In Defense of NorCal: PCT Days 90-94
Day 90. Miles: 27.7 Total: 1485.0
In the morning, I see a buck with massive antlers. He watches me placidly while I talk to him. We’re not in the Sierra anymore, but the deer are still fearless.
I hike alone throughout the morning. Halfway up a big climb, I pause for my lunch break at a switchback in the shade. Smiley catches up again, and we leapfrog throughout the rest of the day. In the evening, we go swimming in a deep, cold creek just off trail and set up camp.
Day 91. Miles: 19.5 Total: 1504.5
Originally, I was planning to go to the town of Mount Shasta today, but I’m still feeling fresh from my zero in Burney. Smiley and I decide to just hitch into Dunsmuir for a quick resupply and then get back on trail tonight. We find a ride from a gentleman offering trail magic at (fittingly) Soda Creek.
Dunsmuir is a charming small town. It reminds me of my parents’ town in Virginia if not quite so many of the storefronts were boarded up and abandoned.
We hitch back to the trail in the evening. The forest north of the interstate is beautiful, dark, and quiet. “I’ve never been to Oregon,” I tell Smiley, “but this is what I imagine Oregon is like.”
We camp at Indian Springs stream, and it’s surprisingly crowded. Since Burney, I’ve been hiking between bubbles, but tonight there are at least a dozen people here.
Day 92. Miles: 21.0 Total: 1525.5
Today we have dramatic views of Castle Crags, Lassen, and Shasta. It feels like Smiley knows everyone on trail, and in the afternoon we hike with a couple guys he met in the Sierra named Wicked and Danger. Despite the trail names, both hikers are mild-mannered and friendly.
In the evening, we enjoy beautiful views of Mount Shasta in the golden hour sun.
Day 93. Miles: 27.3 Total: 1552.8
More good views today
NorCal is underrated
Take that, Sierra
Day 94. Miles: 28.2 Total: 1581.0
Okay, I’ve realized. I actually love Northern California. This might be an unpopular opinion? Much like the Virginia blues on the AT, you hear a lot about folks getting the NorCal blues on the PCT. For the first time, I’ve heard of hikers quitting not for injury, but because they’ve gotten tired of thru-hiking. In both cases, I think the place’s only fault is where it’s located on trail. Virginia and NorCal are both around 40-50% of the way, when you’ve had a couple of months for the novelty to wear off, but there’s still so far to go. Especially here, when everyone talks about the Sierra as the best part, and half the forest is burnt to a crisp, it’s easy to feel like all the highlights are already behind you. The trail becomes like a job– you’re becoming conscious of your timeline now– and you are putting in big, exhausting miles every day.
So, yes. The middle of a thru-hike is hard. The end still feels so abstract, whereas the tired muscles and boring trail food feel acute and undeniable. But mid-trail doldrums aside, northern California has been…really great. Lassen and Burney Falls and Mount Shasta have been interesting and beautiful, the wildfire scars are thought-provoking, and once I recovered from COVID, I began to enjoy hiking alone and meeting new people.
We overlap with new hikers in the afternoon. Naturally, Smiley knows them, and he introduces them as Shepherd and Viking, from Austria and France. I take one of my favorite photos so far when I approach Smiley, Shepherd, Wicked, and Viking all paused at a vista. It looks like an album cover, the four of them standing there, looking out over the valley.
In the evening, Smiley and I set up camp with Wicked and Danger along a quiet forest road with views of Shasta. The massive mountain still looms over us, as it has for over a week now. Views of it would follow us all the way to the Oregon border, if not for the wildfires.
But that’s a tale for next time.
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