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Steve "Stilts" Fitzgerald
Begins: Apr 21, 2008
Date: Mon, Nov 3rd, 2008
Entry Visits: 4,302
Journal Visits: 88,334
Guestbook Views: 9,741
Guestbook Entrys: 85
Gear, Food, Photos, Farewell
It's been over 2 months since the rainy day when I arrived at Monument 78. I miss hiking, although I've been out for a few day trips and a 3-day trip on the AT in Massachusetts with my wife when fall foliage was in full swing and the trail was pleasantly empty. It was great to share the trail with her and to show her a slice of what the day in the life of a thru-hiker is like.
I sorted through all 4000 of my photos and posted the "best of" here:
I still need to add the best of from my Dad's pics (especially his shot of Paul at the Pancake Challenge). I wish I had taken more photos of fellow hikers and the towns along the way. I'll be sure to remember that for my next thru-hike!
I owe the success of my hike to a lot more than just my feet. The number one reason why my trip went as smoothly as it did was the help from Paul (my brother, postholer member "p-fitz") who kept this journal up all summer, diligently adding my daily location and whatever information he could get from me during our brief phone calls with bad reception. He put together resupply boxes, sifted through mountains of PCT-L emails to distill the (very rare) useful information, and looked up bus schedules and town info without a minutes notice. He and my Dad were the most reliable and informed sources of wildfire information available this summer. Paul went through a lot to visit me in Northern California, at a time when I was burned out (no pun intended) from all the fire closures and smoke. I would love to re-hike everything from Tahoe to Ashland, and I think I could pretty easily convince Paul and my Dad to come with me - but then who would run the journal?
Below is my gear list and a very incomplete list of notes on my trail diet. I hope future hikers find it useful.
Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed the journal. Thank you for joining me on this amazing adventure. Take care and I hope to see you on the trail,
-Steve "Stilts" Fitzgerald
PCT GEAR LIST (with *my notes)
But first, I consider myself "Comfort Light" - meaning I have an inexact science for striking a balance between gear's usefulness, what it adds to my overall enjoyment of my trip, and what it weighs. I never pick gear based on ounces alone, and occasionally I cursed myself for it, but this approach gave me a much more enjoyable experience.
Tent:MSR Hubba - tent body, fly, ground cloth (MSR brand "footprint" for Hubba) in stuff sack (orange #5 Granite Gear Air Bag), stakes rubber-banded together, poles in supplied pole stuff sack.
*I loved the Hubba, although it was considerably heavier than the popular tarp tents that have become the trail standard. Most nights I set it up without the fly as a bug shelter with a view of the stars. I had a pole break, and MSR replaced the pole without blinking. I will definitely continue to use this tent.
Sleeping Bag: Marmot "Helium" 15-degree goose down mummy bag in supplied stuff sack.
*The only problem I had with the Helium was unzipping it when it was zipped all the way closed. This is a 2-handed operation in the Helium.
Sleeping Pad: Cascade Designs "Z-Lite" foam mat, trimmed to 10 sections long (started trip with Cascade designs Therm-a-Rest "Guide-Lite," swapped out at Independence / Lone Pine in early high Sierra, approx. mile 800).
*The Guide-Lite was about 1000 times more comfortable, but had to be stored inside my pack to avoid puncture or wear, took time to inflate and deflate, and weighed more than the Z-Lite. The Z-Lite was very uncomfortable for the first week or so, but as my body adjusted it became less of an issue. The Z-Lite could also be stored on the outside of my pack and therefore could be used as an accessible seat during breaks or a mat to lie on during longer breaks. Also the foam can be cut for other purposes, such as a makeshift shoe.
Hydration:Aquafina wide-mouth water bottle
MSR "Dromlite" 4-liter bladder with cap and hydration hose & bite valve. (Started with Platypus bladders, hose, bite valve, and 6-liter zip-top Platypus water bag).
*Plastic drink bottles are an inexpensive, lightweight, recyclable option for water storage. I found the Aquafina wide-mouths perfect because the adapter at the end of my water filter hose (the clean end) fit perfectly in the larger mouth. I recycled them every time I found a new wide-mouth Aquafina, but they became scarce in OR, and I found none in WA. Every Platypus bottle I brought cracked and leaked just above the base. The big zip-top Platypus resevoir refused to stay zipped closed, I lost water inside my pack a few times, and mailed it home from Kennedy Meadows. I may have been trying to extend their lives beyond their normal limit. Still, I was frustrated by the need to replace them and moved on to the MSR DromLite system. The dromlite hardly showed any wear and was a little bit heavier than the Platypus. I have 2 issues with the DromLite. First, the threads and sizes of the openings are odd sizes, so (non-MSR brand) filter connectors are not compatible. Second, the bite valve was garbage. It fell apart within the first 150 miles (less than 2 weeks), and I had to rely on the lock/unlock twist to start the flow of water, not biting. Even before it fell apart, it would drip with every few steps I took. If I were to repeat my hike, I would use Platypus bags the whole time and assign a mileage for them, have them mailed to me around that mileage, and retire the used ones before they wore out.
Filtration:Pur "Hiker" (now manufactured by Katadyn) in green #1 Granite Gear Air Bag).
*I like this unit very much. I have used it since the mid 1996, and it only started to leak (around the pump) on this trip. I have heard that the new Katadyn-branded models are less reliable, but did not experience that myself. I used a filter every 500 miles or so, but could have probably gotten by at 700 miles or so by being more selective with sources of water.
Purification:Aquamira chemical treatment.
*I used this for maybe 20 liters over the whole trail. Better than iodine, but I still prefer to filter.
Stove:MSR "Superfly" iso-propane stove in supplied stuff-sack with Bic mini-lighter (backup for built-in electric lighter).
*The Superfly is not the lightest canister stove, but I like the wide pot support and wide flame (compared to the MSR Pocket Rocket or the Snow Peak stoves). I was able to find about 50% of my canisters in Hiker Boxes, usually only half full. Because of this, I never was able to tell exactly how much fuel I was using.
*I used a pepsi-can stove for a while, see the end of the list where I discuss items lost or replaced.
Cookware: Snow Peak titanium pot (approx. 1 liter) (lid is mini-frying pan) in supplied mesh stuff sack,
with lexan spoon,
with bandana, and
with two 2-ounce Nalgene lexan bottles - filled with hot sauce and olive oil.
Food Storage:white Granite Gear #5 Air Bag for most food (dinners, next days snacks, etc.) and orange Therm-a-Rest stuff sack for bulk snacks (ziplock of peanuts or dried fruit etc.) and that day's snacks.
Bear Canister: (carried from Kennedy Meadows to South Lake Tahoe) Backpacker's Cache coin-open style.
*I guess the clear can with the screw-off lid is a better unit, but this model fit into the bottom of my pack with ease (using the sleeping bag zipper) and I was happy with it.
Pack:Osprey "Atmos 65" modified by removing hydration sleeve, sleeping bag compartment and by trimming unnecessarily long cinch-straps,
with trash compactor bag as a liner,
with closed-cell foam taped around collar-bone area for padding - 5" tall, taped with athletic tape, overlapping approximately 1/2 inch
with Sea to Summit "SN 240" pack cover, carried from Cascade Locks OR to Canada.
*I used the Atmos 50 for 500 or so miles on the AT and liked it enough to buy the 65 when I needed a little more capacity. It was a mistake. The 65 has more volume, but can't handle any more weight than the 50. This is frustrating, because the frame bends with weight and makes the wearer hunch forwards with the increased load. Very uncomfortable on the spine and restricts breathing. Aside from that, I liked the organizational scheme and vented back (which causes the poor posture with increased loads - the frame and mesh push the pack away from your body, allowing air circulation but push your center of gravity away from your back). The foam on my shoulder straps was a necessity, since I am quite bony. The pack cover worked as well as any other pack cover I guess, it kept out most of the water, but when it got really wet (bushwhacking in tall grass, extended rain) it wasn't much of a deterrent.
Trowel: orange plastic "Ezee" trowel.
*Some hikers do without a poop trowel. I don't think it is possible to dig a deep enough hole with your trekking poles or boot, and I don't think the "flip a rock, poop, flip the rock back on top of your droppings" is OK, so I carried my trowel border-to-border. I have had them break on me in the past, but this one made it all the way. They can be bought at almost any store that sells camping gear.
Toilet Paper:partial roll in ziplock bag with 1 oz. Purell hand sanitizer inside the TP's cardboard tube.
*I usually bought a fresh roll when I needed more, although if that wasn't an option (if I couldn't buy a single roll) I spooled it off of rolls in public restrooms.
Hiking Poles:Leki "Ultralite," unmodified, purchased in Yosemite Valley to replace Leki "Tour" poles (lost one pole in Kerrick Creek, left the other at Tuolumne Meadows by accident).
*Not much to say about the poles, I was satisfied with them, although I liked the durability of the heavier "Tour" version I started with (they could break branches on fallen trees and hack through overgrown trail without issue) although the Tours were heavier.
Gaiters: Mont-Bell "Stretch" size medium, purchased in Mammoth Lakes, used occasionally when wet grass and to prevent sticky seeds attaching to socks.
*These didn't like to stay over the back of my shoes. I only wore them occasionally when wetness or seedy grasses were expected.
Camera:Canon "PowerShot SD850IS" 8 megapixel digital camera,
with manufacturer's battery charger,
with 2GB SD memory card (and occasionally a spare with small plastic case),
with LowePro "Ridge 20" padded camera case,
with two miniature locking carabiners to attach case to backpack's right shoulder strap.
*Very happy with this camera, although the zoom feature broke the very first day on my trip and now requires one finger pushing it down while another finger moves the zoom lever.
Cell Phone: LG "CU 400" phone,
with iGo charger (changeable tips to charge multiple devices) - started trip with manufacturer's cahrger, changed in Quincey to iGo in order to charge both iPod Shuffle and cell phone.
*This is the phone they gave me when I signed up for my plan, I didn't buy it for weight or anything. It did fine, I had decent coverage, although people with Verizon had more reliable coverage than my AT&T plan.
Loose items in backpack lid pocket:
"Spot" GPS personal tracker, modified by leaving belt clip at home and looping cord through lanyard hole.
*This unit worked well, I sent at least one message per day (sometimes 2 or 3) and almost every one went through (maybe 7 or 8 didn't make it). It was heavy and bulky and kind of a pain to remember to send one every night, but it was worth it to keep my family updated on my location. I think this will be a nice device in a few years once the system has been streamlined and improved.
Sunglasses: "Peppers" brand with plastic frame, polarized glass lenses,
with cleaning cloth (6" by 4").
*Necessary in the snow, I especially liked the polarization (my first polarized pair).
Compass: Silva "Ranger" (mirrored compass) with looped cord through lanyard hole.
*Kind of bulky, but the mirror was useful several times for removing debris from my eyes (and when Paul needed it for his contact lenses).
Bug Spray:bottle of liquid DEET in ziplock bag.
*DEET is amazing. I tried a few alternatives, but nothing I tried compares, although I have heard of a product (used by thru-hikers Disco and Princess of Darkness) that works as well as DEET but is very hard to find.
Bug Net: Generic bug net from sporting goods store.
*Necessary at times, carried the whole way but only used a few times until Northern California. used extensively in Northern California and Oregon.
Black "Tech & Repair" Stuff Sack (Granite Gear Air Bag #1):
Fabric Repair Tape - 3" by 4" piece,
Cord - thin line, 3' long,
Bear Line - 15 to 20 feet of "P-Cord" nyline line with mini locking caribiner
(plus phone, chargers listed above).
Red "First Aid" Stuff Sack (Granite Gear Air Bag #1):
Ibuprofin tablets (Advil in a snack-sized ziplock)
Immodium anti-diarrea pills (6)
Banadryl anti-allergy pills (6) (in snack-sized ziplock with Immodium)
Calcium/magnesium/vitamin D pills in snack-sized ziplock bags with multi-vitamin pills
Safety pin, medium sized
Athletic Tape, 1" wide, 1/2 roll
Chap-Stick, 30 SPF "Ultra" medicated for lips
Chap-Stick "original" for chafing
ear plug, foam (1)
Victorinox "classic" Swiss Army knife, blue
Maps/Guidebook: PCT guidebook sections (guidebook cut apart for sections between resupply),
with Tom Harrison John Muir Trail topo maps for High Sierra (carried Lone Pine / Independence through Tuolumne Meadows),
with National Geographic Trails Illustrated Mt Raineir and North Cascades maps, carried while in those regions,
with road maps of California, Oregon, Washington, carried while in those states.
*The PCT guidebooks are awful. I like the "PCT Atlas" by Eric "The Black," available in 2009 (they were being tested in 2008) and would use it if I were to thru-hike again. I would only carry the specific park maps again if I were to hike off-PCT in Yosemite or elsewhere. The Tom Harrison maps were very useful but were unspecific in some frustrating places (for instance in areas with lots of tight switchbacks the trail was marked as a straight line).
Journal / Mail:Notebound notebook, 9" by 5" or so, replaced with 3" by 5" memo notebook when full,
with bic ballpoint pen,
with 3 or 4 stamped envelopes,
with sharpie marker for labeling mail packages.
Clothing, in Granite Gear #4 Air Bag (dark blue):
Shoes: Merrill "Moab" venitlator in desert, Moab Gore-Tex North of South Lake Tahoe,
with Superfeet insoles.
Boots: REI / Reichle full leather Gore-Tex lined boots used from Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows,
with Superfeet insoles.
Socks: 2 pair low-height (just above ankle bones) Wigwam "Coolmax" to Cascade Locks (except when using REI boots in High Sierra - used normal height Smartwool socks with those boots), used Lorpen brand for all of Washington (Wigwams were better with odor, cleaned more easily, less elastic content)(at most, I carried 5 pr (High Sierras) due to problems with wet feet).
Pants: EMS full-length (non-zipoff) nylon pants (no cargo pockets, built-in belt).
Shorts: Patagonia nylon shorts with built-in liner, modified by removing stitching that divided back pockets into useless compartments.
T-Shirt: Patagonia red Capeline t-shirt.
Long-sleeve shirt: generic polypropylene with zipper-neck from mid-chest to top of collars.
Light Fleece: Millet brand slim-fitting jacket (blue).
Rain Jacket: Patagonia "Houdini" jacket, replaced in Snoqualmie Pass with Marmot Precip, green (Patagonia not good enough to protect in heavy rain and wet bushwhacking).
Gloves: Mountain Hardwear black liner gloves.
Sun Hat: Mountain Hardwear desert-style wide brimmed sun hat.
Insulating Hat: EMS brand stretching polypro skull-cap.
Pack Towel lightweight, smallest size sold, modified by removing button and loop from corner Bandana, cut in half.
*I carried too much clothing. There is no other way to look at it. however, I like having dry socks and a non-disgusting shirt for town or camp.
Other Items Carried for brief times, swapped out, lost, etc. (my notes in parentheses):
moisturizer for feet (1-oz tube enough for a week or two),
data card reader for emailing photos (library computers are a headache to email pictures from),
iPod Shuffle with earphones and iGo charger tip (turns out I prefer listening to the environment around me),
homemade Pepsi can denatured alcohol stove with 8 oz bottle of denatured alcohol (left in Wrightwood),
Triad "Vargo" titanium alcohol stove (worthless - don't buy one. Ever.),
MSR "Titan" titanium cookpot with pot grips (left in Wrightwood accidentally, WAY better then my Snow Peak replacement),
Gerber 2" plastic handled folding knife, purchased for food, used rarely and mailed home,
NiteIze "S-Biner" for general use, gates open easily so I sent them all home (AVOID!!!),
Crampons: Grivel's lowest-end 10-point crampons, purchased in 1997 so I don't know the model name,
Ice Axe: Black Diamond Raven Pro,
REI long underwear bottoms,
Sierra Designs rain pants.
Dr. Bonner's biodegradable soap, 1oz liquid, then 1/3 bar of solid, carried in ziplock bag
I have a few dietary peculiarities, so most importantly I try to avoid soy, although it is in seemingly everything. I also am unable to moderate my intake of "bulk" foods, and find that individually wrapped items, like snack and meal replacement bars, are better suited for me. The drawbacks of these items are high cost and lots of packaging, which is both a hassle to carry when empty and is environmentally high-impact.
As for bulk foods I prefer beef jerky, peanuts or almonds, and dried fruit (no sugar added - fruit is sweet enough already, especially with how much sugar was in my other food items). Gorp, peanut butter, tortillas, and bagels are items that I couldn't properly implement into my diet. They are all high in calories, but are also heavy and bulky. I never used these items on the AT and didn't try adding them to my PCT diet until northern California, so I never quite got comfortably added them.
For breakfast, instant oatmeal became intolerable to me by the end of the AT, so I tried completing the PCT without it, and almost made it. I had oatmeal maybe 5 times on this hike, loaded with raisins and walnuts. I ate Pop-Tarts almost every day, and found that the all-natural ones from the health food store tasted WAY better than the pop-tart brand ones, although 3 packs of natural ones cost the same amount as 4 packs of pop-tart brand.
Snickers is still the king of candy bars.
Pro-Max bars are the only protein / meal replacement bars that taste good. All others taste like a block of clay. MetRX bars are gaggingly disgusting.
Clif Bars are still nasty. Odwalla bars are vastly superior (and usually soy free)
Lara Bars are the best tasting and have the best ingredient list, although they aren't filling, so I usually combined them with another food item.
For dinner, I still like Lipton or Knorr "Sides" pasta or rice bags, although there are less and less flavors that I can tolerate. I tried Mary Jane just-add-hot-water meals and (just like Backpacker's Pantry just-add-hot-water meals) they resulted in extremely unpleasant and long-lasting odor conditions. for myself and those around me. Cous-Cous is quick, easy, and filling, but is flavorless and I found myself choking it down, even with added spices or oils or dried vegetables.
Carrying out a special item for the first night back in the woods after a resupply became a fun tradition, be it a can of beer, a loaf of bread, some sandwich meat, some candy, donuts, or whatever else looked tempting at the store.
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The PCT traverses 24 national forests, 37 wilderness areas and 7 national parks. The PCT passes through 6 out of 7 of North Americas ecozones. Learn more: www.pcta.org
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