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 stay someplace that’s anywhere between “serviceable” and “quite nice”. Tonight, though, we nabbed one of the great ones: a small site, all by itself, high on top of a saddle with incredible views in both directions. I wish I could convey to you what it’s like to be up here, typing this from this place…it’s beautiful. In an hour or so, the stars will come out into this cloudless sky, and that’ll probably be even more amazing.

(A quick primer: there are no “designated” campsites in any official sense along the PCT. You’re allowed to camp anywhere that meets certain restrictions: at least a hundred feet from water, at least fifty or so feet from the trail (which absolutely nobody pays any attention to), not on grass or other plants, and so on. But there are places pretty frequently that are obviously campsites that have been used before, and that’s where most people camp — and you’re encouraged to do so. Creating a new campsite from scratch can be a lot of work, clearing rocks and sticks and things. Further, the guides everyone uses — smartphone apps, these days — list campsites, too.)

Evenings like this you really can’t capture with a picture. As much as I’d love to be able to show off the color of the sky in all directions, or the vastness of the mountains all around us, or the reddish-brown of the volcanic rock we’re on…there’s nothing that will truly do it justice. Instead, all I can do is share these words, and hope that you trust me when I say that it’s incredible.

Today, we passed another mileage marker: 1,300 miles! This is a big deal, but we’re also so close to the halfway marker on the PCT that it pales a bit by comparison. Still, it sort of boggles the mind to imagine that we’ve actually walked one thousand, three hundred miles…it’s an absurd distance. And we’ll go more than that distance again before we’re done — that’s even crazier.

We’re getting close to Lassen Volcanic National Park (we’re in Lassen National Forest at the moment), and you can tell…every once in a while the trail will start crossing what’s clearly, and distinctly, volcanic rock — colored and shaped completely differently than the rest of the mountains out here. In general, we’re still walking through heavily forested mountains with periodic walks along ridges, and the valleys are dotted occasionally with lakes. It’s beautiful country, and all the more pleasant because it’s so unknown — other PCT hikers are the only people we run into on the trails. I’d like to come back here sometime, once this is done, just to stay for a weekend or so.

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