Day 84: Sierra City (1195.4) to Little Jamison Creek (1216.1)
July 2 // 20.8 miles
Slept well even with the sleeping pad on an annoying incline. Woke around seven completely off my pad which was completely off my groundsheet. Almost everyone in the church parking lot was still in bed minus a few ambitious hikers that were packing up to get an early start.
Wandered down to the Main Street, there were a few hikers meandering lazily about waiting for the general store to open, otherwise it was a ghost town since everything here is closed on Mondays. Eventually someone discovered that there was a single coffee joint open and I think we overwhelmed the one barista when dozens of hikers lined up out the door since there was nothing else to do but drink coffee after coffee.
Had two hazelnut lattes on the porch of the general store with a long row of the other hikers. When it opened at 9, there was a small stampede to place breakfast orders at the grill.
Did a questionable resupply from the limited selection at the store, my food for the next section consists of pop-tarts, unripe avocado, and the last box of mac and cheese they had. Took an ice cold shower in the public town washroom which felt amazing since it was already 30C by 9. I also went to the post office and sent most of my extra clothing and gear ahead in a bounce box (the box is mailed ahead to each town and gear is added/removed as needed) so now my pack is definitely under eight pounds without food or water. Nice.
Hikers were slowly trickling out and I was not looking forward to the long, ten mile climb out of Sierra City in the heat. Had a popsicle to delay the inevitable but finally set out at 11:30, so much for our intentions to leave first thing in the morning. Started walking down the road but got picked up almost immediately by a pickup truck with Honeybee, Bagels and Calves sitting in the bed.
Back at it after the very nice break in town, the climb started very gradually through a pine forest. Despite the shade the temperatures were still high and I sweat through my shirt almost immediately. There’s also far less water through this section so I actually need to be aware of water sources and how much I need to carry.
The forest opened up into an exposed rocky ridge as the trail climbed up and around Sierra Butte mountain, pine trees stretched out as far as I could see across the valleys below. No shelter from the sun, but the wind picked up and cooled things down a little. The trail was covered in loose rock and very slippy at some points, with steep drops down the mountain face. Passed mile 1200, miles are flying by.
Calves and Bagels caught up to me on the way up and we stopped for a break at a little patch of shade where there was a small side trail down to a spring on the mountain face. Filled up and drank extra to make up for the dehydration from the long hot climb. I’ve completely stopped filtering any running water since the Sierras, I can’t be bothered since the filter is so slow and I figure at this point my immune system is pretty strong anyways.
Made it to the top of the climb around 3 and had a late lunch with Calves and Bagels. We hung around a little too long before finally starting down and passing a couple lakes that I didn’t recognize at all, the trail was completely unfamiliar and it was disorienting. Almost every step of the way I’ve remembered every new day almost perfectly- this is where I saw the two young bucks, this is where I had the worst knee pain, this is where Cy told the baseball riddle. But for some reason the first few miles downhill today were new to me. There was another steep, steep climb I couldn’t remember, later Eli informed me that there had been three miles of new trail added this year instead of the old road walk down Sierra Butte.
Feeling lazy and I was content to go slow, knowing that as a result I probably wouldn’t get into camp until late. At six, I found PC, Eli, Calves, Honeybee and Bagels sitting around beside the trail-a sure sign of cell service. Stayed there too long as the sun set but we got to enjoy the view back behind us of Sierra Butte. I noticed a fire lookout at the very top, I wish we’d gone up.
Through pine forest in the last of daylight, could see beautiful calm lakes far below with a couple cabins scattered around the shoreline. In the evening it was eerily quiet and still, no wind or birds. During our cell service break we had agreed to camp at the first water at the bottom of the climb in sparse forest, but when I got there, there was already another tent pitched and no water to be found. Honeybee and Bagels were both down to go a little further to a spring so we kept on, felt good to do a few more miles after our lazy start and long breaks. I ran a little bit to catch the last of the sunset at the top of the uphill, a rocky overlook which made the late hiking day very worth it.
The final few miles through the woods were dark as heck, no light was getting through the thick tree cover. Arrived at camp around eight, the campsites were scattered around and were hardly big enough for one tent so we’re all spread out. There was a cold spring with great water hidden in the woods above trail and I used the last of the light to find it, kill the hundreds or swarming mosquitos, take a quick bandana bath and get back to the established trail.
Set up camp and made dinner in the dark with Bagels in a little muddy clearing near a murky pond. I’m so used to my routine it’s easy to set up my groundsheet and bag, cook, eat dinner and brush teeth in complete darkness. It is weird having all my extra gear gone since I’m so used to every last thing being in its place. I kept panicking and thinking I had forgotten things in town before remembering they’re in a post box headed for Belden. I bounced my warm base layers since the nights aren’t cold anymore but I already know I want them back-my shorts are still sweaty and my legs feel sticky in my sleeping bag without my wool leggings to act as a barrier.
Cowboy camping despite the bugs, hopefully they’ll chill out as it cools off. Behind schedule by about four miles due to our slow afternoon but oh well, that’s easily gained tomorrow. The woods around us are creepily quiet, making it hard to fall asleep.
Day 85: Little Jamison Ck (1216.1) to Fowler Junction (1242.9)
July 3 // 26.8 miles
Up around 6 but still the last out of camp, I have no discipline when it comes to waking up and hiking early. A disappointing breakfast of salted nuts since resupply at the store in Sierra City wasn’t great.
Our group was absolutely useless at hiking today, we took breaks at every stream or shaded campsite. Leapfrogged on and off with a couple other groups doing the same thing. The terrain was a constant alternate of small up and downs, and the air was smoky from a fire on the other side of Sacramento.
Had a long uphill which I managed to knock out in one go, it was the steepest climb we’ve had in a while but thankfully only about a mile. I was drenched in sweat and completely out of breath but it felt good to push my legs and lungs. I stopped for lunch at a small dirt clearing near the top while the others caught up. It was really hot again and the flies are starting to show up, they were going nuts when I made my tuna wrap for lunch. At the top of the climb, everyone else was taking a break on a windy exposed ridge, there were lots of wildflowers and a strong breeze but most importantly, cell service.
The afternoon wasn’t too much speedier than the morning, whoever was at the front of the pack would stop for a break and the rest of us would just stop as well, which happened over and over. We finally found some motivation to end the long slow day and gunned it the rest of the way to our planned campsite at the junction to Fowler Creek, I found a second wind and made it there around 6. Went to look for Fowler creek but never found it and gave up after I’d gone a good half mile off trail.
The campsite is listed on our GPS app as a one person site but other hikers kept arriving and we ended up fitting almost ten people around the area with some creative manoeuvring of tents. Ended up cowboy camping in a small corner in the woods off the main clearing, I’m not sure if that was the right call since the mosquitos are still going strong at 9. Sleeping with my headnet on. About 45 miles out of Belden, I think we’ll split it into two smaller days. There is some debate about stopping in at a little resort tomorrow for 4th of July.
Day 86: Fowler Junction (1242.9) to Big Creek Rd (1263.5)
July 4 // 20.6 miles
Mosquitos disappeared enough last night for me to sleep without my head net, but they were back like heck at 6:30, so for once I was out of bed before seven, getting moving was the only thing that made them bearable so packed up and had breakfast on the go.
The trail started steeply downhill, there was lots of growth over the trail and it felt very still with no wind. The elevation profile for today was one long, sharp drop down to the middle fork of Feather river, and then one long sharp climb back up. After my dry camping night I gunned it down pretty fast to reach a small pipe spring near the bottom of the drop. There was thick green canopy covering the whole trail and it made things damp and cool. The spring was surrounded by finger sized banana slugs. If you kiss them your lips go numb, I held off kissing slugs for today and settled for drinking two liters of icy cold water instead.
I was hoping the crew would be down at the river because I really wanted to swim. When I arrived, they had all pushed ahead without stopping, when it comes to town days they don’t have much patience for any side trips or breaks. I was in the middle of the pack so took a break anyways and made my way down the steep rocky slope to the river. Bagels stopped with me and we decided to just make it a late day into town and spent a long time swimming. The water was warm and there were a few natural pools made from rocks that were off the main current.
When we finally got out of the water, Calves and Phoenix had caught up to us and we took a late breakfast break at the top of the foot bridge, I ended up cooking all my extra food in preparation for the long climb ahead. Calves and Bagels played one of their many games of “what are the odds”, end result was Calves having to listen to Mambo Number 5 the entire climb ahead.
After finally getting going, we didn’t make it very far. After the first sharp spike of uphill I found Bagels getting ready for swim number two at Bear Creek, a nice little stream in the forest. I’m not one to be out-swam so stopped again for a break. The water in the creek was crystal clear and far colder than the river. We couldn’t stay in very long, but there was a nice little sandy beach just off the trail. By the time we were done and dried off we were way behind everyone else and had to push pretty hard if we wanted to get to Buck’s Lake resort in time for dinner.
A steep uphill for five long miles after Bear Creek and I spent the entire afternoon completely zoned out, letting my legs pace themselves and letting my mind wander. Finally the grade evened out and I found myself at the top at lookout rock, a small promontory that offers beautiful views of the forest stretching away below. Calves and Bagels were up on the rock snacking (Calves successfully completed his five hour music challenge) and I joined them for a much needed break. Phoenix arrived shortly after and let us know her husband Greg was picking her up at the road into Bucks lake at four, so we had a guaranteed ride and time to have a slightly longer break. Nice. I hadn’t originally wanted to stop at Buck’s Lake but after the long uphill, a beer and bed sounded pretty nice, not to mention I needed a resupply.
We got going around three and the downhill to the road was easy and quick. Today was a slow hiking day for me, took ten hours to do twenty miles. At the road, we sat on the shoulder waiting for Greg, who arrived shortly after with much appreciated ginger beer. Crammed the packs into the trunk and squished into their two door and set off for Buck’s Lake, a small town with one tiny general store, two hotels, a restaurant and a lakeside bar. Honeybee, Eli and PC had already been in town for a while and texted that they were at the bar. Our priority was food, so went straight to the lodge restaurant, where they very deliberately told us we were welcome so long as we kept our stinky selves on the porch. After a free hiker beer and a huge plate of pulled pork, we walked up the road to a wooden two story hotel, where Phoenix and Greg very graciously offered to split their room with us. The hotel was old with a shag carpet and no wifi or TV, but we were happy to use the shower and ditch our stuff.
After that we made the mile long road walk through town to meet the others at the bar. I really like Buck’s Lake, seems like it’s mostly summer cabins on the shore of the lake. The weather had cooled off and it smelled like campfire the whole walk. We weren’t sure what festivities would be happening for the 4th of July, but it was pretty low key at the bar and we ended up having a couple drinks on the porch overlooking the lake before heading back to our motel room in the dark. We rotate through turns sleeping on bed or floor and I was lucky enough to get a bed this time around, fell asleep about a minute after my head hit the pillow. Definitely a top day.
Day 87: Big Creek Rd (1263.5) to Belden (1286.8)
July 5 // 23.3 miles
Up around 8 to get packed up and hit the trail, trickling out one at a time. I had to stop by the store for resupply so said goodbye to Greg and walked over. The store was tiny but well stocked for hikers, and I bought a breakfast burrito and ice cream sandwich to start the day off right. Bagels stopped by as I was about to leave and we headed back to the road to try and catch a ride together. I was very tempted to take a ride to a different trailhead and save five miles of flat trail, but Bagels was insistent on going back to where we had come from. I was grumpy about it at the time, but in retrospect, the five miles were easy and I had no reason to be skipping them. We got a quick ride from a young woman from Buck’s Lake and were back on trail by 9:30.
Cheered up in the morning, the trail went uphill the whole way and the day was hot and windy. The top of the climb was very exposed and offered a view all the way down to the valley where the trail was headed. Stopped for a quick lunch in what little shade I could find and then started the long drop down to Belden.
I felt impatient to catch my friends and ran the long switchbacks down until they got too steep. At the trail register near the bottom I went through the log book, most of the registers haven’t had last years notes kept inside and it was really cool to see my signature and the other familiar trail names in the book. Last year we were here August 10th, over a month later than I am now. In retrospect, we were never going to make it to Canada before the snow hit, even if we had pushed on through all the smoke.
Belden is a tiny town on Feather River with a population less than 10, but they rent out the expansive grounds around the one building that serves as a hotel, store and restaurant every single weekend for festivals of every size. Went straight to the bar for a beer and burger, Bagels met up for some food and then we started a two mile road walk down the highway to Caribou Crossroads, a little RV park off the highway where are friends were staying the night. The road walk was long and boring but it was worth it to get to Caribou. Bagels and I unfortunately didn’t get there in time for the store to still be open, but our friends had bonded with an elderly couple staying in the park with their camper, and they invited us over for drinks at the little pop-out tiki bar and the man, an eyeglass repairman, offered to take Calves broken glasses, fix them, and mail them farther down trail. I hadn’t wanted to walk all the way to Caribou when we could’ve just stayed beside the river in Belden, but it was worth it for the generosity of complete strangers, and apparently the store does a mean milkshake.
Day 88: Zero in Belden
So we didn’t really need to stay for the zero, but we were curious to see whether the festival grounds would get crazy on a Friday night, and the day sort of just slipped away until it didn’t make sense to hike out so late. Oops.
We said goodbye to Calves this morning, he’s hiking to get ahead of us before leaving for Ireland for two weeks. I know we all really want him to catch up again, but two weeks is a lot of ground to cover and I’m doubtful we’ll see him again. Tough to say goodbye to someone that’s an essential part of the group. After he left, we suppressed our sorrow with large breakfasts at the store (with milkshakes), and I resupplied and showered in the public washroom. We got a lift in the back of a pickup back to Belden with the intention of getting back to trail, but Eli bought a 24 pack of beer and we sat down in a sandy secluded spot by the river and that was that for the day.
The festival this weekend is a private event and the party-goers aren’t too thrilled to share their space with dirty hikers, so it’s not the wild drug-infused rave we walked into last year and all the hikers ended up congregating at the bar, while the festival people dominated the stages and beach outside. Various people kept buying rounds and we all spent a little too long at the bar drinking their specialty, a ten dollar, bright orange monstrosity called a Treebanger that contains 5 different liquors. Stumbled back to our riverside campground for a quick nap. I think the rest of the group managed to rally and went back to party crash the festival, but I’ve lost whatever alcohol tolerance I had and was down and out in my sand filled sleeping bag at 8.
Day 89: Belden (1286.8) to Cold Spring (1305.4)
July 7 // 18.6 miles
Woke up mildly hungover but I think I got a much better sleep than the majority of the crew, we looked like a haggard bunch this morning. Wandered to the main building past all the sleeping party go-ers to get some ibuprofen and water from the bathroom. (The public washrooms in Belden are well stocked with hangover essentials, which tells you something about the place.)
Most of the group was awake and slowly making moves to go when I returned to our sandy spot by the river. We hit the restaurant one more time for breakfast, I ended up getting caught up when my food took about an hour longer than everyone else’s to arrive. Finally left just after eleven and started the very, very long and hot climb up and out. The uphill was moderately steep but the hardest part was that it goes on and on and on up the mountain. Down low in the valley it was hot as hell and in direct sunlight with no shade, I don’t think I’ve ever been so sweaty in my life, shirt was soaked through in minutes and dripping off my nose. Tried to drink extra water at every source to make up for it. Thankfully after a short burn section I was back into the forest and it cooled off the higher I got.
Passed a couple people on the way up but mostly just zoned out and tried to power through. Thankfully there was stream after stream of clear cold water almost every mile and the steepness levelled off about halfway up. Wasn’t feeling too hungry and skipped lunch but drank probably ten litres throughout the day.
I found Honeybee journaling in a beautiful shady patch of trees and Eli was napping beside a creek a tenth of a mile later. I wanted to lie down in the creek and cool off but the top was near. The forest turned to open meadow near the top with long tall grass and large boulders. Had cell service in one spot at the very top of the climb, called Dad and enjoyed the anticipation of the easy downhill miles left to camp.
We stopped at Cold Spring, an aptly named pipe spring of ice cold water flowing into a tub-sized trough. The site itself is very nice, a little ways off trail with lots of little spaces scattered around in the trees and one large clearing with lots of log benches to sit on. Did my best to get clean with a sponge bath in the icy spring water and then put on the cozies to warm up.
Ken was there, who we haven’t seen in quite some time, and it was nice to catch up with him over dinner. I’m running pretty low on food, but there’s always the option to stop in at Chester tomorrow if needed.
Cowboy camped in a squished little spot under a large tree, I’ve already noticed the mice running in and out of some holes at the foot of the trunk. Should be an interesting night.
Day 90: Cold Spring (1305.4) to Chester (1331.3)
July 8 // 25.9 miles
The mice were abound last night, and I had a patchy sleep listening to them scurry around in the dirt. If they got too close to my stuff it was easy to just turn on my headlamp and they’d run back to their tree holes before emerging when it was dark again. Tried to wake up Bagels when I heard a mouse chewing at his food bag but he slept uselessly through it and I faced them alone. I’d literally rather have to deal with bears than mice. All in all, didn’t get the best rest.
Last out of camp like always and into an exposed, hot section of trail with black volcanic rock formations. The trail went up and down steeply and the lactic acid buildups had me pretty worn out early on in the day. I had some good views of Lassen, the first of the volcanoes in the Cascade range that goes up through Washington. They’re landmarks along the rest of the trail, seeing the most prominent volcano dominate the horizon for a few days growing larger and larger until you pass it and then see the next far in the distance.
Water was scarce today and I was a poor decision maker, skipping the one spring that was half a mile off trail and figuring my liter and a half could get me through 8 miles to the next creek. The first four miles after that were uphill and it was so hot, I realized very quickly that I had not made the right choice. Ran out about a mile from the top and my mouth was so dry I thought I might choke on my own tongue. Sat down in the shade when it got too unbearable, wondering how I’ve hiked 3000 miles on this trail and still make the same stupid stubborn mistakes instead of just carrying some hecking water. After the top of the climb, the downhill was more bearable, but every tenth of a mile was a countdown until I could drink again. Reached the halfway marker, a small underwhelming cement post with a metal box containing a log book. I took a short break there with Eli and Bagels but I was getting pretty desperate to get to water. They had both told me at the earlier spring that I needed to fill up, which I ignored, and now Bagels offered me the little bit he had left in exchange for an admission that I had been wrong. After a small internal debate, I figured my pride could take the small hit in exchange for surviving etc. and that water was enough to get me going downhill towards the stream.
Fiiiinally reached the stream, it was flowing well and icy cold. Filling my bottle seemed to take forever but it was the best feeling to finally drink after my hot dry afternoon. There was a boy-scout troop camped nearby and I chatted with them as Eli and Bagels caught up. The whole crew wanted to go into Chester for the night, a small trail town just down the highway. I had no reason to stop in Chester and wasn’t keen on it after our unnecessary zero in Belden, but decided I’d make the call five miles later at the road secretly knowing that of course I would go.
The trail crossed through boundaries of a few different logging companies, and there was a private property sign at every crossing up until the highway that led to Chester. I spent the whole way going back and forth on the the benefits of going to town vs hiking on. At the road it was only six and definitely could’ve pushed on, but my lazy side (only side really) won out and I stopped with Bagels to hitch into town for the night. The rest of the crew was already posted up at a little diner having ridiculously large 32oz milkshakes, and there was free camping in the church backyard.
Our ride in was self admittedly coked up and gave us a long winded tour around town which was nice of him, but we both just wanted to be eating town food already. Dropped our stuff at the church and met the rest of the gang for milkshakes and then a late night breakfast-for-dinner at the local greasy spoon. The church has about a dozen or so hikers in the backyard, I’m can’t be bothered to set up a tent so cowboy camping in some long grass at the edge of the yard trying to ignore the oversize cricket looking bugs that keep crawling into my hair. Back to trail first thing tomorrow.