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Taking on the top of the trail

Tim OmarzuThe view from the PCT with Meadow Lake on the right and Fordyce Lake on the left.
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For years, I?ve had this idea for the perfect, three-day backpacking trip close to home.

So with Labor Day fast approaching, here it is:

You?d hike the Pacific Crest Trail between Sierra City and Interstate 80 ? a roughly 35-mile trip.



All you?d need is two (or more) people. And two vehicles. And trust in each others? driving ability.

One backpacker (or group of backpackers) would park at the PCT trailhead near Boreal ski resort on I-80 and hike north.




The other backpacker (or group) would park at the PCT trailhead on

Highway 49 just past Sierra City and hike south.

Then, somewhere along the trail there?d be a ?Dr. Livingston, I presume?? moment when you?d run into each other.

The hikers would exchange greetings, hug, cry, laugh, share stories, have lunch, whatever.

Then, like runners in a relay race passing a baton, they?d exchange car keys.

Once they reached the end of the hike, each party would drive home in the other person?s car.

So this past weekend, I got Friday off and tried it.

Except the part about driving there and handing off the keys.

Instead, I hitched a ride to Sierra City and was dropped of at 5 p.m. Friday (courtesy of Charles McDermid, former sports writer for The Union and current managing editor for the St. Helena Star) got picked up at 8 p.m. Sunday at the I-80 parking lot (by Kerana Todorov, reporter for The Union).

So that?s another way to do it.

What?s the hike like?

The trail is well marked. You can camp just about anywhere along the way.

The views are beautiful. I didn?t see a single person Friday; saw a few folks Saturday. Sunday, I took a side trip to White Rock Lake and had the entire lake to myself. Later that day, I saw lots of hikers near Paradise Lake and Castle Peak.

But carry lots of water!

Between Jackson Meadows Reservoir and White Rock Lake, the PCT is as bone dry as Chile?s Atacama Desert! The Sahara! Death Valley!

I only had a one-quart Nalgene-brand water bottle since I?m under the spell of Ray Jardine, the guru of ultralight PCT hiking and author of ?The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker?s Handbook.?

I bought my (now well-thumbed) copy of Jardine?s hiking bible a couple years ago after the longest hike of my life: 213 miles on the PCT, from Nevada County south to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, which took three weeks.

Back then, my fully loaded pack weighed a whopping 75 pounds.

But more experienced hikers I met along the trail told me about the ?Ray Way.?

Jardine?s homemade backpack (minus food and water) only weighs about 9 pounds. He and his wife, Jenny, have made at least three, PCT through-hikes (some 2,600 miles between Mexico to Canada) and regularly racked up 30-plus miles a day, by averaging 2 mph from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

So nowadays, I?d guess my pack (a hand-me-down about the size of a book bag) weighs maybe 30 pounds fully loaded.

No tent. I sleep out under the stars and carry a tarp in case of rain. Instead of a water filter, I use iodine tablets to purify water. I usually ?cold camp? ? no stove to carry. Instead, I dine on stuff such as canned sardines, bagels, dried fruit and peanuts.

So what did Ray?s book say about water?

Under the heading, ?Thirst is mainly psychological,? he writes: ?Strive to stay well hydrated, but don?t panic when confronted with the occasional and unavoidable period of thirst. You can hike for many hours feeling terribly thirsty.?

Ray?s technique is to not carry too much water, and to ?super-saturate,? or rest, near a water source and drink as much as he can.

As Jardine?s slavish, robot-like disciple, I?ll have to give that a try.

But however you choose to do it, the PCT between I-80 and Highway 49 is worth doing.

Tim Omarzu is a writer for The Union. He can be reached at 477-4237.

Detailed maps of the Pacific Crest Trail between Highway 49 and I-80 are at Tahoe National Forest headquarters in Nevada City at 631 Coyote Street. For information, call 265-4531.


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