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.
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.
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
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