Hi, my name is Isko Salminen.
I'm an adventure seeker and I love exploring nature with my camera and Australian Shepherd called Fire

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Day 98: Burney Mountain Guest Ranch

Date: August 5, 2017
Miles: 22 miles (35.4km), from Cache 22 to mile 1,413.
Health: Tired from lack of sleep and my feet hurt from the volcanic rock poking through the worn out bottom of my shoes.

After only a few hours of sleep, our alarms go off. I don’t feel like waking up but as we’re running out of water we have to get moving before the sun gets up. I’m so tired that instead of being organized, I just throw everything out the door and then head out myself. Once out I notice all my stuff is now dirty and covered in the yellow sand that seems to be everywhere up on the rim.

I dust everything clean, pack my pack and then we take another look at the water cache to see if there would be any water left. Nope. It’s empty. We have to make due with the water we have.

The Cache 22 water cache.

The rim is nice and flat and while a little monotonous, fast to hike through. We set out coasting, both at our own speeds and Sam’s soon far ahead. I’m doing my usual sluggish morning speed, listening to music and keeping one eye on the surrounding clouds. Unlike usually the skies are not clear blue today and we start our hike under slightly cloudy skies. I keep hoping the cloud cover would take at least some of the heat away.

Sam.

We cruise along the edge of the rim and I see Sam stopping not far from me. As I get closer Sam points out a rather pissed off rattlesnake right next to the trail. I’m glad Sam was on point today as I’m way too sleepy to have ever noticed the snake. As I stupidly had both earphones on, I wouldn't even have heard it. Being reminded of the fact that we’re not the only ones out here, I turn down the volume and only wear one earphone while going around the rattling snake.

Not a happy Nope rope or danger noodle. They go by many names.

The trail feels really long and slow today. The scenery doesn’t seem to change at all and it feels like time, like the hot air, is standing still. Everything is yellow and sunburned around us, except for the occasional small trees that dot the rim here and there.

Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, we get down from the rim and get to a lush, green valley. I find Sam on the first water source–a small little stream–where he’s stopped for an early lunch. As I don’t feel like eating yet, I fill up my water bottles, camel up a bit, and then keep on hiking.

Trail magic.

Walk this way.

Before I leave, we make plans to do a little side trail to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch. Sam’s parents and his brother are coming to see him there today, and they're bringing him the new shoes he's needed for a while now. I’m actually amazed he’s made it this far with the ones he currently has.

Shortly after, I cross a small river with a bunch of people fishing. It feels strange to all of a sudden pop up into a place like this, walking through parking lots and along roads, and then disappear back into the mountains. Sort of a small reminder that the civilization is never that far.

Strange place for the trail to pass through.

As the day progresses the heat keeps on intensifying. It is too hot again. I keep thinking that this is what it must feel like to being boiled alive. I take a look at my thermometer and it has maxed out in the sun as the scale only goes up to 120f (50c). I'm definitely not built for heat like this. I keep regretting sending my umbrella home as it would've been really useful throughout Northern California.

As there’s very little shade or water on this section, my only option is to get to the ranch as fast as possible. I keep thinking about all the ice-cold sodas I’m going to drink once I get there.

Passed another milestone.

Finally, I reach the junction with instructions on how to get to the ranch. As I can’t properly focus in the heat, I just start walking to the direction of the sign. After a short and windy trail, I reach the ranch. 

As soon as I arrive the owner of the ranch gives me the instructions on how to do everything and tells me all about the ranch. There’s lunch being served a little later, you can do laundry, there's a swimming pool, and a small store that operates on an honor system. After getting all the instructions I run to the store to get two ice-cold sodas–Dr. Pepper and Sunkist. Two of my favorite sodas on the trail.

Burney Mountain Guest Ranch.

The store slash barn.

Chilling with the locals.

I hang around on the porch with a group of other hikers and soon Sam joins us as well. Not long after his parents arrive and I join them as we drive down to the town of Burney to enjoy a little town food. There aren’t that many options but we find a nice taco truck and stuff ourselves with tacos. Sam and I do a quick resupply at the grocery store close-by and then get a ride back to the ranch.

Sam done with his resupply.

We say goodbye to Sam’s parents and get back on the trail right as the sun is setting. Other hikers are staying in and leaving early in the morning, but we want to get a few more miles done today. It was fun seeing Sam’s parents but I keep thinking how hard it must be to just quickly see your family like this and then get back on the trail.

As we walk the road that leads us back to the highway and the PCT, I see my first skunk ever. I’ve wanted to see one for so long and finally got to see one real close. Sam advises me to keep my distance, which is probably wise.

Right after we cross the highway and rejoin the PCT the darkness falls upon us. We switch on our headlamps and keep on hiking. I can’t believe people keep saying there’s not a lot of night hiking to be done on the PCT. I feel like almost every day we end up hiking in the dark at least for a little bit.

Not far from the highway we come across some awesome trail magic. The Wild Bird Cache has water, lemonade, snacks, fruits, and all kinds of things thru-hikers need. Even seats and shade. As we’ve just spent a couple of hours resting on the ranch, we only drink a few cups of lemonade and then keep going.

Nightly trail magic.

We walk right after each other. This way we illuminate more of the darkness around us and it’s easier to hike. Having someone there to constantly talk to is also really great for morale in the dark.

We only hike for few miles and then reach our planned camp spot. Today was a short day but Sam got a pair of new shoes, saw his parents and his brother, and we’re a couple of miles closer to Canada again. Not a bad day. Hopefully, tomorrow won’t be as hot.

Day 97: Old Station and Hat Creek Rim

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Date: August 4, 2017
Miles: 26.4 miles (42.5km), from mile 1,364.7 to Cache 22 at mile 1,391.1.
Health: Slept great. Feet are hurting and had to start using the knee brace again.

We wake up early and pack our gear quick. We’re hiking into Old Station for breakfast so I skip the cold soaked oats. Sam gets on the trail first and I head after him. Our first job is to get water from the river running close by. After few miles, we get to a spot where it’s easy to get to the water so we fill our bottles and head on.

The trail is pretty uneventful. We head down for a while and then climb a few small hills and eventually reach the junction to Old Station. Guthooks recommends a restaurant called JJ’s for breakfast and I’m dying for some bacon!

There’s a short walk through a trailer park and then we reach the highway. Looking around, we can only find one restaurant and it’s the gas station. As we’re hungry, we decide to order food although we’re both a bit skeptical about the quality. But a hungry hiker can’t be a picky hiker.

The Post Office in Old Station.

We eat what can only be described as mediocre food, even by hungry hiker standards. We sit outside wondering why the town is so small–we can only see the trailer park, gas station, post office, and one other building. I zoom out on Guthooks’ map and realize the town is divided into two parts and we’re at the wrong end. We took the wrong junction to Old Station and JJ’s is 2.4 miles (3.9km) down the highway. 

As we’re still hungry and want to get some proper food, we decide to road walk the 2.4 miles to JJ’s. The other option would be to backtrack back to the trail, hike over 3 miles along the trail and then hike back to the highway. The less scenic and more dangerous road walk saves us almost two miles or 40 minutes of walking.

Road walk to JJ's.

There was no cell reception in town but as soon as we get a mile away on the highway, we get cell reception. We both dick around with our phones while walking and watching out for cars. As soon as we see the town again the cell reception disappears. Go figure.

This part of the town is a bit larger and has a better vibe. We soon find JJ’s and order milkshakes, burgers, and avocado salad. While waiting for our orders we charge our electronics from the outlets outside. 

Old Station.

The quality of food is miles apart from what we ate in the morning. No wonder the place has raving reviews on Guthooks. Not only better food, JJ’s has also air conditioning and–by trail standards–working internet access. It’s too spotty to get any blog posts up but I manage to send out a few messages. 

We’re in no hurry to get back out to the midday heat and instead sit inside and order more food. We’re experiencing another heat wave, although it’s hard to tell as it has been constantly too hot to be outside. I’ve noticed our morale slowly withering. Not only are our bodies breaking down from the grueling long days, but the monotonous trail and the constant heat is putting our will to reach Canada to test. 

Our days on the trail are structured around the heat. We wake up too early for our bodies to get proper rest so that we can hike a few hours in the cooler weather before the sun rises. Then we put our heads down and trudge through the long hours of beating sun and heat, sweating profusely, waiting for the evening and the sun to go down. Then we put our speed back on and hike until it’s dark to get few more miles in in the cooler evening weather. This rhythm means we get about 5 to 6 hours of sleep each night. Not remotely enough for our aching bodies that beg for rest.

Not getting enough rest is not our only problem, our bodies are also starting to break down. I’m constantly taping myself up just to be able to walk. My knees are hurting and without the braces, I can barely move. My feet hurt so bad that I eat painkillers to manage through the first 6-8 hours of hiking until my body goes numb and I don’t feel the pain anymore. I’m also suspecting I’m not getting all the nutrients I need as I’m losing body and muscle mass too fast.

Back in JJ’s we see a familiar figure as James joins us. We sit around with him but as were approached by a rather chatty older lady; we use James as a shield and throw him under the bus. Sorry James!

After the Old Town, we’re getting on a long waterless section called Hat Creek Rim. It’s about 30 miles (48km) long stretch of trail that runs through an extremely dry terrain on top of Central California’s Modoc Plateau. The rim was formed nearly one million years ago when active faulting gradually dropped a block of the Earth’s crust 1,000 feet (300m), creating the Rim’s large escarpment. 

Not only do we need to worry about running out of water, the rim also attracts daily thunderstorms that have a tendency to creep up on unsuspecting hikers. The storms form from the south and surprise hikers blissfully unaware heading north and seeing nothing but blue skies. So once on the rim, you need to constantly keep looking behind you to not get stuck high up on the rim in a thunderstorm with no way of getting down. 

There’s a water cache part of the way down but you’re not supposed to rely on water caches so we’re calculating we need water for the entire 30 miles. We keep hearing rumors that the cache is both full and empty so we’re heading out thinking it’ll be empty. My maximum water capacity currently is 4,75 liters, so the key is to conserve water as much as possible.

Entering Subway Cave.

On the way out of town, we visit the Subway Cave, which is a lava tube that was formed during volcanic events in the area about twenty thousand years ago. While visiting the cave took us on a little side trail, it was well worth it. Not least because it was nice and cold inside the cave.

We camel up and fill our bottles and start heading up to the Hat Creek Rim. It’s way too hot and I have to let Sam go ahead as my shoulder and knee are hurting too badly. I wait 15 minutes for the painkillers to start working and then start walking again.

According to the water report, there’s one water source a little way down from the trail called Lost Creek. As I climb down the steep trail to the creek I find Sam there, eating in the shade. We have a little break, fill our water bottles, and then start climbing back up on the trail. On the way up we run into James again. He says he’ll camp here while we try to reach the water cache to take advance of the cooler weather at night.

Climbing back on the rim from Lost Creek.

Sunset on the rim.

Hiking on the rim in the dark is at the same time pretty awesome and spooky. The rim is used as a grazing ground for cattle and stumbling on to a black cow blocking the trail in pitch black is a really freaky experience. Unless the cows are looking at you, you can’t see them until you almost pump into them. As I was born and raised in a city, I have very little experience with cows. I don’t really know how to get them to move so the few times they block the trail I just end up desperately shooing them away while the cows look at me like I’m a crazy person. Being surrounded by a herd of cows in the dark is pretty surreal.

Sam pitching his shelter in the dark at Cache 22.

NorCal is dusty.

We finally reach the Cache 22 well after midnight and pretty much fall into our shelters. Thankfully we both still have water left as the cache is completely dry. We need to wake up in few hours to beat the sun and get to the next water source before it gets too hot. It was a long night and we’re both pretty beat and tired.

Day 96: Lassen National Park

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Date: August 3, 2017
Miles: 26.5 miles (42.6km), from North Fork Feather River to mile 1,364.7. 
Health: I feel like I'm being kept together by tape, braces, compression sleeves, and sheer unwillingness to give into the pain. 

I wake up to a feeling of something moving against me. My sleepy mind starts to wonder – maybe it's an animal accidentally running into me while I'm cowboy camping? But I’m not cowboy camping. I'm fairly certain I pitched my shelter last night. Maybe I’m just dreaming things. I try to get back to sleep. 

Then, again, I feel something moving against me. I’m not dreaming this, there's definitely something inside my shelter, moving against me. I sit up but can't see a thing as it's pitch black. I grab my headlight and switch it on. 

I point the light towards the foot end of my shelter but can't see a thing. I look at my food bag next to me – looks to be intact. I look behind the food bag and damn, there’s a hole in the mesh wall of my inner net. Right at that moment, I feel the movement again and as I turn the light towards my feet I see a small, grey mouse trying desperately to climb up the cuben fiber wall. 

My mind wakes up. First things first, I have to get the mouse out. I turn around to open the zipper behind me and pull down on the wall so that the bathtub wall is flat against the ground. The mouse seems to understand what I'm doing and runs between my hands and straight out the door. Okay, next, assess the damages. There are two small holes on the mesh wall, just above where it attaches to the cuben bathtub floor. How did the mouse climb up there to eat through it?

 Sign about bear canister requirement.

Sign about bear canister requirement.

I investigate the food bag and find a small hole on the other side. The mouse got through to a single bag of Idahoan Potatoes but even she didn't seem to like them. The damage is not too bad. The Opsak I’ve used to store some of my more smelly foods has one of the corners eaten but the hole is not large enough for the mouse to get inside and to the food. That’s not too bad either. I just need to get a new Opsak once we get to a larger town. 

Those are pretty minor damages. If the mouse would’ve gotten properly inside my food bag and eaten more, I could’ve possibly had to turn back to replace the contaminated food. 

I fix the mesh with some Tenacious Tape and the food bag with cuben tape. There's nothing I can do about the Opsak so I let it be. I look at the clock, it's 4:40 am. It’s too late to get back to sleep as we’re waking up in 20 minutes. I wonder if Sam has also had some unwanted nightly visitors. 

With my gear all patched up, I start making some breakfast while still inside my sleeping bag. Soon I hear Sam’s alarm go off and I yell over to ask if he had a mouse inside his shelter. Sam looks through his gear but it seems I was the only one hit tonight.

The morning’s a bit chilly and sleeping next to a river makes it even colder. We eat breakfast without puffies on and then get back on the trail. Today we enter Lassen National Park which requires a bear can for overnight camping. As we don’t have our bear cans anymore we have to hike through the entire park today – about 20 miles (32km) from border to border. We have roughly 5 miles to the southern border so we’re looking at a minimum of 25 miles (40km) to hike today. Nothing too bad.

 Boundary Spring.

Boundary Spring.

After the breakfast, we head out with our jackets on as it’s still cold. As soon as we climb up from the river bed the air heats up and I have to remove the jacket. Sam pulls ahead as I’m being my usual slow self again. My body is aching and getting up to speed in the morning takes time. Usually, the pain goes away after about 5 or 6 hours of hiking.

The trail is pretty uneventful and I soon catch up to Sam at the Boundary Spring where he’s filtering water for the day. The Boundary Spring is also where the Lassen National Park begins. We take a quick snack break as we filter water and then keep going. Sam seems to be in a hurry and soon speeds of into the distance.

 Sam taking photos of the Terminal Geyser.

Sam taking photos of the Terminal Geyser.

I soon reach the junction to the Terminal Geyser. It’s a small hike away from the PCT but we both wanted to see the geyser so we made plans to see there. It’s a steep climb down and Sam’s down there waiting for me. We take few photos and then climb back up to the junction and back on the PCT. The geyser was ok but nothing too spectacular. 

We’re both a little frustrated as we’ve been trying to push for large days but it seems that every day we dick around so much that we lose valuable hiking time. Today is again one of those days where every few miles there’s something to see. You can easily lose an hour by stopping at a sight and doing multiple stops quickly adds up, making it hard to do long days.

 Boiling Spring Lake

Boiling Spring Lake

After the geyser, we hike together and reach Drakesbad Guest Ranch where we had planned to arrive around lunch. They offer discounted prices for PCT hikers after their guests have eaten at the buffet and we want to take advantage of an on-trail all-you-can-eat buffet. Plus I want to visit the toilets.

Getting to the ranch from the PCT wasn’t as easy as we thought but once there we order some sodas while we wait for the buffet to open. While we sit in the shade and wait we see James again. He comes over and we have ice cold sodas together.

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After the ranch, we get back on the trail with James but have to do a quick pit stop at the trailhead so James starts the climb alone. We waste even more time on the trailhead and when we finally get back on the trail we hear the sound of thunder in the distance.

Later we arrive on a river and see a group of boy scouts on the other side. They tell us to cross from upstream but the actual crossing looks pretty easy too. We change few words and keep moving while they stay back to put their shoes on. The benefit of using light trail runners is that you don’t have to remove them for every water crossing.

We hike on but something feels off. The trail doesn’t feel as well worn as the PCT usually is. We take our phones out and notice we’re nowhere near the PCT. Dumbfounded we wonder what happened and how did we get this far off the trail. No other option but to turn back. We soon run into the boy scouts again and as we pass them we kind of sheepishly comment “this isn’t the PCT” just to explain why we’re walking back and forth in the woods.

We cross the river again and after about an hour get back on the PCT. That was stupid. The part where we missed the PCT junction wasn’t even a junction. The trail continued up a mountain and there was a flat spot where you needed to get off the trail, cross a river, and find the PCT again.

 Old burn area.

Old burn area.

We soon catch up to James who’s now hiking with a hiker called Marshmallow. As we’re standing on the trail and talking about our plans, one of the trees right next to us snaps in half and falls to the ground with a massive thud. We all look at each other with wide eyes and decide that maybe it’s time to keep moving. The area is an old burn area so the trees can be a little unpredictable. 

For the rest of the evening, all four of us hike in a group. I listen to Sam and James talk about English literature for many hours. It’s a fascinating subject but I have very little to contribute to the conversation so I'm just happy to listen.

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 Getting water.

Getting water.

 James.

James.

My knee pain is getting so bad that popping vitamin-I doesn't help anymore and I have to stop to put the knee brace on. I catch up with the group on the Park border where they’re discussing what’s the plan from here on out. James and Marshmallow stay here for the night and Sam and I keep pushing for few more miles as there’s still some daylight left.

 Lassen National Park border.

Lassen National Park border.

The rest of the way is all downhill and we make the miles quick. We reach a strange pine forest that feels like it’s manmade. Every 200 feet (60m) there’s a bump that goes at a slight angle against the hill. It feels too perfect and too symmetrical to not be manmade.

The forest is just one massive camp spot so we hike until it gets too dark and then just walk off the trail and set up the camp. The pine needles make for a soft ground, I bet we’re going to sleep well tonight. There are spiders everywhere so instead of cowboy camping we both set up our shelters.

Day 95: Nero out of Chester

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Date: August 2, 2017
Miles: 9.4 miles (15.1km), from Highway 36 to North Fork Feather River at mile 1,338.2. 
Health: Feeling little rested but my body still graves for more rest. 

We wake up lazily at 7 am. I could still sleep longer, the soft bed feels amazing, but we need to get moving and the continental breakfast downstairs is calling our names. Sam basically sprints out of his bed for breakfast while I take my sweet time. 

Once I get downstairs, Sam has already devoured a couple of plates. He's young and needs his calories. It's not quite what I would call a continental breakfast, but it's better than what you'll usually get here. I enjoy the fresh strawberries and yogurt, drink as much orange juice as I can, and then eat as much non-hiker food as I can stuff down. Sam still beats me but I'm just happy to be sitting down and eating, not having to cold soak anything. 

 Luxury!

Luxury!

After breakfast, I head to the Post Office hoping they have my new battery bank. I want to have some time to recharge it before we leave the town. Meanwhile, Sam goes to vegetate up to our room. 

On my way to the Post Office, I check out the two sporting good stores on the main street to see if they'd have something that could be used as a hiking shirt. I also look for Altra Lone Peak shoes for Sam as his current ones are basically sandals at this point. The shops don't have the gear I'm looking for, so I head to the Post Office.

I show my ID and tell the worker that I'm expecting two packages but she only comes back with one, the Amazon order. My bounce box hasn't arrived yet from Sierra City. She tells me that they still haven't sorted out the latest delivery from this morning so my package might still be there. She tells me to come back after 11 am. 

 Gear explosion.

Gear explosion.

I get back to the hotel and put my new battery bank to recharge. Compared to my old one, it's huge. And heavy. But I'm really running behind on the blog posts and unless I can start editing photos while hiking, there’s no way I can catch up. And for that, I need more power than the small 10,000mHa battery can provide. 

Sam tries to order new shoes from Amazon. The next few towns we go through don’t have Post Offices so Amazon doesn't allow him to ship there. I was also planning on ordering a new shirt to those towns but now I really need to find one from here. I can't hike in this heat with a shirt that doesn't breath at all. 

I take one last shower and then we have to check out. Before getting back on the trail we still need to eat lunch, do resupply, and check if my bounce box has arrived at Post Office. We walk to the other end of the town to the Pizza Factory for their all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. On the way there I notice a fishing store and as Sam doesn't mind, we head there to see if they'd have a shirt I could use. 

 Leaving the room.

Leaving the room.

The shop is a small one and the selection very limited. But they have one Simms shirt that's meant for fishing in the hot sun and as I try it on, it feels really cool, breathable, and I really like the look and feel. It's white so it's going to work better in the sun, but it's also going to look like trash after a long section on the trail. But at this point, I don't mind. I just need something that I can comfortably hike in. The gentleman running the shop also comments on the shirt and how he's wanted one for some time now, and seeing it on me and hearing my positive comments, he wants to get one as well. 

I leave the shirt on and we move next door for the pizza buffet. I'm so relieved to finally have a shirt that works in the sun and in this heat. We eat pretty leisurely and jokingly talk about staying for another night and just heading to the hot tub outside our hotel. My muscles and body would definitely like the extra rest, but we need to keep moving as the winter doesn't wait. 

I use the time in the pizzeria to finish recharging my new battery bank. The new one uses two charging cables so it recharges much faster than the old one. Where the old one would take 8-10 hours to fully recharge, this new one seems to only take half of that. And it has almost three times the power. That's quite impressive. That means less time waiting in towns for electronics to recharge. 

 Sam and his oats.

Sam and his oats.

 Resupply.

Resupply.

After pizza, we head back to the Post Office as we're both shipping some gear back home. I check if my bounce box has arrived – It hasn't. I leave my forwarding info at the desk and they'll just forward it to Ashland when it arrives. I love how awesome the American Post Office is! This hike would be so much harder without their great service. Definitely beats the Finnish postal service 10-0. I send my old shirt, battery bank, and some other small gear back home.

Next, we need to do our resupply. We only need a few more days of food, and then snacks, but we both go overboard and end up getting way too much food. This always happens. We sit in the lobby of the market to enjoy the cool air while repacking our food bags. My back is way too full and heavy. 

 Getting a new Talenti jar.

Getting a new Talenti jar.

Now it's time to get back to the trailhead. After only a minute of hitchhiking, we get a ride from a nice gentleman who tells us he's going out tomorrow to give burgers and pizza as trail magic for passing hikers. Oh man, we miss that by a day. Maybe Sunshine will get that? I wonder how far back she is. She'll probably catch us soon. 

During the drive, the gentleman tells us about the fires we've been seeing. Apparently, they've been set on purpose by someone. We wonder who would be so stupid. We also hear that in few days the temperatures should drop a little, making it a bit easier to hike. We thank him for the ride and start getting ready. 

 Happy with my new shirt.

Happy with my new shirt.

From the trailhead, the trail feels easy and while we're moving slower with our over packed packs, we move at a reasonable pace to the creek where we planned to sleep tonight. We can't hike very far as the Lassen National Park border is coming up in fifteen miles and we can't enter the park without bear canisters. As we don't have them anymore, our only option is to hike through the park without sleeping in it. It's only about twenty miles so we'll easily do that tomorrow. 

We set up our shelters, eat dinner, and get to bed. It's great to be back on the trail after a little rest in town. 

Day 94: PCT midpoint

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Date: August 1, 2017
Miles: 25.9 miles (41.7km), from mile 1,302.9 to Highway 36 at mile 1,328.8.
Health: Tired and sore. Legs still feel yesterdays climb.

Our goal for today was to get to Chester as quickly as possible. I wanted to catch up with Dandelion, Fire Ant, and Roadrunner who somehow had passed us a few days ago. This meant we had to do almost 26 miles (41.7km) before the evening and hitch to town. Usually, this wouldn't be too hard, but last night we got to bed way too late, meaning we had very little sleep, and we were still sore from the long and brutal climb up and out of Belden. 

My alarm went off at 4:45 am. We talked through our shelters which we pitched only inches from each other on the small patch we found last night in the dark. We packed our gear, ate breakfast, filtered water from the spring, and started hiking. 

My legs felt sore and like they didn't have their usual spring on them. We wobbled on until our muscles warmed up and then increased our speed and pace. Instead of talking, we just listened to music and moved through the forest, watching the smoke from the wildfires still filling the valley below us. 

 This way to Canada.

This way to Canada.

When we spoke, we jokingly complained about the trail and how tired we were. It didn't take long for the sun to heat up the air and make the hiking even more miserable. I wasn't enjoying Northern California at all. It was like the desert, but somehow even hotter, and with views that could be at best described as "meh". 

I felt like the trail designers had noticed that there was not much to see here, and decided to go back to making the trail do unnecessary loops around every possible hill, adding tons of PUD’s (Pointless Ups and Downs). We would first start by going north, then do the same distance back south, then turn east, then to west, back to east, and so forth.

I feel frustrated, hot, and miserable. As the trail peaks out of the cover of the trees, the sun really starts to beat down on us. I curse the heat and pray for a rain, clouds, or tree cover. I miss my umbrella every day. After a while, the trail gets back under the trees but they provide little protection from the overwhelming heat. I try to eat my snacks while walking but I'm basically drinking chocolate bars out of their wrappers as they all have melted already. 

Despite all of this, we reach our first water source and lunch spot early. As most of the water sources on this section, the spring is about 0.3 miles off-trail, down in a deep gulley. We climb down and find a nice, shaded spot to sit in. 

 The midpoint.

The midpoint.

We eat our breakfast and talk about all the milkshakes and pizzas we would eat once we reach the town. After I've eaten I feel really tired and relax a little. The next thing I know, I wake up and see Sam sleeping where he was previously eating and an hour has passed by. 

I feel better after the little nap, but we lost an hour of hiking time, and we're still very tired. We need to get moving as the sun has turned around and we're now exposed and sitting in the burning sun. We have about 16 miles to the road, and only 9 miles to the PCT midpoint, our highlight of the day. 

We take more water with us as the water sources are scarce on the next section, and then climb back up on the trail. It's even hotter now and my temperature meter shows around 100 degrees (39c) in the shade and maxes out in the sun. Ugh. Even though my body has already accustomed to the hotter climate, this kind of heat is too much for me.

We do more pointless climbing. We climb up on a hillside only to climb back down to the elevation we began climbing from. We’re not even climbing over anything, we’re just walking up and down on the same hillside to gain and lose elevation for the fun of it. I curse the trail designers in my head. I guess this is how you inflate those elevation metrics for the trail. 

Usually, I can do about 5-10 miles on the 0.75 liter bottle I have on my shoulder pouch, but today I have to stop mid-climb to filter more from my reserve bottle. Even though I'm doing good mileage, I'm not enjoying the trail at all. It's no wonder most people quit at this part of the trail. 

The last miles before the PCT midpoint go by so slowly. I've fallen behind of Sam and can't see him in front of me anymore. I start to get really close to the midpoint and take out my camera, expecting to soon see Sam waiting for me. Instead of Sam, I see a baby deer as she stares at me from the trail, and then runs off with her mom. As the deer move off the trail, I see the midpoint marker right behind them. But no Sam.

 We've done this much already.

We've done this much already.

 We still have this much to do.

We still have this much to do.

I rush to put my hand on the marker and let out a little yell. I guess Sam had gotten tired of waiting for me and hiked on. I write my name on the trail register and take few photos. As I'm taking these, I hear noise from the trail and see Sam walking down towards. Somehow I've managed to pass him without noticing. 

We celebrate reaching the PCT midpoint and take tons of photos. Reaching the midpoint is our biggest accomplishment so far. We've hiked halfway from Mexico to Canada. At the same time, it's has a bittersweet aftertaste. We've _only_ hiked halfway.

For me, at this point, I've spent three months and a day on the trail and I'm only halfway through. I think back on all of the miles we did in the desert, and through the snowy Sierra, and how long those felt. And I still need to do the same amount of miles, but in less than two months, to reach Canada before the end of September and the coming winter. I feel like this point underlines how long the trail really is. 

 Happy to reach the halfway point.

Happy to reach the halfway point.

 And when you realize you're only halfway done.

And when you realize you're only halfway done.

After we're done with celebrating and taking photos, we shoulder our packs and start hiking again. We're late on our schedule and will get to town late in the day. 

I'm almost out of water and Sam is low as well, and the next water source is almost five miles (8km) away. We need to boogie. We still do good time moving down the trail but it just doesn't feel good. I complain to Sam about Northern California most of the way down and he keeps laughing while walking behind me. After a long rant, I start to feel better but still tired. We both agree that this has been one of the worst days on the trail. 

The last mile to the water source goes by way too slow. I check the GPS and it says 0.6 miles. We walk for what feels like an eternity and I check again. 0.5 miles. Oh, come on! As we finally reach the water, we quickly filter some water, camel up, and then keep hiking. We want to get to town so we start flying down the trail.

 Sam writing to the trail register.

Sam writing to the trail register.

To finalize the day, the trail decides to treat us with a half a mile of overflown, muddy section of the trail, right before we reach the road. It's so much more fun to try to hitch to town when you’re covered shin deep in mud and have wet, smelly shoes on. Even without the mud, we are a pretty dirty sight.

Once on the road, we soon get a ride to town and get the ride straight to the milkshake and burger place in town. We eat burgers and drink the massive milkshakes. I get a message from Fire Ant telling that they didn't stay in-town and instead went directly back on the trail. Roller has gotten back on the trail as well and heads out with the others. I also hear that Sunshine has stayed back in Quincy for few zeros with her friends. That explains why we didn't see her name on the trail registers.

While Sam stays in the restaurant, I run across the road to see if the hotel has any empty rooms. They have only one suite but I manage to Yogi the price down to what a regular room would cost. We’re sleeping in style tonight!

After eating we get to our hotel, wash our gear, take showers, and vegetate on our beds watching TV while planning for tomorrow and the next section of the trail. I need to get to the Post Office early in the morning to get my Amazon order. Finally, I get the bigger battery bank and I’m able to edit photos and videos while on the trail. I also ordered a new spoon as I hate the Vargo spork I bought in Kennedy Meadows. I have to bounce my bounce box to Ashland as I have no need for my rain gear, thermals, or mosquito net now. 

I also need to find a new hiking shirt as the one I'm currently wearing doesn't breath at all and I'm just suffering every day on the trail. But that's going to be hard as there are barely any shops in town. 

I lean back on my large bed and enjoy the feeling of being clean and being inside where there's AC. Sam cranks the AC down and soon it's as cold as in Finland but I can't complain. Sure beats sweating outside. After not showering and being in towns for 238 miles (383km), it sure feels great to be back in civilization. 

Day 93: Belden, my least favorite town on the trail

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Date: July 31, 2017
Miles: 24.5 miles (39.4km), from mile 1,278.4 to mile 1,302.9. 
Health: Tired but happy.

The entire night I hear the sound of music and bass thumbing coming up from the valley. I’m happy I didn’t go down there for the night. My plan of having a peaceful layover in Belden tomorrow, and working on my blog, seems unlikely.

I wake up early and as I’m getting my gear ready I hear Sam’s voice from the outside – he caught up already. I jump out and get my gear together and we start the steep descent down to Belden. As soon as we leave the saddle the trail turns around the mountain and we start wiggling down what seems like endless switchbacks. The mountainside is so steep it looks like we’re walking down a vertical wall, with each switchback on top of each other. We make comments about how happy we are not having to climb up this wall, knowing fully well that the climb out of Belden is far worse. 

As we hike Sam tells me about his adventures in Quincy. There were fires around the town and everyone was on a constant alert to evacuate the town. Apparently, someone had dressed up as a Forest Service worker and set eight different fires in the surrounding forests. I don’t understand some people at all.

 Entire "town" of Belden.

Entire "town" of Belden.

In few hours we descend 5,550 feet (1,690m) and reach the bottom of the mountain. As we step out of the forest, the trail ends right on railroad tracks. We look for a safe spot to cross and then the scenery changes like it was cut with a knife. We arrive from a lush, green forest and end up smack in the middle of an aftermath of a massive party. There are poorly constructed, barely standing tents and shacks everywhere. People passed out naked in the middle of the street, trash, and garbage everywhere. And the few people that are up, walk like zombies around the now completely wrecked main street of Belden. The smell of urine, alcohol, and herbal medicine lingers in the air to remind us how much better the air smells up in the mountains.

 Bridge out of Belden.

Bridge out of Belden.

We walk through the destruction with our mouths wide open, not knowing what to say. We find the restaurant slash hotel slash general store and head in for a breakfast. Inside we find more zombies in different states of hangover and nakedness. Some are passed out, some are starting to get hyped again, and most are somewhere in between. The dress-code among the zombies seems to be “dress as a major douchebag”. I’ve never seen this many top-hats and fedoras in one place.

We try to find a table outside, far from the zombies but as they are everywhere, our attempts to find peace and quiet are futile. After wasting 30 minutes trying to hunt down a waitress we finally manage to order breakfast. It becomes painfully clear we don’t want to stay here any longer than we have to. We find outlets that are out of sight and put our electronics to charge.

 Sam next to Eby Stamp Mill

Sam next to Eby Stamp Mill

While I might not get to relax and work on my site, at least I can use the toilet here. Sam looks after our gear and I go to find the toilet. As I open the toilet door I’m greeted by the awful sight I’ve ever seen. There’s literally shit in the sealing, the floor is overflowing with what I can only assume is a mixture of different bodily fluids, and there’s not a single clean surface in the entire room. Who would treat a toilet like this?!? There’s no way I’m going inside.

I return to the table, disgusted. James and few others have caught up with us and we all agree this is the last place we want to be right now.

After the breakfast, we order our check and I give Sam some money to pay while I go to visit the general store to fill my empty food bag. The selection is pretty minimal but I find the thru-hiker stables: smashed potatoes, chocolate bars, and candy.

I get back to our table to see if we can already leave but we haven’t received our check yet. I go talk to the waitress and ask for our check. She tells me she’ll be right over. Sam goes to the grocery and I wait for our check. Sam eventually gets back but still no sight of our waitress. I go over again and she apologizes and says she’ll be right over. Eventually, she walks over to our table but instead of our check, she asks what would we like to order. I explain for the third time that we’ve already eaten and would like to pay. She apologizes and heads back inside.

 Back on the trail, looking back over the river to Belden.

Back on the trail, looking back over the river to Belden.

We keep waiting but she never comes back. I go back in to search for her again. Finally, she comes over and we settle our bill. She apologizes again, telling us she’s been partying all night and hasn’t gotten to bed yet. I can’t tell you how badly I want to leave this place. We shoulder our packs and head over the river to get out of Belden as quickly as we can.

After a short walk along the highway, the trail heads back up to the mountains. According to the Guthooks app, we’re looking at a 6,200 feet (1,890m) elevation gain. Thanks to all the time we lost while waiting for our check, we’re starting the climb in the middle of the hottest part of the day. While climbing for hours in the midday sun is not fun, it’s still better than staying in Belden.

 Sam dipping in a stream to cool off in the heat.

Sam dipping in a stream to cool off in the heat.

 Rattlesnake spring.

Rattlesnake spring.

The first 5 miles (8km) are completely exposed and we get no cover from the sun. It’s so hot that we have to stop on every small stream and water crossing to cool off. At one larger stream, we stop for awhile and while Sam picks some blackberries, I submerge myself completely in the rapids. Having the ice cold water rush through your clothes feels amazing. Sam just dips his torso in the water. We eat a quick lunch, dip ourselves in the water one more time, and then get back to climbing.

The heat is so bad that every time we come to a small stream, I pour five or six liters of water over me, getting all my clothes wet. This causes me to shiver for a few minutes but the heat dries me up quickly and I’m back to boiling. I wish I would still have my umbrella to have even a little bit of shade.

 Sam entering Lassen National Forest.

Sam entering Lassen National Forest.

 Author entering Lassen National Forest.

Author entering Lassen National Forest.

 Crossing streams on our way up.

Crossing streams on our way up.

 Nice, big, log crossing.

Nice, big, log crossing.

We finally reach little tree cover but it does little to the heat. The air is over 100 degrees (38c) in the shade and we just keep climbing. This has been the most brutal climb along the entire trail so far.

Eventually, we get to the top. I look at the clock and it took us over 7 hours to climb up. It’s getting late and we still have a long way to camp. Going down feels amazing but it’s starting to get dark.

 Tired and happy to be done with the climb.

Tired and happy to be done with the climb.

 Crushing the last 5 miles (8km) before we lose the light.

Crushing the last 5 miles (8km) before we lose the light.

 Crossed 1,300 mile (2,093 km) marker today.

Crossed 1,300 mile (2,093 km) marker today.

We reach our camp spot right as the last rays of light disappear behind the mountains and it gets dark in the forest. Our camp spot is right along a small dirt-road and I see few horse trailers little way down the road. While Sam goes to look for a spot to camp, I walk over to say hi and to see the horses.

I announce myself ahead so I don’t scare anyone, suddenly arriving from the dark, and I’m greeted by smiles and hellos. There are six people sitting outside and they tell me they’re out here helping with trail maintenance. We talk about the trail and I learn all kinds of things about riding along the PCT on a horse. As I’m starting to head back to set up my shelter, the nice people offer me food. As we’re always hungry, I can’t say no. They fill my hat with homegrown tomatoes and top it off with a barbecued pork chop. 

I thank the nice people, say goodnight, and walk back to the spot where we planned to camp. Sam doesn’t want any of my loot so I get to eat all of it. While the tomatoes are delicious, it’s the pork chop that really takes the price. A big, crease piece of salty meat after a long day like this is pretty much perfection. I don’t need to make dinner so I save some food and get to bed earlier.

We camp huddled under a large tree, right next to a horse trough – our water source. It was a long day but I’m happy we got out of Belden. Tomorrow we need to get up early and get to Chester. 

Day 92: California is on fire

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Date: July 30, 2017
Miles: 26.2 miles (42.2km), from mile 1,252.2 to mile 1,278.4.
Health: The NorCal heat is really getting to me.

We woke up in the morning and could smell smoke all around us. As we got out of our shelters, we could see that everything around us was covered in smoke. There was no ash raining on us so we weren't too close to the fire, but there was definitely a fire somewhere close. 

We had no other options other than to hike on so we headed out. Sam left first and we agreed to meet later when he has his breakfast break. I took more time to leave as I wanted to enjoy the last bit of my granola while sitting down. I still remember when I would eat my breakfast while hiking. The trail has slowly worn me down and little things like eating while sitting down feel like little luxuries.

As I was about to leave, the section hiker girls who we shared the camp spot with, woke up. I didn't want to carry anything extra for the climb, so I gave them my extra 2 liters of water. I knew I could make it to the next water source with the 0.75 liters I had. 

I started walking out and after about ten minutes of walking, I started wondering why my shoes felt so weird. Looking down I noticed I had forgotten to tie them when leaving camp. One of those mornings. 

 Sunrise through the thick smoke from the wildfires.

Sunrise through the thick smoke from the wildfires.

As I climbed higher and got out of the thicker forest, I saw everything around me covered in smoke. The sunrise looked so strange as the smoke turned all the colors to tobacco yellow. Hiking on I kept hoping I wouldn't walk up to a wildfire.

The climb was much easier than I had thought and I soon caught up with Sam who had already finished his breakfast. He was just wondering where I was. I guess I was slower than I thought. 

We hiked on and kept climbing while talking about heavy metal. We talked in depth about the differences in lyrics of Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Slayer. And then about the live shows of Iron Maiden. It’s amazing how much faster time goes when you have something to talk about.

Time went by fast and after two and a half hours of climbing we reached the Lookout Rock at the top of the climb. The views would have been great but all we could see was smoke. We found a hiker resting on the Lookout Rock and he told us that the fire we saw yesterday was about five miles down from here. Or just two canyons away. So we really were correct to be worried about the smoke yesterday.

He told us how he had spent the entire night watching planes dropping water and headlamps moving around the fire. From up here, he had unrestricted views to see the entire thing go down. We could still see the smoke rise from the burn area but the flames were down by now. Wildfires seriously scare me.

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 Sam and I on the Lookout Rock. Behind us is the area that was on fire.

Sam and I on the Lookout Rock. Behind us is the area that was on fire.

We took few photos on the ledge and then headed on. Sam was only hiking about thirteen miles with me as he was heading into the town of Quincy today. His resupply package didn't arrive into Sierra City so he was running out of food and needed to get more. I was trying to stretch my quickly emptying food bag all the way to Chester, still over 60 miles (96.6km) away. 

My plan was to make it outside of Belden tonight. Belden is a small resort right on the trail. Tomorrow morning I would head in, eat breakfast and lunch in town, buy as many snacks and food as I can, and maybe pack out a burger. I'm hoping this, and what little I have left, will be enough to get me to Chester where I can do a proper resupply. 

 Sam needs new shoes soon.

Sam needs new shoes soon.

 Marveling at the beautiful NorCal wildflowers.

Marveling at the beautiful NorCal wildflowers.

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As we finally reach the road to Quincy, Sam gets a hitch immediately. We don't even have time to make arrangements, we just fist pump as he hops in the car and speeds off and I'm left on the side of the highway alone. As I cross the road and am about to get back on the trail I see pit toilets a little further down the road. One can't simply pass an opportunity to sit on a real toilet so I head down there to make a deposit. 

Soon I'm back on the trail and looking at an over 1,500 feet elevation gain in the beating midday sun. Climbing again. At the start of the climb, I find a trail register. As I'm signing my name I notice Dandelion, Fire Ant, and Roadrunner have signed it earlier today. How on earth did they get past us?!? They were supposed to be behind us? And where's Sunshine? I can't see her name in the register. 

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As I keep hiking up the extremely hot mountainside, I keep wondering how did they get past us without us noticing. It must have been either yesterday as we were down at the river, or when we were camping. Our camp was a little off trail, in the trees. They could’ve easily walked by not noticing us. 

Although it's one o'clock, and I've already hiked over thirteen miles, I decide to skip lunch and just hike without breaking by just eating snacks. I'm hoping that this way I could maybe gain some ground on them. Unless they hiked really far past us yesterday or got a really early start, I don't think they're trying to get to Belden tonight. That would mean I have a good chance of catching up with them. 

I pass a southbounder on the way up and ask her if she's seen Dandelion, Fire Ant, and Roadrunner. She hasn't. Strange. I pick up my pace and pass another PCT hiker on the climb. It's getting close to the infamous three o'clock heat and as the entire hillside is exposed to the sun with no shade, I’m basically melting. I have to take off my shirt and dunk it into one of the streams I cross to cool down. That helps a little bit but in this heat, the shirt is dry again in twenty minutes. 

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Almost at the top of the climb, I run into James. He's getting water at one of the streams and I join him. I ask if he's seen the trio and he tells me he camped with them at the top of the climb last night. And that they had a really early start. Dang. That means they're pushing to Belden today and I won't catch them. I could make it to Belden by tonight but it doesn't make any sense as the camping there is not free, and I’d rather sleep out here in the mountains than down at the resort. James also has no idea where Sunshine is. Strange. I wonder if she stayed back with Kendall for some reason?

The entire day I've watched the fire planes flying over in formation. James tells me the fire was started on purpose and that the authorities have already arrested a suspect. That's unbelievable. Who would intentionally start a fire in a place like this and put so many lives at risk? 

As we sit by the stream with James, we redo the "how many miles we need to hike in a day to reach Canada before winter" calculation. I'm still on course to make it there by the end of September. If I keep one zero-day per week, I need to hike 25.5 miles (41km) per day to get to the Northern Terminus by the end of September. Considering that I'm easily doing that now, and Oregon is where we're going to be doing 30's, I should be fine. Why do I feel like everyone else is speeding ahead? 

If I calculated correctly, Cannonball and Storyteller are about 80 miles ahead by now. And Topo is over 4 days ahead according to James. And DG is about the same. And now the girls are also ahead. I feel like I should start rushing but I don't understand why? Do people want to end the trail faster? Or is there something else I'm not seeing? Is my math not correct?

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I keep hiking on and wondering should I start pushing it harder, and not enjoy the trail as much, or just take my time and enjoy it as much as I can. Everyone's going to push maximum miles pretty soon and catching up to anyone at that point is going to be almost impossible.

I fear that if I start pushing harder I might break my body, or worn myself down mentally. But I’d also like to catch up to my friends ahead so I could finish the trail with them. I’m happy Sam is hiking with me. He definitely could go faster, I’m just not sure if I could.

 James standing on the only spot where there's little cellphone signal.

James standing on the only spot where there's little cellphone signal.

On top of one of the climbs, I see a familiar backpack laying on the side of the trail. It's Sunshine's pack! Her poles are also there but no sight of her. I try to look around but can't see her. I get on a rock and start yelling her name. No answer. I keep yelling for awhile and then I hear someone yelling from behind me, it's not Sunshine. It's a hiker I've never seen before and she was enjoying the views and reading out on the ledge. She just happened to have the same backpack and poles as Sunshine.

I make the last few miles to the camp spot up on the hills, right above Belden. No sight of the trio and there are no possible camping spots between here and the town. Unless I see them tomorrow at the resort they've pushed a day or a half ahead of me as I'm stopping in Belden to eat and recharge my electronics. Also, I promised to wait for Sam there. 

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I set up my camp but it's still too early. I'm camping on a saddle quite exposed, and the winds could pick up at night, I try to find rocks to hold my stakes in. I walk back up the trail a little and pick up a larger rock from the ground. As I reach for the rock I see something moving next to me. A rattlesnake. She's colored with white and black stripes, just like the one we saw climbing up from Sierra City. She was apparently warming up in the evening sun by the side of the trail and I disturbed her. As she disappears into the brush next to the trail she gives me a little shake of her tail. I count six rattlers. 

While I have a healthy respect and fear for the snakes and other animals around here, I just can’t get over how beautiful they are. These mountains are their home and we are merely quests here, passing by. Trying to cause as little disturbance as I possibly can is something I keep thinking every day.

I eat lunch and dinner while enjoying the beautiful sunset. James comes by and we chat for a moment about cell signals and keeping a blog while on the trail. His blog is here. James continues down to the next camp spot and I get to keep the saddle to myself. There are already three others on the lower spot, and it's more exposed, so I'm happy to be up here. Tomorrow morning I'm eating my breakfast in Belden after a short and steep 6 mile (9.7km) hike downhill.