Day 115: Heat and Fire

We’re in the middle of a heat wave up here in Northern California. There’s never a weather report for being on a random mountain at 6,500′ — but our iPhones have been reporting expected highs of 102°, 104°, and similar temperatures for nearby towns. Those are usually several thousand feet lower and hence hotter, but we’re still getting highs in the upper 80s and lower 90s. And it feels so, so much hotter than the desert ever did, because it’s humid, too. Right now, I’m writing this from a tent where it’s 71° and 94% humidity. Try sleeping in that sometime…let alone hiking in it.

Just like yesterday, wildfires define the landscape here. Unlike yesterday, though, we actually saw one today:

Day 113: We Caught Up!

Tonight we got to see people we weren’t expecting to see for a really long time, and I was incredibly happy. Treeman and Hedgehog, our German friends who we met on Day 0 (i.e., the night before we started hiking at the border), were four or five days ahead of us just a couple of weeks ago. We’d pass trail registers, look for them, and be dismayed to see their names with a date that was so long ago. I mean, we were happy for them, but we really missed them…and four or five days is practically an eternity out here on the trail. Catching up with someone like that by hiking faster is basically impossible: even if you do 25% more miles every day — which is painfully huge — it’ll take you three weeks. And it was really sad, because they’re among our favorite people out here on the trail.

Mid-afternoon today, we came into Etna. Well…except that’s not exactly right:

Day 112: Of Brutal Days and Familiar Places

Of all the factors that determine how tough a day out here feels, there are some that are obvious, like how long we hike for and how much ascent and descent there is. And then there are others that are probably even more important, but which aren’t as obvious at first blush. Two big ones in this category are how long it’s been since we’ve taken a zero, and how long it is between resupplies.

As of today, it’s been twelve days since we’ve taken a zero, and this stretch is a hundred miles — nearly five days — between resupplies, which is about as long as it ever gets. We also transitioned abruptly from a part of the wilderness that was impressively flat (given that we’re in mountainous terrain) to one that seems to go up and down every little hill, meaning we were pretty much constantly climbing or descending. Throw in us having to go 25 miles, longer than our planned 23, because of the lack of a campsite near the 23-mile point, and…well, today was a brutal day. We’re headed into Etna, California tomorrow for a half-day of relaxation, and I can’t even tell you how good that feels in anticipation.

This stretch of trail is actually familiar to us, too, and it’s the last part of the PCT we’ll run across that we’re actually a little familiar with. Last year, we came out over 4th-of-July weekend and hiked along the PCT in the Trinity Alps, this area, for about twelve miles, staying two nights in the backcountry. It was really beautiful, and I remember being excited to be on the PCT itself. (We even met a through-hiker back then, which was a little surprising, because being up here over the 4th of July is really speedy for a through-hiker.) I also remember thinking that twelve miles felt like a long way to hike. It’s pretty cool coming through here once again, seeing familiar sights, yet this time having hiked here all the way from Mexico…and having twelve miles be just a morning or afternoon of hiking.

We’ve run into some interesting folks in

Day 110: Camping With the Cars

It’s probably really easy to have an overly-romantic view of what days out here must be like. Obviously, if you’ve been following this blog, you know that there’s an awful lot of difficult hiking involved (duh), but that’s not what I’m talking about. What do I see when I look out of the tent this evening? A beautiful sunset, nestled among trees…and a parking lot.

We’ve walked behind

Day 109: Finally Looking Up

One of the hardest parts of hiking the PCT is this: you can quit any time. And I do mean any time. All it would take is a single decision, likely a maximum of two days’ hiking (and usually much less) to reach the nearest road, a good hitchhiking thumb, and…I could be back in my car, driving to any place I wanted, eating anything I wanted, doing anything I wanted, in less than three or four days.

How tempting is it to do this? Sometimes it’s very, very tempting. It’s never been more so than most of these past three hundred miles or so, say, after leaving Sierra City. I’ve felt like quitting time and time again, and not just for a few minutes — sometimes for a half-day or more. It’s incredibly hot. The trail just keeps going uphill. It’s too far until the next town, and the motel there is full. There’s no water. Did I mention it’s incredibly hot?

And, above all, it feels like you’re making almost no progress

Day 108: Another Day, Another Town

“Town” might be too strong a word, this time. Castella, California is more like a hamlet: 240 people as of the latest census, and the only store in town is the convenience store at the Chevron. But Castella is only two miles off the trail, the Chevron will hold packages for pickup, and Castle Crags State Park is right across the street — and you can camp there, if you’re a PCT hiker, for only $3. (And they have showers!…just freezing-cold ones, at least on the men’s side.)

So Castella it was today, after another twenty-three miles of hiking. I might

Day 107: It’s Lonely Out Here

As you may have guessed if you’re following my posts, Northern California isn’t an easy stretch of the trail. In many ways it feels like the doldrums of the PCT: it goes on forever, it’s not all that interesting, and you really just want to get it over with as soon as you can.

One of the reasons for this, I’ve realized, is that we now feel more alone, socially, than we have on the entire trip. Our trail friends, who’ve meant so much to us, are now scattered or gone. Of the folks we started with and got to be close to,

Day 106: Northern California Goes On Forever

Flash! I woke up to lightning shining through the tent, bright even with my eyes closed. I counted: one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thous–crack. The thunder came, and so the lightning was only a half-mile away.

It was 11:30 at night, and we’d been asleep for a couple of hours when the storm came. Before bed we’d heard some thunder far-off in the distance, and we’d both assumed it’d skip us — we had clear skies overhead. Nope. The lightning flashed again, the thunder roared, and the storm got even closer. It was “heat lightning” at first, lightning with no rain, but that changed quickly, too. Soon enough it was absolutely pouring, and we just hoped the tarp held up. This was much more rain than we’d been in on this entire trip yet. It actually began to splash hard enough outside the tarp that little bits of wetness bounced up underneath the tarp, and we rearranged things to keep them as dry as possible.

The storm went on for several hours, and came in two or three waves — easily the longest, most intense thunderstorm and rain we’ve gotten on the trip yet. If it hadn’t been pouring quite so dramatically, it would’ve felt cozy and great to be under our tarp in the rain; as it was, we were anxious enough about it to stay awake on-and-off through all of it. Everything held tight in the end, though, and the worst casualties were damp shoes and filthy backpacks and ground sheet, as the dust turned to mud and got on everything. Really, it all turned out well in the end…but during the storm last night, it sure was intense for a while.

This stretch of the PCT we call “Northern California” takes

Day 104: Recipe for Baked Hiker

Before you begin, preheat the outdoors to 100° F. Next, add:

  • Two hikers,
  • Plenty of direct sunlight,
  • Almost no breeze

Under no circumstances add water. It is important to make distances between water stops as long as possible, as this requires hikers to carry large amounts of water with them, weighing them down and adding to the heat load.

When you are ready, place hikers in preheated outdoor environment and bake for twenty-seven miles. You will know you are done when hikers are exhausted, have been sweating profusely for many hours, and are incredibly sick of how damn hot it is outside.

In all seriousness

Day 103: Spelunking, and the Dreaded Hat Creek Rim

Today was a day full of distractions, if (mostly) welcome ones. And, in a single day, we both managed to walk through an actual cave that was maybe 40° inside (and pitch black)…and walk through some of the hottest trail of our entire trip, hiking when it was 90° and blazing sun outside. Kind of a bizarre contrast, no?

Our first distraction was most definitely a welcome one…

Day 102: Northern California Goes On and On

We’re now in the section of the PCT called “Northern California”, and it seems basically endless. It’s not entirely clear where it begins, although just north of Tahoe seems as good a place as any — making Northern California last for five hundred miles on the PCT. This puts it as long as any major section of the PCT except for the desert, which we’ve long since finished…and it feels long.

Perhaps it’s that, as a Northern Californian myself, I often forget (as we Northern Californians do) about just how much of California there really is north of the Bay Area, and so expect to be in Oregon long before we actually ever get there. (What most people call Northern California — San Francisco, Oakland, etc. — should really be Central California, but I digress.) It goes on and on and on, with all of these places I’d never even heard of: Sierra City, Belden, Chester, Quincy, Drakesbad, Old Station, Burney Falls…every one of them another fifty, eighty, or a hundred miles away, and thus several days of strenuous hiking.

I’ve heard on PCT surveys that this usually ranks as

Day 101: Geysers, Tri-Tip, and Corn Dogs

Today we entered our fourth national park of this trip, but it’s probably one you’ve barely heard of: Lassen Volcanic National Park. Compared to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, or Sequoia, it has to have a tiny fraction of the visitors. But I’m here to tell you: this place is seriously kind of crazy cool.

First off, this place is cool because

Day 99: Halfway!

One thousand, three hundred twenty-five and five-hundredths miles walked from Mexico. One thousand, three hundred twenty-five and five-hundredths miles to Canada. I’m trying to wrap my head around those numbers even now. What’s crazier — how far we’ve come, or that we still have just as far to go?

The midpoint of the PCT, of course, comes in the middle of just a completely ordinary stretch of trail, cruising across and down a hillside from one place to the next. But as a landmark most of us have been looking forward to for, oh, a few hundred miles or so, it’s a really big deal. At the place itself, there’s a concrete post, a few feet high, that’s been engraved with gold lettering on three sides: 1325 miles to Mexico, 1325 miles to Canada, and PCT midpoint. Everybody stops, and there’s a trail journal for everyone to sign.

Except that, really, there isn’t a single midpoint:

Day 98: The Luck of Timing

Finding a truly great campsite out here can feel wonderful. The trick is that it often comes at, say, 10:00 AM, when you’ve only been hiking for a few hours…or, almost worse, at 3:00 PM, when you’re tired enough that you want to stop — but know you can’t.

But that moment when you stumble upon an amazing place to stay for the night at exactly the right time…well, that can be wonderful. It doesn’t actually happen too often; it’s pretty typical to

Finally…the rest of the posts!

As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, we did not, in fact, die on the Pacific Crest Trail. Actually, we’re back in Oakland, where we’ve been for over a month. And there’s lots to write about the readjustment back to society, too…but that will come later, after the remaining tales from our trip on the trail.

Despite my long delay in posting them, I wrote blog entries every single night while on the trail, and have them all still. I’m going to post them — a few per day, so as not to overwhelm anybody — until getting to the end. There are still tons and tons of interesting tales and adventures ahead…so, stay tuned! I hope you enjoy.

Day 97: Oh, Come On

This is getting a little bit ridiculous. This morning, we climbed down 4,800 feet from the mountains to the town of Belden, California…and this evening, we’re camped midway up the climb of 4,800 feet on the other side. This is more up-and-down than even the most difficult pass in the High Sierra. PCT, what gives? Why are you being so brutal to us?

(For comparison’s sake: this is more climbing than it takes to get to the top of Half Dome, starting in Yosemite Valley. And it’s done in less than half the distance, so it’s more than twice as steep.)

I’m actually genuinely not sure why the terrain here can be so tough, but it seems like