Summer 2003 Trek on the Pacific Crest Trail

Thousand Mile Summer


I just returned from a “thousand mile summer” of backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail—what a delightful trek!  I traveled this summer with two IWU students, Mark Schmerse (Trailname “Smiles-a lot”) and Melissa Rudy (Nickname “Rudy” & trailname “Pike”) who made the trek even more fun. Here’s a summary:


OUR ROUTE: We started off June 23 at Manning Park in Canada and headed south in a slight drizzle (we only had 5 hours of rain in the following two months).  Crossing the US border that first day we next climbed up to the crest of the Cascades which we were to follow to their end in California two months later. I knew there would be snow, but there was a lot more snow than I had expected.  We walked on snow and ice about half the time during the first 200 miles or so before we could ship our ice axes and crampons home and get down to ordinary backpacking.  During that first few hundred miles we averaged only about 17-18 miles a day, kicking steps in the ice.  But in some ways those miles provided the highlight of our trek—certainly as far as beauty was concerned (and danger too).  The “trail” was often snow covered for a mile or more and we’d have to find our route across high passes.  I’d intended to use a GPS to find each of the many passes, but alas, in the deep gorges of the North Cascades the GPS couldn’t acquire the satellite signal so the only time it worked was when we were up on the (right or wrong) pass.  Thus we were left to old fashioned map-and-compass work.  And luckily one of the students traveling with me was an eagle scout and knew orienteering better than I.  We were never lost for more than half a day.  After that first week of negotiating the snowy passes we got to Stehekin a tiny town in Washington perched at the end of Lake Chelan and assessable to the outside world only by a 50 mile boat ride.  But they had a post office and tiny store where we re-supplied for the next 100 mile leg of the journey across even more impressive snow-covered passes to Skykomish where Burt Webb (Biology professor at IWU) joined us for the following 150 miles.  We supplied again at Snoqualmie Pass where the trail crosses Interstate I 90 then hiked on over the now-mostly melted snow to White Pass (HWY 12) to get supplies and mail at the tiny Kracker Barrel store there before making the long 150+ miles down to the Columbia River at Cascade Locks where we finished the first leg of the journey crossing the 500 mile mark.  Sharon flew out to visit for that weekend.   Oregon has easier trail so we ramped up our speed through that 500 miles averaging a marathon-a-day for weeks on end.  Rudy left us in Sisters for a wedding and grad school and Mark & I continued south to Crater Lake where we heard our Northbound friends Paul & Amanda Stonehouse (from IWU) were supplying in Ashland just 100 miles south the day—so, on a whim we hitched down to surprise them and hiked north that 100 mile section with them, celebrating with Pizza and S’mores (both uncooked) each night.  Arriving again at Crater Lake (this time Northbound) we once again hitched to Ashland and then continued our hike southbound into California and Seiad Valley where we crossed the thousand mile mark then hiked another 150 miles to Mt. Shasta, the end of the Cascade range at Castella, California.


OUR DAYS:  Some ask if I get to read or write while backpacking.  Not really. If I were camping I would—but I was hiking.  Basically I walked all day, starting about 6:30 each morning and walking until close to 9:00 PM each night… from an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunset.  We’d stop a few times to eat—once after about 6-7-8 miles, then for “lunch” in another 7-8-9 miles, then for “dinner” after another leg of about 7 miles, then we’d walk ‘till dark and go to sleep, usually sleeping under the starts.  Since we were hiking south we got to meet all the northbounders who had started the PCT in Mexico—118 of them.  There was only one Southbounder, (trailname “pancake”) headed for Mexico this year—who started in the incredible deep snows of early June.


SIGHTS.  We saw just about every kind of wildlife you can imagine from bear, rattlesnakes, and deer, to herds of a hundred or more elk at one time.  The most impressive sights were the natural creation—from Glacier peak, through Mt Rainer, Mt Adams, Mt Hood, Goat Rocks, Mt. Thielsen, Crater Lake, Marble Mountain Wilderness, Castle Crags and scores of other peaks and wilderness areas that I can run like a video through my memory. No pictures can really capture the wraparound beauty I lived in every day.


TRAIL ANGELS.  “Trail angels” are people who show up as “angels unawares” to help hikers.  I want to say thanks to all my trail angels--people who offered help—from a ride in the back of your pickup truck to re-supply, to those who left a cooler of drinks near the trail at an obscure crossing, to those who loaned us a change of clothes in town while we washed our only set of clothing, to those who bought us a meal, or met us with a large pizza, or invited us into your home or yard, or did special favors for us at your restaurant, gave us food, or helped in a dozen other ways—THANKS to all “Trail angels” on the PCT—if you are getting this letter then you are now on my “life list” of trail angels and you’ll be getting a postcard during every trek I ever take in the future too—I won’t forget your kindness.


MAIL ANGELS. “Mail angels” are people who send care packages or letters to the tiny mountain post offices—things like candy, beef jerky, nuts, or other stuff to eat and (perhaps just as important) letters with bits of news from home or clippings from newspapers or magazines to keep me up on the outside world. THANKS for being so generous—it was like Christmas at some post offices to get your package—and sometimes several “Mail Angels” sent things to a post office so the three of us shared your gifts—and thus thought of you every day on the trail as we ate your gifts!  Thanks again—you participated in this trek.  Again, if you are receiving this you are now on my “life list” of the wonderful “Mail angels” and you’ll hear from me again.


NOW, BACK TO REAL LIFE. Now we return to what we call “normal” life—as a college professor, grad school student/coach and undergrad student.  All three of us are experiencing “intercultural re-entry” as we watch people rush here and there and face far more complex decisions to make than “Shall I take 1 or 2 liters of water at this spring?”  It feels like I’ve grabbed a train passing at 50 mph and am being jerked into “real life.”  But that just reminds me how much I needed this trek—it gave me a chance to totally wind down and empty out—sort of like doing a complete mental reboot.  Now I’m refreshed and ready to wind up tight again.  Beside that, I’m in the best physical shape since I was 26 years old and did the last 1000+ mile hike with Sharon on the Appalachian Trail.  I had to go yesterday out and buy all new smaller clothes!  Thanks again for your part in this or a past hike.

Keith Drury

“Second Wind”



Mark Schmerse, Melissa Ruder, Keith Drury at Mt Hood


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