Book Four, Chapter Two – Just a short walk to Belden Town
Frying on the way out of Sierra City
As those of you who follow my Instagram account (@edthesmokebeard) know, I am convinced that the 3000 ft, 8 mile climb out of Sierra City was put there on purpose by an angry god. Most hikers at least partially believe in Trail Jesus, the being or power who grants Trail Magic, hitches, and good weather. Trail Jesus can give and also take away. The point here is to Leave No Trace and be respectful in Trail Towns, lest you earn his vengeance.
The climb was not helped by the fact that I probably have seven days of food in my pack. While it’s only going to be 4 days plus a little to Belden, I know my resupply box there is a little short, so I’m carrying the extra food. Plus, my care package from home was overflowing with snacks. And really healthy, delicious ones at that. A great problem to have!
Lately, Faceplant and I have been talking a lot about nutrition and also ways of simply getting more calories. I think I’m close to the right amount of calories, although that is achieved by packing and eating about 4500 calories a day. It’s generally 3 900 or 1000 calorie meals, combined with 3 to 4 300 calorie snacks throughout the day. Overall nutrition is also probably pretty good, my energy levels are up, and I feel like I might be getting a little stronger. I still crave actual vegetables, but I’m not sure what there is to be done about that. When I can, I will pack out an avocado or a bag of dried “crapricots”. Because poop management is a thing.
New hiker bubble
I saw a bunch of new faces and met a bunch of new people in Sierra City. I think it was a combination of catching up to some and being caught by others. There’s a growing contingent of very lanky, stringy hikers with tiny packs. I think they are the ones who are consistently doing the 30 mile days. Sierra City was really nice, a great little half day stop over. Friendly people, a nice little coffee place, reasonably priced tourist town food, free showers, and free Internet, although it was slow. As I said to Shindig, “it’s slower than a day hiker going up a hill”. This drew both laughs and condemnation from the thruhiker crowd loitering on the porch of the country store.
My phone has been acting up ever since I got the latest software update for it. It’s infuriating because it’s affecting my ability to take and edit pictures. It’s doubly so because it was all working fine before and now it’s not. Now I know how iPhone people feel. We’ll see.
Holy crap, it’s July. My hike has entered it’s 4th calendar month. I can also envision the end of California within the month. It’s like I am making progress! Hopefully with the new shoes and insoles, the pain of hiking will diminish, and I can keep up my steady 20 mile pace.
I told myself I would only do 20 today, since it’s almost exactly 80 miles to Belden. However, I ended up doing 24 do to a combination of downhill walking and water logistics. I leapfrogged all day with Chipper and Star Lord, along with the still nameless Canadian couple. They’re with me at this bootleg site along a jeep road. It’s a dry camp, but I stocked up at the West Branch of Bear Trap Creek.
While the day started off on an auspicious note ( a weekend hiker gave me an avocado, later split with Chipper ), it ended up largely a series of uphill grinds and short ridge walks. It was not a great day, compared to the others. However, as they say, a bad day on the trail is better than a good day at work. My feet have started hurting again. That did not take long. I need to make sure I keep taking my turmeric and doing my stretches. Pack weight is still somewhat of a problem, although I am eating through the heavier stuff first. If I keep up this over 20 pace, I’m really going to have extra food when I get to the Braaten’s place in Belden.
26 miles and a swim
Another high mile day. I made really good time in the afternoon listening to music. Now the problem is that I’ve listened to everything on my phone half a dozen times. When I got to my previously decided stopping point, there was still a lot of daylight left. Also at the bottom of the hill there was a river which had apparently epic swimming.
After a swim in the Middle Feather River ( awesome! ) and some laundry, it wasn’t even 6 yet so I pushed on a few more miles to another good campsite. At the river, I ran into Evan and Angela, a couple that I had met back at mile 59, and had last seen in Julian. Nice to catch up with them for a bit.
The swimming at the river was so good that my hands and fingernails were actually clean. My feet, not so much; I’m thinking the filth is permanent.
Summer is here
It was a hot and very hazy afternoon. I went under the umbrella from noon until 4. Most people have ditched theirs, either to save weight or because it never rains. However, I have used mine everyday over the past several days for the sun. The weather reminded me of mid-August beach days in New England. You know those hot, sticky days, where the Sun is high overhead all day, and the weight of it flattens everything to 90 degree mush, and the air smells of sand and pine needles? It was like that. When I wasn’t walking through hot sandy stretches, I was walking through stands of enormous pine trees. It looked a lot like the halls of Moria from the Lord of the Rings movie, except instead of stone columns there were 6ft diameter tree trunks and the ceiling overhead glowed faintly green. And no Balrog.
I am getting a blister all of a sudden. One of the small toes on my right foot is forming a nice little toehawk. Perhaps new, or just clean, socks will help. Fortunately I’m getting new socks in Belden. Thanks Shana!
Happy Birthday America
On the trail by 6, and I did the six and a half mile climb up 2600 ft to Lookout Point by 9. Moving along well today, despite some foot pain. It is definitely better going uphill then down. The shock of each foot stepping down is what does the real damage I think. I cruised along at a pretty good pace after that, along the ridge, while listening to Bob Seger in my head, and sometimes singing along.
Before I knew it, it was 1pm and I had done 15 miles. Only another 7 to go, but with another brutal climb ahead. These are not brutal climbs by AT standards, or even what we saw in the Sierra or in Yosemite, but it’s a lot hotter now.
It is tempting to dig in and try to do the last 18 into town in one giant 33 mile day, but there is really no point. My mail isnt in town until Friday, so why rush? The campsite I’m heading for supposedly has great views and is atop a ridge. This means there will also probably be no mosquitoes.
I have reached the part of the day where the tops of the pine trees are brighter than the sky when viewed through my polarized sunglasses. I think its a combination of the blue sky versus the angle of the Sun versus the lenses. But whatever the reason, the sky gets very dark blue and the pine needles seem to glow bright green. This is always the toughest and hottest part of the day. A time for lunch, and sitting in the shade.
A lot of hikers hitched into Quincy or into Bucks Lake to take part in any available July 4th festivities. That sort of thing is not for the old and slow and friendless. I don’t have the luxury of taking hours off during the day and still making my miles. I did hear a funny story from Bandit however, who explained that the person who drove him back to the trail did not really know what Independence Day was for, or from whom, or why it was a holiday. She thought it might be some sort of military thing. Meanwhile, Bandit is from Singapore, and yet he knew all about July 4th.
Running the (poison oak) gauntlet
I ran into a Forest Service Ranger who warned me that the bottom section of Trail heading into Belden is rife with poison oak. We dip below 3000 feet, supposedly the magic elevation for this part of California. Not just growing alongside the trail, apparently, but running into and hanging over the trail. I’ll probably wear my rain gear to get through the section, bundle it all up and then wash it separately when I get to town. I’m not sure how to get the oils off my pack though.
In the end, the poison oak was a bust. There was plenty of it, but none of it threatening to life and limb. I made it into Belden by quarter of 11, where I discovered that Belden is really just a campground, a restaurant, and not much else. I got a shuttle a few miles up to Caribou Crossing, the RV Park, which despite glowing reviews was little more than a burger stand with a tiny attached store.
Because I sent my supply packages to the Braatens, I left after getting a milkshake and walked down the road to Little Haven. This is a great, low key, no drama hostel. As the Brits and a bunch of ultralight guys were pushing on, I’m the only one here besides a woman named Blossom. After doing laundry and taking a shower and organizing my food, I’m sitting on their deck listening to the river, reading and working on this post. Sitting on a proper chair, sipping water from a glass, not sweating, and not really having anywhere to go is right now the epitome of luxury. It’s like the sign I saw at the wind farm back at mile 214. It offered water and shade, and I realized you do not need much in this world.
What was far worse than the poison oak was the close to 3000 ft descent into the canyon. My feet were not pleased. And what’s even more daunting is the 4800 ft climb over 14 miles up the other side tomorrow.
Northern California is quite different than the Sierra. If you take a sheet of paper and fold it lengthwise about 8 times so that you have a sort of accordion, and then fold it across maybe three times, you’ll get a sense of what the geography of the Sierra is like. It’s long wide valleys which ultimately end at a headwall or pass, which you cross, and then do the next one. Northern California is more like if you took a sheet of paper, loosely crumpled it into a ball, then unfolded it most of the way. The land is a mixture of long ridges and randomly placed valleys and gorges that you have to constantly drop into and climb back out of. Where it made sense to, back in the day roads were put through in the larger passes and that’s where I am now.
The Belden “Town Resort” is in one of these wrinkles. There is no traffic light, no library, no coffee shop, no grocery store, and no Internet. If you want to come up for a weekend, drink beer and swim in the river it’s a great place, otherwise there’s not much else here. I heard this weekend the whole thing’s been rented out for a rave.
Hat Creek Rim
The fear mongering has already begun about Hat Creek Rim, a 37 or so mile stretch without water on the trail. Except there is a spring a third of a mile off the trail halfway through. It really is just a 16 and then a 21 mile water carry. Not unlike the desert. 600 miles of it, that everyone has already managed to survive. What is different now is that all of the ultralight hipsters have sent all of their contingency gear ahead, for instance rain gear, cold weather gear (I wore my down jacket for a while this morning) and among other things. extra water bottles. People are complaining that they can only carry 2 liters of water, and so this next section will be challenging.
Because I plan ahead and prepare, I go crazy and carry the extra 2 ounces of empty plastic needed to carry up to five liters of water if I have to. Am I excited about the idea of carrying 11 lb of water? No. But I will, and I will be fine.
I am really looking forward to this section. In addition to passing the PCT halfway mark, we’ll go through Lassen Volcanic National Park, and there will be some geysers and steam vents and sulfur lakes.
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