Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Hat Creek Rim Hodown

The trail climbs to the edge of Hat Creek Rim.
July 26: I sat up, stretched, then sat there wondering what to do next. The post office in Old Station didn't open until 8:30, and I didn't really have much of anything to do until then. It was expected to hit close to 100 degrees once again so I would have preferred hitting the trail early, but I really needed the food in the maildrop. Nope, I had to wait. And wait.

A heaping pile of breakfast including scrambled eggs, potatoes, and an orange was served--a nice change from the usual cereal I ate most mornings. I packed up my backpack leaving the food bag at the top since I knew I'd need to fill it up at the post office with the food I had mailed myself more than a week before. Normally I stuff it at the bottom of my pack since I don't need anything out of it until the end of the day. Not this time, however.

As the time neared 8:30, several thru-hikers including myself huddled out front, waiting for rides into town. I started getting anxious, though. How much longer would we have to wait before someone with a car started shuttling hikers? It wasn't terribly far back to the trail, though, so I decided to walk out instead. Hikers who didn't get a ride to the Heitman's said it took them less than a half hour to walk the distance from the trail. At the very least, I'd be adding trail miles again by 9:00 if I relied on myself. If I relied on others to get me to the trail, who knows?

So I walked out, wondering if those who waited would beat me to the post office once the shuttling started. They didn't, though. I arrived at the post office, and it was already open without any hikers in sight. I had decided well, I thought. =)

I quickly transferred the contents of the maildrop into my pack and started hiking.

The Old Station fire burned through the year before.
One interesting thing that happens on the trail is that, although we're all hiking northward, there are always people telling us what to expect ahead. This next section, I had been told, would be tough. A big fire tore through last year burning over the trail and any remnants of shade were gone. The weather was hot, and there was no water on the trail for 32 miles except for a couple of water caches that may or may not have water. After that water cache back in the Mojave Desert had run dry and I had to hike seven miles with limited water, I wasn't taking any chances. No, I loaded up my pack with a whopping 8 liters of water.

Comparisons to the aqueduct walk were thrown around. This stretch, I was told over and over again by anyone with an opinion, would make the aqueduct walk easy by comparison. It should be done at night, under the light of the nearly-full moon. Many hikers, in fact, did start hiking late the previous evening. Part of me was skeptical of the hype, however. How could it possibly be worse than the aqueduct? That section was miserable! And secondly, I didn't feel like hiking at night. I wanted to see the views! I wanted to see where I was hiking! Who knows when I'd be out here again?

So I left in the morning, carrying a boatload of water, and perhaps a little nervous about what to expect.
Is it just me, or does this snag
look upside down?

The trail climbed a short ways up to Hat Creek Rim, a long flat section of ground that dropped suddenly down a steep slope into a valley, shaped like a one-sided plateau. The trail followed alongside the top of the plateau--known has Hat Creek Rim--for miles and miles, as far as the eye could see.

Clearly, a fire had burned through, but after a few miles, there was no longer any fire damage. I'd been led to believe that this fire devastated the trail across the entire rim, but it didn't. At least along the trail, it only burned near Old Station.

The trail didn't contain much shade, but the views were spectacular stretching from Mount Lassen to Mount Shasta--my first definite view of Mount Shasta. I waved to the mountain for Adventure Seeker. I said I would. =)

Yes, it was hot, but there were still small patches of trees every ten minutes or so where I could stop and rest in the shade when needed. A nice breeze blew along the ridge so it didn't feel nearly as hot as it otherwise could have. And the views were nothing short of spectacular! I loved it!

I turned on my iPod, cranked up the volume, and all but skipped down the trail. It was flat, it was easy, and there wasn't even the slightest hint that a mosquito could survive this desolate wonderland. Those fools hiking at night had no idea what they were missing! Being a full moon, they probably had at least a partial view, but I thrived. I loved the day's hike, and the time passed quickly.

I guzzled the water from my pack quickly--it was still quite hot, after all--and as the day wore on, my pack grew noticeably lighter.
Following along the Hat Creek Rim was awesome!

Late in the afternoon, I reached the water cache at Road 22. It did contain some water--I found four or five gallons among the dozens and dozens of gallon-sized containers, so I used that to cook dinner before pushing on. I didn't add any additional water to my pack, however, since I had enough to make it to the next water source. The register with the water was filled with entries from the night hikers who had left the evening below congratulating themselves on what a wise decision they made hiking through the night. I shook my head sadly. "The fools," I thought. "They missed out on one of the most spectacular sections of the entire trail! And they actually think that's a good thing? Hahaha!"

I was in an immensely good mood. This was one of my favorite days on the trail so far, and the irony is that I seemed to be the only hiker who thought so. Everyone else told horror stories about this "tough" section of trail. And that's when I decided that hikers just like to brag about how "tough" they have it. They actually enjoy complaining. If they had nothing to complain about, they'd complain about the lack of things to complain about. I, for one, was absolutely ecstatic not to have anything to complain about. 

After enjoying the rim all day, I wanted to enjoy it all night long as well. I wanted to see the stars spread out over me every time I woke up without all those pesky trees getting in the way. I wanted to see the Milky Way, and perhaps moonlight lighting up Mount Shasta. So I decided that I had to stop before the trail left the rim and set up camp.
Still hiking along the rim. I blew up this photo pretty large so you can actually see
Mount Shasta near the left side of the photo on the horizon. Unfortunately, the
exposure on my camera either overexposed the terrain or underexposed the mountain
and clouds and no photo actually looked as AWESOME as what could be seen
with the naked eye! Argh! (Especially how wide open this view really is. Almost 180
degrees in the opposite direction Mount Lassen looms up just as impressively!)

I hiked and I hiked. As the sun dropped lower in the sky, the plants and bushes seemed to glow in the beautiful light, and I didn't want to stop. I continued hiking, constantly turning to watch the sunset, and constantly tripping over rocks and roots that I wasn't paying attention to. I took photo after photo, hoping at least some of them could capture this moment like I saw it. (Turned out, not really, but not for lack of trying!)

After the sun had set, so did I. I stopped at about 9:00--the latest I had hiked so far--setting up camp just before the trail dropped off the rim. The view was magnificent, and the moonlight cast shadows off the distant mountains.
A communication tower along the rim--
a pretty good place for it!

As darkness descended, I saw two people with headlamps down below. I couldn't identify the people--I could only see their headlamps in the darkness, but I shouted out to them, "HELLO DOWN THERE!!!" The headlamps stopped, turned around, as if they were trying to figure out where the voice from the sky came from. "THIS IS GOD!!!!" I yelled, then giggled to myself. I was having too much fun. The headlamps seemed to resume their march. "WOOO-WHOOOO!" I shouted at the retreating lights. Whoever they were, they must think I'm crazy. =) I suspect it might have been Johnny Law and Missing Link--I knew they were a short ways ahead of me on the trail--but I never would learn definitively who it was I was heckling. =)

The one sad thing I put out of my mind--come morning, I'd be off the rim. The views would largely go away. The terrain would tackle hills and mountains, climbing and falling with regularity. I loved the flat, easy walking on the rim. No matter what happened tomorrow, I thought, it won't be anywhere near as awesome as this day. I was a little sad to know I'd be leaving the rim in another half hour of hiking.

The grasses and bushes seemed to
glow in the late afternoon.

The sunset was awesome! I really like how the
silhouettes of the three mountains seem to
outline each other. =)
I really like comparing this photo with the last one.
I continued hiking as the sun was setting and you
can see the same three mountains, but they've
shifted in comparison to one another. (And
the red in the sunset is starting to come out.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

To Old Station!

Sunrise at Lower Twin Lake
July 25: The bugs by Lower Twin Lake were awful all night, and I never did take off my head net. I stuffed ear plugs into my ears so the buzzing of the mosquitoes didn't keep my up all night and slept relatively peacefully. Getting up this morning was anything but peaceful, however. I had to pick up the head net enough to feed myself breakfast, and mosquitoes attacked every opportunity they had such as when I took off my gloves to wash dishes or when I changed clothes.

So I hit the trail very early to escape the onslaught, long before Lizard and the four girls got up (all of whom were safely protected from mosquitoes in their tents).

It was downhill more-or-less the entire distance into Old Station. I hiked fast and hard, and as I lost elevation and the temperature warmed, the mosquitoes finally relented and went back into hiding. Actually, I don't think they were as thick at the lower elevations to begin with, and water sources started to become more scarce once I left Lassen National Park.

Views of Mount Lassen dominated whenever
the trail got out of the trees.
Outside of the park, the terrain flattened into something that most hikers would consider flat, and the trees started to align themselves into marvelously straight rows. Clearly, this area was meant for logging. It actually gave me a strong sense of déjà vu reminding me strongly of the Florida Trail in the northern part of the state. In fact, if I had been blindfolded and dropped here, I would have assumed I was in northern Florida. Even the weather was eerily similar, down to the afternoon thunderstorms and spattering sprinkles threatening worse to come. As the elevation dropped, the temperatures soared. Later, I would learn, the day's high would peak near 100 degrees.

The rain managed to hold off--at least where I was. As I hiked further along, however, the trail seemed to become much wetter suggesting that it rained much harder before I had arrived. It was teasing me, but--so far--left me alone.

I finally arrived in Old Station by around noon. It was early in the day to be quitting, but I had a maildrop to pick up from the post office and it was Sunday. The post office wouldn't open until tomorrow. It was time to stop and relax and get out of the heat.

Old Station is a small town consisting of approximately one small convenience store attached to a gas station, a post office, a small hotel, and--perhaps most importantly--trail angel who would take in hikers for free known as the Heitmans. That's because that's what their name was. =) I stopped at the convenience store where I bought cold drinks and ice cream and was reading a sign posted up outside about how to get to the Heitmans when a truck pulled up and a bunch of thru-hikers spilled out.
A creek where I filled up with water.

Most of them I didn't recognize, but one of them introduced himself as Wolf Taffy. This surprised me--I had heard that Wolf Taffy was the fellow who started the fire near Interstate 10, tried to put it out with his bare feet, and had to be helicoptered off due to his injuries, and quit the trail out of shame. What was he doing back on the trail? Was this a different Wolf Taffy? Is it possible that there could be more than one Wolf Taffy? That didn't seem likely. What was he doing back on the trail?

All these questions raced through my head and I wanted to hear his story, but at the same time, it seemed rude to bring up what would likely be such a sore subject. I found myself wishing that I hadn't learned who had started that fire. Every time I heard him utter a sentence, that fire was all I could think about. Did he see it in my eyes? In my body language? I started feeling uncomfortable around him trying not to make him uncomfortable.

The hikers piled into the convenience store to get lunch, and the woman who drove them out introduced herself to me as Coyote. She worked at Crater National Park, but had thru-hiked in a previous year and drove down to the Heitmans to help out for the weekend. She was to leave that afternoon, but was willing to drive any hikers back to the Heitmans before she left. Sweet! Not that the Heitman's place was far, but why walk any further out of the way than necessary?
The convenience store in Old Station before
the herds of thru-hikers arrived.

A few minutes later, another woman drove up who introduced herself as Chipmunk, also to pick up any thru-hikers needing a ride to the Heitmans.

And a few minutes after that, Warner Springs Monty drove up, also coming out to visit and help out at the Heitmans. Monty I recognized from the kickoff, from Warner Springs, and I last saw him in Idyllwild. His truck was packed with food and stuff so he didn't have a lot of capacity to pick up thru-hikers, but between Coyote and Chipmunk, it wasn't really necessary either.

While waiting for the thru-hikers who were just dropped off to get lunch, more thru-hikers arrived from the trail. It was becoming quite the party in front of the convenience store! But finally, rides were in place and it was time to go to the Heitmans. I piled in the back of Coyote's pickup truck with Johnny Law and Missing Link. Actually, Missing Link might have been sitting up front. My memory is getting fuzzy about who went where, and I didn't write those details down in my journal.

At the Heitmans, Chipmunk gave us the grand tour of the place, and I liked it. In the back was a giant treehouse, absolutely gorgeous, that I would love to live in permanently. It even had a television with videos to watch, and later in the evening, I watched The Rock with half a dozen other thru-hikers there.
It was about 90 degrees when I first arrived
at the Heitmans! The high for Old Station was
closer to 100, as I would later learn.

I was glad I arrived as early in the afternoon as I did. It gave me a chance to take a shower, launder my clothes, and get on the only computer to use the Internet before the place filled up with even more thru-hikers later in the afternoon. I made a specific effort to get the shower, laundry, and Internet done early--there was only one shower, one washing machine, and one computer. It would get crowded later! No drier either--just a line set up behind the house. It too, I knew, would be crowded with drying clothes when the unwashed masses started to wash up.

For dinner, we were served a helping of lasagna, salad, bread, and ice cream--every bit absolutely delicious. We could help ourselves to the soda in the mini fridge in the garage, paying 50 cents per can that was to be deposited in a bird feeder on top. I put in a dollar and grabbed two for myself. =) They were labeled "Shasta Coke," which made me happy since Mount Shasta was practically right around the corner. It seemed like the perfect drink to celebrate my latest milestone.

Late in the evening, I was sitting around chatting with Monty, the two Walking Sisters, and a couple of other hikers, and I asked Monty how many times he had thru-hiked the PCT. He seemed a little wishy-washy about an answer, which confused me--it seemed like a pretty straight-forward question, but he said something to the effect that he hadn't actually walked every single step of the trail.

"Really?" I was stunned. From the hiker chatter I had heard, it sounded like this guy had thru-hiked the trail several times before. "You aren't a thru-hiker?"

The two Walking Sisters gasped at my question, like it was the rudest thing I could have possibly have said, but I was still a little bewildered. "Well, he said it first!" I defended myself.

Monty explained that often times, he'd take the "old PCT" route rather than a newer reroute, and I said, "Well that still counts as a thru-hike--how many times have you done that?" Then he went on about one time he hiked the entire distance--except the last 150 miles just because he was tired of hiking and up and quit. "Yeah, well, okay, I guess technically, that wouldn't count as a thru-hike," I agreed.

Coolest. Treehouse. EVER!
I never did get a solid answer out of him. The only number he would commit to was that he had hiked about 10,000 miles on the PCT, which I calculated in my head would be equivalent to four thru-hikes. (But, it sounds like, he wouldn't necessarily call any year he hiked a thru-hike.) Monty seemed a little annoyed at my questions, though, and I felt a little bad that I even brought up the subject. Monty didn't remember meeting me at the kickoff, or in Warner Springs, or in Idyllwild, but I'm pretty sure he'll remember after this incident. =) And if you ever bump into Monty yourself, for God's sake, don't ask him how many times he's thru-hiked the PCT! =)

It was getting late and I eventually wandered to the backyard where I had set up camp and went to sleep

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Dangers: Boiling Mud

Boat, taking a rest alongside the trail.
July 24: One thing you have to give credit to the folks who selected the route for the PCT--if there was a way to route the trail to a new danger, they would do it in a heartbeat. This time, the dangers included boiling mud, steam, and ground that could fall out from under you dumping you into a boiling pool of water.

I had, at long last, arrived in Lassen National Park! =) A spectacular wonderland of thermal features second only to Yellowstone. I had visited Lassen last year with Amanda so this area wasn't new to me, but the section of the park that the PCT crossed was new to me. I'd seen the western half of the park, but the trail crossed through the eastern half.

When I reached a trail junction to Terminal Geyser, I decided to take it. The geyser was about 0.2 miles off the PCT--at least according to the signage--and I wasn't particularly rushed. I needed to slow down, in fact, to hit the post office first thing Monday morning. So yeah, I'll check out this Terminal Geyser place located less than a quarter mile off the PCT even though I'd have to retrace my steps back afterwards. So far as I can tell, I'm the only thru-hiker to make this particular little detour.

The trail followed a steep slope down to Terminal Geyser and I started having second thoughts about the decision. It's one thing to hike off trail for 0.2 miles, but downhill? That would require my walking uphill to get back which didn't particularly appeal to me.... But I was already committed.

Terminal Geyser was somewhat disappointing.
First, I smelled that sulphur. That rotten egg smell that's so distasteful. Yes, the earth was angry here, but I still didn't see the proverbial smoking gun. Then, I saw signage, warning that the ground was thin, brittle, and slippery, and that I could break through and be severely burned. YES! Material for my blog! =)

Then I heard it--a hissing, rumbling, gurgling sound.

And finally, I saw it--steam rising from the ground, swirling around in the air.

But Terminal Geyser, from the looks of it, was well named. I saw no geyser--it was terminal. I've seen geysers in Yellowstone before, with that gaping hole that spouts out water. I've seen geysers shoot out of pools of water. But there was none of that here. It was merely a pile of rocks with water flowing underneath and steam coming out. If enough pressure built up, the water wouldn't bust up into a geyster--it would hit all the rocks and be scattered to the four corners of the wind. A small path led directly to where the steam escaped, and I followed it closer in the hopes of seeing something more... spectacular. Or something. As far as things went, I was a little disappointed with Terminal Geyser.

But there was nothing. Near the end, I was careful to step on solid, thick rocks. If my foot plunged through cracks in the rocks--that would be bad. Very bad. I stopped at a point where I felt it was too risky to continue, took some photos, then returned to the official, well-worn trail.

"Well that was a waste of time," I thought. "Time to get back to the PCT!" Uphill. Drats, definitely not worth it, I thought.

Boiling Springs Lake was much more exciting to see!
It seems shocking to me that those three trees
on the right can even survive on that shoreline!
I made it back to the trail and eyed the next thermal feature listed on my map: Boiling Springs Lake. I hoped it would be more interesting. It seemed promising as the number of day hikers on the trail increased dramatically. First it was just a few, then it was dozens. A few were severely overweight. "They couldn't have come far," I thought. "The lake is near!"

I passed a mom with two children, and they asked if I had come from Terminal Geyser. "No," I told them sadly, "There's no geyser." They looked disappointed. "But there's a lot of steam and noise!" They brightened up again. =) "Yep, if you want to see a lot of steam and hear a lot of noise, that's a great place to visit!"

Turning a corner, I saw a large, soupy-looking lake that was absolutely spectacular! It bubbled, it burped, it farted, then burped again. The lake was a bluish-gray color, and the shoreline was a thick mud that bubbled and threw mud in the air. Despite the dozens of people around, it was thrilling! It was exciting! It was cool!

Photos were taken, but I pushed on to Drakesbad Guest Resort--the source of the large quantities of day hikers on the trail. Rumor had it that food could be had, and restrooms, and civilization. It sounded good to me!

I take a pony ride after finishing lunch.
I arrived at the dinning room with only 15 minutes to spare before lunch was over. It was a buffet, and I picked over the leftover sandwich makings and various food options, piled up my plate with cookies and apples, and joined a table with nearly a dozen other thru-hikers who had arrived before me.

After lunch, I went outside and spent the heat of the day sitting out on the porch reading an issue of Popular Mechanics. I hoped to finish it before I left so I could leave it behind--dead weight I no longer wanted to carry. Which is when it started to rain.

Well, technically, it wasn't rain, per se, but rather those hoses you'll sometimes see outside in hot locales that spray out a watery mist to keep patrons cool. Except that these hoses didn't spray out a cooling mist--it was more of a squirting rain. I didn't mind getting wet--I knew I would dry quickly as soon as I started hiking again, but I did move my pack out from under the unexpected downpour to keep my gear dry.

Late in the afternoon, I continued hiking up the trail, walking into the absolute worst mosquito cloud of my life. I had to keep moving, hiking as quickly as possible to outrun those blood-sucking bastards. I stopped for a few seconds to take a photo, and the mosquitoes swarmed. I practically ran down the trail--it was the only way to avoid them.

The trail out of Drakesbad was steep and hot!
Then a shoelace came loose, flapping with every step. "Crap!" I thought. "I can't stop long enough to tie it properly! The mosquitoes will swarm! They'll suck me dry of blood in ten seconds flat!" I kept hiking with the shoelace flapping around, but my shoe was working loose. I needed to do something. I stopped for two seconds, just long enough to grab the loose lace and stuff it into the shoe alongside my foot. It still wasn't tied properly, but hopefully that would help keep the laces from turning into tripping hazards and maybe help keep the shoe from falling off completely.

I needed to find a safe place to camp if I wanted to survive the night. Somewhere not near water, somewhere high and exposed, where it was cold and windy. The problem was that nothing on my topo map suggested anything like this was near. Nothing! Argh!

I kept hiking, and the mosquitoes followed in a cloud that seemed to hover just behind my head. If I stopped for even a second, I could kill half a dozen mosquitoes on my hand with a single swat of the other hand. It was terrible. It was the stuff of nightmares.

When I reached Lower Twin Lake, the mosquitoes died down--a little--and I found Lizard who was hiking with four girls. (Lucky man!) The first time I met this group was during lunch at Drakesbad. Lizard was thru-hiking the trail, but the four girls told me they were just section hiking.

"Really?" I asked, "How far?"

"About 48 miles," they said, proudly.

"That's not long enough to count as a section hike!" I protested. They seemed insulted by my protest. Weekenders sometimes do more miles than that, though. Okay, technically, I suppose they are doing a section--a very small section--of the PCT, but I wouldn't have called it a section hike.

But I didn't protest very much--there was nothing to be gained by doing so.

Lower Twin Lake
One of the girls offered to spray me with a huge can of DEET they were carrying, and I happily let her. She walked around me and covered me with DEET from head to toe. It felt awesome! I've never had so much DEET applied in such a short period of time before, and it was awesome. The occasional mosquito still managed to find its way through the cloud, but I could deal with them one at a time.

The group also had one extra dinner which they offered to cook up for me. I had plenty of food in my pack already, but they actually offered to cook the dinner! Sure, I'll take it! =) Glad I stopped to chat with you folks!

And, shortly after sunset, they all went to bed. I set up camp nearby. While I was in no rush to get to Old Station, I knew I'd be getting a very early morning start to my hike the next day--I had to get on the trail before the mosquitoes could swarm. Ugh!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Halfway! Halfway! And One More Time... HALFWAY!

Sunrise from camp!
July 23: Three months. I've now been hiking the trail for exactly three months, well over a thousand miles... and still hadn't even reached the halfway point. That, I thought, must change. Starting today!

Actually, it wouldn't be hard--the halfway point, by my calculations, was less than 15 miles away. What a great way to celebrate my three month anniversary--being closer to Canada than Mexico for the first time on the trail!

The day's like was largely uneventful. Blackberry must have gotten a ridiculously early start in the morning because she caught up with me before I even made it out of camp. Lone Ranger caught up just as I was leaving camp, and we'd pass each other several times throughout the day.

For nearly 20 miles, there was no water along the trail except the occasional patch of snow. Even two "seasonal" water sources that were listed turned out to be dry--the first time a seasonal water source was actually dry. I'd probably passed hundreds of so-called seasonal water sources, but they always had water. No more could I depend on seasonal sources.

View of Mount Lassen to the north.
The actual halfway mark wasn't pinpointed in my maps. The total trail length, according to Eric the Black, was 2656.2 miles, meaning the halfway mark was 1328.1 miles. Since Eric the Black had failed to list this momentous point on my maps, I did so myself. He listed the Carter Mead Trail at 1326.4 miles and Butt Mountain Trail (and come on, really? Was Butt Mountain the best name explorers could think of for that mountain?) at 1330.0 miles, so the halfway mark should be almost halfway between those two waymarks. A little past it, and I marked a notch on the topo map where it should be.

The topo map showed the trail passing by a tiny hill on the right, then passing a significantly larger one on the left at which point the trail takes a slight dip. "That," I said to myself, pointing at the map, "is the halfway mark."

I reached the point on the trail that I thought was the halfway mark and saw nothing on the trail to indicate as much. I hiked a few minutes more, just to be certain nobody had already set up a halfway marker, but still finding nothing, I set down my pack and made one.

I gathered small rocks to spell out, "1328.1" in large numbers, parallel to the trail, high-fived myself, took celebratory photos, then thought about what to do next. Was it obvious that this strange number marked the halfway point on the trail? I wasn't really sure, so next to it, I created another rock message that simply read "1/2." If the meaning of the first number wasn't obvious, the second one would be.

Then I picked up my pack and continued hiking. I wasn't going to get any closer to Canada sitting around!
Someone certainly had too much time on their hands!

About ten minutes later, I stumbled onto another halfway marker. It was pretty slick little, and admittedly, I liked it better than the one I created. It read "1/2 way." I didn't mind the extra halfway marker, though. Depending on whose maps you were using, the halfway point could be anywhere along this section. Mine was probably no more right or wrong than this other one. And anyhow, given all of the reroutes in Southern California and lost trails in the High Sierras, no two people have actually walked the exact same distance. For what these markers lacked in precision, they made up for in enthusiasm. =)

I took more photos, and continued on....

Near the trail junction for Butt Mountain, I was finally able to connect to the outside world with my e-mail device and posted about finally reaching the halfway mark. Woo-who!

And another hour of hiking later, I passed yet another halfway marker. This was the "official" halfway marker, a concrete post drilled into the ground with an ammo box in front containing a register to sign. Of the three halfway markers on the trail, this one was clearly miles off. But being made of concrete and drilled into the ground, it wasn't particularly portable allowing it to move as trail sections were replaced or rerouted. This might have been the real halfway point when the marker was installed, but the halfway point had since drifted a few miles south.

Halfway! I did it! I'm finally halfway done! =)
But still, I took more celebratory photos, signed the register asking about "How many halfway points does this trail have anyhow?", then picked up my pack and continued on.

Near the end of the day, I passed a couple of Backcountry Horsemen (and their horses) with chainsaws cutting out tree falls. They told me that they left some fruit at the trailhead for thru-hikers and to help myself when I got there--if any was left. Apparently, a lot more thru-hikers had passed by than they expected and weren't sure if any fruit would be left. "I can hope," I said, crossing my fingers. =)

There was some fruit left, and I picked out some for myself.

Further down the trail, the trail crosses Highway 36--which leads into the town of Chester (the nearest trail town to the halfway mark). Stories of celebratory debatury here are legendary, but I didn't need to resupply go feel it necessary to get drunk, so I had no plans to go into town.

I did stop at the trailhead, however, to enjoy more trail magic left by "Piper's Mom." One ice chest must have recently been restocked because the sodas were actually cold! Delicious! I also feasted on a small bag of potato chips left there, then once again, picked up my pack and continued on.

I did it again! I reached the halfway point a second time! =)
"Okay," I said to myself, "no more breaks!" Seemed like I was stopping way too often, but Stover Camp was just a few miles away and I shouldn't need anymore breaks to reach it.

But darn it, I did stop one more time--this time because of a historical sign posted to a tree about a ditch alongside the trail: the Dutch Hill Ditch. It even had a name! I had to stop to read about it--I enjoy learning little pieces of history I walk across. In this case, the Dutch Hill Ditch:

This was a major 19th century project that brought water from Rice Creek (Feather River headwaters) to the Dutch Hill Mine complex near Seneca. The project began in 1874 using hand tools and manual labor. It ultimately ran some 33 miles and consisted of open ditch, short flumes, two tunnels and eight miles of iron pipe in a closed, inverted siphon. Everything operated by gravity; there were no pumps or valves. The project was abandoned in 1884 when the California legislature outlawed the practice of hydraulic mining. Today, more than a century later, the ditch is simply a forgotten remnant of an earlier age, choked with silt, tree growth and debris.
The halfway markers are coming
fast and furious now! =)

The page also included a map of the project along with the obligatory "You are here" marked on it. Fascinating! I was a little disappointed that nothing was said about what they mined at the Dutch Hill Mine complex. Gold, perhaps? Seemed like a lot of the territory I now traveled through had a lot of gold mining going on.

It seemed like I took an awfully large number of breaks along the trail today, but somehow I still managed to end the day having completed 28.6 miles at Stover Spring--one of my longest days so far.

Johnny Law and Missing Link were already at Stover Spring when I arrived, building a campfire. Naturally, I was drawn to the campfire, and we spent most of the evening chatting away about absolutely nothing of importance. =)

This ice chest with cold sodas says, "Keep locked--
raccoons can't read. Combination is: 8-0-8."
Perhaps, but what if they CAN read but just
can't open the lock with their claws? Something
to think about....

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Long Climb Out of Belden

This sign marks the side trail off the PCT to the post office.
July 22: I took my time getting up this morning. I had a maildrop in Belden to pick up, but the post office didn't open until 9:00, and I figured I was about a half mile away. By my calculations, I could leave as late as 8:50 and still get to the post office just as it opened.

So I slept in late (until about 7:00), then killed time reading Time magazines. I was getting stir crazy, though, and finally left camp shortly after 8:00. I followed the trail about a quarter of a mile until the junction to the post office. And it really is a junction to the post office--there was even a sign nailed to a tree that read, "Belden Post Office" at the trail junction, and I followed that down another quarter mile to the post office.

As expected, the post office was closed, and would be for another 40 minutes. What to do...? What to do...?

I walked down to the river running through town, thinking that would be a nice place to wait for the post office to open, and found a full-sized couch resting on the banks. Sweet! So I sat down, munched on some snacks, and read a bit more.

At 9:00, I returned to the post office, and the door was already open. Excellent! And I walked into what is perhaps the most adorable little post office I've ever seen in my life! The inside looked more like an antique shop with all sorts of unusual items for sale and walls decorated with old postcards. I was so amazed, I even forgot to take any photos. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! And the whole time, I kept thinking, "And where the heck is the so-called creepy, old town I kept hearing about? This place is so cute!"

I waited for the post office to open on this couch. =)
The woman behind the counter asked if I was here to pick up a package--clearly, I looked like a thru-hiker, and she knew why thru-hikers stopped at the post office. She pointed to a pile of packages at the other side of the store, telling me they were all over there. The haphazard piles of packages seemed to lend to the laid-back feeling of the town. The packages were ordered alphabetically by last name, roughly speaking, and I was the only C around.

I sat down in a chair next to the packages and proceeded to open it and pack the contents into my pack. Most of the work was already done, back in the hotel in Quincy. I left the Wheat Thins in their original packaging since I hoped the box would help protect the fragile contents from the rough and tough transportation to Belden, but everything else was already in ZipLocks. Most of it went into my food bag. Some new reading material went into another bag. And a handful of snacks went into my snack bag. The Wheat Thins I transferred to a quart-sized ZipLock bag and stuffed in a pocket on the outside of my pack where they wouldn't get crushed (much).

All the while, the lady behind the counter continued talking and asking questions about my hike. She was very nice, but I found her interest rather surprising. She's probably seen tons of thru-hikers, but she seemed just as interested in my tales as someone who bumped into a thru-hiker for the first time. I was happy to chat with her, though.

The PCT has to climb out of this steep canyon--a long,
steep climb when temperatures soared above 90 degrees.
A few minutes later, my maildrop was packed and it was time to get hiking again. The woman behind the counter was surprised I was done so quickly when I asked if there was somewhere to trash the leftover packaging. She directed me behind the post office. The guy next door, she told me, would use it to help start his incenerator.

Well, okay. I'm all about recycling. =)

I followed the side trail to the post office back to the PCT, then almost immediately started going up--a hot, steep, 5,000-foot climb that never seemed to end. I started strong, and finished weak. The climb was relentless, and the low elevation of Belden meant that the air temperature was hot. Even in the morning, it was hot. I think the forecast called for 90+ degree temperatures in Belden, and it already felt like that within ten minutes of leaving the post office.

I filled up with water multiple times, even wetting down my handkerchief to help beat the heat, but I had to stop to rest several times along the way. I didn't want to stop and rest. I already got a very late start having to wait for the post office to open, and I still wanted to get in a respectable number of miles by the end of the day.

Two water sources got my attention just by their name: Rattlesnake Spring and Poison Spring. I could imagine some explorer in this area thinking what a great joke it would be to name springs after Things That Can Kill You. I felt a little uncomfortable at the thought of drinking from Poison Spring, though. There was nothing to indicate that the spring water was unsafe to drink from, but really, why did they give it that name? It really bothered me! =) But not so much that I wouldn't drink out of it....

Much of the trail didn't even provide
any shade to beat the heat.
A few hours into the hike, another hiker, Boat, caught up with me during one of my stops. We chatted a bit and learned that we had both thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail together in 2003. We were trail brothers! Despite hiking that 2,176-mile trail together, however, we never actually met each other. He started the trail about a month before I did, and he finished about a month before I did. I was never able to catch up, though undoubtedly, I'd read many of his trail register entries. He'd never have seem mine since I was always behind him, though.

Onward and onward! Another hour went by and I caught up with two more hikers--Lone Ranger and Blackberry. I was rather surprised to catch up with them--while I did get a late start in the morning, I expected anyone who stayed at the trail angel's place would likely get a late start too, and still had a couple of miles to hike just to reach the point where I camped for the night. So I didn't expect anyone to be ahead of me, but those two managed to sneak by while I was down at the post office (or at least waiting for the post office to open).

We talked about our adventures through the High Sierras, and it turns out that I left Kennedy Meadows within 24 hours of them, and best we could figure, we were within a day's hike of each other almost the entire distance since then--about five hundred miles--but never managed to cross paths until then. The trail is strange that way, hiding hikers--even those that seem impossibly close for such an extended period of time.

A tiger lily along the trail.
Near the top of the 5,000 foot climb, the trail crossed several streams that required my feet getting wet. At least, I thought, my feet would be relatively clean at the end of the day. The last several days, the dry dirt on the trail would raise a small cloud of dust with every footstep and my feet looked positively caked with dirt at the end of the day. It couldn't be rubbed off--only a liberal dose of water could get the dirt off.

As the trail climbed, the temperature dropped a bit. It was still uncomfortably warm, but it was a heck of an improvement being at 7,000 feet above sea level than the 2,350 feet where the post office was located. I once read that every 1,000 feet of elevation gain usually causes the temperature to drop four degrees. By my estimate, it should be nearly 20 degrees cooler up here. If the high in Belden was 95 degrees, the high up here would have been about 75 degrees. Very warm and uncomfortable, but tolerable.

Those three stopped at Cold Springs for the night. I still wanted to get at least a full 20 miles of hiking in, however, and filled my pack with a horrible five liters of water and pushed on. Cold Springs was the last water source on the trail for more than 20 miles--at least the last known water source on the trail--so I needed enough water to last me through dinner, breakfast the next morning, and to get me through 20 miles of searing heat. And yes, I'm a wimp. So I loaded up with water. Once I used a lot of it for dinner and breakfast, it wouldn't be so bad the rest of tomorrow. And I didn't plan to hike too much further today.

The trail crossed over a bald at the top of a ridge, and the scene was stunning. The grass seemed to glow in the fading light, and I decided to stop. Dry Pond should have been just ahead and I didn't know if the pond was really dry or not, but I didn't want to camp too close to it in fear that the bugs there could be bad. The bugs were already starting to come up, and in the trees, they were getting pretty thick. Out here on the bald, however, they didn't seem so bad.

Cold Spring--the last known water source on the
PCT for more than 20 miles. Use it or lose it!
So I set up camp, made dinner, and relaxed. Lots of little bugs seemed to jump all around me, and I'm not sure what they were. They didn't bite, though, so I didn't spend much time worrying about them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

...And Into Creepy, Old Belden Town

I found this nest on the ground about 20 feet away from
where I camped as I left this morning.
July 21: I woke up to logging trucks. Loud, obnoxious logging trucks. When I set up camp near the road leading into Bucks Lake the evening before, it must have been after the loggers got off work because except for the occasional car driving by, it was pretty quiet. The logging trucks, however, started at an ungodly hour of the morning, deafening machines barreling down the road.

I also woke up, still undecided about where I would stop for the night. I needed to pick up a maildrop in Belden, but it closed at 1:00 in the afternoon--absolutely no way I'd get there before closing, but I'd certainly be able to reach it by the end of the day. So I wondered what I should set as a goal for the day. Camp on the trail before Belden? Stay in Belden with trail angels known as The Braatens? Camp on the trail near the side trail that leads to the post office? I was remarkably indecisive on the matter. I just couldn't make up my mind!

The day's hike was mostly uneventful. Once again, I hit a few small patches of snow about ten minutes after bragging on Facebook about not seeing snow for three full days. (Nevermind the fact that one day was a zero day and another day only included about one hour of hiking.) I knew I'd jinx myself by bragging about the lack of snow, but I tried it anyhow.

Flowers along the trail.
My feet stayed dried the entire day this time, however. I managed not to fall into any streams this time, and the snow wasn't deep enough or wet enough to melt and seep through my shoes.

The last several miles dropped nearly 5,000 feet in elevation into Belden--a steep and severe drop by any standards, twisting around a series of endless switchbacks. It was still early enough in the afternoon that I didn't want to set up camp on the trail before Belden, although there were several excellent campsites located along the river going by. I eyed them closely anyhow--if I didn't like Belden, I might come back.

And I worried that I wouldn't like Belden. Most of the time, I'm excited about going into town, but my guidebook described this one as a "creepy, old town," and rumors on the trail about meth labs on every corner ran rampant. By all accounts, it was a sleazy little town and best avoided.

A lot of nice scenery in sections where we
got out of the trees!
So I walked into town a little hesitant about what to expect. A few buildings lined the street with an American flag hanging from one of them. A couple of hikers I didn't recognize sat outside and introduced themselves. The building had signs indicating that it held a restaurant, a convenience store, and more, and looked like it was in great condition. I had been expecting something that looked a little more run-down, and my guidebook said nothing about there being a store or restaurant nearby.

I went inside, passed by a pool table, and bought an ice cream sandwich, a root beer, and an orange juice from the small convenience store. Also inside, half a dozen other hikers were gathered near the bar drinking a few alcoholic beverages. I talked with the bartender a bit, a nice lady who seemed fascinated that so many hikers had hiked in all the way from Mexico.

I went back outside to eat my score, so far delighted with the town of Belden. The "old, creepy" part of town must be on the other side of the river, I thought.

The hikers, whose names I failed to take down, told me that someone was shuttling hikers to the Braatens and that he'd arrive in another 15 minutes or so. I was welcome to join them. Sure, why not?

I ate my ice cream and drank my drinks, when a fellow pulled up in a truck saying that he was taking hikers to the Braatens. He warned, however, that the place was pretty full with hikers already and that we'd have to camp outside in the yard. A few other hikers piled into the truck, filling it to capacity, but the driver said he'd return again for the rest of us.

So I was left there, sitting on the bench, and thinking, "I'd have to camp in the yard anyhow? I may as well just keep hiking another mile or so and camp on the trail near the post office."

Now this is snow I can appreciate--it doesn't
actually touch the trail here! (Other patches did, however.)
So that decided it for me. I'd continue on. I didn't know if there were any decent campsites further up the trail near the post office, but I didn't care. I'd camp directly on the trail if I had to! So I picked up my pack and continued hiking.

The trail crossed a historic bridge over a large river, and a few kids playing in the river below waved up at me. I waved back. On the far side of the river, at a rest area along Highway 70, an old stamp mill is set up with a large board describing what it was used for and how it worked. This area used to be a big mining town, particularly gold, and a stamp mill was used to crush ore as one of the steps in extracting that valuable mineral. Amanda had purchased a postcard of this exact mill which I carried in my pack--neither of us realizing that the trail actually crosses directly in front of it. Later that night, I decided to fill out the postcard to mail to Amanda, sending her her own postcard. =)

From the rest area, the trail headed back into the woods, largely paralleling Highway 70. A small side trail off of the PCT, about a mile up the PCT, would lead back down to the Belden post office, so once I was back in the woods, I started keeping my eyes open for a good place to camp. My topo maps showed no officially recognized campsites, but I there was one place where the trail cut back away from the highway to cross Indian Creek, and I was optimistic I'd find something there. Not only would I be able to fill up with all the water I needed, but it would also be well away from the highway noise. So I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Belden Town, a cute little place that,
apparently in an alternate universe,
is creepy and thick with meth labs.

And sure enough, there were no campsites along the trail. Absolutely nowhere, including near the creek. But it didn't matter--the trail crossed Indian Creek on a large, wide bridge. I considered camping directly on the bridge, but then thought better of it. It would be too easy for me to knock some of my gear off the bridge and into the creek in the middle of the night. Instead, I chose to camp on the wide section of trail leading up to the bridge. A cozy little retreat, and it left me less than a half mile away from the post office. Life was good!

While leaving town, I found these
signs "warning" that we are "now leaving
Belden Town at your own risk!!" And...
"Good luck out there!" How can you
not love a town with signs like that? =)

The trail crosses a large river on this bridge to Highway 70.

The Ebbe Stamp Mill, a gold mining historical artifact.

My campsite for the night at Indian Creek! I set up camp
on the 'approach ramp' on the right side of this bridge.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Day Without Snow

I take a self-portrait in the
early-morning sun.
July 20: I woke up, ate my Subway sandwich for breakfast, and hit the trail. I wasn't in a big rush, though. The post office in Belden would close at 1:00 tomorrow meaning I either had to hike very quickly to get there in time (blah!) or cut my day short four or five miles do a "mere" 25 miles today. I decided to take my time.

Temperatures were cooling from the 90+ degrees, but slowly. It was still usually hot.

It didn't take long before I started hitting tree fall. Trees fall all over the place and this certainly wasn't the first tree fall I'd run into, but this section had a lot of fallen trees. Most were small and easily stepped over, but a large minority of them were annoyingly difficult to get around on the steep slopes. After getting around the first 50 or so fallen trees, I grew annoyed. After getting around a hundred of them, I turned increasingly angry. NO MORE! This, clearly, must be the section of trail those southbound hikers had been warning us about.  The branches from the tree falls ripped at my clothes and pack. Sometimes it was easier to walk around the tree where the off-trail brush would get a chance to scratch and poke at me. And, at one place where I was bushwacking around a tree, I was startled by a rattling sound. After jumping back and whacking the bushes with my trekking pole a few times, I watched a rattlesnake slowly drift away down the slope. First rattlesnake I'd seen in over a month now. I'm definitely not in the High Sierras anymore.

I cussed the trail maintainers under my breath, which was fortunate I kept it under my breath because I went around a bend in the trail and found two trail maintainers next to a tree they had just finished cutting out with a chainsaw.

This little fellow appeared to be injured. It seemed to
struggle just to turn around to look at me.
It's a sad thing to see on the trail.
"Thank God, you're here!" I told them. "The tree fall.... it's horrible! Horrible, I tell you!"

They seemed to find my reaction amusing, and told me that there were no more trees across the trail--absolutely none at all--for the next 30 miles or so all the way into Belden. Awesome!

They asked me if I had seen a few of their comrades back on the trail. Three of them, wearing the same shirts they were. Two guys and a girl. One of the guys was "hefty," while the girl was drop-dead gorgeous.

"No, I think I would have remembered that...." I told them. "At least I would have remembered the drop-dead gorgeous girl!" They had split apart to attack the tree fall from both ends, but none of them were sure about the road that would have gotten to the trailhead at the other end or if it was open and passable. They were going to make a try at it, though, and the two guys here wanted to find out if they had made it.

"Not by the time I went through," I told them. "Sorry."

I continued hiking, and 20 minutes later I met three people hiking southbound. They wore the same shirts as the two trail crew guys I passed earlier, and one of the guys was a bit on the 'hefty' side, and one of them was a girl that any straight guy with a heartbeat would have considered gorgeous. One of them carried a chainsaw.

"Hey!" I said, "Aren't you guys supposed to be hiking in from the other direction?"

The trail crosses the Feather River at this bridge.
They told of a miserable story about getting lost and unable to find the trailhead in the other direction and finally gave up. Bummer. I told them that their companions weren't too much farther ahead. I did not tell them that their companions described them as "hefty" or "drop-dead gorgeous," however.

We continued hiking in our respective directions and I wished them luck in attacking those horrible trees on the trail.

The trail mostly stayed in the trees all day, but late in the day, near Lookout Rock, it came out to a viewpoint, and I decided to take an extended break and read a couple of Time magazines that I carried.

The trail dropped steeply down to a road near Buck's Lake, where I camped for the night. A trail angel left a sign on the trail saying they'd pick us up for the night and feed us, but I'd only camped one night on the trail since leaving Quincy. I didn't need to get sucked into a trail angel for the night, so I camped on the trail near the road. At the end of the day, I was thrilled to have done a full day of hiking and never once had to cross snow on the trail. Not a speck, not a patch--absolutely no snow at all.

I get a little nervous hiking when I see
these pinecones on the trail. They're
called widow-makers. Can you imagine
what they'd do to your head if one
hit you?!
I was even able to keep my feet dry for the entire day--except for when I slipped crossing a tiny stream and stepped into the water. Whoops! The stream was so small, though, I wouldn't have expected anyone to build a bridge across it. Just my stupid carelessness that I slipped when I did. I can't really blame the trail for that.
The tree fall was terrible!

All-in-all, it was a dull day of hiking, but a good day of hiking. =)

More tree fall. In this case, I decided
it was easiest going around it.
A freshly cut tree--a wonderful sight to see!
The view from Lookout Rock.