June 20 – 25, 2018
So here we are, cat sitting during a truly lovely part of summer. The PCT continues to tug at my soul. What to do? Slackpack, of course!
“I’ve never heard this term,” a day hiking mother of two told me on our second slackpack. So, I looked it up. To quote from the website, Slackpacker.com, “Slackpacking was originally coined to describe a day’s worth of thru-hiking unencumbered by a [full] pack.”
The PCT crosses several asphalt roads within easy driving distance of Ashland. Logistically and emotionally, slackpacking made sense.
On our first day of this adventure, Jay dropped me at Highway 66, then drove to the next asphalt road, Hyatt Lake Road. I began hiking north, he hiked south. We met in the middle for lunch and a key hand off. When I reached the car, I drove back to the first trail head to pick up Jay. It worked like a charm!
On our first day, though we saw no other backpackers, flowers were our constant companions!
The trail became quite populated the second day. I met two families enjoying a day hike. One of the children asked me if I thought a PCT hiker could live off the land.
“I suppose it would depend upon how much one knew about edible plants, and ones skill at hunting,” I told him. “Jay and I ate violets, dandelions, and ramps on the Appalachian Trail, but here, the only edible plant I know is the dandelion. And I’m a truly rotten hunter. I think I would get very hungry if I had to find all my food in the wilderness.”
After wishing the families a good hike, I continued on, enjoying the feeling of being all alone in the forest. I passed a turn-off for a horse camp, then suddenly spied a bright yellow book inside a hollow log!
Curious, I opened the notebook to find that many hikers ahead of me had recorded a continued story. Enchanted, I was quickly drawn into the plot of an evil Darkwing Goose chasing after The Maiden, who was helped by a host of thru-hikers as they encountered the adventure upon the trail. Needless to say, I added my own bit to the story and returned the tale to its log. The magic of the unfinished yarn stayed with me for several miles afterwards.
Meeting Jay for lunch, I found that he, also, had been encountering hikers today, including Texas Teacher, whom we had not seen since sharing a bus ride from San Diego to Campo on our very first day of the PCT! What a treat for Jay to run into him!
As we were eyeing lunch spots, we met another PCT hiker, Trailbait. We invited ourselves to lunch with her, and spent an enjoyable 30 minutes trading trail talk. Among other tales, we learned that Trailbait had attended a survival camp at the age of 14, and could kill a rabbit with a throwing stick! If the little boy had asked her about living off the land, he would have received a very different answer! After lunch, she and I walked together a bit before her youth and vitality left me in the dust.
During these days of slack packing, I noticed that some spring flowers were beginning to fade, especially the bleeding hearts, which have turned darker purple and begun to grow seed pods.
One never knows what will be seen on the trail, and our third slackpack was unique for a pelvis bone in the path. It still had a few scraps of tendon attached, pretty fresh. Due to its size, Jay theorized that it could possibly be from a fawn.
Our fourth day of slackpacking found me exploring one of the few shelters on the PCT. It is sturdily built, with a wood stove inside, and a mouse-chewed journal. I read about hikers waiting out May and June snow storms here, happy for the warmth of the stove.
Soon after seeing the shelter, I met Pathfinder, a hiker who is intent upon completing the PCT for the second time. He averages 40 miles per day, and has already hiked through the high Sierras this year. We met Jay, and the three of us talked for a few minutes.
“How were the Sierras for you, starting so early?” Jay asked.
“There was a lot of snow,” Pathfinder acknowledged. “The worst part for me was trying to find the trail. I don’t carry GPS, I just rely on maps. I got lost several times. It got to where, whenever I saw snow, I just sighed in disgust.”
“With the permit system the PCTA has started, a lot of hikers are getting to the Sierras early,” Jay observed.
“Yes, I don’t think the system really works.” Pathfinder shook his head. “I understand that it’s designed to spread out the hikers and reduce the impact upon the trail. But everyone gets bottled up at the Sierras anyway. And some hikers are heading into those mountains earlier than they should. It takes experience to navigate safely through snow and high altitudes. Heck, I weathered three snow storms while I was up there!”
“Also, the people who can’t get an early permit to start north are hiking southbound through southern California,” Jay added. “So there are still too many hikers all in the same place. This trail has very specific weather and time windows for the different parts. I don’t know what the answer is.”
After lunch, I had the excitement of hiking around Brown Mountain, a small cinder cone on top of a shield volcano. The path passed from tall trees sporting streamers of usnea to blocks of hardened black lava devoid of vegetation. Such a fascinating ecosystem! As I gratefully hiked along the carefully constructed path, I marveled at the amount of work the trail crews had lavished on these lava crossings. Without the trail, my forward progress would have made a snail look speedy, and I would have probably broken a leg!
Near the end of the day, Mt. McLoughlin made an appearance, promising more adventure ahead.
Four days of slackpacking gained us 38.8 miles of completed PCT, for a total of 721 PCT miles since beginning our pilgrimage on March 22nd. Much more importantly has been the many memories of people, flowers, and natural beauty that we’ve collected over the past 3 months. I can hardly wait to continue – with a full backpack!