Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Trail Notes, Questions Answered, Jul 3

Roseville - We've received a number of questions from readers, via their email messages, and since we're relaxing and taking a zero-day, we thought we would answer a few and post them.

1) Charla and Dick, from Los Molinos, CA wanted to know: "Are you taking any vitamins?"

YES. We take a daily multi-vitamin and are also taking glucosamine sulfate (for our joints). We can't "swear" by either, but feel that with all the stress we're putting our bodies through, both are like an 'insurance policy'. We also take ibuprofen tablets for all the aches and pains (no more than 2 per day, usually at bedtime). We call these "vitamin I"!

2) Marge asked "if you were to do it over again, would you wait an additional two weeks before you left Kennedy Meadows and hiked the High Sierra?"

NO. While we didn't particularly LIKE the snow and the difficult passes, it did add to our adventure and made pass crossing an accomplishment. We're not gluttons for punishment, but we think that it takes away something if you can just hike up and over each pass without crossing any snow. PLUS, we liked the fact that we were near the front of the PCT "group" ... it made finding camp spots easy, no lines at the Post Office in town, etc. (Mind you, we wouldn't have wanted to cross any earlier either ... so, all-in-all, it worked out just fine the way it was)!

3) Along a similar vain, Larry in Western Washington wanted to know "What was it like hiking in snow? ... Did you use crampons, ice axes, etc?"

We didn't use crampons or ice-axes. We HAD purchased them, but on the drive down to Campo (along US 395) we noticed a lack of snow in the High Sierra and noticed that it was a 'low snow year'. Early hiking in San Jacinto confirmed this. We sent our Camp HL 250 ice axes (lightweight) and strap-on, in-step crampons home. Only once in the High Sierra (on Mather Pass) did we feel we could have used an ice axe (to chop steps). We used our trekking poles instead (for stability) and wondered which would have provided for a more safe climb ... trekking poles or an ice axe? We ended up timing our pass crossings so that we hit them in early morning, when the snow was still 'stiff'. Our late afternoon crossing of Forester taught us that slushy, wet, soft snow is awful to hike across. Post-holing takes tons of energy, getting stuck in deep snow required being dug out by others, being wet and cold is not fun and slushy means 'slippery'. In contrast, early morning 'stiff' snow provides for adequate traction and crampons are needed only when crossing "ice", which we saw very little of. (Of course, this was our experience THIS year ... next year may be a different story).

3) Tom & Sheila, in Santa Rosa, CA - "What brand of sleeping bags you use and does the condensation inside the tent get them wet?"

We both bought new bags for this trip from a local Vancouver bag manufacturer "Taiga". Both are 800-fill, goose-down bags. Rachel's is rated to -12 degrees Celsius and came with a "Dry-loft" coating, to help keep it moisture resistant. Scott's is rated to 0 degrees Celsius and did not come with the "Dry-loft" coating. Rachel sleeps "cold" and Scott sleeps "hot", which is why the rating difference. We sleep in a tent nearly every night and it is hard to predict if there will be lots of condensation. Even if there is, however, we do not get "drips" on our bags. That said, our bags usually contain moisture (water vapor) in the morning and we just stuff them anyway. We do not often lay our bags out during the day, in the sun, to air out and dry (we're lazy). We just pull them out at night and use them all over again. Rachel likes the dry-loft coating (though it is noisier at night, when she tosses and turns) and feels it was worth the extra cost. Drying the bags during the day is a good idea, but we've not experienced any real moisture problems by not doing it. On another note: because we took down bags, we were concerned about them getting wet while hiking in the rain, crossing streams, etc. We purchased water-proof stuff sacks (large enough for sleeping bag, therm-a-rest, and camera) and use them ONLY when needed. We've used them a few times and are really glad to have them along. (We don't use them every day, because they are likely to be abraded, ripped or punctured - we use external frame packs and the sleeping bags are carried outside of the main pack).

4) Tom and Sheila also wanted to know: "About your bear canister - "Bearikade": Is it useful in camp? Does its usability warrant taking it along even without the threat of bears?"

Bear canisters are required in Sequoia, King's Canyon and Yosemite National Parks, although no PCT thru-hikers were ticketed for not having them. While there are "bear boxes" at some of the campgrounds in King's Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, we feel that the flexibility and peace-of-mind that the Bearikade provided was worth carrying it. Bearikade canisters are the lightest on the market, easy to pack and can be rented or purchased [more info]. It can be used as a camp stool too! The threat of bears is greatest from Kennedy Meadows to about Sonora Pass, though we carried ours till Donner Pass. We didn't experience any nocturnal bear visits, but slept well knowing that bears couldn't get our food in the canister. (The canister wasn't big enough to put ALL of our food into and we used 'Ursacks' to store the less odorous foods, like pasta, instant potatoes and rice). We feel the biggest key to avoiding bears is to camp in non-established sites. (Those PCT'ers we know who DID have bear visits, were camped in well-established campsites). Bear canisters are being used more and more in the backcountry, to keep food and bears apart, but they also keep mice, raccoons, marmots and other vermin from stealing food as well. Bears are a threat anywhere in the backcountry, but we carried the canister ONLY in the 'high-threat' zones because of it's added weight and because it isn't as easy to pack as are flexible food bags.