Mt. Shasta to Seiad Valley

Day 99: Mt. Shasta (1501.2) to Campsite with the MAD VIEWS (1518.9)

July 17 // 17.7 miles

Time in town always slips by so quickly. Feels like we just arrived aaaaaaand then it’s suddenly time to be back to trail…not that it’s a bad thing. I did my resupply at the bougie grocery store across from our hotel first thing this morning, slightly alarmed by how hot it was early in the day. One of yesterday’s wine bottles was still unopened and despite the encouragement of the group, I couldn’t bring myself to chug it when we were leaving and transferred it to a smart water bottle to share at camp tonight so I am running at one litre capacity for the day. The things I do for my trail fam.

We’re hoping to knock out bigger days for the rest of Northern California, with less time off to make up for our triple zero extravaganzas in the Sierra, but it still took us all morning to slowly finish choring and checkout. Caught a ride back to the trail, arriving back alongside the interstate at 1:30. I feel bad we wasted so much of the morning doing nothing at all because it was time to head straight uphill in the peak of the afternoon sun. The weather app on my phone read 102F in the shade and the hardest part of the entire day for me was getting up from my little patch of shade at the trailhead and starting to walk. Bagels and PC had to literally pull me to my feet for me to get going.

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As always though, once I got started I cheered up immensely. It’s impossible to sustain a bad mood being back in the woods no matter how hot it is or how steep the grade. The first half-mile went straight uphill, welcome back to trail calves, but I felt well rested after the zero and took it slowly until things flattened out and then I was cruisin. The best part was that I am finally on BRAND NEW TRAIL. For almost the entire rest of the way, excluding a couple sections in Oregon, I won’t be able to pull out my signature phrase “well last year…” because last year I didn’t make it this far. I’m really proud of myself for getting here without skipping, in 2017 I had missed chunks of trail around Sierra City and Tahoe pretty much because my knee hurt and I didn’t feel like walking when a ride was available. It’s often said that once you start missing miles it gets easier and easier to do it again and so it’s been a real priority for me this year to hike the whole trail step by step, in a straight northern-bound line (eg. no skipping and no flipping up and hiking back south again). I have a feeling that if I hadn’t skipped around so much last year, I wouldn’t have made the decision to quit as quickly as I did when we were faced with fires in Oregon. So far this summer we’ve been so lucky with weather-no crazy snowpack in the Sierras and no wildfires, though I know we will have to deal with them soon. A later problem.

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Entered Castle Crags wilderness a few miles in and took my first break beside Sulphur creek, which had a sign calling it No Name creek instead. Either way, it was flowing strong and had a couple patchy dirt sites scattered around for sitting down. Stopped to fill up my water bottle and catch up with our friend Nono, who was having a relaxing evening and staying there for the night. Shortly after, I ran into our other hiking buddy Leon from Australia and we got to chatting for the next 3-4 miles. Leon was a little too fast for me and I struggled to walk and talk coherently on the uphill without gasping for breath, but the time passed quicker with company. Castle crags were visible ahead through the trees, looking like a villain’s lair straight out of a Disney movie.

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I was dripping buckets in the heat and my one litre of water wasn’t nearly enough, I went thirsty shortly after Sulphur Creek. Thankfully the uphill levelled off and the exposed trail along the ridge started to alternate with shady patches of scraggly forest. At Disappearing Creek, I found my friends getting water and we debated on what to do for the night, stay where we were or get most of the climb out of the way and dry camp near the top. We hadn’t gone very far and everyone was in favour of carrying on after stopping for a short break. Leon stayed, he wakes up at like 4am so he’ll probs be long passed us by the time we’re awake. I see the appeal of waking up early, it’s so nice when it’s 10am and you’ve already put in 10+ miles….I just can’t do it. NO ALARMS ON TRAIL.

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We had a half scramble over large boulders to get to the water, and it smelled a little funky. I’m glad I decided to keep my filter, even though I rarely use it and the o-ring keeps falling out so I’m not even sure if it does anything anymore… but it makes me feel better to run the water through anyways. Drank a lot of the funky water to make up for all the sweat lost during the hot climb up, we still had a big uphill to get out of the way before camp. I was the last to leave the creek and saw no one else the rest of the evening.

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The long climb was surprisingly not bad in the coolness of the evening, and it was easy to use photo taking as an excuse to give myself a break every now and then. The hill face was complete devoid of trees and directly in the light from the setting sun, so I guess it was a good thing we left later, it would have been brutal to do this during the peak of day. The lack of trees also provided amazing views across to the crags, I was so busy checking them out I forgot to look behind me, but when I did there was Shasta in the sunset looking extra majestic. What a day.

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When most of the climbing was done, I could see the trail stretching away in a straight line through the scrub for a mile or so ahead. Perfect hiking weather and only a little ways to go until camp. At the last water source before a dry ten mile stretch, took my little bandana bath and filled up my pathetic one litre I had for dry camping and getting through waterless 6 miles tomorrow morning. The wine taking up an extra litre was maybe not my best idea, but you gotta keep your priorities in order, even if it means going thirsty.

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At camp, Bagels, PC, Honeybee and Eli were already spread out on the hillside setting up groundsheets and bags in the little spots that were flat enough to sleep on, everyone is cowboy camping tonight. It’s a very open spot with literally no cover whatsoever, but there isn’t much wind and it’s still warm at 8pm. This could be one of our best campsites so far in terms of view, Shasta and Castle Crags are both glowing bright pink in the sunset, the wine bottle is being passed around, and my dinner is cooking now-ramen noodles with sriracha and peanut butter with a bit of lime powder, one of my favourite meals. The trail fam chipped in their extra water in exchange for my wine sacrifice without me having to ask. Feeling v warm and happy in my quilt. Great day.

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Day 100: Awesome sunset campsite (1518.9) to Saddle Campsite with another awesome sunset! (1551.9)

July 18 // 33 miles

Woke up a couple times during the night and every time the stars were incredible. There was 0 light pollution and the Milky Way was dominating the sky, except for where the dark shape of Mt. Shasta blacked out the stars. My biggest trail regret so far is not having a better camera, not that I would’ve dragged my lazy butt out of my quilt to take photos.

At 4:45, I woke up again and this time the very beginning of sunrise was the attraction, a thin band of the brightest red across the horizon. I didn’t get too much sleep after that since the mosquitos started making their appearance and dive bombing my ears, but it’s okay because the sunset only increased in awesomeness. As it got lighter, Shasta and the crags came back into view and the red strip widened into oranges and pinks all the way across the sky. My quilt was very warm and cozy for enjoying the show.  I LOVE NORCAL.

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Finally at 6:30 it was time to get up, everyone else was packing up and making breakfast. I felt pretty groggy after my early wake up, and dehydrated from yesterday’s uphill through the heat. No break from that today though, it was already uncomfortably warm by 7 when we got going. Finished the rest of the climb very slowly, feeling sleepy and lethargic at the back of the pack.

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Shasta still had a lock on the horizon view most of today, the lower half of the mountain was hidden in haze from a nearby fire, and the air had a noticeably smoky smell. Despite being low on water, I skipped the first source since it was a half mile off trail (real reason, if I’m honest, was that there were a group of hikers I didn’t know sitting down the side trail and I didn’t feel like socializing…) and then drank 2 litres at the next spring. I passed by a lot of thru-hikers today, way more than an average day so far in NorCal. I ran into my friend Kim that I met early last year who also got off in Shasta, it’s her first day back on trail to finish the rest of the PCT. I can’t decide if I’m jealous or not. If I had started here this year as most people had assumed I would, I’d be fresh and energized with none of the mental or physical fatigue that inevitably crawls in the longer I hike, but at the same time NorCal is a pretty hard place to get started with no physical warm up to ease you back into full time hiking. I’m happy to have redone the desert and Sierra this year, both are such special places, but we’ll see if I still think that in another 1000 miles.

The heat was oppressive, and I could feel a headache building up behind my eyes. There were plenty of lakes that would be good for a break and swimming, but I was way behind everyone else, and I assumed they would be stopped at one of the water sources ahead for lunch. Porcupine Lake looked especially ideal, but no one was at the junction so I carried on. Later found out Honeybee had gone down the little trail to hang out at the lake and the rest of us passed her by, which is too bad because her photos of the lake looked amazing.

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Shortly after the lake junction, I stopped to get water from Toad Spring which was just below trail and met Bagels on his way back up. We ended up sitting there for half an hour, and I ate my entire bag of cheesy popcorn, which was supposed to last me all resupply as a novelty snack. Despite drinking another litre to try and alleviate the heat headache, it was getting worse and worse as the day progressed. Bagels and I decided to do another five miles to Deadfall Lakes and stop there for a longer break so I could rest. Fortunately the trail was just one gentle climb and then descent through the woods. I was listening to an audiobook and just z o n e d o u t the entire way. I was so lost in my own head I got startled by another small bear that was nibbling at a bush just below the trail less than ten feet away from where I was. I surprised him too though and he crashed away less than a second after I saw him.

Bagels caught me again approaching Deadfall Lakes, and we tried to guess if our friends would have gone to the Upper or Lower lake for a lunch break, if they had stopped at all. The upper lake looked rocky and exposed in the sun so we opted for lower, but there was no sign of Honeybee or Eli anywhere. The lake looked nice from a distance but the water around the edges was questionable at best, lots of scummy green algae at the top. I wandered down trail to collect some water from the painfully slow drip at the outlet and found PC napping beside the trail. He hadn’t seen the others either, I left him to his nap and went back to the lake for lunch.

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There was a empty day hiker tent set up nearby, which prompted Bagels to joke about raiding it for supplies, but we left it alone. Lay down in the grass under a tree and ate an entire pack of prosciutto, which I’ve started packing out in resupply…it’s nice to get meat on trail and it keeps well. I’d been meaning to swim but my head was pounding and anything more difficult than lying down with my eyes shut seemed impossible. Leaned against my pack for just a second, fell asleep and napped on and off for half an hour. When I woke up to get going the headache was almost completely gone, I think maybe I was low on electrolytes from all the sweating, and the salt in the prosciutto is what I needed instead of just chugging water all day.

PC was gone from napping when we passed by again. Collected a little more water from the slow drip and carried on. It was still really hot, but a dry heat, which I find so much more bearable than humidity. So glad the morning headache dissipated so that I was able to enjoy the afternoon, it was an easy flat section through more pine forest which climbed up and opened to an exposed rocky ridge, with yet more great views of Shasta I think today will be the last day we get to see it on the horizon. Sunburned my face. Again.

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When Bagels and I arrived at our planned campsite, PC was there waiting for us, but still no sign of Honeybee or Eli, the speedy devils. We assumed they were ahead, and still had lots of daylight to work with. We checked Guthooks and found there were a few campsites in six miles, one of which was supposed to have beautiful views. I felt fine so on we went and I’m so happy we did.

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I walked the entire six miles alone and I think it’s been my best evening ever on trail. The hills were just layered one after another stretching off as far as I could see, and the clouds were a beautiful golden lavender from the setting sun. Even the smoky haze, which I normally hate, took on a nice glow and made the whole thing feel like a dream. There were a few hikers clustered around the last water source, already asleep in their tents, so I got my water for the night as quietly as I could and finished the last little bit of walking as it was getting dark. What an amazing afternoon to make up for feeling crappy this morning.

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Our camp is nestled right on the ridge of a little saddle with views of the surrounding hills in both directions. If it were windy, this would be a terrible spot, but it’s calm and cool tonight. Set up my groundsheet, blew up my sleeping bad (that head rush though), unrolled the quilt from it’s compression stuff sack and made a dinner of ramen with peanut butter in the dark. Bagels and PC arrived with just enough to set up in the last of the dim light, it’s a large enough camp for the three of us to spread out and have our own space while still being in talking range. We never saw Eli or Honeybee today, I have a feeling they’re at the campsite just down the hill from us, that or just blasted on and are way ahead. Tomorrow we’re hoping to do another 30 for a shorter trip into Etna for a half day off.

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2am-Fucking mice chewing at my stuff and have no fear of headlight or shoes smacking at them. Brazen little turds.

Day 101: Saddle Campsite (1551.9) to dirt road Campsite (1581.1)

July 19 // 29.8 miles

PC and Bagels woke me early so we could hit the trail and try to catch Honeybee and Eli. I could tell right away it was going to be one of those days, I was feeling a little crabby after a sleep interrupted over and over by a pair of mice that were relentless in their pursuit of my food bag, until I had to curl up with it in my arms like a mother protecting her stinky neon orange baby. On the first uphill my legs felt like lead even though the grade wasn’t particularly steep. To try and get myself going, I broke my no-music-before-lunch rule and got into the hiking zone with a best of the 80s playlist, which helped power me through the warm-up miles. It was a clear-ish morning, in the distance it was still hazy from smoke that’s been hanging around the past few days.

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Cruised for a few miles to Highway 3, where there was a campground with a few picnic tables. I had been low-key hoping for trail magic but there was no one there, and the road was empty. The fact that I was a little disappointed shows how spoiled we’ve been this year. Bagels was taking a break in the shade under some tall pines, I stopped with him for mid-morning snack and we were joined by another hiker called Scarecrow. Eli and PC wandered over, they had detoured to the campground, but decided to carry on without a break. Honeybee is ahead, as usual. Stayed at our highway spot for way too long eating too much of my food and finally had to drag myself up and start climbing.

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On the way up passed into Trinity Alps wilderness, could already see the distinctive pointy tops early this morning. Stopped for lunch with PC and Bagels at Mosquito Lake outlet which sounded terrible but it ended up being a beautiful spot. There was a stream running through lush vegetation and flowers, and just below where it crossed the trail there was a little pool big enough to sit down and cool off in, I shared it with a tiny trout and a couple large frogs.  it looks like a curated garden in someone’s backyard. Read the magazine I packed out from the last town, washed my shirt way downstream and laid it on rock to dry. Bagels put it on and took off down trail so I guess that was the end of my lunch break.

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Another bigger climb up in the afternoon, it was a hard day but thankfully it was gorgeous to balance things out. The trail climbed and then followed a ridge line of red rock, it was great to get out of the pine forest for a bit and enjoy the view. There were no trees whatsoever at the top, which also meant I sunburned again.

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Crossed through a little pass between two mountains and then started the descent. There were views down to shining, bright blue lakes and I could see the snow-white top of Marble mountain on the horizon. Had an eagle eye view of a black bear roaming around the shore of Middle Boulder lake waaaaayyy below the trail, as well as a couple of campers set up on the opposite bank, both parties seemed oblivious to the other. Could be an interesting afternoon if they all meet up.

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Finally reached (what I thought was) the end of the climbing and it was downhill through a grassy meadow with lots of white flowers. It was getting so smoky in the late afternoon that I could taste it, but it made for an extra hazy golden sunset. At Scott river, where I was hoping to camp, Eli, PC, Bagels and Honeybee were collecting water and making dinner, there was definitely not enough camp space so they told me the plan was to dry camp at the top of the next long uphill that I did not feel like doing after an already long day. Could feel the beginnings of a headache so I collected my water and carried on, wanted to get to camp as soon as possible, plus there were a ton of mosquitos swarming on the river bank.

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My mood shifted for the worse between the headache and the steep uphill, the 30+ miles days are still rough on me and it’s hard to enjoy walking at the end of the big mile days. Kind of rage hiked my way up to an empty parking lot area on a forest service road, everyone caught up while I tried to find the trail from there. Finally dragged my sorry butt up to our campsite, a little ways short of the top. Dry camping tonight, between cooking dinner and what I normally drink through the night, I’ll have no extra to start off tomorrow morning.

PC had cell service at top and found out that the section of the trail that crosses the California/Oregon border just closed due to the proximity of a large fire. That was the nail in the coffin on recovering from the bad mood like FUUUUCCK after 3000 miles of hiking in this state I just want to walk across the damn border on the PCT. I’m especially upset about taking so many zeros through the Sierra, we would be safely clear of here by at least a week had we eliminated the multiple zeros. I know fires will always be an issue and that we’ve been really lucky so far but it’s still hard to accept and I had to hold back tears.

I’ve been really grumpy all evening and snapping at everyone which made me feel even worse, it’s not their fault I’m having a bad day. Our small camping area is beside the edge of an old abandoned road and kinda crappy, the ground is hard and it’s not very scenic. I wanted some space to nurse my bitchy mood in peace but there was broken glass everywhere so I had to return feeling a bit chagrinned and ask Bagels if I could share his tent again.

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Eating my favourite meal of KD and watching an episode of The Office alleviated the mood a little bit and now I feel silly for getting so upset. We’re still a good few days from the border so no point about worrying about the closure yet. We talked over dinner and decided to take a little extra time in the next two towns, Etna and Seiad Valley and hope the extra time gives the fire a chance to be controlled, or at least for the wind to change direction.  If not, we’ll find a detour, I’m not missing miles this year and the others are determined to keep a continuous footpath as well. Tomorrow a town day into Etna.

Day 102: Dirt Road (1581.1) to Etna (1599.7) 

July 20 // 18.6 miles

Woken early by a couple hikers passing our campsite, they had a little white dog that was curious about the tents and came to say hello. I wanted to go back to sleep but Bagels was ready to hike, so I had no choice but to get up and help pack, a downside to sharing a tent. In retrospect, I should have bought the same tent as Bagels (and Honeybee), they have the two-person version of my Zpacks Solplex, which has way more space for not too much more money or weight. Ate a few bites of leftover cold mac and cheese for breakfast, which wasn’t quite as tasty as it was last night.

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Despite it being a short(ish) day to Etna, there were still a lot of steep up and downs before the drop to town. First was finishing the last half mile of yesterday’s hill, it’s always rough to start climbing right out of the gate with no warm up. Near the very top, a small coyote appeared out of nowhere from the tall grass alongside the trail and trotted ahead of me for a few seconds, seemingly unconcerned that I was only a couple feet behind him. About a minute after that, I caught up with the father-son team that had the little dog, and advised they should probably keep the pup close by.

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At the top of the first climb there was a little saddle with views in either direction. It was a quite a bit smokier on the other side, there are a few small fires around, including the most worrisome, the Hendrix fire, which caused the upcoming closure, is expanding and 0% contained. It wasn’t quite downhill as I had hoped but flat enough that the hiking was easy and the mountain provided shade from the rising sun. The trail clung closely to the rock face with steep drops on the left and sheer white cliffs going up on the right, the white rock seems to be a staple of the Trinity Alps wilderness that we’ve entered into, a lot of the peaks are pure white and from a distance it looks like snow. Inexplicably couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a mountain lion lurking somewhere on one of the rocky ledges overhanging the trail, I’ve never had that feeling before and was tense and jumpy but thankfully nothing came of it.

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About four miles in, Bagels came up behind me which was a surprise, I thought I was far behind everyone else. Turns out I had completely missed the side trail to our first water source for the morning, a pretty necessary stop since I had nothing after dry camping last night. I debated turning around, but giving up the elevation I’d already gained only to have to re-do again was not worth it, and besides there was another stream in four miles.

The second climb was much shorter but just as steep as the first and I was feeling irritable from lack of water and probably also from not eating breakfast. It’s a bad habit on town day,  I never eat my lame end-of-resupply leftover bars or trail mix and hold out to wait for delicious town food. Thankfully there was a little trickle of water across the trail near the bottom of the drop, and an ingenious hiker had fashioned a little pipe out of a curled up leaf to make for easy collection. Great views of Marble mountain in the distance and the trail followed a ridge that was higher than everything in sight, the beautiful morning helped to temper the bad mood.

The second half of the “drop” didn’t really feel like a downhill either. It trended in a general loss of elevation overall but there were little 0.2 mile spikes of uphill again and again which made it hard to catch my breath. At the true bottom there was a decent-sized creek. I had been planning to stop and take a break before the climb to follow, but there were a couple hikers I didn’t know eating lunch, and I wasn’t feeling social so headed straight into the next climb. It wasn’t very long, just over a mile, but the grade was a killer, overall about 700 ft/mile of elevation, and the first half of that was 900/mile, which is a pretty brutal level of steep for my prairie legs. The whole area was a burn zone so no hope for any shade to make things easier.

 up and over

up and over

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It was tough going but I took it slow and steady and stopped for a break after the worst of the steepness under a shady little overhang with a great view of the valley below. It was range after range disappearing into the distance, and everything was made softer by the smoke, which had settled thickly into the lowest parts of the valleys. PC caught up took some photos before leaving me in the dust, everyone in my hiking group moves like tanks on the uphill. I was feeling very hungry and debated getting my emergency clif bars that have been squished in the bottom of my bag since like Warner Springs, but decided to push on without. Those bars will probably make it to Canada.

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Another downhill, the trail entered another large eerie burn zone, it should have been thick forest but all the trees were black and bare and there were lots of snags and logs to climb over. I was hot and tired and irritable, not made better by yet another steep climb. It was getting noticeably smokier even though we’re still very high, was a little apprehensive about the air quality way down in Etna.

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Stopped at the last water source before town, an outlet from Payne’s lake. I followed it back through the bushes to check out the lake itself, it was massive with tons of weekend hikers camping on the shore. No swimming today though, it was time to tackle the one last climb before the two mile drop to the highway. Head was pounding from the heat/lack of food and for some reason I was feeling really salty about being so far behind my group. Normally it doesn’t bother me that I’m the slowest, all of my friends hike at way higher-than-average speed, but today it was getting to me that I’m always last. Once the bad mood starts it just gathers in momentum until even stupid little things make me want to cry. 

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At the top of the climb I finally hit the culmination of being miserable when I tripped over nothing and fell flat on my face. It didn’t hurt at all but I started crying out of sheer frustration, threw my trekking poles down the hill, and then had to bushwhack to go get them. Finished the last of the climb feeling sorry for myself then sat down at the top, knowing I was being ridiculous and not caring. There’s something satisfying about indulging a bad mood until it burns itself out.

Noticed I had cell service so called my mom to wish her happy birthday and talking to her made me feel much better. Dug out one of my squished old Clif Bars, town food will still be there later. It was my favourite carrot cake flavour and hunger made it delicious, rare to be said of a Clif bar. Enjoyed the view and the fact that all the hard work was done for the day and then kept going, feeling much improved and ready to get to town. Silly me.

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I had thought I was far behind my friends, but right before reaching the highway I saw PC getting picked up by a van through the trees. I considered running to catch him, but figured it wouldn’t be that hard to get my own hitch when I got down. It was. On the bright side, I’ve had plenty of time to update notes, writing this from the side of the road. It’s a very isolated, two-lane mountain highway, I’ve now been here for over an hour now and only two cars have passed going in the right direction. There’s no cell service, it’s hot as heck and a wasp has been persistently bothering me. Very hot, very exposed, very hungry… I’m so close to town food. May just walk, fuck it.

To get to town was a 9 mile road walk to Etna, all downhill. Figured I might as well get going, moving in the direction of town was better than sitting and melting beside the empty road. Going down was easy, and I barely made it a tenth of a mile before an old pickup going the other way pulled around, it was a local that was dropping hikers off at the trailhead. The man inside said to wait and he’d get me on his way back into town. Thank god for country men in pickups.

My ride wasn’t too chatty, an old farmer that lived in town, but he talked a little bit about his adventures herding cows back down into the valley, on horseback in the older days, on ATVs in the more recent ones. It was his day off and he was spending it cruising up and down the road, shuttling hikers back and forth from town to trail. The descent took a while with the tight hairpin switchbacks, we were stopped twice by a few bell-wearing cows crossing the road, and also nearly hit a deer. The terrain leveled out and the forest gradually gave way to fields with run down houses and ranches, and then we were into Etna. I was surprised that the valley floor seemed less smoky than it was up on the trail, we came down almost 5000 feet.

I wasn’t sure where my group was, so my ride dropped me off on a park just on the edge of town that allowed free camping at the back for PCT hikers. There was no one there except a couple German thru hikers I’d never met before, but they were packing up to leave as I came in. We chatted for a minute and they warned me about leaving electronics unattended in the park, they’d had a bunch of stuff stolen by a group of local teenagers. Emptied my trash and washed my face as best I could in the cement bathroom, perhaps thankfully there was no mirror because I am literally crusty with sweat. I was considering setting up, but between the thieving teenagers and being unsure of the group plans, I kept my full pack with me and headed off to find some food. 

Bagels texted that everyone was at Dotty’s Diner across town, so I walked along the road, crossed a highway and saw their familiar row of packs lined up outside the restaurant. It’s funny how familiar my groups gear is to me, when we throw all our laundry in together I can sort everyone’s clothes perfectly, even the black base layers, socks and underwear. I suppose that comes from spending all your time together always wearing the same few things.

Everyone had eaten already, but they waited for me to get my burger, fries and coke. I don’t know if it was good or not, I inhaled it way too fast and felt a little sick after but also much happier. We sat around debating whether to stay at the hostel or just go back to the park, and in the end, park won out. Stopped at Kmart for casual resupply, they had no produce so I settled for ice cream and coffee drinks instead. Eli bought a frisbee that we promptly lost in the bushes behind the highway.

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The park is awesome, it’s grassy and shaded and we have shower tokens and towels from the store in town, and a locker to store the electronics in. Can’t be bothered to set up yet so everyone is lying around eating and watching Honeybee try and wash her tent off in the park sprinkler. The shower was limited to five minutes and dirty and filled with hair and by all accounts absolutely disgusting, but so, so good and I’m finally clean and cool. Unfortunately no laundry, but I washed all my hiking gear in the shower with a bar of soap someone left. 

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I really like Etna, it’s been the quietest, sleepy little place yet on trail. It’s very small, very empty and feels like a ghost town, we’ve legitimately seen more deer walking down the streets than people, including the main drag although people may be inside hiding out the heat. The houses are old and run down but in a charming way, with porches and beautiful flower gardens and one yard had no less than six tiny yorkies yapping at us through the fence. Got dinner at brewery with our trail friend Ken, he’s from Singapore and has climbed Everest. He says the PCT is just as hard but in a different way (not sure I believe him), and that over the course of the trail, the elevation gain is equivalent to  climbing Everest 17 times (can believe that after today’s up and down). Leon also showed up straight off the trail looking dirty and hot, even though it was well into the evening. Beer is fortunately a cure all. It’s supposed to be just as hot tomorrow, hopefully way back up on the trail it will be a little cooler.

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After the  brewery stopped by the only grocery store, a little tipsy, but finally bought my fruit and veggies, as well as a box of maple donuts.  Brought it all back to the park, it’s a good thing crew knew where to go because I had no idea where I was, the houses were dark and there were no streetlights after we left Main Street. We sat around a picnic table until midnight, talking and eating the maple donuts. Someone approached us and I thought we were going to be yelled at for being too loud, but he was just looking for dog that had run away from home. (The dog wandered by shortly after).

Crashed HARD in my tent from the late night and the beer, it’s so warm that for the first time literally ever on trail I didn’t need my quilt. Planning to hang around for a good part of tomorrow, we’re putting on the brakes hoping that the fire closure across the CA/OR border will be lifted before we get there. I know it’s going to be lifted even though no one believes me.

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Day 103: Etna (1599.7) to Shelley Meadows (1610.4)

July 21 // 10.7 miles

A short hiking day after neroing out of Etna. Woke up very late with no hangover (a Christmas miracle!) and packed up my bag. We went back for a café breakfast in town, it was hot as heck on the pavement, over 100F.

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Resupplied properly at the grocery store this morning, bought myself a second box of maple donuts, lots of prosciutto, cherries, bagels and cream cheese. Probably don’t need it all, we’ll be in Seiad Valley the day after tomorrow but I’d rather have too much food than not enough. After chores were done, towels were returned, and one last beer was had at the brewery, we sat alongside the highway to catch a hitch back to the trail. It took a while but managed to squeeze all five of us in the back of a pickup with some mountain bikers that were smoking one of the biggest joints I have ever seen, we had to all pretzel ourselves in with the packs and bikes in the bed while they tried to talk to us through the tiny open back window but mostly just blew smoke. 

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The long winding mountain road combined with the heat made me feel a little nauseous, or I maybe had more of a hangover than I initially thought. Back at the trailhead, it took a while to get into the hiking, I felt stiff and lethargic despite the morning off. We were only doing a short ten mile day but we didn’t start until three and no one felt like moving very fast. The smoke seems to really have cleared out since yesterday, the ridges that were obscured yesterday are visible and clear. We’re having great luck with the wind patterns.

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Ridge walked an open section during the evening, feeling relaxed and energized and enjoying the view. Started through another burn zone with no regrowth at all yet, there was a serious lack of green. Thankfully the burnt section the trail went through was very short, although the black trees stretched off as far as I could see in other directions.  I think it will pick up again tomorrow morning, the whole area got fried last year.

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Dropped down into the woods and set up camp at a wide clearing just beside Shelley Meadows. The water in the meadow is still and clouded with mosquito eggs, thankfully I grabbed a few liters at the last flowing stream. We’re sharing our campsite again with Ken, who I’ve been bouncing around since Warner Sprngs. We hike faster but he always catches up slow and steady, plus wakes up at like 4am. Talked and had dinner, nice to have a fresh person in the group for a night. Set up my own tent in a little sheltered area under a large pine tree. Mosquitos are out and about, especially next to the wet meadow.

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Day 104: Shelly Meadows (1610.4) to Dirt Road Tentsite (1641.7

July 22 // 31.3 miles

Woke up around 7:20 late even for me...I thought I had definitely been left behind but when I poked my head out of the tent, everyone else was still sleeping quietly, except for Ken who probably left hours ago. Relief.

Despite always enjoying a good sleep in, the late start makes it harder to be motivated in the morning knowing how much further ahead I’d be if I had just gotten out of the heckin tent at sunrise instead of going back to bed all the time. It didn’t help that I knew today was going to be physically challenging, a couple of very long steep uphills to do, NorCal is a beast. After packing up and eating breakfast, the trail went straight up and out of the woods, the burn section continued and every time I brushed against a burnt trunk, my skin would come away black with ash. I don’t know why but the smell of the burnt trees is amazing to me, it’s a sweet, earthy smell that reminds me of bonfires and maple syrup around Halloween.

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After getting back into green forest, we passed a trail maintenance crew, the first I’ve seen this year. Always impresses me how much weight they carry on the same steep inclines, they’re always got saws and drills and hammers plus their full packs. In addition to the trail crew there were a few families out on weekend hikes, a few other PCTers and I felt a little irritated seeing so many others.

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I stopped at Fishers lake, which was more of a small calm pond, with a nice grassy bank. I used the excuse of wanting to swim but really just had to give my legs a break from the climbing. Bagels and PC showed up shortly after but I couldn’t convince them to get in the water with me. It was very warm, with a soft very muddy bank, my feet sank to the ankle every time I stepped down. Got a little weirded out from a couple small fish that kept brushing against my legs, so didn’t stay in very long. Honeybee and Eli were on a mission and went trucking on by with their heads down. From the water I could see them making their way up the ridge above the lake.

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After my swim I sat on the bank to dry off but didn’t want to fall too far behind the others so put on my clothes still wet (I think the most commonplace item I miss on trail is a towel) and tackled the steep uphill. It was a calf-burner and I had to stop a couple times for breathers. At the top we were at high elevation and there were hardly any trees, just white rocky terrain. Had a beautiful view of Maneater lake, it was bright blue with a waterfall outlet that would have made an epic swim spot had it not been 1200 feet down the rocky slope with no clear trail. The rest of the group was breaking there, taking pictures and moving slowly down trail, but gradually we spread out again and I saw no one the rest of the morning

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Flowers everywhere today, mostly red and yellow but also some fluffy white ones (not sure if they’re actually flowers?) growing thick, and taller than me on long green stems. It was getting hot and very humid but I for once took my cap out and wore it. BE PROUD MUM.

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Feeling high energy and powered up another climb and then down to Marble Valley for lunch with Ken, PC and Bagels. There was an abandoned-looking ranger cabin at the back of the meadow and a few logs to sit on, we sat under a huge pine tree and chased the shade around as the sun moved across the sky. I had the rest of my maple donuts, as well as a cheese wrap and a bagel, I’m eating so much and could easily eat more but I don’t have enough. I read for a little bit after lunch while a brave chipmunk came around to steal the crumbs from right underneath my feet.

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After lunch yet another long & steep uphill, which was steep for short bursts but I finally got up and over-felt much more energized and warmed up vs the climbing this morning. It was a quiet afternoon, wide open meadows for the most part and I zoned out and daydreamed myself down trail. Kelsey creek/Paradise lake looked like somewhere to potentially come back to in the future, wide flat open campsites beside very swimmable lake. The water itself in the out flow creek wasn’t very good for drinking so continued on a mile (uphill again) to another stream where I found PC taking a break. The stream was so nice, the bank was crowded with bees, butterflies and hummingbirds taking turns to drink water from the thick moss on either side.

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After a quick break it was back to hiking, we were all making good time today despite the late start and breaks. As a crew, we hike faster than I ever did last year but take far more/longer breaks. Two more sharp little climbs until I FINALLY reached Buckhorn spring at the top, the rest of the day was all downhill to make up for all the hard work, and I was cruising. It’s a huge drop down to our next resupply town, Seiad Valley and we decided to do half the descent tonight, camping at a large tentsite that has water access and then finishing the rest tomorrow morning. Feeling very relaxed knowing the rest of today and tomorrow until town will be easy. Best news is that I checked today when I had cell service, and the trail has reopened before the CA/OR border! There’s still a closure just a few miles after the border that we’ll have to road walk around, but there’s already an alternate route available and in the meantime I’ll (finally) get to say that I walked the entire length of California along the PCT. I’m so happy.

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I was expecting to make it to camp early, but in the woods came the berries. The first good ones I’ve seen so far and I was fairly certain they were thimble berries but wasn’t entirely sure until I caught up to PC, who was on the side of the trail eating them by the handful. After he (born & raised in the PNW) confirmed that they were not poisonous, I joined him on the berry hunt and that slowed us down to less than a mile an hour. It’s just hard to make yourself walk when there are so many delicious berries that are perfectly ripe. It was even worse when the blackberries started appearing, we were less than a mile from camp but whoever was in front would stop at another particularly laden bush and we didn’t end up arriving until it was getting dark. Worth it. 

Eli, Honeybee and Bagels were already long set up in camp with another hiker I haven’t seen since the Sierra, Dragon. It’s a large campsite just off an old road, with lots of room for tents and a small trail led a short distance to a stream (almost a river) hidden away in the woods below the campsite. It’s the first time it’s really looked like the typical rainforest-y Pacific Northwest, the stream banks were thick with ferns, moss-covered trees and wet roots. Had a short bandana bath in the stream and asked to share a tent with Bagels because he is nice and I am lazy. It's a little harder to sleep in such a small space with another person, but it’s so much warmer and we can set it up/take it down in half the time with two people. I ate my last bits of food for dinner, I packed so much out of Etna and it still wasn’t enough to satisfy the hiker hunger this time and so  tomorrow morning I will go hungry.

The mosquitos were out so we didn’t last long before calling it a night, we’re hoping to be out of camp early in order to get to town ASAP but we’ll see how well we actually follow through.

Day 105: 1641.7 to Seiad Valley to 1660.5

July 23 // 18.8 miles

We all slept in real late this morning, I could tell everyone was awake but it was like a game of chicken to see who would be the first to deflate the sleeping pad and no one wanted to be it. But it was a town day so finally Eli kicked us off with the depressing whoosh of deflation, whenever someone starts packing up, it ignites anxiety in the rest of us to keep pace, even though we all end up hiking our own speed anyways. Bagels and I ate breakfast inside the tent to avoid the bugs who were up early, unlike us, and then tore it down and packed up as quickly as possible, I was still feasted upon.  

Today was just finishing off the one giant downhill into Seiad Valley, which was great and all, but every easy step down means a step going right back up when we leave town later today. Leaving Seiad will be one of the longest, steepest climbs of the PCT. That wasn’t a morning problem though and I powered through the downhill which was punctuated by a few completely unnecessary spikes of uphill just to keep things fresh. The trail criss-crossed over the same river multiple times all morning, with bridges which is a nice change from wet socks. Still looking very PNW around here, thick canopy overhead to keep it cool despite another hot day, and lots of moss on the trees and rocks around the river.

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At the bottom of the drop, passed through a campground where a group of forest service workers were setting huge, boulder-sized animal traps. I wanted to ask what the heck they were trying to catch in cages that big, but they were all wearing protective ear muffs and I just shouted to myself like an idiot while they waved back at me, smiling.

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The trail ended at the campground, and from there it was a 6 mile road walk into town down a flat gravel road, which started off very nicely. The trees along the road kept it decently shaded and the ditches on either side were lined with a million blackberries just ripening. Slowed way down to eat them by the handful as I passed, the bushes seemed to be the only thing growing and they were huge, with more berries than I’ve ever seen in my life, all for meeeee. Honeybee, Eli and Bagels caught up (PC was long gone ahead) and we walked together a while but I kept getting distracted by berries and they soon left me behind. The only downside was that I cut my hands and legs to ribbons on the clingy thorns while getting to the best berries, but very worth it.

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The road got less shaded and much hotter down on valley floor. There was also a long 4 mile walk that could’ve been avoided by fording the river (town was visible from where I was, but it was two miles each way to the bridge) but it was wide and flowing fast and I’m a baby so continued walking.

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The gravel road ended and the PCT followed the highway going straight into town. It was hands down the most dangerous part of trail. There was no shoulder whatsoever and the drivers were doing nothing to move out of the way, they almost made a point to come close, so I kept having to balance in the bushes growing alongside the road and wait for the car to pass. Came to a narrow bridge over the river, again with no sides to speak of, and it was sketchy as fuck, mom please stop reading here and skip to next paragraph. As I was about halfway across, along came a semi and there was no way I was making it in time, had a real Stand By Me moment trying to run across as fast as I could, but I could tell it wasn’t enough. The semi moved aside for me thank god, but even so it was way too close for comfort, there was maaaaybe a couple feet between the road line and the concrete barrier of the bridge. My heart was racing for a good five minutes after. This is the official PCT, not just an extra road walk that could be hitched without missing miles… with the increasing amount of hikers every year it’s only a matter of time before someone is going to get hurt, and this is probably the one place I would recommend yellow blazing, continuous footpath be damned.

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After my bridge scare, there was at least open grass to walk on beside the road so I gave myself lots of space from oncoming traffic. It was the hottest day yet on the concrete, I was roasting, could feel my face burning, and was out of water as usual. Finally I could see the little sign for the diner and store in the distance, salvation from the sun!

The town is tiny, only a few buildings clustered together beside the highway. Seiad Valley residents are fiercely independent from government and also choose to recognize the state of Jefferson (a combo of Northern California and Southern Oregon) instead of California. Every storefront and local mailbox was sporting the double XX Jefferson sign, and there were plenty of posters opposing the proposed bill that would turn the surrounding miles into a national monument (and federal property). There were also a good amount of no-trespassing signs the entire road walk from trail to town, a local I talked to at the store said that trespassing on someone’s land here is considered just as bad as breaking into their house.

I saw more hikers than residents in town, mostly inside the diner, and lounging around outside trying to stay cool. It’s been the most hikers we’ve come across in ages. Found my crew sitting at the bar watching a lady cook a huge stack of pancakes, there’s a 5-pound pancake challenge here, which no one has successfully completed yet in 2018. I had been thinking about trying it myself until I saw two other hikers working away at theirs, no way in hell I’d even be able to finish one of the five pancakes and I ordered a nice normal sized chicken bacon sandwich instead.

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 Enter the Shady Shasta boys

Enter the Shady Shasta boys

We moved from the bar top to a table in the back that was thankfully close to a fan and charged the electronics while downing soda after soda. The hikers sitting at tables around us were all planning to take a bus up to Ashland to avoid the smoke (what smoke?) and the upcoming fire closure, which is only ten miles of actual trail, with an easy twenty mile detour already mapped and marked. I’m all for hiking your own hike, but it was disappointing to hear so many people were missing the California/Oregon border, not to mention a hundred miles of open trail, just because there would be ten miles of road walking and to choose to do so without even seeing for themselves how bad things were up ahead first. 

After lunch it was 105F in the shade, no one was crazy enough to tackle the climb in that kind of heat so we wandered next door to an RV park that offers a spot for PCT hikers to hang around for $5. There was a little covered cement spot with a tiny fridge and chairs. There was also room inside with sofas and a TV but no A/C, and that combined with hiker stench made it unbearable so we went back outside to wait out the day.  It was miserably hot even in the shade, so I bought a shower, which was cold hallelujah, and washed my clothes as well. I don’t think I’ve ever had a freezing cold shower without eventually turning the water back to hot, but today I went full icy. After being back out in the sun for five minutes, I was already sweating again and my clothes were completely dry in half an hour.

The little store adjacent to the restaurant and RV park (pretty much makes up the entire town) was open until 3 so we wandered back and forth from park to store to buy cold drinks and resupply and tried to keep cool. Hikers that were coming in off the long highway walk looked terrible, dirty, dripping in sweat, dull-eyed and red-faced from heat exhaustion. Thankfully a bit later in the afternoon it was only 99F and all the hikers trapped in town that hadn’t boarded the bus to Ashland were lying about in the shade on the lawn trying not to move too much. Around 8 my group decided it was cool enough to start the hike out, planning to only go four miles, about halfway up the climb, and finish the rest first thing tomorrow morning before it gets too hot again. 

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Road walked out of Seiad down the highway, great stop, and began the long ass climb. It was very steep and even though it was a little cooler than this afternoon I was still dripping sweat. High energy from the afternoon resting and pushed hard the entire four miles. Despite me going as fast as I could go, I didn’t catch anyone else in the group…but at least I didn’t fall far behind like I normally do on uphill’s and I felt amazing. Good views back down into town and the clouds were a beautiful colour post-sunset, not that my camera managed to capture anything.

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The moon was very bright (still is), enough to not need a headlight at all for walking or camp set up. We stopped at a tiny space on the side of the trail, everyone is kind of squished into a giant T to be able to fit without blocking the trail. We were all pretty gross from hiking so hard through the heat, Eli wrung out his shirt and it was literally dripping sweat. Now that we’ve stopped moving, the weather is perfect for sleeping outside, it’s still very warm but now there’s a cool breeze enough to still be a comfortable temp inside the quilt. Dinner is a packed out sandwich from town. A few other hikers we spent the afternoon with passed by after we were snuggled in, but they were quiet and it was easy to fall asleep right away. Last full day of California tomorrow!

Chester to Mt. Shasta

Day 91: Chester (1331.3) to Drakesbad Ranch (1350.3)

July 9 // 19 miles

Woke up to condensation from the long grass soaking my quilt, but we wanted to get back to trail somewhat early so packed up without waiting for the sun to make an appearance.  Of course, “on trail early" doesn’t mean that we weren’t back at the Kopper Kettle by 7 for a breakfast of toast and coffee, gotta take full advantage of town food. I had an uncharacteristically low appetite, and just had a couple pieces of toast while the others put back an impressive amount of eggs benny and chicken fried steak. 

We had a little trouble getting a hitch back to the trailhead despite tons of traffic, as tends to happen when you’re a group of four dirty people, but fortunately a shuttle bus took pity and pulled over even though we weren’t anywhere near a designated stop. Back into the woods, and it was flat for a while and like actually, truly sidewalk flat, not just the trail’s usual pseudo-flat. We hiker-trained in a line to chat, but all good things must come to an end, as various members dropped off to go pee or “lower their baseweight” as we delicately put it, off the side of the trail.

The day was sunny but not to warm, perfect hiking weather, and the trail was pretty easy, snaking through thick undergrowth of manzanita. Downhill to a bridge crossing over the North fork of the feather river, I was passing over the wooden footbridge when I heard the chatter of my friends, who were sitting bridgetroll style for some shade and a snack break with two other hikers we’ve been overlapping with for a while-Tumbleweed and Vortex.

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After a quick break, crossed a couple dirt roads before climbing up through sparse pine forest. The hiking was easy but I wanted to get to Drakesbad as early as possible to take advantage of the P O O L before it got too chilly. Pushed pretty hard and didn’t see any other hikers for most of the day.

We’re into Lassen National Park, and the whole area smelled of sulphur and approaching Drakesbad, there were lots of little offshoot trails leading to geothermic attractions-a steam vent geyser and boiling springs lake. Edged as close as I dared to the lake, it’s robins-egg blue surrounded by bright red rock, but there were signs saying to keep back and according to our GPS app: “the ground may be brittle and you could fall through into sulfur springs beneath”.  

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After returning to the PCT after checking out the lake, finished the last mile to Drakesbad ranch with Bagels and a new hiker Wink, they mostly chatted to each other while I hung out behind them creepily eavesdropping. The ranch is in a huge meadow at the foot of a mountain with long tall prairie grass, and boardwalks crossing over more streams that had the sulphur smell, decided to hold off on getting more water until the ranch.

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Detoured off the PCT to take a boardwalk trail to Drakesbad, it’s a beautiful spot- matching wooden buildings and cabins, a stable and corral, and of course…the pool.The staff of the restaurant seemed a little standoffish at first and obviously prioritized their guests, this is a high class resort and having dirty hikers show up on the patio can’t be good for business. However, once we paid for a few drinks and chips and salsa, the manager was much friendlier and asked a couple questions about how we were enjoying our trip. When Bagels brought back a stack of fluffy white towels, the manager quickly took them back to be replaced with the less-nice blue pool towels, but also brought soap and shampoo for us to have for free.

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Combined showering and laundry (it’s been a while) and then spent a couple hours in the pool-it’s geothermally heated by hot springs and was more of a hot tub than a swimming pool. Around 7, wandered up to the restaurant for “hiker hour” dinner, once the guests have eaten, we can pay half price for a plate of food if there is enough left over, and the waitress even managed to scrape up some dessert for us. Sat on the patio with Phoenix, Bagels, PC, Honeybee, Eli and Wink and split two bottles of wine, occasionally throwing pinecones at the squirrels that were venturing dangerously close to our unattended packs.

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Got tipsy, but the whole evening felt like I was at home having a nice dinner out with friends, instead of being on trail in the middle of nowhere. After finishing, we got our stuff and tottered down the road to a campground full of RVs with hardly any space left-we managed to snag a spot at the back of the campground close to the trail and settled in for the night. My sports bra and shorts were still wet from the pool and there was a near disaster when my shorts briefly caught on fire while trying to dry them around the fire Eli had made. 

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Cowboy camping spread across our site. Tomorrow will be a long, 35-mile day due to Lassen Park having bear can requirements-since we mailed ours away at Kennedy Meadows North, we have to get through the rest of the park before making camp, plus there’s a long waterless stretch that needs to be done in one go. Will try to get up early, but I’m doubtful.

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Day 92: Drakesbad Ranch (1350.3) to Lost Creek (1385.5)

July 10 // 35.2 miles

Despite insisting that we were going to wake up early to get 35 miles done, no one was up before 6:30 except for Phoenix, who has more discipline than the trail fam. She was packed up and gone before I was out of my quilt, and as per usual, I was the last to leave the campground. 

The morning was frosty and I was so cold it was hard to get moving, but the trail went uphill steeply right away so it didn’t take too long to warm up. At the top of the climb the trail diverged in two directions, and I knew from going the wrong way last year, to take the trail crossing over a large stream instead of the more defined path that continued climbing. Eli wasn’t so lucky and I met him backtracking after going a mile in the wrong direction, always a bummer especially if you’re putting in the effort going uphill.

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The stream was shallow but wide, and I couldn’t find a log to get across so socks and shoes got wet, not fun in the cold morning.  Met up with Bagels and Eli at Upper Twin Lake in a little clearing beside the water (a message was carved into a log cautioning that there was an aggressive bear in the area) for a snack break and a chance to dry my wet shoes in the sun. Even though we were supposed to be pushing hard today, I had to fit in a quick swim while the guys were cooking breakfast, the lake water was warmer than any other I’ve swam in yet (geothermal activity?) and crystal clear, with a soft mud bottom.

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After the lake came one of the most boring sections leading to Hat Creek-a flat, burned out zone with miles and miles of dead, blackened trees and hot, exposed trail with not a whole lot to look at other than the snowy top of Lassen occasionally appearing from behind the hilltops. A good opportunity to cruise and zone out, but after all morning of the same view and flat walking, my brain felt numb. For the second year in a row, I saw a large grey owl perched high up in a twisted pine, watching me pass, I’d like to think it was the same one both times.

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It was so flat, I could see Bagels about half a mile ahead all morning. Caught up to him having a shade break under one of the only unburned pine trees to break up the monotony, Honeybee cruised by us on her long legs and there had been no sign of anyone else all morning. After finally dragging ourselves out from the shady tree, it was one last push the rest of the way to Hat Creek for lunch. Finally the trail crested a ridge and descended back down into unburned pine forest. A lot of people I’ve talked to on trail dislike being in the woods because there aren’t any views, but I always feel cozy and safe in the pines.

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There had been no water since Upper Twin lake and I was getting thirsty on the approach to the creek, but there was trail magic beside an old dirt path the trail crossed. In addition to a pile of plastic water bottles, there was a sign that curiously said “we are not trail angels!” – this was made evident when I opened the box beside the water containing a notebook register, a couple bottles of fireball, cigars and a ton of condoms. Keep up the good work, not-trail-angels.

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I arrived at the creek to find Honeybee, PC and Eli already finished lunch and ready to carry on- I fell more behind than normal today. Still, took a long lunch break with Phoenix and Bagels, enjoying the shade of the grove (finally out of the horrible burned section) and the sound of the creek beside us. It was flowing well with good cold water and I sat for a while letting my feet soak.

Hat Creek rim is the longest water-less stretch since the desert, and the creek was the last water until camp, 15 miles away. I also knew that the stream at camp was a half mile off the trail down what is basically a cliff, so drank as much as I could and carried 4 liters, using some of the bottles from earlier trail magic. I was hoping to be able to skip the off-trail water and push through with what I have until “cache 22”- an angel-maintained cache that I’ll hit tomorrow morning.

The rest of the group had decided at lunch to shorten the water carry and go into Old’s Station, a tiny town about a mile off trail, but I decided to skip it this time, I don’t need anything and wanted to get to camp before dark. At the junction to town, I found everyone sitting alongside the trail waiting for me. They were still set on going in for a burger and snacks, but they planned to catch me at our campsite later tonight. Eli had been especially speedy today and had already been to town and back to bring us a six pack of coke, MVP of the day. Said my goodbyes while they headed back towards town, finished my coke, and set off alone.

The trail was still very flat and went through a quiet, pine forest, but after crossing a large highway, the trees disappeared and left only desert-style black rock covered with patches of manzanita scrub and sage. The little desert lizards were back in abundance doing their territorial pushups (I really missed that) and scurrying right where I was about to plant my foot (didn’t miss that).

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Even though it was already 6pm, it was still oppressively muggy and warm and there was a long uphill climb ahead. Going up wasn’t as bad as the elevation profile made it seem, and at the top, the trail opened up onto an overlook of the valley underneath Hat Creek rim. Lassen was visible behind and way in the distance I caught the first glimpse of tiny Mt. Shasta on the horizon, one of the most iconic looking volcanoes we pass. There was a parking lot with little 25c telescopes and a couple picnic tables, I stopped for a quick dinner, no-cook to ration water, and ditched my trash at the garbage cans.

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Still had five more miles to go, so didn’t linger too long and took off across the rim with the low sun giving everything a warm golden glow. One of my favourite evenings on trail, and I had the tall grass and flowers and views all to myself. The one downside is all the little protruding rocks sticking up on the trail that caught the toe of my shoes. It was too pretty to be looking at my feet, so I tripped and stumbled my way towards camp.

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It was getting dark and there was a large clearing about a mile ahead of my campsite, but as I wandered over to check it out, I interrupted a couple that I’m pretty sure were literally mid-penetration. Sorry guys, as you were, both looking good.  Made it to my original campsite above Lost Creek around 8:45, there was one other tent tucked away in the trees so I set up as quietly as I could, deciding to cowboy camp just beside the trail to give the other person lots of space. I managed to set up and make dinner in almost complete darkness, who needs a headlamp. The other haven’t shown up but I assume they’ll camp at the parking lot or the last campsite where the couple has hopefully finished their business.

Fast forward to 9:45... it’s dark and dead quiet and I’m half asleep in my quilt when all of a sudden an older man voice yells at the top of his lungs right next to my campsite “god fuckin dammit” which made me leap out of my skin. He was either on meth or just didn’t give a fuck that I was sleeping nearby, just kept yelling it over and over and over at top volume. The other stranger I was sharing the campsite with didn’t say anything and I certainly wasn’t stupid enough to confront someone who was in that state of mind so we just lay quiet until he passed, alternating between muttering to himself or repeatedly yelling about there being no water and too many rocks on the trail (I agree, but don’t gotta be shouting about it). I was worried he was going to ask me for some of my water or something but then it was quiet so I assume he kept on. For the first time ever on trail I didn’t feel safe and had my knife in hand. When I arrived earlier, I was kind of annoyed to have to share my campsite with a stranger, but right now I’m really, really happy that I’m not sleeping alone. Figures it’s the one night I’m not with my large, safe trail fam. No PCT hiker I’ve ever met hiker would act like that, keeping quiet around others sleeping is a cardinal rule of thru hiking. Hope you break your ankle on one of the rocks you’re complaining about, asshat. 

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Day 93: Lost Creek (1385.5) to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch (1409.7)

July 11 // 24.2 miles

Woke up about six while my campsite partner was leaving. I should’ve got going right away to escape the heat of day, but I was hoping that my group would show up, I missed them after being apart for a night. Dozed off again, but by seven, they still weren’t there and it was already getting uncomfortably warm in my quilt so packed up and hit the trail. Right away there was a cooler of magic-soda and small snacks. A good start to the day.

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It was hot as soon as the sun was fully above the horizon, and I pushed hard to make it as short of a hiking day as possible. I had 24 miles to get to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, where I knew there’d be air conditioning and homemade ice cream, and a pool. Around 9, passed by Cache-22, a water tank maintained by trail angels. I still had a full bottle of water so I figured I could make it to a stream down trail without needing to refill. In retrospect while writing, I can see how stupidly stubborn I am about not carrying water, but at the time it always makes sense in my hiking-addled brain to go on without. I’m convinced I will never learn and will one day die of dehydration on the side of a desert trail.

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The second half of Hat Creek rim was miserable compared to yesterday evening’s stroll along the scenic, grassy hillside. The temp on my phone read 103F at 11am, and the trail was completely exposed with only the odd twisted tree for a little bit of patchy shade. The ground was lumpy black rock that reflected the sunshine, and I could feel the heat pounding down from above and rising back up from below, like being in an oven. Even with the trail going downhill I was through my litre of water an hour after Cache 22 and realized that yes, I should’ve taken those FIVE EXTRA MINUTES and gotten more.

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By noon, I was seriously overheated and couldn’t stop myself from taking a break at every little shady patch to sit miserably in the grass and try to cool down before continuing on. Passed mile 1400 but who cares, I was getting pretty upset with the day and a little worried with how hot it was with my lack of water. I really wanted to stop and eat lunch in the shade but I figured it was better to push through and get to water as soon as I could, plus all my salty trail food was unappealing and would make my thirst worst. I finally promised myself I would stop at the next road crossing to eat and rest, wondering if this would become my new worst day on trail.

BUT THEN! At the highway, there was a clearing in the trees with a table containing a grill with all sorts of food! Coolers! Chairs in the shade! For a second I thought I was seeing things and probably was the closest I’ve come to crying in a long time, pretty sure I was actually delirious from heat. The magic was provided by a hiker named Gourmet who I’d hiked around way back near Tehachapi. I recognized him, but he didn’t know my dirty, tan face and way blonder hair, and didn’t remember who I was until I mentioned the Nat Geo Mars special I had passed along to him when I’d finished reading it. He’d gotten injured in the Sierras, and was now trail magicking for his old crew. We caught up on mutual trail friends and he grilled me two hot dogs while I downed a bottle of water and then a Dr. Pepper in quick succession and tried to convey just how appreciated and well-timed his magic was. 

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While I was enjoying the bliss of re-hydrating and sitting in a chair, Eli showed up looking as overheated and miserable as I had felt, but it was nice to see a familiar trail-fam face. It’s been weird not seeing them for almost 24 hours which sounds silly, but after months of being together all the time, it’s strange to have been on my own for even one day. We caught up briefly, but Eli wanted to get out of the heat and carried on after a hot dog, and no one else showed up while I waited, so said goodbye to Gourmet and kept on.

It was still 8 miles to Burney and about a mile after leaving the trail magic I realized that in all the excitement, I hadn’t taken any water from Gourmet’s stash, and I had nothing for the next six miles to a stream that was so frequented by cows, we were recommended not to drink from it. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME. I probably could’ve backtracked the one mile to get more, but the thought of extra miles in this heat when the pool was calling kept me moving forward.

 Still had time to put my thirst aside and snap a pic of this beauty

Still had time to put my thirst aside and snap a pic of this beauty

The dry stretch was brutal, and I thought of nothing except how good that dirty, cow-poop water was going to taste when I got to it. Every mile went by torturously slowly even though I was gunning it with everything I had. Finally, I could hear the flow and found Eli taking a dip in the stream. For all the negative commentary on the GPS app, the water looked fine, but I still struggled to be patient waiting for the water to pass (so slowly!) through my filter. Drank two litres and everything was better.

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Crossed the stream on a footbridge and passed a hydroelectric power station. The trail followed the shore of a large lake that was also a fish hatchery and wildlife sanctuary-I saw tons of geese, ducks and pelicans on the water, a couple ospreys and even a large blue heron fishing across the lake. While I was being a bird nerd, Bagels caught up to me (so happy to see friends!) and we filled each other in on our last 24 hours apart and finished the hike to Burney Mountain together.

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The ranch itself was a quarter mile off the PCT and we spent the time walking on the dry dusty trail speculating on the kind of drinks we were about to get, and how cold the pool would be. Bagels was repeating “pool, ice cream, soda” like a mantra under his breath whenever there was a lull in conversation. Walking down the long driveway towards the ranch, with a little group of tents out front was like walking through the gates of heaven itself.

Burney Mountain is one of my top stops on the whole trail, they have everything we need here and more. It’s run as a Christian retreat in the winter months, but for the summer, it seems to be occupied almost exclusively by hikers. We were greeted with a complimentary cup of home-made strawberry ice cream, which was so good I had to buy myself an additional quart. It’s only been a two days since my shower at Drakesbad, but I am covered in dirt and sweat head to toe.

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Spent the rest of the day enjoying the ranch, showered and wore some of the loaner clothes the ranch has on hand while my laundry is drying outside on a rack. I feel clean and cool and very, very happy, and I’m on the signup sheet for dinner tonight-homemade tacos. The ranch also has a small store exclusively for hikers filled with snacks and ice cream, and a magic fridge dedicated entirely to soda, sports drinks and juice. Everything is on honour system-you take what you need and pay up when you leave the ranch. It’s heaven. Sitting around the pool now with Eli and Bagels with a massive, oversized puppy and a couple shy cats. It’s still hot as hell, but the pool is blissfully icy, and I’m alternating between overheating in the sun, or getting chilled in the water.

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Only negative is I’ve got the dehydrated headache again despite downing litres of water/juice/gatorade since being here. We’ve set up our tents in the front yard of the ranch and are planning to wait out the heat for most of the day and nero out tomorrow. I’m really enjoying the small resupply stops on trail vs the big towns we go to-they’re cheaper and you don’t waste time trying to get to and from the post office/grocery store/gear shop. Today had all the makings of a bad day what with the heat and me being dumb, but between Gourmet’s trail magic and this awesome ranch, it’s been a great one.


Day 94: Burney Mountain Guest Ranch (1409.7) to Campground (1418.4) 

July 12 // 8.7 miles

Took advantage with almost a full day off at the guest ranch. Temperatures were even higher than yesterday and I spent a good chunk of the day in the pool, between resupplying at the little store, and eating more of the strawberry ice cream. Other hikers trickled in and out throughout the day, looking dusty and hot after the long dry stretch of Hat Creek rim.

PC caught up with us today after zeroing back in Chester-he did 64 miles in one go to catch us, hiking through last night and most of the heat of today and he looked like a wreck when he came in-eyes kind of looking in different directions with the 1000 yard stare. He’s now fallen asleep at one of the tables inside the air-conditioned ranch building. Honeybee and Phoenix are planning to zero today and catch Eli, Bagels and I at a campground that’s 8 miles down trail and our goal for the night.

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We left just after dinner, when the weather was cooler, feeling rested and very well fed from all the homemade meals. The grade was flat and easy the entire 8 miles and both the trail and all dirt roads we crossed were a bright red gravel. We cruised well above 3 miles an hour trying to reach the campground before it got dark, almost running the entire time. No luck, and I had to pull out the headlamp that’s been buried in the bottom of my pack for most of the trip.

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Found Bagels at the little campground, which was well-established, with six or seven sites,  pit toilets and a faucet stuck somewhere in the middle. There were weekend campers out with their RVs and trucks, and I think I alarmed a couple families with my stumbling around in the dark trying to find the faucet.  We didn’t find Eli, and figured he had hiked on ahead to Burney Falls State Park, where there’s a larger campground and store.

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Still have cell coverage and I’ve stayed up way too late watching the Office on Netflix with Bagels. The group is re-uniting tomorrow morning at the store in the state park for breakfast.


Day 95: Campground (1418.4) to Kosk Spring (1440.4)

July 13 // 22 miles

Woken up to Eli kicking our tent stake out, turns out he had gone all the way to the State Park last night, before finding the sites full (with some weird white-hooded type ceremonies going on…you okay there Burney?) so he backtracked the extra mile and ended up staying at the same campground as us last night, we missed each other in the dark. 

A quick twenty minute hike got us to the State Park, where we waited for the little convenience camping store to open at 8 and also for Honeybee and Phoenix to catch up from the guest ranch. Bought a cup of coffee and some stale day-old doughnuts for breakfast and rounded out my resupply with a couple deli sandwiches.

Honeybee and Phoenix showed up while we were eating. Left our packs in the parking lot (how trusting we are that the skeevy looking teenagers sulking around aren’t going to throw our collective thousands of dollars of gear into their pickup and drive off laughing!) and took the quick off-trail detour to go down and see Burney falls.

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While walking down the cement stairs towards the falls, the temp dropped noticeably and signs around the falls was advertised as being about 40 degrees. Too cold for a morning swim. Not too many tourists were out this early so we had the place to ourselves. The falls are gorgeous, almost 150 feet tall and cascade into a bright blue pool. The niftiest thing about them is that they’re fed from meltwater springs stored in the porous basalt rock underground, so if you traced the source river back up towards Burney Mountain, it would at some point just disappear into the earth like magic.

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Finally after being lazy shits for basically the entire past two days, we got back to properly hiking on the PCT around 10am. It was warm and muggy as soon as we left the chilly air around the waterfall. Our hiker train strung apart as everyone settled into their own paces going uphill through a deciduous forest, a rare treat after all the pine.

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The trail went over the huge concrete dam blocking the Pit River and forming Lake Britton, I made myself a little dizzy looking down over the edge. There was a team of construction workers on the road beside the dam and they gave me the thumbs up while I started heading up the ridge and back into the woods.

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Another hot day in NorCal, and I felt sticky and gross within an hour of leaving the park. Thankfully while I was crossing the footbridge over Rock Creek, I heard familiar voices from under the bridge, where my group was sitting like a bunch of bridge trolls trying to get some shade. The creek had natural pools formed by the rock that weren’t quite big enough for swimming, but the perfect size for one person to sit down and dunk over and over again to cool down. Tumbleweed and Vortex showed up and offloaded a couple beers to us, they’re meeting friends just down the trail. We like them.

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When the snacks were eaten and the beer had been split, we continued the climb up in the heat of day, but thankfully the woods provided some shade and my wet clothes and hair kept me cooler. Unfortunately at the top of the climb there were no more trees to protect from the sun and I finally dug my cap from the depths of my bag to give my nose some relief from being sunburned.

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Maybe it was the slow start, but it felt like no matter how hard I tried to push today, my body was just not feeling the hiking and I couldn’t focus my thoughts to enjoy the mindless quiet. Not all miles are created equal and today they all felt too long. Got a little bit of cloud cover from the sun, but it somehow made things feel even hotter, like all the heat was trapped down on the ground for me to wade through.

All the water streams and seeps that were listed on my GPS app were either dry or didn’t exist as far as I could find, and it was a relief to arrive down at Peavine Creek, a small spring hidden in the bushes off a dirt road. Set up in the shade beside the road for lunch, Honeybee, Bagels and Eli joined shortly. I think they were all hot and dusty, it was a quiet lunch with everyone keeping to themselves. When I was finished eating, I leaned back against my pack for just a second and ended up falling asleep for a half hour, everyone was gone when I finally picked up to keep on.

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The nap helped a little bit and I had a better afternoon walking through in the forest. Mt Shasta was more prominent today, I could see it almost all the time when the forest opened up. We’ll be in town at the base of the volcano in 2-3 days depending how much ass we’re willing to haul, which after the slow day today is not looking like much.

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The end of the day was downhill through the woods, crossing dirt road after dirt road. Called it quits at Kosk spring, which was just off trail down an abandoned, overgrown road. There were a couple small camping spots along the road on the way to the spring, not the most scenic spot we’ve had but there’s water and room to pitch everyone’s tents. Our friend Nono was already there in her tent, she’s an early-to-bed and early-to-rise hiker, so we tried to be as quiet as possible making dinner and setting up. Took my bottles to fill at the spring, it was in the bushes and flowing slowly, but it was freezing cold and perfect to wash the dirt off my feet and have a half-assed bandana bath.

In my tent early, probably didn’t need to set it up tonight since the gnats have dropped off and there haven’t been any mosquitos or flies lately (praise the trail gods). I’m feeling wiped even though we only did 22 miles today, tomorrow we have to step it up to get to Shasta before our food runs out.

Day 96: Kosk Spring (1440.4) to Ash Camp (1470.9)

July 14 // 30.5 miles

Woke up a couple times last night to something decently large rustling in the bushes behind my tent, the woods are so much busier during the night. Got out a couple times to shine a light around but there was no sign of the mysterious creature, and in the morning I couldn’t find any trace of prints in the sandy gravel.

Nono was packed and gone first thing, the rest of us woke up as she was leaving. We ate breakfast together and make a game plan to get to Shasta. We’re hoping to make it to an established little campground on the McCloud river, 30 miles away, but decided to regroup at lunch to finalize. Just after packing up camp, everyone had left except for me and I ventured into the woods just off the dirt road for morning poop. Mid-squat I heard a noise, looked up and noticed a small black bear about 40 feet away, also mid-squat. We made eye contact for a solid couple seconds, wondering who would cave first. The bear did, and ran away down the road. First bear on trail, although not a very dignified story to re-tell at lunch to my friends. Wonder if it was him rustling about last night.

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It was warm and humid again today, and there was a lot of low-hanging smoke haze from a fire somewhere nearby that settled into the valleys between each mountain ridge, and made the light a little dimmer than it would normally be. The smoke wasn’t enough to obscure Mt. Shasta, it’s gotten a lot more prominent the past couple days and dominates the horizon whenever the woods open up to open meadow. Often today, I could see the trail snaking it’s way along ridges for a mile or more ahead.

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So many up and downs all morning but the afternoon was one long, 11 mile drop through the woods to the McCloud river, where we planned to camp tonight. Lots of springs and seeps and streams crossing the trail, I felt like I was flying from not carrying extra water. The forest canopy was made up of huge, broad green leaves, they filtered the sunlight so everything had a green tinge, and seemed to trap the heat of the sun, I felt sweaty and gross all afternoon. I hiked on and off with Bagels, and we saw a couple does around the aptly named Deer spring that gave no shits about our approach and lazily moved off trail without pausing their leaf-chewing.

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Arrived at the small, car-accessible Centipede Gulch, which has a cement pit toilet and a some large, secluded camp sites. A few families were already in the bigger sites, but Eli and Bagels had snagged a spot to ourselves off in the bushes near the river, which is flowing strong. Honeybee arrived while we were putting the tents up and managed to squeeze her in as well. It’s squishy, but we fit… now we just have to be careful where we step amongst the web of guylines and tent stakes. There is no feeling in the world worse than kicking an exposed metal stake with bare toes. 

Our campsite looks like an ad for Zpacks, with two larger duplexes and my little solplex, the mama, papa and baby cuben fiber family. Eli’s lime green Nemo off to the side is the black sheep cousin.

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I was going to swim in the river, but it was shockingly cold after all the warm waters I’ve been in lately. My feet were on fire just standing in it for a few seconds at a time, so settled instead for a quick bandana bath and then quickly into my baselayer to warm up.

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Made dinner of mac and cheese with fritos. While eating dinner, Eli announced that our GPS app warned that a rattlesnake was living in the very firepit we were currently sitting around. We cautiously flipped the rocks but there was no sign of the snake. The wasps however, were out in full force but decided to only bother me, I’ve been having really bad luck with them this summer and have been stung four times already. I retreated into the safety of my tent to eat and talk to the others, who were unbothered, through the mesh. We’re 30 miles out from Mt. Shasta and decided to push almost all the way to town tomorrow and camp just outside instead of paying for a hotel, which means a bit of an easier day.

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It’s nice having the river close by, the rushing water provides a comforting white noise to fall asleep to. I’m reaching the end of familiar trail, last year we skipped from Shasta up to Ashland to avoid smoke and fire closures. I’m looking forward to seeing new parts of the PCT, although I think I could hike this trail over and over and over and still find it a new adventure each time.

Day 97: Ash Camp (1470.9) to Mt. Shasta (1501.2)

July 15 // 30.3 miles

Deciding last night to be lazy shits and get to town tomorrow meant everyone slept in, it was well past 7 before I was up and having breakfast. Picked up a completely unprovoked sting inside my elbow from the wasps while rolling up my tent, so now that’s a bit swollen and very itchy. In my desire to escape from the wasps, I was for once NOT the last one out of camp and managed to leave just after Eli.

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Crossed the footbridge over the McCloud and started climbing, there’s one last long climb before dropping down to Shasta. The sunlight was so dim from how thick the forest canopy was, it felt like evening all morning. Still very humid, and the gnats have made their appearance, clouds of tiny little bugs that swarm ears, eyes and mouth without ever landing so you can’t really smack them away and just have to endure their annoying buzzing. I lost count of how many I inhaled and had to spit out and I’m sure a couple managed to get themselves swallowed.

I didn’t see anyone else all morning, despite there being lots of streams and pools that would be a natural gathering spot for thru hikers. At Squaw Valley Creek, I decided to give myself a break after not stopping all morning and go for a swim in the crystal clear water. Ditched my stuff and climbed down the rocky bank for a swim. The water was freezing but it’s one of the best natural swimming holes along the whole trail, with deep, perfectly clear water. Stayed in for as long as I could, drifting downstream before paddling myself back to the bridge, over and over. There were lots of little minnows along the bottom, at least 7 feet down, and I could see every detail perfectly. When I got out I was numb from the cold and had to sit in direct sunlight for half an hour eating my lunch to warm up. Had the whole place entirely to myself for an hour, Honeybee and Bagels must have taken an earlier lunch break and Eli had pushed on ahead.

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While packing up, one of my full SmartWater bottles rolled off the rocky ledge I was sitting on and disappeared into oblivion somewhere on the creek bank. I only have two, so went climbed back down and despite getting back in the water and combing the entire rocky bank, couldn’t find it. Sorry Leave No Trace, I hope someone enjoys the filtered free litre while I try and get by carrying only one bottle of water.

After lunch, there was the last, five mile climb through the woods before the ten mile drop to Shasta. Took it slow and steady, it was mostly long switch backs going up and up, with the volcano almost always visible but never seeming to get any closer. Towards the top, I noticed some pretty dark clouds on the horizon and when I got to the clearing that marked the end of the climb, found Eli having lunch and browsing the weather app, which called for a thunderstorm with severe hail and high winds later in the afternoon. He had pre-emptively booked us a room in Shasta for the night to avoid getting caught in a potential tent-damaging storm and I had no problem with it being a surprise town day, it was all downhill from where we were. The only problem was that we didn’t know how far back Bagels and Honeybee were, I hadn’t seen them all morning even with my long break at Squaw valley creek. Eli took off down the hill, and I sat to wait just in case either of the other two were close behind.

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After another half hour, I was just about to leave when Bagels showed up. He has a Garmin GPS so we could message Honeybee to move it if she wanted to share a ride, and took off downhill. The storm looked pretty incredible in the distance, pure black clouds with the occasional lightning strike, and a red glow around Mt. Shasta that gave everything a very Mordor vibe. I could see Castle Crags way below, a huge imposing set of jagged peaks that we’ll pass by on our way out of Shasta. The further down we went the larger the trees became, until there were no views at all of anything except for forest. Alternated hiking with Bagels and going solo, both of us were running long stretches of the downhill switchbacks at top speed which isn’t the smart thing to do but is definitely more fun. 

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The trail finally emptied me out onto a small paved road that crossed a river full of fly fishermen and ended at the interstate ramp, where Eli and Bagels were both sitting. Sat down with them next to the stop sign to wait for our ride and try to cool down after all the running. It was so hot and I was baking on the pavement, with no shelter from the sun. That storm was fake news. Honeybee arrived right after me, she was hauling ass to catch up to us.

Our ride showed up shortly after, a local trail angel named Tony, in a bright red pickup truck. He got out, cheerily announced that he’d been drinking and we should feel free to send a picture of his license plates to our mothers if we were at all worried about being kidnapped. We squished into the truck, moved aside a couple empties in the backseat, rolled down the windows and off we went. Tony was an ex highway cop and thankfully knew a shortcut around the interstate construction via the backroads, tearing by multiple signs saying “local traffic only” and flipping off the two cop cars we passed before waving at them in the rearview. On the way in, he mentioned that he’d been called to rescue a group of hikers caught in the hailstorm we saw today, they were trapped at a trailhead on the other side of the highway, all four of them crammed into a port-a potty sardine style to avoid the huge hailstones and bitter cold.

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Tony gave us a quick tour around Mt. Shasta, pretty quiet on a Sunday night, and offered to buy us a round if we found ourselves wanting to stop by a local bar later on. All in all, an awesome ride. Got ourselves checked in, the hotel we’re at is bouuuuugie and the well-dressed older couples going for dinner at the hotel restaurants weren’t subtle with their staring. We are getting pretty dirty. Honeybee and I have legs that are brown more from dirt than from tan, and the boys’ beards are reaching full on jungle-man. 

While waiting for my turn at the shower, wandered across the road to a large grocery store, couldn’t be bothered with resupply and just bought the things I’ve been craving the most, plus anything else that caught my eye- blackberries and raspberries, ice cream, French bread, roast chicken and pasta salad from the deli, a mini cheesecake, coffee drinks, sports drinks, two bottles of my favourite wine. While budget planning before trail, I never thought to take into account all the luxury food I eat in town. Probably don’t need to be spending so much but I have no willpower not to pull everything I want off the shelf if I go shopping when hungry.

After “resupply” came shower and laundry, and now I’m clean and cozy, watching reruns of the Office, and very, very full. My favourite time in town is when we first arrive, the night before a zero day. I’m relaxed knowing tomorrow there is no hiking to do, and not anxious to get back to trail. Everyone gets a bed tonight since there’s only four of us, PC hasn’t caught up after recovering from the 64 mile day into Burney, but he should arrive tomorrow morning and the crew will be complete again.

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Sierra City to Chester

Day 84: Sierra City (1195.4) to Little Jamison Creek (1216.1)

July 2 // 20.8 miles

Slept well even with the sleeping pad on an annoying incline. Woke around seven completely off my pad which was completely off my groundsheet. Almost everyone in the church parking lot was still in bed minus a few ambitious hikers that were packing up to get an early start.

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Wandered down to the Main Street, there were a few hikers meandering lazily about waiting for the general store to open, otherwise it was a ghost town since everything here is closed on Mondays. Eventually someone discovered that there was a single coffee joint open and I think we overwhelmed the one barista when dozens of hikers lined up out the door since there was nothing else to do but drink coffee after coffee.

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Had two hazelnut lattes on the porch of the general store with a long row of the other hikers. When it opened at 9, there was a small stampede to place breakfast orders at the grill.

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Did a questionable resupply from the limited selection at the store, my food for the next section consists of pop-tarts, unripe avocado, and the last box of mac and cheese they had. Took an ice cold shower in the public town washroom which felt amazing since it was already 30C by 9. I also went to the post office and sent most of my extra clothing and gear ahead in a bounce box (the box is mailed ahead to each town and gear is added/removed as needed) so now my pack is definitely under eight pounds without food or water. Nice.

Hikers were slowly trickling out and I was not looking forward to the long, ten mile climb out of Sierra City in the heat. Had a popsicle to delay the inevitable but finally set out at 11:30, so much for our intentions to leave first thing in the morning. Started walking down the road but got picked up almost immediately by a pickup truck with Honeybee, Bagels and Calves sitting in the bed.

Back at it after the very nice break in town, the climb started very gradually through a pine forest. Despite the shade the temperatures were still high and I sweat through my shirt almost immediately. There’s also far less water through this section so I actually need to be aware of water sources and how much I need to carry.

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The forest opened up into an exposed rocky ridge as the trail climbed up and around Sierra Butte mountain, pine trees stretched out as far as I could see across the valleys below. No shelter from the sun, but the wind picked up and cooled things down a little. The trail was covered in loose rock and very slippy at some points, with steep drops down the mountain face. Passed mile 1200, miles are flying by.

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Calves and Bagels caught up to me on the way up and we stopped for a break at a little patch of shade where there was a small side trail down to a spring on the mountain face. Filled up and drank extra to make up for the dehydration from the long hot climb. I’ve completely stopped filtering any running water since the Sierras, I can’t be bothered since the filter is so slow and I figure at this point my immune system is pretty strong anyways.

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Made it to the top of the climb around 3 and had a late lunch with Calves and Bagels. We hung around a little too long before finally starting down and passing a couple lakes that I didn’t recognize at all, the trail was completely unfamiliar and it was disorienting. Almost every step of the way I’ve remembered every new day almost perfectly- this is where I saw the two young bucks, this is where I had the worst knee pain, this is where Cy told the baseball riddle. But for some reason the first few miles downhill today were new to me. There was another steep, steep climb I couldn’t remember, later Eli informed me that there had been three miles of new trail added this year instead of the old road walk down Sierra Butte.

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Feeling lazy and I was content to go slow, knowing that as a result I probably wouldn’t get into camp until late. At six, I found PC, Eli, Calves, Honeybee and Bagels sitting around beside the trail-a sure sign of cell service. Stayed there too long as the sun set but we got to enjoy the view back behind us of Sierra Butte. I noticed a fire lookout at the very top, I wish we’d gone up.

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Through pine forest in the last of daylight, could see beautiful calm lakes far below with a couple cabins scattered around the shoreline. In the evening it was eerily quiet and still, no wind or birds. During our cell service break we had agreed to camp at the first water at the bottom of the climb in sparse forest, but when I got there, there was already another tent pitched and no water to be found. Honeybee and Bagels were both down to go a little further to a spring so we kept on, felt good to do a few more miles after our lazy start and long breaks. I ran a little bit to catch the last of the sunset at the top of the uphill, a rocky overlook which made the late hiking day very worth it.

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The final few miles through the woods were dark as heck, no light was getting through the thick tree cover. Arrived at camp around eight, the campsites were scattered around and were hardly big enough for one tent so we’re all spread out. There was a cold spring with great water hidden in the woods above trail and I used the last of the light to find it, kill the hundreds or swarming mosquitos, take a quick bandana bath and get back to the established trail.

Set up camp and made dinner in the dark with Bagels in a little muddy clearing near a murky pond. I’m so used to my routine it’s easy to set up my groundsheet and bag, cook, eat dinner and brush teeth in complete darkness. It is weird having all my extra gear gone since I’m so used to every last thing being in its place. I kept panicking and thinking I had forgotten things in town before remembering they’re in a post box headed for Belden. I bounced my warm base layers since the nights aren’t cold anymore but I already know I want them back-my shorts are still sweaty and my legs feel sticky in my sleeping bag without my wool leggings to act as a barrier.

Cowboy camping despite the bugs, hopefully they’ll chill out as it cools off. Behind schedule by about four miles due to our slow afternoon but oh well, that’s easily gained tomorrow. The woods around us are creepily quiet, making it hard to fall asleep.

Day 85: Little Jamison Ck (1216.1) to Fowler Junction (1242.9)

July 3 // 26.8 miles

Up around 6 but still the last out of camp, I have no discipline when it comes to waking up and hiking early. A disappointing breakfast of salted nuts since resupply at the store in Sierra City wasn’t great.

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Our group was absolutely useless at hiking today, we took breaks at every stream or shaded campsite. Leapfrogged on and off with a couple other groups doing the same thing. The terrain was a constant alternate of small up and downs, and the air was smoky from a fire on the other side of Sacramento.

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Had a long uphill which I managed to knock out in one go, it was the steepest climb we’ve had in a while but thankfully only about a mile. I was drenched in sweat and completely out of breath but it felt good to push my legs and lungs. I stopped for lunch at a small dirt clearing near the top while the others caught up. It was really hot again and the flies are starting to show up, they were going nuts when I made my tuna wrap for lunch. At the top of the climb, everyone else was taking a break on a windy exposed ridge, there were lots of wildflowers and a strong breeze but most importantly, cell service.

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The afternoon wasn’t too much speedier than the morning, whoever was at the front of the pack would stop for a break and the rest of us would just stop as well, which happened over and over. We finally found some motivation to end the long slow day and gunned it the rest of the way to our planned campsite at the junction to Fowler Creek, I found a second wind and made it there around 6. Went to look for Fowler creek but never found it and gave up after I’d gone a good half mile off trail.

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The campsite is listed on our GPS app as a one person site but other hikers kept arriving and we ended up fitting almost ten people around the area with some creative manoeuvring of tents. Ended up cowboy camping in a small corner in the woods off the main clearing, I’m not sure if that was the right call since the mosquitos are still going strong at 9. Sleeping with my headnet on. About 45 miles out of Belden, I think we’ll split it into two smaller days. There is some debate about stopping in at a little resort tomorrow for 4th of July.

Day 86: Fowler Junction (1242.9) to Big Creek Rd (1263.5)

July 4 // 20.6 miles

Mosquitos disappeared enough last night for me to sleep without my head net, but they were back like heck at 6:30, so for once I was out of bed before seven, getting moving was the only thing that made them bearable so packed up and had breakfast on the go. 

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The trail started steeply downhill, there was lots of growth over the trail and it felt very still with no wind. The elevation profile for today was one long, sharp drop down to the middle fork of Feather river, and then one long sharp climb back up. After my dry camping night I gunned it down pretty fast to reach a small pipe spring near the bottom of the drop. There was thick green canopy covering the whole trail and it made things damp and cool. The spring was surrounded by finger sized banana slugs. If you kiss them your lips go numb, I held off kissing slugs for today and settled for drinking two liters of icy cold water instead.

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I was hoping the crew would be down at the river because I really wanted to swim. When I arrived, they had all pushed ahead without stopping, when it comes to town days they don’t have much patience for any side trips or breaks. I was in the middle of the pack so took a break anyways and made my way down the steep rocky slope to the river. Bagels stopped with me and we decided to just make it a late day into town and spent a long time swimming. The water was warm and there were a few natural pools made from rocks that were off the main current.

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When we finally got out of the water, Calves and Phoenix had caught up to us and we took a late breakfast break at the top of the foot bridge, I ended up cooking all my extra food in preparation for the long climb ahead. Calves and Bagels played one of their many games of “what are the odds”, end result was Calves having to listen to Mambo Number 5 the entire climb ahead.

After finally getting going, we didn’t make it very far. After the first sharp spike of uphill I found Bagels getting ready for swim number two at Bear Creek, a nice little stream in the forest. I’m not one to be out-swam so stopped again for a break. The water in the creek was crystal clear and far colder than the river. We couldn’t stay in very long, but there was a nice little sandy beach just off the trail. By the time we were done and dried off we were way behind everyone else and had to push pretty hard if we wanted to get to Buck’s Lake resort in time for dinner.

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A steep uphill for five long miles after Bear Creek and I spent the entire afternoon completely zoned out, letting my legs pace themselves and letting my mind wander. Finally the grade evened out and I found myself at the top at lookout rock, a small promontory that offers beautiful views of the forest stretching away below. Calves and Bagels were up on the rock snacking (Calves successfully completed his five hour music challenge) and I joined them for a much needed break. Phoenix arrived shortly after and let us know her husband Greg was picking her up at the road into Bucks lake at four, so we had a guaranteed ride and time to have a slightly longer break. Nice. I hadn’t originally wanted to stop at Buck’s Lake but after the long uphill, a beer and bed sounded pretty nice, not to mention I needed a resupply.

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We got going around three and the downhill to the road was easy and quick. Today was a slow hiking day for me, took ten hours to do twenty miles. At the road, we sat on the shoulder waiting for Greg, who arrived shortly after with much appreciated ginger beer. Crammed the packs into the trunk and squished into their two door and set off for Buck’s Lake, a small town with one tiny general store, two hotels, a restaurant and a lakeside bar. Honeybee, Eli and PC had already been in town for a while and texted that they were at the bar. Our priority was food, so went straight to the lodge restaurant, where they very deliberately told us we were welcome so long as we kept our stinky selves on the porch. After a free hiker beer and a huge plate of pulled pork, we walked up the road to a wooden two story hotel, where Phoenix and Greg very graciously offered to split their room with us. The hotel was old with a shag carpet and no wifi or TV, but we were happy to use the shower and ditch our stuff.

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After that we made the mile long road walk through town to meet the others at the bar. I really like Buck’s Lake, seems like it’s mostly summer cabins on the shore of the lake. The weather had cooled off and it smelled like campfire the whole walk. We weren’t sure what festivities would be happening for the 4th of July, but it was pretty low key at the bar and we ended up having a couple drinks on the porch overlooking the lake before heading back to our motel room in the dark. We rotate through turns sleeping on bed or floor and I was lucky enough to get a bed this time around, fell asleep about a minute after my head hit the pillow. Definitely a top day.

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Day 87: Big Creek Rd (1263.5) to Belden (1286.8) 

July 5 // 23.3 miles

Up around 8 to get packed up and hit the trail, trickling out one at a time. I had to stop by the store for resupply so said goodbye to Greg and walked over. The store was tiny but well stocked for hikers, and I bought a breakfast burrito and ice cream sandwich to start the day off right. Bagels stopped by as I was about to leave and we headed back to the road to try and catch a ride together. I was very tempted to take a ride to a different trailhead and save five miles of flat trail, but Bagels was insistent on going back to where we had come from. I was grumpy about it at the time, but in retrospect, the five miles were easy and I had no reason to be skipping them. We got a quick ride from a young woman from Buck’s Lake and were back on trail by 9:30.

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Cheered up in the morning, the trail went uphill the whole way and the day was hot and windy. The top of the climb was very exposed and offered a view all the way down to the valley where the trail was headed. Stopped for a quick lunch in what little shade I could find and then started the long drop down to Belden.

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I felt impatient to catch my friends and ran the long switchbacks down until they got too steep. At the trail register near the bottom I went through the log book, most of the registers haven’t had last years notes kept inside and it was really cool to see my signature and the other familiar trail names in the book. Last year we were here August 10th, over a month later than I am now. In retrospect, we were never going to make it to Canada before the snow hit, even if we had pushed on through all the smoke.

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Belden is a tiny town on Feather River with a population less than 10, but they rent out the expansive grounds around the one building that serves as a hotel, store and restaurant every single weekend for festivals of every size. Went straight to the bar for a beer and burger, Bagels met up for some food and then we started a two mile road walk down the highway to Caribou Crossroads, a little RV park off the highway where are friends were staying the night. The road walk was long and boring but it was worth it to get to Caribou. Bagels and I unfortunately didn’t get there in time for the store to still be open, but our friends had bonded with an elderly couple staying in the park with their camper, and they invited us over for drinks at the little pop-out tiki bar and the man, an eyeglass repairman, offered to take Calves broken glasses, fix them, and mail them farther down trail. I hadn’t wanted to walk all the way to Caribou when we could’ve just stayed beside the river in Belden, but it was worth it for the generosity of complete strangers, and apparently the store does a mean milkshake.

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Day 88: Zero in Belden

July 6

So we didn’t really need to stay for the zero, but we were curious to see whether the festival grounds would get crazy on a Friday night, and the day sort of just slipped away until it didn’t make sense to hike out so late. Oops.

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We said goodbye to Calves this morning, he’s hiking to get ahead of us before leaving for Ireland for two weeks. I know we all really want him to catch up again, but two weeks is a lot of ground to cover and I’m doubtful we’ll see him again. Tough to say goodbye to someone that’s an essential part of the group. After he left, we suppressed our sorrow with large breakfasts at the store (with milkshakes), and I resupplied and showered in the public washroom. We got a lift in the back of a pickup back to Belden with the intention of getting back to trail, but Eli bought a 24 pack of beer and we sat down in a sandy secluded spot by the river and that was that for the day.

 Convenient timing, lost my sunnies at Bear Creek

Convenient timing, lost my sunnies at Bear Creek

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The festival this weekend is a private event and the party-goers aren’t too thrilled to share their space with dirty hikers, so it’s not the wild drug-infused rave we walked into last year and all the hikers ended up congregating at the bar, while the festival people dominated the stages and beach outside. Various people kept buying rounds and we all spent a little too long at the bar drinking their specialty, a ten dollar, bright orange monstrosity called a Treebanger that contains 5 different liquors. Stumbled back to our riverside campground for a quick nap. I think the rest of the group managed to rally and went back to party crash the festival, but I’ve lost whatever alcohol tolerance I had and was down and out in my sand filled sleeping bag at 8.

Day 89: Belden (1286.8) to Cold Spring (1305.4)

July 7 // 18.6 miles

Woke up mildly hungover but I think I got a much better sleep than the majority of the crew, we looked like a haggard bunch this morning. Wandered to the main building past all the sleeping party go-ers to get some ibuprofen and water from the bathroom. (The public washrooms in Belden are well stocked with hangover essentials, which tells you something about the place.)

Most of the group was awake and slowly making moves to go when I returned to our sandy spot by the river. We hit the restaurant one more time for breakfast, I ended up getting caught up when my food took about an hour longer than everyone else’s to arrive. Finally left just after eleven and started the very, very long and hot climb up and out. The uphill was moderately steep but the hardest part was that it goes on and on and on up the mountain. Down low in the valley it was hot as hell and in direct sunlight with no shade, I don’t think I’ve ever been so sweaty in my life, shirt was soaked through in minutes and dripping off my nose. Tried to drink extra water at every source to make up for it. Thankfully after a short burn section I was back into the forest and it cooled off the higher I got.

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Passed a couple people on the way up but mostly just zoned out and tried to power through. Thankfully there was stream after stream of clear cold water almost every mile and the steepness levelled off about halfway up. Wasn’t feeling too hungry and skipped lunch but drank probably ten litres throughout the day. 

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I found Honeybee journaling in a beautiful shady patch of trees and Eli was napping beside a creek a tenth of a mile later. I wanted to lie down in the creek and cool off but the top was near. The forest turned to open meadow near the top with long tall grass and large boulders. Had cell service in one spot at the very top of the climb, called Dad and enjoyed the anticipation of the easy downhill miles left to camp.

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We stopped at Cold Spring, an aptly named pipe spring of ice cold water flowing into a tub-sized trough. The site itself is very nice, a little ways off trail with lots of little spaces scattered around in the trees and one large clearing with lots of log benches to sit on. Did my best to get clean with a sponge bath in the icy spring water and then put on the cozies to warm up. 

Ken was there, who we haven’t seen in quite some time, and it was nice to catch up with him over dinner. I’m running pretty low on food, but there’s always the option to stop in at Chester tomorrow if needed. 

Cowboy camped in a squished little spot under a large tree, I’ve already noticed the mice running in and out of some holes at the foot of the trunk. Should be an interesting night.

Day 90: Cold Spring (1305.4) to Chester (1331.3)

July 8 // 25.9 miles

The mice were abound last night, and I had a patchy sleep listening to them scurry around in the dirt. If they got too close to my stuff it was easy to just turn on my headlamp and they’d run back to their tree holes before emerging when it was dark again. Tried to wake up Bagels when I heard a mouse chewing at his food bag but he slept uselessly through it and I faced them alone. I’d literally rather have to deal with bears than mice. All in all, didn’t get the best rest.

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Last out of camp like always and into an exposed, hot section of trail with black volcanic rock formations. The trail went up and down steeply and the lactic acid buildups had me pretty worn out early on in the day. I had some good views of Lassen, the first of the volcanoes in the Cascade range that goes up through Washington. They’re landmarks along the rest of the trail, seeing the most prominent volcano dominate the horizon for a few days growing larger and larger until you pass it and then see the next far in the distance.

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Water was scarce today and I was a poor decision maker, skipping the one spring that was half a mile off trail and figuring my liter and a half could get me through 8 miles to the next creek. The first four miles after that were uphill and it was so hot, I realized very quickly that I had not made the right choice. Ran out about a mile from the top and my mouth was so dry I thought I might choke on my own tongue. Sat down in the shade when it got too unbearable, wondering how I’ve hiked 3000 miles on this trail and still make the same stupid stubborn mistakes instead of just carrying some hecking water. After the top of the climb, the downhill was more bearable, but every tenth of a mile was a countdown until I could drink again. Reached the halfway marker, a small underwhelming cement post with a metal box containing a log book. I took a short break there with Eli and Bagels but I was getting pretty desperate to get to water. They had both told me at the earlier spring that I needed to fill up, which I ignored, and now Bagels offered me the little bit he had left in exchange for an admission that I had been wrong. After a small internal debate, I figured my pride could take the small hit in exchange for surviving etc. and that water was enough to get me going downhill towards the stream.

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Fiiiinally reached the stream, it was flowing well and icy cold. Filling my bottle seemed to take forever but it was the best feeling to finally drink after my hot dry afternoon. There was a boy-scout troop camped nearby and I chatted with them as Eli and Bagels caught up. The whole crew wanted to go into Chester for the night, a small trail town just down the highway. I had no reason to stop in Chester and wasn’t keen on it after our unnecessary zero in Belden, but decided I’d make the call five miles later at the road secretly knowing that of course I would go.

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The trail crossed through boundaries of a few different logging companies, and there was a private property sign at every crossing up until the highway that led to Chester. I spent the whole way going back and forth on the the benefits of going to town vs hiking on. At the road it was only six and definitely could’ve pushed on, but my lazy side (only side really) won out and I stopped with Bagels to hitch into town for the night. The rest of the crew was already posted up at a little diner having ridiculously large 32oz milkshakes, and there was free camping in the church backyard.

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Our ride in was self admittedly coked up and gave us a long winded tour around town which was nice of him, but we both just wanted to be eating town food already. Dropped our stuff at the church and met the rest of the gang for milkshakes and then a late night breakfast-for-dinner at the local greasy spoon. The church has about a dozen or so hikers in the backyard, I’m can’t be bothered to set up a tent so cowboy camping in some long grass at the edge of the yard trying to ignore the oversize cricket looking bugs that keep crawling into my hair. Back to trail first thing tomorrow.

 Didn’t need the stop, but the milkshakes were worth it.

Didn’t need the stop, but the milkshakes were worth it.





Tahoe to Sierra City

Day 79: Echo Lake (1092) to Dick’s Lake (1107.6)

June 27 // 15.6 miles

Get me out of town already, said Townie. The multiple zeros are a nice break from hiking but they’re starting to really add up and I’m way behind where I thought I’d be by now. Despite not drinking very much at all last night at dinner, woke up with a killer hangover which is likely more from being dehydrated than anything else, I always seem to forget to drink enough water in town, after being so careful to drink enough on trail.

Cleaned the rental place and checked out at eleven, did a couple last minute chores and caught a ride back to the trailhead at Echo Lake. It’s a very touristy area with a little store and tons of cabins so of course the trail was crowded with tons of other people.

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The trail circled up alongside the lake for hours. It was hot with no shade and my head was still hurting, not my favourite morning of hiking. Stopped with Bagels at Lake Aloha which vastly improved my day, it’s a beautiful spot with lots of places for swimming. The lake was completely ice free and we spent almost two hours eating lunch and swimming and suntanning.

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Reluctantly got going around 3 to get up and over Dick’s Pass before sunset, at that point we figured the rest of the group would be far ahead of us. Followed the bank of Aloha lake for the next 45 minutes, before starting to climb up the pass.

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Went by alpine lake after alpine lake, if I ever want to do a short camping trip, this is the place to go...Desolation Wilderness could be just as pretty as the Sierras, with tons of nice campsites next to gorgeous swim spots and only a couple hours out of Tahoe.

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Saw literally no one all afternoon and enjoyed the solo climb through the woods. Caught up to Bagels at the top of the pass, stunning view down to Dicks lake and back in the other direction you could see lake Aloha far below.

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The descent was easy and I would’ve really enjoyed the evening hike had my head not hurt so badly, it had mostly faded after my swim but came back full force as the sun was setting. I think it might’ve been dehydration mixed with the hangover but it hurt so badly I asked Bagels if we could stop early at a small campsite alongside Dick’s lake. Set up my tent and immediately curled up inside without blowing up a sleeping pad or eating dinner, I can’t ever remember such piercing pain from a headache. Fortunately, downing two litres of water and a couple of painkillers that Bagels had on hand seemed to do the trick, and after an hour I was able to act like a normal person again and eat a little bit of dinner.

Went to bed early, the wind was really picking up so had to re-tighten my tent cords to avoid the loud flapping. Was just falling asleep around nine thirty when we heard people start to roll in-Honeybee and PC caught up and later Eli after he took a mile detour down the wrong trail, so gang’s all here. Woke up enough to finish my half eaten dinner and then back to bed.

Day 80: Dick’s Lake (1107.6) to Whiskey Creek (1137.6)

June 28 // 30 miles

Today was one of my best days so far on trail, NorCal is killing it with the scenery. Woke up feeling well rested after a long sleep and managed to get out of camp first, a rarity for me. Curved around Dick’s Lake and then back into some pretty thick forest, lots of streams and ponds and the mosquitos were out, which kept me moving fast.

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Very gradual downhill most of the morning and I felt really good, did one of my only 10x10 days so far, ten miles by ten a.m. Lots of purple flowers growing beside the trail, they smell similar to lilacs which reminded me of spring at home. Passed a couple hikers I’ve never met before, but for the most part the trail was empty.

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Stopped for lunch at river with clear flowing water and a little clearing in the trees next to the trail. Had a quick bandana bath to wash off some of the dirt on my legs and then sat in the shade and had a tuna wrap for lunch. Getting real sick of tuna but it keeps well and adding mayo and cheese and avocado helps a little. Waited around for a while but everyone else must’ve stopped somewhere else for their lunch break so I continued on alone.

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A gradual uphill out of Desolation Wilderness and crossed into Granite Chief Wilderness. At the top of the climb the forest turned into open rocky ridges with beautiful views on either side of the ridgeline, and flowers everywhere. Could see the deep blue of Lake Tahoe in the distance. Had a very good hiker high and probably the happiest I’ve been on trail, days like this are why I’m fine with living in dirt for five months.

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Wind picked up and kept things cool in the afternoon sun. Finished the climb and passed along the boundary line of Squaw Valley ski resort, lots of prominent red rock formations beside the trail.

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Downhill to Five Lakes creek, where we had planned to camp for the night. A few miles of long switchbacks dropping into the woods, the trees were covered in moss and all the light filtering through the leaves gave the trail a green tint.

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When I reached the creek at the bottom, it was only 4:30 and I was feeling pretty good. There were already a handful of hikers setting up camp and I knew that it would likely get crowded since it’s a nice campsite with good water, so decided to tack on two more miles to the next water source at Whiskey creek and get part of tomorrow’s climb out of the way.

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Starting to feel the 30 mile day on the uphill but it was a nice walk through the afternoon sun and when I arrived at the little campsite in the trees it was completely empty. The site was hidden in the woods but it faced a huge open meadow of yellow flowers and was a beautiful backdrop for my dinner of mac and cheese. Set up camp and no one passed by for a couple hours so figured I was camping alone, but Bagels ended up arriving a little after six.

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We hit Donner pass tomorrow and the group is going into Truckee for a resupply. I have enough food to skip it, but I’m torn, Truckee was one of my favourite towns last year and it would be nice to stay with everyone. It’ll be a game time decision tomorrow.

 

Day 81: Whiskey Creek (1137.6) to Donner Pass (1153.4)

June 29 // 15.3 miles

Slept easily through the night, woke up around seven when Honeybee was passing by camp. A little stiff from gunning it without many breaks yesterday. Packed up and hit the trail, packing every morning gives me a weird organizational satisfaction, the explosion of food and clothing and gear all over camp goes into its place in my pack in the same order, every day. I know exactly where each item goes and could easily list off every single thing I own-not often in life that would be the case.

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Finished off the climb I started yesterday, the stiffness was tough at the beginning and I was struggling a little bit, but felt better after I got warmed up-right in time for the easy forested downhill to a creek. The trail passed under the chairlifts of yet another ski resort before going through hillsides covered in the same yellow flowers, as far as I could see. 

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Right back uphill for a very steep climb up to the excellently named Tinker knob. Thankfully it was only about a mile but my calves were burning on the steep grade. Tried to push through the whole climb without slowing down or stopping, a tough but fun challenge. Almost made it but got tricked by a false summit-stopped at what I thought was the top but then saw Bagels about a hundred feet above where I was.

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Took a proper break at the real top and enjoyed the view down the ridgeline towards Donner pass, could see the lake, interstate and Truckee far in the distance.

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I love this area, when I was here last year I had a strong desire to move to Truckee and that feeling was back again now. There’d be great skiing in the winter, beautiful hiking in the summer. I also have this weird macabre fascination with the story of the infamous Donner party and spent the downhill trek brushing up on my history by listening to podcasts about all the unfortunate choices and bad luck that led to the party being stranded just below Donner pass for a winter in the 1800s.

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Very hot and exposed in the afternoon, more of the rock formations alongside trail, and the path itself was an ankle breaker, all loose rubble that required full attention.

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Almost the whole way was downhill with the exception of one very nearly vertical spike, it was less than a tenth of a mile but still had me dripping in sweat. After that the rest was easy downhill through the woods towards the pass. More dayhikers started appearing the closer I got to Highway 40.

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I was still undecided whether or not to go into town. Still had more than enough food and my original plan was another seven miles to stay in a little backcountry ski cabin. On the other hand I do love Truckee and the whole group was planning to stay the rest of the night at Donner pass after a quick jaunt into town and get an early start out in the morning.

When I got to the parking lot at Highway 40, Bagels was just about to hop into a van going to Truckee. No time for debate so just climbed in and committed to a half day off. We stopped at the gear store to get pair of shoes #3, my old ones have pretty much worn through. After that a quick stop at Safeway for some snacks and charged up the electronics at a Starbucks, having way too many fancy coffee drinks I never get at home since they’re so high calorie. The best benefit of hiking is eating literally whatever you want, whenever you want, with no guilt at all.

Met up with Eli, Honeybee and PC on the edge of town and got a ride back to Donner pass, the restaurant at the Donner ski resort does a free 40oz beer for PCT hikers and Honeybee and Eli had arranged a place for us to stay with a trail angel down the road. The beer was huge and hit hard, so that killed my plan to hike on and I decided to stay the night at Donner pass with my friends. (Was there ever really a debate?)

 gonna be one of those nights

gonna be one of those nights

I had assumed we’d be staying at the trail angel’s house for the night, but it actually ended up being at the Peninsula ski club-an old wooden building with dorms big enough to sleep 40, plus a communal kitchen and living room area. Apart from the caretaker, Alan, we had the place to ourselves for ten bucks each, and Alan also let us know beers were $1 from the fridge. Great find, the club had lots of old log books and photo albums from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Had a quick shower that wasn’t actually that quick since I used all the hot water (sorry friends!) and chose a small bunk room to share with Eli, Honeybee and Bagels.

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The entire crew showed up so that there were ten of us total and we spent all night talking and drinking with Alan. The amount of liquor we went through after the beer ran out was truly impressive for our low hiker tolerance, and I had to keep reminding myself to drink water otherwise tomorrow would be headache city. Finally called it a night around 1am, one of the funnest nights with the crew, but I think some of us are going to be on the struggle bus tomorrow with some wicked hangovers.

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Day 82: Donner Pass (1153.4) to Meadow Lake Road (1172.3)

June 30 // 18.9 miles

Said a big thank you to Alan and headed for breakfast at the ski lodge, great coffee and breakfast burritos and managed to catch the Italy-France game on TV, the only World Cup action I’ve seen yet. The gang is hungover and looking rough right now at breakfast but I feel pretty good due to forcing down water by the litre last night. Drunk me always has always got sober me’s back.

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Walked up the highway a little ways back to trail. Started with a climb up rocks alongside the road which offered great views down to Donner Lake and Truckee. Tons of active people out enjoying the morning-hikers, bikers, rock climbers. Plus there’d be skiing in the winter, I want to live here.

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Many people on the trail due to its proximity to the interstate, I think a lot of people were just out stretching their legs in the middle of long drives. Stopped at a rest station along the I80 for water, they had four vending machines that called to us with soda and ice cream but they ALL were broken. With a hint of desperation we tried shoving in coins, bills in every direction and then rocked the machines but had no luck, so we left the brightly unattainable snacks and carried on. 

A very hot morning but the trail was partially shaded by trees most of the way. New shoes felt really good, hopefully this alleviates some of the late-day soreness I’ve been getting in my arches.

Slight uphill up Castle pass, and we passed many day hikers out to enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The best part about seeing dayhikers is all the dogs they bring with them, I had to stop and pet every one.

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Downhill on the other side of the pass and made a quick stop at Peter Grubb hut, a little wooden backcountry ski cabin built in the 1930s in memory of a young skier/climber that died at age 19. The letters he had written to his grandfather about his adventures in the area were laminated and left in a folder, I found many mentions of familiar places like Kearsarge pass and the “new” Forester pass. I had a little bit of regret that I didn’t spend last night here but I know that I would’ve had major spooks being alone with the mice and memory of Peter.

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With our late start and many breaks it was well into the afternoon and we’d only done seven miles. No difficult uphills, but today was like a children’s roller coaster ride with steady, gentle inclines and descents of equal opposition over and over.

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Zoned out a little from the heat and felt incredibly sleepy. Caught up to Bagels having a late lunch and took the opportunity to nap a little. After eating, I was still feeling tired, but the trail was downhill and at the bottom we stopped at a small creek that was deep enough to submerge in, so went for a swim since there are no lakes today. The cold water made me feel much better and after that my day improved considerably. Excellent climb up that opened into view of the valley and followed along the ridge the rest of the day until dropping down into the woods again.

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NorCal forests are all so eerily still and quiet, and I got lost in my own head. When the terrain is easy, afternoon sun is hot and I’m a little bit tired I can go into this zoned out zombie state and just daydream my way down trail until I’ll see someone or arrive at camp and wake up in a different spot with no recollection really of getting there, my body walks on autopilot.

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Made camp at a site near a small stream and dirt road, there are many people here. Our squad all gave up on the 26 mile plan for today so we’re all here except Eli who was too far ahead to get the memo about cutting the day short.  There are other, new hikers here too, a group of three guys that hiked the PCT last year as well, an Australian named Leon, a tiny girl called Nono.

Tired but read by headlamp until late, I’m back to carrying paperback novels. Tent is up for mosquitos. Sierra City tomorrow to pick up resupply package and tackle the gutbuster burger challenge.

Day 83: Meadow Lake Rd (1172.3) to Sierra City (1195.4)

July 1 // 23.1 miles

Heard Leon packing up around 6, thought about getting up for an early start into Sierra City, went back to sleep, ended up leaving at 7:30 with Bagels. Calves and PC were already gone when I woke up the second time. Honeybee was just waking up as we passed so didn’t expect to see her right away, but a town day combined with Canada day seemed to give her super speed and she blew by Bagels and I within an hour despite us also powering uphill at a pretty good pace.

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Most of the trail went downhill but first had two zigzag climbs. Still have the yellow flowers covering entire hillsides beside the path, but we didn’t stop much to enjoy the scenery, it was like someone lit our entire group on fire because we were crushing it with no stops. We’d done 12 miles in just over three hours and passed dozens of other hikers. Not sure what got into us but I like it.

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Flew on the downhill, was running low on water so finally made a five minute stop at Milton creek to refill and kept on towards town. Didn’t bother with lunch since I was so close to the road, today’s food consisted of two flattened emergency clif bars that have been in my hip belt pocket since the desert and a packet of skittles eaten on the go. The last few miles started to catch up with me and I was feeling hungry and impatient to be finished with hiking and very ready to enjoy a burger and beer in town.

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Finished the day with a steep drop down to the Yuba river, which was crossed on a footbridge and had a few groups scattered around sunbathing or swimming in the pools near the shore. Despite only being half a mile from the road and a hitch into Sierra city, I was hot and sticky and couldn’t resist climbing down the bank to go for a swim. Set up on a relatively flat rock and found a pool away from the main current, which I shared with a super dim group of older women that asked whether I swam often on trail. I said that I did and one of them commented that I was polluting the river by swimming in it when I was so sweaty and dirty. I wish I could say that I had a witty comeback involving their backwards logic and the fact that I could see their sunscreen leaving an oily residue on the water, but I kept my mouth shut. (I did proceed to blatantly wash my dirt encrusted socks and shirt while they huffed to themselves.)

The swim was amazing despite the questionable company and I put my washed clothing back on to finish the last half mile. The day was well over 30 degrees and the wet clothes kept me cooler, although it meant that I felt bad hitching and having to sit on someone’s car seat soaking wet. Sierra City was just over a mile, so set out down the road planning to walk until I was dry, but a lovely couple from Vancouver stopped after only a minute and insisted I take a ride since it was so hot out.

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They dropped me at the general store in Sierra City, which is pretty much the entire town apart from a couple restaurants and a bakery. Met up with Eli, Bagels and Honeybee sitting on the porch taking advantage of the wifi, a lot of the small NorCal towns have no cell service. Immediately ordered the trail-famous gutbuster burger from the little grill in the store, and in my delirious hunger state I also figured I’d be able to eat a side of chili cheese fries on top of the one pound burger. I could not even do half of what I ordered but the group had my back and ate what I couldn’t.

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Not too many hikers were in town when I arrived but they gradually started rolling in later in the afternoon, there’s about twenty of us here now. We’re mostly all camped behind the church in a mess of sleeping bags and tents, and a local couple just dropped off a cooler full of beer and soda for us to have. A+. town

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Hit the bar next door but feeling very sleepy and barely made it through one drink. In my bag and ready for a long sleep, despite all the hikers here I don’t think I’ll have a problem getting a good rest.

Mammoth to Tahoe

Day 66: Mammoth Pass (903.3) to Agnew Meadows (914.9)

June 14 // 11.6 + 3.5 miles

Slept in until about 8:30 and then dealt with the massive task of cleaning the Airbnb after twelve hikers had been residents for three days. Checked out on time and did a few last minute chores-resupply and a new shirt- before catching the trolley back to the trailhead.

Started hiking solo just past noon, the group had left earlier while I was shirt shopping and after the day hikers were passed during the first mile out, I saw no one.

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Felt great going up over Mammoth pass to get back to the trail, did an extra half mile of backtracking to take a detour past Reds Meadow since I knew it offered great views down into the valley. We’re also now passing by what is, in my opinion, the most iconic looking range in the Sierra, consisting of the massive Mt. Ritter and Banner peak, and the spiky Minarets, with an alpine lake (Ediza?) nestled right in the middle. They have such a dramatic silhouette, could stare at them for hours.

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Back on the PCT caught up to most of the crew near Minaret Waterfall. Feet got wet crossing a creek but dried quickly in the heat.

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Cruised to the large flat space at the trailhead near Agnew Meadows and decided to call it a day. Set up tent (mosquitos are appearing) and made dinner while everyone else rolled into camp. Our large group rarely camps all together since we basically consist of two subgroups, one is fast but takes lots of breaks and zeros in town, the other is slower but steady. Tonight everyone was in the same camp for the first time on trail and I get the uncomfortable feeling that I always do when it’s too crowded.

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In bed early, happy to be back on trail after three days in town.

Day 67: Agnew Meadows (914.9) to Bear Campsite (933.0)

June 15 // 18.1 miles // Donahue pass.

Great sleep, and far fewer mosquitos this morning. Everyone except Eli was still sleeping when I woke up, we had a quiet breakfast in the middle of camp. (Coffee and protein cookie)

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The trail is crowded as always after town, and a half dozen hikers passed by while I was packing up. Uphill climb out of camp, the view of the Ritter range was incredible and I took photo after photo. I have literally zero technical climbing skills but I can see the appeal of mountaineering, something just drives you to want to stand on the top of certain peaks. Maybe that’ll be the next adventure. 

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More climbing up to 1000 Island Lake for lunch, it’s one of the most gorgeous spots on trail and I lay around for two hours enjoying the view while everyone arrived and ate lunch. The sun was out but the wind was strong and I think the cool weather tricked me into getting sunburned again.

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Finally got going again mid-afternoon, climbed up Island pass (can barely call it a pass compared to the others because of how easy it is) which offered great views down to the lake and across to Banner peak.

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A slight downhill and then up Donahue pass, a gorgeous section with lake after lake all connected by streams. This pass had the biggest difference in snow pack vs. last year, there was barely any today. One of the best spots in the Sierra and could be the most scenic pass, rivalled only by Silver.

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The lead up to the pass was, for the most part, gradual and easy, and then the last mile was a series of steep rocky switchbacks. Made it to the top around four and shared the view down the north side with a couple marmots. Would’ve liked to stay and enjoy the view but it was getting late in the afternoon and cooling off quick.

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Headed down to make camp, the trail had a few snow fields to cross, but for the most part was clear. The wind was pretty icy so I made good time down. Ran into PC and Honeybee on the way after seeing nobody else since lunch at one icy river crossing and then Eli shortly a short while later at a second crossing that came up mid thigh.

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I had planned to stop at the nice secluded campsite where I had my bear encounter last year but couldn’t quite remember where it was and my notes from last year weren’t precise. Struggled to find it during the downhill, crossed another river and then hit the knee-shatteringly steep drop to Lyell Fork meadows. Figured I had missed the campsite but then there it was, three miles further than I had originally thought, I arrived just as the sun was setting. (Sorry rest of crew.)

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The campsite was hidden from trail in the woods so we left a pine cone arrow for those still behind us and set up the tents. Eli had the fire going right away and I had a dinner of noodles and snickers seated in the bear can circle. The bugs are out as usual and I’m tired as heck. Great day.

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Day 68: Bear Campsite (933.0) to Small Stream (954.4)

June 16 // 21.4 miles

First out of camp for once, woke up around six and felt really excited to get down to the meadows so I was on trail before most of the others were awake. 

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Finished the end of the downhill and into Lyell Fork meadows, which has to be one of the most scenic places in the world, a slow turquoise river winding through the valley with the snowy Sierra peaks as a backdrop.

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I really wanted to swim but it was still early and the store at Tuolumne Meadows was calling, so I settled for a snack break on the riverbank instead, watching trout float by happily in the current. Took it slow and followed the valley for about eight miles, it’s one of the flattest sections after all the crazy up and down of the Sierras and I enjoyed the easy walking.

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Lots of people out enjoying a weekend hike and for the most part everyone was friendly and curious about my trip. Had one unfortunate encounter with an older man that basically ranted at me for ten minutes about young hikers wearing headphones and using GPS trackers, and how busy the trail had gotten in the last twenty years. That’s life dude, get used to it, someday I’ll likely be the same grumpy old person complaining about how easy the younguns have it with their eye-screen GPS, or drone carried packs, or whatever the future will do to long distance hiking. After I managed to extract myself from the grump by pretty much walking away while he was mid-lecture, had a lovely rest of the morning and cruised to the store just off trail at Tuolumne meadows. Walked with Honeybee, Eli and Bagels for a while and the trail became wide enough for us to walk beside each other and talk.

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The parking lot near Tuolumne was the first road that crosses the PCT since Kennedy Meadows (over 200 miles ago) and it was strange to see so many cars and tourists. A small area with a couple picnic tables was taken over by PCT hikers so we dropped the bag there and went straight to the little store to order a burger and soda. Did a small resupply from the limited selection and left quickly, my competitive side was acting up with 20+ hikers sitting at the tables.

Left with Bagels and didn’t make it very far before we had to stop for a swim in the river, since the day was hot and I had skipped swimming this morning. After we dried off and hiked on, the trail crossed hot, exposed granite faces and it was nice to have my wet hair and clothes to cool me down.

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Lots of tourists and other hikers on trail but after we passed Tuolumne falls they dropped off completely. The falls were incredible and I sat to watch the rushing water for half an hour before starting the climb up and out of the valley. I can’t believe how good I’m feeling physically this year, no aches or injuries to speak of, and the uphills feel ten times easier than they used to.

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Downhill to more meadows that while pretty, had nothing on Lyell from this morning. Mosquitos were coming out strong so pushed past the open meadow and made camp with Bagels at a small stream, and PC and Pants showed up as we were eating. Had a bandana bath in the cold water, double ramen for dinner and into my tent pretty early.

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Day 69: Small stream (954.4) to Smedberg Lake (968.5)

June 17 // 14.1 miles // Benson pass.

Woke early to a frosty tent and water bottles. Snuck out of camp early while the guys were sleeping to do a couple early morning miles, there was no one else on trail before sunrise and I was enjoying the peace and quiet. The morning was chilly and when the wind picked up I had to break out the fleece and gloves.

There was a river crossing that came to the knees and the bottom of a four mile downhill and it was a shock to wade through the icy water, my feet were numb for the next ten minutes. A steep uphill that felt almost vertical but knocked it out pretty quickly in the cold weather, I have a bad habit of climbing up hills only on the balls of my feet without planting the heels, which everyone says not to do, but I’ve never noticed any ill effects other than slightly tighter calves.

I’d been really excited to spend the majority of the day at Miller lake, my favourite swim spot from last year since the water was warm and it had a small beach. Unfortunately this year the winds were so cold I couldn’t imagine swimming. Arrived at the lake at nine, and decided to wait out the morning and see if it warmed up while everyone else caught up. Made coffee and hot oatmeal and put on all my layers. By eleven, most of our group had arrived but the weather hadn’t changed much and although it probably wasn’t the best decision, stripped down anyways and got into the lake.

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The water was much warmer than the frosty air and I stayed in far too long, almost fifteen minutes. Getting out was miserable, the wind cut through everything and was icy on wet skin. I think some inner part had gotten cold to the point that nothing I did was going to warm me up. My hands weren’t working how they were supposed to and putting on dry clothes took me far too long. I ended up getting my quilt out to lay out in the sun to sleep under. Could not stop shivering (possibly hypothermic? Definitely not smart.) and ended up with two quilts on in full sunlight for about an hour before I felt normal again.

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Napped a little bit after I was warm enough to stop the shivering and woke up to our entire group having a “beach day” wrapped in layers and quilts. Poor showing this year, Miller lake.

 worst beach day ever

worst beach day ever

We still had a pass to get over, so rolled out around three to get to camp before dark. The trail was flat and down from Miller lake for a few miles before climbing steeply up towards Benson pass. The weather was still chilly and made for nice hiking with the sun out.

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Followed a winding river for much of the way and made it to the top in good time despite large rocky steps. No snow at all except the final few steps to the top of the pass. The siblings were there and had made snow cones with what little there was, flavoured with cherry-flavoured mio. Stopped for a quick snack and then headed down the other side of the pass.

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Jamming hard with music this afternoon and felt really good all the way to our campsite alongside the beautiful but horribly named Smedberg lake. Mosquitos were out so tent went up and we had a quick dinner around the fire, it’s a rare time when our entire ten-person group is present but thankfully there was more than enough room for everyone’s tents. PC and Bagels brought out their fishing poles and caught a few trout in the lake.

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Day 70: Smedberg Lake (968.5) to Creek Campsite (990.0)

June 18 // 21.5 miles // Seavey Pass.

Woke to everything covered in frost. Slow to get up, lazed around in camp having a long breakfast and waiting for my tent and quilt to dry off.

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Started off with a climb up the rock face from Smedberg, everything was wet with snowmelt and I slipped a couple times, I hardly ever fall on trail but I had two good wipeouts within an hour of starting today. Thankfully no damage except for a muddy ass and scraped hand.

A few creek crossings that have been deeper and stronger than most so far, took it slow and crossed without issue.

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Vertical zigzag day, huge elevation gain and loss today. Dropped steeply down to a creek that made my knees ache and then right back up Seavey Pass which was my least favourite last year due to steep climb and so much snow that was impossible to navigate. Had a much better time today, still steep but I had lots of energy and the snow had easy to follow foot prints. Near the top there was a small lake that was still as glass so I obviously had to stop for swim. Water was pretty warm and I stayed in a while, great to cool off after the hot climb up.

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Summitted the pass no problem and found Eli, Honeybee and Bagels having lunch a little ways down. I’m back on the goat cheese game, A+ with blueberry bagels.

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Second steep descent down the pass that led to a quick easy jaunt through the flat bottomed valley and then another climb going right back up. One of the steepest uphills we’ve faced, but thankfully it was quite short and knocked it out without having to stop for many breaks. The trail almost looked like a garden path today, there were so many flowers and the trail itself was cobbled into steps of flat stones. Beautiful area.

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Back down again. There was a large creek at the bottom that went mid thigh and then (shocker) another climb up 1400 ft. I was getting a little tired but took it slow and listened to tunes and made it to the top slow and steady. Our planned campsite at Wilma lake was all downhill and I was anxious to set up camp and be done for the day. On the way down the mosquitos started to pick up and at the lake they were nearly unbearable. Bagels was there swatting miserably at a cloud formed around him and informed me there was No Way We Are Stopping Here. Everyone else had apparently come to the same conclusion so we pushed on and tried to ignore the bugs. A little bit hangry and annoyed when my plan for the day isn’t stuck to, but on the other hand I wasn’t feeling too bad and the day was still early, so in retrospect I’m happy to have done a couple extra miles.

Caught up with the crew three miles further at a small site next to a creek. Unfortunately the mosquitos were still terrible so put the tent up in a hurry and ate dinner as quickly as possible sitting in the smoke of the campfire to prevent bugs. Not a social night, everyone retreated back to tents as soon as food was done to avoid the swarm.

 Macaroni AND mosquito avoidance game strong

Macaroni AND mosquito avoidance game strong

Day 71: Creek Campsite (990.0) to Kennedy Canyon Creek (1005.9)

June 19 // 15.9 miles

Up around 7 and hoping that mosquitos had dispersed, they always seem to ease up in the morning. They weren’t so bad when I first got up but once they figured out I was outside the safety of my tent netting, it was swarm city again.

 headnets are gear MVP

headnets are gear MVP

Followed Falls creek through Jack Main canyon for a few miles, the trail was flooded and muddy the whole way and of course, the mosquitos were ever present. Saw a large buck walking down trail towards me, he didn’t seem to want to move off trail so I went around him.

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Slipped and slid my way through the mud puddle that was the trail today and finally made it to Dorothy Lake. Scuzi from South Africa, who we hiked around in the desert, was there having a snack break. The mosquitos weren’t bad for the first time all morning so went for a swim, the water was quite cold and I didn’t stay in long, but it was refreshing nonetheless.

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Went over Dorothy Lake pass which isn’t really a pass, just a quick slight uphill. Beautiful rocky scenery, and many small lakes, I had to fight the urge to go for a second swim. There was still some snow to navigate around and I lost the trail for a bit. Some of my favourite terrain and I’m not looking forward to leaving the Sierras, it’s gone by so quickly.

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Met the crew at mile 1000 having lunch. I’ve now hiked almost 3000 miles total on this trail between this year and last, still haven’t actually walked across a state border.

 Eli, Calves, PC, Bagels and Honeybee.

Eli, Calves, PC, Bagels and Honeybee.

My resupply of bagels w/ goat cheese was a good call this section, it’s kept much better than the cream cheese did. Also ate two entire bags of sour patch kids to satisfy the sugar craving and now my tongue is completely raw. Feeling really good after lunch and cruising hard on the downhill. Less water on this side of the pass so the trail was finally dry, minus a couple minor creek crossings.

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Our plan was to get most of the Sonora pass climb out of the way tonight but sat down to make dinner early at Kennedy Canyon Creek at a very nice tentsite and that was game over for me after debating furiously whether or not to hike on. I get intense indecision between my competitive and lazy sides and probably waste way too much time weighing pros and cons instead of committing to hiking or just enjoying the break. Stayed w/ Calves, Bagels, PC and Scuzi while the rest (Honeybee, Eli, Pants, the siblings and DS) pushed on, we’ll all meet at Kennedy Meadows North tomorrow and end the Sierra section.

 

Day 72: Kennedy Canyon Creek (1005.9) to Sonora Pass (1016.9)

June 20 // 11 miles // Sonora Pass

Slept like shit last night, woke up almost every hour and had a tough time falling back asleep.

Woken up at 5:30 by the others to get an early start towards Sonora pass, which made me regret my decision to camp early last night, evening miles are so much easier than morning miles. After waking up I’m usually stiff and slow moving the first hour.

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It was still very cold before sunrise so skipped breakfast and I didn’t bother changing out of my base layer, but still was the last one out of camp. Hit the uphill to Sonora right away and it was surprising how quickly the weather warmed once the first bit of sun came over the mountains. Changed back to my normal hiking gear and started the long gradual switchbacks up the pass. They were still partly snow covered and the icy, early-morning hardness made it slippery and slow going. It fortunately wasn’t too steep and made it to the top for a great view back to the Sierra range we just came from. I’m feeling sad to leave it behind but Northern California is a beautiful section in its own way as well.

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Sonora is unlike any of the other high passes in that there are no trees at all, it’s mostly just bare black rock that looks like something from another planet. Ridge walked up and down with a couple more long snow crossings, and an epic panorama view of the rocky landscape ahead. 

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Caught up with Calves, PC and Bagels at the top and hiked down together. The descent wasn’t nearly as sketchy as last years disaster but there was still quite a bit of snow and I opted to ignore the sketchy switchbacks covered in icy mud and just went down a steep snow chute with only a little bit of postholing. All four of us chose different routes down and got separated, I had no idea if the others were ahead or behind.

Ran the last little bit down to the highway and met Bagels at the road where we, along with two other hikers, caught an easy hitch from three older men heading to their 50th college reunion.

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The driver took the winding road down at an uncomfortable speed for having four hikers+packs plus three passengers jammed seatbelt-less in the tiny sedan. The smell of the brakes mixed with hiker-sweat and my head being squished at an angle against the window made for a long ride. They finally dropped us at Kennedy Meadows North (no relation to the KM at the start of the Sierra) and we found Honeybee and Eli on the deck finishing up breakfast. Ordered our own as soon as possible and I inhaled it, still hadn’t eaten anything that day and I was feeling slightly nauseous from hunger. The waitress could’ve served the worst food ever and I still would’ve loved it, but thankfully my pancakes were delicious.

Kennedy Meadows North is fantastic, it’s a western pack-trip ranch nestled among the pines at the bottom of a mountain, with a creek running through it, tons of corrals and quaint wooden buildings. There were horses and pack mules and dogs everywhere you turned. Everyone walking around looked like they came straight from a rodeo, with cowboy hats and plaid shirts and even spurs on their boots. Love it. Showered and did laundry and finally!! got to get rid of our bear canisters, my pack looks so small without it.

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Most of our crew was leaving to hike a few miles out but I really, really wanted to stay and enjoy the ranch, so split a bunk room with Bagels, Scuzi and another hiker called Circus Act and committed to staying the night as long as we got out early in the morning. Made a trip to the little bar that was actually called a Saloon by the locals without a single bit of irony. The bartender offered to drive us back to the trail at 8 the next morning for five bucks a head so that settled my anxiety over trying to hitch first thing in the morning. Went back to the restaurant for an amazing spaghetti dinner with Bagels, Scuzi and Circus Act. Really fun night, good conversation with the group and downed a couple bottles of wine between the four of us. Out like a light, hopefully back to trail early tomorrow, I’m coming back here for a proper vacation sometime.

 

Day 73: Sonora Pass (1016.9) to Campsite (1041.4)

June 21 // 24.5 miles

Woke up freezing cold from some seriously over-zealous air conditioning in the bunkroom, a little hungover, but well rested from being in a bed.

Packed up, downed two litres of water and some Advil for the hangover and into the restaurant at 6:30 for breakfast. I was tempted to stay another day, I’d rather split our intended double zero in Tahoe and spend an extra day here, it’s been one of our best stops so far. One of the dogs was extra cuddly while we were leaving, which seemed like a sign to stay, but Bagels was intent on leaving so reluctantly went to catch our ride back to trail.

Uphill straight away and my hangover was completely gone within an hour, hiking is a cure-all.

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Going through new terrain, everything feels very open with large irregularly-shaped rock formations. On the downhill there was snow and mud obscuring most of the trail and I spent more time route finding than actual walking. A couple glissades down snowy slopes saved time, but I lost a water bottle which means I’m down to one-litre capacity, shouldn’t be an issue since there’s still so much water. Passed the first group of south-bound hikers,”flip floppers”, that started the trail early, skipped the snowy Sierras to Oregon and are now walking South through this section.

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Stopped with lunch with Bagels by a small creek, gatorade and cream cheese wraps and then more uphill. I had one of the zoned out days where I’ll suddenly snap out of a daydream and be miles ahead of where I thought. I was moving pretty slowly and even though my GPS app told me the ground was relatively flat, it all felt uphill.

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Didn’t see anyone all afternoon and made a pretty early camp with Bagels in the trees next to a small spring and lake which meant the mosquitos have returned, so we got our tents up in a hurry and ate dinner inside the mesh protection. Half the group is ahead, half is behind, but we should all be arriving in Tahoe around the same time.

Day 74: Campsite (1041.4) to Mosquito Hell (1066.7)

June 22 // 25.3 miles

Woke up super late at 7:30 and everyone that we passed yesterday was walking by while we packed up. Darn. Mosquitos were out early this morning so we got moving quickly and climbed the long uphill to the saddle above Noble Lake, great views in either direction of the pass.

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The downhill was a mixture of snow and mud and quickly lost the trail- just went straight down which took me through a swamp and soaked my shoes (hello darkness my old friend) but I managed to find the trail much further down.

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The trail went back uphill through super nifty volcanic rock formations, not many trees except for some wizened old pines that and the views were just ridgeline after ridgeline. I forgot how much I like NorCal, it doesn’t have the raw beauty and adventure of the Sierras but it’s nice in its own way, lots of old forests and wildflowers and I’m happy to be back.

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Near Highway 4, there were a couple cryptic signs alluding to trail magic ahead. Slightly confused but I was hopeful that maybe there would be food, especially after passing one that asked “IS HIKER HUNGER REAL?” and the next which said “LET’S FIND OUT”.

Figured it might be a very mean practical joke after passing this:

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but at the highway crossing there was a large van parked in front of a clearing set up with tables covered in food and a couple grills. A dozen or so hikers were sitting around in collapsible chairs eating and talking. This was trail magic on crack. We’re talking, burgers, pizza, salad, devilled eggs, brownies, fruit, chips and like eight kinds of drinks. These people set up for days at a time to cook breakfast/lunch/dinner for hikers coming through, and didn’t accept any donations. They’ve been doing it multiple years. According to the guy cooking, Alan, “It’s like we’re throwing a party every day and not sure who’s going to show up”.

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Stayed over two hours to eat and chat which was detrimental to our plan to do 28 miles today. We found out from the guy cooking burgers that our friends had been here the night before. (“You mean the young boy scout and dirty Harry Potter?”) Bagels and I finally pulled away as more hikers were rolling in and went back uphill with full stomachs. This time last year I got off trail at Highway 4 to go into town with Jade and Q when my knee was particularly troublesome, so the next forty-ish miles to Echo Lake are new trail for me.

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The trail wound through meadowy terrain and more of the unusual rock formations sticking straight out of the mountainside. It was a long climb but I felt good and energized after all the food at the highway and we saw no one except for a few day hikers coming the opposite direction. Weather is still hot and sunny, I’m burning my face again but what else is new.

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No crazy elevation here like the Sierra passes but constant small up and downs that seems to be just as exhausting. Didn’t really stop at all after lunch just powered on through since there are still a lot of miles to go before Tahoe and we plan to get there tomorrow afternoon. Eli, Honeybee, PC and Calves are pushing hard to get to the post office before it closes tomorrow, so for now it’s just pretty much Bagels and I, with the rest of the group half a day behind.

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The wildflowers were absolutely out of control today, I took over a hundred pictures of all the different kinds. The majority are bright yellow, the light purple smell the nicest, the white and blues attract the most bees.

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Stopped for dinner a few miles before camp to try and avoid the evening mosquito swarm. We’re dry camping tonight which is not ideal but there’s hardly any campsites in this stretch and anything close to water magnifies the intensity of the mosquitos ten times over. Had a boring no-cook dinner of cream cheese wraps, but I stole a couple spoonfuls of mountain house chili from Bagels, which greatly improved the meal.

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After dinner, we hit the trail again to knock out a few more miles to camp. The mosquitos came out like I’ve never seen them before and they were aggressive, usually my legs are safe due to being constantly in motion but not today, had to put away my poles so hands were available for slapping.

The trail went uphill but I was still running anyways, couldn’t escape the bugs and there was a lot of swearing on my part in between the weird slap dance running. Dropped a pole while hitting my arm and in the second it took me to pick it up the bugs were all over me, face, legs and all.

I found Bagels at the first space big enough for two tents and set up as fast as I could before getting inside and starting the task of killing all the mosquitos that had managed to slip inside with me. They’re swarming like crazy outside even though the sun has pretty much set, there’s at least forty perched on the mesh of my tent door and I can see a literal black cloud over Bagels’ tent. Gross.

Low on water since I only have a one litre capacity (stupid, gotta buy another bottle in town) so this is definitely not going to be my best night.

We were undecided about pushing all the way to Tahoe tomorrow since the weekend lodging rates are sky high, but I think the mosquitos sealed the deal, I want to be in a room with walls and no bugs. Other than the last hour, a really great day.

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Day 75: Mosquito Hell (1066.7) to Showers Lake (1081.8)

June 23 // 15.1 miles

Wow what a day. There’s a running joke on the PCT that NorCal is a hiker graveyard, it’s common to start feeling the mental drain after working your ass off to get through the Sierras, arriving at the much less scenic section through Northern California and realizing after almost three months you’re still less than halfway and haven’t yet crossed a state line. Quitting is on many minds. Today and yesterday have completely contradicted that, can’t believe I skipped these miles last year to spend time in Tahoe.

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Woke up around 7, there were still a couple ambitious mosquitos hanging on my tent netting but nothing compared to last night. Packed up and left camp just after Bagels, finished the uphill climb we started last night. The mountain we were climbing around was aptly named the nipple, it looked just like an enormous boob with a well placed boulder at the top.

Slight drop down to a dirt road, a couple dayhikers with a beautiful pit bull asked about our trip and gave us some cheese sticks. Saw no other PCT hikers all morning but there were tons of locals out for a weekend hike. I’m jealous of anyone that has this place in their backyard.

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Back uphill and the views were great, passed high above a few deep blue lakes and I could see tiny people way down on the shores fishing. Trail went through open meadow almost all morning and the wildflowers were out of control, everything smelled sweet and the colour variation was intense after the black/white/blue palette of the Sierra. Probably took fifty pictures of different flowers this morning.

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Stopped at a creek for a quick breakfast of protein cookie and crystal light and tackled the next uphill. The flowers were out in full force and so were the dayhikers, we passed by families and trail runners and groups of kids out on fishing trips. Almost everyone stopped to say hi and ask about the hike, people are so friendly here. We were getting close to the Carson Pass info station/trailhead right on the highway which explains the crowds.

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Got down to the info Center on the highway and the forest service rangers greeted us by asking if we preferred Coke or Mountain Dew. Cold soda on trail is a top craving, even though I hardly ever drink it at home. Not only did we get drinks, but also a plate of veggies and brownies and bananas. Second day of trail magic in a row! For all of their beauty, the Sierra section is so remote and wild that you forget trail magic exists after the desert and it’s been a pleasant surprise remembering how generous complete strangers can be.

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Sat around eating and chatting with the rangers and watching the busy parking lot full of hikers and bikers come and go. A few new hikers caught up to us and we all sat around in front of the station for way too long, but it was worth it-an older couple driving through brought us a bag full of yogurt and homemade cookies. I’d been worried about my food rationing as usual, but with the trail magic today and yesterday I actually have a surplus of meals for once. Raven caught up to us after catching a hitch up trail and the three of us finally pulled away from the food and continued on.

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Trail dropped down to a meadowy valley, many more dayhikers but for the most part I was alone and cruising hard to a lake five miles from the highway that I really wanted to swim at. The original plan had been to push to Echo Lake trailhead today and hitch into Tahoe but we heard from Eli and Honeybee that there are a ton of events on in town and hotels were fully booked or ridiculously expensive. The hostel was also full, so Bagels and I decided to alter our plan to stay on trail another night and head into town first thing in the morning. Fine by me, since that meant more time to spend at the lake.

I made it there in just over an hour and a half, after one very short but steep climb. Felt great this afternoon but temperatures are hotter than they’ve been in weeks and I was soaked in sweat. Stopped at Showers Lake and immediately jumped in. The water was cold underneath but warm on top and I stayed in for a long time after the hot afternoon hiking. Found a nice flat rock to dry off on while waiting for Bagels and Raven.

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There are lots of people here swimming and camping and I got to talking with a hiker from Sacramento named Brian who’s finishing up part of the Tahoe Rim Trail. His car was parked at the trailhead and he offered to drive us into town tomorrow morning from Echo Lake. He wouldn’t be getting back to the trailhead until 9:30am which gives us lots of time to cover the eight miles left, so managed to convince Bagels to just camp at the lake and spend the afternoon lounging around. Raven pushed on as did almost every other hiker that caught up to us but their loss-Showers lake is gorgeous, the water is warm and there are hardly any mosquitos. Set up the tent under some pines and then there was nothing to do except be lazy and enjoy the day. Swam across the lake and back, kind of sad how much arm strength I’ve lost since April.

Getting to swim and suntan and read by the lake without the pressure to do more miles made it feel like I was on a car camping trip at home. The competitive hiking side of me needs to chill out more so I can enjoy days like this.

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Mac and cheese for dinner, plus the Mountain House apple crisp I treated myself to from Kennedy Meadows North. Bagels slept through the afternoon and early evening and I entertained myself by walking around the lake and finally getting around to reading the book I’d downloaded to my phone way back in Bishop. Lots of smoky haze from various fires and although we have a bit of lakeshore to ourself, a group of women on a weekend trip wandered over to ask about the PCT and look at what gear I carry in my pack. They also offered food (people why you all so nice) but I have more than enough to get to town tomorrow. 

As the sun started setting, the mosquitos came out in huge dark clouds high above the tents, so many that it sounded like a drone was flying around overhead. Oddly enough they hardly bugged us (ha) at all. Into bed by eight, to get to the trailhead tomorrow on time to catch our ride we’ll need to be hiking by 6:30 latest.

Conversations are easily carrying from around the lake but they’re all indistinct and soothing except for one old man across the water who keeps sporadically exclaiming “got the tunes for every occasion” at top volume even though I hear no tunes. Between the flowers, trail magic and chill afternoon, this has been one of my best days for sure. This is my best summer for sure. Tahoe tomorrow for a nero and zero.

Day 76: Showers Lake (1081.8) to Echo Lake Trailhead (1092.0)

June 24 // 10 miles

Quick morning of hiking into Tahoe. Woke just before my 5:30 alarm, got packed up and hit the trail by 6 with Bagels so we could meet our ride on time. The mornings are getting much warmer, makes it easy to get going before sunrise.

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Started with a few miles of uphill through the woods, caught bright blue flashes of Lake Tahoe way in the distance through the trees. The downhill afterwards was very steep with lots of large loose rock but we had lots of time to spare and I took it slowly.

Made it to the trailhead around 9, two other hikers, Mermaid and Spiceman, were already there. Brian, our ride, arrived on time from his own hike and we moved all the booster seats and kids toys to the bed of the truck and hopped in for the ride to town.

Got dropped at the first breakfast place we passed, and ordered a ridiculous amount of food since none of us had eaten breakfast. We destroyed everything the waitress brought us and I easily could’ve eaten more.

Took the local bus to the touristy side of Tahoe to meet the rest of our group who got in yesterday, it’s very busy and a little overwhelming. Spent the afternoon seeing a movie and wandering through the streets wasting time until we could check into our Airbnb. The plus side of hiking with our large group of ten is that in town it’s cheap to split nice places and we’re in a large ski chalet big enough to sleep everyone on beds or sofas for way cheaper than any hotel.  Calves just made a dinner of communal enchiladas, I’m crashing hard and in a slight food coma. Feeling the double zero.

Days 77 & 78: Double Zero in Tahoe

Mexican food with 32oz margaritas! Sushi and local breweries! Casinos! Electric scooters you just rent right off the street that go way too fast for safety! 

Despite all the excitement above, I actually spent our double zero mostly at the ski chalet, it easily sleeps ten and I spent a good chunk of time napping on my sofa despite easily sleeping twelve hours every night. Town inspires an astounding laziness in hikers that you don’t normally see. People that regularly knock out 30+ mile days will hitchhike or Uber through town rather than do a half-mile walk. An entire season of Mr. Robot will be watched in a day because no one gets up to turn off Netflix auto-play.

Very nice break after the last section and our three chefs alternated making family style meals for the group. I’m rested and ready to get back to trail, I think this will be the last of our multiple zeros until Ashland.

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Bishop to Mammoth

Day 55: Onion Valley Trailhead to Woods Creek Bridge (799.8)

June 3 // 18ish miles // Kearsarge pass & Glen pass

Woke up feeling fine, not sure what that was last night with the altitude dizziness but I did not like it. Slept very heavily for almost eleven hours without waking once. It was probably the warmest night so far, I had no issue getting out of my quilt in the morning. Had a quick protein cookie for breakfast and then set off at the back of the pack to tackle Kearsarge pass.

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The combo of new socks and new shoes was an absolute dream. Took the switchbacks slow and steady and didn’t push, felt really good going up. Passing Bullfrog lakes, I ran into Smokebeard who I hiked with at the beginning of last year. It’s the first familiar face I’ve seen on trail and we had a great time catching up, although I think he was on a mission to get to town so said goodbyes and finished the pass in a great mood.

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The top of Glen pass was only two miles after the Kearsarge trail intersected back to the PCT, and a fairly steep uphill climb. There was a good amount of snow near the top, and the final few switchbacks were extremely tiring but felt really good after the rest in town and got to the top faster than I normally would for uphill hiking.

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Had lunch on top of the pass with Eli, Honeybee and Bagels, I packed out avocado and a bottle of mayo to add to my tuna and cheese wraps. This is one of our longer resupplies and my bag is heavy with the extra food, but even so I made an effort to pack out relatively healthier foods vs relying solely on ramen and dehydrated potatoes. My pack is brutally heavy but it’s so worth it at meal time. Suck it ultralight masochists, you may be faster but I’m eating avocado. The north side of the pass was still completely snow covered and it was slow going down. There was some postholing but not nearly as bad as on Forester since there was still a very solid base of snowpack. Navigated back to the trail with wet shoes and started the descent to gorgeous Rae Lakes.

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 Bagels found a full suit at a thrift store in Bishop and hiked today in it. Unfortunately we saw no one else to appreciate it.

Bagels found a full suit at a thrift store in Bishop and hiked today in it. Unfortunately we saw no one else to appreciate it.

There was still ice on the first lake but the bottom two were mostly open so went for a swim. The cold water knocked the wind out of me, but still jumped in a second time. Bagels and PC both brought fishing rods for this section and they caught and fried up a few lake trout, which would take the bait on almost every single cast. Spent a good chunk of the afternoon lounging in the sun and enjoying the scenery.

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Got going after a lazy two hours and had a couple very icy river crossings straight away. Even with the wet feet I had a great afternoon, the downhill was easy and the sun was reflecting off lake after lake after lake. This could be the most beautiful place in the world, it is definitely my favourite place in the world.

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Passed a ranger station overlooking a particularly beautiful lake (how do I get that job?) and finished the day off with another cold river crossing. Socks and shoes are constantly wet through this section but it’s really not so bad once you’re through the first icy blast of the day. After the feet are wet it’s almost enjoyable to “refresh” the feeling.

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Camped at the large site with the group right before a suspension bridge that crosses Woods creek. Dinner with a campfire using the bear canisters as chairs...they’re a real hassle to pack and unlock when it’s time to eat, but they definitely add a social element to group camping, it’s natural habit to set them up in a circle around the fire pit, even if there’s no fire. Cowboy camping tonight since there aren’t any bugs. Really great day, I absolutely love it here. John Muir trail in 2019 is a real possibility, it essentially shares the PCT for most of the Sierra section so you get one of the best parts of trail without having to “quit life” for an entire half year, though this feels like the farthest possible thing from quitting life. 

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Day 56: Woods Creek Bridge (799.8) to Kings River (811.3)

June 4 // 11.5 miles // Pinchot pass.

Woke up around 6:30 to the sound of everyone else packing up, (is there anything more depressing than the sound of the air being let out of inflatable sleeping pads?) and made a half assed attempt to get up, but rather typically fell back asleep. whoops.

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Dragged my butt out of camp after 8. A benefit to cowboy camping is how much faster I can pack up and hit the trail in the morning, if my tent is up I move like a slug. Crossed Woods bridge which is held up by suspension cables and has a rather ominous sign saying “one person only on bridge at a time”. It swayed like crazy and I put my phone away after trying to take a few pictures of the river below and instead held on to the side cables with both hands.

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Hit mile 800 and went vertical right out of the gate.  A big elevation spike today, 3600+ feet up Pinchot pass. Felt tired after only a mile, the steps were large and required a lot of leg effort.

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Had a creek crossing early on so there was no point trying to dry out my shoes last night around the fire. Followed a rushing turquoise river and crossed the tributaries of snowmelt flowing down to it over and over, made absolutely no effort to keep my feet dry this morning after they soaked through. Really great views of the valley after the trail went above 11000ft.

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Got a second wind after a couple hours of uphill, was still moving slower than usual but stopped feeling like there were lead weights hanging off my legs. Towards the last mile and a half came the snow and my late start meant the sun had made the entire trail very prone to postholing (when your foot punches through the top layer of snow and sinks to the knee or deeper). The last push to the top of the pass seemed to take forever, all in all it took me almost five hours to go seven miles. Yikes.

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The reward for the brutal morning was the view from the north face of the pass...incredible panorama of the surrounding peaks, I ate my lunch slowly to enjoy the scenery and definitely burnt the heck out of my face...altitude+snow reflection means my desert tan isn’t nearly enough to prevent further burning. Going to look like a leather handbag by the time I’m thirty.

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Had a short glissade down the north snow face which caused more ass chafing, I can’t hold my shorts tight enough to prevent them riding up and should probably just be wearing pants.

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After I got below snow level the trail was easy to follow and I had a much easier afternoon. Lake Marjorie was unfortunately still mostly frozen over so that’ll put a dent in my attempt to swim every day in the Sierras. Had two relatively large crossings of creeks that flow down to the Kings River, but otherwise the trail was easy and curved down through pine forest.

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Reached the notorious crossing of the Kings River and was happy to see the group setting up camp in the trees just ahead of it. Last year we had to hike two miles upstream to find a safe place to cross the strong current and high water. Fortunately the water level looked slightly lower this spring and so hopefully it won’t be too challenging tomorrow morning.

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Laid out wet shoes and socks to try and dry in the setting sun and set up camp. Still no mosquitos (hallelujah) so cowboy camping again, and made mac and cheese for dinner, one of the most satisfying trail meals. Early to bed right after dinner, I’m exhausted. Did less than twelve miles today but they were tough and it feels a bit like I’ve been hit by a truck.

Day 57: Kings River Site (811.3) to Palisade Creek Site (824.7)

June 5 // 13.4 miles // Mather pass

Surprising no one, I slept in after a heavy, heavy sleep. Honeybee and Eli were up and out of camp before I was awake but Pants, Calves and Bagels were still sleeping like snoring angels and I enjoyed an unrushed breakfast with hot coffee instead of the usual cookie on-the-go with an instant cold brew. The morning was still cold but warmer than what we’ve had lately.

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When everyone was awake and packed up, we went to scan the river for a safe place to cross. Bagels forded the first fork and then slipped over backwards on a submerged rock. Thankfully no damage, just a lost iPhone, but it gave everyone a good scare.

Even though the water was lower than last year, the current still looked strong and we ended up hiking about a mile upstream to find a shallower place to get across. Tried a few places before finally finding a decent spot where the water only came up to mid thigh and was slower moving. It was incredibly cold and it felt like my feet were on fire after I climbed out on the opposite bank. The international girls (Mango from Australia, First Row and Spice from Germany) caught up to us and we all got across safely.

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Rejoined the PCT and almost immediately hit the snow fields leading up to Mather pass. The trail was impossible to follow under all the snow and everyone split up. I just made my way in the general direction of the pass with no effort to try and find the actual trail. Lots of ski-walking through slushy snow which alternated with crossing large exposed chunks of smooth granite . 

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For the most part the snow was still quite hard but on the flat fields leading up to the climb I was postholing almost every step and it was slow going. Followed a set of footprints kicked into the snow straight up the wall of Mather pass and ignored the half exposed switchbacks completely. It was tiring but saved about half a mile and the footprints were solid enough that I never felt unsafe despite the steep snow face. After that there was a rock scramble to get back to the trail, the top is so steep it was almost snow free for the last quarter mile. Moved slow but felt great and had a good hiker high near the top.

 Finishing Mather Pass. The dude ahead had packed out kid sized snowshoes which was brilliant, he flew across the snow.

Finishing Mather Pass. The dude ahead had packed out kid sized snowshoes which was brilliant, he flew across the snow.

Finished the pass easily on the energy burst and waited at the top. I could see Calves and Bagels wandering around the snowy valley far below looping way off trail but they eventually found their way up the pass while I finished lunch. There were two French guys at the top with me that had climbed many of the surrounding mountains and knew them all by name. I have a hard enough time getting over passes, can’t imagine what a challenge it must be to summit the sharp, snowy peaks. At the same time, I can definitely see the appeal.

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Waited for Calves and Bagels to finish the climb and then we started down together. The top of the pass was posthole city despite the steep grade, and we alternated between rock scrambles and digging our legs out after sinking to the waist. I had a better time of it then the guys, I seemed to be slightly lighter than the snow’s breaking point and was able to walk without sinking for most of the way down. They didn’t have as much luck.

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Hit the trail below the snow line and followed it down, the snowmelt made everything wet and slippery and as always, socks were soaked through. It was hard to stay on track since there wasn’t really a dirt path, just rock markers along the granite, there was a lot of route finding going on instead of easy hiking. 

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Stopped at Palisade Lakes with Bagels and Calves and went for a “swim” if you can call it that-more of just a quick dunk, the water was icy cold.

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Laid out on some rock nearby to warm up and dry off in the sun, woke up after dozing off to a brazen marmot less than two feet from my head. We noticed another one circling the packs (marmots have been known to chew through tents and hip belt pockets to get to snacks) so that was the end of break.

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Split from Bagels and Calves after our rest and followed along the river until the trail opened up into a beautiful view of the valley and forest below, one of my favourite spots so an optimal time for a snack break. 

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Then came the steep descent down a rock staircase, some 50+ switchbacks that are put together from stone slabs. Beautiful piece of trail maintenance and the afternoon was sunny and warm, one of my best days yet.

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Due to snowmelt, there was so much water covering much the trail that it was essentially just a stream itself, so my socks stayed wet. When I hit the tree line there were a couple more creek crossings. My feet look like prunes. 

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 Water trail

Water trail

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The first bit of the woods was unfortunately burnt out with lots of downed trees, but after a little while we were back in a deciduous forest, it’s been a while since I’ve seen anything but pines.

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Got to our planned campsite in a small clearing, Eli and Honeybee already had a fire going. There were a few ominous clouds behind the mountain so we set up our tents as a precaution, but nothing came of it. Had a dinner of rehydrated stuffing which was surprisingly delicious. I’m a little short on snacks this section so no customary after-dinner Snickers bar, I’ll be rationing until our next resupply at Vermilion Valley Resort.

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Day 58: Palisade Creek Site (824.7) to Campsite that isn’t even really a campsite but it’s the only spot not covered in snow (841.4)

June 6 // 16.7 miles // Muir pass.

Out of camp around 8 this morning and because there was a decent stretch of trail that was snow free and not too steeply downhill, crushed the first five miles of the day easily, mostly following the Kings river. The ten-mile uphill to Muir pass started off very gradual and I felt really good and moved fast. Leapfrogged a couple times with Calves and Bagels on short breaks but other than them I saw no one all morning. Beautiful terrain, but I feel like that’s pointless to even point out anymore, since this entire 300 mile section is the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been.

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Starting to pass some southbound John Muir Trail hikers, but they’re not out in the same numbers as they were last year, it’s still quite early in the season. Stopped to chat with a group about the conditions on Muir Pass, they advised that I probably would want to tackle it tomorrow since there was so much snow and it was past noon. (Ideally you hit passes first thing in the morning before the sun has a chance to soften the snow, but we never really follow that rule and just hit them as they come. Last year there was just so much snowpack everywhere that there was no postholing, you just cruised right over it.) I thanked the hikers for their advice while secretly thinking they didn’t know what they were talking about. Turns it they did.

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Hit the first of the snow fields about three miles out from the top of the pass and it really wasn’t that bad going up. There was enough snow that it was hard packed and the footsteps from previous hikers were easy to follow with no postholing. Kind of tricky to keep track of the path so just climbed upwards, navigating around a few half frozen lakes and exposed rock patches.

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Bagels and Calves caught up while I was having a late lunch near Helen lake and we continued on together. 

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The last mile up was surprisingly brutal, the terrain was steep and 100% covered in snow. Following the kicked-in footsteps was like climbing a snow stairmaster and felt like it went on forever, but finally, Muir hut came into view and I dragged myself to the top. On the north side of the pass, more snowfields stretched as far as I could see.

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Spent some time hanging around inside the stone shelter, it was only 3pm and we had just under six miles to go to our planned campsite, all downhill. We were feeling pretty confident and laughing about the JMTers that were giving us a hard time about going up so late. (The hubris!)

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But then. Then came the postholing. Every single step for miles down the north face was a struggle as we sunk through the soft snow up to the thigh, sometimes even deeper. I figured that we’d maybe have to deal with it for like half an hour until the grade got steeper, but the postholing just never stopped. We started off laughing about it, but after it took us an hour to go about half a mile I started getting really frustrated. The worst was when I’d take a step, inevitably sink down to the waist and then be unable to pull my foot back out due to the shape of the hole I’d created since the snow was strong enough to hold its shape. I’d have to chip away around the trapped ankle with my trekking pole, ignoring the stinging cold of the snow against bare arms and legs, until I could pull my foot free, only to do it again the next step.

To their credit, Calves and Bagels were having an even rougher time then I was, but both managed to stay cheerful and crack jokes the entire time, even though I’m sure they were just as miserable as me. If I’d been alone I can guarantee I’d have been crying with frustration but we turned it into a very slow-going adventure.

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We tried climbing up much higher than the main path, since it seemed that the flatter the ground, the higher the chance of a posthole. Paralleled along the trail on the steep exposed rock faces rising up on the right, which helped slightly, but made for sketchier postholes when we did hit snow since we weren’t following any previous footprints and it wasn’t as hard packed.

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Checking the mileage was discouraging, by 5pm, two hours after we had left Muir hut, we had barely gone a mile. Decided to keep on until the sun set and get as far as we could. As the shadows from the mountains covered the snow, it made the top layer crusty and hard. This had its ups and downs: on the one hand, I was able to walk without punching through the snow every single step, but when I did posthole, the top icy layer shredded my ankles and shins as my leg went down. I didn’t feel much because of the numbing effect of the cold, but I did notice that blood was starting to stain the tops of my socks. Probably should’ve pulled out my wind pants (very thin and already ripped to shit, but it would’ve offered at least a little protection) but they were at the very bottom of my pack and I was being stubborn.

I had to keep repeating one of my favourite mantras: “no bad days on trail” but I’m not sure I believed it this afternoon. We crossed a thin layer of snow covering an icy stream and of course we all went through, so feet and toes were going numb. Finally we collectively decided to call it quits and made camp on a small exposed piece of granite, about three miles out from our planned campsite at Evolution Lake.

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It got cold as heck without the sun and we made quick dinner and ate in our sleeping bags. I lay out my wet clothes to try and dry but I have a feeling they’ll be just as wet tomorrow morning in this cold. I originally hadn’t planned to bring an extra pair of sleeping socks, but I’m happy to have them tonight to keep my feet warm and dry.

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The rock was definitely not ideal for sleeping on and I’m cowboy camped at a fairly steep downhill angle, my sleeping pad keeps slowly sliding off the groundsheet. On the bright side, the view across the pass is beautiful, I’ve never camped in such a snowy area before and the snow looks silver in the dusk. For all the struggles of this afternoon, it finally feels like I’m back in the scary, challenging Sierras of last years hike and today is definitely going to be a good story when we meet the others tomorrow.

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Day 59: Muir Pass Campsite (841.4) to Senger Creek (861.6)

June 7 // 20.2 miles // Selden Pass

Tough sleep last night, it got cold as heck. I got up to pee at 2am wondering how receptive Bagels would be to a surprise snuggle attack, but I held off and couldn’t really get warm enough to fall back asleep. On the plus side the view of the stars and Milky Way over the snowy stretch of Muir pass was absolutely incredible.

When the sun started to come up it got significantly warmer and I managed to grab another hour of sleep. There was ice coating the quilt and clothes I had left lying around. More worryingly, our shoes were 100% frozen solid. Since I just slip them off without untying laces when we make camp, I couldn’t get my foot back inside. Had to boil a pot of water to pour over the tops until the laces were defrosted. On top of that, my base layer leggings were stuck to my skin down around my ankles where the majority of the snow cuts from yesterday were concentrated. Had to peel them off which caused a fresh round of blood. Ah the joys of hiking.

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While packing up, Pants caught up to Calves, Bagels and I after waking up at like 3am to get over the pass, which is what we should’ve done, and we headed down in a group. In the cold early morning the hard snow posed absolutely no issue and we made good time down to Evolution lake. Should’ve just spent the night at the top of the pass and saved ourselves the time and effort. My legs look like they’ve been cheese grated and sting quite badly with any movement. I want to go back in time and put on the wind pants, they wouldn’t have held up too well against the ice but would’ve been better than shredding every bit of skin from the knees down.

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Got to the inlet at Evolution lake, a long knee-deep crossing that was so cold my feet were aching for minutes after getting out. Arrived at the campsite we were supposed to have stopped at last night and Eli and Honeybee were still there having a late breakfast waiting for us.

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It was an easy morning downhill past tons of reflective lakes but I was feeling a bit tired and cranky from lack of sleep last night. Didn’t see anyone for most of the morning, my mood improved closer to lunchtime and cruised down a long series of switchbacks that dropped steeply to the river. I thought I was behind everyone and getting frustrated that they hadn’t yet stopped for lunch, but then Bagels and Eli caught up from behind, and we took a break for food before tackling the first part of Selden pass.

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The uphill was steep switchbacks to match the ones that we came down on, only much more tiring going up. Felt pretty good and climbed steadily until Senger Creek. Decided to stop there for the night with Calves and Bagels. Eli and Honeybee pushed ahead to make the trip into VVR a little shorter tomorrow.

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Day 60: Senger Creek (861.6) to VVR (878.7)

June 8 // 17.1 miles + 1.3 side trail // Selden pass.

Slept well last night after the lack of sleep on Muir pass. Finished the second half of the climb up to Selden after getting out of camp decently early for once.

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Passed by Sallie Keys lake which was completely ice free and looked incredibly clear and inviting, took a lot of will power not to stop and go for a swim less than an hour into the hiking day.

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Heart lake was frozen over so no swimming there either, disappointing, but continued up Selden and started hitting snow fields about a mile from the top. Thankfully it was still solid enough to walk on without issue. There was a group of hikers at the top I’d never met before and I was hoping to maybe have a coffee break there with them but they were shockingly unfriendly for hikers, stonewalling any attempt I made at conversation and one making a pointed comment about my full size bear. So sorry I don’t have a five pound base weight and legs covered in hiking tattoos or a full on homeless beard??

Some postholing on the downhill which hurt my cut legs. Even plants brushing against them today stung like crazy and crashing down through snow and ice again was brutal. Thankfully there wasn’t too much snow and postholing only happened a few painful times. I was determined to not be passed by the unfriendlies and pushed myself too fast, and then got annoyed with myself for even caring and for wasting nice scenery worrying about it.

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A few larger stream crossings today including Bear Creek, but nothing came above the waist. Unfortunately every time my legs got wet the skin would crack open again as it dried, I’m kicking myself for not wearing pants on Muir because the ten seconds it would’ve taken me to dig them out of my bag would’ve saved me days of irritation. Ugh.

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Down a thousand feet and back up, had crazy energy all afternoon and powered uphill faster than I ever expected myself able to. There was a junction that led seven miles on foot around a lake to Vermilion Valley Resort, a small fishing lodge where we were resupplying. Decided to stay on the PCT and take the mile and a half detour to a dock with a ferry that arrived twice a day to shuttle hikers across the lake to VVR. The schedule for the boat was 9am and 4:45pm and I made sure to arrive with plenty of time to spare since I was out of food and didn’t want to risk missing the shuttle. Pants caught up to me as I was leaving the junction and we decided to race, him on foot around the lake, me down the PCT and ferry across the lake.

Met Bagels and Calves at the ferry dock and we waited until well past 5 for the boat to arrive. After a few hours we called the resort to see what the heck was up and they informed us their boat was broken (noooooooo) and they weren’t sure if they’d be able to send it over before sundown. Seriously depressing especially since I was out of food, I’d barely eaten all day and hikers coming in the opposite direction had been raving to us about the steak dinner they’d had at VVR. There was an option to hike around the lake but it was another five miles and we were wiped. We decided to be optimistic and just wait at the dock, if needed we could camp on the shore and take the boat or hike in the next morning. Miraculously we heard the sound of a motor coming across the lake just before 7.  Can’t express how happy I was to see the tiny little outboard fishing boat puttering towards us, it could be a top 5 life moment.

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Climbed in with our packs and the driver took us across the lake, giving an enthusiastic guided tour of the shoreline and dam on Edison Lake. We split the ride with a Canadian couple, Ben and Marissa.

At VVR, we were treated to a free hiker beer and told that we hadn’t yet missed the kitchen closing. Ate two slices of pie while waiting for my dinner, I’m not sure I’ve ever been so hungry in my life. Eli, Honeybee, PC and Pants (he beat us by hours, stupid broken boat…) were here so we caught up on the last day and a half and pitched our tents on the grass in front of the restaurant. Super neat place, I skipped it last year to go to the easier accessed Muir Trail Ranch, which isn’t yet open for the season.

 One of the most enjoyed meals on trail.

One of the most enjoyed meals on trail.

Planning to leave sometime tomorrow afternoon.

Day 61: VVR Zero

I really didn’t mean to get zeroed here but it was barbecue night and I love this place. The staff are friendly and I spent all day in the restaurant reading a well written book about a hiker that went missing in the minarets back in the early 1900s. I decided pretty early on in the day that I wanted to stay and managed to convince Bagels, Calves and PC to stay as well, on the condition we do the rest of the way to Mammoth in one go tomorrow. (This was with the help of a case of beer and the chef telling us it was tri-tip dinner night.) Dinner was so great, we shared a table with a couple JMT hikers and everyone split a few bottles of wine and we had a good time talking around the fire afterwards. (The JMT 2019 plan is becoming more and more solidified in my head.)

We never do, but I’d rather take more zeros in small resorts/towns than the larger cities on trail, it’s far less of a culture shock and I don’t spend all day with my face glued to my phone screen the way I do in big town hotels.

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Back to trail tomorrow morning and going to try and knock out all the miles to get to Mammoth in one day and catch up with Honeybee and Eli, who left this morning.

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Day 62: VVR to Mammoth via Duck Pass

June 10 // 26ish miles // Silver pass

The boat shuttle taking us back to trail was at 8 so we were up early this morning to pack up and have one last breakfast at the resort. Lots of hikers hate on VVR a little because of high prices and re-selling food that would normally go into a hiker box, but what the hell, it’s a small business literally in the middle of nowhere and they’re more than generous to PCT hikers. I’ve really enjoyed my stay here.

Beautiful clear morning and the lake was perfectly still, I had a touch of homesickness not being at the cabin back home. Did the mile and a half back to the PCT and then hit the steep uphill to Silver pass right away.

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In my opinion, Silver is the most beautiful pass and despite the steep grade I had a great morning. Crossed stream after stream after stream, including the super nifty waterfall that hit me in the face with spray as I passed by.

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Hardly any snow compared to last year, it’s been the biggest difference in passes so far. The lack of snow meant I actually had to take the switchbacks up the pass instead of just walking straight up over the snow (the horror), but the view from the top was more than worth it. Had lunch with Calves, PC and Bagels and then we slid our way down the snowier north face. 

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So much water today, my feet never had even the slightest chance to dry out. We stopped for lunch alongside a creek at the bottom of the descent and I ate my blueberry granola while dreading the 800ft-in-one-mile climb that made me cry last year. Surprisingly I didn’t find it nearly as bad as I remembered. 

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The steepness of the hill face was such that I could see the others criss crossing the switchbacks above me. Made it to the top relatively painlessly. I’m in much better shape physically this year although not sure why, I did hardly anything all winter-could be muscle memory from last year or maybe the fact that I’m eating far healthier this year, with less reliance on sugary snacks for quick energy bursts. Either way I’m not complaining, last year every single uphill was cause for misery, this year I look forward to it.

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Passed by beautiful alpine lakes in the afternoon, I really wanted to stop and go for a swim but we still had a lot of miles to do to get to Mammoth before dark. Bagels’ family was visiting from LA so we had to make it to the road today. I was getting physically exhausted after all the up and down, the last climb had me wiped.

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Took the detour to Ducks pass around five, we’d been told it was still very snowy and not a good exit option, but at that point there was nothing that was going to stand between me and a shower/beer/shower beer.

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Fortunately the pass was beautiful and not too difficult, a relatively short climb around Ducks lake. There was a little snow towards the top but nothing like what we had been warned about, and we made good time up and over.

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On the way down, a little trickier to navigate through some snow patches on steep terrain, the couple times that I postholed brought a fresh round of stinging and a lot of swearing. Met up with Calves, PC, Bagels and Pants for the final easy two mile stretch down to a campground just outside Mammoth. Felt amazing to do such a big day with a ton of elevation change and know that a hot shower and real bed was just around the corner.

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We had a guaranteed ride from the trailhead with Bagels’ parents. Not only did they pick us up, they also offered to let us stay at their crazy fancy Airbnb which I literally thought was a hotel when we arrived but IT WAS ALL FOR US, and had dinner hitting the table shortly after we got there. The shower was bigger than my entire bathroom at home and had two shower heads (cue hallelujah chorus). Texted Eli and Honeybee to join us and we all spent the night eating food and playing pool in the basement, it was nice to be able to catch up after a day and a half apart.

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A double zero in Mammoth to rest up before the second half of the Sierras, after six snowy passes this past section I’m ready for it. 

Day 63 64 & 65: Triple zero in Mammoth & Bishop (yikes)

Really got to cut down on the zero days, it’s getting out of control. After the first night with Bagels and family, the other half of our entire group of ten people that are loosely hiking together arrived in town and we all split an Airbnb. I’m fortunate enough to get to hike with multiple people that know their way around a kitchen, and got treated to amazing homemade dinners and breakfast.

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On the second day, I found out that Jade and Q were on their way to Bishop to meet with Lukas, where they were doing a short section hike with him before meeting friends in the Alabama hills. The majority of last years trail fam was too close for me not to go and visit, so I took a bus from Mammoth back to Bishop and spent the afternoon and night there. It was so great to see them, unlike in Big Bear, where I felt lonely and sad to be hiking alone, this reunion I laughed until my stomach hurt. We hit the hot springs just outside of town and I caught the morning bus back to Mammoth feeling incredibly happy.

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Back in Mammoth, I had assumed we were hiking out that afternoon but the group had rented the Airbnb another night and I have no discipline so it’s another triple zero. I really do enjoy being in town, (my trail name is Townie) but too much of a good thing kind of ruins it and I get anxious and antsy to get back to trail.

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Kennedy Meadows to Bishop

Day 45: Kennedy Meadows (702.2) to Campsite (709.5)

May 24 // 7.3 miles

Nero hanging around Kennedy Meadows today, posted up on the porch for most of the morning meeting new hikers and having two rounds of blueberry pancakes. Eli and Honeybee were staying all day waiting on a package, I had been planning on staying as well but as soon as I woke up I recognized the antsy, time to get back to the trail feeling.

We went back to Grumpy’s again for lunch (pizza), and the crew surprised me by ordering a belated birthday banana split for me. I was singing along with the entire cafe before I realized they were singing for me...oops.

It took a long time for the shuttle to arrive and I didn’t get back to the general store until 4pm. Franky, Dodo and Bagels had already left earlier in the day, I was so impatient to get going but spent an hour waffling on should I stay or should I go. I finally decided to try and catch them, or at least do a few miles out for an early start tomorrow. Said goodbye to Eli and Honeybee, they’re fast as heck so I knew they would catch up down trail. Packed up and started the road walk back to trail at 6...Sierras here I come.

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2 miles out I met up with Firesocks, Moth, Mermaid and Janky (brother sister duo from Texas that Franky and I had actually met long ago at the bottom of Jacinto) stopped at a campground for the night. I unpacked and ate the leftover pizza from lunch but 2 miles was not enough to satisfy the antsiness so repacked everything again and hiked on...wasted so much time today on indecision.

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Followed the river for a few miles, crossed a wooden bridge as the sun was setting. Hit a few miles of uphill as it got dark and I didn’t see any other hikers. The moon was out so no need for a headlamp tonight.

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About a mile out of my planned campsite, ran into a group of men from Lancaster out camping for the weekend, they invited me to hang out for a snack break. Occurred to me while I was down there how trusting we are on trail, being around a group of strangers at night in the middle of nowhere would be something that sounds completely irrational and a little bit stupid as a young woman alone, but out here didn’t really think twice about it and it was nice to have company. It also felt a little badass to answer their questions...yes I’ve walked all the way from Mexico, yes I’m doing it alone, yes I’m going to keep hiking on through the night.

Knocked out another mile and a half to a large open campsite under sparse pines trees. Too tired to bother with setting up the tent. I was going to watch a horror movie yesterday about campers lost in the woods and very glad I didn’t, definitely would’ve been a jumpy night alone.

Right now I’m caught in between two familiar groups of hikers so I’m sure I’ll run into others eventually, but for this evening it was nice to do my own thing, it’s a different mindset and I feel more independent.

Hopefully won’t go below freezing tonight, it’s chilly as heck and weather forecasts were calling for snow in the next few days.

 

Day 46: Campsite (709.5) to Death Canyon Creek (730.8)

May 25 // 21.3 miles

Woke up at 6, much easier to get going when cowboy camping. Finished the uphill from last night, climbed to the beautiful meadow that offers the first real view of the snowy mountaintops in the distance. In a great mood this morning.

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Down to the south fork of the Kern river, caught up with Bagels from Seattle who’s carrying a fishing rod through this section...he had fresh trout last night for dinner, I’ll be hanging around him for sure. Hadn’t planned to stay long at the river but it was so nice out I ended up watching the swallows swoop around the footbridge and napping on the bank for about two hours while Bagels fished. I wasn’t brave enough to jump in with how cold the air was but had a nice little sponge bath with my bandana. Met another hiker named Rat who I’ve been following on instagram for some time, it’s always cool to meet familiar faces in real life.

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A 3000ft uphill after the break, one of the biggest climbs so far on trail but had a pretty okay time of it. The afternoon passed quickly and I camped at Death Canyon Creek, cowboy camping again so praying for no rain or snow. Dinner was a winning combo of refried beans, cool ranch Doritos, rice and hot sauce. Time to go full cook every night now that I’m back in the Sierras, it’s a comforting ritual to go through at the end of the day, plus I need the extra calories.

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Weather is getting crazy cold as soon as the sun sets, my sleeping bag seems up to the job so far but I sleep so cold it might be a good idea to pick up a silk liner in Bishop. Also considering the switch back to an inflatable sleeping pad now that I’m out of the desert, the foam Z-Lite isn’t half as warm (or comfortable).

20 miles tomorrow to Chicken Spring Lake which feels like the real start of the Sierra, I think I’ll catch Franky and Dodo there. It’s strange hiking this section alone when last year it’s where I formed the strongest bonds on trail. Not a bad thing, just a different experience.  

Day 47: Death Canyon Creek (730.8) to Chicken Spring Lake (750.8)

May 26 // 20 miles

Cold last night and because I camped so close to the creek my bag was covered in condensation and frost this morning. Early start to get to the lake this afternoon as early as possible so packed up everything wet and had a complete cookie for breakfast on the go. (400 calories, high protein, and fast becoming a favourite staple).

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Still working on packing my bag with the addition of the bear canister, my pack is so narrow it’s hard to make everything fit properly...putting the canister in last seems to be the best option, plus easier access to snacks. It’s weird carrying the majority of weight on the top of the pack but it’s better than having the metal edge of the canister jab into my lower back, I’ve developed tender bruises at the base of my spine since leaving Kennedy Meadows. I’ll keep experimenting.

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Cold all day today, warmth was entirely dependent on the sun being out, in the shade I had to keep moving or freeze. Can’t get the clothing layers right, I’m always adding when too cold and then taking away right after when I start sweating. 

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5 mile climb up over 10000ft, the top had a nice view over Owens valley. I had a touch of elevation sickness here last year but felt fine today. The climb was a series of three steep uphills and drops, was really feeling it in my calve muscles. 

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Around noon dark clouds were rolling in and sure enough, little snowy ice pellets started to fall. The consistency reminded me of dippin’ dots and they piled up very quickly on the ground, everything was lightly dusted in white within about ten minutes. 

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It was beautiful in the pine forest but also cold cold cold, I didn’t want to stop for lunch so powered through the 20 miles with only a few five minute breaks for water. Strange weather phenomenon where the sun came back out but snow was still falling. 

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Saw absolutely no one most of today, my tracks were the only ones on the snowy trail. Just before Chicken Spring Lake, caught up with Franky and Dodo! Very nice to see familiar faces after two days of being mostly alone.

Finished the last half mile to the lake with the guys, it’s as beautiful as I remember. The lake is set at the bottom of Cirque peak, which wraps all the way around the water, creating a kind of pseudo half caldera. Far less snow on the ground this year and the lake was completely ice-free even though I’m here a full month and a half earlier than last year. 

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Thankfully the sun made some quick reappearances around 3pm, layed out my quilt and clothing to dry. Set up the tent in case of more snow and destroyed a huge dinner of rice and chicken after skipping lunch today.

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Dodo brought out his game of Liar’s Dice, the three of us used the bear canisters as a playing surface and played four rounds until it was too cold to be outside. Simple things are so entertaining when you have no cell service and not a whole lot else to do out here once camp is set up.

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Going to be very cold tonight, this is the highest elevation I’ve camped at so far and by six it was too cold to be outside the quilt so I guess six is my new bedtime. 

Might take off a few extra days in Bishop, the next section has still been getting blasted with snow. First I still need to get over Mt. Whitney and Forester pass, two of the most physically challenging days on the PCT (technically Whitney is a side trip but still) back to back. Hoping that the rest of the group catches up tonight or tomorrow so we can do Whitney together.

 

Day 48: Chicken Spring Lake (750.8) to Crabtree Meadow (767.0 + 1.0)

May 27 // ~17 miles

Slept in because it got so cold last night, the quilt was okay but any part of me that was touching the sleeping pad felt like it was lying on ice. Switching to an inflatable pad in Bishop for sure. It snowed a bit last night, and there was frost on my tent, quilt and water bottles. Got a couple extra hours of sleep while the sun came out to warm things, sat in camp until 10 to let all my gear dry properly before packing up.

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Long downhill which I usually enjoy but couldn’t really get in the groove today, put on music to get me through. Got to the bottom and crossed Rock creek, had lunch with Franky and Dodo, had to force myself to eat, had a headache, had no appetite.

It was warm in the sun but clouds came in after lunch, seems to be a weather pattern out here. Layered up. After the creek was the steep uphill that I remember as being one of the worst climbs last year. I was hoping that maybe I’d have an easier time this year since I seem to be in better shape but nope, it was still the bane of my existence. The trail is cut into man made steps out of rock and logs since the grade is so steep...very large steps up, exhausting on my prairie-raised legs.