Caitlin Olson on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, deceiving water caches and the story of L.L. Cool Juniper

"I did a particularly engaging rendition of L.L. Cool J's 'Mama Said Knock You Out' at the top of Silver Pass which landed me the trail name." - L.L. Cool Juniper aka. Caitlin Olson

Featuring: Caitlin 'LL' Olson aka. @c_diggitydawg

In 2017, Caitlin hiked 2950.4 km. / 1,883.3 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The PCT is one of America's longest hiking trails. It stretches from the deserts of Southern California to the incredible Sierra's of Nothern California through Oregon and Washington aaaaall-the-way to the Canadian border. That's 4279 kilometers /  2659 miles of blisters, natural wonders and plenty of mac 'n cheese. Caitlin was unable to start at the Mexican border due to her graduation date, but she plans to finish the hike in the future. I talked to her about her PCT adventure, the ups, and downs that followed and why some people know her as L.L. Cool Juniper.

The first section of the Pacific Crest Trail takes you through 1126 km / 700 miles of hot, Cali desert.

Caitlin herself hails from Oakland in the breezy San Francisco Bay Area, US. Close to the beautiful, natural land of Northern California, the opportunities for outdoor activities are plenty:

I primarily go hiking and, of course, backpacking. Recently I've been getting more active in trail running because I noticed how much it hurts your knees and feet to run on pavement! I love being in the outdoors for the quiet.

No matter the hardships of the trail, the peace and serenity are always comforting counterweights.


A few facts about Caitlin:
  • Bored on the trail? Never!
    - On a long-distance trek like the PCT, your daily routine takes all of your time: "If you're a thru-hiker, you have no time to be bored! You're either setting up camp, eating, or sleeping".
  • Has found her favorite trail food
    -Caitlin absolute favorite trail food came down to a "close toss-up between mac 'n cheese and dried mango. Given that the PCT takes months to complete, that is an awful a lot mango and mac 'n cheese.
  • Finds trail life awesome, but also that there's always something you miss from back home
    "Definitely spending time family and friends". However, thru-hiking the PCT seems to have its perks when you are from Cali: "... it was always a treat when I had a friend visit me while I was stopping in a town. Also. Couches.
  • Fancies reading & Indie Rock
    She has two books on her nightstand right now: "The Handmaid's Tale and a biography about Frances Perkins, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's secretary of labor". As for music, Caitlin has recently been getting into indie rock duo The Front Bottoms and "watching a bunch of NPR Tiny Desk Concerts on Youtube".
  • Had an encounter with a wild bobcat on the PCT
    Caitlin: "Smaller than expected". Ha-ha.

... Wonder what Caitlin is doing here? Pointing out wild bobcats? Looking for the next water cache? Maybe she's just grabbing the opportunity to show off her sleek Leki poles.


When you venture onto a long-distance hike, it is a hiking tradition to be given a trail name. Tell me the story about yours.

I had two trail names during my PCT hike: Juniper and L.L. Cool Juniper (or LL for short). I got Juniper first because I discovered on day two that I was allergic to juniper tree, a very common plant in the desert section. Then my trail family made the switch to LL when I got in the habit of reciting an old hip hop rap at the top of each Sierra mountain pass. I did a particularly engaging rendition of L.L. Cool J's 'Mama Said Knock You Out' at the top of Silver Pass which landed me the trail name.

Don't worry, guys. Mixtape dropping soon.


I've heard about thru-hikers developing their own rituals to get going day-after-day. Do you have a trail ritual?

I'd say my morning routine was akin to a ritual because of how I repeated it every morning.

  1. Alarm goes off at 5am.
  2. Roll over to grab a bar.
  3. Eat it while slowly coming to terms with the fact that it's morning.
  4. Brush my teeth and spit outside my tent (still in my sleeping bag at this point).
  5. If I wasn't sleeping in my hiking clothes, I'd change my clothes and stuff my sleeping bag in its stuff sack.
  6. Deflate and roll up my mat.
  7. Finally I'd put on my socks, gaiters, and shoes and try to stand up on my sore, numb feet.

 

Morning bliss! I miss it so much!

Getting up in the morning can sometimes be tough, even on the trail... but when you wake up to a sight like this... Well, it is still pretty damn hard.


What was one of your worst decisions on the trail?

Once, I relied on a water cache that turned out to be empty. That was a huge mistake. My hiking partner and I went the next ten miles of lava fields in Oregon on less than 0.5 liter of water each. It was pretty miserable. I never relied on water caches again.

"Camel up" - When you're in doubt about how reliable your next water source will be, drink as much as you can at your current source... of course, try to avoid getting wobble-belly.


What was the first thing you did when you got home after finishing the PCT?

The first thing I did was see my family. My mom had planned a dinner out in San Francisco with my whole family, which was a stimuli shock to say the least, but it was nice seeing them all again.

When you have gotten used to enjoying your dinner in this laidback thru-hike style, a crowded SF-restaurant seems very stressful. Especially, because you have to use those weird things called knives and forks.


What adventures await in the future?

I hope to go back and finish the desert section I had to skip due to timing this year. From what everyone we met said about the desert, it sounds epic. And now, I'm not as frightened by long water carries or hot days. I'd also like to do the Colorado Trail someday and maybe a section of the AT.

Caitlin 'L.L. Cool Juniper' Olson and her PCT 2017 finishing line crew giving a big shoutout to the wonderful group of people that are trail angels.


And in those words - it's a wrap.

Follow Caitlin on Instagram and Medium

My gratitude goes to Caitlin aka. Juniper aka. L.L. Cool Juniper aka. @c_diggitydawg for contributing to the article with her compelling PCT adventure and amazing photos. I got into contact with Caitlin after reading some of her down-to-earth and super informative post-PCT blog posts on Medium and I highly recommend you giving them a read:

Also, you should check out her Instagram gallery if you are interested in seeing what everyday life on the Pacific Crest Trail looks like.

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Happy Trails, People. WildStray / Mikkel