F-stop’s SOBO Hiking The PCT – Tuolumne Meadows to Cottonwood Pass

10/7 – 10/10 Tuolomne Meadows (Yosemite National Park) 942.5 to Agnew Meadows (915) &
10/11 – 10/14 Onion Valley Trailhead over Kearsarge Pass to Cottonwood Pass (750.2) – 80.9 miles

Total miles hiked to date: 660.4

Lauri watching sunrise on Banner Peak from Island Pass

Lauri watching sunrise on Banner Peak from Island Pass

We are now off trail again probably for the rest of the year. After 218 miles through the Sierra and after going over the highest pass on the PCT, Forester Pass at 13,200 (luckily in stellar weather), we bailed out at Cottonwood Pass. Looking at the weather we are having as I’m writing this in Mammoth Lakes where it feels much like Anchorage in October, I am glad we are off the trail. We are hearing reports of 9 inches of snow above 10k. As much as I love backpacking and will NEVER quit as long as I am physically able, I’m not sure if a continuous thru-hike is for us. But we will try again next year. We are already planning a section hike next year doing Washington and Oregon, southbound again. That will only be a measly 950 mile hike. And Lauri gets to see all the awesomeness of the Washington Cascades and maybe it won’t rain and snow half the time.

There are 3 primary reasons we pulled off trail.

First, the photographer in me took over my desires. The late season and drought meant long water hauls the further we got from Forester Pass. I began seeing 12, 18 and 30 mile distances between reliable water sources further south. Our packs were heavy enough without having to carry 8-10 lbs of water.

Like the high Rockies, the high Sierra is off-peak season and all the tundra is brown. I can see the effects of the severe drought here, sadly, and the landscape is starkly lacking in color while lower elevations, such as the Owens Valley, have a lot more color and more photo ops. In this section, I discovered the Minaret Range north of Mammoth Lakes in the Ansel Adams Wilderness and while there, despite the freezing mornings, I didn’t want to leave! In fact that section was the highlight of this section hike. A day either side of Forester Pass was also fantastic. A day south of Forester Pass, the Sierra took a turn for the lower and less interesting. We got spoiled being immersed in this beautiful and quiet high elevation wilderness through the remote sections of Yosemite and Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks. All I wanted to do was get back to some of the more photogenic places we had recently hiked by. I know it sounds kind of elitist, but I got bored with the scenery I saw in front of me heading to Kennedy Meadows and the prospect of camping close to roads and undoubtedly hearing vehicle noise and gunshots the closer we got to Kennedy Meadows. Prior to the PCT we have always sought out wilderness areas to backpack in. A big adjustment for me is dealing with the fact that not all of the PCT is in wilderness. Much of it goes near and across roads, dams, power lines and other things I’d rather not be around. I guess I’m not ready to motor through the less desirable sections of the PCT knowing we could be more productive photographically in areas close by.

Second, I really underestimated the impact of the shortening days. Considering the following factors, Lauri’s pace, restricted amount of food we could carry in a bear canister, and an 11-12 hour hiking day it started feeling like a forced march. I felt like we were having less time to really enjoy the trail and had to make miles. The routine was to get up at 6am and pack up everything up by headlamp, half the time in sub freezing weather to hit the trail at sunrise, (about 7am the day we bailed out over Cottonwood Pass) and hike until about 45 minutes before sunset, set up camp and eat dinner as it was getting dark. We camped mainly at high elevation for views and photo ops and thus could not make campfires. So by 7pm we were in the tent for 11 hours to stay warm. Honestly, we were lucky and only had a few cold mornings where water bottles froze and hands became painful breaking camp and hurt for an hour or two until body heat from hiking kicked in and thawed out extremities.

After dressing in all our warm layers and eating, it is easier to pull the tarp tent away and just pack everything up without the confines of the tent walls.  We use custom cut Tyvek house wrap as ground cloths.  To save weight, we left the bug insert and bathtub floor insert to our tarp tent at home.  No  bugs or creepy crawlies in the high elevation cold of fall.

After dressing in all our warm layers and eating, it is easier to pull the tarp tent away and just pack everything up without the confines of the tent walls. We use custom cut Tyvek house wrap as ground cloths. To save weight, we left the bug insert and bathtub floor insert to our tarp tent at home. No bugs or creepy crawlies in the high elevation cold of fall.

Finally, Lauri had to listen to her body and most importantly, the doctor. This hike was a test and was both a success and a setback. I’m really proud at what she accomplished, hiking 218 miles with a 25-32 lb. load through the tough climbs and descents of the High Sierra only 4.5 months from her leg break. Most long distance hikers I spoke with talked about needing 300-400 miles to get really trail hardened feet and legs. That was my experience as well. It took most of Washington for me to sustain daily 20+ mile hikes day after day with out having to live on Ibuprofen. We just simply did not have the time to build up to that before winter hit the high Sierras. She had to try and remain optimistic. The doc said try but that if sustained multi day pounding caused too much pain and inflammation that she might be impeding the healing process. So more rest was called for. All in all, she averaged 15 miles days with a couple close to 18. I think living at high altitude really helped. I marched up Kearsarge Pass at 11,700’ and Forester Pass at 13,200 without feeling affected at all by altitude.

On days when the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority bus was not running, we resorted to hitchhiking

On days when the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority bus was not running, we resorted to hitchhiking

As with Washington, this hike introduced us to some great locations to go back to, and we also met some great new people. I do enjoy the trail culture and hanging out with other “hiker trash” and experiencing the generosity of trail angels who helped us out. I feel like living out of a backpack and hitchhiking on the highway to and from and between trail access points gave us a taste of the 60’s free spirit lifestyle that we missed, since we were only elementary school kids in that decade. That’s OK. Better late than never. Anyone know when the next Woodstock will be?

Two young ladies from Seattle hiking the JMT (John Muir Trail) which shares a stretch along with the PCT.

Two young ladies from Seattle hiking the JMT (John Muir Trail) which shares a stretch along with the PCT.

Time to put miles on hold. Luckily, we gave ourselves 3 full days to cover the 27.5 miles from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite NP to Mammoth Lakes. That made for a leisurely pace for a thru hiker. When we passed by the small pond at Island Pass in mid afternoon we both knew we would camp there and shoot this stellar scene at first light. The view of the jagged Banner Peak with potential reflection and favorable orientation to first light was too good to pass up. I was living what I preach. In my workshops I stress that 80% of the success of an image is simply finding the right image and being able to forecast when all the components of a good to great image will coalesce. The actual shooting is only a minor part of it. When I hike, I occupy my mind by constantly analyzing what will make a great image. I stay keenly aware of where the sun will be at the ends of the day and what areas give the best color and most interesting lines. As a general rule, I try to camp high where the views and light are. That comes as a risk of dealing with the perils of exposure to the elements.

It’s all a gamble. Sometimes you have to accept that all your patience and determination and what you “thought would make a good photo” just doesn’t pan out. Gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. In this case it all came together and in the 700 miles I’ve hiked, scenes like this where it all came together were the exception not the rule. The afternoon gave me the time to scout viewpoints and develop my vision for the morning. I thought about the shots all night as I tossed and turned, fearful I would miss my alarm and the best light which comes at you fast at sunrise. Several times during the night the wind blew and I got concerned. When the alarm went off and I looked at the scene, a feeling of calm and elation came over me. I knew we had this in the bag! Yeah it was cold. Get over it. Be numb to it. Get out and do your thing. This is what you live for and it is all right here in front of you! This didn’t fall into your lap. You recognized it, waited for it, and put it all together. This is what it is all about.

We are not quitting hiking. In fact we spent another week day hiking parts of the Eastern Sierra and will post another blog about that. We are off to the Grand Canyon for more backpacking and hiking before leading our Zion Fall Landscapes workshop begins.

TRAIL SCENES:

Banner Peak at dawn from Island Pass

Banner Peak at dawn from Island Pass

Camped just 4 miles north of Forester Pass at 11,000 feet.  Enjoying a few minutes of rest before getting the inside of the tent ready for the night.

Camped just 4 miles north of Forester Pass at 11,000 feet. Enjoying a few minutes of rest before getting the inside of the tent ready for the night.

Fall colors in the tundra along the trail at Island Pass

Fall colors in the tundra along the trail at Island Pass

Rocks stairs leading towards Donahue Pass. These stairs are often found as one approaches passes in the Sierras.

Rocks stairs leading towards Donahue Pass. These stairs are often found as one approaches passes in the Sierras.

Trail blasted into a granite cliff on the south side of Forester Pass.

Trail blasted into a granite cliff on the south side of Forester Pass.

Lauri walking among high elevation foxtail pine forest at 11,000 feet in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park along the PCT

Lauri walking among high elevation foxtail pine forest at 11,000 feet in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park along the PCT

Lauri walking among high elevation foxtail pine forest at 11,000 feet in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park along the PCT

Lauri walking among high elevation foxtail pine forest at 11,000 feet in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park along the PCT

Crabtree Meadow at the junction of Whitney Portal/JMT and the PCT

Crabtree Meadow at the junction of Whitney Portal/JMT and the PCT

TRAIL PEOPLE:

pct_2016_michael_deyoung_sierra_yosemite__dsc1905

3 generations of hikers on Kearsarge Pass.  We met these gents as we were getting back on the trail from our resupply at Independence

3 generations of hikers on Kearsarge Pass. We met these gents as we were getting back on the trail from our resupply at Independence

Emerson, a PCT Hiker, using a solar charger on his smartphone just below Kearsarge Pass

PCT Hiker using a solar charger on his smartphone just below Kearsarge Pass

self portrait at Forester Pass at 13, 200 the highest point on the PCT

self portrait at Forester Pass at 13, 200 the highest point on the PCT

All images captured using a Sony a6300 and a  Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens

F-stop’s SOBO Hiking The PCT – Echo Lake to Tuolumne Meadows

9/23 – 10/3 Echo Summit Trailhead 1090 to Tuolomne Meadows (Yosemite National Park) 942.5 – 147.5 miles

Total miles hiked to date: 579.5

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SIERRA.

Last light from Dorothy Lake just inside the Yosemite Wilderness.

Last light from Dorothy Lake just inside the Yosemite Wilderness.

I’ll try to keep this blog shorter on text, with lots of pics to look at.

This section had many firsts for us. The first first is finally, FINALLY, after 4.5 months of healing from a fractured tibia plateau, Lauri is on the trail! This section was a test to see how her stamina would evolve and whether she would be strong enough for the 125 mile long haul between off-season resupply points (Mammoth Lakes to Onion Valley TH) in the highest of the Sierra with shortening days, chilly mornings and daily big climbs of 2500’ to 4000’ to 11 and 12 thousand feet.

This was also our first time hiking in the Sierras and I was excited about that. The whole region is in severe drought and with late season vegetation mostly brown the landscape is surprisingly stark with only a few colors: grey, brown, blue, conifer green with splashes of riparian autumn colors. I knew I would be challenged visually and have to rely on great light and strong color created by the light to carry my images.

This was also the first time we cold contacted trail angels in South Lake Tahoe who opened their hearts and home to us to help launch the trip. It is wonderful to know there are gracious people out there willing to help adventure seekers like PCT hikers.

This was also the first time we hitchhiked together over a long distance but it turned out just fine.

We passed this camp and Yosemite-esque view in mid morning wishing we pushed farther the previous day and camped here!  These cliffs would have lit up fiery pink in the last light of the day.  Discovery and imprinting of places to return to for photos are part of the journey.  In a way it is good to feel the pain of having missed something you know would have turned out great images.

We passed this camp and Yosemite-esque view in mid morning wishing we pushed farther the previous day and camped here! These cliffs would have lit up fiery pink in the last light of the day. Discovery and imprinting of places to return to for photos are part of the journey. In a way it is good to feel the pain of having missed something you know would have turned out great images.

We were fully prepared for and expecting cold, heat, dry, wind and snow and we got it all. It doesn’t mean we liked it but we were expecting it. Hiking through the snow on our last day into Glen Aulin and Highway 120 at Tuolumne Meadows was quite peaceful and soft as we walked through an empty wilderness in off season, knowing that a month earlier this very trail was a highway full of hikers.

Camp in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.  Lauri blowing up a Sea to Summit pillow.  We got used to going to bed between 7-7:30pm.  This was one of our warmest nights on the trail camped at about 9000 feet.

Camp in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness. Lauri blowing up a Sea to Summit pillow. We got used to going to bed between 7-7:30pm. This was one of our warmest nights on the trail camped at about 9000 feet.

Hats off to the Ultamid (www.hyperlitemountaingear.com). It seems like most hikers like to camp in river bottoms with shelter near water. Not me. As a photographer, the views and best light are up high. So is the wind and the full bite of any nasty weather. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid can be a bit of a pain to set up but it tests well against brutal winds and, when set up properly, it can easily withstand 40-50 mph winds. We tested that several times on the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) and in Alaska with fierce katabatic glacier winds.

Our first night was started calm with great sunset images. We awoke to brutally cold winds at sunrise and had to pack everything up inside the tarp then taking it down was a two person operation. (We left the bug insert behind to save a pound thinking that in a dry climate and no bugs it was not needed.)

Not all of the PCT is pretty and jaw dropping wilderness and the first 75 miles south of Echo Lake certainly proved that. We crossed 2 paved passes before landing at Sonora Pass for an unexpected hitch to Kennedy Meadows Resort for a shower and fatty salty food. Lauri got a blister on day 2 and it got progressively worse until we pulled off trail on 10/3 after 12 days. Sadly, the Leuko Tape we applied only seemed to make it worse. She wore her sock for the last three days concerned about removing it would re-open the raw skin below.

We started slow, going 12 miles the first day and gradually ramping up to 18 miles. We throttled back on the last 75 miles from Sonora Pass to Tuolumne Meadows. Some of the guide books labeled this section as some of the toughest trail on the PCT. Having hiked Washington, this was hard to believe. The elevation profile indicated some decent climbs with a couple in the 2,000 – 2,500 foot range. But it was the track itself that was laden with loose rock and steep, short step ups and downs that made it slow and difficult. None of the “dangerous” fords existed this late in the season and we only had to wade across a very benign Kerrick Creek.

The first 8 miles southbound from Sonora Pass stayed on a high traverse above 10,000 feet with great views of the Emigrant Wilderness.  Here we are up and going at 7:30am with sunlight streaming through a pass.

The first 8 miles southbound from Sonora Pass stayed on a high traverse above 10,000 feet with great views of the Emigrant Wilderness. Here we are up and going at 7:30am with sunlight streaming through a pass.

Watch out for Hunters. One of the things I don’t particularly like about the Guthooks App is that I feel it gives you tunnel vision of the trail and does a poor job at revealing when you are around a lot of jeep and ATV roads. The Halfmile Maps are a little better but for someone who needs reading glasses to see that map they are not much better. Unfortunately, we walked from Echo to Carson to Ebbetts Passes during opening weekend of deer season. Only one of the many hunters we saw wore any sort of hunter orange. Along that whole stretch, we could not escape the constant annoying frequency of Harleys, ATV’s or gunshots. After an 18 mile day, we did not realize we were camped a mere few hundred yards from a dirt road running parallel to the trail where we heard 30 rounds fired off near sunset and vehicles running up and down the road. Fortunately, things quieted down after dark. Let your presence be known if you are in a popular hunting area. I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a lightweight orange vest.

Yeah, it coulda been a bear but probably wasn’t. I tell myself and others I talk with that just because you hear loud noises in the woods doesn’t mean it is a bear. Other big animals such as deer, elk, and cows step on sticks in the night in an otherwise quiet landscape. Even a raccoon or porcupine, neither of which are very stealthy, can cause a loud ruckus as they lumber across dry leaves or sticks. But there we were, camped at Dorothy Lake, just inside the Yosemite Wilderness where bear canisters are officially required. As usual, we were in bed near 7:30 with our bear canisters and an OR food bag with stuff that didn’t quite fit in the canister just hanging about 8 feet off the ground in a limber pine about 50 feet from the tent. Just after dozing off I heard the loud crash of a big animal getting ever closer to the tent. Lights on, voices yelling, hands clapping, it took about 5 minutes (an eternity in our mind) for the “animal” or Sasquatch to wander off. Out into the cold, we took our food to the next (unoccupied) camp about 200 yards away and went back to bed. Didn’t sleep well that night but the food bag was untouched the next morning. I guess we had nothing appealing for Sasquatch.

This leg, and especially the first 75 miles, was a test for Lauri. She has done amazingly well and I’m proud of how far she’s come. But it takes more than two weeks of sustained hiking to build your stamina up and get hardened “trail legs.” Given the shrinking daylight, the elevation gains and losses and having to carry bear barrels, she admits she is not ready for the highest of the Sierra. So we are skipping the 125 miles from Mammoth to Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley TH and saving it to when she is stronger. After ferrying our vehicle around, we will complete the Tuolumne to Mammoth section then transfer south to Onion Valley Trailhead where we will attempt to hike to Kennedy Meadows South and end at Walker Pass before heading to Zion to teach our Fall Landscapes photo workshop.

It has been great to meet new trail angels, new SOBO’s and re-meet hikers we met earlier, including Spicerack and Crusher, and the Frenchtastic 4. Can’t wait to see those folks again. Back on the trail. Until next time …

TRAIL SCENES:

Morning descent through manzanita and aspen groves, Yosemite Wilderness

Morning descent through manzanita and aspen groves, Yosemite Wilderness


Fall colors at Dorothy Lake near first sunlight.  We were filling water bottles as we were leaving camp.  We left late this morning due to some photography of the calm lake and fall colors.

Fall colors at Dorothy Lake near first sunlight. We were filling water bottles as we were leaving camp. We left late this morning due to some photography of the calm lake and fall colors.


Lauri at sunset just a few feet from our high camp above 10,000 feet close to Sonora Pass.

Lauri at sunset just a few feet from our high camp above 10,000 feet close to Sonora Pass.


Back on the trail late in the day.  Sunset above Sonora Pass above 10,000 feet.

Back on the trail late in the day. Sunset above Sonora Pass above 10,000 feet.


Dinner near sunset our first night on the trail in the Sierra.  We camped too close to Carson Pass and woke up to brutally cold winds

Dinner near sunset our first night on the trail in the Sierra. We camped too close to Carson Pass and woke up to brutally cold winds


Almost every PCT hiker who filters their water uses the Sawyer filter which Lauri is using here in a beautiful clear and very cold Sierra mountain stream

Almost every PCT hiker who filters their water uses the Sawyer filter which Lauri is using here in a beautiful clear and very cold Sierra mountain stream


After a frigid mid 20s morning with frozen water bottles and fingers, we hiked most of the day to Tuolumne Meadows in beautiful soft, orographically enhanced stratiform snow.  Around lunch time, the snow started sticking to the ground.

After a frigid mid 20s morning with frozen water bottles and fingers, we hiked most of the day to Tuolumne Meadows in beautiful soft, orographically enhanced stratiform snow. Around lunch time, the snow started sticking to the ground.

TRAIL PEOPLE:

Starting at Echo Summit Trail Head in South Lake Tahoe

Starting at Echo Summit Trail Head in South Lake Tahoe


SOBO Spicerack at Kennedy Meadows Resort. She was given a "bouquet" of flowers to which she is carrying to the southern monument in Campo, CA.

SOBO Spicerack at Kennedy Meadows Resort. She was given a “bouquet” of flowers to which she is carrying to the southern monument in Campo, CA.


SOBO'S Crusher (left) and Spicerack were some of the first SOBO's I met north of Harts Pass in Washington in July before any of us had trail names.  We met on a cold wet day near Walker Pass.  In a senior moment, I never took pictures of them that day like I should have.  I was pleasantly surprised to meet them again at breakfast at Kennedy Meadows Resort.  I was blessed with a second chance to make some images of them, although not in an ideal location.

SOBO’S Crusher (left) and Spicerack were some of the first SOBO’s I met north of Harts Pass in Washington in July before any of us had trail names. We met on a cold wet day near Walker Pass. In a senior moment, I never took pictures of them that day like I should have. I was pleasantly surprised to meet them again at breakfast at Kennedy Meadows Resort. I was blessed with a second chance to make some images of them, although not in an ideal location.


SOBO Hotwater (from Canada) and NOBO Honey Badger in the background at Kennedy Meadows Resort.  We passed Hotwater still sacked out in his tent along the trail early in the morning.  He passed us about lunch on our final day to Sonora Pass where we both hitched into Kennedy Meadows Resort for a Nero. ("Nearly Zero" miles hiked on a given day.)

SOBO Hotwater (from Canada) and NOBO Honey Badger in the background at Kennedy Meadows Resort. We passed Hotwater still sacked out in his tent along the trail early in the morning. He passed us about lunch on our final day to Sonora Pass where we both hitched into Kennedy Meadows Resort for a Nero. (“Nearly Zero” miles hiked on a given day.)


2016 Trail Angels of the Year, Joe and Terri Anderson of Casa de Luna gave us a ride from Lee Vining to the Davidson House Hostel in Mammoth Lakes.

2016 Trail Angels of the Year, Joe and Terri Anderson of Casa de Luna gave us a ride from Lee Vining to the Davidson House Hostel in Mammoth Lakes.


Horton, our muskox mascot, has been going on all of our adventures since 2003.  Being an arctic animal, he welcomed the snow and cold more than most of us would.

Horton, our muskox mascot, has been going on all of our adventures since 2003. Being an arctic animal, he welcomed the snow and cold more than most of us would.

All images captured using a Sony a6300 and a  Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens

F-stop’s SOBO Thru Hiking The PCT – White Pass to Trout Lake

8/3 – 8/6

White Pass 2292.4 to Trout Lake 2226.4 – 66 miles passing through the Goat Rocks Wilderness and Mount Adams Wilderness

Total miles hiked to date: 432

Goat Rocks Wilderness: This last section was only 66 miles and I would not have missed it for the world! I knew it was popular and that I would see an increasing number of people as I progressed south. Mile for mile I still think the North Cascades had the most stunning scenery all around you but the Goat Rocks, and specifically the Knife Edge, was to die for. In fact, just south of the Knife Edge we camped after a l9 mile day with the best view and best high camp to date. In addition to the stunning close mountains, we had sweeping views of Washington’s two highest volcanoes, Mt. Rainier, now to the north, and Mt. Adams dominating the southern skyline. Along this route were abundant wildflowers, lots of water, and lingering summer snows. The trail stayed above timberline for a long time and I love that!

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  Juliet ascending the Knife Edge with Mount Rainier in the background.  I think this says it all about why we hike the PCT.  I still love the Washington Cascades.

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. Juliette (on Instagram @in_case_we_die) ascending the Knife Edge with Mount Rainier in the background. I think this says it all about why we hike the PCT. I still love the Washington Cascades.

The best part was hiking this entire section with the company of my new SOBO French friends, Thomas, Juliette (Dirt Arrow), Leo (Rainbow Trout), and Pierre (Refill). I had met them in Stehekin and we camped together the first night in the Glacier Peaks Wilderness then I leap frogged them a few times. We met again in Snoqualmie Pass where we had dinner and drinks. Rainbow Trout had a problem with his Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack and Lauri was able to help him get a replacement pack when we finished this section. (Hyperlite Mountain Gear provided great customer support.) We zeroed together in Packwood and hiked most of the Goat Rocks as a group. I was very appreciative to have them as companions and also as hiking subjects through this stunning section. Even though I was exhausted when we arrived at camp near 7pm after negotiating the Knife Edge, I found enough of a second wind to take some at camp and dinner lifestyle images of them in the warm evening light with sweeping views all around. So our first day was one of the best days hiking the PCT. It helped me, at least temporarily, forget about my agonizing feet.

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  The Frenchtastic 4 ascending toward the Knife Edge, all with HMG packs

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. The Frenchtastic 4 ascending toward the Knife Edge, all with HMG packs

Finally a PCT Hiker Rhythm: I was finally feeling like a PCT through hiker on this section. Through the Norse Peak section I was able to link 20+ mile hiking days, in fact 3 in a row. We did this section in 3 days. We left near 9am the first day and only did 19 miles since that day involved climbing above 7000’ again over the Knife Edge. I learned a while back to take what other hikers say about snow crossings with a grain of salt. Yes there were a couple of long crossings around Old Snowy Peak but I did them without batting an eye. Guppy stuff really.

My daily schedule involved getting up at 5:15, doing a little photography up high, and leaving camp by 6:45. Then you walk all day, remaining on the trail for 12-13 hours. Most committed through hikers are this disciplined. The key to making your miles is not to walk fast but walk long. I still maintain a steady go all day pace. My pace was about 2.5 mph when on good track which consisted of wide, smooth dirt with a little give to it and it slowed down to 1.5 mph when going over loose talus or deep, narrow horse ruts. My pace is near that of most hikers on level ground and slower downhill. On uphill climbs I do pretty good. I have lots of lung and leg power and uphill climbs are the easiest on my heels. But the heat slows me down.

On the third day I was hiking by 6am, 30 minutes ahead of the other 4. We finished our 25 mile hike to Forest Service Road 23 above Trout Lake 12.5 hours later. On that day I met 8 SOBOS before 8am. On the second day, I was surprised I did over 20 miles because I spent a fair amount of time photographing alpine meadows and flowers with a Mt. Adams background and then chatting too long with NOBO hikers.

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  Dinner and camp just south of the Knife Edge at 6800 feet.

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. Dinner and camp just south of the Knife Edge at 6800 feet.

Will my pack ever get lighter? I still have the largest pack of any thru hiker and yes, sometimes I am self-conscious about it. For the Glacier Peaks section, my pack with camera, 8 days of food and 1 liter of water (there was no need to carry more) weighed in at 36 lbs. For Goat Rocks, I carried 4 days of food (we did it in 3) and my total pack weight with everything and 1 liter water was 29 lbs at the start. On our zero in Packwood I tried to get everything into the Hyperlite pack but it was just too tight and I felt like the thinner harness system would become an issue sometime down the trail with that weight. So I am sticking with my 4 lb custom made McHale pack. When the bugs disappear in the fall, I can shed 1.5 lbs of tent weight and the bulk of a small down bag by ditching the tub floor with bug insert on my Hyperlite Ultamid 2 shelter.

The French, as many other young hikers do, are all just sleeping on Z-rests. I can’t do that. I have a Ridge rest and an Exped Synmat air mattress. After 13 hours on the trail and eating dehydrated food and candy bars, I want a shot at sleeping comfortably. Overall I think I just take too much food. All the years of remote travel in Alaska have engrained in me to take extra food. Many hikers seem to cut it to a razor’s edge, coming into trail towns with virtually no food left. I ran into one hiker who was out of food and still trying to hike over 20 miles to White Pass. I’ve run into a fair amount of hikers who don’t set up camp until after sunset.

Pushing it to get the shot: On the second day, I met Click and Data, 2 other gray hairs section hiking. Click was lugging around a Canon 5D Mark III with I think either a 24-105F4/L or 24-70F2.8L. I just had to show him my Sony A6300 with equivalent lens, a Zeiss 16-70F4 that weighed half of the Canon outfit. I do still miss my Canon as I have the same outfit he was using. They told me about incredible fields of wildflowers below the north face of the 12,000’ Mt. Adams that I would encounter the next day. That’s why I got up and moving by 6am the third day. I wanted to push it to get some shots before the light washed out. I pushed 9 miles in 3 hours to make it to the location they told me about. I was a little late as we were getting into high angle backlight of late morning. I also met 8 other SOBOs on the way there and I tried my best to keep my chatting short.

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  Wildflowers and view of Mt. Adams

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. Wildflowers and view of Mt. Adams

My longest stop was with a very nice solo woman with her white dog, Custard, who had his own saddle bags and permit. I took a few shots of Custard talking to me but I was still half focused on pushing on to the wildflowers. I had a senior moment and forgot to get Custard’s human companion’s name. I feel like an idiot.

I know dogs in the wilderness rubs some hikers the wrong way but I am a dog person and well behaved dogs and responsible LNT dog owners hiking are just fine with me. People who let their dogs run loose, chase wildlife and bark especially in camp do not belong in the wilderness.

PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington.  Custard, the talking trail dog with his own wilderness permit near Indian Springs

PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington. Custard, the talking trail dog with his own wilderness permit near Indian Springs

Back to Mt. Adams. Yes, I took images anyway, knowing that none would be sales worthy. I did it mainly to imprint this locations as a place to return to and do it right in the right light with a tripod. Mt. Adams is overshadowed by the iconic Rainier. Rainier also has more road access to fields of wildflowers with the mountain in the background. But honestly, Adams is just as photogenic and I saw potential for calendar quality images here. And it was only 5-6 miles from a dirt road trailhead.

Trout Lake Abbey: This sanctuary is worth the hitch and possible zero day. Trout Lake Abbey is a Spiritual Retreat center and certified organic farm run by Kozen, a bhuddist monk. This had to be the most peaceful place I’ve stayed. In fact we decided to stay another night. The accommodations are simple but beautiful and very reasonably priced. The breakfasts and company were also nice. Lauri found out about this from Cheri and Andrew (Reason Number 7), a SOBO couple I met in Glacier Peaks who are days and miles ahead of us. Not much to do in Trout Lake but eat at the cafe. Even if you are not a PCT hiker, go here. It’s worth it.

Views from the calming Trout Lake Abbey.

Views from the calming Trout Lake Abbey.

Venerable Kozen with his dog Ven and fellow SOBO hikers Juliette, Thomas, Pierre, and Leo on the porch of Trout Lake Abbey with "Trail Angel" Lauri

Venerable Kozen with his dog Ven and fellow SOBO hikers Juliette, Thomas, Pierre, and Leo on the porch of Trout Lake Abbey with “Trail Angel” Lauri

NOTE: I am off trail until September 5, principally to help Lauri who needed to return home to begin her recovery from her broken leg from earlier this year. It is time for me to sacrifice some and willingly support her as she begins her recovery and physical therapy after all she has done for me. It wasn’t right (even though she was willing) for her to drive 1200 miles in a day and a half to make her final appointment in Albuquerque last Tuesday (Aug 9), deal with physical therapy, mail my resupply packages, prepare new resupply packages, and then drive 1200 miles back to the Pacific Northwest all by herself. Therefore I am giving up completing the last little bit of Washington and the ceremonial crossing of the Bridge of the Gods as you cross the Columbia into Cascade Locks, Oregon. That day will come later (September). It’s her time now.

I also have to get ready to teach my pro studies workshop: Outdoor Photography 1 at Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, MT later this month. There is still plenty to blog about and I plan on posting at least once a week for the rest of August and into September. So please stay tuned in for more of my PCT SOBO journey.

Upcoming blogs: What do you think about while hiking all day? and Backcountry Photography on the Washington PCT

TRAIL SCENES:

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  Sunrise and Mt. Rainier from camp at 6800' just south of Knife Edge

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington. Sunrise and Mt. Rainier from camp at 6800′ just south of Knife Edge

Wildflowers along the trail with towering Mount Adams, the 2nd tallest mountain in Washington State at 12,280'.

Wildflowers along the trail with towering Mount Adams, the 2nd tallest mountain in Washington State at 12,280′.

PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington

PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington

PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington

Thomas and Leo crossing a glacial stream along the PCT in Mount Adams Wilderness, Washington

TRAIL PEOPLE:

Pierre - trail name Refill due to his excitement that soda and ice tea refills are free here in the US.

Pierre – trail name Refill due to his excitement that soda and ice tea refills are free here in the US.

Juliette crossing  lingering August snows just below the Knife Edge with Mt. Rainer in the background

Juliette (trail name ‘Dirt Arrow’) crossing lingering August snows just below the Knife Edge with Mt. Rainer in the background

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington.  Leo photographing paintbrush

Leo (trail name ‘Rainbow Trout’) photographing paintbrush in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

PCT in Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington

Thomas (hasn’t accepted a trail name as of this writing) hiking in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington

F-stop’s SOBO Thru Hiking The PCT – Snoqualmie Pass to White Pass

7/28 – 8/1

Snoqualmie Pass 2390.6 to White Pass 2292.4 – 98.2 miles

Total miles hiked to date: 366

This segment should be titled ‘Hiker to Hiker Trail Magic’

First, I hit two milestones in this section:  I passed the 300 mile point and, more significantly,  I completed my first 20+ miles a day here.  In fact I did 3 in a row and ended up hiking this 98 mile section in 4.5 days.  But my feet are a wreck and I just can’t seem to get my middle back muscles to relax.  Yes, I’ve stretched and rested and get temporary relief but with the pack on it just comes right back.  Because my heals are in agony due to painful and rotting calluses, I’ve been stepping on the ball of my feet first for 98 miles.  As a result, the balls of my feet including my toes are numb.  If there is any improvement it has to be my plantar fasciitis improving thanks to the persistent stretching I’ve been doing.

I had to take a zero in Packwood to try to recover a bit before the next section which is 66 miles over the Goat Rocks Wilderness.  If my heels and back don’t improve I may have to get off the trail for a longer period to recover.  Enough about my feet.

I felt strong enough to push on a little further even though I knew I was over the 20 mile mark for the day.  And this was my second 20+ mile day in a row.  When I crested Scout Pass at 6500’ in the shadow of the 4th highest mountain in the CONUS (Continental United States), I knew instantly that I was stopping here to camp.  The view of Mt. Rainier was the best I’ve seen yet and I felt strong about both sunset and sunrise images from the same vantage point.  The wind was cold and damp and the ragged edges of stratus clouds raced over the pass only to dry out and disappear on the leeward side I just hiked up.

Sunset and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500" with fog in valley below.  Forest fire smoke from fires in Washington and Oregon is seen over the summit.

Sunset and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500″ with fog in valley below. Forest fire smoke from fires in Washington and Oregon is seen over the summit. Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

The pass was not labeled as a campsite on the Guthooks App or Half-Mile maps but 10 feet from the hitching post was a slopped spot just barely big enough to pitch my tent.  The stench of horse urine was worth the views.  I ate a quick dinner in the lee of some trees and quickly set up camp shivering the whole time.  The sun was lighting the fog below with evening blue shadows bathing the glaciers of Rainier.  Smoke from nearby fires drifted in front of the summit.  I was happy with what I had so far and spent an all too short, barely warm enough night where the wind never quit.  Unlike valley winds, ridge top winds tend to increase at night above a pronounced inversion.

Sunrise and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500" with fog in valley below.  Same vantage point as sunset image

Sunrise and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500″ with fog in valley below. Same vantage point as sunset image. Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

The 5:15am alarm came early but I got dressed quickly wearing everything I brought to catch the first light on the mountain at 5:40 am.  I started breaking camp at 6am after sunrise shots.  My hands were cold enough to wear my gloves for the first time.  In all my excitement about making images I lost my spoon.  I was already leaving later than I wanted as I was desperately searching the area for it.  Not having anything to eat with felt almost as unsettling as running out of toilet paper with 3 days still to hike to the next trailhead.

Around 6:45am another SOBO wanders up to the pass and sees me pacing back and forth searching for my spoon.  It’s a nice young hiker whose trail name is “Neemore” (standing for need less, want more.)  He asks me what I’m looking for and upon hearing about my loss says he hasn’t used his spoon in 300 miles and just gives it too me.   He is “stoveless” and has subsisted on pop tarts, cliff bars and eating dry Ramen noodles.  I’m not ready for that extreme yet.  I’m fine carrying a stove.  Neemore also knows something about cameras and photography.  A successful AT thru hiker from Georgia, Neemore produces “How To” backpack videos and has a Youtube channel.  It is always good to chat image talk with other PCT hikers.

PCT SOBO thru hiker, Neemore (need less, want more) completed the AT last year.  I met him around 6:30am at Scout Pass where he gave me his spoon after I lost mine.  He does 'How To' videos for backpackers and posts on Youtube.  His Instagram handle is @neemorsworld.

PCT SOBO thru hiker, Neemore (need less, want more) completed the AT last year. I met him around 6:30am at Scout Pass where he gave me his spoon after I lost mine. He does ‘How To’ videos for backpackers and posts on Youtube. His Instagram handle is @neemorsworld.

I enjoy my breakfast with my new-found spoon and get off a little later than planned.  But that turned out be the best day of this section as the trail stayed high in the Norse Peak Wilderness with commanding views of Rainier, Mt. Adams, and the Goat Rocks.  This day more than makes up for the depressing forty mile section of clear cut logging I had just walked through.  For Southbounders, you definitely notice the trail improving and getting faster in this section over anything further north.

The day before, I run into a large volunteer trail crew, a joint venture of the PCTA and WTA, Washington Trail Association.  I spend an hour and a half making a few portraits and documenting some of the work they’ve been doing.

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Slowly but surely I am adopting to the PCT style of backpacking.  You are here to hike the trail, not chill in camp.  So I’ve fallen into a routine of getting my hike started before or at 7AM.  I spend 12-13 hours on the trail.  Sometime around lunch I break and dry my tent and any damp gear.  Even though the weather has been stellar this section it is still always damp in the morning.  Around 5-6PM I stop for dinner near a water source, then continue hiking for another 1-2 hours before finding a high camp.  If I want solitude I avoid camping near water sources – especially lakes.  It has been relatively easy to pack 2-3 liters another mile or two to a quieter dry camp.

I am meeting more and more hikers who are just tackling the PCT in state sections, Oregon, Washington, Oregon and Washington together.  A few hikers, including a long distance hiker and life coach in her 60’s, “Dutchess” ask me why it is important to do the whole trail in one season.  With all the time I have alone walking for 12-13 hours you would think I would have an answer but I don’t.  I fumble to explain why.  I’m also warming up to the idea of maybe not doing the entire trail in one season.  At this age you are more cautious about doing permanent damage to your body.  I’ve always been a strong hiker but a 5-7 day backpack trip is a completely different experience from a 5-month backpack trip.

I take each section at a time and try to listen to my body and be realistic about what it can handle.  The Goat Rocks section is coming up and it looks like weather will clear after a wet and cold zero in Packwood.  I will plan on 4 days through this 68 mile section.

TRAIL PORTRAITS

2015 NOBO Thru hiker, CC (Color Coordinated) is hiking the Washington section again this year to see what she missed during rainy weather last year.  In the Norse Peak Wilderness

2015 NOBO Thru hiker, CC (Color Coordinated) is hiking the Washington section again this year to see what she missed during rainy weather last year. In the Norse Peak Wilderness

Section hiker, "Dutchess" is a life coach and author.  She teaches women over 50 how to backpack.  Her website is:  www.transformation-travel.com

Section hiker, “Dutchess” is a life coach and author. She teaches women over 50 how to backpack. Her website is www.transformation-travel.com

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Trail crew on PCT near Government Meadow and Ulrich Cabin

Neemore using an iPad mini in lieu of a smartphone on our last day stretch to White Pass where we both hiked 16 miles by early afternoon.

Neemore using an iPad mini in lieu of a smartphone on our last day stretch to White Pass where we both hiked 16 miles by early afternoon.

TRAIL VIEWS

Lupine along the trail with sun shining through ridge top fog from Puget Sound

Lupine along the trail with sun shining through ridge top fog from Puget Sound

Sunset and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500" with fog in valley below.

Sunset and Mt. Rainier from Scout Pass on the PCT at 6500″ with fog in valley below.

The first half of the Snoqualmie to White Pass section passes through old clear cut logging with a maze of roads criss-crossing the trail.  This was a very unappealing section of the trail and hard to look at for two days.

The first half of the Snoqualmie to White Pass section passes through old clear cut logging with a maze of roads criss-crossing the trail. This was a very unappealing section of the trail and hard to look at for two days.

F-stop’s SOBO Thru Hiking The PCT – Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass

7/23 – 7/27

Stevens Pass 2461.6 to Snoqualmie Pass 2390.6 – 71 miles

Total miles hiked to date: 268

Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

I tend to trust knowledgable people even when I haven’t experienced what they said I will. Yes, this early in the hike it was already starting to happen. I took off from Stevens Pass in yet again, bleak and wet weather, and walked over the ski area and down across the other side into a maze of logging roads and power lines. Until I reached camp on a pass that night I had walked 99% of my time in the woods that day. They told me the trail would be 90% mental and for the first time I was beginning to feel it and ask myself what am I doing here? I love backpacking and being in the wilderness but wasn’t so sure about this long distance trip where making your miles for the day seems to be the top goal. Still, I get up at zero dark thirty, break camp and hit the trail by 7am, sometimes earlier, to hit the trail.

I intended to hike this stretch in 3.5 days. My feet were feeling stronger and I felt I could finally do 20 mile days. Well that didn’t happen. It took 4 days plus a couple of hours because the trail overall was by no means a “cruising” trail. The weather cleared and we went from one extreme condition (wet, cool conditions) to the other (dry, hot conditions). Now I found myself doing long ascents in the blazing hot sun which really slowed me down. Sections of downed trees, especially in an old burn area, were equally slowing.

View of Mt. Ranier from one of the high points in the trail

View of Mt. Ranier from one of the high points in the trail. Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

On the second day I finally meet up with Liam from Scotland. Earlier on the trail I found a very expensive carbon shaft with titanium head ice axe and hauled it out. I learn that it was Liam’s so when I got to Snoqualmie Pass we meet up again and I was able to return it to him. Mystery solved.

On my third day I stopped up high above the Lemah River Valley with great views above a huge burn area. There was a small pond with no name. I noticed I had only done 13 miles that day and it was only 3pm, but it looked like there was potential for a great sunrise reflection shot of the steep mountains around me. So I reminded myself that it wasn’t always about the miles. I stayed. The mosquitoes around that little snow fed pond were Alaska bad but that was OK. I used my head net for the first time this trip!

View from Pacific Crest Trail - Stevens to Snoqualmie segment. Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

View from Pacific Crest Trail – Stevens to Snoqualmie segment Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

Up at 5:15am, the first light hits the high peaks in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and I made the shots I was after. And, I still hit the trail by 7am. This would turn out to be my second 19 mile day despite going through some bad deadfall many NOBOs (NOrthBOund hikers) warned me about. The best thing is after another nearly 3000 ascent, the trail stayed high most of the day with fabulous views of the best of the Cascades. Spectacle Lake is forever locked in my mind as a must return to spot. It is only a half mile off the PCT. If you are a photographer, there is much potential here for stunning sunrise and early morning shots of this emerald lake below some of the prettiest peaks I have seen in the Cascades.

I get to a camp above Joe Lake near 7pm exhausted. Ridge Lake is only 2 miles more but another 1000’ climb. I decide to push on so I can see Lauri at Snoqualmie Pass that much sooner the next day. With all the things you think about on this hike, I forgot how close I was to Seattle and how easy it is to buzz up I-90 to the pass and access this very popular wilderness. There were close to 50 people camped on Ridge Lake. This wasn’t exactly a wilderness experience but I didn’t care. I was motivated to get through those last 7 miles for the pass. I find a quiet spot and set up camp for the night.

Stevens to Snoqualmie Section hikers Devon and Matt

Stevens to Snoqualmie Section hikers Devon and Matt. Shot captured using Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.

Next morning, Lauri and I ate at the very PCT hiker friendly Aardvark food cart next to the Chevron Station and hung out with a group of SOBOs at the Drubru Pub that night. It was good to finally see the 4 French SOBOs I met in Stehekin as well as Liam. They are doing well and we will all hit the next 98 mile section to White Pass at various start times Thursday morning.

The next stretch of trail supposedly starts of a bit rocky for about 10 miles and then pretty decent trail the rest of the way. Looking at the trail map elevation changes, it looks like there will be a stretch of the trail where I will be above tree line for awhile. I’m looking forward to hiking in the high country again.

F-stop’s SOBO Thru Hiking The PCT – Harts Pass to Stevens Pass

7/10 – 7/20

(From mile marker 2620.9 slightly above Harts Pass to Stevens Pass 2461.6)

Total miles hiked to date: 197

I reach Dolly Vista campsite 121 miles south of the border, cold and wet with the higher peaks shrouded in cloud. My feet are in agony but I decide to push on 2 more miles to a single campsite and settle in for the night on a wooded ridge near 5500 feet. After dinner and setting up the tent I walk out to an overlook a short distance down the trail. I’m amazed at what I see. The Milk Creek Valley is below me with more ragged and sharp peaks thrusting above the stratus clouds on the other side. Looking down 3000 feet into the valley below I realize that Glacier Peak, Washington’s 4th highest, still rises another 5000 feet above me!

Cheri and Andrew descend the south side of Fire Creek Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Cheri and Andrew descend the south side of Fire Creek Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

The North Cascades are BIG mountains with steep rugged peaks and deep narrow valleys. Everything not covered with snow is verdant green. Other mountains reach higher elevations like the High Sierra and Colorado Rockies but the North Cascades have few, if any, rivals in terms of prominence and sheer majesty. I haven’t seen any roadside views that compare to what I’ve seen on the trail. The Glacier Peak Wilderness is fairly remote and the best scenery is in the heart of this glorious landscape at least a day’s hike from either end along the PCT.

Sunset over the Glacier Peak Wilderness, viewed from Grizzly Peak

Sunset over the Glacier Peak Wilderness, viewed from Grizzly Peak

Short break in weather near Suiattle Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Short break in weather near Suiattle Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

These mountains are no joke and I am amazed at how much punishment they can dish out, even in mid-July. I guess I’ve received a North Cascades baptism as a memorable start to my southbound PCT journey. I never expected to see prolonged hypothermic weather here on par with what we’ve experienced in Alaska’s coastal mountains and the Brooks Range above the Arctic Circle on our many wilderness trips there. What I like most about being out here is that one’s social-economic status means nothing. In the wilderness we are all equal.

I see on the map that I indeed will need to be on the peaks I’m looking directly across at. I will have to plunge 2500 feet down and climb 3000 feet up tomorrow to 6200 feet. There are some narrow breaks in the heavy cumulus clouds with splashes of sun. Maybe in the morning I will get some decent light. But again it never comes.

I begin my hike early the next morning and reach Mica Lake about lunch. Here I find a privy with quite possibly the best throne view ever. Of course I had to use it. No newspaper required. Just gaze out at the scenery.

Could be the best privy view in the U.S. at Mica Lake overlooking Milk River valley and the North Cascades, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Could be the best privy view in the U.S. at Mica Lake overlooking Milk River valley and the North Cascades, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Unlike the mostly high traverses from Rainy to Hopkins Passes, the Glacier Peak section, one of the longest between supply points at 108 miles, is characterized by steep climbs and descents, one after another. The highest and most stunning section to me was the high traverse between Red and White Passes. Once around Glacier Peak and entering the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, the trail mellows out with more gradual climbs and descents.

There is a serendipitous convergence of 8 SOBOS here on the shores of the mostly frozen Mica Lake. We are about to begin crossing the highest sections of the Glacier Peak Wilderness and the snow crossings of Fire Creek Pass, followed by Red and White Passes the next day. The weather closes in. Rain, hail, wind, and obscured peaks define the conditions I will see during most of my time in the high country. Again, we are dealing with a near constant hypothermic environment. I’m a bit disappointed in my $300 Outdoor Research Axiom jacket as the pounding rain quickly soaks through it and I begin to get cold. This is not condensation as I am not moving. This is simply failed performance of expensive gear that is supposed to perform in conditions like this. This is why I spend this kind of money on quality rain gear. Liam has an umbrella and he has convinced me that might be a worthwhile investment.

Gang of SOBOs in the rain and hail at Mica Lake, waiting for visibility to clear before heading up Fire Creek Pass.  Liam, from Scotland with umbrella, was the first SOBO I met a few miles north of Harts Pass.  Cheri, Andrew and I went first despite the horrible weather.  New hail and snow covered the trail and boot pack on the pass so we had to do a few minutes of GPS navigation to find the trail.

Gang of SOBOs in the rain and hail at Mica Lake, waiting for visibility to clear before heading up Fire Creek Pass. Liam, from Scotland with umbrella, was the first SOBO I met a few miles north of Harts Pass. Cheri, Andrew and I went first despite the horrible weather. New hail and snow covered the trail and boot pack on the pass so we had to do a few minutes of GPS navigation to find the trail.

Despite the continued driving rain and hail I am too cold to continue standing around. I cross Fire Creek Pass with little fanfare in 2 inches of new hail and driving wind at the pass. I camp that night in the woods near Kennedy Creek with a short break in the weather.

Andrew and Cheri, SOBOs from San Francisco, approaching Fire Creek Pass in rain, wind, hail and snow

Andrew and Cheri, SOBOs from San Francisco, approaching Fire Creek Pass in rain, wind, hail and snow

I reach Lake Sally Ann at mile 159 after another 17 mile battle with hypothermia across the highest section, over Red and White Passes. In fact I had to duck into some trees for an hour due to very close and frequent lightning to where I’m the tallest object around. I am shivering and most everything is wet. I get the tent set up in the rain and fog. Liam shows up a short time later and decides to stay here as well. That night I cook in my tent and dive into my bag before dark. It rains all night and my plans to get up at 5:30AM are delayed by the continued morning rain. At 7 I get up and quickly pack up a soaked tent, again. Since starting, there has been only one morning, in Stehekin, where I packed up a dry tent.

The weather breaks finally. Near 11AM I reach Saddle Gap with a large area of dry grass in the sun. I strip down naked unload my entire pack and spend the next hour drying everything and soaking up the sun. I didn’t care if anyone came by. I’d just smile and say hello. As it turned out I didn’t see another hiker until later in the afternoon.

Drying out everything finally after many days of rain and/or fog, at Saddle Gap

Drying out everything finally after many days of rain and/or fog, at Saddle Gap

Most of the talk among section and thru hikers alike has been the snow crossings in the high passes. I did all of them without batting an eye and without traction devices or an ice axe. I guess if you are a skier and have mountaineering and glacier travel experience, the snow crossings even across steep slopes didn’t phase you. You just take it slow and trust your ability and footing. My biggest concern was crossing literally hundreds of downed trees across the trail. We are not talking about your 8” Alaska birch. We are talking about your 80” Washington Douglas firs, hemlocks, and ponderosa pines strewn across the trail They were mostly wet and slippery and full of potential thigh puncturing or srcotum ripping protrusions. Some involved going over, taking the pack off and going under or way around, usually on a steep slope.

Looking back at the what I just hiked up, Red Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Looking back at the what I just hiked up, Red Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness

I did meet a PCTA trail crew near the Suiattle River who just spent a week clearing sections of trail with all hand tools. That’s a lot of work. I am grateful for what they do and will up my donation to them. As far as I’m concerned they walk on water and I hope other hikers express gratitude for what these volunteer trail crews do for us.

I seem to meet more and more hikers as I progress south, mostly section hikers, or fellow SOBO’s with whom I am either leapfrogging with or who have passed me and kept going. Liam is from Scotland, who quit his job and is doing the PCT without any defined timetable. Then there are the 4 20-somethings from France, who were all roommates and like Liam, quit their jobs to do the PCT together. Then there is the couple from San Francisco. It’s good to see couples doing an adventure like this together and make me miss Lauri all that much more. I’ve met some “vintage” section hikers, but so far I’m the oldest SOBO out there.

Southbounder Nuthatch is doing 30 mile days through the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Southbounder Nuthatch is doing 30 mile days through the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

I’ve also met my first NOBOs who are within a few weeks of finishing. Some of them are up to 25-30 miles a day. A delightful young woman, who’s trail name is Hummingbird, meets me on the south side of Grizzly Peak. She is finishing the PCT northbound having been stopped last year near this point by fires closing the trail. A film major from Boulder, CO she is full of wanderlust and PMA (Positive Mental Attitude), embracing the simplicity of living out of a pack. And her pack is half the size of mine. It was fun to chat a little photography with someone who might make a career in the business. She is more than happy to let me take a few pics of her for the blog. But I am still struggling a bit with the performance of the A6300. I fumble a bit switching the focus to continuous and changing the focus point. Not wanting to hold her up I completely space out getting my shutter to a suitable speed for action, even walking. So I shot some nice images of her walking down the trail but the images have motion softness since I only shot them at 1/80 of a second instead of at least 1/250. Such is life. Even seasoned pros slip once in a while. I am still appreciative to Hummingbird for her patience and willingness to be photographed.

NOBO thru hiker, "Hummingbird", walking in the fog approaching the Glacier Peak Wilderness

NOBO thru hiker, “Hummingbird”, walking in the fog approaching the Glacier Peak Wilderness

Being in old growth forest is beautiful but I still am claustrophobic and much prefer the alpine even if it means being exposed to harsher and colder weather. I have been out of phase with the few good weather windows I’ve had since starting. My sunniest days have been deep in the valleys where hard sun is terrible for forest photography and with no clean sweeping views with first or last light. All my attempts to camp and photograph high were characterized by rain, flat light and obscured mountains.

Grove of ancient cedars along the Suiattle River, Glacier Peaks Wilderness.  These trunks were 8-10 feet in diameter.

Grove of ancient cedars along the Suiattle River, Glacier Peaks Wilderness. These trunks were 8-10 feet in diameter.

It wasn’t until my last night before reaching Stevens Pass that I had somewhat decent, though not stellar views and nice light on Grizzly Peak at 5500 feet. Though cold I played around with sunset getting some decent images. I woke up early the next morning to fog. But this time, the fog was shallow and the sun would shine through it making for wonderful shafts of light and a now distant Glacier Peak rising above it in blue sky. I delay breaking camp and spend some time making images. I still manage to leave shortly after 7AM.

View of PCT northbound and Glacier Peak in the background from Grizzly Peak, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

View of PCT northbound and Glacier Peak in the background from Grizzly Peak, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

Fog and sunlight on Grizzly Peak, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

Fog and sunlight on Grizzly Peak, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

I complete my last 15 miles by 3PM and meet Lauri at Stevens Pass. My plan is to take a zero in Mukilteo and see some friends and enjoy some spicy hot tikka masala and to give my agonizing feet a well deserved break. Well, one zero turned into two. I decide to listen to my body and rest one more day before hitting the trail through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It looks like summer will finally return.

I think I can average 18 miles a day now. I’m OK with that given my age and that I have been hiking less than 2 weeks. Just look for me, trail name: F-Stop, the old guy with the big (but custom fit) McHale pack. I start early, finish late, go slow (average 2mph) but I get there.

{Note: All images shot with Sony a6300 and a Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS lens.}

Self portrait walking over a suspension bridge in North Cascades NP on my way down Bridge Creek to Stehekin

Self portrait walking over a suspension bridge in North Cascades NP on my way down Bridge Creek to Stehekin

JS from Quebec and the very sweet and well behaved PCT dog, Luna, at the restaurant in Stehekin.

JS from Quebec and the very sweet and well behaved PCT dog, Luna, at the restaurant in Stehekin.

PCT SOBOs from France, on the bus from Stehekin to High Bridge

PCT SOBOs from France, on the bus from Stehekin to High Bridge

Hikers picking up a general delivery box at Stehekin Post office.  They get over a 1000 general delivery boxes for PCT Thru hikers.

Hikers picking up a general delivery box at Stehekin Post office. They get over a 1000 general delivery boxes for PCT Thru hikers.

Nancy and Linda, two delightful women at the Stehekin CG who hiked in from Highway 20, Rainy Pass.  Linda, on the right, had a vintage rucksack - almost the exact pack I carried at Philmont Scout Ranch in 1976 except mine was burnt 70's orange.

Nancy and Linda, two delightful women at the Stehekin CG who hiked in from Highway 20, Rainy Pass. Linda, on the right, had a vintage rucksack – almost the exact pack I carried at Philmont Scout Ranch in 1976 except mine was burnt 70’s orange.

Gorging on salmonberries in avalanche chutes

Gorging on salmonberries in avalanche chutes

View of Lake Chelan and Stehekin with a Beaver on floats.  Stehekin reminds me of some of the little hamlets in SE Alaska like Elfin Cove, Gustavus, Tenakee.  Stehekin has kind of a Talkeena vibe

View of Lake Chelan and Stehekin with a Beaver on floats. Stehekin reminds me of some of the little hamlets in SE Alaska like Elfin Cove, Gustavus, Tenakee. Stehekin has kind of a Talkeena vibe

F-stop’s SOBO Hiking The PCT – My Gear

{Note: Michael is nearly 200 miles into his SOBO PCT journey but here are a few thoughts he went through when preparing for the trip.}

There is an abundance of blogs where AT, PCT or CDT thru hikers dedicate a post to an itemized and detailed gear list. I’m not going to do that and re-invent the wheel. Instead I will provide commentary based on years of wilderness experience and highlight a few gear items in detail. I do appreciate reading other hiker’s gear lists as I always learn something new. There are just so many.

The key point to remember about what is the best gear for a long distance hike is that there is more than one right answer. The best stuff for long distance hiking today, such as packs, sleeping systems, shelters and accessories is being made by cottage industry manufacturers such as Hyperlte Mountain Gear, Gossamer Gear, Z-Packs, ULA, Western Mountaineering, Feathered Friends, AntiGravity Gear, and several others. I shop more and more on line now directly from cottage industry manufacturers. Sadly, REI, which I’ve been a member of since like 1982 keeps going more corporate, carrying popular mainstream brands. That said, I still spend a fair amount shopping there, especially for shoes and apparel. There are a couple of mainstream gear manufacturers such as Big Agnes, and MSR/Cascade Designs that are addressing the needs of ultra light backpackers with innovative lightweight and high performance gear like tents and sleeping pads.

A peak at "what's in my backpack"

A peak at “what’s in my backpack”

I can tell you this. Even though I’m a gear junkie and keep up with the latest and greatest in the ultra light hiking and backpacking world, I am just not a true ultra lighter. At my age, I’ve paid my dues and I want a little comfort. I just can’t sleep on a 1/4” foam pad cut to torso length using my extra socks for a pillow. So, I have an inflatable mattress from Gossamer Gear which weighs a little less than a pound. In lieu of that, I’ll use a slightly heavier inflatable pad from Exped or Thermarest. Sea to Summit makes some nice pads too. And that goes on top of a Ridgerest (by Therm-A-Rest). That extra 8oz is worth its weight in gold. If my pad deflates in the night, at least I will still have some padding and insulation from the ground. In fact since I’ve been using a Ridge or Z Rest under an inflatable pad, I’ve never had a “flat” on my sleeping pad. I bring a Sea-to-Summit Pillow. And I’ve opted for a Western Mountaineering Alpenlight 25 degree bag with overfill. Yes it weighs 2.2 lbs but it is large and roomy enough for me to move around in. Lauri can get away with a sub 2lb., 20 degree bag. I can’t.

My base weight is 18lbs. Add camera gear at 3.5 lbs and another 1.8 lbs for an ice axe and microspikes for snow travel and I’m far from ultra lighting. But it’s not too bad. I’ll be able to shed the snow travel gear hopefully before I leave Washington. Well, at least I’m getting my food right. I’m close to the 2 lbs per day on rations following the formula of my food packing at least 120 calories per ounce.

Since I’m blogging about the trip and I’m going alone initially, I am carrying battery powered things I normally would not take on a backpack trip including my iPhone 6s, a DeLorme inReach SE, with charger cords and a spare battery with USB that will run both of them for a bit longer. I also need reading glasses now to see maps and small LCD screens. I could shave a pound leaving the glasses and above mentioned gadgets behind. This is the price I pay for age, a little security with the inReach, and pro photo gear. Guess I’ll go cut that handle off my toothbrush now to help shave some ounces.

Of all the gear one takes on a long distance hike there are two that are most critical to get right: your footwear (shoes, socks, insoles) and your pack. I hope the reasons are obvious. Get those wrong and little else matters.

PACKS. For years, I’ve been a die-hard Gregory Pack fan. I’ve tried a couple of ultra light packs from ULA and Hyperlite Mountain Gear. I like them but they are uncomfortable when loaded with more than 25lbs. With my camera gear, I am just beyond ultra lighting. I like the HMG for day hikes and an overnighter even with photo gear.

Last year I sprung for a custom fit pack from McHale Packs out of Seattle. The website is a bit confusing. I still don’t know exactly what model I have. The fitting process was a little long, but in the end the pack is fantastic. It is modular and I can adjust it for day hiking with camera gear to outfitting it for a heavy expedition. My pack alone weighs close to 4 lbs., not exactly ultra light. I can make it a bit lighter by leaving lid, bear canister straps and accessory pockets behind.

This is the most comfortable pack I’ve ever had. It should be for what I paid for it. I can walk all day with pack loads 0f 40 lbs without any back pain. I paid a pretty penny for it – close to $1000. With as much hiking as I do, especially with heavy camera gear, I could justify the price. It is important that your pack FITS, and that you can walk all day long without pain, or hip or shoulder pad blisters. If you don’t have that, none of the bells and whistles matter.

SHOES. FIT is the most important thing over anything else. The powers that be in 1976 warned us to not come to Philmont Scout Ranch without a good pair of sturdy leather hiking boots already broken in, otherwise your boots might end up hanging on the ranch gate when you leave. My mom was very frugal and sent me on my first real backpack trip with cheap boots. My boots never lasted the trip and for all I know are still there. Since then and up until recently, I’ve been an ankle high, waffle stomper soled, leather alpine boot guy.

Nearly forty years later, I have been liberated! I now go with trail running shoes and have never felt better! I really like the double layer Wright Socks and I use custom orthopedics. After trying most of the major brands of lightweight hiking, trail running and adventure racing shoes, I guess I’m still an Italian shoe guy. I use La Sportiva brand shoes now. It’s the fit and feel more than anything else. I think the “ankle support” was a false sense of security. If you want ankle support, train! Hike and do strength training exercises for your ankles, foot and calf muscles.

I’m not a big fan of Gore-Tex in footwear. And this is from a guy who’s been hiking wet, muddy trails and wet tundra in Alaska for 28 years! Eventually, you are going to go through a stream, or mud bog and water will infiltrate your shoe from the top. When that happens with a Gore-Tex shoe it will take FOREVER to dry. For snow and short muddy trail sections, I have a pair of vapor barrier socks that weigh next to nothing that fit over my regular socks to keep my feet dry. If and when they get wet, those socks and my shoes will dry more quickly.

I discovered Dirty Girl gaiters while hiking a trail in Alaska. Yes they are the best thing since sliced bread. OK, they could offer a few more masculine patterns. How about a nice solid blue or a medium grey that could double as a white balance card? Is that too much to ask for?

A FEW MORE KEY GEAR ITEMS

STOVE: Anti Gravity Gear alcohol stove with Caldera Cone that custom fits my .6 liter MSR titanium pot. When the plastic fuel bottle is empty, it weighs a lot less than an empty steel fuel can used with a Pocket Rocket or Jet Boil. Going without stoves is admirable. It’s just not for me – yet.

SHELTER: Hyperlite Mountain Gear with bug insert. Weight is 2.6lbs with stakes and ski straps to put two trekking poles together. Remember this was intended to house both of us. I carry the tent, Lauri carries the stove and fuel. Now I’m carrying both. This tent is bomb proof and passed the all-night-pummeled-by-jet-stream-winds test with flying colors. I could go without the insert and save over a pound. In the fall I will, but for now I need a bug free zone when I’m at camp.

CLOTHES: There are several good choices of high performance and light gear for cold wet weather. My favorites are Patagonia and Outdoor Research. I think a few others, like Marmot and Mountain Hardware are just as good.

COLD AND WET: For cold wet weather I have a non-cotton, moisture-wicking layering system. I have an expedition weight Patagonia Capilene zip top from the early 80’s. The color, red, is hideous. But it is still the lightest, warmest layer I have. I carry Patagonia’s Houdini Jacket and puffy vest and a lightweight OR beanie and gloves. For rain and cold wind, I love my OR Axiom Jacket.

What piece of gear have you found to be your go-to piece?

f-stop’s SOBO Thru Hiking The PCT – Harts Pass to Manning Park

7/7 – 7/9

(From mile marker 2620.9 to Gibson Pass Road 2658.2)

Three Fools Peak - You can see the trail cutting across the slope in the distance

Three Fools Peak – You can see the trail cutting across the slope in the distance. Taken with Sony a6300 and Zeiss 16-70mm f4

I finally got started on July 7 at about 2pm. I made it to Manning Park, BC around noon on Saturday, July 9. I did 9 miles the first day, 20 on Friday and 8 on Saturday. What surprised me most about my start was operating in a constant hypothermic environment. It might have finally hit 50F in Manning yesterday when the sun came out. My feet got wet within 2 hours of starting and remained wet the rest of the time. I pushed hard on Friday, mainly to stay warm as it rained hard. I got about two 15 minute breaks Friday afternoon in the weather to make some images and set up camp just inside B.C. before it poured all night.

The plan was to return to Harts Pass yesterday and resume southbound but the rain caused a mudslide and closed the road to Harts Pass. No official word as of this writing if it is passable. It looks like more wet and cold through Tuesday. Summer will come eventually.

This is my second trip to the North Cascades. They are just stunning along the PCT. These mountains are big and steep and verdant green. It was a bit frustrating to pass by fields of wildflowers in the alpine in rain and fog. I had to camp in the trees both nights because of weather conditions and the mosquitoes are almost as bad here as I’ve seen in Denali or the Yukon tundra.

South side of Rock Pass in the fog

South side of Rock Pass in the fog

I camped alone and spent 99% of my time alone, seeing nobody. I chatted with most of the hikers I met who were all going south. Nobody chatted long as everyone I met understandably didn’t want to stop too long due to the cold.

I met 12 other SOBO thru hikers who all went up to tag the monument, including 5 solo young women, 2 young guys, a solo guy from Scotland, a father and son and only one couple. The last 2 guys I met at Hopkins Pass about 6 miles from the border. They said I was at the “Tail End” of a wave of SOBO’s who went up to tag the monument. Up until that time, the consensus among friends for a possible trail name was F-Stop. After all it is written right on my camera chest pack. But Tail End seems to describe my position in the SOBO pack, the old guy with the big pack in the rear. Another SOBO might see me if they take three consecutive zeros otherwise, NOBOs might be the only other PCT thru hikers I see.

I love sharing info with other hikers, but I have to take advice with a grain of salt. One guy said he had trouble finding the trail in places because of cross trails. I never pulled out my map. The trail was no problem to find. Others talked about the treacherous snow crossings and one person had to self arrest. The snow crossings, especially the north side of Rock Pass, looked more intimidating than they were. I used my axe for a margin of security there, but the actual crossing of the snow fields was pretty easy. I used the axe to glissade more than as an anchor. The Kahtoola micro-spikes were all but worthless in the wet snow and I will leave those behind.-

Overlooking Hopkins Lake on top of Devil's Stairway

Overlooking Hopkins Lake on top of Devil’s Stairway

My legs and lungs are strong. But I am not ready for a 20 mile/day everyday pace. My feet are hurting. No blisters. I rarely get those. But my plantar flared up again even though I’ve been doing some of the exercises prescribed by my PT. It has been pretty good up until yesterday where I may have overdone it on that 20 mile haul which included hiking over, under, and around large fallen trees.

Heading up Rock Pass

Heading up Rock Pass

On the first benign snow patch I busted a carbon fiber Black Diamond Z-pole. No more $160 a pair poles. They are light but no stronger than aluminum. They also serve as my tent pole so breaking them both could make it challenging.

Hopefully I can get back on the trail at Harts Pass today weather and road permitting. Some may think I’m a wuss for taking a zero because of more rain. But remember, photography is equally important to me and passing through this stunning alpine trail shroud in yuck is frustrating. I want to get some decent landscape images!

Self portrait at the Monument

Self portrait at the Monument

F-stop’s Camera Gear For The PCT Or Any Long Distance Backpack Trip

If you want pro results and performance out of your camera, a little versatility, and the ability to shoot beautiful twilight landscapes then forget ultra light backpacking. I am carrying the lightest outfit I’ve ever carried on a backpack trip and it still weighs in at 3 to 5.5 lbs depending on which tripod I take. So my base weight will always be more than the 13-15 lb average of most PCT hikers. Carrying this extra weight day in and day out may slow my pace down. I don’t know. After a lot of research and rentals, it is unthinkable to take a trip of this magnitude and NOT have a pro level and capable camera.

This is the death grip my perfectionism has on me. If that were not the case I would have gone with one of the fabulous 1” sensor cameras from Sony or Fujifilm. They are amazing in terms of performance and light weight. I just don’t see the quality in the files to be used in 18-24 inch calendars and magazine double page spreads.

My outfit will be minimalistic and consist of one body and lens, a few filters and a small but sturdy tripod. I’m apprehensive about not taking a speed light for lighting tents, and fill light on portraits and trail action imagery but that may change. My Sony A6300 is new to me and thus far I have not had the time to check out their speedlight system.

At camp on a wet July 4, 2015 near 13,000' in the South San Juan Wilderness, along the CDT, Colorado.  I'm shooting with the Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod with their lightest weight BH25.  I now have their Microball.  On the tripod is my Canon 5DIII with a 24-70/F4 L lens

At camp on a wet July 4, 2015 near 13,000′ in the South San Juan Wilderness, along the CDT, Colorado. I’m shooting with the Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod with their lightest weight BH25. I now have their Microball. On the tripod is my Canon 5DIII with a 24-70/F4 L lens

Clearing storm in the South San Juan Wilderness from our camp for the night at 13,000'.  I shot this on the Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod

Clearing storm in the South San Juan Wilderness from our camp for the night at 13,000′. This is the shot using the Really Right Stuff Pocket Pod from the position in the previous photo.

I’ve spend months researching what might be the best trail cameral outfit. For my needs and photographic style. My current Canon outfit is great in performance and quality. It is the weight that is killing me and has prompted me to search for another backpacking photo platform. It was tough to determine what outfit would best fit my demanding criteria of: professional image quality, performance, and weight savings and mobility for a very long trip. On my many backpack trips in the past 10 years I have just endured carrying heavier gear on 5-7 day backpack trips. I’ve carried a Canon 5D and 5DIII (I skipped the Mark II) with one lens, 2 filters and spare battery. My current outfit had been a Canon 5DIII with a 24-70F4L. That set up with a spare battery, polarizer and grad ND filters in the F-Stop Gear Navin case came in at 5 lbs. That does not include a tripod or speedite, both of which I find hard to travel without. Those 2 add another 3 lbs. So every day, I am carrying an additional 8 lbs of base weight over what other thru hikers carry.

There were many cameras that excelled in one or two of my 3 criteria mentioned above but only one that seemed to fit all 3. The 1” sensor point and shoot cameras are amazing! I just couldn’t fathom going to the places I will be seeing and only having a 1” sensor. Those cameras would be a limiting factor to calendar and big print sales. Many shooters thought the obvious choice was the Sony A7RII because of it’s amazing 42mp full frame sensor. I would love to have that many pixels in every image but do I really need them? That body with equivalent lenses just didn’t represent a significant weight savings over what I currently used. The ideal combination is the Sony A6300 with the Sony-Zeiss 16-70F4. This combination with spare battery and the same two filters weighs in at 2.9 lbs. A 2 pound weight savings on a backpack outfit that I’ll wear for 150 days is very significant!

At first glance the image quality is outstanding. It is better than what I thought it would be for a cropped sensor. It seems comparable to the Canon 5DIII with 24-70F4 combo with essentially the same number of megapixels at 24. It will take some time to get used to a different set of buttons and menu functions. So far I love the small, non intimidating size of both the camera and lens. It fits easily in the Navin case along with the filters. I normally carry the case on my chest for quick access while hiking.

I’m on the fence with a tripod. The ReallyRight Stuff Pocket Pod is very sturdy and light. When paired with their Microball head the support weighs in at .5lb. It is limiting as I have to find a rock or stump to perch it on or shoot in areas void of any tall vegetation and all my shots will be from a pica’s point of view. My old series 1 Gitzo carbon fiber with the lightest Really Right Stuff BH25 head weighs in at 2.1lbs. That is still a great weight for the height and sturdiness it offers. I will take it on a few stretches where I anticipate the potential for aspirational landscapes where I’m only carrying a few days worth of food. The stretches where I have to carry a week or more I will take the Pocket Pod.

My Sony/Zeiss ensemble for the Pacific Crest Trail

My Sony/Zeiss ensemble for the Pacific Crest Trail

About the gear picture: Camera: Sony A6300 with 64GB SanDisk Extreme Pro card. Lens: Zeiss Vario-Tessar 16-70/F4 ZA OSS (24-105 full frame equivalent). Filters: Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 3 stop, hard step graduated ND 4×6 (I find the most useful for mountain/canyon photography), B+W circular polarizer (55mm). I have a pro Lee holder for grad ND’s. To save weight, I will hand hold the filter. Camera Support: Really Right Stuff: dedicated plate for the A6300, Pocket Pod with Micro Ballhead Case: F-Stop Gear Navin holster. Accessories: 2 extra SD cards, 2 extra batteries with charger, lens pen. The entire ensemble pictured here is 3.5lbs. This is the lightest pro level outfit I’ve carried on a backpack trip thus far. My Canon 5DIII with 24-70/F4 L ALONE, weighs this much. That doesn’t include tripod, extra batteries and filters! (Not pictured here: Gitzo 100 series (old, not made anymore) carbon fiber tripod with Really Right Stuff BH25 ballhead which weighs in at 2.1lbs. And it gets me up to a height of 45 inches.)

F-stop’s Thru Hiking The PCT As A Working Pro Photographer. What Is My Top Priority (besides not dying)?

I can’t believe it is finally here! I start my hike in less than a week. I am a 55 year old working pro photographer who’s been backpacking, hiking, skiing and doing long distance whitewater river trips pretty much all my adult life. I do several commercial assignments a year, teach a few workshops and do a few private mentoring and professional development sessions. What I’ve mainly been doing since 1992 is self assigned stock photo productions where are content is represented by several agencies. 

– Photographer Michael DeYoung working in Zion National Park carrying his custom made McHale Pack and F-stop Gear Navin case.

Photographer Michael DeYoung working in Zion National Park carrying his custom made McHale Pack and F-stop Gear Navin case.

The initial plan was for this thru hike to be a shared experience with my wife, best friend, business partner, photo assistant and frequent subject of the photo, Lauri. After all, we have over two decades of long distance shared wilderness experiences. She is recovering from a broken leg and likely won’t be hiking until September. We are remaining optimistic that she will join me through the Sierra. In the mean time, she has encouraged me to go solo while she provides trail support until she can join me upon recovery.

Sunset from section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail 2012

Sunset scene from section hike of the PCT from 2012

The plan is to start at Harts Pass, Washington, the northern most direct road access point to the trail on July 7. From there I hike north to the PCT border monument. To save time, I will continue to Manning Park, 9 miles from the border where Lauri will pick me up and return me to Harts Pass where I begin going south. Yes I am a SOBO, a thru hiker who is going southbound, from Canada to Mexico, part of the so called “wrong way gang”, as 90% of thru hike attempts are northbound. The NOBO starts as the U.S./Mexico border at Campo, California in April and hikes north. Apparently, the trail and it’s signage were designed to be traveled northbound. Every guidebook I have is written from a northbound traveler’s perspective. Work obligations, timing and crowd avoidance were my main motivators for choosing a southbound trek. I also get to hit the ground running and start in what I feel will be the most scenic part of the trail, the North Cascades! In 2012, We did a week long section hike, partly on the PCT in the Pasayten Wilderness.

One of the biggest challenges has been answering what would be my top priority for the trail. What is my main motivation for staying the course? Like most people my top priority was and basically still is, completing the trail in one season. But I also want to return with the best imagery possible. I would like to create salable images as well as document trail life and what it is like to live out of a pack for 5 months, as a personal photo project. 

When you know what it takes to get the best landscape and trail travel imagery it challenges your initial priority of having to go as far as you can each day. It is inevitable that I will pass by idyllic locations in the middle of the afternoon, knowing that I can create potentially great images there when the light is at it’s best near sunset, or even sunrise the next morning. Do I stay to photograph? Do I keep going to meet my 20 miles a day average only to camp down in the woods and away from a great scene when the light is screaming at sunset? I can see there will be sections of the trail where this will create a daily dilemma. On the other hand, the hallmark of a great photographer is finding beauty anywhere and seeing and capturing what many miss. Contrary to popular belief, aspirational imagery is not about the camera. It is about your creative vision, design skills and understanding of lighting. This trip will certainly challenge my creative skills as a photographer and I am looking forward to that. 

Though I will try my hardest to complete the trail this calendar year, in the end it is all about finding a balance of your priorities and recognizing that how you immerse yourself in the journey can be just as important as reaching the destination and having that feather in your cap. Making the trail in one season, come hell or high water would inhibit my creativity. Personally, I don’t understand the “make it in record time” mentality that many hikers seem to have. Sure, you cover the distance but there is a lot you don’t see doing that. I also know myself and the agony of being a perfectionist. I know from past experience, that in the aftermath, I will regret not making great images of locations I might only see once more than I will regret not having the title of completing the trail in one season. 

Camp from section hike of Continental Divide Trail

Lauri at camp with Hyperlite Mountain Gear DuoMid tent on section hike of the Continental Divide Trail (2015)

As with all hikers, there are financial realities to face as well. I will have to leave the trail for up to 2 weeks to teach a workshop at Rocky Mountain School of Photography and do a possible agricultural assignment. This time off trail will challenge the time I need to complete the trail in one season but the income is important. 

Barring injury or disaster, I plan on being out there for 5 months, immersing myself in everything PCT, camping and hiking as much as a successful thru hiker. I just may not make it as far because my perfectionism for the best possible imagery may prevent me from prioritizing the must make 20 miles a day average. I foresee having to push my hike through the Sierra as late in the season as possible. It has been done before. I have read blogs of thru hikers on Forester Pass and even Mt. Whitney in mid-October. It is possible, but risky. May mother nature be kind to us.

A detailed description of my camera ensemble will appear in the next blog.