Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day of Silence

Three days ago Spud, Histo, Honey Bear and I (the crew I have been hiking with for the past week and hopefully for a long time to come), decided just out of Sierra City to make the next day interesting. We had chosen to challenge ourselves by spending the day completely silent, to not speak to a single person on trail, to give us a chance to reflect in our own minds. As the day was coming to an end, we made camp in a beautiful spot above a large cliff face, watched the sunset and discussed our plan for the next day since we wouldn't be able to talk about water sources and a desired ending point. Since we figured we wouldn't be sitting around distracting ourselves with conversations, we could handle doing a higher mileage day too. To challenge ourselves mentally and physically, we would hike 32 miles to the middle fork of the Feather River completely silent.

I looked around as we were all cowboy camping the night before our big day and each of us were engrossed with writing in our journals. I was excited for the challenge, interested in where my mind would take me, and looking forward to catching up verbally with everyone the next day. As darkness filled the sky we all said goodnight and "I look forward to talking to you in two days!"

The next morning we woke up as usual around 5:30-6ish and quickly picked up our things since we had many miles to move through. I made eye contact with Spud and Honey Bear, smiled, and that was about the extent of any interaction we all had all morning. We hiked along until the first water source where we all knew we had to fill up a few liters, of course I filled five since it was a dry stretch, exchanged glances and head nods, and continued. By lunch we had already gone 15 miles. We were sitting in a shaded spot just after a beautiful ridge line that gave us a spectacular view of the foothills of the Cascades. A day hiker walked passed us sitting together and said, "Great spot for lunch guys!" and we all smiled a nodded our heads. For some reason the day before I hadn't imagined running into anyone else on trail since the past few days we had only seen one or two PCT thru-hikers. Since we hit the Sierras the 'pack' has spread out enormously which definitely gives the trail a more peaceful feeling. Sadly, we were wrong about not seeing anyone...

Seems pretty simple? Well, I thought the hardest part of the day would be analyzing thoughts in my head. Oh no no. Completely the opposite. As the day continued we found ourselves in more and more awkward situations. Just as we were about to cross a highway we see an RV sitting on the side of the road with half a dozen lawn chairs in front and many friendly, welcoming smiles. It was wonderful -trail magic! But wait, we couldn't actually talk to them. The four of us looked at each other, smiled and laughed. We hiked up to them and wrote down an explanation as to why we would be so boring in their presence. Spud earlier in the day had written a note saying, "Three of my friends and I have decided to hike today in silence. Please respect our decision and we look forward to talking to you tomorrow! Thank you." which he had shown to a few thru-hikers earlier in the day. Fortunately these thru-hikers had also told the trail angels about us and already 'expected' us. We sat around, ate grilled cheese, cookies and drank sodas of course silently. The Beatles played in the background as a few other thru-hikers decided to leave. Three Bears, a thru-hiker, yelled to the people leaving, "NO, don't leave, I won't have anyone to talk to!" Throughout the endless hospitality these trail angels provided us, I on many occasions wanted to share my gratitude with them. We awkwardly wrote thank you notes, hugged them goodbye and smiled and waved when we decided to continue down trial. 17 miles to go.

It was around 2:30 when we left the trail magic and decided to pick up our pace with that unexpected stop. From then on we separated on trail, walking our personal comfortable paces and decided we'd meet up at the same water source down trail for dinner. I was hiking just in front of Spud during this stretch of trail and picked up one of the largest sugar pine cones I had ever seen in my life! It was longer than the bottom half of my leg. I showed it to Spud and he replied, "It's HUGE!" Just at that moment, realizing that he spoke for the first time all day, he threw down his trekking poles and fell to his knees, arms raised above his head and mouthed, "No!" Absolutely hilarious reaction to the situation. I laughed out loud for a good minute and we communicated non verbally that we would keep this secret between us.

After another quiet meal, we finished dinner and descended 3,000 feet to the Feather River as the sun started to set. I was so excited and surprised by how beautiful it was! We all jumped in the river and laid on the hot rocks that had been heated all day by the sun. This was an perfect ending to a 32 mile silent and awkward day on the PCT.

The next morning we woke up, looked at each other and smiled. I think at first it was hard to move our mouths to make words. Then once we started talking over breakfast we couldn't stop! Even though we were all present with each other the day before and had all been through the same terrain and trail magic, we had so much to share. We laughed and stayed in our sleeping bags til 9 am, went swimming in the river for another hour, then by ten decided it was finally time to start hiking again.

As we enter northern California the miles are going to fly on by. Thru-hikers often move a lot quicker because we are halfway through the trail, have the Sierras with large elevation change behind us, and have flatter terrain to move through ahead. Big days like these will become more consistent yet this one was unique. To spend a day in silence really allows you to reflect and analyze what you've been experiencing so far on the trail. I thought a lot about moving to Berkley in the fall, who I am as a learner and educator, and how I can be a more effective teacher. I also realized how ADD I am on the trail. Every time I wanted to hike and really dig deep into a thought I was distracted by a beautiful wild flower or the color of the lichen on the trees. Life couldn't be better. I am curious once in Berkley this fall to try this experience once again in the other world. To spend a day in silence out grocery shopping,  making dinner at home and interacting in my every day routine would be interesting. If you try this, tell me about it because I would be very excited to hear about your experience!

So here I am, in northern California about to hit the Cascades and enter the land of many volcanoes. I have never been above Tahoe so this is all new territory for me. So excited for the halfway point in a few days and soon enough we'll be viewing Mt. Shasta!

I need to learn how to post pictures on this blog (they're definitely more interesting with photos...). Soon to come!

Get outside and challenge yourself,
Much love,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Love for a Sleeping Bag

So can I openly and honestly admit that I am in love with my sleeping bag. I have a zero degree Mountain Hardware Phantom bag that hugs around my body each and every night as I crawl into my tent. Every day I look forward to taking it out of it's tiny stuff sack and laying down to reflect upon the long day that had just passed. Most thru-hikers treasure every piece of gear they have on their back because if they didn't, they would not be carrying it thousands of miles. In the Sierras many nights were very cold, but that sleeping bag being excessively warm and much bigger than most other thru-hikers bags was my best friend.

Honey Bear and I purposely only walked 16 miles a day through the John Muir Trail section of the trail. Because of the low snow year, we were not bogged down by huge river fords or long snow field, postholing sections so we were able to walk at a consistent pace. Each day we would take a long siesta during the day, go swimming, and make time some evenings for fishing. Just before Seldon Pass, Honey Bear and I were really hungry because we had not planned enough food for that section and made it a point to fish for some extra food for dinner. We were one day from Vermillion Valley Resort, a resupply point just a ferry ride across Edison Lake to get more food, and had one packet of instant mashed potatoes, a few almonds and cough drops to supplement the calories we needed for 20 miles. We stopped just before the pass to eat the 'last supper' and connected floss, a hook, and some power bait to the ends of our trekking poles. Granted the floss on our trekking poles was 10 feet long and there was no reel, we felt like real fisherman. I sat on the edge of the lake and watched as some large rainbow trout swam past my bait. My stomach growled but I was really enjoying sitting, relaxing and listening to my heart rate accelerate when a fish came close to my line. It was one of the first times in my adulthood I had gone finishing. I honestly dreaded the part after you caught the fish - killing it. Each time a fish came close to my line, I actually was saying in my mind, "No! Save yourself and swim the other way!" I loved the challenge though since I didn't feel completely comfortable in that situation.

About 30 minutes after we started fishing, a foot long rainbow trout finally swallowed my bait. I think I was just as surprised as it was when I started pulling my floss back into shore. I yelled out of excitement and nervousness for Honey Bear to come over and help me out. We stunned the fish and gut its gills quickly. Of course I took a victory 'first catch in the Sierras' photo and proceeded to clean the fish after. We fillet it and cooked it in olive oil and garlic with our instant mashed potatoes. Five star eatin' I must say!

We had many wonderful adventures and views crossing over every pass in the High Sierra. The mountains have slowly become more rounded and green as we are entering northern California. Goodbye granite spires and hello big volcanoes! Truckee is our next stop along the trail and we will be making our way to the halfway point very soon. So much to look forward to as we enter the section that most hikers say you cruise right through and accomplish big miles in a day.

I posted our estimated dates for stops in the blog previously if you would like to mail anything out. Thank you so much for following and more stories about the sierras and more will soon come!

Much love,

Friday, July 6, 2012

Northern California Mail Stops

ETA: July 15th
Mile 1423.6 - Burney Falls State Park
Please address in the following way:
(Hiker Name)
c/o Burney Park Camp Store
McArthur Burney Falls State Park
24900 State Highway 89
Burney, CA 96013

ETA: July 20th
Mile 1606.3 - 
General Delivery 
Etna, CA 96027
ETA: July 25th
Please address in the following way:
(Hiker Name)
General Delivery
Selad Valley, CA 96086

ETA: August 1st
Mile 1726.6 - Ashland, Oregon (97520); General Delivery

ETA: August 5th
Mile 1830.4 - Crater Lake Mazama Village
Address in following way:
(Hiker Name)
c/o Fish Lake Resort
State Hwy 140, Mile Marker 30
Medford, OR 97604

East Face of Mt. Whitney

Four days before Honey Bear and I left Tom's place in Kennedy Meadows, our last resupply before our first steps into the Sierras, climbing Mt. Whitney and going over Forester Pass, we had filled our packs with some new gear: a bear canister that somehow had to fit eight days of food and extra layers to keep us warm at elevations higher than 14,000 feet. Fortunately we were able to send our micro spikes and ice axes home because of the lack of snow this year. Even though we didn't have some gear, my pack weighed 42 pounds leaving Kennedy Meadows. Some people pushing 13 days straight without a food drop in the Sierras had packs that weighed over 55 pounds. I couldn't even imagine! We left mile 702 away from great beer, entertainment, and I even ran into Matt DiCarlo (from High Trails if you know him!!), to venture into the big mountains I had been waiting for.

We didn't have any service, but I was able to call Ryan from a landline in a bathroom randomly in the trailer we were getting internet in. It was wonderful to catch up briefly through the static of the bad connection and confirm that we were still on for meeting at the base of the East Face four days later. In todays society where we can call someone and have instant connection via cell phone to confirm locations, it was strange saying, "Well, I will see you down there in four days; hope you're there and this works!" I planned on brining a tent and sleeping bag for us to share, basic things like my headlamp, toothbrush and layers, but had very minimal food because I was banking on meeting Ryan with the food, rock climbing gear, and bear canister. We knew that the hard part of this adventure would be actually meeting up and not the climb.

June 13th, Spud, Honey Bear and I set out to hike up Mt. Whiney from Crabtree Meadow on the backside or west side of the mountain on the PCT. We left around 7 am and were hoping to get the the summit 3.5 to 4 hours later. It was nice hiking with lighter packs and I was able to leave a lot of my gear in Honey Bear's tent at the base of the hike. Spud and Honey Bear would go back down to Crabtree that night but I was hiking down the Mountaineers Route solo to meet Ryan. We hiked up to the summit relatively efficiently, but I was moving slow, and actually met up with some PCT "celebrities" I had seen in the National Geographic documentary about the PCT prior to starting. We reached the summit and took a ton of photos around 11 am and Honey Bear saw a group of three walking around the crowd of people that had helmets on. She pointed them out to me and I went over to ask what technical route they were descending. They were also going down the mountaineers route and I could go with them!

I split ways from Honey Bear and Spud at 12:30 pm and two guys and a girl from Chico State and I scrambled down the route. It was free of snow but very steep considering the loose, rocky terrain. We started out by down climbing through some class 4 boulders and then switched down through a section called the notch that leads you directly to Iceburg Lake where I would be camping with Ryan. We were moving fast and I was was overwhelmed with emotions. About two-thirds of the way down I hear someone call out, "Adri!?" and there Ryan was standing at the base of the route in the middle the boulder field. He had arrived from the Whitney Portal twenty minutes before I finished descending. I raised my arms and shouted as loud as I could so excited that our plan had worked flawlessly. The three people behind me knew that I was meeting my boyfriend at the base of the climb and knew I hadn't seen him in a while so they cheered when they saw us hug. (Ya, it kind of felt cute and like a movie...)

The first time we were at this same spot at Iceburg Lake, it was 5 am and we were shivering waiting for the sun to come up. We had hiked in to the East Buttress starting at 1 am, but this time we were able to hang out, sleep the whole night and wake up with the sun to start the East Face. We did just that and geared up after scrambling up about 100 feet on boulders to reach the base of the climb the next morning of the 14th. We confirmed our location with pictures Ryan had printed out and knew we were in the right spot to start the route. I led the first pitch and we switch leads there on out. The route was 5.5 and some pitches were Class 4. We climbed for a total of 9 hours and 15 pitches til we reached the summit. Clouds had filled the sky and the summit only had two other people on it when we arrived. Two John Muir Trail hikers had just finished and were celebrating on the summit. The climb was amazing, the views from any point on Mt. Whitney are always incredible, and there always seem to be moments on that mountain where I feel completely at peace but also moments where I am challenged mentally and physically.

It was hard leaving the summit and saying goodbye knowing that I wouldn't be seeing Ryan for three months until I finished the trail, but this adventure was an amazing excuse to get to spend some time together. We split ways, Ryan descending the Mountaineers Route and I descending down to Crabtree Meadow, around 5 pm and we both made it back down to our separate sides of the mountain safely. I remember thinking as I was walking passed Guitar Lake how lucky I am and how much I have to look forward to on this trail. The Sierras had just begun!!!