The SnoBos arrive in NorCal

Avoiding the Blues

Dash, from somewhere around Mammoth, sends a message: “How’s NorCal?”

The responses from the group are varied, but all are accurate.

“Thunderstorms and dirt.”

“Butterflies and wildflowers.”

“Bushwhacking and blowdowns.”

The Northern California section of the PCT is often associated with The Blues. From time to time, we reflect on why this may be. Theories include the relative monotony compared to the Sierra and that most years trekkers reach the halfway point around Lassen. Perhaps the NorCal Blues are a time of existential reflection for those hiking in a more standard year, as they face facts that there is more trail behind them than in front.

In 2023, the path to NorCal for many hikers has involved some kind of skipping around the Sierra. Some have managed to get all the way through. Some took continuous-footpath detours around. Some, like us, did part of the snow and flipped north when the melt began. Still others took exciting side trips to other trails while waiting out the snow.

Whatever the path, there are so many of us in Northern California now. I had thought that we would be scattered into so many versions of this trail that it would be a ghost town, but the opposite is true. It’s busy in NorCal. We are all landing here.

The Blues haven’t really hit, at least for those I’m walking with. We think that maybe having done half of the adventurous Sierra and half of reflective NorCal (with the intent to return for those 500 missed miles), we are keeping things just fresh enough that we may avoid The Blues altogether.

Reunions and New Faces

Head Start, Mini Chimi and I arrive in Old Station after 24 hours of rides and a motel from Mammoth via Reno and Susanville. Before we even start hiking, we run into Turtlewolf. The last I heard weeks ago, he was going to go to Canada and come south, but here he is at the campground in Old Station, right in sync with us. Amazing.

In Mammoth a few days prior, we saw Minstrel walking down the street and invited him to dinner. In Burney we reunite with Journey Man and Mantis. In Shasta we see Sheriff for the first time since Kennedy Meadows. In Etna and Seiad there are more reunions and entirely new crews to befriend. We cross paths with people going south that we knew in the desert. In Ashland, we see Lizard King and M. for the first time since perhaps Agua Dulce. Also in Ashland, Dash and Mini Chimi are racing forward to try to get to Canada before college classes begin, and Head Start, Journey Man, Mantis and I become a group of fourish, down from sixish.

Northern California may not have the adventure of the Sierra or the nervous uncertainty of the early desert, but for this class it seems to be a time of folding old and new together into an unbreakable bond. We are one class. Different stories and different paths, but 2023 has shaken us up like a snow globe after Kennedy Meadows and we are all now gently settling together on its glorious landscape.

Undertaking a Challenge

Sometimes on a thru-hike you hear about challenges. “10 by 10”, “The Oregon Challenge” and so forth. Head Start and I decide to do a 24-hour challenge out of Shasta on the solstice.

It’s a normal day leaving town. Out by noon, on the trail, doing a half day. We walk twelve miles or so and nap from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., then start a new day at 9:00 p.m.

Earlier that day, when leaving town, we realized that we had bought ourselves so many motivational treats that our bags were the heaviest they had ever been. Ironically, we wouldn’t be able to walk for 24 hours because we had stocked up too much on the things that would get us through!

But come 9:00 p.m. and with twelve heavy-backpack miles under our belts, we decide what the heck.

We walk overnight and are blessed with a sunrise coming up behind Mt. Shasta. Around the twelve hour mark, we take a series of long breaks that gets us about two miles in three hours. But we press on and manage 40 miles by 9:00 p.m. on the second night.

It’s an enormous struggle, but it’s fun to do these quirky things while you’re out here with all this time on your hands. You remember the deep conversations and uncontrollable laughter more than the aches and pains.


Walking through burn zones around Etna, I see life growing from devastation. There’s nothing I can say that won’t sound like a forced metaphor, so I’ll leave it with a picture.

Standing here, seeing these seedlings emerging in the midst of all of this, I think about all the lives of all the people out on this trail in 2023. What brought us here, and how will we grow?

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Comments 1

  • bill : Jul 7th

    Let me know when you get close to Trout Lake. Ian gave me your info. Thanks


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