DAY 106: CAMPSITE (1660.5) TO DONOMORE CABIN (1690.9)
July 24 // 30.4 miles
Slept without waking once until a little after 5am when a few hikers walked by our campsite in the dark, it seems no one is doing this climb in the heat of day. I’m normally very, v e r y reluctant to start hiking before I’m fully ready to be awake and up, no discipline here, but today there was still five miles of the devil climb to finish. I wanted to be at the top and done with the hard work before it got too hot, the forecast was calling for +100F temps again in the morning. Everyone else must have felt the same way, they were all up before I was out of my bag. After packing up and eating breakfast I was last to leave, but still moving by 6, my earliest start so far this summer. (sad)
It was tough hiking all morning, the grade was just as steep and I didn’t have the energy burst of last night to get me through. Still managed to keep a steady (if somewhat slow) pace and enjoyed the cooler morning weather and the views of Rattlesnake Mountain up ahead as the sun rose. Why is it so named? I haven’t seen any snakes in ages.
Once the trail broke out of the trees it was all ridge walking, which seems to be a NorCal staple. It was still very hazy from wildfires but it made the sharp rock faces feel even more dramatic, sticking up and out of the purple smoke and offering no inkling as to how far down they went. I’m usually such a baby about waking up early but once I’m actually moving it’s always preferable to the sleep-ins, not to mention being awake for the most beautiful time of day. Finished the climb (heck yeah I think that’s the longest consistent uphill on the PCT) and then yoyo’ed up and down for a little bit, it sucks when you lose elevation just to go right back up a half-mile later, and we repeated this process all morning.
I caught up to everyone else getting water at the first source of the morning, a slow drip in some thick grass along the trail. Despite it barely being 9am, I had already soaked my shirt through with sweat and drank a little extra to make up for it. We found another group of hikers lounging in the shade that we’ve been around on and off since Belden, including Wink who we met at Drakesbad, and his trail friends Stache, Baby Blanket and Breezy. They’re a hilarious group and it’s pretty common to come across them walking like a straight line of ducklings down trail throwing banter without pausing for a breath, or doing push-ups on their break as part of a daily competition. Their group formed when they all took a zero day to climb Mt Shasta, and we’ve taken to calling them by their collective trail name, the Shady Shasta boys.
The trail was relatively flat for a little while, through a burn zone and then finally got to cruise a few miles downhill to a good water source where the others were making fun of Bagels for sitting in a large patch of sap, which meant the back of his shorts were now covered in dirt and pine needles. I took care to avoid sitting under the pine tree that was to blame. There was water off trail down a path and since it was a while until the next source, made the 0.2 mile trek to collect enough to get me through the afternoon. Right back uphill for another five mile climb, I got some crazy second wind and hauled ass up it and for once managed to not lose my place in the line and get passed by everyone. A very grassy and exposed section and just impossibly hot-I have a feeling that I just have a heat advantage and can tolerate it relatively well, which is pretty much my only special hiking power. The very best part of the afternoon was how clear it got, we had a couple hours of smog-free hiking.
I stopped for lunch with Honeybee at a little spur trail that led to Bear Dog spring. The water was barely flowing over the ground and impossible to collect, but Bagels had made a pipe out of a curled broad leaf and then it was simply a matter of placing the leaf-spout at the mouth of your bottle and waiting. I was mis-credited with the ingenious engineering when everyone else arrived for water and didn’t bother to correct them, sorry Bagels, I need that sweet validation. There was a great little shady campsite in the trees so we dropped out packs and sat down for lunch. Took the time to boil ramen and it felt odd to cook and eat so much at not-dinner time. The Shady Shasta boys arrived shortly after and began adding to their pushup challenge well the rest of us looked on in envy, my calves may be rocks but arms are noodlier than my overcooked lunch. It was a fun break getting to eat with such a big group, but Bagels got our crew going. He’s always the first to leave, and once one person goes the rest of us feel anxious to keep up and always follow shortly after.
More climbing after that but none of us got back into the groove after lunch, after a couple quick miles I saw the group packs lying in the dirt road beside yet another spur trail to water at Alex Hole spring. I didn’t really need the water, it was off a dirt road and the little trail down was a steep quarter mile scramble, but it was too tempting to pass by so I added my pack to the rest, got some water and then sat in the soft dry pine needles beside the trail for another long break. Even though I’d only just eaten my large lunch, there is no controlling the hiker hunger and I snacked on way too much- all of my cheese and spicy chips and the rest of my cookies, which means I’m on rationing until Ashland.
Was feeling pretty strong despite all of today’s elevation gains, as a group we’d made good time and even though we definitely could’ve gone further, decided to stop just shy of the CA/OR border tonight and stay at little abandoned Offenbacher cabin in Donomore meadows just off the trail. It’s not often we get to sleep somewhere with a roof when not in town.
After we got moving again, there was one last climb before an easy end of day descent through a burn zone that thankfully wasn’t too large, and then it was all downhill through the woods crossing lots of dirt roads that were mostly overgrown. It thankfully cooled off in the evening and stopped at the Donomore creek a half mile before our camp. The water wasn’t really deep enough for a swim so took off my shoes and splashed off some of today’s sweat, it’s so much nicer sleeping in the confined bag without smelly feet. I couldn’t bring myself to put my sweaty, dirt encrusted socks back on, so I just walked the last mile to camp in my flip flops and carrying my shoes as far away from my nose as possible.
As I arrived at camp, Honeybee and Eli waved from the porch of the little wooden shack looking like a couple of old pioneers, except for the fact they had dug out folding lawn chairs from the cabin with Dick’s sporting goods logo. The cabin was originally built by ranchers in the early 20th century-a laminated sheet of paper nailed to the door gave a brief history lesson including bovine casualties from the feuds with local natives, and a summary of the gradual restoration undertaken by some ambitious locals. There was also a handwritten logbook inside detailing both the hikers that had spent a night and the cabin’s refurbishing progress. The latest addition were brand new windows which we took the time to admire-they contrasted beautifully with the rotting old wood covered with graffitied names of all the visitors over the past decades. There was also a small wooden outhouse (house being a generous word, more of a three walled shack with an open face pointing away from the cabin and instructions to “poop here”. The cabin was overlooking a beautiful the meadow and with the sunset I was irrationally jealous of some ‘30s rancher-I can see why anyone would have chosen to build a home in this spot.
There was enough room for us to all squish inside the cabin, Eli and PC even got to set up rickety little cots for some added luxury. At dinner, my errors in resupply strategy became painfully obvious, I don’t know how I managed to estimate so badly in Seiad Valley, but I figured I couldn’t have any dinner tonight if I wanted to scrape by on bare-bones snacking tomorrow. My friends noticed my lack of dinner and graciously chipped in to feed me with their precious extra snacks. Eli let me eat half his tuna ramen, PC passed around fancy Starbuck’s hot chocolate and Honeybee gave me a bear claw which I can save for breakfast tomorrow and we all ate together on the little porch.
The Shasta boys came through shortly afterwards and decided to keep pushing on, but a few other hikers ended up pitching their tents outside after wandering in to check out the cabin. Hoping for no mice attacks, there was no sign of poops but the food bags are hanging from the ceiling just to be safe. About to fall asleep for the last time in California, which hasn’t really sunk in yet.
DAY 107: CABIN (1690.9) -HENDRIX FIRE CLOSURE-TO MT. ASHLAND CAMP (1710.0)
July 25 // 24.5ish miles
1690.9-closure at 1695.0
19.6 mile road walk to detour the Hendrix fire
A very good day and my first entry in Oregon!!! Finally out of the first state on the PCT and it’s pretty incredible that my feet carried me border-to-border THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF CALIFORNIA.
No one was rushing this morning, we woke up to the sun already pouring through the windows of Donomore cabin. The other hiker’s tents were gone, so we had the place to ourselves. It was such a beautiful morning in the little valley I don’t think anyone wanted to leave, the rising sun filtering through the smoke made everything dreamy and relaxing. Even Bagels and Eli, who are usually the ones gunning it to get moving, were content to sit around on the porch for a long coffee breakfast in the folding chairs.
When we finally got to moving (goodbye, nice cabin!) it was less than two miles to the state border through thick coniferous forest. Wasn’t long until I came across my friends grouped around the trail register and an underwhelming sign saying OREGON/CALIFORNIA nailed to a pine tree.
I didn’t think I would be that excited since we still have another state line crossing and 950 miles to go, but after spending two summers and hiking over 3000 miles on the PCT in California alone, I’m really happy and proud to finally be moving on to Oregon. Also goes to show how hecking BIG this state is, California spans 1600 trail miles, while the last 950 is split into Oregon and Washington combined. It will be less than a month in Oregon (not uncommon to do it in two weeks) vs the 3 months it took us to get through California. We’re planning to double zero in Ashland so no two-week Oregon for us, but hoping to be through it with no other zeros after that.
We spent half an hour taking pictures and signing the register and finishing off the whiskey that Eli packed in, no one cares if you’re drinking at 8am on trail. After that, it was only another couple miles of unremarkable (but OREGON unremarkable!) scrubby forest until we reached a dirt road that marked the start of the Hendrix fire closure. I had cell service and checked one last time to see whether the closure had yet been lifted, but no dice, so a road walk for us. Bagels and Eli had downloaded a GPS file to help navigate the network of backcountry roads we’d be following, and we all decided to stick together to make sure no one got lost, although in retrospect it was so well marked we probably didn’t need to worry. The detour was 19.6 miles, only four miles longer than the chunk of trail we have to miss, but I wasn’t looking forward to it all being on hard packed gravel, it’s hard on the feet after soft trail and can cause soreness for days afterwards. Following the dirt roads also caused us to cross the state lines a few times, can’t escape California!
The road was wide and easy to walk and generally not a very interesting hiking day, but it was a pleasant surprise spending all day with the trail fam. We literally never hike together, but today we put away our trekking poles and goofed around and talked a mile a minute about nothing.
I think we’re all so quiet out here we needed an outlet to just go on and on and circle over the same subject for an hour at a time. PC would start a long rambling story that would deviate into side stories until we would forget where we had begun but continue on with the new topic all the same. I traded packs with Eli for a bit, his pack was surprisingly light but way too big for my frame and he looked like a kindergartener on his way to school with my little short torso bag. The directions were well marked with stick arrows left by previous hikers and the grade was unnoticeable, despite our notes claiming the first half of the day was a drop followed by steeper uphill.
We didn’t stop until a river that was spanned by a footbridge to eat lunch in the shade of the road-side pines. My feeet were getting a little achey from pounding the flat hard dirt, but it helped to soak in the icy river. We hung around a long time, until the flies attracted to our hiker grossness got too annoying. Conversation never slowed. I love that the road walk I’d been dreading ended up being one of my favourite days so far. Bring on the boring fire closures, I have my trail fam!
The miles flew by and finally we rejoined the trail, just in time to ditch it and walk up yet another dirt road to Ash Camp. We arrived just as the sun was setting which gave us time to find our own little spot with a picnic table near a cement bathroom (no running water or trash unfortunately. We’re sharing the campground with a couple pickup trucks and an RV but no other hikers here tonight and most of the spots were empty. Ate dinner which was a scraped together mess of the last of my food-a handful of chip crumbs and a clif bar that’s been in the bottom of my pack since Bishop. I’m still starving and barely ate today…thankfully tomorrow morning is an easy 8 mile downhill to Callahan’s and a short hitch to Ashland and all the town food.
Day 108: Ashland Camp (1710.0) to Ashland (1717.7)
July 26 // 7.7 miles
Woke up feeling like my stomach was starting to consume its own lining. Despite it being early, food was all I could think about and Bagels and I were packed and moving before the others were even out of their tent (town was obviously calling them too, despite my twenty minute head start I was still last into Callahan’s, the fuckin rockets). It felt comforting to be back in the familiar green tree tunnel after all the dusty road walking yesterday, but also creepily quiet to be alone after all the busy chatter.
It was an easy morning, 8 miles all downhill, but I felt anxious and too slow. Town days kind of ruin the enjoyment of hiking since I’m never able to zone out and relax, it’s just always focusing on how many miles left and doing endless calculations over and over (if it’s 5.5 miles and I’m hiking at least 3mph what time do I arrive? I’ve gotten surprisingly accurate at estimating time based on walking speed and the elevation profile). The only stop today was a quick water break at a spigot and picnic table on the edge of a residential property near town.
The trail let out next to a railway track above the highway. It was a little tricky finding the offshoot path that led down to Callahan’s, a little resort nested on the side of the highway and where we’d try and catch a hitch to Ashland. I found Eli wandering about in the woods down one of the paths and eventually we managed to find our way down to the lodge. I beelined it for the porch where Honeybee, PC and Bagels were sitting and was brought a complimentary hiker beer by our waitress. There was also an option for bottomless hiker pancakes and despite my group saying that they weren’t stellar, I was so hungry they were probably the best pancakes I’ve ever had. My resupply box hadn’t yet arrived which was annoying, I had mailed a huge amount of freeze dried food to Ashland in order to distribute it into smaller boxes for the small resorts that make up the majority in resupply Oregon. Oh well.
It was blazingly hot on the side of the interstate ramp where we were trying to get a hitch but thankfully it didn’t take long for two separate trucks to swing around and offer us a ride in the bed. Once in town it was straight to a local brewery to eat more food, and then we got ourselves checked into a hotel, we’re spending a little extra for this double zero and staying right downtown. Honeybee’s mom and grandmother drove down from BC to see her, and we all decided to hang around for the extra day off and rest up before pushing through Oregon.
Day 109 & 110: DOUBLE ZERO Ashland
July 27 & 28// 0 miles
Uhhhh town days…so good.
We didn’t see much of Honeybee since she was spending time with her visiting family, and Bagels is also leaving us, in order to try and gain some time before getting off trail for a trip back home to Washington. He left early on our second zero today and I was surprised at how sad I am to see him go. He’s unsure if the travelling will even happen, he has to knock out a few 40+ mile days in order to get to an airport. He’s going to try and catch up with us after being off for 4 days, but even then it will likely be weeks before we’d see him again. I’m secretly hoping he chooses not to push the brutal mileage needed to make the flight, which is somewhat selfish, but it sucks to have a core member leave, especially the one with whom I spend almost all my non-hiking time. Despite a slight case of the blues, I did have to admit the hotel was very roomy with only PC and Eli to share it with, I had a bed all to myself for the first time this summer.
Ashland is caught in the haze from fires in all directions and it’s impossibly hot in town, I spent all day in the air-conditioned hotel and didn’t emerge for shopping or eating until the cooler evenings. Felt out of place in a city of this size, especially in bars and restaurants at night or browsing around the small boutique shops and bookstore. In the small towns, people recognize thru hikers and understand why we’re so dirty and walking around with freezer bags for wallets, but here I had a few comments on my sunburnt face and stark ankle tan lines. Despite all that, still managed to make it to brewery round 2 with Eli, we ran into our old friend Leon and they were extra Australian talking to a fellow country man while I took advantage of their chatter to eat the biggest portion of our appetizer. Went for sushi and indian food, and had a relax afternoon while everyone was resupplying-bought myself chocolate and bath salt and wine and a cheap book to read in the hotel bath and felt like a normal human.
We ran into the Shasta boys and learned that they had just skipped the fire closure altogether and powered on down the trail, it was set to open up any day anyways. They’d run into a couple of army trucks that were stopping all car traffic from entering the area, but had no issue with the boys walking through on foot when they said they’d had no idea there was a closure… I half wished we had done the same, but then I wouldn’t have enjoyed our group bonding day so I suppose there’s no reason to be regretful.
Resupplied as best I could with fingers crossed that my box would be at Callahan’s when we leave again tomorrow. Picked up a tiny bottle of lavender essential oil to bring along because I’m trying to convince myself it might help with headaches that I’ve been getting pretty consistently this past week, but really because the smell just reminds me of Jade and her mandatory good night hugs last year on trail. Oregon here we go.