Weeks 17-20 (Northern California)
One of the most memorable transitions of the hike was crossing an international border. Walking into Manning Park, it was clear that the second act of this adventure was done. I had done enough flipping, and it was time to flop.
A black bear crossed the highway, and so did I, finding two other hikers looking for a hitch. We stood there a while not sure if it should work, but sure enough, a lovely human returning from her backpacking trip gave us a lift to Vancouver! Some excellent Poutine from La Belle Patate and some biking around the seawall was just what the doctor prescribed. My partner visited for the week and we traveled through Seattle and eventually got a series of buses back to Ashland.
It was a lot of fun having the time off, but the reality of trail was setting in, as it always does. Hitching back to the I-5 trailhead felt like Groundhog Day. I stood in the same exact place and got a similarly friendly ride, just as quickly and conveniently. Putting one foot frequently in front of the other, I crossed over the border back into California. The scenery quickly changed from deep forests to pale, open fields with cows trotting around. I didn’t expect it to be so obvious and so immediate.
I had hiked opposite nearly every southbound hiker while I was northbound in the PNW. Now I was starting to recognize folks, and a few familiar faces at small trickling leaf spring stood out. The last time I had seen them was at a gas station in Washington. The days began heating up and I felt well integrated with the southbound bubbles of NorCal. Crawling into Seiad Valley, I saw Karel Sabbe working through a similar struggle, but instead uphill. I did not envy him in that moment. The local trail angel in Seiad had a particularly impressive dinner on hand that included caprese salad, cucumber salad, veggie burgers, and freshly picked blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Afterwards a group of us stayed up stargazing. This was one of my favorite nights on trail. Thanks to Brian and everyone who helped cook that night!
After having coffee on the porch the next morning, I moved on and hiked nearly 30 miles uphill. It was awful and hot out, but a swimming hole part the way up was an ideal place to cool off. A few days later, just past Etna, I camped at Bingham Lake which was wonderfully scenic. At 3am, a large buck decided to pester me. I scared it off, and in hindsight, the sight of this thing under the stars was kind of magical. Luckily, I was then treated to a dark, clear view of the Perseids meteor shower. One pierced the sky and left a trail behind it for 20 seconds. It was hard to believe.
As the days went on, the burn zones persisted, but now Trinity Alps was also in view. A lovely sight to be sure, though the trail barely scratched its surface and routed past. The heat wave at this point was out of control, as in -over 100°F. Castle Crags and Mt. Shasta were visible and absolutely a pretty sight, but the descent toward Castella was grueling. The sun felt like a magnifying glass. At the market off the interstate, I had a cream soda and an ice cream sandwich. It didn’t feel like a treat, so much as a safety measure. Wildfires soon began springing up in both Washington and Seiad Valley. Places I had just recently left on foot. I consider myself one of the lucky ones as I walk south toward a series of swimming holes, and the iconic Burney Falls.
I didn’t feel quite so lucky for long though, as a tropical storm brought rain to the areas near Hat Creek and Old Station. This burn zone is also by far the largest on trail, covering about 100 miles. A geyser impressively bubbles nearby in the Lassen National Park section, but the trail itself is a nightmare. Luckily, my family stopped by to visit which allowed me to double zero, rest my feet and clean the charred dirt off myself. We saw the pristine areas unaffected by fire, which made me realize that the PCT was truly missing out in these areas. Lassen National Park and Lake Almanor were wonderful and the drive into Chico was a lot of fun. We visited the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which has long been an important pilgrimage on my bucket list.
Foundations and Frameworks
Like a bad joke it was time, once again, to hike. I crossed the middle fork of the Feather River which ran beneath a truly classic looking bridge. Glimpses of the new geology were everywhere, especially on the southern horizon, which was really exciting. The trail was lousy with beautiful Rose Quartz deposits, and of course the famous granite makeup of this region made itself known. A fire tower on top of Sierra Butte serves as a gateway to the Sierra Nevada.
More rain days rolled in as a final test administered to every hiker on trail. They were abnormally cold and windy days that remove all warmth from your body. They were dangerous days to be honest, but I had the great fortune of reaching multiple backcountry huts, including the Peter Grubb Hut. A few of us managed to split wood and get the wood stove burning. There was a guitar and a wind up radio to mess with. Kind of an apocalyptic feeling night, but a cozy place to rest our heads and an absolute blessing.
As the rain finally cleared, I saw a Coyote near Palisades Ski Resort, and Lake Tahoe to my East. The sun was shining and everything seemed lively again. I rounded a corner confronted by my first view of Lake Aloha, there was a moment where I had to stop walking and process what I was looking at. This area of Desolation Wilderness is famous for a reason, and it all makes sense to me now. Easily one of the best moments on the Pacific Crest Trail so far! From what I hear, there’s more where that came from.
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