Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Gift of Nature

Genesis 1:1-2 Read it yourself

In the beginning God...

He was there before the beginning. In order for there to be a beginning God had to be there. Without God being there in the beginning the beginning would have never happened. Proponents of the Big Bang theory talk about how the universe was once compressed down to a point of singularity. Then it blew up into everything we can observe. They propose that you don't need God for this theory. What they overlook is that there was a singularity. If there was a singularity then there already was something created, which means it isn't the beginning.

... created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Here we have a beginning, we have heavens and earth, without form, without substance, without light. When I think of water I think of liquidity, I think of Brownian motion, I think of Chaos theory which attempts to create formulas to calculate outside of the boundaries of linear equations. Liquid is the densest form of matter. In the beginning we have God creating the heavens and the earth and they are formless, empty, and dark, perhaps not unlike the singularity described by the theorists.

The Spirit of God hovered. Above and separate from. The universe is not divine or part of God. God is not nature. Nature is not God. Nature is, as Saint Francis of Assisi said, our sister, not our mother. This is a significant point of differentiation of Christianity from modern, semi-pagan, secularism which places man as an usurper to the throne of Mother nature. The secularists would make man subservient to the needs of nature. Christianity defines mankind as a conservator, a steward. We ought to care for nature because that is the divine injunction given to man.

You will not find God in Nature, but you certainly can observe his handiwork. An artist takes media and provides his or her creativity and inspiration to produce something that expresses to others what the artist is experiencing within. Nature is Gods expression to us. A place where we live. The beauty of Nature is given to us as a gift. Beauty without a beholder is meaningless. Beauty expresses value and worth. Saint Francis, an artist with words, was moved by his observation of nature to write the Canticle of the Creatures in 1225

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honor, and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no human is worthy to mention Your name.
Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.
- Saint Francis of Assisi

Sunday, December 22, 2013

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

For many years I have used the same gear and have grown comfortable with how it works, its features, and its limitations. Not unlike other parts of my life, things grow comfortable, normal, and routine. My friend Al uses the phrase "culture settles fast" to describe group dynamics, but I find the phrase to be true in many areas of my life. I like routine and normal, I cultivate habits and practice routines, doing things the same way over and over until I no longer have to spend much mental energy doing things, I can focus on thinking about other things while living in routine.

One of the big downsides of living in routine is that you miss the NEW. You become blind to things outside of your own comfort zone. I think that was one of the things that frustrated Jesus in his interactions with the Pharisees. The had got so used to their religious routines that when something outside of their paradigm, like the Messiah they had been waiting for, showing up into their lives, they couldn't see or hear him.

I find it to be a healthy practice to periodically go back and question my assumptions and re-visit those decisions that I have previously made. With these thoughts in mind I began to research my shelter. For a number of years I have used a bivy sack and a tarp when I am soloing. The combined weight of my bivy sack and tarp is 15.3 ounces. This was significantly lighter than the 22.7 ounce two-person Henry Shires Tarp Tent (Squall) that I used if I was sharing a shelter.

There were four downsides to my shelter;
  1. It was more difficult to get into and out of, 
  2. The bug netting on my bivy sack is up-close and personal, like right in your face. The bug-free zone is quite small and confining. 
  3. The tarp works great but takes some practice to get it setup properly, especially in windy conditions. 
  4. This combination also requires a warmer sleeping bag in that there is quite a bit of air movement underneath the tarp and the bivy sack sits in contact with my sleeping bag, leaving no insulation value. When I used the two-person tarp tent I was amazed at how much warmer it is "inside" even though the only wall is gossamer-thin mosquito netting. It slowed the air movement considerably so I experienced a warmer temperature within the tarp tent than with a tarp alone.

Based on those downsides I wanted to find something that was 1) lighter than I have with my bivy / tarp combo, 2) would give me more bug-free zone, and 3) would be warmer. In October 2013 settled on the Zpacks Hexamid Solo Tent without the beak. The tent has a wrap-around bug net that goes underneath you and your gear and you put your groundsheet inside and on top.

This caused me to re-evaluate and weigh my current groundsheet which is an old piece of house wrap. It weighs a mere 5.2 ounces. Zpacks sells a Cuben fiber groundsheet the comes in at 2.7 ounces. Wow, If I bought the groundsheet I could save another 2.5 ounces.

I got my tent in November and set it up on my lawn. I found that it easily met all of the criteria I had set out to accomplish and at 12.8 ounces for both groundsheet and tent would save me about 7.7 ounces.

All was good until early December when I began the same re-evaluation of my sleeping bag. I have been using the same bag now for over ten years. I know it well, I have been pleased with it's performance and it's still clean and in excellent condition. I have a Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 bag which weighs a mere 23 ounces. Way less than most bags you'll find at REI. In my research I came across's Ultralight sleeping bag review. I saw that ZPacks's 20 degree bag was rated as the warmest bag for it's weight.

Not only was it the warmest for it's weight, it weighs less than the bag I have now. I began thinking, this is a twenty degree bag, I have a thirty-two degree bag. I recalled that when I had originally bought my bag I went from a zero degree bag to a thirty-two degree bag. I recalled the fear I had of freezing to death in the mountains because my bag wouldn't be warm enough. In the many, many cold nights in the mountains since then there have only been a few times where my bag wasn't warm enough. One time I was cold enough that I pulled out my emergency "space" blanket, tucked it under the side of my bag, and draped it over the top of me. I found that I was instantly warm.

Since then I have added a 3.8 ounce Cocoon mummy liner to my sleep setup. My purpose was to provide a barrier between my typically filthy body and my difficult to wash sleeping bag. I found that not only did my sleeping bag stay cleaner, but I gained a few degrees of warmth to my sleep system.

With the mummy liner, the warmth of a tent, and the insurance of my "space" blanket, I feel I no longer need a thirty-two degree bag. So the idea of a twenty-two degree bag, even though lighter, didn't make sense to me. I found that ZPacks makes a 40 degree bag that would be much more along the lines of what I need. Not only is it lighter than the 20 degree bag, It is almost 11 ounces lighter than my bag.

Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I found myself falling into more and more weight savings with every turn. I started with questioning my shelter and now I am questioning my bag. Where will the madness end?

Well, not yet because as I looked at this new bag I found that it had continuous baffles, meaning I could shift all of the down to one side of the bag. The point is that down is not that great of an insulator if your are crushing it underneath your body weight. I have known this for years and because of this switched from a Therm-A-Rest inflatable mattress to a Z-Rest closed-cell foam mattress. The r-value (insulation value of the Z-Rest is 2.6 which was much better than the inflatable one I had. Well, wouldn't you know it, those clever folk at Therm-A-Rest have come up with a new NeoAir XLite mattress that is lighter than my ZRest and has a higher r-value to boot. I could increase the warmth and comfort of my sleeping pad and save 2.4 ounces at the same time.

So, I decided to get the 40 degree bag. While visiting ZPacks website I found that they had just introduced a new tent. This tent has a sown-in floor of Cuben fiber and a killer design with a door that closes down to provide bomber rain protection. After lying in the Hexamid I had purchased without the beak I could easily see that the suggestions on the website of shifting positions under the tape during the rain would be given and that even though the tent is well ventilated it would provide minimal warmth because the front was so open. So even though the Solplex is a little heavier, the better rain protection and warmth it will provide is more than worth it. I emailed Zpacks about the tent I already had and the one that I would rather have and they were happy to exchange it. What a great company.

So now I will have a tent with a sown in floor. I began thinking how dirty tent floors get when you set them directly on the ground. So I went back to researching groundsheets and discovered that something called cross linked polyolefin has become the bellwether lightweight material for groundsheets. Some have even used this material to make a tarp! That is still outside my comfort level but I was intrigued about using it for a groundsheet. I went to my local Home Depot and didn't find the window insulation kit that the guys on the forum were talking about. I then went to Lowes and success! I was able to pickup a Frost King V75 window kit with a 62" X 210" piece of cross linked polyolefin in it. I cut it in half both ways and now I have four 31" X 105" groundsheets. So now I have a groundsheet that weighs 1.4 ounces.

Here's a table showing the weights of each of gear item:

Before After
Sleeping bag 23.1 12.3
Shelter 15.3 14.6
Groundsheet 5.2 1.4
Sleeping Pad 10.4 8

54 36.3

17.7 ounces of weight cut from my base weight

It is funny to me that I have cut 17.7 ounces from my base weight by going through this process. I remember doing this the last time and was sure I had gotten my weight to the lightest I could get it. Now I have improved my warmth and, increased my bug-free zone, and reduced my base weight all at the same time. Normally the first two will always increase the last one.

This is just the most recent example of how challenging my assumptions has led me to a better place. In this case it means not having to carry around over a pound of extra weight that would be keeping me less warm and comfortable than I will now be.

Snowshoeing for newbies

I went snowshoeing yesterday for the first time in about forty years. Bayside Adventure Sports had a trip planned to Mt Judah and Donner Peak that I attended. What a great way to meet other people with a love for mountains! It was a lot of fun to be one of a group of people that shared a common interest and were going the same place together.
I took my brand-new bright yellow MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes and broke them in. The paint on the bottom edges is actually scratched and chipped! I think the tops are scratched too, especially in the front. I kept stepping on the front while taking a step. I learned that this is something you want to avoid doing unless you like planting your face into the snow.I definitely need more practice. I think perhaps walking more bow-legged like a cowboy might make the tripping less frequent. I wore my lightweight trail running shoes. I found that snowshoes and trail running shoes are a workable combination. I like the freedom I felt in my ankles not being rigidly strapped into a thick snow boot.

There wasn't much snow so the first part of our trip was a hike in somewhat snowy forest. I had my snowshoes strapped to my pack. I thought it looked pretty cool having them on my pack. They are supposedly 'ultralight' at roughly 2 pounds each. That is more weight than my tent and sleeping bag combined. Other than the weight, I really liked having them for traveling in the snow. It remains to be seen as to whether or not they make it on my JMT or PCT trips. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Planning for the John Muir Trail in 2014

The John Muir Trail starts in Yosemite Valley and ends at the top of Mt Whitney. I have only ever hiked about  ten miles of its two hundred eleven mile length. That hardly qualifies as a John Muir trail hike, so for all intents and purposes I haven't hike it, yet. I am thinking that this might be a fun trip this summer. It looks like I might not be the only one who thinks so as you have to make reservations in advance.

One of the challenges of this thru-hike is how to get to and from the ends of it. It's like a smaller version of the full PCT hike. I will include a resupply or two in the middle to experience that and I will be hiking in the opposite direction of most of the PCT hikers so perhaps I'll meet a few of them.

I am wondering if planning for a twenty-one miles-a-day pace might be too optimistic. It is all above eight-thousand feet with strenuous climbing up and down passes that are over ten thousand feet. Mount Whitney is over fourteen thousand feet. I figure it is only a plan, and I think it is a plan with an aggressive schedule. The worst case is that I end up hiking slower than I want to. It just seems to me that the middle of summer has around sixteen hours of daylight which seems like plenty of time to hike twenty-one miles. My plan calls for me to do the whole hike from Yosemite Valley to Whitney Portal in eleven days. Currently I have a single resupply planned for Vermillion Valley Resort with a short 'rest' day planned for that day.

What I don't know about is the snow conditions and the snow-melt conditions. According to those that have been there, the crossings of some of the creeks and passes can be quite challenging in the earlier part of the season. That being said, a later date is probably a safer bet than an earlier date. However the earlier date will allow me to experience a typical PCT thru-hiker's conditions. That is if any particular year could be considered 'typical'. I am leaning toward the earlier date as it seems that it'll be more challenging than the later. I am thinking and planning all of this now because the reservation process. I can reserve my permit one hundred and sixty eight days in advance which means January for a July trip and February for an August trip.

Logistics is another challenge. Since it's a thru-hike, when I finish I won't be anywhere near where I started. So how will I get to the starting trail-head and get home from the finish trail-head? I will have some shuttling to do unless someone were to drive me to and from the start and finish. I really don't anticipate having any volunteers to drive the four hours to my drop-off point and the six hours to my pick-up point. Even if my wife wanted to do that, I don't know if I want her to have to drive all that time, both trips being round-trips.

I think driving a vehicle to Lone Pine and then riding the buses to Yosemite Valley is what I am going to do. In order to hit the bus-stops at the right time I think I am going to over-night in Mammoth Lakes. I will end up in Yosemite Valley around noon, which means I probably want to arrive the day before I start hiking. I can stay in the hiker camp that first night for free. After I pickup my permit I might have a little time to do some sight-seeing in Yosemite Valley, which is an awesome place to see the sights. All-in-all this should turn out to be quite an adventure.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My why, Why I am planning on hiking 2600+ miles - Part 3

There are two sure things in life - death and taxes, neither of which is natural or normal, regardless of our attempts to deal with them and accept them. Especially the first, it stares at us with it's hollow eyes from every dark corner. On sunny days and when we are with others in a jovial mood we can pretty much ignore the leering skull under the black hood standing in the shadows... waiting. But you can't escape the reality that someday death comes for you.

Tragedy struck my life again in 2010. The scythe swiped through my life and separated me from my friend Bruce. We met in 1994. I was in my early thirties and showed up at his church with my young family. Bruce was a pastor. We began meeting for lunch and for whatever reason, he was drawn to me, and I to him.

I thought perhaps he needed someone to help out with the youth program or something. Perhaps he did, but he never vocalized it, or if he did, I said no, and that was that. Our relationship blossomed into a heart-to-heart friendship not unlike the one described in the Bible between David and Jonathan. We spent years having the same types of discussions about the Bible and theology that I had with my dad. Bruce was there for me when my dad died, and I was there for him when he lost his mom.

There are times in my life that I have experienced a "transcendent moment", an instant in time that I felt like I never wanted this moment to end. Bruce and I shared a lot of those moments. Bruce was a simple guy and liked simple explanations. He liked specific things and didn't like other things. Once his mind was made up, it was almost impossible for him to change it. There were just a few times where I was able to change his mind. The fascinating thing was that once his mind was changed he was just as dedicated to his new position as he once held his old.

The tragedy of Bruce's life is the opposite of my dads. Bruce's memorial was attended by large numbers of people, all of which seemed to remember moments like mine. He had a large number of "close" friends. In my mind I thought they all had a similar understanding of Bruce's theology that I had come to know. However, once Bruce was gone, suddenly everyone had a different understanding of what he was about. It's a sad fact that the apparent 'band of brothers' that Bruce had gathered around him were neither a band, nor brothers and quickly went off in their own directions.

With that being said it is remarkable that Jesus' followers not only remained together, but built one of the worlds greatest religions. Something that demonstrates to me not only the strength of Jesus' words and life, but the veracity of the claims of his disciples that He was the divine Son of God. Otherwise, none of us would have ever heard of him. They, like Bruce's "friends", would have wandered off into obscurity and anonymity.

Like I started to say earlier, the tragedy of Bruce's life was opposite my dads in the sense that a great number of people experienced a profound loss on his passing. But very few would agree on exactly what it was that made Bruce so special. For myself, I can only say that I am the person I am today because of the profound impact that Christ had upon my life through my friendship with Bruce. He lived his life in the presence of his creator. He lived in the conscious expectation that God would judge his every action and word.

At the same time that Christ was leading and drawing me through my friendship with Bruce there are a few people who were more interested in being an FOB (Friend of Bruce) than being a FOC (Follower of Christ). They have adopted some kind of weird antinomian libertine lifestyle based on a philosophy of "If it doesn't feel good, don't do it" that they would attribute to something Bruce said. It is fascinating to me how different people can be so differently affected by one person's life.
My life journey has a character metaphorically similar to what I see when I think about the PCT. Just as the PCT passes through a number of breathtakingly beautiful places in a seemingly accidental way, in reality it is a planned, furrowed, specifically defined track that you are either on or you are not. It is deliberate in its apparent randomness.

From a distance my life may look like a accidental meandering journey with starts and stops and unpredictable switchbacks and turns. For me, as I live in real-time, it feels like I am being driven or guided or compelled. I feel as though I am living in a story with an origin in the mind of someone outside of myself. That the journey I am taking and the path I am on is in a script where I have a part to play and I cannot decide to not play my part without denying the person that I am becoming. There is a deep sense of purpose and reason in my desire to hike the PCT. In order to be true to the person I am becoming, my path lies squarely down the track of the PCT.

The purpose of this journal is to provide to the reader my thoughts and feelings as I take this journey. The reader I have in mind as I write is first of all my future self, and secondly those who want to know me, and finally those who want to know what is like to plan and hike the PCT. It is also my intent and purpose to point you subtly toward the author of my life that you might experience life as I do.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My why, Why I am planning on hiking 2600+ miles - Part 2

Dad died in 1998. I had heard of tragedy prior to then, but had never really experienced personal tragedy. In theater, drama, movies, and good stories, there are two basic story lines; comedy, where the hero wins and "everyone lives happily ever after" and tragedy where the forces of antagonism win. In 1998 I felt real tragedy in real life.

My dad was one of my heros. He was misunderstood by most, an enigmatic character in a story that played out in fifty eight short years. Raised in poverty in the Central Valley of California his mom was a migrant worker who worked in tomato packing plant. His dad was an alcoholic who caused caused him so much pain that we rarely heard about him. He would show up every year or two and dad would pack the three of us kids and my mom into the car and we would go the the Chinese food resturant for dinner with grandpa. I would eat jumbo prawns and fried rice while watching the big goldfish swim around in the fish tank.

I knew my dad's parents were both Russian immigrants and that they both came to America in different ways and at different times. Grandma came with her parents and was part of a strict Christian sect called Molokans. Which apparently means "milk drinkers" in Russian. Grandpa was pretty much unknown to me, purposefully so, by my dad. He kept us three kids in the dark as to his origins or experiences as a kid. I am guessing his childhood was pretty dark as we didn't hear many stories about it, even though dad was an amazing storyteller. Dad was born and raised in San Francisco, he lived there all of his life, that is where he died.

Dad is one of my heros because in spite of the hand he was dealt, he played it well. Rather than perpetuating the "sins of his father" into his family, he always told us that Jesus was our heritage and raised a family that to this day is a pleasure to be a part of. Dad was a follower of Jesus. He wasn't much for the politics and programs of church, but his faith was deeply rooted in Christ's redeeming power to transform human lives. I believe his faith was deep because Jesus had transformed his life. Dad lived his faith without hypocrisy or fanfare. He was a real Christian in his thoughts and actions and didn't give a whit to what other people thought of him. At the same time he wasn't one of those Christians who annoyingly wear their faith on their sleeve as if they had to prove their devotion to Jesus by "winning souls" or "converting sinners".

After I was married in 1985, dad and mom would come to visit. Dad and I would get into deep and fascinating theological discussions that at times gave my mom concern that we were angry and arguing and she would come into the room and try to tone us down. She didn't realize how much fun we were both having. It is hard to find someone with whom you can disagree with agreeably and take opposing sides in a discussion without feelings being hurt or damaging the friendship. I had that with my dad and we both grew in our faith and understanding through our late night discussions.

The tragedy of 1998 is a tragedy because his story ended without many people ever getting to know his story. There are less than ten people alive today who knew him very well or who experienced any significant loss at his passing. One of the reasons for my hike is that I intend to begin blogging more so that anyone (I am thinking of Vivian and my other future grand-kids) will know me through the words I put into this journal. At the very least they will be able to judge from my words themselves as to whether their grand-dad was a man worth being a grandchild of.

Friday, November 15, 2013

My why, Why I am planning on hiking 2600+ miles - Part 1

In August of 2006 while I was solo hiking in Yosemite I wrote down a list of 'Reasons why I like backpacking' in my journal. Back then I used a primitive journal that required a pen.

In fact it was a space pen sorta like the one Jack gave Jerry Seinfeld in "The Pen" episode, "Take the pen Jerry," "I'm not taking your pen," Jack goes on to tell Jerry that it can write upside down and astronauts can use it in space. So when I saw a really small version of it, I bought for packing...

Anyway, I wrote a list that I have often pulled out and thought about. Asking myself, "Is this still true?" and so far the answer to all seven things is still true. They are especially true for a thru-hike as demanding as this one will be. So without further ado... oh wait, I also wanted to mention the other significant thing I learned on that 2006 Yosemite trip.

That was the year that the tiles around the perimeter of the pool we once had developed some calcium deposits. I went to the pool store to ask about how to clean it off, hoping for some easy, "Scale-way, remove deposits with a quick spray and wipe." Instead the guy showed me to the pumice stones and said you had to rub it off. Oh okay, how hard could that be?

Ha, about the only thing somewhat enjoyable about it is that you get to be in your pool. Except it's really hard to apply any force to the stone because of the laws of Newtonian motion, especially that pesky third law which keeps the diligent tile scrubber constantly fighting to keep himself from being pushed to the middle of the pool by his own efforts to scrub scale.

So I bought the stone, I scrubbed the tiles for most of the summer and by early August my once grand and formidable stone was but a small sliver of it's former self. It was rounded on all of the corners and small and smooth. Did you know the pumice floats? Me neither, but it does. So as I sat there on the steps of my pool admiring the beauty of the tiles and the warmth of the air I had what would prove to be one of the stupidest ideas I have ever had.

My feet had developed some pretty (that's not the right word), hefty callouses. They where rugged and ugly. They were embarrassing appendages drooping off the sides of my sandals. And worst of all, they would snag on my sheets when I slide my feet into bed.

The first thought wasn't a horribly bad thought. Like the thought to move a little closer to the edge of the top of a gravel covered ledge so you can look down the face... what a cool view that would be... what a cool feeling it would be if my feet didn't snag the sheets every night. Before I knew it, my feet were soft and tender as a baby's butt. And it was so much easier than calcium deposits on tile.

My error did not become apparent until Peeler Lake. What is this strange sensation on my heel. I got these ginormous blisters that not even a Sacajawea dollar would cover. Note to self: snag your sheets or bloody heels, choose your poison.

But this post is about the reasons why I like backpacking, and they are:
  1. It's physically demanding, requiring stamina, fortitude, and tenacity
  2. I enjoy navigating and using a map and compass, estimating time and distances
  3. I enjoy doing without, it makes me thankful for what I have
  4. I enjoy planning and executing processes, attempting to refine them and make them as efficient as possible (like how to pack my pack so that stuff goes in and comes out in the right order without a lot of digging around, or like what is the most efficient way to setup camp and cook dinner, or like how do I setup my shelter, get inside it and reasonably dry while in the middle of a storm)
  5. Changing scenery, spectacular views, wildflowers and waterfalls
  6. Sleeping outside, listening to moving water
  7. Simplify, simplify, simplify - Henry D. Thoreau
So those are my starting point, they are from a previous me. There has been a lot of distance between the me of then and the me of now, yet somethings still remain true. I will expand upon and add to that list in future posts.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why and how do you plan to walk 2600+ miles?

Proverbs 16:9

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps.(ESV)

For the last week and a half I have been putting together my plan to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail. I started by using Craigs PCT Planner and Yogi's Pacific Trail Handbook to create a first draft plan of my resupply points.

This is where my experience on my two-day sixty two mile marathon comes into usefulness. In order to plan you have to know roughly how fast you are going to hike. Since I had never hiked thirty miles in a single day before, not to mention days back to back, I didn't have a context as to what I would be capable of. Now I know what it's like and what it will feel like.

Using my pace as a starting point I began to consider the key elements of the hike. There are a couple of important drivers for the this project. (I noticed my project management experience kicking in). They are:
  1. The best time to get a ride from the Onion Vally Trailhead into Independence is on a weekend. This doesn't happen until seven hundred and eighty nine miles into the hike.
  2. You don't want to leave Kennedy Meadows any earlier than mid-June as there will be too much snow. Meaning the passes are harder to cross and the melt in the streams make the crossings harder. Also there may not be anyone in Red's Meadow. 
  3. I want to attend the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off (ADZPCTKO) that happens typically on the last weekend of April.
  4. You don't need a permit to climb Mt Whitney if you are a PCT thru-hiker and you stay to the west of the divide.
What I like about Craig's PCT Planner is that you can make changes and the dates ripple down to the end updating when you will arrive and depart the various resupply points. This is great for knowing what to ship where and when but it didn't tell me if I would be able to make it there by then and where I might camp, get water, and take a zero day.
I am planning on camping here the night
before attempting to summit Mt Whitney

So I then downloaded all of Halfmile's maps and began visualizing the route. Halfmile also has the entire PCT in GPS tracks and waypoints, which I also downloaded and opened in Google Earth (GE). Wow, what a cool setup! I could basically fly the entire route, compare the map to what it looks like in GE, and determine if my plan is realistic or not.

Same camp in Google Earth - way cool!

The reality is though, that regardless of the planning I do, the real hike is going to differ from it. There are too many unknown variables for me to be able to predict the outcome. All I can do is my best to mitigate the risks and the variables. So I planned extra days and flexibility into the plan to allow for changes so that they can be made without completely tossing out the entire plan.

In working through this exercise I have found some of my ideas were completely unrealistic. What is interesting is that when reading Yogi's book I found that some parts of the trail contain few entries, giving the impression that the distance is less than it really is. When I began to follow the maps and the route it is truly staggering how far the distance is between some of the entries.

So what's the point of the Bible verse at the beginning of the post?

I been thinking about all of the mental effort involved in putting this trip together. The reality is though, my days could end tomorrow, in which case this is my last post. Even if the summer of 2017 finally comes, the plan is irrelevant until day arrives and my feet hit the ground at the Mexican border, and even then there are a myriad of unknowable, unpredictable possibilities that are going to shape and change the plan even though I put my best efforts to it.

So why plan? Because if I don't plan it, I won't do it. I hate cliches but the one that goes "Those that fail to plan, plan to fail" could be said of me as I have never planned for anything as epic as this trip because of the fear of failing. So I didn't necessary plan to fail, but I also never dared pursue a dream big enough that failure could have a significant impact on my life.

Most people I talk to don't understand why anyone would hike from Mexico to Canada much less why anyone would want to. I will try to answer the why, at least my why in a later post... assuming I live till then.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Route and Resupply Planning

Half Mile's map of Kearsarge Pass
I did some planning for my PCT hike in 2017 today. I am using Craig's PCT Planner. I had started using this a while back when I was reading Wired's blog about her PCT trip in 2011. I could not remember my password for logging into Craig's planner. I tried every password I could think of, no success. So I tried to use the forgot my password feature and did not get any response. Finally I used the Feedback feature and emailed Craig giving my name and login (which I did remember) and my email address. I explained that I couldn't remember my password. I didn't know how long it might take for Craig to get back to me. It was pretty cool, he emailed me right back and informed me that I had used a different email address, doh!

It is lots of fun to go through the different resupply scenarios and refer to Yogi's PCT Handbook  to review the different resupply points. I have a much better idea of my pace after the 2 day trip I took from Echo Summit to Donner summit. I am using that pace as a baseline to calculate my days on the trail and zero days. It's quite fun and engaging.

I am using Half Mile's maps  to review the trail at different points to determine if I want to resupply at different points. It looks to me that the diversion over Kearsarge Pass to the Onion Valley trailhead is a key resupply point because of the distances and difficulty of the trail in that part of the Sierras. Even those it adds an additional 15 miles of hiking and an unknown hitch-hike down to Independence, it is better than the alternative of carrying all of the extra food to reach a more distant resupply point. I am considering taking a serious zero day in either Independence, Lone Pine, or Bishop. I am imagining swapping out the weight of the extra water that I will need to be carrying through the deserts of Southern California for additional days of food to make it through the remote high-country of the Sierras. I also have decided to climb Mt Whitney will I am in the area as PCT hikers are authorized to do that as long as they climb and descend it from the West side. That adds another day and 17 miles of hiking. This whole process is an interesting and fascinating project, I am really enjoying it.

On a different note, I joined the PCTA this week and made my donation to support their efforts to keep and protect the PCT. Maybe I'll even join one of their trail maintenance projects next summer. I am grateful to all of the people who have done so much to make this trail possible for me and I want to it to be around for my grand-kids in case they ever decide to follow in ole grand-dads footsteps.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

High Loch Leven, Day 2

Woke up early this morning and I really had to pee. What a way to start a post. Well, it was the first thought of the day. It was still dark, or at least what passes for dark when the moon is full. The sky was a dim blue, was it from the moon or was the sun really coming up? What time is it? I fished my iPhone out and looked at the time, 6:10 am. Hmmm, still dark, still gotta go...

I opened the zipper on my bivy to assess the air temperature. Wow, it's cold out there. I lay there a few minutes as my nose and cheeks began to get numb in the cold. If I were on my own hike, I'd get up because the day meant a day if miles. It wouldn't be long till the exertions of moving down the trail would be keeping me warm. Alas, today is not that day. So I am faced with a dilemma. If I get up and pee, what am I going to do afterwards till the sun gets up and starts warming the air?

I re-zipped my bivy's netting. Amazed at how much warmer it is with such a thin piece of mosquito netting between my face and the air outside. maybe if I adjust how I am laying I can put off the inevitable. Stop thinking about it. Think about... something else. Crack! Snap! what was that? I tried peering through the netting to see outside. Something moving? I thought of my bear bag hanging in the tree about twenty feet away. I looked in that direction and could dimly see it's silhouette against the sky. It was majestically hanging perfectly still is in the frigid air. I looked over my shoulder in the other direction, what is that? Or rather who is that.

Apparently I am not the only one who woke with the thought of the day. My friend Eric was already up and about. Eric brought a cool SOG axe. one you can throw and it'll stick in a tree, or a bear if needed. But it also chops wood. Like the wood Eric is carrying. Yay! time to get up. I know that by the time I am out of bed, take take of my business and get back to camp the fire will be going. As so it was.

On my last trip I was so throughly disgusted and tired of instant oatmeal that I didn't even bring it with me. Why carry something so utterly useless and offensive as died mush in a bag? This morning's breakfast consisted of my favorite granola, Trader Joe's Maple and Pecan, doused with a scope of vanilla protein powder to give the illusion of milk. I also has a handful of raisins and a Starbuck Via mocha. Satisfying and excellent. I enjoyed it so much I took a couple pictures of it. Eric had been telling me about his breakfast. He was bringing English muffins and freeze dried eggs with ham and peppers. He toasted his muffins on the fire and prepared his eggs. Hmmm... that looks pretty good. Then he generously shared one with me. Fantastic! I think I might doing something like this next time.  Except I am not sure how I will toast my muffins without a fire. Something to think about anyway.

Slowly but surely everyone got up. slowly but surely meals were made, clothes were changed. stories were shared.Slowly but most assuredly, the sun came up and slowly began to warm the air. I packed all my gear as if I were on my own hike. I left my camp they way I found it, pristine and clean. I brought my pack out and sat in the sun as I watched the others prepare for the day. Eric asked me to lead them on a hike to Fisher Lake which is where I typically camp when I come to this area. It requires about a mile of cross-country navigation and tends to have much fewer people than the lakes along the trail.

We set off through the woods to Fisher Lake. I have taken the route enough times now that I really don't need my GPS, but I used it anyway. I find it is useful to verify that I really am taking the right way. I tend to meander a bit when going cross-country. In this case I am always trying to find a little bit better route than the last time. I found it interesting and comforting that when I was exactly on the route identified by my GPS the going was easier than the times i meandered off the route. It seems that the route I have is the easiest I have found... so far.

We got to the lake and sat in the sun for a while. We talked about vacations and sabbaticals and healthcare. Rick, who lives in Belgium when he is not traveling for work, said that the healthcare in Belgium is great as long as your not really sick. You wouldn't want to be there if you had some dire life threatening disease because the lines are so long to get treatment. But hey! its free! So shut up and stop complaining. It boggles my mind that the best that our own experts in our federal government could come up with is something modeled on the European system. Hey! its going to be free. Except that its going to cost you more than your paying now. Oooh, how exciting! Ah well, at least my friend who's been yammering for government healthcare is going to get what he wants.

We sat in the sun and the silence a beautiful fall day. Lee mentioned how amazing it was to him that we could be sitting in the sun under a cloudless blue sky with temperatures in the seventies, "Only in California!", he said. Lee is from somewhere else, I am not sure exactly, but his slight accent reminds me of my friends from Boston. He was reveling in the joys of being here at this moment in this place. He echoed verbally what I was thinking inside. I really enjoy hanging out with these guys, we are all roughly in the same generation although I think Rick seems to be slightly more youthful then myself. Somewhere close to noon we decided to head back and I suggested we could climb up to the top of the ridge and traverse it rather than following the same route we did to get here. After much huffing and puffing we arrived at the top. Eric pointed out Tinker's Knob off to the East. I could see Granite Chief above Squaw Valley and peeking around the edge was Squaw Peak. I reflected back on my afternoon hike from Granite Chief to Tinker's Knob a few weeks ago and how far it really is. How deep the valley between the two was and the long hike back up and out. A long day that ended with a three hour hike to my truck in the dark.

We made it back to camp sometime in the early afternoon and I thought about being home with my wife tonight. As fun as these guys are and as beautiful and this place is. I want to take my wife out to dinner and sleep in my own bed tonight. I took my iPhone off of Airplane mode and found that I had two bars of 4G service. I texted an invitation for dinner to my wife and reverted back to Airplane mode. I think it's pretty clever of Apple to come up with the term Airplane mode. From what I can tell what Airplane mode is, is a  phone that has all of it's radio electronics turned off. That is quite a few different radios in an iPhone 5. There is the cellular radio, the data channel (I am not sure if this is the same as the cellular radio but since you pay for it seperately, let's pretend it's a different radio). There is also the wi-fi, the Bluetooth, and the Location service's GPS. That is at least five radio devices in a hand-held device. I find that truly amazing. I remember my first job installing 800 mHz tw-way radios in commerical vehicles and the size and complexity of a single communications radios. To have all that times five in the palm of my hand is remarkable.

Eric, Cliff, and I are all heading out today. Rick and Lee are staying another night. Perhaps the bears will find them once we leave. From the stories they told, they must have some sort of bear magnetism. Eric suggested that we try to take a short-cut from High Loch Leven to Lower Loch Leven that I had put on the map I shared with him. I was thinking about dinner and really didn't want to try to find a new route off trail. My experiences off the trail have always taken significantly longer than following a trail. So we decided to put that off for a another day. After saying our goodbyes the three of us started down the trail and Cliff and I chatted a bit about our families. Cliff is a great guy that I hope to have a chance to get to know better in the future. We made it down to Middle Loch Leven and scoped out the short-cut we were thinking about from the opposite side. With the cliffs and brush it definitely looked sketchy and I was glad we opted for the trail.

Eric and Cliff stopped and looked and the peaks to the East trying to determine which one they had climbed yesterday. I kept hiking. There was nothing before except for open trail and I picked up the pace. I wanted to see if I could maintain the pace that I did a few weeks ago. As I stretched out my stride and put a bounce in my step I felt exhilarated. The blisters and muscle aches from the last trip were gone and it felt good to feel the burn in my calves and quads. I moved along the trail stopping a few times to take a picture. The joy ot the trail is a personal one. I find that I am most exhilarated when I am moving at a pace that pushes my stamina and endurance.

I stopped briefly at the top of the long descent to the trailhead to pull out my trekking poles. I had been luggin them around for the last day and a half for just this moment. I have found them to be of great assistance when you are descending trails with loose rocks and scree. Descending seems to always be harder than ascending with a backpack. Especially when you are going across and down slopes with unstable footholds. I have found the extra two "legs" that trekking poles provide to be extremely helpful and a knee and ankle saver.

As I descended I found that watching the trail for the next footholds becomes almost a game. The faster I descend, the more focus it takes, the sensation is not unlike the sensation of playing one of those first-person shooter games in zombie mode. You sort of get into this zone, your trekking poles are clickity-clicking on the rocks and you take one step after another, trying to avoid the loose tippity rocks and attempting to only step on large flat rocks and solid ground. Moving as quickly as you can trying to keep your eyes a few steps ahead of your feet. It is scary to think what might happen if you loose concentration for even a moment and step on a rock that rolls your ankle or twists your knee in a way it's not supposed to twist. The idea of being stuck on a trail in the middle of no-where with a leg injury is  daunting, but the "beating" the game when it really matters brings a satisfaction that is all it's own. Ask any gamer.

Trailhead means home, and home means dinner. Happy trails till next time...

High Loch Leven, Day 1

This is the first time I have had and enjoyed a campfire while backpacking in I don't know how long. I hiked up here after work to meet my friend Eric and a couple of other guys. We are all techie types. Cliff works for Cost Plus, Rick works for Cisco, and Lee works for Levi's. They are not as much into fast, light-weight hiking as I, so they brought the accoutrements necessary for building, maintaining, and extinguishing fires. Even more important, they had the will and inclination to take the time to do those things. I am certainly all for hiking with people who like to build fires. I just find it a tedious task to do for myself on a trip. Just like I am all for going backpacking with someone who likes to cook gourmet food. I just don't want to do it myself, I am on vacation. One of the great appeals to me of backpacking is the minimalist, do-only-the-absolutely-necessary, aspect of it.

It's supposed to be a full moon tonight. Cliff and Eric are both sleeping out under the moon. I brought my bivy-sack so technically I will be shaded from the brightness if the moon. Exactly the opposite of what I experienced two weeks ago when I camped in the pitch black of no moon.
Lee and Rick are sleeping in a tent and so they should be able to avoid the light of the moon.
They brought red wine in water bottles so they had wine with their dinner.

Rick and Lee told a story about when they were camping at Round lake by Highway 88 a bear decided to steal Rick's day pack. Lee asked him if there was anything important in his pack. Rick said, "yes, my license, wallet, and car keys." The bear picked up the pack by the handle on the top and ran off up the hill. Lee ran after the bear and Rick ran after Lee. They chased him to the top. Fortunately the bear dropped to pack but not before punching holes in Rick's wallet, and stealing their food.It seemed that everyone had a bear story. Cliff's bear story was when he was camping with a large group of people and he was sleeping out on the outside edge of the group. A bear actually ran by and tripped over his legs.Eric remembers the time he was camping in Canada with his brother and woke up to hear a bear rummaging through his pack right outside the door of his tent.

My bear story is really a non bear story. I have never had a bear ransack my camp nor have I ever been bothered by a bear. I have seen them on the trail, I have seen them from my camp. They have just never bothered me. I am not sure why except that I am typically very careful with my food and always either hang my food or keep it in a bear canister. On the other hand Rick and Lee had a bear maul their bear canister on the same trip.It's dark, it's late, it's time for bed.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Quarrelsome Ones

2 Timothy 2:14-26 Read it yourself

There are some who will want to distract others from Christ by different interpretations of the truth. They will want to align the truth with their dispositions. They think that if they can distort the truth enough they will be able to be part of the kingdom of God without any cost and under their own terms. They want others to agree with them so they will draw others who are ignorant of the truth into their circle of influence. They will also tempt others who are less ignorant into ignoring what they know is the truth and follow the “easy, more palatable” way.

Like gangrene, the only cure was to cut it off; you must cut off these types of conversations with “the quarrelsome ones” it will only spread and get worse.  There is no common ground between light and darkness; or life and death.

The truth is the truth. Those that change the meaning of words or phrases to make the Christian faith more palatable to themselves or others, lead others into more and more ungodliness and darkness.

The Lord know those who are his, the most important question you must answer for yourself is; Does the Lord know you? He knows you when you present yourself to him in honesty and truth. When you come before his presence in contriteness and humility and humbly ask him to forgive your own rebellion. It is only repentance and transparency before God that brings you into the light and clarity of his presence.

The house of God has many different dishes and containers, some are fine china for serving guests, and others are garbage cans and recycle containers. What type of container are you? Cleanse yourself from moral filth and corruption. This is not something God does for you. God gives you the strength and he gives you the desire, but it is up to you to put your will in subjection to God’s heart. From a pure heart, basking in the light of God’s truth, pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.

When encountering the “quarrelsome ones”, which you will, it is only a matter of time; you must not allow them to draw you into a meaningless discussion over trivialities. They are not interested in the truth but will engage you in endless discussions with things that don’t matter. You must be kind to these people, speak the truth to them. Don’t think they are going to like it when you tell them the truth. They will be angry and will perpetuate evil against you, possibly great evil, but most likely pettiness and irascibility. Don’t take it personally, they are angry with God and you happen to be the clearest target they have. You will be tempted to equivocate, dissemble, or not be clear; but this is the time to be very clear. Endure the evil patiently, gently but firmly hold on tenaciously to the truth.

There are no shortcuts to this process and it is not under your control. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. They have none of these things right now. Nothing you say on your own is going to give them repentance, knowledge, or truth. Only the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth, can convict hearts. He only deals in truth, so it is very, very important that your words are truthful, fully and to the best of your ability. It is only an act of God that can save them from the snare of the devil and their slavish adherence to the devil’s work.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Donner Summit - sixty miles later.

Woke up before the crack of dawn. I could see things faintly in the pre-dawn grayness. The temp was chilly, like the inside of a refrigerator... So this is what it's like when the door is shut. I checked my phone for the time, six nineteen! I've got to get moving.

The transition of warm, cozy down sleeping bag to the cold hard reality of the woods in October is never a pleasant one. I un-stuffed my clothes from my pillow and quickly, that is as quickly as I could, put them on. It can be a hard thing to standup on a cold morning, especially when you are standing on a nylon bivy sack, which is filled with a nylon covered sleeping bag, containing a silk mummy liner. Whoops, good morning rocks and sticks. Okay this time I am going to stand on the side of the bivy on the ground cloth. "Gosh its cold," I thought as I picked the pine needles and off of my hands.

My goal was to get moving as quickly as possible. Coffee and granola, no oatmeal. I had the oatmeal yesterday morning. It's amazing how quickly I lost my taste for it. I retrieved my food from the tree I hung it in last night. It was still there. Last night when I arrived in camp it was dark and one of my first priorities is to get the bear hang already to go so that I don't have to deal with it after dinner when I am stiff from sitting. Unfortunately the branch I had selected was weaker than it looked and when I began to hoist my food, Crrack! Down came my food and the branch it was supposed to be hanging from. Note to self: always stand to the side when hoisting your food into a tree.

One thing I didn't mention last night was that just as I was climbing into my bivy sack, stuffing my clothes into a stuff sack to make a pillow I heard voices behind me, on the trail. Mind you it was pitch dark. I had my headlamp set on the red light setting to preserve battery power and to keep my eye acclimated to the dark. I flipped my light to high-beam and a brilliant white beam shot out towards the trail. The voices stopped. I peered into the dark between the trees, moving the beam left and right. Nobody, nothing, weird huh? I didn't want to think about it too much last night as I probably would have freaked myself out and ran screaming for my life through the woods. Either they were unsociable hikers who could hike in the pitch black, or they were just in my head. Regardless, I am alive today and don't have an axe in my skull, so it's all good.

I was on the trail by seven fifteen, less than an hour to get ready, not to bad. I was in a valley and still had no sun by the time I left. As I started up the trail an urgent necessity became apparent. There would be squatting in the woods in my near future. One of my least favorite things when backpacking is the process of relieving myself of food that has been processed and has outlived it's usefulness. I was mulling over my prospects and considering my options.  It's still cold and I am in the shade. I will wait till I reach the summit of Barker Pass. By then I'll be in the sun and I won't have to expose my privates to the cold. Thank you Mr. Forest Ranger, or whoever it was in the government to build the fine, pit toilet at Barker Pass. I know that you're not working at this moment with the government shutdown and all. But the work you did in the past was greatly appreciated this morning.

There were a lot less people on the trail today. Probably because I had left the ever popular Desolation Wilderness and was heading to and through the less familiar Granite Chief Wilderness. Around lunch time I was descending into Five Lakes Basin when I met a mountain biker coming up the trail. By the way, this story only works if you know that the Pacific Crest Trail is a hiker and horse trail ONLY. Okay, well I met this biker coming up the trail. The Pacific Crest Trail, so I stopped and stood there in the middle of the trail. "You know this is a hiker only trail don't you?" I said. "Uh, yeah, the guy down there told me I have to go back they way I came, he won't let me exit." Yeah right, why make up a lame story like that? There is eighteen miles of trail up there and you are going to tell me that you have to go back? Sure.

Near the end of the day, I met a guy with a giant pack climbing up to Tinker Knob. He, like me was heading out to Donner Summit. He had been hiking with his buddy who had left him behind. His buddy was hiking from Mexico, and he had been trying unsuccessfully to meet up and hike with him on certain parts of the trail. He and I played leap frog for a few miles. A fifteen pound pack is pretty easy to carry up a hill compared to the fifty plus pounds he was lugging. The darkness descended on us while we were still about two and a half miles out. I past him on the last uphill and when I entered the forest I turned on my headlamp. I didn't see any light behind me, I suppose he stopped to camp.

The last two miles of the trail were pitch black with my headlamp providing a small beam of clarity with the shadows of the trees flickering by me. The shadows seem to be moving behind me. The last bit of the trail is probably the toughest and roughest part of the entire trail. It's like climbing down an empty stream bed. With boulders and loose rocks strewn haphazardly about. I slowed way down to avoid twisting my ankle or falling. I arrived at the trail head exhilarated and exhausted. I'm sleeping in my own comfy bed in my own comfy room tonight!
Quite the fashion statement
Big bear poop.


Confused hunter?

Thank you, Mr. Ranger

Lake Tahoe

Last light, 3.5 miles to go