Here Comes The Grind (Days 94 to 101, Drakesbad Guest Ranch to Mt Shasta)
Start: Drakesbad Guest Ranch
End: Spatter Cones Trailhead
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 25.2
Drakesbad was an awesome stop for us – just off the trail, with a dramatic PCT hiker discount and some of the best food we’ve eaten on trail. We even met a woman whose family has been coming up here twice per year for generations – she pointed us to a picture of her grandmother on the wall, circa 1950. Clearly this is a spot with some history.
The feasting continued this morning with an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. We arrived 5 minutes before they opened and were basically knocking on the windows like zombies. Eggs, sausage, cinnamon rolls, strawberries – we were so full that they had to roll us out of the dining room at 8:30 when it closed.
We got hiking around 9, much later than usual, but we knew that 1) the heat wave was breaking starting today so the midday hiking would be easier (thank god), 2) most of our day was downhill through Lassen National Park, and 3) we were only targeting around 20 miles on the day. So, we happily set off on our one uphill for the day.
Thankfully it seems like the double bubble we were hiking around has broken, as most hikers went to Chester a few days back. We had the trail mostly to ourselves today, and found a sweet spot next to Lower Twin Lake to eat lunch. A few hikers went swimming, but we wanted to keep our momentum going.
The trail unexpectedly turned into an old burn zone from a prior year fire for the next 6 miles. Unfortunately we hit this at peak heat for the day, with zero tree cover. Fortunately the trail was all flat to downhill at this point, and we made excellent time back to tree cover and our final water source of the day.
At the water we hung out for a while with Grandpa, who let us know that his mom reads this blog. We had to snag a photo for his mother. From my limited market research, I seem to be extremely popular with other hikers’ mothers. Hey, you need to carve out your niche somewhere, right?
Just because we’re out of the desert doesn’t mean we’re out of rattlesnake country. Towards the end of the day, I jumped about 10 feet in the air when a sharp rattle sounded nearby. This big boy was halfway through eating a squirrel, and we were disturbing his dinner. We took a nice wide path around, and he rattled at us the whole time.
Mango found us a beautiful little campsite tonight, off of a very short side trail to a trailhead. There’s water spigots and a privvy. We may have to deal with some car noises tonight, but just think! Tomorrow morning we get to sit on a toilet. And in the immortal words of Mango, the best tasting water is water you don’t have to filter.
Start: Spatter Cones Trailhead
End: Bushcamp just off the Hat Creek Rim ridgeline
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 24.8
Very interesting morning today – I had a bit of cell service, and finally resolved the tent issues I highlighted in my last post. Zpacks would not send us a loaner tent while they fixed our issues, but fortunately our friend Kyle in San Francisco is overnighting a tent to Mt Shasta for us to use. We will send our busted tent to Florida for repair, and pick it back up at some point up the trail. Thank you Kyle (and Kyle’s roommate Austin), you are a lifesaver! When we set off around 6, it felt like a weight was lifted off of our shoulders. When we enter the mosquito hell that is Oregon, we will definitely have a tent with working doors to retreat to at the end of the day! Woohoo!
Hat Creek Rim is a famous 30 mile dry stretch, the longest in Northern California. We loaded up with water this morning at the trailhead, expecting to need to drop way off trail down a steep canyon wall later in the day. But, as we approached the exposed section of trail for the day, a trail angel had placed a giant container of water near the trail – amazing. That helps save us a lot of trouble later in the day.
Today was pretty much one type of hiking all day – ridgewalking, with zero shade. It went from hot to scalding pretty quickly, and we didn’t stop except for a quick lunch at a shady spot. Fortunately, the trail was almost entirely flat once we were up on the ridge. I can’t imagine being on this ridge a few days ago, at the peak of the heat wave. I imagine more than a few hikers didn’t know what kind of heat they were getting into.
About 18 miles into our day, we got to Cache 22, a large water tank next to a cow field that a trail angel fills with water. There’s usually a sign that gives a Venmo or PayPal account for donations when we get back to town. We gladly help support these types of water tanks – they help break up a 30 mile dry stretch. We spent over an hour in the shade, rehydrating and snacking, and generally waiting out the hottest part of the day. It felt like we were back in the desert, doing a midday siesta.
As we pulled out of the water tank at 3:45 lugging 4 liters of water on our backs, I thought for sure the hardest part of the day was behind us. But we continued to walk on exposed ridgeline, with the sun mercilessly beating down on us from the West. The wind picked up and while it was nice to have a breeze as we walked, the gusts were blowing very hot air, and I had to put away my sun umbrella for fear it would blow away. Pretty quickly, I started to not feel so great.
Finally the heat overwhelmed me, and I had to stop in the shade a few miles short of our campsite to eat dinner and wait until the sun went down. Walking through such exposed trail all day was really tough on me. We waited a few hours, then hiked the last few miles to camp in much more reasonable temps.
We’ve set ourselves up for 11 or so miles to town tomorrow. Hoping to make it to the road crossing before 11 for an early lunch and lots of time lying in a hotel room!
Start: Bushcamp just off the Hat Creek Rim ridgeline
End: Hwy 299 / Burney
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 11.2
We were off early this morning, ready to get to town and hoping to make it in time for breakfast.
It was easy trail, though we hiked through some sections of volcanic rock, which we could feel chewing through our shoes and require careful stepping. We passed by a fish hatchery and Baum Lake. There were so many fisherman near Baum Lake that part of me wondered if the fish had staged a jailbreak from the hatchery, but this is apparently a top-10 in the world fishing area, according to a local we spoke with.
When we reached the highway, it was a very quick hitch into town, and we went right for the best (and only) breakfast restaurant in town – the BlackBerry Patch Restaurant. Since it was already 10:30 and I figured this would be both breakfast and lunch, I sprung for the steak and eggs. Best decision ever.
Burney is a one-road town, in a good way. It’s a little bigger than Sierra City, so there are a lot more options for food and motels. It may sound crazy, but this is the first time since Tehachapi that we’ve had a motel room with air conditioning and a TV. That was 800 miles ago! Lots of bunk rooms, or private rooms with no AC, but the PCT has been very remote and a lot of the small towns we’ve passed through had limited accommodation. Since we passed by Quincy and Chester, we haven’t had any real medium sized towns in a long while.
We met back up with Bushwhack at the grocery store, and checked in to our room. We were upgraded (accidentally, we later found out) to a King Suite, which meant Bushwhack got to sleep on a couch. We all happily lay in our air conditioned oasis, watching terrible movies late into the night.
We also learned today that the Dixie fire near Belden has closed the PCT coming out of town. Hikers are having to skip from Belden up to Chester. We missed that fire by under 1 week. Very lucky! This fire map shows the actual burn zone, not just the closure – this whole section will be a recent burn zone for the trail for years to come.
Start: Hwy 299 / Burney
End: Bushcamp 1.7 miles short of Clark Spring
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 23.8
We slept so well in that air conditioned king suite. When we woke at 6, we all commented how good it felt to have a down night last night. I ran over to McDonald’s across the street to use their WiFi for a few minutes, then we hitched back to trail with an ex marine.
I hadn’t checked the elevation profile before we left town, so I was pleasantly surprised when our first 10 miles were all flat or downhill, along amazingly smooth trail. We moved at a brisk, only pulling over to visit Burney Falls State Park.
At only a quarter mile or so off trail, the 129-foot waterfall is among the highlights of NorCal. We swung over to the visitor center to buy soda and ice cream, then went down the short path to the falls. On the way down, the temperature plunged about 20 degrees, and despite the 90+ degree weather on trail today, we were genuinely comfy as we reached the base of the falls.
As we reached the dam near Lake Britton, we knew the easy part of our day had come to an end – it was all uphill from here, just as the peak heat of the day was settling in.
After bumping up and down 500 feet over a few miles, we arrived at Rock Creek around 2pm. We (along with about 9 other hikers) decided to take an extended siesta in the shade of the bridge to wait out the heat before our climb. We figured we had already done 13 miles on the day, so we could cover another 8 or so, even if we didn’t hike out until 4.
We assumed we would only get to Peavine Creek for the night, but when we arrived, we were still feeling pretty good. So we tossed down dinner and hiked on, until it started getting too dark to see. We found a bushcamp around 9, and went right to sleep.
Start: Bushcamp 1.7 miles short of Clark Spring
End: Bushcamp 3.5 miles before Butcherknife Creek
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 28.5
I forgot to turn back on my watch alarm after leaving town, so we unintentionally slept in an extra 20 or so minutes this morning. I didn’t mind – we got to bed late last night, after hiking until dark.
We got all the way up the 2,500 foot ascent yesterday before bed, so this morning we didn’t have any elevation to worry about. The foliage up here surprised me, though – so many dense green plants, and lots of wild flowers around. As we stopped for our morning break, the hum of bumble bees was constantly in the background of our conversation. We alternated between washout-plagued ridge walking and bushwhacking through overgrown ferns.
The Lava fire on the east side of Mt Shasta is really tossing off a lot of smoke right now. As we got towards the top of the ascent yesterday, the air started to get hazy, and today many of the views were smoky and cut off. We are getting closer and closer to Shasta, but we can barely see the volcano due to all of the smoke. Fortunately it doesn’t seem like this fire will threaten the trail as the winds are pushing it further eastward, but we still smell and taste the smoke as we hike. And we are heading further west today and tomorrow, wrapping around Mt Shasta before we continue North. Can you see Shasta below through all the smoke?
We ate a quick dinner at Gold Creek with White Rabbit, then began the descent down from the ridgeline. Since it was easy walking and entirely downhill, we once again found ourselves walking until it got dark out.
Today was our first marathon day since the Walker Pass section of the desert. And of course, we were proud to be a part of the 1% club (knocking out at least 1% of the total trail in one day). Every day we hike more than 26.5 miles, we get 1% closer to finishing the trail.
Now is when it really starts to feel like a grind. We’ve consistently put up 25s since we got back from Sierra City. We hike from sun up until sun down, resting only to eat, filter, or wait out the hottest part of the day. If you’re going to do a thru hike, I don’t know if it’s possible to avoid grinding out part of the trail like this – it’s just part of the experience of being a thru hiker. NorCal is definitely that grind for us at the moment.
Start: Bushcamp 3.5 miles before Butcherknife Creek
End: Bushcamp near the end of the last ascent before Shasta
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 25.8
An excellent campsite last night, right next to a flowing stream. I was a little worried as we were going to sleep that we would have an unexpected deer visitor in the middle of the night, as prior hikers had reported there were very bold deer in this area that came right up and chewed on any items left around camp. But thankfully we had no nighttime visitors and we slept peacefully.
The first 7 or so miles of our day was a descent down from Grizzley Peak. This side of the mountain is so much wetter than the top or side that we ascended – every mile we would cross over gushing streams, and the plant life was insane. Lots of bears reportedly in the area. We walked right up on a deer that had no problem with hikers trotting by, he was more interested in his breakfast buffet of plants than in us. The air felt thick with moisture, and we were sluggish even though we were just descending down smooth trail.
Our first climb of the day was from 2,200 feet back up to 3,900 feet, and we were thankful to hit it before noon – even at the relatively early hour, it felt like someone had cranked the thermometer all the way up. We got to the top and sat down for lunch, only to be quickly attacked by a dozen bees. We scrambled away and kept hiking, but the next flat spot wasn’t for miles, and as a result we didn’t eat lunch until West Trough Creek, an hour later than we planned. The water was blessedly cold, and we alternated between eating and splashing water on our heads to cool off.
Along the same lines as yesterday, we are far from the only hikers out here grinding out big miles right now. We are passed pretty often by younger folks, and when we strike up conversations with them, they’re often pushing 30 mile days. We ate lunch with a college-aged girl whose group is planning to go to Shasta tomorrow and head back to trail same day, to get 5 or so miles up the incline out of town. I try not to get down on myself as we’re getting dusted by these youngins – after all, you only ever see the people going the same pace or faster, you never see the people you’re hiking faster than. I know we’re far from the slowest ones out here. But when everyone you see is suddenly putting up 30 mile days, you start to wonder. It’s the PCT version of “Keeping Up With The Jones’s”.
I was really struggling towards the end of the day – maybe a hangover from yesterday’s big mileage. We slowly picked our way up the final 2,000 foot ascent, getting close to the top and camping in a big open area that looks like it may have been a dirt road at one point. I’m completely toast as I write this – definitely ready for a zero day in Shasta.
I’m not sure what’s getting me so down / tired over the last few days. But this is definitely bigger mileage than I ever pushed on the AT, and for a more sustained period of time. Pumping 25s day in and day out clearly isn’t something I can do, and I had a talk with Mango tonight – I think we’re going to back off mileage in the coming sections.
Days 100 and 101
Start: Bushcamp near the end of the last ascent before Shasta
End: Interstate 5 / Mt Shasta
PCT Miles Hikes Today: 11.8
Very groggy as I hiked out this morning – my body is definitely ready for a zero.
We were pretty much all the way up the last incline before the highway, so we walked the ridgeline and had incredible views of both Shasta and Castle Crags.
Incredibly smooth trail all morning. As we left the ridge and started downhill, we passed Wildflower as she was packing up! We filtered water and ate a snack with her, and she let us know that a friend from the Bay Area was meeting her at the trailhead – and she might have a few extra seats for the drive to Shasta. Well, we made sure to stick close to Wildflower for the descent, and sure enough, we got a ride to town! And we got to hang out with a cute pup in the backseat! As we drove out, we saw a bunch of hikers trying to hitch near the intestate on-ramp, and even 2 hikers who had gone up onto the interstate to try their luck.
Mt Shasta, you are beautiful! What a neat little resort town. We couldn’t check in until 3, so we ran errands – picking up our new Big Agnes tent (thanks Kyle!), shipping our busted tent back to Zpacks for repair, resupplying, etc. We met up with Bushwhack after being 5 or so miles apart for most of the last section, checked in to the hotel, and settled in to doing absolutely nothing other than watching terrible television (including old Steve Irwin episodes).
Ah, zero days. This is our first zero in 300 miles, so we made the most of it – cranking the AC and eating a ridiculous amount of food, and basically not leaving the room for any reasons. I wish I had more to report on the day – like, we went to take a helicopter tour of Mt Shasta, or some locals took us out to a bar and opened our eyes to the thriving local punk-rock music scene. But no, we watched multiple old Adam Sandler movies and didn’t leave bed. Maybe we’ll make up for the boring stay in our next trail town. (Probably not.)
And that’s all for this stretch! I’d like to stop pushing 25s every full day on trail if I can – I think if the last 2 weeks have taught me anything, it’s that I need at least an hour at the end of the day to wind down, lie in the tent and chill before bed time, for my own mental sanity. So I’m gonna try to stop hiking a little earlier in the day. I don’t think we will drop days, I think it will just mean longer days into town. We’ll see. I think we will do 5 days to Etna (99 miles), then a few back to back 3-day / 60ish mile sections to Seiad Valley and then to Ashland for our first stop in OREGON!
Until next time, happy trails!
P.S. If you like this post, check out Mango’s trail podcast, Take a Hike!, now available on all major platforms (except Apple for some strange reason, probably due to my outspoken disapproval of AirPods on trail. Every time I see a hiker with AirPods in, I try to chuck a pinecone at their head, which I’m sure has put a dent in Apple’s total sales for the quarter. You look like you have a Q-tip hanging out of your ear! Who thought that was a good idea?) https://anchor.fm/takeahikepodcast
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