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.