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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.