It’s Moments Like These…

…when you know you’re alive.

Leaving Cascade Locks was a bit slow on our part.  Purposefully.

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Crossing the Bridge of the Gods was fun.  A stuff easterly breeze and the grating of the bridge made for a windy skirt day for me.  I know that surprised the heck out of me when the kilt flew up.

Although I doubt I was as surprised as the people in the cars headed to Oregon.

Day 133 – 9 / 1,726 (2,153)

After our marathon-like miles in northern California, we were surprised by how tough and slow-going these miles were in southern Washington. Heavy with eight days of food to get us to our next resupply did not help.

A lot of trees.  This would be our view for many days.

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Day 134 – 17 / 1,743 (2,170)

Another full day of being in the trees.  By mid-afternoon we received word that the trail was closed some 40 miles ahead of us.  The rumors and speculation started immediately amongst the hikers and since none of us had connectivity, decisions were made in a bubble.

Our decision was to slow down a bit and let the appropriate agencies work out a detour.

Personally, the fun really started when I was standing by the trail waiting for Jen while she took care of some business.

Washington is full of yellow jacket wasps.  Tons of them.  They aren’t a bother, except when they swarm us while we are eating.

But this time I wasn’t eating.  One had flown up the back of my shirt, so I fluffed the shirt and it flew out.

So I thought.

A moment later I reached for my pack, felt a flicker of movement in my armpit and the immediate burn of the sting.

It’s moments like that…
…when you know you’re alive. 

At least the campsite gave us a great view of Mount Hood for the sunset.

Day 135 – 18 / 1,761 (2,188)

Sunrise was even better.

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Then we had a nice morning view of Mount Adams and smoke from the fire causing the trail closure.

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Then a sneak at Mount St Helens.  It always amazes me to think that in our lifetime this mountain was 1,300′ taller.

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There is still evidence of the ash fall everywhere on the trail.

Then an afternoon view of Mount Adams and the fire.

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During a nice afternoon break on a switchback, I was leaning against my pack and enjoying the breathability of my hiking kilt.

Unbeknownst to me, a yellow jacket was also exploring the accessibility of my hiking kilt.

It’s moments like these…
…when you know you’re alive.

Day 136 – 15 / 1,776 (2,203)

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Skip and Flip

Zero days in Ashland, but little rest as we caught up on town chores from the past 4 months, resupplied, fixed equipment and planned.

But we also got in a brilliant show in Antony and Cleopatra at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, had 2-hour deep tissue massages to try and undo 1,700+ miles of abuse and had a get-together with local and trail friends.

Day 129, 130, 131 – 0 / 1,717

Now for the next phase of our hike – we skipped Oregon.

Skipped as in caught a ride from Ashland, the southernmost Oregon town nearest the PCT, to Cascade Locks, the northernmost Oregon town on the PCT.

We started bouncing around this plan about a month ago, then settled on it while I had my feet up in Burney.

The biggest reason for the change was the realization back then that if we were to finish the trail by the end of September, we would have to hike 22-mile days every day, without breaks, until we reached Canada.

Resupply days wouldn’t be exempt.  If we took six hours off trail to resupply, we would still have to get our 22 miles in, meaning a late night hike.  Then we would have to wake up at our normal time and get another 22 in.

If you’ll recall our Etna resupply day, even though we had a dedicated driver to pick us up at the trailhead and return us, we were still only able to get in 14 miles that day.  If we had to hitch in and out, we wouldn’t have got so many miles in.

If we want to take two days off during the rest of the hike, we would have to do 23’s every day.

That sounded too much like work.  We have watched too many hikers get themselves into that situation and they are mostly off trail.

So we have skipped Oregon.  We will push north through Washington and into Canada.  We should be done with Washington by mid-September, hopefully before any snow falls.

Once done with that section, we will return to Cascade Locks and start hiking southbound back to Ashland, completing the loop and the PCT.  That is the flip.

Of course, all of this is contingent on fire closures.  Right now there are stretches of the PCT in Washington that are closed due to fire and other sections, including the northern terminus at the Canadian border, that are highly recommended to not traverse as the smoke is so thick that it would be dangerous and unhealthy hiking.

But those sections are weeks away for us right now.

So here we go, enjoying the beauty of the Cascades of Washington, then Oregon in early autumn.

Are you ready? We are.

Day 132 – 0 / 1,717

Please help us help the PCT Association as they work to protect and maintain this precious resource: http://tinyurl.com/le5cu9j

Marathons and More

Early on in our blogging of this hike, a comment was made that most thru-hiker blogs wane rapidly once the hiker reaches northern California or end entirely by the time they reach Oregon.

I thought it was an odd idea, mainly because this blog is almost 10 years old and I have been consistent throughout that time.

But then again, I haven’t tried blogging while walking a marathon a day or putting in a marathon effort every day.

I get it now.

After a full day of hiking, we get camp set up, we eat, I enter the hiking day, miles and cumulative mileage and am usually asleep within minutes.

The next day?  Rinse. Repeat.

The ultra-marathon hike into Seiad Valley wasn’t any different.

We spent the day traversing the burn area of last year’s massive Happy Camp fire.  It appears that the area is rebounding nicely.

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In the closing miles, a nice surprise on the side of the road.

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“Only 999 (miles) to Canada”.  That put a bit of spring into our step as we strolled into Seiad Valley for a resupply, shower and laundry.

Day 125 – 27 / 1,653

The next morning we adjusted our goal for the day to hoping for 20 miles, as right out of town we had a 5,000′ climb over the next 10 miles as the day heated up.

It turned out that the climb was going to take more out of us than we expected. It also turned out that we weren’t the only ones.

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We limped into camp earlier than we had in weeks and were both asleep before sunset.

Day 126 – 15 / 1,668

We woke up fresh and ready to roll, even through the 1,000′ climb right out of camp.

We had a huge carrot dangling in front of us – Oregon.  We were aiming to cross the state line before evening, then get a few more miles in, hoping to shorten our next day’s hike.  That day would have a bigger carrot for us – Ashland.

The miles rolled by and we met our goal just before 6pm.  After 1,689 miles, we were done with California!

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Our entry in the log book was simple – “Gee-SPOT and BABs started Bill & Jen’s Excellent Adventure on 4/12.

So long California. It’s time for us to part ways. We would say that it’s not you, but us, but that wouldn’t be true.  It is you!

p.s. See you in two months.  We want our car back.”

A few miles later we were hiking through familiar territory, the high mountain meadows of the Siskiyou Crest, a bit more than an hour drive from Ashland.

It would take almost a full day of hiking to get there.

Day 127 – 26 / 1,694

After a night of cowboy camping in familiar surroundings, we were up early and moving soon after sunrise into an area that even reminded us of early mornings in Bavaria, complete with cow bells.

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We moved quickly, eager to meet a friend at a trail shelter at the southwestern foot of Mount Ashland some 13 miles distant.  Even with a steep 1,000′ climb, we managed to get there and meet him by noon.

Surprisingly he wasn’t alone, bringing along one our other friends.  This wasn’t the first time she had surprised us on this hike, first hopping out of a car to greet us after we left Mount Lassen.

They surprised us with not only hugs, but a cooler full of cold sodas, fresh fruit and a large tray of 7-layer dip.  Heaven to a hiker.

They were having fun as trail angels, feeding hikers as they passed.

After a great visit, we had to get moving.  We had another 10 miles to go for the day to get us to the bottom of Mount Ashland. But before we left, we unloaded our packs of almost all but the essentials.  We were going to slack pack with a light load, then meet our friend at the bottom of the mountain, where we would catch a ride into Ashland.

It was in town where we would take a break and shift gears for the next phase of the hike.

Day 128 – 23 / 1,717

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Smoke, Climbs and Smoke

Our day started at 2am, when we both woke up thanks to the smoke.  It was thick enough that our eyes were burning, even though the nearest fire was over 100 miles away.  We both huddled deeper into our bags and went back to sleep.

Dawn saw the majority of the smoke pushed down into the valleys, which made our departure and morning a bit nicer.

This would be the best view of the Trinity Alps we would have while in that Wilderness.

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As we moved out of the Trinity Alps Wilderness and the towards and into the Russian Wilderness, the climbs became more numerous and steeper.

Our progress reflected that.  At 6pm, Jen popped out with this gem:

“It’s 6:00 and we’ve done only 19 miles?  What have we been doing all day?”

I do love her.

A good chunk of the Russian Wilderness shows scars from recent wildfires, but is also rebounding nicely.  It’s amazing what nature does when man doesn’t interfere.

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We were trying to make miles so we could meet a friend in the morning.  Because of our slower than normal progress, we ended up pushing into camp after dark, our path lit by headlamps.

That’s an experience that will become more frequent as summer draws to a close.

We found a suitable spot near a lake to set up, only to discover we were surrounded by other campers who had come out for the meteor showers.  They were having a good time, so we grabbed our earplugs and went to sleep.

We were gone before they even showed signs of stirring.

Day 122 – 25 / 1,591

Our morning was early as we were meeting a friend at Etna Summit,  a spot notorious for difficult hitches into town due to sparse traffic on that highway.

A beautiful glimpse of Mount Shasta in uncharacteristically clear skies:

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After a quick six miles, we strolled into hugs, hot coffee, hot pastries and a tasty morning beer.  Then it was time to run to Etna for showers, lunch and resupply.

We even had a great navigator during our ride – the incomparable Mr O.

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After a too-short visit, we were back on trail, pushing to get some miles in, looking forward to getting to Ashland in a week’s time.

We found a campsite on a ridgeline which revealed a pleasant surprise – in the distant north, we could plainly see Mount McLoughlin in Oregon.  We were getting closer!

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Day 123 – 14 / 1,605

The morning was crisp and clear.  A beautiful day to push north into the Marble Mountains Wilderness. We hadn’t been there before and heard that the views were fantastic.

Sitting at lunch, we started clouding over just a bit.  Nothing of concern, but it was interesting to see cirrus streaming north as fast as it was.  It soon became obvious that a cold front had pushed through, not so much because it got colder (it didn’t), but that we could see the smoke pouring through the valleys to the west and getting thicker.

Soon we were back in the smoke again, unable to enjoy the views that the Marble Mountains are known for.

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The climbs kept coming, one after another.  We realized that we had to get back in the mode of calculating the impact of the climbs on our forward progress. On average, for every 1,000′ of elevation gain, it takes us an additional 45 minutes.  That time could mean 1.5-2 miles of difference compared to flat ground.

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That difference shows in our distance for the day.

Day 124 – 21 / 1,626

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Trail Work Stomping Grounds

The next several hundred miles were to include many sections of trail where I  helped clear and repair the PCT.  It would be fun to see how the work has held up after a year.

We started this section with some pretty clear skies, but that didn’t last long.  Thanks to the heavy smoke, we wouldn’t see much in the way of expansive views.

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Castle Crags.

We selected this campsite based on recommendations that it was one of the best views on the PCT, with Mount Shasta, Mount Lassen and Castle Crags dominating the skyline. We’ll have to take their word on it.

Although we will return to this spot during clearer weather.  And who knows, maybe we’ll find my small toiletry kit that managed to not make it in my pack the next day.

Day 119 – 17 / 1,516

Sunrise saw the inversion capping the smoke just below us in the valley, which meant we caught a glimpse of Mount Shasta.  Just 20 minutes after sunrise we couldn’t see her anym

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ore.

The rest of the day was in and out of smoke.  We had views at times, other times it was just

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smoke.

Sometimes it just looked like Mount Shasta was floating.

We made it past Deadfall Lake, a popular hiking destination amongst the locals.  Being Sunday, we expected a crowd.  Instead it was just us thru-hikers, some headed north, others headed south.  Apparently the smoke kept folks away.

Soon we came to the spot where I took the picture of Jen and Skinny that is now the header on the blog.  We had planned to recreate it for a long while now.  Unfortunately the smoke blocked any background, but here’s Jen with her vial of Skinny’s ashes.

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A few more miles and we found our campsite. Still plenty of smoke, but we had some nice views downward from the site.

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Thanks to our new shoes, we saw our first 26 mile day.  Actually it was 26 miles due to rounding, since I only post whole miles and not keep track of anything less than whole miles.  So this was one of those funny instances where we actually hiked only 25.28 miles, but the rounding made it 26.

For those of you that are twitching right now it works like this:  we left camp at mile 1516.43 and arrived at camp at mile 1541.71.  Since I track only whole miles, that’s leaving camp at 1516 and arriving at 1542.  That’s how 25.28 becomes 26.

But technically we’re still a mile shy of walking a marathon.

Day 120 – 26 / 1,542

A day of trees and thick smoke.  There weren’t many photo ops until we got to a small stream and found our first carnivorous plants on the trail, a bunch of beautiful pitcher plants.

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By the end of the day we found ourselves in the Trinity Alps Wilderness. I had been looking forward to this stretch for the whole trail.  Unfortunately we couldn’t see much of anything thanks to the smoke.

Day 121 – 24 / 1,566

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Look Kids, Big Bend

Up next – Parliament. If you have any on your playlist, turn it up. This blog probably reads better with some fat Bootsy Collins bass lines in the background.

How’s that for a mash-up of pop culture references?

Why Big Bend?  We’ve now entered the stretch of the PCT that bears thay name.  The trail has taken a turn to the west so we can get over to the Trinity Alps, turn north to the  Marble Mountains, enter Oregon and swing back east through the Siskiyou Mountains.

Home turf for us.

The smoke found us.  Whether it was from the Hayfork fire well south of us or the Stout fire up in Oregon, the smoke found us.  So I guess it’s a good thing that we spent most of the day in the trees. 

Otherwise it was views like this.

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Late in the afternoon, we were making good time even though my feet were barking at me.  Jen was in the lead, then stopped dead in her tracks as I heard a crashing that sounded like someone throwing a plastic garbage can down the street.

I caught a glimpse of a large black shape just off trail crashing through the undergrowth. In a flash the adolescent black bear was several feet up a tree, looking over its shoulder at us.

Immediately we were on high alert, not knowing if mama bear was nearby.  After a few moments it became obvious that she wasn’t, so we started calmly  talking to the bear.  It realized we weren’t a threat and backed down out of the tree.

We were hoping it would scamper downhill away from the trail, but no such luck.  We started banging our trekking poles together to make noise and keep it from the trail, but it wasn’t interested in that.  Instead, it found a log to lie on facing the trail and just kept and eye on us through the brush.

So we stood there for a minute talking to it while it stared back at us.  Still not convinced that momma was nowhere near, we headed up the trail.

It wasn’t until then that I thought that I should have taken a picture of it looking at us.

We can still see its beautiful big black eyes.

We made it to camp soon before sunset.  It was a forest service campsite, so it actually had a pit toilet.

Mind you, most of the time both of us would rather use the forest.  Humans are filthy animals.  But this one was clean.  Plus it had an entertaining feature.

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You haven’t lived until you’ve sat on a privy with bats flying around your head.  It was fun to watch in the fading light.

Unfortunately they were gone with the good morning light, so no pics of them either.

Day 116 –  23 / 1,468

Not much to this day.  Mile upon mile of forest.  Any chance of a view was blocked by smoke.

Instead, you get pics of us.

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The milky looking McCloud River.

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Day 117 – 24 / 1,491

The feet were still giving me issues, but new shoes were a short walk away.  We were going to pick up our shoes, resupply, take showers at the nearby campground, then keep moving up the trail.

We made it as far as the campground.

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Small town relic.

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Day 118 – 8 / 1,499

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Bubble Watching

Another Zero day for the feet.  It turns out the foot problems were pain referrals from issues in my legs.

Good thing I brought a licensed massage therapist on this hike with me.

Day 113 – 0 / 1,409

Leaving town, we took it easy, letting the feet settle into the routine.  They felt good, but the rest of our bodies sure protested.  Apparently we got used to the lounging around.

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We didn’t see another person on the trail all day long. Before we got off trail three days prior, we figured that we were 3-5 days behind the closest bubble of hikers.  Our rest days would put us 5-7 days behind.

We set up camp near the trailhead to a spring.  Once everything was set up and we headed to the spring, a hiker arrived, much to our surprise.  While we were down at the spring filling our bottles, another arrived.  Back at camp, in short order there were half a dozen hikers sitting by our tent.  A couple more arrived, folks we hadn’t seen since South Lake Tahoe.

But soon all but two were headed up the trail to other campsites. The mini-bubble moved on without us.

Day 114 – 16 / 1,425

Even though there were large fires to our south and north, we had surprisingly clear skies, which made for good views of Mount Shasta.

Unfortunately she’s pretty barren of snow, even for this time of year.

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The feet were doing better, but I was still feeling it.  We couldn’t get to new shoes fast enough.  Even Jen was starting to feel it.

But we still had a few days before we could enjoy new kicks.

Day 115 – 20 / 1,445

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Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now

Hat Creek Rim.  Notorious.  Flashbacks of the hot, dry stretches in the desert.

Although we had pretty darn good weather for the desert, getting only a taste of how bad it could be.  We found out here on Hat Creek Rim.

Leaving camp soon after sunrise, we had but a few miles to a traditional water cache spot.  The problem with caches is that they are often unreliable, especially far away from town as this one is.

As usual, the first few minutes of the day are spent hobbling as everything that tightened up overnight protests against the movement. 

But today there was something different. A tender pain on the ball of my left foot.  A hot spot that could be the precursor of a blister.  Something that neither one of us hadn’t dealt with since the first hundred miles of this trek.

Getting to the cache, we loved the fact that there were chairs.  I peeled off the shoe and socks and found no evidence of a blister.  Poking around, there were tender spots, but nothing like when I stepped on a rock.  So a bit of massage and we were on our way.

The cache was fully stocked, but we didn’t partake.  We both had 3 liters of water and only 13 miles until the next stream, which should have been plenty.

Did I mention in the last post that it was hot? 

A view of the length of the Hat Creek Rim, looking south towards Mount Lassen.

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As the day progressed, it got hotter and the foot was bugging me more and more.  Both led to more frequent and longer breaks, slowing us down more than we needed.

That 3 liters of water?  Yeah, that lasted only 8 miles.  That meant 5 miles to go until the creek.  That meant a long, thirsty couple of hours.

But we then stumbled across a surprise roadside cache.  The gallon jugs had been out in the sun all day and was hot enough to make tea, but in that situation it was still good.

Sitting in the shade, I pulled up the weather.  The closest town, just a few miles away, was cooling down from a high of 105F.  Hot, but not damn hot.  Although many would disagree.

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Then there was this.

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With the fresh fill of hot water, we were able to limp to the next stream.  At that point we decided to call it a day, as the limping was slowing us down and the next campsite was a few miles away.

Day 110 – 16 / 1,404

Waking up, we discovered a couple of fellow houseguests.  They are always welcome while we stay, but are not welcome for the trip.  They would get squished.

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Heading down the trail, the foot was still giving me fits. Not only the left, but now the right in the same spot.  As the morning progressed, the left started feeling better as the right felt worse.

By the time we reached a highway crossing, we had a decision to make.  Get off the feet for a day or two, or progress and hope it didn’t get worse.

In this case, hope is not a technique.

So here we sit in a hotel room, an unplanned stop that cuts into our chances of successfully finishing this hike before winter sets into the northern Cascades

Day 111 – 5 / 1,409

Feet up, watching brainless TV while the always amazing Jen runs errands in the small town of Burney.

Day 112 – 0 / 1,409

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Friend-filled Days

Departing Lassen Volcanic National Park, we had a short day heading into Old Station. There we would meet up with our resupply Goddess who would take us into town for resupply, showers and laundry.

It just so happens that our resupply Goddess is also a Trail Goddess.

But first, we finally got a glimpse of Mount Lassen from inside the park.  We had traversed almost the entire park and had yet to see the mountain, thanks to the lush forest.  But an old burn area opened up the view for us.

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The beauty of this stretch was that is was a long, gradual downhill. The terrain and the prospect of seeing a dear friend helped us move quickly along, even covering over 4 miles in one hour at one point.

With packs on, that’s almost running for us.

We got to Old Station mid-afternoon and while we waited for our friend, we caught up with hikers that we hadn’t run across in a few days, plus met hikers we hadn’t talked to before.

The sound of tires sliding on gravel announced the arrival of our friend, complete with a surprise.  Another friend from Oregon.

Huge hugs and shenanigans ensued in spite of our trail funk.

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We were then whisked away for food, showers and merriment.

But before the showers, we had to compare legs. The ladies had spent the weekend working on the trail in the backcountry, supported by pack animals for the heavy lifting.

The lovely Bella couldn’t be left out.

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As you can see, the volcanic soil from Lassen was hitching a ride on our legs.

Anyone have a hose?

Day 107 – 14 / 1,371

It turned out that our resupply Day coincided with our host’s birthday.  Perfect!

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Plenty of good laughs in this picture. Her lovely mother made the cake, but had issues with it releasing from the pan. That didn’t affect the taste and there was nothing but crumbs left when we were done.

Day 108 – 0 / 1,371

Early the next morning we were dropped off back at the trail.  Ahead lie the Hat Creek Rim, a notorious stretch of the trail.  Completely exposed to the sun, covered with lava and boasting a 29-mile waterless stretch, the Rim is a section that many choose to skip.

That’s not an option for us.  We’re stubborn like that.

The first 8 miles were hot.  No lie.  With record breaking temperatures pushing over 110F down in the valley, we were slightly cooler up on the rim.  Slightly.

We opted to break up the long waterless stretch by using an off-trail water source.  Lost Creek Spring lies just 1/3 of a mile off the trail, but 300′ below.  It was a steep scramble down and a heavy haul back up, even though we left our packs up top.

We left the source very heavy.  Jen was carrying 6 liters, I was carrying 7 liters. At 2.2 pounds per liter on top of our full 7-day supply of food, we could feel it.  But there weren’t any options.

Dinner view of Mount Lassen, with the drop to Lost Creek visible frame right.

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Our goal was to beat the heat by hiking into the night, lit by an almost-full moon.  But the eyelids grew heavy as the sun set and we came across a beautifully smooth cement pad near an old fire lookout tower, so we decided to stop.

Mount Shasta sunset.
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With few mosquitoes and a dry night ahead, we decided to cowboy camp under the moon and stars, leaving the tent in the pack. 

It was a great choice.

Day 109 – 17 / 1,388

Please help us help the PCT Association as they work to protect and maintain this precious resource: http://tinyurl.com/le5cu9j

It’s All Downhill From Here

…except for the uphills.

Our day started at 12:30 am.  That’s when we were rudely awoken by a large crash and dirt spraying against the tent.  We heard the sound of the titanium mug that we use to boil water bouncing off the ground and figured either a bear or cougar came into camp, knocked the mug, startled itself and took off.  So we went back to sleep.

Once daylight arrived, I looked out and saw the mug sitting right where we left it to dry.

Odd.

Then I noticed a large branch right next to the tent that wasn’t there before.  It was broken in several pieces.  Further inspection showed that it landed pointy end down about three feet from where my head was in the tent.  The sound of dirt hitting the tent was just that, as my shoes had dirt and wood pieces in them.

A close call, but that’s life living in the forest.

The rest of the morning was spent continuing our climb into Lassen National Forest, climbing a steep mountain and hurdling trees downed in a storm last February. It took us all morning to get 6 miles.

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After lunch we were rewarded with views of Mount Lassen.  Somehow I didn’t get any pictures.  Odd.

Day 104 – 22 / 1,313

A big day.  We crossed the historically recognized halfway point of the trail, although the monument is now located about 5 miles short of the now-known midpoint.

Shamelessly stealing an idea from a fellow hiker, we marked the calfway point.

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Walking does a body good.

The rest of the day was full of beautiful forests and gentle climbs.  We were getting closer to the fabled flatter sections.

Flatter is relative.

Day 105 – 23 / 1,336

Early morning we came upon a fellow hiker that we had not met before.  We learned that his trail name is OMW, pronounced “ohm”, which is the acronym for “Old Man Walking”.

It turns out that OMW celebrated his 70th birthday this year by hiking the PCT.

Not only that, but he actually started three weeks after us and we were just now catching him. 

Go ahead, read that again.

Since the start he has taken only 4 days off, keeping a slow and steady pace.

A spry young man is OMW.

Soon after we were in Lassen Volcanic National Park, looking forward to seeing some of the geothermal features.

The first, Terminal geyser, was a disappointment to us, mainly because it didn’t live up to the hype that we had read about it.  That and the climb back out of the canyon that it sat in.

But Boiling Springs Lake did not disappoint. Jen saw her first-ever boiling mud pot and the colors were astounding.

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That’s a lake full of sulfur, perhaps acidic.  That and the fact that there were boiling spots in the lake and fumeroles spewing steam and hot water was enough to keep us at a distance.

Instead we opted for a water stop at a more hospitable body of water.

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Day 106 – 21 / 1,357

Please help us help the PCT Association as they work to protect and maintain this precious resource: http://tinyurl.com/le5cu9j