Ned Tibbits has a passion for the lifestyle that’s lasted over a half century. He is the founder and head of Mountain Education, an organization dedicated to helping others learn how to survive & thrive in the outdoors.
But his journey began when he was a kid in scouting, and deepened in his teens. As soon as he graduated from high school, he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1974 – one of only a dozen people to do so.
That journey was more than just a really long hike. For him the months and miles enabled him to find his purpose and spiritual connection.
In this interview he reflects back on that trip and other experiences that have shaped his life & career. And he also shares hard-won knowledge and suggestions that can help you deepen your love for hiking and backpacking … and perhaps even hike the PCT for yourself.
- Ned Tibbits on Facebook – Where he often writes about backpacking and the outdoors.
- Mountain Education – the official website where you can sign up for his backcountry education courses.
- PCT Section Hikers – A Facebook group dedicated to those wanting to hike parts of the Pacific Crest Trail. Ned often contributes to this group.
- PCT Class of 2021 – A Facebook group for those considering hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2021.
Full Ned Tibbits Transcript
Doug: Hi, this is Doug Greene with What Really Matters Interviews. And today I’m really excited to be interviewing a guy named Ned Tibbits. He is a director, instructor, founder of a company called ,Mountain Education. And the way I came across Ned is on some Pacific Crest Trail Facebook groups.
I’m pretty interested in hiking the Pacific Crest Trail myself, and they’re these groups formed to really help people connect and figure out how to do it. There’s a lot of newbies in these groups, and also experienced people. And a lot of questions get asked. And a lot of people will answer those questions.
But I noticed that there was this guy named Ned Tibbetts that kept answering the questions significantly more than other people, and his answers were spot on. He had great advice, great suggestions. So I was really curious to see who this guy was, you know, where’d he get his experience? As it turns out he’s been in the outdoor recreation world, backpacking world for a half a century, basically.
And so today we’re going to cover all kinds of things. It’s about the PCT Pacific crest trail. He hiked it in 1974 waybefore it became super popular and the book Wild was done about it. I’m curious to find out how many people even hiked it that year. So here’s a little bit of his background.
Besides 50 years of wilderness experience, he’s been a Forest Service Wilderness Ranger, a rural and urban paramedic professional volunteer ski patrol. He’s been on Sheriff’s department search and rescue. He’s got certificates in emergency medical technical instruction, NOLs Wilderness EMT, National Ski Patrol, Wilderness Medical Society’s Fellow and Diploma on and on and on.
Ned thanks for joining us today.
Ned: Good morning, Doug. Nice to be on your program.
So tell me about the PCT back in 1974. What drew you to do it? And what compelled you? What was it like? How many people? take us on that trip with you and what led up to it also.
Well, it’s quite a story.
I hiked the PCT in 1974 as a 17-year old who had just graduated early from high school. But I heard about it maybe 1971, when Eric Rybeck wrote his book about his hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, which he did in 1970. And of course up until then, those of us who were crazy about backpacking really only had such books as Colin Fletcher’s Complete Walker and some of his other books like The Thousand Mile Summer, et cetera.
I think Mountaineers has had Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, which was a great reference. And there were a few other organizations, including NOLs that were out there. But that was all pre-internet.
So in those days it was like, if you wanted to find out anything you had to go to the library. You had to maybe get on the phone and call ranger stations. And there was also a great resource called the Pacific Crest Trail Club, which was started a long time ago by Warren Rogers. And Warren Rogers sort of pioneered the route by using Boy Scout teams to relay hike what could be the future trail.
And so I managed to get ahold of him eventually in the course of two or three years of planning and pulling together all the information that I needed to do the thing. And Warren helped me a lot.
So a question I have even leading up to that though, is, what compelled you to want to hike it?
It’s not exactly like every kid wants “Yeah. you know, I think I’d like to hike from, uh, Mexico to Canada or, you know, the other direction Canada to Mexico. But, what compelled you? Was it like some, you didn’t get a knock on the head, did ya?
Yeah, you kind of think I must’ve been crazy. Um, I started hiking through summer camp experiences back in the sixties, like, you know, 64, I started hiking and my family did a lot of car camping and stuff across the country.
So even strangely enough, I have this picture. I don’t know. My mom probably took it when I was still crawling in diapers, but I’m crawling through a campground fire pit as a little kid. So we were out there doing stuff , you know, when I was really little. So I kind of grew up with it. And then, when I was home, as a childhood, I loved to climb trees.
And so if my mom was ever looking for me, cause she had to go shopping or something and you know, I was kind of like an only child cause my three other siblings were, you know, seven, 11 and 12 years older than me. They were always gone. So I would be up the tree. And so I really liked, you know, kind of just, being out in the air and the wild, big views, I’d be in the top of the tree, like a huge Redwood tree we had in our front yard.
But anyway, that got me going on hiking. And, back in those days, the backpack of choice or the ones that the summer camp had were Trapper Nelson wooden frames, you know, with a canvas bag and all that. And then of course, there’s little kids with, you know, skinny legs and all that core sort of stuff.
And we were based out of Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, just outside the park was the camp. So all of our hikes were on high Sierra trails and carrying these packs and God knows what they weighed at the time. But we put them on, we didn’t know any difference.
Do you do what you do? You’re wearing your jeans, you got the monster boots and all that kind of stuff. And you try and carry it and you just say, forget it. And you sit down on the trail as an eight year old and just, you know, see if the camp counselor can solve your problem.
But, I fell in love with the outdoors. Uh, kind of stayed in that sort of mindset, my whole life, you know? And so when I heard about Rybeck’s book and this thing called the Pacific Crest Trail, I had done quite a bit of backpacking in the Sierra. Not a whole lot by myself. Like I said, I was only 15 when I started really seriously planning this thing.
But through summer camp and becoming a counselor myself, I did a lot of 50 milers and junk like with the campers. So I was excited. I didn’t know what such a long trail would entail. Nobody did. I mean, the Appalachian trail was around, but I was a West coast guy and y didn’t know much about anything in those days.
Maybe you knew of the Appalachian trail, but the Pacific Crest Trail … yeah, what’s that? So I was calling for ranger stations and they didn’t know what it was. They had heard about it and they knew it was proposed, but proposed is a whole different thing. So it’s like, they would give me their maps in the mail.
I’d get it two weeks later, you know, that kind of stuff. It was all very exciting and all very new, but that’s what drew me into the mountains was just a childhood in it.
So I guess it sounds like a two or three year process, you pulled all the information together to do this thing. Was there a moment when you like said yes, “I’m going to do it!”, or were you committed to it from the moment you sort of like got the idea for it?
Well, that’s a good question. I’m the kind of personality that just goes bananas as soon as I decide I really like something. So I had recently lost my father to cancer in 69.
My mom was sort of hesitant to let me go on some wilderness excursion for five and a half months. But she knew that I was pretty excited and we started collecting all the topographic maps of the route because there was nothing else.
And, it was a long process, but I was pretty dedicated to it. And I lived outside of the town of Sonoma in California up on a hill. And, there were very few houses around me, so it was very easy to go out the back door and simply go on top of Sonoma Mountain and just wander deer trails and, learn to read the land.
So I started pretty early on, very dedicated.
I’m really curious about the somatic side of things, because I think that’s actually where we truly make decisions. Did you just have a strong feeling inside? Like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this.” It wasn’t in your head. It was like in your body, like, “Yeah, I’m going to do the PCT. I’m going to do this Pacific Crest Trail thing.” Did you feel it that strongly?
Yeah, I felt it that strongly, but to get into the depth of that, and because your show is called, What Really Matters. What mattered to me in those days as a young teenager without a father was finding my space, my place in the universe sort thing. And what life was all about.
And so that’s what took me outside. The longer I could stay out there, the better.The worse the storms, the more excited I got. I, you know, I’m a snow guy. I love camping and the snow that’s my specialty. Certainly I’ve done plenty of summer stuff, but as far as I’m concerned, snow camping is, no dust, no bugs, no bears, no hikers, no Rangers.
The creation is all yours. So I really liked the winter, But anyway, what really mattered to me was to have some time to explore. If anything it’s the exploratory spirit within me that drew me out there. And literally, I would say that it wasn’t a mental thing. I wasn’t doing it for the physical challenge.
I wasn’t doing it to, maybe like John Muir would say, The mountains are calling me.” Well, maybe they will were. And I wasn’t running away necessarily. I was trying to find my place in the sun. And that’s what was drawing me. It was an inner thing, not a mental thing.
Just that calling of some kind, like “I gotta do this”.
It’s “where I’m going to find me” is basically what was going on?
Yeah. And I did. It wasn’t cognitive. It wasn’t like, that’s where I’ve got to go or this is what I’ve got to do. Or even that this was my calling, which it turned out to be, and I’m sure we’ll get into that.
But, it was just something that was like, “Wow, look at this. This is exciting.” And you know, the little boys, young kids, teenagers, whatever you all, you’re looking for adventure. You’re looking for something to put your name on. and you want to do it grand, and big and, this is it.
So. Okay, you do the thing. You actually get started. You started down in Campos?
I started down at compo, March 14th.
And so once you actually got on the trail and you realize this was for real now You’re out of the planning stage and all the preparatory stuff, and you’re actually doing it.
What was that like? What was that feeling like? was there overwhelm? Was there joy? Was there fear? Was there apprehension? Was there all of that?
Okay. I’m going to date myself here a little bit. An artist by the name of Dan Fogelberg, wrote a song, I think it’s called Joy at the Start or something like that.
Anyway, he talks about a journey. Enjoy it. The start fear in the journey. Joy in the coming home. A part of the heart is lost in the learning somewhere along the road. So that I was aware of, or soon became aware of. And that was really, what happened.
I mean, I spent two years or more planning this thing. Naturally I was excited. We had plenty of convolutions in the planning because we didn’t know what we were doing. But prior hiking experience tells you what works for you, what you like, your hiking style, what you need to bring a little research, maybe a Sierra Club class on snow camping and snow travel navigation.
I did that right before the hike. So when you start the hike. It’s almost – your nerves are just buzzing, You get so excited, you know, have an accident, or throw up or something and you get very excited. But because there’s nobody out there, you’re all by yourself, you’re looking at a barbwire fence in those days.
It’s sort of what they call the guard shack or some kind of. small shack on the Mexican side of the border. You stick your foot through the barbed wire fence, you turn around and you head North and there’s a bit of relief. You’re finally doing it, as you said.
And did the nerves go away?
Every part of my hike, because of the way I resupplied had to be, planned. So every day had a destination. I had to pretty much stick to that in order to make my food drop locations, because they were literally driven out to me, or general delivery mailed or mailed to ranger stations and resorts along the way.
But sometimes I had somebody like driving out from Seattle meeting me at Rainy Pass or Snoqualmie. And I had to be there at five o’clock on a certain day. And so there wasn’t a lot of flexibility, at least early on with some of the relaxed nature of a hike. A hike is done totally differently now. But yeah, I was excited, but the nerves went away and you start swinging your feet and you start doing your thing and everything falls into place because you’re not new at it.
You’ve been doing it for years. Just not as long.
So once you got in the groove of thru-hiking … . first there’s a desert. What is it? Like 800 miles of desert before you hit the mountains?
Yup. it takes about four to six weeks. It’s not “desert desert” Like people here, “Oh my God. There’s desert in Southern California!” You think sand dunes and you’re dragging your feet crawling on your hands and knees, out of water, desperate, buzzards circling overhead.
No it’s high desert. You know, which means Chaparral. You climb up into the pines and then you drop into the Chaparral again.
Sage brush. No trees. You’re out in the open. Even the Mojave desert. In quote, “desert” , it’s just big flat sage area and you just night hike through it, if you can. I didn’t ,But, , you know, you deal with things. So , even the first 800 miles, you have a tremendous variety , of challenge to deal with – both the heat and lack of water and the higher altitude, , snow, ice, depending upon, when you start.
So, what were some of the challenges? Like maybe what were the top two or three challenges in the desert now? Also, I’m curious about the water situation because now they tend to have drop-offs. There’s trail angels, leave water places. But back then, , that wasn’t so much the case I’m gathering.
Not only it wasn’t the case, there was no such thing as a trail angel.
There was no such thing as really a supportive group at all. If you could find anybody supportive, you know, like Warren Rogers, with the Pacific Crest Trail Club, which evolved into the Pacific Crest Trail Association, by the way, they were few and far between and probably across the country.
And the only way you could talk to them was to maybe if you got lucky, you get their phone number and give them a call and they’re not going to be driving out to you. So that kind of support that people know enjoy did not exist back then. Matter of fact, I only saw one other thru-hiker the whole five and a half months.
So I was out there by myself with my partner, I had one partner. Uh, another long story there. And in Southern California is sort of high desert. Because we started mid-March, we were really kind of dealing with sub- freezing temperatures at night and still plenty of water in the little creeks.
We had a different route we followed because everything was proposed. So we had to do a lot of dirt road walking and highway walking. Where are we found trail – it was something called the California Riding and Htrail. And those would be short stretches between highways is that may have gone north-south. Some went east-west.
So you just had to pick and choose where you could find it. If it was close to where you wanted to be, you took it.
Okay, so you get through the desert and then you come to the mountains. Where’s that at … Kennedy Meadows when that starts?
Yeah, that’s Kennedy Meadows in the Southern Sierra.
One of the things I want to add for anybody who might be listening who is aspiring to doing the trail, just a heads up about Southern California. The later you start, the hotter it’s going to be, the less water there’s going to be. You’re going to be more reliant upon trail angel water caches than I did see.
I did it in 1974 and I started early. We didn’t know when to start. We just grabbed a date. However, when I talked to the park rangers in Manning Provincial Park in Canada, right across the border, they said, don’t be on the trail after mid September because snow storms start coming in and they will bury you in powder and you’ll maybe die.
So as a16 year old hearing that, and my mom hearing that, it was like, okay, that’s your bookend. You get off the trail by that at the latest. So my end date was September 2nd and I backtracked the millages and decided to start the middle of March. ,
I didn’t have any water problems in Southern California, but a lot of people do.
However, the other problem with Southern California, or challenge, is when you rise up in elevation and go over mountain Laguna, Mount San Jacinto, the San Gorgonio, San Bernardino. As you work your way around LA you’re up high enough to encounter snow and ice on North and East facing slopes. And those have been serious obstacles for people who do not have the requisite experience to know how to do a journey like this because the Pacific crest trail is built on a crest, not the coast.
So in California you’re averaging something like 10,000 feet or 9,000 feet overall. The Seirras are at about 11,200 maybe. Don’t hold me to the numbers, but you get the idea. You’re up there. You’ve got to have some skills for dealing with not only heat and lack of water in SoCal, but also snow and ice and navigating when you cannot see a trail.
And so these things become serious issues in Southern California if you start early. But if you start late and maybe avoid them, then you’ve got heat and no water and the fear of running into the powder snow up in Canada.
Okay. So you hit the Sierras … whole different ball game, right? You’re going from desert to really the most mountainous part of the entire trip.
So, what was that like and what were the challenges? And I kind of want to move through these so we can get to some other topics I really like the PCT because having this window back into it in 1974 is kind of rare. There just weren’t that many people doing it way back then, a half century ago.
Yeah. Like I said, I only saw one other thru-hiker, a guy by the name of Tom Abbott from New Hampshire. And he had done the AT. But anyway , I did find out later from , Greg – oh God, it’s been too many years – Strider and the PCTA, that my year there were maybe 20 people who attempted it.
I do think the PCTA has a list of names now, But arrival to Kennedy Meadows … .
Well, first of all, I didn’t go through Kennedy because nobody knew about it. The proposed route or the only route I could take following dirt roads was through the town of Weldon, which is just East of Lake Isabella.
So before I got up on the Kern Plateau where Kennedy Meadows is, my last food drop was in the town of Weldon. And then *I headed up onto the Kern Plateau nand into the high Sierra over Siberian Pass. What was it like? As soon as we hit the Kern Plateau we knew we were going to be on snow.
So we had a snowshoe sponsor. We had ,eight or 10 sponsors for this little expedition, – snowshoes is one of them. Anyway, the snowshoes didn’t surviv. They made it about a hundred miles to get us over Forester Pass and totally fell apart. But that’s another story.
We were on four to five feet of snow, three to four feet of snow on the Kern Plateau. And then once we got into the high country at about 11,000 feet, we had about eight to 12 feet of snow. And once there’s snow, it’s just, you’re walking on hard snow. It consolidates around April. And although we were there right around mid-April – which is a little early; I don’t encourage people to go in that early – it had already consolidated.
So you’re walking on this big white, hard sidewalk that’s rampy and slopey all over the place. And you can pick your route parallel to the proposed route or John Muir trail, which we had in the Sierra, and Tahoe Yosemite trail was, I think there. So we had something to follow, but when you’re on snow, you go where it’s safest for you on snow.
So it was new, completely different from Southern California, but I was well aware of it. I’d already gotten some training on how to navigate and travel. So it wasn’t that harsh. It was slow. So you’re going to be dealing with maybe eight to 10 miles a day. And that’s what we had, as opposed to maybe my average was 17 miles a day, but I had a day off every week. Uh, usually on trail, I didn’t go into town much.
So as you’re going forward, you get through the Sierras, you you come to Northern California. By then you’ve really got your hiking legs under you and I assume you find a flow that just works, right?
Yeah. You do.
What is a typical day?
What was a typical day like for you once you got out of the snow and onto the main hiking trail? , How many miles were you covering a day? What time did you get up? ,I know there’s this thing called “10 by 10” now where people try to get in 10 miles by 10:00 AM.
Oh, God really? Hmm.
Yeah. Well, they’re aiming for twenties and thirties, right?
I don’t want to take you off the theme that you got for this recording, But the way they do it these days is crazy.
But a lot of the drive for the miles has to do with either lack of time for the overall trip, because they got busy lives or they have jobs or families or whatever, or they dilly-dally too much in Southern California having a little too much pizza and beer, fall behind schedule and then have to haul butt to get to Canada if that’s still really their priority. So they’re cranking out the big miles.
In my trip, because everything was so metered , and had to be, as I said earlier for resupply, even when I got up past Donner, you kind of come out of the Sierra right about highway 80, North Lake Tahoe, Donner pass. And you drop in elevation through Northern California.
I got to, South Lake Tahoe June 1st. So that’s way ahead of the current crowd, the way they do it. So I was still on four to six feet, maybe more of snow, in June and then got to Donner maybe a week later dropped into Northern California, got onto some dirt roads, went through old ghost towns, ,across swinging bridges, and the Feather River, was still dealing with snow on the north sides in the trees where there was shade and stuff like that.
However, Northern California can get really hot. Even in late June things start cooking up there.
I went through Old Station, Hat Creek Rim, didn’t know about the rim, was still following ‘ roads and stuff at the time. And then through the Shasta, Trinities and Marbles, over on the west side of I-5, and then actually deviated from the proposed route through Etna, We cut off at Etna Summit and made a beeline to the town of Yreka, and then followed asphalt all the way up to the southern end of the Oregon Trail which was called the Oregon Skyline Trail south of Lake of the Woods, Oregon, where the current PCT joins the old Oregon Skyline Trail.
There wasn’t a trail for me to follow. So you just did what you did.
Okay. So what kind of miles were you guys putting on in a day?
It was metered. So overall with 17. You do get your hiking legs in though. Whenever you’re on snow, you’re doing about a mile an hour. You gotta be careful about slipping and falling and postholing and jarring your knees and back and all that stuff when you posthole. So you gotta be a little careful on, you know, so you go slow.
Once you hit dry trail, then you swing your legs out and it’s a lot more comfortable and you can do more miles if that’s what you want to do. The emphasis, and to underline what really matters or what really mattered to me, the reason why I was out there was to soak up everything I possibly could about the natural rhythms of life.
You know? So you get up with a sun or before the sun, you go to bed with the sun. And you walk all day. my priority was to go slow pack up slow in the morning, have breakfast in bed, walk slow, take lots of breaks, climb trees, explore Meadows, take side trails. When you’re walking, you maybe do three or four miles an hour, which is pretty much hauling butt.
But my pack was 55 pounds to begin with. I couldn’t pick it up. So my partner had to pick it up and put it on my back at the beginning. And it got heavier. It got up to 65 pounds when I got to Canada. But by then you’re totally trail strong, I call it, and you can throw the pack on your back and do whatever.
So I would get into camp early. I would pitch the tent early an hour or two before the sun goes down. In bed watching the sun go down, my stove sitting next to me, cooking dinner, Colin Fletcher like. I did some cowboy camping, but not so much because the bugs get so bad like clouds.
So you pitch your tent and get inside there real quick and then kill mosquitoes while you were loading the tent up and then you can relax. But my trip was very much into spending time outdoors. I didn’t go into town if I didn’t have to. And I got the hell outta town as fast as I could.
There was a lot of culture shock that goes on after you’ve been in the mountains for a month or two. Society is spinning at a much faster speed. You have slowed down by that point. And so society is loud. It’s fast. It’s chaotic and it’s demanding. And it’s like, give me my resupply box and I’m outta here.
So that was the case.
So let’s talk about … you are out there and you know, month after month, it sounds like you did this as much as a contemplation, as a thing to be done. So in all of that contemplation, what did you learn about yourself? What were some of the big takeaways from this that stick with you and, you know, really that matter most?
How did things shift for you? Let’s start with what mattered most when you were out there and then we’ll shift over to how did that change, impact your life in the quote unquote, real world or the regular world?
Well, Doug, so many questions there. You might have to guide me as I go here. When I started, it was all about, you know, the 17 year old and the hike and the sponsors and the excitement and walking and camping. There seems to be too, maybe more now, because I teach through Mountain Education, which is a nonprofit public charity wilderness school.
We’ve been in existence for 38 years. Started in 1982, right after I did the Continental Divide Trail, which was proposed at the time, so there wasn’t a trail. There’s two different types. You’re either a hiker or you’re a camper, it seems. So I was a camper. I wasn’t out there to do the miles. I wasn’t out there to hike.
Yeah, it was a long backpacking trip, but it was all about soaking up the wilderness, learning its ways and figuring out what really matters. And in my case, as a little kid, you don’t know what matters. But I did feel a calling and I realized really early on, and this was on Mt. San Jacinto, I had an experience there that gave me purpose, and the purpose I was looking for, for my life, even as a 17 year old.
And I don’t know if you want me to get into a story, but it’s the thing that caused me to create Mountain Education back in 1982. It gave me a purpose to stick with teaching hikers ever since.
And even if I’m not running classes through Mountain Ed, I’m on the Facebook groups and all that stuff. Like you said in the intro, if a question comes up by a hiker, I’m probably going to give them a definitive answer based on 50 years of being out there.
So I think that part’s good, but I’m actually really curious about that peak experience you had that informed you to do that. Dig into that. What was the experience like? What were the sensations? The feelings, the.
You know, what was the messaging? Just describe that.
Okay. Like I said starting out, I just felt a calling to do it. It wasn’t for the challenge. I was looking for the wilderness experience. I was looking for the lessons learned and the growth along the way.
I didn’t expect to have happened what happened, but it changed my life. And I’ll tell every thru-hiker, aspiring thru-hiker – and you’ll read about it from them later, after they finished their hikes – this hike, or any long journey like this in wilderness, changes your life.
So what happened with me was that on Mt. San Jacinto, I come up off this sort of the high desert floor south of Idlewild with, you know, Southern California. Idlewild is due east of LA, maybe San Juan Capistrano area. I don’t know. I can’t remember it very well, but anyway, town of Idylwild sits at the base of Mount San Jacinto.
And so San Jacinto goes up to about 10,000-something feet. The Pacific Crest Trail traverses it on the west side just below the summit and it goes through a meadow. And so here I am coming up from the desert, following a ridge up onto San Jacinto. Get up there, back up in snow, maybe three, four feet of snow.
I’m just a young kid, not thinking twice about anything. I get into camp, in a little meadow where the trail from Idlewild comes up. Very popular trail; a lot of college kids hike it. A lot of people hike it and stuff like that. I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t see anybody when I got there.
So I’m pitching my tent at the edge of the meadow, kind of in the trees, the sun hasn’t set, I’m having getting ready to have dinner. It’s getting dark. And I went out of my tent too. I dunno, kind of just wander around. I heard that there might be a trail junction nearby. I found a, wooden board nailed to a tree that had some writing on it and I kind of figured that’s it.
So anyway, that just confirmed where I was. I was heading back to my tent and I hear voices. And it’s getting dark. Stars are starting to come out and I’m hearing voices. And they’re at a distance. And when I stopped, because when you walk on snow, your feet make a crunchy sound. So I had to stand still.
So I’m standing still, listening, and I hear different kinds of voices. I hear male voices and female voices at a distance, and I’m thinking, damn, we’re on three and four feet of snow. The sun’s going down. You mean there’s somebody else camped out here? I hadn’t seen any footprints.
So I go into my tent. I grabbed my flashlight, because I thought, wow, I haven’t seen anybody in a couple of weeks. Let’s go say “hi”, which is my motive, my modus operandi. As a ranger I did this all the time. I love talking to people about their experiences. But anyway, so I start walking out toward the meadow and I enter it and stop and listen and kind of get my bearings toward the voices.
And I start walking toward them and I don’t see them right away because of the convolutions in the terrain of the meadow. Everything’s under snow. And then I kind of go over a rise and I see these black spots out in the distance. And they were all together. Like there are a bunch of people here that are huddled together in the middle of the middle, under the stars.
It’s getting to be about 32 degrees. And what the hell? I don’t see tents or sleeping bags, and I’m still walking up on these guys. And I didn’t want to scare them because I figured they think that they’re all by themselves, just like I did. So I had my flashlight off until I can confirm what I was walking up on.
As I got closer, I realized there were probably three guys and two girls by the voices. And they seemed older than me and I found out later they were college age. They’re on a college break, I guess. Must be around April 1st or something. So as I got closer to them, I turned on my flashlight and kind of introduced myself carefully, cause I didn’t want to scare the hell out of them.
And once I turned my flashlight on and could see them, they were huddled together for dear life. They thought that they were going to die. They did not know where they were, they were in tennis shoes, shorts, t-shirts maybe a daypack. They did not have any food or water. They had no shelter, they had nothing and they thought this was it.
One of them was suffering tremendously from hypothermia. Another was getting there. Three of them were fairly lucid and able to take directions and ask questions. So I aimed them to the trail back down to Idylwild. And as I’m partyng from them – and of course they’re saying, ‘Yeah, thanks, dude, man. Thanks for helping us.” You know, cause this is the 1974 – I realized, and this is when it hit me: this is too beautiful of an environment to fear suffering from such things to where you might die out here just trying to take in the pleasures of being out in the wilderness.
And so it became a purpose that stuck with me throughout the rest of my life to try and help people realize what it takes to stay safe and have fun in these austere wild settings. And thus Mountain Education was born I’m still doing it.
So describe that deep internal feeling itself. I mean, what informed you of it? Was it just a gut level knowing? Did you feel it in your heart, in your gut in your head? Was it a full body experience?
It was totally spiritual. I’m a born again believer. I wasn’t then. It is funny thing. Because of all my prior hikes and times in the wilderness, I knew there was a God. I was raised Protestant or Episcopal … I don’t know what the heck I was.
I was aware that there was a God. And I felt his presence in the mountains. So I would go on my hikes and I would say, ” Hi God, here I am back in your creation.” And then when I’d leave my hikes, I’d say goodbye and that kind of stuff.
So I was aware that on a long hike, like a five and a half month mountain journey, there might be a relationship established between me and the creator of these mountains. Little did I know that became the focus in the takeaway of my journey. But that moment on Mt. San Jacinto with the college kids who thought they were going to die … total body?
It was like hit upside the head with ‘this just can’t happen.” You know, you can’t have people fearing for their lives in such a beautiful place. I want to encourage people to come up here and to see this beauty and feel the presence, the spiritual presence, and learn from it and not have to worry about dying.
So it was really out of a concern for others?
Yeah. I didn’t know it at the time, it was just broadside. But that’s what it developed into. And that’s what it still is. When somebody puts a question out there on a forum or something, it’s like, “Oh my God, you’ve got to know this so that you don’t have to worry about it, you know, because you can get led astray.”
Everybody has different ways of doing things and some work and some don’t. And after being in the mountains for two months of every year, nonstop teaching kids for 38 years. And then of course, before that, you see all manner of crap. And as a wilderness ranger, I saw all kinds of silly things done. And some will get you in trouble and some will just allow you to motor right on, along saying that “harmony with nature” thing.
Okay, so let’s fast forward. You finished the trail.
You settled back into life or the “real world” or whatever that’s like. What takeaways kind of longer term did you feel after that? How did they change your life, impact your life? What are some of the top three takeaways from the trip?
You don’t fit in. And there’s, you’ve totally changed. Now I came off the trail and went to college. And you just go with the rhythms and stuff you gotta do there. But throughout the next 40 whatever years it’s been, you don’t fit in. You have a different calling.
And I hear this … it’s called post trail stress disorder, or PTSD, where you get off the trail. And you’re like, what the hell was the name of the character of … remember the movie called Jungle Book? And the kid was raised like a little Tarzan in the jungle. And he’s got the bear as his buddy and the Jaguar, whatever.
So when you’re out in the mountains, even today on this trail, if you don’t travel in a bubble with a bunch of other people the whole way, and you allow yourself to have some solo time, you develop a relationship with the spirit in the wilderness that changes you. So when you come back into society – to your family, to your job, to whatever it is you used to do and where you lived – you’re going to get broadsided with “Wow! My priorities are not the same anymore. I’ve changed. And now what do I do with my life?”
And a lot of hikers deal with this and you’ve got to figure out … you gotta make a choice. Do I totally let go of what I just learned: that I loved living – in how I lived in the mountains and in the wild and what my priorities became, then that are much better – than chasing after money or chasing after authority or prestige or whatever it is that you were doing before, and how to keep that trail buzz going.
And a lot of people just keep hiking or get involved with the Forest Service or do volunteer work or something to maintain that connection.
For you specifically, how did it play out?
It’s been a rough road, Doug, because my calling has been very strong. And even after becoming married in 85 and raising a family and trying to hold down a decent job and provide for three children and all that, the calling to help people discover what I discovered was always there. And I struggled and I know it’s typical of many other hikers.
So at this point, I can focus more on my calling a hundred percent of the time now. And I finally found my purpose in place. But for a lot of folks, they drift and it’s difficult.
Did you drift for awhile?
I drifted for. 40 years. That whole experience from the trail on, and I tried to recapture it or keep it going on the Continental Divide in 1980. And it was partially there. Things inside you change, you know? But the calling was always there. So I did. I drifted for many, many, many years until I could finally say, ” You know what? I’ve tried holding down the corporate job. I’ve tried raising a family. I’ve tried having a marriage. It’s just not working out.”
I’m still dissatisfied in drifting and I don’t know what to do with myself. And until you realize that who you really are, and you’ve been kind of dancing away from it all this time to fulfill societal purposes or acceptance, you’re not going to be happy.
Talk about the drift – when you’re drifting and not on purpose. What’s the feeling like? What’s going on in your body and your mind and your heart and your soul? Talk about that. Because I think a lot of people probably are – you’re right- gonna experience that. Get in there, dig in, give us the sensations and the feelings of that, if that makes sense.
Oh, it makes sense. You never forget a first love. And so for me, this was like my first love. And so even when I was married, my wife, my ex wife, considered the mountains to be a mistress. And because I was always kind of pining for the next trip, the next hike, the next class I could teach, the next whatever – to get back out there.
She would say things like you remember every mile of the trail, but you don’t remember the birthdays of your kids, you know, typical stuff like that. But my heart and spirit were there more than anywhere else for the rest of my life. And still that is the case. And, you know, once stricken that deeply …
And I think that different people go through different depths of this. But I went into it a hundred percent. Bonds and relationships with people in jobs and commitments are constantly being tugged out and made kind of difficult, or superficial even, to this higher calling, deeper calling, heartfelt spirit-filled thing that you found out in the mountains, which you’ll find later you can bring with you no matter where you go in life.
And that’s the real blessing, but I don’t know if I answered your question, Doug.
So there’s this tension inside that comes from that feeling, right? You know that it’s not right. You don’t know exactly what’s right, but you know, what’s not right, ’cause you’re stuck in it and you can feel it. Your body’s informing you of it. Your gut’s informing you of it.
My belief is that we actually make our decisions at some gut level. That’s what truly informs us. And then the brain is sort of like the caboose that comes along for the ride and just makes up whatever story it needs to to justify whatever decision you made at a deeper level.
So you know that you’re off course. You’re getting informed of that. So how did you shift? What shifts did you make, and then how did you start to see your North Star more clearly the North star of your life or your purpose. And then what informed you that you were on it, and what was sort of the shift inside as you moved to that, and how did your life change?
Does that make sense?
Yeah, it makes sense, but it’s a hell of a subject.
Yeah. Well it’s stuff that really matters.
The way I look at it, we are body, soul, and spirit. That’s who we are, and the spirit in my mind never dies. And that’s the connections we make with things at that gut level, that gut level you’re talking about, I will consider for the sake of what we’re talking about to be a spiritual level.
Body, obviously we know what body is. Soul is your mental gyrations, your feelings, your emotions, that’s all in the soul realm.
So, after the trail, which hit me at the spiritual level – and the emotions were there attached to it, making it like a cocoon around it. And it’s like, that’s my essence. That was my gut. I was sort of almost like disloyal to everybody and everything else while I was still trying to deal with, “how do I reintegrate into society?”
How do I get married? How do I raise a family? How do I hold down a corporate job? Who the hell am I? Because I’m feeling torn on the inside. Now the change, the North Star, because there’s a battle. You’re always torn on the inside. You’ve got the spiritual, you, the mountain you, the whatever.
And then you’ve got like the corporate you, and you can encapsulate stuff to try and get through life. You gotta make a buck and you gotta do that thing. So it really didn’t hit me until actually just five months ago when personal issues and divorce issues, that kind of stuff, landed me in what I’m beginning to call a physical setting that’s more Rivendell Shire-like, where I heard God say, “Find your voice Ned. I love you for who you are, for who I created you to be. And I hit you upside the head with it on Mount Santa Jacinto. This is who you are. This is your calling. This is your purpose. This is your North star. ”
And when I realized that, despite the hell I had just come from in family and personal life, that the Almighty loved me for who I am and who he made me to be and accepted me despite everything. That was my North Star. It’s like suddenly just beaming into me saying, “This is your purpose. Why are you dancing around everything? You’re trying to find your acceptance in things that you’re not supposed to be.
Like what up with all this other stuff you doing?
Exactly. But see, it didn’t become crystal clear until I got, like, I call it shot out of a cannon, landed in this pristine area. And I’m not talking physically. I’m also talking spiritually. And I could see who I was from the very beginning of my life, hiking in the hills above the city of Sonoma, really digging it. And then going on my long hike, where it got galvanized into me and changed me.
So that was my North Star. What really matters was that calling.
So describe that jelling process. When did you realize, “Wow, I think I’ve moved through this.” When did you realize that you were back on the right path, so to speak, or you were back on purpose?”
I kind of just described it to you. When I got where I landed , and I heard in my gut, in my spirit, what God was saying to me about who he made me to be, that was getting back on purpose. And so I didn’t have other distractions in my life. I could focus on finding my voice, which is what he said.
And what that meant was “get to writing.” I went to UC Davis to study, of all things, English and PE for teaching. But my purpose, because I had just come off the Pacific crest trail, my purpose was to share with everyone through writing what I learned out there.
So, hey, this is time to finally write the book that all of my students have been telling me I need to write, everyone’s been saying, I need to write for fricking 40 years. And you know, this is the COVID era. we’re all in lockdown. We’re not going anywhere. And I’m in the Shire. It’s like, what better place? You know?
Oh my God. Lockdown right here, couldn’t be better. And, it just galvanized. I was on purpose, on task. This is who I am and I accepted it. I wasn’t torn anymore. It felt right in the spirit. It felt right in the emotions and I’m back.
And so now that you’re actually doing it, you’re working on your book now, right?
Yeah. I’m working on a book tentatively called the Pacific Crest Trail Mountain Book, because I don’t know what else to call it. And it’s all about providing guidance for safe travel. Anybody can hike a trail if you’ve got, you know, dirt path it’s well-marked and the weather’s great, it’s ideal, whatever. But there are things out there that can send you home in a helicopter. So you gotta have a clue what you’re walking into and that’s what this book is all about. It’s a safety book.
So, is it going to include some of your backstory too?
Absolutely. I have a publisher who is interested already. And the advice is write the information, but include bullets and stories and all of the stuff garnished from 50 years, years of whacking it out there and teaching and seeing all manner of aberrations of people trying to do things in the weirdest ways that led to catastrophe or joy, and put those stories in there because people love to read stories.
And I love telling them. You get me around a campfire and I just go and I’m going right now.
I do remember reading your story about Timberline Lodge. That cracked me up. Let’s save it. That’s something that they can look forward to when they get the book. I assume that’ll be in there.
Oh, yeah. All that stuff will be in there, but it’s all on my Facebook page. I put everything out there for people to see and make comments on it. If they say, you know, don’t put this story in the book or add something else or cover a different subject, that’s why I’m doing it so publicly.
Okay. So somebody wants to get into backpacking . Or maybe they’ve got a little bit of experience and they’re starting to think about this thru-hiking thing, this thing called a PCT. For people that are actually looking at doing this more than just as a curiosity, but kind of feeling like “maybe I could do this”. What would be your top three pieces of advice for them?
Um, top three?
First, just start doing it, but everything has to be incremental.
Start studying at a course, do your research and all that sort of junk. But start doing day hikes. Start doing overnight hikes, Transform into two, three day weekends, Learn how to do a three week trip with a resupply.
That’s the whole practical side, but of that, your takeaway of that kind of thing is to find out what works for you. Because what works for Doug may not work for Ned. Maybe Doug likes to hike 30 miles in a day and I like to do 14. Is one, right, one wrong? No. So we have this expression “Hike your own hike.”, It’s finding out your style and who you are.
Some people, like I said, you’re a hiker versus a camper. So if you’re just getting going into this thing, it’s like, “well, who the heck am I? What do I like?” And you make that choice for yourself.
Yes. It’s a 2,650-whatever-odd mile hike. And it’s not like anything you can really prepare for. But if you can do the John Muir trail three weeks, if you can do the Tahoe rim trail, maybe a couple of weeks, if you can do something that requires resupplying and you’re happy in your own skin, meaning do you like who you are … these are simply the things you’ve got to know in the beginning to figure out what works for you.
You may like tennis shoes. Somebody else might like old leather boots. You might like a frame pack. The other guy wants to go ultra light with just a bag on his back. Whatever. Everybody has their own style, so they gotta figure it out. And that’s one of the beginnings. So you’ve gotta figure out who you are and what you like out there, and you do that by starting out with little hikes, the little day things. Here’s another real practical one: figure out what works for you regarding food.
People go, “Hey, what was your menu? Tell me what was your menu when you did the trail three years ago.”, And they’ll ask these questions online. What you’ve got to do is take all their recommendations and try them out, but do so while you’re still near a toilet while you’re at home. Because if it does not I agree with you and you know, so that’s just a practical thing.
I had food sponsors. I had equipment sponsors and junk like that, but I knew that freeze dried food didn’t agree with me. So I didn’t have a whole lot of it. But I knew that from the ge- go. So one of your beginning things is find out what kind of hiker you are and what kind of stuff do you want to bring.
And if you, if you want to go really light or if you’re what we call a “heavy trucker”, so be it. That’s okay. I’m a heavy trucker. I like to bring luxuries, and I know that my muscles and my joints will rise to the occasion. And I just need to start slow. So there’s the third thing: start your hikes really, really slow and listen to your body.
‘Cause your body will say, “Hey buddy there’s is too much. You got to stop for the day.” In search and rescue, I would find that a lot of my patients who called for help in the back country of LakeTahoe pushed themselves too hard. They didn’t know who they were, so they just go, were all excited about their day hike and they hit it too hard and suffered, and they couldn’t move. And we needed to go in and get them.
So that’s just one of the things: starts slow. There’s nothing wrong with a five-mile day, nothing wrong with an eight-mile day. Stop early. And then as your body starts to give you the green light, yellow light, green light, and you can start adding some miles. If you want to then do it then.
I’m kind of laughing as you say that. I’ve got my foot propped up right now because I did a section hike from Parks Creek to Etna summit.
About 60 miles. And I was thinking I’ll do some 20-mile days. Well, I did fifteens and eighteens and I had about a 37 to 40 pound pack. And everything went fine except for one thing, I got some new hiking shoes and I also had some custom orthotics in it. And It’s not good to just jump right in and do 60 miles on new shoes with custom orthotics that are new.
And even as we speak, I’m looking at my bunion that’s popped out here a little bit and the swelling and foot propped up so it doesn’t swell and thinking, “Yeah, I really wished I’d started slow on this.” Whenever you adds something new to the mix, right, make sure it works before you commit fully. Great advice.
The trail doesn’t care. If you get yourself in a bind, hey, it may start snowing next. you’ve just got to get your act together before you commit to something deep into the backcountry where to get out into safety is more than just a couple miles. You’ve gotta have your act together. So shorter trips first. Go slow.
What other advice would you give to people looking at it thru-hiking and maybe even, let’s say people that have picked up a little bit more skills. They know how to do a two or three or four day, even a five day backpack trip. And they’re like, “okay. I like this thing.”
What’s next for them? . There’s the gear. There’s the taking it to the next level. There’s obviously, for doing a PCT, there are some important skill sets to learn. Especially I think snow and ice, would be big ones.
A lot of people don’t understand that to go from Mexico to Canada in one season, you’re going to have to start early enough to reach Canada before first snow. The really only bookend to this journey – in the continental divide as well; the Appalachian trail is a little different, so I won’t compare it to that – but CDT and PCT have bookends. And it has to do with powder, snow falling at the northern end.
That’ll stop you in your tracks. And if you’ve been working for four months, five months to get to Canada in the maple leaf and all that, it signifies to you, to be called up short because of a three- foot snow storm is really discouraging if you can’t even get out of such a storm. And it’s very typical for the Pacific Northwest to, anytime after mid September, to start dumping snow.
And you might be lucky and, be able to hike to October 1st or so. But you’ve got to be aware that you may be buried.
So what would be other advice? The next thing is just to apply it into a bigger format. You already said it. So someone’s already done a week-long trip and they’ve got their systems or the systems are like their cooking systems, their clothing systems, their pack system, their tent system, you know, all that. They’ve got that kind of dialing in.
Now they hear. “Okay. I need to be as light as possible.” Light weight is important, but it’s primarily important when you’re out of shape. So you want to start light because how you get in shape for hiking except by hiking because of the specific muscle groups used for backpacking.
So you’ve got to start slow. And you’ve got to dial in the boots – everything from tip to tail – those systems need to be worked out before you commit to something huge. So you’re at the one-week mark. It’s now setting up food resupplies.
Like most of my resupplies were 14, 17, 20 day resupplies, but that’s the way we did it in those days, you didn’t know to do it any other way. And it didn’t make sense to us, and still doesn’t make sense to me just because my style is to stay in the backcountry.
I’m hiking to soak all that up. Why do I want to go a whole day’s journey down for 8,000 feet to a east side Sierra town to get more food, come back in for four days and do it again – in four days? All in the name of a light pack, because I’ve only got four days of food versus 17 or whatever?
It’s like, “forget that!” I’m not going to burn money and stuff for the calling of a pizza and a burger. When I can wash my clothes on the trail, I can take a day off out there. So that was my priority. And that takes us back to ” Are you a hiker, or are you a camper?’
So you got to know yourself. You got to know what you like. And then, if you’ve already done a week, now transform and take that out to three weeks. Take it up into high elevation, find out what it’s really like to deal with some snow up there. So probably one of the biggest pieces of advice, and it just hit me, that I would give to a PCT aspirant for 2021 – and it’s almost past time when this can help you – get up into the high Sierra right now, Because the high Sierra is going to throw snow, and no trail. You have no way of navigating except for by GPS. So get up there, face your biggest fears the year before, so that when you get back out there next year on your maiden voyage, you don’t have to fear that anymore.
You’ve already seen it. You know what it’s going to take. You went up there for a week and you played in. It doesn’t mean you gotta to do big miles, but find out “can I do eight, 10, 14 miles on snow a day at a mile an hour? Do I have it in me to do that? Do I want to do that?”
Can I cross a creek? That’s the other big deal. After the thaw starts, which is usually the end of May, the beginning of June, the temperature start climbing. The overnight temps rise above freezing, and all the snow starts cascading and melting down the creeks and stuff like that. So you’ve got whitewater torrents you’ve got to wade through.
It’s like, “hello, really?” They can kill you and thru-hikers have died trying to cross the high Sierra creeks during the thaw. However, if you go through the Sierra before the thaw, after the winter snows have passed – so this puts us in the month of May after Easter, when most of the ski areas close and stuff like that, there’s not enough snow around, so they shut down – this is now early season. Ideal high Sierra hiking time where everything’s a white sidewalk. And it’s really easy to swing the feet. So if you can get to Donner Summit or Sonora Pass by thaw June 1st, you don’t have to worry about a lot of the dangers that everybody else has to worry about.
So this is just part of some of the stuff that you got to know before day one starts, while you’re in preparation and planning. And that’s what the book’s all about – is to inject all this stuff most people don’t know. You gotta know your adversary before you get into a fight. You gotta know their techniques and stuff.
Unless you watch the boxer in the ring or watch the football tapes of the other team, how they do their thing before you confront them, you don’t know. That’s how you get success. And the success isn’t “oh yeah. I went the whole way.”
No. Success is, “can I walk quite happily and peacefully all day, every day in a remote setting, knowing how to read the weather, knowing how to read the risks ahead before I find myself in like, ‘Oh my God, I’m in the middle of a slope and I’m falling.'”
When I’m out there teaching, the other PCT hikers are blowing by us, and they’ve got their ice axes right on the back of their packs. And they don’t know how to identify risk up ahead. They don’t know what it looks like until they’re falling.
I see them tumbling down the Hill in front of us with their ice ax strapped to their pack. And it’s like, “hello, did you even learn how to use this thing to stop your tumble?” No, because they just figured, “Hey, my false sense of security comes by having this piece of gear. Like hiking crampons or something like an ice ax or whatever. They just figure if they have it, they’re golden.
But no. You got to learn. So that’s why I teach these classes. I tell them how to do it. I show them how to do it. Then they practice what I’m doing right in front of them. And I get to critique them and to say, “No, you’re turning the wrong way. Or you’ve got your weight in the wrong place. You’re not on the edge of your shoe or you’re wearing trail runners that can’t hold an edge at all.”
I’ve had students come on to steep snow slopes with trail runners because they refuse to heed my advice prior to the class. And they literally cannot move. They can’t hold an edge. They have no traction. And if they move, their shoes turn into skis and now they’re skiing.
Let’s talk about winter. The summer challenges are there too, right? You’ve got mosquitoes and all that other stuff, but really the crux stuff is winter. You’ve got to deal with cold. You’ve got to deal with the raging rivers potentially. You’ve got steep slopes. You’ve got potential avalanches. It goes on and on and on right. You can’t see the trail underneath you. It goes on and on and on.
What are some of the key skill sets that people need to know in winter? And gear too. I’m curious about the boots that you recommend, because you’re still trying to find that balance between, okay, obviously I’m going to have to carry more weight, but I don’t want to go crazy on this either. Where’s that right balance where you’ve got enough gear, but not going nuts on it? Like hauling a boat, anchor with you.
There’s nothing wrong with carrying a boat anchor if you’re ready to carry the boat anchor. What we’re talking about here is this mindset that people have that, “Oh my God, if I don’t have a 15-pound base weight, I’m going to freaking die out there.” Now, if that were being applied to a day hike, sure, I understand. But if you’re gonna be out there for over five days …
So your body goes through shock at the first couple of days. And then it starts, just like lifting weights at the gym, the more you do your sets, the bigger the muscle group becomes, and you get used to that poundage and you can do higher amounts of poundage.
So the same is true with hiking. If you’re going to be out long enough, you’re going to be dialed in a hiking machine because your muscles are strong and used to doing that. It gets to the point where I can carry hamburgers from town onto the trail for three days. Sure, no sweat. I can carry a gallon of whatever my favorite beverage is. I can carry three or four books on wilderness, critters and birds and things. No big deal. Weight doesn’t matter once your body is strong. So that’s the main point.
Don’t feel like you can’t just because everybody says, “Oh my God, your pack is 65 pounds. What the hell is wrong with you?” No, I just happen to like the luxuries I’ve got and I’m dialed for it. I can cruise 20, 30 miles a day if you want to. My body’s ready for that.
So as far as gear, snow, creeks, the big of a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike are: one) improper preparation and planning because the mistakes you make in your suppositions then will affect how you deal with what you’re seeing in reality on the trail.
Two: what is the reality you’re planning for? If you’re planning for what everybody calls – they say, “yeah, man, I did the PCT and in shorts and tennis shoes, no big deal. You can do it too.” And not everybody can do that. Yeah, you had the skillset for it. You had the knowledge to, to wing it. But not everybody can. So you’ve got to know what the hazards are.
So that takes us to what you were talking about. What are the big physical hazards outside of planning and preparation that are going to confront you, maybe cause you harm, maybe send you to the hospital and then home quite early.
One of them has to do with, and it’s more internal has to do with, “Oh my God. I’m out here for months at a time. I’m freaking lonely. What is going on with me? I’m pining for home. I want to be more in town than here. Why am I out here?” So there is a big internal adjustment that goes on, on an expedition.
Another thing that’s a surprise is – because you have to start early enough to get to Canada before the bookend of mid September – you’re gonna be dealing with snow in the Sierra if your priority is to go from A to B. If you don’t mind a plan B or a plan C where you do your first 800 miles, get to deal with the snow in Southern California as best you can, and then get to the base of the Sierras and find “Oh my God. There’s like eight feet of snow. You can still skip to Northern California. You’re going to have snow in may. You’re going to have snow in June up there. But you’ll have less of it because you’re at a lower elevation.
But this brings us back to you’re going to have snow in Southern California after a normal winter. It just depends where the snow snowstorms track during the winter. They may track to the north and Southern California may be in a fricking drought; so you’ll have no snow. But the storms may hit the Sierra or may swing South during the winter. So, your preceding winter, pay attention to where the storms are going, and that’ll tell you what you’re going to have to deal with.
So if it’s a normal winter, you’re going to have snow in the Sierra if you push through. Does it matter? This is the big question. It doesn’t matter at all, because why? You’re walking on top of it. It doesn’t matter. So you can’t see the trail. You’ve got a GPS, you’ve got topography.
I’m looking at this picture on my computer screen of four hikers standing in a row looking down Bubbs Creek after having just gone down Forrester pass. They’re standing on probably six feet of snow, and they can walk anywhere. You can go anywhere. You don’t have to go on the trail because that’s actually very dangerous in certain places. Wherever you see switchbacks on your map, that means the topography is really steep.
Am I going to try and risk my life to follow a stupid trail buried in snow to go down this steep slope when I can just go a quarter mile over there and follow a creek down, which is real gradual and safe? Also when it’s snow covered before the thaw, the creeks have like four inches of water in them. Even if you, for some reason, fell through, you’re going to land on the rocks, with maybe four inches of water.
You’re going to laugh about the stupid experience, climb out of the hole and pay attention to where you’re walking.
But this is part of the education. The mountains don’t give a damn. So if you’re stupid enough to walk right in the lowest point of a snow-covered creek, that’s where the snow is the thinnest. But most people don’t know that.
So they may fall through. But it’s not going to be a cataclysmic thing. You’re not going to get swept away by the San Joaquin river or something. They’re little creeks because you’re way up at 11,000 feet. Anyway, I’m getting into just snow and creeks and some of the hazards.
Do know what the hazards are. So snow isn’t as big a hazard once you know how to walk on it and how to navigate over it. Actually, it gives you a lot of freedom because you can go wherever you want to go. As long as I know the trail’s over there and I got to go in that direction, eventually I’m not lost. I know where it is and I know how to get there. So don’t get afraid.
And then the creek crossings … the key is beat them, go through the Sierra before the thaw, bfore the creeks get big. And if you can at least get to Sonora pass, which is sort of the end of the big creeks through Yosemite then you’re golden.
If you can get to Sonora by June 1st, you’re good. But the key with creek crossings, and I’ll end with this, is look on your map for a meadow. What happens to creeks and Meadows? They flatten out, which means they spread out, which means they’re not as deep,they’re not as fast.
The bottoms will be gravel instead of boulders, the water will be clear cause it’s moving slow, so you can see where you’re putting your feet. And there’s less push against your body by the volume of water. There’s less volume because it’s spread out.
So look for Meadows. I tell my students, “Walk up to the summer trail crossing. Look at it. Decide that it’s fricking dangerous, drop your pack, grab something to eat and drink and walk the creek up and down quarter mile each way.
You’ll probably find a log to cross on, whether you walk on it or your shimmy across it. You’ll probably find boulders to hop from one to the next. And, if you can’t find that, you’ll find a quiet piece of meadow water, where you can strip down to your skivvies and walk across.
Tell us more about your book, where they can get more information about you and follow up with you if they want to get in touch with you,
I try and be as open and as accessible as possible. So people can go to my Facebook page, Ned Tibbets, and message me and answer any sort of conversation that I’m in the middle of. I tell folks that while I’m writing the book, I’m sitting here at my desk. Facebook may be open or not, but I check it because people see that I’m not that tech savvy. But people have a way finding out when you’re online or when you’re not, or when you’re connected to Facebook. And so they’ll see I’m on. And then they’ll start lobbing questions, my way about fears of theirs or concerns.
And so I will answer them and then publish it. Cause it usually become a longer story just like this program today. It may be an hour long. We may go beyond that just because my teaching style is to simply pour into you everything I can. So if you ask me a question, I’m going to dump into you as much safety stuff, common sense as I can.
You do with it, what you want. But if you find me online, you can talk to me at any time. If you go to Mountain Education or www.mountaineducation.org, there’ll be a tab for staff and there’ll be a bio on me and you can learn about me there. But I try and be accessible as possible.
Also, I want to add that there are several Facebook groups for the PCT. There’s one for each year, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022. There’s also one for section hikers. And then there’s the PCT Association one. And you seem to be pretty active in pretty much all of them. And plus there are other people that weigh into, so that’s a good way to find you.
Anything else you want to add? Actually ,here’s a few questions. What are some of the books that have informed you the most about wilderness, about this outdoor spiritual side? Who are your favorite authors, writers, and books?
Well, that’s a good question. I don’t really have any. Naturally as a teenager, you get into Emerson and Thoreau and Muhr and stuff. Actually, I haven’t read any Muhr, but I like his quotes. I shouldn’t say this, but books really didn’t – you know, I’m writing a book – the books really didn’t help me much. Books will give you a leg up and that’s what the mountain education classes are all about: give people some guidance from a thru-hiker. that’s done it before, been out there for years. And that’s what books are for: give you a sort of a head start.
I guess for me, it was Colin Fletcher back in the sixties. He wrote his books about The Complete Walker, the different systems he used going through the Grand Canyon and walking the length of California and what mattered, which is your subject, what really matters. And why are you out there?
So I guess my biggest point I’d like to make, and maybe you can use this as a sort of a wrap up, but why would someone want to do four to six months journey like this in the wild? It’s finding out what really matters to you.
What are your priorities? Why are you on this planet and what are your dreams and desires and the loves of your life and how do you attain them? How do you live in that, in your happy spot? And that’s what really matters to you.
It may not be chasing the corporate job. It may not be making big bucks, but you know what? There are folks out there that’re perfectly happy and purring right along through life not doing all of that, but that’s what really matters for you. And for you to find that sometimes takes a lot of time alone. And that’s what this hike can be about.
Nowadays people, hike in groups. So you don’t have as much time alone. Everybody’s jibber-jabber’n all day long, and you pitch your tents together and all that stuff. And it becomes a very, very social event. And you develop incredible friendships because you’re all fighting the same enemy, so to speak. You’re all enjoying the same highs and lows. So your friends you’ll develop on your PCT thru-hike will last you your whole life. But when it comes down to what really matters, your immersion as a group isn’t as impactful upon your life as if you were to hike it more solo.
Now I make this similar to the tourist who travels on a bus as opposed to the tourist who walks through the country or bicycle camps through the country, which I did.
I did 5,000 miles in Europe, camping on my bicycle. And I made more friends who just said, “Hey, you’re by yourself. And you’re wanting to be in our country; come on home with us. Have a shower, have some dinner, and you can take off in the morning.” And that’s how you meet the locals.
Well on a hike you meet the locals. Who are the locals? They’re the little animals, they’re the bears. They’re the weather. They’re the wind or the presence of the spirit of the wilderness. You meet it by being more one on one.
Now, if you’re in a group and you hike separately, that’s different. You can have your solo time and then reunite at the end of the day or whatever. So the “really matters” part is learned through the immersion over time one-on-one. You can do it in a group, but have some time for yourself. And then you’ll find out what really matters in your life.
All right, this seems like a really good place to close. Thank you, Ned. And for those listening, I will have links to some of the books he’s recommended and to his website and the Facebook group pages and all of that in the notes section. But Ned thank you very much for your time on this. I appreciate it.
My pleasure. I love this. I love talking about it and helping people become safer doing it so that they go the distance and find what they’re looking for.
Perfect. This is Doug Greene with What Really Matters Interviews. And thank you for joining us today.