PCTA Trail Crew: Sierra Buttes

In mid-July I drove out to Sierra City, a town just down the road from PCT Mile 1195, for a few days of volunteer work with a PCTA trail crew. The project I was on is a multi-year, ongoing project to construct new trail and incorporate existing trail into six new PCT miles in the Sierra Buttes.

This was my first trail crew experience, and I think I lucked into a truly great one: building brand new trail with an awesome group of crew and volunteers, surrounded by gorgeous Sierra scenery.

I got to dig out roots, break up boulders, and build a rock retaining wall that will (theoretically?) last decades. I learned the names of tools—single jack, double jack, rock bar, cutter mattock, pick mattock, Pulaski, McLeod—and how to use them. I dug holes, wrestled rocks into place, jumped on them to make sure they were stable… I ended up with sore muscles that I didn’t even know I had (forearms?!) and bruised my shins from kneeling in the dirt working.

The people were great—a mix of PCTA staff, American Conservation Experience (ACE) crew, and volunteers who ranged from semi-retired Bay Area tech folks to college kids road-tripping from Oklahoma. We were on our way to the work site at 7AM every morning and ended every day with a trip to the river for swimming—which was desperately needed because we were DIRTY. I even managed to make time to drive a few thru-hikers from town out to the trail.

It was a hugely satisfying experience to be out there for such a short time and yet be able to walk away having made such a visible difference in the creation of the trail—even if the last step in rock wall construction was covering it up with dirt and branches to make it disappear.

Being near the PCT and around thru-hikers again also just felt good. It made me remember that feeling of forward progress. Of walking all day and finding a new place to sleep every night. Of how much beautiful land there is to see. People even called me Bucket again.

Perhaps my proudest moment, however, came right before I headed home. I was outside the Sierra City general store, a major resupply point where there’s always a crowd of hikers lining the porch, and a guy came up to me and asked if I’d started my hike at Scout and Frodo’s (trail angels in San Diego who host hundreds of thrus every year). I said yes—I had dinner there the night before starting the trail—but, uh, that was last year. He blinked at me, and I realized he thought I was a current thru-hiker. I laughed and asked if that meant I really looked that dirty. Which I suppose I did—huddled on the steps of the general store with a Gatorade and an ice cream sandwich, poaching the wifi, grubby fingers jabbing at my iPhone.

Once hiker trash, always hiker trash.

And learn more about volunteering with the PCTA on their website!

(More photos on Flickr!)

PCT Day 173: Canada!

This is the way the trail ends
This is the way the trail ends
This is the way the trail ends
Not with a bang…

Canadacanadacanadacanada. Taking down the tarp, shoving everything into my backpack, picking up my trekking poles—one last time. It’s cold—there’s snow and frost covering the ground. It’s early—the dudes camped next to us are sleeping in.


This is the way the trail ends. As we’ve approached these last miles to Canada, we’ve seen familiar hikers headed back south to Harts Pass, the last road access to the trail. Any hiker who doesn’t get—or is denied—the necessary paperwork to enter Canada by trail has to turn around at the border and hike 30 miles back south. Poor bastards.

This is the way the trail ends. We walk through trees, over one last pass. The air is cold, crisp. I can see peaks ahead, bathed in early morning light. Is that Canada? Looking up at those mountains, at the rocky saddle between peaks that I know has a view of everything northward… part of me wants to keep walking. Just keep walking, through all this beauty, without any deadlines other than when the food in my backpack runs out.


The rest of me is ready to finish. I see the arrow-straight clearcut line that marks the border, and that’s where I’m going. This is the way the trail ends. 


And then, suddenly—”suddenly” somehow encompassing both the last six miles this morning and the last six months of my life—there’s the monument. Turn a corner, hike down a small hill, and there are the pillars, the little flags, the line through the forest.


We take pictures, write in the log book. Take more pictures. (Canada!) A helicopter passes overhead, patrolling the border.

There are two day hikers there, waiting to meet thru-hiker friends. It’s slightly awkward—they aren’t part of our celebration, they’re talking about workout clothes and brunch. They walked 8 miles from their cars; we walked 2,650.1 miles from freaking Mexico. But it’s ok—we’re almost back in the world where we’re not thru-hikers anymore, where you have to replace your clothes before they’re full of holes and hopelessly discolored with sweat. Where brunch is just overpriced breakfast rather than eating all the things.

Walking last eight miles to Manning Park, the first Canadians we meet are a couple out for a morning hike; they force a fifty dollar bill (Canadian!) on us after hearing what we just did. My parents, who have flown to Vancouver to meet us, are there on the trail when we round a corner.  At the road, there’s a crowd waiting for sleeping-in dudes with signs and balloons. Food, car ride, showers, more food… and most of all the strange knowledge that we don’t have to keep walking tomorrow.

There are no more PCT miles to hike—we’ve hiked them all.

Thank you, Pacific Crest Trail. Thank you hiker trash, thank you trail angels, thank you mountains, thank you desert, thank you forests, thank you feet—thank you thank you thank you.


Day 173 / Sept 27, 2015
Hopkins Lake to Manning Park, Canada
15.2 miles, PCT Mile 2643.7 to 2658.9