PCT Day 104: Crushin’ Miles 

​July 23, 2017 

Gold Creek Trail Junction – Squaw Valley Creek (1455.64-1482.18)

26.54 miles 

Today was a pretty good day. Like yesterday, nothing really happened, but I found myself somehow more able to enjoy the nothingness. The very first part of the day was really the only part where we were out of the woods, but it was beautiful. We got going at a decent time, and the ridge was lit by the gorgeous morning light. It wasn’t long before the trail headed back into the forest, and stayed there pretty much all day. We saw a large range of different forest types though, which kept things mildly entertaining. We went from widely-spaced, massive conifers, to scrubby deciduous trees, to dense mixed wood draped in moss.

We made great time down a ten mile descent, and had lunch at a campground by a really nice river. After lunch, there was a long, hot uphill climb. It really wasn’t that hard of a climb, but the heat was definitely getting to me. Luckily, it was mostly through nicely shaded forest. When I neared the top, I started feeling much better, and hurried down to our first water source in ten miles. It felt so good to sit down, chug cold creek water, splash my face, and eat some snacks. Gummies and I sat there for quite a while, hanging out with another hiker named Crash. Eventually, we moved on, with only 3 miles to the place where we planned to stop and camp. 

I put in my headphones and crushed out the last few miles, which were surprisingly easy given it was over a 26 mile day (and our longest day yet on trail). We made it to the bridge over Squaw Valley Creek, which is really pretty. We had to go off a bit on a side trail to find a spot to camp, but it at least put us close to a privy. We’re camped between a trailhead parking lot and the creek. 

Tomorrow, we have just 16 and a half miles into town. I’m excited to get there and do a little bit of relaxing. I’ve got my eyes on a vegan burger, some good beer, a real bed, and cleanliness. We might even go see a movie. 

PCT Day 103: Just Another Day 

​July 22, 2017 

Mile 1430.10 – Gold Creek Trail Junction (1430.10-1455.64)

25.54 miles 

Confession time: not every day on the trail is fun. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a day is bad, it just means that, sometimes, the act of thru-hiking can be incredibly mundane. At some point, you reach a certain level of fitness where walking 25 miles over mild terrain just doesn’t provide that much of a challenge, physically. You might spend hours walking through a shrub-choked forest, with nary a view in sight. Your headphones might die in the middle of the afternoon, leaving you to listen to nothing but the rhythmic connection of your own feet with the earth for hours on end (which is sometimes nice, but other times drives you crazy). 

People like to say that thru-hiking will take you through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and that’s true. The trail will make you scream out in utter joy and in raw frustration, sometimes within the same day, sometimes within the same hour. But people don’t often talk about the days when there’s just… nothing. The days when you start walking at the beginning of the day and stop walking at the end of the day, and nothing really incredible happens. But again, these are not bad days. Bad days are the ones where hurricane-force winds cause your tent to collapse on top of you, the ones where you watch someone you love get taken to the hospital in a helicopter with a potentially life-threatening condition, the ones where you fear if you stop moving you’ll lose some fingers and toes to the cold. These are just “meh” days. Nothing-to-see-here days. And they happen, and that’s okay. They are a fact of the trail, just like they’re a fact of life. This is really where, for me at least, the mental challenge of thru-hiking comes in. We fill our social media pages with the highlights, with the mountains we’ve conquered and the amazing things we’ve seen, but the real truth is sometimes there are days and days between these events where we just walk. And these days aren’t bad, but they can be hard. 

You’ve probably already figured out that today was one of these days. We spent most of the day winding through the forest. There were no distractions but the ones we created for ourselves: blogging about the previous day at lunch because we were too exhausted the night before, sitting by creeks or roadsides for water and snack breaks. The trail did break out of the trees every now and then, treating us to magnificent views of Mount Shasta, ever so slightly closer each time we saw it. Shasta is a truly impressive-looking peak. It rises out of the ground, seemingly from nowhere, towering over the surrounding hills and valleys like some massive, snowy sentinel. 

Near the end of the day, the trail did become pretty scenic, as it wound along the open area on top of a ridge, providing views of the rolling green hills in all directions as far as the eye could see. I started out the last few miles of the day pounding down the trail as fast as I could, just focusing on getting to camp, but then made the conscious effort to slow down, breathe, and observe, and found that the hiking immediately became much more enjoyable. I finished out the day walking at a pretty slow pace, just taking in the views, and it was really nice. 

We got to camp somewhat late again, and by the time we had everything set up and had made the trek down the side trail to get water from the creek, we were eating in the dark again. I made one of Gummies’ favourite trail “recipes”: a teriyaki pasta side with a healthy scoop of peanut butter and a packet of Thai chili tuna added in. I threw in a handful of dehydrated vegetables too for good measure. It was so good. Now we’re in our sleeping bags, way past hiker midnight, ready to rest up for tomorrow’s hike. We got through this day, and we’ll get through the next one, and the next, no matter the highs or lows or mundane moments the trail decides to throw our way. 

PCT Day 102: Day of Distractions 

​July 21, 2017 

Burney Mountain Guest Ranch – Mile 1430.10 (1407.2-1430.10)

22.9 miles 

We got a slow start this morning. We let ourselves sleep in a bit, then Gummies ended up having to deal with a bunch of shit on the phone relating to credit cards and shoe orders. I swear there’s always something going on that makes town way less relaxing than you’d like it to be. Anyway, we finally got back on the trail around 8, and we hadn’t been hiking for long before we stumbled across trail magic! There was a picnic table with an umbrella and they left markers for all the hikers to sign the table. There were drinks and snacks too. It was fun to look for the names of people we knew and find space to squeeze in our own signatures. This was the first of many distractions that slowed us down today, and although I hate getting side tracked, it’s hard to be upset when there’s trail magic involved. 

We pressed on to Burney Falls State Park, our second big distraction of the day. It was lunch time when we arrived, so we sat at a picnic table to eat, our thru-hiker spreads taking up a table that easily could have sat a dozen people. After lunch, we wandered over to the general store, where I got an ice cream cone and a cup of hot coffee. Gummies thought it was a weird combination, but I told him that by the time I was done my ice cream, the coffee would be at perfect chugging temperature (which is exactly what happened). Finally, we headed down to see the falls, which was the real reason we had taken the side trip into the park to begin with. The place was absolutely swarming with visitors, struggling to hike up the steep concrete path that lead down to the base of the falls. The falls themselves were really nice though. As you hiked down, the air got cooler and cooler, and when you stood at the base, you got a nice mist of cool water. The falls were quite beautiful, a 130-foot wall of cascading water rising up out of a deep blue pool. After enjoying them for a few minutes, we finally headed back to the PCT. 

After lunch, the day became unbearably hot. We wound up through a forest and down along an exposed ridge. As if to prove how desolate the landscape was, the trail presented us with, in quick succession, a fat rattlesnake slithering off the trail, and the bleached-white ribcage of some large mammal off to our right. All the while the sun beat down, attempting to bake us in our skins. We finally arrived at Rock Creek, and scrambled down under the bridge to find a delightfully shaded area. The creek was beautiful, and after chugging some of the cold, clear water, I immediately stripped down and sat in the creek in my underwear. It was that hot, an oven-like sensation we hadn’t felt since the early desert days. Distraction number three. 

Finally, after leaving the creek, we were able to get really moving. It was going on evening, so the sun was getting low, and the trail wound very gradually up through a nice, shaded forest. In the last few miles of the day, I was able to get into a groove and really hit my stride. It almost felt like I was gliding along the forest floor. Okay, so I might have stumbled on the occasional rock (I’m an incredibly clumsy person, it’s a miracle I haven’t injured myself out here). But anyway, as I was otherwise gracefully gliding along, I found myself marvelling over the hiking machines my legs have become. Here I am, on my twelfth hour of walking (okay, so several of those hours might have actually been spent sitting and eating, staring at waterfalls, or swimming in creeks, but it sounds more dramatic this way), and my legs are just cruising along, putting one foot in front of the other, as if they hadn’t just spent the entire day walking 20+ miles. It’s kind of crazy, that what used to seem like some kind of insane feat of endurance is now just… normal. Now, I’m not trying to say that this is easy. There were parts of the day that were really hard. Staggering through air that felt like it had just been released out of an oven was hard. Carrying my pack weighed down with a ridiculous amount of food and 4.5 pounds of water was hard. Getting out of bed after a crappy night’s sleep was hard. The act of walking 23 miles just wasn’t that hard. 

We did end up hiking past 8pm, and once we had gotten everything set up, we ended up eating dinner in the dark, before exhaustedly crawling into our sleeping bags to pass out. Hopefully, tomorrow will bring less distractions, though the trail will do as it pleases (and that’s okay). 

PCT Day 101: Burney Mountain Guest Ranch 

​July 20, 2017 

Mile 1394.33 – Burney Mountain Guest Ranch (1394.33-1407.2)

12.87 miles 

We slept in a bit this morning, knowing it would be a short hike into the guest ranch. The beginning of the morning was quite beautiful, while we were still up on the ridge getting great views of Lassen and Shasta, and the morning air was still cool. As the morning went on, we descended into the valley, and the day grew hotter and hotter. It totally felt like being back in the desert, until it started to feel like it wasn’t even North America anymore, like I had been magically transported to another land, maybe somewhere in Africa or Australia. It was open, exposed, and hot. The dramatic snowy peak of Shasta loomed over everything, making the landscape feel even more alien. 

Eventually, the landscape changed again, and we were walking through trees, past rivers and lakes. The dry section had ended. We reached the side trail to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, walking under buzzing electrical wires and the beating sun, feet aching from walking over lava rock all morning. The ranch is an awesome, if a bit odd, place. For 25 bucks hikers can get a place to pitch their tent, access to shower and laundry facilities and the pool, and a meal. You can sign up for additional meals as well. Everything is done under the honour system. Hikers carry a little receipt around with them during their stay, marking down the goods  services they use and pay up the tab when they leave. Even the general store is run like this. You just walk in, take what you want, and write it down on your receipt. It feels weird. But the people who run the place are incredibly kind and friendly, and it’s kind of a hiker paradise in the middle of this hot, dry section. 

When we arrived, we immediately sat down for lunch. They had burgers and hot dogs, and a black bean burger for yours truly. After we had eaten, we showered and did our laundry, which of course felt amazing. Then we basically sat around using the WiFi until dinner time. For dinner there were amazingly huge burritos and salad. It feels so good to eat real, home cooked food. We picked up our resupply boxes after dinner, and of course had WAY too much food for the next 4 days into Mount Shasta. We gave a bunch of food to another hiker named Wolf, because it was just too ridiculous to carry. After dinner, we went for a quick swim in the pool, even though it was starting to cool off, and got ready for bed. Tomorrow will be a full day of hiking, and we’ll get to see Burney Falls which I’m definitely excited about. 

PCT Day 100: Caves and Trail Magic 

​July 19, 2017 

Mile 1373.98 – 1394.33

20.35 miles 

We got a somewhat slow start to the day this morning. It was downright cold out this morning, and I actually had to wear my gloves for the first bit of the day. As we were headed to the Subway Cave, an official and popular side trip from the PCT, I noticed a hole in the ground beside the trail. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be another cave. We dropped our packs and climbed down into it to explore. There was a large initial cavern, lit from above by the hole I had seen from the trail. Then there was a tunnel into a smaller, darker area. Gummies loves caving, and while I find caves super cool and fascinating, squeezing my body into tiny spaces in the rock is definitely a no-no for me (hello, claustrophobia). The cave probably went further back, but that was definitely as far as I was willing to go. We climbed back our and continued on to the Subway Cave. 

The Subway Cave was really cool. It was formed by a lava tube running through the valley, and it was pretty big so it wasn’t an issue for me. There were signs explaining how each section of the cave formed. In the middle, when we turned off our headlamps, we were plunged into complete darkness. Once we finished exploring the cave, it was time to start making some miles. 

We climbed up on to Hat Creek Rim, the notoriously hot and dry section of trail. When we got to the top, there were fantastic views of both Mount Lassen, and for the first time, Mount Shasta. It was really beautiful. We stopped briefly at a picnic area to eat breakfast before starting our trek along the ridge. It was really beautiful hiking, sandwiched between the two peaks, and a nice change from the forest we’ve been in for a while. It was warm and exposed, but luckily there was a nice breeze blowing which kept things somewhat cool. The section has almost no water, which means we have to take whatever we can get, which means this morning we had to descend down a super steep canyon wall to the creek running far below. I think it was around a 400 foot elevation change in a quarter mile. The water was really nice though. We sat in the shade to have lunch after making the climb back up, which made for quite a lengthy stop. 

After lunch, the day started to get difficult. The terrain was easy, as the trail wound along the mostly flat ridge top, but it was hot and totally exposed. I was stumbling along, wishing for shade, when suddenly I saw a tent in the distance. It was trail magic! It was set up by family and friends of Zebra and Skittles, and it was incredible. Just getting to sit in a chair in the shade felt amazing, but then there was cold beer and Gatorade, water, sandwiches, desserts, watermelon, and just a ton of food. There were even cold towels with essential oils. It was soooo good, and just what we needed in that moment. Zebra and Skittles showed up just before we left, reuniting with their very excited friends and family. 

Eventually, we managed to drag ourselves away and continued on, energized by the magic. I made it down to Cache 22, which is a water cache that we had heard was dry. I noticed a van parked near where the water tank was, so I walked over to check it out. There was a guy there who was attempting to fill the cache, but it was locked so he couldn’t get it open. This guy seems to follow the herd of hikers around helping people out, because we’ve seen him in both Wrightwood and Kennedy Meadows. He gave us some of the water he had brought, which was much appreciated since our next source was supposed to be a pond in a cow field. 

After leaving the cache, the rest of the evening was really enjoyable. Since we had taken so many long breaks, we were hiking late, and the sun was starting to get low in the sky, bringing down the heat and casting everything in a really gorgeous light. We made it to the cow field, which was full of a ton of cows who were running everywhere including all over the trail. We startled a fat rattlesnake out of the trail. We wound through an area of gnarled, burnt trees that resembled something out of Tim Burton film. Eventually, we reached a campsite perched on the edge of the ridge. As we ate dinner, we watched as the sun set and illuminated the silhouette of Mount Shasta in a light pink glow. It was amazing. 

Tomorrow, we have a short 13 miles into Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, where there will be showers, laundry, food, Internet, a pool, and a place to camp. We’ll have a nice relaxing afternoon there before pushing on toward Mount Shasta. 

PCT Day 99: NorCal Marathon 

​July 18, 2017 

Warner Valley Campground – Mile 1373.98 (1347.78-1373.98)

26.2 miles 

We actually had to listen to our 5am alarm for the first time in a while this morning. We were a bit slower getting ready than we maybe should have been, but we were still the first hikers up and out of camp, which felt kind of good after days of being lazy assholes. The morning was actually pretty cold, which is another thing we haven’t experienced in a while. Luckily the day started with a climb to get us nice and warmed up. 

We spent most of the morning in the forest again, stopping in a sunny open area for breakfast to avoid the mosquito swarms. After a while, we wound around a couple of beautiful lakes, the sun glistening over their wind rippled surfaces. We passed a ton of different people today, including a boy scout troop who were eager to question us, and a couple who were being stalked by a deer. We saw them approaching us, and then noticed the deer running along the trail behind them. We motioned for them to turn around and they responded with, “Oh, the deer? Yeah, we know.” Turns out she had been following them for about a mile, getting scared off the trail every time they crossed paths with another hiker, only to resume chasing after them after the other person had moved on. We watched this happen after they had passed us. It was definitely bizarre. 

We spent a large portion of the day walking though a large burn area, which is another thing we haven’t seen in a while. There were miles and miles of dead, white trees standing in grassy fields. Some parts of it were quite beautiful, as wildflowers had filled in the open areas and coloured the ground with purples, yellows, and whites. We stopped for lunch in an area where we got great views of Mount Lassen, looming ever closer. Shortly after lunch, we crossed the park boundary, thus leaving the land of aggressive bears. 

The elevation profile for the day was great. We had a couple of small climbs in the morning, but the rest of the day was either flat or gradually descending, so we were making great time. When we got to Hat Creek, I stuck my head right in the creek and washed the filth off my legs and arms. It felt so good. It’s starting to feel like the desert again, hot and dusty, which I guess makes sense since we are approaching what is known to be one of the driest sections of the trail. When we left the creek, I put on some music and was just cruising along for a while, but soon my body started to slow. The last few miles of the day were tough. My feet were starting to hurt, and I was just tired. We eventually decided to stop when we hit the distance of a marathon, 26.2 miles, making this the longest mile day I’ve ever hiked in my life. It was exhausting. 

Tonight’s dinner: vomit (aka Spanish rice + mayo) burrito with cheese. Delicious. 

When we got to camp, we had a good long stretch, which felt incredible, and after sitting for a while and eating, our energy started to return. Tomorrow, we’ll be hitting a side trail almost right away that will take us to a lava tube cave, which should be really cool. Then we’ll tackle Hat Creek Rim, the notoriously long dry stretch. I’m definitely happy with the miles we made today, especially considering we haven’t even done a 20 mile day since the day before Kennedy Meadows. I just hope my body doesn’t hate me too much tomorrow. 

PCT Day 98: Into the Land of Aggressive Bears 

​July 17, 2017 

Chester – Warner Valley Campground (1328.82-1347.78)

18.96 miles 

*WARNING: this post contains a somewhat gruesome image of half a fawn carcass.*

Today was a pretty great day. It wasn’t overly eventful or exciting, but great nonetheless. We got up, got all of our stuff together, and had breakfast at the hotel (pretty good stuff for a complimentary hotel breakfast). We ran (drove…) around town to get all our errands done (Gummies needed to pick up his new shoes at the post office and buy some new water bottles), and then Gummies’ parents drove us back to the trail. After hugs and photos and goodbyes, they continued on for the last few days of their vacation and we were back on the trail. 

The trail was once again winding through coniferous forest for most of the morning. We saw quite a few other hikers. A few miles into the day, we approached another hiker who was stopped in the middle of the trail staring at the ground. I wondered what he was doing, until he started moving forward and revealed the carcass of a fawn that had been completely ripped in half and left in the middle of the trail. It was pretty crazy to see, and kind of freaky to speculate on what had left it there (A cougar? Wolves? The infamous aggressive bear? Sasquatch? We will never know). We stopped for lunch, and there realized that we could actually camp 4 miles within the border of the Lassen National Park, since there was a drive in campground with bear boxes. This would make for a 19 mile day, rather than the short 15 mile day we were planning on with having to stop at the park boundary. We did the math and realized it was totally possible, and the plan to crush miles was back on. 

We cruised down the trail after lunch at top speed (I think we reached a 4 mph pace at one point… It was on a downhill, but still). We got some really cool views of Mount Lassen through the trees, much closer now than when we had previously seen it. Shortly after crossing the North Fork of the Feather River, we came across trail magic! There was cold Gatorade! And fruit snacks! And candies! It was glorious. Energized by the excitement of finding trail magic, we crushed the next uphill and soon found ourselves at the boundary of Lassen National Volcanic Park. 

From there, there were only 4 miles to camp, and they passed by remarkably quickly. It didn’t feel like long at all until we were walking into Warner Valley Campground. It turns out it’s actually a pretty large and well-used campground, and there are a ton of car campers here. I guess it’s not really surprising considering we are in a national park, but it’s always kind of jarring to suddenly stumble upon civilization when you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. You actually have to pay to camp here, so we’re sharing a site with Skittles and Zebra, a couple of hikers we’ve crossed paths with several times along the trail. We all sat at the picnic table to cook and eat dinner together, and it was a really nice evening. It’s about hiker midnight now and definitely time for bed, as tomorrow is our first real day of being on “mile crushing” schedule. We’re going to just hike tomorrow and see how many miles we can make, and I’m really excited to see what we’ll be able to cover. We did 19 today even with our 10 o’clock start time, which is not too shabby at all. Definitely feeling motivated and ready to HIKE!