1994 Long-Distance Hike #5: Manning Provencial Park to Campo
3 months and 4 days
Third time is a charm
Note: This page was among the first to appear on my website, (circa 1997) and back then everyone had slow telephone modems so the photos had to be small and with low resolution. This is about what it looked like back then.
After riding the bus north to Canada's Manning Provincial Park, Jenny and I started hiking south. This was the afternoon of June 12th, 1994. Our plan was to hike the PCT to Elk Lake in central Oregon, where we would leave the trail and continue walking another 30 miles to our home.
PCT North Cascades
PCT North Cascades
Once in the high country we encountered snow, of course. In early summer we expected the snowpack to have compacted, and indeed it supported our weight without a great deal of sinking in. However, the snow was so pervasive that it hid much of the trail. route finding was far and away our greatest challenge.
The vegetation was too dense and the slopes generally too steep to allow one to stray from the route. So during the next couple of weeks we spent a tremendous amount of time hunting for the trail. Time and again we located only a hint of it by wandering in ever widening circles in search of a cut branch protruding from the snow, or a faint corridor leading through the forest.
PCT North Cascades
Harsh weather sometimes seasoned this phase of the adventure also. At one point, storm-force winds and whiteout conditions forced us off the crest. We retreated to the forest below and spent the remainder of the day huddled before a small campfire, garnering its warmth.
On hearing of these experiences, one hiker we met said: "Sounds absolutely horrendous."
"Oh no," Jenny replied. "Ray thrives on that sort of thing."
"And so does she." I grinned, pointing at my hearty companion.
Ray & Jenny's tarp
Once down from the slopes of Mt. Adams we left the snowpack behind. It was here that we began hiking 35 to 40 miles each day. And it wasn't long before we started meeting section hikers. Everyone with a pack on their back and a goal in their heart is a friend of ours, and we enjoyed stopping and talking with everyone.
The corn pasta cook-fire.
At Cascade Locks we took a day off. Not that we felt we needed it, but we were planning to hike only to central Oregon, and knew that the trip would soon be finished. This layover day was our only one of the journey.
As we hiked through northern Oregon the proverbial trail magic started coursing through our veins. We were no longer on a hike, but a journey. Quitting in central Oregon now seemed anticlimactic. So we decided to continue to Mexico.
in the Three Sisters. Most people mistook us for day hikers.
When the woods were too wet to sit down, we made our Peanut butter sandwiches on the fly.
At Elk Lake we hired a resort employee to drive us the 30 miles to our home. Then we spent 2-1/2 days preparing our business for another two months of absence. The task was complicated by the fact that our office help was planning a mid summer vacation. We had to find and train someone else. That done, we devoted another very full day to packaging food and filling resupply boxes. Imagine preparing for a 2,000 mile hike in only one day! Our kitchen looked like a corn spaghetti factory.
When we rejoined the PCT above Elk Lake where we had left it, we felt like we were taking a well deserved vacation. And rightly so; for the trail through central and southern Oregon provided easy hiking. Having left our ice axes and a few extra garments behind, our packs were now even lighter. And because of our higher daily mileages, water availability was seldom a concern. And perhaps because of the drier season, the mosquitoes were not nearly as numerous as we had seen them; and they were easily rebuffed by our bite-proof jackets, pants and occasionally by our headnets.
Season's first thru-hikers
It was while hiking up into Grider Creek Canyon that we met the front-runners of the year's Mexico-to-Canada northbound thru-hikers. Five of them hiking together, and make no mistake about it - they looked as fit, determined, and happy as any people on the planet. In the ensuing week of southward travel we met nearly 30 others. Curiously, almost everyone seemed to be on the Handbook's five month itinerary. We stopped and talked with each person for at least half an hour, often longer. These encounters felt like family reunions of long lost relatives, of kindred spirits meeting amid opposite and equally vast migrations.
Making camp in good weather was a simple matter of empting the packs, spreading out the groundsheet and foam pads, sitting down, and covering with the quilt.
I tried to keep my ears tuned and my mind open. Doing so, I learned important lessons from nearly everyone. And what an opportunity this was, here at the university of the ultra-long trail.
Also, I learned much from Jenny's and my own experimentation. I am not concerned whether an idea flies in the face of convention. If it works then I will adopt it. If it does not, then rather than lament the fact or hotly debate it, I will abandon it and try something else. Our light weight packs were but one result of this type of thinking.
Jenny on PCT N. Yosemite.
Yosemity's creek crossings are notorious in Spring but insignificant in the Fall.
Central California was easy going, and the farther south we progressed, the more scenic the terrain. Here once again we met several PCT section hikers, and we enjoyed talking with them at length.
By the time we reached Yosemite we were going like steam rollers. The High Sierra? Awesome; infinitely more beautiful than I had remembered. Water was so abundant that we were able to stay extremely well hydrated while keeping our water bottles empty. The weather was superb, so of course the hikers were out in great numbers. Almost everyone was a distance hiker, of sorts, but there were so many that we lacked the time to talk with even a fraction of them. This was regrettable, as we knew that each person had an interesting story to tell.
Loading the 8.5 lb backpack
Carrying the 8.5 lb backpack
Reaching Kennedy Meadows eight days beyond Tuolumne, we gazed ahead at the torrid regions of southern California. For the remaining distance we would each carry a 2½ gallon water bladder at least partially filled. These would allow us to hike from one point of civilization to the next, replenishing our precious liquid cargo at each point.
So with packs bulging with food and over a gallon of water each, we staggered to the weigh-in scales on the front porch of the Kennedy Meadows Store. Estimating that our packs each weighed about 55 pounds, we were startled when the scales indicated 31 pounds.
The weight of the water we needed to carry was tremendous, and it quickly ended our higher mileage hiking. Until Kennedy Meadows we had been cruising along on a three month itinerary. But higher mileage days and heavier packs do not mix. We knew that, but somehow we thought we could power ahead and remain on our itinerary. It didn't work. Inexorably, we began to slip behind.
Early-morning ritual for some much-needed arm exercise.
The beauty of the Desert all around us quickly drew our minds from our heavy loads. Beauty was in the ambrosial fragrances, as honeybees scurried about tiny blossoms uncountable. It was in the hardy greenery that somehow thrived in the heat and desiccation. And best of all, it was in the tranquil, solitary evenings with their infinite, star-studded skies. Each night we spread our bedroll and lay basking in the flood of God's glorious sweep of stars. In fact, in all of Oregon and California we had used our tarp only a few times, and that had been as protection from the evening dew. Truly, this was a unique summer, one that seemed made for PCT hikers.
PCT Southern CA
People had questioned our ability to cope with the tremendous heat of summer in southern California's deserts. We did it by caring a great deal of water. And unlike the northbound brigade that had battled with ticks by the thousands, we saw not a single tick. Also, we saw no hikers outside of the popular Mt. San Jacinto Wilderness. The trail was ours alone for mile after hundreds of miles.
Reaching the Tehachapi Willow Springs Road, we decided to try hitching into Mojave to buy more food. In less than a minute we had secured a ride. After showers at the trailer park and a hearty restaurant meal, we shopped for groceries then hiked a short ways out of town and made a stealth camp. The next morning some 50 vehicles passed us as we walked nine miles back along the highway, thumbs out, to where we had left the PCT the day before.
Speaking of detours, in Washington's Goat Rocks Wilderness we hiked right past a trail junction buried in snow, sign and all. The trail we followed led six miles down out of the high country. In a few miles we began to realize that this was not the PCT, but with no idea where we had gone wrong, we needed to get our bearings. The map we were using was extremely vague. Eventually the trail descended to a junction, where we found a sign pointing back up another trail. Reaching the PCT again, we continued our journey south, a little disappointed that we had missed four miles of PCT, and had hiked a 12 mile detour in the process.
But all this was nothing compared to the feeling of loosing the PCT in snowless southern California! Crossing the California Aqueduct, we searched for the newly constructed PCT for two hours, hiking five superfluous miles in the process. With no alternative that we could think of, we hiked the former route to Three Points then 3½ miles on West Oakdale Canyon Road to rejoin the trail. No doubt the guidebook would have obviated the confusion on both occasions, but at the outset we had decided to carry only the essentials. Considering that we had hiked the trail twice before, the book no longer met our criteria. And if we lost the way a few times, ours was the privilege of pioneering. For after, it had not been our goal to equip ourselves with every possible advantage.
Reaching the town of Campo the afternoon of September 16, three months and four days after our unassuming beginning, we left the trail and visited the Campo store. There we sat in the shade sipping cold drinks, trying to justify the remaining mile or so to the border. Somehow it didn't seem right to end the journey so abruptly. But "a promise made is a debt unpaid," so we backtracked to the trail and sauntered to the end posts and the fence. There we snapped a few photos, then wandered a hundred yards back into the brush and made our summer's last camp, hidden from the border patrol. It seemed a good place to ponder things before returning to the morass.
Why had we hiked the PCT for the third time? In my opinion sustained walking is one of the more healthful activities possible. We had both shed our winter's fat stores, and had fully attuned our muscles and our senses. We felt more like humans were meant to feel from the beginning, before the softening of modern civilization. Of course we knew that we, too, would go soft in short order. Nothing is forever, but we were savoring every moment of the summer's vitality while it lasted. We had also hiked the trail to remove ourselves from the usual routine, and to re-clarify our perspectives. In the process we had made a quite a number of friends. We had gained more knowledge about the wilderness environs. We had seen the condition of the PCT end to end, and had studied very carefully what forces were harming it. We had perhaps advanced the modern techniques of ultra-long distance hiking with greater efficiency. And we had analyzed the problems less experienced hikers typically encounter on a journey of this magnitude. All of this knowledge then lent itself to my PCT Hiker's Handbook.
Had we exhausted ourselves by walking over two and a half thousand miles? Hardly. In fact we felt refreshed - physically, mentally, and spiritually. And now, with a treasure trove of wonderful memories we were ready to return home, with a song in our hearts and our eyes to the open sky.