Northern California ✔️
Days on trail: 85
Miles hiked: 1,369.20
Days without a shower: 14
Strangest thing seen: A man dressed as a T-Rex.
Guess what, guess what?! Bighorn and I officially, this week, hit the halfway point for the Pacific Crest Trail! We’ve now completed over half the trail!
I’m currently sprawled out in our tent, pitched on a small mound of dirt overlooking Aloha Lake. Today has been one of my absolute favorites so far. We started the day with a bit of a climb, swarmed by huge clouds of mosquitos so relentless that we could hardly slow down without accumulating large clusters of them on whatever patches of bare skin were available.
Once past the climb, though, the trail opened up to some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. We had one pass today, Dicks Pass, and we felt proud of ourselves for the ease in which we tackled it. After the pass, we were greeted with incredible lakeside trail, easy to navigate snow patches, and we even saw a few marmots!
We’re beginning to approach the High Sierras, the section of trail we skipped previously due to dangerous creek crossings and high snow coverage blanketing the granite peaks. Now, nearly 630 miles later, we’ve made our way through all of Northern California to the northern terminus of the Sierras, where now the trail awaits us with much safer conditions.
Northern California has a reputation for being a bit of a downer. Many people end up quitting in this section, disappointed to be leaving the beauty of the Sierras and frustrated to not even be halfway done with the trail. The familiar desert heat and steep climbs add an extra layer of disappointment as many hikers yearn to just be done hiking through California. To put it in perspective, we told Julie (Bighorn’s mom) that by the time we finish we’ll have spent 17 weeks in CA and 5 in OR and WA.
Fortunately for Bighorn and I, the flip allowed us to have a different perspective on this section. Sure, sometimes the trail was frustratingly steep, overgrown, and poorly maintained with numerous downed trees creating obstacles across the pathway. Those things aside though, the Northern California section brought beautiful and diverse landscapes, some of my favorite trail towns, many animal encounters, surprising amounts of trail magic, and wonderful social experiences with other hikers. I’ll be leaving this section a bit nostalgic for all of the incredible moments we had, but I’m grateful for each of those memories and the positive role they’ve played in my trail experience.
It would take far too long to go into great detail about the last 630 miles of trail, but we’d like to share the following three moments with you all in summary of our experience in this section.
One of my favorite aspects of moving south has been running into so many hikers. We’ve met a lot of people over the last four weeks and have enjoyed the change of pace.
Typically, we’ll meet others as we’re hiking giving us only a couple of minutes to chat. On some occasion we’ve been able to camp with others, helping satisfy the social aspect of the trail we’ve begun to miss since splitting from our group.
While in Sierra City, I had one of my favorite experiences yet. We were camped out behind the church, where the congregation lets hikers pitch their tent for free. There were about ten other hikers with us that night, including Snake Dancer from Israel and a woman from Paris.
We spent much of the night talking about the places we come from, why we’re on the trail, and why we keep going even when things get rough. The conversation was one of the most engaging ones we’ve had on trail yet and I appreciated being able to move so quickly past a surface relationship with these complete strangers.
While I call these people strangers, we do all share the goal of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in a way that is right for ourselves. This commonality helps transcend boundaries, creating this beautiful and rewarding connection. Even though these relationships may be fleeting, lasting only a couple of minutes or one night at camp, they feel true and genuine. During this section especially, these moments helped remind me of how powerful human connection can be.
Our second experience on trail that we wanted to share is actually an animal encounter that left us laughing all morning long.
Starting near Chester until sometime after Sierra City, we kept encountering some of the nosiest deer we’ve ever seen.
Being from Southern California, I’m always so excited to see deer. I’ve had friends from up north tell me that deer are like rodents, preying on your garden and steeling whatever food they can get a hold of. I usually ignored their comments, remarking on how beautiful they are. That is, until one particular morning after leaving Sierra City.
We were laying in bed, slowly getting ready to get up for the day. My eyes were closed, Bighorn’s arm wrapped around my side. We’ve been slow to get up lately, preferring to cuddle in our home for a bit before making moves.
I started to hear the familiar noise of trekking poles clinking against nature. It must be getting late, I thought, assuming the noise was from fellow hikers already up tackling the day.
I lifted my head up and peaked out of our tent, and that’s when I saw the true source of the noise. A deer, leaning between two trees, was working its way towards chewing the strap of my trekking poles which had been left upright in the ground that night. It saw my head move and, with strap in mouth, it began to run away with my trekking pole!
It eventually dropped the pole, about ten feet away, as it ran into the woods. Bighorn was nice enough to get out of the tent and grab it for me, but with a second glance around camp he realized his poles weren’t where he left them. He scavenged around a bit, looking to see where they might have gone, and finally found them laying on the ground a few feet away from where he had left them the night before.
He grabbed them both and incidentally flipped the strap side upside down so the top of the pole faced the earth. Immediately, a thick liquid began to flood out of the strap, draining onto the earth. Apparently the deer wasn’t trying to eat the strap… it just wanted to suck on it!
The third thing we wanted to share with you is about all of the scenery we’ve come across in Northern California.
In the desert, the landscapes changed slightly over time (and sometimes dramatically), but we were mostly left with similar views to what you would expect of a desert.
Northern California was vastly different in that almost every day we experienced something completely different. It left each day full of wonder as we came over saddles or peaked our heads over a ridge and were greeted by something brand new.
It began out of Ashland as we immediately were able to see Mt. Shasta, a beautiful mountain presiding over the town of Shasta near Redding.
We continued to see Shasta around every turn for nearly a week and a half before we hit Hat Creek Rim.
Hat Creek Rim is known for being either terrible because of the heat or absolutely beautiful. The trail is relatively flat and rocky and lends way to views of Mt Lassen just north of the national park. While we hiked Hat Creek Rim, we experienced extremely high temperatures that made the day particularly exhausting, but we loved watching how Lassen changed as we approached it and the views from the ridge overlooking the valley below.
Once past Hat Creek Rim, we entered Lassen National Park, another particularly flat section of trail. This time we weaved in and out of large pines, walked around beautiful lakes, and got to see the damage from previous forest fires.
One of our other favorite views along this stretch was coming over Dick’s Pass, walking south towards Tahoe. Before the pass and immediately after, you have dramatic views of the snowy granite peaks of the High Sierras. Lakes seem to be abundant in this area too, and at one point we had nearly seven miles of walking around various lakes to our campsite for the night.
If Northern California can be deemed boring, then I’m extremely excited for what’s left to come on the rest of our journey.
For now we’ll be taking a rest day in South Lake Tahoe (our first in 22 days!). Bighorn’s parents came out all the way from Minnesota to visit and with them they’ve brought an immense amount of positive and refreshing energy. It’s been fantastic having such a fulfilling break from the trail and we’re grateful to have them here with us.
We’ll be getting back on trail sometime on Wednesday and beginning our push through the Sierras. It might take a while for me to put up a blog post as civilization is less abundant the further we get into the Sierras, but we’ll be posting on instagram when we can so be sure to follow us there @alexamshapiro or @youmeandthepct. Until next time, happy trails!
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