As much as I love remembering the awesomeness that was my Pacific Crest Trail hike, during moments of aggressive trail jonesing, I also try to remind myself of the horrible times out on the trail.
The horrible times? Yes, the horrible times.
These times include, but are not limited to: the times I wanted to get off trail for good (all of Oregon), the times I wanted to just lay down and die (Fuller Ridge), or the times I had to squat over a hole and poop whilst being attacked by flying insects or dumped on by rain (double dump).
Below is a brief account of eleven such times on trail. I hope this helps remind you all that the PCT is not all smiles and miles – it's a merciless, ass-kicking, monster that you are incapable of waging battle with; you just have to take whatever the trail gives you.
CAUGHT IN A LIGHTNING STORM
Perhaps more frightening than low, but definitely a point where I thought a lot about what the hell I was doing out on the PCT, was the day I found myself in a raging lightning storm whilst passing through Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness.
It was this day that I was forever convinced that lightning should be feared far more than the bloodthirsty bears (or any other imagined threat). That and it reminded me that I am unimaginably insignificant next to nature's fury.
For an incredibly detailed description (a video) of this day on trail, check out: Super Happy Fun Time On The Pacific Crest Trail.
What's better than taking off your footwear at the end of the day and finding a mess of blood and puss? Taking off your footwear at the end of the day and finding a mess of blood and puss for four straight days as you attempt to make it out of the wilderness and to a medical facility.
I got a nasty ingrown toenail after leaving Vermilion Valley Resort (VVR) in the Sierra and had to make an unplanned stop in Mammoth to pay a visit to the hospital (since my usual plan of “ignore it and it will go away” was failing me).
Two zero days and ten days worth of antibiotics later (antibiotics that needed to be taken every six hours – very inconvenient for sleeping through the night), and I was back on my feet and out on the trail.
20 MILES NORTH OF STEVENS PASS
This morning was debatably my lowest on trail (figuratively; literally I was somewhere above 5,000′).
Waking up with my tent nearly submerged in a muddy pool of freezing water, surrounded by snow and knowing that the impending storm was only just beginning was a massive kick in the balls. This is the life!
I shiver in my sleeping bag, wearing every piece of clothing I have, for at least an hour while I discuss with Mr. Indie which direction to hike. We decide south (the wrong direction) and hike over 20 miles (in the rain) back to Stevens Pass.
It was just one of the times the PCT showed me who was boss. Find out more in, Denied By The Pacific Crest Trail (Three Times)
Hey, let's hike from Mexico to Canada, that sounds fun, right? No. What kind of delusional fantasy world are you living in?
My spirits on day one quickly faded as I realized just what the hell I was getting myself into. My goal of hitting twenty miles (something I had never done before and did not accomplish again until day five) was a bit ambitious (dumb), and it wasn't until after fourteen hours of hiking that I finally pitched my tent at my day's destination.
I thought that I would wake up literally not being able to move the next morning – everything hurt (yes, everything).
Read the whole story in: Day 1: What The Hell Am I Doing?
Having taken my first zero day, and feeling a bit guilty about it (a rookie thru-hiker mistake), I decided to put in big miles hiking out of Idyllwild and make it all the way to my next resupply at Ziggy and The Bear's in Cabazon – only thirty miles away (five miles longer than my previous day).
The last ten miles were all downhill or flat according to the elevation profile, so how bad could it be? Answer: really bad.
At 20:00 I hit the 200-mile marker as the sun set behind the mountains and I resolved to finish hiking the remaining ten miles before stopping for the night. Long story short, it was a terrible decision and this quickly became my least favorite day on trail (replacing Day One).
Read more about The New Worst Day.
LEAVING SOUTH LAKE TAHOE
Rumor on the trail is that most people bail on their through hikes somewhere in Northern California.
This due to the fact that the excitement of the desert (the beginning) and the majesty of the Sierra quickly give way to the monotony of Northern California as hikers realize they aren't even halfway to their destination.
I left South Lake Tahoe alone after meeting up with friends from the Bay Area, and for three days I was by myself, unaware of whether my trail family had pressed on without me or was lagging somewhere behind. Those three days were incredibly difficult for me to get through, and not seeing a single thru-hiker began to weigh heavily on my spirits.
I guess maybe I like people more than I thought (or I just really hate camping alone – I do).
SOUNDS AT NIGHT
Sure, this may not be a specific moment, but no matter how many nights I spent camping alone on the PCT, I couldn't shake the irrational thoughts brought on by the darkness (tonight's the night I die).
Unidentifiable noises in the night were all clearly death coming to grip me in my sleep, and the fact that my sleeping bag managed to remain unsoiled is nothing short of a miracle. It was incredibly rare that I slept through the night, and even when I splurged on a room in town, I still managed to wake up on a regular basis throughout the night (the evils of the trail will haunt me forever).
Each time I woke up it was with a jolt of adrenaline, and how I ever managed to get back to sleep will forever be a mystery.
GETTING LOST IN THE DESERT
There comes a time on the PCT when you can just feel which way the trail is going. You develop a sort of super-human trail-following/finding intuition. Unfortunately, said time during my own PCT endeavor did not come early enough for the desert to be so easily navigated.
Somewhere around mile 250 I wandered off the trail (missing a fork up a hill) and continued following (what I thought was the trail) for around three hours. When I finally encounter my objectively “not the trail” moment, I realized (admitted) my mistake and backtracked to the PCT (luckily I followed a dry riverbed to make for easy navigation).
Short on water and motivation, I made some Mac and Cheese and felt sorry for myself at an abandoned cabin until the sun went down and it was time for me to be afraid of the dark once more.
Three ways exist to get from VVR back to the Pacific Crest Trail: the Bear Ridge Trail to the south, Goodall Pass (I think that's it) to the north, and a ferry across the lake (Lake Edison) followed by yet another trail back to the PCT.
I opted to take the ferry route, and due to 2013 being an incredibly dry year, the lake was far below its average capacity. I arrived on the other side alone, was told “just walk until you find a bear box”, and so I did. However, I found the wrong bear box.
Not being able to find the trail back to the PCT, I decided to begin an easterly bushwhack until found the (a?) trail (because I knew it was somewhere in that direction). Note: this decision came after almost an hour of frustrated searching.
Eventually I found the PCT and all was grand, but at my first stop for water, my filter (a SteriPEN Ultra) decided to stop working. I proceeded to climb up Silver Pass (my belly now full of giardia) where, following the high of my double zero at VVR and the chance encounter with a SOBO friend on the JMT, I proceeded to plummet into a depression.
I sat atop the pass and took a video of myself whining about the trail (which may or may not be shared with the internets one day). Luckily it was a beautiful day, and the view was incredible so I eventually managed to pick myself up and keep walking (like I had another choice).
DROPPING MY SOLAR CHARGER
So my solar charger decided to jump off my pack whilst hiking through Northern California.
This may not sound like a big deal but said charger (which admittedly, was badly attached to my pack) also contained a portable speaker, micro USB cord, and USB power adapter. This coming just days after I left my trekking poles in a hitch's car at Sonora Pass.
So what did I do? I backtracked three miles (mostly downhill) until finally finding it laying just off trail (and after passing two other hikers who failed to see it). Needless to say, the three miles back to my original endpoint were not at all enjoyable.
I'm getting off-trail.
BASICALLY ANY TIME IT RAINED
Quite simple really: the rain sucks.
Once I started hitting rain (thankfully this was not until Northern California) I began to hate the trail. In truth, hiking in the rain wasn't that bad. It was taking breaks in the rain, or setting up/breaking down camp in the rain, that was truly terrible.
I would happily take a sunny (cloudy?) day of steep and rocky climbing over the rain any day.
Perhaps this means that the Appalachian Trail will remain absent from my to-do list.