Day 105 - Castle Crag State Park Campground to Castle Crag Vista (10 miles, mile 1510.8)

Monday July 31st, 2017

 

We slept in a bit (a decision we'd lament later) and slowly starting to move around 8. We had done such huge mileage the previous day that we were bone tired and undermotivated. I chatted with Happy Feet while T walked to the front entrance of the park which was about 3/4 of a mile away, to get shower tokens. He came back with hot coffee (and the tokens) which was a huge bonus, and then he showered while we charged our phones and I zoned out for a while trying to rub lotion into my calloused and peeling feet. We finally packed up around 10 and headed over to the post office to mail a box and do one more run at Ammirati's Market. It was so hot that I was feeling nauseous from even the short walk over.  I wondered if it might be because I hadn't eaten real food in a while (only candy since the previous night) so we picked up two sandwiches, a burrito, chips, and Gatorade and sprawled in the shade in the grass in front of the market.

 

Originally we were planning to hit the trail at 11 but it was so hot, over 100 degrees with a projected high of 106, that we decided to wait out the heat of the day and I would do blog catch-up and T could make some phone calls and catch up on news and social media. At this point we really wished we had left at 7 and were siesta-ing by a creek instead of the side of the road but that's not always how it happens. We met new hikers including a girl DK and Tofu, who were both also on the lawn sorting out their resupply.

 

We eventually left at 4pm, stopping to pay for our campsite from the night before on

the way out. It started with a huge climb, and we eventually breaked to do dinner by a creek. We continued climbing after dinner as darkness set in, filling our water bottles in a buggy creek for lack of better options.

 

We had magnificent views of the Castle Crags rock formations as the sun set and eventually by moonlight, and the air never really cooled so it was kind of like a spa/steam room treatment plus views, of course this was while carrying packs and huffing and puffing uphill lest you think we were relaxing. We finally stopped at a campsite on a ridge/cliff, finding a not-too-steep-but-definitely-not-flat spot, and called it at 11pm, disappointed with our 10 mile day but happy to have found a ridge with a view.

Day 105 - Castle Crag State Park Campground to Castle Crag Vista (10 miles, mile 1510.8)

Monday July 31st, 2017

 

We slept in a bit (a decision we'd lament later) and slowly starting to move around 8. We had done such huge mileage the previous day that we were bone tired and undermotivated. I chatted with Happy Feet while T walked to the front entrance of the park which was about 3/4 of a mile away, to get shower tokens. He came back with hot coffee (and the tokens) which was a huge bonus, and then he showered while we charged our phones and I zoned out for a while trying to rub lotion into my calloused and peeling feet. We finally packed up around 10 and headed over to the post office to mail a box and do one more run at Ammirati's Market. It was so hot that I was feeling nauseous from even the short walk over.  I wondered if it might be because I hadn't eaten real food in a while (only candy since the previous night) so we picked up two sandwiches, a burrito, chips, and Gatorade and sprawled in the shade in the grass in front of the market.

 

Originally we were planning to hit the trail at 11 but it was so hot, over 100 degrees with a projected high of 106, that we decided to wait out the heat of the day and I would do blog catch-up and T could make some phone calls and catch up on news and social media. At this point we really wished we had left at 7 and were siesta-ing by a creek instead of the side of the road but that's not always how it happens. We met new hikers including a girl DK and Tofu, who were both also on the lawn sorting out their resupply.

 

We eventually left at 4pm, stopping to pay for our campsite from the night before on

the way out. It started with a huge climb, and we eventually breaked to do dinner by a creek. We continued climbing after dinner as darkness set in, filling our water bottles in a buggy creek for lack of better options.

 

We had magnificent views of the Castle Crags rock formations as the sun set and eventually by moonlight, and the air never really cooled so it was kind of like a spa/steam room treatment plus views, of course this was while carrying packs and huffing and puffing uphill lest you think we were relaxing. We finally stopped at a campsite on a ridge/cliff, finding a not-too-steep-but-definitely-not-flat spot, and called it at 11pm, disappointed with our 10 mile day but happy to have found a ridge with a view.

Day 104 - McCloud River to Castle Crag State Park Campground (32.5 miles, mile 1500.9)

Sunday July 30th, 2017

 

We woke to stiff legs and sore feet--all the downhill from the day before had taken its toll on our joints. We saw the Aussies heading out who told us they had seen a mama bear and her cubs three miles back and booked it to the campsite last night, and were planning to head into Shasta today where there were milkshakes and free camping which sounded pretty good. We packed up and hit the trail, starting with a 7 mile dry uphill stretch to the first spring. It was still cool at 7:15 and as the sun rose the pervasive heat we had felt the day before didn't really set in. The trail was heavily forested which also helped--ample shade (though limited views) and we were to Trough Creek 11 miles in in no time. We continued on towards Squaw Creek where we would stop for lunch.

 

By the time we arrived to the creek it was humid and hot and there were 6 other hikers huddled in the shade. I stuck my legs in--the heat or salt rash has returned to my thighs and the back of my calves so I've been trying to keep it at bay. We breaked and lunched and relaxed for about an hour until it was time to go. We were trying to make it to Castle Crag and the small market Ammirati's by 9pm so we could pick up our package and some ice cream before they closed. We had another huge hill to climb, switchback after switchback, and 10 miles until the next water so it was a haul. It was also humid hot. There was smoke from a fire somewhere and a storm system with formidable thunder clouds hovering on a distant horizon and the combination of those two phenomena coupled with the 100 degree heat resulted in a kind of odd stickyness to the air that just covered us in sweat with the most minor exertion. We passed Uncle Jesse a couple miles short of the road--he was meeting his family the next day and they were going to hike with him so he wasn't in a hurry. It was good to see him again and know we'd keep leapfrogging since he'd probably slow down a bit.

 

It was quite a slog with only a few views of Shasta in an extremely smoky sky which was kind of a bummer so we both plugged into some tunes to try and maintain our sanity. We managed to make it to the road by 8pm, nearly 30 miles into the day, not bad at all, but our feet and legs were definitely suffering a bit. We crossed the railroad tracks and turned onto the road and all the sudden there was I-5--having grown up in the Seattle area with I-5 as the major highway it was oddly familiar to see the interstate signs. As twilight set in we started on the road walk to the store and I had enough signal to call my parents and catch up a bit which was nice. We got there just in time before they closed and picked up our two packages and bought some juice and ice cream, a peach, nectarine and avocado, and six pack of beer and then chatted a bit with the clerk before heading over to the campground.

 

It's always fun to open the boxes, we have some surprises from friends in our resupply, and then T's mom has been sending us amazing supplemental goodies that have been so fun to receive since they are always different and interesting and do a good job of adding all the junk food we did not include in the boxes we packed for ourselves (wishful thinking!) to our stash of fuel for the next stretch. We drank some beers and ate the ice cream and fruit and relaxed for a bit while opening the boxes enjoying the surprises (THANK YOU SO MUCH V!) and then met Happy Feet who we had hiked past earlier in the day. We invited her to camp wth us since we were going to pay for a site anyway, and it was fun to meet a new person. She also discovered that the shower at the campground in the women's side said you had to use tokens, but if you turned the dial (warm!) water started pouring out of a spout in the wall below the shower head, plenty to take a shower with. So I headed in to clean myself up and do some shower laundry and she even had shampoo and conditioner which was amazing! It felt so good to get the layers of dirt and sunscreen off and wash my hair/scalp which gets so itchy with the hot sweaty climbs. I tried to do some foot repair with lotion, clippers, blister popping, and Neosporin (my heels have blisters under the callouses--it's a weird development post-Sierras but it seems to be a thing for multiple folks so I'm not too worried.) Eventually I settled into the tent, finding T already asleep, and fell into a deep, satisfied sleep myself.

Day 103 - Starry Saddle to McCloud River (28 miles, mile 1468.4)

Saturday July 29th, 2017

 

We were up by 6 and caffeinated and packed by 7. A better start than yesterday for sure. We began the day with a nice mellow descent with magnificent views of Shasta--an awesome boost to an otherwise dreary section. It was hot and dry and dusty again and we kept leapfrogging various groups of hikers none of whom we really knew well, and no one was particularly outgoing or friendly (I suppose we might not have been either). I think this is a really tough stretch mentally--it feels like we've been hiking through California forever, and we still have over 200 miles until Oregon. And we're only just over halfway done. It feels a little hopeless, honestly.

 

We had a couple of tough climbs and water was sparse until the last 7 miles or so. We took a long break by one of the springs and I dumped water over my head and we hung out with a deer who got spooked by an incoming hiker (since we were blocking the trail forward) and so it bounded up the creekbed into the deep brush. One thing that I find interesting about the trail that I didn't know before is how many creatures use them as well since they're often the clearest easiest way to get around. We passed a sign posted saying there was a detour around a washout which someone had sharpied over with the words "NOT THAT BAD" so we took our chances, and luckily for us the sharpie artist was correct. We got to Butcher Creek around 7pm, about 5 miles short of where we ended up, and I proclaimed myself exhausted and ready to camp. Unfortunately the campsite by the creek was completely full with 2 tents (a pair of German hikers who weren't terribly friendly anyway) and absolutely not enough space for another tent and so dejected we continued on, with a steep uphill soon to be followed by a huge dive to the McCloud River.

 

I had only taken 15 steps after crossing the creek when I heard a rattle and saw a humongous green rattlesnake slithering away to the left of the trail. It was probably 6' long and as thick as my wrist. Seconds later we heard another rattle and saw a baby rattler and suddenly I was very motivated to hike away from that creek. An hour later Hollywood caught us--we hadn't seen him since VVR and we were happy to catch up briefly before we all went back to our own paces (he's a bit quicker than us, or rather me, and T is stuck with me). After a mega downhill that pounded my joints into submission we finally got to the McCloud River, which is a wide, crystal clear, gorgeous oasis in the midst of a veritable desert, and I was so exhausted. All the campsites were full so we shared a spot with some really sweet southbound section hikers, and T basically did everything to set up camp and make dinner while I went down to the river using the last daylight to ice bath my legs since the heat rash was back. I crawled into the tent after inhaling some food and was asleep before I knew it, lulled by the quiet rush of the river flowing by.

Day 102 - Rock Creek Forest to Starry Saddle (18.4 miles, mile 1440.5)

Friday July 28th, 2017

 

We totally failed at our plan to get up early. When the alarm went off at 5, we were both so exhausted we agreed to turn it off. I woke again at 6, then 7, then 8, 9, and finally around 10 sat up and stretched, yawned, and deflated my thermarest before I could change my mind. T had gotten up just a bit before and had coffee ready to stave off the kraken in me--probably a wise move. We felt really guilty for the late start considering how hot it was, but also the most refreshed we'd felt in weeks--I suppose sometimes you just need to sleep in and take a vacation from your vacation. We had lunch for breakfast so we wouldn't have to stop and packed everything up determined to try to make up mileage.

 

It was hot again and there were long water carries punctuated by gorgeous wildflowers around the few and far between streams that we passed. We had more panoramic views of Mount Shasta as we climbed and descended, and saw smoke to the east from a wildfire we hoped was not going to affect the PCT. We met Em and Lou, a couple from Australia, and talked with them about the upcoming eclipse--they planned to go to some kind of moon party in Portland to see it, and needed to average 27 mile days until the 21st of August to make it in time.

 

We plugged in for the final third of the day, hiking into the twilight, then dusk, and then finally darkness, listening to podcasts (today was Still Processing and Ear Hustle) to help pass the hours. Sometimes we struggle to enjoy the hiking or find inspiration and I guess that's a big part of hiking the PCT as well--it's not all glorious vistas and epic adventure, sometimes it's hot and boring and we can barely stand the smell of ourselves. We found a campsite at an abandoned road at the top of a climb and hastily set up the tent, enjoyed the glimmering stars for a moment, and drifted off.

Day 101 - Burney Mountain Ranch to Rock Creek Forest (15 miles, mile 1422.2)

Thursday July 27th, 2017

We didn't sleep all that well for some reason, maybe proximity to other hikers, maybe fear of the resident mountain lion, maybe just too hot. At any rate, we took our time with the morning, drinking coffee and packing slowly. I stayed in the tent until about 9 working on the blog and hiding from the mosquitoes and then we went back into the main lodge to chill with Picky, write some postcards and use the wifi for another few minutes. It was so nice just to relax and drink coffee and use a real bathroom and be inside. There was a breakfast option for $10 and though we were tempted we were carrying too much food and needed to eat it instead of buying more.

We left around 10:30 to hike the 8ish miles to Burney Falls State Park; T's new shoes were headed there via UPS overnight and our resupply was also there so we were anxious to get it all sorted. The hike over was hot and dry and dusty, but there was the amazing wild bird cache to break the tedium, a well stocked water, lemonade, and snack stop maintained by yet another group of amazing trail angels. And T's ankle/shin wasn't acting up so that was great news but we agreed to take it easy just in case. Picky had given us some KT tape so maybe that was helpful too. As we approached the state park access road, we saw the UPS truck driving past and T took off to try and catch it. It actually ended up going somewhere else first (which we didn't learn until later) so when I found T in the store he was wandering around looking somewhat dejected. We asked about our package(s) and the store attendant went to look and came back empty-handed; not a good sign. I got an ice cream cone and T went to get on the wifi at the visitor center to track the packages. The store was well stocked for resupply though expensive, and kind of a frustrating experience overall as the clerks were not overly helpful and told us there were no packages at all for hikers which seemed suspect. In hindsight we'd have sent our box to the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch in a heartbeat.

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In the blissfully air conditioned visitor center staffed by a nice and helpful volunteer we discovered our package had accidentally ended up at the post office in the town of Burney. Meanwhile the UPS truck pulled up outside and T went to see if he could get his shoes before they got transferred to the store so we could avoid the $7 package pickup fee. He was successful, and extremely happy to put on the new shoes. We decided we would just buy food for the next stretch to Castella at the store, and call the post office and try to get our box bounced forward to Seiad Valley, nearly the last town before the Oregon border. First we needed beer though since it was too hot to think and we weren't hiking anywhere for awhile so we got a six pack of an awesome watermelon summer beer from the Lost Coast Brewery in Eureka that was delicious and refreshing. We shared beers with Mare, a woman from Salt Lake, and a Spanish guy who we ran into last near north Lake Tahoe. I keep forgetting to ask his name but he's super cool.

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After some beer drinking we felt properly fortified to inventory our food and do a grocery list. While we had everything sprawled out Picky showed up and got his resupply which was there and we traded (and took some of the stuff he was ditching) reducing our list and helping him out trading cous cous for knorr sides since he had shipped his stove away. T did the shopping and then we chilled some more and met Patrick, a southbounder from Connecticut who had started at Heart Lake in Oregon and had bought more beer to share. A really kind park employee gave us some tokens for showers which we gave to the Spanish guy since the rest of us had showered at the ranch recently enough.

Finally, around 5pm there was no more procrastinating that could be done and we said our farewells and went to check out the falls (incredible!) before continuing on. We hiked up to and beyond the formidable Britton Dam and couldn't believe how hot it still was. We finally got to the creek 7 miles in and splashed our faces and filled up water. We carried on just .2 more miles into a thick forest and found the large tent site already occupied. Fortunately there was room for one more so we quietly set up, made a hasty pad thai ramen dinner, and crawled into the tent--it was still too hot out at 9pm to even begin to imagine getting in a sleeping bag. We dozed off with the plan to get up early the next morning to beat the heat.

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Day 100 - Subway Cave Trail Junction to Burney Mountain Ranch (32.3 miles, mile 1407.3)

Wednesday July 26th, 2017

We were hiking by 6:15--an early start so we could try and get through the dry stretch before some of the heat set in. Its hard to believe we've been hiking for 100 days, and it manages to simultaneously feel like forever and no time at all. We started fast, climbing a bit up to Hat Creek Rim, and were rewarded with panoramic views of Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta as the sun lit up the valleys around us. We had no more than 1500' to climb over 30 miles today so we were intending to cruise. We managed 10 miles by 10am, a really good pace, and we were feeling good. We did a snack break to celebrate and kept going; the hard part is always the end and we wanted to get to the ranch before dark, 22 miles more in front of us.

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We're definitely back in the desert now, it's dusty and dry and the plants have changed back to ones we saw many miles ago pre-Sierra, but with less wildflower blooms. The dust is intense and gets into my shoes and socks and makes my the skin on my feet leathery and prone to cracking. The sun bears down relentlessly and sweat drips down my face and body. Dust hits the sweat and my skin becomes a shade darker with dirt. I listen to music quietly in my earbuds to distract myself from the discomfort.

We pass Umble and Ocean Spray at an empty cache, a few miles before the big one at Cache 22. We were kind of surprised we caught up to them as we've made a couple stops since we saw them last near North Lake Tahoe. We're in a new bubble of people now, it will be interesting to see how long it lasts and who we're moving at a similar pace to. We made it to Cache 22 by noon and found Splash and a few other hikers sprawled in the shade by 2 cases of bottled water and a huge cistern full of water marked "untreated." We gratefully filled up and chatted for a bit and then kept going--16 miles were remaining.

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We stopped for lunch an hour later in the shade of a big pine tree. After lunch it felt like a thermostat got turned up--it got hotter and hotter, approaching 100, I'm pretty sure. Our water heated up becoming less refreshing and the hiking got more difficult. More podcasts. About 5 miles later T mentioned he was feeling a shin splint. He never complains so this was not good. He was pretty sure a good portion of the issue was too much mileage on his shoes so he decided to overnight a new pair to Burney State Park after calling the sports store in Burney and being told the brands of running shoes they carry are Sketchers and LA Gear, which unfortunately won't work for thru-hiking.

We continued on and all the sudden he stopped--the shin splint was getting worse. I took as much of the weight from his pack as I could giving him all my light stuff hoping we could make it the 6 miles to the ranch without the injury becoming worse. We weren't near any roads with regular traffic and it would be hard to find a bailout. We slowed down, it was 3 miles to the creek and fish hatchery, and it probably took us an hour and a half to get there but he was feeling ok. There were 5 hikers at the creek and we filled up and gorged on the cool, clear water. We continued on, past an old PG&E building and hydroelectric plant where the mosquitoes set in. The last 2.5 miles were brutal--I think for us anything past 30 is where it gets tough and adding an injury is worse. We were climbing again, not steep but definitively, and the mosquitoes were giving chase. At least it was shaded and breezy. Oak trees lined the trail and we started seeing signs for the ranch. We finally arrived around 6:45, so thankful to be done. We had been walking at the same pace as Little Dipper, a woman from Prescott for the last bit and the three of us met Linda, the host, and got the orientation together.

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Burney Mountain Guest Ranch is a beautiful oasis of a property. It's set up like a homey commercial space--the main lodge features a large commercial kitchen with skylights and a wolf stove and a huge dining room. There's a pool off the back deck you can swim in after you've showered. Linda cooks; tonight it was burritos, a delicious spread, and a big, beautiful salad with homemade strawberry ice cream for dessert. It's a religious place with lots of posters and quotes everywhere, and no drugs or alcohol allowed which was fine with us though T probably could have used a beer to dull the pain in his shins (or the stress it caused, because if it turned into full-fledged shinsplints it would be a potentially hike-ending injury)--ibprofin would have to do. We washed our hands and got to the serious business of eating and drank two sodas each. There's a honor system at the store where you grab what you want and mark it down on your tab, and that's how dinner, showers, laundry, and camping work too, really refreshing and relaxing, and the prices are incredibly reasonable. After dinner we showered and set up the tent, checked out the gorgeous sunset, and tried to pet the aloof Siamese cats who were padding around. T quickly jumped in the pool for a sunset swim and everything was lovely. We hung out inside the lodge/dining room after that, with probably 10 other hikers including Picky and Splash for a couple hours chatting and trying not to get sucked into our phones. Everyone was hurting after the day, shin splints abounded from the rocky flat terrain so I think T felt some relief in the shared suffering.

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There was a sobering conversation about the PCT hiker whose body was found in the Kings river. She was 32 and Japanese--Rika was her name. Incredibly tragic, heartbreaking, and sobering, she must have fallen in crossing a creek solo and drowned or got hypothermia before she could get out. We talked about the hiker Optimistic Turtle who is a major contributor to the water report and everyone has opinions about (one guy had met OT as he called her and said she was super sweet). We tried to help Picky plan his west coast trip post trail; he needs to get from Vancouver to the Bay Area and then LA and wants to stop in Portland and Seattle. We debated the merits of Amtrak vs a rental or greyhound. Then it was time for bed and we went outside into the still warm night, crawled into our tent, took some ibprofin for our aching legs, and sunk into sleep hoping the mountain lion that had been spotted nearby would stay well away.

Day 99 - Drakesbad/Warner Valley to Subway Cave Trail Junction (27.3 miles, mile 1375)

Tuesday July 25th, 2017

Even though the alarm went off at 5:15 and I was already awake I didn't get up until 7. I think my distaste for mornings is hard-wired into my DNA and there's not much hope. By the time I finished packing and vacated the tent T was pacing and most of the hikers from tent city the night before had long since gone. As we were starting off Dosu passed us--we had last seen him at Mono Hot Springs. We couldn't believe he wasn't hundreds of miles in front of us, and as usual he was raring to go and was off before we could ask him many questions. We started off at a reasonable 2.3 miles per hour (the perils of hiking with an engineer--you always know how fast you're going), and got the minimal amount of elevation we had for the day over with quickly, allowing us to move faster (about 3.2mph) later. There was decent cloud cover that kept obscuring the sun temporarily and the temperature differential was impressive between sun and shade and definitely affected our speed-the hotter it was the slower I moved.

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We walked through about 5 miles of snags (dead trees, still standing) and it was hot and dry and dusty. By the time we got to lower twin lake at about 10:30 we were almost hot enough to jump in. Instead we had a snack and some water and took a five minute break--we'll swim one of these days. We got a few views of Lassen as we made our way through the park on nearly flat trail, seeing the mountain from nearly every angle in its gorgeous, snow covered glory. Thank goodness the trail doesn't take us up it, I think I'm done with snow. I listened to a ton of podcasts and finished the last two hours of the audiobook The Handmaids Tale; this section definitely is requiring external motivation for me as the scenery is a bit redundant.

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We breaked for lunch at a small stream taking an hour all said, trying to nap the last 20 minutes. We carried on, through more hot, dry terrain, and not too many views. It was a bit of a slog to be honest. We're back to the manzanita shrubs, desert shade, and pine trees, and it's definitely shifting towards desert conditions again. We had wanted to make 30 miles but ended up stopping at 27 having gotten to the subway cave junction exhausted and not wanting to carry water tonight. There was a 30 mile dry stretch with a cache in the middle coming up just after the junction. We set up our camp in a nice alcove just off trail and hiked the .4 miles down to the cave with our dinner supplies and empty water bottles. I'm claustrophobic so I didn't go into the cave but T did and said it was dark and damp and cool in there but there were no bats. We went to the parking lot and used the picnic tables to make dinner (mac and cheese) and filled up our bottles at the spigots. There were random cars coming through and a low flying helicopter circling as the sun set through the clouds--kind of an intense scene. We made it back to the tent just as darkness fell, took some vitamin i (ibprofin) and fell asleep to the sound of traffic on the nearby highway 89 blazing past.

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Day 98 - Chester to Drakesbad/Warner Valley CG (19 miles, mile 1347.7)

Monday July 24th, 2017

I was up around 6, and did a deep dive into news and social media that I am not sure was great for my mental health, but at least I felt caught up with the world. T was still sleeping and I dozed off again, waking with a start around 8:30am. There were blackout drapes so it was dark in the room, and I realized how much I've come to depend on the light to know what time it is. We hurried to get dressed and head to the complimentary breakfast and by the time we got there it was already teeming with people. I had flashbacks to every family vacation from my childhood where my dad would be up at 6 pacing and finding coffee and newspapers, and my sister and I would grudgingly and grumpily emerge sleepily around 9 right before the breakfast cutoff and he'd be annoyed because of the late start and also because it was always packed. Annoyed with myself for sleeping in and being in a crowd we hustled to stuff ourselves with as much eggs, sausage, muffins, bagels, and OJ as we could, while navigating the crowd (I think there maybe was a birdwatching festival going on--there were lots of binoculars around people's necks at any rate) and hustled back to our room to pack and take one more shower and do our last downloads and internet tasks before the 11am checkout. We had intended to be on the trail by 10, but of course it's never like that on hotel mornings, and 11:15am found us sweating, once again, in no longer clean clothes (already!) sticking our thumbs out once again.

Within 15 minutes an amazingly kind lady named Jackie pulled a U-turn from heading the OTHER way, and offered us a ride. As we got in the car and settled in for the 10 mile lift she explained that she was trying to improve her karma. She had had a check that was altered to $400 from $40 and had just finished dealing with the issue with the bank, and it had taken less time than the 3 hours she had planned so she was going to shuttle some hikers in an effort to put some good energy out into the world. People are amazing. She had some awesome stories about the Bay Area in the 70's (she had moved to the Lassen area 35 years ago after spending the first 33 years of her life in the Bay Area mostly in Berkeley, and had never looked back. All too soon we were back at the trailhead and we watched her upturn again to pick up some hikers on the opposite side of the highway to shuttle back towards Chester.

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We hit the trail moving fast, our goal being to make it to Drakesbad, 19 miles ahead of us, by the 7pm dinner. Though it was hot, there was great shade from the thick forest around us, and we made great time after our restful 20 hours off trail. It was fairly flat, with just a short uphill that was pretty exposed, but we made incredible time. We hit the junction for Boiling Springs, a really cool geothermal pond that we'd seen before so we decided to skip the detour, and suddenly we saw Splash walking towards us. Once again, he had gotten turned around after hiking to see the springs, and was headed back south! We laughed since it was the second time this had occurred, and we all hiked the last 3 miles together to Drakesbad, entering the gorgeous meadow where the resort si situated just as the golden hour hit. We still had 35 minutes until dinner so I rushed over to use the pool/hot springs before the meal (with dinner you are allowed to swim in the heated geothermal pool as long as you take a shower first, and the shower for hikers is labelled "for pets only" which cracked me up, but for the record it was a really nice outdoor shower with warm water and great views).

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I floated in the warm, sulfurous but not smelly water, feeling light and clean and watching the sun sink. I felt on top of the world for a moment since water is my favorite place to be, and then noticed I had only 5 minutes until dinner and hustled out to dry off and get back over to the dining area. There was one seat left at the 9 person table when I arrived, and I felt lucky we got there in time because the way Drakesbad handles dinner for PCT hikers is that they count the number of portions they have left after the resort guests have eaten, and only serve that many plates, and tonight the number was nine. Our fellow hikers included a group of 6 Dutch and Belgians who we had only just started seeing in the last couple of days, Splash, and another north bounder from Santa Cruz. Dinner for T and I and most of the rest of the table except for the two vegetarians was a huge green salad, pork chop with a citrus glaze, kale sautéed with garlic and onions, cheesy polenta, and pecan pie for dessert. It was an incredible meal, perhaps the best I've had on trail, and it was so lovely to sit in a big circle with all the other hikers enjoying the approaching sunset. Around 8 we closed out our tab and started heading towards the campground half a mile away. It had bear boxes, and since Lassen has instituted a bear can policy this year and most of us ditched our bear cans already it was one of the only ways to be in the park legally if you didn't have a bear can. It was 20 miles to the park border from there, totally doable in a day, so that was our plan. The sunset was gorgeous and we marveled at it a bit before hastening towards the campground. There were already probably 10 tents set up when we got there, and the dinner crowd added 6 more, creating a small tent city spread out over two campsites. We paid the fee and hurried off to bed, ready for our journey through Lassen National Park the next day.

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Day 97 - Roberson Spring to Chester (18.1 miles, mile 1328.8)

Sunday July 23rd, 2017

We woke early, maybe 5:30 or so, intent on getting to the halfway point and then to Chester as quickly as possible. It was our anniversary, and we survived a year of being married plus hiking half of the PCT without killing each other, no small feat, so the mood was fairly jubilant. We had some amazing views of Mount Lassen, still snow capped, and a long, flat descent which made the miles literally fly by. It was a bit of a dry stretch for 10 or 12 miles to a creek, but fortunately it was early and not too hot yet. Somehow we saw almost no other people until we bottomed out into a meadow for the last 1.5 miles, and then we started to see other PCT hikers and some day hikers too.

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When we arrived at the road Sinatra was just leaving and we chatted with him for a moment before sticking our thumbs out to try and catch a hitch. Not more than 5 minutes later an older couple pulled over to pick us up in their really nice SUV. They were from Southern California but had a summer place on Lake Almanor, and it seemed like we might be the first hikers they had ever given a ride to. We talked about the trail and the heat wave that was underway a bit, and then they dropped us off at the Village Pizza where we proceeded to order and ingest a huge, beautiful, delicious Greek salad, a pepperoni pizza, and a couple of sodas. I chatted with my parents, and learned that my dad had been kind enough to reserve us a room at the Best Western as an anniversary present, efficiently knocking out our first errand, finding where to stay.

Once we finished our meal we walked down Chester's main drag bringing back many memories from our wedding the year before, and headed to the fruit/pie stand to get smoothies, then the thrift store to buy some clothes to wear while our laundry was going. It was really hot and the walk was long and sweaty. On the way back to check into the hotel we went past a Dollar General Store and decided to check it out and managed to cross off half our shopping list including sunglasses, conditioner, new earbuds, etc--awesome! There were tons of hikers sprawled out in front of the store including Picky, our British friend from Belden, and we exchanged numbers, planning to meet him later for a beer. We checked into the hotel and took an amazing shower and laid out all of our gear, sorting everything into wash, throw away, clean, charge, etc. piles. Next up we headed to the laundromat next door where I took over on laundry duty and worked on the blog a bit while T headed over to the grocery store to pick up the remainder of our resupply shopping list.

I got so hot inside the laundromat with all the machines working overtime and no fan or AC I had to go to the gas station next door and get an ice cream bar and some juice, and then I felt much better. T reappeared with some treats: pretzels and cheese and mini champagne bottles, and we had a funny happy hour at the picnic table in front of the laundromat. There were a couple of New Yorkers there that someone had left for reading and I hungrily raced through a few articles. I think one of the things I miss the most is reading current cultural commentary. It's one thing to catch up on Facebook for a moment when we have reception but usually the depth of the articles is lacking, and even there NYT and the Guardian feel really click-beauty these days (that or our current political situation is just so absurd it's impossible for the headlines not to read as sensationalist). Any, it was really nice to catch up on what the New Yorker thinks is going on in this crazy world, and finally our laundry dried and we were able to head back to the hotel.

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I chatted with my sister for a bit, and then we texted Picky to see about that beer. We had thought we might get some food too, but our 2pm pizza and happy hour snacks were still sitting heavily in our stomachs so we just had a couple of beers at the sports bar between our two hotels and learned about Brexit, chatted about the trail, the Sierras, life in London and San Francisco, and everything in between. Two beers kind of put me under the table a bit--my tolerance for alcohol is pretty low these days, and all too soon I was super sleepy and we headed back to the hotel to go to sleep just after hiker midnight around 9:30pm. I slept so well that night for the first time in a while--I don't think I woke up for a solid and complete 8 hours, and it was gloriously restful and spacious in our fluffy, clean king bed. I almost dreaded getting back on the trail the next day, back into the furnace and Lassen National Park.

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Day 96 - Williams Cabin Site to Roberson Spring (20.6 miles, mile 1310.7)

Saturday July 22nd, 2017

We woke up late, around 7am, due to the late night the night before and everything hurt. Plus we still had about 6 miles left of what we had taken to calling "monster hill" which didn't sound awesome at all. It was a slog and I wasn't feeling very spry and it felt like everyone on trail passed as as we (I) struggled up the hill at about 1.5 miles per hour. It was really hot and I was dripping sweat. I tried to remind myself that the views of Mount Lassen were spectacular, that we'd be in Chester resting tomorrow, and that I was lucky to be out hiking in a beautiful place but my brain was having none of it. We finally made it to the top of the hill (mountain?) around 1:30pm and found 2 hikers breaking for lunch in the shade of a huge tree.

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We joined Sushi and Uncle Jessie for about an hour and it drastically improved my mood (that and the hill being behind us) to talk about ramen flavors, nearing the end of California, and our respective home towns (Portland, a small town in Michigan, and in our case San Francisco). Sufficiently distracted from the intensity of monster hill and fortified for the hike ahead we carried on, drinking lots of water to stay hydrated in the oppressive heat and making our way through forests and meadows and desert-esque dirt trails, kicking clouds of dust behind us. We got our first (very hazy) views of Shasta and tried to entertain ourselves. I was deeply enthralled with the audiobook I've been listening to, The Emerald Mile, which is about the Grand Canyon, and dams and adventures, and the history of the large rivers in America. I can't recommend it enough.

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We got to a nice spring around 2pm, crystal clear water piped into a trough with delicious cool, water flowing strong. About 2 hours later we got to a campground and there was trail magic! A kind couple had brought up tons of beer and Powerade and chips and fruit and veggies; it was an awesome spread. We stopped for about 20 minutes, chatting with the trail angels and the group of Dutch and Belgian hikers who were also stopped, and we learned we had just missed a bear sighting. All T wants is to see a bear at this point and we keep running into folks who have just seen a cub or an adult but we have not yet. We hiked on from the trail magic taking a beer for the road with the urging of the trail angel to drink the next day when we hit the official halfway point of the trail. The forest was darkening quickly and it was probably 8pm and we wanted to go 5 more miles but it wasn't in the cards for us. We got to a camp spot where there was one other tent as the sun was slipping behind a distant ridge creating a magnificent sunset and quickly set up our tent and made some dinner. We tucked into our bags and were trying to sleep when we heard a lot of rustling. I was nervous because our food bags were only 10' or so from our tent and whatever it was sounded big. I asked T if he had any food in his backpack and he decided to double check and found a bag full of snickers. Bears love snickers. We went out together, just in case, and found a very tame deer wandering around. We bagged the snickers and moved the food bags further away just in case and headed for bed once again.

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Day 95 - Lookout Rock to Williams Cabin Site (32.7 miles, mile 1290.1)

Friday July 21st, 2017

The view we woke up to was incredible and we quickly caffeinated and packed and hit the trail, excited for Belden. Our one year wedding anniversary was coming up on Sunday, and we were on track to walk right through the town we got married on the outskirts of, Chester, on that very day if we made it to Belden and then hustled for the next two days.

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We passed the turnoff for Bucks Lake and a cute bin of loaner books labelled book library, which was quite charming. Too bad we've had no luck reading much of anything in physical, non-electronic form on trail. The scenery the first half of the day was quite stunning. We started in a deep forest and then hiked through meadows that were vibrant and green and full of life and water, refreshing after a long stretch of desert like conditions. Then we hiked along a ridge with views of the long canyon going into Belden, and got some stunning vistas of multiple lakes. We concluded this would be a great place to come back to for a weekend trip, it was warm and perfect weather for swimming--we just didn't have time with our self-imposed rush.

We passed a ranger hiking with a group who reminded us of the fire ban throughout Plumas National Forest--fire season is in full effect--and a family of 5 out on a weekend trip and then wound our way into a more exposed, brushy slog for about 5 miles before we began the steep, 5,600' descent into Belden. The downhill was nice, though a bit hard on the knees, but was a bit overshadowed by the fact that right after passing through Belden we'd have to go right back up - 5,800 feet - to get back to the same elevation plus a bit. It was really hot and exposed and I would be lying if I said it was a super fun afternoon, but we made it down in very good time and popped out at the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill around 5pm and made our way into a sea of civilization promptly thereafter.

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First we heard the steady sound of bass (in fact we could hear it from halfway down the hill). Belden is a tiny town that seems to exist for festivals. It consists of a few houses on the outskirts, and then a wide, beautiful river runs through the bottom of the valley/canyon and there is a lodge and festival grounds built up around it. It feels a bit like a mix of the Oregon Country Fair and a Russian River weekend, both west coast references that might confound more than enlighten, but suffice to say it's a scene. As soon as you cross the tracks and dip down into the main paved road all of your senses are assaulted by sounds, smells, and a whole lot of activity. There were tons of people milling about scantily clad or costumed in bizarre ensembles with lots of holes. It was hot and the festival is on a river so of course bathing suits abound, but this was like burning man mixed with steam punk level fashion. It smelled like beer and water and pot and cigarettes and there were people steaming past rolling or carrying coolers or ice or bags or giant floaties. We probably looked like deer in the headlights because moments later a security person came and found us to give us bright yellow wristbands and explain the rules for PCT hikers: you can go into the lodge/store/bar, you can camp by the railroad tracks or on the other side of the river, and you cannot go to the stages to see the music. Pretty fair and straightforward if you ask me, since tickets for the Sunset Campout, as it's called, are $175 General Admission, but some other hikers were pretty salty about being denied access to the music area. We shrugged, and went inside to get our resupply package, buy a couple of additions at the store, and get a beer.

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We sat out on the back porch and sorted the supplies deciding what to hikerbox and what to keep. Since we'd hit Chester in just a couple days and we had a GIANT hill to climb we wanted to keep it light. It was finally a somewhat reasonable temperature, and it actually was fairly peaceful and somehow not that loud out there, and actually quite enjoyable. Sinatra and DK joined us, and then another hiker, Picky, from the UK, and Dash, from SF, also sat down. We had some burgers and fries and relived the glory of the Sierras and tried not to think too hard about the climb we had coming up. We had decided we were going to tackle it that evening since it was so hot (and the forecast was holding steady at 90-100 degrees all week) and we're not the best at the early starts. So after we digested and repacked and procrastinated as much as we could we shouldered our packs, walked out the door, walked through the party which had definitely turned into a sea of fluorescent, blinking lights and seriously bad house music, and headed uphill.  It was 9:30pm.

 

Looking back at Belden was an awesome view. The moon wasn't yet visible so it was quite dark, and the lights glistened and changed colors illuminating the river and sounds drifted up from the depths sounding way better than they had when we were immersed. Sinatra and DK passed us after about 30 minutes, they had decided to night hike a bit too. I was really struggling. The weight of a burger and onion rings in my stomach was not cooperating with the steep hill, and it was still quite hot and sweat was pouring down my face. I felt like I was going to puke for most of the first 4 miles. Then it cooled off a bit and my digestion started working and everything got better. There were nice stars and I wasn't too tired and we felt pretty good abut knocking out half the climb since it was a doozy. All the sudden we saw headlamps ahead and wondered what was up and we ran into DK and Sinatra who said a skunk had been charging them and they couldn't move forward. They were hoping with 4 of us we could scare it away without threatening it so much that it sprayed (I think that is what you call it when a skunk releases smell, but I am not sure and I am far from google). Fortunately we were able to move forward without incident, though we did have to throw pebbles near it at one point. After 8 miles total we were at our camp spot for the night, just 15 minutes behind the other two who were just zipping their tents as we arrived, and it was about 11pm. We quickly put up our tent, dove inside, and immediately fell asleep, taking some ib profin preventatively since we knew we would probably have sore legs tomorrow.  We were asleep by 12:30am after having logged our highest mileage day so far.

Day 94 - Plumas Forest Creek to Lookout Rock (25.2 miles, mile 1257.4)

Thursday July 20th, 2017

 

Another 7:30 departure. Hiking through the thick woods isn't the most inspiring, and the absence of a direct line of sight to a sunrise can be disorienting. We had a road walk/detour for about a mile due to a fallen tree and we were so curious about what kind of treefall could be epic enough to prevent hiking through but unfortunately we couldn't see it from the road. We did some creek laundry since we were out of clean socks and took a really nice lunch break right before rejoining the trail. In the afternoon we'd be crossing a Fork of the feather river and we were looking forward to it since it's been extraordinarily dry for the past few days.

 

As we were descending to the river bed I was in front and heard a suspicious rattle to my left. I froze in my tracks and slowly backed up nearly knocking T over. He saw the snake but I never did and I had a mild anxiety attack while we decided what to do. The snake was on the left in a brushy, rocky perch on a nearly vertical walk perpendicular to the trail. After straining my eyes I finally suggested T just walk past, so he did and then the rattle came again! At this point I had worked myself into full anxiety mode--my phobia of snakes is seriously irrational and uncontrollable--and I couldn't move forward or backward but also was not happy about where I was. T wasn't coming back, he was now 10 feet in front of me, and to the right of the trail the slope continued down towards the river at a steep pitch and was very brushy, probably hiding more villainous snakes. Just as I mustered the guts to take a step forward I looked down and saw an unmistakable rattle sliding past my right foot about 2 feet in front of me heading downhill. I'm pretty sure I shrieked, and we still don't know if it was the same rattler or a different one but it definitely took me five more minutes to take ginger steps forward and then race towards the bridge spanning the river. We had thought we might swim but now, with presumably thousands of snakes in the vicinity I wanted nothing to do with the feather river and so we pushed on.

 

We had some climbing out of the riverbed and were treated to expansive views and a bit of a workout. We got to an ice cold spring about half a mile from where we wanted to camp and with sighs of relief filled up our water bottles, fending off mosquitoes with one hand, filtering with the other, and trying not to let our hands harden into claws from the freezing water pouring out of the narrow metal pipe. We came out of the forest to the incredible lookout rock where we were amazed to find that the best spot (in our humble opinion) had not been taken! Granted it was on the edge of a cliff and our unnatural non-fear of heights probably made this work for us, but we did feel lucky considering there were 6-8 other campers camping in that area. We set up our tent and then T made an awesome meal of ramen with peanut butter and pistachios and I continued my perpetual quest to catch up on the blog and we tucked ourselves into our high perch as the sun went down, hoping for dreams of flying.

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Day 93 - Sierra Butte Lookout to Plumas Forest Creek (26 miles, mile 1232.2)

 

Wednesday July 19th, 2017

 

We got up none too early, hitting the trail around 8, and within an hour of hiking ran into some trail angels. Four guys from Tahoe were being awesome and hanging out for a couple of days doing trail magic. They informed us we had missed a grilled cheese and IPA party the night before and we were super bummed. They gave us some clif bars and water as a consolation prize, and offered beers for the road and told us there was a rave in Belden the upcoming weekend. Apparently all the hikers that had been there for the previous evenings shenanigans were booking it to get there by Friday night. Apparently their friends were hosting some kind of bingo tent at the event and they told us we should check it out if we made it in time. We kept on going discussing the merits of partying in Belden and decided we'd rather get to Chester for our anniversary on Sunday. In order to do that we'd pretty much need to blaze through Belden, stopping only for a burger and our resupply.

 

We started seeing lots of new wildflowers around the creeks, the only one of which I knew the name of was tiger lily--they were vibrant and orange and arresting in their beauty. We stopped for a snack around 11 eating the avocado Jared had given us for the road the day before and it was glorious. A couple of southbounders passed us and we exchanged info about the respective sections ahead--good news for us, there was almost no more snow to contend with. The second half of the day was fairly uneventful; we met a guy called Sinatra we had first seen on the descent into Sierra City, and we hiked through a heavily forested section with some climbing for at least 15 miles. At around 7 we called it having arrived at the last listed campsite for a bit and we set up our tent and then did a road walk down about a half a mile to a creek to get some water. We made a quick dinner and got to sleep, mentally preparing for a big day the following day so we could get in and out of Belden Friday.

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Day 92 - Jackson Meadows Reservoir to Sierra Butte Lookout (22.3 miles, mile 1206.23)

Tuesday July 18th, 2017

It was nice to wake up in a campground with luxuries such as pit toilets and trash cans. Jared made us coffee, pancakes, and bacon, and we efficiently packed up and headed back to the trail. Jared hiked with us for the first 7 or 8 miles packing out Gatorade and candy to hand out to other hikers along the way and we met a bunch of southbounders who were super psyched to receive the trail magic since it was hot and we were encountering them at the top of a long relentless hill for them (downhill for us). We ran into Tender who is now Hobbles, racing to get to Sierra City to pick up his package before the post office closed at 2pm. The section today was pretty shaded, which was great for temperature but not so great for views and there was almost no snow, just tiny patches. We played some riddle and word games on the way down and it was pretty easy walking. We stopped by a river for lunch and to bid Jared farewell and he surprised us once more laying out an incredible spread of hummus, bread, avocados, bananas, cheese, salami, chips, and bell peppers. It was such a treat to eat non dehydrated food and it was hard to say goodbye.

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After lunch we stopped at a creek so I could cool down and then crossed several more as we carried on and it heated up even more. We passed the turnoff for Sierra City sadly choosing not to stop since we had just been in Tahoe and met up with Jared and been spoiled by civilization enough, and then we immediately started a long uphill climb toward Sierra Butte. We passed mile 1200 on the way up, making our way through a magnificent canyon and we topped out around 7pm, racing to make it to a campsite before dark. When we got to the tentsite it was entirely full and my heart sank as I was completely beat. Fortunately as we carried on we found another one not more than 300 yards later off in the brush to the side of the trail. I was so exhausted I crawled straight into the tent and T made dinner and I was out like a light before the sun even set.

Hand painted sign pointing to Sierra City

Hand painted sign pointing to Sierra City

Day 91 - Paradise Ridge to Jackson Meadows Reservoir (18 miles, mile 1183.9)

Monday July 17th, 2017

 

We started the day with a long downhill that curved into a north facing slope and once again we were walking on snow. The landscape is definitely changing as there are tons of wildflowers punctuated by dusty, red, fine, dirt, then suddenly snow. Soon we'll be in true Northern California which is more of a dry, desert landscape and hopefully displays an absence of snow so we can pick up our pace.

 

My feet got wet at some point during the morning and I had flashbacks to the three weeks of wet feet in the Sierras. Next our lunch spot was infested with carpenter ants and we were forced to eat standing up and flee. The day wasn't off to a great start. But our friend Jared was making his way towards us so it was about to get significantly better. Jared, you might remember if you've been following our travels for a while, last came out to meet us when we were in Tehachapi and offered up some trail magic and cooked us some delicious meals on trail. He lives in Park City, Utah so it's a haul for him and we're super thankful that he somehow enjoys driving across 2 states to come hang out with us and for the morale boost and awesomeness that meeting up with him provides.

Joke book and a 2Pass! aka T

Joke book and a 2Pass! aka T

Sure enough just an hour or so after our ill-fated lunch break, Jared rounded a bend running towards us--since we were planning to camp at the reservoir about 8 miles from where he found us he was able to leave his camp setup there and turn it into a trail run! He turned around to hike with us offering to help with our packs and it was awesome to see him and catch up and it made those 8 miles fly by. When we got to the road and his car he had ice cold Gatorade and candy for us and it was heaven. We headed over to the (really nice and empty!) campsite and set our stuff out and then went over to the reservoir to beach lounge and swim. We had some snacks and some knob creek whiskey and watched a mama duck and her ducklings darting around for a bit. I actually didn't get in but both T and J did and it was truly lovely to just sit in the sun not walking.

Jared cooked for us and refused help--a huge luxury to relax while dinner was being prepped

Jared cooked for us and refused help--a huge luxury to relax while dinner was being prepped

Then Jared made us dinner while we checked out his joke book--he does stand up comedy and has a bunch of partial and complete sketches. We've seen him perform live, but it was cool to get a behind the scenes view of what goes into it and give some feedback. We had a feast of spaghetti bolognese and garlic bread followed by S'mores and an awesome and warm fire. There was also ample and delicious red wine and the stars were bright and we were too lazy to set up tents so we all cowboy camped and fell asleep--I think T and Jared outlasted me by at least an hour.

Incredibly nice fire, coals perfect for s'mores 

Incredibly nice fire, coals perfect for s'mores 

Day 90 - Donner Summit Trailhead to Paradise Ridge (8.8 miles, mile 1165.8)

Sunday July 16th, 2017

We got up fairly early again and had a leisurely breakfast and coffee before going through our food plan--it's always best to do food planning with a full stomach. My aunt and her friends were headed off to swim and hike for the day so we said our goodbyes since we wouldn't see them again. We had a couple more errands to do and Amz's friend was driving up from Placerville to pick her up and take her back to her car so we headed towards Truckee to rendezvous and bid her adieu. Her blisters were on the mend and she wasn't too mad at us for making her hike extreme miles so that was good.

Awesome bridges

Awesome bridges

Next up we headed to the mail center to ship a package to my parents in Seattle which was full of gear and food. We couldn't believe there was a place open on Sunday; super lucky. I left T at the mail store and headed into Truckee to get some cards and gifts for friends and a thank you gift for Chris. I couldn't believe how packed it was--it was tough to find a parking spot and a bit of a zoo--definitely civilization overload, and It made me wonder how going back to SF will feel. If this was any indication, stressed.

Errands completed, we headed back to the cabin and I worked on blog catch up for a bit, the perpetual task, while T made frozen pizza and helped with laundry and cleaning. We finally took off around 3:00, having arranged to drop ourselves off at the trailhead and lock the keys in the car and Chris would pick it up later--it was truly wonderful to have the freedom, flexibility, and love that she gave us. We met an older guy in the parking lot who called us heroes for going through the Sierras which seemed a little melodramatic but very complementary and then we set off.

Hitting the trail

Hitting the trail

There were neat tunnels under Highway 80 and we passed through some thick woods before breaking into switchbacks and hitting patchy snow. We came across the Peter Grubb hut, a ski hut we'd always wondered about, and explored the dark interior thinking it'd definitely be worth checking out come winter. We crossed some really marshy meadows and a couple of creeks and then to the site we had intended to camp st but it was so crowded with other hikers and blanketed in mosquitoes that we kept on going. a few miles later we crested a ridge and found a beautiful spot to pitch our tent in a field of wildflowers. We set up camp, ate chocolate chip cookies for dinner, and hit the hay - tomorrow would be early and fast since we were racing to meet our friend Jared at the upcoming reservoir in 15 or so miles in the early afternoon.

Sweet camp spot

Sweet camp spot

Day 89 - ZERO DAY IN NORTH LAKE TAHOE (mile 1156.7)

Saturday July 15th, 2017

 

We were hoping to sleep in but of course I woke up at the crack of dawn (6am) and my mind started racing and I couldn't get back to sleep. I got up and started on the coffee brewing, news reading, and podcast downloading--an incredibly relaxing start to the morning. We did a load of laundry and had some breakfast and sorted through our stuff to try to figure out what to send away in terms of winter gear and what to keep since we were transitioning back to desert mode. We also inventoried food and made a shopping list and another monster list of all the things we had to do which was kind of overwhelming.

 

My aunt was kind enough to let us borrow her car for the day and it made it really easy to get all our errands done and have some fun too. First stop was the gear store--I needed new socks to replace the ones I lost and our solar panel was acting up so we needed to solve that issue as well. Alpenglow sports had us covered on all fronts and Tahoe City was bustling since it was a beautiful day and a weekend so it was a little intense to find parking and get in and out. Next up we headed to our friend Andrew's house in Carnelian Bay to say hello and collect our various packages that we had shipped there and that he had brought for us from Kennedy Meadows/Lone Pine after our snow skills course.

 

It was great to see him and catch up and we had chips and salsa and drank some beers as we traded stories from the past 6 weeks. After that we pulled out all the gear and sorted it into three piles: keep, send to Seattle to my parents in case we need it in OR or WA, and send back to SF in the case of things we didn't think we'd need again. Katie, our friend and Andrew's girlfriend, arrived from SF and we all picked up and headed out to grab a burger and then jump in the lake. It was really nice to have an afternoon off and not have to worry about logistics, or hiking, or anything at all. All too soon the sun started sinking and we headed back to Andrew's house for a bit of hot tub time. There was a glorious sunset and it was incredibly pleasant to sit on his deck surrounded by pine trees watching the sky turn pink and then orange.

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We left his house around 7 and made a quick stop at the grocery store to bulk up on our resupply and buy some wine to replenish Chris' stock. We headed back to the cabin and sorted our gear and repacked our packs (except for food--that was a tomorrow problem) and then did some photo backing up and did a quick slideshow for everyone of our time in the Sierras so they could see all the snow they were avoiding. It was 12:30am by the time we wrapped up, we couldn't believe it, and we headed for bed to try to avoid getting on too nocturnal a schedule; it is so easy for me to slip into the late nights and late mornings and it does not suit the PCT lifestyle terribly well.

Day 88 - Squaw Valley to Donner Summit Trailhead ​ (17.3 miles, mile 1156.7)

Friday July 14th, 2017

We were hiking by 7am, intent on getting to the I-80/PCT junction 18 miles away by 4 or 5pm to meet up with my aunt Chris who was kind enough to pick us up. She was in Tahoe staying at her cabin by Alpine Meadows for the week with some friends who had had all won the permit lottery to do the Yosemite High Camps but they actually weren't opening this year due to all the destruction and snow levels in Yosemite (which we had seen firsthand,) so they were hiking in Tahoe instead. We climbed up from our camp spot past the official boundary of Squaw and found some snow--probably not enough to ski on but enough to slow us down a bit as we scrambled down the steep slopes. We found Squaw Creek and were glad in hindsight that we hadn't camped there as there wasn't a flat, snow free site to be found.

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We hadn't anticipated that today would be so snowy so we were moving more slowly than expected, but we thought we could make up time once we got low enough. The snow really persisted through lunch, and then even still it was kind of patchy in any heavily forested or north facing areas. There was a bit of a gnarly traverse with a steep fallout before we could really descend from Squaw and then there was a kind of surprising dry stretch that we hadn't expected--7 or more miles without water. By the time we were cruising it was 3pm and I texted my aunt to let her know we were going to be a bit late.

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We popped out at Donner Summit a couple hours later--it was hot and we started to see some day hikers and climbers. There was a cooler full of cold beer--trail magic! And we quickly stopped and downed one thankful for the morale boost. The landscape completely changed into granite and big skies, and Amz was struggling a bit--we were so close but the excessive mileage was taking its toll, quite understandably. Unfortunately none of us had service to text any more so T went ahead to meet Chris and Amz and I brought up the rear, trying to get through the last few miles without injury as quickly as possible. We finally got to the trailhead parking lot and it was so wonderful to see Chris. She had brought us smoothies and bars, and getting into a car and accelerating onto the freeway felt like being in a Science Fiction movie for a moment.

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We stopped by the local co-op grocery store and bought tons of produce and ice cream (apparently it was National Ice Cream day) and then headed to the cabin. The whole group was there and it was so nice to be in civilization--they had lots of questions about the hike and we were glad we could tell them that the High Camps seemed legitimately destroyed and that it was probably a good thing they weren't out there trying to hike them. We took showers and they prepared us an incredible meal of steak, chicken, salad, caprese salad, fresh summer corn, bread, and ice cream. We did a bit of internet catch up, downloading podcasts and uploading pictures and checking our email, and then headed to bed, so full and comfortable and happy to be on a mattress for a night.

Day 87 - Richardson Lake to Squaw Valley (20.8 miles, mile 1139.4)

Thursday July 13th, 2017

By the time we were up and packed and done with breakfast Umble and Ocean Spray were long gone--at least we are consistent in our slow mornings. We quickly hiked out of the lake area and had some great views of the Homewood ski area--it's weird to be in familiar terrain , but weird to see it only partly snowy. We had a creek crossing where I accidentally slipped on a slick rock and dropped a trekking pole. It was not moving fast and the water was only ankle deep, but I got a shoe wet and was a little grumpy about it since it was a silly mistake. A good reminder to myself to always exercise caution as water is fickle.

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We got to Barker Pass which was amazingly snow-free, right on the edge of the Granite Chief Wilderness. We had lunch on a ledge overlooking Alpine and Squaw and pulled out our sleeping bags and tent to air/dry out as they were getting a little stinky. The family we had camped next to hiked past and we chatted with them for a bit telling them about our hike. We dropped down into a north-facing snow-filled valley after lunch and had some tricky route finding followed by a very sustained uphill climb. We followed a gorgeously flowering ridge for what seemed like forever, at the top of which we reached the backside of Alpine Meadows, another ski area in Tahoe. There were incredible views from the ridge; we could see my aunts cabin and all the lifts and almost to Highway 89.

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What goes up must come down seems to be the rule of the Sierras and after a long descent to the bottom of the valley between Alpine and Squaw Valley we were stopped for a snack break/water refill at the three lakes junction when Mandy and Mamie appeared. We had met Mandy at Hikertown and been on pace with her for a bit, and had heard of Mamie since she had been hiking with Gravy Train who joined Grandaddy Longlegs and Quill when groups merged, split, and exploded out of Kearsarge. It was great to catch up with them--they had been southbound from Ashland more or less, and they gave us some great info and a slideshow on Northern California and the beginning of Oregon. We had some hot dry stretches, and then a bunch of lakes to look forward too--not a bad development. From there we headed uphill towards Squaw Creek where we hoped to camp, but I started bonking around 7:30 and we ultimately stopped a couple miles short of our goal when we discovered an amazing campsite overlooking the valley behind Squaw. We made a big fire, dried our feet, stayed warm with hot toddies, and cooked dinner. Somehow we weren't done with all this until about 11:30--another short night.

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