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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