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 while the mountains aren’t quite as high here, the valleys are a lot deeper. It makes for hills that even the most macho PCT hikers dread (which they usually refer to using terms I won’t print here), and ups-and-downs that we really, really don’t like. Bucket‘s idea for suspended walkways between peaks seems better and better to me every day — just cross the bridge from one mountain to the next, with none of the terrible up and down!
(By the way, it’s also hot outside…we climbed up the first 1,500 feet starting around 5 PM today, and it was 88° outside still. I’m kind of dreading the rest of the climb tomorrow, when it might be even hotter.)
Having said all that, there were two really good things about today: one, looking ahead, we don’t have any climbs of this magnitude for at least quite a few days to come. Two, at the bottom of that descent was Belden (often called Belden Town), one of the more interesting towns on the PCT. The total population of Belden has to be something like twenty, and you can see pretty much all of it from a single street corner. There’s little more than a few houses, the “resort” (think: low-rent hotel, bar, and restaurant, all combined), and the beautiful river. It’s apparently largely visited by ravers and bikers (as in motorcycle) — how that particular combination got started, I don’t know, but there you go.
We stopped in Belden to pick up a resupply, but we also got to eat in their restaurant (I had a Belden Burger, ⅔ of a pound of ground beef), sit in real chairs, and juice up our phones — so that was pretty awesome. It’s a cute little town, set in a really beautiful location, nestled next to a river in a steep canyon with a river carving up through it. I can see why motorcyclists love it; it’s kind of a perfect little stopover on a long day’s ride along some truly beautiful roads.
Looking ahead, it seems like it might be a very long ways (weeks) before we’re going to be in a town that actually has all the amenities required to take an actual zero. Maybe this is part of the reason that PCT hikers often go considerably faster in Northern California and Oregon — there just plain isn’t any place reasonable to stop. (And, no, this isn’t us being picky or snobby about where we stop; it might be weeks before we hit a town that actually has a single hotel in it. These are tiny little towns, in other words.) This means we’ll have to get our breaks in when we can, including things like stopovers in Belden — relax when you can!
Tonight we’re also camped with far more hikers than we’re used to; there might be as many as a dozen people occupying the large camping area we’re staying in. This is probably largely because this is the first major campsite heading up this enormous hill from Belden, and it’s still a few hours in — it’s one of the very logical places to stop for the evening if you leave Belden midday or in the evening. It’s a little bit fun having all the company, although, honestly, all things considered, I generally like it better when we have more solitude.
Tomorrow we head up, up, up, and more up…but then, once we hit the top, the trail is, blissfully, relatively flat for a long time to come. After what we’ve done today and will do tomorrow morning, it can’t come soon enough.