Archive for June, 2011

Tehachapi – Trail Pass, CA, mile 558 – 744

The past days were record breaking for us thus far since the border. We had the longest section of consecutive hiking 10 days 186 miles (300 km) and also the longest time without shower or laundry. We experienced the two hottest days in the high 80sF maybe 90F (28-29⁰C). We had the longest stretch without water. Further north of the dry desert area, we had our first real swim in the South Fork Kern River. This section we carried nine days worth of food and with all the water we were also carrying, our packs were the heaviest since the border. Being on the edge of the Mojave desert, against the high Sierra mountains and having the coastal/maritime influences, the Tehachapi mountains were an ecotone, an area of high diversity especially where geological rock types changed. Justin collected the most plant samples during one day and at the end of this section his plant press was bulging of hundreds of plants to be identified. We encountered three rattlesnakes in three days (six in total). With the full moon last week, I saw my first scorpion, a big black one walking towards us in the sand while we had cooked dinner on the campfire. Without seeing one ourselves, we sensed most bear presence in tracks and other people’s stories. In the High Sierras just before Trail Pass, we climbed at our highest point so far at 10,650 feet (3246m) onto a ridge overlooking Owen’s valley. The valley used to have a lot of water from all the snowmelt running down its foothills, but with the aquaduct made for the Los Angeles sprawl, the valley is now a much drier land with white and pink salt residue. Our pine tree count is now up to eleven including the species Foxtail – Pinus balfouriana. We reached furthest north now having hiked 744 miles (1197 km) in total.

Trail Angels

The past two weeks, we got a lot of help from ‘trail angels’. A local named Mary maintains two important water caches with many gallons of water there in the dry desert. One Saturday evening, we made it to a food feast organized by other trail angels who offered us food on the trails at Walker Pass. After a full day of hiking and botanizing, we rolled in latest that day, pizzas had already vanished, but fresh apricots were still there. Around 30 other PCT-hikers were there and we experienced our biggest trail angel event. Here, we were interviewed by Virgo, who is making a documentary on trail angels. We had a mind-blowingly lucky hitch from a remote dirt road with Butch in his Chevy truck from 1964 (from Piute mnt rd at mile 611) to a town called Lake Isabella 35 miles from the trail and we were even more lucky to catch a ride all the way back to the trailhead with Chad who detoured 50 miles for us. In Lake Isabella, we were just in time to be able to get our two (!) food drops from the post office before they closed (they actually waited ten minutes for us after closing time). We spent a morning and afternoon in a relaxing offgrid hiker hamlet called Kennedy Meadows with 40-50 hikers eating, packing their boxes with snow gear, using the internet in one of trail angel Tom’s trailers, praying for the snow to melt in the upcoming High Sierra, amongst lavish portions of beer, Ben & Jerry’s and bratwurst. We have also been blessed by the trail angels offering us their places to stay. Where we wrote you last time, at the Regen COOP in Pomona where we worked for 4 days. Another night we spent at Jerry’s place in Independence where we listened to the best Jazz music this side of the Sierras, drank amazing Scottish whiskey, and ate Rainbow trout from Lake Sabrina freshly caught by Jerry. Lastly, at Ron Parson’s Granlibakken in Tahoe City, we were welcomed with a three-course dinner, an enormously big executive lodge, hot tub and breakfast buffet.

Snow challenge

The mountains experienced roughly 200% of average annual snowpack this past winter. In the exec lodge, we spent the better part of yesterday with logistics and planning in order to avoid the areas that are still covered by snow as it is hard to botanize when the plants are buried beneath a blanket of snow. We would love to share more details of all the stories if we had the time, but our reality now is that we need to prepare our next steps and drive further north to find some lower and snow free elevations to hike. An additional complexity is that next week I will need to work in Portland (a 9-hour drive from the trails) for the Sustainable Food Lab summit. What to do now…? Well, we arrived in Mount Shasta with friends Julian and Kristen, shared a healthy homemade dinner together. We will leave the car here and get a ride back south in order to start hiking north from a little town called Burney for the coming week. So, hiking consecutively had been a bliss, not to deal with juggling all these logistic nightmares in towns – we sometimes wonder ‘what happened to just hiking?! The good fortune we experienced in southern California with respect to the long cool Spring has become our challenge in central and northern California.

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Agua Dulce, mile 455

Leaving Wrightwood we reached Agua Dulce four 20+miles long and wonderful hiking days later covering a total distance of about 90 miles. The first very cold morning we climbed Mt. Baden-Powell (named after Chief Scout of the World) with an elevation of 9,407 feet (2,867 m). We wore our full regale with everything we have with us through the snow and the northern winds. The beauty of the Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) touched me, as they find their full potential living on those cold windy ridges. From that height we came down the ridge and proceeded to crisscross Hwy 2 around eight times in total.

Within less than 25 miles, and dropping from over 9000 feet to under 5000 we saw 8 out of the 9 total pine species we have seen since the border.  This tops the diversity of pines seen around Idyllwild.   And Justin, the pine cone collector carried a total of four cones by the end including a giant Coulter pine, the largest we’ve ever seen which weighs about 5 pounds at least.  There was a lot of confusion this stretch about the trail markings for detours or rerouting sections. There was a fire in 2009 and most of the trail only recently opened up for PCT hikers. Another section was closed to protect habitat for the endangered mountain yellow legged frog.  Due to all of the confusion, the day we came down off Baden Powell (our longest day yet) we also walked an unintentional extra couple of miles on an alternate route, before realizing what we had done and backtracked.  Other friends of ours were not so lucky and ended up doing the full 18 mile detour, adding an additional 10 miles onto their route to Agua Dulce.

We hiked through the recent burn areas which are already full of regenerating life forms from underneath. While some of the hikers got a glum feeling about the burn, Justin helped open their eyes at least to the various regeneration strategies that the fire adapted trees, shrubs, and flowers exhibited.  Our last night was a windy one and being up on an exposed ridge we decided to continue by headlamp down hill along a steep and rocky section of trail to the North Fork Ranger Station.  We made it to their by 10pm after hiking 15 hours that day. We cowboy-camped (without our tents, just in our sleeping bags) that night.

Just before reaching Agua Dulce the next day, we hiked through the Vasquez Rocks area that is famous for its many western movies that had been shot there. Arriving in Agua Dulce, we had in one exact month (May 1-June 1) went full circle from where we started our shakedown hike early March. We spent some hours at ‘Hiker Heaven,’ a temporary annual camp set up at the home of  ‘trail angels, Donna and Jeff Saufley. We enjoyed a big dinner with our trail friends Kristen, Eurotrash and Skywalker.

Ah, trail names, we have not yet mentioned that phenomenon to you yet. So many hikers choose a trail name, I don’t know what the main reasoning is, but you hear that the hike is so transformational that you let go of your ‘old identity’.   A lot of the names are dubbed by other hikers. I have been quite resisting the trail name thing and picky. We have a list of potential trail names, but thus far have not committed to any.  Not having trail names gives us an endless source of conversation on the trail.  I don’t know what we would talk about if we didn’t have that as a daily topic of conversation.

Currently, we are in Pomona near LA at Justin’s brothers community coop living place. We are enjoying community meals, and Justin has spent two full days at the Herbarium of UC Riverside.  I have been working hard on research and interviews with Oxfam in the UK and tonight still with a scientist on watersheds in India. It is hard work in the towns, and I am looking forward to the simplicity back on the trails again. This weekend, we will return to Tehachapi skipping the 120-mile stretch we already did in March.  (some pics will be added soon)

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Rim of Africa Trail- North America’s long distance trails inspire similar in other parts of the world

I wanted to make a quick link to a project a friend of mine, Galeo Saintz, has been working on in South Africa for several years now.  This really seems like a phenomenal trail being created there in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.  I hope to one day get out there and take the seven weeks or so that it takes to hike it.  Please find out more about the ‘Rim of Africa’ Trail by clicking on the link.

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