PCT Week 13: Reaching Half Way, Lassen, and a Realization
Even more storms, Even more burn areas
After a well taken zero in Quincy, Build-a-Bear and I head back into more burn area. Rain and thunderstorms are expected so we book it. Songbird catches up to us and we make our way towards Belden. Ahead of us we can see dark clouds. It’s definitely going to start raining on us.
A nice little lunch break is taken in Belden. There is still plenty of sun above us for now, but soon those dark clouds are going to make it our location. We move forward and it’s time to climb. The climb out of Belden is considered to be one of most difficult due it being very long and pretty steep.
It immediately starts to rain and thunder can be heard roaring ahead of us. On our way up we meet trail crews who have been working double time to clear out all of the burn areas. It’s because of their hard work that we are able to go through these sections. We are also met by a very stressed and defensive mama hawk who has been known to aggressively dive down towards hikers, she’s only doing her job protecting her nest.
Finally we make it camp, it’s not the best tentsite but it’ll do for the night. Burn areas make it extra difficult to find a proper tentsite. Most of the trail is covered in ash and with the amount of dead trees around, it makes it dangerous to setup. You just have to settle with whatever is available out here.
Azul catches up the next morning. Those who had camped just ahead of us has apparently been snowed on. We’re two days from the solstice and we’re still dealing with snow. This has been a weird hiking season when it comes to weather. We’ve dealt with it all at this point. Finally at the top of the climb we see a mountain in the distance, it’s Lassen. We setup camp with a perfect view of the peak ahead.
Half Way to Canada
I awake in a great mood. We’ll be hitting a pretty significant milestone today. It’s only 8 miles until we reach the midpoint of the PCT. As I climb I reflect about the first half of trail. I’ve both physically and mentally matured. I feel stronger than ever and as I make it to monument, I feel a true sense of accomplishment.
I sit and take a minute to take it in. It’s truly something to be at the midpoint. I know the second half of trail will go faster, the pace will go up and the miles will double. I wish I could stay in this moment longer. There are still miles to do today so I’m off to explore the second half of the PCT.
It’s full descent to the highway. It goes by quick, my pace feels triple I’m used to and before I know it I’m at the highway. All around me I can see the burn. This community was heavily effected by the Dixie Fire, and I’m in the heart of it. I get to the road and within minutes I get a ride into Chester. My plan was never to go to town, but a trail angel is able to take us in.
In town I catch up to Fat Roll, Azul, and Build-a-Bear. We eat a quick bite before being picked up Michelle who hosts hikers every night with her husband Shawn. These amazing trail angels take us into their beautiful home, they make us dinner, and they have a hot tub! It’s a perfect way to end the day!
Well rested, we awake to breakfast! I’m ready for what’s to come, we’re headed to our next National Park! It’s a nice quiet morning, we get all of our gear ready and off we go. It’s going to be a hot day, but due to the rules surrounding Lassen National Park, we’re going to be forced to have a low mile day, so there is very little stress.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
In order to camp in Lassen Volcanic National Park, it is required to have a bear can. It’s only 19.1 miles so of course we’re just going to hike straight through and not camp. There is no point in sending a bear can forward just for 19 miles. It’s 15 miles to the boundary, so our options are to either hike 15 and camp at the boundary or hike 34 and hike through the park. We choose the 15.
It’s a very relaxed day spent napping by the rivers and taking our time to get to camp. Again 15 miles is virtually nothing for us now, so we don’t need to rush. Camp is reached and of course we’re back in a burn area full of mosquitoes. These burn areas have been rough, but our night in Chester helped refresh ourselves before this section.
Finally we enter Lassen! It’s all burned. It’s quiet. The park is empty, it’s something I’ve never experienced before. All we can really do is just walk through it. With everything closed and burned there’s unfortunately no reason to stay in the park long.
We do reach some of the many lakes that Lassen has to offer and for a brief moment the trail feels normal. It’s refreshing. It’s a hot day and we enter our final stretch, I make the mistake not getting water and the last water source. I enter another burn zone, it’s flat, but exposed and I’m close to running out of water. Luckily I am able to catch up to some hikers to are able to spare some.
I reach the end of the park, and also the end of the burn area. It’s a relief to see the green trees all around me. Also it’s a relief to see a creek flowing beautifully near the trail. It’s late and finally make it to Old Station. This small little RV park is a great spot to spend the night. I rest. Tomorrow is going to be another hot day.
Flat and Hot
It’s an early morning, but already it’s too hot. The only good thing is this section is flat. There’s no climbing but the water carry is an issue. I’d rather hike later in the evening so we decide to do some side quests along the way. There’s plenty of cool things to see around this section.
The first stop, Subway Cave. This really cool cave system is small but the temperature down under is perfect! I could stay there all day, but there’s more to see further along the trail. We only have one small climb today, and when we reach the top we can see our next destination, Shasta! It’s a beautiful view.
Our next stop is Trail Angel Cafe. A trail angel who has created a small oasis in between the long water carry. He offers cold beverages and a shady spot to hang out as long as you want. It’s exactly what we need on this hot day! We end up spending close to 5 hours here, letting the temperatures cool down. Hiking the Hat Creek Rim in the evening is the only way to truly enjoy it.
There is a small chance of thunder and rain tonight so we book it to camp. Another water cache is placed in between Trail Angel Cafe and Burney. It’s a good place to spend the night, it’s a short 17 miles to town that I would rather do in the morning.
We awake and it’s immediately too hot. It’s only 17 miles, it’s all flat, but it’s all exposed. The heat starts to get to me. I’m forced to take multiple water breaks. It’s difficult to press on. Luckily there’s an oasis not too far away! And as we get out of the exposed fields, the green lush river and lakes reveal themselves. We’re getting close to town!
Burney, a Reflection
After a brutally long day I reach the highway. I get lucky again with a quick hitch, the AC in the car is just what I needed. This last stretch was one of the most mentally draining. Between the burn zones and the exposed heat, I had a moment of weakness, where I felt a bit defeated. It was finally returning to the lush green forests that I realized that I could push through anything.
Thru-hiking isn’t always fun. Everyday is a challenge. We face so many difficult moments. Some which make you almost give up. But when you reach the end of the climb, the end of the hot day, when you reach camp at night, it makes it worth it. The things we experience out here are unlike anything else. Seeing that first sign of water after a long hot day made me realize how much I enjoyed thru-hiking.
The Triple Crown has been a dream, one I wasn’t sure about at first, but I realize now that it’s what I’m going to achieve. This trail has made me experience happiness I’ve rarely felt. The reward after a long day has given me so much confidence and strength. Reaching Burney after such a mentally exhausting section of trail truly made me more optimistic and stronger than ever.
I reach Burney. The town is a great place to rest from the heat. The local church takes us in at no cost, there’s a whole bunch of hikers here. And many new faces and I reunite with old friends. Tomorrow is expected to be the hottest day of the year so far. A zero will be necessary, this heat wave is no place for a hiker.
It’s a well spent zero of doing absolutely nothing. It’s too hot to really do anything at all. I nap and eat ice cream most of the day. This heat wave will continue for a couple days and unfortunately we will have to go out there, for now though we can finally rest and not think about it until the morning.
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