PCT Completion Hike – Days 48 to 64

Our last update from Yreka, CA, mentioned the smoke from fires around the area. The day after arriving in Yreka, we were having lunch at a Subway when another hiking couple came in. There is an unspoken recognition between most hikers and the four of us got to talking right away. They were hoping to ride share to Ashland, a hiker resupply point a few miles north. We mentioned that we were were hoping to connect with a trail angel we’d already been in touch with. Things worked out for all of us, with the trail angel, Bill, aka “Chanti,” giving Patti and me a ride to the trailhead and the other couple a ride to Ashland. We all spoke about the smoke and fires on the way. But not until after we gave trail names to Lightening and Thunder who told the story of being out on the trail one rainy night, when a bolt of lightening struck a tree near them. Apparently it split the tree in half.

Once on the trail, Patti and I moved onto pretty easy hiking, at least by California standards. Smoke continued to dog us that day, that evening and all of the following day. We had a short reprieve when the air seemed to clear the next day. We hiked into a dense forest hinting of the “green tunnel” some describe Oregon to be. We were also seeing a lot of burn areas, left behind from last year’s fires, where entire sides of mountains and hills were wiped clean. After just a few short days of reasonably clear air, the smoke returned. The air was hazy and the sky was gray.

One afternoon, Patti and I stopped for lunch on top of a mountain. The sky was clear. Patti went .8-mile below the trail to pick up water at a pond and carried it back, maybe 35-minutes tops. We made and had lunch, maybe 15-minutes. And we also made a phone call realizing we had service for the first time since Yreka. When we first arrived, I pointed out to Patti a cloud of smoke that was clear on the opposite ridgeline from our vantage point. In the time that passed between arriving and our leaving about an hour later, we were emerged in smoke that moved in from the opposite mountain.

I grew frustrated that each day we moved further north the smoke would move back in during the afternoon hours. There were both obvious and subtle indications of fire. The headaches and dry throats were clearly caused by the smoke we were inhaling. But a beautiful sunrise or sunset, with the sun a bright orangey red instead of a bright yellow, drew away from the fact that the color we were seeing was caused by smoke.

The burn areas also exposed a huge need for trail work to get the PCT through this region back in shape. There were downed trees crossing the trail in quite possibly hundreds of places. Fires have ravished some of the trail. It will likely take decades to correct. More funding is always needed.

One of the trail’s more famous resupply points is Crater Lake. Patti and I have been there before so knew to expect to see the bluest clearest water we’ve ever seen. It’s the signature feature of the park containing it. When we approached Mazama Village, the official resupply point within the park, the air was plenty smokey. There were lots of hikers there, perhaps 50, many of whom we’d already met. The PCT near the park had been diverted previously due to a fire last year. The original PCT segment had just reopened. However, many hikers were still choosing to do the diverted trail because it actually gets hikers closer to the rim of the crater nearest the lake. In either option, Patti and I could see that the air was smokey and from our point of view, not safe. In fact, smoke reports posted by the National Park Service were dubious. So, we decided to jump ahead, now a second time, to see if we could get ahead of the smoke. We hitched a ride and got dropped off just north of the park. This decision would prove to be significant later on. We might have thought to move even further up the PCT, perhaps giving us some space. But we wanted to limit our jump forward as it was equally important to us to do as much of the PCT as possible.

At one point, we began to hear other hikers discuss the Oregon Skyline Trail. This is a spur trail that meets up to the PCT and is, in the end, a few miles shorter. I think there is also more water along the way to collect. (A side note here, that we found Oregon to be much dryer than expected through the month.) We decided to take this trail, hoping to see a little more of Oregon than we had. Along the way, we found some great lakes to stop at. One lake, Bingham Lake, was just a short distance from the OST. We found it and had the entire lake to ourselves. It was shallow and warm. We were able to collect water, freshen up and do some “laundry” all in one stop.

We were growing excited to get to our next resupply point, Shelter Cove. There we would receive a box full of goodies and get a chance to eat something other than trail food. We took showers, did real laundry, ate at the restaurant and shopped in the general store before settling in for the night at their campsite. The staff there was great. They were very accommodating to hikers. They have a tent and charging station available for hikers, along with picnic tables, a microwave, hiker boxes and trail registry. The WiFi, however, was painfully slow.

We began meeting other hikers, though not a lot of them. Those of us on the trail, despite the smoke, seemed resolved to wait and see how things would develop, and to continue hiking in the meantime. We began picking up more strength and endurance. We built our daily mileage up to 16-18 miles per day comfortably, and up to 20-22 on good days. We caught up with one hiker we met at Crater Lake, Tequila John. We would later leapfrog him several times before we all decided to hike together. We enjoyed having a fresh voice to speak with. We got acquainted quickly.

Photos on instagram.com/mcshap

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