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UP CLOSE: Hooked on hiking

Wilmington couple hikes 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail

November 17, 2016
By ANTONIO OLIVERO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

WILMINGTON - About 110 miles into their 2,650-mile hike from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, a man known as "Horsewhistler" gave a Wilmington couple their trail names for the most epic hike of their lives.

Together, Jason Cristman and Emily Keddie were known as "Crispy Pancakes."

Cristman - a stonemason who works at the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center as a snowmaker and ski instructor - was "Crispy," and Keddie - a server at The View restaurant at the Mirror Lake Inn - was "Pancakes." The names were the result of Cristman using a lightweight Jetboil Cooking System to fry up some particularly dense crispy-on-the-outside pancakes for their hiking group.

Article Photos

Jason Cristman and Emily Keddie of Wilmington hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border to the Canadian border between April and October.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)

Along with Horsewhistler, Crispy Pancakes were joined by "Fingers of Fury," who lugged a guitar out onto the trails of California to play some Grateful Dead, Slightly Stoopid and Stick Figure.

And while on the trail, a journey south to north that took them through six national parks and 25 national forests, Cristman and Keddie used one song in particular, Stick Figure's "Fire on the Horizon." It was their "trail song," to keep them going through the miles of deserts, snowcapped mountain passes and mossy northwest forests, all the way from Campo, California to the edge of Manning Park in British Columbia.

"So many miles I've walked, so many rivers I've crossed," the song reads, "So many battles I've lost make me who I am today. And when tomorrow it comes, there'll be a brand new sun."

There were many tomorrows and stunning brand new suns for Cristman and Keddie on their journey north along the Pacific Crest Trail, 182 sunrises in total from their start on April 2 until their finish on Oct. 5.

Cristman, a native of Ilion, and Keddie, a native of Fredonia, are experienced Adirondack hikers. They are each Adirondack 46ers and Winter 46ers, Cristman also having skied 36 of the 46 mountains. A duo unafraid of a challenge and eager for something much bigger than anything they'd done here at home in the Adirondacks, the duo decided to get an early start on the Pacific Crest Trail by flying into San Diego in March.

With them they brought utmost preparation, reading up on every corner of the trail and mailing extra clothing and food to PCT volunteers, know as Trail Angels, at strategic locations along the trail. But they also brought with them an unabashed fearlessness of something new.

For the couple, it's rooted in each of their amazing individual outdoor accomplishments here in the Adirondacks, such as Keddie's climbing of all 46 High Peaks in one winter season and Cristman's successful attempt in skiing down Mount Colden's Trap Dike.

"I always wanted to do a through hike, and being from the East Coast I wanted something different," Cristman said. "A different landscape, I'd never been out west before, so we thought it would be a great introduction, to see the deserts, the high Sierra and the volcanoes in Oregon. You really see almost every climate change on the entire trail. That was really what stood out to me.

"It was a bucket list thing," Keddie added. "I jumped on board when I knew he was doing it."

After disembarking the southern terminus of the trail on the Mexican border in Campo, California, the first stage of the trip was hiking through the first 700 miles of dry desert and rocky mountainous terrain of the PCT, stumbling across a lush glen here and there. With seven of the eight ecosystems in the United States found in California, the couple got early starts each day and rested during the hottest times of the mid-day while trekking through the mountainous desert.

The southern part of the Sierra Nevadas came 702 miles after they had started, rising seemingly straight up out of the Mojave Dessert. It was at Kennedy Meadows where the couple had previously mailed some more layers of clothing to themselves to add to the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Mountain running shoes, neoprene ankle braces, button-down non-cotton North Face shirts, zip-off pants, three pairs of Darn Tough Socks, non-cotton leggings and North Face Summit Series down jackets they had between them.

"The key was layers," Keddie said.

For water, the couple carried a Sawyer Mini Water Filtration system with a 4-liter dirty bag that they'd hang from trees, gravity helping them to get clean water in just 10 minutes. And for food, they pre-mailed food packages to 23 stops along the way, chock-full-of breakfast bars, pop tarts, oatmeal, packaged danishes, bagels, Peanut butter and Nutella, and their own concoction, "smash bags" - freezer bags full of Snyder pretzel bites, Cheetos and other snacks.

"You wanted the calories," Cristman said. We were probably burning 6,000 calories a day, and only consuming 3,000 to 4,000."

"And by the time we reached Kennedy Meadows it was like, 'We get to do this two and a half more times?'" Keddie added. "It felt really overwhelming but really exciting too."

The stretch through the Sierra Nevada Mountains may have been the toughest part of the trip for the couple, as they'd rise around 4 a.m. each day to get a head start on that day's winter hiking. Typically it would include at least 3,000 feet of elevation gain over a mountain, as the key to successfully hiking through the Sierras at their desired pace was to get from one pass to another within a day, returning to a safe lower elevation to rest and warmth for the night.

Their travels took them to the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, the 14,505-foot Mount Whitney. Even for the adventurous Cristman, hiking above 7,000 feet was a first time experience for him, and getting through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and places such as the 13,000-foot-plus Forester Pass were equal parts exhilarating and breathtaking.

Hiking through the snowcapped Sierras, the couple did not bring snowshoes or crampons, instead relying on lightweight microspikes to get them up and down the steep mountain passes.

"Because there was so much snow, there was no trail to follow many times," Cristman said. "It was a lot of using navigational tools, following other people's tracks, sometimes good or not, and sometimes finding our own path and trying to stay on safe ridges."

Toward the end of the Sierras, the couple hiked through Yosemite National Park, saw the Lava Tube Caves in Old Station, California and by the beginning of August arrived in Ashland, Oregon.

In Oregon, the couple hiked through a line of volcanoes including Mount McLoughlin and Mount Washington, making their way as well to a mesmerizing view at Crater Lake.

"It was the bluest water you've ever seen in your life," Cristman said.

And when they arrived in Washington, Cristman said the final state on the trail offered "everything all in one."

"As soon as you get into Washington, everything is covered in dripping moss trees, it's almost rainforest like," he said. "And the Cascades (mountains) kind of reminded us of the Sierras."

The trip ended near North Cascades National Park, as the northern terminus of the PCT is 30 miles north of nearest signs of civilization. There, at the northern terminus monument, Crispy Pancakes finished with their friends, Vortex, Porn Star and High Roller - the remaining members of the group that banded together at the start of the PCT, originally dubbed "Hostile Takeover."

With a mini bottle of champagne the group toasted to their accomplishment, Cristman swigging a Total Domination IPA 12-ounce bottle from Oregon before contemplating he and Keddie's possibility of another southern border to northern border hike.

They'd like to maybe also hike the 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail and the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail, one as soon as 2018.

For now, they are content in Wilmington, but they say they are hooked on the lifestyle. If they do hike those two trails as well, they'd be two of fewer than 200 people to complete the Triple Crown of Hiking.

"We are certainly trying to stay flexible," Keddie said. "It changes you in where you want to continue this lifestyle - less need of stuff and more of an appreciation for people, what you have, the beauty of nature. The simple things you actually need to be happy."



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