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Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop
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Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop on 04/17/2007 19:56:38 MDT Print View

Update: April 16, 2007, Saligman, AZ . Andy has hiked 210 miles of his 6875
mile hike.

This is the first update from Andy's hike of the Great Western Loop. He
called from Saligman, AZ April 16th and asked that I share this

Andy is feeling comfortable but also nervous. This hike is a huge challenge
and he has such a long way to go to be successful. In addition, he is
hiking in an unfamiliar environment. Andy mentioned that when he reaches the
Pacific Crest Trail he might just kiss the ground, thankful that he is on a
planned trail. Right now Andy is not following any trail. He is following
ranching roads, transmission lines and/or just going cross country to get to
where he needs to be. Prior to leaving MA, Andy had gathered maps, etc. and
had planned his route. The reality of the terrain is not always the same as
the maps, so it is requiring Andy to be flexible in his route. (Those of
you who know Andy; the guy that has the next seven months figured out on a
spread sheet, understand that flexibility is not one of Andy stronger

What Andy has seen so far. Andy began his hike in the Grand Canyon National
Park. He was required to change his planned route because of some permit
issues with the park and with the tribes. He was disappointed that he did
not do the Trans Canyon Trail but will visit the park again at a later time
to hike this. Instead he followed the Conto Trail for 90 to 100 miles.
This trail stays at a relatively consistent elevation about one quarter of
the way up the canyon. It follows a contour line. The trail is difficult
because of the numerous canyons and side canyons that the trail meanders
through. The water was awful. Some water Andy found had 1/2 inch worms
swimming in it. Other water was full of tadpoles. This actually gave Andy
an appreciation for the geological time it took to form the Grand Canyon.
The canyon was caused by water erosion and yet there is so little water in
the canyon. His coolest campsite was at Base Camp which is right alongside
the Colorado River. At this point the river is calm. Andy reported that
the coolest event was the surprise storm that dumped two inches of snow when
he was back on the rim. As the storm clouds lifted, the appearance of the
canyon was amazing and he got some fabulous pictures.

From the Grand Canyon National Park, Andy hiked along the Coconino Plateau.
He described it as being an enormous expanse of range land reminiscent of
the northern high prairies. He hiked on this plateau for three days and saw
one person and only one house and two ranch camps, which are outposts for
cowboys. Water is only available because of the infrastructure set up by
ranches to water the cattle. Therefore the water is in stock tanks. He got
lucky with his water. Andy stocked up on water prior to leaving the National
Park and that took him through day one. On day two he happened to sleep
nearest the cleanest stock tank so that was water for day two. The third
day he happened upon a cowboy outpost and the lone occupant allowed Andy to
fill his water bags with water from the faucet. In addition the weather was
cool and breezy so he has not needed tons of water.

Physically, Andy said that he is strong and ready for this hike. The
bottoms of his feet need to get toughened. There are no blisters or sore
spots but they need toughening. The last few days have been difficult
because the terrain required repetitive motion which is wearing on the body.
He said that his attitude is relaxed. He is taking his time and is already
ahead of schedule and is able to hike the miles without putting in
tremendous hours. This allows for postcard writing and afternoon naps.

Andy expects to reach Bagdad, AZ (95 miles from Saligman) on Thursday,April
18th and reach Parker on Sunday night, April 22nd.
Karen Skurka

Andrew Skurka

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop on 04/17/2007 22:09:24 MDT Print View

Thank you for the update, Karen and Sam. And go, Andy!

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop on 04/29/2007 11:21:07 MDT Print View

April 28 - Morongo Valley, CA-
Andy here. I am staying the night with a PCTA volunteer, Don Line (who last
year put in over 400 hours of volunteer time for the trail!), and figured
I'd jump on email and write a recap of the last 2 weeks. Unfortunately I
will need to leave out some detail -- hopefully the pictures, video, and
Podcasts (which start to become available within the next week I hope) will
fill in the gaps.
Seligman to Bagdad
For almost 100 miles I followed a network of hiking trails, ATV trails, and
primitive jeep roads through the Juniper Mountains and Santa Maria Mountains
in the west end of Prescott National Forest. The two highlights were: (1)
the primitive Juniper Mesa Trail, which follows a high ridge with great
views to the south, and (2) catching a sunset from the fire tower atop Hyde
Mountain. The headline of the section, though, was getting attacked by wild
javelinas, which are pig-like animals, found all over Arizona. Of the six in
this group (one of which was a baby), two came after me, which I though
rather aggressive since there was ample distance and a row of thick bushes
between the group and me. I defended myself by swinging my trekking poles at
them; I hit one and the other was smart enough to stay an extra foot or two
away. Finding good water, especially good water, continued to be a problem
through this section due to the dry winter; cool temperatures and relatively
easy hiking continued to minimize my needs.

Bagdad to Parker
Bagdad is a mining town with about 2,000 people, nearly all of which seem to
drive American-made pick-up trucks, and usually the F-350 dualie diesel V10
turbo extended cab and bed types too. The town is in the middle of no where,
but its people are genuinely nice and there is a good small town feel to it.
Getting around the mine to the west of town took some effort (it's HUGE!)
but eventually I did and made my way to Burro Creek, which I followed to the
Big Sandy River, which I followed to Alamo Lake and the Bill Williams River.
These are trail-less seasonal waterways, and I figured they would serve as a
more hiker-friendly route than the hot, dry, and shade-less desert that
surrounds them. Burro Creek was lots of fun, with miles of boulder-hopping,
sandy shorelines, and rock scrambling; at many points the creek is a narrow
canyon with vertical cliffs on both sides. The Big Sandy is aptly named --
it's a ribbon of small interconnected streams about 50' wide and 6" deep
flowing through a wide sandy corridor. Travel was fast and fun - splash,
splash, splash, for about 10 miles, just walking straight down the river.
The Bill Williams was the most pristine corridor, with effects of the Bagdad
mine and cattle operations being filtered out by then. I followed the Bill
Williams for the first five miles through the narrow canyon, which features
deep pools and clear cool water; then after that it opens up and gets really
brushy, since the canyon is no longer regularly flooded (due to the dam that
forms Lake Alamo) to wipe out the vegetation. So I left the Bill Williams
and road-walked in the last 40 miles to Parker, not encountering a water
source or a sign of habitation until town. My last night along the river I
stayed with Mexican migrant farmers, which besides being good company gave
me a first-hand look at our immigration policies.
Parker to Morongo Valley
Parker is located on the Colorado River and is surrounded by the harshest
desert in the Lower 48 -- the Colorado Desert. No desert is hotter or drier,
which makes it very conducive to hiking.. Not! Thankfully there is the
Colorado River Aqueduct, which is about the size of a backyard swimming pool
and flows at 3.5 mph 24/7/365 to quench the thirst of giant monsters on the
other end -- LA, San Diego, and Palm Springs, none of which could subsist at
the levels they do without this lifeline (and others like it). The aqueduct
is surrounded by a 4-foot high fence plus another 2 feet of barbed wire, and
it's illegal to trespass (or to bath -- signs prohibit both, as if the
latter weren't implicit in the former) inside the fence, but if you're
thirsty... After following the Aqueduct for about 30 miles I used some
active and abandoned jeep roads, and some cross-country travel, and got
myself through the craggy Palen and Granite Mountains. Those 40 miles were
somewhat of a warm-up for the more difficult stretch: 70 miles without water
through Joshua Tree National Park, starting in the southeast corner near the
ghost town of Eagle Mountain and finishing at Black Rock Canyon. When I
began this section, I was carrying 38 lbs of water, 6 lbs of food, and 4 lbs
of gear! That's 50 lbs total -- in my little frameless GoLite Jam2 pack no
less! I hiked cross-country the first 40 miles through the Pinto Basin, with
the first 20 miles in the dark by moonlight. It was a surreal night,
starting with getting buzzed by an F-16 fighter jet (they were so close I
could see the green glow of their control panels) and then having dreams and
realities become one-in-the-same as the onset of fatigue and necessary cat
naps set in. I made it to Black Rock Canyon about 40 hours later with no
water to spare, and then today took a trail-less route across the Little San
Bernardino Mountains to reach Morongo Valley, CA. Tomorrow I have 6 more
miles before reaching Mission Creek and the Pacific Crest Trail, and then it
should be fairly easy going for about 450 miles until I reach the High
Sierra in 2 weeks. I am looking forward to meeting some other thru-hikers
and to taking a day off (my first in a month) next weekend at the
incomparable Hiker Heaven!

Andrew Skurka

James Pitts
(jjpitts) - F

Locale: Midwest US
Re: Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop on 04/29/2007 15:35:34 MDT Print View

Thanks for posting that. Good reading for me.

Don Wilson
(don) - MLife

Locale: Koyukuk River, Alaska
Re: Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop on 04/29/2007 16:02:06 MDT Print View

Cool! Sounds like it wasn't too bad, and hiking the Pinto Basin at night - perfect!

Good luck,

John Kays
(johnk) - M

Locale: SoCal
Re: Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop on 04/29/2007 19:56:57 MDT Print View

Seligman to Bagdag. Driving along I-40 between Kingman and Williams there is a stretch near the Fort Rock exit, roughly in the vicinity of Andy’s route south from Seligman to Bagdag. This area looking south from I-40 appears both foreboding and inviting, especially on a slightly drizzly day with steel gray, low hanging clouds giving the rock formations a dark slick sheen from the rain. I have always wanted to hike it or even ride it by horse but up until 10-15 years ago there weren’t any topo maps available. Hopefully pictures will be posted along w/ a report re: springs and water holes.

Edited by johnk on 04/29/2007 20:18:54 MDT.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
ANDY SKURKA: GREAT WESTERN LOOP on 04/29/2007 21:34:50 MDT Print View


Andy has an amazing memory of a place's specific even if he's only been there once and it was a year previous. He's great about answering folk's questions too so get in touch with him after his hike and ask about it as I'm sure he'd be more than happy to answer your questions.

- sam_h

John Kays
(johnk) - M

Locale: SoCal
Re: ANDY SKURKA: GREAT WESTERN LOOP on 04/29/2007 21:46:01 MDT Print View

Yeah Sam, thanks. I actually did email his mother relaying my interest in this area and garnering a reply that Andy characteristically keeps copious notes in his journal. Just hate to wait a year to see and hear. Kind of like wating for the return of Lewis and Clark.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop on 05/14/2007 21:32:08 MDT Print View

Andy Skurka's Update: May 14th Mile 1152 Kennedy Meadows Campground

Andy called last night and provided the following information about his hike. He is presently at the Kennedy Meadows Campground which is just south of Yosemite National Park. He is entering the High Sierra's and has a 280 mile stretch without a re-supply and without crossing a road. Andy said that this section was the second biggest challenge of this hike.

Andy left Hiker Heaven, sadly. He got over the initial inertia that all hikers feel and moved on. The first one and a half days he hiked through chaparral covered foothills. Chaparrals are thick bushes about the height of a person. He then crossed the Mohave desert and Antelope Valley. He crossed these areas in the evening, when the weather was cooler. After having seen Palm Springs, Andy said that he realized that Antelope Valley could be another Palm Springs some day if the water infrastructure becomes established. This realization gave Andy an understanding of the importance of water rights.

The next interesting area was the Tehachapi Hill Wind farm. It is situated in the desert, where the desert air mixes with the coastal air. There are thousands of windmills here. Aesthetically, Andy said they are beautiful and man is harvesting natural energy but environmentally, they still scar the area because of the roads and power lines etc. Andy had his first bear sighting last week. He was in the mountains and spotted a mother and her cub. They did not want to meet Andy any more than he wanted to meet them.

The weather last week was in the low 90's. It was very hot in the dessert sections but the wonderful trail angels have been filling water caches along the trail. Trail Angels are wonderful people and hikers love them. Andy says," thank you".

We asked Andy what the highlights of the week were. He said that the scenery was not spectacular and he had grown tired of the desert heat and was anxious to be out of it. Therefore, he had been hiking 40 miles per day. He begins about 5:45 AM and finds a spot to camp for the night about 8:15 PM. He is happy and anxious to be in the Sierras. He is very early in the season and is not sure what to expect of the snow pack. He is hoping that he will not be post-holing but rather walking on top of the snow. The following is an update written by Andy from Hiker Heaven.

May 5 - Agua Dulce, CA
Andy here, again. I am writing from "Hiker Heaven," arguably the best hiker hostel in the world, no joking. The hosts, Jeff and Donna, are incredible, and the hikers who are here for the first time are still pinching themselves to make sure that the showers, lodging, laundry, internet and phone access, hiker cars, hiker bikes, and over-the-top amazing hospitality is actually for real.

For the last week I have been following the Pacific Crest Trail through the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California. The well-worn tread, water reports, guidebooks, signage, and presence of other hikers has been a welcome relief from the more stressful - but, in some respects, more rewarding -- hiking that I did from the Grand Canyon to the PCT.

To access both ranges I needed to make major climbs -- about 5,000 and 6,000 vertical feet, respectively -- and then major descents. The higher elevations feature old growth drought-resistant pines (namely ponderosas), flowing water sources, and cool temperatures (high-20's/low-30's at night and 50's/60's during the day), which is quite a difference from the hot and dry Mojave Desert that is visible to the east from the ridgetops. At 9,000 feet there were some lingering patches of snow, which reminded me that even though it's been a very dry winter in California that it is still very early in the season and that the still-cool temperatures will mean lots of snow at higher elevations when I hit the High Sierra next weekend.

One of the highlights of this section was encountering a rattlesnake in Deep Creek Canyon that was in the process of swallowing a rat that it had caught. The rat was about twice the width of the snake (Imagine trying to swallow a basketball!) but the snake had successfully put down about half of it so far, and it probably spent the remainder of the afternoon swallowing the rest. A few more miles downstream this highlight was partially offset by encountering 8 skinny dippers (all in their 60's) at the Deep Creek Hot Springs -- although I appreciated their comfort in expressing themselves, I decided to carry on.

When I joined the PCT last weekend I started a 1,500-mile stretch that I have already hiked (last summer). But so far that has not downgraded the experience: the people, campsites, lighting, and weather have all been different; this time I better understand the geology, vegetation, and
weather patterns; and I also don't remember every mile, or even most of the miles. For example, in the San Gabriel's I did not remember, until I had started it, the awesome ridgewalk between Baden-Powell and Mt Throop; I didn't necessarily recall the thick brush, great trail work, or steep mountainsides; and on Thursday I woke up at 8,000 feet looking down at LA and the Mojave, both completely clouded over, whereas last June I think I saw a cloud the entire time, and I took a picture to prove it.

In a week I will be at Kennedy Meadows Campground, the gateway to the High Sierra on the PCT, and things will get difficult again, with route-finding, deep fords, post holing, and long road-less and human-less stretches being the biggest challenges. I won't be able to keep the 35-40
miles/day pace that I have been doing (with cat naps, everyday), but this stretch will no doubt be one of the highlights of the entire trip.

Andrew Skurka

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop on 05/30/2007 15:58:28 MDT Print View

May 28 -- Truckee, CA

Andy here. It's been about three weeks since I have even seen a
computer and I figured I would jump on this opportunity to catch up on how
the trip has been going. The last two weeks have been amazing -- though
tiresome -- and I think the High Sierra section in particular deserves a
first-hand report. I have tried to keep this entry as brief and tight as
possible while also wanting to do justice to these 400 miles.

High Sierra: Kennedy Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows

It occurred to me a few times before this section, though never so clearly
as in this section, that I am on "a trip of a lifetime" that itself consists
of many "mini trips of a lifetime," with the Bill Williams River and the
Joshua Tree National Park stretches probably being the two most notable
others so far. Time will tell, but I think other sections of the Great
Western Loop will struggle to beat out this most recent "mini trip" for
first prize.
In this section the Pacific Crest Trail travels through the High Sierra,
regarded by many as the most spectacular backcountry area in the Lower 48
due to its towering 14,000-foot peaks, abundant alpine lakes and meadows,
glaciated granite canyons, and snowmelt-filled creeks. This is some
beautiful country! And at 240 road-less miles, this is also the longest
uninterrupted thread of wilderness among the nation's long-distance trails,
thanks to a near-seamless corridor of national parks (Sequoia & Kings
Canyon, Yosemite, and Devils Postpile National Monument) and wilderness
areas (Southern Sierra, John Muir, and Ansel Adams).
In an average year, heading into the High Sierra in mid-May would inevitably
result in massive difficulties, like following the 100% snow-covered trail,
fording the bridge-less raging creeks, and reaching the high and steep
snowbound passes. I was fortunate in that this winter was exceptionally dry
-- about half the average precipitation -- which made the challenge slightly
less challenging, though certainly still a heck of one. (If it had been a
normal year, I just would have had to deal with it.)
The PCT, which shares the same trail corridor as the John Muir Trail for
much of this stretch, is a "pass and valley" trail -- it climbs up a valley
to a pass (basically, a low point on a ridge or crest line), descends down a
valley to a major ford, and then back up the next valley to the next pass.
The passes (8 total, if I recall correctly) range in elevation from 10,900
feet to 13,200 feet; the valley bottoms are between 7,800 feet and 9,000
feet -- cumulatively amounting to a little bit of climbing. On the
approaches, the snow usually became patchy starting at 9,000 feet and by
9,750 it was solid; descending the north-facing slopes the snow would begin
to break up around 9,000 and usually be snow-free by 8,000 feet. In
essence, every pass was surrounded by 5 to 10 miles of snow.
Snow is not necessarily a problem -- sometimes, like in the morning after
cold nighttime temperatures have made the surface rock-hard, walking on snow
can be easier than walking on a trail; but other times, like in the
afternoon after the sun has softened the surface, the snow can cause
nightmare-ish conditions in which every step is greeted with "post holing"
1-3 feet down through the snow. Both of these conditions happened everyday,
making it critical that I utilize the morning hours as best as I could and
that I prep myself mentally for afternoon slog sessions. It's no
coincidence that the two most Wahoo!-inspiring moments were while standing
atop passes (Pinchot and Muir) at 7AM, while the two most difficult times
were while post-holing up and down two other passes (Mather and Donahue) in
the late-afternoon.
Even in a light year, the conditions found in late-May are still too much
for most folks, so I essentially had the High Sierra to myself for a week.
I went 5.5 days and 200 miles without seeing another human being, and at
least one-half of the passes and at least one-third of the trail miles
showed no signs of human use (e.g. tread marks or ski tracks). In the most
populated state in the country, in its most heavily used backcountry area
and on one of its most heavily used trails, this is an exceptional
experience. Perhaps equally amazing to some is that upon returning to
civilization I discovered that there was really not an email, text message,
or news headline that could not have waited a few more days for me to see.
Tuolumne Meadows to Truckee

North of Tuolumne, the trail never regains the high elevations found further
south -- in fact, after Bond Pass in Desolation Wilderness the trail never
again climbs above 9,000 feet. Nowadays, more often the trail meanders
among massive firs (mostly red, white, and silver), lodgepole pines, and
Western junipers, the latter two of which can often be found living tortured
existences on wind-blasted slopes near treeline.
For the first 1.5 days of this section, the trail showcased the iconic
granite domes and slabs of Yosemite National Park. Then, about 10 miles
south of Sonora Pass/Hwy 108, the geology beings to change radically: the
remnants of ancient lava flows begin to fight for dominance with the giant
pluton that extends almost from the Mexican border; sometimes the same
ridgeline will feature both granite- and lava-based slopes. These basaltic
slopes are more prone to erosion, resulting in smoother mountainsides and
less robust vegetation (e.g. some slopes are so loose that sagebrush can
barely take root).

Snow continues to hinder my progress, perhaps even more than in the High
Sierra. The snowline has dipped as low as 7,000 feet, with snow essentially
assured in shaded areas, on north-facing slopes, and in gullies/ravines.
The inconsistent snow distribution is extremely tiresome -- I am endlessly
climbing up onto and then sliding off of snow patches, kicking steps into
steeply angled snowfields across gullies, and trying to navigate through
feature-less forests after losing the trail and being unable to find any
"clues" (e.g. an obvious trail corridor, cut blow downs, notched trees,
signs, etc.). And while I am no longer post-holing, "sun cups" (as deep as
18") now test my balance and core strength. Because the PCT was not
designed for winter/spring use, the actual trail is often not the safest,
easiest, or fastest route, so some days I bet that at least one-third of my
travel has been off-trail -- that's 12 miles in a 36-mile day! I have come
to see the trail more as a "means" of travel -- it's just one way to get
there -- and the destination points have taken on far more importance. This
has not been a section for cruise control or auto-pilot; I have needed to be
fully engaged in where I am and where I am going.

The last two weeks have undoubtedly worn on me, both physically and
mentally, and recently I have found myself frequently dragging -- my legs
lack the spunk and my mind lacks the edge that they normally have.
Thankfully, I have been given a nice boost by visits from friends and
family. Last Monday my friend Amy drove from near Modesto to join me for a
6-mile segment along the Tuolumne River and a night at Glen Aulin Camp --
the first time anyone had hiked or camped with me since I started 7 weeks
ago. Then, on Saturday I was joined by Truckee resident Scott Williamson,
famous for his PCT Yo-Yo achievements, for the 60-mile stretch from Echo
Lake to Donner Pass. Just before reaching Highway 40 Scott and I were
greeted by another stud hiker and Truckee local, Justin Lichter (who last
November finished a 10,000-mile hike), as well as my older sister, Kerri,
and brother-in-law, Ryan, who drove out from Palo Alto. It has been great
to see them all -- their timing was excellent -- and I have greatly
appreciated what they brought me, definitely all the food (enchiladas,
carrot cake, chocolate chip cookies and brownies, a
made-to-my-specifications Chipotle burrito, organic fruits and vegetables,
and more!) but, more than that, their company.

By the end of this week I will pull into Old Station, CA, at the southern
edge of the Cascades. More from there...

Andrew Skurka

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
Skurka in the High Sierra on 05/30/2007 16:14:33 MDT Print View


(You would have seen my ski tracks in April!)

Denis Hazlewood
(redleader) - MLife

Locale: Luxury-Light Luke on the Llano Azul
Re: Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop on 05/31/2007 14:54:01 MDT Print View

Did Andy mean Dick's Pass as being the last place the PCT is above 9000'? Haven't heard of a Bond Pass.

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Andy Skurka: Great Western Loop on 06/11/2007 08:16:00 MDT Print View

Update June 10, 2007

Andy will be reaching the 2000 mile mark this week as he crosses in the state of Oregon. He has been writing updates whenever possible. Follow this link to read his update from Old Station, CA.

In addition, Andy has been recording Podcasts. The most recent one was recorded on June 8th from Castella, CA. Follow this link to listen to the most recent Podcast.

Andy also asked that I tell people that a video has been recorded and can be seen on the following link: