The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Sunday 29 July 2012

Technical Issues for Martin & Sue

Anyone who has been following Martin and Sue’s travels along the E5-in-reverse will have noticed that it’s gone a bit quiet on their blog. Fear not! They haven’t fallen off one of those precipitous bits. In fact, they are alive, well and having a half-day off in Oberstdorf.

Unfortunately, his blog has gone on strike (probably gone on its own holiday to watch the Olympics) and won’t accept any of his posts.

Of course, Martin is continuing to type up his posts (even with the dodgy keyboard with which he’s also doing battle), so the posts will appear once the blog decides that it wants to play ball again.

(For those of you who don’t follow Martin’s blog: 1) you really ought to have a look – it’s an excellent read; and 2) I’m posting this message here because we have quite a few readers in common.)

POSTSCRIPT: Anyone reading this half a day after I wrote it, who also reads Martin’s blog, will be wondering what the fuss was about. The ‘mail2blogger’ functionality sprang back into life overnight and posted all of Martin’s missing posts in the correct place.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

PCT In Photos: Week 5

Just a few more photos to finish the set (although I am going to sneak a few more in, via some posts I’m intending on other subjects related to the trip).

It’s a while since we’ve had a photo of Mick behind a big plateful of food, so let’s start by rectifying that. We were in the town of Mammoth (a town we hadn’t intended to visit until a day and a half before we arrived there) and I’d realised that the trip was rapidly drawing to a close without me having tried pancakes for breakfast. Mick followed my lead, and we both opted for the wheat option, to be served with fruit, by way of a token effort towards being healthy! It probably goes without saying that we cleared our plates.


The couple at the table behind Mick were PCT thru-hikers and were having a successful trip, even though it was their first ever backpacking trip! Nowt like starting small…

Finally, after 2 nights in town (the only town where we took a zero), we had to drag ourselves away from all of the food and back to the trail, but on the way we took a little detour to see the Devil’s Postpile National Monument. That’s it behind us in the snap below. Admittedly, it’s not the best illustration of it, but it was quite an interesting natural feature (being tall hexagonal columns of rock, created initially by volcanic activity and subsequently exposed by glacial action).


Look how clean and tidy we are after our town stay!

Back onto the PCT we found that the maintenance teams had done an excellent job in clearing the trail of fallen-tree obstructions. People had been talking for weeks about whether the trail would be open and passable in the Red’s Meadow area, where a storm last November brought gusts of up to 200mph, which felled tens of thousands of trees. As you can see, some of those trees were quite big:


Some fallen trees were quite handy for dry-footed stream crossings:


Later the same day (Day 32) something happened that was so remarkable that Mick & I both simultaneously turned to each other and went ‘oooh!’ (really, we did!). The sun went behind a cloud! That hadn’t happened since we woke up to a cloudy morning on Day 5. We were in the sunshine when this snap was taken, but you can see that the pretty lake and waterfall across the valley are in shade.


Suddenly, just a blink of an eye after we had set out into that fan-oven on Day 1, we were on our last approach to our destination. This is Lyell Canyon, along which we walked our final eight (almost completely flat) miles. It must have been the flattest multi-mile section since leaving the Mojave plain and it did lack variety compared to what had come before, but it was certainly fast walking.


And then came the end, where we should have taken an ‘end photo’. I even said, whilst we were sitting at one of those picnic benches, that we should get someone to take a photo of us with the ‘Tuolumne Meadows Store’ sign behind us, but then we got distracted by more chatting (all of the people in this photo are PCTers and we knew most of them). So, in keeping with our pathetic excuse for a start photo, the last photo of the trip was quickly grabbed out of the bus window as it pulled away from the bus stop.


And there you have it – a 500 mile chunk of the PCT in 72 photos!

Monday 23 July 2012

PCT In Photos: Week 4

Week 4 already! Didn’t it go fast?

Contrary to appearances, this isn’t an old woman walking the trail. It’s a young chap going by the name of Bolt. As he approached we were talking to his hiking partner Navi and she explained that having been forced into women’s clothing due to the lack of gent’s laundry-loaner-clothes in Kennedy Meadows, Bolt had discovered that he rather liked the airiness and comfort of a skirt and decided to adopt the apparel for walking too!

We were on the junction of the Bullfrog Lake Trail and the Kearsarge Trail (so not on the PCT at all) at the time, on our way back to the trail having resupplied in Independence. In the PCT Handbook, someone makes the comment that some of the best photos they took were on those trails and I would agree that it was a very picturesque detour. This photo was taken shortly before we rejoined the PCT.
Soon after rejoining the PCT, up and over Glen Pass we went. This is one of the best illustrations I’ve got of switch-backs leading up to a pass (if you can make them out), although the sense of the steepness of the hillside up which the path zig-zags is lacking.
Coming down Glen Pass was the most significant snow we encountered on the whole trip (as I’ve mentioned, we were incredibly lucky, as usually most of the Sierra section would be like this 20 yard stretch). There was one other place where there was a patch about the same size, but this one wins the award due to the gradient it was on. Fortunately, it was late enough in the morning for it to have softened up a bit and we could stamp firm footings into it.
We met quite a few people heading north up Glen Pass as we headed down. Most of them were walking the Rae Lakes Loop and more than one person enthused about the beauty of Rae Lakes, saying that we would want to spend at least a night there. It was, undeniably, very pretty down there, but not remarkably more so than all of the other fantastic scenery we were seeing, and we didn’t feel any compulsion to cut our day short to stay there.
The view we had from the tent that night was hardly shoddy anyway:
(only on three nights did the wind require us to have the sides of the tent down; this was how we usually pitched it, allowing us to enjoy the night-time views too)
That pitch was a matter of yards away from this bridge. The photo doesn’t do it justice. It was quite a long, wobbly bridge. The sign on the right-hand upright instructs ‘one person at a time’, but even without that notice I think that on this occasion Mick would have refrained from making it bounce as I crossed. (Louise, I don’t think you’d have liked this bridge!)
Playing the daily game of ‘guess the location of the pass’ as we headed up to Pinchot Pass we were both brought to a stand-still when these hills came into view. Until now all of the hills had been decomposing granite and of varying shades of grey (mainly very light grey), so suddenly seeing a big patch of red (and there were a few red hills in this area) was enough to make us stop and admire.
It’s funny how a woman with a full-sized deckchair on her pack, slogging up a high pass, sticks in your mind. The question “Did you meet the woman with the deckchair?” as asked by quite a few people we met over the course of the rest of the walk. Admittedly, I was carrying a seat which weighed more, but my seat also doubled as a bear canister (or maybe it was the other way around?)
Heading towards ‘the Golden Staircase’, of which we had never heard mention until that morning, the rocks were nice and stripy:
Having lost lots of altitude by going down the said Golden Staircase (which isn’t a staircase and is hardly golden!), we had to regain every single foot of that descent. Without checking, I think it was the biggest single descent/ascent of the trip, with the trail dipping 4000’ between the 12000’ Mather and Muir Passes. Atop Muir Pass we found lots of marmots (look, there’s one on the right!) and a very sturdy hut, which has apparently stood there since the early 1930s.
I don’t feel like we’ve had enough water photos in this batch, so here are some of the many gorgeous lakes we passed on Days 26 and 27.
We must be due a river-crossing photo too. All of the water crossings were exceptionally benign this year, all but two of them being crossable without getting the feet wet, although few of them had quite such organised stepping stones as this one.


Click here for ‘PCT in Photos: Week 5’

Saturday 21 July 2012

PCT In Photos: Week 3…

… in which we see Gayle in a frock!

Quite a few photos in this batch.

Having arrived at Kennedy Meadows by late morning, and not wanting to have a zero there, we immediately set about the chores. Within a quarter of an hour of arriving, and having picked up our parcels, we had stuff strewn everywhere on our little bit of the veranda (yep, all of the stuff on the table, chairs and floor to the right of Mick is our stuff, including our newly received bear canisters and a huge resupply parcel). Here Mick is looking at all of that stuff and wondering how in the world it is going to fit into our packs:


What can I say? Mick chose the frock for me and I spent the day in some sort of a 1990’s flashback! (Actually, for those who missed the explanation at the time, maybe I should also add that at Kennedy Meadows they have a cupboard of ‘loaner-clothes’ for you to wear whilst you’re doing laundry. With a shortage of men’s ‘bottoms’, Mick fetched me a frock so that he could use my shorts and not have to wear a dress himself):


He also chose this shirt for himself. Behind him you can see someone else in an equally loud shirt. (That evening he made some derogatory comment to another chap about his ‘laundry shirt’, only to find that the chap wasn’t walking the trail and that the subject of Mick’s derision was his actual shirt. Oops!)


With laundry done, bear canisters packed and other stuff either crammed into our bags or donated to the hiker boxes, we set left Kennedy Meadows on Day 16. Within a few hours, the surroundings suddenly changed and we were no longer in the desert. We had grass (green grass at that) underfoot here!


This one doesn’t show how gorgeous the South Kern River was, nor does it show all of the swallow nests under the bridge (that photo didn’t make the cut). But it does demonstrate the usefulness of a bear canister as a seat! This was during the period when we were still having long lunch breaks and having our cooked meal at lunchtime. A week later, when we were struggling with slow progress, we decided that the temperature (and our ability to deal with the temperature) meant that we didn’t need to sit out the middle of the day anymore and we started having much shorter lunch breaks. Incidentally, this was the lunch break when, in 24 degree heat, I hat to put my fleece on, and thus realised that we had become accustomed to higher temperatures.


The biggest tree ever? Certainly the biggest we’ve ever seen. It goes on for quite a way out of the top of the shot.


I’m not a big fan of the campfire, and this was the only one we joined. It was one of the few days when we were camped with lots of other people around (going clockwise, starting with me, we have Strider, Shivers, BAM, Shepherd, Lil Steps and I wish I could remember who the chap was sitting next to me!)


This became more prevalent as the walk went on, although often with detours and multiple blow-downs to deal with:


I don’t recall exactly where this one is, but I recall taking it because of the size and quantity of the boulders scattered around. Mick being in the shot gives a good sense of the scale.


A familiar sight – hills, forest and meadow.


That’s Strider standing on the top of this rocky outcrop. Shepherd’s about half way up, just to the left. I didn’t want to watch for fear of an accident, but they both made it down safely. Youngsters, eh?


Yep, more forest, hills and meadow. It was a view of which I didn’t tire.


Cheeky chipmunk! You really had to watch these chaps. They had already tried to take the rubbish out of my rucksack pocket and the bags of food I’d left on the ground. Once the food was in the pot, this cheeky chap jumped on the top and was trying to remove the lid. I didn’t use zoom on this photo. I really was sitting about 2’ away at the time. Almost fearless in their pursuit of food.*


Trees, jaggedy hills, rocky meadow. Gorgeous!


Mick pauses to admire the view after a hard climb. At 11,500’ this was the highest point we’d reached on the trail up to that point, and it was the day on which I was absolutely exhausted. If it hadn’t been for the strength of my desire to get back down below 10,000’, I wouldn’t have made it through the next 7.5 miles (7.5 miles to go at approaching 5pm on a day on which I’d been knackered since 7am!)


I have no recollection of this place! But, it’s certainly quite bouldery. Fear not: there’s no clambering required. In the construction of the trail, all rocks have been removed from its path.


This is only about a mile before our campsite before Forester Pass, so must have been at around 11,000’. I hadn’t expected such greenness at such a height.


Marmots are ten a penny in these parts, and are such lazy/laidback chaps when they’re sunning themselves on a rock that they’ll happily let you get quite close for a quick snap:


It was a lovely river that ran past our campsite that night. Mick managed to sit here for as long as it took me to take this photo, before the mosquitoes chased us away from the water.


That video snippet I posted the other day was on the approach to Forester Pass, and here’s a close-up of  the pass (look away now Colin if you don’t know where the path goes and don’t want a spoiler). The trail zig-zags up the head-wall to the right of the notch, then passes just under the notch near the top, before zigging and zagging a bit more on the left hand side to reach the top of the pass. It’s an incredible feat of path construction and my favourite bit of the whole section of the trail that we walked.


That’s a steep bit of rock into which that path is constructed, but when you’re walking it the path feels much wider than it looks in this photo.


Happy (albeit squinting into the sun) atop the pass. The highest point on the PCT, at 13,200’. We spent an hour up there drinking in the surroundings.


The view to the north from Forester Pass. Down in that forest there was mud. We thought maybe the going was to become a bit less arid, but it was just localised dampness in that particular bit of valley.


Part way down that valley we left the PCT temporarily to nip into Lone Pine for a well-earned bed and (more particularly) a shower (or four) and so ended Week 3.

(*As we sat waiting for the ferry to VVR a week later, the chipmunks were again eager for any food that may be available to them, even if it meant chewing through our bags to get it (of course, most food was in the chipmunk-proof bear canisters). As not everyone’s bag was close to them, the usual method of stopping them from chewing is to throw a pebble at them. “I can’t do that any more” said Hello Kitty, with whom we had been walking that morning. The story unfolded that, being the self-confessed ‘worst shot in the world’ he had thrown a stone in the general direction of a chipmunk which was after his bag. He was aghast as not only did he hit the little creature with some force, but it immediately keeled over, twitched a couple of times and then lay still. Yep, the worst shot in the world had killed an innocent chipmunk.)


Click here for ‘PCT in Photos: Week 4’

Friday 20 July 2012

PCT In Photos: Week 2

After eight days in the desert, suddenly on the morning of Day 9 we found ourselves walking through grassy grazing land. There was evidence of cows, although we didn’t see any.


This one isn’t really self-explanatory, is it? What you’re looking at is Mick holding a Platy-type container and a mug under some dripping moss. It took a very long time to collect enough water, and we rued not having taken the hit on our pack weights and carried more from the gushing spring we’d visited a few miles before.IMG_4334

As a break from barren desert, we were in a forest that day. I loved the forests! Such a contrast to our commercial plantations:


There was one other water source between the dripping moss and this water cache and, erroneously, we decided not to make the half-mile detour to visit it. If this cache had been empty, we would have had a thirsty and uncomfortable few miles and would have had to have made a 3.6 mile detour to get water, so we were very happy to find this cache stocked with about 100 gallons. In fact, I was so delighted that I offered Mick a cooked breakfast and quickly whipped up some noodles (at 6am!).


Later the same day came my favourite area of all of the desert through which we walked (others later expressed surprise at our enthusiasm for the place and some went as far as saying they hated that section; I think that the dislike was mainly due to its exposed nature and the arduous walking (a very long uphill on soft sand)). It was the lie of the land that particularly pleased me, with lumps and bumps spreading out in every which direction, without any sign of habitation. Incredibly, there used to be industry up there, with a few remains of mines being visible. Somehow, this skeleton of an old bus fitted well into its surroundings:


Here it is zoomed in:


You know I said that I loved the forests? I wasn’t quite such a fan when they were burnt and this was a huge burn area. This photo was taken at about 8.30 in the morning and we were still walking through the burn area the following morning. Apparently, because this fire was caused by lightning, it was allowed to burn, and burn it did, for over a month. We were desperate for shade when we came across three live trees. They were spindly (and who knows how they survived when surrounded by ones which had burnt), but we managed to get enough shade for a long lunch break. (Incidentally, that’s Maverick speeding off on the trail ahead of Mick; he’d just made me jump out of my skin simply by walking up behind us without me noticing)


“Could be in the Peak District” I said:


The next three photos (taken on Day 14, seven days after the last washing facilities) are all about the filth.

Part way through the first morning, we had a chat with a chap at a water cache. When he left, Mick said “Did you see the state of his shirt?”. A week later we fully understood that he wasn’t being lax in his clothes washing; it was just that his shirt was white and thus showed every bit of desert that had adhered itself to it. Mick’s shirt was dirt coloured, so didn’t look too bad, but mine was light blue. In this photo (where I’m gravity-filtering some water, in case you were wondering) what struck me is that even at that distance you can clearly see the dirt on my shoulders:


Then there was the state of our legs. Even though we wore long trousers the whole time, our legs were constantly filthy. At Vermillion Valley Resort we paid $6 each for a shower only to find that at the end of the following day our legs were back in this state.


And don’t mention the colour of my shirt collar! It looked this bad at the end of the first day.



Click here for 'PCT in Photos: Week 3’