Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales & Tips, December 2023

Susan Alcorn’s Backpacking & Hiking Tales & Tips,  December 2023

Snow camping with Sierra Club group (photo: Susan Alcorn)

“For the born traveler, traveling is a besetting vice. Like other vices, it is imperious, demanding its victim’s time, money, energy and the sacrifice of comfort.” -Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), English author of Brave New World


1. Celebration of Life for Trail Angel Donna Saufley

2. Wildlife: Whoa, this is fascinating!

3. Amazing new #PCT #Fastest #Known #Time (FKT) records set: #Nick Fowler

4. New Fastest Women’s Known Time: #Jessica Pekari

5. Camino: The Ditch Pigs at it again

6. Susan’s hiking books – read free for 90 days on Kindle Unlimited

7. Our recent 9.000-mile road trip – and the computer glitch

8. Falling into a tree well…


1. Celebration of Life for Donna Saufley.
 You may have heard previously,  but just in case… we are all very sad that Trail Angel Donna Saufley passed away on October 6, 2023. Others have written much about Donna, so I will keep my comments short, but I knew Donna because she and her husband Jeff, ran “Hiker Heaven” in Agua Dulce, CA. They hosted thousands of PCT hikers through a couple of decades, and Ralph and I were fortunate enough to stay there twice while on the trail.

When I began my latest book, Walk, Hike, Saunter, I asked Donna if she would tell her story. I had been hesitant to ask because I knew she would have enough material to write several books of her own. Not only had she cared for and listened to thousands of hikers, she had also section hiked the PCT over an 11- year period. But, she did share her thoughts and feelings for the book, for which I was, and am, very grateful.

There is going to be a ‘Celebration of Life’ in her honor on April 13-14, 2024 in Agua Dulce, CA. More info below. Ralph and I are planning to go; please let me know if you are planning to be there also.

A couple of the dozens? hundreds? of the tributes to this wonderful woman:

Celebrating the Warmth and Generosity of Beloved Trail Angel Donna Saufley. By PCTA Staff.

October 11, 2023

“All of us in the trail community were heartbroken to hear of the passing of Donna Saufley on October 6 after a long and difficult battle with cancer. A long-distance hiker, former PCTA board member, and volunteer, Donna—along with her husband Jeff Saufley—helped create the generous culture of trail angels on the PCT. For years, Donna and Jeff hosted countless PCT hikers at their home in Agua Dulce, California, known as “Hiker Heaven.” Donna, whose trail name was L-Rod (short for Lightning Rod) will be missed by all.”

November 14, 2023 Journal entry by Cindy Anderson. On behalf of Floyd Jefferson Saufley you are invited to Donna’s ”Celebration of Life,” which will be held on the weekend of 13th -14th April 2024. (11861 Darling Road, Agua Dulce, CA 91390)

****For planning purposes please fill out the following RSVP form until the 30th of November 2023. Link here:

Susan: I am not sure if they can add attendees, but you can try at the above link,  which was still active today, Dec. 11, but if it isn’t now, you can email:


2. Wildlife: Whoa, this is fascinating!! As Daniel Dietrich’s article, “Apparently Coyotes Can Climb Trees,” reveals, there is “at least one in Moraga (CA) that can.” Stephanie Becker, who lives in Moraga, looked out her kitchen window recently and saw movement in a neighbor’s apple tree. Becker, who is a wildlife photographer, grabbed her camera and caught the episode that you can watch (link below).  

She contacted Dietrich, who shares her interest in wildlife and photography, and he started digging deeper to find out how prevalent such behavior is in coyotes. The experts were in agreement – they had never seen or heard of coyotes climbing trees before. “Gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are known to climb trees—sometimes as a way to escape coyotes,” added Dietrich. In fact, this is a major defensive action that foxes use to get away from coyotes.  

Watch the video and read on for more about this unusual and exciting event.

3. New PCT Record. A new FKT (Fastest Known Time) record for the Pacific Crest Trail was set Sep. 6, 2023, by 35-year-old Nick Fowler of Oklahoma. His average daily mileage on the 2,650-mile trail through Washington, Oregon, and California, was about 51 miles. His total time was 52 days/9hours/18 minutes.

Fowler’s hike was unsupported—meaning he did not have anyone traveling along to bring him food, help him set up camp, or take care of any other needs. He started with a packweight of 7.5 pounds and detoured into towns to resupply along the way.

Generally, thru-hikers of the PCT start at the south end at Campo, but due to this year’s heavy Sierra snowfall, and the NW’s somewhat more manageable amount, he started in Washington in July and hit the Sierra later than one would normally. Even so, he ran into Hurricane Hilary and had to take cover in a cave for two days to weather the storm.

Though it is incredible what extreme endurance athletes can accomplish, it usually comes with a cost. Sometimes they are temporary, but there can be permanent damage. Nick suffered from exhaustion, discovered an alarming amount of blood in his urine, a huge blister—and at his hike’s end, he reported that his toes and front part of his feet were numb. (info from S.F.Chronicle, Gregory Thomas Sep. 22, 2023.)    

4. Jessica Pekari has set a new FKT record also. It’s just unreal what records are being broken – especially with the harsh snowfall last season. But none of that stopped Jessica. One the PCT, she chalked up Fastest female unassisted on Sep 18, 2023. This was 63 days, 7 hours, and 31 minutes traveling North to South.

“I recorded my entire attempt on my Garmin enduro and spot tracker. I pre-mailed my resupply of food, clothing and shoes. I got my water from streams, caches, and spigots along the way.  I walked to and from resupply.” And she wisely kept track of her journey on “tracker, watch, and Instagram account.” Her dates: July 17, 2023 to Sep. 18, 2023.

5. Camino de Santiago: Rebekah Scott of Peaceable Kingdom in Moratinos, Spain, posted on FB this week, “We wind up another year of Ditch-pigging, having cleared litter from Estella to Santo Domingo de la Calzada — 106 km in three long days. We did good!”

They sure did—and the Ditch Pigs have been cleaning up trash along the Camino since 2008. It’s too bad we can’t prevent people from littering and let the Ditch Pigs use their time and energy doing other worthwhile projects, but in the meantime, we can help them by making donations and adding support to their efforts.

6. Susan’s hiking books: read free for 90 days on Kindle Unlimited. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you will have free access to my five hiking books until Feb. 24, 2024. That includes:

Walk, Hike, Saunter: Seasoned Women Share Tales and Trails

Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo

Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine

We’re in the Mountains Not over the Hill: Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers

Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago

If you do use this offer, we would greatly appreciate your great reviews!  

#7. Our recent 9,000-mile road trip—and the computer glitch. Before Ralph and I left for our roadtrip to Yellowstone, then across Canada, down the east coast to Kentucky, and back across the U.S. on a southerly route through New Mexico and more, we thought we had set up our WordPress computer system to automatically send out my October newsletter on October 1st. However, as you may have noticed it didn’t go out then. In fact, it wasn’t until we returned home in mid-November that it went out on its own. (As to why, that’s too long a story for here!). Anyway, we are sorry about the glitch, but hope you enjoyed reading the story “Oh, Deer” that I sent in place of the usual news and items that I usually have in the newsletter.   

#8. Backcountry risk: Falling into a tree well. Skiers, snowboards, and  occasionally backpackers fall into a tree well. This hole surrounding the trunk or branches of a coniferous tree can be partially covered with unconsolidated snow and not easily sighted until it’s too late. Some tips: Before you set out: Go with a partner! Carry a whistle. But if you do fall: you want to do all that you can to stay upright! The following advice is from October 2018.

As you are falling, try to grab the tree trunk or strong branches to keep upright. Move your head side-to-side to keep the airway open. Avoid knocking more snow into the well. Kick off snowshoes or skis and shuffle your feet side to side to make room to climb out. Blow your whistle and call for help.





Thank you everyone. Stay safe, keep hiking when prudent. I encourage you to send in items of interest to the hiking community to me at backpack45 “at sign”

Susan ‘backpack45’ Alcorn

Shepherd Canyon Books, Oakland, CA

Author of Walk, Hike, Saunter: Seasoned Women Share Tales and Trails; Healing Miles: Gifts from the Caminos Norte and Primitivo; Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine; We’re in the Mountains Not over the Hill: Tales and Tips from Seasoned Women Backpackers; and Camino Chronicle: Walking to Santiago.

Please note: Hiking and backpacking can be risky endeavors. Always be prepared for emergencies and carry food, water, shelter (warm clothing, etc.), flashlight/headlamp, matches, first aid supplies, and maps. Cell phones don’t always work. Leave word where you are traveling and when you are due back.

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