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…breakfast! We camped last night just short of the town of Old Station, California, which is only about a quarter-mile off the PCT, and thus easily walkable. Although we’d actually tried to stay there last night, our phone call was answered with a quick “no, we’re full” — no rooms at the inn at all. Out here, things like days of the week are pretty meaningless, but it all made sense when we realized it was Saturday night right smack dab in the middle of summer; of course they’re busy. Alas. But we did manage to camp easily, and, this morning, walked into town for a huge breakfast at JJ’s Café, pretty much the only restaurant in town and well-known among PCT hikers for its delicious, giant breakfasts. Two huge blueberry-pecan pancakes, sausage, eggs, and a homemade danish later, I was pretty satisfied…on with the hike!
The cave was a surprise to me — not in terms of its existence, but in terms of how cool (figuratively) it was. Subway Cave is another volcanic formation around here, a cave created when hot jets of lava drilled out a large underground cavern and pathway. It’s absolutely pitch-black inside, permanently in the low 40s (which felt really, really good on this day of 90° temperatures!), and really pretty cool. You get to see exactly where the lava flowed and stopped, and descending into a cave from the middle of a hot, dusty plain is pretty awesome. I only wish my phone had been able to take pictures in there, but no light at all meant it was pretty close to impossible.
The big undertaking of the day, however, was starting to walk the Hat Creek Rim. This is somewhat (in)famous among hikers for two things: how incredibly hot it can be, and the fact that there’s no water for over 28 miles. We actually lucked out today, because it was “only” in the upper 80s and low 90s, rather than the mid-100s, as it apparently sometimes is. Still, upper 80s and low 90s will make you really hot, really fast, when you’re carrying a full pack, and there’s generally no tree cover at all to keep you cool.
The lack of water, however, is by far the worst part. About seven miles in there’s a spring that you can hike down to and fill up at, which we did, making the waterless stretch about 21 miles…but that still means carrying over seven liters of water for me, which weighs over fifteen pounds. This makes your pack feel really, really heavy, and having that happen on a day when you’re already hiking through hot sun is no fun at all. We generally just sort of suffered through the afternoon, keeping focused on making the miles, and trying not to pay too much attention to our screaming backs and hips. Many hikers along the trail said the same thing — “I thought we’d left this behind with the desert!” Me, too, my friend…me, too.
We are, however, slowly making progress through it, and are camped tonight about seven miles into that long, waterless stretch. I’ll be incredibly glad to be done with it tomorrow, when we descend and get to (apparently) a roaring river. I know there are more long stretches without water scattered through Northern California and Oregon, but, for now, I’m just trying to make it through this one.
Speaking of heat — even as we fall asleep tonight, it’s almost 80° outside. That’s something that never happened in the desert…out there, even if it’s 85° during the day, you’re guaranteed that the temperature will plummet rapidly as the sun goes down. Here, not so much. It does eventually cool off during the night, but not before you go to sleep. I long for those days again, of snuggling up in a sleeping bag to keep warm. Instead, I’m just trying to keep cool and to manage to fall asleep nonetheless.