From Mountains to Anthills

July 4, 2018

The importance of water is a lesson the PCT teaches again and again. Though this area boasts of many ponds, lakes, streams, and springs, the actual trail tends to stick to the tops of ridges, making for a very dry walk with steep side trips to fetch life-giving liquid. Thus, you can imagine our delight and appreciation this morning when we came across a water cache left by a trail angel named Devilfish.

Once again mosquitoes reigned as we hiked through the forest. “Just keep walking,” became our mantra as we swatted whining insects and applied repellent.

Mid-afternoon came, with heat and sun. ‘You can do it,’ I encouraged myself. ‘It’s lovely out here. This is just a few miles of discomfort.’ I swatted two more mosquitoes. ‘Okay, maybe lots of miles of discomfort.’

Just then, the trees opened up as the trail contoured across a scree field. Above Jay’s head loomed a giant pointed mountain with towers and castles off each side! Where had that come from? “Jay!” I called out. “Oh my gosh! What is that?”

“Mt. Thielsen,” came the matter of fact reply. “It’s something, isn’t it?”


Our map informed us that Mt. Thielsen was an extinct shield volcano which stopped erupting about 250,000 years ago. Three different ice ages had eroded the mountain, leaving the center of the volcano as an eye-catching spire. The thin, tapering pinnacle acted as a natural lightning rod, forming a rare variant of fulgurite (substance formed when lightning melts rock). Lathrop Glacier, just below the summit, gave mute testimony of long ago mountain-shaving ice age forces.

A couple hours after my first sighting, the trail brought us to the shoulder of Mt. Thielsen, with a beguiling breeze which blew away all traces of mosquitoes. It was an easy decision to eat dinner there, watching light and shadow chase across the surface of the mountain as clouds scudded high above.

‘Here we are, on the birthday of our country,’ I thought. ‘We haven’t spoken to another person all day. One state away, my best friend is singing in a chorus, listening to cannons firing, and eating chocolate cake surrounded by hundreds of other celebrants. All over the nation, people will be watching fireworks tonight. The thing is, I’m totally content with our light and cloud show! This scenery is truly incredible.’

“What a way to appreciate our nation,” I sighed in happiness. Jay grinned at me, silently agreeing.


July 5, 2018

We camped last night above Thielsen Creek, with a view of the mountain top from our tent door. This morning Jay woke me just in time to see the whole mountain awash with the alpine glow of sunrise. Later, as I braved mosquitoes to fetch water, I couldn’t resist one more picture of this incredible mountain.


In the early afternoon, Jay and I noticed a log with a rather large symmetrical pile of sawdust beside it. Intrigued, we stopped to watch.


A tiny fleck of sawdust caught a miniscule speckle of sunlight as it drifted onto the top of the mound. Fascinated, we leaned in for a closer look.


Dark movement in the hole above the pyramid of wood shavings caught our attention.


As we watched, we suddenly saw … carpenter ants! They were busily hollowing out this log, turning it into a catacomb of intersecting tunnels and passageways, making a safe nest for their colony. That pile of chewed wood had been placed there one infinitesimal fragment at a time. No ant had said, “Oh, this is too big of a job.” They’d just got on with it, busily making a place for themselves.

Once again I found myself lost in wonder, this time inspired by a small pile of sawdust. Truly we live in an extraordinary world, from awe-inspiring mountains to staggering examples of the minute. It is a privilege to witness this earth!

(Below is a 15 second video of the ants in action, from Jay’s phone camera.)

On to Walker Pass

May 12, 2017

I opened bleary eyes reluctantly to a peaceful dawn. After the fierce wind yesterday and last night, I wanted to turn over and bury my head in my pillow, drifting into another few hours of blessed sleep. Only I didn’t have a pillow. And miles of trail were waiting to be hiked.

A water cache at Bird Spring Pass gave us enough water for the day. Once again I found myself thinking grateful thoughts to the unknown trail angels who hauled water up dirt roads just for the love of it!

Gopher, from London, was already getting water when I arrived. He looked much more cheerful and wide awake than I felt.

“Where did you spend the night?” I asked, wondering if he had found better shelter than a flattened tent.

Gopher gestured to the nearby Joshua trees shading the water cache. “I sort of burrowed into a group of those tree-thingies a few yards down the slope.”

“Joshua trees,” I said.

“Oh, are those Joshua trees? Well, now I know!” Gopher looked pleased. “What about you? Did you find shelter?”

“Not really,” I shook my head. “We cowboy camped on top of our tent, amid the cow patties down in the valley. When the wind quit around 11:30 p.m., we set up the tent.”

“Cow patties? So those things are from cows?” Gopher smiled. “I wasn’t sure. But such big poop! I was hoping it was cows!”

“Yes,” I laughed. “The cows were across the valley, where it was a bit sheltered from the wind, but too steep for us.”

We parted with calls of “See you down the trail.” I felt more cheerful, though I knew only a good long nap would completely restore my equilibrium.

We saw several bushes with bright yellow, waxy blooms. Once again Jay deployed the California Wildflower app, and we were rewarded with the shrub’s name – California flannelbush. I’m afraid, in my sleep-deprived state, that all I could think of was comfortable flannel pajamas! But the information on the wildflower app warned us that hairs on the leaves could cause a rash. Best to be admired from a distance!

From the top of our first big climb of the day, Jay saw a flock of Clark’s nutcrackers, making their loud calls to each other.

I enjoyed seeing rocky rims on a ridge as we climbed.

I sighted one more flower today, the arrow-leaf balsam root. This flower grows in the Sierra Nevada mountains near our home in Nevada. Sighting it for the first time today made me feel like our hike was truly bringing us closer to home.

Much of the day was spent on top of ridges, with little shelter from vagrant stray breezes, bringing cold temperatures across the land. When dinner time rolled around, we were determined to eat without a chilly puff of air sliding down our necks. We settled upon a solid outcrop of stone, higher than our heads. Sitting at its base, we had a perfect view of two round boulders still in the sunlight. Black lizards evidently made this their home. A couple of lizards did pushups before chasing each other up and down the rock. It amazed me, watching them run straight up a vertical surface. One even clung upside down to an overhang for a brief second. I never knew how many lizards were there, as we witnessed numerous chases, several sun warming sessions with pushups, and even one brief mating. The finale was a three way chase, large lizards charging across the boulders at dizzying speeds! Exciting stuff for dinner entertainment!

May 13, 2018

“Good morning! It’s a town day!” Jay whispered, grinning at me in the dawn light. I stuck my nose out of my sleeping bag. Brrr! I snuggled against Jay, seeking a bit of warmth, delaying the morning chill for a few precious moments.

Though we only had about seven miles to hike before reaching Walker Pass, I was determined to enjoy the sights as we hiked. Flowers outdid themselves!

Once again Jay’s California Wildflower app came into use, and we discovered one of the flowers bore our name!

The Bigelow’s tickseed – a rather ugly name for a beautiful flower!

Not only did individual flowers abound, but whole hillsides were covered with blooms!

When we finally reached Walker Pass Campground, a day hiker offered us a ride to the nearest town, Inyokern. Pavel and his dog, Roxie, were great company! Pavel had immigrated to the United States with his family when he was ten. He still had a charming Russian accent. I couldn’t resist asking him about a Russian idiom I had read once, “…something about a crayfish whistling on a mountaintop?”

Pavel laughed. “Yes, it is a real idiom, though a bit old-fashioned. And perhaps it is a lobster. But yes, something with claws. ‘That will happen when a lobster whistles from a mountain top.’ A bit like the English idiom of ‘when pigs fly’.”

Walker Pass Campground – a fortuitous meeting place for getting a ride from a trail angel!

Pavel dropped us off at the only burger joint in Inyokern, where we ate a delicious lunch of bacon burgers and french fries (instead of trail food – sardines and raisins!).

We then checked into the only hotel in Inyokern. Sitting on the bed after our showers, Jay and I looked at each other. We’d made it! 650 miles! It’s been quite an adventure, with only 2,000 miles to go!

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak

October 15, 2017

For the last couple of days, Jay has been aware of a rash spreading across his right shoulder and ribs, looking suspiciously like poison ivy.  Since Jay is very allergic, and always needs medical intervention to heal, we decided to take a detour to the town of Wind Gap, PA today.

A misty drizzle caused us to don rain gear as we hiked.  To reach Wind Gap, we walked two miles on the AT from our campsite, then 1.5 miles on a road.  Road walks are never much fun, but on a rainy day, with cars splashing puddles of muddy water across our legs, I was less than enamored with the morning.  A  half mile into our road walk brought us to a convenience store, where we decided to stop for a rest and a drink.

While I was buying our refreshments, a man approached.  “Hi, are you a hiker?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “My husband and I are hiking the AT.”

“How’s it going?  Do you need money?”  he asked.

I didn’t think we looked that down and out, but perhaps the last 2,000 miles was beginning to show!  “No thank you.  Although we wouldn’t turn down a ride to the doctor’s office,”  I managed to say over my surprise.

“Oh, I’m not headed into town,” he said.  “Is it anything serious?”

“No, my husband just has a bad case of poison ivy,” I explained.  “It’s okay.  We can walk the next mile.”  (In the rain, my inner voice complained.)

The man drove off, and Jay and I began walking again.  A few minutes later, he pulled up beside us!  “I got down the road a ways, and was convicted by the Holy Spirit,” he told us.  “I knew I had to go back.”

We enjoyed the ride in dry comfort.  We learned that the man had been rescued from the World Trade Center on 9-11.  The ride was very short, so we didn’t learn much more.  We thanked him several times, and he headed off.  Once again, the AT provided another adventure!

The doctor told Jay he had poison oak.  He said he could tell the difference because poison oak made a clumpy rash instead of a spread out rash.  He gave Jay a prescription for steroids to dry it up.

Jay’s bug pants fascinated the doctor.  He said he treats sooo many people with Lyme disease, and he is going to start recommending the pants to his patients.  (See my blog titled “Fashion versus Function”, written August 25, for a description of the pants.)

From the clinic, Jay and I walked to the grocery store for resupply, picked up his medicine from a nearby pharmacy, and ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant.  The cook was very surprised to see us with our backpacks.  “What are you doing still out on the trail?” he asked.  “The season is over!  It’s getting cold out there!”  I was touched (and a bit amused) at his obvious concern.

The rain stopped as we were eating lunch, which made the road walk back to the AT much nicer.  Full stomachs and the memory of kind people helped also!

Our mileage total was seven miles, with four and a half hours spent in town.  We stopped near the Leroy Smith Shelter at 5:00 p.m.

We ate dinner, and I hung the food on a fabulous tree branch, perfectly placed to be easy access for me and difficult for questing critters.  While Jay set up the tent, I went in search of water.  The map indicated three springs here, all down hill from our camp site.  The first two were dry.  A half mile after setting out with empty water bottles, with dusk collecting under the trees, I was beginning to despair.  A small sign nailed to a tree said, “Spring.”  I turned off the trail, and found water gushing out of the ground!  What a relief!  Joyfully, with heavy water bottles, I headed the half mile back to our camp site.  Jay met me halfway.  He had already put up the tent AND laid out both sleeping pads, then came to find me in the evening twilight.  What a guy!  As I brushed my teeth in the dark, once again I felt so very blessed.