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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.