Although parts of California were hit by a near-record snowfall this year, it didn't keep me from hiking the entire trail. I was able to flip-flop sections to avoid deep snow until it melted.
Now another weather condition could cause problems for finishing. High winds were blowing in several parts of California, and wildfires were already beginning to flare up in some places.
Nearly every year, PCT thru-hikers have been forced to skip or hike around a section because of a wildfire. This was especially troublesome for 2017 thru-hikers. In fact, my friend Sunkist was attempting a thru-hike that year when she had to end it in Oregon because of closures and poor air quality.
|Date||Friday, October 11, 2019|
|Weather||Sunny sky with a high temperature in the mid 60s|
|Trail Conditions||Mostly smooth footpath with a long climb of more than 10 miles |
The few news reports I was able to see said most of the fires were south of where I was hiking. With conditions right for fires in the whole state, though, I wasn't in the clear.
When I noticed yesterday the sky was hazy, it also appeared to have a dirty brown tint. This could have been caused by smoke from the south, or maybe it was from dust or pollution.
Even if I wasn't seeing smoke, the threat of fire couldn't be ignored.
When I left camp at 6:30 this morning, I didn't have a clear view of the sky. There was a thick canopy of tree leaves.
The first 6.2 miles of the trail descended 2,000 feet. The descent was steady and the footpath was smooth.
The lack of views didn't prevent me from thinking about the sky, and in turn, about the wildfires.
Then a worry came to mind. If a few news reports made me concerned about the wildfires, what about my wife, Kim? These fires were big enough to be covered nationally. She'd likely learn about them and might become anxious about my safety.
I didn't know when I might have a cellphone connection again, so I decided to send a text message to her through my Garmin InReach.
“Don't worry about the California fires," I said. "They are far south of us.”
I hoped that was true and stayed that way.
The bottom of the descent crossed a creek at Fitzhugh Gulch. Two miles farther was the McCloud River. I reached it at 10:30 a.m.
In this area, the river runs roughly parallel to the Sacramento River, which I crossed yesterday after leaving Dunsmuir. The two rivers will join downstream at Shasta Lake, which is California's largest reservoir.
An intensely controversial proposal to raise the height of the dam could have a significant impact on this river and the fish that live here. If completed, the project is likely to cost at least $1.3 billion. It might also violate the 1972 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Shortly after crossing a footbridge over the river, I met a northbound thru-hiker named Lala. She told me she would finish her hike at Seiad Valley.
Lala seemed lonely and anxious to finish her hike. I had about 130 miles more to go to finish than she did. Talking to her made me glad I still felt upbeat about my hike and thankful I had a hiking companion.
After the bridge, the trail crossed a road at Centipede Gulch and then started a long climb. It went steadily up more than 4,000 feet in the next 10 miles.
Unfortunately, this was a mostly-boring section of the trail. Stopping for lunch was one of its few highlights.
Another highlight, if you would call it that, appeared near the top. A huge tree was lying across the trail. Because of the slope of the mountain on each side, there was no easy way around the tree, and it was too large to climb over.
To reach the other side, I had to take off my pack and awkwardly crawl under the tree while dragging my pack.
When I finally reached the top of the climb at 4:15 p.m., I saw my first open views of the day. Looking south, I could see Lassen Peak for the first time.
The mountain was 51.6 miles away, and there will be many more views of it in the days ahead. The trail will enter Lassen Volcanic National Park and pass near the mountain. I will need to walk 95 more miles just to reach the park boundary.
The top of the climb was near Grizzly Peak, one of several mountains in the west with that name. The last time a grizzly bear was seen in California was 1924.
From there, only 2.4 miles remained to reach our campsite. The trail made short ups and downs along the way. The high points offered a few more views of Lassen Peak and other mountains.
The sky still had the dirty brown haze I had seen yesterday. I scanned the horizon to see if I could find any rising smoke. Thankfully, though, I didn't see any signs of a fire.
Our campsite was located near a small creek, about two-tenths of a mile down a dirt road from the trail. A name like "Gold Creek" sounds pretty, but this place wasn't. At least the water was easy to reach.
I arrived there at 5:30 p.m., so there was plenty of time to set up my tent on the side of the road, collect water from the creek, and prepare my dinner before sunset.
As we ate dinner, Bluejay and I took a look at the map to see what was ahead.
Our next resupply opportunity was the town of Burney. We realized if we can keep up the mileage we have been hiking lately, we will reach the town the day after tomorrow. That will shave a day off what we thought we would need to get there.
Everybody's got a thing
But some don't know how to handle it
Always reaching out in vain
Just taking the things not worth having but
Don't you worry 'bout a thing
From "Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing" by Stevie Wonder
Don't you worry 'bout a thing, mama
'Cause I'll be standing on the side
When you check it out