Day Zero: Auckland to Whakapapa Village

Finally we have hit the road. No matter how pre-prepared you are thugs always take longer than expected. However, practice does make perfect. It took me (meg) 20 minutes to pack my pack. Kelsey, on the other hand took about 3 hours. The process was a matter of going through all her stuff and shaking her down. I spent the evening prizing any unnecessary (and heavy) items out of her tight grasp. A few glasses of red later she had it all done and we crawled into bed. I understand Kelsey’s predicament as you’ll all now I carried way too many clothes on the PCT in fear of being cold and uncomfortable. There is, however little else more uncomfortable than the relentlessness of a heavy pack. Fingers crossed we have enough warmies and toes crossed the weather remains mild.

This morning consisted of grabbing a few last essentials such as socks and warm gloves, gas and an emergency blanket. We also shopped at Pak n Save, NZ’s version of CostCo minus the membership stuff. There’s lots of options for all the beige coloured foods that make up a hikers pantry. They do stock dehydrated peas though, and have a decent bulk section for trail mix!

We collected our relocation vehicle. She’s a beast, and super lux. We have a fridge, gas cooker, hot shower, tv and DVD player, and lots of other modcons all for $5 per day and a ferry ferry ticket between the islands. Best cheap way to travel if you’re wanting to move relatively quickly.

All this took time though and we didn’t get out of Auckland until the late afternoon. Luckily the national parks services in NZ are pretty flexible. It only took a call and we were easily able to rebook our campsites for the Tongariro Circuit. We will be doing it 2 days now instead of 3, which means 23 km days. It’s doable and a nice way to break Kelsey into hiker lyf :).

New Zealand is a lush country. There is something intriguing about the north islands greenness, and the almost tropical looking plants which I now are subject to harsh winters.

we have spent the evening in our beast, cooking salmon, eating our last vegetables, rationing food for the next few days and sorting our packs out. It’s pretty chilly outside and also raining on and off. Whakapapa Village is tiny. There’s a huge hotel, just to juxtaposition the smallness of the village and inside waiters busily waited many full tables.

The bed in the van is cosy so hopefully we get a quiet sleep without interruption or someone telling us to move along and can set off early tomorrow morning for our climb over the mountain.

Some Reflections from Quiz

Arrrrg! Returning to the city is hard, really hard. I have read about the difficult post trail adjustments but you can’t really prepare yourself when you have no idea how it’s gonna feel. Well it feels lonely, crowded and purposeless. 
It’s been nearly 2 weeks since I finished and I have been meaning to write about the experience but I have been pretty unmotivated. The shock of finishing something I have been dreaming of for over 4 years was bittersweet. I still can’t really fathom how far I walked and i am really glad we kept the blog to remind me of all the small details I have forgotten. I really needed a break mentally and physically by the end, but as soon as I spent a few days in Seattle there was nothing that I wanted more than to hop back on trial and head south. I miss the simplicity of trail life, the community and my family (Turkey D and Mushy) and sincerity of hikers, sleeping under the stars and the exercise and endorphins (I regularly perve on my leg muscles, very proud of them, but they are deflating).

The end – happysad

I tried to help myself out by going to the Olympic Peninsula and hitching/busing around the beautiful beaches and rainforest. I camped on La Push beach and went for dayhikes in the Hoh Rainforest and still did not feel satisfied. It was an exciting adventure but hiking without an end destination and getting close to the towering Olympic Mountains but never going into them bugged me and I spent most of my time them yearning to go deeper into the forest. 

2nd Beach La Push

Hoh Rainforest

I’m now in Portland and have been catching up with many PCT friends, it’s been lovely and many of them feel similarly to me. It’s getting easier, I’m starting to get this tourist business and not awkwardly make small everyday mistakes in how to order coffee or make small talk, but I’m still missing how powerful I felt while hiking. There are some nice residual trail traits that I am enjoying, like going with the flow and trusting that whatever you are doing will work out, self-confidence enabling hitching and yogi-ing rides from strangers, being able to walk all around town without breaking a sweat. One thing i am going crazy for is music, i really missed music on trial and now I find I am less picky and am very happy to listen to anything that is catchy and has good hook or beat. I’m sure my old pickiness will return but for now I’m bopping my head at every available opportunity.

Cheers civilisation

Days 150 & 151 – South Fork Agnes Creek to Bridge Creek Campground Via Stehiken – 27kms

I don’t think any of us had a very restful night at Agnes Creek. We woke weary eyed and not feeling like hiking. We walked 4 miles for breakfast down the river valley to a babbling creek. Mushy was in a bad way, feeling nauseous and had low moral. We tried to cheer him up but I think all he wants is town, warmth, a bed, some real food, which is fair after all this time. 
We walk 12 easy miles by 11:30 and wait an hour for the bus at High Bridge Ranger station. We cross the amazingly blue Stehiken River, where we can see foot long bright red salmon swimming up stream. A local tells us that Lake Chelan used to flow out to the ocean but since the ice age/glaciation the rivers in this valley have been land locked so now the lake is Washingtons largest. The fish species used to be identical to sockeye salmon but are now different due to this isolation. 

Mushy crossing a log

The shuttle takes us to the bakery where we get off and spend our time feasting on roast beef sandwiches and sweet rolls. The bakery is awesome. We then road walk 2 miles into the town of Stehiken. It’s a really interesting walk, going past beautiful lake houses and community gardens, bee hives and picnic areas. This town, even in all this smokey haze has its charms. It is completely cut off from other roads, so visitors have to come by foot or ferry. We set up camp behind the visitors centre. There are no ATMs in town so we can’t get quarters for the shower. We swim in the lake and scrounge together what we can for laundry. We meet a very lovely hiker named Catalyst from Portland. She is into biology and does tree research in old growth forests in WA. We all have a couple of beers and hit the hay. 

Red salmon swimming up the Stehiken River

A cool community garden

The next morning Mushy tells us that he is thinking of ending his hike here. The struggles he’s had with food and weight have been really difficult. We are all slightly devastated that he is leaving us but agree that health is definitely a priority. Hopefully we will still see him in Seattle after the next section. He catches the ferry across to Chelan and we wave goodbye. We love you Mushy!!! A romantic ending to such an adventure. 

Lake Chelan

Quiz and I head back to the bakery and eat clam chowder and write post cards. Everyone is talking about the Diamond Creek fire which is only 4 miles from the northern terminus of the pct and it could be closed if it moves any further west. Fingers crossed 🤞.

From the bakery we catch the shuttle back to High Bridge, the last 80 miles stand between us and Canada! It funny how everything feels monumental and fatalistic. We bump into Io (no show), Snitch and Bay Watch (aka Peter Pantless and Birdman) and Waterdog! Everything feels like it’s making a full circle! 

I paint everyone’s nails purple and we hike out 5 miles with Waterdog and chat about what life might be like after the trail is over. At the group site at Bridge Creek Campground we meet a bunch of hikers we haven’t seen since Tehachapi! Tin Man is one of them, who is estatic because he just passed a kidney stone, which must have been very painful. He said he has been peeing blood for months and this is his biggest kidney stone yet! He is a doctor so I trust that he is ok. We all have a big 15 person group hug in celebration (kidney stone in the middle). Lots of birthing kidney stone jokes were made. Such a funny evening! 

Catalyst and Turkey D

Day 124 – Highway 26 to Zigzag Creek, 23kms

To finish our quest we woke at 4.30 to make it to Timberline in time for the best breakfast ever. But after only a little sleep and a really raging thunderstorm during the night our alarms rang far to soon for my liking. The power of endless breakfast potential got us up and walking in the cold dark, thankfully the rain had abaited and the track was wide, well groomed and easy to follow in torchlight.

Foggy highway

Our path climbed steeply over a ridge, dropped to another road and then climbed steeply again all the way to the lodge. The forest and roads we passed were hidden in fog, adding to the mystery of Mt Hood above. It wasn’t till we hit sandy open meadows 2 miles from the top that we got views of the spectacular mountain. It was a steep climb and our legs were tired from yesterday, I was pushing myself and when we hit the sand I slowed down so dramatically I wondered if I would make it to the buffet in time. It was torturous but with much huffing and complaining from my legs we made it by 9.30, a whole hour of buffet-ing ahead. I could smell the bacon 10m from the front door! We also got bloody Mary’s to celebrate – 43miles in 27 hours.

Mission accomplished

What a cutie!

We hadn’t really though much past this moment and spent the next hour in a food coma stinking up the beautiful and historic lobby of Timberline lodge, charging our biz. The staff here are really friendly to PCT hikers and unexpectedly we did not feel unwelcome loitering by the power points. We eventually decided to go and have a look around, the Lodge was used for all the outside scenes in the Shining, but full of tourists (it’s a Saturday) was not creepy at all. We went outside to get more views of Mt Hood and were offered a ride on the chairlift halfway up the mountain! The guy operating it was so impressed that we had walked from Mexico, he said he was sure we could walk up no problem but he though our legs could do with a break. An unexpected bonus we both had no jumpers or hats and got freezing and burnt, but the views and the Luna landscape were excellent (still hazy though) and we spent quite a while watching skiers wiz by on the few remaining open runs.

I was pretty nerd-ily excited to be here

Speed demons, compared to hiking

The crowds were staring to get to us so we decided to hike out 3.5 miles to the first water and spend the afternoon reading and relaxing. The PCT was packed with day hikers and families out overnight and the going was slow but the scenery was awesome. The lupin and Indian paintbrush and other wild flowers were having a party with Mt Hood and steep ravines in the background. The sun was shining and unlike yesterday’s push I could take my sweet time walking.

Only a bit hazy

Getting so close

Zigzag Creek was in a steep grey sandy gully with a waterfall at one end. The floor of the gully was full of stones but we found sandy patches to pitch our tents. My book finally got good (200 pages in) and I read for ages. Mushy set up just his tent fly and opened all the doors becoming the hiking version of a Persian prince lying in the shade. We cooked dinner at 6 still not really hungry from breakfast and went to bed early. I slept long and hard and it was great.

Home sweet home, at the button of that valley

Day 117 – Dumbell Lake to 30 mile Meadow – 48 kms

Today was a good day, one filled with good cheer and triumph for Pinecone and Quiz, Mushy, Achey J and Waterdog completed their first 30 miles day. Woo hoo, and well done. 

Approaching the Three Sisters

Everyone headed out of camp at various times this morning. I left around 6 and passed the girls and mushy breakfasting around 3 miles in. We were walking through forest, much of the same stuff that’s been with us for the last while. I had organised to meet Ollie at Sisters Mirror Lake for breakfast and for 11 miles u climbed up toward the Sisters Wilderness sometimes getting glimpses of a beautiful mountain range in the distance. I met Amethyst atop the climb and we walked quickly down toward the lake and toward the swarms of mozzies waiting our arrival. As the ground became wet they attacked, all over my legs and face, my hands and in my hair. It was an onslaught. I whipped out my mozzie spray, eucalyptus and lemon oil, sprayed myself and found a breakfast spot beside the lake. Guthooks talks this lake up, but it wasn’t very interesting. Soon after Ollie arrived and we sat beside one another eating and killing mozzies. While we breakfasted the rest of the crew turned up in dribs and drabs, all overwhelmed by the mozzie infestation. I packed up and walked on, round the lake and up through forest. After 2 miles the forest opened up and the most wonderful sight laid itself out in front of me. Mountains! Snow! Open meadows! Views and scenery I had been sorely missing these last few sections. I was captivated by the scenery and walked across the plain enjoying every step. 
The miles rolled by like it was nothing. I passed a group of 5 cowboys on horseback, then they passed me and we all lunched at the same spot. It was 1.15 pm and I had walked 21 miles (34 kms). I ate my oats, drank my water and waited for Ollie. He never showed up. The cowboys left, and people passed me. Eventually after 1.5 hours I left and walked to the Obsydian Falls. Amethyst and Queso where already there, and we stripped down and stood, shrieking under the freezing water. 

Mushy and Three Fingered Jack, Mt Jefferson in the back


Everyone else arrived, apart from Ollie and had a dip. They had all decided to walk a 30 and so I joined them. The last 5 miles where some of the best on trail so far. Above the falls a lovely stream flows around the volcanic and ancient ranges, quirky pines grow out of the black stone that glistens in the sun. We gained elevation up a valley completely covered in volcanic rock. The sheer scope of how far the lava must have flowed when the volcano erupted was almost incomprehensible. For miles and miles into the horizon volcanic lava flow spewed out leaving the landscape dark, hostile and daunting. 

Trail Junction for one of the Sisters

Glassy pool in the Obsidian zone

The trail snakes it’s way up the guts of the valley and we came out into a narrow ridge line which we then decended to grab some water before the final .9 miles. They went quickly, and we walked through a meadow of wildflowers. It was magic. Snowy mountains in the back ground, wildflowers out front and 30 miles under our belt. There was still no sign of Ollie and I was slightly worried. I left him a note on the trail where we had agreed to camp and hoped he would find it before night fall. We ate dinner, and I looked out across the meadow waiting for the tell tales signs of a preying mantis walking through the field. He didn’t show up as the sky turned bright pink, and purple clouds filled the horizon. Just as I was about to turn my back on the sunset and get ready for bed I heard a Kooie. Ollie was walking across the meadow, finishing off a 36 mile day. He had taken a wrong turn, ended up on a road and followed unmaintained trails back to the PCT. No one had seen him since breakfast. I was very happy, as we all are feeling. 

Evening meadow sunset

Day 107 – Fish Lake to Christie’s Spring, 19kms

Today was ace! We did everything perfectly, timing was crucial and we nailed it. A thunder storm roll in at 3 am waking us all up with heaps of really loud thunder and lightening. Thankfully we had been warned the night before by the friendly resort staff and put the fly on our tent. The show lasted so long that I (Quiz) fell back asleep and was woken up a few times. After the last peals there was a few minutes of silence before the rain started, and it continued till 10 in the morning. Luckily for us we had decided the day before to have a half day and not leave the resort till midday. Unluckily for my washing it was sodden after I left it out to dry overnight (crisis averted, there is a dryer at the resort too).

Rainy lake views

We go to spend a luxurious morning in bed feeling cozy listening to the rain fall of the tent. I finished a book, at least my 10th for the hike and ate some chips, as I said you gotta get the deluxe when you can. Just as the rain finished up we decided to get up and move on over to the cafe for brunch. Our new pal Amethyst was already there chatting up a storm with the locals. We drank copious amounts of coffee, binged off the walls and PC/Turkey D brought some wacky green fishing buoy earring. The cafe had a pet chipmunk and if I ever move here I am getting one as a pet too as I have fallen for then cuteness anew at this resort (they are everywhere)!

Mushy is cute, and so is the tablecloth

Amethyst’s networking and lovely personality scored us a ride to the trailhead with one of the resort staff, Shawnee (thank you sooooo much). I give the resort 5 stars as the lake is pretty, PCT camping is free, the cafe is reasonably priced and the staff are really friendly and don’t treat us like delinquents (cough cough Drakesbad Ranch).

Weird fungus

We started hiking at 1pm through open pine forest full off wildflowers including a new one which I named Pom Purps, they are purple pompom shaped. After crossing a creek on a small bridge we began our climb which turned out to be bigger in our heads than in real life which is a nice change. The forest morphed into a small patch of old tall trees and absolutely no undergrowth, it was eerie, you could see for far into the distance and there was no movement.

The eerie forest

We must have hiked up that non existent mental hill like maniacs as when we stopped at 3pm for a break we had gone 7 miles! This is a new PB for me, 3.5mph. Having worked so hard we rested even harder, breaking on a ridge in the breeze for 1hr, we had great chats and the breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay. The huge volcano Mt McLoughlin peeked its snowy peak through the trees but we never got the great uninterrupted views of yesterday. The final 5 miles to camp were dominated by mosquitoes, they had been increasing in intensity throughout the day by later in the afternoon seemed to be able to latch on even when we were walking quickly.
But mosquitoes could not ruin this day because camp came equipped with a fire pit and plenty of wood. Medic, a friendly Swiss guy joined us in our mosquito free zone for dinner. Mushy lent us his Deet as we seemed to have lost ours and we comfortably stayed up till 8.30 chatting. 

This was such a cute cozy campsite

Day 106 – Klum Creek to Fish Lake – 36km

Another state another volcano. We are getting excited for the lands that lie ahead although this morning I left camp in a bit of a solitary mood. We have been hiking in time with Strawberry Pop, Queso, Splint and Amethyst. We shared last nights fire and chats and were both thinking of hiking 22 miles to Fish Lake Resort today. 
After breakfast we head out of camp. I find a ballpoint pen on the trail and am totally amused because I lost the one Quiz uses to write letters. The trail provides. The profile for today looks easy, however we are all having muscular foot pain from our 5 day break. It’s 4 miles to water where we have our first break. On the way I see a coyote. It was running down the path toward me and then we both saw each other at the same time and kinda double took and then the coyote made for the forest. I wasn’t listening to music today and hiking really quietly and saw more wildlife than previous days. 
After our break we finish the last two miles of the gradual climb. And 6 miles to lunch I was out in front and caught up to Amethyst. We chatted about the music we make and time flew till lunch time. We had mentioned going to the South Brown Mtn Shelter for lunch, 100m off trail. I ate lunch there but Mushy and Quiz never showed up. Turns out we had said meet at the water for lunch. Where I soon found the other two, lunching. 

We all agreed it was a sore foot day and hit the afternoon trail tenderly. After 5 miles the landscape had changed drastically. We had been walking in lush, thick pine forest for nearly two days and now we realised we must be walking round the side of an volcano. The landscape was portioned into meadows full of solid lava flows. The magma had flown down and frozen in the most mesmerising patterns like an ocean with waves and swells. It had it all. We all feel pretty great physically apart from our feet which are in agony. The paths through the old lava flows are rocky and full of pumice stone, which you can feel straight through to the souls of your feet. This made the last 7 miles of the day a little gruelling but full of great views of up coming volcanos and interesting rock formations. 

We made it to Highway 140 by 6:15pm. It’s two miles road walk to Fish Lake. But none of us have two miles in us. We stick our thumbs out and 5 minutes later get a ride. He said we didn’t look like regular hitch hikers. Which made sense as I was wearing real tree camo. He then professed that he loved hunting and i though maybe it was the real tree that had won him over. 

We have quick dinner at the cafe and then head over to the PCT camping spot. The crew are there from this morning and we all chat and laugh around the fire. Exhausting day!