PCT Shakedown: Goat Rocks Wilderness
After participating in Andrew Skurka’s planning course, I learned about a shakedown trip and how helpful it can be to figure out gear and techniques.
What is a Shakedown?
A shakedown is pretty much a test run. It could be as simple as a day hike or as intense as a multi-day section hike. Anything to get out in the elements and test out the gear and techniques you will use for the bigger, longer, and more intense trip so that there is no question about your gear and abilities.
Goats Rocks, a successful backup plan
I had originally planned to hike the Wonderland Trail (WT) in Mount Rainier National Park for my PCT shakedown. The WT is 93 miles circling Mount Rainier. Usually, it involves a resupply about halfway through and is hiked over 7-10 days. The only sticking point is the required advance permitting which has a quota limit.
I was unable to get a permit for the WT due to scheduling and the wonky permitting system as a result of Covid-19. The permitting was first come first served with no walk-up permits available so all of the decent campsites and dates were taken pretty quickly. Then I had the idea to section hike the PCT! No advance permitting required! I don’t know why I didn’t initially consider a PCT section hike; It is a perfect shakedown for the actual thru-hike!
After some research, I chose to hike the Goat Rocks section, from Forest Road 23 near Trout Lake to White Pass, which was a little over 60 miles. I’ve heard stories of the Knife Edge and the immense beauty of the Goat Rocks Wilderness. This was going to turn out to be a great trip to push the envelope!
There were going to be quite a few firsts for this trip. I was testing a new backpack, Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60, and a new tent, Tarptent StratoSpire Li. I would also be testing some new backpacking recipes including a few Andrew Skurka Classics: Backcountry Chili, Rice and Beans, and Polenta + Peppers; as well as a risky trail hummus that just needs water and oil. The Goats Rocks section would also be my longest trip in mileage and nights out in the wilderness.
I had planned out the daily mileage and campsites I was going to attempt to stay at. I gave myself 5 days and 4 nights to complete the section with my longest day being around 16 miles. I had a drop-off and someone picking me up at White Pass.
What I Learned
The shakedown was an immense success!
Planning campsites was really not necessary. On the first day, I blew through my planned camp a little after lunch. No way I was going to call the day short. I eventually went a couple more miles down the trail and found the best campsite of the trip right next to the trail with a picturesque view of Mount Adams. I took a more leisurely pace and found myself making camp earlier than the other thru-hikers I saw on trail. I had time to kill so I made my pickup, but I could easily hike longer and set camp at the last possible light.
Sometimes shit is just going to hit the fan and you have to roll with the punches. I experienced a gnarly wind storm that flattened my tent and drove me out of the campsite in the middle of the night. Read more about it in a separate post. I was racking my brain to see how I could have prevented it, but without a super updated forecast, there was no way to know. I was unaware of the impending wind storm headed my way mid-way through the trip. I had picked a wind-protected camp but the wind shifted and easily blew through camp as night came. At the end of the day, or night in my case, I just had to move camp so that my tent didn’t get torn to bits.
The gear I was testing worked great. The backpack held everything well and was easily accessible. It has multiple attachment points to lash shock cord to add carrying capacity to the outside. I attached cord to easily hold my Z-lite sleeping pad to the outside. The tent held up wonderfully even in the heavy winds. Yes, it did blow down once, but after attaching extra guylines and shoring up the standard ones it was bomber. I was more concerned about the strength of the DCF tent material rather than a guyline popping.
I also tested out my “body gear” or the muscles and tendons and ligaments. It’s hard to really figure out how hiking for days on end will feel on your body. I was used to long hard days in the mountains, but not continued hiking of 15+ miles. By the third day, I felt the twinge of pain in my knees from what I think were my shoes. I could change up my gait and ease the pain so I suspect my shoes were the root cause. I was using a pair of Brooks Cascadia 14s. They just didn’t work out for me and how I walked. The shoes also had a mesh upper on the toe and I accumulated so much dust and sand in my shoes. I always felt the grit of sand in my socks when I was walking. After using the shoes for some trail running they have deteriorated pretty quickly. Holes forming quickly in the heel and pinky toe areas.
The food I planned was a good learning experience. Mostly they tasted good and cooked well. The Skurka classics using dehydrated beans were excellent; Lightweight, easy to cook, great taste. I attempted cold-soaking some oats overnight that did not turn out well. Too much water and the flavor was not there. No bueno. I also realized that the MSR WindBurner stove (a quick boil pack it all together stove kit) was not conducive to cooking in the pot. I cooked some powdered eggs in the pot but had a terrible time cleaning the pot with the small ridges in the pot construction. I ultimately decided to switch my pot setup to a pocket rocket + simple titanium pot so I could easily cook in the pot. Trail hummus was killer! It is going in my resupplies for the thru-hike.
Also, pooping. Just getting the body used to pooping in the wilderness took some time and it wasn’t easy or straightforward. It took a few days and then once it came it was like releasing the flood gates! I imagine my body will take time to get used to the conditions and develop a routine.
The biggest and most exciting learning was what it felt like to be secluded on the trail with only trail necessities to worry about. It was pure bliss. It gave me even more motivation to thru-hike regardless of the gnarly wind experienced on the Knife Edge.
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