PCT 8: Northern California Trail Reunions

We had just escaped the snow with the entire trail north of us to look forwards too. In Sierra City our group of Uky, Bolo, Happy Feet and I stumbled in resupplying and charging our electronics for the next leg of the PCT to Quincy. In Sierra City I had one of the tastiest burgers on trail yet, with the grease and salt hitting the spot in amazing ways while I sat on the front porch of the general store, sweaty and stinky. We enjoyed chatting with some other hikers and the locals that were fascinated in hearing stories from our adventure thus far.

Once the evening rolled around we headed three miles out of town towards the trail to camp. We knew that there were some desert PCT friends, Bugle and Disco, heading southbound in the area and they should be coming past us so we could have a brief trail reunion and catch up. The nights camp was very rocky under the surface and I even destroyed one of our stakes trying to pound it into the ground.

We woke up the next morning to a large climb with many switchbacks. We wound our way up the valley wall towards the largest peak in the area, Sierra Butte. On the way up we ran into Gaper, another hiker we had met in the Desert, who was also northbound so we chatted with him for a bit. He ended up hiking with us off and on for the next couple weeks.

Winding upwards with Sierra Butte above us and the valley with Sierra city far below

Once we rounded Sierra Butte we ran into more snow… We knew that we weren’t completely done with it but were being extremely hopeful that it would be minimal. The snow lasted the next thirty miles for most of the time and we just kept pushing along, wishing for a complete end to the snow. In this area we also saw a ton of moss on the trees marking the snow level at its highest during the winter. The moss level was above our heads in most areas so we knew, despite the fact that we were walking on snow, that there was much more here during the winter.

Uky walking through the mossy trees
Bolo looking out over the landscapes near Sierra City

The views of Sierra Butte from the North side were beautiful and we did end up running into several desert hiker friends on a snowy slope. They told us the rest of their group including Bugle and Disco had passed us in the night so we didn’t get the reunion we were hoping for. After a quick conversation about the big snow levels they would have southbound we parted ways once more knowing it may be the last time we ever saw them on trail.

Looking back at Sierra Butte from the north side
Looking at the last bits of granite showing us leaving the Sierra and approaching the Cascades

The traverses were slushy and the steps hard to follow. We cut many ridge lines short by traversing straight through the forest and eventually climbed up towards a snow face descent we were warned about.

Towards the top of the climb, just before the infamous descent, we noticed on the topographical maps that the trail was only a half mile away as the crow flies to the west. Happy Feet wanted to cut cross country to avoid an extra two miles but I was nervous that there was a reason the trail continued around this face in a zig zaggy manner. We parted ways so he could give it a shot and we joked about how he may end up waiting for a long time if he was right and could cut off the miles.

The descent was steep but nothing too difficult especially in comparison to what we had already accomplished in the Sierras. At the intersection we looked up at the slope Happy Feet had wanted to use as a short cut and noticed several massive cliffs and snowy scree slopes, we would definitely be waiting for him. Once him and Bolo caught up we continued onward towards what we had been told should be the proper end of the snow for us!

We sped up a bit covering more miles over the next few days since the trail was mostly going through generic forests. It was paralleling forest service roads and the scenery blended together after a while but we were excited to get to Quincy so Town could rejoin us. We needed someone to reinvigorate our group a bit, someone that hadn’t been emotionally bashed by the Sierras.

We ended up having another reunion with Home Made, a hiker from New Zealand we met several times in the desert. We loved hearing her many stories of working in Central Africa and the other long distance trails she had done but eventually she sped up to hike at her normal pace.

The trail dropped down steeply to a river bottom with a massive bridge where we could see an area popular with white water rafters and gold miners alike. We also ran into the first rattlesnake we had seen since the desert as it noisily blocked our way on some steep switchbacks.

Bolo and Happy Feet crossing a bridge at the bottom of a massive descent

We set up camp in a deep dark valley in an extremely green area full of large leafy plants only one day away from Quincy and our reunion with Town.

In the morning Uky got up before anyone and as I was waking up I heard a loud snap and thump from outside the tent. I called out to see if everything was all right. Uky guiltily informed me that in taking down the bear hang with our food that she had also taken down the entire branch the food was hanging off of. We all laughed about this and agreed that her trail name was no longer Uky but Paula Bunyon or just Bunyon for short. She was all right with this seeing as she was never too excited about Uky.

We had a large climb out of the valley bottom we had camped in, but pushed through it fast before the day got too hot. We noticed a sign with a phone number at the top from a trail angel just before we had a lunch break. It was from woman in the area who was hosting hikers so we agreed to give them a call and try to get Town to meet us there.

Once we were nearly to the road we ran into Butch and Lullaby, two other desert trail friends! We laughed and talked for a while about our respective experiences but then continued on knowing Town had been waiting since the night before to meet back up with us.

Happy Feet, Bolo and I waiting for a hitch while Bolo played the Ukulele

After a quick hitch we met up with Town once more at a general store so our trail family could gain back one of its old members! He told us of the tedious process to get out to Quincy involving a flight to Reno, a very long uber ride and allot of hitching back and forth hoping to run into us. After happily welcoming him back we then walked as a group to the trail angels house. It was an amazing stay and we were treated to an amazing dinner of burgers and a great breakfast to boot.

With the arrival of Town we also had the pleasure of mailing home all of our snow gear. We had been carrying crampons and ice axes since Kennedy meadows, a month and a half earlier and I couldn’t be more excited to get rid of the pokey metal objects sticking off of my pack, which I hadn’t properly used for almost a week. In Quincy we mailed these home and stayed for one more night to finish resupplying.

While in Quincy we stayed with a family of trail angels who had a Tepee and met up with Gaper for one more night. We were told that there was a music festival going on and we all wished we could stay but had to keep pushing to make up for the lost time in the Sierras.

Leaving Quincy we climbed up and over another high point and the next day we dropped down to the small festival town of Belden. There was another festival going on in Belden over the Fourth of July, which left me three weeks to make it to Ashland, in Southern Oregon, for my family reunion.

While walking through Belden we were approached by a stereotypical festival woman who asked if we were there for the party. I laughed and said no we were just walking through and then explained to her what the PCT was. She immediately stopped talking and stared at us like we were crazy then asked “why the fuck would you do that?”. I laughed and continued on wanting the company of the woods and mountains over the bacchian party that was about to take place.

Bunyon and I people watched the festival goers across the river placing bets on whether or not we would observe Town getting pulled in by a siren song

Once on the other side of the river from the festival Bunyon and I “people watched” while having a snack, joking about whether or not Town would be able to say no to an invitation to party by an attractive festival woman. We didn’t see him across the river after waiting for a bit so we continued on towards what would be a large, hot and exposed climb.

We fell short of our goal for the day by several miles and waited near the top for Town to catch up. We were all nervous he may have actually taken up the offer to stay and party but eventually he came wandering in, struggling with the climb after over a month of living at sea level and hiking very little in Florida.

The next several days on trail involved snow a few more times and the scenery was more hills and forests with a few scattered views of Mt Lassen far to the north. We were also approaching the halfway point of the PCT despite the fact that we were still in California. The length of the state was starting to wear on me and a border crossing, all be it superficial, would at least give us a sense of accomplishment.

So far and yet so far
A welcome water source in the woods
A burst of color in the brown forest

Two days out of Burney we camped only a mile from the halfway marker and ran into a large group of other hikers on a beautiful ridge line. There were two hikers, Fat and Sassy, who we hadn’t seen since the desert and we chatted about our different experiences mixed with the highs and lows. After talking a bit and sharing our excitement about the halfway marker the evening was wrapped up by quietly watching on of the most beautiful sunsets we had seen on trail.

A beautiful sunset camping just before the halfway marker

It was exciting but also overwhelming to think of how much we had already been through and yet how much further we still had to go. The last few months had brought us so many highs and lows, unexpected changes in plans and extreme feelings of accomplishment paired with exhaustion. We hoped for good weather, few forest fires and freedom from injury but there were no promises we could make ourselves. The only which was certain was that we had many more miles to go.

3 thoughts on “PCT 8: Northern California Trail Reunions

  1. Anonymous

    A constant presence on trail seem to be the Thru Hiking community that surrounds you figuratively. Or rather the constant contrast of being completely alone and then, almost instantly, surrounded by a community with a common goal. That the experience is back and forth between the two.


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