Adventurers of the Week: South Sound teachers hike PCT 460 miles through Oregon

Ashley Gregg, left, of Port Orchard, and Melissa Ashton of Spanaway prepare to start their 25-day Pacific Crest Trail hike through Oregon.
Ashley Gregg, left, of Port Orchard, and Melissa Ashton of Spanaway prepare to start their 25-day Pacific Crest Trail hike through Oregon. Courtesy

Melissa Ashton is a rarity among modern Pacific Crest Trail hikers.

She hasn’t read “Wild.” She hasn’t even seen the movie.

The 2012 book by Cheryl Strayed and the 2014 movie starring Reese Witherspoon sparked an increase in users of the nearly 2,700-mile trail between the Mexican and Canadian borders. But it has nothing to do with why Ashton hiked the 460-mile section through Oregon in July.

“One guy asked if I had thrown my boots off a cliff,” said Ashton, 41. “I was like, ‘No, why the heck would I do that?’ ”

Ashton’s hiking partner, Ashley Gregg of Port Orchard, had to tell her that the hiker was referring to the book’s opening scene.

Ashton, a teacher at Puyallup’s Glacier View Junior High, and Gregg, a Mount Tahoma High teacher, spent 25 days of their summer break hiking from Ashland to the Columbia River.

Both previously hiked the Washington section in separate trips. Ashton hiked the Washington section by herself in 2010.

One guy asked if I had thrown my boots off a cliff. I was like, ‘No, why the heck would I do that?’

Melissa Ashton, teacher and Pacific Crest Trail hiker.

The friends woke at 5 a.m. most days and typically were setting up their next camp about 9 hours and 19 miles later. They carried packs that weighed 20-30 pounds. They hiked together some days and split up on others.

“It was an amazing experience,” Ashton said.

As winter winds down and backpacking season draws near, we caught up with Ashton to ask her a little bit about her epic summer break.

Q: What was your original inspiration for hiking the Washington section?

A: I wanted to see Washington state. I wanted to get into some areas that you normally can’t get to on day hikes. And I wanted to challenge myself. I did Washington solo.

Q: What was it like doing the Washington section by yourself? Any nervous points?

A: It was a mental challenge. Once I was staying at a snowmobile hut south of Mount Rainier. It was late at night and there were roads in there. There were two guys and I was inside the cabin. There is no lock on it. It is completely open. I could hear them outside. I could smell alcohol. And it sounded like they were going to come in and I was in there by myself.

I just shouted out, “There’s a PCT hiker in here. I don’t want you to be alarmed.” I think I shocked them and they probably were just going there to hang out. But that got me kind of scared.

And I saw a cougar one day. He saw me and ran the other direction. That was a little nerve wracking. I would cough, click my poles together and try to make noise.

And there were some other times around people that I got some funky vibes.

I still enjoy solo backpacking, but I’m going to honor my husband (who doesn’t like the idea of her taking long solo trips) and not do that.

Q: What did you do to train for the Oregon section?

A: I run. I tried to get in as much hiking as I could, but I don’t think you can ever get in as much as you like.

Q: How bad were the mosquitoes?

A: Oh my goodness. We had full bug nets. We had bug pants, bug jackets, bug spray and we probably had a good seven or eight days where we did not take the bug nets off. We would get into camp and set up the tents without the rain fly on so that we could talk to each other through the mesh.

Q: What was the planning like for this trip?

A: The fall before we went, Ashley and I started looking at maps. We used the Halfmile Maps. They are fantastic. They are super detailed and show you where the campgrounds are, where the water stops are, if there are side roads that get you to other locations and resupply places. Then there is an app on your phone that goes with it. So when you were out on the trail, the app would tell you how far away the next water stop or campground was.

So that gave us a rough plan. Then we did our own separate food and resupply. I probably started in April (2016) getting everything dehydrated and putting together my resupply boxes. Then maybe a week or two before we left, I mailed them out.

Q: Did friends meet you for any of the resupplies?

A: A couple of friends met us at Timberline Lodge (on Mount Hood). We spent the night there. It was amazing. We only had three days after that, so it was a good “Yeah, we are almost there. Let’s celebrate.”

Q: What was your go-to trail meal?

A: Instant couscous and a ton of dehydrated veggies. Then, Ashley always had extra food, so I would take some of her beef jerky and throw it in there. And it was very good. I had the same meal or a variation almost every night, so I don’t think I ever want couscous again.

Q: What was your favorite stop?

A: One of the best was Big Lake Youth Camp in the Sisters area. It’s a Seventh-Day Adventists youth camp and they have amazing accommodations for PCT hikers. They are building an A-frame house for PCT hikers to stay at completely free. They feed you. They do your laundry for you. They have a person whose job is PCT coordinator. They treated us like royalty. I’m in love with this place.

We stayed at Crater Lake. It poured down rain and snowed, but that was beautiful.

Q: What about a favorite section of the trail?

A: From Big Lake Youth Camp north was absolutely beautiful. (Three) Sisters Wilderness. Jefferson Park. There are a ton of extinct volcanoes where you are walking through lava fields. And there is about a 10-mile section where you go through an obsidian field. It is closed unless you have a permit or are a PCT hiker.

Q: The trip had to be a great resource for teaching?

A: Absolutely. I was snapping pictures of stuff left and right. I have a huge photo collage in my room of the Oregon trip.

Q: What’s next? The John Muir Trail?

A: Hopefully next summer. We are keeping our fingers crossed to get a permit. Big picture, I’d love to go backpacking in New Zealand and Peru with my husband. And also there is so much more to explore in Washington.

Q: Any recommendation for backpackers who want to do a trip like this?

A: Just enjoy it. The people you meet are a ton of fun. The days are tiring, but as soon as you are off the trail you just want to get back on the trail.

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