Agua Dulce, CA

We got into the small town of Agua Dulce yesterday afternoon. This is a bittersweet stop. We are now over 2200 miles into the hike with 455 miles remaining. But most importantly it is great to see the Saufley`s again after a few years. This has always been one of the best stops on the trail. Recently Jeff and Donna decided it was time for them to stop hosting hikers. Pepper and I will be the last hikers here. It’s the end of an era and when we walk out of here tomorrow it will be sad to close that door, but I am excited for what lies ahead for Jeff and Donna and for us on the trail…..
The last few days have been hot, definitely not summer hot, but when you are coming out of winter and snow it has felt summer hot. We have seen flowers blooming, green hillsides, trees budding, and birds singing. It feels like spring is coming!

Willow Springs Road, Tehachapi, CA

We made it to Tehachapi Willow Springs Road yesterday evening to complete the next stretch. We have been on clear trail for the last the the days and have been able to do 30+ miles per day once again. We expect clear trail to continue for at least the next 150 miles also. It is great to not have to navigate and pay close attention to where you are headed all of the time.
We have been going through some of the drier stretches of the trail and have had a couple of waterless stretches of nearly 30 miles. It’s amazing how fast the transition from wet, high elevation Sierras to dry happens on the trail.
About 560 miles to go now!

Walker Pass, CA Highway 178

We made it through the High Sierras and to our first town stop since Mammoth, about 250 miles ago. It has been a long and tough stretch and we are feeling skinny and tired. We are eating a lot in town and retooling for the final 650 miles. We have now completed 2010 miles.
Walker Pass is the first road crossing that we have had that is open year round since Highway 88 at Carson Pass, just south of Lake Tahoe. It’s a long stretch through rugged terrain.
We have had good weather which has helped us maintain good travel of about 18-25 miles per day while snow. We had budgeted only be able to do 10 miles per day through this section. We did have two days of snow showers in the High Sierra which dropped a couple of inches each time, just enough to either have dust on crust or dust on dirt and make things tricky. We also had two really windy days. One day while going over Gabbot Pass, at 12,400 feet (not a typical PCT pass, which I will describe later), Pepper actually got picked up and lifted off the ground and slammed into a rock from a wind gust. Other gusts we would literally have to stop moving in order to hunker sheen and not be blown over. The power of the wind is amazing.
Leaving Mammoth we decided to veer off the PCT route at Mono Creek, after Silver Pass. We couldn’t resupply at VVR or Muir Trail Ranch, since they were closed, so there was no need to stay low through there and go over the relatively low Selden Pass (about 10,500 feet). We decided to do a combination of the Sierra High Route and our own route over 5 passes (Gabbot Pass, Italy Pass, Royce Pass, Puppet Pass, and Alpine Col) and reconnect with the PCT at Evolution Lake. We then followed the PCT route over Muir, Mather, Pinchot, Glen, and Forester Pass. It was definitely a challenging mix of terrain and conditions with some ski mountaineering involved. The snow conditions were so different than a spring snowpack so often times we were wallowing in two feet of unconsolidated snow and other times we were scrambling up or down rocks and talus in our ski boots. It is a relief to have gotten through these high passes before the next big storm. I worry about some of the early season snow layers we have seen that could cause major instability once the next big storm comes in.
I’ll wrap up this update with something else amazing: we saw our first other people on the trail since Snoqualmie Pass area in Washington. We saw an overnight hiker and a couple that was day hiking about 5 miles north of Walker Pass, which would be about mile 2005 for us. Considering Snoqualmie Pass was about mile 250, it had been about 1750 miles with seeing anybody on the trail, or roughly 2/3 of the total mileage!

Mammoth Lakes, CA

We made it to Mammoth yesterday. This was a big milestone that we have been dreaming about for a long time. We have good friends here that we have wanted to catch up with and it is also the official start of the High Sierra section. We have been looking forward to this section for a long time. It is one of the last big hurdles for the hike and a remote stretch with few resupply options, especially in the winter. It looks like we might have the weather window that we have been hoping for.
About 1760 miles completed and about 900 remaining. We head into the High Sierra today!

Highway 50/South Lake Tahoe

We made it to Echo Summit this evening, under 1100 miles to go. It was an interesting stretch as this it’s my home turf and I have hiked and skied this stretch countless times. However this was or first stretch skiing on this trip. We made good time in completing the section in two and a half days, including two 25 mile days. The skiing has been relatively efficient but has also had moments of complete misery. It has been tough on the burned out sections where the snow pack is dwindling to maneuver and connect the snow tongues. In these areas I dream of my snowshoes and bowling between dry trail and snow as if it doesn’t matter. This morning Pepper had a binding malfunction too and couldn’t get it into touring mode. It froze up after we walked across a creek in our skis and then had to spend twenty minutes biking water to de-ice the binding. Indeed a combination of misery and glory. The glory being some nice corn turns and covering about a mile and a half in about ten minutes.
We continue south in the morning.

Interstate 80/Truckee, CA

We have been dreaming about this stop for a long time. This is a big step in the journey as we are close to Tahoe and will soon enter the High Sierra. Also for me, I have now walked back home from Canada. It’s great to get back home again!

We’ll be able to sort our gear and put together mail drops for the next sections. We are going to ski a short section tomorrow, to test out our ski gear and make sure our boots are feeling good. Then we will take a rest day before we continue on.

The last couple of weeks since Christmas have been great. We only had an inch of snow one night and have been able to do 20+ miles every day. We have met some great people and amazing trail angels. It’s been a memorable section 260 miles. At first the temperatures were chilly with lows in the single digits, highs in the teens, and frigid wind chills. Gradually the temperatures warmed to summer like. It’s felt like 80 degrees, but I am sure it’s only 45-50. The last few days we have been dripping sweat during the day, drinking liters of water, and been hiking in a white, snowy desert. Worse off the nighttime temperatures have only dropped below freezing in meadows and near lakes, so the snow pack hasn’t fully refrozen. Our nice crust during the frigid days disappeared into mashed potatoes. Beggars can’t be choosers.

In the next couple of days we’ll suss out the situation with our ski boots and see if our feet are too tender and swollen to switch quivers from snowshoes to skis. If only they made wider randonee racing boots………

Photos from Burney, CA to Truckee, CA (about 270 miles): https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153092639680628&set=a.10153092746055628&type=3&theater

Burney, CA – Christmas break and almost halfway!

We are about 80 miles short of the halfway point now. Things are going well and we are healing up and taking a few days off for Christmas. We should be back out on the trail heading south the afternoon of the 28th if all goes as planned.

Now since it is Christmas and we are all in the holiday spirit, I will do a little 12 Days of Christmas style halfway recap on some of the biggest differences between winter and summer hiking that I am thankful for………

On the First Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me a beautiful coating of snow hanging on every tree.

On the Second Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me a mosquito-less Oregon and a beautiful coating of snow on every tree.

On the Third Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me bountiful, clear, cold water, a mosquito-less Oregon, and a beautiful coating of snow on every tree.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me a few miles of clear trail, bountiful, clear, cold water, a mosquito-less Oregon, and a beautiful coating of snow on every tree.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me a sunny day, a few miles of clear trail, bountiful, clear, cold water, a mosquito-less Oregon, and a beautiful coating of snow on every tree.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me no forest fires or fire reroutes, a sunny day, a few miles of clear trail, bountiful, clear, cold water, a mosquito-less Oregon, and a beautiful coating of snow on every tree.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me cheaper winter motel rates, no forest fires or fire reroutes, a sunny day, a few miles of clear trail, bountiful, clear, cold water, a mosquito-less Oregon, and a beautiful coating of snow on every tree.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me 50 degree rainy days at Castella and Seiad Valley (instead of the 100+ degrees in the summer), cheaper winter motel rates, no forest fires or fire reroutes, a sunny day, a few miles of clear trail, bountiful, clear, cold water, a mosquito-less Oregon, and a beautiful coating of snow on every tree.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me hardly anybody in the backcountry, 50 degree rainy days at Castella and Seiad Valley (instead of the 100+ degrees in the summer), cheaper winter motel rates, no forest fires or fire reroutes, a sunny day, a few miles of clear trail, bountiful, clear, cold water, a mosquito-less Oregon, and a beautiful coating of snow on every tree.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me animal tracks in the snow to know the wildlife that is nearby and using the trail corridor, hardly anybody in the backcountry, 50 degree rainy days at Castella and Seiad Valley (instead of the 100+ degrees in the summer), cheaper winter motel rates, no forest fires or fire reroutes, a sunny day, a few miles of clear trail, bountiful, clear, cold water, a mosquito-less Oregon, and a beautiful coating of snow on every tree.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me cheese that isn’t sweaty from the warm temperatures, animal tracks in the snow to know the wildlife that is nearby and using the trail corridor, hardly anybody in the backcountry, 50 degree rainy days at Castella and Seiad Valley (instead of the 100+ degrees in the summer), cheaper winter motel rates, no forest fires or fire reroutes, a sunny day, a few miles of clear trail, bountiful, clear, cold water, a mosquito-less Oregon, and a beautiful coating of snow on every tree.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas the PCT sent to me an amazing and supportive trail community and all the rest of the stuff!

Here’s the link to some pictures from the last stretch from Ashland, OR to Burney, CA:

https://www.facebook.com/justin.lichter.5/media_set?set=a.427590940725749&type=1&pnref=story

Also, I have been updating our location every 3-4 days in between towns so remember you can check that here:

https://share.delorme.com/JustinLichter

Castella, CA

We made it to Castella in the rain around 8pm tonight (about 1160 miles in now). It’s been a typical stretch with snow or rain every day. The weather forecasts were only calling for 1-3 inches each day and night, but things changed a little last night when we woke up this morning to 1-2 get off fresh snow. We were getting up every two hours to clear off and shovel out the tarp. It was was pretty slow going and slogging through deep snow for most of the day today until we started descending into Castella. Snow levels were pretty low with this storm as there is snow down around 3500 feet now.

Etna, CA

We made it to Etna, about 1060 miles into the hike. There had been a lot of talk about the storm that came through this past week. It did rain a bunch and was windy, and dropped a bit of snow up high, but all in all I don’t think this storm was any worse than a couple of other storms we have already been through. Granted I was glad it was over because we had a beautiful sunny day today and had some fantastic views in the Marble Mountains.
We did unexpectedly join the polar bear club on the last stretch as a couple of the bridges had been burned from fires this summer. We had to ford the swollen creek and both took unexpected swins at 7:30 in the morning. It was definitely a little chilly but no harm done.
Onwards tomorrow as we are hoping to get in one or two more sections before taking a couple of days off over Christmas.