I'm more than half way to Canada!
Belden, Ca to Castle Crags. 217 miles.
The mountain one ridge over was on fire when Rachel Ginsburg left us at Belden. It was also about 90 degrees. We had permission to go from the Forest service but they took our names and numbers at the trail-head. We were surprised to see through hikers Crow and Dundee. Turns out they started late at Mexico and were moving quite fast. Dundee was our hiker babe. A pigtailed, gregarious beauty in short shorts. An uplifting start to the trip. Only 7 miles to Myrtle Flat for our first night but it was late, steep and smoky. The first three days of this section have the biggest ups. Very tough but lots of water. John Hart my hiking partner has a GPS and an altimeter. I never appreciated it until this trip. You know exactly where you’re at when you match altitude and map data.
Cold Spring, a lovely camp, was our next night. Best spring water right from a pipe over a barrel. No filtering needed. JC from Australia stopped in long enough to jaw and borrow matches. He was moving very fast. Woke up that night sweating in my sleeping bag. Immediately looked up in the sky to see cloud cover. Sure reason for an increase in temperature.
I had a cold for the first time on a big trip. Gave my bandanna a workout. Had to wash them in every stream. Annoying but not debilitating.
Animals like the trail. I’m sure it beats bushwhacking. Saw a lot of deer and small creature tracks. Saw a grim looking hiker lady going from Ashland to Campo. Maybe I’m losing my mind but there seem to be a lot more trees in Northern California. Most of it pristine except for patches of forestry. I haven’t seen excessive cutting of trees. We’ve spent a lot of time under their canopies except for the Hat Creek Rim.
We made 24 mile dry run from Cold Spring to Soldier Creek. There’s water in the middle about ½ mile off trail but we blew past it. It was our first big day. Soldier Creek had good campsites and we met Luke and Nat Reinsma. Luke, the dad, had a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. I said “I hope it’s annotated” as I’ve heard it’s impenetrable without help. Like Shakespeare. He said it was and the best translation. I said I was reading Anna Karenina. His son Nat just graduated from Seattle Pacific University and at 24 can’t find a job. My son is in the same boat. Dad is the medieval literature professor at the same school. We had a lively literary discussion. Later Nick, Pete and their three mules came into camp. We had a little trepidation about their stock but they all turned out to be the nicest people in the world, mules too. Found an extra hiker the next morning camped on the trail.
Bumped into Trace ,Untraceable, Sheep Dog and Sandals southbound on the way to Drakesbad Guest Ranch. Sheepdog and Sandals have been married for 37 years. I asked Dog if Sandals was OK. It’s unusual for wives to be on the trail. He said “About 10 years ago she started asking me questions about hiking and the next thing you know she was walking. He was shocked but happy. Then we ran into hiking legend Billy Goat. He was on his eighth trip on the PCT. He’s done over 20000 miles on it alone. We talked a bit and he said “I live on the trail.” No truer words were ever spoken. I noticed a tendency for him to speak about himself in the third person. Guess if I was out alone as often as he was I do it too. He sounded like Gollum in the Hobbit. “You know if Billy Goat’s not happy with your backpack word gets out that BG doesn’t like it.” Well.
We passed midpoint marker for the PCT. I got excited but it was a sobering fact that I’ve walking this thing for nearly eight years. We didn’t have time to split off to Terminal Geyser but had a good look and sulfur smell of Boiling Springs. I’d call it the Devil’s Bathtub. Boiling steaming mud.
Drakesbad Guest Ranch is the Ritz in the forest. Over three hundred dollars a night for the guest cabins, food and amenities. PCT hikers get a fabulous bargain on food, showers and joy.
You have to eat outside the dining hall. Guests get to be inside. The first night was an avalanche of food, fresh baked bread and dessert. $10. I tipped double. We dined with Nick and Pete, the Muleteers from Missouri, and Malcolm, Jim and Patrick. Jim ate about five plates of food and 3 loaves of bread. I think he has a hollow leg with all that hiking.
The place has been run for 20 years by Ed and Billie. Originally from Germany and Switzerland. This married couple is the best hoteliers in the wilderness. They had a Euro crew of beautiful women from the Ukraine and Russia who’ll return to teach English in their respective countries.
Shocked to learn that our resupply packages hadn’t arrived we spent the night in a campground nearby. We found out later that they were in Chester at the hardware store but unnoticed by the lackadaisical staff.
We enjoyed two more meals the next day before taking off for Old Station with what was left of our food and some goodies from the ranch.
We had a cold night at 31 ° before we left Drakesbad. I put my jacket on my legs in the sleeping bag to crank up the warmth. One of my Platypus water bladders sprung a leak. I always bring an extra so no problem.
Made my first big mistake on the trail. Got off the PCT and went up a trail 2 ½ miles to Summit Lake. Boy was I frustrated. Really much ado about nothing but I was beside myself for a bit. We did the right thing. We retraced our steps so I haven’t missed one since the trail-head at the Mexican border. Developed a new rule. Follow the purple line. John’s GPS has a purple line for the PCT. Comforting.
Deer are crazy for salt. When we finally got to Swan Lake for the night I looked back at the trail where I’d relieved myself and saw a deer licking the ground.
Had to crawl out on a log to filter water because of the growth around the lake. John cooked up some Mac and Cheese and my cooking directions turned it into Gorilla Glue.
Ran into Sugar Mama and her dog the next morning.
Walking into Hat Creek Resort I saw my first bear since Mexico. A hiker in front of me startled it. It crawled up and tree and stared at us in terror. Got some great video. Hat Creek Resort has a Deli and store. Even though a salad was not on the menu Teresa whipped a special one for me. We shopped to fill our packs with food until we could get our next package at Burney Falls. I got a free shower. Nice people. Sat with 5 hikers who’d stayed at the Heitman's. Two of them Brits. They had a pail of brews while we ate and chewed over the trail. They’d grown to hate Erik the Blacks guide because of errors. We’d already had our first problem with altitude between points. All agreed that Halfmiles maps and data were the most accurate. Firefly (Georgie Heitman) tried to kidnap us but we politely begged off and I donated $20.00 to the kitty.
She’s a legend as has done wonders as a trail angel.
We bugged out in the pm for a camp near the Subway Caves. We loaded up on water because of the approaching Hat Creek Rim. Probably had the dirtiest, dustiest camp ever. About 2 inches of soft, filthy top soil. John bought some pepperoni and I have to say that is the new trail food. Any really hard salami would do. Luscious.
A hard slog up to the trail-head in the morning brought us to a wonderful viewpoint with our first view of Shasta. What a mountain! Beautiful. Lassen peak is visible too. A great view.
The Hat Creek Rim was a long walk. Over 25 miles but we beat the heat that day. Wonderful water cache at Road 22. More like a hut under a tree. Named Cache 22. No camping on the rim but found a great one under a tree after descending.
John Hart is a retired mechanical engineer. He is a walking computer. He practically memorized the trail and all of its particulars. I’m a piker on the trail. A poser. I study the maps and details over and over but a lot of it doesn’t stick. John will walk behind me and I’ll hear him doing the math for the trail. Distances, plans, ideas. All the numbers being crunched. Every time we stop he gets out the maps and goes to work. He’s a wonder. A hiking human calculator.
Ran into Kate from Oakland about 8am. She’d got up at two that morning in Burney Falls to get up to Cache 22. Exhausted already. We all make decisions that make the day easy or hard.
We got to the powerhouse at Baum Lake with its river and fisherman. Stopped at the fish hatchery to use the bathroom and have a snack. Thousands of trout fill the ponds. A massive grid of overhead wires keep the predators out.
Burney Falls: Got in line at the Ranger hut to get our campground pass. Had a nice conversation with a ranger who was just transferred from Oroville. She had hated it there and was thrilled to be posted at the Falls. “The hikers campground is inconveniently located.” She was right. About 15 minutes away on the other side of the car camping area and the store. We did have our resupply boxes there. A joy to see the stuff you need. Camped with a bicycle camper who was doing a 1000 mile loop or so. Later a big guy came in and loudly discussed his trip. Very nice and voluble. They call me “Foghorn because I talk loud” he said with complete innocence. He was walking from Ashland to Campo.
I saw my first Bald Eagle in the continental US.
Early the next morning we saw Burney Falls. You’d think it was a river but it comes from underground. The largest spring we’ve ever seen. John reminded me it’s a million gallons a day. Plus instead of a single fall it comes out like a shower head from multiple lava holes. Beautiful and unique.
I’ve often said the most dangerous thing we do is drive to the trail-head. Still nature is unforgiving. It is beautiful but brutality lurks below the surface. It this case a tree root. John tripped on one at mile 1446 near Red Mountain peak. We’ve all tripped in the woods but this time he fell on a log and punctured his left eye. I called 911, gave them our Latitude and Longitude from John’s GPS and 40 minutes later he was picked up by a CHP helicopter in a clearing near the accident. An amazing crew of skilled pilots and an EMT who’d done his Army reserve time in Iraq and Afghanistan. We were lucky to have their help. John was flown out and by that evening had eye surgery in Redding. His prognosis is good for normal sight in about 6 months. We were more fearful of our wives reaction than anything else. The pilots wanted to fly me out. Asked me if I had bear spray or a sidearm. I asked John if I could continue the trip. He readily agreed and passed on his GPS and Spot device. The pilots told me not to forget to pay my car registration and left. I was freaked out for the next few hours. I became intensely focused and developed a case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I’ve never, in 1500 miles, walked alone. I didn’t want to make a mistake, miss a trail crossing, walk the wrong way. I talked out loud, touched every trail marker, checked the map at every point, a bit nuts.
I’m always headed for the barn on each hike. Can’t wait to get home. The next day I did 25 miles. I’m amazed at my endurance. The human body is a remarkable thing.
We’ve been using the new trail guide from Erik the Black. It’s more than a data book but less detail than the PCT handbook. It’s good but with limitations. He needs to correct real altitude change details.
I picked up two blisters on my out upper right heel. I don’t believe my New Balance trail runners are to blame. I think I have problems with my gait because my soles don’t seem unequally worn.
The view of Shasta become better and better. It looks massive – a broad base, towering over everything around it.
Met Chuck going south to Sonora Pass from Ashland. Appeared, by his dress, to be a trucker who took a long walk. Camped at Great Creek, exhausted.
I ran into a very quiet, stoic hiker named Eric.
I asked about camping places he’d seen ahead. He said “I camped on a ridge last night” as if it never was a bother. Ran into two hikers later who immediately recognized him by his sober nature.
Camping places and places to sit are as rare as hen’s teeth on the trail. Basically you’re looking to find a flat spot to be comfortable in. Flat enough so you don’t slide off your mattress in the night. Or scoot to the side or end of your tent. I found a tight spot next to Deer Creek one night. It has a shallow depression that I fit right into. Might have been the best spot since Campo.
The middle of this section had several places that were quite dry. Long stretches of 20 plus miles where I carried up to six liters as insurance against dehydration. The last 40 miles were quite wet. If I had a trail name it might be Water Buffalo because I’d rather carry too much.
There are a lot of trees near the end. It finally got hot, real hot, but under the canopies it must be 20 degrees cooler. Lushness of trees and ferns like the Sequoias. Pop out into the sun and feel the heat lamp. I did run into a ton of gnats on the McCloud river valley on the last day. They have the ability to fly upside down and backwards near your face as you walk. I’ve needed my head net about 5 times since the beginning of the PCT. They drive you nuts without it. Put it on and you laugh at their impotency to enter your nose, eyes and ears.
I sat in Squaw Valley Creek in my underwear splashing about. It’s a beautiful rocky place. No worries about anyone seeing my aging body. Quite liberating. Joys of the wilderness. That night, the last night, I had to climb to a road to find a camping spot. Lost my hat as I let my hair dry. Nice spot but dusty from all the vehicles passing. Several trucks went over and a few guys stopped to pee. They all looked tough (and couldn’t see me in the trees) and one got on his cell, called his honey, and said “Just out with guys, took a little drive. Do you need anything at the store? See you soon. Love you too.”
We’re all harmless.
Ran into Step and Machine coming in from Manning. Older guy and a lovely young lady. Probably his daughter. I’ve seen 28 hikers in 217 miles.
I said it before: no more money has been spent on fewer people than for wilderness projects. If the federal government spent funds on what citizens like and use we’d have Nascar or a Football in national parks. They spend money on what believe is good for us. I’m glad I’m part of that tiny sliver of population that likes the outdoors.
I don’t hike to commune with nature. To get away from the craziness of the city. To find myself. I do it because of the challenge, the adventure. I like people and more time I spend in nature the more I appreciate human nature.
All together a terrific section. I’m more excited about the next section to Ashland Oregon than I’ve been in several years.