Highlights: We decided to go back to the fire closure area that we had missed earlier this year in order to cover missed miles. Going from the desert up to Northern California was a huge change. We started hiking on a foggy day. Everything was wet and cold, and we were surrounded by green trees and ferns and rugged mountains. It was exhilarating. We hiked to Seiad Valley where we resupplied and met some very nice folks in the cafe. We continued on through the Marble Mountain Wilderness which was heavily affected by the wild fires, and several bridges were burnt out. The last couple days into Etna were extremely painful for me, as the suspected tendinitis in my hips was flaring up. I knew on the day into Etna that our hike would end there, as every step was painful. Plus weather was coming our way– precipitation probably in the form of snow was predicted for the day after we walked out. But by doing this section, we finished the state of Oregon and left a wonderful 100 mile section to do another year.
The night before we started hiking we met another PCT hiker who was also a ranger in this area named Ken. We were given his information by Halfmile, who met him during his NOBO hike. When we called Ken, he immediately offered to shuttle us around to do this section, and told us the conditions of the trail (no snow..!) We met Ken and several of his daughters in a Starbucks in Yreka, and were invited to spend the night. Ken and his family are all crazy in a really awesome way. Ken had let us into his life at a ridiculous time: his first grandchild was born today, and they were all going back and forth to the hospital. Then we heard about his other daughter’s 5 year plan– even crazier! She plans on doing the triple crown (AT, PCT, CDT) and the 7 summits (tallest point on all 7 continents) from sea level. She’s already done the AT and PCT, and is working on the 7 summits by going with Ken to Africa in just a week or so’s time to climb Kilimanjaro. Amazing! We agreed to get up early to depart Ken’s place to get to Ashland to resume our hike where we left off many months ago.
Day 124: Mile 1727 to Mile 1699.5, 27.5 miles
We got up at 5:30AM and Ken drove us in our car out to Ashland. We thanked him and got on our way. As we walked away, the thought only just occurred to us: Were we crazy for giving the keys to a car we just bought to someone we only just met the day before? They already felt like good friends, and we certainly weren’t as crazy as they were!
As we entered the forest once again, we were overwhelmed by how green everything was. Everything was wet too. There were ferns and huge carnivores surrounding us. What a change from the desert. And no sand! Solid ground! No sun! In fact we were hiking through a huge fog bank. We hiked uphill for quite a ways and over the fog to see some amazing views.
We hiked well past dark– dark comes now around 5:30PM. The moon was full and we didn’t even need our headlamps unless we were in thick trees. My hips started to hurt, but I expected this as previously taking rest days had aggravated the pain in my hips. We camped half a mile away from the Oregon border.
Day 125: Mile 1699.5 to Mile 1672.5, 27 miles
First thing in the morning we hit the Oregon/California border. It was great to finally finish the state of Oregon, as we had only 28 miles left when we had to skip ahead, and it always nagged us that Oregon had been left incomplete. We signed the register, and noticed that the last hiker through there was Buddy Backpacker (a family hiking with their 6 year old) roughly 5 days ago.
As the wet season was just starting, water sources are kind of hard to predict. There is plenty of water, but it is just hard to tell which sources will be running, and which won’t.
We get beautiful views of Mount Shasta in the distance covered in snow
My hips continued to hurt, but I had hope that maybe it would only take a few days for them to work themselves out again.
Again we hiked well past dark, and as the moon was rising, it looked almost like a sunset, only darker. Looking down into the darkness I noticed stars reflecting off of a lake. It was magical.
Day 126: Mile 1672.5, to Mile 1652, 20.5 miles
We got amazing views in the morning with the sunrise over blankets of fog in the valley.
We descended into the fog to get to Seiad Valley, and all of the vegetation was wet from it. Spider webs were covered in drops of water, as were my eyelashes quickly became as well.
We hiked through an old burn area with many downed trees, and Dirt Stew and I were able to move several of the smaller ones that were blocking the trail.
We got to town and went into the cafe and ordered burgers for lunch. We got chatting with a couple of locals, Bill and Peggy, who had done various parts of the PCT on horseback.
It was really great to talk to them about the intricacies of doing the trail on horse. For example, I had no idea that horses do not understand that an approaching hiker is simply another person until they say something. That explains why horsemen sometimes shout at us from far away. We thought it was weird that they didn’t just wait until they were closer to have a conversation so that we could actually hear them. In fact, they were just trying to prove to their horse that we were just humans and not monsters. Especially hikers wearing big packs or carrying an umbrella. Suddenly they look like a 7 foot tall monster. And then if the hiker stands on the uphill side… then they’re a 10 ft tall monster. And if they step to one side and quietly stand behind a tree… the horse is just waiting for the 10 ft tall monster to jump out from behind the tree. And the horseman is then sitting on hundreds of pounds of dynamite. Then it turned out that they were good friends with Ken. Oh small towns…
We resupplied and hiked out, walking 6 miles on a road before reentering the woods. Here the forest was hit by the recent burn. Everything was burnt for miles and miles. As we hiked into the dark, we noticed that one tree that was reduced to just the trunk was still smoking.
We set up camp near the stream that we had been climbing up next to for many miles, for lack of a better place, and of course camping near water means a cold night.
Day 127: Mile 1652 to Mile 1627, 25 miles
As we continued through the burned area, we came across several bridges that were burnt. One was still passable, and another was completely burnt out, and we had to ford.
Dirt Stew tried to rock hop across, but the rocks were slippery, and he fell straight into the stream. Luckily, it wasn’t too high, but he lost his sunglasses in the process, and of course got wet. I looked upstream for a place to cross, and thought I found a better spot to rock hop. I stood on a rock for a while trying to plan my jump, when I decided to signal to Dirt Stew to bring me another pole. Since the stream was so loud, we couldn’t hear each other, and I was trying to gesture to let him know what I wanted. He was gesturing something back, but I couldn’t tell what. Eventually he made his way over begrudgingly and handed me the pole. Unfortunately, it didn’t help, and I also slipped on a rock, getting both my feet wet. He had tried to tell me that navigating over to me would be more dangerous than simply having me ford, and I should just get my feet wet. Having not been able to properly communicate with each other, we were both irritated and annoyed with each other. It didn’t help my mood that my hips were not getting any better, in fact they hurt more than ever. I wanted to quit, but with so few miles left… it seemed dumb to do so.
Every day was getting colder, and even at 1PM the ground was frozen in many places. Ponds were freezing over as well. Luckily we were hiking through some of the most beautiful scenery, and I was happy we were able to see it at last. The Marble Mountains were rugged, and full of great views. At one point I saw a bear galloping away from us on an adjacent ridge. We chose our campsite carefully as it was obviously going to be a very cold night. I was afraid that we would have another cold night. I wanted to make sure that we would get a good night’s sleep.
Day 128: Mile 1627 to Mile 1606, 21 miles
November 11th: Last night was cold, but we both wore all of our clothing and kept warm. Dirt Stew decided to tie a fleece around his waist and put his long underwear on over top of that to keep his butt warm. The night before his cold butt kept him from sleeping soundly.
Clouds were starting to accumulate. We were told that some weather was coming our way by in the next day. It certainly was cold. We bundled up, and hiked towards the road to Etna. Water bodies were especially cold. We passed “freeze-your-butt-off lake” which was freezing over, followed by “freeze-your-butt-off pond” with a complete layer of ice on the surface, and “freeze-your-butt-off stream” complete with rocks covered in ice.
Unfortunately, my hips hurt like hell. It was obvious to me now that there was no way we would finish this entire section. I could not imagine doing another 100 miles. I could barely imagine making the 20 miles to the road. Time slowed down as the pain escalated. Every mile was a struggle. By the time we got to the road, all I wanted was to lay on something soft and not move for a week. We got to the road right before dusk, and it was getting so cold and windy. We hoped that someone would pick us up soon as we waited with our thumbs up by the side of the road. A truck stopped, and the guy got out, holding a can of beer, and after finishing it and throwing the can into the truck-bed, he invited us in. We threw our gear in the back, and nervously got in. He was actually a good driver (for once). He was a logger, and worked in the woods on the other side of Etna Summit. He dropped us off at the Etna Brewery, and we called Ken.
Ken and his wife were out somewhere visiting one of their daughters, but told us our car was at their place, and we were welcome to stay in their house even though they weren’t there. As we were on the phone with Ken, his wife was busy calling people in Etna, and managed to find someone else they knew in the Brewery that we were in who could give us a ride. As Dirt Stew hung up the phone, he said “so… we’re supposed to talk to that woman over there who’s going to give us a ride to their place where we can stay…” I raised my eyebrows and smiled. He leaned in looking around and whisper “it’s unlocked…!” Oh small towns….
We got a ride to Ken’s house, and took an amazing shower and then jumped in their hot tub. I was so happy not to be walking anymore. My hips were destroyed. But hey, we once again hiked to a hot tub! We were both very tired from our last stretch we were eager to get to sleep early. As I lay down in the comfortable bed and closed my eyes, I thought about how we wouldn’t be spending another night on the PCT. Not this year at least. With just around 100 miles left, I had no regrets. I knew we were making the right decision to call it quits right here.