Pacific Crest Trail Backpack

Heather Lake, Desolation Wilderness, Pacific Crest Trail

Heather Lake, Desolation Wilderness, with the Carson Range in the distance

Dave told me about his plan to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) more than a year ago. I said I’d like to join him for a week or so. Dave lives north of Sydney, Australia, so this communication, and those that followed, was by e-mail or Skype call. I was serious about joining him and read Chris Townsend’s Rattlesnakes and Bald Eagles to get an idea of which sections of the trail I might like (I’d already read Wild).

By the time Dave set off from the Mexican border on April 24th this year, I was leaning toward Washington in September. But hiking the PCT does not permit firm itineraries, and Dave was always going to be a moving target. Sure enough, in June, Dave found the High Sierra blocked with lingering snow and swollen streams. He skipped it, planning to return in late summer. Between June and the last day of August, Dave hiked from northern California to Canada.

By early August, I was confident enough of Dave’s Sierra schedule to book flights and time off. We targeted meeting at South Lake Tahoe and hiking together to Donner Pass. Even so, it was touch and go until the last minute whether Dave’s schedule and mine would coincide. Just before I left home, Dave called to say he’d run into the first snowfalls of the season and might be delayed.

In the end, on Sunday, September 24th, I drove my rental car to Echo Summit and started hiking south. After about a mile, I met Dave hiking north. Dave took a “zero day” in South Lake Tahoe on Monday and I set out on the PCT. Monday and Tuesday, I hiked alone—18.5 PCT miles. On Tuesday, Dave covered those miles in one day to catch me up at Fontanillis Lake.

DATES: Monday-Friday, September 25-29.
START: PCT Mile 1090, Echo Summit, south of South Lake Tahoe.
FINISH: PCT Mile 1153, Donner Pass, west of Truckee.
ROUTE: PCT north, plus an unintended—but rewarding—excursion to Half Moon Lake.
SECTIONS:
MONDAY: Echo Summit to Heather Lake—10.5 miles.
TUESDAY: Heather Lake to Fontanillis Lake—8.0 miles (plus unintended side-trip).
WEDNESDAY: Fontanillis Lake to Mile 1127—18.5 miles.
THURSDAY: Mile 1127 to Mile 1144—17.0 miles.
FRIDAY: Mile 1144 to Donner Pass—9.0 miles.
TIME: 9 a.m. Monday to about midday Friday.
TERRAIN: The only real difficulties were some rubbly sections of trail, and a few long ascents (made tougher by the 7,000-9,400 feet of elevation). Otherwise, the PCT was rarely steep (lots of switchbacks) and nearly always dry. In places, it was a near perfect trail. Just one stream involved wet feet.
MAPS: Downloaded and printed from Halfmile’s PCT Maps (California Section K).

WEATHER: Sunny until the very last miles; temperatures from upper 20s to maybe lower 60s.
WILDLIFE:  Around South Lake Tahoe, before the hike, several coyotes. On the trail, a mule deer and very little else. On Friday, we saw scat, possibly mountain lion.
PHOTOS: Here.

CAMPSITES: All good, but the first was the best—right on the shore of Heather Lake.
MEALS: Freeze-dried meals for supper, cold stuff otherwise. Backpacker’s Pantry Chana Masala was the best.
UPS: So many, but Monday’s and Tuesday’s Desolation Wilderness scenery was spectacular.
DOWNS: Nothing really, but I was very tired on Thursday evening.
KIT: Pleased to have the right stuff to deal with some blisters that had developed by Thursday.
COMPANY: Dave, with whom conversation and silences were equally comfortable. The PCT, particularly in Desolation Wilderness, provided just about the right amount of company, neither empty not crowded.

Granite Chief Wilderness, PCT

Dave somewhere in Granite Chief Wilderness

Day Hike Notes – Hunter Mountain

Notch Lake, Devil's Tombstone Campground, Hunter NY

Notch Lake, Devil’s Tombstone Campground – Start and Finish Point

The Catskill Mountains are over 100 miles from home. It’s hard to get an early start to a hike. I solved the problem this time by camping at Devil’s Tombstone Campground the night before, more or less right at my planned trailhead. I didn’t take much gear—1-person tent, sleeping bag & pad, pillow. It made for an easy, low-stress morning. I’d struck camp, breakfasted, and packed my day-pack in time for a 7 a.m. departure. The one drawback was no coffee, but I got over that eventually.

DATE: Friday, September 1st.
START & FINISH: Notch Lake, Devil’s Tombstone Campground, Hunter NY.
ROUTE: Devil’s Path, Hunter Mountain, and Spruceton trails to Hunter summit, then Spruceton and Colonel’s Chair trails to the Colonel’s Chair. Return by same route.
DISTANCE: 10-11 miles.
TIME: 7.5 hours, with rests and a (short) wrong turn (7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A real mix: A steep, rough 1,000-foot climb for starters, followed by much gentler grades for the next 1,000 feet. Hunter Mountain summit has flat soft trails. The 950-foot drop to the Colonel’s Chair is accomplished mostly on good, broad tracks.
MAP: AMC Catskill Mountains.

WEATHER: Sunny and cool (48 degrees on Hunter Mountain at noon).
WILDLIFE: I scared a covey of ground nesting birds, that’s about it.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: A bagel at the trailhead.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese sandwich on Hunter Mountain.
UPS: September 1st, but no bugs!
DOWNS: Hunter Mountain resort at the Colonel’s Chair must give a lot of people a lot of fun, particularly skiers. For a summer hiker, it’s an eyesore.
KIT: I could have done with gloves at times.
COMPANY: South of Hunter Mountain, a solitary backpacker; north of it, two runners and, at the Colonel’s Chair, a troop of zipliners.

Looking northwest from the Hunter Mountain fire tower —Thomas Cole Mtn, Black Dome, and Blackhead right of center

Looking northwest from Hunter Mountain fire tower —Thomas Cole Mtn, Black Dome, and Blackhead right of center

McWilliams is not taking a hike—yet

Lake Erie Sunset

Lake Erie Sunset, west of Cleveland

Oh dear, a month has passed since I posted and almost as long since I hiked.

The main culprit has been work, but there was also a lightning trip to Ohio to see in-laws and a friend’s visit from the UK. The Ohio trip did not involve any hiking, but it did yield a memorable Lake Erie sunset which I am happy to share here.

My last hike was a quick loop at Peoples State Forest in Barkhamsted CT at the end of July. The outing provided raw material for August’s Taking a Hike column:

The View from Peoples State Forest at Hersam Acorn Arts & Leisure.

I never got around to posting July’s Taking a Hike either. Here it is:

A Walk on the Saugatuck Trail in The Hour.

Finally, the good news is that I do have a hiking adventure pending!

I booked an airline ticket to Reno NV for late September. I’m not going gambling; I’m planning to hike in the Sierra Nevada, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Much more about that plan to come. I can buy Cheryl Strayed red bootlaces at REI, right?

PCT Lower Echo Lake

Pacific Crest Trail, Lower Echo Lake – courtesy of Ray Bouknight–https://www.flickr.com/photos/raybouk/

Day Hike Notes – CT AT (4): Falls Village to Salisbury

Rand's View, Appalachian Trail, Salisbury CT

Rand’s View, mile 40.9

I have hiked most sections of the Connecticut AT multiple times, but I know for sure that the section Katie and I hiked on Saturday had only felt my boots once before. That was 15 years ago, when I walked it in the opposite, Salisbury-Falls Village direction. I recall a heart-pounding climb up Wetauwanchu Mountain. I recall passing Billy’s View, and I recall a café in Falls Village where I ate a sandwich and drank a great deal of Diet Coke. And I remember the rain, which started at Billy’s View and didn’t give up all day. I do not remember Rand’s View, which is surprising, because Rand’s View is stunning, possibly the best view on the CT AT. I can only assume that the rain in September 2002 had blocked it out entirely. I won’t wait another 15 years before trekking out to Rand’s View again.

DATE: Saturday, July 22nd.
START: Route 7 south of Falls Village.
FINISH: CT Route 41 north of Salisbury.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail north.
DISTANCE: 10.2 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 44.9 miles.
TIME: 5.5 hours (8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Easy to moderate. It is a 1,000-foot climb to Prospect Mountain, but it is achieved over 2-3 miles. Grades thereafter are mostly gently downward until a steep descent off Wetauwanchu Mountain.
MAP: A.T. official map MA-CT Map 3.

WEATHER: Cloudy or hazy sunshine, warm and humid (high about 80).
WILDLIFE: Wild turkeys, a scarlet tanager.
PHOTOS: Here.

Appalachian Trail at CT Route 41

CT Route 41, mile 44.9

BREAKFAST: Sweet William’s Bakery, Salisbury.
LUNCH: Manchego and jamón sandwiches at Billy’s View.
UPS: Lots of friendly encounters with thru-hikers and others, notably a young guy from Lyons, France, dashing to Maine before his US visa expires.
DOWNS: We met a couple of thru-hikers playing music for all to hear. What are earbuds for?
KIT: Nothing to comment on.
COMPANY: Katie McWilliams, plus more casual encounters on this section than on any other.

Day Hike Notes – CT AT (3): Sharon to Falls Village

Appalachian Trail on Route 7 Falls Village Connecticut

The end, not the beginning, mile 34.7

Now don’t get me wrong, I liked our third section of Connecticut AT plenty. But compared to sections one and two it lacked variety. Section One, which Katie and I hiked in February, included a walk beside the Housatonic River. Section Two, which we hiked in April, gave us summits, cliffs, fields, and another river walk. Much of this hike, in contrast, was true “Green Tunnel”, hours of ridge walking broken with only occasional views. Admittedly, the vistas from Pine Knob and – five and a half hours later! – Hang Glider View were fine ones. Also, while this trek might have lacked feature, it had a more isolated feel than outings one and two. Everything changed at the very end; where we came down to Route 7 near Falls Village, we found feature and civilization again. And a blackening sky.

DATE: Saturday, July 8th.
START: Route 4, Sharon CT.
FINISH: Route 7 south of Falls Village CT.
ROUTE: Appalachian Trail north.
DISTANCE: 12.1 miles.
ACCUMULATED DISTANCE: 34.7 miles.
TIME: 8 hours (8:40 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.)
TERRAIN: The ups were tough in the high humidity, and there were plenty of them, particularly on the first half of the hike. After Pine Swamp Brook shelter, the ascents were less demanding.
MAP: A.T. official map MA-CT Map 3.

WEATHER: Sunny, warm (high close to 80), very humid.
WILDLIFE: An owl, we think, cruising the branches.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, New Milford, once again.
LUNCH: Cheddar and chorizo sandwiches, plus snacks, at Pine Swamp Brook shelter.
UPS: Nothing in particular, everything in general.
DOWNS: None really.
KIT: 2.5 liters of water, and I was still thirsty at the finish.
COMPANY: A few day-hikers like us, and assorted AT thru- and section-hikers. We had thought we might meet thru-hikers, high summer being when Georgia-to-Mainers usually pass through CT. Did they inspire us? Not entirely!

Connecticut Appalachian Trail's Hang Glider View

Hang Glider View, mile 31.7

Day Hike Notes – Alander Mountain

DATE: Tuesday, July 4th.
START & FINISH: Mt Washington State Forest HQ, Mt Washington MA.
ROUTE: Counterclockwise loop using these trails: Alander Mtn, South Taconic, unnamed connector, Ashley Hill, and Charcoal Pit.
DISTANCE: In the 9-mile range.
TIME: Nearly 5 hours (8:00 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Alander summit (2,250’) is a mostly gradual climb from the starting point (already 1,700’ up). The descent off Alander was in places steep and on loose trail surface. Thereafter, trail quality was good and grades moderate, though the South Taconic-Ashley Hill connector trail was a little overgrown here and there.
MAP: NYNJTC South Taconic Trails

On Alander Mtn; summits from the right, Brace, Frissell, and maybe Bear

Looking south from Alander Mountain

WEATHER: Cool and sunny, then warm and sunny (70s).
WILDLIFE (sort of): The mountain laurel was still blooming, and there were blueberries.
MORE PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: McDonald’s, New Milford.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese and chorizo sandwich.
UPS: Finally seeing Alander Mountain after intending to for so long.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: No DEET required.
COMPANY: A couple of joggers on Alander Mtn Trail; a couple of campers on Alander summit; a group of hikers in need of a map on the Ashley Hill Trail.

The Catskills from Alander Mountain

The Catskills from Alander Mountain

Day Hike Notes – Saugatuck Trail

Early summer on the Saugatuck Trail

Somewhere about halfway along the trail

The Saugatuck Trail is more than it once was. Not so long ago, it ran only along the west side and northern end of the Saugatuck Reservoir. In those days, I hiked it only as part of my traditional post-Thanksgiving “turkey burner”, and I hiked only about 2.5 miles of it. In 2014 a new section of the trail opened (thanks CFPA volunteers!) linking it to the Aspetuck Valley Trail in Easton. I soon walked this new section, but I did so in a group, and therefore paid more attention to my companions than to the trail. This past Sunday, I hiked the Saugatuck Trail end-to-end, starting on the new section, moving on to the middle section that was completely new to me, and ending on my familiar turkey-burner stretch. Good to be still discovering new trail so close to home.

 

DATE: Sunday, June 25th.
START: Near 1165 Black Rock Turnpike, Easton CT.
FINISH: Near 205 Davis Hill Road, Weston CT.
ROUTE: Saugatuck Trail.
DISTANCE: 10.2 miles.
TIME: 6 hours (8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Gentle grades, with some short steeper sections. Trail mostly easy underfoot.
MAP: Saugatuck-Aspetuck Trail System (from ct.gov/deep, Centennial Watershed SF).

WEATHER: Warm (high around 80) and sunny until the very end, when an unexpected shower fell.
WILDLIFE: A turkey vulture settled on a branch close above, then flapped away to show off its wingspan and plumage.
PHOTOS: Here.

BREAKFAST: At home.
LUNCH: Manchego cheese and chorizo on olive ciabatta, sat on a pile of sunny rocks.
UPS: Some really beautiful stretches of trail – a shaded, narrow line through fern-carpeted woods.
DOWNS: Squirting DEET in my eye; getting stung by a yellowjacket.
KIT: I was grateful for the DEET in the morning, once I learned to squirt it in the right direction.
COMPANY: Almost no hikers, but much of the trail runs close to Route 53 and Valley Forge Road. They are pretty routes, so cars and motorcycles were frequently seen and heard; bicyclists too.

Shallow pond adjoining Route 53 and reservoir

Shallow pond adjoining Route 53 and reservoir