Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Aqua Mira

I'm no gear head by any means. Strike up a conversation with me about gear and watch my eyes glaze over. I thought I'd share a few pieces of gear anyways, for anyone interested. I used Aqua Mira to treat my water on the TRT and also the second half of the PCT after the handle on my Katadyn water filter broke off in Northern California on the PCT last year. I used bleach for about two weeks on the PCT before I was able to purchase some Aqua Mira in Oregon. Aqua Mira is not sold in California. I heard that the reason is because it is used to make meth. Bleach may be the lightest way to treat water, I used 2 drops per quart, but felt a little uneasy regularly putting bleach into my body. Aqua Mira leaves a slight chemical taste to the water but almost becomes unnoticeable over time in my opinion. The active ingredient is Chlorine Dioxide, which we have in our tap water. I've never had any stomach problems due to water after treating with Aqua Mira. It's a light weight solution (1 ounce per bottle), and the two bottles (Part A and Part B) treat about 30 gallons of water. In a perfect world, it would be tremendous to never have to worry about getting sick from our water sources, and to be able to drink it untreated. I've never reached the point where I was willing to compromise successfully completing a hike for the sake of drinking untreated water. Many thru hikers don't treat their water, many get sick, many don't. Perhaps it's a genetic thing. One day, when I have decent health insurance, I'd like to attempt a hike without treating water. Until then, Aqua Mira works just fine for me.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tahoe Rim Trail: Headin' Back Home

September 11, 2011: I awoke in the morning and was looking forward to my drive home on roads I've never taken before. I decided to head towards Donner Pass.

Standing in the sun on this warm day, it's hard to visualize what this area looks like in winter, completely snow covered. Of course this is also the location of the Donner tragedy.

Not too long ago, folks were trying to come through here with horses and covered wagons. Amazing. I couldn't help notice the destruction of many of the granite boulders and mountainsides to put in roads. There were plaques to read about the history of the area and the original natives that used to live here.

(Looking east towards Donner Lake)

Now, a simple drive in a car allows easy access and travel through these mountains with thoughts like whether to crack the window or turn on the AC, or what music to listen to while the mountains retreat to the rear view mirror.

The sign that my trip was coming to an end was apparent. As my vehicle began its decent from the Sierra and into the foothills, my Gatorade bottles began to implode on themselves, causing loud pops in the backseat. It was a sad reminder that another hiking season has come and gone.

I stopped by a small vegetable stand along the valley floor near I-5 before heading back into the mountains along the Coastal Range. Harvest was in full swing, and there were many discount items for sale.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tahoe Rim Trail: Day 10

September 10, 2011: Slept good during the night, and hit the trail first thing in the morning. Filled up my water bottles at a creek in the North Canyon Campground and began the climb back to the trail. Before leaving, one of the scoutmasters gave me a bottle of Desani water after he saw me filling up at the creek. He didn't realize that I prefer the mountain creek water over anything else the modern world could provide, but I appreciate his kind gesture nonetheless.

The trail quickly became quite scenic, one of the prettier sections along the entire rim. Great views of Tahoe and purple lupine blooming everywhere. I saw a deer eating breakfast along the hillside. It was an excellent morning to be hiking.

Down below, I could see many mountain bikers riding up a fire road.

Eventually, I met a woman with a walkie talkie and we talked for a while. As it turned out, there was a mountain bike race taking place along a portion of the TRT. On this section of trail, mountain bikers are allowed to ride on even numbered days. "Damn," I thought, "This is a Saturday as well."

Soon enough, mountain bikers began to appear one by one, although these were not the race participants as far as I could tell. I stepped off the trail to let each one pass.

This became the theme for the rest of the afternoon. I counted 50 mountain bikers in 33 minutes at one point and then stopped counting.

I began to think about what St. Rick said the day before. Perhaps this was similar to what he experienced coming through here. At first, it was tolerable. I'd just stop hiking, step off the trail, let the bikers pass, and then continue onward and try not to breathe in too much trail dust. Truth be told, it eventually turned into a nuisance.

(Golden eagle above)

I will say, 99.9% of the mountain bikers were extremely gracious, shouting a "Thank you!" as they passed. There were a couple of times where I had just a split second to jump off the trail as someone came bolting down the trail, one incident in particular that really pissed me off. Otherwise, like mosquitoes, this was an annoyance that had to be tolerated as kindly as possible.

As anyone who backpacks knows, sometimes it isn't easy to start the hiking engine back up after you stop for a few seconds. Having to do this over and over had the same sensation on the brain like being stuck in rush hour traffic. Despite this, several hawks were doing aerial acrobatics along the eastern side of the mountains. It was a joy to watch them. I even saw a golden eagle that was just enormous. He had caught something in his talons, caught a thermal, dropped the item, and then dove down to snatch it back out of the air.

Storm clouds began to congregate as the afternoon wore on. Thunder could be heard bouncing off the mountains. The miles quickly disappeared and I only had a few more to go before this trip would be over. It started to sprinkle as I entered Tahoe Meadows and I could see my car sitting in the lot about a mile away.

Around 4:00pm I reached the Tahoe Meadows trail head where I started this hike nine days ago. While packing up my car, I met three guys from San Francisco who had just finished a 20 mile trail run. They come out once a year and run a portion of the TRT. The four of us tailgated for an hour or so and drank a celebratory beer together. I decided to spend one more night in the vehicle rather than drive home that night. I really wanted to see the Sierra in the morning as I drove back home to the west, and was in no hurry to leave the area. I felt a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that evening, thankful for another trek into the Sierra. This trip, although only 9 days, was filled with lessons, and things to think about and process.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tahoe Rim Trail: Day 9

September 9, 2011: I woke up in the early morning after the worst night's sleep of the trip. The pain in my back, hips, legs, and feet was awful. It was nerve pain, a dull, throbbing ache running down my legs into the tops of my feet. The sloped ground didn't help matters, perhaps contributed to the ailments. Mosquitoes also never went to sleep this night either, flying into my head net all night long, looking for a midnight snack. Such is life on the trail sometimes. I was ready to put in some miles nonetheless.

First thing in the morning, the trail led me into Kingsbury South, and a road walk for 3 miles or so. However, when I approached town, there were signs indicating that new portions of the TRT had just opened, avoiding most of the road walking. I wasn't really in the mood to walk through town, and I still did not have "hiker hunger," so I gladly took the new trail. There were several running streams along this new route and I filled my water capacity to the brim. Today was supposed to have another long waterless section according to the guidebook. Spooner Lake would be the next source about 13 miles away. I walked through town just briefly, through a residential neighborhood where houses were nestled amongst large granite rocks.

"Are you lost?" One man yelled from his front yard. "I don't think so!" I replied, although now I was unsure. "Keep your eyes peeled for mountain lions!" the man yelled again. "There are a couple of them taking down deer around here." As I walked towards road 207, I talked briefly to a construction worker. "You seen any wildlife?" the worker asked. "No, surprisingly I haven't seen anything," I answered. "I heard it said once," the worker said, "They see you," he laughed.

The new trail seemed to add about 3 or 4 miles to the hike. I was a little annoyed by this setback in my planned itinerary for the day, but there was nothing to do about it. Just before reaching the Kingsbury North trail junction, I met an old Naval Academy graduate, who used to live where I grew up in Maryland. We had a long conversation and I asked him if he could explain the difference between the towns around Lake Tahoe. This question seemed to excite him, as he told me the different political beliefs and cultures of the various towns, all very different as I had suspected.

Finally, I was back into the woods away from the neighborhoods. I crossed paths with another TRT rim hiker heading the opposite direction. His name was Ian, and we talked for a while. "I'm really struggling with feeling lonely out here," Ian said. He was hiking about 10 to 12 miles a day and had already been hiking for about 10 days, with probably another week to go. During our conversation, he told me he had just finished biking across the country a couple of months ago. I told him I was struggling with wanting to quit the trail after the first few days, although the thought never entered my mind along the PCT. "Maybe it is too soon to take on another trip," Ian said. "After I got home from my cross country bike ride, I immediately went back into trip planning mode, thinking that was what I wanted. Now that I'm out here, I'm not sure if that was the right decision. It's like my body and soul are still exhausted from the first trip." I told him I understood exactly what he saying and wondered if the same thing applied to me. "Take a swim in Star Lake," I suggested. "Swimming in these ice cold lakes always makes me feel better."

(Highway 50. A dangerous road crossing at 4:00 in the afternoon.)

Ian and I parted ways, and soon thereafter I ran into an elderly Canadian gentleman who had retired from the Canadian coastguard and was spending his retirement hiking whenever he could. "I prefer hiking with others," he said. "It's more exciting having someone to share the experience with. I've been very fortunate to work, have great career, and save up quite a bit of money. Now I am really enjoying retirement hiking these trails. You guys in the states have it tough right now with the economy and all, eh?"

(Spooner Lake above )

This was turning into an excellent day, great conversations and lots to ponder as a result of them. Then I ran into the two young TRT hikers that I met on "Day 4." They seemed to really be enjoying their hike. "We are going to spend like 5 days in Desolation Wilderness, climbing granite and swimming," they excitedly informed me. An hour or so later, I ran into the last TRT hiker I had met on "Day 5" who had hiked the PCT and the AT. His AT hiking buddy had left the trail a couple of days earlier, so now he was hiking solo. "My name is Saint Rick," he told me. I asked him how his hike was coming along. "It's hard to describe the TRT as a premier hiking trail with the mountain bikers on it too," he said. It seemed as though he was holding back something he wanted to say, but couldn't bring himself to do it. I shared my TRT struggles, and was really curious what was going on in his mind. I was getting the sense that this trail was making all of us confront some serious issues for some reason. The trail is not necessarily difficult to hike, yet many of us were struggling for some reason or another. Unfortunately for me, I was heading in the opposite direction so our conversation came to an end. Once again, such is trail life. Maybe Ian, St Rick, and the other young hikers met up and camped together in the evening and had a great time. Once again, I had water on my mind.Later in the afternoon, I was able to refill my water bottles at Spooner Lake. I was not thrilled about this water source, but it was the only water for the next several miles. I still had about 10 miles to go before reaching camp. On this section (3) of trail, folks are permitted to camp in two locations, North Canyon Campground, located about a mile and a half off the trail as well as a 700 foot loss in elevation, and Marlette Campground. There was no way I was going to reach Marlette, so North Canyon was my only option.

Haze continued to build through the afternoon and evening and I was starting to have a real battle of conscience. Do I simply set up camp somewhere in the woods or hike to the campground. 700 feet in elevation loss? 10 more miles? That will put me in camp at 8:00. I'm so exhausted already. I kept walking, battling what I wanted to do, and what I should do.

Finally I reached the junction with the North Canyon Campground around 7:15pm and had about a mile and a half to go downhill. I had just a little energy left so I headed for camp. It can only be described as a "death march" and brought back so many nights on the PCT where one is completely exhausted but must walk several more miles to reach a certain destination. Zombie like, I stumbled down the switchbacks until I finally reached the campground at dark at 7:45. There was a boisterous boyscout group sharing camp that night, but no matter. I was too exhausted to care. I set up camp, cooked a quick dinner, and fell fast asleep. One more day to go...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

TRT: Day 8

Tahoe Rim Trail: Day 8

(View to the south above)
September 8, 2011: I slept good during the night, had that "wool in the eyes" sensation all night long. Awoke once again to hear some sprinkles hitting my tarp and there was lightning and thunder for a few minutes as well.

I hit the trail first thing in the morning and had some excellent views to the south. I strained my eyes to see if I could make out any of the peaks. I thought for sure I saw the Minarets near Mammoth, but often times I see what I want to see. I imagined walking through those fantastic areas along the John Muir Trail.

I had some awesome views of my own to enjoy today. Lake Tahoe was visible to the west, there was a nice breeze blowing, western junipers to admire and fragrant sage brush to saunter through.

Seasonal streams and springs were still flowing thanks to 2011's heavy snow. I had nice views of peaks in Desolation Wilderness where I had been a couple of days before. Today I was heading towards Kingsbury Grade South, about 19 or 20 miles away.

At Armstrong Pass, the trail slithered through areas where rare alpine plants grow, among them the Tahoe draba. I wish I knew what it looked like before hand. I took a picture of a small white wildflower I'd never seen before, but after looking it up online, it was not the draba. Maybe a return trip is necessary?

Star Lake was one of the gems of the day. I had lunch here, imagined the area in the winter. There were several streams still flowing near the lake, creating glorious gardens nearby.

I love walking trails like the one pictured above. The scenery reminded me of many trails in California, always on the big mountains.

As usual, the sun really intensified by afternoon. After walking through a quartz filled mile or so of trail, it became really exposed. I donned my rain jacket to protect my already lotion covered arms. It was hot, but I was glad I was not being lazy. I kept reminding myself to bring a lightweight, light colored long sleeved shirt if I am ever fortunate enough to hike in the Sierra again.

Later in the afternoon, there were spectacular views of the Carson Valley in Nevada to the east. I was immediately brought back to similar views of the Owens Valley to the south, and still further to the south, the Coachella Valley in Southern California. The terrain looks so similar, the granite peaks jutting out of the desert floor, familiar conifers dotting the mountains, those ever present blue California (in this case Nevada) skies. I love these transition zones and took a break contemplating the mountains. How blessed are we!!

By evening, I was approaching Kingsbury South, and wanted to find a place to camp before entering town. Storm clouds had been developing all day over Lake Tahoe to the west, so I passed up a nice site on top of a granite peak. I ended up stealth camping above the town on sloped ground, with views of the condominiums below.

Before settling down for the night, I realized it had been a chaff free day of hiking! Another ailment seemed to have come and gone I hoped. Seven days of hiking had passed and I was definitely feeling the hiking groove developing.

A great day had ended on the TRT, and I realized I only had two more to go...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tahoe Rim Trail: Day 7

September 7, 2011: My resupply was done, I had stuffed myself at a pizza buffet for dinner the night before, and I was ready to hitch out of South Lake Tahoe and hit the trail. Even though I had a comfortable bed, I did not sleep well at all during the night. Pain in my lower back and legs was almost too much. I don't know why it was so persistent. The weight of my pack? The constant walking? Not lifting my pack properly? All or none of the above?

I went to the spot where I caught a ride last year and stuck out my thumb. 10 minutes passed, 15, 20, 30. No luck. I decided to make a cardboard sign with the letters PCT written on it. I also decided to find a different spot because there were a couple of cop cars parked in a nearby lot. I don't know if hitching is illegal here, or if the police turn a blind eye to it since it is an outdoor town, but it made me uneasy. Maybe I've watched too many You Tube videos of cops beating up people, but I could imagine trying to explain myself to the officer, getting slammed against the hood of the car, pepper sprayed in the eyes and then tased with my heavy backpack smashing against my head as I hit the pavement.

I walked a little ways down the road and again stuck out my thumb and held up my sign. Immediately, a minivan pulled over. It was the owner of the Apex Inn! "I can drop you off in Myers, the town about 10 miles from here." The owner told me that 2011 was a particularly slow year for the Inn as far as hikers go. Many hikers left the trail early this year due to the snow. I was glad to hear that he appreciates our business when we do come. "The only thing I ask," the owner said, "is not to shave your beards off in the sink. It clogs them up!"

The owner of the Inn dropped me off in Myers and I again held up my sign and thumb. A couple of minutes later, a cop drove past. He gave me a nod and a wave. My fears and suspicions were unfounded. Just then, a white pickup truck pulled over and the man told me to throw my backpack into the back. Almost instantly, our communication was off the mark, it was almost comical. We simply could not connect our conversations and questions, and we kept misunderstanding each other. It was actually hilarious. Anyhow, he told me he used to rock climb with Ray Jardine in Yosemite back in the 70's. The man dropped me off at the trail head, and I was relieved to be back in the woods. Mission Accomplished! No more resupply, all I needed to do now was walk.

The climb from the 50 was quite steep and strenuous, but that was OK. I was happy to be amongst the trees and the granite. The trail passed several beautiful Sierra gardens, and meadows.

The TRT was still combined with the PCT and I had no trouble remembering where I was from this point on. The hillside pictured above and below was covered with paintbrush and lupine the same way it was last year.

After eating lunch on a picturesque hillside, I continued onward towards Showers Lake. Chaffing was still a major issue, and it was increasingly painful to walk as the afternoon wore on.

I met a woman doing trail maintenance with her small dog and horse. She actually looked a lot like my mom, although I've never seen her on a horse before. I thought about my family a lot the rest of the afternoon.

Before reaching Showers Lake, my stomach began to rumble. "What is this?" I thought. I continued walking until I could walk no longer. I made a mad dash for a secluded spot and had a major bought of diarrhea. "Dammit, did I drink some bad water?" I started doing a mental inventory of all the places I drank water. Maybe when I went swimming I accidentally drank some. Or was it on the first day, at Brockway Summit, I was so dehydrated I drank some water out of a plastic pitcher that was near the road because I was so desperate. Was it the faucet at the museum? These were the places I did not treat my water. I started to think about how quickly a hike could come to an end due to health reasons or injury. I took a look at my watch and waited for the next bought to come.

(Showers Lake above)

I thought about a hiker named Trooper that I met on the PCT last year. I crossed paths with him near Kearsarge Pass, along the John Muir Trail. He was so sick, he could barely walk, having major stomach issues due to drinking bad water. I thought for sure he was finished. His appetite was shot as well, and he was resting against a rock. As it turned out, he finished the trail on October 31st. He obviously overcame his sickness, although I don't know the details.

(Saying goodbye to the PCT again above)

My mind was put at ease when the first hour, then the second hour passed and my stomach felt fine. "Pizza buffet," I mumbled to myself. Anyhow, the time came to say goodbye to the PCT once again. The TRT split and headed towards the east towards Big Meadow. I was sad to say goodbye, wanting to continue south towards Sonora Pass, but also was looking forward to seeing a new part of the Sierra. I took a break at the junction and thought about how incredible this trail is.

I also met another TRT hiker who was walking in the opposite direction. He seemed very happy to be hiking, and was doing about 12 miles a day. "It's all trail, we are outside, what more could we want?" he asked. Later in the day, my water was running low and I came to a creek where I decided to fill up. Water was more abundant now, seasonal streams were still running, but I was still having a hard time with my water rhythm. I didn't want to take any chances still, so I decided to replenish a gallons worth of water. The stream was really odd in the place I chose. There was a bend in the creek and it actually flowed under ground for about eight feet as it was making a swift turn. Wouldn't you know it, as soon as I bent over to fill one of my bottles, it fell out of my hand, and quickly disappeared in the earthen tunnel and never came out the other side. "What are the chances?" I wondered to myself. I still had four bottles left, but I was peeved at myself for dropping a bottle, losing it, and littering at the same time. I hoped it would not come back to haunt me as there were some large waterless stretches approaching on the Nevada side of the trail.

I continued hiking past Big Meadow a few miles until 7:15. Water was plentiful and I was carrying 10 pounds for nothing again it seemed. Well, I guess not for nothing, I did have peace of mind. I found a nice secluded camp site amongst some huge granite boulders and a creek and set up my tarp. I was very happy about my progress so far on the trail, ahead of schedule and putting in good mileage. Resupply in South Lake Tahoe was done in perfect time, plenty of time to rest, and also putting in full days of hiking today and yesterday. My stomach felt fine, I was doing a very good job preventing blisters from forming on my feet, was hydrated, well fed, and feeling stronger and more in tune. I was keeping covered when the sun became too intense. Chaffing was still a problem, perhaps pack weight as well, but so far, this trip was turning into one where problem areas could be identified, and hopefully improved upon for future backpacking treks...