Date: August 16, 2017
Miles: 21.2 miles (34.1km), from Grider Creek Campground through Seiad Valley to mile 1,668.2.
Health: Feeling tired from the lack of sleep, but good otherwise.
I wake up to Sam knocking on my tarp. I left him a note last night outside of his shelter and he came to wake me up as I had asked. Having only slept for about 3 hours I don’t feel particularly well rested but I manage to gather my gear and start hiking with Sam. Chalk this up as one of those days you’d rather stay in bed than hike.
From the campground, we start the 6.4 mile (10.3km) road walk to Seiad Valley where our next resupply is. Wolf is also here and joins us for the walk.
The road walk starts as a dirt road and soon we reach small houses along the river going through the valley. The reason for the long road walk is that we’re on the wrong side of the river and the only bridge is in the opposite direction we have to go. So we first walk a few miles towards the bridge, then the same distance back on the other side.
My feet still hurt from last night and the hard road is making the situation worse. We’re all pretty fed up with the road walk and even talk about swimming across the river to cut back on the walk. Suddenly there’s a car approaching from behind and I instinctively throw my thumb up. To my surprise, the car stops and I decide to save my feet by skipping the last few miles of the road walk. We would’ve soon reached pavement and that would’ve been even worse to walk on.
Seiad Valley is not much else except a few houses and the Café. I walk the last bit to the Café and find Iced Tea there. I set all my gear to dry on the grass while getting to know some of the hikers already here. My sleeping bag is still moist from two nights ago.
The Café is known for one particular thing on the trail: the infamous pancake challenge. If you finish all five of the massive pancakes in under 2 hours, the pancakes are on the house and you’ll get your name on the wall. After seeing the size of just one pancake I instantly know I’m not up for the challenge. Instead, I opt for two regular breakfasts, a soda, and a milkshake.
We sit on the counter and soon everyone else arrives. Sam goes to pick up his new headlamp from the store slash Post Office next door. He ordered the same model I have. He got tired of being outshined on all the night hikes. Contrary to what I read before the hike, we’ve done a ton of night hiking. Part of it is the rush we have this year because of the snow, part of it is the constant heat waves. It’s so much easier to get the miles done after the sun has gone down and you’re not sweating buckets.
Seiad Valley is also known for one other thing: the rather large and steep climb out of the valley. You gain little over 4,600 feet (1 400m) in under 9 miles (14.5km). And as today is another excruciatingly hot day, no-one really wants to tackle the climb in the middle of the day.
We all procrastinate inside next to the AC, trying to come up with ways to avoid the climb but there’s no getting around it. Soon Sam and I head out and do the short road walk to the trailhead. I hate walking on these narrow roads as the cars drive by so fast and there’s really no place to dodge. Getting hit by a car while out hiking is not something I’m looking forward to.
After we reach the trailhead we climb a bit until we reach a spring. We fill up our bottles as this is the only water source on the entire climb. As we’re filling up, Iced Tea comes by and we chat for a while. We tell him to be on the lookout for the poison oak as it’s everywhere. He tells us he doesn’t know what poison oak looks like so we point it out for him.
Then it’s time to climb some more. The heat and the lack of sleep last night get to me really fast and I tell Sam to go on. It’s over 100 degrees (38c) and I’m just melting. After the trail rises above the tree line there’s no shade from the midday sun and my pace slows down to an agonizing crawl.
It’s simply too hot for me. When I find a nice little shaded spot with a little wind blowing through, I decide to wait out the heat. Sunshine soon catches up and after a short chat, she keeps climbing.
I watch the wind bring the smoke from the close by wildfires and the scenery gets even smokier. There are couple of wildfires around here and one that we need to keep our eyes on. If the wind direction would shift it could move towards us quickly but so far the trail is still open.
After taking a short nap I feel better and start climbing again. It was a long climb and I make it to the top just as the sun starts to set. The smoke from the fires makes the sunset even prettier.
The trail follows along the ridge of the mountains, at times dipping down for a bit. I stop at a small alpine lake to fill up my bottles and meet a hiker I haven’t seen before. We talk about the fires for a bit and then I hike on.
Soon the trail turns around the mountain and starts dropping down. Earlier the mountain was blocking all the wind but now the winds bring all the smoke from the fires directly at me.
I’m walking on a narrow path cut to the side of the mountain and due to the smoke and darkness, I can barely see 10 feet (3m) ahead of me. I have to wrap my bandana around my face and douse it with water just to be able to breathe.
As I keep going lower and lower the winds bring ash and at times it looks like it’s snowing. I’m getting really worried and start to wonder if I should turn around. As it’s dark and the air is covered in smoke I can’t really see anything around me. I try to look down below to see if I’m descending down to a burning forest but can’t see a thing.
I take out the map and notice that the closest evacuation spot is down in the forest in the direction I’m heading. The other evacuation spot being all the way back in the valley we started. As I didn’t see any fires close by earlier from the top of the mountain while looking down towards this direction I decide to push on.
At times I can only see the next couple of steps ahead of me so the progress is really slow. Finally, I reach the forest below and the air clears up significantly. There are no sights of fire and there are no trail closures so I push forwards towards the road and possible camp spot.
Once I reach the road I find everyone else camping there except for Sam. I ask Sunshine if she saw him but she didn’t. He must have pushed on.
Feeling a little sketched out about the smoke and flying ash I decide to camp here with the others and not push on alone. If something goes wrong, at least I’m next to a road with multiple people around.
I set up my cowboy camp and start heading to sleep. Just as I’m crawling into my quilt I hear faint footsteps on my groundsheet and as I turn around my headlamp barely catches a scorpion as it hides under my pillow. Great! I take a stick and move the scorpion further, hoping it would choose another direction but as soon as it hits the ground it zeros back towards my pillow. Sleeping with a scorpion is a hard nope from me so I set up my tarp about a hundred feet down the road to a new spot. Hopefully with less crawlies.
Looking at my mileage when going to sleep I also notice we have less than thousand miles to go. I fall asleep hoping I won’t wake up to a burning inferno around me.