Hiking the PCT in Consecutive Pieces With Two Daughters


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Trad climber
Twain Harte, California
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 1, 2011 - 11:49pm PT
It has been suggested that a series of trip reports that I have been posting on the Pinnacles Web Forum might be of interest here. So in this thread I'm posting the latest of many trip reports I have made covering my family's adventures hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada in consecutive pieces.

Because this isn't the first of these trip reports (that report is now three years old), and because the reports are written for an audience that knows me and my girls, it is probably helpful to start with a brief introduction.

The report below (like all of them) is mostly photos.

The people involved are:
-Brad (Dad, me),
-Vicki (Wife, Mom, Heaven-Sent Angel),
-Katie (oldest daughter, now 15 years old),
-Tricia (youngest daughter, just turned 9 years old),
-Dogs Madeleine and Charlotte (yes, they're "people" too).

We started hiking the trail on April 2, 2007, the day after Tricia turned five. Knowing we couldn't do it as one "through-hike," we've been doing it in consecutive pieces, a week or so at a time. My wife doesn't wish to do the hiking and so she's been our companion and driver. Most of our hikes have been day hikes; my wife will drop us off (often hiking a ways with us first) and then pick us up at the end of the day. We usually set up one, central car-camping location for each trip. We've hiked up to 20.3 miles at a time in a single day, and for the few hikes longer than that (so far) we've backpacked (yes, even at age seven Tricia hiked 19 miles in one day and 20 in another).

This trip report covers this just-passed Memorial weekend. We backpacked three days, starting at Highway 58/Tehachapi Pass and continuing north.

Saturday, May 28:

Right after our April hikes I started to wonder about the next leg north from Highway 58. The temperatures we experienced then, combined with repeated entries in the guidebook about heat, were cause for concern.  Very sporadic water sources for the next 35 miles of trail added to the mix.  So, after that last trip, hoping for cooler weather, I suggested a three-day backpack to Jawbone Canyon Road over Memorial weekend (instead of waiting for our June trip).

It worked. To say the least we got cooler weather.

We drove to Tehachapi Saturday, intending to start hiking in the late afternoon. Our plan was to start late, leaving enough time to climb the long switchbacks from Highway 58 while avoiding the afternoon heat and direct sunshine. We stuck with "the plan" even though temperatures were predicted to be 15 to 20 degrees lower than average for Tehachapi in May.  By the way, the prediction also included the phrase “windy.”
We started hiking from the Cameron Road overpass at 3:30 in the afternoon.  The trail parallels the highway for the first mile, so, as we hiked we saw Vicki drive east on Highway 58, heading for her sister's house near L.A. for the weekend:

We hiked downwind at first, so what was blowing only felt like a strong breeze. After the first mile, the trail diverged slightly north and started uphill.  Soon the uphill got significant.  Then the switchbacks started:

After a few long switchbacks, the wind changed from a strong breeze to serious gusts. More uphill followed, which the guidebook describes as: “a long, tight series of switchbacks that on the map resemble a recorded earthquake on a seismograph.”

But these switchbacks are only tough.  So far, neither the uphill nor the heat are problems; instead it is the wind that almost stops us. The wind was significant when we started. We feel it more and more as we move up. The higher we get, the more exposed we become. Finally it's really, really blowing, even affecting our balance:

Eventually we top out on a ridge, more than halfway through our hike. Here the wind becomes outrageous, like nothing I've EVER experienced. We're getting knocked off balance and fighting to walk where the trail goes into the wind. Then Katie gets decked by the wind; literally she's knocked to the ground. She gets up and hikes on. Then Tricia gets knocked over. When they're not getting knocked over the girls are struggling to hike, being blown off the trail and fighting to make progress:

Here's Katie fighting to get back on the trail after repeatedly getting blown off balance and forced downwind:

We get some relief where the trail passes behind summits. But this also highlights the portions where we're exposed to the wind's full fury. Katie in particular is fighting; with a full-size backpack, she's as big as a sail, but weighs nothing. At one point I try to help her keep in balance by grabbing her pack. But the slight change in my balance does me in; Katie is knocked over anyway, and I go down too, right onto her. This is crazy.

After nearly a mile of literally fighting to hike we see forested parts of the ridge ahead only a few hundred more yards. Surely the trees will provide some shelter? But the wind seems to sense our hope; it increases again. I have no idea what to do. Each girl is knocked down again and then again. What can we do? I press them and encourage: the trees are ahead, keep fighting (no more pictures, the situation was getting too far out of control for them).

Finally, we reach a copse of snarled, bent junipers (bent with the wind). And there's a tent! And a hiker. And relief, a strong wind is all that makes it through a 100 foot distance of trees. It howls above us, but we can breath. The girls collapse at the base of a trunk. Our fellow PCT hiker is "blown away" too. Wow.

After regrouping we decide that ahead must be similar groups of trees. We talk with our new friend for a while, but it's getting late and we press on, more sheltered now. After another half a mile we find a similar, downwind flat spot and set up the tent. Cooking outside is out of the question, but our new, three person tent has plenty of room:

And that's it for day one. If I never, ever have to hike in wind like that again, it won't be too long.

Next up, day two and a lesson about weather reports. We all rely on them, but can we?

Sunday, May 29:

Two days before we left the predicted weather for the Tehachapi area was 0% chance of precipitation. And that was 0% for the two days before we left, all the three days we were out, and for two days afterward. Then, the (Saturday) morning we left, the prediction for Sunday was up to 20% chance of precipitation. That seemed totally reasonable and so we went for it.

After howling winds all night (thank goodness for foam earplugs), this is what we woke up to Sunday morning:

Being modern travelers, and knowing we had a near line of sight to Tehachapi (and therefore phone reception), we texted Vicki for a detailed weather report. Shortly she texted back "clearing in two hours." Cool. Onward we'll go.

The wind blew and it was cold. But there's always a silver lining. In getting ready to hike we didn't have to waste time taking off our long, Capalene underwear. Instead we just added layers:

True to the prediction, we saw the sun. For about ten minutes:

Then, more wind, and, bonus, liquid sunshine (in frozen form):

Finally, after ten miles the weather began to clear some. Not until early evening did it completely stop spitting. During one "clearer" spell we came to Golden Oak Spring, the first water in 16 miles (and the last for 18 more). Two decades ago the BLM piped the spring and placed a catch-basin (this has resulted in year-round reliable water and in massively reduced damage to the moist soils around the area - good job BLM):

After refilling our water bottles we continued. Our goal was to greatly reduce the remaining 18.2 miles from this spring to Jawbone Canyon Road (where Vicki was to pick us up). As we continued north, we entered extensive windmill farms. More critically, from the perspective of rock climbers, we passed the north side of Cache Peak which has many, many, 80 to 100 foot-high, steep cliffs (of an unknown type of rock):

As we continued we developed a goal of 6.5 more miles. This would leave us with less than 12 miles to hike the next day. And, according to the book, at 6.5 miles past Golden Oak Spring there was a cattle fence with a green gate. This landmark would tell us exactly how far along we were, a type of knowledge that helps the morale. But, as the day wore on, tired feet and legs started to demand relief. On we hiked, but no green gate. Finally, too pooped to make more effort worth it, we looked for a place to camp. But most of the trail here is on hillsides; there are no flat spots. On we continued until, finally, I noticed that the trail itself was wide and flat enough that we could pitch the tent. Enough. We stopped for the day at 16 miles from where we started (it turned out we were less than half a mile from the green gate):

In the remaining daylight we cooked and ate and rested. By now the skies were definitely clearing and the wind was down. The night was nice and restful.

Up next: A warmer day with almost enough water and lots and lots of natural beauty.

Monday, May 30:

We woke up on the third day to clear skies. As is common, the at first very strange, nearly-on-the-trail site we'd chosen for camp had become home overnight:

Our hike continued with ups and downs, although there was a little more up than down. Brush gave way to live oaks and pines:

One hot section of uphill made us realize that our water supply was a little tenuous. We had plenty for meals at camp, but by the time we started hiking we were down to two liters for three people and a dog, with 12 miles to go to the next spring and temps getting back toward normal. There was one particular tough spot, not even halfway along for the day, on a hot, exposed section that was steep (by PCT standards) uphill.

Then we turned a corner and it was almost as if day had turned to night. Within 100 yards we were in shade, black oaks and ponderosa pines and even tiny residuals of snow (we gave pinches of this to Charlotte to help with thirst).

This was a beautiful forest, and it grew in a way I hadn't seen before: the pines provided shade and the forest floor was pure, dense miner's lettuce:

We almost ran two quick miles of shady, downhill to reach a perfect lunch spot at Hamp Williams Pass (who names these things? I searched the internet for the origin of this name, but found nothing):

More ups and downs followed, including two long, hot slogs uphill, but we were closing in now:

Then, up one last up section, past another spring (Robin Bird Spring, this one piped/protected by the Forest Service) and around a corner, and there she is, Vicki, on time, waiting to pick us up. And not just her, she's shown up with cold drinks, sandwiches and donuts. These are, in part, for us. She has plenty of extras though because we expect to, and do, see many through-hikers (who were just one mile past 600 miles from the Mexican Border by this point, nearly one fourth of the way to Canada). We eventually shared with four through-hikers (including the man who we'd seen in the tent, sheltering from the wind on day one). It's fun to see eyes get really big as a fresh-food deprived hiker realizes that, yes, we did bring extra just so we could share:

After we dropped packs we walked 50 feet into the next hike (we've done this after every single hike; it insures overlap and, thereby, that we've done every single step from Mexico north):

That's it until mid June coming up. We're now 601.4 miles from the Mexican Border.

Social climber
Jun 2, 2011 - 12:03am PT
Hey Brad, great to see you guys are getting out. Liz is just outside Tehachapi on her thru-hike as I type this. I've been able to do a hundred miles or so with her so far.
I'm looking at these trips as warm-ups for my own trip.

Desolation Basin, Calif.
Jun 2, 2011 - 12:14am PT
Great report! And looks like the kids are having fun.

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
Jun 2, 2011 - 01:19am PT
Nice to see you got some more dirt beneath your feet.

It has been great following this journey.

Tricia + Katie rule, you on the other hand...:)

Thanks Brad.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jun 2, 2011 - 01:22am PT
Excellent! When you get to Manning Park, let me know and I'll meet you at Windy Joe.

A friend retired a few years ago, and decided to do the PCT S - N with his daughter. He was in his late 50s, she early 20s. Both active folk. He got to somewhere around Whitney before conking out with what turned out to be giardia, but she continued.

Jun 2, 2011 - 01:34am PT
I through-hiked the PCT in the late 80's...it was a very different experience from what it is today. Doing it with your kids is about the coolest, most formative experience I can imagine. You are a very fortunate family.

"..who names these things? I searched the internet for the origin of this name, but found nothing"

Here's a really cool book: 'Place Names of the Sierra Nevada' Not really relevant to the section you were hiking, but for Sierra-specific queries, it's a great book. It's a reference guide that will fill you in on the background of hundreds of trails, peaks, passes, etc throughout the Sierra.

Social climber
Jun 2, 2011 - 01:42am PT
Fabulous family ; you guys are truly making a great legacy for your kids.

Signed : mother of 2 ( one in university; one in the navy )

Ice climber
Happy Boulders
Jun 2, 2011 - 01:53am PT
this is a really cool tr

Trad climber
Nevada City, CA
Jun 2, 2011 - 01:55am PT
Nice! Really enjoyed your report ;-)

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jun 2, 2011 - 02:10am PT
What a refreshing Trip Report. I didn't even know there was a coastal trail. Another retirement project!

Jun 2, 2011 - 02:26am PT
Jan, check this out:



Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jun 2, 2011 - 02:37am PT
Jan, it's a crest trail, not a coastal trail. Following more or less the Pacific crest, from the US' southern to northern boundary. The height of land/watershed on the western side of the continent. A lot of it is on the east side of California, through the Sierra Nevada, then trending a bit west as it links into the mountains of central Oregon and west central Washington, some the latter of which might be thought of as coast ranges.

There are three such trails in the US, anyway, the Pacific Crest, one on the continental divide, and the Appalachian Trail. Probably lots on the web about all of them. In Canada, our trails go east to west, due to geography. If you go north, you hit rough country pretty quickly. (If you travel NNW from Vancouver, you cross five or six regularly travelled roads before hitting the Arctic Ocean.) So we have a Centennial Trail, which was intended as a cross-Canada hiking trail from 1967. It was never really finished. Plus a "Trans-Canada Trail" started in 1992, also never really finished, but more of a road than a trail.

It would be geographically possible to have a trail that followed the coastal mountains and hills from California to Washington, ending in the Olympics.

The original trans-Canada trail was and is of course the canoe routes starting at Montreal, and eventually (1792) used by Alexander Mackenzie to reach the Pacific - the first European crossing north of Mexico. Not counting Samuel Hearne's journey to the Arctic Ocean some time earlier.

Trad climber
Jun 2, 2011 - 02:58am PT
Brad -
Thanks for sharing. Looks like you and your daughters having a memorably excellent and very special family adventure!

Am looking forward to more pics and your story on the next leg of your hike.


Trad climber
Twain Harte, California
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 2, 2011 - 09:57am PT
It's been a lot of fun, this craziness we've been doing. I've been climbing for nearly 30 years (you know, big and tough and all) and am almost embarrassed how much absolute, total fun I'm having "just hiking" (almost embarrassed isn't actually embarrassed though).

And the girls are having fun too, although I'm not sure they are ready to run out right now for more. On the other hand you should hear how they talk with their friends about it (when they do). Katie has a boy she talks to a lot. He's a junior (a year farther along than she is). He's commented to her about hiking harder than she can. With total conviction she tells us that she will take him hiking this summer, and that that will be the last time we hear about him out-hiking her.

Nolan, we are going back the week of June 11th. We'll start at Jawbone Canyon Road and work our way to Kennedy Meadows store. It would be wonderful to run into Liz, or to you and Liz (on the trail, or in camp). Can you find out about where she'll be then?

Apogee, I've got the Place Names of the Sierra Nevada book and I love it. I wish there was a similar book for other mountain ranges. So many place names must have fascinating stories behind them.

Another feature that's stuck out is a ridge near the trail in San Diego County: "Bucksnort Mountain." I mean really, who does name these things?

Tami, you're famous and I can't believe you're commenting here ( :) ). Are your two both girls or are they threats (er, I mean, uh, boys)?

Although I didn't do trip reports for our first three times out, there are ten more trip reports on the Mudn'Crud site (for anyone who's got the time). Each is mostly photos with a little commentary. All contain the phrase "PCT" in them and, so, are obvious. Here's a link to the correct part of that site:


Todd Gordon

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, Cal
Jun 2, 2011 - 10:22am PT
super cool, Brad and girls;.....crush it....(Seeing all those pics of hiking makes me hungry;...I need a cheeseburger...). I would love to do some backpacking with my kids soon;...they are still too young.....600 miles and heading north......good for you guys!

Trad climber
Mountain View
Jun 2, 2011 - 11:18am PT
Love these Brad and thanks for cross posting.
seth kovar

Reno, NV
Jun 2, 2011 - 11:24am PT
Really Cool!!!!!!!!

Thanks for posting up...

Trad climber
Twain Harte, California
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 2, 2011 - 11:57am PT
Todd, you might be surprised at what your boys could do backpacking.

To start with, each of your boys has more energy now than you'll ever have on any day of your life. You know this.

Getting kids hiking isn't about energy, it's about focus. With my Tricia I started with a very focused little girl. She's also been very determined to keep up with her sister, who's 6 years older than she is. So she's been a natural. Two days after she turned 5 she did an 11 mile hike (that was an exception then, every hike shouldn't push the limits; in fact most shouldn't push them).

To get them focused, try a short overnighter (two to three miles in and then out the next day). Go somewhere they'll be excited about (water! kids love water, find a lake to backpack into). Make it a goal and find interesting things to keep them going ("look, way up there on the trail, that rock looks like an elephant"). Get your older son to help lead. Once you get where you're going let them go wild; they've done the "work" for the day.

You'll go crazy with the planning and the logistics, but tough crap for you. You'll look back on it fondly and the boys will be that much more ready for another trip.

BTW, I just finished a cheeseburger for breakfast.

Jun 2, 2011 - 12:08pm PT
^^^ +1 ^^^

Good advice.
scuffy b

dissected alluvial deposits, late Pleistocene
Jun 2, 2011 - 12:42pm PT
A great report, Brad, and obviously great planning
and execution.
Thanks for sharing over here.
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