PCT 10: Trail Solitude and the Push to Oregon

After a quick goodbye with Bunyon and her parents I began climbing out of Dunsmuir with Bolo, Happy Feet, Town and Snowcat who was another PCT hiker who had gotten a ride with us. Saying goodbye to Bunyon changed up many things on the trail. Bunyon had been the person to hold our trail family together. She often set the pace for us and I held back since we were sharing so much equipment and hiking as a couple. Since she was getting off trail for a time the rest of us knew that our trail family may not hike together as closely and we didn’t know how the new dynamic would play out.

For this next section I was also pushed by a deadline to reach Oregon for my family reunion, but deep down I was excited about this challenge. Ever since my first solo trips abroad I learned, through much trial and error, to value the solitude I could find in an adventure like this. I hadn’t enjoyed that on the PCT yet, other than for a small section in the desert, and now was my chance to push myself and just do my own thing.

I communicated the timeline we had if my trail family wanted to join me at the reunion. This meant an average of 27 mile days with out any zeroes till Ashland. Compared to our previous pace this was a big step up and Bolo, right away, knew he wasn’t interested in pushing that hard. Wanting to continue hiking with Bolo after this push, we agreed to rejoin him in Ashland after we had zeroed for three days on the Oregon coast at my reunion. As for happy Feet and Town, they were both up for the challenge so we set ourselves a 27 mile goal for the first day despite starting at 10:30 am.

We started with a big hot climb up towards Castle Crags and we slowly stretched out like an accordion as we began hiking at our own pace. I passed Happy Feet after only a mile as he was sitting on the side of the trail. He was not looking too well and I had a feeling it had to do with the copious amounts of weed spray he had imbibed in the night before. After letting me know he needed to rest up a bit and he would catch up, I moved on.

The view of Castle Crags as I headed West

Town and I hiked together for a bit but I kept pushing after a brief lunch break and forced myself to the top of the climb before I took another rest. It was extremely hot and rocky with rattlesnakes in the trail causing me to be careful with how loudly I listened to music.

Castle Crags dominated the view behind me and I pushed on into the evening to make my original goal, hoping that Happy Feet and Town would come into the camp later. As I passed south bound hikers I told them to relay the message to Town and Happy feet that I was sticking to my original spot.

Views of Shasta and the PCT winding off into the distance from where I had come

They never showed up and I stumbled into the camp after sunset tired, but exhilarated by the solitude. The next morning I woke to the most beautiful sunrise I had seen on trail with Shasta dominating the horizon as the sun peaked over Shasta’s shoulder. I thought about the climbers that must be heading up it right in that moment as I packed my bags. Snowcat had also made it to this camp spot and I briefly saw him starting out just before me in the morning.

An amazing sunrise right from my tent door
Taking more photos of the sunrise with the bug net shut, the mosquitoes were already making their move.

The day involved less climbing but some beautiful lakes as I pushed myself hard to keep up the pace and to earn a rest in the next town where I could wait for Town and Happy Feet.

My new shoes were quickly giving me the most foot pain I had dealt with on trail. Iit was a battle of will to ignore the constant pressure from swollen feet as I plodded along. I was forced to stop frequently with my feet hurting so much and luckily there were plenty of streams to soak my feet in.

More amazing views of Shasta as the trail zig zagged along ridge lines.
Watching Shasta get smaller with each look out point as I move further away. This was a long and slow process just as it was to watch it slowly get bigger day by day after Lassen Park.

I had set myself the goal of a 30 mile day but just before my final destination I had a long descent with many rocks. I began to run down cussing up a storm just wanting the descent to be over with for my poor feet. Once I reached the bottom and the camp spot I just continued pushing in a masochistic mood. I eventually found a beautiful flat spot several miles further just as dusk was turning to darkness and I fell asleep listening to the sound of the wind through the tree tops above me.

The next morning I noticed my phone was almost dead from some kind of issue with my apps and I still had another two days to go before the next town. I wasn’t overly worried since the trail was so well signed but I pushed myself along in silence to conserve its battery forcing me to reach a new level of zen with my hurting feet and big miles to do. I often hiked with music so going with out took a healthy force of will.

I entered the Trinity Alps Wilderness and the granite returned, almost looking like some sections of the Sierras. Off to the West and South I could see other mountainous ridge lines poking up showing me that the PCT barely touched this large area of mountains and wilderness in Northern California. There were very few people on trail and I had several battles with biting ants as I tried to find a decent spot to have a quick lunch nap.

Looking out over exposed granite in the Trinity Alps
The mountains beyond the PCT in the Trinity Alps making me promise to return and explore even more.

After having a nice conversation near some trail magic with a hiker and his dog I found myself traversing more ridge lines as the daylight began to fade. It was a beautiful section of trail with a majestic valley below me allowing for great sunset views but no flat places to camp. I pushed along, even smelling what I thought was a bear at one point. As the sun set I nervously slapped on my dim headlamp hoping for a flat place where I could camp for the night.

A beautiful ridgeline trail but nowhere to camp
Forcing myself to slow down and enjoy the sunset despite the dwindling light and miles to cover before finding a flat area
The sun finally setting as the “wet dog” smell of what I could only imagine to be a bear pervaded the area

I finally found a camp spot in a large burn area but there were two other tents taking up the only flat ground. After hunting around I found a bivy sized flat area on the slope above and I awkwardly set up my tent at an extreme angle in the dark with just enough room inside for me and my sleeping pad.

The following day my phone was completely dead but I only had 13 miles to go before the road where I would hitch into Etna. I was also hoping that Town and Happy Feet would catch up before I had to leave the next day for my schedule.

My feet were truely brutalized and swollen, barely fitting in my shoes as I forced them on. I took a side trail to a beautiful lake to let my feet soak and sat enjoying the view and lack of functioning technology to distract me from being in the moment.

Once at the road I intended to hitch on I only waited for five minutes before a car offered a ride into Etna. I went straight to the local cafe for a breakfast burrito and big cup of coffee, getting my electronics charged up to contact trail angels and look for a place to stay.

I quickly heard back from the woman running the hiker bunkhouse and headed over there to rest and resupply. At the bunkhouse I was immediately greeted with a beer and Snowcat, who was also staying there. We sat talking with our host and joking about how we had played leap frog with each other in the last section.

Town came into Etna in the afternoon with Baloo, who he had met up with along the trail, and they joined us at the bunkhouse for the night. It was a fun relaxing day catching up with everyone and hearing about each persons experiences in the last section. I had been keeping my shoes off since I had gotten to the bunkhouse but when we went to resupply my feet had swelled so much that my new shoes (which were half a size larger than my previous pair) were too small. I didn’t voice my panic to anyone at this, but I was able to get allot of ibuprofen from Baloo in hopes that it would decrease the swelling so that I could comfortably hike again.

I also started getting messages from Happy Feet, who had just arrived in town late, but the host at the bunkhouse was not accepting anymore hikers so we agreed to try and meet up again in the morning. We didn’t realize how challenging this would be with our shitty phone reception.

In the morning we all went out to breakfast and ran into a group of hikers that were friends of Snowcats. After talking with them we found out we were all trying to get to Ashland at the same time, since they also had a social gathering they were trying to get to. They had just arrived into Etna and were staying till the next day but we agreed to hike together if they caught up to us over the following days.

While grabbing a few more items before heading back to trail we finally met up with Happy Feet. The first day out of Dunsmuir he had only hiked three miles since he was so out of sorts after getting WAY too high the night before. This was very funny to us but it also meant he had to push himself extremely hard to catch up and he was still pooped. Despite this we headed out sticking to our schedule.

The next section of trail followed more ridge lines and was not initially as scenic as the Trinity Alps, but after the first day we arrived in the Marble Mountains which were beautiful and quiet.

Open meadows in the Marble Mountains.

The deer were becoming a nuisance at night in our camp spots since they were attracted to the salt in our pee. Because of this Town had the idea to pee on a burnt log in the hope that it would deter the deer. This didn’t do anything to deter them and we all struggled to sleep as it sounded like someone was loudly eating a giant crouton only twenty feet from our tents.

The next day we struggled, all having terrible sleep, and when we set up camp for the night we all made a pile of rocks in our vestibule to throw at the deer. when they inevitably arrived in our camp late at night we pegged them with a few rocks and this seemed to help. We had much better sleep.

We also had a massive descent towards Seiad Valley, the final town in California. This was followed by a huge climb immediately after the town. The day before descending to Seiad we tried to think strategically about how we would go about doing the climb. We were not very excited about this since the temperature was getting very hot through out the day.

Many blooming plants showing how this summer was treating us to lots of green foliage despite the late season

Town and I started hiking before Happy Feet and quickly pushed to the bottom of the climb while trying to beat the heat. During the descent we saw a juvenile black bear running away on trail only ten feet in front of me. There were tons of berries everywhere so it was no surprise to see the bears here.

While listening to music I was also loudly startled by a massive crack and crashing sound just off trail. A massive burnt tree had just fallen and we continued on nervous about the statistics game that was falling trees, in many ways a far more serious concern than seeing black bears.

At the bottom of the climb we had a long hot road walk but as luck would have it a local man drove up and offered us a ride, we knew this was technically cheating but we didn’t care, it was a super hot day and the road walk looked miserable. Due to this we arrived in Etna several hours earlier than we had expected and enjoyed our time chatting with other hikers and hanging out at the new hotel/restaurant in town. The town was an interesting place since its residents wanted to be their own state of Jefferson. There were signs everywhere supporting this movement.

At the restaurant we met up with Sherpa, the same hiker I had seen many months before on the face of Apache Peak before Idylwild! Since then I had seen him on several occasions that but I hadn’t seen him since the Bishop hostel at the southern end of the Sierras. Sherpa and Town challenged each other to some games of pool and I strategized about the next section.

After talking with Town we agreed to wait till 7:30 pm and then begin the climb out of Seiad Valley to avoid doing it in the heat of the day and giving us a head start for the following day. Right after agreeing to this Happy Feet came in looking extremely tired. He hadn’t enjoyed the free hitch Town and I were offered and he was not very excited about our plan to try and continue onward pushing into the night.

When we set out the temperature was cooling off and it was perfect for the steep climb. Happy feet, being extremely tired, fell behind to set up camp early and try to catch up the next day. I pushed on and met up with Town at a water source in the dark along a big rocky slope. It was a surreal evening for hiking and as we climbed up we could see the river snaking off towards the horizon below reflecting the light from the setting sun. The climb was tough and I was glad to be doing it when it was cool. Many other people also had the same idea and Town and I had to hike two miles past our original goal before we found an unoccupied spot.

At this point I had two more days before I needed to be in Eugene to catch a ride to my family reunion so our pace had worked out perfectly with 60 more miles to go. We ran into Snowcat and his group, who had caught up to us; and we all hiked together for our last full day in California before the Oregon border.

I was extremely excited, we had spent months in California and the border crossing seemed like the first real milestone to show our progress north in a tangible way. In many ways it was more exciting than the halfway marker. They were both just spots in the woods on hilly slopes but for me Oregon is home and I couldn’t have been more stoked to finally be there.

Snowcat enjoying the sunset.

On the morning of our approach to the border Happy Feet had still not caught up but we needed to keep pushing. Our group started hiking at 5:30 am and enjoyed one last sunrise in California with Shasta poking up in the distance. It was the perfect farewell to the state.

An early morning glow with Shasta saying goodbye to us for our last moments in California
The moon overlooking a California sunrise

We had overcome so many challenges and even reached our breaking points. Despite this our group had forged onward trying to be true to the reasons we were all on trail and now we had put a seal on California. In many ways it was almost like an end to book one in our personal journey and now we had another book to open up to the first page, Oregon and Washington!

Town arriving at the border to celebrate his second West Coast state
Happy to be on the border of my home

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