To Skip or Not to Skip: Mile 1287-1411
There are many, many tough choices one makes when thru hiking. What towns to stop in, how to resupply, when to zero, and when to push big miles. However, one of the toughest choices is to possibly skip a section of trail. At times, this decision is made for you with a trail closure but sometimes it isn’t as clear.
The Dixie Fire left much of the PCT between Belden and Burney in ashes. This has led to many hikers having to make a tough choice to either skip the burned section or to hike on through the ash.
Burn areas post risks.
Burn areas are not just an area void of life and scenery, but also produce hazards at a much higher rate. So, for some the choice to skip is not out of desire to move past the “boring” section but to avoid any unnecessary risks.
Without a doubt the biggest hazard of a previous burn area is blowdowns, hangers, and widow makers. When a fire rolls through it doesn’t just burn the trees but also all the underbrush. This can leave soil exposed and prone to erosion. This combined with the fire damage to trees can become a huge issue. A windy day can have deadly results if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yes, the odds are slim but more people have died on the PCT due to falling trees than wildlife like bears or mountain lions.
The second danger comes from the absurd amounts of ash that is left behind from the blaze. For the most part it is just annoying as everything you touch instantly turns black. Camping in a previous burn area is a sure fire way to require a shower. Unfortunately, the ash isn’t just an inconvenience, for those with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, the burn areas are a serious problem. Again a windy day, or even just you walking, can kick up enough dust to cause serious issues. To put it simply, for some people hiking in a burn area just isn’t an option.
Should I stay or should I go?
For me the answer was quite clear. That being said it is of upmost importance to remind everyone to make their own call. Just because I made one decision and someone else makes another doesn’t mean I think they are wrong, it’s simply a matter of going with what feels right for you.
The first few hikers I met that were skipping were in Sierra City and had a history of respiratory disease. They feared the ash would cause complications and there is little by way of civilization for an easy bailout.
The second group I met skipping had a much less concrete reason. A large congregation of hikers was amassed at the trailhead outside of Chester. They were waiting for their ride to Redding and then up and around the burn. Their rationale was a simple, “Hiking through burn sucks.” While I agree with that statement it was however not enough to convince me to break my footpath.
If that doesn’t give it away, I chose to hike on through the burn. My choice essentially came down to one thing: I came to hike the PCT, not my idea of what the PCT should be. I came all this way to take it all in, not just the parts that I was feeling up to or offered the best view. Again, not saying my decision is the correct one for everyone but it was the one for me.
Overall the burn area wasn’t all that bad. I’d much rather not walk through forest that’s burnt to a crisp but it was a rewarding experience. I walked away with a new appreciation for a healthy forest, non-dusty campsite, and of course the men and women who battle these blazes.
If you would like to see more from the burn area, or the rest of the PCT check out my Instagram or TikTok where I post short clips from every day on trail. @quinton_peters on both platforms.
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