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

Day 103: No sight of Sam

Date: August 10, 2017
Miles: 29.5 miles (47.5km), from East Fork Sulphur Creek to Deadfall Lakes at mile 1,534.2.
Health: Legs and feet are tired from switching from zero drop shoes back to regular shoes.

Slept great last night. The ground beneath was so soft and the soothing sound of the flowing water from the creek below was just a perfect combination for good nights sleep. Sam’s out super fast while I have trouble getting my bearings. The fact that I’m not a morning person at all has been painfully clear during this entire hike.

Since I need to take care of some paperwork first, I tell Sam to go ahead. We’ll catch up later in the day.

Soon I’m back on the trail and hiking after Sam. The trail keeps climbing and by looking at the elevation profile on Guthooks, it seems like that’s all we’ll be doing today. We have a little over 7,000 feet (2,130m) of elevation gain to do during the day. I still can’t believe people say NorCal is flat and easy.

Morning view of the Castle Crags.

After climbing out of the forest the heat really hits again. It’s going to be another hot day and it’s not even 8 am yet.

Soon I reach the first water source of the day. No sight of Sam, or water. There’s an arrow on a tree pointing up towards the hill. Eventually, I find what looks to be a stream bed with large rocks but no water. I leave my backpack and climb down between the large rocks and eventually find small pools and a weak stream. This source won’t have water for long.

After filling my bottles and cameling up I get back on the trail. Wonder how far ahead Sam is?

More climbing.

As I keep climbing higher and higher I can see the valley we slept last night and the Castle Crags. I’m almost at their level when my phone peeps and I have cell reception.

Today is my nephews and godsons first day of school back home. Can’t believe that the summer is already over in Finland. When I left to San Diego, there was still snow on the ground, and now my nephew is going to school.

It’s times like these that are really hard for me on the trail. Missing my nephew going to school, missing my brother getting married, missing spending time with my friends, family, and my dog. You give up so much just to walk a two feet wide stretch of dirt.

It’s not only missing all those things but also being so removed from everything familiar. I haven’t spoken Finnish almost at all the entire time I’ve been in the US as due to the 10h time difference it’s really hard to find reception at a time when anyone back home is not sleeping.

Quick break to shed some layers.

Feeling little homesick and missing my nephew I sit down on a small outcropping, take off my pack and call him. It’s already evening and he’s already home but I want to congratulate him for starting school. We talk for a while over FaceTime and I find it really hard not to tear up. Seeing him in his parents living room, I wish I could just quickly teleport over there and give him a hug.

I end up calling my entire family. Knowing I might not be able to talk to them for a week or two I don’t care about missing miles or having to do the rest of the climb in the midday sun.

The top of the first climb on left.

After having talked with everyone and messaging couple of friends I shoulder my pack and get back on the climb. The sun is high and it’s really hot while I keep climbing towards the top. I keep my eye on the trail far ahead to hopefully catch a climb of Sam but I see no-one below or ahead of me for miles and miles.

At times the trail is covered in this thick short brush that’s hard to push through. It’s so thick that you can’t see your feet or the trail at all. They come in patches and I keep pushing through while getting my legs scraped.

While pushing through another long patch of the brush I use my poles to push some of them away as they’re starting to hurt. Just as I’m about to put my right foot down I hear the distinctive, angry, rattling right where I’m about to set my foot. Rattlesnake.

I freak out so bad I push myself away with my poles and jump backward away from the trail, falling on my back in the brush several feet away from where I was. Holy. Sh#t.

Immediately I realize I’m laying on my back not nearly far enough from where the snake was so I scramble back on my feet and head up the hill. Trying to go around as far as I can on the hillside I slowly make my way around the snake which I still can’t see. And I thought we were mostly done with the snakes at this point.

Castle Crags on left and behind them the valley we started this morning.

End of the first climb of the day.

After my heartbeat settles I get back on the trail and keep climbing. Soon the views open up and I can see Mt Shasta in all its glory. It sure is a beautiful sight.

The trail keeps climbing up along the ridgeline but with a much easier angle. Soon I reach the next water source and decide to have dinner in the small shade under some trees. While laying there eating I can see a small figure slowly climbing up the trail.

Views of Mt Shasta from the trail.

After I’m done with my lunch and filtering some water for the rest of the day the figure reaches the ridgeline and I see it’s Iced Tea. Strange as he’s usually up early and should’ve past us while we were sleeping. We talk for a while while he starts to filter water but then I must move on.

The rest of the day I just keep hiking without any stops, trying to cover the miles I lost while talking with my family in the morning. The trail goes up on one ridgeline, turns around and walks back towards the same mountains on another ridgeline. Then turns around again and again. I can’t look at the map as I feel so frustrated walking in circles.

Climbing while the sun sets.

Evening views.

I don’t see anyone for the rest of the day and end up walking long into the darkness to hopefully catch up with Sam but no luck, there’s no sight of him.

At one point I’m walking on a steep hillside in darkness and my headlamp catches two eyes slightly ahead. I stop immediately thinking this is not a good spot to encounter a mountain lion. I throw the lamp on full power and still see the eyes but not the shape of the animal. As I move my head slightly I see another set of eyes staring at me. And then another. And another. I start turning my head and see eyes up and down the hill, always in sets of two. Deer.

As I walk closer I see many momma deer with their fawns. It’s like a kindergarten and they’re all staring at me. No wonder as I’m beaming this massive light in their eyes while they’re trying to have dinner. I take one last look at them, wish them good night, and then head on in the darkness.

Finally, I reach my camp spot for the night. It was a hot day with a long climb and I’m exhausted. There’s no sight of Sam so I have to wake up early to catch him. Walking alone all day is no fun.

Day 102: Mount Shasta and new shoes

Date: August 9, 2017
Miles: 8.9 miles (14.3km), from mile 1,495.8 to mile 1,504.7.
Health: Muscle on my left leg keeps cramping up. Getting new shoes and some rest today was great.

We wake up, pack our gear, and hike the short distance down to the interstate. Guthooks mentions that this can be a difficult hitch and as I reach the interstate it’s immediately clear why. We’re down on a random ramp from the highway, well outside of sight of anyone driving by. And since it’s illegal to hitchhike on an interstate, our only chance of getting a ride is if someone happens to randomly drive down this ramp and straight back up, or if someone is leaving through this ramp. But as there’s not much around here, I don't expect to see a lot of cars going up.

Morning hike.

Sam arrives a bit later and we take turns trying to hitch but there aren’t any cars coming down or going up. After some time we finally get lucky as a driver going to the same direction picks us up. After about half an hour on the interstate she drops us off outside of the city of Mount Shasta and we walk the rest of the way to the city center.

Our well thought out plan was to hit the gear store called The Fifth Season first to get everything we needed, namely, new shoes and socks for me. Then leave our electronics there to recharge while going out to get breakfast, do resupply, eat lunch, and once done, get back to pick up our electronics and head back on the trail.

City of pure water.

Well, our entire plan goes out the window when we find out that the opening hours on Guthooks app are wrong and The Fifth Season opens 2 hours later than stated. Bummer.

As there’s not much we can do we decide to get breakfast. We walk through the town looking for a place to eat while checking if any of the other gear stores would happen to be open by a change. No luck with the gear stores but we find a nice little bakery and head in trying to get a table as far away from others as possible as we stink to high heavens.

We eat two rounds of breakfast and the owner kindly lets us recharge our battery banks in the kitchen. While we wait for our batteries to recharge and The Fifth Season to open, I work on the blog. Getting thousands of photos from the camera to my phone, organizing them, selecting ones to use, and editing, takes a lot of time.

The Fifth Season gear store with Mt Shasta in the background.

After loitering at the bakery for almost two hours we head back to The Fifth Season. I desperately need new shoes as I’ve had to cut holes on the sides of my current ones to fit my swollen feet. Sadly they don’t have Altra Lone Peak’s in my size. Only shoes in my size are Altra Superiors and some other brand I’ve never heard of. The Superiors have almost no cushioning so walking with them would be too hard on my knees and joints, so I end up going with the unknown brand.

The new shoes feel great in the store and walking around town and I’m really happy to have my feet in something soft and not full of holes.

New vs old shoes.

We leave our electronics to recharge in the back and head out for lunch and resupply. After a quick lunch at a pizza buffet we do a really expensive resupply. Back at The Fifth Season we organize our gear, get our electronics, thank the people for their generosity, and head down the main street to get a hitch back to the trailhead.

We walk close to the highway ramp hoping to get a ride. After about an hour a homeless guy comes over and tells us that we’d have better luck down the road. Hitching out of Mount Shasta isn’t the easiest hitch we’ve done so far. Judging by our trail worn looks, and the amount of homeless people and drifters around the highway ramp, we think we have a pretty good idea why we’re not getting picked up. We try to keep our hiking poles as visible as possible but get no takers.

After a long while, a car stops and we get offered a ride to Dunsmuir. It’s still a long way from the trailhead but at least it’s in the right direction. As we’re not getting any other offers we accept the ride.

Trying to hitch a ride in Dunsmuir.

After a short ride, we get dropped off in Dunsmuir next to the highway ramp. We try to hitch but pretty soon notice there’re no cars coming or going. Actually, there’s almost no traffic at all except down on the highway. Our chances of getting a hitch from here are pretty much non-existent.

We decide to walk all the way across to the other side of the town hoping the freeway ramp there would have more traffic. It’s a few miles away but at least we get to see the town. There’s a lot of vacant houses that have seen their better days and there are not many people around.

Walking through the town it’s becoming clear by the almost non-existent traffic that we might not get a ride back to the trailhead from here. Feeling a bit desperate we stop at a Mexican restaurant to eat and to rethink our situation.

While eating we meet a nice couple and talk with them about the trail, what we’re doing and the usual stuff we get asked every time. As it’s getting late we have to leave, hoping there’s more traffic on the other side of the town. While walking down the main street the couple from the restaurant passes us by while honking and waving at us. Nice people.

After some time we see the couples car again and it’s the lady. She said she had to drop her husband at home but then wanted to give us a ride to the trailhead. We happily accept and hop in. If there ever was an example of the saying “the trail provides”, this is it.

1500 miles (2,414km) and counting.

After a very pleasant drive back to the trailhead we thank the lady for saving us and offer to pay for her gas but she doesn’t accept. We say our goodbyes and get off the pavement and back on the trail. It feels good to walk on the soft dirt again.

Almost instantly we start climbing back up but the grade is nice and easy. The new shoes feel amazing and my mood is high. We push into the early evening light with smiles on our faces and backpacks full of food. It feels so good to be back out here again!

Climbing in the evening sun towards Castle Crags.

Sam.

Climbing higher we finally reach the Castle Crags and stop to admire the sight. While not as majestic as the Sierra, it’s still an amazing sight in the light of the setting sun. Our mood is high and we make good progress. At one point we meet Iced Tea, one of the Swiss guys, and talk about all the fires in Oregon. As there’s still light outside we push on.

Take-away Mexican dinner before going to sleep.

As it gets dark we find a really nice campsite next to a little stream. As there’s no-one around, we get to choose great spots and avoid the ones covered in ants. I eat the takeaway food from the Mexican place for the second dinner and then head to sleep. I’m super excited for tomorrow. I have my motivation back and can’t wait to crush some miles with my new shoes!

Day 101: The monotony of Northern California

Date: August 8, 2017
Miles: 25.2 miles (40.6km), from Fitzhugh Gulch to mile 1,495.8
Health: Tired but happy

We wake up late again but don’t mind it since we only have 25 miles (40,2km) to do today. It didn’t rain last night which was a bit of a surprise. As we’re still struggling to get up Buu bids us goodbye as he wants to get to town today.

All our gear is little damp from sleeping so close to the stream and from the moist air down here. We take down our camp, fill our water bottles from the stream, and start walking.

The trail follows along the mountainside all morning, keeping us nicely in the shade. These cooler last few days have been to my liking as it makes hiking easier.

You’re supposed to camp at least 200 feet (60m) from the trail but sometimes it’s not possible.

Not much happens and the trail is pretty uneventful. We seem to be getting lower in elevation constantly as we’re approaching Oregon – which is supposed to be the “flattest” state.

We cross a small wooden bridge and find a nice lunch spot next to the river below. I feel like the monotony and miles are getting on me. After lunch, we climb back up on the trail. Soon we hear thunder and the storm clouds appear again. We don’t get rained on but we hear thunder all day.

Where we had lunch.

After some time we stop to get more water and I have to cut holes in my shoes as my pinky toe doesn’t fit inside anymore. Not only have I outgrown another size – I’ve gone from size 9 to 10 – but there’s no more cushioning left on my shoes. I can feel every stone and stick through the soles as I walk and my feet are taking quite a beating every day. Hopefully, I can find new shoes from Shasta.

On-trail water sources are always nice.

We climb a little in elevation, just enough to get cell reception, and I get a message from Fireant and Roller saying we should catch up to them soon. We also hear about new fires in Oregon and that the trail has been closed at a couple of spots. These closures are still some ways ahead so things might change.

Late in the evening we get to the top of our last climb for today and start a long descent down towards the highway. I get cell reception again and decide to download Queens Greatest Hits album from iTunes. Few of their songs have been stuck in my head all day and I need something fresh to listen to as I’ve gone through my entire playlist at least a hundred times already.

New music, downhill, and getting to town tomorrow gets my mood up and I start speeding downhill while singing out loud. I soon catch up to Sam and we stop 3 miles short from the highway.

We find a camp spot in the dark and set up shop. My mood is a lot better than it was in the morning. Tomorrow we’ll get to town early, get breakfast, new shoes, do a quick resupply, and then get back on the trail chasing Dandelion, Fireant, Roller, and Roadrunner. Can’t wait to see them soon!

Day 100: Rain, thunder, and hundred days on PCT

Date: August 7, 2017
Miles: 30.1 miles (48.4km), from mile 1,440.6 to Fitzhugh Gulch at mile 1,470.7.
Health: Tired but happy. My feet hurt, definitely need new shoes soon.

I wake up tired and groggy. Getting to camp late last night and then writing blog entries meant I didn’t have enough sleep. By the sound of it neither did Sam as he sounds tired too. But, we have miles to cover and places to be, so we start getting ready.

As I peek out from under my tarp I see Mt. Shasta right in front of us. While our spot on the old gravel road isn’t the most picturesque, it sure has nice views. 

Last nights camp.

The weather is cloudy and the air feels cold, something that hasn’t happen for a while. With the gloomy weather and feeling tired, we’re slow to get moving. We get a late start and head out of camp with our jackets on.

Looking around we didn’t miss much hiking in the dark last night. The views are meh at best. Feeling tired doesn’t help at all and we hike on not talking much. But while the scenery isn’t anything to write home about, at least the cooler weather is easier to hike in. The cool, cloudy weather feels like hiking on a warm summer day back in Finland. I have to say I like this more than the usual NorCal heat. 

We hike onwards with not much being said. The weather seems to match our moods.

Trail.

We keep seeing Mt. Shasta every now and then.

As we climb higher up on the ridgeline my phone gets reception and I get a message from Fireant. She says they’re not zero’ing in Shasta and are instead pushing on. Bummer. I was really hoping to see them in Shasta. 

While walking on the ridgeline we see a wildfire start in the distance. After some time helicopters and planes arrive to put it out. It feels like we’re walking in a tinderbox, surrounded by fires popping up left and right.

Our paces are so different that we end up splitting up and Sam pulls far ahead. I just listen to podcasts and keep my head down, trying to find something interesting to think about while walking along. The trail goes through a forest and is covered in pine needles that make it soft to walk on. The soft trail feels great on my feet as my worn out shoes have almost no cushioning left.

Oh deer.

Right before reaching the water source we planned to have lunch at I turn a corner and see a deer standing right on the narrow trail. We stare at each other for a while, neither of us wanting to back up or get off the trail. I take a few photos and then start walking towards her. She eventually turns around and starts walking in front of me, constantly looking back at me. After some time she turns right, little up the hill, and just far enough from the trail that I can walk past her. She’s standing only a few feet away with her butt towards me.

The water source is little off trail. I find Sam sitting up on the gravel but we retreat to the shade of the trees to have our lunch. Despite the late start, we’ve already done 14 miles (22,5km) at this point.

Catching up to Sam for lunch.

After lunch and a little nap, my mood and the weather seem to brighten. But as soon as we get back on the trail we hear a rumble and see thunderclouds on the other side of the mountain. We climb up the side of the mountain, little weary about the thunder that seems to be right on the other side.

We assess the situation but decide to push on. There’s really no other way for us to go as we’re on the side of a mountain with a big drop to the left and a steep climb to the right. This is not the best place to be in a thunderstorm but at least we’re not up on the ridgeline.

Not the best place to be when a storm is closing in.

Storm front.

As we hike on we see another storm front to the left of us and hear the thunder on the right getting closer. Sam is starting to get a little freaked out and as we see lightning hit the trail not far from us, he bolts to the tree cover not far away. I take couple more photos and take a short video clip and then head after him while watching the rain front to the left of me.

The trail soon dips back away from the mountainside and we can breathe a little easier. We pass through some jungle looking spots.

Just as it’s about to get dark we meet the first hiker on the trail today. As our paces seem to match well, we keep hiking on together. He introduces himself as Buu (or Boo?).

At times the trail looked like jungle.

As it gets dark it starts raining. Not enough to get us wet, just enough to keep us nice and cool – I like this a lot.

We talk with Buu and he’s been pushing 50 mile (80.5km) days. Dang! The trail starts to drop down and we keep dodging poison oak while having a nice chat. It’s refreshing to have someone new to talk to.

As the descend starts to level up we start looking for a place to stop for the night. There doesn’t seem to be any so we decide to stop at a little stream where the trail widens just enough for us to sleep right next to the trail.

As we start to make our dinners we look at Buu and realize he’s not eating anything. Asking about his food situation he says he ran out of food and has been doing 50’s to make it to town. Sam and I instantly rummage our food bags and hand all our extra food and snacks to him and he eats it all in one go. Man, he must have been hungry. We give him more food making sure he has enough to get to town.

Today was my 100th day on the trail and even with the late start, we managed to do a thirty. I burrow into my sleeping bag trying to comprehend everything that has happened in those hundred days. I’ve never in my life been this removed from “normal life” and I absolutely love it. But before I get too philosophical the sound of the stream and my tired muscles drag me to sleep. Tomorrow we hike again!

Day 99: Burney Falls

Date: August 6, 2017
Miles: 27.6 miles (44.4km), from mile 1,413 to mile 1,440.6.
Health: Bottoms of my feet are tired. Need new shoes as all the rocks poke through.

We wake up early and get on the trail in good time. After hiking for only few miles we run into an empty campground with picnic tables and pit toilets. While it’s still early we decide to eat breakfast here as sitting by a table is a real luxury on the trail. Funny how you miss even the smallest things, like sitting by a table, after sitting in the dirt for so long.

While Sam is eating I take advantage of the pit toilets. Using a smelly and hot outhouse beats digging holes in the woods any day.

Closer to Canada than Mexico.

On the way out we hike past a sign that says Canada is only 1,232 miles (1,983km) from here. That seems so far and so close at the same time. Our discussion turns to how, every day, we’re closer to Canada than Mexico and how it’s actually starting to feel like we might reach the northern terminus.

Canada has always been this really far away pipe dream that we haven’t even dared to dream of. Our goals have been much smaller, like getting to the first trail town, hiking the first 100 miles, getting to Kennedy Meadows and through the desert, getting through Sierra alive, and so on. But now that we’re closer to Canada than the Mexican border, I feel like we’re starting to see a glimmer of light at the end of this really long and hot tunnel.

We still have a long way to go but our goals are definitely moving. Next one is to reach the California – Oregon border. After that we have two more states to go and they’re both way shorter than California.

Side-trail to Burney Falls.

Not only have our goals changed, so has the the trail and everything around us. Looking back at the first day on trail feels like it was so long ago. So much has happened during the past 98 days. Not only is every single day like a long mini adventure, but you also feel like different sections are their own little adventures. For every section you have to adjust how you hike and change your strategy accordingly.

In the desert I would meet so many new hikers each day and every town we visited was full of friends and familiar faces. It was like one big social hike. Then we hit Sierra with all the snow and that big bubble of hikers pretty much vanished. Through Sierra I mainly saw the same few hikers every day.

Now in Northern California, on most days, it’s just the two of us. Hikers are fewer in numbers as many have either quit or skipped ahead and we are also dispersed on a larger area. And as everyone’s maintaining the same pace, it’s really hard to catch up to anyone else.

Burney Falls

You can see the water seeping through the rock.

The highlight of our hike today is Burney Falls. We reach the falls early in the afternoon and oh boy are they pretty! The falls are a bit unique as the water actually comes from the underground springs under and above the falls and seeps through the rock to form a waterfall. At 129 feet (39m) high the falls are spectacular sight.

I was planning on swimming at the falls but the sight is much more touristy than I anticipated. Also, as we drop down to the bottom of the falls, the air gets so cold that jumping into the ice cold spring water is the last thing on my mind. It’s still nice to cover from the unbearable heat that we have to spend the rest of the day in.

Sam fixing the load-lifters of his ZPacks backpack. Again.

Some old building next to the visitor center.

We take few photos and wonder around with the other tourists and then head back up to the small store at the tourist center. I buy some ice-cream, chips, and ice cold soda. While I chuck these down, Sam works on his backpack. His load lifters are coming apart, again, and he needs to sew them together. Something that happens at least once a week.

After wasting few hours resting we head back towards the PCT and continue hiking. After some time I catch up to Sam while he’s eating berries along the trail. He points out that blackberries are in season. As I’ve never tasted blackberries, I collect a fistful and eat them all. Delicious. Our progress slows down to a crawl as we stop at every spot to eat the berries as they hang right along the trail.

My first taste of blackberries.

Sam showing off his flexibility at the bridge we had lunch at.

We stop for a quick lunch under a bridge and cool our feet in the ice cold stream. As we’re heading out we hear what sounds like thunder not far from us. The sky is grey and we watch the thunderstorm pass by not far away. We also get rained on a little which we happily enjoy as it cools us down a bit.

Mt. Shasta.

Mt. Shasta.

Sam enjoying the views at Mt. Shasta.

Sauntering under the cloud coverage.

As we walk on and the clouds let go, we can see Mount Shasta in the distance. The massive snow capped mountain stands alone majestically. We’re going to be seeing Mt Shasta for the next couple of weeks as the trail goes around it for the next couple hundred miles.

The weather is cloudy for the rest of the day, which suits me just fine. Anything to get away from the burning sun.

Author trying to see how deep the cliff we’re on is.

For the last part of the day we try to find a suitable spot for camping but as we’re on a ridgeline, there aren’t many options. We end up walking late into the night, hoping to find a single spot which the Guthooks says should fit one person. It’s so dark that we can’t find the spot even with our headlights at full power and end up walking to an abandoned forrest road and set up camp there. Not the most scenic camping spot but since it’s pitch black, it doesn’t matter.

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.