras - Marmots. They look like furry beavers, are the size of small badgers, and are not too much bothered by us hikers. Apparently, if you leave your tent open, and wander off for a few minutes, they will be in looking for food. If you leave them too long they will also leave you some presents of their own. Fortunately, this did not happen to me, but several hikers at our camp were unlucky enough to have very smelly tents to sleep in that night! Until next time....
After arriving at Kennedy Meadows the only way was up - up into the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. And it was up, up and up, as the highest peaks are all at the southern end of the Sierras. Forrester pass is the highest point on the PCT, at just over 13,000, and I would climb over that in my first week in the Sierras.
Hi, next installment, in which I finally escape the Southern California desert, collect drinking water from the most disgusting source yet, and caress a creature that shoots blood from its eyes!
I left Tehachapi, after resupplying with food, destined for Kennedy Meadows. This would be the last section in the desert, and would signal the entrance to the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range, with its high, snow covered peaks Little did I know, but this would be my toughest week by far. The hike to Kennedy Meadows was nearly 130 miles, and I had to carry food for 8 days. Because we were in the desert water was still scarce, so it was usual to carry enough water for 20 miles, typically 5 litres. All this added up to the heaviest my rucksack has ever been. I didn't weigh it, but I needed assistance from my hiking pal, Romar, to lift it and put it on my back! The huge rucksack, baking heat, and many steep climbs, made for an arduous few days. Water sources vary. In the desert they are often pathetic streams, with little flowing water. Sometimes "trail angels" will maintain water caches, leaving hundreds of litres of water on particularly dry stretches of trail. But, whatever the source, you have no choice but to collect water there or you could, literally, die of thirst and heat exhaustion. So it was that with trepidation, I dipped my water bottles into a disgusting, algea covered, frog infested, horse trough, to collect my 5 litres of drinking water for the next section. I do run that water through a filter before I drink it, but that does not alter the taste. Swamp-like is the best description. Yum yum.
I have seen all sorts of interesting creatures in the Californian desert, but none more so than the Horned Toad. It looks quite ferocious, covered in scales, like something from a pre- historic era. And if it feels in danger it has the ability to squirt blood from ducts at the side of its eyes. But they are inquisitive animals, and one I met didn't need any coaxing to climb onto my hand. No drama, no blood squirting.
As I got closer to Kennedy Meadows the change in the landscape was obvious. There was more greenery, and a river flowed beside the trail for the last few miles. The prospect of cool water, flowing from the snowy Sierra mountains, was too difficult to resist, and in I went, fully clothed (that's shorts and t-shirt) in the river. Wow, it was cold, but blissfully so in the heat. Little did I know that a beaver had made a dam a half a mile or so upstream, and beavers are very good at depositing some very harmful to human nasties. Fortunately, I escaped any stomach disorders, and hiked on the last few miles to Kennedy Meadows, feeling clean and refreshed.
Next, it would be the challenge of the Sierra Nevada mountains, with its snow fields, high peaks, and hazardous river crossings.
A good soak and in some cool (cold) clear water.
Hi, this week I have found a pine cone larger than my head, walked across part of the Mojave desert, and driven a 35,000 dollar off-road Mad Max machine! But the main news is of a hiking disaster.
Slightly easier to hiking the trail!
Watch me go!!!!!
Thank you Derren!
For a few weeks I have been hiking with two other PCT hikers, Romar and Kari. A couple of days ago in Agua Dulce, while setting up her tent, Kari got a splinter in her thumb, the sort of thing that happens frequently along the trail. However, two days later an infection set in, and Kari's thumb swelled up like a cartoon thumb that had been hit by a hammer. at it happened, we had to come off the trail that day to resupply, so Kari was able to seek medical advice. Antibiotics and a tetanus jab failed to do anything, and as the pain got worse, the swelling continued, and discoloration spread up Kari's arm, she admitted herself to hospital. Long story short, Kari and quite a major operation on her thumb and wrist, spent almost a week in hospital, and is now off the trail recuperating at home in Washington state. What a bizarre way to for your dreams of hiking the PCT to be dashed. Kari hopes to be able to rejoin us further up the trail- we wish her well. When we came off trail to resupply, as usual, we hitch-hiked to the nearest town.
The guy who gave us a lift, Derren, was also towing an off-road-hot-rod. which he was taking to a campground on the PCT, for a father's and sons weekend. Luckily enough it was the same campground that we were headed to so, after dropping Kari off, and completing our resupply of food for the next hiking section, Derren too Romar and I with him. Not only that, but he also let us drive his vehicle. Wow, what a beast that was, fart too ,much power for me to use, it was like a wilt animal, trying to race off uncontrollably whenever I touched the throttle! Great fun though.
Romar and I continued to head north to Canada, crossing a section of the Mojave desert, where temperatures were due to be mid to high 30's centigrade. Part of this section also followed the path of the Los Angeles aqueduct, which is basically a massive buried pipe, running for hundreds of miles, from the Sierra Nevada mountains (which I will be crossing soon) to Los Angeles. So hot was it that we night-hiked parts of this section, aided by a full moon, which meant we did not have to use our head torches. We eventually ended up in the town of Tehachapi where, as is not usual, I had to see to my calorie deficit, and eat far too much food.
Incredibly large wind farm - but only the fifth largest.
Week 6 sees me attack my calorie deficit, take a six-mile detour to avoid passionate toads, and walk in the footsteps of Captain Kirk! Getting enough calories inside me is a constant problem. As my milage increases, so my calorie consumption gets higher, but there is a limit to the amount of food I can carry. So resupply stops in town offer the added bonus of :town food", usually not the kind of food that I would eat at home, but calorie laden and filling - what's not to like. At a resupply in the town of Soledad Canyon, I took the opportunity to top up. And I was extra hungry, after a six-mile detour, walking along a road, to avoid part of the PCT that has been designated as a protected area! Apparently, a threatened species of toad, the Arroyo, has decided to mate along this section, and we hikers cannot be allowed to dampen their passion. I also had a very interesting hike through an area called Vasquez Rocks. The rock formations and geology in the area make this part of the trail very popular for film locations. Indeed, so unworldly does it look, 3 episodes of the original series of Star Trek had parts filmed here - beam me up Scotty!
That's all for now my friends!