100 Days of National Parks: Day 55 – One Does Not Simply Walk into Chinook Pass, Mt. Rainier National Park

Located on the easter edge of Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington, where State Highway 410 crosses the Cascades before dropping down toward the town of Yakima, Chinook Pass is one of the major road crossings for the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington. I passed through the area in the summer of 2015 while section hiking portions of the trail through the state, amid the smoke from fires throughout the Cascade mountains that summer. As massive wildfires engulfed areas around Mt. Adams and elsewhere, thick smoke blanketed the sky throughout Washington, lending itself to amazingly apocalyptic light displays like the one above.

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One Does Not Simply Walk into Chinook Pass

Located on the easter edge of Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington, where State Highway 410 crosses the Cascades before dropping down toward the town of Yakima, Chinook Pass is one of the major road crossings for the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington.  I passed through the area in the summer of 2015 while section hiking portions of the trail through the state, amid the smoke from fires throughout the Cascade mountains that summer.  As massive wildfires engulfed areas around Mt. Adams and elsewhere, thick smoke blanketed the sky throughout Washington, lending itself to amazingly apocalyptic light displays like the one above.

Continue reading “100 Days of National Parks: Day 55 – One Does Not Simply Walk into Chinook Pass, Mt. Rainier National Park”

100 Days of National Parks: Day 11 – Parting the Veil, Sequoia National Park

Parting the Veil

Parting the Veil
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Mt. Whitney.

The tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.

In my years of hiking, I’ve always repeated the mantra, “Sometimes you beat the mountain, sometimes the mountain beats you.”  Whitney, that unassuming monolith at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the eastern edge of Sequoia National Park, is the one mountain that has truly beaten me.

In 2015, while descending the switchbacks on the western side of the mountain, after being turned back from a thunderstorm that swept in during my ascent, I picked up a stress fracture that ended my dreams of thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail that year.  It was a tough injury, more for the emotional and mental distress than for the physical hardships it caused.  I left Sequoia and the PCT that June defeated but determined to return, to beat the mountain that beat me so resoundingly.

“When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your coveted goal.” – Napoleon Hill

When most people think of Sequoia National Park, they think of the big trees, with the mountains almost an afterthought, but so much staggering beauty is out there in the backcountry of the High Sierra, waiting to be explored.  Though daunting, these mountains are some of the most dramatic, beautiful examples of wilderness we have in the U.S.  I encourage everyone to get out and explore them some time, to find their own mountain they need to beat, I know I intend to.

100/100/100: Day 7 – Three Fools Peak, North Cascades National Park

Three Fools Peak

Though technically just past the eastern boundary of North Cascades National Park, this impressive promontory is one of the last such peaks you see on the Pacific Crest Trail before making the descent to Canada from Hopkins Pass and the Devil’s Stairway. To me it is truly representative, however, of the dramatic vistas this off-the-beaten-path National Park has to offer. Only truly accessible in the summer, the mountains of the North Cascades are what I picture when I think of mountains: jagged peaks, sparkling lakes, and lush meadows abounding with wildflowers.

Following my broken leg in the Sierra section of the PCT in 2015, I spent my recovery in Washington, and attempted to get back on the trail by “flip-flopping,” tagging the Canadian border then reversing all the way back to the mountain that beat me, Mt. Whitney. I made it as far as this mountain, before the realization dawned on me that my injury was not completely healed, and I’d have to stumble back to a bail-out at Hart’s Pass some 25 miles to the south.

Three Fools Peak is my Northern Terminus, in many ways the end of the road for my thru-hiking dreams, but also the instigator for my subsequent section hiking for the following few months. I realized, after passing this mountain, that I would have neither the time, nor the physical ability, to complete my PCT adventure that summer, but that I could at the very least tag the highlights of places I’d always wanted to see, to pick up the pieces of a dream led astray. Every time I look at this picture, it reminds me that someday I’ll get beyond this point, someday I’ll make the full 2650 mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail

Three Fools Peak

Three Fools Peak
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Marking the eastern edge of North Cascades National Park, this impressive promontory is one of the last such peaks you see on the Pacific Crest Trail before making the descent to Canada from Hopkins Pass and the Devil’s Stairway.  To me it is truly representative, however, of the dramatic vistas this off-the-beaten-path National Park has to offer.  Only truly accessible in the summer, the mountains of the North Cascades are what I picture when I think of mountains: jagged peaks, sparkling lakes, and lush meadows abounding with wildflowers.

Following my broken leg in the Sierra section of the PCT in 2015, I spent my recovery in Washington, and attempted to get back on the trail by “flip-flopping,” tagging the Canadian border then reversing all the way back to the mountain that beat me, Mt. Whitney.  I made it as far as this mountain, before the realization dawned on me that my injury was not completely healed, and I’d have to stumble back to a bail-out at Hart’s Pass some 25 miles to the south.

Three Fools Peak is my Northern Terminus, in many ways the end of the road for my thru-hiking dreams, but also the instigator for my subsequent section hiking for the following few months.  I realized, after passing this mountain, that I would have neither the time, nor the physical ability, to complete my PCT adventure that summer, but that I could at the very least tag the highlights of places I’d always wanted to see, to pick up the pieces of a dream led astray.  Every time I look at this picture, it reminds me that someday I’ll get beyond this point, someday I’ll make the full 2650 mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail

Day 1

So here I am, starting out on the Pacific Crest Trail…
The last few weeks have been a blur to be honest.  Since finishing work on Jane the Virgin back in mid March, I feel like I haven’t had a moment to sit down and really think about where I’m going or what it is in actually doing on the trail.  For the last month, my life has been entirely consumed with preparations and squaring away my non-trail life; from packing everything I own into storage to arranging all my resupply plans in Washington with my family, to making sure I had every little thing I would need for the next six months.
I write this now about 4 miles from the Mexican Border, in a small cheat-grass clearing next to the trail.  Tomorrow I hike on to Lake Morena, my first of many 16 mile days ahead of me, and I find myself oddly comforted by the fact that this is now my life.  At sundown I make camp, at sunrise I wake and walk.  There’s a beautiful simplicity to the whole thing, a  welcome respite to the stress and anxiety I’ve inflicted upon myself the last few days, weeks, and even months.
When I signed the trail register in Campo, I included a quote I recently discovered on the wall of an abandoned house on the road to Julian…
“And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” – William Shakespeare
It struck me as particularly relevant to my pursuits over the next few months, and oddly perfect that I would stumble upon such a quote the day before stepping out onto the trail.  It reminds me of the reasons I set out on this journey in the first place, to hear the song of nature in the deserts and mountains and meadows from here to Canada.
 
Good night.
John

Scheduling

The first major hurdle in preparing for the Pacific Crest Trail for me has been scheduling the entire six month hike from mid April to early October, at an average of 16 miles per day.  For any who have read about the trail, or who have hiked it themselves, they know that an April start is necessary, as it provides hikers with just enough spring to avoid the heat of the desert, but a late enough arrival in Kennedy Meadows to allow me to miss the heavy snow that blankets the High Sierras in May and early June.

The October finish was likewise pretty set in stone, as the winter weather that hits the North Cascades in late October creates wildly unsafe conditions for anyone attempting a through hike.  That left me a target window between October 1st and October 15, which I determined to be the absolute latest I could feasibly complete the trail.
I set April 15th as my primary hiking date for a few reasons, but the main one, the real one, is that it is the anniversary of one of the turning points in my life, the death of my best friend, an impetus for seeking solitude in the outdoors.  Aside from that fact, April has always been an important month for me, I moved to New Zealand in April, I got my knee repaired in April, I finished my Graduate Thesis in April.  It only makes sense to tackle the biggest challenge of my life in April.
The first few times I attempted to schedule my hike, I went far too long and ended up with an arrival date well into November, a sure fire recipe for failure.  I know my limits as a hiker, and know that 16 miles is attainable (I’ve averaged as much my last three big training hikes, so set that number as a baseline for my daily average.  I cut down on rest days and scheduled heavier mileage in Oregon, where the relatively flat conditions will allow me to extend my days.
I’m confident in the schedule, and hope that I haven’t overlooked anything as I move forward preparing resupply packages and food/gear partitioning for the different legs of the trail.
Here are som highlighted dates thatbI am targeting, and places I’m excited to travel through as I make my way north:
April 15: I step foot onto the PCT
April 26: Summit Mt. San Jacinto
May 2nd: Rest day in Big Bear, CA
May 11th: Summit Mt. Baden Powell
May 16th: Vasquez Rocks
June 1st: Rest Day in Kennedy Meadows
June 6th: Summit Mt. Whitney
June 7th: Cross Forester Pass
June 14th: Evolution Basin
June 21st: My Birthday as I arrive in Yosemite
July 4th: Fourth of July in Lake Tahoe
July 23rd: Rest Day in Lassen National Park
July 28th: Burney Falls State Park
August 2nd: Castle Crags State Park
August 13th: Oregon Border
August 16th: Rest Day in Ashland, Or
August 22nd:  Rest Day at Crater Lake National Park
September 9th: Washington border/Rest Day in Portland, Or
September 17th: Goat Rocks Wilderness
September 26th:  Rest Day in Seattle, Wa
October 9th: Finish the PCT!
Obviously even the best laid plans mean nothing when the bullets start to fly, but I feel this is as solid and attainable of a schedule as I can make ahead of time.  I will post the full schedule as weeks go on, and I add all the information I’ll be researching to make each day as painless as possible.
Until, then, back to work, April 15th is getting closer every day.
John

Who I am

As I prepare for the challenge of a lifetime, both physical and mental, I find myself looking at where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going, and why I’ve chosen to hike nearly 3,000 miles for my 35th birthday.

As for many people who choose to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve held a long fascination with the outdoors, a love for being in nature developed in a childhood spent wandering the woods of Oregon and New York.  I moved around a great deal during my childhood, and often found myself drawn to the isolation of the forests around my house, climbing trees and building hidden fortresses in the undergrowth, playing make believe and making swords out of sticks to hit my friends with.
When I moved to Iowa in my teens, my passions shifted toward more creative pursuits, namely filmmaking, writing, and photography, but the two loves often found common ground, and I found myself shooting outdoors as often as possible, trying to capture the natural beauty of my environment.  When I got my first professional video camera, the first thing I did was spend three weeks shooting streams and leaves and every sunrise and sunset I could catch.
When I moved to New Zealand in April of 2005, it was my attraction to the raw beauty of its landscapes that drew me there, and I spent much of my time exploring the hills and forests surrounding Wellington, the old growth temperate rain forests and the rocky, wind-swept shorelines of the Cook Strait.  I fell in love with walking, not owning a car, or knowing how to drive on the opposite side of the road, and trekked everywhere, eating up miles as I crossed town for work or to play Ultimate Frisbee or to explore the city.  Walking became second nature to me, and I began to trust my own legs and feet more than anything else to get me from place to place.
In 2009, back in film school after a year abroad, I injured my knee playing the sport I loved, and my legs became a source of pain and an excuse not to do the things I enjoyed doing.  As my life became focused on my career and I withdrew further from my former passions, I found myself lacking something significant in my life, a reason to be excited about the coming weekend or the change of seasons.
2012 began with heartbreak for me, as two relationships I invested all of myself in fell apart in rapid succession, and my best friend in the world, the man I called brother, passed away on April 15, before I could get back to his side.
I retreated inward, fleeing from all but my dearest friendships, and ran to the places I felt safe, the places I felt inspired by again.  Despite the protestations of my still injured knee, and the financial strain my travels would cause, I spent every free moment on one trail or another.  I called it my Summer of George, and it set in motion the wheels that would drive me to the Pacific Crest Trail in the summer of 2015.
Over the subsequent years, I geared my life around shooting the outdoors, hiking each of the National Parks in the Western US, exploring wild places, and taking up distance backpacking.  I got my knee fixed and found happiness and comfort in my life through my newly recaptured love affair with the outdoors.
So here I am, a few months out from stepping onto the trail, three years to the day removed from one of the low points of my life, ready for the challenges that this undoubtedly life changing experience will hold for me.
So there it is, the brief encapsulation of the story of my life, and how it relates to the PCT and Project 2663.  Now it’s your turn.
If you’re hiking the PCT in 2015 and want to share your story as part of Project 2663, please email us at the address below:
Project2663@gmail.com
We’d love to have you on board, and I look forward to seeing all of you out here in April.