I’m fully vaccinated against COVID and ready to thru-hike in the 2021 season. Here’s what the 2600+ mile ‘UP North Loop’ is all about, the gear I’m using, my budget for such a long journey, and how I’m staying safe hiking during a pandemic.
That was a hell of a couple of years we endured, wasn’t it? Thankfully, the future is looking bright (hopefully)! I’m trying to stay positive, and I hope you all are doing well too.
First off, I want to say I wouldn’t even consider taking on such an enormous trek if I hadn’t been lucky enough to receive the Moderna vaccinations in April. I qualified for my first round at the beginning of the month and was fortunate to be one of the first people to utilize a mass vaccination site at Boeing Center in Everett, WA. I got my second jab on April 22nd, and boy what a doozy that was (ugh, that recovery)!
As of right now, I’m literally on the eve of starting my trip, so I’m going to get right into it and try to make this as brief as possible.
What is the UP North Loop?
This 2630 mile route, called the ‘UP North Loop,’ was first put together and walked by Ras and Kathy Vaughn in 2018. Ras and Kathy, known as Team UltraPedestrian, successfully used cross-country route finding to connect the four big long-distance hiking trails in the PNW: The Oregon Natural Desert Trail (ODT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT), and finally, the Idaho Centennial Trail (ICT).
So, what was the big draw of this loop for me? There were a few.
First, it’s going to be remote, and I can mostly be self sufficient the entire way. I get to maintain a good distance from other hikers/people most of the time (my timing on the PCT will be before the NOBO hikers are coming through). And, of course, it’s a huge challenge.
Also, I have to admit I’d been eyeing the ODT and PNT for awhile, but the ruggedness of the ICT really lit a fire inside of me. I’m always up to the extreme challenges of thru-hiking, and the Centennial Trail romanced me over with it’s remoteness, off-trail bushwhacking, wildlife, and mountain ranges (the Sawtooths, OMG!). I guess this way, I get to experience a bit of all these trails, plus revisit some of my favorite bits of my original love- the PCT.
A very special thanks to my hikertrash friends, Enigma and Stellar T, for sending me some very helpful information regarding the ODT and ICT.
Where am I starting, and which direction am I going?
I’ll be starting (and ending) in the tiny town of Hammett, Idaho, which is about 15 miles southeast of Mountain Home, off the I-84. From there I’m heading westbound to connect with the ODT. A few weeks ago, I spent a weekend caching water along my route through the desert, so hopefully I’ll be good in that regard (it’s going to be a dry year, according to ONDA). On my way out to Idaho, I also scouted some still flowing water sources on the cross-country section between Hammett and the ODT.
How I’m Staying Safe Hiking During a Pandemic
As you’ve already read, I’m now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, I’m still going to be taking extra precautions to protect myself and others. This means I’ll still be masking up in towns when I resupply, and I will be avoiding hitch-hiking as much as possible. To get into towns along the Oregon Desert Trail sections, I’ll be taking the alternates that ONDA has so graciously provided in their free maps sets.
As far as accessing the trail towns along the PCT, well this bit is easy for me. As you all my know, I’m a PNW local, born and raised. I’m very fortunate to have my family close to the trail, and they’ll be picking me up and giving me rides when I need them. They, too, are all fully vaccinated. Thank you to my family, Pedro, Nebula, Hummingbird, Magpie, Valkyrie and Cobra Kai for taking such good care of me; love you all!
I haven’t quite yet worked out all of the logistics of the Idaho Centennial Trail, but I plan on tackling that when I take a few days off at home in Washington. At a brief glance, it looks as though there are several alternates that I can take into some of the towns along the way.
Last year was not an easy year to save, thanks to be laid off twice and quitting a job that did not prioritize the safety of their employees. However, I managed to build up to my standard $5000 budget for thu-hiking, which is what has worked for me on the PCT and the CDT. This $5000 budget is simply my spending money for on-trail stuff, such as motel rooms, food and gear replacement, and does not include my transportation to my jumping off point, or the cost of my resupply boxes.
I’m choosing to send small resupply boxes (USPS Priority Regional Flat Rate boxes) because I spent last winter dehydrating healthy foods to eat. In the long run, it’s better for my health and much cheaper. I simply cannot subsist on the over-processed Knorr sides anymore, and I can’t afford to eat Mountain House meals everyday (they’re too bulky anyway). Many of my resupply stops are convenience stores with marked-up junk food, which I will still purchase a small inventory of to supplement what I send myself. But, again, I don’t want to only eat junk; you have to treat your body right while you’re working it so hard.
Here’s where things get a bit complicated; my gear list will be an ever evolving thing, with each new trail I encounter. For my first sections, across the Idaho desert to connect with ODT, I’ll be using a framed pack with a hip belt to bear a heavier load. My base weight is right around 9 lbs, so I’m still an ultralighter. However, I’ll be carrying up to 6 liters of water at a time. Another desert related gear addition includes a reflective trekking umbrella to keep the sun from zapping me all day. Here’s my Lighterpack Gear rundown (consumables and worn weight are excluded):
And here’s what I’m wearing (worn weight):
- Long-sleeve hooded sun shirt, UPF 50+ sun protection (Amazon)
- Tillak ‘Coho’ Nylon Ball Cap (zero plastic packaging, very cool)
- Thin moisture-wicking tank top (Amazon)
- Altra Lone Peak 4.5 trail running shoes (women’s 9.5)
- Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Socks (women’s medium)
- Running Shorts (Old Navy)
- Outdoor Research ‘ActiveIce Spectrum’ Sun Gloves
- Timex ‘Ironman’ Waterproof Watch
- Beyond Yoga Sports Bra
- Cotton Bandana
- Cheap Sunglasses
After the desert sections, and when I reach Bend, Oregon, I’ll be changing out my 55L pack for something smaller and more compact, as I won’t need to carry as much water, food and layers. I’ll update my gear list when I reach this point of my journey, and update my Lighterpack as well.
So there you have it folx, this is the basics of my journey. I’ll do my best to journal along the way and keep everyone up to date. My biggest challenges so far include Big Jack Creek Canyon (Idaho), water sources along the ODT, the shoulder season on the PCT and PNT, and pretty much the entirety of the ICT. Wish me luck, I may need it!
I wish you all a fun and healthy summer, and I hope you all are able to get out and explore safely.