Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pacific Crest Trail, California, Oregon, and Washington

Hiker: Scott Jurek, ultrarunning champion

executive summary by darmansjah

Thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail has been a lifelong dream. The sheer beauty and variety of the great Pacific mountain ranges along with the journey of a long thru-hike traversing the U.S. north to south has been the main allure. While I have many trails on my list all over the world, exploring my own country ranks highest. In fact, I am heading off today with my wife for a weeklong section hike of the PCT! —Scott Jurek
Length: 2,650 miles

The Details: Alongside the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) anchors the trifecta of big daddy thru-hikes in the United States. Each claims a distinct history, beauty, and province over a chunk of North American geography, but the PCT may be the most grand, running across the country via the heights of the lordly Sierra and Cascade ranges.

It’s no easy accomplishment to tick off in one attempt, requiring savvy logistics and resupply (especially when it comes to long stretches sans civilization), good luck with the weather, and fleet feet. The reward is a grand tour of seven national parks and a continent’s worth of national forests, state parks, and wilderness areas. On the journey, hikers tromp through the Mojave Desert, summit 13,153-foot Forester Pass between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, stride along in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows, make their way into the volcanoes of the Cascades via Lassen Volcanic National Park, and end up in British Columbia’s E.C. Manning Provincial Park.

When to Go: Most hikers begin on the Mexican border in April and finish in October. The trick is to miss the spring snow in the Sierra and fall snow in the Cascades.

About Jurek: Scott Jurek is tough to beat. The ultrarunner has won most of the sport’s big events, including the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run (seven times in a row from 1999 to 2005), Badwater Ultramarathon (twice), the Hardrock 100-Mile Endurance Run, Spartathon, and the Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco. He once held the U.S. record for distance run in 24 hours (167.5 miles!) and held course records at Western States and Badwater. He’s also a passionate vegan, which he claims improves his performance, overall health, bank account, and sheer enjoyment of food. In the book Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), he explains his plant-based philosophy and how it has made him a running machine.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia

Hiker: Cheryl Strayed, author

executive summary by darmansjah

The Overland Track in Tasmania, Australia. It's a 40- to 50-mile-long trail (depending on where you finish) that goes through some of the wildest and most beautiful natural terrain on the planet (or so I hear). The trail is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. Plus, it's in Tasmania! I've always wanted to go there. —Cheryl Strayed

Length: 40 miles (51 miles with the hike around Lake St. Clair)

The Details: Tasmania is a living ecological laboratory. Nearly half of Australia’s southern island state is protected. It’s home to a menagerie of famed wildlife, including the wombat, platypus, and, of course, Tasmanian devil, the largest carnivorous marsupial on the planet. It’s also an incredibly diverse landscape, encompassing everything from highland mountains to eucalyptus groves to rain forest.

Though shorter than many great thru-hikes, the Overland Track packs a big punch. The trail delves straight into the biodiverse wildlands of Cradle Mountain–Lake St. Clair National Park. It starts with a gut-busting climb up into the most mountainous highlands of the island before rambling by alpine lakes and grasslands, then diving down into the rain forest.

The trail and surrounding park are carefully managed by Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, who break it down into a six-day event. Slow for some, but the agency’s plan may be the best way to savor the trail, since it includes extra-credit side trips such as a scramble up Tasmania’s highest peak, 5,305-foot Mount Ossa. And it’s easy to pack light since a hut system on the trail means you don’t need a tent. Many hikers also tack on the worthwhile hike around Lake St. Clair—Australia’s deepest lake—to end the hike instead of riding a ferry across to the finish.

When to Go: Tasmania Parks and Wildlife requires hikers to book reservations and travel north to south during the prime season of October 1 and May 31. The weather can be rough in winter but you are free to hike as you please.

About Strayed: Cheryl Strayed began as the most unlikely hiker in this group. When she first headed out to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail—as an escape from the death of her mother, divorce, and a battle with heroin—she was woefully unprepared. So much so, in fact, that she began to walk with a pack she could barely heft and boots that fit her so badly that they shredded her feet. Strayed persevered, however, and finished 1,100 miles of the PCT a toughened hiking veteran. She recorded that experience in her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012), which hit number one on the New York Times best-seller list not just for its deft and witty depiction of the rigors of a long-distance hike, but more so for the way it reveals a woman evolving, conquering her demons, and finding meaning by putting her boots to the dirt.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Yosemite Grand Traverse, California, United States

Post Peak Pass to Tuolumne Meadows

executive summary by darmansjah

Round-Trip: 60 miles, 6 to 7 days

When to Go: Reaching as high as 12,000 feet, this trans-Sierra route is open only from mid-July to mid-September.

It’s hard to say “Sierra in summer” without thinking of granite towers rising above sparkling high-country lakes into deep blue skies. This traverse is a cheat sheet of Yosemite backcountry, touching more than a few of the real high points of the Sierra in just a week, including an ascent of Half Dome via the Cable Route.

Starting on obscure trails in the Ansel Adams Wilderness with unexpected views of the Minarets and other landmark Sierra Nevada peaks, this hike soon enters Yosemite National Park to follow the unique drainage of the Merced River. The traverse then joins the iconic John Muir Trail for a spectacular finish among the spires of the Cathedral Range. An unexpected highlight is the jaunt through the extensive drainage of the Merced River, the lifeblood of Yosemite Valley, where the route traces the headwaters through waterfalls, granite basins, and channels, interspersed with sprawling, sublime sub-alpine meadows.

Insider Tip: The trailhead logistics for this trip can be challenging, so make things easy by doing this trip with Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, who pioneered the route and have mastered the journey from start to finish.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Oregon Desert Trail

Hiker: Sage Clegg, thru-hiking record holder and outdoor educator

executive summary by darmansjah

My list of top trails includes some official trails and routes, but it also includes many conceptual routes, like a loop around Montana that connects my favorite places. This summer, I will become the first person to thru-hike the brand-new, 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail (ODT). People always say deserts are wasteland, but I don't see them that way at all. Deserts are filled with creatures who have a zest for life, and I want to go spend time with them. Of course, my truly epic dream route would be to extend the ODT to meet with the Idaho Centennial Trail, to the Pacific Northwest Trail, to the Pacific Crest Trail, and walk down from the Cascades back to my door in Bend, a Pacific Northwest Dryside Loop. I don't know if I will ever turn this route into reality, but it has crept into my mind. —Sage Clegg

Length: 750 miles

The Details: The Oregon Desert Trail (ODT) was designed not so much as a thru-route but as a grand tour of the little visited but grand landscapes of Oregon’s eastern desert. At a lengthy 750 miles, the trail just scratches the surface of the largest desert in the U.S., the cold, sparsely populated sage steppes of the 190,000-square-mile Great Basin Desert that stretches into Idaho, Nevada, California, and Utah.

The ODT is the brainchild of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. Volunteers and staff from the small grassroots environmental organization made their dream of showcasing eastern Oregon’s wonders when they pieced together existing trails, jeep tracks, and overland routes through vast, dry stretches of mostly Bureau of Management lands, including numerous Wilderness Study Areas whose protection status is still up in the air.

Indeed, it is not a wasteland. The trail has a subtle beauty as it passes through endless stands of big basin and Wyoming sagebrush that provide habitat for songbirds and lekking areas for sage grouse as well as a riot of springtime wildflowers, some of them found only here.

The desert shelters rock blinds and other evidence of historic native tribes and even ancient Clovis cultures who once hunted here. It crosses the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge and winds under the looming mass of 9,733-foot-tall, 50-mile-long Steens Mountain.

But the most dramatic section may be the final miles in the Owyhee Canyonlands, a wilderness of soaring rhyolite canyon walls where the Yellowstone hot spot caldera exploded in a fury of magma 13.8 million to 12 million years ago before it slowly shifted east to its present location under the park.

It’s not an easy trail to complete, either. Despite stops in outpost towns like Fields and Rome, there are long stretches without water or the chance to resupply. Part of Clegg’s mission on the first hike of the new trail is to report on just how it works as a thru-hike and help ONDA improve it for future visitors. Though little of the desert is protected, it makes up a section of the largest roadless area in the continental United States, 1.9 million acres of untouched land spanning Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada.

When to Go: The side seasons of spring and fall. The sage steppes of the Great Basin Desert can be frigid and snowy in winter, and summer is a tough time to find water.

About Clegg: As a wildlife biologist, Sage Clegg spends a good part of the year in the field, most recently studying desert tortoises in California’s Mojave Desert. But in summer 2013 she will be exploring the cold desert of Oregon’s Great Basin.

Clegg is more than qualified for the trip—she holds the women’s speed record for completing the big three thru-hikes in the U.S. (the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Pacific Coast Trail), knocking out that triple crown of roughly 8,000 miles and a million vertical feet of elevation gain in just under 18 months. In 2011, she created her own route across California, the 1,200-mile Japhy Ryder Route from Death Valley to the Lost Coast. Her main objective on the ODT is not to beef up her hard-core hiking chops, however, but instead to draw attention to one of the last great untouched cores of wild lands in the Lower 48.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dosewallips to Lake Quinault, Olympic National Park, Washington

Hiker: Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior and former CEO of REI 

executive summary by darmansjah

I first hiked this route at age 12 with a group of children and a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Black. My husband, daughter, and I did the hike two summers ago. The trail goes between a beautiful temperate rain forest and rhododendron grove near Hood Canal at sea level, through beautiful alpine meadows to the snowfields of Anderson Pass, and into Enchanted Valley—home to black bears and elk. It continues along rushing Graves Creek, flows into the Quinault River, and then pours into Lake Quinault. Be prepared for wildlife, wildflowers, history, serenity, and a comfortable, three-day backpack—with a bear canister for food, of course! —Sally Jewell

Length: 34 miles

Details: Few spots in the Lower 48 are as wild and isolated as Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Here, the Pacific slams into North America and the unrelenting weather keeps deep, wild rain forests and glacial peaks difficult to access. But this southern traverse of Olympic National Park is well worth the effort—and the extra waterproof/breathable gear—required to get a glimpse into the heart of the place.

The Enchanted Valley is an apt spot for the Secretary of the Interior to hold dear—it’s the type of pristine wilderness the National Park Service has been tasked with preserving. But it also offers a glimpse into history in the Enchanted Valley Chalet, a lodge from the 1930s that predated the designation of the park.
The untamed elements of the Olympics will often wash out the roads that get to its trailheads, so be sure to check road (and trail) conditions before you head out. Wilderness permits are required, too.

When to Go: It can rain anytime in the Olympics, but summer can be stunning. High-pressure systems in August and September make for glorious blue-sky days.

About Jewell: While American politics seem more partisan than ever, Sally Jewell pleases both sides of the aisle. The former CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) was quietly confirmed to the post of U.S. Secretary of the Interior by an overwhelming vote of 87 to 11 in the Senate this spring. Jewell has balanced experience in the oil and banking industries alongside conservation achievements that won her the National Audubon Society's Rachel Carson Award. One thing is for certain: Jewell plays hard in the wild—she's an experienced rock climber, mountaineer, skier, and paddler; in 2011 she made a trip up Antarctica’s Vinson Massif.