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PCT Day 115 – Meeting Papa Joe in the Russian Wilderness

Last updated Apr 8, 2021 | Published on Aug 13, 2017

I awoke to a fabulous sunrise from my vantage point perched atop the ridge, ready to hike through the Russian Wilderness to Etna. Or, more accurately, when I awoke the pre-sunrise dawn was just beginning. The sun finally peeked above the horizon as I finished packing up my tent.


I had 18.5 miles to get to Etna so I was on a mission! But the terrain was too rugged for me to go very fast. 2 miles per hour seems to be my average speed when the trail is rocky and has a lot of elevation ascent and descent and clings to the edge of a mountain. I take a lot of short breaks – usually because my feet hurt or because I’m winded, but also to take pictures and enjoy the view. And the views on this section have been AMAZING.

Russian Wilderness

Welcome to the Russian Wilderness

I passed from the Trinity Alps Wilderness to the Russian Wilderness in mid-morning. The trail crossed over a saddle and began descending, before going over yet another ridge.

These mountains look like they were poured out of a pitcher

I stopped at a stream for lunch in the Russian Wilderness. A couple of other hikers were there, one of which I vaguely recognized. He saw my PCT Class of 2017 bandana hanging from my pack and exclaimed “You’ve been to my house!” Turns out he is Papa Joe, one of the most famous Trail Angels on the PCT. He runs Casa de Luna with his wife, Teri. Papa Joe is section hiking the PCT right now.

Papa Joe and Me

After lunch Papa Joe and I Ieapfrogged eachother as we headed towards town. I stopped to fill up my water bottles at Paynes Lake, one of the more beautiful lakes I’ve seen on trail so far. I could see rain clouds in the distance, dark blue smudges on the horizon with rainspouts funneling downwards.

Paynes Lake

Rainclouds in the distance

Soon I heard a rumble of thunder, and another rumble. Then it started raining in earnest. This was the first actual rainstorm I experienced on the PCT so far – and as previously mentioned, I don’t have any raingear right now! I put on my windshirt and put my camera inside my backpack in a Ziploc baggie and hiked as fast as I could. Thankfully I only had 2 miles to go until town at this point.

This Windshirt was quickly soaked through

When I reached the trailhead at 6:00 pm I was soaked through. Luckily I only had to wait about 30 minutes for a hitch – I danced on the side of the road with some other hikers to keep warm.

There’s the Road! Finally!

Earlier today when I had cell reception briefly on a ridge, I had called Alderbrook Manor to secure a room in their Hiker’s Hut. So I had a bunk in the dorm waiting for me when I arrived. Blossom, a PCT Hiker who is currently volunteering at the Hikers Hut, welcomed me and made me feel right at home. They also gave me a hot dog and a beer upon checkin. Woo!

I spent the rest of the evening doing laundry, showering, and eating dinner. Papa Joe and I rode on loaner bikes available at the Hikers Hut to Bob’s Ranch House on the other side of town for dinner. It was fun to ride a bike – I can’t even remember how long it’s been since I’ve ridden one.

Bob’s Ranch House

Back at the hut, I carefully climbed into the my bunk before falling asleep. I don’t really like sleeping on the top bunk as I’m mildly terrified of falling out of bed. But it was either that or sleeping in my tent outside in the rain so I sucked it up.

PCT 2017 Stats

PCT Day 115 – Sunday August 6
Mile 1579.1 to Sawyers Bar Road Mile 1597.2

PCT Miles Hiked Today: 18.1
Total PCT Miles Hiked: 1209.7
Feet Ascended Today: 3403
Feet Descended Today: 4236
Current Elevation: 2959
Steps: 55953

For more on my experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, visit my Pacific Crest Trail 2017 page:

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Hi, I'm Unicorn!

I am an avid hiker, traveler, and adventurer who is on the mission to explore hiking trails around the world.  I’m also obsessed with National Parks, long-distance trails and other outdoorsy things.

I hope to share this knowledge with you and inspire you to explore new hiking trails too!


  1. lightmanca

    Hey what if you scotchguarded that windshirt? Would it do double duty as a rain jacket?

    • Unicorn

      Ha! Interesting idea. It would lose its appeal as a windshirt then. This thing folds down to the size of a walnut. It’s one of the lightest pieces of gear I own. Waterproofing it would make it much bulkier and heavier.

  2. Papa Joe

    One of the highlights of my hike was seeing you on trail and gettin to hang out in Etna.
    I’d love to some trail time with you again sometime.

    • Unicorn

      Me too! That sounds super fun!


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