PCT Week 5: Planning, Prepping, and Pushing!


“It’s a hard decision… do you enjoy the rest of the desert or do you rush to the Sierra and brace yourself for the snow?” It was a debate I had heard most hikers talking through over the last few weeks, but decision time was coming. I decided to pick up my mileage and start preparing for the high snow and river crossings in the Sierra. I fully intended, however, to enjoy everything that the last 250 miles of desert had to offer. It was possible to do both… right?

While life along the Pacific Crest Trail may sometimes appear simple and slow, there can be a lot of daily research and planning that makes it all possible. When I decided, last week, that I officially wanted to enter the Sierra on a big snow year, that planning went into overdrive. During the past week or so, Iron Will, Taut, and I chased 25+ mile days (at least 9 hours of hiking per day), researched and bought additional mountaineering gear, crafted a high calorie-low weight food plan (that my mom graciously helped me package… hi mom!), and started reading trail reports, reroutes, and detours that would impact our Sierra route.

These extra tasks on top of normal hiking and camp chores definitely added up and overwhelmed my mind at times. I set a goal to stay in the moment and enjoy every last moment of the desert despite the excitement and planning around the Sierra.

Day 29: Memorial Day Party

11.1 Miles: Mound Campsite with Cloud Inversion (Mile 433.2) to Acton KOA (Mile 444.3)

“Alrightttt we’re gonna have a Memorial Day party!!!” I said as we walked onto the grounds of the Acton KOA. I had been manifesting a Memorial Day party of sorts because: 1. My friends and I usually camp in Colorado for the first time of the season on Memorial Day weekend, and I missed them. 2. Just as Iron Will, Taut, and I said goodbye to half our trail family to pick up speed, we realized that we had to slow back down due to post offices being closed for Memorial Day. A Memorial Day party, PCT style, was needed to boost spirits!

“Laundry! Showers! WiFi! Soda! Ice cream!” I sang out, listing off the KOA amenities as we walked up to the office. We spent the day relaxing, eating (there WAS, in fact, a Memorial Day cookout!!), getting clean, and creating our 14 day food carry for the Sierra that was quickly approaching.

Acton KOA cookout!

Like most evenings, we each grabbed our food bags for a group dinner before bed. As I unzipped my fanny pack to grab my spork, I saw the laundry pod sitting there staring up at me. “Shoot”, I thought to myself, “I’m gonna have to admit to the boys that we just rinsed our clothes instead of washing them with detergent.” I walked over to our dinner picnic table and told them about the laundry pod.

“Ahhhahaha this really is the perfect group to go into the Sierra with.” Iron Will replied unironically. I stared at him shocked. “There will never be a dull moment out there.” He said. I breathed a sigh of relieve for so many reasons. For some reason, that moment made me finally feel confident and comfortable with my decision to pursue the Sierra with this team.

Day 30: Assembling the Sierra Team

16.3 Miles: Acton KOA (Mile 444.3) to Mountain Overlook Campsite (Mile 460.6)

We spent the morning running errands in Acton, and I was getting worried about making our miles in the hot desert afternoon. We normally tried to start hiking before 5AM and today, we began around noon. As we started hiking, the clouds hung low in the sky. It was a nice cool afternoon… how lucky were we?

Vasquez Rocks on a cool desert afternoon!

“Hey hikers, trail magiccc!” We heard a man yell. Smiling ear to ear we ran over to the Vazquez Rocks Visitor Center from the trail and enjoyed deli sandwiches, chips, pop tarts, and propel before beginning the climb up to our intended camp.

As we were hiking up the ridge line, I looked at my phone and saw a WhatsApp notification. “Detour added you to a new group – Sierra Crew?”

“Ohhhh guys! Look at the message Detour just sent us!!!” I said to the guys. The group chat included me, Iron Will, Taut, Erwan, and Detour. “A Sierra dream team.” I thought to myself.

Detour had just gotten off trail to attend a wedding and Erwan was a few days ahead of us up trail. I smiled thinking about how crazy it would be if the timing worked out, and the 5 of us could take on the Sierra together. I hiked through a storm in Mt. Laguna with Erwan and Detour on day 4, and it was still somehow one of my favorite days on trail. “These are exactly the kinds of people that I want around me on a challenging stretch of trail.” I thought to myself.

Between this unexpectedly cool weather, a quick reunion with MJ and Shark Bait in Acton, trail magic, and the thought of a potential upcoming reunion in the Sierra… this day was going way better than expected.

Hiking up to camp through the wild oats

Day 31: Stuck in a Fog

25.9 Miles: Mountain Overlook Campsite (Mile 460.6) to Trail Side Campsite (Mile 485.9)

I poked my head out of my tent and saw the thick fog. “I’m sure it’ll burn off when the sun rises.” I thought to myself. I started hiking down the trail which was lined with tall, dewy, wild oat which quickly soaked through my shorts and shirt. The fog did not lift, to say the least.

The thick fog surrounding the trail in the early afternoon

During the late morning climb I was in need of some motivation to get through the foggy miles. I plugged in my earbuds and turned on a podcast – my first time doing so in 1 entire month on trail. I made a goal for myself over a month beforehand to practice staying “unplugged” by not distracting myself with music or podcasts while hiking. I had not craved a distraction until now, and I took a minute to celebrate my 1 month of distraction free hiking.

As the familiar voices of the podcast hosts came on, my mind finally gave into a distraction rather than how many more miles and feet of elevation were left until camp. I conquered the rest of the foggy climb and once again unplugged as I took an afternoon break for lunch.

Day 32: Mile 500

25.1 Miles: Trail Side Campsite (Mile 485.9) to River Group Campsite (Mile 511)

I unzipped my tent to see the same thick fog from yesterday surrounding me. “Okay well today it must burn off!! I manifested. “AND today, we hit 500 PCT miles.” This was the motivation I used to get myself out of my warm, dry sleeping bag and to start hiking up and out of the fog (and maaaybe another podcast episode).

Wildflowers in the morning fog

I met up with Taut in the late morning so we could hit our 500 mile milestone together. When we arrived to the sign it was surreal. 500 miles. We took photos and congratulated each other before finding a nice spot for a long mid day nap, the ultimate reward.

The mile 500 rock formation!

Things can change in an instant out here. One moment you are searching for hiking inspiration and the next moment you are beaming after hitting a big milestone. It is encouraging to know that there are always special moments hiding around the corner.

Day 33: LA Aqueduct

29.4 Miles: River Group Campsite (Mile 510.9) to Hiker Town (517) to Campsite after Wind Farm (Mile 540.3)

It was 4pm as we took off along the LA Aqueduct. This stretch of trail felt like a right of passage. It is common for PCTers to night hike the aqueduct section due to heat and well, boredom, along the long flat stretch of trail. As we walked along the metal pipe, we did the math… if we hiked 3 MPH on average with no breaks, we would get to camp around 12:30 AM. “Hiker midnight” was like 9PM in my mind so anything after real midnight was well… late. I tried to not think about that as we walked.

Hiking along the LA Aqueduct pipe.

I learned that the novelty of the LA Aqueduct hike wears off rather quickly. That pipe, which I’ve seen so many photos of hikers on top of, got buried rather quickly, and all that was left was a flat road like path and impending darkness.

The moon rose in the sky just as the sun was setting. Being able to hike in the glow of the full moon for this trail milestone felt incredibly special. As it grew dark, I noticed shadows in front of us. “Full moon shadows!” One of the guys said. “Wow, what a beautiful way to night hike for the first time…” I thought to myself as we hiked without headlamps behind our own shadows throughout the rest of the night.

Full moons shadows on the LA Aqueduct night hike

Day 34: 24 Hours of Hiking

26.2 Miles: Campsite after Wind Farm (Mile 540.3) to Tehachapi (Mile 566.5)

Taut had just told me that if we made it to the road crossing at mile 566.5 by 4pm, we would complete the “24 hour challenge”, hiking 50 miles in 24 hours. That was enough motivation for him, and he took off on the trail among the windmills. I, on the other hand, ate lunch and immediately realized how tired I was. I strapped on my backpack and slowly began walking. I tried to call my brother as a distraction and my called dropped within the first minute. “Great.” I thought to myself as I put in earbuds and readjusted my sun umbrella. I could now only really see the trail just in front of me and my feet, as the sun umbrella obstructed my view… and that was fine by me.

Hiking (read: sleepwalking) through the wind farm

I continued this way for 7 miles. With about 2 miles remaining, I could see the road below. My second wind kicked in. I descended the switchbacks and arrived at a gate where I noticed a small painted rock sitting at the base. “If you weren’t ready, you wouldn’t have the opportunity.” It read. I reflected on its message as I continued hiking down to the road. Once again on the PCT, I felt like I was in the exact right moment and place.

A painted rock reading “if you weren’t ready, you wouldn’t have the opportunity”

A few minutes later I hit the pavement – 1 mile left. I surprised myself when I started sobbing… partially due to lack of sleep, partially due to physical exhaustion, and partially because I was undeniably proud of myself. I cried that entire last mile, and when I got to the end, I felt strong. I hiked 50 miles in 24 hours… who does that?

Day 35: The Beginning of the Final Push

10.7 Miles: Tehachapi (Mile 566.5) to to Sunset Group Campsite (577.2)

“Is that our friend!?!” I screamed as I ran over to the shade of a giant Joshua tree. Erwan (who we are now calling Scurv!) stood up as I ran over to give him a hug. It was a hot afternoon, and my feet were still achey from the previous day, but this reunion recharged me.

A reunion under a Joshua Tree

We caught up on all the little moments since our departure from one another in Big Bear Lake (day 18) as we climbed up the side of the mountain. We chatted and laughed our way up to camp as the sun set and lit up the sky orange.

The sunset as we hiked up to camp to begin our final push.

It was crazy to think that in a week’s time we’d be at the gateway of the Sierra together. “Before I started the trail, I had a goal to find a great group of people that I trusted to enter the Sierra with…… and look!” Taut said as he looked back and forth between me, Scurv, and Iron Will.

Our plan was starting to come together. Gear? Ordered! Food Resupply? En Route to Kennedy Meadows! The team? In progress! The only thing left to do? Hike north.

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