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July 17th, 2006
12:08 am
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Where do we go from here?
My immediate plans for the hike are pretty clear: Starting Monday, I'm walking the 40 miles from Truckee to Sierra City -- the PCT stretch nearest our house -- with kadyg. After that, though, I still haven't decided where my next trail destination should be.

The original dilemma was that returning to the trail in the same place as I left would involve passes and river crossings that I would prefer to tackle in the company of fellow thru-hikers -- but, by the time I was able to return, they would have all moved on further north. This, broadly, remains true ... but doesn't address the underlying question, which is: So where should I go in order to keep up the momentum of my PCT hike?

Technically, I could restart virtually anywhere along the route, but there are six options that seem most logical from here if I still want to chase the dream of finishing the whole trail ... or at least as much of it as possible:

1. Return to the High Sierra to continue my straight-line hike.

  • Slight reduction in bookkeeping complexity: Miles hiked = mile marker reached (plus ~40 for the next few days).
  • Even if I drop out from the hike early, this lets me finish the John Muir Trail, as well as being able to say that I conquered the two toughest trail sections (the desert and High Sierra) in their entirety.
  • My two-week delay may have melted enough snow to make this less dangerous than expected. Also, JMT hikers and weekenders might make up for the loss of thru-hiker company.
  • If the snowmelt is still swelling rivers, this section may be potentially very dangerous; if I return to it in August or September this is far less a factor.
  • OMG mosquito hell >_<;
  • I would have to return to the trail's highest elevations and largest climbs from a two-week break.
  • I'd be far behind the thru-hiker pack and with no trail company (weekenders would make for nice chance encounters, but I can't rely on them to carry my pace).
  • Sticking to a straight-line hike severely decreases my chance of finishing the whole PCT; I doubt I could make Washington before winter sets in. However, I might be able to avoid this by bookending (see #6) once I reach home.
2. Start walking south from my house and cover the Sierra in reverse.
  • As above, plus:
  • The walk down to Yosemite gives me an extra week or two for the snow in the high Sierra to melt off -- an extra margin of safety for those river fords.
  • More likely to find long-term company -- JMT hikers are traditionally southbound.
  • I get to go down Kearsarge Pass twice instead of having its climb be my first steps back.
  • As above, plus:
  • Due to geography, southbound walking = uphill slogs through snow, downhill slogs on bare rock. Also, the sun in my face all the time.
  • Sobo navigation is tougher than nobo navigation because backwards guidebook the follow to have you.
  • Over the course of the route, I get to climb from 7,000 feet to 11,000 feet instead of the other way around.
3. Start walking north from my house and try to rejoin the main hiker pack.
  • Being at Sierra City in mid-July does mean I'll rejoin the folks I left behind in Independence. I could conceivably have company all the way to the Canadian border this way, and this is one of the only options that lets me have a social hike for the remainder of the trip.
  • Rejoining the hiker pack makes it financially easier -- better opportunities for roomshares, etc. My reserves are going a bit faster than expected.
  • OMG ARRRGGGH HOT >_<; Northern California in mid-summer isn't quite the Mojave, but it's as close as it'll get. (The Sierra is cooler -- higher elevation -- and OR/WA are cooler -- further north.)
  • If I have pretensions of finishing the whole trail, this is the single worst option -- the Sierra and WA are the two sections most likely to be shut down by bad weather in the fall, and I'd leave them both for last.
  • NorCal is the section that is easiest for me to "make up" in some later year, being closest to home, so making it a point to do it now seems ... like a waste of Adventure Time.
4. Head to the Oregon border and walk OR/WA northbound.
  • I might get thru-hiker company -- the fast hikers are approaching the end of CA by now.
  • Finishing these and the Sierra then lets me wrap up the hike with an OR>home stroll -- the section least likely to be blocked by early snows.
  • OR is pretty, logistically non-demanding, and (relatively) non-strenuous country; a good return to the hike.
  • OMG mosquito hell >_<; July is the absolute worst of it for OR, and I'd be travelling north with the snowmelt, so they'd stay bad all the way to Canada.
  • If I can't speed up, I'd better hope for a delayed winter if I want to turn around and hit the Sierra after this leg. OR/WA will take me until at least early September.
5. Head to the Washington border and walk WA northbound.
  • No heat, fewer bugs, and I get to do Washington at a time of relatively less rain. Woot!
  • Then I get to head south to the Sierra at an optimal time (mid-August) to finish it up. Woot!
  • Possibly the best option if I don't plan on finishing my thru-hike; I get to hike the worst sections at the best times.
  • More delays and costs. I'd have to do a lot of tiring and time-wasting leapfrogging to finish the whole trail: drive from home to WA, drive from Canada to the Sierra, drive from home to WA and hike south from there.
  • I'd be a little too far ahead of the thru-hiker pack to have much company.
  • I'd miss the backwoods Washington fall, which is widely regarded as quite beautiful.
  • WA is rather logistically difficult and often isolated -- an easier confidence-builder first, after everything that's happened, might be nice.
6. Head to the Canadian border and "bookend" the trail (walk toward the middle from both ends).
  • As above in #4/5, plus:
  • A little bit less leapfrogging; a little easier bookkeeping.
  • I can halt my sobo trip at any convenient point to return to the Sierra at an optimal time; if I finish WA and have more time, I can do OR, or if I want to hurry back to the Sierra, I can stop at one state. Whereas if I start hiking north in OR, it makes more sense to go all the way to the Canadian border at a single pass no matter what.
  • I'd be passing a lot of thru-hikers rather than hiking along with them. We could trade reports of upcoming trail conditions.
  • If I don't finish the PCT this year, then I know I've gotten the furthest-from-my-house parts done.
  • As above in #4/5, plus:
  • Sobo navigation is tougher than nobo navigation because backwards guidebook the follow to have you.
  • I'd be passing a lot of thru-hikers rather than hiking along with them. No trail company.
  • I don't know if there would be issues recrossing the border from Canada to the U.S. -- I have a permit to cross northward but would have to wing it in the opposite direction.

With all that having been said, I'd appreciate some feedback -- especially if you've got other factors that I haven't considered to point out. I'm offering the poll as a shortcut, but what I'd really like is comments with more detailed suggestions (or even questions; the point is to help me sharpen my decision, and that can help too). If you don't have a Livejournal account and it doesn't offer you the option to vote, please just let me know your suggestions in comments. (I'll obviously be off hiking for the next day or two, but will finish resolving this when Kady and I get home -- I'm not taking off again until I know where I'm taking off to!)

Poll #771540 Redtail's next destination

Considering the advantages and disadvantages listed above, what part of the PCT should Redtail hike next?

Return to the High Sierra to continue your straight-line hike.
Start walking south from your house and cover the Sierra in reverse.
Start walking north from your house and try to rejoin the main hiker pack.
Head to the Oregon border and walk OR/WA northbound.
Head to the Washington border and walk WA northbound.
Head to the Canadian border and "bookend" the trail (walk toward the middle from both ways).
Other (explain in comments).

I am able to provide logistical support (companionship, overnight stay, a ride to the trail, etc) if you take my suggestion [please elaborate in comments or otherwise contact me about this]:

Only on certain dates.

Current Location: home
Current Mood: confusedindecisive
Current Music: "The Arrival and the Reunion," Dead Can Dance

(6 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:July 17th, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC)
You can call on me for some logistical support when you're near the Columbia river area, and I'm not on duty.

Also, I think that your decision really needs to be based on how you view the importance of navigation ease versus the ability to have through-hiker support in case of emergency, based on what you are saying.

Navigation .. well, there are GPSes and other items which can help. Through-hiker support? Not as replacable, unless you blow $$$$ on a satellite phone.

Date:July 17th, 2006 05:52 pm (UTC)
My Dad would say, "Make a decision and sleep on it. See if you are happy with it in the morning." Other than that, I have no informed advice, just tons of concern, and one tiny observation: Option 4 has the fewest disadvantages, as laid out in your analysis. Whatever you decide, best of luck, and stay in touch!
Date:July 17th, 2006 09:14 pm (UTC)
I admit, there's a certain brutal elegance to Option #1. "Dagnabbit, I signed up to do this hike in one straight line, so I will do it that way, fates and logistics BE DAMNED." (Then again, I'm a sucker for engaging in epic quests involving middling-to-solid self-destruction; value this sentiment accordingly.)

Should pragmatism trump romanticism: yeah, heading up to the Oregon border - or even a little bit south of there, the better to rejoin the center-of-mass of The Greater Thru-Hiking Posse - is a very solid compromise among the various trade-offs. There'd be a sizable stable of potential hiking companions, relatively non-strenuous trails and trail-logistics to ease you back into the swing of things, and a convenient skipping-over of the closer-to-home NorCal bits which can be completed in The Future.

This is assuming all pros and cons are approximately equal, natch. I mean, if going uphill in the sun kinda sorta sucks but you HATE HATE HAAAAATE mosquitos, kindly disregard this whole suggestion. (Based on your previous entries, I'd kind of gleaned that "having folks around to share the experience with" and "not dying in the process" were your prime areas of concern... but I don't know how well this matches up with sentiments held by you in Actual Reality.)
Date:July 18th, 2006 06:18 am (UTC)


I totally dissed on your friend-of-a-thousand-alts PostVixen, currently known as circuit_four.

PS: Thanks for supplying me, a known STALKER, with information about my STALKEE a while back.

And yes, me saying this in your LJ is just a testament to how good a friend you are to me! :D XP
[User Picture]
Date:July 21st, 2006 12:00 am (UTC)

Re: HAY!

Don't drag me into your little Internet games.
[User Picture]
Date:July 22nd, 2006 05:41 am (UTC)

I'm as shocked as you are.

I don't know what came over me... *Erfs*
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