We figure the best way to train for thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, is, surprise, surprise, to go backpacking. After checking out Salt Lake City and before heading to Fort Collins, we spent six days backpacking in Canyonlands National Park, in Utah. We covered almost the entire Needles District of the park, camping at Chesler Park 4, Elephant Canyon 1, Lost Canyon 1, Salt Creek 4, and Salt/Horse, and exploring several side trails as well.
Canyonlands is one of the few completely silent places we’ve ever been. It is amazing, and a bit unsettling, to listen intently and hear absolutely nothing – no human sounds, no natural sounds – just utter silence. In a space devoid of sound, you begin to notice your breathing and your heartbeat. In the morning, the occasional bird call echoes through the canyons, which is quite beautiful as it breaks through silence and fades back into it.
The Big Dipper between two needles
We didn’t encounter many other hikers here. For the most part, we had the massive, often otherworldly landscape all to ourselves. This added to the intensity of the experience, which was personal and powerful.
Some people jump right in and hike the PCT without training, but we plan to start the trail in good walking shape. So far most of our training has consisted of traipsing around San Francisco. Chris has begun carrying heavy photography books in his backpack on his daily walking commute. But our most enjoyable form of training is going on local hikes with friends and family. Here are some of our favorites from the past few months.
We recently hiked the Rae Lakes Loop in King’s Canyon National Park. This area is known for its stunning scenery, and it didn’t disappoint. What we saw looked a lot like Yosemite, but without the roads and people. Massive granite cliffs, lovely chilly glacial lakes, alpine meadows with wildflowers, sweet waterfalls, the whole deal. There’s nothing better than being immersed in these things for a few days.
Especially exciting for us, the 48-mile loop included a section of the PCT. It felt great to be walking on a piece of the trail we’ll be encountering in 2012 when we walk the full PCT — although when we walk this section as thru hikers in June, snow will blanket most if not all of the trail. Then, instead of walking down the trail, we’ll glissade (slide on our butts) to the bottom!
From Glen Pass
On this five-day trip we continued the process of fine-tuning our PCT gear. We learned that Hypafix tape works better than duct tape to cover hot spots on feet, because it stays in place. Half Mile’s printed maps and GPS waypoints were accurate and informative. And we debuted our 1 oz pocket kite! It was great fun to fly, and we intend to grace many mountain passes with its lovely colors in the future!
As we continue planning for the PCT, long weekend backpacking trips are proving to be a helpful way to test our new lighter weight gear. It’s not a big deal to carry a few extra ounces or pounds for a couple days, but it’s significant if we were to carry that extra weight for 2600 miles. We’re using these long weekend trips to truly figure out what we can and cannot live without. Plus, of course, we’re exploring and having a great time on whatever length trip we take!
This four day trip was a 29 mile loop near Hetchy Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park. Becky, Chris’s sister, joined us for her second ever backpacking trip. We left after work on Wednesday with the intention of camping at the Hetch Hetchy campground. However, within several miles of the campground, an NPS gate blocked the way with a sign stating “Day Use Hours 7am-9pm. Gate locked at night”. Well, that information wasn’t on the map or in the permit! So the first night we camped next to the road.
On the July 4th long weekend we took a backpacking trip from Fremont to Livermore, predominantly along the Ohlone Wilderness Trail. The hike was about 38 miles long, plus five miles of city walking.
What was really neat about this trip was that we were able to do it completely car free! We took the BART train to Fremont, hopped on the AC218 bus to Ohlone College and started hiking. The trail goes through Mission Peak Regional Preserve, Sunol Regional Wilderness, Ohlone Regional Wilderness, Del Valle Regional Park, Veterans Park, and Sycamore Grove Park. From there you could catch the 18 bus to the Livermore transit Center, but we walked a couple city miles since that bus wasn’t running on the holiday schedule. Once at the transit center we caught the Wheels 10 bus to Pleasanton BART, which then carried us a mile from our home in San Francisco. A relaxing and low-carbon way to start and end our backpacking trip. You can find many more Bay Area transit-accessible hiking trips at http://www.transitandtrails.org.
The weather was blazing hot and a good test for the desert section of the PCT. The high temperatures were 98, 101, and 97 for the three days we hiked. We learned some valuable lessons. Hiking early in the morning was the most beautiful and comfortable time of day. Next time we’ll wake up before sunrise. When doing big mileage days, we need to pack more food than usual. Mary Jane’s Instant Organic Couch Potatoes were delicious, pemmican meal bars were not. Trekking poles are awesome, even if we look a bit goofy. And most notably, we are really enjoying having lighter gear.