Backpacking Skills – Preparing Your Resupply Boxes

As a methodical person, always looking for ways to be more efficient, I’ve found the below steps help me hike more and toil in prep-land less.

1. Resupply Locations

Determine the recommended places to send your packages. Verify addresses and shipping method, this is not a time you want your package returned for bad address. Consider reasons you may use one location over another. For example, the post office may have limited hours, the resort may charge a fee, one location requires a long hitch, the other a short walk. If shipping through USPS, priority mail flat rate boxes usually are the most economical, plus they can be tracked; regional flat rates are even better.

2. Days between Locations

This is a learning process and invariably includes a bit of guess work. It’s the most stressful part for me as I don’t want to end up with not enough or too much food.

My current method is to determine mileage between locations and divide that by a conservative daily hiking rate and again by a goal rate. I then average those rates to determine number of days for that resupply.

Example: A 100 mile section at 12 miles per day would take 8.3 days, and at 15 miles per day 6.7 days, or an average of 7.5 days.

For this example, I’d probably carry 7 days of food, plus throw in an extra breakfast. You’ll often have an opportunity to buy additional food at the resupply location and dig through a hiker’s box if you find you’ve been extra hungry or are anticipating challenging terrain that’ll slow you down.

I use a simple spreadsheet to help with this task (and update it along the way as part of the learning process).

3. Prepping Food Bags

  • Gather and organize food, repackage when appropriate
  • Create a spreadsheet to manage calories, nutrition, weight and categories of food
  • Number inexpensive one gallon clear plastic bags (one for each day on trail)
  • Fill bags on a rotational system
    • Breakfasts – I usually have two options
    • Dinners – I have about a dozen options
    • Snacks – I divide these into salty, sweet, bars, bites, etc. then rotate among them
  • My bags are prepped for about 2,000 calories and weigh about 1 pound per day. (I’ll detail in a future post.)

4. Prepping Miscellaneous Bag

  • Gather and organize toiletries, etc. It helps to have a checklist. (I’ll detail in a future post.)
  • Town chore items – I include about 1/2 cup of powdered unscented OxiClean to presoak my socks and use as laundry soap. I also include either a denture tablets to sterilize my water containers, drinking tube, filter, toothbrush, spoon, etc.
  • Town luxuries – consider sending yourself shampoo, conditioner, lotion, q-tips, etc. especially if you have perfume or skin sensitivities.
  • Town food prep – include a few various size plastic bags to repackage town food or replace worn bags in pack. I also have the gallon size bags I packed my food in that can be used for other purposes or donated to the hiker box if not needed.

5. Prepping Map Bag

  • Take photos of critical information in case your box is lost (i.e. water waypoints, town guides)
  • Place maps for the next section in a gallon size bag. Consider including a replacement pen at least monthly (I use a Sharpie extra fine point to guard against water smears which inevitably happen).

6. Other Stuff

  • Will you need different gear for the next section such as microspikes, mosquito repellent? headnet?
  • Will be sending stuff home, include your pre-addressed label. Consider including a self-addressed stamped envelope for sending maps or notes home.

7. Prepping the Box

  • External Label include your real name, what trail you’re hiking and your ETA date (you can use range)
  • Internal Label – same as exterior
  • Other ID – write your name on the sides of your boxes
  • Special ID – use colorful tape or stickers or writing to make your box immediately identifiable



  • Document what worked and didn’t so you can make adjustments when prepping for your next trip.
  • Save your lists to Google Docs (or something similar) and make them available to your phone offline so you can update and make notes while on trail (i.e. didn’t like, it didn’t rehydrate well, it didn’t hold up well).
  • USPS regional flat rate is an option ONLY if
    • the address you are sending TO is in the same zone as the one you are sending FROM (zone/zip map)
    • you preorder boxes (Regional Box B1 works for my resupplies)
    • you purchase the labels via the USPS mail and ship option
      • Use Internet Explorer (Chrome doesn’t work)
      • Under package details, enter an estimated weight (Box B can be used up to 20lbs). DO NOT USE SELECT THE FLAT RATE Option (I know doesn’t make sense).usps1
      • Package value – enter $50 as included in the price
      • Type of service – select Priority Mail Regional Box B (if the options don’t populate, scroll to the top to find a red message)usps2

Do you have other tips?

Link to my other posts on Hiking and Backpacking Skills

PCT Section P – Cement Bluff, Bluff Lake, Calling my Bluff?

Feeling a bit down spirited as I turned tail to retreat off The Eddy’s, my friend Dorinda and I decided to reconnoiter the north side of The Eddy’s and preview snow status for a few miles north of Park Creek Pass (Mile #1537.2).

Our destination is at the left edge of this ridge, about a 9 mile round trip hike. I’ve been to Park Creeks Trailhead numerous times but have always elected to head south toward Mount Eddy and Deadfall Lakes. I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore the northern section. Things happen for a reason, right?

The trail was soft, smooth and level leading to this beautiful meadow with a few lovely water sources.

Finding High Camp Creek and an old trail to High Camp Pass will provide motivation for a return visit on a day when visibility is better.

The nearby mountains were frosted and frozen, and remained so during our entire hike. Just another reminder that spring storms can be brutal and I made a good decision to get off the slopes the previous day.

The geology in this area is completely different than that in the Deadfall Lakes basin.

First close up glance of Cement Bluff in the distance.

Bluff Lake sitting pretty below Cement Bluff

I loved the colors in this monolith, chocolate brown and bright blue. The shape sort of looked like a whale jumping out of the mountain.

Once on the bluff it was easy to see why it was named Cement. There was absolutely no sign of erosion nor rock slides. This composite rock is cemented in place. There were a couple of campsites, definitely not tent stake friendly, and no loose rock to use in place of those stakes.

Looking to the southeast at The Eddy’s and the area where I was turned around the previous day. It’s not quite visible from this angle, but along the ridge to the left hidden behind Mount Eddy.

Mount Eddy gave us a few moments of viewing before once again finding solace in the clouds.

I believe this ridge showcasing Cement Bluff is part of the Scott Mountains.

It’s worth taking a minute to climb a small ridge for this view of Mt Shasta and the town of Weed. Mt Shasta has remained mostly elusive during my entire hike through Section P, forcing me to focus on the many other beauties in the area.

It’s obvious that our wheeled friends don’t agree with PCT policies.

Trail magic is usually defined as happening upon someone who might share a drink, a treat or a ride. On this day, as we returned to the trailhead, we met a thru hiker who followed my footsteps to the cornice hanging over the Deadfall Lakes basin (link to my post). He didn’t like the steep slope containing the trail either so elected to go over and slide down the cornice. He was happy to have survived, but wouldn’t do it again nor recommend it to others. As expected there were more steep north facing slopes to traverse. He was shaken enough to skip the potentially snowy section between Highway 3 and Sawyers Bar Road. The good news is that now he’s ahead of me and I’ll get intel regarding the down trees from last summer’s fires and the winter. Furthermore, he’ll experience the crossing of Grider Creek minus the bridges and I’ll be happy to use that information to make decisions as to whether I want to proceed. Thanks Ugliest Cheerleader!

Jan’s Tips:

  • If you’re up for a bit more hiking, you’ll find Bull Lake in a couple more miles.
  • This area is loosely considered part of the Klamath Mountains, Mount Eddy range, and Shasta-Trinity Divide Mountains. For purposes of this blog, I’ve categorized the various mountain ranges that parallel Interstate-5’s western side from Castella to Gazelle, as the Trinity Divide Mountains.
  • Reference my Trinity Divide Trails Link Page for maps, books, online resources, etc.
  • For day and multi-day access points along the PCT, I recommend the book, “Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail – California” by George and Patricia Semb.
  • Information about the PCT can be found on my PCT Love page.
  • Additional blog postings about related hikes I’ve taken can be found in my Hikes in the Trinity Divide Mountains category, Hikes near Mt Shasta category, and PCT Hikes category.

PCT – CA Section P . . . as in Persistently Practicing Patience (Part 1)

Dates Hiked: May 10-12, 2015 (Part 1) . . . to be continued
Direction: Northbound
Section P: Castella to Etna
-Miles: 98.5 (Halfmile 1498.7-1597.2)
-Elevation: Low Point 2,157′, High Point 7,769′, Gain 17,594′, Loss 13,770′

Initially I called this post “Putting together the Pieces” as I’ve hiked many pieces of Section P, but never the entire stretch, so it felt a bit like the coming together of a puzzle.

When I finished Section O in Castella, my friend Kim hosted me for a little respite between sections, then accompanied me for the first few miles of Section P. THANK YOU for being such a fantastic Trail Angel!

Section P starts in Castle Crags State Park (camping restrictions apply).

The Park has a designated non-paved trail for the wheelchair bound. It shares the PCT for a few feet. Cool sign!

Too soon it was time to get on up the hill, carrying 7+ days of grub and a couple liters of water, sure feels different than day hiking. (Photo Credit: Kim)

Within a few miles, the PCT exits the Castle Crags State Park and enters the Castle Crags Wilderness area. Camping requires a wilderness permit unless you have a PCT permit.

I don’t think I’ve ever hiked this stretch of trail. I’ve taken the PCT from the Soda Springs Road at Interstate 5 to the Crags Trail, and from Dog Trail to the PCT to Burstarse Falls and beyond. I found the Winton Canyon Creek bridge beautiful with it’s side-cut stacked wood architecture. Water was plentiful among the many creeks and streams; however, in tune with the drought, there were just as many already dry.

Creative names, eh? I believe Ugly Creek is on this stretch also, but I seem to have missed capturing the sign.

The first glimpse of granite, just a tease of what’s to come.

Burstarse Falls is quite worthy as a destination or distraction. I did neither on this trip, but here’s a photo from one of my previous visits as a teaser to consider a detour.

It was humid, overgrown and heavy with gnats and black flies as I climbed out of the canyon. During the night there was light rain. Morning brought mist and low clouds, magical skies, and a little concern as to whether I’d made the right decision to head out knowing the forecasts called for unsettled weather all week. I had no interest in retracing my steps through that overgrown bug infested section, so onward I went. I loved feeling one with the weather. Walking into and through the clouds, watching the sun come and go, so many shadows and temperature changes.

Many days and miles have been spent over the ridge at Castle and Heart Lakes, along Bradley Ridge and another that looks down upon the PCT.

I saw the first patch of snow about 6,500′ mile 1519. Another piece of the puzzle was seeing the Soapstone Trail junction, where I’d hiked up to explore Castle Crags from a new perspective.

Grey Rocks versus nearby Gray Rocks

Grey Rocks and Seven Lakes Basin.  I’ve been told this is Boulder Peak and Echo Lake.

A George Washington $1 coin so perfectly placed on the trail in this perfectly sized hole. How long has it been here? Is it a geocache? Should I take it? or leave it?

This section of trail may have been my first steps on the PCT. In 2008, I’d joined a local hiking group, and one of my first hikes with them was to Seven Lakes Basin on the PCT. And, so my journey began . . .

Looking west into the Mumbo Basin and at Mumbo and Upper Mumbo Lake (sure wonder why such a name, except there is a big mumbled jumbled mess of rocks nearby). I believe this is the official beginning of the Trinity Divide, the division between the Trinity and Sacramento River flows, between Siskiyou and Trinity Counties.

In the distance my heart beats a little faster seeing my beloved Trinity Alps mountains, where I’ve spent more miles backpacking than anywhere else.

This photo was taken about 3:30pm, just before the thunder and lightning started, followed soon after by rain, sleet and hail. I tried unsuccessfully to capture a photo of me hiding out under my umbrella sheltered by some trees while waiting out the worst of the storm. The temperature dropped quickly, the wind was intent on counteracting the benefits of the umbrella by trying to pummel me with the hail. Funny thing is that last time I was at this location (July 2013) I was providing trail magic when a hail storm arrived. Around 5pm the precip slowed do a light drizzle so I quickly set up my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag to prevent hypothermia. By 8pm the temperature was 36, dropping further to at least 32 during the night.

It had snowed lightly during the night. I was at about 6,600′. The skies had cleared and it looked to be a beautiful day. I had a friend meeting me the next day, so I wasn’t too concerned about the continued forecast of intermittent weather; however, I knew I would need to find a spot to dry out my gear.

Just a little frost as I started my hike around 8am.

And a little snow (about 6,900′)

Big Yogi breaking trail for me (one of my bear hunting friends said that’d be a 500+ pound bear).

Yogi’s girlfriend?

A little ice

Finding Porcupine Lake could be a little daunting when the trail is lumpy and bumpy with snow. Good thing I’ve been here multiple times.

Beautiful Porcupine Lake at about 7,200’! (about to be overrun this summer by several large REI led backpacking trips – part of the WILD effect)

Back on the PCT, there were several areas between Porcupine and Toad lakes where the trail had been lost under a slope of snow. This is when previous snow hiking experience comes in handy, knowing how and when to traverse, how to kick snow steps, etc. Most importantly how to use your maps and technology as losing the trail can happen quite quickly.

Toad Lake (about 7,300′) and The Eddy range where I’ll be traversing to the far end before finding the passage down into the Deadfall Lakes basin.

Looking down at Toad Lake and the pyramid-shaped backwall to Porcupine Lake.

The snow gradually grew in depth to 4-6″ as I climbed toward the pass over the Eddy’s at about 7,700′.

Ah there’s Mount Eddy (by the way that where my blog cover photo was taken with Mt Shasta behind me) . . . but what’s this wall that lays between me and it?

Look to the right . . . Hi Mt Shasta and big red rocks . . . I’ve been here before, I know the trail is to the left and there’s a big drop off in front down to the Deadfall basin . . the wind’s blowing, it’s cold . . .

Look to the left . . . that’s where the trail lies, near the base of the steep slope . . .

I know, I know . . . I don’t want to see that avalanche fracture . . . I know there’s a hard snow base topped with a nice fresh coat of 4-8″ . . . I know a perfect storm . . I know I’M NOT GOING THAT WAY!!!

But just beyond . . the trail is clear and it looks so inviting . . .

Reassess options to the right, NO!

Reassess the fracture . . NO!

It’s not worth risking my life . . . I can hike back 8 miles to the trailhead . . . I have cell signal . . . I can call for a ride . . . It’s time to retreat Jan . . . It’s TIME! What would you do?

Flowers? did I forget flowers? NEVER, if I can help it.

I’d arranged for one of my friends to retrieve me from the trailhead in a couple of hours. As I approached the parking area, I smiled as I saw a car and wondered if I could save my friend some time. As I sat in the sun sending out my InReach checkin, I heard voices coming down the trail . . . sure enough it’s a nice couple who just completed their hike to Seven Lakes Basin and were more than happy to give me a ride down the hill to Mt Shasta. Trail Magic is real. This is a reminder to provide it when you have the opportunity and receive it thankfully when it’s provided.

And so the story continues, including meeting a hiker who followed my footsteps . . . (link to post)

Related Posts:

Jan’s Tips:

  • Permits are not required to backpack within Section P (exceptions Castle Crags State Park and Castle Crags Wilderness).
  • Bear canisters are not required. It is recommended that you hang your food. I use an Ursack and Opsak.
  • Cell signal and internet service are limited.
  • Spring trips mean unreliable weather forecasts and unpredictable weather. I had rain one night, sleet and hail another.
  • PCT resources
  • Sections of Section P (reference Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail by George & Patricia Semb)
    • I5/Soda Springs to Dog Trail (7.9 miles)
    • Dog Trail to Gumboot Trailhead (18.2 miles)
    • Gumboot Trailhead to Parks Creek Road Trailhead (14.3 miles)
    • Parks Creek Road Trailhead to Fen Trailhead (12 miles)
    • Fen Trailhead to Highway 3 (10.9 miles)
    • Highway 3 to Carter Summit Trailhead (19.9 miles)
    • Carter Summit Trailhead to Etna Summit (20.2 miles)

PCT – CA Section O . . . as in Off-Season Obstacle Course

Dates Hiked: May 4-8, 2015
Direction: Northbound
Section O: Burney Falls to Castella
-Miles: 82.2 (Halfmile 1416.5-1498.7)
-Elevation: Low Point 2,077′, High Point 6,118′, Gain 17,969′, Loss 18,764′

Section O is one hikers love to hate. Thru hikers are in this area in the heat of the summer, usually late June or early July. It has a reputation of being hellish hot, dusty and laden with poison oak.

How did my experience differ in May?

Logistics for a section hiker can be a challenge. My friend Kit drove me the hour plus to the trailhead. She and her pooch, Kallie, joined me for a few miles. What a great send off!

Even in May the trail can be dry and dusty. Temperatures this week ranged between the low 40’s and low 80’s.

It’s much more likely you’ll find green meadows.

Rattlesnakes are out and about just like in the summer. Thankfully this one had a loud persistent rattle and gave me plenty of room to pass (near mile 1419). Do you know what to do if you were bitten? Answer

The Pit River provides a welcome respite on summer days; Lake Britton is not a good drinking water option.

One of the best reasons to visit this area in the spring is the wildflowers. There were plenty of bees busy doing their job pollinating all the beauty, only a couple areas with gnats and no mosquitoes to speak of.

California ground-cone (boschniakia strobilacea); first yellow one I’ve seen.

Wonder what surprises this curly leafed plant will provide. Anyone know?

I’ve recently come to learn about Galls. Love finding these beauties now. Feels like I’m on a treasure hunt.

It’s more likely you’ll find overgrown trails in the early season. Thankfully, poison oak prefers to explode during the heat of the summer.

The wind turbines on Hatchet Mountain are visible early in the season when fires, smoke and haze are less likely.

I’m keen to know why Ah-Di-Na is on the signs since it’s not on the trail nor on any of the Halfmile maps.

I did not see evidence of any wheeled or motorized vehicles on Section O.

I was surprised to find hoodoos in this area.

Clear views of Mt Shasta are much more likely, as well as the premier view campsites.

Trail erosion can be expected. For those uncomfortable with narrow ledges and unstable footing, it’s probably not the best time of year to use the trail.

Winter storms can create messy forests.

Some of the tree obstacles can be quite a challenge getting around, over or through.

When there is no way around, you have to pick your way over.

After conquering 20-25 of these beasts, it’s hard not to appreciate the trail maintenance crews.

THANK YOU Backcountry Horsemen for clearing the trees from the trail. As of early May, the trail had been cleared of trees from Ash Camp to Castella.

It was a pleasure to meet and thank the USFS crew who was just getting started on Section O.

The dark smudge on Mt Shasta is not a cloud shadow, but instead is Mud Creek Canyon. In 2014, there was some movement of the Mud Glacier which caused a huge release of mud. Video1 Video2

I believe this is Mushroom Rock (I forgot to watch my map).

Looking back toward Mushroom Rock.

One thing I love about the PCT is how it traverses hillsides and you can frequently see the trail far off into the distance.

Heading toward Ash Camp had me thinking about a possible garbage can and bathrooms.

Natural easily accessible water sources make me happy

Signage makes life even better

When I saw the water from recent rains in this stump I couldn’t help but think of my time on the Arizona Trail.

At Ash Camp I got the best surprise of all. TRAIL MAGIC!!! Warm apple coffee cake made in a Dutch Oven by three fishermen campers. My tummy and spirit were happy for miles.

The McCloud River is stunning! It’s probably my all time favorite river and had it not been freezing cold and before 9am, I’d have jumped in for a little bath.

Seems like an oxymoron to see an Interstate listed on a trail sign.

The dogwoods were taking over the trail, but very soft obstacles and much appreciated in comparison to trees or prickly bushes.

I dare say more bears per mile are seen in Section O then almost anywhere along the PCT except Yosemite. I was lucky enough to see a big beautiful cinnamon colored bear running down the hill away from me. I heard another crashing through the thickets down into a heavily vegetated canyon. There was LOTS of scat, especially near water sources. You might keep than in mind when selecting your campsite.

I’ve hiked many times along Squaw Valley Creek so seeing this bridge was like a homecoming.

Squaw Valley Creek is another beauty and a perfect place to cool off on a hot day. Tip go past these rocks to find 3-4 access trails.

Girard Ridge was a highlight of this section for me. Seeing some of my favorite sites from this perspective was a gift. Starting on the far left and continuing to the right is face of Castle Crags, Mount Eddy Range, Black Butte and Mt Shasta.

The trail heading down to Castella from Girard Ridge was through dense forest punctuated with multiple water sources. It was surreal to hear the traffic on the interstate and railroad tracks as I approached civilization.

Even in May, it was a hot 2.5 mile pavement walk to the Castella market. I was happy to have my umbrella but would have been thrilled to have been offered a ride. There is very little at the market as far as resupply, so a ride to Mt Shasta is your best bet. As a local, I recommend either hitching from the Soda Springs onramp or from the Castella store. I routinely stop both places on my way north on I-5. When hitching back from Mount Shasta, be sure to have a sign indicating you’re a hiker or use your PCT Class bandanna.

This was the only campsite I used near water (although very inaccessible).

In the morning I found one side of my cork handle GONE! It was the side lying in the dirt (in place of tent stakes). There was no evidence of any critters nor cork. I suspect carpenter ants? My solution was using my glove as a cover when I wasn’t already wearing it. Multiple uses for each item is a mandate right? I contacted Black Diamond and sadly they don’t repair their handles although they did offer me a 40% discount on a replacement pair of poles. I’ve always protected my poles from deer, but this was a first. I’ve had them about 5 years without incident.

I began Section O with new Altra Lone Peaks which felt so cushy after my last pair was worn thin from the Arizona Trail. The right shoe seems to be slightly tighter in the toe box and I got a blister on the inside of my big toe although I was wearing toe socks and everything was exactly the same as on the Arizona Trail, which was blister free. With 6+ days of food and about 2 liters of water, my pack was heavier than I’d have liked. I finished the section in 5 days which meant I was carrying at least 1-3 pounds extra in food.

The Dunsmuir Brewery is an excellent place to celebrate completion of the section, that is if you can arrange transportation.

Related Posts:

Jan’s Tips:

Hiking Skills – Is this trail or trip for me? Can I be successful? Will I be the weak link?

How many times have you wondered if you can do a hike based on the description? Many subjective terms are used to describe a hike such as easy, moderate, challenging or difficult. How helpful is it to know the elevation change or beginning and ending elevations?

Would you say YES or NO to this hike?

  • Rating:   Easy, Family Friendly
  • Beginning Elevation:  2,300′
  • Ending Elevation:       2,650′
  • Elevation Change:        350′

Here’s the actual hiking profile, and while it matches the statistical description would your answer be the same?

The below photo details my experience and how all these rolling hills add up to a lot of elevation gain and loss. Spreading nearly 5,000′ of climbing over 15 miles and 7.5 hours is much different than ascending 1,000′ in a mile, especially when it’s on snowy terrain unsuitable for snowshoes or microspikes.

These were both challenging hikes for me, the first for length and cumulative elevation changes, the second for trail conditions and steep ascension. Does this make you think differently about a 3.5 mile hike?

Most hikers are not hiking for competition or necessarily to improve performance like other athletes who meticulously record miles per hour, personal bests, split times, or reps per mile. But in reality, maintaining a log would help us better gauge our abilities and trail suitability.

Below are a few factors you might want to include in your log and/or thought process as you access your condition, abilities and the trail or trip you’re considering.

Factor 1: Hiking Pace

  • What is your average hiking pace?
    • Calculation: mileage hiked divided by time hiked equals pace
    • Example: 4 miles hiked over 2 hours = 2 mph pace
  • How is your pace affected by other conditions?

Factor 2: Elevation Changes

  • Do you need extra time to climb or descend hills?
  • Will there be short or long climbs?
  • Will you be hiking at altitude?

Factor 3: Terrain and Conditions

  • Do you anticipate steep grade?
  • Will there be scrambling or off-trail hiking?
  • Is the tread smooth or rocky?
  • Do you anticipate obstacles on trail such as down trees?
  • Will you need extra time for navigation?
  • How about snow or ice on sections of the trail?
  • Will you be hiking at altitude?
  • How is your pace in extreme temperatures?

Factor 3: Break Time 

  • What is the frequency of your breaks?
  • How long are your breaks?

Factor 4: Lollygagging Time

  • Do you stop frequently to enjoy views?
  • Are you a photographer?
  • Will a swimming hole tempt you?

Factor 5: Pack Weight

  • Will you be carrying a daypack? or multi-day pack?
  • Will this hike require that you carry more water than you’d normally carry?
  • Will you be carrying other items such as bear canister, ice axe or snowshoes?

Factor 6: Length of Hike

  • Will the mileage be a stretch for you?
  • Will you need to maintain this mileage daily?
  • Does your hiking pace change over longer distances?

Factor 7: Solo or Group Hike

  •  Will your pace be determined by a companion?

As a cyclist I kept meticulous records, but somehow that never transferred to hiking. Maybe because of the variables, or infrequent repeated trails or conditions. This knowledge would have helped me set better goals on day hikes or shorter backpack trips. Tracking and recording personal experiences has become more important as I prepare for long-distance pursuits requiring advance food preparation to be mailed to resupply locations.

There are many tools to track your performance. I use the Trimble Outdoors app on my phone. It works well on airplane mode thereby conserving my battery, and I like it’s mapping and tracking GPS functions. I have my app set to pause when I’m not hiking so that I get a better estimate of actual time hiked. At the end of each hike, I take screen shots of the elevation profile and the stats, then maintain those with my hiking photos of the trip making future reference a bit easier.

Do you have other tips?

Link to my other posts on Hiking and Backpacking Skills

South Fork National Recreation Trail, Yolla Bolla Wilderness (04/22/15)

My fall foliage hike along the South Fork of the Trinity River beckoned a return to discover spring seasonal differences.

In 2013, we were surprised to find this well-aged sign. Nearly two years later it remains planted prominently near the long and slightly rickety suspension bridge. The forest service web site does not indicate closure of this trail, nor was there any other evidence indicating that the trail or the bridge is considered off limits. 

If the closed sign and rickety welcome suspension bridge don’t dissuade you, the twisty long drive along Highway 36 may, or possibly the isolated trail passing occasionally through private property, the rattlesnakes or prevalent poison oak.

Still interested? The gentle rolling grade, soft surface trail will delight your senses. There is plenty of river and stream access, three quaint wooden bridges to cross, one steel bridge plus this suspension bridge, many trees, plants, birds, bugs and animals to enjoy, as well as historical artifacts to explore.

Ever wonder what it takes to become a National Recreation Trail???

My exciting find of the day – Fairyslipper  (aka Deer’s Head Orchid)



I believe Slimleaf or Paper Onion

Dogwood tree blooms

Gorgeous Madrone trees

One of three very quaint yet sturdy, log bridges

No rattlesnakes today, just this fat slug

Old ranger station being reclaimed by nature

Most of the signage has seen better days

I’ve saved the best story for last. In 2013, one of the highlights of our trip was spotting a bald eagle perched on a bare tree limb over the river, many hundreds of feet below the trail. I’d forgotten about that sighting until . . .  I happen to glance to my right taking in the beauty of the river when something catches my eye, I back up and sure enough, there sits a bald eagle. The same place where we’d seen one in October 2013.

My current camera does not have a very good telephoto lens so sadly I couldn’t get a clear shot, but if you look closely at the below photo, you’ll spot the black body and white head. A few minutes after leaving our spot, this magnificent creature flew overhead gracing us with it’s beauty before disappearing into parts unknown. As we retraced our steps on the return trip, it still had not returned to it’s perch. Can you believe the timing? For us to happen to look at the right time and for it to be there just then was truly unbelievable and a very special moment.

Bald Eagle sighting

This next photo gives you an idea of how far away we actually were. 

My friend was able to capture our special moment.

Some days are luckier than others. On our drive home, we witnessed not only this beautiful double rainbow but a fit of fury by mother nature with thunder, lightning and a heavy downpour.

One of the most difficult skills to learn as a hiker is how to gauge our personal fitness level against trail conditions such as elevation gain and loss. For example, this trail was rated “family friendly with gentle grades.” When you look at the profile and notice a low elevation of around 2,300′ and a high around 2,700′, it’s easy to presume only 400′ of climbing over 7.5 miles. But when you take a trail like this that has many ups and downs, the true climbing elevation becomes a much different story.

My legs agree with the stats of 5,000′ of climbing over those 15 miles. For me, breaking up the climbs over this terrain is much much easier than doing one or two continuous climbs equaling 5,000′. Either tracking or journaling your trips is a good way to learn about your personal parameters. It’s also a great way to compare growth over time, and is especially helpful when hiking with others. I use the Trimble Outdoors app with my phone on airplane mode.


There is not a lot of information available on the internet about this trail. Here is a link to a USFS pdf you can download with some details. It’s an easy trail to follow, and is shown on most topographical maps.

Here’s the link to my fall foliage trip on this trail.

Arizona Trail – Post Trip Report – Myths, Perceptions & Realities Unveiled

I lived in the Phoenix area for about 5 years, back in the late 80’s. I didn’t like anything about Arizona at that time in my life, except maybe the novelty of mild winter temperatures. Yes, it was fun to wear shorts on Christmas and share cactus-themed holiday cards. For about a year, I traveled to many rural areas around Arizona and clearly remember describing to others the barren ugliness of it all. I wasn’t a hiker back then, but always appreciated scenic landscapes and was extremely homesick for mountains, big beautiful west coast mountains.

It’s been from this perspective that I’ve described Arizona and desert environments. Certainly not a place I had any interest in revisiting, except maybe Sedona, although much too touristy, and the Grand Canyon where I’d previously enjoyed day trips. So thanks to Sirena and Joan, I had an opportunity to reconsider my perceptions of this harsh landscape by hiking 300 miles of the Arizona Trail in March 2015.

Myth 1: It never rains in Arizona (except during Monsoon season)

We had rain at least 4 out of 24 days, plus the day before we started the trail. It’s March, not July or August when monsoons can be expected. It rained hard one night and for a short period one day while hiking. We were glad to have our double-duty umbrellas and rainproof outerwear and shelters.

Myth 2: It’s a “dry heat”

With all this rain, we definitely experienced humidity (and mud).

Myth 3: It’s always at least 100 degrees

We experienced wide ranging temperature variations, from freezing to HOT! It’s important to come prepared for both extremes.

Myth 4: There are no trees or streams in Arizona

There are REAL mountains in Arizona with REAL trees, vegetation such as ferns and natural waterways.

Myth 5: There are no REAL mountains in Arizona

During this 300 mile segment, the low spot was about 2,500′ and the high 9,400′. We spent most days either ascending or descending REAL mountains. This trail is not for out-of-shape hikers, nor those looking for flat easy fast terrain.

Myth 6: There are no flowers in Arizona wilderness (except cactus)

I was astonished by the number and diversity of wildflowers we found. We were a bit earlier for cactus blooms and only got to see one, but friends who were a couple weeks later have seen both wildflowers and lots of cactus flowers. There are many wildflower photos within my Passage 1-17 posts.

Myth 7: Illegals and drug runners are everywhere

The only evidence we saw was Border Patrol, and one small pile of debris obviously discarded by illegals.

Reality 1: Only a small portion of Saguaro NP has wall-to-wall saguaros

I was expecting Saguaro National Park to be packed with a fantastic display of saguaros, but within the 17.5 mile segment of trail which passes through the park, only a couple miles include wide-sweeping views of saguaros, the rest is either forest at high elevation and desert at lower elevation. This was the first saguaro we saw, 11-12 miles from the northern boundary.

Reality 2: Water can be disgusting and sparsely available

The water report was key and even more important was learning how to use both the report and the resources. Cattle troughs and tanks all require special skills. I included some tips in my Passage 14 post. Joan wrote a very helpful and detailed blog post.

Reality 3: The vegetation is not human friendly

Everything was stickery and prickery. I was glad to be wearing full coverage snag resistant clothing, and even so experienced several painful pokes and pricks.

Reality 4: Navigation can be challenging

The Arizona Trail is still considered young when compared to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or Appalachian Trail (AT). As such, signage is inconsistent, sometime confusing and non existent. By joining the Arizona Trail Association we’d downloaded the trail track and waypoints to our GPS phone apps which was extremely helpful. Additionally we had the databook, which we used extensively, and paper maps. Joan wrote a detailed post about navigating the AZT.

Reality 5: It can be a lonely trail

There were days when we saw no one, others when we might see a few comrades. The number of annual thru-hikers is still small, most likely totaling less than 25. This is a shared trail, with plenty of day and section users, especially bikers and equestrians but you’re likely to see more cows or ATV’ers than our friends on two feet carrying small backpacks.

YES, my perceptions have been changed forever! I will never again describe Arizona and desert environments as barren ugliness. In fact, I look forward to completing the remaining 500 miles of the Arizona Trail. I’m also reconsidering my previous decision to skip the first 800 miles of the PCT. This trail opened my mind to so many other possibilities such as the Grand Enchantment Trail, the Hayduke Trail, the Continental Divide Trail which all contain long stretches of desert.

Relevant Links:

Tips and Resources: