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.)


Anonymous said...

Definitely cool photos, Ryan!


Anonymous said...

Did you notice the UFO tracking site in the valley near Hat Creek? It is just off of Hwy 89, close to the rim. It is run by UC Berekley. Pretty cool!

Ryan said...

Actually, yes, I did see the UFO tracking site, but those dishes didn't show up very well in any photos. Too far away. And at the time, I didn't realize that's what the dishes were used for. It wasn't until I reached the water cache and someone wrote about it in the register that I learned what it was being used for.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

I loved this post, especially the incredible photos. Wow! The first one with the mountains all lined up first made me think that it was one mountain and you had blurred it by moving while shooting. :D

Those views are similar to what we see her in New Mexico and I do love it, too. So many people who visit here say it's too stark, too exposed, and "where are all the tall trees". We don't have 'em and that's just the way we like it. How better to see forever to enjoy mountains, plains, buttes, volcanoes, rivers, blue skies and interesting clouds, and amazing sunsets and sunrises.

Give me wide open views over tree shrouded trails any day.

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers