I love building Excel files. In the grand scheme of things I’m not great at it, but it is something I very much enjoy and I get to use it on my job from time to time. Because of my hike It’s been over a year since I have done any real analysis work, and I can feel how much my blades have dulled. It’s true – If you don’t use it you lose it. Recently, a friend showed me a this YouTube video which talks about a basic population model. Before reading this post, go watch the video; it’s only about ten minutes, and is very well done! It seemed simple enough to recreate, so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to resharpen my blades and have a little fun while doing it.
The ultimate goal of the exercise was to produce a plot like [Figure 1]. This plot describes how the population will settle (or not) given the Growth rate. There is nothing particularly interesting between the growth rates of 0 and 3 — The population stabilizes at a single value over time. But Growth rates 3-4 are where the real action is. As the growth rate ascends from three, the population progresses to a bistable state, that is the population flips back and forth between two values each iteration. Then – at about a growth rate of 3.45 the stabilization splits again into a quad-stable cycle, and then once again into an 8-stable cycle. After that are a few more splits and then – complete chaos; The iterative cycle of calculating the population yields no discernible pattern and you get an effectively random number every successive year. Looking at it a bit closer, even in the chaotic region there are brief moments of clarity where the growth rate yields a ‘stable cycle’ — pretty cool.
My first pass (after correcting a dumb bug) looked like [figure 2] . What’s important here is that this is a plot of every iteration from the initial population of 0.05 to iteration 100. The goal image is slightly different because it only shows stable values between 0 and three. I figured 100 iterations would be enough to tell if things were converging or not. Overall, you can see the shapes you want, but the first few iterations really deviate from the intended image and it doesn’t really paint the right picture of hat is going on.
Filtering out the first 30 iterations, you get [figure 3]. This looks a lot better, but isn’t all the way there. ‘Hard Coding’ in the removal of the first 30 iterations gets you a much more refined overall shape, but it’s missing a few things. For one, the knee at a growth rate of 1 is not well defined, and the other things is that pulling out the first 30 iterations means they are not included in the chaotic region so it’s not a complete picture – we can do better.
Next I simultaneously did two things: 1. I rounded all my data to three decimal places and 2. Wrote a function to check for convergence. Three decimal places seemed sufficient to check for convergence – After all I am an engineer, and not a mathematician. Much to my surprise, after some tooling around I found out that my initial assumption about 100 iterations being enough was not correct. Updating my file to 700 iterations, applying the convergence analysis, and filtering out all the non-stable data for stable growth rates yields [figure 4]. Pretty damn on the nose if you ask me!
One of the other things I was very interested in was how quickly the stable regions converged onto their values. [plot 5] Shows the number of iterations it took to find stability at a precision level of three decimal places; this includes growth rates that are bi/tri/quad/etc.-stable.
If you’d like to check out the files I built, You can do so here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1zcPLkH7N2TnYDLj1NRo6WOhNykmu1av_Y_StbqdFMXw/edit?usp=sharing A few other things I would like to explore at a later date. I’m sure these are already answered questions, but this is about me going through the exercises of figuring it out, not just looking up the answer. -Does the initial stating population significantly effect the behavior of anything? I chose 0.05 as the starting population, but didn’t exploration anything else. -Can the Feigenbaum constant be analytically derived? I can put together a more detailed file to empirically derive it, but it would never be an exact value. -The chaotic region has well defined boundaries. What are these boundaries, why do they exist, and can they be empirically calculated?
This plot tells the story of my hike the best. When analyzing the daily milage, there is just too much noise to look at each individual day. Observing a five day average yields much better results and is what is presented here. A note: when calculating the average, all non hiking days were removed from the data set. As expected, there is a strong overall upward trend, meaning I got a lot stronger while on the trail. Additionally, my milage dropped in the sierras at the end of my hike for two reasons. First, the sierras are more difficult due to the elevation (spending a lot of time hiking at over 10000 feet). Second, I wanted to slow down a bit and enjoy what is arguably the most beautiful part of the trail.
It’s nearly impossible to determine which section of the trail is the hardest because there are so many factors. Trail conditions, water availability, weather, etc. all effect how difficult a section is are are difficult to quantify. Vertical movement per mile is a traceable metric that gives you a sense of how difficult that part of the trail is though. This is calculated by adding the ascent and descent and normalizing over the distance hiked that day. Again, a 5 day average is presented to reduce the noise. What’s interesting here is that the Sierras are the most difficult section according to conventional wisdom. The data shows that they are only a little above average per this metric though. Looking into it at a bit higher level we get the following numbers:
By this metric Washington is the clear front runner for difficulty, Oregon is the easiest (as expected) and the other three sections are clumped together in the middle. If the Sierras really are the most difficult to hike through, its due to other conditions like snow and altitude.
note: I’m writing this post from my phone as I do not have access to my laptop. As a result I’m not able to generate all the metrics I normally do.
The trail has a way of amplifying your emotional responses. Large events are commonplace and you tend to be more even keeled when they occur. Conversely, sometimes little things mean the world to you. This is a story of one of those small things.
As I hiked into the Burney Falls Guest Ranch I was excited because I knew I had a resupply box waiting for me that was sent from my college friend Brennan. As I hiked in I noticed a large cross that sat next to the main building as well as a few other religious statues. As it turns out, the retreat is run by a few devout Christians, and they have pretty strict rules for their guests, including a no-tolerance alcohol policy. After getting settled, I picked up my box and opened it to survey it’s contents.
As expected, the box contained all of the food I needed to make it to my next stop, but it also had a few other treats. Included was a fresh pair of socks, which I desperately needed, as well as a well protected beer. Not wanting to disrespect the rules of the retreat, I quickly packed the beer away without unwrapping it or even looking at what kind of beer it was.
The next day I set out to hike hat creek rim. It’s a notoriously arid section of the trail that only has pa single water cache over a ~30 mile stretch. On to of this there is very little shade and you spend most of the day hiking in direct sunlight. Naturally, it was over 90 degrees with clear blue skies when I hiked though. All of these factors make it a difficult section where you have to constantly be aware of your hydration level. Over the course of the day I drank nearly nine liters of water and only urinated twice. Basically all of the water I consumed that day exited my body as sweat.
After the sun started to set things cooled down a bit and I stopped for a break. While sitting in an ever-so-precious shady spot, I realized that I had not yet looked at what kind of beer I was carrying with me. Like a kid in Christmas I unwrapped the beer and after recognizing it, was completely overtaken by a wave of emotions. The beer was a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout; my favorite beer.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Brennan has the most impeccable memory of any person I have ever met. His ability to store an recall memories at will is unparalleled. We have kept in touch since college, but I don’t believe beer has been a topic of conversation for the the better part of a decade. After all of those years he was able to remember what my favorite beer was and was generous enough to track it down (it isn’t readily available in the US) and provide one for me. The term grateful does not even begin to describe how I felt in that moment.
Hiking through hat creek rim made for an arduous day, but getting to enjoy my favorite beer at the end made it bearable.
By the numbers Total Miles hiked: 1755.7 Completion percentage: 66.25% Hiking days: 90 Zero days: 29 Total Ascent: 305520 Total descent: 305526 Notable injury count: 2 Toenails count: 9.5
There is no better feeling than putting an aggressive plan in place an executing on it. At the beginning or Oregon I committed to traversing the state in 17 days and am happy to say that I was able to honor that. I crossed over the Oregon/Calfornia border on the afternoon of my 17th day. As anticipated, the terrain was much softer allowing me in increase my milage. That being said, it was far from easy. The vast majority of my days were spent hiking at least 30 miles, with my longest day exceeding 35.
Oregon was an exercise in mental toughness rather than physical as most of the pressures to perform were internal rather than external. Up to this part of the trail the hiking was difficult because of extreme weather, tough terrain, and injuries; The trek across Oregon was a slog because the days were so long and repetitive. I had a very regular daily cadence of: wake up at 5:15am, start to hike at 6am, finish hiking at 8pm, and be asleep by 9pm. On top of that, save Crater lake and the odd mountain, there isn’t much of anything interesting to look at. Pushing myself in that environment was more difficult than I had anticipated. There wasn’t much of a reward involved and finding the motivation to keep going each day was a bit of a chore. One can only get excited to look at lush forest so much. This is in direct opposition to my experience in Washington, which had a fresh spectacular view around every corner and over every hill crest. Before I started to hike the trail, I would often hear from people that it was more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Oregon was the first time that felt like the truth to me.
I’m writing this post in while in Etna California. I’m now 100 miles into NorCal and firmly in mountainous terrain. Crossing over the state border brought with it an abrupt change in the trail and the return of external pressures. The day I crossed over the border I was met with heavy rain and steep, rock covered terrain. Except for a flat stretch coming up in 100 miles or so, the rest of my hike will be like this. I have less than 900 miles to go till competition and am looking forward to returning to pushing my physical limits.
By the numbers
Total Miles hiked: 1354.5
Completion percentage: 51.11%
Hiking days: 75
Zero days: 27
Total Ascent: 246370 ft.
Total descent: 246836 ft.
Notable injury count: 1
Toenails count: 9.5
The stint from Cascade locks to Bend was largely uneventful, which is actually is a good thing. It did include a significant milestone though; I am officially over halfway done with the trail. It is energizing to know that each step I take is closer to the finish than to the start. Things are going according to plan and I am humming along at a pace that feels good. Optimism about completing the trail is still high.
Mentally I am in a great place, but on the physical side of things I have started to degrade a bit. For the last few hundred miles or so I have been developing neuropathy in both of my feet. It’s an issue that has been building over time, but it feels like it has leveled off. Neuropathy seems to be pretty common on the trail which is reassuring because I know you can hike through it, but it is still quite painful and frustrating to deal with. It manifests in a slightly different way each day, but for the most part it follows a general pattern: In the morning when I take my first steps out of my tent I am in extreme pain and every “step” is a hobble at best. After a few minutes of walking around doing chores most of the pain subsides and I feel ready to hike. The first mile or so comes with a lot of discomfort in the form of shooting pain that runs from the balls of my feet to the heels. After I am sufficiently warm and loose the pain will go away completely and I am able to hike pain free for about 20 miles. Towards the end of the day the pain will return and hiking becomes challenging. I can manage the pain at the end of the day with nsaids, but it does not deal with the pain completely.
On top of this, the nerves in the balls of my feet and toes are not registering touch properly. Instead of the normal sensations I should feel when they are touched I experience intense tingling, much like when your leg will fall asleep. Luckily this only happens when my feet are bare, and it doesn’t happen when I am hiking. I have been keeping the neuropathy at bay with multiple foot massages each day as well as keeping my feet elevated when I sleep. It seems to be helping and am hoping that it will stifle the progression of it and, if I am lucky, reduce the symptoms. All things considered, it’s not too bad and is something I know I can deal with; If this is the worst thing I have to deal with on the trail than I consider myself quite lucky.
By the numbers Total Miles hiked: 1207.8 Completion percentage: 45.58% Hiking days: 70 Zero days: 27 Total Ascent: 218,928 ft. Total descent: 224,000 ft. Notable injury count: 0 Toenails count: 9
I’m happy to report that I have completed all of Washington state. It’s a nice morale boost after the difficulties faced in Washington. The state took me 28 days to complete, and I was rained on for 23 of those days. It was challenging both mentally and physically, but I am coming out on the other side with enormous confidence and optimism about the rest of the trail. When you step foot on the PCT the odds are against you for finishing, but for the first time it feels like I have a real shot at completing the trail.
The initial learning stage for through hiking is over for me and I feel like I have totally acclimated to life on the trail. At this point, everything I have to do to be successful feels natural and I’m not being met with any unexpected obstacles; For the first time I feel ‘on top of it’. This is ushering in the second phase of my hike. The first phase was defined by me learning how to be out here, and the second is defined by me learning to deal the monotony of each day. A lot of mental energy and time were devoted to dealing with life on the trail. Now that I don’t have to spend nearly as much mental energy on things like that, a void has been left in how I spend my time. Oregon and northern California are flat, and do not offer nearly as many spectacular views as Washington. I’m going to continue hiking solo, and each day is going to feel very similar. It’s going to be a challenge to keep my brain occupied, but I am looking forward to falling into a rhythm.
My daily milage count continues to grow. Coming into Cascade locks I was able to complete my two longest days on the trail so far (29.7 and 32.2 miles) in addition to hiking a 20 mile day at a pace that would be needed for 30. This was a stress test on my body to see If I could handle the Oregon challenge. I’m happy to report that I feel great after that short stint, but am still weary of pushing that hard for an extended period of time. For the time being, I’m planning on getting through Oregon in 17 days, which will allow for a more reasonable daily mileage, plus a zero.
Cascade Locks also brought with it a few small treats. Because I ramped up my milage, I was able to catch my trail family for a day. I missed them immensely and was grateful for the time we got to spend together. Unfortunately the Trail family has shrunk even more. Casper has left the trail because of personal reasons and I was not able to say goodbye. Muscle also took time off for an injury, but he will be back. In an odd but very welcome twist of fate T-pain was in town as well. He changed his plans and is moving to a smaller town in northern Washington. His journey out to the PNW aligned with ours and we were able to see each other for an evening; beers and good times were had. When T pain left the next morning we promised each other that it would not be last time we saw each other.
The trail family left a day before I did, so I still have catching up to do. It’s likely that I will reach them somewhere in Oregon as I am planning to move a bit faster than them. Hopefully it will align with all of us being in Elk lake as I plan on taking my next zero there.
By the numbers Total Miles hiked: 1060.0 Completion percentage: 40.0% Hiking days: 64 Zero days: 26 Total Ascent: 195563 Total descent:195609 Notable injury count: 2 Toenails count: 9
I have spent the majority of my trail time hiking with other people. While I have loved the people I met along the way, I have decided to hike the remainder of the trail by myself. One of the original reasons I decided to do a long trail was because I wanted complete agency over my life and how I spent my time. Unfortunately, hiking with other people forces you to comply in ways that you might not want to, and removes some optionality in your decision making process. Hiking by myself is going to allow me to put in a few extra miles each day, and gives me an outside shot at finishing by mid September which means I would be able to attend my good friend’s wedding. For most of Washington, Carjack and I have been hiking together, but in Snoqualmie Pass I left early and am now roughly a day ahead.
During this stretch I feel like I have really hit my stride and am putting in great miles. Over the last 6 full days of hiking I have averaged 24.4 miles, which puts me in a great position. I finally have my hiker legs under me (it only took 1000 miles, grumble) and am prepping myself for Oregon. Because Oregon is very flat compared to the rest of the trail, it’s expected that you increase your daily milage by a significant amount. Many successful hikers average about 30 miles a day in Oregon, and I plan to do the same. In addition, there is a tradition on the PCT called ‘The Oregon Challenge’. It’s a pretty straightforward endeavor where you set the goal of going through all of the roughly 450 miles in Oregon in two weeks. I am toying with the idea of attempting it, but it requires a ~33 mile a day average, with no zero days. I’m not sure I’ll be capable of doing that and will make a game time decision when I reach the Oregon border in roughly 10 days.
The relatively minor increase in daily milage has also had an unexpected effect on me. Since I hit Washington, my weight has been plummeting. I have been tracking my daily calorie intake over the whole hike and managed to remain very close to the same weight over the first 700 miles. I don’t have access to a scale so I can’t find out my actual weight, but the weight loss is quite apparent when looking in the mirror. I’ll be increasing my daily calorie intake by about 500 calories for the remainder of Washington. The daily elevation gain in Washington is likely causing me to burn additional calories as well. My weight is something I am going to have to monitor closely when I get to Oregon because the hiking is going to be quite different. It’s possible that the increase in miles and decrease in elevation changes may end up being a wash. Only time will tell.
I wish I could say that the last stretch of hiking was as beautiful and inviting as the rest of Washington, but I can’t. Save a single afternoon, the weather has been severely overcast and I have been rained on most days. Very few nice views were had and I have been unable to get a clear shot of Mt. Rainer, which I am hoping to see. In addition, the trail has been overrun by mosquitoes. When you are moving, the mosquitoes don’t bother you too much, but when you stop for longer than 30 seconds, a cloud of them will quickly be surrounding you. I have responded to this by wearing additional clothing that they can’t bite through and using bug spray, but it only does so much. One night I did the disservice to myself of counting the mosquito bites I had, and counted 38 (not including my back).
The next stretch of the trail is going to be a long one for me. Rather than stopping in Trout Lake for a full day, I’m only going to do a quick resupply and move on. Getting from Packwood to Stevenson will take me roughly a week and I will cover a little over 150 miles. It will be my longest stretch on the trail, and I am eager to tackle it and push myself a little bit further.
By the numbers Total Miles hiked: 890.7 Completion percentage: 33.58% Hiking days: 56 Zero days: 25 Total Ascent: 94683 ft. Total descent: 95618 ft. Blister count: not worth tracking anymore Notable injury count: 2 Toenail count: 9
I’m a bit pressed for time here in Leavenworth because Carjack and I are planning on hiking out of Leavenworth this afternoon. We arrived here on a Sunday and I was not able to access my laptop until Monday morning (today) as it was waiting for me at the post office. To make things a bit quicker for me I’m going to make this post bullet points only.
-The trail family (except for Spartan) decided to flip up to the Canadian border and hike south. This is primarily because of the snow conditions in the Sierras. The Sierras got roughly the same amount of snow that they did in the winter of 2017 and that year 2 PCT hikers that attempted to go through had their lives taken by river crossings. We didn’t like our odds, so we decided to push the Sierras off until the Fall. In addition, there is a high risk of fire in Washington/Oregon this year and hiking that section now will allow us to hopefully dodge any trail closures due to fire.
-The section from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows (KM) was mostly uneventful, and I hiked most of the ~100 miles by myself. I left Tehachapi about a half day after everyone else and trailed them the entire way. Because of the extreme heat and long dry stretches (up to 20 miles) I opted to night-hike most of it. The timing of the moon phase was very fortunate and an exceptionally bright full moon allowed me to hike two nights without using a headlamp. It was a surreal experience I am glad to have had.
-Unfortunately, during this section an old injury flared up. Quite a few years go my running ‘career’ was ended when I dropped a training implement on my right Achilles tendon and partially ruptured it. During the stretch to KM I started to experience dull pain and tightness in my Achilles. I compensated by putting more weight on my left leg, which then developed into an overuse injury in my left knee. According to Carjack, I had an inflamed infrapatellar fat pad which is a small patch of soft tissues that sits under the knee tendons. Nothing worrisome, but it was painful. My knee filled with fluid, and quite a bit of it drained into my ankle, causing it to swell. Photo below. Daily exercises and maintenance have gotten things under control, but hiking with both injuries was miserable up until a few days ago.
-Getting to the northern terminus from Kennedy Meadows was not a trivial task. From KM I hitched to Bishop, took a local bus to Reno, then a Greyhound from Reno to Sacramento, another Greyhound to Oakland (which was delayed by almost 6 hours), then a Lyft to San Jose where I stayed at my friends house for a few days, another Lyft to SFO, a flight to Seattle, got a ride from Carjacks parents from Seattle to Mazama, and finally a 30 mile approach hike to the Northern Terminus. All of that took about a week, and the time off was welcome as it allowed my injuries to heal up a bit, even though I did not fully recover.
-Washington is incredibly beautiful, to the point I am seriously considering trying to live in a small town up here after I finish. The mountain ranges are so vast and deep that the views are quite literally breathtaking. I have shared photos with family and friends of what I have hiked through, but the photos fail to capture the immensity and majesty of the landscape.
-The weather in Washington has been downright awful. Most days have been very overcast, and there has been more rain than we anticipated. Most days I am walking into camp soaked head to toe. The wetness is exacerbated by the cold temperatures, but the prospect of catching a world class view at the top of a pass is enough motivation to keep hiking.
-Carjack and I are hiking between 20 and 25 miles on full days, which is a great accomplishment given the terrain and trail conditions. The elevation changes in Washtington are huge, and the trail is quite poorly maintained. Most of the trail family group is a few days ahead of us, but this section is considered to be one of the most difficult on the PCT, save only the JMT portion.
-Two members of the trail family are no longer hiking. Magpie (formerly AK) missed her boyfriend greatly and decided to leave the trail and return to Denmark to be with her loved ones. Danish tore a tendon in his foot and is no longer able to continue. He walked 150 miles on a torn tendon, which is a feat in its own right, but the pain became too much and he will return home as well. Both of them will be dearly missed. In addition, many people who we have met along the way have decided to get off trail.
By the numbers Total Miles hiked: 558.5 Completion percentage: 21.08% Hiking days: 37 Zero days: 13 Total Ascent: 94683 ft. Total descent: 95618 ft. Blister count: not worth tracking anymore Notable injury count: 1
The stretch from Wrightwood to Tehachapi started out with what was, by far, the most challenging day of my entire hike. On the morning of May 24th, Carjack, Muscle, and I set out to summit Mount Baden Powell. The three of us headed out a few hours earlier than the rest of our group, and by mid-morning began to tackle the mountain. We were looking forward to the day, with a culmination at little Jimmy Campground which allowed fires, and even had an incredibly luxurious pit toilet – lucky us. In anticipation of the campfire, I packed all the ingredients for making s’mores. We had an uneventful hike up, and were met with overcast conditions at the peak.
After enjoying the incredible view at about 1:30 in the afternoon, the three of us signed the trail register and began our descent down the mountain towards Little Jimmy, about 6 miles from the peak. Given the snow conditions we figured it would take about three hours, which, at the time, felt like a conservative and generous estimate. About 10 minutes into the descent we were met with a small 15 foot slope that people had clearly been glacading down before. At the same time we also encountered two other hikers (for anonymity purposes I’ll call them John and Jane). The bottom of the slope had rocks and logs scattered about so I decided to try and hike down instead of glacading. Unfortunately my microspikes failed and I slipped about halfway down the hill. I picked a spot that didn’t have much debris at the bottom and was able to stop myself with no issue. Carjack and Muscle were able to walk down safely.
While we were at the bottom, Jane, still at the top, said she was going to glacade down and asked if one of us could stop her before she would reach the trees and rocks. This should have been the first indication that something bad was about to happen, as stopping someone from glacading is extremely difficult. The three of us politely declined and she proceeded to begin sliding down the hill. Unfortunately for her, she was wearing her rain pants, which were quite slick and picked up a lot of speed. Unable to stop herself, she rammed into a tree stump. The three of us walked over to her to see if she was ok and it was pretty clear that she was visibly shaken up. Her eyes were beginning to fill with tears and her breathing was quite heavy. After talking to her it was revealed that she was physically OK, but she had banged up her leg a little bit, and was worried because she had had two previous ACL surgeries on that knee. Additionally, she had a lost a bit of skin on the heel of her hand, which Carjack tended to. John came down the slope and Jane took a few minutes to catch her breath. After everything seemed stable, the five of us pressed on.
Roughly five minutes later, John took an unexpected fall and slid into a rock. He received a deep gash on his hand and was bleeding profusely. Carjack again sprang into action and bandaged him up. He clearly needed stitches, but the best we were able to do was to pack the wound with gauze and stop the bleeding. While this was going on Jane became visibly upset and was having difficulty dealing with the situation. I walked Jane down about 50 feet and tried to calm her down while Carjack and Muscle tended to John. After a few minutes of making bad jokes and small talk, Jane calmed down and I returned to the others to see how John was doing. In addition to the gash on his hand, he had slammed his leg into a rock and had lost feeling in his pinky. I had him close his eyes and I ran my finger on his pinky to see if he could feel it; he felt nothing. We feared that he had severed the nerve leading into his finger.
It was pretty clear to Muscle, Carjack, and myself that both John and Jane we unable to hike down by themselves and they would require assistance down. We considered using our SOS devices to call search and rescue, but it would have taken them hours to reach our location. Our rationale was that it was only a few miles to camp, and we would be able to make it there well before sundown, where they could choose to camp for the night or try to make it to a highway via a fire access road. We decided that the three of us assisting them down was the best course of action and pushed on. Unfortunately, progress was much slower than we expected. Both John and Jane had their confidence shattered by their falls and injuries, and they hesitated with nearly every step. The snow conditions were actually decent, yet they were unable to take a single step without being encouraged or given explicit instructions on what to do.
The three of us adopted the ‘divide on conquer’ method. John was in worse physical shape because of his leg. Muscle and Carjack helped him along while I led and navigated the group with Jane. I was responsible for making sure we stayed on the trail and helped chop steps through more difficult sections. As we progressed, Jane continued to have difficultly taking steps and her feet were slipping; each small misstep broke her confidence a bit more and her mental state was declining as a result. At this point she was crying on and off, and was making repeated comments about not being able to hike anymore. John was not doing so hot either and required help on the ‘more challenging’ portions. The photo below shows what we had to do to get him over a 5 foot snow drift: pack off, hand assisted, and copped steps. For a well prepared and uninjured hiker this obstacle would be easy to tackle without a second thought, but given the condition that the injured hikers were in, it was nothing short of an ordeal.
After roughly an hour of hiking we all stopped to reevaluate and were actually met with some greatly needed good news. The feeling in John’s pinky was beginning to return, which meant that his nerve was not severed. Other than that though, John and Jane were not in great shape, but calling search and rescue still seemed like the wrong decision. We continued to descend the mountain and were met with many of the same challenges. At this point Jane was stopping every quarter of a mile or so and would sit down and begin crying profusely. She was clearly in a very emotional state and became difficult to deal with. During one of these bouts I learned that she was a mental health professional and could’t I help but notice the irony.
Roughly three and a half hours into the saga, we accidentally got off trail. Because of the snow coverage and everything else that was going on, I missed an odd turn and we ended up roughly 100 feet north of the trail. At that point John, Jane and I were roughly 100 feet ahead of Carjack and Muscle. I informed the two of them that we needed to get back on the trail and in order to do so, we would have to either backtrack, or bushwhack our way back to the trail up a hill. At that point Jane had a serious breakdown and I wasn’t sure what to do. After a few minutes of letting her cry it out she regrouped slightly and we started to backtrack. It was excruciatingly difficult to get the two of them to backtrack as their confidence had completely evaporated at that point. Mercifully, after a few minutes we made it back to Muscle and Carjack and were met with a minor miracle.
Because our progress had been so slow, the rest of our trail family caught up to us and they were standing on a small ridge about 25 feet above us. At this point Muscle, Carjack and I were completely emotionally drained from dealing with John and Jane. Firesocks, who is the most experienced hiker in our group, took over and started calling the shots. We again reevaluated and agreed that making it to camp was still the best course of action and pressed on. At this point, John seemed to be doing better, but Jane was still on the decline. I didn’t keep a detailed account, but it seemed like every few minutes Jane would sit down and cry.
It was determined that Jane could no longer carry her pack, so someone would have to carry two. Her pack was incredibly heavy, maybe 35 pounds, and we determined that there was no way someone could carry her pack as well as their own. We decided to do a pack shuffle among the stronger hikers in our group and I ended up carrying my pack, as well as the lightest pack in the group. Jane was upset that someone else was carrying two packs because of her, so T-pain and I decided to hike ahead, out of sight. We made relatively quick work of the remaining few miles and made it to camp around 7:30, just before sundown.
After getting to camp, I realized just how physically and mentally drained I was. I was in ‘crisis mode’ for roughly 6 hours, and was not taking care of myself; I had not eaten anything while we were assisting John and Jane. Even though I was totally depleted, my mind was going a mile a minute trying to process what I had gone through, so I did the only thing I knew how to do to calm myself down. I meditated on a bench for a few minutes and cleared my mind.
Spartan, another member of our group, had actually left Wrightwood before everyone else and reached the campground much earlier than everyone else. During that time he gathered firewood and started a fire. It was exactly what I needed. A little while later the rest of our group arrived and we ate s’mores around the campfire.
Side note: I’ve done my best to accurately reconstruct what happened that afternoon, but there are a number of details that I can’t recall exactly where they fit into the timeline. Below is the list of things I wanted to include:
-At one point Carjack asked John if “Jane was always like this while hiking” and it turned out that she had had a similarly difficult time on Mount San Jacinto. The three of us were very frustrated to learn this. -There was an access trail that intersected the PCT where John and Jane were planning to bail out on but when we arrived at the junction, it was completely covered in snow and had actual zero footprints in it. It was a bit of a morale killer. -During one of her crying bouts Jane seriously considered pushing her SOS button on her GPS device to call for search and rescue. This would have been a terrible idea as we would have had to sit and wait for hours on a cold ridge, likely until after the sun went down. -After the rest of the group caught up with us, John and Jane were considering camping on the ridge. We had to strongly dissuade them from doing this as the conditions would have made it dangerous.
The rest of the way
The rest of the journey to Tehachapi was mostly uneventful, but there were a few things worth noting. This post is getting a bit long in the tooth, so I will list them them out rather than right them in long form.
-My feet have continued to swell, and I experienced another explosion of blisters, including one under a toenail on the middle toe of my left foot. At the beginning of the trail my feet measured 9.5 and they now measure a littler over size 11. I have switched shoes to Altra TMP 1.5 size 12 and am loving them. Things are under control for now, and thankfully there are no infections. -The stretch of trail from Wrightwood to Tehachapi is broken up by multiple ‘must stop’ locations like Hiker Heaven and Casa de Luna. It made it difficult to get into a rhythm for this section as we did multiple neros in addition to some ~24 mile days. -We night hiked the LA aqueduct section and did 18 miles, finishing at nearly 1 am. It was surreal to hike under the stars. -The last couple of days hiking into Tehachapi were spent weaving in and out of wind and solar farms. It made for some spectacular views. -Two days after Baden Powell, we were met with horrendous weather and got rained on all day. My Rain jacket failed to keep me dry and I was soaked all day. While at hiker heaven I was able to make it to an REI where I did my first ever gear return and picked up a new vortex jacket. I was able to stress test it a few days later when I got rained and hailed on. -When grabbing dinner in Agua Dulce, there was a super tight bluegrass band playing at the restaurant. We were basically the only people there and got a private show -T-pain departed from the trail and is going to hike the CDT instead. He is planning on moving to Montana after thru-hiking and wants to be a guide. His hope is that hiking the CDT will get him enough experience to get a leg up in the job market out there. He and I had a pretty serious bromance and he is going to be sorely missed.
By the numbers
Total Miles hiked: 369.4
Completion percentage: 13.9%
Hiking days: 25
Zero days: 11
Total Ascent: 65825 ft.
Total descent: 58979 ft.
Blister count: 9
Notable injury count: 1
My stay in Big Bear was highlighted by the staff at the Big Bear hostel. The hostel is a relatively small operation run by a former marine who goes by ‘Sarge’. The place is operated with military efficiency, which was a joy to observe during my extended days of couch surfing. Sarge had an explicit set of rules to follow that rubbed some of the more ‘laid back’ hikers the wrong way. The number of people who couldn’t follow the “get the hell out of the hostel by 9 AM” rule was comically high.
In total, it took 8 zero days in Big Bear to let my infected blister heal. It was significantly more time than I wanted to spend, but the design to give myself enough time to heal paid off. During the 6 day trek into Wrightwood I didn’t experience any pain and the blisters have retreated under new layers of skin.
On the first day out of Big Bear I was essentially kidnapped by a group of hikers who aggressively friend people. We were planning on getting to Wrightwood in the same length of time, so we ended up camping at similar locations every night. Its a pretty laid back group that allows people to do what they want for the most part. We decided on specific meeting times and places for each stop, and then everyone gets there according to their own hiking style.
The first few days of the trek were pretty uneventful, but the third night brought some unexpected weather. Near freezing temperatures and uncharacteristically heavy rain made for a tough night’s camp. The morning after, we were met with more rain, and it made for a nasty hike. Luckily we had something to look forward to in the afternoon. About 10 miles from where we made camp the night before was a set of man-made hot springs. Luckily, the weather cooperated and the rain cleared up as the crew assembled at the small desert oasis.
We spent a few hours there lounging on the beach and drinking a bag of wine gifted to us by a fellow hiker named ‘Tonka’. Afterwards the group split up, and a small number of us decided we were going to hike an additional 4 miles to an established campsite while the rest would hike out about 9 miles. After a few hours we reached our intended destination and were met with heavy winds. The gusts were blowing sand and dirt in the air and we very quickly decided it would not be a good place to camp. We decided to hike and meet the rest of the group ~4.5 miles out. We begrudgingly moved on. About a mile in we were met with some trail magic from ‘Papa Bear’ and by pure coincidence met up with the rest of the trail family.
At roughly the same time, the weather was starting to take a turn for the worse and dark clouds were rising in the distance. Most of the trail family decided to take an Uber off trail and get a hotel for the night but I was not really interested in getting off trail so soon after my extended break. Like a true college freshman I skulled an already opened bud light that a stranger handed to me and made a decision to do something potentially dangerous, but would make for a great story. Brightside, T-pain, Danish, muscle, 70/30, and I decided to push on into the storm.
As it turns out, the storm was all bark and no bite. Strong winds and light drizzle all-but completely faded by the time we got to camp. The next morning we were met with perfect hiking conditions and made it to Cajon pass, which is famous on the PCT as it has a McDonalds only about 0.1 miles off trail. After an extended stay and countless calories, the group headed out and we began the 4200 foot climb to Wrightwood.
As planned we made it roughly halfway to Wrightwood and camped on the mountainside. That night we were met with freezing conditions. When I awoke the next morning, my tent was covered in a sheet of ice. It was so dense it had to be broken off of my rainfly. Luckily, we had cell service and were able to check the forecast for the final push. The forecast predicted snow staring between 10 and 11 am. We broke camp at 6 am and hiked as fast as we could hoping to beat the storm. The elevation and incline made hiking slow, and we made it roughly 10 miles before the storm hit at 10:30. Luckily at that point the remainder of the trail into Wrightwood was relatively flat.
As the day progressed conditions got worse and the snowfall increased. Originally, I thought that the storm was a mix of snow and hail, but it turns out it was a very specific type of precipitation called graupel. It is not something I had encountered before, but Muscle is quite knowledge about weather and was nice enough to educate the group about it. If you want to read more about it you can do so here: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/frozen-precipitation-defined-23431. As the storm got worse our pace slowed and our spirits dropped. It took roughly 3.5 hours to hike the remaining 7 miles, which is a glacially slow pace given the terrain. Carjack and I were the last two hikers off the trail at Highway 2, and it took us an excruciating 15 minutes to grab a hitch into Wrightwood .