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Day 85-89: Lightweight and Inexpensive Backpacking Gear

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Our lightweight packs greatly assist us in walking 20 miles per day on the Pacific Crest Trail. In this post, amidst our normal daily highlights, we also describe some of the gear that helps us travel light.

Day 85: Zero in Sierra City

Shutterbug picked up his new shoes in Sierra City. We have been wearing running shoes for our entire PCT hike. When your pack is light, running or trail running shoes have several advantages over traditional hiking boots: 1) running shoes are very light, often half the weight of hiking boots 2) running shoes are more breathable and less sweaty in the heat 3) running shoes dry out more quickly if you have to ford a creek, and 4) many people already own running shoes so no new purchase is necessary. We have been very happy with our running shoes on this trip, with only two blisters each in over 1200 miles.

After picking up the new shoes, we spent the rest of the day doing town chores and resting North Star’s shin.

Day 86: Sierra City (Mile 1197.5)-Near Spencer Lakes (Mile 1218) + 1.5 miles off trail; 22 miles

Back on the trail, we immediately began a 3000 foot climb. The lower elevation portion was completely forested and shady, while the higher part was rocky and exposed.

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Even though we took a rest day yesterday, North Star’s shin pain flared up on the ascent. Luckily at our lunch break the spring water was icy cold, so we filled up a water bladder and used it as an ice pack.

We made a huge pot of oatmeal for lunch. We cook with the Caldera Ti-tri cooking system from Trail Designs because it is more fuel efficient than other similar setups. This system includes a stove and a custom-sized titanium windscreen to fit our titanium pot. The stove is made from an aluminum pop can and is extremely light, about half an ounce.

First, we pour denatured alcohol into the center cavity of the stove and trickle a little extra on the lip.

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Then, we light the fuel on the lip and place the wind screen around the stove. The fuel on the lip ignites the rest of the fuel.

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Next, we nest the pot, filled with water, into the windscreen, which doubles as a pot stand. The water soon boils and we eat a hot, tasty meal on the trail.

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After “icing” at lunch, North Star’s shin felt a bit better so we continued onward. We enjoyed some great views of lakes and rock from above. The peaks weren’t as dramatic as before, but they were still lovely. Then near the end of the day, while looking around the forest, Shutterbug noticed a tiny chipmunk head pop out of a hole in a tree. As we watched, three more chipmunks began playing peekaboo with us!

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Day 87: Near Spencer Lakes (Mile 1218)-Chimney Rock (Mile 1239.5); 21.5 miles

North Star’s shins were worst in the morning, but got a bit better after a few stops at cold creeks.

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Once the shins were under control, the day was pleasant. We enjoyed fairly uneventful walking through the forest, listening to birds call and trees creak in the wind, and watching butterflies drinking nectar from flowers.

Late in the day, we came across some very unexpected trail magic. John, Natalie, and Jason served us grilled cheese, cold sodas, fruit juice, and roasted peppers and brussel sprouts. We really appreciated all of it, and the roasted vegetables were a great touch.

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We found a forested flat place to camp for the night and unpacked our gear. In order to keep the contents of our packs dry from rain, deep creek crossings, or leaking water bladders, we line our backpacks with trash compactor bags. These bags are lightweight, cheap, and surprisingly sturdy — stronger than normal trash bags. Due to dry conditions, we haven’t often needed them yet, but come Oregon and Washington they will keep our possessions dry.

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Day 88: Chimney Rock (Mile 1239.5)-Near Lookout Rock (Mile 1262); 22.5 miles

The morning’s 11 miles were almost all downhill, 3000 feet worth. We started walking in pine forest, then oak and bay trees, and finally entered greener and denser vegetation.

At the bottom we reached the middle fork of the Feather River, which was large and flowing well. We even hopped in!

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In the afternoon we mirrored the morning’s walk, climbing 3000 feet back up the other side of the canyon.

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Along the way there were several great waterfalls and springs, which provided some really tasty cold water to drink.

Speaking of drinking, while preparing for the PCT, we tried a number of methods for filtering water. Our favorite was the Sawyer Inline Filter because it is light, relatively inexpensive, and convenient to use. We simply spliced the Sawyer filters into the drinking hoses of our hydration bladders. Now we can stop at a creek or pond, quickly scoop up a liter or two of water, and keep going, knowing that as we drink, the filter will catch whatever bacteria might be in the water.

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At the top of the climb, near Lookout Rock, we had nice views and soon set up camp.

Today was an especially fun day, made even better because North Star’s shins were improving.

Day 89: Near Lookout Rock (Mile 1262)-Belden (Mile 1289); 27 miles

Today we had fun sharing childhood stories with each other as we walked through the forest. We also spotted leopard lilies several times. They are one of our favorite flowers.

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During most of our longer breaks Shutterbug likes to drink a flavored drink with his meal. He mixes the powdered flavor packets with filtered water in a plastic Powerade or Gatorade bottle. These bottles are strong, cheap, and much lighter than a Nalgene or Sigg bottle.

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At a mid-afternoon break, we realized that the remaining miles to town were all downhill. If we kept a steady pace without breaks, we could get to the restaurant in town before they closed at 9 PM. So off we went, descending 4000 feet to Belden. We arrived at 8:15 PM, but the hours posted online were incorrect. Luckily, the friendly bartender let us buy snacks from the adjacent convenience store, even though it was closed, and order fried foods from the restaurant menu. This wasn’t a very healthy meal, but it sure satisfied our hiker hunger!

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m enjoying so much reading your blog. Keep them coming.

    July 18, 2012
  2. Margaret #

    It was great to talk with you 2 last night! Such continuing energy, that I now hear in your voices, as well.

    July 18, 2012
    • Thanks Margaret, good talking to you too. We were glad we could connect with everyone while you were all together at the shore. Hope you had a great time.

      It’s really exciting to be out on the trail, glad that comes across!

      July 22, 2012
  3. jen #

    it’s always interesting to me to see what folks choose to take with them on backpacking trips, so I really enjoyed this post in particular! truly, I’ve enjoyed them all so far and look forward to the next entry. it’s wonderful that you find time to share your journey in photos and words with the rest of us – thank you so much!

    July 19, 2012
    • Thanks Jen, it’s our pleasure!

      There are all kinds of approaches out here on the PCT, from the ultra-lightweight to the kitchen sink. We figure whatever style works for someone, they should go for it. Still, our most common advice to people is to bring less gear and lighter gear, because that makes the walking more enjoyable.

      July 22, 2012
  4. Charles #

    I have most definitely tried to learn the smart way, i.e., listen to you two rather than the hard way when it comes to lightweight gear. Why try and reinvent the wheel when you two have done all the hard work?

    July 21, 2012
    • Good call, Charles, we are happy to help. We have noticed that the people with the heaviest packs often have the worst time on the trail. A light pack is really freeing, and the less stuff you bring, the more you can forget about gear and just enjoy the outdoors, which is really the point anyway.

      July 22, 2012
  5. Jan Alexander #

    I love seeing the spotted leopard lilies. You have mentioned them before but I don’t remember seeing a picture so close up. They are absolutely beautiful, and with the butterfly on them, it is an even more amazing picture! What fun to see your stove in action, as well as Shutterbug mixing his powdered drink and North Star drinking the filtered water. Those shots of daily life are really fun.

    You two keep making amazing progress. All those miles… It’s unbelievable how far you have come. Yippee!!!

    And what fun to see those chipmunks!!! :-)

    July 22, 2012
    • Thanks Mom! We love them too, and get excited every time we see them, usually near a creek.

      It’s fun to look back occasionally and see the ground we have covered. The numbers are getting large now! To us it seems like we are going for a long walk every day, and that’s about it, but I guess it adds up.

      The animals are really fun to watch, and keep us entertained with all their scurrying. Chipmunks are fun, and marmots are some of our favorites, but they prefer high altitudes so we won’t see them again until the Cascades. Today we watched a red-tailed hawk soar as we walked.

      July 22, 2012

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