Packaging Parties! The Process of Filling Out Your Resupply Packages.

As we draw ever closer to our Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) departure date it becomes increasingly important to make sure that all of our trail ducks are falling into their places in line. One of the most important ducks is the supply packages that will serve as our lifeline as we make our way from Mexico to Canada over the next few months. There are many ways to organize your packages and really there is no ‘correct way’ to do it other than to go with the method that makes sense to you (and whoever is going to be mailing your packages for you while on the trail). Jon and Gary have been doing a lot of their packaging together in the great room at Gary and Sandy’s house. We’ve been filling boxes, rolling toilet paper rolls into half rolls, filling bags of trail mix and rationing out meals to make it from stop to stop and town to town. The method that we chose to use in order to keep everything in line was to lay out all our boxes (predominantly flat rate boxes from the United States Postal Service) marked for each of our mail drops and support crew delivery spots. This allowed us to visualize the trip in a way and to then divide our meals into each box based on how many days it takes to get from one spot to the next.

Jon's Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Supply Boxes All Lined Up. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Jon’s Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Supply Boxes All Lined Up. (Click Image for Larger View.)

There are more things to pack than just food though. We also needed to divvy out toiletries such as travel sized toothpastes and toothbrushes, fuel canisters for our resupply spots that are hand deliveries (can’t ship the fuel cans), Halfmile maps, toilet paper and the like. Toilet paper provides a bit of ‘fun’ during the packing process as we ‘got to’ roll out half rolls of TP to put in each box because a whole roll would be overkill to carry at any one time and the half rolls save shipping space which becomes a premium in the spots where it is a bit longer from one city to the next.

Sandy, Marissa and Jon Rolling Out Half Rolls of TP for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Sandy, Marissa and Jon Rolling Out Half Rolls of TP for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)

We are coming down to the wire with our leave date set for April 1, 2015 but after our packaging parties we’re just about ready to get rolling (or slogging, rather)! We’ll be printing shipping labels with addresses for each spot, setting aside our sierra gear for Kennedy Meadows, and putting our last finishing touches on our boxes over the next week or so. We’re so close we can smell ourselves on the trail (ewwww)!

Jon's PCT Gear Rests Under the Packing Pool Table Used to Roll TP Half Rolls and Bag Out Trail Mix. Gary's Supply Boxes line the background. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Jon’s PCT Gear Rests Under the Packing Pool Table Used to Roll TP Half Rolls and Bag Out Trail Mix. Gary’s Supply Boxes line the background. (Click Image for Larger View.)

PCT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

When one decides to go on a journey such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) a lot of questions tend to arise from their friends and family. We’ve gathered a few of those questions from our loved ones in this article and hope to answer them to the best of our ability.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

1. How will you get food? Will you have an opportunity to bathe or shower?

We are buying much of our food supply before leaving. Most of the food stuffs will be in the form of freeze dried meals and supplemented with energy bars (mostly ClifBars) and trail mix. This allows us to pack our supply boxes before hand so that our families can simply drop them off at the post office when they are supposed to go out. We will have opportunities to shower periodically on the trail. There are towns roughly every 5 to 7 days on the PCT and many have a hotel or mountain resort or trail angel or camp that we will be able to grab a shower at.

2. How is everybody feeling about the journey as it draws closer to your departure date?

Everyone is excited to get going, we are currently putting the finishing touches on our supply packages but other than that we are all at a point where we are ready to hit the trail and get on with the fun!

3. The team will be packing a small first aid kit. Do you have an emergency plan in case a team member needs medical care?

Yes, the team will be carrying first aid kits for each member and should a member need medical attention in the field all the members of the team have had some CPR or basic first aid training in the past so we should be able to manage a sling or other first aid technique should that unfortunate event occur.

4. With the understanding that you will have cell phones. How will you be able to charge them? Do you have concerns about communicating with each other and your support team?

Jon will be carrying a GoalZero Switch 8 and Nomad 7 charging kit that will allow the team to charge their phones as we go. Because we hope to be able to blog along the way it is important that we can use some of the sun’s energy to be able to have our phones up and running at the day’s end so we can post that day’s experience. As for the communication aspect of this question, we’ll be able contact our family and friends and support members through our regular phones when there is enough service. When this cell service is missing we’ll need to use the satellite locator beacon and communicator that Gary will be carrying. This will allow us to contact people through satellite connections when cell services aren’t available.

5. Has the team had training or experience with face-to-face encounters with bears or other wild animals?

The majority of the crew have extensive hiking experience and Lora has worked as an intern under the National Park Service and has training in animal encounters and what to do in these situations. The animals we may encounter range from Mountain Lions and Bears, but will more likely be Snakes and Bugs.

6. Have you heard of the Book/Movie Wild?

Yes, we are aware of the book and movie. It was, in no way, any inspiration for the members that are hiking the trail this year. Gary and Jon both read about half the book before we decided we couldn’t take it anymore due to all her ill preparedness and poor decision making. Lora, I believe has read the whole book. All of us have seen the movie. I think we are all in agreement that the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed and the subsequent movie with Reese Witherspoon are about a story that is a self discovery story that includes the Pacific Crest Trail and not a Pacific Crest Trail story that includes some self discovery.

7. Do you think you will see many hikers on the trail?

We will likely see a good number of hikers on the trail this year. The increased popularity of the book/movie Wild have also boosted the number of people interested in the PCT this year. At last count, we estimated from the PCTA.org permit system that they had issued over 2100 long distance northbound permits for the 2015 year. That’s a lot of long distance hikers and doesn’t even include the people that will be hiking in sections that don’t require a long distance permit. We will also be attending the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off (ADZPCTKO) where we will see many of these hikers as well as those who have hiked the trail in previous years and our friends and family.

8. How long do you think your beards and hair will get? Will you be trimming either along the way?

The answer to something like this depends on the individual hiker. Gary has expressed some interest in being able to shave periodically during the 5 month long hike while Jon has said that he’ll probably go without a hair cut or a shave for the duration unless the hair or beard becomes some sort of annoyance. Really, it just depends on the comfort and preference of the hiker.

9. Will you have some sort of health log? Will the team do a weigh-in and weigh-out?

We are not currently planning on chronicling our weight for the journey as this is more than just a workout regiment. There will likely be some discussion of noticeable health changes as the journey progresses but we aren’t making it a priority topic for discussion.

10. How do you plan to spend your time on off days? games? journal? etc.?

Many of our off days have been planned for areas where we will be able to spend time with our families so the majority of those times will be spent catching up with loved ones. When we have down time on the trail such as evenings at camp we will have a few activities to enjoy. Many of us will be carrying a book while hiking. Jon will also be carrying a travel sized version of Backgammon and we’ll probably have a deck of cards on hand as well.

That covers the most common questions we’ve been getting from our family and friends. If you have more questions you’d like us to answer feel free to post them in the comments or use our contact us page!

Training Hike: El Cajon Mountain

Anybody who lives in, or has driven through, the eastern part of San Diego County has undoubtedly seen the giant rock face that serves as one of the natural borders of the region and shares its name with the city of El Cajon. El Cajon Mountain is at 3,675 feet in elevation but what makes it one of the more difficult hikes in the area is that the elevation gain/loss of the hike ends up being about 4,500 feet. Jon has attempted this hike twice before this group attempt and on his first attempt during the summer (June) the temperatures were 90 degrees plus and he was forced to turn around at the 4 mile mark because he was more than half way out of water. As any experienced hiker will tell you, don’t push the limits of your water. This is especially true when the temperatures are hot and the trail has little shade as El Cajon Mountain’s trail does. The second attempt for Jon came in September on a much more moderate day and on this day he completed the trek and also bagged El Capitan peak which is reached using the same trail up. On today’s adventure the crew encountered ideal conditions for hiking El Cajon Mountain. The temperatures were in the mid- to high 60’s and there was some cloud cover for most of the day.

We set out from the parking lot and hiked up the driveway that leads to the Blue Sky Ranch, which allows hikers to pass by on their private land to enjoy the hike up to the peaks. Once past the ranch you come to a staging area with restrooms and from here you immediately start climbing up switchbacks on a chaparral lined but well maintained trail that leads up up to what is an old service road that may or may not be still in use. It is noted in Jerry Schad’s Afoot and Afield that this was an old mining road and you can even branch off this trail at the 3.5 mile mark and take a spur trail that leads to an old mining area. Once you are on the trial you’ll follow this road all the way to the saddle between El Cajon Mountain peak and El Capitan Peak. The challenges of this trail don’t include a poorly maintained trail. The challenges here are the constant up and down of the trail (it seems that you often have to climb 500 feet, then drop 100-200 feet to get to the next 500 foot climb), and the fact that there is little to know coverage from the sun. On today’s adventure the sun was less of a factor due to the overcast weather. The trail has mile markers at every full mile, provided by A16 (an outfitter store in the Southern California area), and another at the 3.5 marker where you can branch off for the aforementioned mining site hike.

I’ll spare you the fairly boring details of climbing and falling along this trail towards the peak and take you up near the saddle between the peaks. About half a mile from the saddle you’ll see an old metal jeep frame that looks to have been there far longer than I’ve been alive (29 years at the writing of this post). This is the first indicator that you’re nearly to the payoff. Continuing up to the saddle you then have a choice once you’ve reached the sign marking the trail junctions. From this marker, you can continue straight ahead to the big rock face visible from town (known as El Cap, popular with rock climbers), or you can take the trail to your right which leads up to the El Capitan Peak, or you can take the trial to your left which is the trail for El Cajon Mountain peak. Most people that reach this point seem to go just for El Cajon Mountain. I (Jon) have yet to go to the rock face part of El Cap, but have been to both El Cajon peak and El Capitan peak and the view from El Cajon is better undoubtedly. El Capitan peak does have an old shack of some sort, perhaps an old radio tower no longer in use which is sort of interesting. The trail to El Capitan is far easier than the trail to El Cajon though. El Capitan’s peak trail is your typical trial that winds to the peak and requires little effort outside of just hiking uphill. El Cajon’s peak trail winds its way through large boulders and requires some rock scrambling at times near the peak marker. The view is well worth the climb though, it’s quite breathtaking looking out over the entire valley. On a very clear day you can see all the way to the coast, this was not one of those days.

Gary, Lora, and Jon (from left to right) at the Peak of El Cajon Mountain While Training for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). (Click Image for Larger View.)
Gary, Lora, and Jon (from left to right) at the Peak of El Cajon Mountain While Training for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). (Click Image for Larger View.)

From the peak you simply retrace your up and down (this time mostly down) steps to return to your car at the parking lot along Wildcat Canyon Road. Here are the stats for our training hike up to El Cajon Mountain peak, I apologize there are no elevation stats as my app didn’t seem to track them for whatever reason (probably because of the relative remoteness of this hike compared to the usual training hikes in Mission Trails Regional Park).

El Cajon Mountain Peak Hike Used as Training for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). (Click Image for Larger View.)
El Cajon Mountain Peak Hike Used as Training for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). (Click Image for Larger View.)

NorCal Mom Cheering From The Sidelines

Hello, from Northern California. Situated along the Siskiyou Trail, Redding was a trade and travel route connecting California’s Central Valley and the Pacific Northwest. My name is Wendy Adams and I am Jon Adams’ mother. When Jon was a young boy he loved the Ninja Turtles, basketball and playing video games. Our family weekends were filled with athletic events, juggling between softball, volleyball, and basketball tournaments. Back then if you were to tell me that this young man would grow up to be a college scholar, world traveler, and one of the founding members of the San Diego PCT Sloggers I guess my response would have been to quote one of my favorite people…

Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’! ― Audrey Hepburn.

And it is with this philosophy that my husband and I embrace the SD Sloggers 2015 adventure.  The one thing that I know how to do well is to cheer on the team from the sidelines. This NorCal mom is going to be the best darn cheerleader the Sloggers have ever seen.

Am I nervous or worried about the SD PCT Sloggers going on the trip?
Of course, a little. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t. I was always nervous watching my kids playing the sports they loved. I take comfort knowing that they are traveling as a team and that Gary Funk is an experienced PCT journeyman. There is always some level of risks involved and at the end of the day the rewards far outweigh those risks.

What am I doing to prepare for their Journey?  My training starts now, beginning with a task list.

  • Educational training, learn at least one fact a day. I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I honestly did not know about the Pacific Crest Trail until Jon started talking about his dream to slog it.
  • Ask questions! This task has already been underway as Jon can attest to. I know the team has done their research and the more I know about their plan the more assurance I have that they are well prepared.
  • Study the itinerary and create a map so that I can visually see their progress.
  • On a personal note, I am committing to a healthier lifestyle. My husband and I have plans to camp with the group when they are in our region. It just makes sense to me that choosing to eat a healthy diet and commit to being more physically active is a great way to show my support from the sidelines.
    Create a master calendar and try to stay organized. While the team is traveling there will be a lot of activities here at home. We have a family wedding the first of May, for example. Prepare to be flexible and ready to switch gears or plans at moments notice.
  • Cheer them on!  Using Facebook and Twitter will be a great use of social media to share with family, friends and fans.
  • And lastly I will be there with my pompoms and noise makers when we gather to celebrate their successful journey home!

TRAINING HIKES: Local Trails Used for Training for the Pacific Crest Trail

When preparing for a long distance hike, such as the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), it’s important to make sure you are in the best possible shape prior to setting out. This will decrease the risk of injury as you start making your way through the trail and increase the mileage you can do right from the get go. It is for that reason the Sloggers have a list of hikes that we like to do during the week that don’t even require leaving the city. San Diego, like many great large metropolitan areas, has saved some land for the city dwellers to be able to get outside and on a trail and get a good workout with just a short drive within the city limits.

This is, by no means, a full list of the hikes that our group likes to hike in town but this post will cover two of the longer local hikes that have some elevation gain/loss and are a great way for us to keep our butts in gear. Both of these hikes are within an area in San Diego known as Mission Trail Regional Park which is an invaluable space in the city that many people come to to get outside and move around.

The first hike we’ll talk about is what we call the Fortuna Double. There are two peaks within Mission Trail Regional Park called North Fortuna and South Fortuna. There are multiple ways to get to each peak but our usual way of reaching the peaks is to traverse the saddle between them and then go up to one peak and double back to the other and then head back down the saddle. The saddle is what makes these peaks a good workout as the first mile and a half from the parking lot is mostly flat and skirts the Mission Dam and San Diego River that flows through the area. Then you come to the saddle where you’ll climb upward on a service road for about half a mile. Once you’ve made it up to the top of the saddle you’ll catch your breath and pick a peak, either North Fortuna (to your right) or South Fortuna (to your left). Personally, I prefer to do North Fortuna first but it really doesn’t matter which order you tackle them in.

View West From North Fortuna, a Favorite Training Hike for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)
View West From North Fortuna, a Favorite Training Hike for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)

Once you’ve bagged both peaks you’ll head back down the saddle in the direction you came and retrace your steps back past the dam and to the parking lot. Here are the stats for this hike:

Stats for North and South Fortuna Hike from the Parking Lot on Father Junipero Serra Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Stats for North and South Fortuna Hike from the Parking Lot on Father Junipero Serra Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)

The other hike I’ll describe in this post is on the other side of Mission Trail Regional Park and includes the highest peak within the park, Cowles Mountain, which is a great training hike on its own. However, this hike continues on from the peak of Cowles Mountain to a second peak known as Pyles Peak. There are multiple trails to the top of Cowles Mountain but only one trail from the peak there over to Pyles Peak. My preferred route up Cowles is to park on the street at the intersection of Prostpect Avenue and Mesa Road. There is a park, just on the other side of a fence, known as Big Rock Park which is what most people would know this area as. From Big Rock Park you’ll follow the trail as it climbs and dips at times making its way up to the Cowles Mountain service road after about a mile and a half from the park. Once you reach the service road, you’ll follow that to the peak of Cowles Mountain, which becomes fairly steep towards the top where you’ll get the most challege in this workout.

View of Cowles Mountain (the Peak with the Radio Tower) from South Fortuna. (Click Image for Larger View.)
View of Cowles Mountain (the Peak with the Radio Tower) from South Fortuna. (Click Image for Larger View.)

Once at the peak of Cowles Mountain, you’ll continue straight ahead where you will find the trail sign marking the trail over to Pyles Peak. From here, the trail descends down a bit skirting the ride line of a couple smaller mounds and then begins the ascent towards your next destination. You’ll come to a bit of a fork in the trail after maybe two-thirds of a mile. At this fork you can either go off to the right and scramble up the back side of Pyles Peak where some small trails give way to some light rock scrambling (this is the less traveled but sometimes more fun and probably more challenging path) or you can continue on the main trail to the left which descends slightly and takes you around to the ‘front’ side of Pyles Peak where the trail leads you up to the top. To get back to your car you’ll retrace your steps back to Cowles Mountain and eventually back to Big Rock Park. Here are the stats for my last hike of Pyles Peak from Big Rock Park:

Pyles Peak Via Cowles Mountain from Big Rock Park is a Favorite Local Hike to Train for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Pyles Peak Via Cowles Mountain from Big Rock Park is a Favorite Local Hike to Train for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)

TRAINING HIKE: PCT Section Hike, Kitchen Creek Road to Burnt Rancheria Campground

Mid-January in southern California provides unique opportunities to still enjoy sunny days on the trail. The core of the San Diego Sloggers did just that when Jon, Gary and Lora got together to do a point-to-point section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to trail for the big trip in just a few months time.

This section of the PCT begins with a roughly 2 mile hike from the intersection of the trail and Kitchen Creek Road to Cibbets Flat Campground. This first part of the trail follows some rolling ridge lines and crosses a seasonal creek, which was dry at the time of our hike (scary thought for a mid-January hike). From Cibbets Flat Campground the trail begins to ascend up more rocky and chaparral lined ridge lines as you make your way north towards Burnt Racheria Campground in the small town of Mount Laguna. After about 6 or 7 miles of gradual but constant elevation gain the terrain will begin to level out some and you’ll cross another seasonal creek (this one had some water in it!). After this second stream you’ll begin another short ascent before leveling out again in some shady groves of pine trees. Once you’ve reached the pines you’re just another mile or two until Burnt Racheria Campground.

We arrived at the closed and completely empty campground (which can get very crowded and often requires reservations to camp during peak season) after just over 4 hours and 17 minutes of hiking (including a break for snacks). Then it was just a short walk on the Sunrise Highway back to our second car that we parked at the Red-Tailed Roost Activity Center parking lot.

Stats for the Pacific Crest Trail Section From Kitchen Creek Road to Burnt Rancheria Campground. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Stats for the Pacific Crest Trail Section From Kitchen Creek Road to Burnt Rancheria Campground. (Click Image for Larger View.)

Time Has Changed the Trail and Technology Has Changed the Hiker

“Time has changed the trail and technology has changed the hiker.” I keep hearing this phrase over and over in my thoughts as I think about the changes that have occurred since my first PCT hike. What has happened to hiking boots rates right up there with the most dramatic changes I have seen with equipment and applies to how technology has changes the hiker.

Yesterday, our boots from Salomon arrived, the Quest 4D GTX. We plan to use them in conditions which exceed the capabilities of our light weight trail runners, primarily in the southern Sierra, but also in the early sections of the PCT like San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. The technology involved in making these shows the depth companies have gone to today in making high quality products. They are made with a chasis construction with 2 different mid-sole components, a patented Contagrip for traction, Goretex for breath-ability and water protection, rubber heel and caps, patented ortholite foam, and so on.

I couldn’t wait to try them out, so today I hit the local mountains. I am use to trail runners, so I immediately felt the increased stability and grip on the steep inclines and the rocky downhill where small pebbles lead to slip and slide. Naturally, they are heavier which slightly slows down the speed of my stride. With a high cut profile I was expecting a stiffer feel, but their light weight and flexible construction gave a fairly close feel to a trail runner.

I tend to compare boots to the classic Vasque Hiker II’s from years ago. These one time popular boots of the seventies were typical of those of that time period in that they required a break in period. Before taking them out on the trail I would wear them for weeks, wear them to school, to work, around the house, and just about anywhere to put the time in needed, so as to avoid the blisters that would come with new, stiff boots on the trail. Half of the break in taking place was more like my feet molding to the boots instead of just the boots becoming more flexible. Hiking in Mission Trails Regional Park today, I climbed North Fortuna, then after dropping to the saddle I headed up South Fortuna. Being a warm sunny day where the fields were green with grasses, I had to look at the deciduous trees to be reminded that it is still winter. Before lunch time I had added Cowles Mountainn to the hike, having exceeded 11 miles and 2500 ft. In the end, I had no blister or hot spots making this a great day of preparing for the PCT, and a reminder of what today’s technology has allowed hikers to do with a brand new pair of boots.

Gary and His New Salomon Quest 4D GTX Boots for Snow on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Gary and His New Salomon Quest 4D GTX Boots for Snow on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)

Gary’s Gear List, First Edition

As someone who has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for the first time forty years ago it has become more and more important for me to become gear and weight conscious as the miles tally up on my hiking career. It is for this reason, that I’ve made it my goal to leave the border with a pack weight of just twenty pounds including my food. Obviously, when in the Sierra Nevada region more cold weather gear will be required which will increase pack weight in that area. One benefit of having such a long hiking career is that I’ve been able to accumulate a healthy list of gear items that can accommodate a variety of weather conditions. This will allow me to cut ounces by swapping items in and out between mail drops and drop offs from our support crew. Keeping that in mind, when you browse through my gear list remember that items along the trial will be picked up and dropped off and this list is more fluid than rigid.

Starting with my “Big Four”, which is made up of my pack, tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad, you’ll see this section will account for the mafority of non-food/water weight. My pack is the ULA CDT Pack, which could be swapped out should I need more space in the Sierra’s. Jon and I are splitting the weight of the Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 as our tent. My main sleeping bag, which will change in the Sierra’s as more warmth is needed, will be my Marmot Hydrogen Bag which is rated down to 30 degrees. I’ll be sleeping on the Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm which adds some warmth by having a layer of air between me and the ground and is also quite comfortable.

Gary's "Big Four" Items for the Pacific Crest Trail (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s “Big Four” Items for the Pacific Crest Trail (Click for Larger View.)

Moving on to how I’ll cook my meals. I’ll have my pocket rocket stove from MSR along with, typically, an eight ounce fuel can, 2 sporks (because I am notorious spork breaker) and a simple lighter.

Gary's Cooking System for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Cooking System for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Now that we’ve covered my food preparation let’s talk about hydration. I’ll mostly be carrying two collapsible Platypus bottles for the majority of the trail and supplementing during the long dry spots on the trail with a regular old two liter bottle. My filter will be the Sawyer mini water filter, you can’t beat the ease of use and the weight saving size of that thing!

Gary's Hydration System for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Hydration System for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Now that we’ve met some of the basic needs along the trail like shelter, food and water we can move on to some of the other items I’ll be carrying inside my pack. Let’s start that off with the navigation and trail essentials I’ll have with me. This includes crucial things like maps, compass, headlamp, first aid and repair kits, my knife and cordage. These are all things we’ll need at some point or another along the way.

Gary's Navigation and Trail Essential for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Navigation and Trail Essential for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

After trail essentials and navigation I’ll have some sanitation and hygiene items along the way. Here is the list of those items.

Gary's Toiletries for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Toiletries for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Outside of sanitation and trail essentials there are always some items that don’t seem to fit into a certain category, these might be organizational items like stuff sacks and wallets, or personal items like journals and a phone. Here is what I am calling my miscellaneous category, for lack of a better term.

Gary's Miscellaneous Items for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Miscellaneous Items for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

We’ve basically covered all the stuff that I can’t wear, so let’s circle back to those items that can be worn. Firstly, there are the clothing items that will, for the most part, be in my pack. These are situational items such as thermals, jackets, rain gear, beanie, gloves, etc.

Gary's Clothing in Pack for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Clothing in Pack for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Secondly, there are the items that will serve as my primary clothing pieces. I’ve also included items that will mostly be outside of my pack in this section. These other items are predominantly trekking poles, watch, and eyeglasses.

Gary's Primarily Worn Clothing for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Primarily Worn Clothing for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Finally, there are those items that we’ll need only as needed. These things include ice axes, snowshoes and bear canisters in the Sierra Nevada area and possible heavier boots, gaiters and crampons should conditions dictate.

Gary's Sierra Nevada and Cold Weather Gear on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Sierra Nevada and Cold Weather Gear on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

So that’s it, that’s the first iteration of what I’ll be taking with my on the trail this year. Some items may drop out if I can save some ounces here or there. I’ll leave you with my pack totals as they stand now. Keep in mind, if you are doing the math on your own here that these totals have the weights of the “Clothing Worn” section dropped because it’s a pack total and those items won’t be in my pack, they’ll be on my back.

Gary's Pack Total Weight for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Pack Total Weight for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Testing Gear Before the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

Long distance hikes are unique because of the fact that they span multiple months and a variety of weather conditions. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is no exception to this rule and because of this it is crucial that those embarking on such a journey as the PCT have tested all their gear ahead of time. Being able to trust your gear when you encounter conditions that call for a certain piece clothing or equipment is imperative to success on thru-hikes.

Recently, the San Diego area received a cold front combined with a wet weather system that created snowy conditions in nearby Mount Laguna. The Mount Laguna area is roughly a 45 minute drive east of San Diego city (still in the county of San Diego) but receives, on average, the most snow fall annually in San Diego County. During this weather system the area received roughly 8 inches of snow over the two day storm. Many city slickers made the drive out to play in the snow after the main system had cleared making the roads in during peak times quite congested. In fact, when we were leaving the area there was still a line of cars approximately 10 miles long spanning from the Mount Laguna general store all the way to the I-8 freeway. Our game plan was to avoid all of these less frequent visitors to the Mount Laguna area (Gary and other family members jointly own a cabin in the area which allows us to go up and play in the area on a regular basis, this also allowed us to find a nice spot off the main roads that wasn’t so congested with hundreds of people fighting for sled runs down a slope that was more mud than snow because of overuse…but I digress). We left San Diego early in the morning and missed the majority of the traffic on the way in, we also had the benefit of this trip being on New Year’s Day meaning most of the city folk probably got a later than normal start on their way out. When we got off the main road and to the cabin, we were the only people in our cabin tract which allowed for some great test runs of the gear we wanted to try out as well as some private sled runs later on.

We wanted to take this snowy opportunity to test out a range of cold weather gear that we may or may not need in the Sierra Nevada region. Gary and Jon have recently purchased new snowshoes and Lora is in the market for them so we definitely wanted to test Those out.

Jon's New PCT Snowshoes
Jon’s new snowshoes which could come in handy if a heavy snow year persists in the Sierra Nevada region.

In addition to this equipment we also got a chance to test a variety of cold weather clothing that was new to some of the Sloggers’ repertoire. In the picture below you’ll find Sloggers Jon and Lora along with support members Steve, Ann, and Sandy checking out some of the winter gear to be tested on the day. These articles included trail crampons, shell pants, snow gaiters, snow shoes, snow baskets on poles, cross country skis, and various jacket combinations to determine effectiveness with moisture balanced with warmth and weight.

San Diego PCT Sloggers Check Out Winter Gear
San Diego PCT Sloggers and Support Members Check Out Winter Gear

The testing of gear went swimmingly as our entire group spent all morning running around in the snow on skis and snowshoes determining what they like and don’t like about each item. The star of the day seemed to be the Hillsound Trail Crampons that we tested. Originally purchased by Jon, they were tested by all the Sloggers and Gary went home and bought a pair that evening.

The only casualty in gear for the day was Jon’s soft shell pants. He purchased them in hopes of being able to wear a lighter shell pants on the trail but the issue was that the material was just a bit too thin and actually snagged and tore in two areas which would be a disaster if that happened on the trail. This is pretty big benefit of testing your gear beforehand, if Jon had taken those pants and had them snag a hole along the way it would have been quite bad for him and trying to stay warm on the trail. Now he has the opportunity to upgrade materials, which will mean slightly more weight, but will be worth it in the long run to have additional heat and weather protection.

All in all, it was a very successful day of cold weather gear testing and fun in the snow for the Sloggers and crew. We always recommend testing any new gear you have purchased with the hopes of taking these items on a long thru-hike.

Jon Throwing A Snowball
Jon “Tests” His Gloves By Hurling A Snowball.
Marissa Defends Herself From Snowball
Marissa Defending Herself From Jon’s Snowball. We’ll Call This “Testing” Her Snow Poles?

Cold Weather Preparation on the PCT

What kind of weather will we have before we start backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail? That is a question we are frequently asked. The amount of precipitation above or below normal for the season and, especially the amount that falls a few months prior to departing, will be a good indicator of the snow levels in not only the Sierra Nevada region but also southern California. High snow levels in the early miles will require extra gear and will slow down anticipated mileage. Most hikers prefer to start in mid-to-late April to avoid this potential early slowing from the border.

With 3 years of extreme drought, thru-hikers may have gotten complacent in their preparation, preferring to leave earlier because previous reports have not indicated a problem during these early weeks. We prefer to leave at an earlier date anyway, but will be watching weather reports to see if snow gear is required even before reaching the Sierras. So far, for the 2 months of the season starting in October, the precipitation in the northern Sierra Nevada is at 18.3 inches or 145% normal! Lake Shasta, in northern California, is still only at 33% normal, but up from 23% three weeks ago after recent heavy rainfall in the area. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have issued a forecast of 75% chance of average or above average precipitation for January to March. Over the last 5 years the organization’s precipitation forecasts have been significantly lower.

El Niño has yet to be declared but remains a high possibility for the coming year. The warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean affect the jet stream causing it to come ashore in California instead of the Pacific northwest, bringing with it moisture and storms. Increased rainfall means more snow on the PCT, more gear worn and in packs for longer stretches, and potentially unprepared hikers. Will we be hiking or snowshoeing in the southern Sierra Nevada? Only time will tell for sure, what is to come, but we will be keeping our cold weather gear close at hand.

Will Snowy Conditions Be More Likely on the PCT This Year?
Will Snowy Conditions Be More Likely on the PCT This Year?