Day 2.95-100: North, My Northwest

Big Lake Youth Camp to Cascade Locks
Mile 1998 – Mile 2144

Special guests on the trail!

I miscalculated my departure from Big Lake Youth Camp. I thought I only had 4.5 miles to Santiam Pass where the PCT crosses Highway 20. It was more like 6 miles which would not have mattered except for the fact my son Connor and his girlfriend Lindsay were meeting me there at 10am. They had been spending the week on vacation at a resort near Bend, OR and we had hatched a plan to meet up. The promise of beer, doughnuts, and family sustenance provided all the extra giddy up I needed to arrive just past the hour.

Hanging with Connor

2000 miles, before and after

We enjoyed a great visit, sitting in chairs(!), and Connor appeared duly impressed by my capacity for massive quantities of carbohydrates. Connor and Lindsay had also picked up an online order for me at the Bend REI- new trekking poles! The lava fields were the final straw for my original sturdy companions.

Three Finger Jack

Jack’s backside

Four beers and three monster sized doughnuts later, I think I wandered off into the noon day sun to climb up and around Three Finger Jack. Despite views from all angles, I never quite figured out how the mountain earned its name.

Hello Mr Jefferson

Flower dappled meadow

The succession of peaks continued the next day with picturesque Mt Jefferson. First appearing small and distant, a day’s worth of steady walking and the impressive mountain soon dominated all sight lines. It took the better part of another day to travel its western flanks where unfortunately last year’s destructive Whitewater Fire had burned. The entire Mt Jefferson Wilderness had been closed requiring, in some cases, 135 mile road walks to circumvent. Fortuitous timing and beneficent weather make all the difference on this crazy trail. Thankfully the fire spared the pristine meadows north of the peak and I again enjoyed waltzing through a profusion of wild flowers.

First glimpse of Mt Hood

Starting to look familiar

A steep climb over a neighboring ridge revealed my first view of distant Mt Hood. Seeing a familiar landmark thrilled me with the knowledge I was getting closer to home. Although it would be another whole day of hiking before I’d glimpse Mt Hood again, I noticed the forest transforming into what I deem to be quintessential Pacific Northwest forest. I felt at home among stately Douglas firs and the teeming undergrowth of verdant moss, sword ferns, salmon berries, thimbleberry, huckleberry, devil’s club, vine maple, and Oregon grape.
Adding to my growing sense of arriving back in the Northwest, I emerged at a trailhead just south of Mt Hood that I had visited two years ago. Katrina and I had been on a ski trip to Mt Bachelor with our friends and Sonjia. It was three months before my first attempt at the PCT and I convinced everyone to stop briefly, eager to get my boots on the trail. I remember wondering how I’d feel walking out of the woods ‘for real’ at mile 2084. Suffice it to say I was highly gratified to close that loop.

Now I’m in the ‘Hood

Timberline Lodge

A delightful repast

I also knew that I was approaching Timberline Lodge on the southwestern flank of Mt Hood. A historic and storied place if ever there was, my interest this visit was more culinary. A hand tossed pizza accompanied by a pint or two of cold IPA transported me. I was also surprised to find some fresh Kettle Corn and banana bread in my resupply box from Lisa and the kids who must have just been to the ballpark. Amazed by my ability to just keep eating, down the hatch it all went.
I wandered only a few miles up the trail and scored one of my more epic tent sites.

Now that’s a tent site

High on the western flanks of Mt Hood I fell asleep watching the sunlight slowly fade from the upper glaciers.

The distant mountains of Washington

Eagle Creek trail closure

I spent the next day navigating Mt Hood’s rumpled northern foothills until I came upon a sight that renewed my thrill of getting closer to home. Off in the distance stood Mt Saint Helens, Mt Rainier, and Mt Adams all from the same viewpoint. The mountains of home beckoned and I heard their call. Soon afterward I came upon the closure of the popular Eagle Creek alternate trail. The tragic Eagle Creek wildfire last year, caused by a woeful 15 year old boy throwing fireworks into the canyon, burned a large swath of steep hillsides immediately south of the Columbia River. A Herculean effort by PCTA volunteers managed to reopen the PCT just a couple months ago. Recent news of the $36 million dollar judgement against the teenager cannot undo what has been wrought but hopefully a message has been sent.

Last year’s burn

Roll on Columbia

I completed my time in Oregon arriving at the fabled ‘Bridge of the Gods’ mid morning on my 100th day. I chose the celebrate the occasion with my 5th night in a bed along with a shower, laundry, food, and an afternoon of not walking! Since most of the services were located in Cascades Locks on the south side I opted to make my crossing the next morning. All that remained was to find just the right music to accompany the momentous event.

Farewell Oregon, hello Washington!

Day 2.89-94: A Mind Wandering

Crater Lake to Big Lake Youth Camp
Mile 1818 – Mile 1992

Storm brewing over Wizard Island

By the time I had completed navigating the western rim of Crater Lake, thunderheads had gathered in the south and were advancing north. It made for a dramatic if not slow motion chase as I scurried down from the crater rim avoiding all but a smattering of rain. Glancing back to watch the frequent lightning strikes, I suspected many of the tourists visiting Crater Lake that afternoon rued their bad luck with weather.

Crater Lake drama

The craggy pinnacle of Mt Thielsen loomed ahead and I spent most of the next day walking around its immediate vicinity.

Mt Thielsen watching over the trail

Another high point

For the next couple days, the forest closed in once more though many small lakes and ponds began to appear along the trail. I had been hoping for such water for quite some time to repair my air mattress. Fortunately, way back in Northern California, a sudden flash of intuition prompted me to check the opposite side of where I had first applied a patch. Sure enough, fixing a tiny hole there solved the mystery of my slowly deflating mattress. I know I was the only one losing sleep over it but was gratified nonetheless. Though my need had passed, the appearance of many lakes did afford me the opportunity for a few refreshing swims.

Sunrise over Oregon lakes

Beautiful Oregon trail

As everyone said they would, the miles in Oregon came easily though walking 12 hours each day, every day may have cause a few screws to loosen. I likened my mind to a television with many channels. Of course the news channel droned on and on about miles, time, and pace, forever calculating numbers regardless of interest or utility. For some reason the music channel played only fragments from a single song each day on endless repeat. Though at random and regardless of genre, at least a new tune appeared each day. From ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Strangers in the Night’ to the likes of Prince, Pink Martini, and Sean Cassidy, I took issue with whoever runs central programming. I avoided the food channel as best I could but inevitably some delectable image slipped through. The friends and family channel proved endlessly diverting as I wondered about the happenings in everyone’s lives. The history channel delved past memories while the future channel looked ahead to what’s next.

Approaching Middle Sister

My difficulty however stemmed from whoever was holding the remote. With nothing of note happening on the trail, some diabolical hand kept flipping channels incessantly, returning frequently to the music channel, and generally trying to fill the void of endless empty miles. In yoga it’s called ‘monkey mind’ and quieting it creates the space for a relaxing practice. I struggled.

If you could smell what I see

Speaking of yoga, I have developed a condition I believe to be called ‘butnoasana’. The design of most backpacks presumes that the hip belt will carry the bulk of the weight. Posteriorly challenged from the outset, I have nothing left to stop my belt from sliding down causing most of the pack weight to fall on my shoulders. When Chris saw me at the hot springs he wryly commented, “You really have walked your ass off.” I am pretty sure my measurements now would be something like 28-28-28.

Stunning Three Sisters Wilderness

Fortunately the PCT provided a sure antidote to my mind’s insidious channel surfing and the frequent hoisting and cinching. My mind quieted and all was forgotten as I entered the alpine wonderland of Three Sisters Wilderness. Eugene, whom I had met at Mazama Village, mentioned the Three Sisters as the favorite stomping ground of his youth. True to form, fields of lupine in bloom scented the air while glacial creeks chuckled through gorgeous meadows under the pristine watch of snow clad peaks. It was simply stunning and I was captivated.

Field of obsidian

The trail traversed an area called the Obsidian Limited Entry Area. Despite its clumsy name, glistening black glass reflected the afternoon sun and a creek head flowed miraculously out the side of a mountain to soon drop over Obsidian Falls. It was a magical place to behold.

Magical Obsidian Falls

The hike the following morning was less magical climbing up and over miles of arduous lava fields. I crossed most of it during the cool morning hours and was thankful not to discover it late afternoon.

Laval traveler

Not Mt Doom, Mt Washington

I walked the last 8 miles or so into Big Lake Youth Camp with a young couple from Queens. Klutz and BugBait were finishing up their 3 week section hike through southern Oregon. We enjoyed a great conversation that not only passed the miles but also kept my wandering mind well occupied.

Big Lake Youth Camp set a new high bar in rolling out the welcome mat for PCT hikers. A beautiful summer camp to begin with, they had just recently completed work on a separate hiker facility complete with showers, laundry, kitchen, power outlets, and resupply holding area. I happened to miss their fabled meal service because the camp was not operating the day I was there but I’m told it’s spectacular and all offered for donations only.

Big Lake Youth Camp embraces PCT hikers

And this just in from the news channel… I have now completed 75% of the PCT!

Day 2.84-89: Great Friends Well Met

Ashland to Crater Lake
Mile 1715 – Mile 1820

Ashland from eastern ridge

I arrived mid afternoon at Callahan’s Lodge, a hiker friendly establishment several miles south of Ashland on Interstate 5. In addition to a coupon for a free beer, a modest fee availed me laundry facilities and a hot shower complete with towel and white robe. “Such luxury!” I thought to myself as my phone dinged with a new text message: “We are here and having a drink on the back patio” My extraordinary friends from Seattle, Chris and Shannon, had driven down to meet up and show me Ashland, their unofficial home away from home. Shannon came looking for me and knew she was getting close when she saw “a bunch of bearded skinny dudes walking around in white robes.”

Chris and Shannon rockin’ the campground

I made sure to redeem my coupon before we headed off to Wellsprings, a hippy hot springs just north of town where Chris and Shannon had camped. It was such a perfect place for my fourth zero day with friends, chill camping, and several rejuvenating soaks in healing hot water. Chris lived in Ashland some 20 years ago and since they visit often, I enjoyed a ‘best of’ tour that included delicious restaurants, juice bar, bakery, and even a round of golf. I tried to tell them I lacked proper golf attire but they said “Oh, you’ll fit right in. You look local!” I was refreshed in all the best ways. Thanks Shannon and Chris!

Klamathon closure

Chris drove me back to Callahan’s the next day where, unfortunately, the PCT remained closed for ~15 miles due to the wildfire. Chris’ local knowledge helped me plan a road walk around the closure to a place called Green Springs Summit. I should have realized that any detour from a ‘crest’ trail necessarily implies walking down and then back up. What followed was a fairly agonizing slog along two paved highways made better by the four unsolicited offers of rides, one bit of route advice, and a can of ice cold Mountain Dew. I can only conclude I must have appeared most pitiable in the hot sun as I stubbornly held to my conviction of ‘walking my way home.’

Two thirds home!

Volcanic trail with red pumice

I reconnected with the PCT at the northern end of the closure with a newfound appreciation for that 24” dirt path through the forest’s shade. I spent that night at Hyatt Lake Campground lured by the promise of running water but alas it was not to be. Some vaguely described problem had cut off all water and to make matters worse, the lake level was a good ten feet below the bottom of the boat launch. I collected some odd looks as I tromped out to the dregs armed with my trusty water filter. Though it was a pain, I had seen (and collected) water from sources far more suspect than Hyatt Lake.

Dawn’s early light

Devil’s Peak

The Oregon PCT’s reputation for being a ‘green tunnel’ asserted itself over the next two days. There was not much to see and the forest became a bit monotonous save for the added excitement of mosquitoes, fierce and persistent. I had just been thinking that bugs had not been much of a nuisance and the ever present trail gods must have taken note. I have yet to break out the Deet repellent but the head net preserved my sanity. It didn’t matter how fast I walked, the pesky suckers had no problem matching my speed by the swarm full.

Last year’s burn

Entering Crater Lake National Park

Eliminating the desirability of rest stops, a silver lining emerged in that I made faster progress than expected. My long time friend Michael was spending the week in Bend and had asked when I might arrive at Crater Lake. When he inquired the timing seemed like it wouldn’t work out but add some mosquito incentive and et voila, midday Saturday became the answer. Even with late notice, Michael made the drive to meet me. What a guy! He treated me to lunch and even supplied some additional hydration in the form of Makers Mark. Thanks Michael!

Longtime friend Michael

After Michael had left and I had completed my laundry, shower, and resupply, I wandered back to the restaurant for an early dinner. I’m sure my scraggly appearance and bulky backpack had nothing to do with it but a kindly couple from Medford pegged me as a thru hiker. Eugene and Linda(?) were just returning from a trip to the Grand Tetons and we enjoyed a nice chat. They also surprised me by buying my dinner! What have I said about the kindness of strangers? Thanks Eugene and Linda!

The kindness of strangers

While I can’t recommend the PCT stretch between Ashland and Crater Lake as particularly scenic, as with real life, the addition of good friends make all the difference. I am happy, content, and getting closer to home every day. I woke up early, walked the west rim of Crater Lake, and renewed my sense of wonder for all natural beauty that defines the PCT. The past days’ investment paid off and then some. Spectacular!

Bottomless mirror of Crater Lake

Day 2.76-83: The Circuity of Trinity

Mt Shasta to Ashland
Mile 1498 – Mile 1715

Celebrity guests!

The PCT in northern California carries the reputation of being where northbound thru hikers experience a general malaise and flagging enthusiasm for their long journey. What better place for an infusion of pride and joy? My oldest daughter Kayla and her boyfriend Chuck had a wedding to attend in the Portland area and weeks beforehand Kayla inquired where I might be on July 1st. All the unknowns of the trail conspire to make any answer to such questions speculative at best. At the same time, I have noticed that declaring bold goals have a way of making them come true. When she first asked, Mt Shasta seemed too far although the PCT crossing of I-5 would certainly make a convenient meeting place so I set about to try. Knowing that I had celebrity guests ahead also helped keep any doldrums at bay and magically all the miles fell into place.

Me and my Kayla Bear

I hitched into Mt Shasta early enough in the day to get cleaned up, do laundry, shop, and organize my resupply all while Kayla and Chuck made the 6+ hour drive south. Seeing their bright, smiling faces refueled me far more than any food or drink but, covering all our bases, we also shared a big Italian dinner and hearty breakfast. Beyond grateful for the effort they made to meet up with me, I waved goodbye at the trailhead with a happy “See ya back in Washington real soon!”

Cinnamon roll French toast!

Castle Crags

I logged around 15 miles that day climbing up and around Castle Crags, regaining elevation and camping once again with a view of seemingly ever present, Mt Shasta.
Should you ever be in need of a free beer, here’s a bar bet that you can win more often than not. Ask: “The western end of the Panama Canal opens into which ocean?” The answer of course defies logic until you look at a map. Similarly, going northbound on PCT after Castle Crags entails an almost 50 mile button hook that dips way back south before heading west. It’s almost as if the trail planners said “Whoops, we forgot to include the Trinity Alps Wilderness! No problem, let’s just do a big u-turn and head that way.” To go north, follow the trail south.

You owe me a beer if you said Pacific

Circuity of Trinity

Adding to my consternation as I walked the convoluted path, two wildfires, one south and one west, filled the air with a gray haze. I could tell I was traveling through spectacular country but the irritating smoke, blown north by strong winds, both stung the eyes and spoiled the views.

Smoky view

Spoiled view of idyllic tarns

“Okay, we can turn back north any time now please” I thought to myself not really knowing the status or location of the fires. Lacking any connection to discover more, I understood enough to know that walking away from smoke was better than walking toward it. Soon enough, blue returned to the skies ahead as the trail swung back north.

Smoke makes for pretty sunrise

Early the next morning as I was walking through some low brush, I saw my first bear. It was a juvenile black bear and we saw each other at about the same time with maybe 25 yards separating us. The bear did a quick duck down and dodged off the trail to my left and remembering the guidance about getting between a Momma and her cub, I immediately began to imagine sounds in the brush to my right. Must have been my imagination and nothing more came of it other than another good adrenaline bonus to quicken my pace.

Ghost forest

Austere beauty

Trevor from SMC

After Trinity, the PCT enters the Russian Wilderness, a place of austere beauty with steep slopes marred by fire scars old and new. Just as I was noting how well groomed parts of the ghostly trail had become, I encountered the source of said maintenance in the form of a trail crew from Siskiyou Mountain Club (SMC). In addition to singing their praises, I learned that they sign up to spend 40 days over the summer doing trail work in four 10 day stints. The young crew I met seemed to be enjoying their time outdoors just as much as I enjoyed the fruits of their labor. Kudos SMC!

Spectacular Marble Mountain

Another day, another wilderness but the next, Marble Mountain Wilderness, stood apart for its exquisite beauty and vibrant colors. Towering cliffs of white marble, thrust above the lush greensward and set off beneath a cerulean sky, enchanted me as I wandered through. It appeared a popular pace for rock climbing too as I traversed a large group’s encampment.

I spy Klamathon!

I skipped past the trail town of Etna the next day but benefited from its proximity to get some cell coverage. I learned that a wildfire had broken out just south of Ashland temporarily closing Interstate 5. Dubbed Klamathon, the fire, spread quickly and was out of control but still 3 days or so ahead of me. I figured that should be enough time for crews to get a handle on it.

Seiad Valley CA

After a restless night spent shooing an overly familiar deer, I walked down out of the hills into quaint Seiad Valley where I collected my next resupply box, expedited by my sister Lisa. A gaggle of hikers had converged at the tiny café there and all the talk was about Klamathon. Enter our three horsemen of old: fear, uncertainty, and doubt. News came down that ~20 miles of the PCT had been closed just east of Ashland about 60 miles ahead. Smoke wreathed some of higher hills above Seiad Valley but the trail immediately ahead remained open. A good number of hikers were bailing and trying to hitch into Ashland which made little sense to me since that’s where the trail was closed. I suspect the imposing 5000 foot climb immediately north of town had some influence on such decisions. For myself, I saw no reason not to continue. Two other hikers, young guns named Farley and Einstein, concurred and set off about an hour ahead of me.

Red rock mountains

It was a hot and arduous climb but I planned to camp only about halfway up. Just as I was nearing my intended stopping point, Farley and Einstein appeared returning back down. “Dude, the PCT is on fire!” they exclaimed and tried to show me video of what they had seen. They said they saw smoke and aircraft dropping water over a ridge about 3 miles ahead. As they sped off back to town, I stopped to consider my options. When hiking, I have learned the internal metronome tends to speed up and rash decisions can result whether crossing a difficult creek or making some other critical choice. STOP has become my go to mantra in such situations- Sit, Think, Observe, Plan. I could hear aircraft in the distance but hidden somewhere behind the hill I had been climbing. I could not see any smoke and decided to just wait and see. I set up camp on a visible saddle, made dinner, and settled in to see what would happen. I saw no one and after about an hour, the helicopter and airplanes seemed to have departed. “I guess we’ll see what the morning brings” I said to myself.

Baby rattlesnake

The next morning, still seeing no smoke or further evidence of fire ahead, I resumed my climb eventually cresting the ridge. Atop one of the many peaks the PCT traverses, I came upon an area that had clearly been recently doused with copious water and a patch of burned brush maybe 50 yards wide. Given its proximity to the trail, the fire was clearly caused by a hiker and I can only speculate that it was extinguished so quickly due to resources already mobilized for Klamathon. After about 10 miles, I happened to reconvene with Einstein and Farley who had found a forest service road that circumvented the incident.

We did it Momma!

Woot!

In any case, it was good news for me because it removed the last unknown that stood between me and completing California that day. The thought of finally, after 82 days and 1689 miles, crossing the border into Oregon held no small amount of satisfaction. All the other points along the way, mile markers and map changes, could not compare with the thrill of crossing a real border at long last. You may have heard my whoop from where you were that day.

Behold Oregon!

My first clue about the indirection of the section between Mt Shasta and Ashland should have been the sign Kayla, Chuck, and I saw on I-5 that said Ashland was 76 miles north. On the trail it took 215 miles but certainly included some unforgettable adventure.

Day 2.68-75: Halfway Home

Belden to Mt Shasta
Mile 1284.3 – Mile 1498.9

Old stamp mill used for mining gold

The heat of the day had dissipated by the time I wandered out of Belden around 8pm. Fresh clothes, a real shower, and several beers shared with Gilbert, the long time maintenance man at Belden Town Resort, had me feeling fine. At 60 years old, Gilbert was one of those most affable humans with more stories than time to tell them. He reminded me of my brother in law Matt and we enjoyed comparing notes on life.

George Washington in profile?

Glorious sunset in Lassen National Forest

But I had a big hill to climb the next day and so made my manners and camped just across the river beneath some power lines. I awoke early the next day in order to make the 12 miles of up out of the canyon before the sun found me. I wound up playing leapfrog with two other hikers, Oats and ShyBear, who shared the same idea. That night I was treated to a spectacular sunset along with a most unexpected video call from my sister Lisa. I didn’t even realize I had signal when my phone jangled and magically I was transported into a family reunion happening in Ohio on the occasion of my aunt’s 60th year as a Sister of Notre Dame. The connection lagged making conversation difficult but just the happy smiles and waves from everyone lifted me high.

We made it halfway!

The next morning, just as I was nearing the midpoint of the PCT, a young doe appeared on the trail ahead of me. As I approached, the doe pranced off down the trail as if beckoning me to follow. Around another corner and there again the doe, moving lightly away, dappled in morning sunlight, and leading me onward. When I reached the monument, I took great satisfaction in signing the trail register and enjoying a quiet moment of peace and gratitude with the companionable deer grazing nearby. I am pretty sure it was my Momma incognito.

Beautiful butterfly named Jillian

Volcanic landscape emerges

Just down the trail I encountered the first southbound hiker whom I had met earlier. I first crossed paths with YourHighness outside of Tehachapi doing trail magic for other hikers. He mentioned that a whole group of folks behind him had flipped north to Ashland and were now headed back to the Sierra in hopes that much of the snow would be gone by the time they arrived. The logistics of skipping around seemed complicated but I liked their chances of finding the Sierra largely snow free.

Jackpot!

Later that day, the trail crosses a highway leading to Chester, the town closest to the PCT midpoint. Correspondingly, Chester has become known as a place where many hikers leave the trail daunted by the thought that for all the miles lay behind them just as many lay ahead. Sparing myself from such self destructive contemplation, I just scooted across the highway where I was rewarded by the sight of a blue cooler. A breathless moment came right before opening the lid, when all hope and devotion to higher powers peaked, and I was elated to find 8 cans of BudLight floating in ice water. Pure unconstrained joy had become as simple as a cold beer.

Happiness is…

Entering the park

In an odd quirk of the trail, the only other place that requires a bear can outside the Sierra is Lassen Volcanic National Park. Fortunately a loophole exists whereby if you hike the whole 19 miles across the park in one day and don’t actually camp within its borders, no bear can is required. Game for a long day, I planned around ensuring I’d get through and down to Old Station where my next resupply awaited.
Twice along the way I heard distant shouts of “AppleJack?” First up, MilkShake and Lady MeowMeow, last seen at Kennedy Meadows and now southbound, were stopped for lunch and we traded trail intel (also known as ‘beta’ in hiker parlance) on what lay ahead. A bit later, MudFoots and SafetyChute hailed me from a nearby ranger cabin and again I got the low down on where to go and what to do ahead. Happy people making people happy would be an apt description of such encounters.

Boiling mud lake

A more inviting lake

Knowing there would be no way I’d get to town before the post office closed, my plan was to call ahead and request my box be left elsewhere. The flaw in said plan was that it assumed I could make a phone call. When halfway through the park and still no signal, it occurred to me that I could tap the home team for assistance. I sent off a satellite text from my GPS beacon asking my brother Dave to call the post office and impersonate me. He graciously did so and replied that I had until 6pm to collect my box from the general store next to the Old Station Post Office. I had to hustle but made it with a half hour to spare. It was a perfectly efficient resupply with Lisa sending, Dave expediting, and me collecting in stride.

Hiker snacks and sundries within but even better advice

My only regret was listening to the store clerk’s advice about JJ’s Café, three miles down the road where, purportedly, dinner was served until 7pm. I quickly dumped the entire contents of my resupply box into the top of my pack and boogied down the road dreaming of hot food and cold drinks. Uh no, JJ’s closed at 3pm that day. I settled for a microwave burrito and bag of chips from the service station next door.
At a picnic table behind the gas station I met another hiker named Saunter. A fifty something snowboarder from Breckinridge, CO, he too was thru hiking north and we connected quickly swapping trail stories. It was late and getting dark when we realized that there weren’t any good options for camping nearby. I desperately needed to recharge my battery pack and left in search of an outside outlet somewhere. I found one in back of one of JJ’s outbuildings where Saunter soon joined me. “Who are you, king of the hoboes?” he asked laughing when I told him to move all his stuff behind the building so we couldn’t be seen from the road. We ended up cowboy camping right there on a concrete walkway, uncomfortable but out of sight alongside our coveted electrical connection. It’s odd to consider how trail life can so quickly change one’s sensibilities.

View down from Hat Creek Rim

A peek back at Lassen

Between Saunter’s snoring and the unforgiving concrete, another early start felt more like an escape. Ahead I faced the dreaded Hat Creek Rim Trail, a difficult and hot 28 mile stretch lacking water. Fortunately, last year a kindly trail angel donated, installed, and keeps maintained a large water tank 4 miles past midway that had defanged some of the notoriety.

Picturesque Burney Falls

The balance has shifted!

Lake Britton Dam

Burney Falls, the poster child of Northern California’s PCT, awaited me the next morning. Just before I arrived I ran into HardWay again, last seen south of Tahoe, and together we strode past several early tour buses to view the falls. My brain drew me toward the spectacular falls but my visceral being leaned more toward the general store. My brain prevailed at least temporarily and I walked down the paved path leading to the bottom of the falls. Stunning and beautiful, I’d recommend a visit if ever you find yourself close. As I was walking back up, there appeared Darwin. It was hiker homecoming at Burney Falls! We all hung around for a bit enjoying high caloric intake before departing again north one by one.

Professional nutrition/hydration scheme

Behold Shasta

Hot country

The next couple days were all about the miles and except for ever nearer glimpses of Mt Shasta, the camera did not come out very often. The trail snaked up, down, and through steep, forested gulches obscuring any views. Lucky for me I was drawn forward by the promise of more celebrity guests meeting me in Mt Shasta! I made it down to Castle Crags State Park where the PCT crosses under Interstate 5. I had heard the roar of the highway from 12 miles away and was hoping all that traffic would make for an easy hitch into town. John and Dana, kind souls from San Jose who had just recently climbed Lassen Peak, rescued me at the onramp and I was in Mt Shasta by noon.

Castle Crags from the Soda Springs onramp