171008 – Finished…after 168 days and 2650 miles (4265 kilometres)

Day:  168
Date:  Sunday, 08 October 2017
Start:  Camped by the trail at Mile 1315.0, 6673 ft
Finish:  Where the PCT crosses Hwy 36 at Mile 1328.8, 5051 ft
Daily Miles:  13.8 PCT
Total PCT Miles:  2649.4
Weather:  Cool and sunny
Accommodation:  Room at Antler Motel, Chester
Nutrition:
     Breakfast:  Pop tarts
     Lunch:  Tuna melt & fries, ice-cream
     Dinner:  Soup, meatloaf & vegetables, cheesecake & ice-cream
Aches:  Nothing new
Highlight:  Reaching the end of my PCT hike at Hwy 36, having now covered the entire PCT from Mexico to Canada in one season.  I felt no temptation to cross the road and continue hiking!
Lowlight:  None really
Pictures:  Click here

Position:  Click here.
Map:  Click here for Google Map
Journal:

I was hiking by 5:50am on a relatively mild morning, using my headlamp for light.  Several times, I could see pairs of eyes through the trees reflecting the light, but each time they darted off as I approached.  I suspect they were deer.

The first 90 minutes were spent steadily climbing 1000 ft to 7631 ft near the top of Butt Mountain, with beautiful views of the mountains, particularly Lassen, as they emerged from darkness as the sun rose.   From there, it was basically a gradual descent of 2500 ft over the 10 miles remaining to Hwy 36.  It was almost entirely in forest apart from the last mile or so that crossed some more open country of volcanic origin.  The soil colour changed to orange and there were the usual scoria and aerated rocks.  My mood during the descent was almost disbelief.  I couldn’t quite get my head around the fact that once I reached the highway, my adventure would be over.  It seemed unreal, but welcome nevertheless.

I reached Hwy 36 at 11:45am, took a couple of pictures and started hitchhiking towards Chester, 8 miles away.  Within 15 minutes I had a ride, and 30 minutes later I was ordering lunch at the same diner where I had had  breakfast three and a half months ago before resuming my hike northwards to Canada.  After lunch, I checked into the motel I had booked from Quincy, and then spent the afternoon doing laundry, cleaning gear, and disposing of things I no longer need.

Tomorrow, I catch a 6:30am bus to Susanville, and from there a 9:30am bus to Reno, where I will pick up a rental car in the early afternoon.  I will then take a few leisurely days to drive south down the eastern side of the Sierras, contemplating the distance I have walked, eating, and maybe doing some outlet shopping.  On Wednesday or Thursday, I will arrive in Orange County (south of Los Angeles) to stay with my daughter-in-law’s parents, Kelly and Sergio, who have been generously storing my pre-hike gear as well as my ever-increasing belongings (things I no longer needed or wanted for hiking, and mailed to them) until my return.  I fly out of Los Angeles on Saturday, and arrive in Sydney on Monday, 16 October.

The Pacific Crest Trail was everything I had expected, and more, with a couple of surprises thrown in.

The scenery was stunning, and there was rarely a day that wouldn’t justify a day-hike on its own.  By the end, I was feeling a bit guilty that I wasn’t appreciating the wonders I was seeing as much as earlier in the hike.  My spectacular surrounds were becoming too familiar.

The hiking was hard, physically and sometimes mentally.  To complete the 2650 miles in one season is a test of endurance.  You necessarily hike 20+ miles most days you are on the trail, or you will be caught by the autumn snows.  One PCT hiker described our lives as “hike, eat, sleep”, and that was accurate.  Apart from the days in town, I was hiking 12 hours on most days.  Age has a lot to do with the physical challenge, and I know from my running carer, that my body doesn’t recover from big exercise days nearly as quickly as it once did.  When I hiked the Appalachian Trail 31 years ago, I had only two “zero days”, but for the PCT, I must have had more than twenty.  My body also doesn’t move as quickly as it once did, the product of a lifetime of running abuse, which meant more hours hiking.

Luck plays a big part.  Several times, I was a hair’s breadth away from serious injury, or worse, but survived to complete the trail.  Others didn’t.  I also escaped any serious over-use injuries.  Many others didn’t.  I was lucky with the wildfires, just getting through two parts of the trail before they were closed for extended periods by the authorities.  Other fires closed more sections of trail later.  Many hikers were stopped, and I felt particularly sorry for those who had toughed out the deep snows of the High Sierras, only to have their dreams of a contiguous thru-hike scuppered by the wildfires.

The big surprise was the weather.  I never once had to pack up in the rain, and in total, probably only experienced a day’s worth of drizzle, sleet or snow in the whole time I was hiking.  I did have to set up camp while it was snowing lightly a few times, but that wasn’t a big deal.  There are few places in the world where you could hike for nearly six months in almost perfect weather.  The wildfires were also a surprise, and they were particularly bad this year, but as noted above, didn’t really affect my hike.

I’m heading home now, uncertain of whether I will attempt another long self-supported backpacking hike.  The end-to-end Te Araroa trail in New Zealand has been on my radar for a while, but just now seems like too much effort for my ageing body.  Trails where I can stay in hostels, B&B’s and alpine huts (Europe), carrying much less weight, have more appeal, as do shorter hiking trails in Australia such as Bibbulmun and Heysen.  Not that the latter are short, there just isn’t the same seasonal time pressure as for the PCT, so they can be hiked at a more leisurely pace.

Anyway, in the short-term, I’m looking forward to catching up with family and friends and will leave planning the next adventure until the new year.  I would like to thank all of those people who sent me messages during the hike, particularly in the middle stages when my mood was down.  Most weren’t answered because of time pressure, but they were all very much appreciated.

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171007 – Return to Lassen National Forest

Day:  167
Date:  Saturday, 07 October 2017
Start:  Camped by the trail at Mile 1291.1, 4121 ft
Finish:  Camped by the trail at Mile 1315.0, 6673 ft
Daily Miles:  23.9 PCT
Total PCT Miles:  2635.6
Weather:  Mild and sunny
Accommodation:  Tent
Nutrition:
     Breakfast:  Pop tarts
     Lunch:  Gorp
     Dinner:  Savoury rice and tuna
Aches:  Right knee sore on the downhills, but better than last night.
Highlight:  Cooking and eating dinner for my last night on the trail, on a perfectly still and quiet night, high on the side of a mountain surrounded by pine trees that were silhouetted by the bright orange glow of the sunset.
Lowlight:  None really
Pictures:  Click here

Position:  Click here.
Map:  Click here for Google Map
Journal:

I was hiking by 6:30am, and needed my headlamp for the first 30 minutes.  The trail continued to climb for another 3000 ft, to 7000 ft, making me glad I had gone the extra distance last night and climbed 2000 ft I didn’t now have to do today.  Early on, the climb continued to contain steep rocky sections and my pace was slow, but higher up the gradient eased and the trail was better.  Nevetheless it took 3 hours to cover 6 miles, so my hoped-for long day was off to a slow start.

At the top of the climb, the trail reached a sort plateau that was mostly forested, with a few large clearings, and gave just a few glimpses of distant mountains.  It wasn’t flat, oscillating between 6500 ft and 7200 ft, but was easier going.  Nevertheless, I found my motivation was low and the hiking a bit of a grind.  I was mentally  ready for my hike to be over.

Water was scarce on the plateau, and at lunchtime I loaded up 2.5 litres of water from the only readily-accessible spring, which should be enough to last me for the afternoon and camp tonight.  Of course it added 2.5kg to my pack, which was noticeable.

During the afternoon, the plateau narrowed to a ridge with some rocky outcrops, and the trail followed the ridge northwards, occasionally giving good views to Mt Lassen in the distance.  As it got later, rather than continue hiking after dark to get to my original target site, some three miles ahead, I found a relatively flat spot just off the trail and cleared a tentsite by the light of the setting sun and set up camp around 6:30pm.  It was a good decision, and I enjoyed my last evening on the trail, and got an early night.

I have just under 14 miles, most of it downhill, to reach Hwy 36, and the end of my PCT adventure.  I should get there late morning and then will hitchhike the 8 miles to the small town of Chester, where I have a room booked for tomorrow night.  Getting excited!

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171006 – Bucks Lake Wilderness

Day:  166
Date:  Friday, 06 October 2017
Start:  Where the PCT crosses Bucks Lake Road at Mile 1265.4, 5518 ft
Finish:  Camped by the trail at Mile 1291.1, 4121 ft
Daily Miles:  25.7 PCT, 0.5 in town
Total PCT Miles:  2611.7
Weather:  Mild and sunny
Accommodation:  Tent 
Nutrition:
     Breakfast:  Bagels & cream cheese, hard-boiled eggs.
     Lunch:  Gorp
     Dinner:  Double cheeseburger & fries
Aches:  Right knee sore after rolling awkwardly on rock while hiking after dark
Highlight:  The trail followed the edge of an escarpment at a height of around 7000 ft for much of the morning, providing great views over the valleys, lakes and mountains to the east.
Lowlight:  Hiking much later than I intended because I was unable to find a tentsite on the steep rocky terrain.  I rejected one possibility around 8:30pm and ended up hiking until 9:15pm before finding a good site and quickly setting up and going to bed. 
Pictures:  Click here

Position:  Click here.
Map:  Click here for Google Map
Journal:

I fed myself well on the continental breakfast provided by the motel, before checking out at 7:30am and making my way to the edge of town on a cool crisp morning.   I needed to hitchhike back to the Bucks Summit trailhead on a road that didn’t get a lot of traffic, so was a little apprehensive about how long it would take to get a ride.  There were plenty of cars, but most were just local traffic, dropping kids of at school, etc.  I was beginning to despair after 45 minutes when an ex-pat Australian stopped (of course, he had no way of knowing I was Australian) and offered me a lift to the trailhead, even though it was well past his destination.  I gratefully accepted, and was hiking by soon after 9:00am.

Initially, after entering Bucks Lake Wilderness, there was a steady climb of about 1500 ft, but then the trail levelled out somewhat to follow the edge of an escarpment with spectacular views for a few hours of very pleasant hiking.  From there, the afternoon was spent steadily descending, over 4500 ft in all, to the Feather River and small backwoods resort of Belden, which I reached at 5:00pm.  Although I had brought food to cook for dinner, the restaurant at the resort proved too tempting, and I stopped in for an early dinner.  The whole place seemed a little run down and seedy, but the burger was good and the cook gave me some free watermelon for dessert.  While there, I met another PCT hiker who will also finish when he gets to Chester.  He was the only hiker I saw all day today.

I left Belden at 6:00pm, dumping the food I had brought for dinner in a trash can on my way out (to save weight), crossed the river, and began what is a long ascent on the other side.  My goal was to get another four or five miles done for the day, but I ended up going further because it was impossible to find a tentsite on the steep rocky terrain.

The last two hours of hiking was done using my headlamp and I had two interesting encounters.   The first a small rattlesnake, which would not leave the trail, and I finally ended up taking a big step over it.  The second with a skunk which adopted a defensive posture, that is, hackles raised and backside pointed in my direction.  I stopped and threw a few stones in its direction until it moved off the trail, but only to hide under a log I had to walk by.  I could see its eyes glowing in the light of my headlamp.  Despite not smelling too good myself, I was  confident a blast of Eau d’Skunk would not improve my aroma, so I threw a few more stones until the eyes disappeared and I passed quickly and safely.

I now have just 38 miles to go to finish the PCT, so will try and put in a big day tomorrow, even if it means less sleep tonight, and then I can just cruise to an early afternoon finish on Sunday.

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171005 – Quincy Zero Day

Day:  165
Date:  Thursday, 05 October 2017
Start:  Where the PCT crosses Bucks Lake Road at Mile 1265.4, 5518 ft
Finish:   Where the PCT crosses Bucks Lake Road at Mile 1265.4, 5518 ft
Daily Miles:  0.0 PCT, 2.0 in town
Total PCT Miles:  2586.0
Weather:  Cool to mild and sunny.
Accommodation:  
Room at Gold Pan Lodge, Quincy
Nutrition:
     Breakfast:  Bagel & cream cheese, ham & cheese omelette, toast & jam
     Lunch:  Tuna sub & choc chip cookies
     Dinner:  Soup, fettucine alfredo, ice-cream & tapioca
Aches:  None
Highlight:  None 
Lowlight:  None
Pictures:  No pictures today
Position:  Click 
here.
Map:  Click here for Google Map
Journal:

I had a relaxed day, doing the usual chores, plus having a haircut.  It was a beautiful day in Quincy, a picturesque old mining town that is the county seat for Plumas County.  Pumpkins and Halloween decorations were prominent, giving the place an autumnal feel.

My mood has been mellow and contemplative.   Although very conscious that I have been keenly anticipating the finish of my trek for months, now that moment is nearly here, I also know I am going to miss my trail life.  Of course, the easier trail of the last week or so, the superb hiking weather, the beautiful old growth forests, a now-finely-tuned hiking body, and the comfortable solitude of the near empty trail may all be conspiring to give me this feeling.  However,  I think it is more than that.  I’m going to miss the anticipation of what each day will bring, the challenge of responding to the unexpected, the focus on the basics – water, food, shelter – of life, the self-dependency, and the joys of the “zero” days.

I’m sure there will be a lot more contemplation over my final three days of hiking, which start tomorrow.

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171004 – Middle Fork Feather River

Day:  164
Date:  Wednesday, 04 October 2017
Start:  Camped by the trail at Mile 1243.1, 4970 ft
Finish:  Where the PCT crosses Bucks Lake Road at Mile 1265.4, 5518 ft
Daily Miles:  22.3 PCT
Total PCT Miles:  2586.0
Weather:  Cool to mild and sunny
Accommodation:  Room at Gold Pan Lodge, Quincy
Nutrition:
     Breakfast:  Pop tarts
     Lunch:  Gorp
     Dinner:  Nachos, ice-cream
Aches:  Nothing new
Highlight:  None really
Lowlight:  None really
Pictures:  Click here

Position:  Click here.
Map:  Click here for Google Map
Journal:

I was hiking by 6:00am, using my headlamp for the first 45 minutes, on a cool clear morning.   I had just over 22 miles to cover to reach Bucks Lake Road from where I was planning to hitchhike to the small town of Quincy for resupply and a day off.  It was important to get there with plenty of daylight remaining or I might have trouble getting a lift, but I figured this would be no problem with an early start and reasonable trail, and that’s how it turned out.

It wasn’t all beer and skittles, though.  The morning started with a 2000 ft descent to the Middle Fork Feather River, a nationally classified wild river, followed by a 3000 ft ascent up the mountain on the other side, but the trail surface was good and the grades reasonable and I made good time, reaching the top around noon.  To the east and south were pine-covered mountains disappearing into the distance on a very clear day.

For the afternoon, the trail stayed around the 5000 ft level,  and the hiking was enjoyable, mostly through old growth forest.  I reached Bucks Lake Road at 4:00pm, not having seen another person on the trail all day, and for the first 15 minutes of hitchhiking, it seemed I might not see anybody on the road either, as no cars came past.  But then a car came from the opposite direction at a slow speed, made a U-turn, and the driver asked me whether I wanted a lift to town.  It turned out they, Steve and Dana, were scoping out where the PCT trailhead was because Dana was going to begin hiking tomorrow for a week or so northbound.  She is completing the PCT by sections and has already covered 1400 miles.  By extraordinary coincidence, it turned out that they were the same Steve and Dana who helped out Stef, another Australian hiker, who broke her ankle near Ashland last year and had returned this year to complete the PCT, reaching Canada about two weeks before me.  Small world!

I checked into my motel around 4:45pm, and hand-washed the dirtiest of my gear (no laundy available in town), showered, and had dinner in town.  I’m really looking forward to a good long night’s sleep and a day off tomorrow.

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171003 – Plumas National Forest

Day:  163
Date:  Tuesday, 03 October 2017
Start:  Camped by the trail at Mile 1217.2, 6550 ft
Finish:  Camped by the trail at Mile 1243.1, 4970 ft
Daily Miles:  25.9 PCT
Total PCT Miles:  2563.7
Weather:  Cool, sunny and breezy
Accommodation:  Tent
Nutrition:
     Breakfast:  Pop tarts
     Lunch:  Gorp
     Dinner:  Rehydrated beef stroganoff with noodles
Aches:  Feet very tired, but left ankle not so bad
Highlight:  Encountering the first notable autumn foliage at lower altitudes this evening, reminding me of how long I have been on the trail.
Lowlight:  About 15 minutes after I began hiking this morning, while it was still dark and I was relying on my headlamp, I encountered a very large tree that had fallen across the track and brought down some other trees with it.  I tried to follow where other people had worked their way around the debris, but was soon crashing around in the wiry and thorny scrub on a steep hillside unable to find the trail again.  Eventually, using my GPS I worked out which direction I should head to rejoin the trail, which I did a few minutes later, sporting a number of new cuts and abrasions, and having wasted 20-30 minutes.
Pictures:  Click here

Position:  Click here.
Map:  Click here for Google Map
Journal:

After my late night, I wasn’t up quite as early as planned and started hiking about 6:00am.  It was still dark and quite cold, and I could have done without the time lost finding my way around a fallen tree (see above).  However, after that little adventure, the rest of the day was relatively easy and uneventful hiking, with the trail staying between 5000 ft and 7500 ft.  Most of the time I was in forest, but in a couple of places the trail followed the top of treeless ridges which gave good views.

The grades on the trail were good all day, and it was mostly soft underfoot, helping me make good time.  I reached my target for the day, a trail junction, soon after 6:00pm, and told myself I would stop at the first flat tentsite I saw.  The trail continued along the side of a ridge, and it was 6:40pm before I found somewhere flat enough for my tent.  I set up camp quickly in what daylight was left, happy with my day’s effort.  I now have just over 22 miles to Bucks Lake Road along which I will hitchhike the 15 miles to Quincy, my final resupply town, where I have booked two nights in a motel so I can have Thursday off.  With luck, I will get to the road around 5pm.

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171002 – Misadventures in the Sierra Buttes

Day:  162
Date:  Monday, 02 October 2017
Start:  Where the PCT crosses Hwy 49 at Mile 1195.4, 4591 ft
Finish:  Camped by the trail at Mile 1217.2, 6550 ft
Daily Miles:  21.8 PCT, plus 1.5 from town to trailhead, plus 2.0 added by PCT relocation, plus 2.5 navigational error.
Total PCT Miles:  2537.8
Weather:  Mild, sunny and breezy
Accommodation:  Tent
Nutrition:
     Breakfast:  Fruit salad and pastries
     Lunch:  Gorp
     Dinner:  Rehydrated macaroni cheese
Aches:  Left ankle sore and cold persisting
Highlight:  None really
Lowlight:  When I was in the Sierra City general store yesterday, I picked up a map detailing a relocation of the PCT in the Sierra Buttes area which had just opened.  The old PCT had officially been decommissioned though the guy in the general store said he believed it could still be used.  Although the relocation looked like it might be longer, I decided I would be smart to follow it in case the old trail was now unmarked and difficult to follow.  Silly me!  As it turned out, the first half of the 7 mile relocation was easy enough to follow, though rough in parts, but the second half was a debacle.  It was poorly marked, and not at all in some crucial places.  I simply could not find one junction and wasted time following other tracks that turned out to be wrong.  As I was despairing, a hiker appeared behind me, the first I had seen all day, carrying multiple GPS’s strapped to his chest.  He was getting a GPS track of the relocation for the PCT map-maker, but even he could not find the trail we were supposed to be following.  He set off in a direction I knew to be wrong (having been there already) when I stumbled across the unmarked new relocated trail and called him back.  I was quite annoyed by now, realising that the relocation was longer by about an hour and that I had wasted another hour trying to find the unmarked trail.  I complained to the other hiker about the PCT announcing the opening of the relocation when it clearly wasn’t ready, and slowly worked out that the very apologetic hiker was quite involved in the whole process.  He felt bad for me, and I felt bad for making him feel bad about a project that meant a lot to him. Our discussions were all very friendly and he wished me well.
Pictures:  Click here

Position:  Click here.
Map:  Click here for Google Map
Journal:

My day started well enough as I left my cabin at the Buttes Resort (recommended) at 7:00am to begin the 1.5 mile walk back to the trailhead.  I hoped I might be able to hitch a ride, but no luck.  Back at the trailhead, having already climbed 400 ft from the town, I began the 2600 ft climb up to the Sierra Buttes, craggy rocky peaks visible above.  There were plenty of switchbacks, but the grades were good and I made reasonable progress.  Once above the treeline, Sierra City was visible far below and there were good views to the south and west.  On the way up, I noticed three distant figures standing at a corner point on the trail ahead, and when I finally reached them, it turned out they were hunters in full camouflage gear with rifles.  It was somewhat uncomfortable knowing they were scanning the hillside I was climbing looking for something to kill.

At the top of the climb, four hours after leaving Sierra City with virtually no breaks, there was a sort of forested basin behind the Buttes and I followed the new PCT trail as it dropped down into it.  The trail was rough in parts and I almost immediately regretted not trying to follow the old PCT which stayed high (see above).  The relocation, which I could see was designed to enhance the views of the Buttes, was costing me unbudgeted time and miles and I was unhappy about it when my schedule to Quincy was already tight.  When I eventually rejoined the PCT at the end of the relocation, it was already 4:00pm and I was well behind my schedule for the day.

Then, as a result of my efforts to pick up the pace, and as a consequence of not paying attention at a trail junction, I missed a PCT sign indicating I needed to veer left, and walked over a mile steeply downhill before realising my error.  I was not happy with myself!  I returned to the correct trail and decided that I would just keep walking until I reached my target campsite for the day, no matter how late it got.  Using my headlamp and the almost full moon for light, I walked until just after 9:00pm when I finally reached my destination. I had to get water from a spring, which turned out was obscured by a hiker’s tent, so I just stumbled around with my headlamp getting the water and pretending I wasn’t waking up the hiker, who remained silent.

So that I don’t lose the ground I made up by walking late, I still plan to get up at 5:00am (less than 6 hours away) and put in another long day tomorrow.  That way, I can be sure of getting to Quincy on Wednesday night, but I fear I will be very tired tomorrow.

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