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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!