PCT SOBO DAYS: 56-58
September 9th-11th, 2017
Burney Falls State Park to Hat Creek
PCT SOBO Miles: 1,234-1,283; 49miles
DAY 56: Sept. 9th, 2017
PCT SOBO Miles 1,234-1,243: 9 miles
Burney Falls to Burney Mtn. Guest Ranch
In the morning at first it was silent, then the stirrings of other humans started like a domino effect until finally the laughter and chatter started right back up. I was laying in my cocoon of green fluff with my eyes open, listening to the sounds of the world waking up before the people did. Even when the others started stirring, I still lay there quietly. It reminded me of when I was young and would go over to a friend’s house for a sleepover. In the morning, I was always the last one up. I never seemed to get enough sleep, and they would be in the kitchen for hours having pancakes and OJ and I would still lay there in my little pink sleeping bag and fade in and out of sleep luxuriously. Nobody could ever understand why I did this. To me, it was my happy place, and I never cared much for pancakes anyway.
So, as I lay there, I was facing Tall Joe’s tent and saw the shelter rippling from his movements inside. Suddenly, his backpack goes flying out the door! No warning, no wind-up, just a big slam, and then he comes crawling out of the tent all groggy-like and stands up to greet the day. We all burst out laughing at this and it was a great way to start the day with the giggles already. At this point, I knew I wasn’t going to sleep anymore, so I went ahead and made my coffee and snacked on some leftover almonds and chips. The group was all discussing heading to the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, which apparently just opened this year, and was a grand total of 9 miles up the trail. I remembered last year when I passed by it, all I saw was a very small sign on a paper plate saying there was a trail angel or something there. I didn’t bother going because I was trying to catch up with Mama Lion and Boone at the Falls. So, this was exciting to me, something new! I sleepily meandered through the big campground, feeling quite hiker trashy because I was our of food and had to Yogi and because I illegally stealth camped last night, and plus, I looked down at my legs and my hands and all my gear, and I was really, really dirty. But you know what? I felt extremely at peace with this, I felt like Me. Just Me, and that is one of the best side-effects of thru-hiking.
The group went on ahead of me out of camp, and I took my time. I needed to wait for the General Store to open, because I was planning on stocking up on food, I needed enough to get me to Old Station, and from there I would stock up again to get me to Drakesbad, where I had a package mailed. Going to the Store was exciting because I planned on getting a “real” cup of coffee and checking out their hiker box too.
When I checked the hiker box, however, it was slim pickins’. The store carried the usual junk food, and not too many vegetarian options, so I was feeling a little bummed about this. What is the best thing here to eat? I couldn’t seem to decide, so I got a cup of hot coffee and went back outside to think. It was there that I got lucky, so lucky, because there was a NOBO thru-hiker there, who happened to have just picked up her own resupply box, which was way too full. She was tossing aside all kinds of wonderful snacks that she didn’t need all over one of the picnic benches outside, and guess who took them gladly? She and I chatted for a little bit about our hikes and cheered each other on. She was super cool and it made my day to meet her and to, once again, be given food! And it wasn’t just any food, it was quality hiker food! The trail provided for me again! I only had to buy a couple items at the store then, and soon was outta there.
It was around 10:30am when I headed over to the Waterfall. If you have never been there before, please make the time to go down there and sit and absorb all the positive energy this place generates. For one thing, the water stays at a constant 42-48 F temperature, so on a hot day, it is incredibly refreshing. The waterfall is no joke, either, it has literally hundreds of small tricking cascades within cascades that mesmerize you. I took my time and meandered along the little sidewalk path that follows the creek, crosses the bridge, then switchbacks up the hill on the other side. Along this little peaceful path are a series of benches, with great quotes on them. One of my favorite of which is “Happy trails to you…until we meet again”, which my Mom and I sing to each other often.
It wasn’t long before I was back in the baking heat and dry grasses, completely exposed. By then, it was the hottest part of the day and I wanted to just make it to the Guest Ranch because rumor had it they have a swimming pool! Oh, my that sounded just absolutely lovely…Thus, with the thoughts of c swim and a cold beverage dancing in my brain, I booked it to the ranch as quickly as I could. Along the way, I passed a trail sign which designated the distances from that point to each border, so I celebrated that with a headstand. Then I reached the Wild Bird Cache, which deserves a lot of commentary, but I will just share with you that it also boasted a sign indicating the 1,400 miles to go to Mexico. Almost halfway! I will leave the rest of this cache to your imagination!
I crunched along the red clay roads, and enjoyed the feeling that I was on a scavenger hunt, looking for the the signs that led me to the great swimming pool. Once I found the signs, the Ranch was only a short walk off the trail. I tell you what, this place is truly in the middle of nowhere and I can definitely see how future PCT hikers will want to come stay here. Check it out! (here). It is a family owned and operated Guest Ranch on 114 acres. They are open to all visitors, but cater to PCT hikers. Their property is well maintained, there is a great tenting area, a main building with a kitchen they they prepare food in for you, (you are not allowed to use it), a dining room, lounge area, laundry area, swimming pool, wifi, and a little hiker store.
Now, I had been hearing about this hiker store and was told by many that it would have “everything a hiker would need for a resupply”. Ok, let’s get real here. I had my serious doubts. I imagined the typical junk food of pop tarts and cheap Ramen, skittles and maybe some Jiff PB, definitely not my kind of food. I mean, none of that is actual food IMO. But, I digress. And I stand corrected. They had an incredibly well stocked little store wit fairly healthy selections. It was very well thought out, fully stocked with meals that I would have been happy to eat, and even had a fridge that sold cold beverages you can take to the pool. (No alcohol allowed at the Ranch, FYI). Pretty awesome if you ask me.
Upon my arrival, I checked in and signed up for the dinner that evening. I also perused the store, helped myself to a cold beverage, and went for a dip in the pool. I washed my laundry, hung my clothes out to dry and set up a cozy little place to sleep. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that Tripsy showed up. Tripsy!! So glad to see her again, we had so much to catch up on. She pitched her tent right next to me and American Idol, and nearby us was Hurlgoat, Shameless, Captain Underpants, Jingles, Cowboy Coffee, Bellows, Tall Joe, and Zach & Angela pitched their tent in the “couples” area under the shade of a beautiful lonely oak tree. The whole gang was here.
Inside the dining room area, there were postings about Mountain Lions, like lots of them. It kinda made me freaked out. I mean, I am normally aware when there might be a lion and I know what to do if I see one. It’s on my radar but I don’t obsess on it. This made it a little more acutely on my mind. There was another posting about a missing hiker, who was northbounding this year, and had become missing near Idyllwild in the SoCal desert section of the PCT. This was the first I had heard about him and was saddened to know that another one went missing. At this point in the year, there had already been a few other fatalities on the PCT, including the two young women who attempted to cross treacherous waters in the High Sierra’s and did not make it. These instances were both tragedies and definitely weighed heavily in the hearts of the PCT thru-hiking community. The sad thoughts circled around in my mind as I read the posting about the other missing hiker, and it made me pause and remind myself to never take a single mile for granted out here.
That night, Tripsy and I chatted out by our tents and then the group was served “make-your-own” burritos in the dining room. Oh my goodness were these burritos amazing! There was a mad display of fresh ingredients all across the table, and one could pile on as much as one wished to consume. It was heaven! We all ate together and filled the room with chatter, laughter and the light of cell phones as we took advantage of the wifi.
DAY 57: Sept. 10th, 2017
PCT SOBO Miles: 1,243-1,263.6
21 miles (including .3mi from BMGR to PCT)
Elevation: +2,583 ft / -798 ft
Burney Mtn. GR to Hat Creek Rim
Journal Excerpt: 3:40pm, 92 F in the shade, 102 F on the trail. I’m taking a break in the shade by force. I am also forcing myself to eat some food. I am sitting on a little dirt slope covered in acorns and prickly oak leaves. I took off my shoes to cool down too, and I am trying to hydrate but my water tastes like crap because it is literally hot. I have no appetite either because of this heat, but I know I need the calories. Despite the heat, I feel I am doing well on my time and miles today. There are only 3.8 more miles until Cache 22, where I’ve heard there is now a water tank with water actually in it.
Side Note: This is the infamous Hat Creek Rim of Northern California. It is dreaded by many because it is one of the longest waterless stretches on the entire PCT. The Halfmile Maps warn Sobos and Nobos alike that the next “reliable” water source may be in 29.4 miles between Baum Lake in the North and Subway Cave in the South. Many hikers have been warned not to rely on “caches” throughout the entirety of the PCT, however Cache 22 seems to now be an established water source that we may now be able to call reliable. There is an article about this in the June 2015 Trail Dirt Blog published by the PCTA at: Hat Creek Rim on the PCT
This morning, we all enjoyed a fantastic meal (again) at the Guest Ranch, including “real” coffee, which as you know by now, I am a sucker for! After brekkie I stayed to work on my blog for a bit and everyone else trickled out one by one. Shameless and I were among the last two hikers to leave. I set off ahead of him around 10:00am and knew he would catch up to me and pass me in no time flat. I was in the mood to hike alone again that day, so I had no problem knowing everyone else was up ahead. We were thirty-some-odd miles from here to the next place of civilization, which would be Old Station and I knew we would all end up there together, because there would be food and cold drinks!
I left the Guest Ranch and within a few miles was walking across what I consider to be a bit of a strange part of the PCT. The trail here intersects with the Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery so there are suddenly fences, bridges, parking areas, buildings, machinery and people who work there. It’s almost like you are trespassing on private property, it has an odd feel to me, like a time warp, it’s hard to explain exactly. Or maybe it’s just an effect of the heat? Shortly, though, I was crossing a little creek with fresh cold water and I stopped there for a little reprieve from the sun. It was nearing 100 F and I knew the section ahead of me was going to be very exposed. There were actually a couple of NOBO’s there and we chatted briefly. I wet my bandanna and my shirt and walked up the slope with the cool tingling sensation of wet material on my hot skin, which I knew would only last so long. Occasionally a breeze would pick up and that was pure heaven…
Soon I was tramping over hot, black, sharp lava rocks. I’d sort of forgotten how much lava there was in this section until I was walking on it again. Then memories came flooding back to me again. I remembered the 1400 NOBO mile marker was down here, so I made it my goal to locate it. The scavenger hunt continues…
The trail here meanders through lava fields interspersed with the occasional tree, lots of dried yellow grasses and in the periphery there are cliffs that lead up to the actual Hat Creek Rim. Off in the distance to the South, you can see Mount Lassen.
I was eternally grateful that my feet were not so sore this time around, and I enjoyed the harsh landscape despite the heat. As I arrived closer to the cliffs, I started to get hotter and began to dread the climb ahead of me. I started to really realize how much the heat sucks the life out of you. I felt like I had to dig into a deep place to get this 1,000 ft climb under my belt. It would have been so much nicer to sit in the shade and let the heat of the day pass me by. It would have been so much nicer if I just had a cold iced tea!
I thought of a good friend of mine, Laura, and a conversation we’d had before I set off on this hike. We spoke about trials and times in life when it would just be easier to give in, and how important it is to NOT give in at these times, that this is what makes you strong. She is a very strong person, amazingly so, and I thought about her a lot and that gave me the strength to push on through the heat and exposure, through the lava fields and dry climbing with only hot water to quench my unquenchable thirst. Digging in to that deeper place in my mind, I was soon a thousand feet higher, with views of Lassen and finally found a nice place in the shade to take a little lunch break.
From my lunch spot it was really hard to get going again, I honestly could have taken a nap so easily! I pushed on though, deciding that I would try to make it to the radio tower after filling up at the Cache and perhaps just cowboy at the tower. It was another 11.8 miles from my lunch spot to the Lost Creek trail junction where all the others were planning to camp that night. I knew by the afternoon I was not going to make it that far. Besides, I was truly enjoying my alone time, so I figured I’d wing it and sleep anywhere up there on the rim that felt good when that time came.
I made it to Cache 22 by maybe 5:30 in the afternoon, ready for another break in the shade and grateful when I got there to discover there was actually a water tank, and it had water to boot! Whoot whoot!! When I arrived, two other Sobos were there too, Cowboy Coffee and Jingles. I wan’t planning on staying so long, but the three of us got into a cool conversation about the freedom of the thru-hikers life and I was enjoying their company. It was after 6:00 pm when we three left the cache, and they were talking about another 8 miles to catch the group. We started back up the hill, and I soon allowed them to pass me up. They were hiking shirtless and bombing up the trail like young guys do. I was ready to get back into my own head-space again and wished them a good hike.
The evening actually turned out to be so beautiful. It was still quite hot, but became much more manageable as the sun started sinking down behind the layers of mountains in the distance. The early evening light cast a golden glow on yellow sage flowers and deepened the shadows of the great volcanic mountains to the West and South. The views from up on the rim were spectacular, especially in some areas where the trail follows right along the margin of the cliff.
It was around 7:30 pm when I had to make a decision. I’d passed the radio tower area, it was too early to stop hiking when I was there, and it really didn’t appeal to me to sleep there actually. The views are amazing, but it’s extremely exposed and I didn’t want to be by the big towers after all. I decided I would start looking for a stealth place to camp in the sage brush and eventually found something that was enough off trail that nobody would ever notice me. Perfect! The sunset was getting more and more beautiful and I was more than happy to be all set up and eat my dinner in the presence of it’s glory.
Journal Excerpt: It’s 9:16 pm and let me just tell you how absolutely incredible the stars are here! The Milky Way is painted across the sky. I’m stealth camped out in the middle of the Hat Creek Rim all alone. It really has that “middle of nowhere” feel to be here, I love it. Yet, part of me is cautious about the potential for Mountain Lions being out here…especially after reading all those postings, but I can’t live in fear. I’ve gotta live my life, and right now that means camping here all alone. Don’t get me wrong, I am loving my little hiker trash bubble I am tramping along with these days, but I know I am going to see them in town tomorrow anyway. I just really like being alone right now, out here, there is a different energy here, it is very emotional for me somehow, emotionally evocative. I am enjoying this big unbounded space, it’s like a preview to the So Cal desert. Wow, the desert, I still have SO far to go, and so much to look forward to!
DAY 58: Sept. 11th, 2017
PCT SOBO Mile: 1,263.3 – 1,283
Elevation: +1,200 ft / -1,400 ft
Hat Creek Rim to Tentsite at Hat Creek
Sleep evaded me last night. The full moon was bright as day and I kept waking up thinking it was morning. At one point I looked at my phone and the time read 4:09am. I’d felt like I hadn’t slept at all up until that point, and still, I contemplated just getting up and starting to walk. I must have fallen back asleep though. It was dead silent there, too. Strangely, this can be a distraction from getting good sleep. I find that myself (and most hikers I talk to) sleep best in close proximity to moving water. It’s soothing for sure, but I also think it acts as a white noise. The wind died down last night and there was absolutely no sound at all. Normally, I love this, it is so rare in this life that we get to experience this. But coupled with the full moon and the posters I’d read about Mountain Lions, it did not really help that even a bug crawling in the grass sounded loud.
I ended up getting on the trail by 6:45 am and actually felt really good. The air temperature was cool and the sunrise spectacular. The morning started out with a light blue hue across the flat land and over towards the horizon to the East there was a slight pink beginning to form. The sunlight eventually came out in a burst and illuminated the yellow sage flowers all around, making everything glow. It was glorious! All of this made me really happy and I practically skipped along the flat trail. Walking was easy now, and I was able to make good time. That also meant I had a pretty fair chance of making it to JJ’s in time for breakfast. That does help motivate, just the thought of the eggs and coffee…..
By 8:00 am it was starting to get hot already, and by 9:00 am I was in a full sweat. Now, I was fantasizing not about hot coffee, but about icey cold iced tea. When I made it to the trail junction to Lost Creek there were no signs of other hikers having been there. I stopped for a quick pee break and pushed on. I need to make it for breakfast…I need to make it for breakfast….
It was a total of 12 miles from where I camped to Hwy 44, and from there another .5 mi to JJ’s cafe and the Old Station Fill Up (Gas station and market). I gave myself 4 hours to get there with a 15 minute cushion before they stopped serving breakfast. It was plenty of time, but I somehow felt like I had to rush. I started jogging down the trail to make up time and found it to be quite pleasant, feeling great to use different muscles. When I got to the parking lot at the Rim Overlook area, I felt like I was on the home stretch, as I knew it was just down the hill, past the junction to Subway Cave, and then the road shortly after that.
Well, it couldn’t have gone by slower. Sheesh. Never think you are almost there, just don’t do it. The last mile of trail seemed to go on and on and on and I did a bad thing and kept checking my App to see how much further it was. Bad idea as well. Finally I made it to Hwy 44 by about 10:20 and felt so relieved! I took a few photos there and walked hurriedly along the highway toward “town”. I could see signs in the distance for JJ’s and the Fill Up and was filled with joy. Not only was I excited for real food, but I envisioned all my friends being there already eating and laughing. I was excited to see them.
I got to the cafe and dropped my pack down outside. It was ridiculously hot already and I had to rummage through my pack to get out my phone charger and my wallet. I quickly ducked into the cafe and found not a single thru-hiker in there. I felt stumped for a moment. Where are they? Did I miss them? How early did they get up this morning? If they already passed through, where are they headed now? Where is everyone planning to camp tonight?
I took a seat at a table nearby a wall outlet so I could charge my phone and ordered a large Iced Tea and a massive breakfast of eggs, potatoes and toast. Within minutes of sitting down, Tripsy cruised in and following her were the rest of the crew one by one. Turns out they all went into the Subway cave and hung out there for a while, hot-boxing the place. Now, that made sense. I couldn’t have imagined how I made it there before they did. It never crossed my mind to go into the cave ‘cuz I was on such a mission for the cafe!
After hanging around the cafe for a good hour or more, and making at least three trips into the market, fumbling around with my resupply rations and re-organizing them several times, I would then eat an ice cream, and perhaps I also purchased a can of beer to pack out. By the time this was all said and done, it was 2:00 pm….time to hike. We had all taken this little reprieve, and as per usual I was one of three people who walked out of there last. It was me, Shameless and Tall Joe this time.
Shameless purchased three giant burritos from the market, they must have weighed over a pound each, and he strapped one of them on top of his pack. It was comical. The guy who is so Ultralight and stubbornly stoveless, packing out three massive burritos. They were probably not too shabby tasting though and he was definitely not picky about anything, I mean he ate a live grasshopper… nothing surprises me anymore.
We meandered behind the restaurant and cafe toward the Fire Station and we weren’t really sure where we were going to catch back up with the trail. Eventually we figured it out and somehow Shameless took off after downing a beer under the shade of a giant pine tree, leaving me and Tall Joe in the dust. Ah, youth! Tall Joe and I are close to the same age, so we can say that! We ended up walking together for the next 8 miles and we made it to camp in less than 3 hours. Now let me just say one thing about Tall Joe’s stride. He is over 6 feet tall, which means he has over 12 inches on me. So, his “casual” walking pace, is definitely a pushing pace for me. It was a hot day, and while we did get more shade than the previous day, I was working hard to keep up, and we were talking the whole time, and I was sweating. I finally asked him if I could walk in front, ha!
Our conversation carried us away and the miles passed by quickly. It wasn’t long before we were walking along Hat Creek as the PCT parallels it for a section, and it is a truly beautiful area. The presence of water is like a soothing balm from the rawness of the dry scorching heat and dusty trail. We found our friends getting set up near the creek, pitching tents and making a line for laundry to dry. Well, Hurl Goat was making a laundry line, as we now know he will wash his clothes every chance he gets! We were greeted with smiles and lively conversation ensued.
I decided I was going to cowboy camp again and laid down my sleep system in the midst of the group. We formed a loose amoeba like circle and created our own little tent city for the night. Several of us dipped into the icy cold creek, washed socks, t-shirts or bandannas and hung them out to dry. We have also learned that not only will Hurl Goat wash his clothes every chance he gets but he will also wash or dunk his entire body in the water too. This water was seriously cold, and it was rushing along with a decent force. I got in up to my knees and splashed off my arms and face, while he literally dunked his entire body into it, head and all. I could just imagine the ice cream headache he would have!
As evening set in, we all sat around cooking our dinners, or in Shameless’ case eating his jumbo burrito. Several of us brought a long a trail beer which we chilled in the creek by wedging the cans between rocks, and we even took a group photo. Does this make us an official trail family? As dark settled in, I tucked into my little green cocoon, exposed to the big open sky, watching the clouds build thicker and denser, and I could see twinkling stars through pockets of sky between cloud and tree cover. I fell asleep listening to the rushing water of Hat Creek, wondering if it might rain….we’ll see, we’ll see.