Life is a Thru Hike — Part 2

Editors’ Note: We received an email from Otter the other day. He finished the PCT and he sent us his last journal entries. Here are Otter’s final journal entries to his PCT Odyssey, unedited: 

Click here to read Part 1.

Otter at the southern terminus.

Otter at the southern terminus.

JOURNAL: MILE 2660!
ON
Nice job people
The last few days
Breaks
Decisions
Ceiling and floors
The pack track and turning back.
150 yds
Not knowing outcome until end.
spirit sunk
Hung in there.

First off, I want to say to all those intrepid hikers who went thru from rainy pass; Nice job. Some even came back to try again after they went home. It took guts and determination and it was quite a hike. Because of the weather, conditions, and difficulties presented IT WILL BE SOMETHING THEY REMEMBER THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.
It made the ending even more special. After the storm about 25 hikers made it thru maybe less. There are still a handful out there trying to finish. Love the late season hard core stuff. 🙂

I laid there worrying. Mind circling around over and over obsessing about the 150 yard cliff with the steep drop off at the top of frosty pass. Hour after hour, just couldn’t get it out of my mind…..picturing trying to get across. It became almost painful thinking about it…..
No sleep……

The last several days….
After the big storm hit and I made my way down to mazama from Rainy Pass I knew from experience I might get another shot at finishing. I needed to come up with a plan for me, with the money and gear that I had.

Decisions had to be made about gear and timing. I got the gear help I needed from Walking Home and Raven Song and my friend PMG. After about a week of getting ready Slingshot, Frenchy and I launched the “frenchy expedition” we started on Wednesday and climbed 5miles up to Cutthroat pass. On the traverse up top there was 2 feet of snow. Upon turning the corner above a steep drop-off it became very scary for a member of our party. Raven hiked up there with us. I was only one who recognized the evident fear. I called it at that point. Time to turn back.

Group mentality with humans is strange. People do stuff in groups they never would do alone.

Once the first person goes thru the others see this and follow. Sometimes they go places they shouldn’t and wouldn’t go by themselves, but they just go. It’s so hard to turn back after over 2500 miles. Imagine the difficulty in turning back…, let’s say you hiked 40 of the 60 and reached a place where you were too scared to go. You would have to not only hike back the forty over tough terrain. You would have to tell everyone you did not make it because you could not get past a spot that maybe they made it over. Because of these factors thru hikers don’t turn back as often as they should. Generally as a group I’m surprised we have had so few bad accidents. One person’s danger ceiling is another person’s danger floor depending on their expertise, experience and nerves. So you got to do what’s right for you and your group and not worry about what others are doing. It’s entirely possible the “others” who went over or thru shouldn’t have, and were stupid and used bad judgement. So I called it right then and there even though about 15-20 thru hikers went right past us trudging in the snow. Even Raven was bewildered, but I knew better. Now, I coulda gone on and left the two to fend for themselves, but I gave my word, so I stayed.

Turning back? Was a good decision.

We caught our first break about a mile after we turned back. Thru hikers don’t like cold and snow, but day hikers love it because they know when they are done that day they go down to a warm car, clean dry clothes and shoes, and home. A bunch of them hiked up from cutthroat lake to the pass breaking trail for us down to the north and east towards my first alternate route that none seem aware of.

I must admit to my spirit sinking that night; not being on the exact PCT anymore.
In the morning my spirit rebounded.

I thought of all the people that helped me, supported me, and rooted for me. I’m generally not a quitter.

I really had no idea if we would make it, but I sure knew I would give it my all.
Robinson creek trail over Robinson pass, to the boundary trail, up to frosty pass and PCT. This way keeps you mostly below the snow line and doesn’t have many steep drop offs. It’s rarely used. The alternate also took us by raven’s house again where I insisted my hiking buddies pick up snowshoes or I won’t hike with them. The next day we started up Robinson creek. The ancient trail was built to last and it has. Rock work is all moss covered and filled in, wood bridges over muddy spots are still intact after scores of years.
After day 3 we camped just below Robinson pass.

Day 4 of the frenchy expedition we hiked another 12 miles or so with a few shallow fords, these slow ya down and make ya cold this time of year. We had campfires every-night people up top don’t.

Day 5 was to get as close to frosty pass as we could and late in the day I proclaimed, “we have to make camp, here, now. ”

“now, here?” they asked

Me, “no place to camp above, all steep, deep, snow. Camp right here on the trail. Find a spot”

The feelings I had that night were unfathomably deep. With 6 miles to the border after almost 6 months I had no idea we would make it and I was totally prepared to turn back.
There’s never any shame in turning back. My whole life’s experience filled my thoughts as I drifted off….

Next day they saw there was no camping above.

Day 6– we climbed up the snow free, south facing, faint, grass covered switchbacks on the seldom used trail. The Snow got to two or three feet deep and I had them put their snowshoes on early so they could get used to them. They had never used them before. Today’s modern snow shoe is an amazing piece of high tech equipment. We climbed towards the cliff and this is where we caught our second break. Cookie Monster and Solstice were coming down back from border because they weren’t allowed in Canada.
They broke the trail.

They had been in the snow a week and were on a mission to get out. This makes ya brave. If the PCT were easy they woulda just gone back that way, but they didn’t. I asked what lay before us. The cliff in particular. She said there was a tough part and he took over the conversation saying, “you will be ok”

Interpretation = there is a tough part ahead.

Put yourself in their shoes, had a tough week- had to turn back-opted not to take pct – arrive at cliff- now…. Option one, Canada nope-option two, they just did and decided not again-so option three, go down the cliff. You see what I mean about thrus getting them selves in bad situations. They will go down the cliff unless it’s obvious they cannot. So they did, and made it.

News flash-there is risk in mountaineering!

As we ascended the trail got less wide, the drop off got steeper and my heart pounded louder. We caught the snow just at the perfect time, not too frozen or slushy. The snowshoe kept just enough edge to keep ya on. I couldn’t look down, just look at where ya want to plant foot and pole. There’s no stopping yourself if ya go down, it’s curtains. Heart in my throat, we made it around to the top. I turned to look back and began to think that we had to go down that! Oh shit.

From there we had it made. An easy snowshoe in the shade switchbacking down to PCT and castle pass. Arrived at the monument that afternoon and when I laid down in my tent that night my mind could think of nothing else except for having to take these people and me down that cliff, down that cliff, down that cliff… in the snow.

Don’t ever say never, it’s come back to haunt me a few times. I once said, “I will never go into Canada again, never.”

In my tent that night I decided that all the risk and hassle and possible jail of dealing with the Canadian and US authorities was way less then that risk of going back over frosty pass. Decision made….no double back….Canada bound.

We did something unusual that day, we took a zero at the monument just hanging around all day decompressing. The following day we hiked out to manning park. My hiking partners had all their paperwork. Permission to enter Canada and US passports. Me? I had no permission to enter Canada and no passport and only a drivers license. We stealth camped a quarter mile down from the lodge. Nervous, I wanted back into US quick. It was a 120 mile hitch to the border crossing. The people there were nicer then I imagined and after I told them my story and they checked me out, they searched my pack and put me right thru. Even after I told them I didn’t notify the Canadian authorities about entering. Took 45 minutes. What a relief. We got all the way back to Mazama and Raven’s and all is good.

Will take a couple of days to think about things and my next move.

If any one out there has got a job for me. I’m down for it. Shoot me a message.

Might hike some more too.
Put up more in a day or two.
It was an ending I’ll always remember.
What a great hike and great summer.
Life is a hike

The Otter
Oh, gonna take day hike today up to Varden lake:-) can’t get enough.

Journal
On
Otter’s time
Facing the Sun
Bonus Days
The late show
What next for me

Otter’s Time….
Much shorter days.
Long nights in the tent.
Inside of nose freezing in the crisp clean cold blue morning autumn air upon exiting the tent.
The crunch of ice crystals under foot on the frozen trail.
North sides shaded all day.
The forest moving into it’s long winter state.
The stalwart creatures that stay thru.
The bugs disappear except for moths who do their thing into November.
No snakes.
No lightning storms.
Fall colors: red huckleberry bushes, yellow cotton woods, Aspen and larch, rust, brown, gold,
The sun never getting overhead.
Mornings cold till noon.
Heat of day later in afternoon.
Temp drop when sun moves over horizon.
Full moon shining on snow with tree shadows; trees making cracking sounds from freezing on first really cold night.
Canteens and shoes frozen.
The 34degree rain.
The crackle, warmth and dancing light of a good campfire.
Bears thinking about bedding down for winter.
Distant Incessant whining of chain saws far off in the valley below…gathering wood
The lone cabin in the upper valley with smoke drifting slowly out of it’s dampered stack. Wishing it was mine.
No people
The forest and mountains reveal their unseen action in the first dusting of snow with animal tracks and rock tracks down the mountainside, a busy place this is indeed.
it’s otter’s time.

Facing The sun
Most of my trips end with me facing the sun. El Sol retreats to the south more and more, zenith lowering by the day. Heading south is warmer and I’d much rather the sun’s rays hit my torso than my backpack. You hike towards it, face it. Pull down hat’s brim in afternoon to block low angle sun. I’m a southbounder this time of year. It’s a tradition for me, as all my long hikes end with me turning around, why? Because I don’t want it to end. I have an expression “it’s not he who hikes fast, it’s he who hikes last!”

Bonus days
Each year when my big hike ends I enter my fall “bonus days”
Bonus days… You hike for the pure joy of it. No time limit. No place to try to reach. Just hike around. Miles? No thought of it, no push no hurry.
Last year I was out till early January 🙂
This year due to many things it’s in doubt as to how long I’ll be out.
Gonna start drifting south unless something comes up. Not sure about route.

The late show….
The last group of 6 hikers I know about on the trail made it to rainy pass and Raven’s house today 9days thru the snow. A cool group they are with an experienced woman winter guide in their midst. They geared up and went thru. Kudos to them. Hot tub, sweet tooth, werewolf and Luna and their dog, Out Burst and 30pack too.
I’m calling this group “The Late Show”

With the weather forecast they will make it.
Midnight rider is about to try to get thru again. She rode up to the pass today to scope it out. Will let you know. Report is a go! She’s gonna
Make a try at it!
And another hiker just walked in “pepper flake”
All these hikers took 12days off to wait out the weather.
Gonna keep journal-ing for a while.
Life is a hike
The Otter

Facebook Comments

6 Comments

  1. Karen Cooper

    Hey Otter

    Awesome article! Great to meet up with you at Ravensongs Roost..
    Keep hiking those trails and updating us on your travels

    Cheers
    Karen

    Reply
  2. admin

    Hey Karen, We’ll make sure to pass on your comment to Otter!

    Reply
  3. Doug Robinson

    Otter just phoned. He’s hiking along Highway 2 — “I’d rather walk than hitchhike” — trying to sort out his options and his feelings and his patchwork gear.

    Otter really wants to turn south and get back on the trail, with snowshoes when need be, and try for the big yo-yo or boomerang or whatever you’d call it to walk right into the teeth of winter and come right on south through it and do the up-and-back that maybe no one has done before. Certainly no PCT hiker has faced being southbound through the High Sierra in its typically dozen feet of snow on the ground in the dead of winter.

    It’s audacious and risky and a touch nuts, but when life is a hike it tends to turn your head toward what might be tried, might be dared, and after all going south the blizzards following their winter storm track would anyway be at your back, pushing you toward Mexico.

    As you can tell from reading his Journals, this is an unusual guy. I like to think of the moment down in northern Yosemite, coming up Matterhorn Canyon when Otter stumbled upon Billy Goat, the legendary old thru hiker who kind of lives on the PCT and has amassed more mileage than anyone. Is it 30,000 trail miles, or am I way off? Actually each knew the other was nearby — that’s how the jungle telegraph works among thru hikers even way up high in the alpine zone and thousands of miles north of any hint of jungle. So they looked one another in the eye, the meeting of two Zen masters with no one else present, no witnesses, and they talked a little talk and they acknowledged one another and then they went on their ways.

    Otter said this morning “I look like a homeless person.” Yet a guy picked him up last night when he really needed a ride to where he could camp, and along the way bought him french fries. That homeless look doesn’t fool everybody.

    Actually he needs some help, and that’s why I’m commenting this morning because The Otter is a bit shy about asking for it. But he’s on the cusp right now of being able with a couple crucial pieces of gear, and then of being willing to commit himself to the southbound hike. And this is where anyone so inclined could chip in and maybe make this epic turnaround into a reality. Without asking, I feel sure that Matt and the ASJ could be willing to take donations and get them to Otter as he comes south, and then publish an update or two to let us all know how he’s faring out there as winter closes in on his dream. And then we could all be proud that — Yes! — we all helped something pretty amazing to come to fruition.

    Cheers,
    Doug Robinson

    Reply
  4. Matt Niswonger

    Hey Doug I am on board with this. What does he need and how do we get it to him?

    We can do a Facebook post and also reach out to some industry folks…

    You can call me, email me, or reply here.

    Life is a hike!

    Reply
  5. Doug Robinson

    Hey Matt!

    Yes, life is a hike! Thank you for being on board here with Otter’s audacious dream to hike right into the teeth of winter and complete his yo-yo of the PCT. Never been done? Let’s ask Otter to verify that.

    And we’ll have to ask him for sure what he needs. It’s going to be full-on winter mountaineering out there for him to get through, so one thing he will likely need is a little company for safety traversing some of the wilder alpine-zone stretches of the High Sierra. So for starters this is a shout out to any seasoned winter trekkers with avalanche skills who think they can step up to a pretty significant challenge.

    As for gear, he needs a bigger pack to carry a winter-load of warmer and stouter gear. And a set of modern snowshoes. He’s tried several kinds, so Otter is particular about what works well and is the lightest weight. From hanging around him, I’ve learned that thru-hikers are the absolute cutting-edge when it comes to knowing and demanding the very best bang-for-the-ounce in gear. He can pass on a lot of hard-earned knowledge on fast-packing to ASJ’s readers too.

    And Otter can likely be of real use to any company smart enough to listen to the gear wisdom he’s built up from a lifetime of living on the trail. Like he home-made a tiny wood stove that weighs just ounces and fits into a tent to take the edge off those zero-degree nights in the dead of winter. He could be a big help to a tent manufacturer who is interested in adapting his product to that true need for warmth that goes beyond a quick weekend snow-camp to the realities of living up high in the winter. Having done a base-camp version of tent-stove living myself, I can tel you that with short days it’s mighty nice to have t-shirt weather indoors during those long winter evenings in a tent.

    But again, we should ask Otter what he needs. He told me that he has five layers of pants donated by trail angels. And he’s been experimenting with rubberized overboots. As for the rest, he’s the expert, and it would be fun to see the Otter partner with some forward-looking manufacturers to invent the future of winter thru-hiking. I know he has his eye on other, even longer and potentially colder winter trails. But it’s only fair to let Otter himself reveal those plans when he sees fit.

    Then maybe life can become a toasty hike through a daunting season!

    Cheers,
    Doug Robinson

    Reply
  6. Peter

    What did the book Wild have that the Otter Diaries and journals don’t have?
    Otter is a better read if you ask me.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Life is a Thru Hike | Adventure Sports Journal - [...] UPDATE! We heard from Otter via email a few days ago.  He is home safe and sound.  Click here…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

X
- Enter Your Location -
- or -