“Every journey holds a destination of which the traveler is unaware.” Martin Buber
(Quoted from Cascade Summer by Bob Welch)
The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles of pristine wilderness, winding its way through the Sierra Nevadas and Cascades, from Mexico to Canada.
It lures outdoor adventurers of all ages and with varying degrees of experience.
No doubt the promise of spectacular scenery and isolated reverie delivers its promise, as does the many perils such a trek would present. There are consequences to being unprepared and any serious hiker contemplating the challenge initially spends more time in preparation than in the actual hiking time.
But like the new mother who quickly forgets the nine months of pregnancy and hours of painful labor once she lays eyes on her newborn, so too is the hiker, who reaches the pinnacle of a hard-won trek and lays eyes on splendorous mountains and clear lakes, mostly unseen by human eyes, and light years from the everyday world.
Eugene author Bob Welch and his brother-in-law Glenn Petersen of Albany, took the challenge of hiking the Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2011. It was a journey of 452 miles in 26 days, an adventure Welch wrote about in his book, “Cascade Summer,” published the following year. He chronicles the adventure in storytelling that keeps even a non-hiker turning the pages.
Welch puts his reader right into the adventure, on the trail meeting other hikers, finding the deeper meaning, inspiration and humor that seems to come naturally to this writer. It will inspire anyone thinking of making the hike – and maybe even those who weren’t.
Welch worked 39 years as a journalist, 14 of which were as a columnist for the Register Guard in Eugene. He has published 15 books and numerous blogs.
He admits he and Petersen initially were not the most fit or youthful of hikers among the trail, but they became seasoned over time.
“It takes a log of training and preparation to do these hikes,” Welch says, “but once you get out there, the trail becomes your trainer. When we’re on the trail, we like to ask other hikers for advice.”
Some of the hikers call themselves 10-by-10ers, because they hike 10 miles by 10 a.m.
“It seemed preposterous at first,” Welch says. I told Glenn we’d be the two-by-fours. Then, one morning I asked him how far we had gone and he said it was 10 miles. I looked at my watch and it was 10 a.m.”
These two brothers-in-law proved to be natural hiking partners.
“He’s a doctor and an Eagle Scout,” Welch says. “I’m a journalist. He grew up in Eugene and is a Beaver fan. I grew up in Corvallis and I’m a Duck fan.”
Coincidentally, their wives are sisters and best friends.
Welch draws inspiration from his father, an avid outdoorsman. “Growing up in Corvallis, our family got out into the mountains fairly often,” he says. “My dad was a fly fisherman, which meant packing things in. Hiking was a big part of who he was. By the time I was in college, I started doing even more hiking.”
While today’s mountain hikers are equipped with the latest in lightweight gear, well-designed tents, freeze-dried meals, cameras, smart phones and GPS, they still deal with the necessity of bear canisters, the challenges of tracking trails covered in snow or that aren’t well marked, the ever-familiar blistered feet, infrequent sources of water, and the unexpected and unknown.
None of these deter the true adventurer.
“After hiking the PCT in Oregon in 2011, and circling the Three Sisters in three days in 2013, we were getting tired and thought we were done with long distance hiking,” Welch says. “We thought we’d had enough. Then Glenn emailed me about hiking the John Muir Trail, and without hesitation, I said, ‘Let’s go.’”
The John Muir Trail blazes 210 miles through the California Sierras, considered to contain some of the most spectacular scenery in the country.
“It’s the grand-daddy of hiking trails,” Welch says. “You have to be a pretty experienced hiker. It’s a lot more rugged and steeper, and almost always above 8,000 feet, above the tree line.”
The air is thinner, and they camp at 10,000 feet, with mountains still towering two to three thousand feet above them.
“As much as I love my native state, I have to say that what we saw in the Sierra Nevadas is far beyond anything we saw in Oregon in terms of beauty,” Welch says. “There’s so many lakes and waterfalls, but the trail is far rockier. We had two days of rain, one particularly bad, when we were crossing Muir Pass. It was very cold.”
Their trail turned into a creek, and these two hikers stopped by 2 p.m. to make camp because Petersen determined Welch was on the verge of hypothermia.
But, like always, they crossed the hurdle and continued their hike.
On the John Muir Trail, the pair averaged about 15 miles a day, compared to 18 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.
“We’d be up at 4:45 a.m. each day and on the trail by 5:30 a.m.,” Welch says. “We hiked about 12 hours every day.”
With those hikes now a “distant” memory, Welch looks for more opportunities.
“It gets in your blood,” he says. “Our goal is to hike the whole 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, in pieces over the years.”