With semi-spontaneous vacation opportunities somewhat limited by Stephanie’s school schedule, we set aside two weeks in early June (between her spring and summer semesters) almost a year in advance. Our plan amounted to little more than a list of Utah’s best known natural wonders—and an ill-fated attempt to rent a Jeep Wrangler in Cedar City, UT. The rental fell through, but the puddle jumper was already booked, so Cedar City it was—a blessing in disguise, as Cedar City is just over an hour from both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. A great starting point. Everything else (including the route) we made up as we went along.
While hiking with my Dad on the Pacific Crest Trail two years ago, we averaged 18.75 miles-per-day over 8 days. It was difficult terrain, and we encountered snow daily, so it took several days before we reached our target pace. But as I got stronger and the terrain got somewhat flatter, we eventually made it over 20 miles-per-day, several days in a row. My brother Matthew hiked a section through Oregon with Dad, encountered altogether different obstacles, but he similarly managed to cover 160 miles over 8 and a half days.
It was our respective PCT experiences that led us to believe we could complete the 220-mile long John Muir Trail in 11 days. So we took a rough elevation profile of the trail, divided it into 20-mile segments, and discovered that if we followed it blindly, we’d be sleeping at the top of several high passes. A slight re-jiggering was in order, one that would also account for the fact that no matter how much we trained in advance, nothing quite prepared you for the real thing—besides the real thing. Thus we landed at what became our rough 11-day schedule: warming up with two “easy” 17-mile days, before ratcheting it up to 22, 21, 20, 16 (resupply), 24, 22, 22, 22, and 18 miles.
I would not have had any intention of rehiking the trail to Murietta Falls (deemed a “Butt-Kicker” in 101 Great Hikes), except that it, the Ohlone Wilderness Trail, reaches all the way to Mission Peak, covering 28 miles with 7,600 feet of cumulative elevation gain. So of course I had to rehike the trail to Murietta Falls (and then some)—the next “logical” stage in my quest to discover how far I can hike in a day.
Last Sunday at 7 in the morning, Stephanie dropped me off at the trailhead in Del Valle Regional Park, and I started walking, and I didn’t stop until I emerged at the Stanford Avenue parking lot at 4:20pm, exactly 9 hours and 20 minutes later—a perfect three mile per hour pace. It now stands as the longest I’ve ever hiked in a day after Skyline-to-the-Sea, and the first time I’ve crossed the marathon threshold. Onto 30!
Unfortunately I didn’t practice very good poison oak hygiene last weekend (I wore shorts and didn’t shower immediately upon returning home), and now I’m suffering from a few small spots on both legs and a swath on my left arm—my worst exposure since my first. Lesson re-learned.
I can say with confidence that it’s possible to hike the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail in a single day, if one were so inclined. A month ago Stephanie dropped me off at the Saratoga Gap trailhead just after 8 in the morning, snapped a few photos (to help search-and-rescue identify my body), and then drove off in the direction of Pescadero to spend the day studying.
Nine hours later I emerged from the wilderness, on a bluff facing the Pacific just before sunset. Stephanie met me at the end with a sandwich and bubbly water. The signs say the trail is 29.5 miles long, but common wisdom (and recent GPS data) suggests it’s closer to 25. Given my usual pace of 3 miles per hour, plus a short break for lunch and an unanticipated ford of Waddell Creek, 25 miles seems reasonable.
Which makes this trek the farthest I’ve hiked in a single day, eclipsing the two days in a row that I hiked close to 23 miles on the PCT (over 11 hours carrying a 30-pound pack). To day hike any farther, I’m going to need longer days (and longer trails).