PCT 2019: Day 152, Etna to South Fork Scott River

All these places have their moments

Besides doing our laundry and shopping for groceries, one of our town chores yesterday was finding a ride back to the trail. The hostel owner wasn't willing to drive us. He said he didn't want to get up early enough for that.

He gave Bluejay the number of a local trail angel, however. Her name was Molly.

When Bluejay called, Molly said she was nearby and would drive to meet us at the hostel to discuss our plans. She arrived a couple of minutes later.

Molly asked what time we wanted to leave, so we told her we wanted to get an early start on the trail. Would 6 a.m. be okay?

That time was also too early for her, but then she agreed to pick us up at 6:30.

DateSaturday, October 5, 2019
WeatherPartly cloudy with temperatures from mid 30s to upper 50s, occasionally breezy
Trail ConditionsLong climbs with a few rocky sections
Today's Miles20.7
Trip Miles2260.4

I set my alarm for 5:00 this morning, then needed another 30 minutes before I was awake enough to get going. Fortunately, I was mostly packed already, so I didn't need much time to be ready when Molly arrived.

Molly was in her late 70s, but she drove like a teenager, speeding up the winding road to the trailhead while talking the whole way. She crossed the center line several times on the tight turns.

She paid more attention to us than she did the road, telling us about herself and her family. She spared few details on the 25-minute ride.

Molly told us she was most proud of resuming her ice skating late in life. She had been a professional skater when she was young.

When a rink opened a few years ago in Medford, she picked up the sport again. She competed in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships in 2017 and took home a Silver Medal.

When we arrived at the trailhead, there were two places Molly could have dropped us off. From the first one, the trail went over a hill before passing near the second one.

Molly asked Bluejay and me which spot we wanted to start from. We told her the first one because we didn't want to skip any part of the trail.

She then asked if we would mind if she drove ahead to the other spot and watch us as we crossed the hill. We were happy to oblige.

The trailhead was at a spot called Etna Summit, at an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet. The chilly air there was made even colder by a strong wind.

After walking over the hill and waving to Molly, we started a long climb. The trail went up more than 1,300 feet in the first three miles.

Once the trail entered a section with more trees, the wind wasn't as bad. A couple inches of snow made it a little icy but not dangerous.

Near the top of the climb, the trail crossed an open space looking east. Immediately below me was Smith Lake. Across several valleys and ridges stood Mt. Shasta. It was about 40 miles away.

I could see the main highway into Etna and guessed cell service was available here. When that turned out to be true, I stopped to call Kim. We discussed plans for when she would meet me in Truckee after I finished the trail.

After my phone call, I finished the climb by following some steps constructed out of stone.

The trail then made a gradual descent of about 900 feet. Near the bottom, the trail entered Russian Wilderness and soon began another climb.

The PCT would remain in this wilderness area for most of the remainder of the day.

This climb wasn't as steep, nor as high, as the first one. This time, the trail entered a large section of burnt trees.

The Whites Fire happened in 2014 and burned 33,753 acres. It was started by lightning and soon forced authorities to close the PCT.

The fire burned and spread for more than a month before it was contained. The cost of $48.2 million to put out the fire included the use of 60,000 gallons of a new fire retardant gel.

I caught up to Bluejay where she had stopped for lunch at the top of the climb. Three weekend hikers were also there.

Then after lunch, the trail followed a ridge called the Salmon Mountains, which was also one side of a glacial valley. The headwaters of the Salmon River started at the bottom of this valley.

About halfway along the ridge, the trail passed by Russian Peak. Standing at 8,190 feet, this was the highest mountain in the wilderness.

By now, the sky had cleared but the temperature hadn't risen as much as I expected. The sky was bright, and there were no trees to provide shade, except for burnt remnants of the 2014 fire.

Researchers have documented 18 different species of conifer trees in a single square mile on the other side of this ridge.

I reached the end of the valley at 3 p.m. From there, the trail climbed out of the cirque to the top of the ridge and exited Russian Wilderness. Before long, though, it would be entering another wilderness area, Trinity Alps Wilderness.

Now that the sky was clear, the snow-covered peak of Mt. Shasta stood alone like a bright beacon in the distance. From the top of the ridge, it was still about 40 miles away to the east.

The trail was still going in a southerly direction. In about two more miles, however, the trail would turn to go roughly southeast. Tomorrow it will turn northeast to go for a long stretch in the direction of Mt. Shasta.

When the sun began to sink below the ridge, the temperature dropped. I stopped to put on an extra layer of clothing. I chose my lightweight thermal shirt to help regulate my temperature without overheating on the more strenuous parts of the trail.

Just before entering Trinity Alps, I met a day hiker. She told me she was trying to piece together the whole PCT in sections. She's been doing this since 2013.

Because she lived in Northern California, I asked her what the weather was like in late October. I wondered if it remains snow-free most years. She said it did and thought my chances were good for making it all the way to Truckee before winter weather arrived.

Later, I met a northbound thru-hiker, but he didn’t want to spend any time talking. If I were heading in his direction, with a greater chance of snow, I suppose I wouldn't want to waste time with conversation either.

I arrived where Bluejay was camped near the South Fork of Scott River at 6:15 p.m. Unlike the last couple of nights on the trail, I got into camp this time well before dark.

Looking back on the day, I had to laugh when I recalled our ride to the trailhead with Molly. I felt lucky to have survived the ride, but also lucky to have met her.

There are places I'll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain

All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

From "In My Life" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney (The Beatles)

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