Bats, Deer, & Bears

Day 52

It was nice to use a campground bathroom. In the rafters, I spotted two tiny sleeping bats. So cute! Sandbag and I ate breakfast at our site’s picnic table. Then I led the way out of the state park, swinging by Burney Falls for a last look. We chatted for a mile or so.

The trail took us across the top of Lake Britton Dam on a triple arch bridge. The structure was impressive and a vast quantity of water discharged into the Pit River. Afterwards was a long gradual climb with frequent water sources. I ran into a group of hikers going south and recognized them. We last met north of the aqueduct, except then I was SoBo and they were NoBo.

I listened to my audiobook then ate lunch with Sandbag near a seasonal creek. Karin caught up as we finished so I broke out my M&Ms to keep her company. About 12 miles out from the state park, I hit patchy snow. My FarOut red line was back! I used it to navigate several times, but for the most part there was a good boot path.

My feet sunk only tread deep in snow as I traversed multiple long stretches through wooded terrain. I crossed many a snow bridge over water. The water was shallow so I didn’t worry about breaking through. Snow melt flowed along the trail in multiple spots; my feet got wet. I caught up to Sandbag and we hiked the last couple miles together. The three of us made camp 20 miles from Burney Falls.

Day 53

It rained overnight so I took time drying my gear and was the last to leave camp, departing at 8:00 a.m. I had on new, Showers Pass, waterproof socks with dry Darn Tough socks underneath and my toes felt warm despite wet shoes. For a few miles, the trail was dry and I cruised along listening to my book. Then it was all snow. I started my 80’s Spotify playlist.

Initially I followed a well-defined boot track, which I assumed to be that of my friends. For a time, it took me off trail along a snowy road and I stopped in a bare patch to eat lunch. I basked in the sunshine and dried a few items that were still damp. The next several miles were wooded and I lost the boot track a couple times; blazed my own trail. I felt a bit frustrated and lonely.

Then came Lone Pine Ridge along with very dark sky that rumbled. The ridge’s left side had the steeper exposure, but also trees and rocks. I stuck towards that side as the other edge had occasional cornices and a couple small crevasses. I hurried as fast as I could, to get over the ridge before the storm hit and to catch my friends. Mostly successful, I was lightly rained on a couple times on the descent.

I begin to encounter dry sections of trail. It felt great to walk quickly, without sliding around. I felt sad each time the snow returned. At the first marked campsite, I hoped to see my friends. Yet, it was snow covered and empty. I continued on, wondering why they hadn’t stopped to wait for me. Maybe they realized we could miss one another on the various tracks? A valid concern, still I felt disheartened at having had to walk the snowy terrain alone. At the same time, I felt proud to have done it.

Then the track became more distinct and I realized I was closing on my friends. Past another empty and snowy campsite, I came upon tracks that descended along snowmelt water. A welcome sight as I hadn’t seen water since lunch. Bottles refilled, I was determined to camp at the next road crossing, hoping for bare ground. One mile later I saw two guys I knew, Pluto & Sky-Hi. We were happy to see one another; they had not seen anyone all day. I pitched my tent on snow for the first time on the PCT. I’d done 18.2 miles, woohoo!

Meeting the guys, I realized that I had followed their tracks and was actually ahead of my friends. I chatted with Pluto while I ate dinner. He is tall and from Sweden. As I settled into my tent, Karin and Sandbag arrived in camp. Yay! Karin complimented the trail I left them on the ridge. She knew my tracks whereas I l apparently did not know hers. Karin showed me pictures of bear prints that followed my trail… creepy. My waterproof socks worked well, the socks underneath were only slightly damp and my feet were not wrinkled.

Day 54

It was the first time I used my Thermarest, a one season air mattress, on snow and I was pleasantly surprised with how it did. I felt the cold, but wearing my hoodie & fleece, it was enough of an air barrier that I stayed warm in my bag.

We took a snow-covered dirt road towards the Grizzly Peak summit. Near the top, the guys turned back, saying it got steep. So the five of us dropped part way down into the valley, towards a power line, and angled up the side of the peak. In the end it was likely as steep as the terrain we attempted to avoid. Sky-Hi broke trail and I did my best to deepen his and Pluto’s steps for Karin. Eventually we reached a rocky protrusion and scrambled up it, then did a fairly flat traverse to reach a dry section of road below the peak. We made it; snack and view time!

From that point onward, our route alternated snow and dirt. At one switchback, the trail was obscured by a slide of trees. We fought our way through thick brush for 100 to 200 feet. I actually longed for snow when I emerged spitting a leaf from my mouth. Descending the next snowy valley, we encountered four deer who ran easily along the slope above, staring curiously at us. We waded across two creeks then reached the end of the snow and a lovely campsite. Karin, Sandbag, and I spread gear everywhere to dry and ate lunch.

The afternoon was an easy stroll through green foliage. It felt luxurious! Seven quick miles later, at the Centipede Gulch TH, Sandbag and I found trail magic goodies in ammo containers. Then we camped beside the McCloud River. I ate dinner with my friends then joined Pluto and Sky-Hi at their campfire. Sky-Hi reminds me of my friend Victor. We watched bats stream out of the derelict pit toilet to hunt insects, darting back and forth above the creek water.

Day 55

Before departing camp, I jogged back to the trail magic and procured more gummy bear packets. Then I crossed a sturdy bridge across the McCloud River and began to climb. I cruised along, listening to Florence + The Machine. While I hiked, I occasionally kicked or threw small to medium branches off the trail… practicing to be a ridge runner.

Sandbag, Karin, and I met for lunch at Squaw Valley Creek, sitting on a large flat rock near a swimming hole. Karin hadn’t been far behind, but arrived over 15 minutes after Sandbag and I. She encountered a bear cub that tried to approach her and play. Karin wisely backed off, not knowing mom’s location, and waited to pass until it scampered off.

The afternoon started with a long, switch-backed climb from the creek. I admired the large white flowers of dogwood trees and finished my audiobook. We contemplated a ridge camp spot then continued on. There were many fantastic views of Mt. Shasta. The trail descended and I listened to more Florence.

I started eagerly watching for a camp spot. We found one in the woods after our longest day yet, 25.5 miles. To escape mosquitos, I ate a dinner of cheese, chips, and gummy bears in my tent. Not great tent etiquette, though I did hang my Ursack. I slept with my rain fly off and stared upward along slender tree trunks.

Day 56

Due to my earplugs, I missed out on bear excitement. Around 2:00 a.m., a bear strolled along the trail through our campsite. Karin saw it from her hammock and yelled “Hey Bear.” The bear was startled and kicked dirt clods onto Sandbag’s tent as it did an about face and ran off. I slept through it all.

Two miles along the trail we passed the 1,500 milestone. It was 800+ for Karin and I. Due to yesterday’s high mileage day, we had only five miles of trail plus a two-mile road walk to Ammarati’s Market. There Karin and I collected our boxes; Sandbag got a burrito. We briefly stopped by the visitor center, hoping for advice. The upcoming Trinity Alps are like Grizzly Peak on repeat; ice axes recommended. Karin found a road walk workaround via Google maps.

We hung out in the shade by the market and inventoried food. Pluto and Sky-Hi arrived and joined us. Then the five of us walked over to the Castle Crags Campground hike & bike campsite. It had a couple picnic tables and a bear box. While Karin and Sandbag charged devices in the amphitheater, I chatted with the guys. After dinner, I got everyone to try a game of Fluxx.

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