Northern CA Q

Oct. 6, Thurs.–18.4 miles plus ?? miles–No. CA Q Seiad Valley

Thurs. Oct. 6      Miles today: 18.4 plus ?? miles         No. CA Section Q          Seiad Valley

Last night by Grider Creek was the DARKEST night we’ve had on the whole PCT!  When I turned off my headlamp after writing journal notes, it was pitch black.  And I do mean it–I literally could not see my hand right in front of my face!  I tried to figure out WHY, and came to the conclusion that it was a combination of being deep in a forested canyon, with thick clouds overhead and no moon.

This morning it was so dark that we had to wait till almost 6:30 to get up.  We hurried across the bridge in the still-dim light and set out along Grider Creek, aiming for the campground 3 miles away, where we planned to eat breakfast.  The creek was really pretty, with lots of rocks and cascades and of course trees–many showing some fall color.  We enjoyed sitting at a TABLE for breakfast, and then it was time for several miles of roadwalking into Seiad Valley.  We really enjoyed that walk!  It was a cool, clear autumn morning, with great scenery, and we only had a few “dog problems”, easily solved by brandishing our trek sticks until the dogs got the message.  We reached the rushing Klamath River and enjoyed even the long walk around to the bridge.  Some PCTers complain about this “annoying detour” and even brave crossing the river to avoid it, but we found the walk very pretty and relaxing. 

Finally we got to the bridge and there we saw a sign warning drivers on the highway to look out for HORSES on the bridge.  Our reaction was, “Horses?  Hey, what about us HIKERS?”  The town of Seiad Valley turned out to be small but very pretty.  Each house has a large yard and many had gardens.  Of course we headed straight for the  “Pancake Challenge” cafe!  We didn’t even dare try to beat the challenge of eating five  1-lb pancakes within 2 hours, and when I ordered the “short stack” of two pancakes, the owner/cook shook his head and said, “You’d better make that ONE pancake.”  So I agreed, thinking, “I can always order another one,” and began happily sippng an awesome blackberry milkshake while reading the pCT hiker register, plus adding an entry for us. 

Well, the “one” pancake arrived.  It filled the plate, and was 1 inch thick!  I managed to eat 3/4 of it, along with 4 sausages.  Wow!!!  Bill couldn’t finish his, either.  Then we got our box from the State of Jefferson post office, and I started a little bit of laundry (just enough to get us to Ashland) at the very PCT hiker-friendly RV park next door.  Bill and I discussed how much food to take on this last leg of our journey.  Normally, at our 22 miles a day basic pace, it would be 2 1/2 days, but Bill is having such a hard time with even easy uphills that we decided to make it “3 plus” days.  I inventoried and sorted food and wrote a shopping list, while Bill lay down to rest in the shade, knowing we have a killer 4,000 foot climb out of here.  I was a bit concerned, because there were no maps of the PCT from here to Ashland in our resupply box.  With all the muddle when we “flipped” up to Oregon from Tehachapi, somehow they must have been misplaced.  I hoped maybe the store would have some sort of map I could buy or copy.

Before I went to the store, I put our bit of laundry (socks and shirts) in the dryer, and went off to do my shopping and to check the store hiker box.  But alas!  There was no hiker box–the store guy said he thought all the PCT hikers were done for the year, and he had thrown everything away.  “Do you have any trail map I could buy?”  I asked.  Nope, he didn’t.  I asked him about the PCT up north and he assured me that the trail was well marked and easy to follow. And when he heard that Bill and I were headed for Ashland, he said, “Well, you’d better hurry!  There’s another big storm due in on Saturday.”  Yikes!  That was the day after tomorrow!  Very sober, I finished shopping, loaded our food bags, then went to get the laundry.

Another lady who had been in the laundromat washing her clothes saw me when I came in, and said, “Uh, something’s gone wrong with the dryer.  It sort of wrecked your clothes.”  To my horror, even though I’d set the dryer for medium LOW, it had MELTED all but one sock, and melted holes all over Bill’s shirt.  My shirt ws intact, but had shrunk quite a bit, and my fleece gloves were semi-melted but still usable.  The melted socks had literally turned into blobs of plastic stuff stuck to the dryer.  We went and got the RV park owner, and he went to work on trying to pry the “blobs” off the dryer drum.  This meant that I was down to only the socks I was wearing, plus the ones I wear at night, with maybe 3 days of hiking yet to go.  I asked the helpful lady if I could buy a pair of her socks, and she insisted on GIVING me a pair.  That was a help, but it meant that from now to the finish I’ll be walking with no liner socks.  I hoped I wouldn’t get a bunch of blisters!  Bill surveyed his now “motheaten” shirt and decided to just wear it, holes and all.  I put on my shrunken shirt, and it was also still wearable, but the sleeves only came partway down my arm and didn’t reach my wrists anymore.  All I could think was, “Whew!   I’m sure glad this waited to happen till we were almost done with the trail, and not hundreds of miles ago!”

It was now well into the afternoon, and it was a warm one–temperatures in the 80’s–when Bill and I hoisted our packs to begin the LAST leg of our PCT journey.  We felt excited (“We’re almost done!”) but concerned (“What about that big storm that’s coming in?”).  It was a pleasant roadwalk down the highway to where PCT trail resumes.  We said to each other, “Well, here goes–the BIIIIIIG slog!  And of course, we can’t break our tradition of always doing big slogs in the afternoon, when the weather is the hottest!”   I told Bill to go in front, since uphills are so hard on him, and to my delight, he just began chugging right up the hill.  I guess the good rest at the RV park and the good food at the cafe must have really helped!  (Or maybe it was still the “good day/bad day” pattern?)

Our goal was to at least get to the top of the first big climb, and we did it–past Lower Devil’s Peak and on over the Upper Peak.  The only map we had was the “section summary” map that gave us the general picture of where the trail went, along with major landmarks.  It looked pretty straightforward, but our one big worry was WATER. Without the guidebook, data book, and detailed maps, we had no idea where to find water along the trail.  We would literally have to trust God to supply that need.  Finding a campsite in the area of Upper Devil’s Peak turned out to be tough.  I finally ended up using my little orange trowel to level off a spot of ground for us.  And Bill was feeling OK!  He was able to hike steadily on up to here, and he was not feeling totally wasted.  So I went to bed thinking, “If we can just beat that storm, we are doing great!  Thankyou, Lord!”

Oct. 5, Wed.–22.6 miles–No. CA Q

Wed. Oct. 5     Miles today: 22.6         No. CA Section Q

I think that this was one of our coldest mornings yet on the PCT!  My gaiters and shoelaces were frozen stiff, which meant that putting on shoes was a challenge!  The drinking tube for my Platypus was also frozen.  We had to wait till 6:15 to get up, because it was so dark, but it turned out to be a sunny morning with only a few clouds.  It was so cold that we started hiking well-bundled up, and didn’t stop for breakfast till we were a goodly ways down in the Marble Valley and had plenty of sun.

I thought that the Marble Mountains were really interesting.  In relation to the trail, they were up above us, and they are not solid marble, but layered.   The PCT contours right below many impressive peaks.  It would have been prime “peak bagging” time if we weren’t trying so hard to push on for the finishline of our hike.  I also enjoyed looking at the marble rock formations right by the trail that have developed caves, deep pits, and even “sculptured effects.”  There is a lot of variety!  After breakfast in a “sun patch”, we passed a cute little shingled ranger cabin.  We were still slogging, crunching and creaking through the snow that covered the trail.  I was hoping that Bill would feel better, but not this morning–he had a very hard time with any uphill trail, even the gentlest of uphills.  He could not move any faster than a very slow plod.  On downhills–that’s another story!  Then he went on a tear, and I could not keep up with him!

As we continued hiking, the snow on the trail slowly grew less, though the mountainsides still had plenty.  I must say that one nice thing about snow on the tail is that it covers up and cushions what would otherwise be a very rough, rocky tread.  On the downside, however, when it MELTS (which it was busy doing today) it turns the trail into a long, skinny mud puddle.  The snow also knocked over all the plants along the trail, so there was often snow mixed with “mushed’ plants to tangle up our feet.  The PCT slowly climbed up to the crest, where we found some amazing gnarly trees.  We are always very impressed with trees like this–talk about determined and persistent!  Well, we were determined and persistent, too, because we were really looking forward to getting out of the snow.  And at last, we made it!

The trail became FLAT (which made Bill cheer–now he could hike faster!) and began to travel through wide, DRY meadows where we could see the Siskiyou Mountains and the Klamath River canyon up ahead.  And then we were finally going DOWN (now Bill could “fly”!) into green forest with no snow, just pretty dogwoods decked out in fall colors.  At one point the PCT came down to a road and we weren’t sure which way to go till we saw a big arrow somebody had made with rocks. 

Our goal for today had been the 3rd footbridge across Grider Creek, and I was afraid we’d never make it, because Bill had such a slow and terrible time with the uphills today.  But the long, long downhill to Grider Creek saved us, because Bill could almost run, and I walked as fast as I could, trying to keep up.  He is much braver than I am about downhills!  So we made it to the third footbridge after all.  Finding a flat place to set up the tarp was tough–we finally squeezed in among some bushes near the bridge.  The sky was full of clouds blowing in, which we hoped would prove harmless. 

Tonight Grider Creek is serenading us with its deep rushing, roaring sound, and we thanked God for helping us make it this far, not only on the PCT, but with each other.  We have been married 37 years today, and we are very grateful to the Lord for bringing us together and helping us two very ordinary, selfish people learn to love and forgive and care for each other for so long.  Back in Washington State, a couple we met who were dayhiking the PCT asked us when we’d started our hike.  When we told them “May 11”, their immediate reaction was, “I can’t believe you’re still married!”  Well, by God’s grace, we are, and GLAD of it.  So even though we are tired and very sore and “hiker hunger” is back again full force, we can rejoice not only in the challenge of the PCT, but in being together for so long.