Aug 26

It is now 5 months later and 1002 miles of the trail completed (see below). I certainly wished for more miles, but a combination of factors prevented that from happening. At this time, I have no intention of attempting to put on more miles. What I would like to do in this blog is to summarize matters, including a) what were the problems with the hike, b) what did I learn from it all, c) what equipment did I like and dislike, and d) what positive good came out of it all.

Problems

This was NOT a good year for thru-hiking the PCT. As a veritable matter, it was probably one of the worst possible years to do the PCT. I didn’t think that would happen. a) Record Snow Two years ago, the high Sierra (central California) had record snowfalls, and so I felt that we would not see a high snow year in a while. I was truly fooled there. Starting in central Oregon and south, the mountains recorded record years for the amount of snowfall, including the amount of snow water content. This extended all the way down to Mexico, so that in three areas, Mt. San Jacinto (around Palm Springs), Mt. Georgiono Wilderness, and around Mt. Baden Powell were areas of the desert that had dangerous snow build-up, especially the first and last regions mentioned. I had to carry Kahtoola microspikes (crampon like spikes that you fit over your hiking shoes) through much of the desert from Idyllwild to just past Mt. Baden Powell, and even with the microspikes, the steepness of the snow led to some very challenging situations and extreme danger. Your speed of travel drops at least in half. Your ability to find the trail is dependent entirely on your cell phone and Guthooks. After dropping off Mt. Baden Powell, I determined that I would not subject myself to extreme snow situations again on the trail. Even still, in northern California, out of Burney Falls State Park, reports had it that the snow was gone, and yet I hit about 4-5 hours of hiking through very challenging snow situations. The prospects for much more snow further on in northern California and southern Oregon were daunting, and at least a few people soon around the time I was coming through were injured and helicoptered off of the trail in southern Oregon, Second Chance being an easy example of that. Not cool. b) Mosquitoes Who would ever think that such tiny little beasts could create such misery. When I consider the worldwide fatalities from mosquito-born illnesses it leaves me no wonder. Yet, even without the diseases, mosquitoes can be a source of intense misery. Truly, one must keep every possible skin surface covered because mosquito repellent has only limited efficacy. Mosquitoes will bore through your clothing, such as through my hiking gloves. At night, no matter how hard you try to keep the mosquitoes out of your tent, you will still spend an hour swatting the residual mosquitoes that snuck in while you were entering. You can’t cook a meal or relieve yourself without vicious attacks. Unfortunately, this year was reported to have record numbers of mosquitoes on the trail. I can believe it. c) Early onset of fall Somehow, it seems like the weather got chilly much sooner than normal. Having lived for most of my life in the northwest, I’m used to fairly dry Augusts and early September. Now, it just feels chilly whenever one goes outside, and the sense that fall is in the air. Leaves are already being to turn color and fall. It just doesn’t seem like we had as long of summer as usual. It must be global cooling? d) Major areas of burn from recent years I was surprised how often I would be hiking through major forest burns. They were very frequent in the desert, but also frequent as one moved north. Most of these burns happened within the last few years, and almost certainly related to bad forest management rather than “global warming”. There is a sense of eeriness or spookiness from walking through a burn area. I oftentimes think that I am seeing a person standing there, when it is nothing but a tree stump. The more troubling aspect of walking through a burn area is that you are getting no shelter from the sky. Whether it be the sun or rain, trees are highly protective. When the trees are gone or burned, it is like walking through a desert. It’s just not fun. e) Record number of people injured or bailing from the trail. This issue probably relates to all the other issues above, especially with the snow situation. A number of my friends with whom I hiked were later removed from the trail because of injuries. I haven’t heard of trail deaths yet, thankfully. The attrition rate secondary to so many factors was a little discouraging. It also created heightened worries from Betsy about me being injured. So, multiple factors led to a disappointing performance on my part.

What did I learn?

a) trust in God You don’t have much to think about when spending all day walking. I’m used to reading books, listening to music or audio lectures, watching a movie, or something of that sort. The trail removes one from electronic media and leaves a person alone with their thoughts. My thoughts usually would go to God. It might be thoughts of contemplating the beauty of God’s world, or praying for friends or family, or singing to myself a favorite hymn. Always, I was seeking God for strength to continue on my journey, and I feel confident that I could not have walked a thousand miles without His divine intervention. It is a lesson to continue leaning on the Lord for strength in all of life’s ventures. b) friends abound Almost everybody on the trail were friendly and helpful. It was a touch amazing that there was a sense of family and helping each other out while on the journey up the trail. In fact, while you may not be hiking with any specific person, there is what is known as the trail family associated with those people moving about the same pace as you and encountered by you in camp or in resupply towns. Many of these people I have stayed in touch with. c) backpacking style Ones’ backpack style of necessity must change while on the trail. Early on, most people were doing ultralight packing. Once into northern California, Oregon and Washington, it was not unusual to see many folk backpacking an older traditional way, with 50-60 lb packs, loaded as fully as possible and as much strapped on the outside of the pack as possible. At the Mexican border, I had a base weight of about 19 lb. Base weight is not well defined, but usually means the weight of all that you are carrying excluding food and water. People usually do not include the weight of your clothes or shoes. Things shed as I moved northward. Stuff sacks were seen as useless added weight. I left my wonderful ultralight camera at home in preference for using my iPhone for photos. I used trail running shoes (Altra Lone Peaks) instead of my standard hiking boots (I never got a single blister while using the Altras). Every fraction of an ounce was carefully reviewed. A 2.25 inch mini-Swiss army knife was used instead of the standard size 3.5 inch knife (see photo below). At every town, I’d ask myself what else I could ditch, and then mail it back home. Hydration was another issue. I was using a 3 liter hydration pack which fit into my backpack. The problem was that I could never tell how much water I had left. When refilling the bladder, it was a challenge to remove the bladder to fill it, and if I’d fill it in situ, would never know if it was really full or not. So, I went with an outside hydration unit with a bladder, and kept a 1 liter SmartWater bottle for when my pack was off of me. Distances became different. Typically, I’d hike a 15 – 20 mile day, but got up to 28 miles when I was coming to a destination town. On flat roads, such mileage is easy, but on the trail, it was a concerted effort with minimal dilly-dallying to achieve those distances. Not that I would not enjoy the scenery, and a beautiful scene was an excellent excuse to stop and take a photograph. d) knowing my own personal limits Before this adventure, I had no idea what I could handle for a thru-hike experience. My expectations were uncertain. I now know how many miles I might expect of myself in a day, and that I did not need to push myself to accomplish my goals on the trail.  e) psychological effects of the trail The psychological effects of the trail are quite extreme. Alone and by yourself, you have much to contemplate. Or not. Often, there isn’t much thinking at all that occurs, save for finishing the goals set for the day, and appreciating the particular landscape that you are currently encountering. 

The Future and Summary

The future will be hard to predict. I’ve learned much from my adventure and would love to teach some of it others, perhaps starting an outdoor club at church. I would hope that I could someday finish the entire PCT. Someday.

PS: I wrote this in 29AUG2019 on my iPhone, but noted that it never got published until today 18JUN2021. My sentiments mostly concur, and as I set to again tackle part of the trail, and more detailed sequel will follow… 

 

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Aug 23
Looking down on Sheep Lake, Mount Adams is in the background

I tried to make this blog post up on WordPress on my iPhone, but somehow the program went bezirk. I was in Airplane mode since you don’t have cell phone service in the woods, but the program kept trying to upload my posts as well as past posts. It would stall for minutes, and then eat up 1% of my cell phone “juice” every 5 minutes. That is NOT a sustainable situation, so I deleted WordPress from the iPhone and wrote everything in Pages, converting it to a blog post when back at home.

19AUG Mile 2323-2337 (Martinson Gap) It’s now been a month off the trail, and I still feel beat up from the trail. Yet, the weather is beautiful, the mountains are calling, and I am missing the backpack life. I met a high school student on a volunteer trail maintenance project last year, Jacob Conner, and he wanted to do some of the trail with me, so we decided to do it together, with the fathers’ support. Ken Gill took me up to the trailhead, along with Sam, Ethan, and Liam. The kids walked in for about 3 miles before turning back and leaving Jacob and myself to our own devices. After ascending to Sheep Lake, the trail further ascended and coursed around the Crystal Mountain ski area, and then through a large burn area from several years ago. Because we were just starting out, we decided to take it easy today, and just walked 14 miles.

Betsy doing a conditioning walk with me on the Foothills Trail
The starting crew, including Ken, Ethan, Liam, Sam, me, Grandpa Bill, and Jacob

We had some interesting people pass us including Eleven, who I met in Hiker Town. We met a couple of hikers from Montreal who we stayed in contact with through to Snoqualmie Pass. We were able to have a very relaxed evening. 

Norse Peak Wilderness beauty
Mount Rainier partially hidden from the trail

20AUG Mile 2337-2352

I was in the trail at 6:40, a little later than usual, and Jacob followed a bit later. Eventually he passed me as he is a fairly strong and nimble hiker with a light pack weight. I met a few people of note including an elderly lady named Rhinestone, hiking alone, heading south and doing about 8-10 miles a day. She immediately volunteered that she was a Christian lady and spoke much to me about her faith and appreciation of God’s handiwork on the trail. She was working on short hikes supported by her husband until she could finish the entire Washington section of the PCT. Then there was Hotrod, another elderly geezer, who noted strongly that one should always hike their own hike and not be affected by the young ones sprinting at breakneck speed one the trail. Jacob and I met up at a water hole, then at Ulrich cabin where I was able to get more water, and stopped early at mile 2352 where there were nice campsites plus the last water for 12 miles. Since there were no good campsites for another 7 miles we decided to set up camp a little earlier than intended and had a relaxed evening, enjoying cigars together and celebrating my birthday. At Ulrich cabin there was a 25 yo hiker that had celebrated her 25th birthday just yesterday. It was birthday time on the trail.

Rhinestone
Ulrich Cabin

21AUG Mile 2352-2371

Jacob wished to have coffee before starting the trail so we didn’t get hiking until 7 am. The day started beautiful and cloudless, but soon clouds and drizzle moved in. There were some beautiful scenes when the clouds broke but it was mostly hiking in cool, cloudy and occasionally rainy weather. We were able to hike quite quickly and made it through the 12 mile “dry” section without a problem. Soon, the rain became more persistent and the hills more demanding. I realized that though I wished to put in more miles I also wanted to have my tent up before I became completely soaked. So, we stopped at 19 miles where I had originally planned.  It felt like fall was truly in the air.

Misty day
Mountain beauty
A clue as to where you could find water
Jacob as spry as ever

22AUG Mile 2371-2393

It rained all through the night. I had my tent closed up and noted some condensation inside the tent. I also realized that my “mini” tent stakes were quite adequate for the desert but completely inadequate for the Northwest soil, so will swap out and use regular MSR stakes. I got up a little earlier and headed out with a very wet tent rolled up. I fortunately was dry as well as my sleeping bag. For the third night now, my sleeping pad, a ThermaRest Uberlight was half deflated and needed re-inflation at least once in the night. I think that I’m going to take it back and get a slightly smaller but more substantial sleeping pad. But, in my summary to follow, I’ll do a more complete summary of my equipment. We wished to reach Snoqualmie Pass by 4 pm and had 22 miles to hike. At first I led the way until Jacob caught up and dashed ahead at Mirror Lake. The trail from Mirror Lake was very rocky and not easy to hike through, so I dropped from a 2.5 – 3 mph rate to about 2 mph and ended up with considerable pain in the ankles. But, it was good to see Jacob, his mom, and his little brother. 

Stampede Pass in the mist
Beautiful Mirror Lake
Looking down on I-90

At this point, I had to make a major decision. First, I realized that I could not keep up with Jacob and that he had a time constraint in that he wished to get to Stehekin by 01SEPT, which I could not do. Secondly, with the body aches, especially in the neck, I wasn’t finding the hiking enjoyable, in fact, it was more a matter of constantly suppressing the pain, which usually started about 10 miles in for each day. If I was averaging about 15 mile days like most of the older geezers I passed, then all would be ok. But, this rate of hiking did not fit into what I could handle. I knew that the trail had won and that I really needed to fold in for the season. I had hiked a grand total of 1002 miles of the PCT this year. I am glad to have gotten the most challenging section over with (the desert), and would like to complete other sections of the trail in years to come, though at a slower pace than what I’ve been doing this year. Like Rhinestone, I would like to complete the Washington section of the PCT, do more of the Oregon and northern California PCT, and possibly even do the high Sierra. I will have the advantage of selecting optimal times to do each of these sections in the years to come. It just isn’t going to happen this year. My attitude toward epic adventures, whether on a bicycle or on foot, has come to an end. I will no longer seek for adventures that remove me from home for more than a month. ,,

There is a disappointment in this ending. I would have liked to have hiked more of the trail this year. As a fund-raiser hike-a-thon for Huguenot Heritage, I would have liked to complete a greater part of my commitment. If I physically could have, I would have. But, it just wasn’t possible. This was one of the worst years possible to commit to the PCT. First, there were record snowfalls from central Oregon south all the way to the Mexican border. Because of the late snow melts and massive water content, there were record hordes of mosquitoes. You already know how I felt about mosquitoes. Thirdly, the summer was unusually short, with fall settling in earlier than usual. The one aspect of the hike that was excellent was the desert, which was unusually green. The rivers and creeks that supply water for the hikers were flowing at a time when they are often dry, making water more available than other years. So, I am grateful for many aspects of this adventure. 

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Aug 04

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, by John Frame ★★★★

Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin,
Und leider auch Theologie
Durchaus studiert, mit heißem Bemühn.
Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor…

from Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe perhaps best summarizes my feeble investigations into philosophy, law, medicine, and theology, all studied with great zeal, and yet still left feeling like a fool. I thoroughly appreciate Frame’s approach to the history of western philosophy and his merger with theology, as they both breech similar questions and topics of thought. Oftentimes Frame is verbose, oftentimes terse on a subject in discussion. It is impossible to provide a thorough single-volume text to match the magisterial works of Copleston or Windelband. Frame is a philosopher in the school of Kuyper/van Til, though he makes it clear that he is not a rigid vanTilian. For that reason, I have a deep respect for Frame. Frame offers a fly-over view of western philosophy, starting a usual with the Milesians of ancient Greece and ending with modern deconstruction. Frame is always most kind, sometimes too kind when someone deserves to be attacked, such as the modern deconstructionists. Yet, perhaps Frame feels (as I do) that modern philosophy is more a passing fad than a system of thought to be taken seriously.

Frame takes and runs with the vanTil notion that all thought ultimately is defended by circular reasoning, and thus a defense of Christianity demands a position of Scripture as a presupposition and not as a possibility to be explored and argued as true simply through the use of reason. Yet, all belief systems are circular. The rationalists will use reason to defend their case. Like vanTil, the creator/creature distinction must constantly be held, and that the idea of God speaking to man (through Scripture) is a starting point and a given, and not something that you reason into.

More than 40% of the book is added on at the end in the form of multiple appendices, essays that Frame has written over time and now waiting to be published in a philosophical context. Frame might have served the reader better by offering an explanation before each essay as to setting in which the paper was written.

Frame is very kind. As an example, Frame has many disagreements with Gordon Clark, yet emphasizes what Clark truly got right, and how Clark was perhaps misjudged in the vanTil/Clark controversy. After each chapter of text, there is a review of terms and names, as well as questions to stimulate thought; these questions would be invaluable if one were reading the text for a course. I happen to have read it mostly for my own enjoyment and pleasure, and thus did not constipate myself with deeper philosophical ruminations. I also have this book given as a set of lectures in a course given by Dr. Frame. I will soon be applying myself to listening to Frame philosophize. So far, I find that he is easier to listen to than to read.

Do I recommend this book? Yes of course! John Frame has a brilliant mind and thinks well. I appreciate Frame’s perspectives on philosophy and theology. I would hope that the reader interested in philosophy will also find this text thought-provoking and a delight to read.

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Aug 01

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, by JI Packer ★★★★

I have now reviewed a number of Packer texts, and this will probably be the last for a while. Why would I read this book, a very toned down, brief summary of theology themes, when I have already took Packer’s in-depth course on systematic theology? Simple. It’s one of Packer’s texts that I haven’t read yet, and plan on using it as a book that I could refer other to in seeking for texts in classic Reformed theology. Packer is Anglican, ordained in the Anglican church, yet whose theology was formed by the Puritans and the Westminster Confession, of which he freely admits in the preface of this text. In 94 very short chapters, Packer offers a summary of many of the themes of theology. Packer’s skill is that of taking very complex theological issues and making them very simple. His longest two chapters are only 5 pages long, and they are on the church and on baptism. The book summarizes Packer’s thinking quite nicely, while also giving the reader a sense of how Packer handles hot (controversial) issues, which is, in a very gracious fashion. Thus, even Arminians might read this text and find disagreement but will feel that Packer is hard to disagree with. Throughout are little theological gems that make JI shine. It’s a book worth reading, even if you know your theology.

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