On the PCT in December 

On Saturday my husband and I set out to achieve our goal of backpacking in every month of 2015. Our destination: the Pacific Crest Trail north of Bucks Summit. We drove to the summit and parked among pickups owned by folks who were out enjoying their snowmobiles. A family was sledding where the plowing stopped and snow covered the road. We put on our packs and began snowshoeing up the trail. It was already 12:30 when we left our car.

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Bucks Lake Road and a huge fog bank, as seen from the PCT.

The trail took us just above a dense fog bank and it looked like we could walk out onto the clouds. There were ski tracks in the snow and we followed them north. After hiking many, many miles this year and conquering many long, steep climbs I considered myself to be in good shape. But I discovered that my snowshoeing muscles are not well developed. Snowshoeing uphill is hard work! Especially when carrying a 40-pound load on your back!

My massive winter pack loaded up with down parka, down pants, down booties, sleeping bag, sleeping pads, tent, snow shovel, umbrella, extra layers, food, water, and a few additional essentials.

Weighed down with heavy winter gear, the climb was slow and exhausting…but oh so pretty.

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Another gorgeous view on our way up the trail.

On our way up the mountain we encountered three skiers coming down from Spanish Peak. When we started our trek I had fantasies of snowshoeing to Spanish Peak and camping near the top, but very soon it was obvious that reaching the summit on snowshoes would require more energy than we had.

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We considered camping here to savor the view, but the fierce wind would have kept us in our tent.

When we hiked this stretch of trail back in August we commented on a lovely campsite only two miles from Bucks Summit, which we thought looked like a fine place to spend the night. Lovely in summer, this site was perfect in the snow. We had climbed up into a fierce wind, but this site was sheltered from the wind. We compacted the snow with our snowshoes and set up our tent in an open area where there was no possibility of being hit by falling trees. The forest around our little campsite was bending violently in the wind, but we were in a calm little bubble. What luck!

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Our campsite, sheltered from the wind.

After setting up the tent and preparing our beds we made dinner. It wasn’t even 4pm but the sun was already setting and, having consumed only snacks since breakfast, we were starving. After dinner we spent over an hour melting snow for drinking water. By now it was dark but neither of us wanted to get in the tent yet, so we melted water and listened to the wind ripping through the trees. The forecast predicted snow tomorrow morning. This must be the storm blowing in.

Finally our chores were finished and it was time to get into the tent. It was still very early – probably only 6:30pm – and the early hour combined with the ceaseless sound of the wind tearing through the trees made for a sleepless night. We were mostly protected from the incoming storm, but every 15 minutes or so a strong gust shook the tent. Those shakes and shutters kept me awake.

I fell asleep during the second half of the night, only to jolt back awake at the sound of snow sliding off the tent. As expected, it was snowing – and our tent was now partially buried. This was our first experience camping during a snow storm. Our heavy winter tent weathered the storm very well.

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Big Agnes String Ridge tent weathering the storm.

Eating breakfast and packing up were challenging in the snow. We managed to get everything packed and took off down the mountain. When we’d dropped only a few feet in elevation the snow turned into rain. Rain?! I strapped on my umbrella, but not before I was wetter than I wanted to be. We finished the trek in the rain – not what we were expecting! This was a great trip, but we still have some learning to do to make winter camping even more enjoyable, especially during a storm.

With this trip we achieved our goal of backpacking in every month of 2015! This is a mighty accomplishment. At the beginning of the year I could only hike a few miles per day; by the end of August I could do 20 miles in one day. I believe that all of this outdoor activity, as well as having a big goal to work toward, was a major factor in my ongoing recovery from Lyme disease/Bartonella. I loved seeing the seasons change out on the trail. I loved every adventure. What an awesome year!

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Achieving our goal!

 

Out-and-back on the PCT

The forecast promised rain (with a chance of snow), but we packed up our winter tent and lots of layers and hit the trail for our November backpacking trip. We started at Highway 49 and hiked south on the Pacific Crest Trail. The weather on Saturday was sunny and very warm and we were soon hiking in short sleeves. As we rose above the Yuba River we saw a side of the Sierra Buttes that we’d never seen before. The jagged peaks looked like an entirely different mountain range. We took lots of photos.

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The Sierra Buttes

As we continued to gain elevation we passed through deep conifer forest where sunlight was sparse and the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees. We crossed multiple bridges. We passed a few lovely campsites. We saw a huge pile of mushrooms and a few gigantic trees.

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We took a lunch break on a large granite outcropping and afterward we really started to climb. Up, up, into snow, following small canid footprints (fox?), and finally gaining the top of the ridge.

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Now we had to make a decision: continue to the next campsite or turn back for one of the creek-side sites we’d passed on the way up? Given the impending darkness and the promised storm, which was due to arrive that night, we agreed to turn around so as to have a shorter hike tomorrow in the rain and/or snow.

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Hiking through snow on the top of the ridge.

Down we went, walking back and forth on numerous switchbacks and finally arriving at a nice campsite beside Milton Creek. The sun had already set in this deep canyon and most of the light was gone on the west-facing canyon wall. As a first order of business we put on our down parkas, then we set up our tent. Then dinner, and when we were finished eating it was dark. At 6pm we climbed into the tent. We did not emerge until 7:30 the next morning, when it was finally light enough to see. When we got up on Sunday morning it was 30 degrees outside and the sky was clear. No storm? Why did I carry that heavy winter tent?

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Big Agnes String Ridge tent…great in the snow, too heavy for normal conditions.

We ate breakfast and packed up and set off down the trail. Soon patchy clouds appeared overhead. Then we heard a massive gust of wind in the distance, which grew louder and louder and finally hit us, bringing down the promised rain. We stopped and pulled on our rain jackets. I set up my trekking umbrella and we kept hiking.

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Staying dry in the rain.

It was beautiful outside in the forest in the rain but I was suffering. Anticipating rain, and possibly snow, I’d once again worn my old leather boots, and the boots were chewing up my feet. By the time we reached the trailhead I had a massive blood blister on the bottom of my big toe. There will no more leather boots for me. Ever.

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Crossing the north fork of the Yuba.

Other than this unfortunate injury we had a very enjoyable outing. The fall colors were still going strong, with golden leaves on the oaks and maples and bright red on the dogwood. We didn’t see any human hikers on the trail, and it was nice to have the place to ourselves.

We now have only one month to go until we achieve our goal of backpacking in every month of 2015. December here we come!

Desolation Wilderness Loop

I spent a fun three-day weekend hiking through Desolation Wilderness with my dad on a beautiful 26-mile loop.

Day 1: Glen Alpine Trailhead to Susie Lake (4.3 miles)

We planned to leave my house at 7am but when we woke to thunder, lightening, and heavy rain and we agreed to delay our departure. A few hours later, despite a forecast calling for continued rain, we decided to proceed. We drove through rain almost the entire way to the trailhead and we pulled over several times to discuss our options. Each time we opted to continue despite the heavy rain.

At the trailhead we agreed that we could return to the car at any time if either of us wanted to turn back. There was no point in being miserable. All of the delays meant a late start: it was 1:45 when we started hiking.

This was my first opportunity to hike with my new trekking umbrella and I loved it!

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Hands-free hiking with an umbrella!

The trail looked like one long puddle. However, shortly after we started hiking the rain tapered off. Dark clouds perched on the tops of the mountains, but we reached Susie Lake without seeing another drop of rain.

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Susie Lake

We scouted for a sheltered campsite and decided to camp beside the lake’s outlet, where my husband and I stayed on our cruise through Desolation over Labor Day weekend. Moments after we set up our tents it began to rain. My umbrella was a major asset when we set up a tarp (borrowed from my dad’s friend) under which we cooked dinner. As soon as the tarp was up the rain turned to hail. Great timing! We spent the night with intermittent rain, hail, and wind.

Day 2: Susie Lake to Velma Lakes Trail  (8.9 miles)

I crawled out of my tent early, hoping to witness a stunning sunrise similar to the flood of color I experienced here in the beginning of September. This morning’s sunrise was pretty but underwhelming.

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Sunrise at Susie Lake’s outlet, looking down at Grass Lake.

We packed up our tents and wet rainflys and began hiking toward Heather Lake, Lake Aloha, and Mosquito Pass. We saw blue sky for the first time on the trip!

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Heather Lake

Without a specific destination in mind for the night our goal was simply to hike and enjoy the scenery. Blue sky continued to peek through the clouds and we even received a few stray sunbeams on our way to Mosquito Pass.

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Lake Aloha
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Another view of Lake Aloha, with ominous but photogenic clouds.

Curiosity took us on a short detour to Clyde Lake, which was gorgeous but appeared to lack any established campsites. While contorting my body between boulders to score a photo of red berries I managed to abrade and rip one of my pack’s mesh pockets on the granite. The picture I ended up with was not worth this damage!

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Clyde Lake and mountain ash berries.

Curiosity satisfied at Clyde Lake, we returned to the main trail and continued down Rockbound Valley. We stopped for lunch at a crossing of the Rubicon River. After lunch the trail crossed multiple springs and streams and took us through a pretty meadow at China Flat.

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China Flat

When our trail met the trail to Velma Lakes we opted to set up camp rather than tackle the climb to Middle Velma that evening. We found a nice campsite and settled in for the night.

Day 3: Return to Glen Alpine Trailhead (13.3 miles)

We woke to a cloud-free sky…and lots of frost. My thermometer read 25 degrees. I dressed in my big down parka and crawled out of my tent hoping to photograph a colorful sunrise. Again, sunrise was pretty but underwhelming. We took our time making breakfast and attempting to dry our frosty tents. We eventually left camp at 10am – a late start! The trail began climbing immediately, sending us over granite slabs where our path was outlined with carefully-placed rocks.

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On the trail to Velma Lakes.

At the top of the ridge we hit the PCT, then breezed by Middle Velma Lake and climbed to Fontanillis Lake. At Fontanillis we stopped for a short snack break.

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Fontanillis Lake

Then it was more uphill to Dicks Lake and, finally, Dicks Pass. When my husband and I climbed over Dicks Pass in September it was unbearably windy, but today there was hardly a breeze. My dad and I enjoyed our time on the pass and took many photos of the stunning views.

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Enjoying the view from Dicks Pass.
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Susie Lake, Lake Aloha, and Half Moon Lake from just below Dicks Pass.
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Dicks Lake and Fontanillis Lake

After the long climb from the Rubicon River to Dicks Pass we still felt strong, so we opted to finish the trip and hike back to the trailhead rather than spending the night at Gilmore Lake (our backup plan).

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Descending from Dicks Pass.

When we glimpsed Gilmore Lake through the trees we decided to detour off trail for a better view. We ate snacks by the lake then returned to the trail and continued down to the trailhead.

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Gilmore Lake

I wore my heavy leather boots on this trip, rather than my beloved light weight Salomon trail runners, because the trail was one long puddle when we started hiking on Saturday and I didn’t want to travel with soaked feet. My feet stayed dry, but the heavy boots left my feet aching on the last few miles of the hike. Ouch!

We arrived at the car at 6pm and were treated to a light rain shower as we drove back to the highway – excellent timing once again! We were both happy that we chose to go through with the trip even though Saturday’s weather seemed so unsuitable for a multi-day hike. We experienced rain, hail, and frost but the passes were blissfully wind-free and the scenery was gorgeous. What a great way to spend an October weekend!

Health update: The down-turn in health that I wrote about at the end of September lasted for about three weeks. Some symptoms still pop up without warning: I experienced a mild sore throat for the first two days of this trip but the symptoms didn’t progress beyond irritation, and I had enough energy to enjoy the trip.

An awesome weekend with my dad!

One night in October

My husband and I spent the first weekend in October backpacking. Nothing grand or record-breaking this time, just a quick one night trip to a pretty little no-name lake. We seem to make a point of visiting this lake once each year, having camped here in 2013, 2014, and now 2015. We call it Elf Lake in honor of the elaborate stone furniture in the campsite, which looks like it might have been made by elves.

We got a late start on Saturday, which was no problem because we only had to hike four miles to our destination. The sky was clear and bright blue when we started our trek, but clouds built throughout the day and that evening we experienced a tremendous thunderstorm with rain and hail and lightening directly overhead.

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Thunderheads building over the Sierra Buttes.

This was the fifth thunderstorm we’ve weathered while backpacking in 2015, but it was the first time we experienced hail big enough to be painful when it struck exposed skin. After collecting a few photos of the storm we retreated to our tent.

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Sunset, only a few minutes before the thunderstorm hit.
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Incoming thunderstorm.

At only nine miles round-trip this hike was shorter than any we’ve done in the past five months, but it was the perfect length for the conditions we faced. After my downturn in health last month I’m still not feeling great. It was nice to get out for an October trip and spend a few days outside. Only two months remain until I’ll meet my goal of backpacking in every month of the year. I can do it!

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Posing with the elven furniture.

My first 20-mile day!

On Saturday morning my husband and I strapped on our backpacks and set out from Donner Summit heading north on the Pacific Crest Trail. The plan was to hike out 15 miles and then turn around and hike back, with a goal of hiking 20 miles the first day.

Saturday’s forecast called for breezy conditions with gusts up to 30 mph, but unfortunately for us the gusts were constant. As soon as we stepped out of the car we were pummeled by wind, and the pummeling didn’t stop until pre-dawn the following morning.

We started hiking from a dirt parking area at PCT mile 1158.6. Prior to this trip I’d hiked only a small piece of PCT Section L, having snow-shoed to the Peter Grubb hut a few years ago. This was Greg’s first time on this section of trail. Being so close to the I-80 corridor we expected to see hordes of people but the crowds were delightfully sparse – probably because we started hiking at 8 am. We encountered one couple soaking up the sun on the boulders outside the Peter Grubb Hut and we passed a few solo backpackers who were heading south.

IMG_1170We hiked up out of Castle Valley and straight into sustained gusts of 30+ mph. I wanted a 20-mile day, but maybe Donner Summit wasn’t a good choice. We’d only hiked a few miles and already I felt drained. How far could I hike in this wind?

The trail took us down to Paradise Valley then up onto another ridge, then down to a crossing of White Rock Creek where we saw a lovely stream-side campsite. Let’s try to hike back to this spot, we said. It would be a nice place to spend the night.

The wind was strongest when we were hiking up south-facing slopes, but it was always with us. We climbed up again into winds so strong that Greg’s hat flew off of his head twice. Our trekking poles were blown into our legs. Our bodies were hurdled to the side. Keep hiking if you can!

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We reached Snowbank Spring and stopped for lunch. We ate, took a nap, replenished our water, and continued on into the wind. It wasn’t going to let up!

After a few more miles I was dragging. I performed some mental algebra and concluded that if we hiked to mile 1173.1 and then turned around and hiked back to White Rock Creek we would have a 20.5-mile day. That was far enough. That would be the farthest I had ever hiked in one day, beating my two-week-old record by 2.5 miles. Yes, 20 miles would be far enough. In winds like this I would be lucky to make it that far.

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We crossed Lacey Creek, which was dry, crossed a major dirt road, and continued hiking for another mile. I checked Halfmile’s PCT app and confirmed we had reached mile 1173.1 – time to turn around. We found a nice boulder and sat down for a rest and ate a few snacks.

The next 2.5 miles would all be uphill. Not steep, thankfully, but when you’re feeling tired uphill is uphill, and I warned Greg that I was going to be slow. He hiked in front and I dropped farther and farther behind, until I saw him stop to talk with two north-bound hikers. When I caught up I discovered that they were thru-hikers! The main pulse of north-bounding PCT thru-hikers came through this area in June and July, so I hadn’t expected to see any nobos on this trip. Trail Mix and Veggie started on April 21 and were hiking at their own speed, happy to be behind the main pack.

We chatted for awhile and Greg and I shared our plan to thru-hike the PCT in 2017. I would have loved to camp near these two so we could hear more about their trail experience, but it was getting close to sunset and we needed to get in several more miles to complete our 20. We bid farewell to Veggie and Trail Mix and kept hiking.

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By now dark clouds were coming overhead and the temperature was falling. The uphill hike kept me warm enough, but barely. When we reached the top I was going to have to put on another layer. In the meantime, what happened? Suddenly I was cruising! Cruising on the uphills, in this relentless wind, at the end of a long day. And I felt great!

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We hiked for another 3 miles and my pace didn’t slow. When we pulled up to White Rock Creek I had enough energy for another mile or two, but we were quickly losing the last of the light, it was getting cold, and I needed to eat dinner and take my medication. We were happy to stop and set up camp. We had hiked 20.6 miles – a new personal best!

Day 2: 8.5 miles. The wind didn’t stop until the early morning hours and I did not sleep well that night. Sleep deprivation, a full day in unrelenting wind, a 20-mile hike, and PMS made for a rough walk back to the car on Sunday. I had a bad case of lead-leg and I was dragging.

We stopped a lot. Our average moving speed was only 2 mph. The uphill trudge out of Paradise Valley took a very long time to complete. Unlike yesterday, we saw day hikers. And joggers. And backpackers heading north. Lots and lots and lots of people. Where did they all come from? Sacramento? Reno? Yesterday the trail felt abandoned; today it was an amusement park.

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At Castle Peak – almost back to the car!

After lots of plodding and multiple rest stops we made it to the car. I was exhausted and I didn’t feel great, but I wasn’t completely drained. I could have carried on for a few more miles if I’d had to. Despite the punishing wind, the trip was a success. I hiked my first 20, which is a huge milestone on the long trail back to health – and important milestone for an aspiring 2017 PCT thru-hiker!

As we head into fall and the days get shorter and shorter it will be more difficult to bag 20 miles per day, so I’ll back off from setting new distance records and concentrate instead on hiking long days multiple days in a row. Our next adventure will be a 68-mile trek on the PCT over Labor Day weekend. We intended to spend the long holiday weekend in the Trinity Alps but we rerouted our plans due to ongoing wildfire smoke in that area. We’re excited to spend more time on the PCT. We can’t get enough!

PCT: La Porte Road to Bucks Summit

Over the weekend my husband Greg and I completed another chunk of PCT Section M: 33 miles in less than two full days of hiking!

Day 1: 5.7 miles (PCT mile 1232.3 to mile 1238.0). My father-in-law dropped us off at the trail head on Quincy-La Porte Road a little after 5:00 on Friday evening. Our packs were loaded with water in anticipation of dry camping that night. After a moment of confusion over the location of the northbound trail we began the hike.

The hiking was easy and we cruised at 3 mph, stopping only for a few photographs when the trees parted. Lassen was visible to the north, looking distressingly naked with its complete lack of snow.

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Naked Lassen.

At sunset we came upon a huge fist of rock perched on the edge of the hill. A glance at the map revealed this to be Chimney Rock. There were several tempting campsites nearby and we debated the pros and cons of spending the night, finally deciding to eat dinner here and then push on to get a few more miles in before dark.

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Sunset at Chimney Rock.

Wildfires burning across California have cast a haze over this part of the state. This smokey haze made the sunset electric. We ate our food and spent a lot of time taking pictures of the red sky. We finally moved on when the sun sank below the horizon.

We were prepared to night hike to find a suitable campsite but after just one mile we found a very nice site and decided to call it a day. We set up camp and crawled into the tent just as it was getting too dark to see. I woke up in the middle of the night to a Great Horned Owl hooting nearby, but I soon fell back asleep.

Day 2: 18.0 miles (PCT mile 1238.0 to mile 1256.0).

I was almost giddy when I woke up the next morning. Saturday was going to be big: we were going to find out how far I could hike in one day! My longest one-day distance to date was a little over 16 miles, which I completed on a day-hike in 2012, before I got sick. Post-Lyme, my longest one-day distance was about 9.5 miles. Could I beat my personal best of 16?

We started hiking at 7:45am. The trail was easy as we wound down to the Middle Fork of the Feather River. We covered 9.1 miles in less than four hours and arrived at the river at 11:30, having stopped only once for a snack break. We took pictures from the bridge, crossed over, and found a nice river-side spot to eat lunch. Our lunch break stretched out to two hours as we ate, filtered water for the next section of trail, and relaxed in the shade. I washed my dirty socks in the river and managed to slice my toe open on a stick that was poking out between the rocks – a chance to use the first aid kit that I always carry.

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Middle Fork of the Feather River.

At 1:30 we started hiking again. In retrospect, this was not a good trail to find out how far I can hike in one day. After crossing the Middle Fork the trail climbs relentlessly from 2,800 feet to roughly 6,000 feet in elevation. With a few losses along the way, total elevation gain on the climb out of the canyon is about 4,500 feet. We tackled this stretch of trail in the hottest part of the day, after already having hiked a little over 9 miles – and 9 miles was the farthest I’ve hiked since getting sick. How much more could I do? I had hoped to make it to Lookout Spring at the top of the mountain, where we could refill our water supply, but that would be a very long hike indeed.

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Having fun with iPhone’s panorama feature on one of many switchbacks on the climb up from the Middle Fork.

Despite the heat and the steep slope we cruised along at a quick pace. Bear Creek was flowing well, and we stopped there to have a snack and soak our feet in the cold water. All afternoon we continued to climb. Up and up and up. Each time we thought we were nearing the top the trail swung around onto the next of the mountain’s folds, and we continued to climb. As evening approached my energy began to sink and we took more frequent stops to rest and refuel.

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Dogwood Peak on the far side of the Middle Fork.

Every now and then I checked the mileage on Halfmile’s PCT app. When we hit 16.5 miles for the day I asked my husband to take a celebratory picture. No matter how much farther we hiked, this would be the longest hike of my life! I felt proud of this achievement. The longest hike of my life! I can’t be sick anymore if I’m hiking farther than I ever hiked before I got sick!

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The longest hike of my life! Photo at mile 16.5.

By 17.5 miles I was feeling very tired, but we were still perched on the edge of the mountain with no flat space for a tent, and no water nearby. We continued to climb. I asked Greg to hike in front of me and to hike slowly so that I wouldn’t push myself too hard. We crawled up the mountain. The sun set, then re-emerged as we climbed ever higher, then set again.

Suddenly the slope decreased and the trail presented us with two campsites, one on either side. We stopped and took off our packs and discussed our options. After the long hot climb we were running low on water, but it was another mile to Lookout Spring I didn’t think I had enough energy to drag myself a few hundred feet higher. I was starving and in need of my evening antibiotics, so I ate dinner while Greg went up the trail to investigate what lay ahead. When he returned we decided to stay where we were.

So how far could I hike in one day? Today, 18 miles. That is, 18 miles with 4,000 feet of elevation gain in the second half of the day! But I was not feeling well. I had a headache and I really wanted to lie down. Greg generously set up the tent while I finished eating. Then I crawled inside and promptly fell asleep. My day was not over yet, however. Two hours after eating I had to take my final round of medication, so before I fell asleep I set an alarm on my phone. Two hours later I woke up and swallowed the pills.

As I lay in bed trying to fall back asleep I heard a woosh over the tent, followed by the sound of tiny claws grabbing a nearby tree. A flying squirrel! I heard the animal scurrying up the large red fir beside our tent. A flying squirrel was in the tree next door! Years ago I worked as a seasonal wildlife biologist on a small mammal crew. We caught, tagged, and released mice, squirrels, and woodrats to determine population trends before and after forest thinning activities. Part of the study involved radio-collaring flying squirrels and tracking them at night. I hadn’t seen a flying squirrel in years, but I loved the species and was excited by the sound of one gliding over the tent and climbing into the neighboring tree.

It took longer than expected for me to finally fall back asleep, but once I did I slept through the night and woke up the next morning just as the darkness was lifting.

Day 3: 9.5 miles (mile 1256.0 to mile 1265.5).

We quickly ate and packed and started hiking at 7:15. My legs were sore from yesterday’s effort, but I had recovered during the night and I felt strong. The car was a 9.5-mile hike away. Could I do this after my record-breaking distance yesterday? I hoped so, because I had to be back at work on Monday morning!

Lookout Spring was only a little over a mile away and we soon reached it. We refilled our water supply then continued on –  and promptly found a giant pile of recently deposited bear scat in the middle of the trail. Wow, this was really fresh. The bear was probably still nearby. A few minutes later we arrived at Lookout Rock and stopped to admire the view.

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Perched on the edge and photographing the view.

Greg decided to make a second breakfast, now that we had enough water for cooking. While he got busy lighting his stove I gazed out over the hillside and spotted a bear lounging on a large boulder! Surely this was the author of the scat we’d seen in the trail. I pointed out the bear and we watched as it lolled around on the boulder, then jumped down and made its way downhill following the drainage. After it disappeared from view I heard a rock tumbling down the hillside and, looking in the direction the sound had come from, I saw another bear higher up on the slope. As we watched this second bear Greg suddenly noticed a third bear, higher still and a little farther away. The second bear seemed a little larger than the others, though size was difficult to judge given the differing distances. I hypothesized that this was a sow with her two yearling cubs. Three bears in one morning! Awesome!

I took a short video of the second bear. Greg spotted the third bear while I was filming.

After Greg finished his second breakfast and all of the bears had disappeared from view we continued hiking. Lookout Rock was the high point on this side of the river, so the trail was mostly flat or downhill from here, with a few short, mild climbs sprinkled along the way. My body was tired and sore, but we were able to cruise along at 3 mph through the red fir forest. We dropped down to Lower Bucks Road (also known as Big Creek Road) and continued on, stopping only a few times for breaks.

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At the crossing of Big Creek Road.

At 1:30 we reached Bucks Summit, completing our 33-mile trek. What an achievement! This was far and away the toughest hike I’ve ever done; even before I got sick I never tackled anything this difficult. On Saturday I hiked 18 miles with 4,000 feet of afternoon elevation gain, then turned around and hiked 9.5 miles the next day. In the days since this massive effort I’ve felt a little sore and a little tired, but I have not felt sick. I feel good – ready for the next hike. I feel healthy.

PCT: Bucks Summit to Belden

For the August installment of my 12 Months of Backpacking goal my husband Greg and I hiked a 19-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail from Bucks Summit to Belden. We tacked on a few extra miles by making side trips to Lost Lake and Three Lakes. I selected the first weekend of August for this trip because I was concerned about the possibility of getting smoked out by a wildfire, and I wanted to ensure that we got in an August trip while the air was still relatively clear.

Day 1: Bucks Summit to ~6.5 miles down the trail. We began our hike on Friday evening after work. Greg’s dad dropped us off at Bucks Summit Trailhead, and away we went. The first leg of the trail climbed through dense shrubs – manzanita, chinquapin, bitter cherry, huckleberry oak – and a smattering of red and white fir.

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View from the trail.

I was in the lead, and as we came around one corner I saw a young buck making his way down the trail, coming toward us. We all stopped and appraised each other, and then we took a few steps forward and so did he. Then we stopped and he moved forward again,first a few steps, then a few more. He seemed like a curious fellow, as if he wanted to know what we were, not what we might have to eat. He didn’t seem habituated to people, just profoundly curious, and very naive. We walked forward and he moved off the trail, as if to let us by. Then he stepped back onto the trail and followed us, haltingly, for a short distance before stopping to browse. What a cutie. A tick-carrying cutie, but a cutie nonetheless.

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Tick-carrying cutie standing in the trail.

The sun set and we paused to take pictures of the clouds. We could see the snow-less top of Lassen Peak in the distance. A little later we paused to eat dinner. We sat on the side of the trail overlooking Gold Lake, ate our food, then continued on. It was dark now, and I switched on my headlamp so I could see the trail. Soon, however, the full (blue) moon rose, and we were able to hike by its light alone, at least when we weren’t in the forested stretches.

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Gold Lake, below Spanish Peak, in Bucks Lake Wilderness.

We didn’t have a destination in mind for the first night. Both of us were excited about the idea of hiking by moonlight, and we had a lot of fun. Soon, though, I felt like I needed to get to sleep. We found a semi-flat spot near the trail, pitched our tent, climbed inside, and fell sleep.

I woke up a short time later to the sound of a Great Horned Owl hooting from a nearby tree. As I came fully awake I realized that I was hearing two owls: a male and a female calling to each other. I listened to the owls for what seemed like a long time, the male stationary in his tree, the female moving from tree to tree around the opening where we’d camped. I eventually fell asleep again.

Day 2: Lost Lake and Three Lakes, ~9.5 miles. In the morning my husband wandered away from our camp and found an overlook from which to eat breakfast. We witnessed an incredible sunrise, and I spent more time photographing than eating. What a way to start the day!

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Sunrise over Silver Lake and Spanish Peak.

After breakfast we quickly packed up and started hiking, and before we even got back on the trail we were being hit by small drops of rain. The shower continued off and on for the first 30 minutes of the day’s hike; patchy clouds remained for the rest of the day.

The goal for Day 2 was to hike cross-country to Lost Lake, spend the afternoon relaxing, and spend the night at the lake. My husband and I had attempted to visit Lost Lake in 2012 but turned back because I was not comfortable with the scrambling required to reach the lake. Since then Greg had returned to Lost Lake without me and located an alternate route that he believed I could handle. Everything was going well until we hit a boulder field. I am not comfortable on boulders. Greg is, but I am not. We took a long time to cross, but eventually we made our way to the shore of the lake.

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Lost Lake.

We ate lunch, washed off the sweat and dust, and took naps. It was a nice, quiet place, but I felt anxious about having to make my way back through the boulder field the next morning, followed by the long, long descent to Belden. Greg and I discussed and our options and decided to make our way back to the PCT that evening. So back through the boulder field we went, slowly but surely.

We regained the trail and continued on our way. Greg proposed hiking to Three Lakes so he could try fishing. We took the 1/2-mile spur trail and hiked to the “middle” of the Three Lakes. (Heads up: turns out Three Lakes is actually two lakes – the lower two lakes are connected by a canal.) We found a nice place to camp and I ate dinner, with a side of antibiotics, while Greg attempted to fish. Low water levels eventually got the best of him and he joined me for dinner. We set up the tent and enjoyed a mesmerizing purple sunset.

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Sunset over the middle of the Three Lakes.

Only a few minutes after we got into the tent we heard thunder, saw lightening, and then heard rain drops hitting the tent. Thankfully we’d been suspicious that it might rain, and we’d set up the tent with the rain fly. We lay in the tent and listened to the storm.

Day 3: Three Lakes to Belden, ~8.5 miles. The next morning we ate breakfast, packed up, and started hiking, again with a few light rain showers accompanying us. The sky was completely overcast, which made the next section of trail very pleasant.

We soon reached the ridge above Highway 70 and the Feather River Canyon. We have driven that highway dozens and dozens of times, so it was fascinating to see it from this perspective. I knew to expect a steep descent, but looking at the river so far below us, knowing that we were going to hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon, made us laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing.

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Perched over the Feather River Canyon and Highway 70.

The scenery was unique. This area burned in a wildfire many years ago and most of the trees near the ridge did not survive. Today the ridge is covered with shrubs and accented by artistic-looking rock outcroppings. There was no shade to be found in such a tree-less land, but that didn’t bother us because the sun was still muffled behind dense clouds.

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The PCT switchbacks down from the top of the canyon.

We wound our way down the steep wall of the canyon, exclaiming at the view from every switchback. We passed from montane shrubs and red fir to mixed conifer forest to live oak woodland. We knew we were descending, but no matter how many switchbacks we put behind us the river never seemed any closer. We were still so high!

After hours of switching back I began to develop a few aches and pains in my legs and feet. I slowed down. As we continued to descend and Belden drew closer we could hear a bass line pounding up to us. Belden was hosting a rave this weekend, and as we got closer and closer we could distinguish more and more of the music. First bass, then drums, keyboards, and finally vocals, and then we were leaving Bucks Lake Wilderness and stepping onto flat ground, crossing the railroad tracks, and walking into Belden, where the festival was in full swing. We did it!