PCT Section Hike Backpack – Six Horse Spring Camp to Summit Lake Camp

Hike Distance: 20.7 miles      Yearly Hike Distance: 1161.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 3281 feet      Yearly Elevation Gain: 158725 feet


I actually slept well last night, with the help of a sleeping pill. When I awoke, everyone was vacating the camp and I had a split second to say goodbye and say thanks to the french couple before they moved on. I never saw them again. 

On this new day I knew there would be six miles to a water cache and I had plenty of water thanks to such wonderful people. Despite the better water situation my pee was brown and I knew I was quite dehydrated. I drank plenty of water and was taking electrolyte capsules and putting Nuun tablets in my water. I was able to get my pee somewhat clear but that didn’t last very long. I kept up a nice but casual pace on this sunny but hazy day. I actually felt energized and in much better spirits. When I got to the water cache it was a site to behold! Some amazing trail angel had provided solar charging, bug wipes and approximately 200+ gallons of water, at the Windigo Pass road.

I filled up my water bottles and hydrated completely at this water cache. I also spent a long time relaxing in the shade, about 1.5 hours. Halfway through my break, the only person I saw here arrived; “Squeaky”! We talked for about 40 minutes and had some great conversation. It was so relaxing and this was the type of experience I was hoping for on the PCT! 🙂 I mentioned an alternate PCT route, that shaved off 7 miles to the next resupply point at Shelter Cove but don’t think I conveyed it correctly to her. I opted to take the real PCT up towards Diamond Peak Wilderness, which turned out in the end to be my downfall.

The route up the PCT ascended for about six miles but the grade was nice. The views were getting better and better, and it was a slightly hazy but nice day. Only one set of thru-hikers passed me during this entire section, and they were moving at the speed of light. I asked them where they were going and they indicated that Summit lake campground had a privy. They were so excited about a bathroom! Unfortunately, Summit Lake was out of my hiking abilities at 18-20 miles for the day. 😦

I finally ascended completely up this mountain and was rewarded with an amazing view. For anyone that has seen one of those timeless pictures of a hiker standing on a rocky outcropping the overlooks a beautiful pristine mountain wilderness that is untouched by time, you know what I’m talking about. These are typically timeless pictures that could be 100 years old or taken yesterday, and may be in black and white.

For just a moment I looked out and realized I was in that picture and was part of a bigger story and that I could conquer anything. This is why I was hiking the PCT! All I could do was stand there and scan the beauty around me and I couldn’t help it but tears ran from my eyes, realizing this image would be with me forever. I really felt an amazing surge of confidence and that I could conquer anything the trail presented to me. I was overlooking this beauty but knew I had to move on and make it to camp and water, and already missed it.

I finally got to my desired campsite and nobody was there. I’ve never camped alone and no intention of doing so. I also had only 1.5 liters of water and was again dehydrated. In addition, the food I brought didn’t interest me and I had not consumed many calories over these three days. I was so hungry and so not interested in what I brought to eat. 😦

So, making the decision to continue to Summit Lake, and another four miles, this was going to be another very high mileage day for me. I seemed to have energy to spare and literally hiked faster than I ever had before. I covered the four miles in roughly 1.5 hours, and was assisted by it being mostly downhill. It was getting dark and I gleamed the beautiful sunset across Summit Lake, and it was mesmerizing. I was also greeted by the most aggressive and overwhelmingly large population of mosquitoes. 😦

I’m at a campsite on the shore but there are no hikers? Wait, my Guthooks Software map indicates two more possible campsites along the shore. I had hiked about 18 miles and was getting tired. I had little water and decided not to filter any from the lake. I was definitely very dehydrated but not exhausted. My insect shield clothing and head net kept the mosquitoes away, except for my hands. They swarmed my hands and were like a cloud. I put on my older insect shield gloves but they didn’t care about the older permethrin coating. My hands were eaten alive.

I moved quickly along the PCT and stopped at the next campsite, but found nobody. I thought I saw tents on the shoreline and continued further. I was now quite exhausted. I followed the PCT and checked into the Diamond Peak Wilderness permit area. Quickly checking my map I realized I had gone too far north. Where was this campsite located that the PCT hikers would be at?

I decided I was done and found an empty campsite along the road. I was petrified of being alone but set up my tent. I went down to the lake and gathered two liters of unfiltered water and put it outside the tent. I then climbed inside and spent the next 30 minutes killing the mosquitoes that made it in the tent with me. Exhaustion rolled over me and I took a couple swigs of water and laid down to go to sleep. I was alone, severely dehydrated and had almost no food today.

I suddenly woke up uncontrollably shivering at 1am in the morning. Oh no; I’m dying or something close to it. I’m dizzy but not hot. The temperature outside is very cold but my quilt is toasty. I shouldn’t be shivering in this warm sleeping quilt. I sat up and drank a liter of water and took an electrolyte tablet. I then forced a serving of cold mashed potatoes, along with a protein bar, down my throat. An hour later I felt back to some semblance of normal. I laid down and fell asleep until 6:30 am.

Day four: Waking up a bit dizzy and disoriented I noticed the pee in my bottle (hikers use this so they don’t have to go outside the tent in the middle of the night) it was all brown. 😦 I was glad that no animals attacked me and that I shouldn’t be fearful of camping alone; a valuable lesson learned! But, I’ve had it.

I could not fend of dehydration and the shivering last night spooked me beyond words. I was worn out but fearful of another long day. The previous day I had hiked almost 21 miles, and was amazed my body was capable of such distance and with a heavy 30+ pound pack. In fact, my body didn’t hurt at all, and that never happens. My back, shoulder, knees and ankles always hurt after day hikes, but not now! 🙂 At least my body was capable of some aspect of being on a long distance backpack.

I used my Garmin InReach to contact my wife and tell her I’m done. I didn’t want to die in the wilderness from heat exhaustion, and be another statistic. Carol was absolutely amazing, and she took the day off and drove to the middle of nowhere, alone, and on the “Road from Hell” to pick me up. Google sent her down an old forest road that has literally given her nightmares. The seven mile long road from Crescent Lake to Summit Lake is obviously meant for trucks with oversized tires and very high clearance, and she took our Subaru! She bottomed out quite a bit and had to get out of the car about eight times to see how to even get past some of the jutting rocks and deep ruts. She had cried that it was impossible to pass but couldn’t turn around, and had no cell service. 😦 Seven miles of unadulterated hell and she still made it to me. I am in awe and love that woman, and never expected would have expected her to drive anything that dangerous. If I thought for a moment that road would be insanely dangerous I would have hiked out, asked the campers to take me out or pressed the SOS in a real emergency! I wasn’t dying and could have walked the road but never got any message on my InReach that she couldn’t make it. It’s now giving me nightmares what could have happened.

We hugged when she got to my location and was very scared about going back on that road. There were several roads leading to where I was but didn’t know which road she would take. There were also many other trucks and vehicles on the roads, that I had seen, so there was no reason to suspect the road from hell. There was an older couple camping along the lake and they mentioned taking a road in a different direction. It turns out this road was in mostly excellent condition, except for a few bad areas. We ended up going through Oak Ridge and stopped at our favorite Chinese Restaurant for lunch/dinner. A day worth forgetting and purging from our minds.

One thing I should mention that was enlightening. I spoke to many of the section and thru-hikers about my not feeling well, and that I wasn’t hungry and mostly nauseous. I also spoke of not being able to sleep and of being dehydrated. The common theme among those I’ve talked with is that it took them anywhere from many days to weeks before they felt acclimated to long distance hiking. Many didn’t sleep the first week and others also were not hungry. Many also were demotivated and almost got off the trail. Everyone felt that if I stuck it out I would get used to it, and things would work out! I did have to ask myself whether the “buy-in” for staying on the trail was worth being sick for up to a couple weeks. In my case I felt the weather conditions coupled with dehydration could result in a negative outcome. I was feeling much better on the third day but that night cinched the decision. I keep coming back to the “if only……” I would still be on the trail. That thinking is a losing battle, even though I will need to fight it off for a long time. 😦

I’m sorry for the lengthy story but just don’t know how I could shorten it and still convey what led to my exiting the PCT. I learned so much and will likely go on the PCT again, but on my own terms. I did so much wrong that it will take some time to digest. In short, I really wasn’t prepared and didn’t hike my own hike. The only thing I did right was in picking my gear. My gear was amazing and all I would do in the future is get rid of some unused or unnecessary items. The food I brought was vile and I never want to see it again. Massive changes needed for food to take on the trail. Water is a big issue, but then high temperatures, smoke and long distances between water sources need to be understood and factored into the hike. Lastly, I need to realize that being a Trail Angel isn’t the same as being a Section or Thru-Hiker. I romanticized the trail and overlooked the reality that most people are just trying to get from point A to point B, and finish they’re journey in the time they have. The PCT is a mind blowing experience but isn’t a romp in the park, and things can get serious/dangerous quickly. I’m so very glad Carol and I got back home safely. In general, I think the experience of being Trail Angels is more up our alley, but I won’t be deterred from trying a PCT backpack again, armed with the knowledge I now have. For now, I’m feeling a somewhat lost and in a bit of shock, but am sure that will pass. Until next time?