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Backpacking Lessons Learned

My first segment on the PCT taught me a lot, but the most important was that you cannot beat the heat. My goal was Willamette Pass to McKenzie Pass, about 80 miles in 9 days. I aborted after 6 days and about 50 miles after 2 days of 90+ degree heat with thunderstorm humidity did me in. The other lesson taken away was to keep your destination schedule open, since you never know what will affect that schedule.

OK, now for a quick update on what I did accomplish. Remember, I am 61 years old, healthy, but not really in great shape and I have been living at low altitude.

First Campsite Overlooking Rosary Lakes

First Campsite Overlooking Rosary Lakes

I started off in the afternoon figuring I just needed to get a few miles under my belt to loosen up. I ended up going 5 miles and climbing 1200 vertical to end up at a fabulous overlook campsite. I felt great and was so pumped to be transitioning into this new wilderness mindset.

Willamette Pass Ski Cabin

Winter Ski Cabin

The second day I enjoyed the comfort of a really nice winter ski cabin to escape the mosquitos and reorganize a bit. I determined that I would camp at the top of the next climb which meant I had to pack more water which I secured at Bobby Lake. I put in 9 miles and more good vertical and the body was responding well. Also to my surprise I had cellular service (maybe from Waldo Lake), although sporadic, but it did allow me to let the world know I was doing OK.

Carlton Lake

Carlton Lake

Mosquito Survival Net

Mosquito Survival Net

The third day felt good, I get up early to take advantage of early morning coolness which allows you to wear longs sleeves to combat the mosquitos, but that is nothing new, just inconvenient.

Trail Maintenance Team

Trail Maintenance Team

I knocked off a number of miles and stopped at Carlton Lake to filter water and cleanup a bit. The mosquitos were getting worse and the breeze off the lake was a a welcome relief.

I was feeling good so a set a goal of another 9 mile day to get to Taylor Lake. Along the way I thanked a trail maintenance team for the work they do and travelled through maybe a 10 year old fire area.

Fire Burn Area

Fire Burn Area

Peaceful Taylor Lake

Peaceful Taylor Lake

I got to my campsite early afternoon and took advantage of relaxing by Taylor Lake enjoying the mosquito less breeze. This was the first time I realized I had pushed my body to about max, but I could tell that I was able to refresh it with rest.

Around dinner time I was joined by a couple of PCT through hikers, trail names: Ranger and Bubba Gump, which made for good conversation as I compared my PCT adventure to theirs. They may have been one of the first through hikers to reach this far north, however, they skipped the Sierras to avoid the late winter storm.

PCT Through Hikers

Ranger and Bubba Gump

They did plan to return to do the JMT.

Next day I watched the young buck through hikers leave me in the dust I again felt strong and very satisfied with how my body was responding. However, the temperature was rising and all was about to change. I pushed myself this day for 10 miles and ended up at a campsite totally depleted of energy as the heat was taking a toll on me that I still believed I could plow through. That night we had a thunderstorm which did little to reduce the temperature but it did raise the humidity. The overcast morning made for a warmer and more intense mosquito start to the day. After my initial few miles of enthusiastic trekking my body started rebelling. I was sweating a lot which I think I was replenishing with liquids, but the heat toll was greater then that. I had hoped to put in 12 miles and make it to Elk Lake Resort. However, as my body began to fail, symptoms of heat exhaustion setting in, I made the decision to stop at Dumbbell lake only half way but my only good camp option.

Therma Rest Float

Therma Rest Float

Anyways, wisdom was setting in and I knew I had to back off due to the heat and this lake looked ideal for the swimming potential. So I made camp before noon and focused the afternoon on body recovery. Floating around the lake on my Therma Rest Pad provided a wonderful way to cool down and great relaxation. However, I was now challenged to make my designated destination pickup at Lava Lake Trailhead. Unfortunately, it was still hot and more storm clouds added to the humidity.

The only remaining option which would allow me to complete the planned segment would be to put in 10 miles and summit Koosah Mountain with a difficult 1200 vertical or bailout with a 6 mile mostly downhill trail to Elk Lake Resort.

End of my Trail

End of my Trail

Well about 4 miles into the effort it was obvious that heat exhaustion was not going to allow me to accomplish the needed goal so Elk Lake it was.

Actually aborting in this way made for a fairly interesting adventure in figuring out how to get home. I hitchhiked from Elk Lake, something I have not done for 40 years. The couple that gave me a ride dropped me off at the Cascade Lake Brewery in Bend, OR. I was able to connect with an old GEOAID colleague who gave me a bed for the night. Then I took a bus shuttle to Gresham, OR, where I caught the MAX light rail train to Hillsboro. All in all, it was a wonderful first phase of the adventure. Backpacking is tough, but the rewards of experiencing God’s earthly beauty justify the effort. I’m ready to hit the trail again in a week after this heat wave subsides.

Backpacking Tomorrow – Yes

The backpack is loaded and I am ready to go. Tomorrow I will kickoff my first segment at Willamette Pass on highway 58 just East of Eugene, OR, where I will head north on the Pacific Crest Trail for 75 miles to McKenzie Pass. This is actually Halfmile’s Oregon Section E Map, by the way, I’m excited to try out the Halfmile PCT iPhone GPS App. This segment will take me through the 3 Sisters Wilderness area and should be a good warmup. I am giving myself 8 days which should not be difficult even by not being in backpacking shape. This is a great trip with plenty of lakes, moderate vertical changes, some lava fields, lots of beautiful mountains and hopefully plenty of wildflowers with limited mosquitos.

My pack fully loaded including max water is 41 pounds. A little heavy but I know that I can cut out 3 or 4 pounds of water for the first half of the segment. I might need all of the water plus an additional water bag toward the end depending on the availability of stream water. The food weighs about 7 pounds and will only get lighter as it is consumed. Heat is going to be a concern. Temperatures on the trail will reach close to 90 on many of the days. The heat will allow me to use a lightweight sleeping bag and go light on cloths but hiking will need to be done early in the day with siestas for the afternoon.

I believe I have taken care of all the backpacking prep. REI was heavily utilized to provide me with the most efficient backpack and gear possible. Mentally I and totally psyched, I mean I can’t wait to immerse myself into the wilderness. My friends and family are concerned that I am going alone and they have pushed hard for me to consider a satellite phone or beacon. But no, I am not worried about this segment, by PCT backpacking challenge, this will be pretty easy. Sure I may injure myself but I will survive, there will be other hikers who will hear my whistle for help.

South Sister

Should be my campsite on Day 6 – South Sister

The greater challenge that I have transitioned through is mental acceptance that I am actually doing this. Thoughts of shouldn’t I be working or what about other professional opportunities that have crept into my head, but I think I have them cleared away. Yes I am going to take a few days in-between the next segment to launch my consulting career with Willamette View, but everything has worked out to make me believe that I am truly supposed to be doing this. I do believe that there is some greater understanding that I will gain from it.

I don’t know what that might be but I can’t wait to reevaluate life after coming out of the wilderness in a few months. I know that what ever I will do, I will do it better for having this experience. I love that confidence that I know God has planted in me.

Into the Wild

I have resigned as CIO of Missouri University of Science & Technology with an exit date planned for the end of May. I will be Returning to Oregon thanks to my wife’s new employment there. For the last few months I dabbled with other CIO opportunities but I’m not sure my heart was totally into it. I kept telling myself I would still consider trying to change higher education but I am really thankful that higher education is not quite ready for change. You see, I have the option to take some time off and make some dreams come true. For the second half of this year I hope to spend significant time backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and Washington.

I will use this blog to expand more upon my career transition and the new adventures awaiting me in the wilderness. I may very well return to Higher Education someday but for now it will be Higher Elevation.

Into the Wild

1971 National Geographic Article on the PCT

National Geographic

National Geographic June 1971

My wife was visiting friends of ours in Oregon, mentioning to them that I was interested in backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail, PCT. They quickly went down to their basement to return with the June 1971 edition of National Geographic that has a story on the Pacific Crest Trail. This is fascinating for many reason, the opportunity to read about their impression of the PCT in 1971 and the side benefit of being reminded by the magazines ads as to what was popular then. I loved Bell Telephones ad about providing emergency phones on a desolate stretch of Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. However, the real treat was the article.

In 1971 the PCT was only about two-thirds complete as it had only been fully commissioned in 1968 (Public Law 90-543) in the establishment of a “National Trail System”. On October 16, 1970, Eric Ryback, an 18-year-old student, completed the first PCT thru-hike which probably stimulated the article. The writers definitely spent some time on the PCT and did realize the awesome gift that was being created for the outdoor enthusiasts.

The article itself allocated a lot of focus on the environmental pressures of the time such as the threat from smog in the LA basin or the over use of the PCT due to improved accessibility. So from a comparison 44 years later it is encouraging to know that the high ozone levels in the San Bernardino mountains did not kill all the trees and that wilderness use management has done a good job protecting the natural beauty of the PCT. Forest fires were of great concern back then as well. Significant credit was given to John Muir for educating our country about the value of this wilderness. And various mountaineers were recognized for helping to chart this trail. This was a treasure of a gift from the Chegwyn’s of McMinnville, OR.

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