PCT 9: Northern California Blues

We were having our definition of through hiking challenged by being at the halfway point in Northern California and realizing how much more there was to go. The biggest change in attitude with reaching the halfway point was that we had no more major obstacles between us and the Northern terminus, just 1,330 more miles. The Sierras were behind us for now (until we went back to finish up the Yosemite section) and there were no major forest fires as of yet, so we simply had to hike, so hike we did.

The halfway marker of the PCT

Town was back in the rhythm of through hiking and keeping up just fine so we were all picking up the pace and covering bigger miles. In the desert there was no need to go fast since we were building up our hiking legs and didn’t want to rush into the snowy Sierras. The pacing in the Sierras of course speaks for itself, slow grueling and hard. Now we could go faster and cover ground at a decent pace. Now, the challenge was embracing that as our reality, to cover ground all the way to Canada to beat any bad weather in Autumn.

The first town after the halfway marker was Chester and it also coincided with our first real battle against mosquitoes. The conditions were good for hiking but there never seemed to be an end to one special struggle being exchanged with another. Snow was giving way to mosquitoes and all I could do was hope that the mosquitoes wouldn’t be exchanged for forest fires. We were reaching the drier times of Summer for the Pacific Northwest and now being in my home territory I had no misconceptions about how bad it could get if the fire season started

At the highway we hitched into Chester with a new trail friend, Blueberry. She, like Bolo, had finished much of the PCT in the previous year and was picking up where she left off. Chester was a friendly town and we were treated like heroes at the local fruit stand where they gave us tones of free berries and plums.

We also enjoyed some thrift store shopping to mix up what we had been wearing for months on end. My hiking shirt had started to disintegrate from months of wear and rubbing so I replaced it for a two dollar thrift store button up. I exchanged my pants for a pair of running shorts to prepare for the hotter trail conditions. I got the only decent pair of men’s running shorts in Chester so Town, who was also trying to get some shorts, ended up with a pair of salmon colored floral pattern women’s swim trunks (the jokes and teasing we gave him about these shorts lasted till Washington).

We spent the rest of the evening in Chester staying at the local church, which let PCT hikers camp in their lawn. So far the towns in Northern California had been wonderful places to take a break and rest up with extremely welcoming locals. We spent hours drinking boxed wine on the church porch while sharing trail stories with Blueberry, Home Made, Gaper and Claire.

The next morning, just before leaving, Happy Feet noticed that one of the supports had broken in his backpack. This made it extremely uncomfortable to wear so he chose to stay behind and try to contact the local outdoor gear stores and then catch up to us over the next week.

Leaving Chester we entered Lassen National Park and ended up camping at a designated campground with a large group of other hikers. There was a man car camping there who offered Blueberry and I a beer and he told us he had hiked the PCT in the early 2000’s. His wife had also hiked it solo in the late 90’s and his stories from those experiences on trail were emotional to hear. It was always touching to see how many people had their lives changed from hiking this trail.

Lassen Park was not particularly scenic and we hiked through it quickly but just after leaving Old Station, north of the Park, we had a lava tube cave we explored which mixed up the routine.

Exploring the lava tube near Old Station

We also had a long dry stretch along a ridge line with lava rocks everywhere and some beautiful views. We were fully in the Cascade Mountains now with Mt Lassen to the south and Shasta beginning to poke up north of us. Evidence of ancient lava flows were everywhere and we finished the day by hiking through a beautiful sunset into dusk.

Bunyon and Bolo hiking along Hat Creek Rim with Lassen in the background.
Town taking his usual selfies in front of Lassen
Shasta peaking up in the distance
My favorite time to hike was sunset

The next morning Town passed me while I was in the bushes going to the bathroom, so I made it my goal for the morning to catch up to him. I pushed hard hiking by myself through hot rolly lava flows and past a reservoir full of local fishermen enjoying their weekend. When I arrived in the town of Burney by myself I realized I must have accidentally passed Town at some point. The game of leap frog on trail happened often so I just waited at the local church where we were planning on staying the night.

Bunyon’s parents were coming to visit us on trail in Burney and once everyone arrived into town we all enjoyed resting and catching up, sharing our trail stories and introducing her parents to the through hiker lifestyle. Happy feet came in as well extremely tired after pulling some big mile days to catch up with us. He said that a new pack was being sent out to the next town of Shasta free of charge, thank you Osprey!

When we left Burney Bunyon’s parents left to visit the coast and we agreed to see them again in the next town of Shasta before they headed home to Utah.

Just outside of Burney was a small side trail to Burney falls. It was a beautiful side hike but as we left the falls there was a very hot gradual climb with temperatures in the 90’s Fahrenheit.

The beautiful colors of Burney Falls
Rainbows at the right angles

At the point where the terrain transitioned from hot dusty scrub oak to pine forests we found a wonderful stream to sit in. We stayed for several hours resting out the hottest part of the day in the cool water and then pushed on wanting to get a good camp spot before it got too late.

The bridge denoting a wonderful stream to rest in and escape the heat

This section of trail transitioned quickly from hot exposed high desert to cool pine forest as we approached Mt Shasta. For the last part of our day the trail was completely overgrown for almost two miles. Hardly being able to see where the path went we had to trust in the open areas around our feet to tell where to go. At the top we had one of the most spectacular camp spots looking over Shasta, this volcano would be our constant trail companion for the next few weeks always present on the horizon.

Town and Happy Feet setting up camp in front of a beautiful view of Shasta

Our progress north was denoted by the slowly growing volcano as we got closer and closer. The trail followed ridge lines in beautiful forests and then would drop down steeply to hot river valleys repeatedly.

The green valley bottoms, contrasting the hot high desert only a few days before
Excellent trail literature

We also started having more issues with deer haunting our camp sites at night. They were attracted to where we peed for the salts and if we weren’t careful about where we went to the bathroom they would noisily tromps around our camp site even tripping on tent lines.

Along the trail there was a Basque man from Spain, Geronimo, who we made friends with and camped with for several days. He didn’t speak very much English so I enjoyed chatting in Spanish. He hadn’t hiked with many people he could communicate with and I needed the practice. It made me excited for more international travels but I forced myself to be in the moment and still enjoy the trail for what it was, an amazing adventure in its own way.

Always a nice trail reminder

Bunyon was beginning to tire with the routine of through hiking and had one extremely hard day with stomach issues taking all of her energy. The daily grind of hiking big miles with so many weeks and months to go was wearing her out. We began talking about having her take a break from trail with her parents, maybe reinvigorating her interest in through hiking along with it. I was also keeping an eye on our pace to arrive in Ashland in time for my family reunion, and I knew Bunyon would probably hate the speed we would have to hike at to stick with our schedule. After several days she agreed to take a break and we started making plans to have her meet up again further north somewhere in Oregon.

Bunyon looking south from a ridge top pushing through a hot, hilly day

The day before we began descending towards the town of Shasta we ran into an old friend, Baloo. We spent the evening catching up and sharing stories as one does with someone who has shared in so many experiences, and we enjoyed another view of Shasta as the sun set.

Bunyon and I hiked together more, knowing we would be parting ways for, at the least, a couple of weeks. We often stopped so she could practice her Ukulele and take breaks from hiking and eventually we met up with her parents again, who had hiked up the trail several miles to meet us.

A little Ukulele practice with Shasta in the background

Once back to the road Bunyon’s parents were very nice in giving our whole trail family a ride to Shasta where we could begin the process of switching out Happy Feets backpack. I also needed new shoes since I was still on the same pair I had hiked in since the border with Mexico.

We haunted the local gear store trying not to stink it up too badly with our hiker stench. I shopped around for a while but they didn’t have the same shoes I started with so I switched it up to a pair of La Sportiva Wildcats. I was excited about new shoes but nervous about the different design and feel. Even though my old shoes were completely spent, my feet were utterly used to them. The new pair of shoes could be a very painful experience while breaking them in.

My new shoes compared to the old, less than one mile vs 1400 miles

We also enjoyed several restaurants in Shasta. Our trail family went to the Black Bear Diner for lunch which was a place I had been to on several other occasions during road trips with my family to California. I was beginning to get into territory I recognized and couldn’t be more excited for a little feeling of familiarity on the trail. Bunyon’s parents also took us to a delicious burger restaurant of Yak’s and ate the fattiest things we could find on the menu.

The following day Bunyon’s parents gave us a ride back to the trail and after a long hug we parted ways, knowing we would see each other in a few weeks. I thanked her parents and then was off to race to Ashland, I knew that since it was just Town, Happy Feet, Bolo and I that I would start pushing myself much harder, the masochist in me wanted to see how fast I could go and this was the perfect time to do it. I had limited time and a family waiting for me in Oregon so I began winding my way upwards away from the road excited about what this solo adventure would bring.

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