We first saw the smoke climbing out of Castle Crag. It seemed it was coming from the Southeast but we couldn’t be sure. The sky was clear and blue. But by the time we got to the top of the first climb we could see more smoke and could tell the fire was large.
Today, we have found our way to Yreka, California, a small town just south of Ashland, Oregon. Our path here was neither clear nor direct. It’s the result of many decisions and changed minds. The Hendrix Fire in lower Oregon is now playing a significant role in our decision that brought us here and our plans moving forward.
From Castle Crag to Etna our hike was spectacular. As we saw last year when we were hiking this area, Mt. Shasta loomed big in the distance while we literally hiked around its base until finally moving north of it. We saw water sources sprout up seemingly everywhere. We enjoyed water so cold it made my teeth hurt. Some of the terrain was easy and flat. Some of it was rocky and hard, and on a ridge, requiring stretches of walks into early evening, making for 12-hour days.
However, as we wove our way further toward Oregon, the smoke from the fire was growing more imposing and darker in color. The smoke no longer was that of a distant fire. The fire was north of us and we were walking into it.
The PCT closed in two areas ahead of us which we learned about via other hikers we saw on trail and finally also in Etna, a planned stop to resupply. In Etna, we had WiFi and were able to get the latest news, trail conditions and to make plans to avoid the trail closures. With all the available information we decided to get a ride from the owner of Wildwood Crossing in Etna, a small coffee shop, who offered a ride the next morning, to Ashland, Oregon above the fires. But by the end of day, we learned one of the closures was reopened and we decided to hike at least to Seiad Valley, our next resupply point 5 days up trail. That would keep us moving and we could figure it out then.
I began feeling nausea 2 days ago. And a headache has come and gone since. Both Patti and I have scratchy throats from the smoke. As we descended into Seiad Valley, the entire valley was covered by smoke.
Transportation options out of Seiad Valley are limited to a bus on Tuesdays and Fridays, or hitchhiking. We figured we’d pick up our resupply box from the post office on Monday and catch the bus to Ashland on Tuesday. Once we arrived and had lunch at the cafe, it was still early afternoon and Patti had the idea to try and hitch out right away. We could leave instructions for our resupply box at the post office to be bounced up to Crater Lake. Patti made a quick sign, we stuck out our thumbs, we got picked up within a few minutes and were on our way to Yreka.
The skip up to Ashland tomorrow will hopefully get us above the fire and smoke danger. And it also keeps us on track and on schedule for a mid-September finish in Canada. While we agonized making the decision to skip this 60-miles of trail, we know deep down we need to be watchful of our own health and safety.
Other than the excitement of the fire and smoke, the hike continues to be all we could hope it to be. We have been working on stretching out our days to get in more miles. We still struggle to get our average over 15 miles per day. But we discussed that we both feel stronger and healthier than ever before. So, we believe we can move the needle more toward 18 or 20 per day, especially in Oregon which is less mountainous than California. Our weight loss continues but has slowed. We have found some better and more nutritious foods. But opportunity is rare to do this, limited to resupply stops with good stores. We have enjoyed meeting and spending time with other hikers from all over the world. The scenery and views have been spectacular, smoke-shrouded panoramas aside.
Let me tell you how remarkable some of the people have been. There was “Indy,” a trail angel who set up shop of salads and sandwiches at Carson Pass. Gary from Florida along with his 17 year old son passed us up solid fast about a mile before the next tentsite but held the last available room for us and made plans to sleep, literally, on the trail. Riser from Portland gave us a flask when he heard ours had broken. Cathy, Jim and Bob did magic and made incredible sandwiches. We got a hitch in and out of Tahoe and Seiad Valley. We were offered the ride mentioned above by the coffee shop owner. One guy gave us a fuel canister because ours ran out. There are endless instances of people doing remarkable things out on the trail. And the remarkable feat of hiking the miles is only part of that.
We’ve had minor scrapes, bruises, cuts and falls. Nothing serious. Patti’s right hand swelled up a few weeks ago after a bite got irritated. I battled kidney stones – a chronic condition – passing 4 before getting on trail at Castle Crag. Ear congestion. Daily aches and pains. Barely more.
Pictures posted to Instagram within the hour. Instagram.com/mcshap