July 5th- 14.4 miles, camping near Frog Spring
It was 85°F in Belden when I left after 11am. I really meant to leave sooner, but I wanted to update the blog while I had service. Since the video uploading took so long, I walked to the store and bought batteries and a $3 Nestlé Crunch ice cream. I know I paid way too much for the ice cream, but it was SO HOT. Just as I began heading up the trail, I realized I’d left my trekking poles back at the trail angel’s house. Argh! Laurie Braatan drove them out to me fifteen minutes later. THANK YOU, LAURIE!
I was practically melting all the way up the mountain. The trail climbed 6,000 feet over 13 miles- up, up, UP all day. Once again, I did my routine of soaking my shirt in every stream I crossed. When I came to a stream big enough for a dip, I didn’t hesitate to strip down and jump in!
I’ve been kind of nervous all day. This is the area where, last summer, a PCT hiker was stalked by a mountain lion all night. It sat outside her tent, walked around it, and was very interested in her. That was Muk Muk, a hiker from New Zealand, and she made a number of videos throughout that night about the ordeal and her fear. I really, really don’t want a mountain lion encounter.
As I came around a bend in the trail, I spotted a man in a green vest, holding a clipboard, standing and just staring at some bushes. His name was Dick and he works as a botanist for the Forest Service. He was examining some endangered succulents that had been reported in the area. As he was heading in my direction up the mountain, we hiked together for about two miles. It turns out that his daughter and son are hiking the PCT and are in Tahoe right now. So, he seemed excited to get to know who was on the trail. We said goodbye when I stopped to get water and cook dinner. He was meeting a colleague who was waiting with a jeep on one of the dirt roads.
Just after Dick left, Wall-E showed up. His claim to fame is that he’s only had to dig a hole in the woods a total of ten times since he started at the Mexican border. Every other time he’s had to go no. 2, he’s managed to hike himself to a privy. We hiked the remaining miles up the mountain toward the campsite at Frog Spring. The poor man had to get off trail in Chico to see a doctor for foot pain. He learned there that he’d broke a bone in his foot! I can’t believe he’s still hiking! He’s actually really bummed about the whole thing and is trying to reconcile himself to hiking gentler and then exiting at Ashland.
We reached Frog Spring and Glitter was camped here, too. Yay! We made a fine little party for the night. Both Glitter and Wall-E and super early risers, and I definitely cherish a good sleepin’ in, so I probably won’t see them in the morning. I think I’ll try to catch up to them later in the day though.
July 6th- 20 miles
Wall-E was up and on the trail by 6 am this morning. Oh, I wish I could do that! I’ve tried hard to be a morning hiker because it really is so beautiful and you can get so many miles in early, but I’m just not a morning person. Glitter slept in for once because he doesn’t have far to go to meet his boyfriend in Chester tomorrow morning.
For most of the morning, the trail wove in and out of view of Mt. Lassen in the distance. I think it’s a dormant volcano. I’m excited to see volcanic rock formations again because they’re just so striking against the soft forest and blue sky. I’m also glad to be out of the dense forests of Section M. They were kind of creepy and I like having a view!
I moved pretty slow all morning. No matter how much or what I eat, I just feel really tired. I don’t think I’m getting enough sleep at night.
I’ve really missed reading while I’ve been out here, and often found myself reading and rereading my maps and guidebook pages. While at the Braatans in Belden, I decided to pick up a paperback and have taken longer than usual breaks today enjoying reading it. It’s Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck, a historical fiction about Tzu Hsi, empress of China in the late 19th Century. I’d read a couple of Buck’s books in college and high school, so her name stood out from the piles of other authors on the bookshelf. So far, I’m really enjoying it!
I came across a note that Dick the botanist left for his PCT hiking son and daughter. I imagined the two kids spotting it and their reactions- I thought it was so sweet, I even got a little teary eyed!
Glitter caught up to me during my long lunch of ramen, homemade jerky from my Dad, and specially mailed dark chocolate from my mom. We hiked together all afternoon and both really seemed to be struggling with our energy for the day. His excuse is that his body is shifting into “town gear.” I don’t know what my excuse is.
Our last climb of the day wasn’t a bad one, but we were both huffing and puffing, taking breaks every five minutes, and thoroughly ready to stop for the day. It’s funny how we’ve hiked so many miles and have conquered the Sierras, but we just turned into babies climbing up a simple thousand foot mountain.
When we reached our site for the night, we both crawled straight into our tents. I was ravenous and inhaled more jerky and a dinner of couscous with chicken and veggies. I’ve been nursing two cups of hot coco since and picking carefully at the Fritos that are supposed to be for tomorrow. I’m just so hungry! I rationed out my food for the next two days and totally fell short of what I’ll need. Glitter gave me an extra rice dinner he had since he’s heading into town and won’t need it. ♡♡♡
July 7th- 24 miles
The exact midpoint of the PCT changes every year because the trail itself changes, but reaching that monument is still an accomplishment. It feels great to know we’re now just a little bit closer to Canada than we were to Mexico.
Glitter and I hiked at turbo speed all morning, we were both excited to reach Highway 36 for some treats. Glitter’s boyfriend, Ethan, drove all night to meet him and brought all sorts of goodies: brownies, chips, even kombucha! Another long distance section hiker named Strawberry hung out, too. She’s hiking the entire northern half of the trail.
I was so excited to see that my favorite bear family, Trekkin 3-D, had just signed the trail log book that morning. I hope I can catch up to them soon! You can follow them on their Facebook page here.
It was so hot all day, and muggy, too. I pressed on toward the next water source, a much smaller version of the North Fork Feather River. I just couldn’t wait to get there and wash the sweat off my body. No one was there except a couple PCT hikers I hadn’t met yet. They were napping in their tent and didn’t look like they’d be back on the trail any time today.
I almost stayed at the river, too. In fact, three tines I started to unpack and then changed my mind. I thought it’d be nice to camp by the water, but the campsite left wasn’t that great with some sags (dead trees with the potential of falling) around. I thought, “Well, I’ll just go to the next one a mile away.” I didn’t like that one either; it was too dark in the trees. Here I am now, at a campsite I made myself on top of the ridge, four extra miles from the river. At least I’m that much closer to showers, laundry, and a hot meal at Drakesbad Guest Ranch!
July 8th- 8.5 miles, camping at King’s Creek
The forests of Northern California are beautiful, but there’s a whole lot of the same view: trees, trees, rolling hill glimpsed through trees, and more trees. Part of the reason so many thru-hikers get off the trail in Northern California is because it’s not as scenic; hikers start to get bored and they’re no longer distracted from their physical pain by the stunning beauty around them. I myself am struggling with it. Most hikers I talk to are having the same thoughts and feelings. Some days or hours I’m ready to get off trail at the very next town and on others I want to see it all the way through to at least Ashland, Oregon.
I was really excited to hike past a boiling mud lake this morning. In my mind, it would be an oasis of entertainment within a desert of pine trees, a diversion from the monotony of the forest. It was pretty cool; I definitely thought it would be stinkier. It’s too bad there wasn’t a cooler lake nearby to take a mud bath in!
I hadn’t originally planned on going to Drakesbad, but my guidebook said the RV park with the showers and laundry in Old Station might be closed. Since I really cherish my weekly showers, I decided to head to Drakesbad. In order to get a shower at the guest ranch, PCT hikers must first buy a meal. I wasn’t exactly going to say “no” to that, so I got up early to get a breakfast at Drakesbad, thinking I’d then shower and head straight out. Yeah, right.
I had a very loooong breakfast, sipping my coffee and reading. Then I discovered the bathtub room in the shower building, where I spent an entire hour and three refills of hot water in the tub. I could’ve left after that, but I wanted to charge my iPod, so I laid in the hammock and ate ice cream while I waited. When my old friends from Section F showed up, Duchess and Booey, I had to get caught up with them. Then my favorite bear family (Trekkin 3-D) waltzed in! That was it, I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I decided to forfeit my plan of putting in another 18 miles for the day and hiked with Trekkin 3-D to a campsite only 2.5 miles away.
Shortly after eating dinner, the dark clouds that had been dancing around us all day finally began to thunder. Just as it began to lightly rain, Smiles and Uke-less walked in! I haven’t seen them since Section F- I love seeing all these familiar faces! Uke-less gave me a fancy Ace ankle wrap insisting he doesn’t need it anymore. THANK YOU, UKE-LESS!
My ankle has rolled one too many times and is now in kind of bad shape. Every morning since just before Belden, it hurts so much I wonder if I’ll be able to hike on it. The pain goes away after about fifteen minutes of gentle hiking and for the rest of the day, I hike very carefully. While in Belden, my ankle was actually really swollen, so I’ve also tried to “ice” it in cold streams when I can.
I’m laying in my tent now, listening to the light rain splatter on my tent. With its spaciousness, good light, and the nearby creek, this is definitely one of the nicest campsites I’ve stayed at over the last couple weeks, made all the nicer by the company! I’m hungry again, so I’m making hot coco and another rice dinner. What an awesome night.
July 9th- 21 miles, staying in Old Station
I hiked for the morning with Papa, Grizzly and Polar Bear. The trail was so flat and clear though, that I flew the 21 miles into Old Station. The forest changed from dense and dark to spacious and light. The land was flat as a pancake except for a few small buttes. Mount Lassen could be seen towering in the distance for miles and I wondered why the PCT didn’t take a route closer to it.
I pulled out my iPod for the long hike to help propel me forward. It’s amazing how powerful music is! Having a beat to move to and elevate my endorphins was better than caffeine. I think Smiles and Uke-less who were hiking behind me probably thought I was hilarious as I danced and skipped down the trail.
I arrived at Old Station at 2:00, giving me plenty of time to hit up the post office, the deli, the showers, and the store. I grabbed my resupply box from the post master and planned to mail home my skunky sleeping bag. In the meantime, I pigged out on a burger and milkshake, then went straight into a food coma. I knew the post office closed at 4:30, but was distracted by the departure of the Bear family (they’re leaving to hike to a section in the Sierra they skipped before). Just as they pulled away, I saw the post master climbing into her car at 4:31. Argh!
Since I now need to wait for the post office to open in the morning, I’ve ended up paying way too much to stay the night at the RV resort. At least now I can ice my ankle and shower, and Ghostbusters is on TV!
July 10th- 13.5 miles, camping at “Lookout Site”
The next 35 miles, called the Hat Creek Rim, has no natural water sources near the trail. It also tends to be exceptionally hot and exposed. Most hikers plan to hike out late afternoon and go as far as they can into the evening. The next day they get up early and get off the Rim by noon.
My plan was to road walk to a cafe two miles down for breakfast and then hang out at Subway Cave (a local park) until it cooled off. As I walked down the two lane highway, a truck passed me, made two u-turns, then pulled over. Jim, the driver, leaned out and said, “You’re not gonna rob me, are ya?!” He said he felt sorry for me walking in the heat with my pack. He sat with me at the cafe and I bought him a coffee while he told me his life story. He’s 73, never went to high school and has lived off the grid his entire life. As a child, he and his siblings would trap squirrels for food. He’s very proud of a reading class he’s been taking in his community and the progress he’s made with it. : ) Good for you, Jim!
Subway Cave is a lava cave that formed when this valley was covered with hot lava 30,000 years ago. As the lava flowed, the outer layers cooled and hardened while the inner layers continued to move forward. Eventually the inner flow drained and only the outer, hard layer remained. I was so surprised the cave didn’t smell like pee or have any graffiti!
I hiked past sunset to take advantage of the cooler night air. The view from the rim was beautiful: Mt. Lassen to the south, Mt. Shasta to the north, and the valley of Hat Creek spread between them. I’m camping next to a small Forest Service radio tower. Every now and again, a robotic voice from inside the control shed shouts out the date and time. It startled me at first, now it’s just funny. It looks like thunderstorm clouds tonight!
July 11th- 25 miles, camping at Arkright Flat
Last night, two more PCT hikers showed up at 11:30: Butters, who I met in Old Station, and a flip flop hiker named Just So Fresh. A flip flop hiker is one who starts in the middle of the trail, goes one direction, then jumps to the other end and hikes the opposite direction. Just So Fresh got his name from the northbound hikers who thought he was fresh as a baby when he started at Tahoe. Butters got his name from eating rancid Spam and then vomiting for two days straight. At first he thought it was his butter that made him sick, hence the name.
Butters and Just So Fresh were super fun to hike with for the day. Butters has a pine cone game he plays: stab randomly at cones with your poles as you hike, if you’re able to pick one up, then you try and toss it at a target, usually the hiker in front of you! There are also PCT points you can earn: pick up a piece of trash, “LEAVE NO TRACE, EARN 10 POINTS!” Clear a rock off the trail, “TRAIL MAINTAINACE, EARL 5 POINTS!” Just So Fresh is carrying a 45-pound pack and is still breaking in his feet.
There’s a water cache maintained in the area by locals where we filled up our bottles. There was also an RV parked nearby belonging to the famous Copper Tone! He’s been driving around California, popping up on the trail and making strawberry swirl root beer floats for hikers. ♡♡♡
Light thunderstorms sprinkled on and off all day. It was the most perfect weather for hiking the Hat Creek Rim. Lava fields spread out along the valley floor to our left and the trail slowly made it’s way lower and lower toward them.
Reaching the valley floor, the land around us looked more like an African plain and Mt. Shasta in the distance looked like Mt. Kilamanjaro. The trail eventually took us across to a state fish hatchery with picnic tables and grass. A French couple whom I’d leapfrogged with for several days, Marianne and Mathew, showed up to relax with us. We spread out our mats on the grass and dozed for a couple hours. It was one of the best afternoons I’ve every had: lying in the grass, the warm air around me like a soft blanket, and occasional gentle drops of rain on my legs.
Butters and Just So Fresh stopped at Highway 299 to hitch a ride into the town of Burney for a resupply. I kept moving hoping to get closer to Burney Falls State Park.
The Wild Bird Cache is famous for being some of the most epic trail magic a PCT hiker will encounter. I had no idea: there was a cooler full of cold drinks, chocolate, and applesauce, a cabinet stocked with canned foods and medical supplies, a picnic table for hikers to sign their names on, a gas-powered stove, lounge chairs, and a solar shower! I stayed for an hour at the little oasis, making dinner and showering, before heading on for a few more miles.
July 12th- 4 miles into Burney Falls and still more to hike!
Burney Falls is so beautiful! I got in early this morning and walked right past the massive and magical waterfalls before hitting up the general store for some breakfast. After uploading this journal, I’ll head out up, up, up out of this giant valley.