Mt Shasta to Ashland
Mile 1498 – Mile 1715
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.