Next time we’re going to the beach

August 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Molas Pass to Junction Creek Trailhead – 73.9 miles 6 days Total: 127.2 miles 11 days

More often than not the people that give us a ride from/back to the trail go out of their way to do so. The ride from Silverton was no exception. We’d been standing with our thumbs up on the outskirts of town for some time when a guy across the road called out: “He girls, you trying to get back to the CT?” “Yes!” “Come over.” He’d been doing some paint work at the visitor center across the road but was ready to take a break so he took us back to Molas Pass. By 2.30pm on day 6 we were back on the trail and managed to put in 8 miles before setting up camp.

The next day lunch break was exceptionally short as dark clouds were amassing ahead and grumbling ominously. It rained all afternoon. But nature seems more alive when it rains. It’s as if the animals are saying: “Let’s go out, it’s raining, there shouldn’t be any humans outside.” Well, not quite. We startled two deers.
By 4.30pm that day the tent was up. Three hikers, Aquaman, Homebrew and Lighthouse, joined us that night and the following ones. Lighthouse carried a guitar; he played and sang at camp. Music is so much sweeter in the middle of the woods.

Day 8 saw some more rain, and even a hail shower. We found a nice camp spot on the edge of a hill, just sheltered by the trees, with a great view. To the east some mountains were still lit up by the evening light while, over the forest spreading in the valleys below, we could see curtains of rain and lightning. There was thunder, and Lighthouse was playing and singing to the elements. One of those surreal moments.

On day 9 we crossed Indian Trail Ridge in a white mist, buffeted by the wind and soaked through by rain. When the view opened up again we were back in more mountainous terrain. Upon a stony cirque, we were looking down at the beautiful plateau where is nested Taylor Lake, our destination for the day.
We just had time to set up the tent that it started pouring rain. And it kept on and on, all night and the following morning. We were stuck in our little tent, that surprisingly still holds the water well after 5 months of intensive use, pondering our options: waiting it out – spend a whole day inside a tent? Not exactly my idea of a zero day… – or hiking on – yeah, can’t see how getting completely soaked is any better…
But by noon the rain had stopped, the wind had dried the tent and the sky had cleared enough that it looked safe to make a dash for a couple of miles down the trail.
The weather was gorgeous the rest of the day and the next, all the way to Durango.

Ah, Durango. Town. Shower, social media, laundry, food and beer. Not necessarily in that order. How did we do this for 5 months?

127.2 miles in 11 days. That makes an average of 11.6 miles per day. We hiked faster than we thought we would. Well, we dreamt of hour-long after lunch naps in the sun or mid-afternoon reading breaks, but that didn’t happen. We were cold, and what do you do when you’re outdoors and you’re cold? You just keep moving.

So yeah, next time we’re going somewhere warmer. Next time we’re going to the beach. Or not 😉

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“Why do two Swiss girls come all the way out here to hike?”

August 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

Spring Creek Pass to Molas Pass – 53.3 miles 5 days

That question comes up over and over on any of our hiking trip in the US. The answer is always the same. Yes, the Swiss mountains are beautiful, but they’re different. On a hike in Switzerland, sooner or later you see signs of civilization, and not the kind you can easily overlook. Try making abstraction of a whole village across the valley.

I’ll quote two numbers that should help you get the picture. The density of Switzerland is 194,7 inhabitants/km2. Colorado is 19 inhabitants/km2 and more than half the population lives in the Denver area. In the US, and maybe even more so in Colorado, when you go out to lose yourself in the wilderness, that’s what you get. Wilderness as far as the eye can see.

Day after day, we have topped ridges only to discover new valleys beyond, to cross other tundras, to gain views to yet other mountains in the distance. Wilderness is never ending out here.

There’s been plenty of wildlife too. Marmot whistles and pika calls follow our tracks – one marmot was even perched on a trail post! We stumbled onto some ptarmigans. These birds are so well camouflaged that it’s only when we were about to step on them and they moved that we realized there were a mum and her five young ones. Deer and moose have only been brown shapes in the distance so far.

On day 2 we reached the highest point of the CT at 13’271 feet (about 4000m). Why make an easy start, huh? No, because we’re used to altitude measured in meters rather than in feet, we realized quite late what we were up to, but it’s been all right.

The high altitude (over 10’000 feet – 3000m the all time) plus the wind and a sun that’s been hiding behind clouds mean it hasn’t been so warm and has made us want to crawl back in our sleeping bags and not move anymore. But that was also day 3 and by now we know full well a lack of motivation is typical of a 3rd day of hiking so you shouldn’t listen too much to yourself and just push on.

On day 5 the CT and CDT parted ways. We followed the CT and left the CDT meandering south, 928 miles towards Mexico. With the appearance of the Grenadier Range the day before, the scenery had changed, the mountains becoming rockier and more dramatic. Now we dropped down to the Animas River and had a fright crossing the Durango-Silverton railroad tracks. Of course the train had to come our way and blow its whistle when we were walking the few meters of trail that follow the tracks!

Close to Molas Pass and Highway 550, as always when we near a trailhead, we had to wonder if the trail designers went about this way to create a trail:
“Here, pick a random number of miles.”
“Good, let’s make a first draft.”
“Shoot, we’re short of a few miles.”
“No worries, we’ll just make a 1 mile detour before each trailhead and that should do the count.”
It’s either that or they took a sadistic pleasure in imagining hikers hearing and seeing the highway that meant a night in town but rather than heading straight for it, having to go about a ridiculously circumvolunted 1 mile before reaching it. Mental torture, that’s what it is.

It hasn’t been hard to adjust to the slower pace. CT thru-hikers we met have mentioned the conflict they experience: making the necessary daily miles to complete the trail in the time they have and still enjoy it. Although we understand them, we’ve been there, we’re happy we can say: “No, that’s not us, not this time.”
It was even hard for us to comprehend that the number of miles we’ve done in 3 days on this trip, we once did in one single day.

Regarding food we still have to adapt. Now in Silverton we’re still carrying a ridiculously huge amount of food. We packed the quantity we were used to eat while we hiked between 8-10 hours a day and we had been at this for about 5 months. That’s not us anymore, we barely eat half of this.

Other than that we’re doing good. By day 2 we’d slipped right back into our trail routine, it was like we’d never left the trail and it feels good! So back out we go, see you in a couple of days.

The Swisters are about to hit a trail again

July 31, 2014 § 2 Comments

Hum… It’s been a while, huh?

Well, it’s been a while we haven’t really lost ourselves in the wilderness. Too long a while if you ask us. But we’re about to change that.

Which trail? Ah, good question!

The last 500 miles or so of the PCT? Nope, not yet.

The AT? Nah, try again.

The CDT? Well, no… and yes. No, because that’s one too many letters. We’re getting ready to hike a section of the CT, the Colorado Trail. But yes, because the Colorado Trail and the Continental Divide Trail share about 235 miles and 40 of these miles are located in the section of the CT we’ve chosen to hike this summer.

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Getting the hiking gear ready…

We’ll start at the Spring Creek Pass and head towards Durango. That’s about 127 miles and we have around 15 days. That gives us a leisurely average of 8.5 miles a day. For our minds, formatted by months of PCT thru-hiking, that’s ridiculously pathetic. But this time we’re in no rush to get anywhere really so our minds will have to adapt. And anyway our bodies are in a ridiculously unfit shape.

So that’s the plan. But you know what they say. Life is what happens when you’re busy planning something else.

Fame

June 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m happy to announce that the following picture, which I took while hiking the PCT through the Sierras, features among the winners of the Pacific Crest Trail Association 2012 Photo Contest. Thanks to the Booze Crew for the great photo opportunity!

And the Swisters made it into the Pacific Crest Trail Communicator, Summer 2012 issue. Check out Kolby Kirk’s article on page 18. If you look carefully at his journal extract you’ll see us there! If you don’t receive the magazine, you can see the journal extract here (3rd photo).

It’s that time of the year again…

April 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

About 20 PCT miles from the mexican border hikers are gathering. Accomplished thru-hikers, thru-hikers to be, section hikers, trail angels and PCT fans are getting together in Lake Morena this week-end for this year’s kick-off. Some 2012 thru-hikers have already tackled several miles of the PCT and will hitch a ride south to join the festivities. They’ll pick up the trail where they left it once the party is over. But most thru-hikers will make their first steps on the trail in the next few days.

It’s been one year. There is nostalgia from the memory of our time there and there is sadness at the thought that we won’t be there this year and that we won’t meet old friends. Among the people at kick-off there will be some of the friends we made on the trail. For some it’s only to attend kick-off, for others the PCT is calling again and they’re answering.

If, like them, you’re hungry for more PCT adventures this summer, you can follow their footsteps on their blogs: Scarecrow – AdventureCrow, Life As The Crow Flies – is in for a second thru-hike as is Busted Magic – Hike your own Hike. Early Girl and Waterboy – Early Girl and Waterboy’s 2012 Pacific Crest Trail Journal – are going back to complete the miles left till Canada.

You can find other journals on the  Pacific Crest Trail Association website, on Postholer and on Trail Journals.

And if you love hiking stories but would like something different, you can follow Condor – The Hike Guy.  He’s heading for another trail this June, the Sierra High Route. Check out his trail journals, he’s a wonderful artist.

A walk in the woods

April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

White blaze and AT sign

Bill Bryson could not have chosen a better title for his book about the Appalachian Trail. Nor would this title have fitted for just any trail. Because that’s exactly what the Appalachian Trail is. A walk in the woods. I had planned my hike on the AT so that the crowd of thru-hikers would still be further down south. I didn’t want to chance meeting even a single one of them and keeping on all the way to Maine. It failed, I did meet a thru-hiker but, no worries, I wasn’t tempted to follow him north. I can’t do 2000 miles of forest. But it was perfect for a relaxing and reflective 5-day hike.

As end of April draws closer, PCT nostalgia was bound to creep in. So I thought I’d take preventive measures and take a walk in the woods. It did me good. It was great to hike and be a Swister again. Although there’s no denying it’s always more fun to be The Swisters 😉 I loved being a section hiker. It took some time to stop thinking that 10 miles a day was a lame average. Anyway, as my shoulders and back reminded me gently, my body is not used to the load of the pack anymore and I’m not as fit as when we stepped off the PCT. And I soon took to the relaxed rhythm. Waking up at 7.30am, leaving camp at 9am, a 2 hour break for lunch, enjoying a book in the warmth of the sun, and rolling in camp at 5pm. Ah that’s the life! No rush, no obsession with miles.

On the 6th of April I arranged to be dropped where the AT crosses US 522 near Front Royal in Virginia and I started to hike north. Spring was in full swing, the forest green with fresh leaves and here and there blooming trees formed splashes of purple and white. Wild flowers carpeted the ground and butterflies flew around. I hadn’t been in the wild for long that 3 deer stumbled on the spot I was having lunch. That’s the good thing about hiking alone, you’re quiet and don’t scare the animals away. The downside is that the creaking squeaking branches and leaves rustling in the wind can make you quite jumpy. I was a bit nervous at the idea of camping alone but on the 1st night I met One More at the shelter. He’s hiked half the trail section by section over the last 4 years and plans to complete the whole trail some day. The following nights we both set up camp at the same spot so I never had to camp on my own, and he was of good company.

The Easter Bunny managed to find me even out there in the woods. A Butterfinger egg was waiting for me outside my tent when I woke up on Sunday morning. I don’t know who the generous hiker was but thank you, it was a great surprise and a nice touch before what awaited me on the trail. The Rollercoaster. A succession of eight hills so up and down, up and down I went. But at the end of the day I had a shower, soda and ice cream, and slept in a bed at the Bear’s Den hostel.

Elevation profile of the Rollercoaster

On the 4thday I crossed the border into West Virginia. Virginia, with about 530 miles, is the longest state on the AT. It was a milestone for One More and he was happy to eventually be done with Virginia. I couldn’t help but smile, remembering it took us 1700 miles of the PCT to be done with California. West Virginia, wild and wonderful, if what’s written on the state’s license plates can be trusted, and the shortest state on the AT with 17 miles. For the rest of the day I was humming to myself. “Country roads, take me home. To the place I belong.”

West Virginia border

That night the David Lesser shelter was a great place to sleep, except for the snoring of another hiker 😉 This shelter even has a wooden swing! The next day the return to civilization was brutal as the loud noise of the traffic on US 340 crossing the Shenandoah River tears you out of the quietness of the forest. Then I was in Harpers Ferry and that’s where I was getting off the trail. Harpers Ferry is the mental halfway point for thru-hikers and it’s also home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters. Hikers usually get their picture taken there. I had some fun time looking up through their old pictures to find the faces of some PCT fellow hikers 😉

I can’t do 2000 miles of forest but I can do a few miles. It’s only a thought for now, but I might well have completed the first section of a section thru-hike of the AT. Georgia is on my mind…

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Practical details:

Appalachian Trail – US 522-Chester Gap,VA to Harpers Ferry, WV – 53.8 miles 5 days

US 522 – Manassas Gap Shelter 10.7 miles / Manassas Gap Shelter – Rod Hollow Shelter 12.9 miles / Rod Hollow Shelter – Bear’s Den Hostel 9.9 miles / Bear’s Den Hostel – David Lesser Shelter 11.1 miles / David Lesser Shelter – Harpers Ferry 9.2 miles

MARC trains go to/from Harpers Ferry from/to Washington DC on the Brunswick line.

The Teahorse hostel is a great place to stay in Harpers Ferry. Laurel, the owner, is really nice. She makes waffles for breakfast and also offers shuttle services to/from the trail.

Four months later

February 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’s been 4 months that we stepped off the trail and have gone home. Where are we at 4 months later? How did we live the transition from the trail to “normal” life? Are we still struggling to adapt or have we slipped back smoothly into everyday life?

I expected to be a sport junkie. But surprisingly, no, I didn’t feel an irresistible urge to go running. My body didn’t crave exercise. It relished in it though. And it still does. The fast beating heart, the shallow breathing, the strain on the muscles rush the body back to the trail. The mind follows and in no time you’re in a state of bliss. Physical exercise is forever associated with happy feelings. Memories of the trail are engraved in our minds as much as in our cells.

I expected post-hiking depression. There was indeed a period of unrest. It’s never easy to have time but no money as you have no job and you’re broke, and it’s never easy to move back with your mum when you’re nearly thirty. So add the difficulties of getting back to “normal” life after a long distance hike and it can be tough. But unrest is all it ever was. There weren’t the strong and low feelings that I expected. Only the vague and uneasy feeling that something isn’t quite right in this world but you can’t put the finger on it. The sensation gradually faded. What’s left now is a profound nostalgia. We yearn for the trail. We miss our fellow hikers. Every reminder of the PCT tugs at our heart.

People along the PCT looked at us with awe and surprise. They were impressed by our hike. We felt special, we were heroes. What we were doing was extraordinary. It comes then as a bit of a shock to be just another individual among the crowd, to realize you’re running for the train to get to work just like everybody else.

Only by returning home can the traveler grasp the full measure of the mark his trip has left on him. Going home is part of the trip; the experience doesn’t end once you board the plane. Only in a familiar context did we realize that the trail has changed us in deeper and permanent ways. I discovered a whole new confidence. I read more and watch less TV. I am more active, I’ve started projects I had in mind for a while but had never done anything about until now. We have become less materialist, caring about worldly possessions only if they’re useful.

Your mind is free to roam on the trail. There is all this time, space and quiet for your mind to wander. Here the mind is overwhelmed. There are too many distractions. It is full of the uninteresting and trivial details of everyday life – bus schedules, groceries list, jobs, appointments… There is no time and space for meditation. This is what I miss the most from the trail and with what I am still struggling to find a balance.

The secret to transition easily from the trail, with as little clash as possible, is to have something to look forward to. You need something that pushes you to move on and pulls you forward. Isabelle is doing well. She has a new job, a new flat, she moved to a new town. Exciting times are ahead for her. As for me I’m still struggling. I haven’t figured out yet what the next adventure is going to be. So with nothing to look ahead, the temptation to head back to the trail next summer is huge.

We never regretted our decision of leaving the trail and we don’t think of it as a failure.  We’re proud we’ve managed to make it so far with our little experience of thru-hiking.  Hearing of many hikers who had to stop following injuries, we feel lucky. We could curse picking 2011 for our thru-hike as the crazy snow that year slowed us down but we’re happy our life circumstances made it happen that year because with its beautiful snow 2011 was definitely the year to hike the PCT.

When we reached Kennedy Meadows, we swore we would never hike those 700 miles of desert again. We didn’t understand hikers that kept coming back over and over, every summer, to the PCT, hikers that were doing their 2nd or 3rd thru-hike. When we left the trail in Washington, we said we would be back to complete the PCT but the plan was to resume where we left off, there was no way we were starting at the Mexican border again. But now it doesn’t seem so certain anymore. Talking the other day, Isabelle and I realized we both could envision starting all over again. Once a thru-hiker, always a thru-hiker. No matter we said and we still think section hikers do it the smart way. There’s something in the challenge, the grand goal and the feeling of belonging to this huge family of similarly minded hikers that makes the thru-hike experience unique and makes you long to live it again. Will we? Time will tell…