Wolverine Hikes

People who know me know that I belong on the Trail. I've thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (twice),the Pacific Crest Trail and the mighty Continental Divide Trail. I've hiked many of the long trails here in Michigan including being the first to hike both the Ironwood Trail and the Great Lake To Lake Trail. In 2017, I hiked the Israel National Trail and the Golan Heights Trail. I was the first to hike the Baja Divide Trail in Mexico but failed miserably to thru-hike the Bruce Trail in Canada. In 2019, I hiked the TEMBR in Ecuador and now, I'm going to attempt to hike 1,150 miles of the North Country Trail as it runs through my home state of Michigan.

The purpose of this blog is to keep anyone who is interested informed of my progress and to encourage those who are able to support me in these endeavors.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Toughest Day Ever!

Tuesday morning 10/17/12. Got up and packed up in a light rain. NBD, my gear was already soaked. Left camp with Hee Haw and Typo, leaving Scallywag and ED behind to finish breakfast. Right off we came to a huge river. We spent some time looking for a way to cross. Hee Haw found a line rock-hopping and made it across, yelling which rocks were slippery and which ones moved over the roar of the river. Typo was next but he slipped and planted one leg in the drink and dropped his trekking poles. I grabbed his arm to steady him and he used me as an anchor while he reached down into the freezing water to fetch his sticks. When he regained his balance he looked me in the eye and said "Cheers." Always the Kiwi, that Typo. I knew that he had better balance than me so I just forded the river. No sense risking falling and getting injured only 74 miles from the finish.
The rain that had been falling turned to sleet, then snow. Big flakes like the kind that makes school kids run to the window with awe and delight. I'd been camping in the snow since I was a kid and my cold weather game was tight so I wasn't concerned, but 12 miles and 6 inches of snow later, I found myself in the pitch black with blowing snow and freezing temps at 7K feet. Hadn't seen the others all day. I lost the trail under the snow and couldn't see any topo by the new moon so I decided to camp. I can set up my tent in seconds these days but on this night it was a pain with the wind blowing and my headlamp dying. Solid rock under the snow made staking in impossible so I had to guy my tent to rocks which is tough when your hands don't work. I finally got into my sleeping bag and spent the next 15 minutes shivering in the dark. When I turned on my headlamp next, snow had blown under the rain fly and into the tent! Everything in the vestibule was buried in snow!
Worst night ever. My fuel canister lost pressure and died. Had to eat cold. Wore every bit of clothing I had with me to bed. I lay shivering and wet in my bag, listening to the snow blow and howl. The sides of my tent bowed in like someone was physically pushing with all their might on the soaked nylon. At first light I poked my head out to find a break in the fog and clouds but deep snow drifts all around me. I was so fucking cold that I could barely get my gear together. I actually pulled my frozen boots out of a snow drift and put them right on my feet. Frozen laces don't tie well.

I could see a faint horizontal line across a mountain some miles away and Halfmile's maps pointed me that way but without enough detail to show me how to get there. The trail had to be around here somewhere! I started postholing through knee-deep snow with drifts as high as my waist that I had to 'swim' through. I was soon exhausted.
At this point, the smart thing to do would be to turn back, find my way back down to Rainey Pass and get the hell outta there. Had I done that, I probably would have found the other four hikers and been fine but I was gripped by the hiker's equivalent of 'summit fever'. I just could not turn back. I could see that climbing through snow drifts that hang out over an 800 foot drop was ridiculously stupid but I plunged forward, desperately wanting to get down from 7000 feet. What if the next 40 miles were like this? How could I finish? Why did I take so long in California? And where the hell were Hee Haw and Typo? I couldn't believe they made it up and over this thing in the dark and heavy snow last night!

I finally got below tree level. I tried to re-pack my gear because everything was caked in snow and ice but my hands still didn't work so it was fruitless. Finally, I was low enough that snow turned to rain and it melted most of the snow out of my pack. I caught a break in the rain and set up camp at Brush Creek. I had only gone 13 miles that day but I was exhausted. Plus, maybe Scallywag and ED would catch up from behind and I'd know they were okay but there was no sign of them, either.
Over the next few days, I pushed hard to get to the famous Monument 78 on the Canada border including a night spent in the shitter at Hart's Pass. I was covered in mouse poop by the time morning came around and the ambient stench in this outhouse was thick but it was blowing sleet outside and I had struck a bargain with the mice: just don't chew any additional holes in my pack and you can eat all you want.

Eventually I made it to the campground just beyond the border to find my little brother Astro, his step-dad Michael, PCT Thru-hiker Gourmet and his friend Dave there. First other hikers I had seen since waving goodbye to Hee Haw and Typo last Tuesday morning. This was Saturday!

Tough times. Good times. I wish I could do it all again.

There's all kinds of goodies inside the monument!


Patti and Jim said...

Wow...what a way to end your hike...glad you made it safe and sound...see you soon...

Anonymous said...

Congrats on your finish Wolverine! -Holstein and Tangent

Unknown said...

Its kind of funny because some of the stories you shared with me of other pct hikers. The one that stood out, was when he got to Washington he had to hike through waist high snow and he had to turn back and couldn't finish the pct because of this. I'm happy you pushed to the finish. A rough end to your great story.

Anonymous said...

Wow, amazing story! So glad you made it!

Chris Hillier said...

Hey U2! Haven't seen u in forever! Couldda used your experience up on Cutthroat. Paul - a special thanks to u for gathering all the data and writing Pocket PCT. Your book was essential every step of the way. Due to some miscommunication, I found myself without Halfmile's maps and I depended SOLEY ON YOUR BOOK to find my way. It's easily accurate enough to do that. You rock. Love u both - Wolverine

Chris Hillier said...

Randy and Miranda - you two helped me with supplies from the start. Remember the blocks of Velveeta!? I ate every bit in the first week of the trail. You even sent me on my way with a belly full of food.

Randy - Ripcord was truly essential in me completing this trail. I used it to tie my boots, hang my pack, guy down my tent, as a watchband, as a belt, as a gift, as wrist straps on my buddy's trekking poles, as a clothes line, to ... Everything. I used the reflective Ripcord draped over my tent to make it visible at night. I'd no sooner hit the trail without Ripcord than I would without map and compass. You got skills, Brother. Keep making that shit.

Miranda - Does everybody know that the grey pants I wore FOR HALF THE TRAIL belong to Miranda?! She loaned them to me and they saved my ass! They're Goretex lined and have built-in gators. They were tough as hell through all kind of conditions. Thank you for lending them to me.

To the two little ones - get your tiny hiking boots on and let's go!

You guys have been great. Hope to see you soon -


Chris Hillier said...

Love to you both! Can't wait to see you!

Unknown said...

Wow, an amazing story - it made me cold reading it! The last few miles of the PCT have turned a lot of hikers around...been on PCT around Glacier Peak...beautiful area!