How can I make this item more useful? How can I make it more accessible? How can it fit better? Do I even need it? These thoughts entered my head about once a day while on trail. Not that I’m complaining – I love thinking about how to become more efficient with my gear set. You can see my starting gear list here. I’ll eventually update the spreadsheet version of this with notes on each item. This was extremely valuable on my Long Trail hike – write down what worked and what didn’t upon trip completion, then reference before the next hike.
Wait, I thought this was about gear? Since gear is being carried most of the time on a thru hike, how it fits/sits/packs influences what you think of it. Plus I did say these were “ramblings” not organized thoughts with some sort of flow!
First off, routine is important while packing in my opinion, for a couple of reasons. I’m sure many people are fine stuffing things in their pack randomly each day, but I can’t stand it.
Routines generally increase in speed with repetition. As the hike went on, our wake up to hiking time decreased by several minutes.
When packing is routine, you know where to expect each item and don’t have to look for it. The chance of losing something is lessened.
After a few weeks on trail, it’s easy to get into a morning routine. Here’s mine in all its obsessively detailed glory:
Alarm goes off at 5:45 am and I grab my hiking shirt and pants, toss them in my sleeping bag or under my pad to warm up a bit, then doze off for a few more minutes.
Unpack my puffy from my pillow, take off my sleep shirt/pants and put on the hiking shirt/pants. Pack the sleep clothes into the pillow and put on my puffy.
Stuff my sleeping bag into it’s dry bag.
Deflate, roll up, and fold my sleeping pad into a square shape.
My pack is stored in the vestibule so I grab that and take everything out of it – this may seem weird, but I found it a lot easier (and just as fast) to pack everything into an empty pack each morning, rather than try and stuff things around where items settled overnight.
Put the sleeping bag in dry bag into the bottom of the backpack.
Vertically position my clothes/pillow dry bag in the pack off to one side.
At this point nature usually calls, and while I’m out of the tent I grab our Ursacks.
Take out snacks for the day, put in hip pocket.
Pack Ursack into center of pack, vertically.
Slide raincoat, rolled into burrito, in empty space in pack.
Pack the misc items into the front compartment of the pack – poop kit, stakes, flip-flops, etc.
Slide squared sleeping pad into front of main compartment of backpack – this worked way better than storing it rolled up and saved some space.
Take down tent, put into stuff sack and compress into remaining open spot in backpack, also vertically. I experimented with stuffing it without the stuff sack, which just resulted in everything else in the pack getting grimy/wet. The stuff sack weights nothing and is CF anyways.
A couple of other packing related thoughts that made the day to day routine easier:
Store tomorrow’s dinner in cook pot overnight. My pot fits ramen, couscous, etc pretty easily. This is wasted space otherwise.
Use a different colored bottle cap for dirty water bottle/bladder, just so you always know what’s what.
If you have a ZPacks Duplex and you haven’t tried rolling vs stuffing, you should! Saved me a surprising amount of space, made packing the bag easier. It’s pretty nominal extra effort.
There’s not a great way to turn this into a paragraph, so I figured I’d leave it here in case it’s of use to any future PCT hikers. Here’s a chronological list of what I changed gear wise, during our hike. Note that we skipped most of the Sierra’s, stopped in San Francisco for a couple weeks before skipping up to South Lake Tahoe.
1 new smart water bottle in Wrightwood
1 new fuel canister in Wrightwood
Added mid layer ibex hoody to clothing
Replaced most stakes with ones from hiker boxes
Added 3rd pair of same socks into rotation in Tehachapi
Added nite ize multi/pry tool thingy, impulse buy, useful for tightening trekking poles and prying/proding stuff
New earplugs in Tehachapi
Added flip flops/camp shoes
Lost sawyer gasket then found one in hiker basket
Trekking pole tip lost on morning walking to KM
Kennedy Meadows/San Francisco (skipped ahead to South Lake Tahoe) – new trekking pole tips, shell gloves, atom lt, ice axe, water bottles, ursack
Replaced earbuds at Apple Store in SF
Sent home from Chester shell gloves, patagonia merino sleep shirt, atom lt (its hot!)
Added poly t shirt in Chester for town wear
Sent home ice axe, snow baskets and added bug net in Mount Shasta, added cheap bug net
Swapped out boots for trail runners, upgraded to 4 port USB charger, new toothpaste, sent home Bear bag rope
Got rid of scoop, we both don’t need one
Sent home pot, capilene, got new toothbrush, insoles/superfeet, and OR sun hoody in Bend
Oddly enough, after a few months, I found myself wanting an extension cord every time we were in town. It’s not ultralight, a bit bulky, and I never ended up actually carrying one though. It would have been nice for situations with limited plugs, or space near plugs. i.e Using that random outlet behind a store front that doesn’t quite fit your USB adapter. Or when the cheap hotel has beds blocking the plugs, etc.
How did everything hold up?
This was the state of my gear after 700 miles, while taking a few days off trail in Sam Francisco:
Backpack showing the dirt a little:
Overall I’m quite satisfied with the gear chosen and how it held up. Over the course of the trip:
Sleeping pad was the only critical failure – I punctured a hole in it after about ~1400 miles of use. Easy field repair with patch that came with it, lasted the rest of the trip with no leaks.
“The Big 3” are all well worn, but have plenty of life left for another long distance hike.
As long as I’m not tempted too much by new fabrics or designs, I expect to reuse most all of this gear for the next long distance hike.
"Stuck" in Bend, Oregon! The Whitewater fire in the Jefferson Wilderness has closed the PCT in front of us – there was a road walk alternate, but as the fire spread, that was closed too. We got through the Crater Lake area just in time, two fires have closed the trail down there now as well. So we find ourselves waiting in Bend, then heading up to Portland to stay with some friends until we can get back on trail in northern Oregon. Fires, fires, everywhere. Meanwhile, we've completed a thru hike of the Bend Ale Trail…
And as for the past week…
7/28/17 – Man, a real bed felt great. Slept for a solid 8 hours, then we got some breakfast. This place had some damn good omelettes and loaded hash browns! Our ride back to the trail wasn't available until 2pm, so we relaxed and chatted with some friends on the lakeshore. Got to the trail shortly after 2 and started hiking. After awhile we arrived at Thielsen Creek which was still mostly covered with snow. Found a hole in the snow, checked the area around to make sure the snow wouldn't collapse, dipped my water bladder in …and it slipped right out of my hand and down the snow covered river. It was gone, along with 2.5L of water capacity for me. Thankfully Sara's capacity can cover us both for the next day or so until Shelter Cove, which has a store and presumably a Gatorade bottle or something. Walked a few miles further and ran into some friends we have been seeing on and off all week. Camped with them on a beautiful overlook at mile 1859.3.
7/29/17 – Oregon Skyline Trail, mile 10.4.
7/30/17 – Super dusty all day today. The trail is all dust clouds and skeeters. After about 11 miles we stopped at Shelter Cove Resort, grabbed our resupply and admired another beautiful lake view. Hike up past the Rosary Lakes then a little further. Camped at Bobby Lake, mile 1915.1.
7/31/17 – Started with a climb and mosquito swatting, but rewarded with mostly flat terrain for the rest of the day. So many lakes in this section! Passed by one at least every couple miles. Walked 27 or so miles and camped above Cliff Lake at mile 1941.7.
8/1/17 – Another 27 mile day. Beautiful views throughout the Three Sisters Wilderness. Tons of mosquitos, but not as bad as we've dealt with in Michigan or people have made it seem. Found an epic camp spot on a hill, just off the trail before the Obsidian Limited Entry Area. Mile 1969.
8/2/17 – Felt like a long 11 miles to Highway 242, but we made it by mid morning. After waiting just about an hour, a former thru hiker, triple crowner in fact, picked us up in his Tacoma. He knew just what we needed – took us all around town for food and beer, helped us find a place to stay. Started the "Bend Ale Trail" thru hike, already got Crux and Deschutes checked off. Relaxing tonight and figuring out what's going on with all the wildfires fires in the area tomorrow.
A little late on this post due to weak cell signal or functional wifi anywhere this week. Also, sorry, photo captions are not working in iOS WordPress app at the moment. Or I can't figure them out. Feel free to imagine some captions…
7/19/17 – Finished up with our resupply tasks today, then ventured down to Caldera Brewing. Great food and about 45 beers on tap. They are also home to the largest bottle collection in Oregon. It's great to be in a "big" (read: college) town for the first time since San Francisco. And usually I am not a city person, but all the time in the woods is clearly having its effect. Enjoyed some beer and then decided to take another day off to check out the downtown Ashland area.
7/20/17 – Felt great sleeping in again! And nice knowing our town chores are complete, for most of Oregon. After a lazy morning in the hotel, we walked downtown and wandered about for a few hours. Explored the hipster shops and hippy watched for a bit. When that got exhausting we bussed back to the hotel, and continued resting our muscles. From here, it's a several day push to Bend, OR with not much in between but some lodges where our resupply packages are.
7/21/17 – Slept in a little but we were both ready to hit the trail this morning. We had to wait for a taxi unfortunately, but got to the trail before noon. Hiked just about 15 miles in and camped at mile 1729.6 near Pilot Bluff. Brought a couple 10 Barrel brews with us, totally worth the weight and pack out!
7/22/17 – Easy day of hiking, did about 9 miles before our first break then another 7. Water a little more scare now, so we camped by it at mile 1752.8. There does however seem to be an abundance of on trail beer here in Oregon.
7/23/17 – Back into the swing of things for the most part, pulled an easy 20+ mile day. We picked up our package from Fish Lake Resort early afternoon and the lake was just too inviting not to spend the night. Enjoyed the rest of the evening by the lake – we've been craving another lake to relax by. Stayed in a rustic cabin a little ways off trail of mile 1770.9.
7/24/17 – Slow start to the day, but worth it to chat with some nice folks we met. Hiked the two miles back up to the PCT then onwards north another twentyish miles. Longer stretches up here without water, must be why they call it the "desert." I always assumed it was more like eastern Oregon. By 6:30 or we found a nice campsite on a saddle, flat spots, views, and even cell service. Set up the tent and cooked dinner just in time for a thunderstorm to roll in. Mile 1791.
7/25/17 – Solid 29 mile day today! Started out with a couple mosquito filled segments but by lunch they had died down. Long dry stretch today, trusted a week old water report update on a seasonal stream which tuned out to be dry. Thankfully we just had another three miles to go to the next one. Heard lots of thunder the last several miles, but the weather held out for us. Camped as soon as we found a flat spot near the water, at mile 1820.2. We are both excited to be just a few miles from Crater Lake itself and to walk the rim tomorrow!
7/26/17 – Woke up to some rain around 2 am, it lasted until about 9 am so we slept in and waited it out. The PCT bypasses Crater Lake itself, so we headed up the rim walk alternate route – it's actually about five miles shorter! But did involve a nice morning climb up to the rim. Found our way to the cafe and waited out the rest of the clouds sipping on coffee (they offer unlimited refills!). As the sun broke through, we started leisurely hiking the rest of the west side of the rim. It was hard to leave the lake, but we eventually descended a bit and rejoined the PCT, where we camped at mile 1838.3.
7/27/17 – Easy 7 mile walk to Highway 138 today, the north end of Crater Lake NP. We barely had cell service, but got through to Diamond Lake Lodge and the friendly maintenance guy came out to pick us up at the trailhead shortly after. Didn't make it in time for breakfast so we got our resupply box and mowed down on some hiker food, showered, and dried out the tent. By then the patio bar/grill had opened so we went down to the lake and had a burger and beer. Bought some ice cream, more beer and after chatting with some other folks, retreated to our room to indulge and relax.
Northern California exceeded my expectations in so many ways. The lush coniferous forests are home to an incredible number of flowers, some more familiar than others.
Often seen as an ornamental, Washington or Shasta lilies (Lilium washingtonianum) are easily recognized peaking out a hillside.
This wonderfully fragrant lily is named after Martha Washington, it is not found in the state. We started seeing them around the time we saw views of Mount Shasta. I’d guess that explains the second common name, but can’t say that with certainty.
Shasta lilies are found in montane forests and meadows, habitat they share with the Columbian lily (Lilium columbianum).
Known to many as tiger lily, a common name shared with several other species of its genus.
A less recognizable species of lily we came across was Kelley’s lily (Lilium kelleyanum). This species is distinct by the drooping tips of its whorled leaves and long red anthers.
Kelley’s lily is endemic to California where they grow primarily in wetlands and are pollinated by swallowtail butterflies.
Another member of the lily family endemic to California is the Sierra Nevada fawnlily (Erythronium purpurascens).
These small perennials grow at high elevations and bloom early in the season after snow melt. Also known as purple fawnlily becuase the tepals turn purple with age.
What are tepals you ask? Before we can really talk about tepals, it’s important to know that one of the main characteristics of the lily family is that their flower parts are arranged in threes. While it may look like the previous species of lily have six petals, they have three petals and three sepals. When these parts are indistiguahable they’re referred to as tepals.
This naked mariposa lily (Calochortus nudus) provides a good example of distingushed petals and sepals. The petals being the large white rounded parts and the sepals being the pointed white parts in between.
This lily is named becuase of the lack of hairs on the petals that many other species of the genus have. It is native to mountains of California and southwestern Oregon where grows in wet areas.
Tolmie’s mariposa lily is a good comparison to show hairs on the petals as is common to the genus.
Like many Chalochortus species, the bulb is edible and can be consumed raw or boiled. Not only were various species of these bulbs harvested by Native Americans, Mormon settlers ate them during their first couple years of settlement in The Great Salt Lake Valley after crop failure.
Less readily recognized as a lily was Queen’s cup (Clintonia uniflora). Native to mountains of the northwest, this small flower can be found in the understory of coniferous forests.
In late summer a single small blue berry develops. These berries are a favorite of ruffed grouse, but are poisonous to humans.
These long stretches of coniferous forest were home to numerous species of the Heath (Ericaceae) family. Members of the heath family have alternating evergreen leaves and red or white bell shaped flowers with 4 or 5 parts. Plants in this family tend to grow in acidic or infertile soil which gives way to some cool adaptations.
Pipsissewa or Prince’s pine (Chimaphilia umbellata) grows throughout the US in cool, moist forests. This ground cover was traditionally used by Native Americans as a medicinal tea.
Today it is commercially harvested in the Northwest where their leaves, stems and rhizomes (roots) are used for cola and root beer flavoring.
While pipsissewa have green leaves, they do not receive a significant portion of their nutrients from photosynthesis. Rather they are partial myco-heterotroph, gaining nutrients from parasitism of fungi in the soil.
Species of the genus Pyrola, like this whiteveined wintergreen (Pyrola picta) are also partial myco-heterotrophs.
There’s a bit of controversy in the botanical world regarding the number of Pyrola species found in the US due to the following leafless member.
Some taxonomists recognize two species of wintergreen whiteveined and bog (Pyrola asarifolia) as being highly variable in their morphology. Thus giving way to morphs such as this pink/white leafless wintergreen. But where does the controversy arrive you may ask?
Whiteveined wintergreen has greenish-white flowers, while bog wintergreen has pink. This leafless variety tends to have both, therefore some consider it an entirely seperate species. I bet you can guess what’s it’s called…leafless wintergreen (Pyrola aphylla).
Leafless wintergreen is a true mycotroph, obtaining all of its nutrients from mycorrhizae, the fungus conifers use to procure additional moisture and nutrients. Botanists are working to sequence DNA and isatopes in order to determine if it is truly its own species.
Another fully mycotrophic member of the Heath family seen frequently after snow melt is snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea).
Although it is fairly uncommon, this plant is easy to spot growing out of forest litter. Native to California, Oregon and Nevada, they can be found in colonies near the base of conifers.
Over lapping range in the northern Sierra Nevada with snow plant is pinedrops (Pterospora andromedea).
Found primarily in coniferous forests of the western United States, there are also populations in the Black Hills, Great Lakes and a few states out east. This unique parasite grows in association with some species of Rhizopogon, more commonly known as false truffles.
I’d hoped since first seeing California groundcone (Boschniakia strobilacea) in my wildflower app that we would come across it. I can’t tell you how many upright pine cones I was sure were this parastite before finally stumbling upon one.
California groundcone is a member of the broomrape family. Like it’s relative, Indian paintbrush, it has haustoria instead of roots. These root-like organs penetrate the roots of madrone (Arbutus spp.) trees and manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) shrubs.
One of the more common parasitic plants in these stretches of forest were Pacific coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana). As you can see from the photos, this species of orchid can be variable in color.
Once thought to be a sub species of spotted coralroot (Corallorrhiza maculata), it was given species rank in 1997. Pacific coralroot only parasitize mutually exclusive species of fungi in the Russulaceae family and will never share fungus with spotted coralroot.
Much less colorful, but equally as mycotropic is the snow orchid (Cephalanthera austiniae).
This species of orchid is unique as it is the only species of its genus native to the Western Hemisphere. It is also the only species of its genus that is fully mycotropic.
Although the slender-spire orchid (Piperia unalascensis) is not a mycotroph like the previous few, it can be found in the same woodland habitats.
Native to much of western North America, parts of eastern Canada and the Great Lakes. The flowers become fragrant in the evening releasing a musky, soapy, honeylike scent.
A widely spread member of the sunflower family, broadleaf arnica (Arnica latifolia) can be easily distinguished by its oppositely arranged, heart-shaped, toothed leaves.
Broadleaf arnica is found in montane forest and meadows throughout the western United States.
Another common flower that barely waits for snow to melt is western spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata).
Also known as Indian potato, due to the cooked stems resemblance. This member of the purslane family is commonly found in forests and wetlands.
The most widespread forest plant we’ve come across is plumed Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum). This false Solomon’s seal can be found in every state but Hawaii.
Young shoots can be simmered and are said to be reminiscent of asparagus. Like many plants, onceflowered and seeded it becomes too bitter and fiberous. The Ojibwa soaked them overnight in lye to remove the bitterness and strong laxative qualities.
A new wildflower for me, California harebell (Asyneuma prenanthoides) is tall and slender with tiny purple flowers.
With more limited distribution from northwest California to southwest Oregon, California harebell is found in coniferous forests.
Another coniferous forest dweller native to the west coast is western white anemone (Anemone deltoidea).
This anemone is another example of a flower with tepals, five to seven in this case.
Bigelow’s sneezeweed (Helenium bigelovii) might look familiar as there are numerous cultivars raised for landscaping.
A single plant can produce up to 20 flower heads, likely part of its horticultural allure. This member of the sunflower family is found in moist meadows and marshes of California and Oregon.
Primarily a wetland species, white bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata) is widely distributed throughout Canada and the United States.
The stem can bear up to 65 fragrant flowers that are pollinated by skippers and owlet moths.
One of my personal favorites, alpine shooting star (Primula tetrandra) is a member of the primrose family found in wet montane environments.
All species of shooting star require buzz pollination, or sonication. This is a technique that some bumble bees employ in order to release pollen firmly held by the anthers. It is done by grabbing onto a flower and rapidly moving their flight muscles. This causes the flower and anther to vibrate, therefore dislodging pollen.
To my knowledge, the only carnivorous plant we’ve come across is California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica). Pitcher plants are really fascinating, but I’ll try and keep this brief…
Native to northern California and southern Oregon, this species of pitcher plant can be found in bogs or seeps of cold running water. Due to the lack of nutrients in these soils, pitcher plants supplement nitrogen through carnivory.
This species of pitcher plant is unique due to the placement of its exit hole and the numerous false exits as can be seen in the bottom left photo. The top right photo shows the flower, it is oddly shaped and complex which is indicative of a close pollinator relationship. However at this time no pollinators have been witnessed or identified.
A little less recognizable flower found in many similar moist montane environments is white rushlily (Hastingsia alba).
Native to Northern California and southern Oregon, this species was once considered part of the lily family due to the black coated bulb it grows from. It has since been classified as part of the asparagus family along side desert agave (Agave deserti) and Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia).
Common to moist montane meadows of the west is California corn lily (Veratrum californicum).
Contrary to the name, this poisonous plant is also not a member of the lily family, but the trillium/death camas (Melanthiaceae) family. This species exhibits mast seeding, meaning in most years few populations bloom and seed. In the occasional season they they bloom and seed heavily in synchrony.
Also native to the mountains of the west is subalpine fleabane (Erigeron glacialis).
In the Sierra Nevadas it can be found in moist, mixed conifer forests up to 11,200 ft in elevation. This, along with the next two species were found in very close proximity to each other on a rocky cold water seep.
Fivestamen miterwort (Pectiantia pentandra) is more restricted in elevation being found only between 5,000 and 8,300 feet in the Sierra Nevada.
It is most often found in shady, moist habitats. Although not very showy, the flower is very distinct with its saucer shape and five green petals.
Perhaps a more commonly recognized riparian flower is white marsh marigold (Caltha laptosepala).
Widely distributed in mountainous areas of the west, this is another plant that’s quick to bloom after snow melt. Some references suggest the leaves to be a potherb, however others warn against its toxicity to both humans and livestock.
So many plants we came across went unidentified or had pictures that didn’t do them justice. Lucky for me, some of them have been in southern Oregon.
7/12/17 – Celebrated a little too much yesterday…we attempted to get back on the trail, but didn't make it past a shady tree in the city park. Back to the hotel, another night, and on the trail tomorrow. Our decision might have been influenced by the fact that Etna Brewing Co. wasn't open the previous day, but was today! Tried a beer each with dinner and got a great, long nights sleep.
7/13/17 – Feeling nice and refreshed this morning. As we were leaving a couple from Traverse City, in the room next to us, offered us a ride to the trailhead. Fueled by a good nights sleep and some coffee, we walked 18 miles in the afternoon before camping on a saddle at mile 1615.1.
7/14/17 - 32 miles today! A personal record for both of us. Not planned, but there was a lot of downhill involved. After cruising all day and hitting our goal of 20+, we stopped for dinner around 5. Afterwards, every campsite we passed was taken, so we pushed on to Grider Creek Campground. Made it there around 9 with a little daylight to spare, ate a ton of food, and washed up in the creek. Mile 1647.0.
7/15/17 – Slept in a little then walked the remaining 6 miles into Seiad Valley. Had a wonderful breakfast at the cafe and hung out with some other hikers for awhile. Eventually we took on the brutal 4800ft uphill hike out of town. It was exhausting. Eventually we leveled out and descended a bit to Kangaroo Spring where we camped. Mile 1663.3.
7/16/17 – Much easier day today, though still a couple long feeling climbs. Lots of beautiful views today and significantly cooler temps than we've been having! Camped earlier today after ~23 miles near a dirt road at mile 1686.4. My NeoAir (sleeping pad) finally got a hole – I've been expecting this day to come for years. Thankfully I was able to find it and the repair kit is holding… for now.
7/17/17 – Made it to Oregon! Still quite a few miles left in California to do, but feels good none the less. A couple easy climbs and long afternoon breaks later we were most of the way to Callahan's Lodge, where we plan to hitch into Ashland. Excited as always for a big old breakfast and coffee in the morning! Camped near mile 1710.
7/18/17 – Woke up a bit earlier today, got down to Callahan's and got a ride into town. Met a friendly goat along the way that had escaped its enclosure. New record today – checked into our hiker friendly hotel by 9:30. Grabbed some food and a bus into downtown to get our packages, exchange socks, and quickly got distracted by breweries. Looking forward to checking out more of Ashland tomorrow after spending the evening prepping our Oregon resupply.
Started the post with beer, might as well end with some…