Rumblin’, Bumblin’, Stumblin’

135.1 miles from as near to San Jacinto as we could get to the south, up to Cajon Pass to the north. We finished that on May 30th. We felt we were starting to get some semblance of a rhythm going. But barreling on through Southern California wasn’t going to get us closer to finishing the Pacific Crest Trail in 2023. What concerns us are all those miles that would be buried under snow long before November up north. We now see ourselves in a race against the fall snow. Barring freak fall, we should be able to manage Southern California after all the other parts of the trail are covered in a blanket of white. 

SoCal has its beauty, but it’s time to go elsewhere.

We’ve hiked enough to see many very strong hikers head home early. We aren’t naive. Any one of us could get injured. We’ve been blessed to have had good health through two thru-hikes already. Extended family circumstances could pull us off trail. Life happens. We can’t control any of that, really. But we can do our best to maximize our chances of finishing before the snow rolls in this fall by hiking everywhere we can as soon as the snow melts. So let’s do that!


I am an incessant schemer. Always. My brain never shuts off, even when I want it to. Whether it’s thinking about ways to keep a rural mission hospital afloat, different vacation plans, avenues to convince Danae to think I’m a better person than I actually am, tweaks we should make to our homeschooling plans, designs for a house on a property I don’t own, the best way for Iceland to wage war against Paraguay, it doesn’t matter, my brain has no off switch, a blessing and a curse. So I try to keep it busy with productive matters. It’s typically a failing effort, but I try anyway. 

Everybody on the trail develops/earns a trail name. If you hear somebody on trail say, ‘My name is Pete,’ you have a pretty good sense they haven’t been hiking long. A trail name could be Bearcat, or Toddler, or Stinkyface. It ranges from inane to insane and everywhere in between. Some are flattering and people clearly named themselves, which is somewhat taboo. Most are based off some embarrassing story. But there’s always a story accompanying the good names. 

This one, for example, is named Dead Weight. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

‘Spreadsheet’ it is…

On the AT, I was ‘Dad.’ Toward the end, Danae tried ‘Lion King,’ but it didn’t stick. On the CDT, she tried ‘Packzilla.’ Wrapping up the Continental Divide Trail in Glacier National Park, the permitting situation made life impossible for our tramily of TEN to make it through legally. But late one night, I drove to the ranger station, took a picture of what reservations were left over, drove back to the hostel, got out a map and made a spreadsheet. I found a way we could make it through Glacier to the Canada and back out again, all together, all legitimate. Early the next morning, I was back at the ranger station, telling the tramily what permits they wanted to get, and even advising some strangers coming in being us. Ypsilon said, ‘Dude, your name is Spreadsheet!’ And that was that. 

In fairness, I have spreadsheets for our miles on the AT, CDT and PCT, weather on the CDT and PCT, resupplies, contact info along the way, a TON of gear spreadsheets listing our gear in different iterations, what we need, comparing everything from various backpacks to different shoes to trekking poles to rain gear to food (including calories per gram and calories per dollar). And it’s not just hiking. It’s everything in life. There’s a spreadsheet for that. 

An example of one of the spreadsheets, the current PCT tracker. It also gives you a bit more of an update on where we are now, versus early June 😉

So now I turn to my PCT weather spreadsheet and look at where the snow is going to dump first this fall and compare it to where the snow is melting now. This will tell us where we will go. 

The spreadsheet telling me what will be hammered in November with heavy snow, and what might still be passable.

Wagons North!

Conveniently, our actual PCT permits start June 1st in Northern California. So after a quick zero in Quincy with one of our dearest friends who spent four years with us in Africa, we start on June 1st in the town of Hat Creek. The snow map confirms there is no snow. 

Zach, one of the coolest people we know, spent four years with us in Chad.

June 1st, the First Day Up North

The boys and I drop off the girls at mile 1,381.1 and drive to mile 1,404, where we park the van and head south, opposite the girls. The mosquitos are bad, which motivates us to haul butt up to the top of the escarpment. It’s really quite beautiful and the boys moved uphill at nearly three miles per hour. I know we won’t keep it up, but we can enjoy it while it lasts. We are out for 22.9 miles today. Every time we did a day this long on the AT, we finished in the dark. Even last year on the CDT, we’d be at it for nearly three months before we pulled off a day this long. Now here we were barely two weeks into the PCT and attempting similar. 

It was a relatively uneventful day, actually. The boys and I trekked fast, we stopped to put Dead Weight on her toilet, we snacked, we hiked some more. We crossed the girls and stopped for another quick snack and a picture. Everybody seemed spry and happy, except for the clouds, which contributed light sprinkles to the afternoon. 

22.9 miles? Dead Weight and Boomerang agree it’s a walk in the park.

After slowing in the afternoon, the boys and I sped up once again at the end and made it before the girls returned with the van to pick us up. The temperature was dropping and a storm seemed to be rolling in. we dressed up Dead Weight in all our clothes to make sure she was warm, even putting a neck gaiter around her like a dress, which she thought was the best thing ever, and would continue to try to pull off for days after. 

Trust me, wearing neck gaiters as tube dresses will be all the rage this fall. Dead Weight is always a trend-setter. And I promise, she got a bath like an hour after this picture. Her face isn’t ALWAYS this dirty, nor her nose this snotty. Her hair, however,… well, this is par for the course.

Danae Gets the Bug the Rest of Us Had

Pulling in with the van, however, Danae was grumpier than normal, and there wasn’t any identifiable reason for the grumpiness. Very unlike her. I felt her, and she felt quite hot to the touch, and she admitted to being a bit achy, achier than she should be, even considering the hike. So we opted for a late hotel. 

The next morning, June 2nd, brought tylenol and motrin, and much sunnier dispositions. Despite leaving a bit late from the hotel, and a grocery run, we still managed another 18.4 more miles, zipping by Burney Falls without stopping to see them. It was pretty uneventful, once again the boys hiking one direction and the girls hiking the other. The girls were hiking quite slowly, so the boys and I stopped for an hour and a half to let Dead Weight use her potty and run around and play. But after we crossed each other, the girls took off! Which was a good thing, because the last several miles for us was thick with mosquitos. It would have been miserable waiting around for the girls to pick us up in the mozzie-cloud. Poor Dead Weight had blood on her pants where we were smashing mosquitos on her legs. She even did her part to swat them off my head from behind me in the kid carrier. 

To Lassen, or Not to Lassen…

All these past two days we kept coming across hikers who had flipped up to avoid the snow in the Sierra. Most had begun at Old Station, but a few had come through Lassen National Park. We inquired about the conditions and everybody gave a different report. The first hiker through… she told us, ‘Oh yeah, it’s no problem. Just walking on snow. Nothing sketchy.’ We were psyched and ready to tackle it. Then more and more hikers began telling us about a little postholing, a little falling into tree wells, a little sun-cupping… but mostly the grave warnings involved crossing King’s Creek. It was rushing with snowmelt, high and fast. The only way across was an icy log. All that probably isn’t too bad, but the serious challenge was the snow steps somebody had carved into the bank. The heat would melt those snow steps to ruin any day, and then we’d really be up a creek. Or more accurately, stuck on the banks of a creek. 

After much rumination, we decided caution would in fact be the same as valor to us, and we’d save Lassen for another day. In the meanwhile, we’d get as close as we could. So the night of the second, we drove up to the first road crossing coming north out of Lassen, a rocky and bumpy forest service road in the middle of nowhere. We threw our pads and quilts on the ground and fell fast asleep. 

I’m All Alone…

The morning of the third, Danae took ALL five kids and started trekking south from the van. I drove to the other end and had the sublime bliss of silence. The boys are usually not nearly as chatty as the girls, although Dead Weight does like to blabber on in my ear, occasionally grabbing my ear and turning my head for effect. But here I was, all alone, with 11.4 miles to walk uphill. I grabbed a water bottle and decided that was sufficient and took off at a great clip, somewhere well over three miles per hour. As I passed the wife and kids, I grabbed one of their bottles and drained all 700cc. 

Finishing well before they would, I turned on my heels and decided to hike backwards toward them, wanting to save Queen Bee from needing to bring the minivan up this horrible road once again. After a few miles, lo and behold, a truck came past. I stuck up my thumb and he slowed, ‘Are you seriously looking for a ride?’ ‘Well, if you’re serious about offering, sure!’ I hopped in and we had a very enjoyable conversation as he took me most of the way back to where the van was. I had him drop me at an intersection where I knew she’d need to come through regardless, and my ride carried on to his favorite fishing spot, hoping for some trout for dinner. 

Queen Bee came barreling down the hill in the minivan over an hour later and blew right by me and my upright thumb. Luckily, but late, she noticed and turned around probably half a mile down the road to come back to my turnout lane. 

Catching the Subway

With the family back together in the car, and the day yet young, we decided to check out The Subway lava tube right off the trail. It was a hot hike, and inside the lava tube was nice and chilled. The kids ran in circles screaming like maniacs, flashing their lights left and right, unwilling to miss any potential nook or cranny in the tube, imagining creatures and life below, as only unabashed children can do before they lose the privilege and talent of imagination as they merge sheepishly and awkwardly into adulthood. Sometimes their boundless energy drives me batty. Sometimes I’m glad for it. Always, I’m secretly jealous. 

We got them to hold still in the lava tube long enough to take a picture.

After filling all our water bottles at the drinking fountain outside, we still had time left in the day to go see Burney Falls,, which we had missed the previous day. Boy, are we glad we did! They were beautiful! Snow melt in the mountains heads underground, creating a massive, and flowing, aquifer. This collects into a streaming underground river that emerges just a short distance before the falls. The Native Americans view the site as sacred, and it’s easy to see why. It’s not often we add extra miles to our thru-hikes, but this one was worth the leisurely stroll (as leisurely as it gets with five kids, four of whom have ultra-strong legs). 

Burney Falls was worth the extra miles. Also, I just noticed one daughter striking a runway pose and the other with her finger up her nose, so there’s that.

As evening came on, it was once again a time to ruminate on the next day’s hike. We decided to head up the mountain north from Burney and see what things looked like. The reports were of a lot of snow, including cornices that made hikers feel unsafe and deep and long snowy stretches in general. We thought maybe we could get up high enough in elevation, safely, to make a hike worth it. 

A Story I Don’t Want to Tell…

So we drove the minivan up the mountain… a decision… we… may have regretted. Maybe. That’s a story for another day. A story we may look back on and laugh at someday. Maybe. But not today. 

(If you want to get to know our family, maybe start with our introductions… Here’s the one for The Beast

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Comments 2

  • Maureen : Jun 21st

    The amazing Family! Spreadsheet away…it will help save the day(s)! Good on you Dad for planning so well and figuring out all the contingencies for your family! You are wise, and who knows all the danger you’ve saved your family from! It was so wonderful meeting you all and hope to run into you again! It’s quite impressive to see a family of 7 hiking together; the kids so friendly, runny noses, dirty faces, wild hair, and all! You are livin’ the life and your kids will thank you someday! P.S. Stealth camping is so sneaky fun!

  • Ashley Neville : Jul 28th

    I’m really enjoying your blog posts, you’re quite funny. My husband is thru hiking the PCT this year and I have joined him for several 10 day stints. Mad respect for what you’re doing. If you get a chance, I’d love to read about the logistics of how you hike with your kiddos (especially Dead Weight)!


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