Burney, CA – Etna, CA

July 18 – I ended up getting a ride to the trailhead the night before so I can wake up and be on my way but I end up sleeping in a little because it was pretty chilly this morning for the first time in a while. Eventually I got out of my sleeping bag, a daunting task, and shivered while I packed up my things. The trail wound through more desert landscapes on its way to Burney Falls State Park. I took the side trail leading to the impressive Burney Falls. Many streams of water fell in unison way down into an aqua blue pool before continuing downstream into the forest. I ate breakfast here but it was still freezing especially down in the canyon I was viewing the falls from so I headed on, not making it far before being vortexed by the outlets at the visitor center. When I got back to the trail it wasn’t cold anymore but hot. I walked through forests of young trees offering no real shade mixed with the shrub filled desert areas that have been frequent since Chester. I make it to Rock Creek by noon, as planned, and put my legs into one of the pools of water. Ice cold. After an hour of relaxing here I’m ready to hike out but the day is only getting hotter. It would be pointless to try and hike in this. I force myself to be patient and lay down with my book. This trail is all about patience, it’s all about knowing the conditions you’ll face, and staging the hike accordingly. The heat, the snow, the water. This isn’t the Appalachian Trail.Just as I’m packing up at 3 I’m joined by a foreign hiker who I’ve met before but can never understand what he’s saying when he says his trail name. He does exactly as I did and lies down, closing his eyes after having just hiked through the midday heat. I head out into it, feeling good after waiting all day to hike. The trail quickly enters an old growth forest with plenty of shade, making my long break seem pointless. So much for knowing the conditions I’ll face. I climb gradually through the forest which gets thicker and lusher as I gain elevation. There are no wildflowers, just a thick understory of ferns and I assume poison oak. I wouldn’t know, because I don’t know what it looks like, but it’s all over my legs so I know it’s out here. I stop at a creek on a dirt road and eat dinner. Tonight I perfected ramen by adding hash-browns, pepperoni, hot sauce, red pepper flakes, and pepper jack cheese. I over-portioned but scarfing it all down is no problem, I’m still not satisfied after the last bite. My plan is to hike two more miles and dry camp where my maps say there’s a site with a view of Mt. Shasta. I arrive just as the sun is beginning to set, the scene is more beautiful than I had imagined. Shasta is closer now, prominent in the sky despite all the smaller peaks surrounding it. The sky turns gold then orange then red then pink until the sun is behind the mountains and the world goes dark. 
July 19 – I wake up at 5 just before the sun begins to rise. I don’t have much of a plan for the day, but I know I’m going to hike so I pack up quickly saving breakfast for five miles down the trail. I cross the ridge onto the other side of the mountain and get to watch the sunrise through the trees which looked to be even better than last night sunset. I hike quickly hoping to find an open spot to watch it from but by the time I do the sky is blue and the birds are chirping. I climb back up onto the ridge and Shasta smacks me in the face, in just 5 miles it got so much closer. On both sides of me the earth falls into nothingness, I go up and down through areas like this all day. I get water at Moosehead Creek and haul enough to not worry about it for the rest of the day because all the water sources after are far off the trail. By noon I’ve hiked 18 miles and take a break where the trail crosses a jeep road. I sit in the only tiny patch of shade there is to eat lunch with the glorious view of Shasta there was here. I break until three by which time my patch of shade is gone leaving no reason to stay. It’s more ups and downs on the ridge for eight miles until I descend back into the leafy forest. At Deer Creek Springs I stop for dinner, planning to push on another five miles afterwards. The foreign hiker (I think his name is teamo?) shows up and sets up camp while I eat. It would be nice to camp with someone else but I still pack up and push two more miles out to a campsite shortly after a creek. I slowly set up my tent and crawl inside. It’s 7:45 and I’ve hiked thirty miles today. I’m sore, I’m tired, I’m starving. There is no sunset, no view, no merry gathering around a campfire. There is just me and the trees that make up the endless forest that has been Northern California. This is the end of a day on the PCT.
July 20 – Deer wake me but I pay them no mind and keep sleeping just as they pay me no mind. The sun is bright when I start hiking but the forest is thick as I finish my descent to the McLoud River, where an outhouse allows me to poop like a king before going on. The trail side vegetation is still overgrown and I must push my way through it not knowing what is poison oak and what is not. Even with a late start the miles go by quickly and by 1 I’ve hiked 15 miles to the trough creek. It’s beautifully lush, thick with large fan like plants growing out of the water from thick tubes of stem. I break until three as usual soaking my feet in the ice cold water. The rest of the day is an uphill which is steep and tedious. My pinky toe starts to hurt and I’m not sure why, but I endure the pain for ten miles before reaching where I planned to camp. The spot didn’t appeal to me at all so I decided to eat dinner, check out my toe, and head on another five miles to the next water source. The side of my pinky toe has been completely rubbed raw but after taping it up gives me no pain. I make it to the water with no problem but the trail is on the side of a mountain with no flat space to camp. I’m forced to push on and this is when the miles begin to hurt. I’m past thirty miles for the day when I stumble out to a jeep road at dusk. Again I’m sore, tired, and hungry but Alabama and Ranger, who I haven’t seen since Kennedy Meadows, are here. There is a view of Mt. Shasta directly in front of us. I have a second dinner as the stars light up the sky and the full moon rises. THIS is a night on the PCT.
July 21 – We sleep in late, and periodically I poke my head out of my sleeping bag for views of the sunrise against Mt. Shasta. The five miles to the road are beautifully maintained and all downhill so before long I’m sitting at the freeway entrance waiting for Alabama who has organized a ride for us into Shasta City. I plan to get in and out of town, but there’s a few chores that I need to get done, mainly being new shoes. We’re picked up by a nice lady named Lenore who is following her husband up the trail. We get dropped off at the Black Bear Cafe, I arrange to have Lenore bring me back to the trail in a few hours. At the cafe me and Alabama both order “the Volcano”. It comes out quickly and I demolish the three pancakes topped with eggs, bacon, sausage, and hashbrowns. After breakfast Alabama goes to find a room and I head to the outfitter where I treat myself to new shoes as well as socks. Then I go to the grocery store where I find excellent deals on cheese and snacks. I’m not so hungry yet but I still head to the pizza buffet where I pay ten bucks to eat a few slices of pizza and some cinnamon sticks while I charge my phone and get my wifi fix. I call Lenore at three to get back on the trail. It’s hot when I arrive at the trailhead but luckily the trail dips into the forest with many streams as I make my way into Castle Crags State Park. Then I turn a corner and there is Ella, Scrapbook, and Short a Shorts! I stop with them for a bit before we all head on another few miles to a campsite next to a creek. We have a fire, my first fire in an absurdly long time. Another hiker we met named Blazer joins us as we eat around the flames. I’m happy. The trail is strange.
July 22 – Long 30+ mile day that I didn’t document. Sorry! 🙂
July 23 – I wake up in the brush next to the fallen rotting tree as the sky is beginning to turn blue. I immediately pass a paved road that is strangely filled with cars. “Where is everyone?”, I wonder. The trail winds on through orange rocks contrasting deeply with the green of the forest. I feel tired. It seems no amount of sleep can remedy this. I push myself on with thoughts of a zero day in Etna, now only three days away. I stop for breakfast at the first stream of the day, a row of pools crawling with bugs and tadpoles. I’m slow in my morning routine, and even after a break I’m hiking even slower than before once I get back to it. I want to make at least thirty miles today, but my body clearly isn’t on the same page as my mind. Four miles later I stop again in the shade and close my eyes. It’s noon and I’ve only done twelve miles, a feat that once would have been significant but now seems lacking. I decide I’ll only hike twelve more miles and so I can sit here until three and still make it. In the three hours I sit there no one passes. There’s trail magic going on three miles down the trail but it doesn’t motivate me, not moving is the only thing I want to be doing. I dream of fried chicken and ice cream and eggs while I eat my daily lunch tortilla. I remind myself it’s not much further until I have these things and keep walking. My path turns to rocks as I drop down to a parking area and then climb straight back up 1300 feet. The trail is exposed and there’s no water, the sun is intense even as it gets lower in the sky. Then coming up the hill I see a person, a familiar person. Flashback Dave! “702!”, I yell, my pace quickening to catch him. It’s been since Lone Pine at mile 740 since I’ve seen him, we hike together another two miles and set up camp in a meadow near a beautifully clear mountain spring. As I sit on my sleeping pad eating cookies I hear someone coming down the trail. Oolong! He stops and sets up camp and everything is good, I’m not walking and I have friends. I have just one more twenty five mile day, then a short eight mile day into Etna where I’ll zero and then probably nero out. I can do this. 
July 24 – The sky is pink from the sunrise as I pack up for the morning and start hiking. I enter the Trinity Alps Wilderness and climb high on a path of orange soil. Above me are red rock formations sculpted by lava flow, below are beautiful grassy meadows dotted with pristine lakes. The mountains across from me are covered in snow, the date is July 24. I stop for my morning break at a beautiful piped spring covered in wildflowers and overlooking the valley below. The trail then brings me through thick old growth forests as I descend to the Scott River, where I catch up to Oolong as well as Scrapbook and Short Shorts. I had planned to stop here for my afternoon break but it was only eleven thirty and the river wasn’t deep enough to swim so I set off planning to hike another hour before stopping which would get me up the steepest climb for the day. It’s steep all right but my body feels good today, so good I’m having second thoughts about a zero in Etna. At the top I sit in a shady spot to eat lunch and read for a few hours. The air is heavy outside of the shade and so I’m in no rush to leave, especially because I only plan to hike 9 more miles today. I catch up to Ella after my break and we hike together for a short bit before I take off ahead. It’s strange to hike with someone else. The last climb of the day is steep, rocky, and completely exposed but afterwards I’m rewarded with a beautiful campspot at the Payne Lake which reminds me of the Sierra, it bears a strange resemblance to Chicken Spring Lake. Ella, Scrapbook, Short Shorts, and Oolong are here. Hiking with other people might be strange but camping with them is awesome. Tomorrow I’ll go into Etna and definitely get a hostel room but I may head out the next day, we’ll see how I’m feeling. Excited for my first shower in 400 miles!

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2 thoughts on “Burney, CA – Etna, CA

  1. Pj what is it you say? the trail Provides? It continues to provide you all these great moments , Only about 100 miles till Oregon. Congrats!! I believe the trail will provide your future as well. Continue to embrace it all. But remember to listen to your body if it tells you to slow down.

    Be well . ❤️Mom

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