As you’ve heard me mention many times already, Northern California on the PCT seems to go on forever. (This also means it’s hard to come up with things to write…in case you’ve seen these entries get shorter and worse. 😉 ) So…what’s it actually like?
First off, it’s mountainous, everywhere, but they’re generally relatively gentle mountains, at least compared to what we were crossing down south, in the High Sierra. They can still be steep, and sometimes brutally so — witness our ascent out of Belden for an example — but in general the trail doesn’t climb or descend as sharply as it did further south, which is a big relief. In fact, some sections are just about flat; our hike today had quite a few miles of relatively flat trail, which is wonderful.
It’s also forested, with pine forests nearly everywhere you look. I say “nearly” for two reasons: there are some hillsides steep or rocky enough to be merely dotted with pine trees…and there’s logging — which is big business around here. So you’ll see areas that have been clear-cut, or thinned by loggers, all over the place. You’ll also come across swaths of forest that have some big, tall, old trees, but also lots and lots of new, younger growth underneath, which I think must be an artifact of logging, too.
Compared to what we encountered further south, this area is also relatively accessible. We see roads crossing hillsides almost constantly, and we’ll often have hiked fifteen miles over mountains and down to a lake only to find people camped there with their cars. It doesn’t feel like civilization, really — even the trailheads at roads we cross have no garbage cans, pit toilets, or any facilities at all — but it also means we come across day-hikers or weekend hikers occasionally, and it’s obvious to us that we’re never all that far from the nearest road.
Finally, compared to what we’ve encountered before, this area is quite warm. It’s not always incredibly, horribly hot the way it was on the Hat Creek Rim, but the days very often get into the upper 70s or the upper 80s, and hiking in that makes you sweat like crazy, particularly if you’re going uphill. This is probably the single biggest factor that differentiates this area from the previous sections of the PCT in my mind — the heat changes the character considerably. Having said that, we also woke up this morning to a temperature of 40° and put on all kinds of warm clothing, so it can definitely get cold at night, particularly at elevation.