Wednesday, August 23, 2023

PCT Part 3: Canada to Mt Shasta

Yep, I've gone parts of three states and more than 1,000 miles without updating the blog. I'd apologize, but at this point it should be clear that I always do this on a long hike, and I'm only kind of sorry.

At any rate, I've still got 15 more miles to hike before dark tonight, so let's jump straight into the highlights:

Washington... was some of the most beautiful hiking I've ever done. Nearly every day held something particularly striking and beautiful. Lower elevation sections featured immense old-growth trees, the kind that you can only find in the northwest, and brilliant green ferns. Upper elevations held wildflowers and lingering snow patches. While I wouldn't necessarily like the Cascades to be my home base (thick vegetation makes off-trail exploration tedious), visiting the best of this wonderful range was a real treat.

Oregon... was a mixed bag. Certain parts were magical: the Three Sisters Wilderness, the bizarre and amazing Tunnel Falls (reminiscent of the behind-the-waterfall shortcut in Mario Kart 64), and of course the incomparable Crater Lake. But in truth, I was a little underwhelmed by the PCT's routing through Oregon. It seemed like at least a quarter of the trail through the state was burn area - sometimes a fresh, lunar-surface char, sometimes a decades-old burn that now resembles a Christmas tree farm. Either way, those miles offered little in the way of shade or scenic value. A friend assures me that (much like the CDT through the Greater Yellowstone), Oregon holds lots of promise, and the PCT fails to visit most of the good stuff. Perhaps a third long hike in Oregon awaits me someday!

To keep my spirits up in Oregon, I did two things. First, I picked up a 7.5" lightweight folding saw and did some impromptu trail work. The PCT is generally pretty well-maintained, but after a few years of Covid and big snow years, there are some areas of annoying blowdowns, particularly in the burn areas. I had to start limiting myself to ten blowdowns a day, otherwise I'd just spend all my time cutting and never make my miles. The saw lasted all of a week before I tried cutting a tree that was right at the limit of the saw's capability... and pinched it, breaking the blade. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. At some point, I'll probably pick up another one. There's a certain degree of reward that comes with helping improve a trail, rather than being just a mere consumer.

Jinxed It: Second, I made my own route. Congrats to everybody who saw that coming! A day before I reached Ashland, the Forest Service closed more than 100 miles of trail in northern California for fires. To date, I'd hit zero fire closures, which was certainly a rarity. While this closure was obviously a disappointment, it offered me the opportunity to engage the route-creator side of my brain. I mapped a 100+ mile re-route that avoided the fire closures and the worst of the downwind smoke areas. It went through a National Monument, two National Forests, and one BLM-managed Wilderness area. It was pretty quick-and-dirty, and at one point an unexpected private property issue forced me to do an additional 25 unpleasant miles on pavement. But overall, it was fun to escape the tyranny of the Red Line for a little bit. Plus, I connected my footsteps around the fires, which does remain strangely important to me. 

Aesop's Thru-Hike: On my first thru-hike, I watched older, more experienced hikers carefully. I found that they spent much less time in town than did the twenty-something crowd. They got up early, never did huge miles, but never took much time off either. Despite the fact that they didn't hike fast, they maintained a good pace over the course of weeks or months, because they were slow-and-steady... the tortoise, rather than the hare, in Aesop's fable.

I've never been a fast hiker. But I found that I too could maintain the pace necessary to complete a thru-hike if I minimized town time and maximized trail time. On the PCT, I've taken that strategy to its logical extreme. Since starting the southbound leg in early July, I have not taken any days off, and have only hiked fewer than 20 miles on four occasions. As a consequence, I'm on pace to complete the trail before winter hits the High Sierra in a little more than a month. Just as importantly, doing a trail-oriented hike (rather than a town-oriented hike) has offered me the kind of hiking experience I relish. I avoid the drama and chaos that swirls around trail towns, and spend time truly outside. 

Holding Serve: The foot's been okay with this heavy workload, surprisingly. I ask every day for a fresh helping of God's grace (and sometimes for 'two scoops' on particularly painful mornings), and every day, he delivers. I'm getting a lot of 'yes' right now, and it's pretty clear that I'm supposed to be out here, serving him.

What's Next: There are less than 1,000 miles left in my PCT hike. Already, I'm corresponding with friends and family about logistics for the Sierra, the grand finale of my PCT hike. Next update will hopefully come after I finish.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

PCT Part 2: Idyllwild to Kennedy Meadows


I must confess, I wasn't looking forward to the first 700 miles of the PCT. While I'm certainly a desert enthusiast, I've never been particularly taken with the arid landscapes that the PCT visits in southern California. To be blunt, if you're looking for a desert hike, you can do a lot better than hiking the southern PCT. Sure, it has its nice parts, but the PCT still doesn't hold a candle to desert classics like the Arizona Trail, Hayduke, or Desert Winter Thru-Hike.

Despite the meh scenery, the first 700 miles of the PCT made for a delightful hiking experience. The trail was smooth and cruisey, the water carries were a snap in this very wet year, and logistics were easy. The trail was rarely resplendent, but I still relished it.

Adding to the interest this year were the extended sections of snow. San Jacinto was a snowy wonderland with great views and challenging snow conditions. The San Gabriels too were absolutely buried. I carried an ice axe for the majority (400 miles) of the so-called 'desert'. I truly enjoyed the snow miles, as a beautiful and interesting change-of-pace. 


Funny enough, the weather really did not cooperate in the desert. It seemed like whenever I was at high elevation, we had unseasonable cold weather, including rain and snow. Every time I'd drop down to the desert floor, a heat wave would hit southern California. The mercury reached 105 degrees on one occasion. Thankfully, I crossed Mission Creek 31 times that day, constantly wetting my shirt in order to stay cool. 

When I came to the infamous LA Aqueduct section, another heat wave arrived. Nearly everyone opted to hike this section at night, and I was no exception. I teamed up with pals Cruise and Shine to do 19 miles starting at 5pm, following the aqueduct across the Mojave desert floor as the sun set. Around 12:30am, I crawled into a ditch and instantly fell fast asleep. But I was hiking by 5am the next day in order to beat the heat. We did 23 miles by 4pm, having hiked 42 miles in 24 hot and exhausting hours. We caught a great ride into town and made a beeline for the swimming pool. Needless to say, the next day was a well-earned zero day.

More so than on other trails, I've been pretty aggressive about taking a siesta on the PCT. I generally get up when it's still dark and am hiking shortly after first light. But I take several hours' lunch in the shade, and hike deep into the evening. I figure that I've got 14 hours of daylight to use however I want, and I'd much rather avoid the heat of the day, even if it means getting up earlier and hiking later. It's no wonder why many hot-weather Hispanic cultures embrace the siesta - it's a survival strategy.

The Human Factor

When I mentioned to some experienced hiker friends that I was hiking the PCT, they looked at me askance. After all, I typically hike trails that see few (if any) other hikers. Even on more popular trails, I typically roll solo. So it was natural to assume I'd be a fish-out-of-water on the popular PCT. 

To some extent, that's true. Sometimes when I get into town and a large 'trail family' has taken over a laundromat, it's a bit off-putting. But mostly, I've been able to find a surprisingly amount of solitude on the PCT. Most hikers camp exclusively in campsites that are shown on the Guthook PCT . By keeping my eye on the terrain and choosing a site that's not on the map, I'm virtually assured of solitude, not only at night but also during the day, since I'm 'off-schedule', so to speak.

I've also met my fair share of great people on the PCT. First and foremost are my friends Cruise and Shine, who I met at the border and hiked with on-and-off until mile 650. I was able to congratulate them as they finished their PCT hike there - an accomplishment 13 years and three sections in the making. 

I also ran into my pal Fenway for the third time on three different trails. I didn't even know he was on the PCT until I came around a corner and heard that distinctive northeast accent. The long-distance hiking community is truly unique in that you're never more than two degrees of separation removed from anyone. I constantly ran into friends of friends from other trails. Turns out that ten years of inadvertent 'networking' pays off! 

Hard Decisions

I'll spare you the drama: I'm flipping. The Sierra is still blanketed in a record-breaking snowpack, and I frankly don't trust the river crossings during the big melt. Through the hiker grapevine, I've heard of a few groups who've already gone into the Sierra and come out alive, but by my calculus, the river crossings will get worse before they get better over the course of June and July. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I've cheated death once already in the backcountry, and frankly to push through the Sierra with this level of objective hazard would violate the sacrosanct Mom Principle that I use to keep myself safe in the backcountry. 

Is it perhaps possible (say, 10-20% chance of success) to hike through the Sierra right now? Perhaps. Could I ever tell my family with a clean conscience about the risks I was taking? Absolutely not. 

So instead, I'm going southbound (SOBO). Southbound was always my preferred direction to hike the PCT (my 2020 permit was for a SOBO hike), but at the time I obtained my permit last winter, I wasn't confident that my foot could maintain the pace necessary to successfully complete a SOBO. But my foot has pleasantly surprised me, and I'm reasonably confident that I'll be able to pull it off. As an added benefit, this itinerary means I'll be able to finish the PCT - and the Triple Crown - with perhaps the definitive crown jewel of American backpacking - the Sierra Nevada.

Northern Washington is melting quickly. I've got to stand up in my best bud's wedding in early July, and once that's done, it'll be time to turn on the jets. I'll only have three months to hike more than 2,000 miles before the weather window slams shut - an ambitious pace, to say the least. I've overhauled my gear for the first time in a decade in order to drop some additional packweight. In order to minimize town time, I'll prepare and mail myself a lot of resupply boxes ahead of time. A pace like this could perhaps be considered the 'final exam' for the Triple Crown - and Lord willing, I'm ready.

In the Meantime

Between now and then, I plan to keep my legs by hiking a section of the North Country Trail in northern Michigan while the PCT melts out. Although I grew up in Michigan, I didn't really become an outdoors adventurer until I moved to Utah, and consequently have spent very little time exploring my native state. These few weeks offer me a chance to rectify that oversight. I've swapped out the sub umbrella for bug spray. Let the games begin!

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

PCT Part 1: Mexico to Idyllwild

The adventure has begun! I'm about 200 miles deep into the Pacific Crest Trail, fresh off my first "nero" day in a charming little town whose mayor is a golden retriever. I've traversed the first section of snow, and much more is in the future!

Reunion Tour 2023

This spring was a whirlwind. After moving out of my apartment, I criss-crossed the country, visiting family along the way, both nuclear and extended. I did about 60 miles on the Appalachian Trail with my pal Blue Moon, and then about 300 miles on the Arizona Trail, also with Blue Moon. Along the way, we battled back-and-forth in a 21-game set of Rummy, which was only decided by a lucky deal of three aces in the very last hand. Like my 2019 hike, 2023 featured a super-bloom of legendary proportions in the Arizona desert. 

A Strong Start

By time I got on the Pacific Crest Trail then, I had a few miles on my legs. Over and over again, I've found that starting a trail already in hiking shape drastically improves the experience for the first few weeks. And so it was this time. The PCT is graded for horse traffic, and its tread is impeccable. From the very beginning, I found myself doing 20-mile days entirely by accident. The foot certainly appreciates the kind hiking experience!

While the PCT is certainly crowded at this time of year, I've been surprised by how much solitude I've been able to find. I've camped alone almost every night so far (by choice), and I don't see too many folks while hiking. Of course, when I get to town, everyone comes out of the woodwork. 

Snowpocalypse 2023

In case you've missed it, the West has a lot of snow. Virtually every monitoring station in the Sierra Nevada is at record levels, and in most cases, the silver medalist isn't even close. The snow has even buried much of the high terrain in the so-called 'desert' Southern California section, leading to ridiculous scenes of hikers carrying ice axes past prickly pear cactuses in ninety degree heat. But such is 2023, a certifiably bonkers year.

The PCT in a high snow year is a significant challenge, and 'high snow year' doesn't even begin to describe just how crazy this year is. So before you ask: no, I don't know what I'm going to do when I get to the Sierra yet. The creeks will almost certainly be swollen and possibly hazardous to cross. The immense snows have damaged a key bridge over a river with no easy bypass available. In short, the prospect of hiking through the Sierra in June looks gnarly at best and impossible at worst. 

So what am I planning to do? I don't know, to be honest. I'm not worrying about it quite yet. I've got 500 miles of Southern California left before I get there, and I plan on enjoying it thoroughly. Once I get to the southern gateway to the Sierra, I'll figure out the next step. All options are on the table.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago today, my Aunt Paula dropped me off at a road crossing less than a mile from the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia. I had no idea what I was signing up for.

Well, that's not entirely true. I'd learned about the Appalachian Trail during the spring semester of my freshman year of college, and immediately I was hooked. Not even a bungled spring break trip to the Smokies - lost shoes, hypothermia, a stuck truck, and bearanoia - could dampen my enthusiasm. I re-framed mundane daily tasks in thru-hiking terms. When I studied for exams instead of procrastinating, I told myself that I was disciplining myself to endure the hardships of the AT. When I left the familiar Midwest for a summer internship in Utah, I spent my weekends climbing mountains.

It was therefore no momentary flight of fancy that led me to the top of Springer Mountain, Georgia on that drizzly last day of February 2013. It was a culmination of several years of hope and planning. Still, my actual backpacking experience was slim - a grand total of 3 trips, two of which ended in failure - and my enthusiasm greatly exceeded my capabilities. The trail was about to swiftly punish that exuberance.

March is ordinarily a rough month on the AT. The grizzled trail veteran I met at the first road crossing reminded me that it was "still winter". In a normal year, he'd have a point. In 2013 however, he was downright prophetic. I hiked through three major snowstorms in the first month. On one occasion I hiked with a posse of about 10 shivering hikers, taking turns breaking trail through waist-high snowdrifts near Erwin, TN. On another morning, the mercury read five below zero. I woke up and started hiking at 3am just to stay warm. The suffering was intense, the dropout rate was high, and morale was low. 

But somewhere in Virginia, something clicked. Weather and terrain still presented plenty of challenges, but I felt better equipped to deal with them. I was more comfortable in the environment and found my groove. My daily mileage increased, I made several great friends, and was generally relaxed and confident. The circumstances hadn't changed too drastically, but I had. 

When I therefore had to quit the trail in southern Maine that year to start a job that I'd agreed to months prior, I was heartbroken to be leaving this marvelous adventure but confident that I'd be back to fill in those missing miles. And over the next two years, I did finish the trail during a series of vacation-length hikes. 

Growing into It

I began the AT as a complete beginner. By the end of that first journey, I was comfortable and confident in the outdoors. But it would be a mistake to call me an expert. I'd learned what I needed to survive in one particular environment (namely, a well-trod trail with tin-roofed shelters and plenty of water sources), but my education was 100-level at best.

Over the following years, that all changed. I didn't do any long-distance hikes, but I made a concerted effort to hone my skills. I went through a brief ultralight-zealot phase, cutting my pack weight in half. I learned about snow travel, navigation, mapping off-trail routes, water management, and dozens of other topics that hadn't ever surfaced on the Appalachian Trail. I absorbed a steady drip-drip of knowledge and experience, and eventually I emerged from the chrysalis as a competent backpacker and outdoorsman.

N+1 Adventures

Right around the time I hit my stride in mid-Virginia on the AT, I had decided that long-distance hiking was my cup of tea. I wanted more. So after working and saving for several years, I left my job in 2018 to begin another thru-hike - the Continental Divide Trail. One thru-hike turned into three years spent almost entirely on trails.

But despite having spent a good long while scratching the adventure itch, something keeps gnawing at me - the Pacific Crest Trail. Although I've schemed and dreamed about the PCT for a decade now, it just hasn't happened yet. In 2018 and 2019, I prioritized other more demanding hikes. I drew a PCT permit for 2020, but then 2020 happened. This year, I've got a fresh permit and a golden opportunity. I've put it off long enough. It's time for the PCT.

Fear and Trembling

It turns out that the decision to do "harder" hikes in the 2018-2019 window was providential. Most hikers see the PCT as the easiest of the Triple Crown trails (AT, PCT, CDT). And it doesn't even hold a candle to grueling DIY routes like the Route In Between, Hayduke, or Greater Yellowstone Loop. Yet though the PCT has a cakewalk reputation, it's perhaps the most daunting challenge I've faced since that drizzly 28th of February, 2013. My foot's still on the mend, and a restoration to full pre-injury function seems like a pipe dream at this point. I'm preparing to walk 2,600 miles with a doubly-surgically-repaired foot that hurts every time I go out for a hike. Even before we factor in the burly 2023 snowpack, the PCT is a leap of faith.

I'm not going into this completely blind however. I did a pair of hundred-mile hikes in 2022, one of which shared about 50 miles of tread with the PCT. Those walks went fairly well. I'm as confident as I can reasonably be that a bionic foot can withstand the rigors of 5+ months on trail. But until I get out there and spend days postholing in the Sierra, there's no way to know for sure. It may be that the foot just needs to do shorter days, or needs more days off. Perhaps it just can't maintain the pace needed to stay ahead of  fires that are an annual occurrence in our current mega-drought climate. In short, a sober assessment of the circumstances would lead any reasonable observer to conclude that the odds are stacked against me.

Yet I go. The foot probably won't get any better as I get older (arthritis and entropy only operate in one direction). I'm single and relatively financially stable. If I don't take this opportunity now, I'll forever wonder whether long-distance hiking was still a possibility. I proceed in the knowledge that God saved me from a seriously pissed-off grizzly. He brought me back from a shattered heel bone to a point where I can at least walk again. Clearly he's got a plan, I've got an opportunity, and it's time to see the tricks he's got up his sleeve. I embark on this journey because it's something I'm created to do.

What's Old is New

But first, a return to roots. Tomorrow morning, I'll again stand atop Springer Mountain, GA, ten years and a day after that first journey began. My good pal Blue Moon and I are celebrating a decade of adventure with a week on the AT. Having learned absolutely nothing from our previous experiences here in early March, we're once again daring the weather to thrash us with rain, snow, sleet, and all manner of chilly unpleasantness. There will be joy in our shivering.

After that it's out to the desert for some relaxed hiking on the AZT. Two years of relative inactivity has taken a toll on my fitness, and I'm hoping to use the AZT as a pleasant warmup for the main event, the PCT. 

A Programming Note

As is typical on my Mexico-to-Canada forays, I'll probably update this blog a handful of times over the course of the trip. My on-trail posts tend to be pretty banal, disjointed, and stream-of-consciousness, so I apologize in advance. But my grandparents enjoy them, so everyone else will just have to deal. You can also view additional photos at my Instagram.

Finally, for those in a praying mood, I'd appreciate a little intercession. If I manage to pull this thing off, it'll be nothing short of a minor miracle - and not one of my own doing! Hope you'll follow along this year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

2022 - In Review

It's been a couple of long years. Two surgeries, a hundred days off my feet, and more doctor and PT appointments than I care to recount. I'm sick of blathering about it, and you're sick of hearing about it.

This year, therefore, saved our collective sanity. Sure, it wasn't an all-timer like 2018 or 2019, but within its context, it was a pretty swell year. Another round of surgery and subsequent recovery derailed the first six months, but the summer and fall proved themselves epochs of adventure. 

The most notable of those adventures was a 170-mile circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe on the Tahoe Rim Trail. The TRT represented a turning point for me (or so I hope). Prior to that trip, I hadn't done anything more than a single overnighter. On the TRT, I hiked 13 days in a row, with daily mileage in the mid-teens. I certainly wasn't setting any land speed records, but it did hint that long-distance hiking may still be a future possibility for me. 

Let's begin the review, as always, with a few fast facts:


  • Pairs of shoes: 2
  • Pairs of shoes that don't fit anymore: 2
  • Toenails lost as a result of the aforementioned: 3
  • Leaky tents: 1
  • Consecutive years that I've complained about the same leaky tent, but haven't replaced it yet: 3
  • Fishing rods: 1
  • Fish hooked successfully: Probably a dozen
  • Fish reeled in successfully: 1
  • Fishing rods accidentally destroyed: 1  
  • Carried an umbrella: 3
  • Used an umbrella: 3 (great success!)
  • Used a bear canister: 1
  • Filled a bear canister with fried chicken: 1
  • Accidentally left chicken bones to rot for three weeks in a bear canister: 1


  • Long-distance trips: 2
  • Weekend backpacking trips: 6
  • Trips where everything went according to plan: 3
  • Bailouts required: 1
  • Backcountry permits: 1
  • Car camping trips: 8 


  • Highest point: 13,065' (Wheeler Peak, NV)
  • Lowest point: 1,070' (Lake Mead, NV)
  • Longest day, in miles: 19 (Tahoe Rim Trail)
  • Shortest day, in miles: 2.5 (Deer Creek, UT)
  • Most consecutive days without seeing a human: 3 (Canadian Thanksgiving Loop)
  • Longest water carry: 17 miles (Tahoe Rim Trail)
  • Most consecutive days hiked: 13


  • Bears: 4
  • Bears dashing across a road in the middle of town: 1
  • Mylar balloons: 4
  • Mylar balloons in a canyon which possibly no one has ever visited before: 4
  • Hitchhikes: 7
  • Got my car stuck on a muddy dirt road: 1


  • Bag nights: 39
  • Slept annoyingly close to a busy paved road: 2
  • Forgot a tent: 1 
  • Camped at a lake: 4
  • Camped with other people: 1

Previous years in review: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2014. 

In January, I popped down to southern Nevada for a short-but sweet jaunt in the Lake Mead area. It makes an excellent wintertime destination, and despite the nearby whiz-bang chaos of jet skis and PBR cans, I found a more-or-less unexplored canyon to poke around in.

February brought a quick overnighter in Bears Ears National Monument. A chilly tempest lashed the canyon rim, but my site in the canyon bottom was warm and cozy.

March's excursion was not particularly thrilling - a mediocrea jaunt in the Escalante area. I can honestly say it's the first and only backpacking trip I've ever taken that had zero redeeming features. A recalcitrant foot and cattle-trampled vegetation conspired to make it an utterly forgettable experience. Next time, I'll choose a different canyon.

An aside: despite the aforementioned, the trip was still manifestly more worthwhile than a corrosive weekend of couch and Netflix would have been. So there's that. 

April and May were spent recovering from surgery. I visited a delightful new-to-me drainage in the Uintas in June

In July, I checked in on an old friend - a lovely stretch of the Highline Trail in the eastern Uintas.

I hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail in August, my first long-distance hike since the injury. There was much rejoicing!

September brought a very brief overnight in the western Uintas. I forgot my phone though, so here's an old photo from a previous trip.

In October, I tackled an off-trail southern Utah route. It wasn't as long as the Tahoe Rim Trail, but definitely more ambitious. Quicksand and high water cut the trip short, but it was yet another data point in the positive direction.

I finished the year on a high note with a shoulder-season trip in the San Juans. Funny enough, aside from the CDT, it's the first backpacking trip I've ever taken in the state of Colorado. 

What's Next

I have ample reasons to be thankful. This year was a qualified success. I'm hoping next year will be an unqualified success. Some foot-related questions will persist of course, but it's time to pull the training wheels off and see what happens.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Two Weeks on the Tahoe Rim Trail

The Tahoe Rim Trail was something of a milestone for me. Although it's only 170 miles in length, it represents the first long-distance hike I've done since the foot odyssey began. I couldn't be more grateful.

Through the end of July, my longest backpacking trip this summer was a measly eighteen miles over two days. Typically, my foot would feel alright on Day 1 and marginal on Day 2. Day 3 would be spent on the couch with an ice pack. My big vacation plans for the summer thus looked a little dicey. Originally, I had plans to head to Europe for the wedding of some close friends, but had to scuttle those plans due to foot uncertainty - after all, it'd been a mere three months since my second surgery. Instead, I settled for something a little closer to home, where I spoke the language and had a robust support network. Enter the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT).

Lake Tahoe is surrounded entirely by mountains - the Carson Range on the east (Nevada) side and the main Sierra crest on the west (California) side. The Tahoe Rim Trail runs on/near the crest of these ranges in a 170-mile loop. The TRT shares a concurrency with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for about 50 miles, while the rest is dedicated TRT trail tread. The majority of the TRT (excluding the Wilderness areas, State Parks, and the PCT overlap) is open to mountain bikes. I saw nearly as many mountain bikes on the trail as hikers.

A Safety Net

A major factor in my decision to attempt the TRT was my bailout options if my foot didn't cooperate. There are plenty of access points; by my count, the TRT crosses seven major paved highways in 170 miles. Even at my rather ponderous pace, I never carried more than 4-5 days of food.

Along the same lines, transportation was not a problem on this hike either. There are municipal bus systems that serve the north and south shores of the lake, respectively. And crucially, my buddy Blue Moon lives in the area and was more than happy to shuttle me if I needed to change plans. I know it's cliche, but this hike absolutely would not have been possible without him. He helped shuttle me twice (see below), and we also got a chance to backpack together for the first couple days - the first time we'd done so since the AT, nearly a decade ago.

Confusing Logistics

Owing to foot-related uncertainty, I planned very conservatively for this hike. First, I only planned to do about 10 miles per day. That was roughly in line with the pace I'd kept on previous trips this summer. On one hand, the Tahoe Rim Trail is easier than the rocky, poorly-maintained trails I hike in the Uintas. On the other hand, I'd be going out for several days, not just a quick overnighter, and I expected the foot to wear down a little. I hoped the two factors would balance each other out.

Second, I only planned to hike half the loop. I parked my car in Tahoe City and Blue Moon shuttled me to the other side. I planned to do only the red portion of the loop (figure below). It would consist of a warm-up section of a few days (I wanted to determine how my foot would handle the all-important days 3 & 4) followed by some more difficult terrain on the SE side, in the beautiful Desolation Wilderness.

But when I got back to my car in Tahoe City, I was feeling good and ahead of schedule. So I phoned Blue Moon, who was happy to shuttle me back to my initial starting point. This time, I hiked the blue route, once again ending at my car in Tahoe City. In essence, I managed to turn the easy logistics of a loop trail into something immensely more complicated - some sort of flip-flop hike that required two separate car shuttles. And yet, I can't say it was a bad decision. It was simply a well-founded conservative game-plan given the uncertainty surrounding my foot.

Ambulatory Ailments

I was surprised by how well the foot held up. Each morning was a battle to stand up and walk around, but after a few minutes, it loosened up. It definitely hurt at the end of each day (particularly on my third-to-last day, where I did 19 miles with significant vertical gain/loss), but it was manageable. In some ways, it was similar to other (left) ankle. On one hand, it hasn't stopped hurting since mile 200 of the Appalachian Trail, nearly a decade ago. On the other hand, I've done many of thousands of miles on one bum ankle; what's to stop me from doing it on two?

Several injured hiker friends weighed heavy on my mind in the course of this hike. They've had recent surgeries or broken bones, and I know they'd love to be out here. And I have a couple of outdoorsy family members - loved ones from whom I draw immense inspiration - that are similarly sidelined with recent major surgery. They were on my mind constantly. In a way, I felt that my hike was theirs too - it represents a hope that they too can get back to running and adventuring in due course.

Walking on Clouds

The trail tread on the TRT was absolutely incredible - by far the best I've seen on any long-distance hike. In 170 miles, I didn't step over a single fallen tree. On the penultimate day of my hike, I ran into a trail crew whose stated mission was to 'remove the rocks from the trail'. Indeed, the environment was often rocky, whereas the trail tread itself was typically a pleasant dirt path - the fruits of countless hours of trail work. My foot certainly appreciated those volunteers!

And it really was beautiful! There were several sections - the Marlette Lake area, the Desolation Wilderness, the little-remarked Granite Chief Wilderness - that stack up well with the scenery on any of the other long trails.

The Next Generation

The Lake Tahoe region is near the huge population centers of California. And unsurprisingly, the TRT can hardly be described as 'deep wilderness'. Indeed, even the so-called Desolation Wilderness, stunning as it is, is neither 'desolate' nor truly 'wilderness' - more like wilder-nish. I saw multiple groups of TRT thru-hikers every day on trail, as well as mountain bikers, day-hikers, trail runners, and dog walkers. 

The diversity of TRT users was encouraging to see. There were the old-timers out there toting external frame packs held together with duct tape, PCT bros doing 30-mile days, and more than a few rookie thru-hikers, most of whom seemed to be thriving. The TRT in particular seems like an ideal trail for a first-timer. It's long enough to get a sense of a real journey, but short enough to be completed in a reasonable length of time. It's perfectly maintained, well-marked, and has some truly beautiful sections to savor. If the TRT is any glimpse into the future of the other long-distance hiking trails, then the future is bright indeed.


Overall, I didn't see a ton of wildlife on this hike. That's not entirely unsurprising, as the Tahoe region is at best Wilderness Lite, as mentioned previously. I saw no elk, no moose, and only a couple deer. Chipmunks were absolutely everywhere, and will be indelibly linked in my mind from now on to that unique eastern Sierra environment of sand and granite boulders.

I did see black bears on this hike. On the first occasion, I saw a mother and cubs in the vicinity of some cabins near Echo Lake at the southern end of the loop. I saw them ahead on the trail before they saw me. I backed up a couple hundred yards and made a ton of noise to hopefully encourage them to move along. That didn't work at all; the sow gave me an unconcerned glance and stood her ground. I ended up bushwhacking around them as they lazed around, completely unmoved by my presence.

On another occasion, I was walking down the sidewalk in downtown Tahoe City when a bear suddenly dashed across the road and scurried into a tiny patch of woods. Several drivers had to slam on their brakes. The inconsiderate bruin didn't even use the crosswalk!

I have virtually no experience with the famous habituated black bears of the eastern Sierra. And in several communities, every single trashcan you'll find is bear-proof, so they're clearly a problem. Bear canisters were required in the Desolation Wilderness, where several nuisance bears have been ransacking lakeside campsites recently (naturally, I camped nowhere near those locations). But I opted to carry a bear can even in areas where it wasn't required. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association recommends them for the entire hike, and because I just didn't know what the habituation level was like elsewhere, I carried one the whole way just to be on the safe side. In retrospect, it probably wasn't necessary (I saw unsecured trashcans at several different trailheads, a surefire sign that they're not a huge problem), but it's always tough to know, as an outsider, where you can get away with it and where you can't. 

The Weather

An unusually strong surge of monsoonal moisture pushed into eastern Nevada for almost the entire duration of my hike. Thankfully though, the storms formed just east of the Tahoe area most afternoons. I'd often see ominous clouds building to the east, but my location would see nothing more than a few sprinkles and some well-appreciated clouds for shade. 

Only one time did it really rain, but that morning was a doozy. I got up early to pack up before it started raining... and I almost made it. My stuff was all spread out on the ground when it suddenly started pouring, and even though I packed in a frantic rush, some of my gear got a little wet. The rain continued uninterrupted for the next 7 or 8 hours. The ancient Frog Toggs rain jacket and skirt that I'd brought were badly ripped and mostly ineffective, so the fact that I'd brought my umbrella was clutch, to say the least. Rain is never pleasant, but I was a lot less miserable than the rest of the folks out there who didn't have umbrellas.

Speaking of rain, the West has been locked in a big-time drought for the past decade or so, and the Tahoe area is no exception. Because much of the trail runs along ridges, there isn't as much water as you'd think on the TRT, particularly around the north and east sides of the loop. I'd heard much weeping and gnashing of teeth about this before the hike, but I found it really not to be a problem. There were no unavoidable water carries of more than ~15 miles, and though I set up a pair of water caches when Blue Moon shuttled me to start the second half of my hike, I barely drank a liter from one, and didn't touch the other. Perhaps it's just the jaded desert dog in me speaking, but I really didn't see the big deal. 

Many of the hikers I met were apoplectic about the slightly green water in this lake. Blue Moon and I shrugged. Better than cow poop!


The TRT was a great hike. It was most certainly Wilderness Lite, but that's exactly what I needed at this stage of my recovery. It's hard to describe the joy of being on trail in a major way for the first time in a year and a half. I'm grateful to the Tahoe Rime Trail Association for making an accessible trail, and to Blue Moon for helping make the hike possible. Above all, I thank God that I'm at the point in my recovery where this hike was even feasible. I'm hopeful that this trail will propel me back towards bigger and better things.