Review: The Pacific Crest Trail

March 19, 1998

The Pacific Crest Trail

“Wherever we go in the mountains, we find more than we seek,” said John Muir, an avid naturalist who fought for the preservation of the western wilderness because of their beauty and the relaxation he found in them.  The Pacific Crest Trail was a delight to read as I followed the author from Southern California to Northern Washington.  It took me from the roadside view I have seen blur past my eyes into the wilds and rugged topographic beauty of the Sierra Nevada range across the Mojave desert, into the bowl of Crater Lake and the icy peaks of Mount Rainier to the Canadian border.

Author and adventurer, William R. Gray, wrote this book in such a way that I felt I was experiencing along with him the wet, boulder-strewn trails, the breathtaking uplifted peaks, and the flora of the trail.  Never before have I taken much interest in extensive backpacking/hiking but being able to see the rugged mountains and serene valleys while actually experiencing the world God created has grabbed my attention.  Perhaps I shall attempt the hike myself sometime.

Gray met 87-year-old geologist, Dr. Rene Engel, who described subterranean forces of mountain building and offered this advice, “Be alert as you walk through the mountains.  You will learn much more geology from them than you will from me.”

I think Dr. Engel said it well.  For myself it is one thing to read, study, or even see pictures of the structures of the earth.  But it is a whole new dimension to feel the rough ancient volcanic rock under my feet and understand the gigantic forces God used to make the beautiful ranges Gray described.

Through the variety of ecological environments he passed, Gray, brought the pages of this book to life with descriptions of the land, the creatures and the people who have made these areas their home.  The flora which struggles to survive in the scorching heat of the Mojave Desert draws life-giving water from the porous stone which seems to soak up any moister as quickly as it falls.  This book, with its photographs and descriptive phrases, has given me a guided tour through the deserts and mountains of the Pacific Coast.  Gray described the contrasts of nature as he saw them change with each mile he passed.  The heat of the desert gradually became the freezing wind at the cap of Mount Whitney at 14,494.164 feet.

Just as John Muir said, I found more than I expected in mountains and valleys described in this book.  Not only did I learn about the topography of the Pacific Crest Trail; I learned about the forces which made the numerous ridges and volcanic cones.  I learned to take a second look at the world around me and find the natural beauty of God’s creation.  Someday, perhaps, I will follow the Pacific Crest Trail, but for now I will let this remind me to take a closer look at nature around me and remember the natural geologic stories beneath my own feet.

Hiking the Volcano Santa Maria

The eastern view from atop Santa Maria.

The eastern view from atop Santa Maria.                © MICHAEL SHEAD

The Volcano Santa Maria; been there, done that…and it was tough!

Ever since I heard about the moonlight hikes of the volcano Santa Maria, I thought that it sounded like a blast!

Hiking through the moonlit darkness into the dawn and then seeing sunrise from the towering peak and viewing up to 11 other volcanic peaks including looking down onto the live crater of Santiaguito, sounded like a great adventure for this Kansas farm boy.

So, here’s the story of my volcanic hiking adventure…

The Mountain

  • Name: Santa Maria
  • Height: 12,375 ft (3772 mts)
  • Type:Volcanic
  • Comparison: Mt. Fuji in Japan is about 10 feet taller
  • Trail rating: Strenuous
  • Trail distance: Approx. 6.21 miles (10 km)
  • Elevation increase from trailhead: Approx. 4,173 feet
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The hikers

I had been dreaming of doing this hike for two years so when I found out that some friends were interested I planned it for Nov. 15th, 2013 (technically a few days before the full moon but it worked better for our schedules). There were five friends from ASELSI and three guys visiting town from Michigan plus our friend Kevin, from Totonicapan, our guide, Hansy, two friends of his and two police officers for safety. (Apparently there have been some thieves prowling the trails and they recommend armed escorts to prevent attacks.)

In Quetzaltenango, we met up with Hansy near the stadium and his friend wowed us with a  story of Hansy’s record ascent of the mountain (an incredible 45 minutes). Then we drove over to the central park where a van pulled up at about 12:30 a.m., and we headed out to the Santa Maria Summit Trail trailhead which ended up being quite a long ways from the foot of the mountain but, unless you’re on dirt bikes, that’s as close as you can get in a van. Continue reading