Friday, July 2, 2010

Burney Falls to Old Station

The following is a post I wrote for the last stretch of my hike on the PCT back around June 17. The day after I completed this post I dropped my pack on my netbook screen and busted it. I had to wait till I could hook the hard drive up to another computer before I could pull this post up again. So here it is.

I looked up and the park assistant was waiving a phone at me. This must be the trail angel they were telling me about 30 minutes before. I walked over to the fee booth where they were summoning me from and answered the phone.
“This is Firefly, the trail angel from old station.” said Marlin, the park assistant. “She has a computer setup there and can help you calibrate your GPS”

I had no idea what I was getting into or who I was talking to but Firefly informed me that the next stretch I was walking, the Hat Creek Rim, was a 37 mile stretch of waterless resources. Kindly, she and Firewalker, her husband were going to put some water caches up on the trail for me. I finished talking with her, checked some data on my GPS, hoisted my pack and said goodbye to Marlin at the Burney Falls fee kiosk. The Plan was that I would start out that night and hike out to the crystal lake fish hatchery, stealth camp up behind the hatchery and then continue on to old station where I could use Firefly's computer to enter the way-points into my GPS for the snow covered stretch of the Lassen park mountains.

I had just picked up a GPS because the snowfall in CA has been bizarre this year and the last snow storm was only 5 days before I started hiking. Hiking North to south on the Pacific Crest Trail meant that I would hit the snow soon and fast, before it had time to melt. Even though I got off Grizzly peak due to fog and knee conditions, I was confident I could have walked that stretch of trail because the trail followed a ridge for 30 miles, easy to spot in the light of sunny clear skies. I was not confident about the rest of the snow covered cascades and Sierra Nevada's. The trail would be buried and there would be no clear ridge-line to follow.

As I walked down the trail I popped two Motrin tablets into my body to reduce the knee pain and hopefully allow me to walk faster. The more miles I could cover this evening the easier the next two days would be walking across the Hat Creek Rim. I wondered what these trail Angels, Firefly and Firewalker were like and wondered if I would really be able to get what I was after for my GPS when I got to their place. I only had a couple hours to try and get ten miles in though so I cleared my mind and walked.

The trail wound steadily east, passing through lots of private land and little dirt roads before finally winding down by a small lake and passing through a fish hatchery. The sun was setting on the horizon and I quickly refilled my water at a red hose which I was told was potable water and drinkable. It was 20 miles to the next water cache and I hoped I could make it by mid day the next day. I knew I needed more water to cook with but my water bottle capacity was 1.5 liters so I went with what I could carry. I walked out about a mile from the hatchery and laid my sleeping bag out in some bushes. I wasn't suppose to be camping out here cause it was private property on one side and wildlife refuge on the other but I needed to sleep and the nearest campground was a mile and a half off the trail and they'd probably charge me $20.

The next morning I got up at first light, packed my pack up and walked on. I was suppose to get up on the rim today. The had creek rim was a 37 mile cliff that ran along the hat creek. In the middle of summer its a lightning magnet and not a place you want to be on in a storm. Thankfully, the weather was friendly and warm and the next two to three days were perfect for hiking. I got to the rim within a couple hours of getting up and found the view absolutely fantastic, I could see both Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen, all in one giant panorama. Unfortunately the light was really harsh so I would have to wait for a sunrise to photograph because rim looked out west towards the sunset and photo's into the sunset were not what I was after.

By about mid day I was starting to get worried. I wasn't sure how far I had traveled or how far I had left to go till I reached the water cache firefly and firewalker had set up. I was down to half a liter of water and thirsty. I was also hungry because I hadn't eaten anything all that morning so I could save the water for drinking only. There were some ponds on my left but the algae in them was so thick it looked like you could walk on it and I didn't think drinking that stuff would be a good Idea. I glanced up the trail and saw man running towards me on the trail. “Must be a local out for a run”, I thought.

“Hello”, I called out. “How is the run?”
“Good.” he replied. “Where are ya headed?”
“Mexico” I said. “You live around here? The man had an odd Australian accent but I had met Australians who lived in the US before so I just assumed he was one of them.
“Na, I come from Australia,mate.” He replied. “Just brought one of me mates up to the launch site to hang-glide and then I decided to take me self out for a jog.

The Man's name is Matt and he is a traffic controller for the Sydney railway system. His passion is Paragliding so on his holidays he travels around the world to hang-glide launch sites and Para-glides his holidays away. This year he was spending twenty eight days on the hat creek rim, maybe taking a couple days and going up into Oregon for a Paragliding competition.

Matt let me refill my water from his water stash in the back of his car, then he offered to give me a ride to the launch point where he Para-glides from. After showing me the launch point we went down into the local town to get some lunch while we waited for evening when the winds calmed down and became more ideal for Para-gliding. We went back up to the launch site around 5 in the afternoon and there was a hang-glider bumming around for a bit in CA with his girl friend so I got to watch him launch his glider. Then I met Page.

Page was one of those old, stick skinny, weed smoking, hippie looking guys who wasn't really a hippie. His religion is hang-gliding and he had retired to the area so he could live the rest of his days out launching his glider from the rim top every evening. His philosophy on relationships suggested that a woman who could not understand his obsession for flight was in the wrong relationship. I suspect his hang-gliding obsession is why he lives alone.

“Want a beer?”, Page called to me.
“No thanks.” I responded.
“You sure?” he replied, “its home made.

Hmm... I really wasn't interested in drinking any alcohol but my curiosity was starting to burn and I was really interested to know what kind of beer, a character like page would be brewing out of his home. I turned it down anyway, and I'm glad that I did cause next he pulled out a little wooden pipe and took a puff of weed. He offered me some and I turned it down also. The other hang-glider came over and took a puff of weed to prep himself for the joys of flight. I inquired whether the weed would affect their senses and their ability to fly effectively. That is when they explained to me that you can smoke weed and fly but you can't drink and fly. Once you have a beer, your done flying for the day.

Interesting I thought as I sat down next to Page and watched a glider launch from the rim. The sight was quite spectacular and it definitely wet my appetite. Page explained the the dynamics of the wind and how the morning thermals tend to be more choppy and rough and the evening thermals smooth out and make flying a real pleasure. He went on and on about thermal energy and wind cycles which was super fun to listen to while watching hang-gliders fly around in the sky.

Matt grabbed his Para-Glider and made a few attempts to launch but the wind was blowing crossways across the launch site and after about four attempts he decided the day was not his day for a launch.
While Matt packed up his glider, Page drove me back up to the trail. I restocked my water and continued on up the trail until the sun had almost set, then I found a nice spot on the rim and pitch camp.

The sunsets and the sunrise off the rim were amazing. The sunsets where too bright for pictures cause I was shooting into the sun and I didn't catch the sunrise cause I woke up the next morning feeling rather ill and decided to skip the sunrise and stay in the sleeping back till the sun came out and it got warm enough to come out of my hole.

I started on the trail again by about 8 am and ran into a guy named frostbite about mid morning. Frostbite got his name cause he tried to do a stretch of the sierras without a GPS in a snow storm and he had gotten frostbite on his toes. Frostbite wasn't super talkative but I gave him my card and asked him to email me if he found a black jacket further back on the trail from where I came from. It had gone missing and I suspected that I dropped it on the trail during a water break.

I rolled into old station at about 3:00 and trail angel's Firefly and Firewalker came and picked me up and took me to their place to stay. I only planned on staying a night or two and then continuing on down the trail. I'd been walking on pain meds the last few days and my knee should be getting better now.

I woke up the next morning with congested sinuses and an inflamed knee. I guess the knee wasn't better. I stayed with the trail angels for a few days but my knee didn't seem to show any improvement or deterioration and I was concerned that it had been well near 11 days now since my knee injury and it didn't show any signs of change. I finally decided to go see the local doc and get an opinion.

At the Docs office they explained to me that some activity I had done was more stress than my leg muscles were prepared for and that the muscles got a little miss- aligned, causing my leg bones to rub together under the knee cap and inflame. The Nurse told me the average recovery time was up to three months.

I've been rehearsing over and over in my mind how my legs could not be strong enough when I had been training consistently for a few weeks before. I realized that while everyone else on the trail where the downed tree's were had been removing their packs while climbing over the trees, I was climbing up, over, and jumping down with a 40 lb pack on my back. Go figure. So while my knee didn't give out then, the stress was enough to jam the bones together and over the course of the next two days as I hiked, the bones continued to rub until the knee inflamed and became debilitating.

So, I've barely done 100 miles on this trip and I've already shot my knee out and taken myself off the trail. Three months is when I wanted to finish the trail and that means I won't be hiking anymore of this trail this year.

I'm working on some alternative plans and I'll write about it all when I figure it all out.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Castella to Grizzley Peak. 4 days on the PCT

Ah, another long day almost over. The trail had been running high along the McCloud river for almost two miles, a short distance by most measures but a very long distance on my sprained ankle. Coming around a bend in the trail I could see a bridge spanning the river up ahead and my mind relaxed- I would stop at the camp here, cook some food, soak my ankle in the ice water, light a fire and just relax for a few hours before taking off down the trail and camping on the trail side.

“You thru-hiking?”

“Yes I am,” I replied. The man was a tall, older gentleman with a lanky stroll and an attire which suggested he was out for a weekend stroll by the river.

“So am I,” He said. “Where did you come from?”

“Castella,” I replied. “Are you hiking north?”

“That I am,” he said. “We have information of value to each other. You want to hear the trail report or cook some food first?”

My face the lit up as my mind rushed back through the events of the last two days, one frustration after the other. I sat down with the man and told him my story.

Day 1

The trail, for the first four miles out of Castella was really nice and I covered the distance quite quickly. Then, as the trail slowly switches back and forth and very gradually climbs its way into the sub alpine evergreen trees, I experienced downed trees in the path which usually had to be climbed over, walked around for 20 ft or crawled under. The process was very time consuming and there were so many branches laying around on the trail, I kept tripping over them in my hurry to make up for the time lost going around the tree's. I had a quota, 20 miles, I wanted to make each day and I didn't want to miss it on my first day.

The fallen trees spanned a 10 mile section of trail, 10-20 feet apart from each other and as the day light began to fade and my target miles for the day still had not been reached, I grew frustrated. I wanted to shout at the tree's cause trees are sensitive and caring and maybe I could persuade them. Instead I bit my tongue, thanked God for the chance to grow and walked on. There were a few snow fields on the north face of the ridge but it was thankfully only a short stretch and pretty soon they were gone.

It grew dark and I hadn't drunken any water in about 6 miles so I pulled my pack off and went to grab my water bottle... gone! I looked around on the ground but it was no where. My backpack doesn't have any side bottle holders on it and I had decided earlier to fasten it rather loosely to to the top of the bag for easier access, a mistake I now regretted. The bottle had fallen off, I was very thirsty, tired and hungry but I didn't want to eat anything cause it would make the thirst worse. The stress had been building up all day and I could feel the fatigue setting in and now I had no water.

The trail led down hill so naturally it should eventually take me to some water resources. I consoled myself that I wasn't that far from my destination anyway and when I got there I would find some water.

The trail dropped down onto a dirt road and usually the t

rails just cross the dirt roads and go off the other side but as I went looking for the trail off the other side, I couldn't find it. I walked about 200 yards in both directions, but no trail. “Great!”, I thought. Now I'm lost too. I sat down, pulled out the map and studied it in the dark. The map indicated that the trail went off the other side of the road still and after looking the road up and down with no success, I decided to head down the road till I found water and then I would camp and figure things out in the morning.

400 yards down the road there was a 5 way intersection of dirt roads with no indication of what roads went where. I pick the one that seemed most likely to lead me to water and I suddenly found myself back on the trail as it shot off the side of the road. 20 minutes later I found myself on a bridge over the squaw valley creek. I cooked myself some food and went to sleep on the bridge.

Day 2

I woke up the next morning to find that the only thing left of my Gorilla pod was one of the legs, strapped to my pack. All the crawling through fallen branches the day before must have broken the little tripod off my pack.

I ate the left overs of last nights skimpy dinner for breakfast and got on the trail again. From Squaw Valley creek to the McCloud river was only 13 miles and the trail was really nice but my ankle was sprained about 6 miles in and I knew the last 7 miles were going to be long and dreary on it. Most of the day was uneventful except for the occasional songs I belted out, breaking the silence of the woods.

I Thought about how Tim and Brian had been telling me only two days before that I was gonna injure myself and some pretty girl hiker was gonna come along and rescue me and our love story would be written. Well, the injured part had already happened so I figure if the girl showed up, sprained ankle or no, I'd better get out of there and I better move fast.

Soon my mind trailed off on to other things and I started to hum a few tunes again as I hobbled down the trail on my injured ankle. Suddenly there was a loud scrambling noise just ahead and to the right and as I looked over there was a midsize brown bear clinging to a tree, eye level with me. His arms stretched out like a monkey and he eyed me with a, I'm not moving till you move sort of attitude. I should have taken the picture but the camera was buried in my bag and I was afraid he'd move before I got it out. Now that I thought about it so much, I should have sat there and run an experiment in how long a bear can hang from a tree like a monkey before he tires. I think my tired ankle motivated me to just keep moving on down the trail.

I stumble up to the McCloud river around 5pm and that is when I met Giraffe.

Trail Talk.

Giraffe's real name is Dick. He got the trail name Giraffe because he is tall and he volunteers on the trail crew for Olympic National park in Washington state. Whenever they have branches up high that need to be cut, Dick gets the task cause he is tall like a Giraffe and can reach them.

Giraffe had just hiked north over the stretch I was planning to do so I was eager to hear news of the trail conditions. I had been warned I could encounter a lot of snow above 5,000 feet and the next 60 miles included a 30 mile ridge line that ran along at the elevation of 5,200 or more. Giraffe confirmed that the reports were true and the trail was completely buried in snow, he had navigated using a GPS and had made it without too much trouble. He assured me that his tracks were very clear and I could follow them easily so I that between my map, compass and his footprints I could find the route. Besides, its a 30 mile ridge line, trail or no trail, if I follow the ridge line I should be able to make it.

Day 3


I stayed the night by the McCloud river to give my ankle some time to heal. The next day I lounged around for the morning and let the foot rest a bit before setting off around mid day. I figured if I could do 10 miles on my 3rd day I could push through to the other end of the mountains a day later than I had planned.

That afternoon I hiked 10 miles in 4 hours, a record pace yet and I was very excited about it until about a half mile before I started hitting snow banks when I felt my left knee start to give way. I knew it was going to be a long trek in the snow. About a mile into the snow and I realized that the footprints were already almost non-existent. No problem, I just need to find my way to the ridge and I can follow it over for the next 30 miles.

I came around a corner to find another bear sitting in my path chewing on grubs, with his back turned towards me. “Hello, Mr. Bear”, I said, trying not to startle him. Nothing. The bear kept doing his thing. I spoke some more words to Mr. Bear but he was still oblivious and continued scrounging for grubs. I calculated to distance between him and I, 10 feet maybe. I probably could have walked up and kissed him on the rear with my mouth before he even knew I was there. I finally got impatient with just talking to him in normal tones so I shouted, “Hey bear!!” At last, the bear turned his head, saw me, paused for a moment and then took off down the mountain side making little grunts as he ran along.

The native Americans believe that if you could sneak up behind an animal and touch you would gain some of the animals powers. I don't think this bear had much power to offer though. Maybe he's already been touched, one too many times and lost it all. Whatever it was, he wasn't a brave bear or a skittish bear, he was just an ignorant and oblivious bear.

By now my knee was screaming every time I accidentally bent it and I had to consciously control myself so as not to cry out or moan. The snow is really hard on the knee and the conditions exacerbated the pain. It is not manly to show or acknowledge pain though, even when you alone so I bit my tongue and kept going. I stopped early and slept an a dry patch of dirt I found on a dirt road, hoping to let my knee rest a bit before the long stretch of the next two days.

Day 4

Fog! Ah!!!! Now I was ready to punch a hole in the snow. I woke up to a mountain covered in fog. There is something about the combination of bad weather and a frustrated spirit which can really make you down cast and depressed. Unless I could see the ridge line I very much doubted I could find my way through the snow and now that everything was shrouded in fog, I had lost a lot of confidence.

Despite the circumstances I persuaded myself that it could be done and I packed everything up and started up the hill to the ridge line. After summiting the tallest mountain in the region, Grizzley peak, dragging my knee with me, and coming to within 3 -4 feet of cliffs in the fog before realizing I almost walked on air, I finally decided it was foolishness to keep going because I didn't have near enough food for the amount of time it would take me to find my way around and I could sit and wait out the fog since there was no indication the fog was going to go anywhere.

By the time I walked back into camp at McCloud, I knew my knee was done. I was gonna have let it rest for a few days before I did anymore hiking. There were was a couple, fly fishing at the river when I got there so I waited around till they were done and hitched a ride out with them to the town of McCloud.


Hitch hiking is always an adventure because people are so different. This couple explained to me that they only do catch and release fishing cause they are car campers and they can bring their own food in without raping the landscape of its fisheries. I was tempted to ask whether it makes a difference to the fish if he gets caught once and eaten or gets hooked 40 rounds and released again. I know there are theories out there that getting hooked does hurt the fish but I always sort of figured fish fought the fishing line for a reason.

Off the Trail

Anyway, so they dropped me off in the town of McCloud where I hitched another ride to Burney and slept in the woods behind a Shell gas station. Yes, now I'm a homeless, traveling bum. I spent June 2nd shopping for supplies in Burney and writing this and now I'm on my way over to Burney Falls state park to hang out for a few days and let my foot heal. My brothers and my little sister are coming up on Saturday to hang out for a night and I'll probably start out on the trail again on Monday. I'm taking my time cause the snow is still high in the sierra's and I'm maybe 6 days walk from the foot of the sierras.

So my next post will be from Old Station, CA and I'll have my camera out for the next stretch so stay tuned for lots of pictures.