So many exciting announcements and things to share

So this is happening:

breakyourheart2

My book cover is finished! The design is by the incomparable Alejandra Wilson. Alejandra hiked the PCT in both 2013 and 2014, and she’s also an incredible cartoonist. You can check out her amazing comics here.

The cover is done, I’m in the final stages of copy editing/content editing/book formatting. Everything is starting to feel super duper real, and that both excites me and fills me with anxiety and dread. This will be the first time I’ve ever published a full length manuscript, and I’m doing it myself. I only hope that the book, when it comes out in April, doesn’t suck. That is my one hope.

Screenshot

A few weeks ago wordpress tweeted a link to my Cat Power post, and as a result I gained about 600 new followers. Welcome! I rarely write about my romantic life online, but when I do, and people respond to it, I’m reminded how universally relatable those experiences can be. I share so many parts of myself online but my dating life has always felt too private to blog about, like something I want to protect. Something that belongs to me. While it may seem as though I overshare with wild abandon here on the good ol internets, anyone with experience blogging or writing memoir understands what strong boundaries and emotional level-headedness it takes to be vulnerable in this way. Basically, this blog is a performance. It’s art. Just like all memoir. It’s not me. Actually, I’ve been told by a handful of people who read my blog before becoming friends with me that I’m really different in person than I am online. In person I’m blunt, funny, calm, level-headed, loyal, honest, grumpy and somewhat introverted. I don’t drink and I hate small talk, so I’m miserable at parties. I focus on one thing at a time to the point of obsession, so I usually only want to hang out with people who also want to do or talk about that thing. Right now I’m interested in self-publishing and long-distance hiking. You want to hang out? Ha ha.

That being said, during my PCT hike in 2013 I had one of the most epic romances of my entire life. I carefully edited it out of my blog at the time with a sort of literary photoshop, changing key details so that my readers wouldn’t know what was happening. Luckily for you, however, I feel like this trailmance adds an incredible amount to the story of my 2013 hike, and so I worked it back into second draft, using the journal I kept on the trail. Epic trailmance, for me, may not belong on my real-time blog, but in a book? Fuck yeah!

Makin’ out in the woods. So my book has that going for it, if nothing else.

Speaking of being in the woods, hiking season has started again (yay spring!) and there are already some really, really good blogs by hikers doing super cool trails. These blogs, when I can’t be on the trail myself, are like my favorite thing in the world. #1 best off-season entertainment, hands down. Here are a bunch that I’ve been super stoked on-

Jason Reamy is hiking the AT northbound, after which he’ll hike the CDT southbound. His blog so far is super good. I’m hooked! He’s also on instagram here.

My friend Lia (trail name Babytooth) is starting the PCT in a month. She’ll be keeping a video blog, which is cool- video trail journals aren’t that common. I also happen to think she’s super funny. You can also follow Lia on instagram here.

Desert trails! Three of the desert trails I’m most interested in right now are the Arizona Trail, the Hayduke trail and the Grand Enchantment Trail. And right now there’s an awesome blogger on each one! INTERNETZ, WE ARE SO SPOILED.

Sheriff Woody is thru-hiking the Arizona Trail. Sheriff woody is a plant and reptile genius. He also picks up snakes. You can also check out his instagram here.

Wired is thru-hiking the Hayduke Trail. Wired’s blogs are super informative, almost like guidebooks. The info she puts online is invaluable.

Chance is about to start the Grand Enchantment Trail. This is the one I’d like to do the most. The route was developed by Brett Tucker, the same guy who created the L2H, and if it’s anything like the L2H it’ll be a wonderfully challenging tour of magical desert landscapes and enchanted water sources. I can’t wait to read about it!

Speaking of the L2H, the other day I stumbled upon the blog of Christy “Rockin'” Rosander, who is about to set out on the L2H with her husband. They start March 28th! Rockin’ will be blogging about the journey, which is super cool. There are so few trip reports online about the L2H, I’m really excited that there’s going to be a new one. And that I get to hike the trail again vicariously, via her blog.

One last exciting thing- I have a Q&A in the current issue of Brink Magazine, wherein I talk about long-distance hiking. This entire issue was written and photographed by women, and features all women. There are interviews with so many amazing people in this issue, I’m still sort of stunned and honored that I got to take part in it at all. Check it out, if you haven’t already.

From the magazine's instagram: The cover - shot on International Women's Day - is a homage to the 1965 Esquire cover by George Lois featuring Virna Lisi that debuted 50 years ago this month. The intent for our cover is equality. Period. The cover, the issue, the intent is that something like this issue should be the norm.

From the magazine’s instagram: “The cover – shot on International Women’s Day – is a homage to the 1965 Esquire cover by George Lois featuring Virna Lisi that debuted 50 years ago this month. The intent for our cover is equality. Period. The cover, the issue, the intent is that something like this issue should be the norm.”

Basically I Eat Potato Chips: Thru-Hiking With The Most Common Food Intolerances

chips

I know that some people think that food intolerances aren’t real. But if I eat gluten, dairy or soy I shit my brains out, and I know I’m not alone in this. Lots of people can’t properly digest one or more of these things. Having diarrhea on the trail makes hiking pretty hard, and I’ve figured out a way to eat while long-distance hiking that works for me. So maybe this information will be helpful for you!

(Side note- no-one knows why so many people can’t digest gluten, and why there are more gluten-intolerant people every day. But there are some new theories.)

(Other side note- I feel like an asshole telling people I’m “allergic to things”, so I just say I’m a really picky eater.)

More about my eating style: I don’t carry a stove when I hike. Instead I carry a screw-top ziploc container (I’ve also used a plastic peanut butter jar) and cold-soak my two meals in this.

looks like this

looks like this

I’m a woman. I’m 5’7”. I weight about 140 lbs. I need about 3500 calories a day to hike 25 to 35 mile days with around 5k feet of elevation gain per day. If it’s cold during the day or there’s more elevation gain I need more food.

Fatty food has the most calories per ounce, as fat has 9 calories a gram vs. carbs and protein, which have 4 calories a gram. So the more fat in your trail food, the lighter your trail food will be. Fat will also help keep you warm/help you sleep warm. That being said, I also need a good amount of carbs while hiking as these are easiest for my body to convert to glucose and digest while I walk. I try not to mainline sugar ala candy bars and gummy peach rings as these things make me crash hard later in the day, but I do end up getting a decent amount of sugar from bars. I also require protein to hike. Basically I require everything, constantly and in great quantities.

I choose trail foods that average around 120 calories/ounce. This means I carry about two pounds of food per day.

I eat two things while on the trail: meals and snacks.

There are two meals.

Meal A consists of oatmeal cold-soaked in water with chia seeds and pea, brown rice or hemp protein powder. This is my #1 favorite thing to eat on the trail, hands down. It somehow manages to be filling, nourishing and hydrating all in one. I eat this meal once or twice a day.

chia magic

chia magic

Meal B consists of one of the trifecta of instant legumes that can be found in bulk bins in health-food stores across the US- instant refried beans, instant curried lentil soup, or instant black bean soup. This I cold-soak in my ziploc container with dried spinach and freeze-dried peas, bought cheap in bulk from northbaytrading.com. I eat the resulting sludge with tortilla chips. It tastes ok. I eat this meal before bed and it makes me fart like crazy and gives me just enough calories to live through the night.

The rest of my calories come from snacks. I stuff snacks into my hipbelt pockets and eat them about once an hour while I walk, and during breaks. My snacks are thus:

Chips, my favorites of which include, but are not limited to: tortilla chips, dal mix, snap pea crisps, bugles, banana chips, gluten free honey-mustard pretzels (yes these are a thing now, and it is amazing), lays potato chips, ruffles potato chips, salt n’ vinegar potato chips, barbecue potato chips, sweet potato chips, those “vegetable chips” which are really potato chips with a little spinach powder to make them green.

To make the chips fit in my pack I open the bag, squish the air out and smash them a little.

Bars. I look for bars that have less than 15 grams of sugar each and some protein that’s not soy or dairy. If it fits those requirements, I may not like it but I’ll eat it. Most often I eat alt bars, probars (the shop n’ kart in Ashland always has them on sale), nature valley granola bars, lara bars and whatever rando bars I find in the hiker box that look like they’ve been sat on.

I also eat salami (on GF bread when I can find it), jerky, sunflower butter, dark chocolate, caffeinated jelly beans and caffeinated cliff shot blocks.

I am burnt out on all nuts, dried fruit and all nut butters except for sunflower butter.

I take a quality multivitamin every day.

On the PCT in 2013 I had leg cramps that kept me up at night so after that hike I queried some ultra-runners via a forum on facebook and they told me to take powdered magnesium before bed. In 2014 I brought along this stuff called Natural Vitality Calm, which is a powdered magnesium that you mix with water and which tastes sort of citrusy, and it fixed my leg cramps.

chips

Electrolytes are important. I’m a fan of Power Pak, which is like emergen-c with salt in it.

chips

I obviously send myself a lot of boxes on the trail. They don’t have to be big boxes tho- the chips and oatmeal and bars and salami, etc, I can often find in stores. I ship myself the harder to find stuff- protein powder, instant legume soups, chia seeds, supplements, etc.

In town, of course, I eat whatever the fuck I want. And then I shit my brains out.

Breakfast

Breakfast in Mt. Shasta- bacon cheeseburger, fries and a huckleberry shake.

Setback City

I went to the dentist on Monday. I’d put off going for over a year, but recently I’ve been having some molar pain that I could no longer ignore. At the dentist I learned that one molar is significantly decayed, to the point that it is full of, ah, gross decomposing food, and that the another is deeply cracked. I need two crowns, each one costing $1100.

This was a huge bummer to learn. I can’t put this dental work off any longer, and paying for the crowns means using money from my CDT fund, which means I wouldn’t be able to hike the CDT.

The 2,800 mile Continental Divide Trail is wilder, more arduous, and longer than the PCT. There is less water, less trail, more inclement weather, and much more overland navigation. Only a few dozen people thru-hike the CDT each year, compared to several hundred on the PCT. Hiking the CDT feels, I imagine, a little like what it must’ve felt like to hike the PCT in the seventies. The saying for the CDT is “Embrace the Brutality”.

Aside from the Lowest to Highest Route, I have never hiked a “trail” this wild. I have maps, shoes, and all of my gear. I’m so excited to hike I can hardly stand it. But my teeth are totally fucked.

However!

You, dear reader, can send me to hike the CDT.

I currently have 2,400 blog followers- if each person following my blog contributed $1, I’d instantly be able to get the crowns I need, and hike the CDT, and blog about it for you.

I’m going to call that crowdfunding magic.

I made a crowdfunding page- Carrot on the CDT.

Why do this?

Because you’re curious about the CDT and you want to read what I’m going to write. Because you believe in me. Because the lack of access to affordable dental care in this country sux.

As thanks, I promise to write one blog post for every single day I’m on the trail. No matter how tired, sunburnt, hungry, or vaguely hypothermic I am. One blog post for each day, all for you.

ARE YOU SO EXCITED!

You can help make this happen.

Sometimes I make things in Paint when I'm bummed

GET PUMPED

Other news: The book is coming along very, very well. It’s on track to be released in April. I feel excited/nervous about having this book out there in the world. One of the things that makes me most nervous is the pressure, when self-publishing, to put out a really high-quality end product. Even though I have a lot of help- editing, proofreading, cover design- in the end the final responsibility is all on me, as I’m the “publisher”. Self publishing requires that a person wear a lot of different hats, and so I’m learning a lot and being forced to grow in various painful ways. The publishing world is changing right now on a massive scale, and most of the things we were taught, as writers, about publishing are no longer true. Everything, at the moment, is new- and as a result there is no-one to mentor me, no-one or show me which way to go. There are, however, a lot of other writers figuring it out for themselves and creating really quality work, and sharing information about how to do this online. As a result I oscillate between feeling sorry for myself because I’m coming of age as a writer in a time when no large stable institutions are able to help me, and feeling unbelievably pumped and inspired because the gatekeepers are dead and there is absolutely no limit to what I can do or how awesome my work can be. There are good days and hard days.

A whole other game begins once my book is on Amazon. I get to “compete” with traditionally published works for visibility, which is no small job, and among other things I am guaranteed at least one scathing one-star review solely for using the F-word. This is a phenomenon that is unique, as far as I can tell, to Amazon. A friend and I once decided that this is because there’s a fold in the space/time continuum that allows folks in the nineteenth century to shop for books on Amazon. These people are so scandalized by swear words that they practically die of shock. They are hardly able to type. I’ll post the review here when I get it.

Overall, though, I’m just really excited to share this book. It’s like a little creature I’m releasing into the wild, and once I let it go I can never take it back. What is even going to happen?

And I can’t want to hike the CDT, and share it with you. I’m excited like whoa. The deserts of New Mexico, the wild San Juan mountains in Colorado, magical Wyoming and Idaho and Montana. I want to walk over all of these places with all of the inclement weather and sleep on the ground every night.

So excited about everything right now.

UPDATE:

WOW. This campaign is already funded. I’m at a loss for words. I literally can’t believe that I get to hike the CDT AND fix my teeth. Like it literally seems unbelievable. Hopefully in a few hours this will seem more real! I set the campaign originally for 15 days, so anything over the original goal that’s raised in that time will go towards dried veggies and protein powder for my resupply boxes. And a new rain jacket. Thank you so  much to everyone who’s followed my blog over the years, and helped make it possible for me to hike and write. You all have no idea! I’m really looking forward to writing about the CDT for you all. Let’s go hiking!!

-Carrot

Exciting updates from the springtime world

Magnolias in bloom

Magnolias in bloom

First thing: There’s a Q&A with me in the upcoming issue of Brink Magazine, wherein I talk about long-distance hiking. This issue, out on March 17, features all women and is written and photographed entirely by women. It’s going to be good, and you can pre-order it here.

Second thing: My new pack came in the mail today!

YAY

YAY

My pack on the CDT this year will be a custom prototype from JepPaks. JepPaks is Sam and his wife Katy, who live in LA and have a passion for designing ultralight gear:

Sam and Katy

Sam and Katy

Sam was wonderful in helping me envision the custom ultralight framed pack of my dreams. I’m beyond stoked to put some miles on this pack on the CDT, and to provide feedback that will help them develop their prototypes. Before agreeing to work with this company, I thought hard about whether the ethics of the company aligned with my own, and they do. JepPaks is a small cottage company that truly embodies the spirit of DIY. Sam and Katy genuinely love designing gear and turning custom pack ideas into reality- Sam and I shot many excited emails back and forth during the process, nerding out on small details of the pack. JepPaks makes their packs in the US. We have respectful, professional communication. It feels really, really good to work with them.

About the pack: This is a framed pack with a volume of 32L, not including the outside mesh pocket. I’d guess that including the outside mesh pocket would put the volume at about 35L, which is the exact perfect size for me for the CDT- I can easily carry four days of food in there along with all my gear. The frame is an aluminum stay. The construction is super solid. The pack is made of blue 140d Dyneema reinforced nylon, with a 70d Silnylon extension collar, and seems plenty durable without being overbuilt. The shoulder straps are padded in a beefy way, and also wide. The closure system is roll-top, aka THE BEST. There is a padded hip-belt. The whole pack weighs in at 22 oz, making it the lightest non-cuben-fiber framed pack that I know of. This is so cool!

Fully loaded amongst the daffodils

Fully loaded amongst the daffodils

One super neat detail about this pack is the hipbelt pockets. The zippers on both hipbelt pockets of the pack I carried on the PCT in 2014 blew out somewhere in the desert, and I ended up carrying the pack this way for over a thousand miles. I realized during this time that I didn’t actually NEED zippers on my hipbelt pockets, and that it was faster to pull things in and out when the zippers were open. So I asked Sam if he could make hipbelt pockets that were “open at the top with maybe some elastic, just big enough and secure enough to shove some bars into while I’m walking upright” and he came up with these hipbelt pockets, which are genius-

cool pocketz

cool hipbelt pocketz

.

with barz

with barz

I chose to use a framed pack on the CDT because while I’m down to rock a frameless pack on a trail where I don’t have to carry more than two liters of water at once (such as the Florida Trail or the AT) I know that, for me, carrying a bunch of water in a frameless pack = lots of back pain, and the CDT has some long water carries. Everyone’s body is different, tho, and I know several hikers who swear by frameless packs for all conditions (like NotaChance and Jess). The cool thing about my new pack from JepPaks is that it can go either way- if I decide to take the pack on, say, the AT, I can remove the aluminum stay, turning the pack into a sweet 17oz frameless pack. If you’re still looking for a pack for the hiking season, I can’t recommend this company enough. If you’d like to order a pack like mine, shoot them an email!

I don't want to take this pack off.

I am just going to wear this until May.

Third thing: If all goes according to plan with my book, I’ll be starting the CDT on May 5th. Three other hikers (Track Meat, Spark and Mehap) and I are looking for a ride from Lordsburg, New Mexico to the Crazy Cook monument on the Mexican border that day. It’s a long, bumpy drive, and we can reimburse you for gas and your time. If this sounds like fun to you/like something you’d want to do, shoot me an email at carrotquinn4@gmail.com!

Fourth thing: Still hard at work on my book, and all the small and large details of self-publishing. Spring is here! The blossoms are exploding. There is so much possibility, I just want to be on the trail, yet there is so much to be done before then. I’ll post more updates as I have them!

Photos of my life are on instagram.

Cat Power

We were together the summer I listened to Cat Power and Dolly Parton. I was so sad that summer, so full of generalized anxiety and an unshakeable feeling that something horrible was about to happen- I still can’t listen to Jolene or a certain Cat Power album without wanting to cry. I had a little attic room, with a window that looked out at the garden. I slept in a twin bed. Sometimes in the morning I’d find small gifts on the porch that you’d left in the night- a mix CD, a picture you’d drawn. I’d bike to your house, which was narrow and dark, and we’d make vegan sushi and homemade peanut butter cups. I’d always show up late.

You called me your Young Lover, and in a lot of ways it was true- you knew what you wanted, and I didn’t. You knew who you were, and I didn’t. I existed very much as a free-form ball of energy, sometimes shiny and wonderful and sometimes awful, being pulled by everything that would pull at me, not knowing, yet, how to grab what I wanted and hold on. I think I understand, now, how it must’ve been for you. How horrible and yet magical, how ultimately tiring.

They say that solitude is the most basic human condition, and that much of our suffering in relationships comes from an expectation that the other person will somehow solve this solitude. They say that another person can relieve this solitude, but only for brief moments- they can give us a glimpse of something else, some place beyond this experience of reality. Some other, less lonely thing, that we can only see in flashes. Some place that we can not, as long as we’re alive, ever know.

I have a daydream where I’m slow-dancing with you, even though that’s not something that we ever did. I’ve got my arms around you and you still smell like drugstore roses. You’re still shorter than me, you still have the same small, beautiful, tattooed hands. And yet I can feel, even while I hold you, that I still can’t give you what you want, that I’ll never be able to.

Two years ago I apologized to you, and you accepted my apology. That felt like something. I didn’t know how to be with people, I said. I still don’t. But I’m trying.

What happens to old loves? To messy romances that were never finished, that were never meant to be finished. Are we meant to live our whole lives trailing these loose threads, their colors more tangled and indistinct with time. Is the world really a thing that’s made new each day, again and again, in spite of what we left unfinished yesterday.

I think so.

My life right now

Hello blog world! It’s been a minute. I’ve been editing my manuscript in a steadfast and masochistic way, forcing myself to sit down at my little wooden desk in the pale light of my single bedroom window for four hours each day and giving myself only about a dozen instagram breaks, and I am happy to report that I’m nearly finished with this stage. There is so much more to do after editing, but forcing myself to edit 150 thousand words, editing being something that I apparently loathe, has definitely been the hardest part. Whew! I sure am excited to share this book with you all, tho. It’s going to be a nice escapist adventure story wherein there are many descriptions of what the clouds are doing and nothing is ever, ever boring. I’ll keep you updated as things progress.

I’ve also been running uphill a lot this month, on the gated forest service road one mile from my front door that climbs up into the Syskiyou mountains. (I love living in Southern Oregon!) Running uphill is hard, but not as hard as editing!! I’m trying to work up to running seventy miles a week with a bunch of elevation gain- I’ve got a frozen gluten-free pepperoni pizza in my freezer to reward myself when I get to that point. I want that fucking pizza! I’m running to train for the Continental Divide Trail, which I start in May. My intention is to lessen the “pain curve” that happens at the beginning of a long trail- the constant pain in my joints, tendons and ligaments that I feel pretty much all day every day for the first month on the trail (and at night, too!). Right now I can feel my body getting stronger and my calves are coming back, which is cool. It sure is hard to be a jock in the off season, tho. Winter makes me want to hibernate in bed with a stack of Faulkner and all the dark chocolate that went on sale for valentine’s day.

There are other things I want to write about here before I start the CDT- but the writing part of my brain has been fried lately from all the editing. I’ll try to get it up to write some new posts in March. In the meantime, check out this trailer for a PCT documentary that a couple of talented hikers are making- I can’t stop watching it! It makes me cry. As far as long-trail documentaries go, I think this is going to be a really, really good one.

Do More With Less | Trailer from Do More With Less on Vimeo.

In other news, today I was going through a box of stuff and I found a stack of my zines from 2008. A zine is a self-published sort of xeroxed chapbook thing one makes of one’s writing to give to one’s friends and/or sell in places called “infoshops”. (Do infoshops still exist?) I wrote one issue of my zine each year- generally I would spend about two weeks regurgitating all my adventures onto paper- trains, hitchhiking, weird letters I wrote to friends from a yurt in the woods- and the thing would end up being about a hundred pages long. I started this blog in 2008 a little after publishing the third issue of my zine, and afterward abandoned the medium entirely, because blogging is free and xeroxing is expensive. (Yes, I’ve been keeping this blog since 2008 and yes there is a lot of embarrassing stuff in the archives.)

This is the last issue of my zine:

20150226_135008Most of you have no interest in one of these weird things from my past, but a few of you are freaky enough to want to read my nascent attempts at limerick writing:

20150226_135333

.

20150226_135236

And you weirdos are in luck, because I’m selling them. I have twenty copies and I’m selling them for $20 each, in order to raise my transportation funds to get to the southern terminus of the CDT.

Here’s the back cover:

20150226_135020

This issue is about 80 pages long. I’ll sign them, for what it’s worth. If you’d like a copy follow this link or click the button below to be whisked away to paypal. The cost includes shipping (of course it does! $20 is astronomical for a zine) and I’ll ship them via first class mail within a day or so of your order.

ZINE BUTTONOk, it’s time to work on my book. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to procrastinate. As you were!

(Also find me on instagram, where I gleefully post over-saturated photos of my wintertime weekend warrior adventures.)

Long Distance Hiking Has No Brand: Some Thoughts on Sponsorship

Instigate and Spark on the PCT, 2013. Photo by Scrub.

Instigate and Spark on the PCT in Washington during an early winter storm, 2013. Photo by Scrub.

I first entertained the idea of long-distance hiking after discovering Mike Clelland’s book Ultralight Backpackin Tips. I’d gone backpacking before, and it had been beautiful, but I had been in a lot of pain; in Backpackin’ Tips, which is like Ray Jardine distilled for the modern age and hilariously illustrated with cartoons, Clelland gleefully advises you to cut most of the stuff off of your pack (a process he calls after-market alteration), make a stove from a cat food can, and wear an old pair of running shoes. This, he promises, will set you free. I followed Clelland’s advice: I hacked up my REI pack, altered everything else I already had to make it as light as possible, wore the pair of discount running shoes I’d had for years (I wasn’t much of a runner) and went on a four-day backpacking trip on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula with my friend Finn, who I’d also evangelized (We’re not even going to bring, like, a knife, I said to him via text message). Aside from getting back to the trailhead and finding a shell of scorched metal and puddles of melted glass where Finn’s car should be (Finn’s car, along with two other cars at the trailhead, had been broken into and torched to the ground, but that’s another story), the trip was sublime. And it was then, during those glorious four pain-free days along the Duckabush river in the Olympic Peninsula, that I first entertained the idea of long-distance hiking at all. The conversation in my brain went like this:

I love this.

I love this so much.

I wish I could do this forever.

If I hike the PCT I can do this for, like, FIVE MONTHS.

And I was sold.

The brilliant thing about Clelland’s philosophy is that he walks you through the process of becoming ultralight without invoking a single company or brand. The sleeping bag, tent and pack you already have, he says, are good enough; just alter them, and replace smaller gear with lighter versions that you fashion yourself from bits of trash. And if you don’t already have a sleeping bag, shelter or pack, you can make your own- there are patterns on the internet for free. These patterns exist thanks to the legacy of Ray Jardine, the long-winded and prolific hiker/writer who got the ball rolling on the ultralight hiking conversation back in the seventies. Many of these DIY tarps, quilts and packs are still based on Jardine’s designs. This is because Jardine’s designs are, in their most basic element, rooted in simplicity- and it turns out that you can’t improve on simplicity. You can only continue to strip away, and strip away, and strip away. Jardine’s intention was not to brand his designs; it was, sometimes almost obnoxiously, to spread the Good Word of Ultralight Hiking. Copy my designs, he seems to be saying. Take them. They’re yours. They’re yours.

This website has patterns for every conceivable piece of gear

1266355237_21359

A good-lookin DIY pack that somebody made, courtesy of google image. Search “MYOG Pack” for more. MYOG stands for Make Your Own Gear.

But of course I am a Good American Citizen and like my fellow Americans I derive pleasure and gratification from not making things myself but by spending hours online, often in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping, looking for the exact perfect object to BUY in order to solve my problems/make my life more meaningful/temporarily soothe my aching existential despair. And so, while preparing for my first long-distance hike, I did what so many other long-distance hikers have done before me; I combed the blogs of successful hikers, picked the ones who I felt I could relate to the most, and created a gear list that was an exact amalgam of these different hikers’ gearlists, down to the brand of underwear that they wore. (If you’re curious, the gear I ended up carrying for my PCT 2013 hike was an amalgam of Wired’s 2011 PCT gear list and NotaChance’s 2012 PCT gear list. I had a feeling that somewhere between the super-cautious and methodical hiking style of Wired and Chance’s endearingly arrogant disregard for her own body’s needs in favor of maintaining a seven pound base weight, even in hypothermia rain and even in the sierras, I would find my own hiking style. And I did.)

In the forests of Washington on the PCT, 2013. Photo by Raho.

In the forests of Washington on the PCT, 2013. Photo by Raho.

I bought nearly everything fresh for the PCT- even my popcan stove I was too lazy to make myself but bought on ebay, for three dollars, from a man who I imagine makes them in his garage, after long hours of work, just to decompress. I picture this man wearing his realtree carhart jacket against the winter cold (there’s a space heater in the garage, but it doesn’t do much to cut the chill) and sitting at a plywood table littered with bits of popcan shavings. The table is lit by one of those bright lights with, like, a cage over it, and on the left side of the table is a cluster of pepsi cans. This man has his family save the cans for him, and he carefully scours the red “pepsi” paint off of each one, in order to make the stoves less toxic when lit. The man is listening, I think, to Billie Holiday.

The problem with buying all my gear fresh is that some of the ultralight gear I wanted was very expensive, and I am poor. I am not poor, of course, in the global sense- whenever I use the word “poor” in relation to myself I imagine several billion people all over the world, laughing at me. Compared to nearly every other human on earth, the amount of resources I consume daily- electricity, water, paper products, consumer goods, gasoline, toilet paper, the depressing and earth-destroying infrastructure that makes it possible for me to have, for example, a smartphone- the amount of resources I consume and have access to is absolutely mind-bogglingly insane. I am, in fact, wealthy beyond my wildest imaginings. And if you are reading this then chances are that you are, too. But I am “poor” in the sense that I have always chosen to live below the poverty level- instead of getting a “real job” which would allow me to “accrue savings” or “go to the dentist” I choose to work seasonally (about half the year) in order to prioritize things like adventure, my writing, and laying in the sun with a cup of tea, staring off at nothing.

Instigate plays her violin on a ridge in Northern California on the PCT. 2013

Instigate plays her violin on a ridge in Northern California on the PCT. 2013

I did not have the money to buy the gear that I wanted and so my thoughts turned to sponsorship. I am not an athlete; I have never played any sports. I knew nothing of the world of sponsorship; what did that word even mean, anyway? What I did know is that I had been blogging for a while and my blog had a bit of traffic, and maybe these gear companies and I could engage in a mutually beneficial relationship wherein they gave me free or discounted gear and I helped them sell more gear by talking about the gear on my blog. I never imagined sponsorship as being anything more than this very basic arrangement and, to be totally clear, it’s not.

Things went well- I got discounts on a few pricey pieces of gear, putting them within reach of my budget, and everything else I was able to afford. Brooks sent me a couple of pairs of shoes, I think by mistake- their Cascadias were (and still are) the most popular shoe on the trail, a fact I imagine they came to regret when scores of hikers contacted them mid-hike, wanting replacements because their shoes had “worn out”. As far as I know they’ve since stopped “sponsoring” PCT hikers, and they’ve added a disclaimer to their website saying that Cascadias are not suitable for long-distance hiking, which I think is hilarious. I’ll keep wearing the Cascadias, because they work for me and because you can get previous years’ models discounted online, which means that I will continue to contribute, via the bit of traffic from my gear list, to the popularity of the shoe on the trail- and Brooks will continue to have to deal with hikers complaining that their trail runners have disintegrated after, if you can imagine it, a thousand miles. Dear Brooks: I’m sorry. Sort of.

Mehap in the hotsprings at Muir Trail Ranch, 2013.

Mehap in the hotsprings at Muir Trail Ranch, 2013.

The one troubling thing with my newfound quasi-sponsorship was my relationship with a single company- let’s call them Company X. On Company X’s website they asked that sponsorship applicants have two things: a near-evangelical love for ultralight backpacking (which I do) and a desire to use their gear (which I did). The application was geared towards people like me: non-athletes with little understanding of what sponsorship entails, only recently introduced to the hiking world. Basically, they were looking for noobs. And although the copy on their website made it seem as though this gear company fostered a sort of cliquish community/family- just a bunch of cool/loveable ultralight hikers come together to spread the good word! Just sort of casually! I am a pretty perceptive person and I saw it for what it was- another opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship in which I helped Company X sell more gear and they allowed me access to gear which I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.

And for a while, my relationship with the company seemed exactly that. We had a purely professional relationship in which they wanted me for just one thing- my blog traffic, and I wanted them for just one thing- their gear. This felt good to me. It felt like healthy boundaries, and a clear understanding of intentions.

And then things got murky.

The first thing that happened was that I set out on my 2013 PCT thru-hike and so became part of the actual hiking community, which exists, contrary to how you may feel after spending hours on the PCT facebook page, on the trail (if you can imagine it) where people are actually hiking (try and picture it). On the real physical actual trail I began to hear stories about Company X from nearly every person that I met who carried one of their products. “They never sent the gear that I ordered,” said one hiker, “and they won’t respond to my emails.” Or, “The gear they sent me arrived defective, and when I contacted them they said they would replace it, but then they contacted me again and said that the company couldn’t afford to replace it.” Or, “They finally fixed my defective gear/order mistake after several months of rude, off-putting emails from their customer service person.”

These were not, I have to tell you, whiny thru-hikers as in the case of Brooks Cascadias, calling the company to say that their gear had worn out after thousands of miles of rigorous use. This was real, straight-up, awful customer service. This is the absolute worst nightmare, short of ordering something from a website that doesn’t actually exist, of anyone who buys things from small companies online. What if they fuck it all up? What if there’s a problem that requires contacting the company and it turns out that, instead of a customer service professional on the other end of the line, there’s just a hedgehog eating a strawberry?

Instigate and Spark on Sonora Pass. 2013.

Instigate and Spark on Sonora Pass. 2013.

At the same time, the nature of my relationship with Company X was becoming less and less clear. I would get group emails encouraging me to do specific things: write for their blog, go on group outings, wear a hat with their logo (which I would be required to buy, but with a discount!), make business cards that displayed my name AND their name, hand out stickers. I wrote for their blog but I wasn’t able to go on any group outings, as I was actually thru-hiking at the time, and I found the hat (it even comes in pink!) and business cards off-putting. And my experience of their customer service mirrored what I had heard from others- I would wait weeks for a response to my emails, and the response would invariably be very short, and very rude. Soon I was confused: what was the nature of our relationship? What was expected of me, and what was I getting in return? And why was the hedgehog with the strawberry so mean? Did the hedgehog hate me? WHY did the hedgehog hate me? And if the hedgehog hated me, why was the company sponsoring me? One time, when I had an issue with a piece of gear, I got the president of the company on the phone, and he was very friendly and things happened in a prompt and professional manner. But that was the one moment of ease and clarity in our long and murky time together.

Sunset on the Hat Creek Rim. 2013

Sunset on the Hat Creek Rim. 2013

By this time I was in the middle of my second thru-hike of the PCT. I’d continued my sponsorship with Company X simply because I couldn’t afford to buy my own fucking gear. And that seemed fine- I’d met several people on the trail that were carrying Company X’s products specifically because they’d seem them on the gear list on my blog, and I could see on my stats page how many click-throughs went to the company’s website (it was a good number) so I felt like I was doing a good job of holding up my end of the deal. Not that, at this point, I even knew what our deal was anymore. In two years I’d gotten about $500 worth of product from them- I’d say that this product was “free”, but it wasn’t- it was a trade. That’s what sponsorships are. Company X was growing, and sponsoring people in the hiking community who were able to influence the gear choices of other hikers (via blog traffic, instagram followers, leading hiking trips, whatever) was simply a tactic in their growth. Their customer service still sucked and they’d recently moved their production facilities from the U.S. to Vietnam, which made them no longer a cottage manufacturer but a mid-sized company depending on good ol’ fashioned slave labor to get ahead.

But before I could think about any of this too hard, they fired me.

I was staying at a trail angel’s house outside Snoqualmie when I got the email- they had heard, from their “friends on the PCT”, that I had been “trash talking” them. They were ending our relationship. P.S.- I had offended everyone in the company.

It took me a moment to get over the fact that Company X had used the term “trash talking” in a professional email with me, and then I realized that, in a sense, they were right. I’d been having many conversations on the PCT, that summer, that went like this:

Me: “Hey, I see you’re using Company X’s gear! What do you think of it?”

Hiker: “It’s pretty good, but I had a bad experience with their customer service.”

Me: “You know, I like carrying their gear, but their customer service sucks. I’m sorry that happened to you.”

In hindsight, this lackadaisical criticism of the company in casual conversation was an attempt for me to reconcile my own feelings about the company with my desire to maintain our relationship just so that I wouldn’t have to pay for gear. I hadn’t taken the time to really think about my relationship with them in a while, or to acknowledge the mixed feelings I had about this relationship. It had all seemed so simple in the beginning and then, at some point, it wasn’t anymore.

The email from Company X left me with a surprising amount of feelings that I couldn’t begin to sort out. But mostly, I just felt gross- I felt gross about the way they had acted, about how I had acted in response to the way they had acted, about all our bad boundaries and lack of communication and mutual assumptions. I felt grossed out by my own naivety in the face of everything and by how I had continued to represent them to the world for so long, in spite of how I really felt.

It felt like a weird breakup. Like I’d been dating someone and we’d stayed together far too long after it had gone sour, but I hadn’t realized until it was all over.

A path diverges in the dark wood. Washington, 2013.

A path diverges in the dark wood. Washington, 2013.

After my breakup with Company X, I swore off sponsorships for good. I didn’t want to feel that way again- and it definitely wasn’t worth the gear. I still get the hebe-jeebies thinking about their weird, confusing responses to my attempts at communication, especially juxtaposed against the image they promote on their website of a happy hiking community based entirely around consumption of their products. Recently, though, a friend said to me that probably not every company is like Company X, and I realized that this is likely true. Ethical ultralight gear companies with healthy, professional communication DO exist. One day I might have a relationship with one of these companies, and that might feel entirely different.

In the meantime, dear reader, here are some words of wisdom for you.

If you are sponsored by a company, you then represent that company. If the company sponsoring you makes their products in Vietnam, for example, then you are the face of a company that benefits off of what is essentially slave labor. So before you accept sponsorship from anyone, ask yourself these helpful questions:

-Do I actually like and respect the company? Not just the gear, but the company itself?

-Are the company’s ethics in line with my own? Where are their products made? How are the workers in these factories treated? Are their materials sourced in an ethical way (down, for example)?

-Does the company have good customer service? Will I be embarrassed to tell people on the trail, who’ve bought the products and interacted with the company, that I am sponsored by this company?

-What is expected of me, and what do I receive in return? Does the company communicate in a clear and professional manner? Do they show through their actions that they value our relationship and have respect for me, as a human being?

-Do I have any misgivings at all?

If you’re not happy with your answers to any of these questions, then you might want to reconsider your quest for a relationship with this company. Just buy the gear straight-up, find a used version on ebay, buy from a different company or make your own gear, ala Ray Jardine. You don’t need to be sponsored in order to hike.

Some people can afford to buy their own gear and yet really, really want to be sponsored, just for the sake of sponsorship. Hiking is not enough- they need sponsorship to feel good about themselves. They need corporate validation to feel as though what they’re doing is even real. I don’t understand this but it happens, and it seems as though it’s happening more all the time. Maybe this is a result of the growing popularity of long-distance hiking. Maybe it’s the influx of people leaving corporate jobs in order to live more “simply”, and their inability to leave the corporate way of thinking behind. I don’t know. What I do know is that this manic branding of the hiking experience creates a lot of noise on the internet, and this noise can feel, when you’re googling things late at night in the off-season, as though that’s what long-distance hiking is. Like that’s what the hiking community is. But it’s not.

The long-distance hiking community is the people you meet on the actual trail- regular people, just like yourself. People you walk with, people you huddle with in a pit toilet during a windstorm, people who make you laugh when you’re cold and soaked from the rain. People you look for, people whose lives you get caught up in. People you meet when you least expect it- they’re tired and maybe a little grumpy, sitting alone on the bank of some stream poking at their blisters or soaking what may be the beginnings of tendonitis, and you stop and share your bag of cheese crackers and begin a friendship that, unbeknownst to you, will last the rest of your lives.

Making camp in Northern California, 2013

Making camp in Northern California, 2013

You don’t need flashy gear or sponsors or instagram followers to meet these people. Likewise with the trail itself- the soft sandy path, the forest, the wind- all of these things are free. The sunsets, the stars at night, the moon over the joshua trees- all of these things are there for the taking, forever and ever and ever. They exist in abundance for everyone huddled in their sleeping bags on the ground, bearing witness, fighting sleep to get one last good look at the milky way. Long-distance hiking is not what’s on the internet or what’s in your backpack. Long-distance hiking is you, in your dirty, sweat-soaked clothes, trail runners all beat to shit, trying to make it over the mountain and then pausing, at the top of the pass, to sit with your back against the granite and watch the clouds move over the ridge opposite. And there’s some sort of bird, it might be a hawk, but you can’t tell. And you’re eating crushed potato chips and thinking about where you’ll sleep, and you wipe your hand across your face and realize that your face is covered in dust.

Cold/wet/out of food- my lowest moment on the trail, 2013

Cold/wet/out of food, 2013. Photo by Raho.

I first met Scott Williamson in 2013, on the PCT. Scott Williamson held the PCT self-supported speed record for five years, whittling his time a little lower every year, until he lost the record that summer to Heather “Anish” Anderson’s awesome, unprecedented hike. (I still choke up when I think of how exciting it was when she crushed the overall speed record.) Scott and I crossed paths in Oregon- I was headed north and he was headed south. As far as I know, Scott Williamson hikes the PCT every year, usually southbound. And if you’re out there, you might see him too. One thing I really admire about Scott is that even though he’s such a boss of a hiker, he’s not, as far as I know, sponsored by anyone. He’s out there on the trail simply because he loves to hike. He knows the PCT better, I imagine, than anyone. When I met him he stopped to chat with me even though he was in the middle of a 45-mile day, and I noticed that nothing he was wearing was branded at all save for his shoes, which seemed like inexpensive road runners.

And as for his pack- as far as I could tell, he’d made it himself.

Me and Scotty W, 2013.

Me and Scotty W, 2013.

I loved the desert the best

wpid-20130428_061206.jpg

Dear reader: I wrote this piece about the desert after my 2013 thru-hike, for the Pacific Crest Trail Communicator magazine. Now I’m making it available here for you online, for the first time. Enjoy.

———————————————————

I am sitting on the Stehekin shuttle bus in the early morning, bumping down the pitted road along lake Chelan, when the question comes up behind me.

“What part of the trail was your favorite?” says a hiker in polar fleece who I have not met.

“The Sierras,” says his companion.

“And what was your least favorite?”

“The desert.”

I bite into the bacon and cheddar-stuffed croissant that I am clutching and flakes of pastry fall into my lap. I also have two pieces of pizza, a chocolate cookie and a giant cinnamon roll, all safe in a greasy paper bag stuffed into the top of my pack. We are eighty trail miles from the Canadian border and the northern terminus of the PCT, and we have just been to The Bakery. The Stehekin Bakery, to be exact. I usually do not eat gluten but I ran out of food in the last section in a major way- fifty miles on 1500 calories and I almost blacked out from hunger. One of the things that kept me going in those dark days was the knowledge of this bakery, where piping blackberry pies sit cooling on glass countertops and beautiful, rosy-cheeked young people pull golden trays of cinnamon rolls from the oven. Now I am eating this dense beast of a croissant as we bump our way back to the trail and thinking about what the hikers behind me have said.

“I loved the desert the best,” I say, turning to face them. They glance at me, frowning, and then continue their conversation.

It’s true. I think about this while I stare out the window at the lake, the bacon and cheddar monstrosity slowly coagulating my stomach, where it will become glue. I can feel the glutenfog descending already, like ghosts. I think of the desert and I imagine the soft desert sand, the extravagant spread of the Milky Way. The thorny little plants, the temperamental nature of the wind. And the hot sun at midday, hot enough and bright enough that if you stayed out in it long enough it might vaporize you. Like Mars. Or Venus, as a hiker once corrected me.

The Kelso Valley Road cache, where there is no shade, just a mound of plastic water jugs glittering in the sun. Where MeHap and I sat against the wire fence, our sleeping pads pulled over our heads to make a sort of awning, and fed ourselves melted peanut M&M’s. And then Spark and Instigate and NoDay arrived and we charged up the hill to the single, solitary Joshua tree, with its ever-shifting poles of shade. We sat half in and half out of this shade, sweating profusely in the bleary heat, until several hours had passed, at which time it was still hot. Thankfully there was another Joshua tree in a mile and we collapsed there again, until dusk.

Cowboy camping in the desert. The warm sand, releasing the heat of the day and the night sky, in which every single star, every single other planet and possible far-away reality can be seen. All of it, all of space and time and possibility, the future the past and the present, suspended above me and singing its song of eternal, never-ending magic. Just up there, twinkling. All for me, in my sleeping bag on the warm sand, a little breeze crinkling my ground sheet, my shoes lined up next to my head. I’ll check those for scorpions in the morning. Remembering the Far Side comics of my youth, which formed my most basic ideas about cowboy camping in the desert. Men in cowboy hats in neat square bedrolls, big rattlesnakes curled up on their laps.

Rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes everywhere. Rattlesnakes stretched across the trail, lounging. Almost tripping over big, fat, rattlesnakes, catching myself at the last moment. Rattlesnakes slithering away. Always there are rattlesnakes, slithering away. Under every bush. After a while I am no longer afraid of them; they became like a reassurance to me. Rattlesnakes exist. Rattlesnakes exist therefore I am.

Water. Water in hot gallon jugs, water in troughs that wriggle with little white worms. Water from campground spigots, from hotel bathrooms, from springs labeled “Danger! Uranium!” and contradictory reviews in the water report. Best water I ever had! DO NOT drink this water! Before I started the trail I was the sort of person who carried a big steel water bottle everywhere I went and sipped on it nervously, like a baby’s bottle. What if I’m dehydrated? I would think. What if I’m dehydrated, like, right now? Then I ran out of water right before the fourteen mile descent off the San Jacintos and when I reached the maddening drinking fountain at the bottom I was still alive. Well how about that, I thought. Soon stretching the distance between water sources became almost as fun as it was frightening- can I make it five more miles? Ten more miles? Fifteen? Even so, I was never as good at this game as my hiking partners, who were shocking in their disregard for hydration. After the desert, Spark never carried water at all. It’s heavy, he said.

The wind. The air, which is like a living thing, which moves all around you. The smell of the chaparral, the dystopic burns that ring with the sounds of chewing insects and smear your arms with charcoal. The windstorm before Mojave, where I was all alone on the mountain, breathless, my nostrils smashed against my face, struggling to stay upright. Just blow me off the mountain, I thought. Just blow me right off the mountain. In the valley below they had rerouted the highway and when I reached the Motel 6 in Mojave after dark I slammed the door against the wind and sat in the shower under the hot water for a very long time.

wpid-20130528_060505.jpg

The Mojave. The Joshua trees against the stormy sky, the slowly churning windmills, the bleak plots of land with rusted trailers that remind me of scenes from Breaking Bad. Hiker Town, with its strange shacks filled with cats, where I ate a giant salad and replenished my dwindling food stores with Trader Joe’s oatmeal cookies from the hiker box.

And the people. There was all of this, and then there were the people. A gaggle of us gathered around the water trough in a bit of dappled shade, our shoes and clothing bright, staring at each other thinking Can we do this? Are we really going to do this? Walk this whole way, over all this convoluted earth, rise to meet all of these obstacles? Passing around a Ziploc baggie of melted gummy bears, saying Touch it, touch it. Laughing until we cannot breathe, gasping for air, our voices filling up the empty desert with its rattlesnakes and resident cougars, rising up to the night sky and the milky way, everything that is possible and not possible swirling around above us, forever and ever and ever.

Mount Saint Helens Take Two: Perfect Weather + Crampons Adjusted Correctly = a good time is had by all

oh hai mount adams

oh hai mount adams

Mount Saint Helens Summit via the Worm Flows route
12 miles round-trip
5,699 feet elevation gain

I’d only been back in Southern Oregon for a few days when I looked at mountain-forecast.com and saw that there was going to be one perfect day of bluebird weather on the Saint Helens summit- on friday.

“I have Friday off,” said Lia, when I texted her. The next day, Thursday, I was headed to Portland via craigslist rideshare, which works almost magically along this stretch of the I-5 corridor. I met Lia in the afternoon and we went to Next Adventure- this time we found someone knowledgeable at the rental counter and had him show us how, exactly, to adjust the crampons that they rent. We also rented sturdy mountaineering boots that felt like ten-pound ankle weights but would hold the crampons well and would never, ever let any moisture in. There are also, apparently, crampons that fit regular hiking boots but we had not known this the weekend before. Thus outfitted, we bought snacks and drove north into the evening, first on the freeway and then onto the smaller, darker roads that wind towards Marble Mountain Snopark, wherein Lia’s car abruptly overheated. We lifted the hood to find foul-smelling steam billowing everywhere and when we poured water into the radiator it promptly trickled out again, onto the pavement. We were in the middle of the cold forest and neither of us had reception.

We waited for the car to cool completely and then drove it extremely slowly the seven miles back to Cougar, Washington, watching the temperature gauge the entire way. The town of Cougar consists of one restaurant (closed), two gas stations (closed), and a motel. We sat in the motel parking lot in the car, which still stank of burned coolant, eating salt and vinegar chips and brainstorming. Tomorrow we would climb the mountain. We didn’t know how, but it would happen. And what about the car? When we got back here it would be evening again, and the next day would be Saturday, and on Saturday everything would be closed.

“Fuck the car,” said Lia. “Let’s scratch the VIN numbers off and light it on fire. All that matters is climbing this mountain.”

I knew that she was only half joking.

The motel clerk rented us a cabin at their steeply discounted January rate and we told him that we were trying to get to Saint Helens in the morning, and could we leave the car there during the day?

“Of course,” he said. “And there’s a fellow in room 4 who’s climbing the mountain tomorrow as well.”

We stood on the stairs outside room 4. The curtains were drawn and all the lights were out.

“Are we really going to do this?” I said. “Isn’t this rude?”

“Don’t worry,” said Lia, knocking. “I’ll do the talking.”

Neil was a good-humored older man from Puyallup. He’d done quite a bit of mountaineering back in his day.

“I’ve got four other people joining me in the morning,” he said. “And we’ll give you a ride to the mountain. Meet us here at six o’clock.”

Somehow, things always work out when you’re willing to talk to strangers. You know?

Our cabin was huge and had a kitchen and three beds. All that room for activities made us ecstatic and Lia and I did Fake Yoga on every available surface.

fake yoga

fake yoga

.

fake yoga

fake yoga

.

fake yoga

fake yoga

.

fake yoga

fake yoga

.

we call this pose "putting the turkey in the oven".

we call this pose “putting the turkey in the oven”.

At five a.m. my alarm went off, startling me out of the most incredible sleep, and I blearily assembled sandwiches while Lia made drip coffee. We met our new friends in the dark parkinglot, transferred our crampons, boots and ice-axes from Lia’s car to theirs and soon we were on our way to the trailhead, headlights silhouetting the forest.

The sun was just rising as Lia and I started up the trail. Around a wooded bend we were greeted with the most epic alpenglow on the smooth face of Saint Helens, and we both pretty much came in our pants. By the time we got our cameras out the aplenglow was gone but the sun was there, dripping over the opposite horizon. The air was warming and the sky was clear and wide. It was going to be a very good day.

hello sun

hello sun

Since I knew there wasn’t going to be snow until the weather station, I wore my trailrunners and carried the heavy boots in my pack. Chocolate falls, which had been running the weekend before, was mysteriously dried up.

“It must’ve clogged with chocolate,” I said. Although the falls was clear water we had pretended so much that it was lumpy, slowly flowing mud that this was how I now remembered it. We crossed the falls and started up the long ridge of boulders and lava dust. Behind us somewhere in the woods we could hear our new friends.

20150130_075838_HDR.

20150130_085302_HDR.

20150130_081229_HDR

At the weather station we ate bars and put on our boots and crampons and watched the sun rise higher in the bluebird sky. It was unbelievably warm and we were wearing our t-shirts. The day couldn’t be any more different then our failed summit attempt the weekend before.

Lia puts on the magic crampons

Lia puts on the magic crampons

We started clomping up the snowfield in our Magic Crampons, which affixed us like insects to the surface of the mountain. A few other people climbed in the snow near us, carrying split-boards. Lia declared several times that she would do anything to have her snowboard right now. ANYTHING.

20150130_095333_HDR

anything for a snowboard

After a few hours of kicking and stepping our ways upward we reached the spot where I had fallen on our previous hike. I couldn’t believe how steep it was here- it was even terrifying today, with crampons on. I don’t think, in the whiteout, that I had realized how steep this part of the mountain was. I am no mountaineer, I thought, as I crunched my way up past that spot. But I do like to climb mountains. So.

20150130_111335_HDR.

20150130_145530_HDR

The slope grew steeper, and steeper, and steeper still, and soon in a ring around us we were able to see Mount Adams, and Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson, and the Three Sisters. Everything was too big to actually photograph, although that didn’t stop me from trying. I felt as though I was trying to capture the ocean. At one in the afternoon we reached the summit- which is actually a steep, slippery hunk of snow cornice that rests precariously on the crater rim.

20150130_121320_HDR

“Don’t go near the crater!” said Lia. “The edge of the cornice could break off and you could fall in!” I was already terrified, and I took one look over from a safe distance, saw the steam rising from the caldera, and then perched myself on the slope of the cornice to eat and drink, my crampons dug securly into the ice. A group of dudes had reached the summit at the same time as us and they were, unbelievably, going to split-board down.

“That’s terrifying,” I said.

“No way,” said Lia. “I feel so much safer on my snowboard. You’ve got two metal edges. You can stop on a snowboard.”

Mount Adams from the summit

Mount Adams from the summit

.

20150130_121744_HDR

As we stomped our way back down the mountain I began to feel more comfortable in my crampons, and soon I felt as though I was a ninja. I could just walk down the mountain! Casually! Just casually stomping down this super steep frozen slope, with the whole earth spread out in front of me! Not even terrified!

Lia on the descent

Lia on the descent. Much steep. No problem.

We took the wrong ridge at one point and ended up on top of a huge fluted frosted cake which was very beautiful but much too steep to descend, and so we were forced to climb back up again and then cut across another steep white slope to get to the correct ridge.

 

just some cake

just some cake

How does one describe a mountain? I don’t know. At the chunk of rock with a metal thing sticking out that is the weather station I changed back into my trail runners and we began the long slow slog to terrestrial earth via miles of post-eruption lava rock mayhem and, ultimately, dull trail through flat damp forest, the sun setting somewhere through the trees. In the parkinglot I put on all my layers and laid on the cold concrete, feeling my spine release. I was hungry, sunburnt and dehydrated. Some youths in beat-up hondas were doing donuts. Another day, I thought. Another day worn down to a nubbin. The way life is meant to be lived.

One of the women in our hiking party, Daria, was headed back to Portland, and she offered us a ride. Lia set her car on fire called a tow company to have it towed to the nearest mechanic and we curled up with snacks for the drive south, listening rapt as Daria told us stories of mountaineering in Japan and the brutal frostbite that almost took her toes. Back in Portland we ate some incredible soup that Lia’s housemate Katie had made and spent the evening watching the sorts of terrifying mountaineering documentaries where everything goes horribly awry. I thought about things like climbing up frozen ice sheets in whiteouts and wondered if I’d ever like to do something like that. No, I decided. Probably not. Or maybe one day, after I hike all of the long trails. And make up one of my own.

And then I was asleep.

Moar photos on instagram.

Helpful tips for the Lowest to Highest Route

Morning light hitting the High Sierras, as seen from the crest of the Inyo Mountains

Morning light hitting the High Sierras, as seen from the crest of the Inyo Mountains

In the first week of October, 2014, I hiked the Lowest to Highest Route with my friends Chance and Jess. Most of our info for this hike came from this source, which is a website created by Brett “Blisterfree” Tucker, the person who developed the route. This site has almost everything one needs- almost. Recently I’ve gotten a couple of emails from hikers who are lookin to do the L2H. I remember how hard it was to find info online when I was planning for this trip, and so I’m writing this to share some helpful tips and cover some things that aren’t already covered elsewhere on the internet.

Reminder- most of your basic info on this route is here.

My day-by-day journal of the hike is here.

Chance’s journal is here.

The 135 mile hike took us six days. This mileage meant that we were only about two days between each resupply, and our packs were pretty light. This was helpful for times when we had to carry lots of water weight.

Look up online trip reports. Use The Google for this. There are only a handful, but there may be new ones now and then. Reading them all will help you get a better feel for the route.

Maps. The simblissity website recommends maps available via the National Geographic TOPO! software. This software is unfortunately no longer in production. The way we got around this was by hodge-podging together a couple of different sources, like so-

I downloaded the Gaia GPS app to my phone, which cost $20, and then I downloaded the GPS track from the simblissity website (it’s a link located near the bottom of the page, called badwater-whitney.kml)  to my computer. I then uploaded the track to the Gaia GPS cloud, which then synced it to the app on my phone. I then downloaded, while in the Gaia app, the maps surrounding the track so that I could use them offline. I now had, on the Gaia app, both topo maps of the area that would load without cell service and a red line going through these maps- the GPS track for the L2H. There are no waypoints on this track but the app and your phone’s GPS will show you, even when your phone is in airplane mode, where you are in relation to this line.

I also printed maps from this website. They’re not the best maps, but between these and the GPS, we had more than enough information with which to navigate. This website also has more information on water and elevation.

Call the Furnace Creek visitor’s center the week before you go, and ask them about each of the water sources. There are only a couple of water sources on the 135 mile route, and all of them may not be running at all times. If you count on one and it’s not there, you’re kind of fucked.

The rangers at the visitor’s center will likely try and discourage you. The ranger I talked to on the phone told me over and over, when I asked for info about the water sources, that she didn’t think I should do this hike. I tried to explain to her that the three of us had a combined 5,600 miles of desert hiking experience and that we had excellent maps, but it was to no avail. I finally said “I don’t actually care if you think I should do this hike. I’m just looking for info on whether the water sources are running.” at which point she gave me the contact info for another ranger who had info on the water sources. This ranger was super friendly, and did not act as though I was insane.

walking out into the desert to die

walking out into the desert to die

The first week of October is the best time to do this hike- Death Valley has begun to cool down but there’s likely not yet snow on Mt. Whitney. The L2H has been done in spring (a good trip report is here). As far as I know, the major difference between a spring and fall hike is the snow level on Mt. Whitney. Swami & gang took the mountaineer’s route to the summit on their spring hike. You can find info on the snow level on Mt. Whitney here, and weather reports for the summit here.

Jess and Chance- morning navigation near Shorty's well

Jess and Chance- morning navigation near Shorty’s well

If you haven’t done much overland navigation, as I hadn’t before this trip, you should know that overland navigation is much slower than hiking on a trail. We averaged between one and two miles an hour for much of this hike. In order to hike 20+ mile days we consumed lots of caffeine and didn’t sleep a whole lot.

The salt flats in Badwater Basin are SHARP AS FUCK. They’re also really awkward to walk on. Take your time crossing them, and try not to trip and fall. I tripped and ended up cutting up my face, hands, and getting a pretty good puncture wound in my knee. Brutal!

ouch

ouch

After finding the spring in Hanaupah canyon, climb up the slope to your right, towards the ridge. You’re going to get up on top of that ridge and follow it to Telescope ridge. Pay attention to navigation here.

The climb out of Hanaupah canyon

The climb out of Hanaupah canyon

The climb up to Telescope ridge is really steep- 10k feet in 14 miles. It’s the third steepest climb in the US, and it was the steepest climb that any of us had ever done. Factor in lots of time for this climb. The neat thing is that as you climb you enter cool, shady pinyon forest, and leave the heat of the valley behind. It’s really pleasant up there! Once on the ridge it’s another thousand feet to the summit, which is not part of the route. Chance and I opted to collapse in the sun for a while. Jess went to the summit, and said it was pretty cool.

Chance on the climb up to Telescope Ridge

Chance on the climb up to Telescope Ridge

The springs in Tuber Canyon on the descent from Telescope Ridge are kind of tricky to find. Use your super-sleuth ninja skills, and carry extra water. One of the springs is tucked away in dense brush at the very beginning of the canyon, Another one is a few miles down the wash, next to a big cluster of trees. Check with the rangers before your hike to see if either of these is running.

Looking down from Telescope ridge

Looking down from Telescope ridge towards the valley we’ll traverse next

.

Jess finds a bighorn sheep skull in Tuber Canyon

Jess finds a bighorn sheep skull in Tuber Canyon

Don’t cook to death while crossing the playa before Panamint springs, and bring plenty of water. The walking is easy in this valley but unless you’re night-hiking, be careful and take it slow. It was 110 degrees the day we crossed, and although I had a sunbrella and enough water, I ended up with a touch of heat exhaustion, which left me feeling off for a few days afterward.

crossing the playa

crossing the playa

Panamint Springs Resort would not let us send a resupply box to their store, nor would they let us leave food there to pick up on our way through. So I’ll pass on the bit of advice the local sheriff gave to us- “Just hide it in the desert.” We ended up stashing our resupply in the desert behind the resort, and when we passed through two days later our food was miraculously untouched. One could resupply in the small store, but it would not be fun. When we were there the store pretty much just carried marshmallows, spray-on sunscreen and one giant, $20 bag of tortilla chips.

The Panamint Springs Resort has a beautiful deserty campground where sites are $7 and come with free hot showers. Each site has a picnic table! And there are vacant RV sites nearby that have those wooden posts with outlets in them where one can charge one’s electronics. There are canvas wall tents with cots for rent too, where you’ll be protected from the wind. And there’s a restaurant with burgers at the resort. Glory!

Darwin Falls is cool but there’s nowhere to camp- just a small flat spot next to the water, with tourists coming and going.

Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls

One gets out of Darwin Falls by climbing straight up the cliff. No, your maps are not lying to you. This is, according to someone who knows more about these things than I do, a class four rock scramble. Give yourself lots of time, be careful, and go slow. Look for cairns and bits of bighorn sheep trail. There is a way to the top of the canyon. There are also lots of dead ends. It took us a couple of hours to traverse the half mile out of the canyon.

Rock climbing, basically.

Rock climbing, basically.

If I did the hike again, I would spend a night at China Garden Springs. I think I’d have enchanted dreams, and some sort of magical ghost would visit me. You’ll just have to believe me when I say that this place is really, really cool.

Goldfish in the spring at China Garden Springs.

Goldfish in the spring at China Garden Springs.

You’re going to want to cache water. We cached six gallons of water (for three people) at Highway 190 where it meets Saline Valley Alternate Road. This left us with a 45-mile dry stretch between our cache and Lone Pine, with about 5k feet of elevation gain, over the Inyo mountains in the heat. We each carried six liters from our cache. In the end this was not enough water for me. I ended up finding water at the ghost town of Cerro Gordo, on the crest of the Inyo mountains. This is NOT, however, a reliable water source. Most days the buildings are empty, and the day we were there the caretaker just happened to be there, giving a tour, and he shared his water with us. If I were to do the L2H again I’d leave a second water cache further up Saline Valley Road, right before it begins the climb into the Inyo mountains.

Chance just casually traversing some desert wilderness

Chance just casually traversing some desert wilderness

.

Jess makes coffee for everyone at our cache. Time to night-hike!

Jess makes coffee for everyone at our cache. Time to night-hike!

.

Morning amongst the Joshua trees.

Morning.

.

On the crest of the Inyo mountains, grabbing  the moon

On the crest of the Inyo mountains, grabbing the moon

.

Chance surveys our desert kingdom.

Chance surveys our desert kingdom.

.

The old salt tram caretaker's cabin in the Inyo Mountains

The old salt tram caretaker’s cabin in the Inyo Mountains

.

Inyo Mountains, watchin yo sun set.

In yo Mountains, watchin yo sunset.

Lone Pine has a grocery store. The grocery store is small and not very well stocked. There’s a store on the first floor of the hostel that carries backpacking-specific food- tuna packets, bars, things like that. The hostel is nice. The Alabama Hills Cafe has massive portions of excellent, greasy-as-fuck hiker food. There are like seventeen gear stores in town.

Permits for Mt. Whitney can be found at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor’s Center just outside of Lone Pine. The permits are free in person, and during spring and fall it’s doubtful that you’ll have to wait for one. There’s also a cool relief map of the Sierras at this visitor’s center that every PCT hiker should see. And neat patches and bandannas!

The roadwalk out of Lone Pine up the Whitney Portal Road was really pleasant. The sun was setting in a nice way and walking on a road just felt so fast.

best roadwalk ever

best roadwalk ever

We had a bear come through our camp at the Whitney Portal campground. Make sure and put everything that smells like anything in the bear lockers.

The weather on the L2H worked out for us thusly: below 5,000 feet = warm at night, above 5,000 feet = cold at night. Be prepared for temperatures between freezing and 115 degrees.

The L2H is really special. Remember to bring a light pack and a good sense of humor, and have fun!

Jess on the climb up Mt. Whitney

Jess on the climb up Mt. Whitney

.

Whitney summit! Yay!

Whitney summit! Yay!