Day 52: Turning up the heat

Start: Mile 1549.4, Elevation 6171 feet – Campsite on ridge
Finish: Mile 1578.6, Elevation 6720 feet – Campsite near unpaved jeep road
Total mileage: 29.2
Total elevation: Gain +4863 / Loss -4314 / Net +549

Today ratcheted up everything I experienced yesterday. There were more views of Mt. Shasta and silhouetted hills. I met more hikers headed my way toward the small town of Etna. There were even longer lengths of monotonous time in the trees. As many people hiking southbound had promised, this was a great section of the PCT.

My day began a bit on the late side at 6:30 a.m. when the sun hit the side of my tent and started heating it up. Just as the sun set later here, it also rise a bit later, which means my schedule had shifted about an hour. (Accordingly, the heat of the day was from 4 to 6 p.m., not 3 to 5 p.m. like the desert.)

Last night when I had gotten into camp past dusk, the hills around me were dark blue silhouettes, but now in the morning sun I could see a pastiche of green and white around exposed granite. Cutting nearly horizontally through this was a single brown fire road. These sights were fleeting, though, as I was mostly under tree cover for the first four miles. Scattered throughout the dark fern-heavy forest were open green meadows covered with wildflowers and uninviting trail junctions that quickly dove into overgrown brush.

From miles 1555 through 1562, I met and hiked with a variety of folks. First I passed a couple of young guys – one tall man with red hair combed over and another smaller dude with short dreads pulled back into a fleece hairband – with whom I traded information about hitching to Dunsmuir for information about hitching to Etna. Then I met a young man, Ethan, from Bellingham, Washington, who was section hiking from Castella and hoping to meet his family around the epicenter of the solar eclipse on Aug. 21 (around mile 2035); he and I leapfrogged each other a couple times today. Finally I met Hikelopedia – or Pedia for short – who wore a bucket hat and a long shirt over a sports bra. She and I hiked for several miles, conversing about what motivated us to start hiking and the difficulty we had with both setting and letting go of goals. We connected over the pleasure we took in disconnecting from technology, in getting away from competitive work environments, and trying to find a career that would allow us to travel more often.

Pedia and I stopped at mile 1562 for water and joked around with a young man with a long dirty blond ponytail, Flip Flop (aka Sean), who was doing a section north to Ashland. He said that he had been surprised earlier by a bear that came crashing out of the thickets and across the trail; he was amazed at how fast it moved, even through the thick brush. While we were chatting, we were joined by a couple – a woman in a blue hiking skirt and long blond hair pulled back into a braid and a guy with a quiet, slow voice, a bucket hat, plaid shirt, and a wrap-around black beard – who was hiking southbound. They had done Washington, Oregon, and the Sierras last year but had to skip Northern California because of a fire and then end their hike early for family reasons. They said it was liberating to have let go of their timeline as it allowed them to enjoy it more. They had already done the desert earlier this year, so they were on their last leg and were looking forward to finishing.

After I got going again, I was in the trees for three miles before coming out to a spectacular bowl lined with snowy ridges. The hikers piled up here, taking pictures and gawking at the view of lakes below, wildflowers, and Mt. Shasta looming in the background. While we crossed over snowbanks around the bowl, we caught up to three Germans, a single older man, and two younger women. We passed them and they passed us back as we wended our way several more miles over a ridge to another bowl – this one around a smaller, shallower lake with downed trees extending from its sandy shores to its center – and then over another ridge to a third bowl with a marsh below. Throughout this, Mt. Shasta was always on the far side of the bowls.

After this series of panoramas, we were treated to a different but equally spectacular view north after we turned onto a saddle. In front of us were three lakes that were tinted blue, orange, and yellow while reflecting the trees on their far edge. Rising behind them was the large, barren Scott Mountain on the right and a rocky slope to the left. Dancing along a ridge with more occasional views from flat meadows, I continued until I found a flat spot around mile 1569 to take a siesta about 3:30 p.m.

I got back on the trail about 5 p.m., feeling better but still a bit ragged from the wear and tear over the past three days. I tried to distract myself from the pain by looking out at the squares of farmland – checkered green and yellow – that showed up in the valleys after a couple miles. These valleys were ringed with brown patches of land, and it almost seemed like a desert landscape. Meanwhile, where I walked was thickly forested with pines plastered with lichen.

After seven miles, I started my descent down to the Scott River and the ground came alive with broad-leaf plants and ferns that leaned out over the trail. I passed several streams, one of which had water cascading down several two-foot falls into a clear, shallow pool. I crossed these streams via a series of smooth, round stones, pausing to take pictures midway across. Out here surrounded by water, it smelled rich and loamy.

After a mile, I started climbing again to regain the 1000 feet I just lost, this time up a dry hillside. The scenery was lackluster but familiar, and after another mile I found a campsite by a dirt road that had enough even ground that I could set up my tent. The sun was setting and while I couldn’t see much between the trees, I saw enough to make out a few volcanic peaks bathed in orange light as I ate dinner. It had been a great three days back on the trail, but I was looking forward to my stop in town tomorrow and went to bed early so I could get an early start.

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