[pct-l] mid layer? montbell thermawrap

Jeffrey Olson jolson at olc.edu
Sat Jul 28 21:43:43 CDT 2012

In 2005 I headed south on June 10 from Manning.  It was a HIGH snow y 
ear in the sierra and a low snow year in Washington and Oregon.  The 
week or two before I left a couple of people described their experiences 
hiking south from Manning in such a way that the overwhelming background 
was snow and cold and hypothermia and danger.

I monitored the PCT listserv, reading about people bailing out of the 
Sierra and flipping north to Manning.  I met a number of them as they 
passed me.  I remember pulling into Timberline Lodge and walking into 
the restaurant and there were 10 or 12 thru-hikers at the end of their 
all you can eat breakfasts.  I was too used to being alone to slow down 
and be social in a group.  I enjoyed hanging with individuals, but 
groups (still) turn me off.

The weather forecasts for that week in June up there were dicey. Late 
winter/early spring snow/clouds/wind was predicted.  I sat in Bend 
putting together boxes for my sister to mail to me for Washington and 
Oregon, all worried about what gear to carry to handle what sounded like 
wintery conditions.

I haven't worn or carried long pants on a hike of any length in 30 
years.  10% to 15% (max) of body heat is lost through the legs, and I 
don't and didn't think preparing for extremes was worth the extra half 
pound.  The impending possibility of snowy weather while hiking didn't 
change my perspective.  If the 6-10 day forecast had been for rain, I 
would have probably carried the rain pants that came with my jacket.  
The rain didn't come til The Knife Edge and Goat Rocks.

As it was, I carried my basic kit - 14 pounds w/o food, or so, including 
a fat novel to wile away the hours while I was lying down in the tent 
after hiking, part of getting in shape.  Six hours of hiking, 10 miles a 
day, and 18 hours of lying around. This slowly changed, but not much, 
over the next six weeks.

I managed to spend two nights a week in a motel, lying down, watching 
tv, eating restaurant food, and sleeping.  I remember watching the 
weather across from the condos at White Pass, wondering if I really 
wanted to head back out.  I rented a bunch of VCR movies from the 
depressed manager.  He never did warm up to me.

The big change after five weeks was that I hiked eight hours a day, 
hiked 18 to 20 miles, and lay around for 16 hours a day.  Due to family 
issues I left the trail in Bend.  The part of me, now at 60 years old, 
that wants to get back on the trail, is the part that wants to hike 10 
hours a day and do 30's.  I know I can do it, given enough time.  I felt 
what it was like to be a "hiking fool" for about 10 days.  At the end of 
the day, I still had energy.  20 miles down by 3PM.  Set up camp and???

It took me six days to hike from Manning to Stehekin.  I don't remember 
the mileage, but that's pretty slow.  I was carrying snowshoes, my means 
of assuaging my fear of wintry weather and ???  I left them by the side 
of the trail a couple miles after Harts Pass.  I felt SO MUCH BETTER!!!

Hikers coming through a day later took a picture of a bunch of wild 
swatchs in the snow going up to Lakeview Ridge, the highest point on the 
PCT in Washington.  Those were my snowshoe tracks. It was the only time 
I wore them, and they were totally unnecessary.  I flailed and slipped 
and slided my way up.  I was so sweaty, muscles burning from the 300% 
effort using them took. The picture is in one of the hiker journals from 
that year.

What I affirmed, was my decision not to carry long pants.  I spent five 
days in sleet and snow and clouds.  It never rained.  It snowed and 
sleeted.  I wore a medium weight cheap polypropelene undergarment.  Then 
I wore my Campmor SPF 30 shirt.  Then I wore a primaloft vest, and 
finally, I wore a Patagonia windshirt.  I wore a frogg togg top as the 
last line of defense.

The temperature never got below 30 degrees - I think.  All I know is 
that it sleeted and snowed and never rained for five days.  I was 
totally comfortable.  I had a northface windstopper fleece hat that 
covered most of my face and ears.  I wore northface windstopper gloves - 
just as much heat leaves the hands as legs. I wore Railrider Rampage 
shorts, New Balance 804 running shoes, and ankle length smartwool socks.

The transition between hiking and being under my Nanatak quilt in my way 
too heavy Sierra Design Lightyear tent took only about five minutes.  I 
heated water from within the tent and crapped out as soon as I'd eaten.

I want to hike that section of the PCT again because I saw NOTHING of 
the mountains and vistas supposedly there.  All reports in the 
innumerable journals that spend any time talking about this part of the 
hike that aren't so focused on finishing say it rivals the high Sierra.  
The glimpses I got of the terrain through the swirling clouds just 
whetted my appetite to go back.

I hiked in the clouds all the way to Rainy Pass and after two nights at 
the Stehekin Ranch, only then did the heavens clear up. By the way, 
Stehekin Ranch is a GREAT place to spend a couple nights.  The owner is 
reallly social, and gets hikers.  If he's full-up he doesn't BS you.  
It's not cheap, but you get "all you can eat" as part of the deal for 
the room.

I realized long pants are totally unnecessary.  I'd always "felt" this 
and had numerous week to four week trips that validated this statement.  
However, this week changed this from hypothesis to principle.  Long 
pants are for those concerned about ripping the skin of their legs when 
walking through manzanita or desert shrubbery, or overly concerned about 

I would never carry long pants.  I would carry "rain shorts" or a "rain 
skirt" - or what I carry on trips now, a silnylon poncho weighing five 

When I got to the Goat Rocks on that trip, I left White Pass in a 
misting rainstorm.  It misted enough to dampen everything, but soak 
nothing.  I hiked the knife edge in clouds - no snow - just no 
visiblity.  The dicey sections had me slip towards 500' falls, but I 
caught myself.

I talked to a couple people who said three guys had started up the trail 
the day before, and had been beaten down by the weather. One of them had 
said, "You could die up there."  I've maintained contact with these guys 
- two of them at least.  One of them is stopping by on his way in a 
couple weeks on his way to create an intentional community in Olympia 
with the guys he  hiked with. Don't ever denigrate the power of the trail...

I got up to the glacier - yeah right - and the yelverton shelter, and 
found myself in a 20 mph misty rain.  Suddenly, the weeks I'd spent in 
cold or dry weather had changed.  As I hiked DOWN from the shelter I 
started to get cold.  My frogg toggs jacket cinched around my waist.  
Water dripped off it and soaked my shorts.  I wasn't generating enough 
heat.  I started to get concerned - not scared.  I was still rational.  
I'd been cold before and knew how easy it was to think you're rational 
but make decisions that later made no sense.

I stopped under a big tree and heated some water to eat dinner - 
probably 1PM.  A guy stopped and we talked for 15 minutes or so. He was 
hyperactive.  He kept saying, "Sweet."  I don't remember his trail 
name.  I remember everything, yes - everything he said, was wrapped with 
SWEET...  I referred to him as the Sweet Man for the rest of the trip.  
Everyone I met hiking south knew who I was talking about.

I didn't really get warm.  I started hiking again, looking for a place 
to pitch the tent and get under the quilt.  I found a flat spot 10' from 
the trail and 50' from a creek.  I went to bed at 3pm and it took four 
hours before I stopped shivering.  I'd made the right choice.

Aside - when I got up the next morning to take a crap, I walked up above 
the trail and found another flatspot/campsite that had a used tampon 
sticking up from shallow hole and toilet paper half buried in three 
other places.  I was ashamed to be part of a community that was so 
self-centered to think their being in a hurry trumped everything else.  
This is probably the "big picture" boomer railing against gen x or 
millennial persons lost in the moment of their experience.

The point of this story is that you will need long underwear, a shirt, a 
primaloft or equivalent vest or anorak, and a rain jacket/poncho.  
Nothing more.  You go to bed when you get cold, or in the most DIRE of 
conditions, you  build a fire.  That's DIRE...   I have seen thrus build 
a fire every night and see selfishness...

There are lots of ways to hike the trail.  The one that allows you the 
least amount of gear weight is one that has you transition from hiking 
to bed fairly quickly.  It's a "trail centered" reality versus a "camp 
centered" existence.

You'll come to trust your experience and judgment and realize the five 
dollar poly shirt from target is just as good as the $80 one from 

This is a slow transition that requires lots of trips and days on the 
trail.  When you walk into a rainstorm with your poncho on, your 12 
pounds of gear protected by a thick garbage bag inside your pack, and 
are in the moment, relishing being alive, you'll "get" what I mean.  
You'll also get it when you just want to quit, to leave the trail, to go 
back to "real Life."

I love it when newbies ask questions about gear.  This is the first step 
to reaching emotional confidence/maturity about being in the 
wilderness.  You're in the visioning stage, associating gear with being 

Read the 100s of journals out there - not the ones of persons who've 
completed the trail, but the ones of those who bailed.

Planning a hike on the PCT and carrying out the plan in the end is based 
in your personal sense of competence.  Modern living hasn't prepared us 
to be competent hiking for months on end.  Hence the newcomer's focus on 

Better you look your boyfriend in the eyes and tell him how you really 
feel. Better you sit your parents down and explain your perspective, and 
maintain your principled focus.  Better you tell the man/woman you've 
married the relationship isn't working and you want to move on.  Better 
you open your own critical eye and see the state of  your life.

The more  you think you can do the trail end to end, or a long section, 
the more you set yourself up to fail, to not complete your goal.  The 
more you open to the uncertainty in your life, all the things that don't 
make sense you don't understand and want to, the relationships that are 
ill-defined, the goals you subliminally (but really, really consciously) 
realize aren't yours, the more you're ready to hike 2600, 1200, 500 or 
150 miles.

I know there are the Type A personalities that lay out the goal and 
achieve.  I personally think they're weird - pretty shallow thinkers, 
and emotionally bereft.  Their identities reside in their behaviors, not 
their feelings or sense of a larger reality. This is an opinion.

The key to success on the PCT is not finishing the thru or section 
hike.  It's opening to the personal demons that have  you doubt your 
ability to do what you set out to do.  What you'll find on the trail is 
other people in the same place you are, but likely are as mute as you 
are about the deeper, emotional issues you all are working through.

You'll quickly bond with like souls and be able to carry on day to day.  
You'll be able to hike for months on end, but a wonder will emerge - 
what's going on???

Is the point of hiking 2650 miles to get to the monument at the border, 
leap up and down, smoke some pot or drink some celebratory bourbon?  
That's a pretty shallow goal, isn't it?  Isn't it???

Something else is going on.  It's up to you to craft this "something 
else" as you head out in the midst of incredible uncertainty.  I would 
love to read someone's journal (please let me know if it's out there) 
who started their missive expressing their uncertainty about being a 
human being on the earth and used the thru- section-hike to begin to 
create a life - that led to creating reality.

I met three guys in 2005 on my what turned out to be a section hike.  
They'd just graduated from Trinity College, and were out for their 
"Grand Tour."  Ryan went to Boalt Law SChool and Washington DC to work 
in government.  Mark went to work for a company that helped indigenous 
peoples build stoves that didn't deplete natural resources.  Austin - 
well, I don't know....

All three had ideas and directions and backgrounds.  The trail was a 
place to explore a different reality, as it was for me, the college 

Sure the initial purpose to hike a long trail is to finish.  For all but 
the most brain dead, this goal gets threaded by so much more.  The 
question newbies will begin to answer when they're on the trail - their 
gear questions answered - will have nothing to do with what to carry.  
The questions will begin with what to get rid of.  And then, -  then -  
it's up to you!!!

Jeffrey Olson
Rapid City SD

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