As we leave Sierra City, it’s clear we’re in a different world now. It’s not completely clear where the “High Sierra” ends and “Northern California” begins on the PCT, but, if I had to pick a place, this is probably it. Suddenly we’re in different terrain: huge chunks of these woods have been logged, which opens them up and makes them feel much more expansive; there are truck, ATV, and bike trails all over the place, including paved roads up on top of mountains, and so the degree of perceived solitude is less; and it’s getting dry again — the PCT Water Report picks back up here, as it can be ten, fifteen, or even nearly thirty miles between water sources again, just like in the desert.
It certainly also felt different to us today, because we got poured on this afternoon for hours. Just like yesterday, the skies just opened up, but, unlike yesterday, it just kept coming. It turns out that a really good way to distract yourself from the misery of a 2,700′ climb coming straight out of town is to be doing it while there are thunderstorms around you and you’re on the very bare side of a mountain, continually ascending. We weren’t actually in intense danger at any point — the lightning stayed a couple of miles away from us at all times — but it made us nervous enough to really move up the mountain, stopping for nothing. Although the thunderstorms had clearly moved away from us, it was a relief to flip over to the other side of the mountain through a pass and now have forest cover all around us. That’s the hard thing about the PCT — you really don’t know what’s coming next, and you just have to take it as it comes.
In fact, we’re realizing that a lot of other hikers are some combination of either a little bit wimpy about weather or just not carrying sufficient gear to protect themselves. We saw several tents up today in the middle of the day (that is, say, before 6 PM), which is almost unheard-of for PCT hikers, and they’re really the only ones out here. I’m pretty sure this was just people hiding from the rain…and while the rain definitely was no fun to hike through, it certainly wasn’t anything that was going to make us have to stop hiking. We talked to one woman who was section-hiking southbound who said her hiking partner was behind her a ways, hiding in his tent, in fact. It makes me feel a little more hard-core to know that we’re willing to be out here, trucking along, when other hikers give up and sit in their tents instead.
Having said that, oh man were there plenty of times today I wished we were back in that hotel in Sierra City, snug in a cozy room, watching TV on a real bed and eating take-out food instead. No matter how good your raingear, the wet seeps through to one degree or another, and you end up at least a little damp and chilly. The rain stopped just a little while before we came to our campsite tonight, and it felt so good to change into warm, dry clothes and crawl into our sleeping bags. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for sun — I certainly hope that’s what we get!
And, in fact, because of the rain, some of the things we see out here are pretty magical. There are clouds creeping through the valleys below us, mist in the trees, and everything glistens. The trees here have this amazing almost fluorescent-green moss that starts growing about ten feet off the ground and continues up, and the open forests make this seem like a place where you’d find elves, gnomes, or leprechauns. And the desolate roads we walk along up here lend it its own lonely, beautiful kind of feeling, too. It’s decidedly a very different place from either the High Sierra or Tahoe, and, so far, I love it. The towns are also fewer, farther between, and smaller, and I expect that’s going to make it feel very different in time, too.
Somewhere during our speedy ascent today, we also passed the 1,200 mile mark on the PCT — hurrah! Either there was no marker or we were moving fast enough under rain and thunderstorms to blow right past it, but that’s OK. That also means it’s only something like 130 miles to the halfway point of this trail…that’s a major milestone, as you might imagine! It’s starting to feel just a little bit more doable, like we might actually complete this thing one day. Crazy, I know. I’m excited!