The Trail Provides
Quincy to Chester, CA
My two favorite times of the day on the PCT are right when I wake up and before I go to sleep. I have been naturally waking up at 5am every morning. I typically wake up hungry, so the first thing I do is eat a brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tart and drink some instant coffee in cold water. At that moment all is right in the world. The sun is rising on a brand new day, and while there is no way of knowing exactly how the day will unfold, therein lies the excitement of the trail.
At the end of each day, I look forward to the moment I am resting peacefully in our tent, nice and warm in my sleeping bag. No matter how tough the day is, I know that if I just hang on and push through, this moment of peace and quiet reflection will come as the sun sets on that day.
Before leaving the town of Quincy, we stopped by the local bakery as the owners are friends with Fish Tank’s neighbor back in Salt Lake City. Full of caffeine and sweets, we walked out to the main road to hitch a ride to trail. An older woman who was headed up to Bucks Lake to pick up her grandsons from camp, picked us up and dropped us back off at the trailhead. Headed back to the trail after a town day we actually do not smell. I will not go as far to say we smell good. I have been wearing the same outfit every day for three months now.
2.5 miles up the trail we (of course) hit snow. It was slow going for the remainder of the day, but at least there were no steep snow chutes to traverse. We met two NoBo hikers, AK and Legs, along the way and traded stories about the snow in the prior section. Legs had taken a big fall herself, and they both ended up skipping the section where I had fallen and walking around it down a fire road.
Today I only fell one time in the snow and it was on my left knee which was hurting anyways. I told the boys I was just icing my knee. We had two gnarly river crossings over white water, but thankfully there were large trees we were able to walk on to avoid the ice cold water.
The approach into our campsite for the evening was beautiful and I was feeling good about the day until...I put my pack down, went to grab the rainfly to the tent and it was gone! I usually carry it inside my backpack, but since we were coming from town and my food bag was so large, today I clipped it to the outside straps of the backpack. It must have fallen off in the snow or during the water crossings when we were all so focused on not falling that no one saw it drop (it is in a bright green bag). A flash of panic flowed through me. Thankfully we had cell reception from our campsite that night and I was able to order a new tent from Amazon for delivery into Chester, our next town stop. This was not exactly what I wanted to spend my money on right now, but it was necessary. We then checked the weather to see if rain was in the forecast...nope, phew. Okay, we would just have to sleep under the stars for the next few nights and hope there were no unexpected rain storms or large animals lurking around our tent. Mood in camp was heavy as all three of us were quiet, and I felt horrible for losing a key piece of Kilo’s tent. Suddenly AK and Legs roll into camp with our rainfly. Oh, thank god! Legs had picked it up miles ago when they saw it lying in the snow and carried it all this way hoping it belonged to us. I could have kissed her! I was able to cancel my Amazon order. And I told AK and Legs I would buy them a beer in Belden tomorrow as a thank you. We put the rainfly on the tent and suddenly the Belgiums came walking into camp headed Southbound. The last we had seen them was back at Walker Pass. They had flipped North to Dunsmuir to skip the Sierras and were now hiking South back to the Sierras hoping some of the snow had melted. Just when I thought this evening could not get any worse, everything turned around and it was great to have company on the trail again. We had seen so few hikers since Truckee. We all stayed up chatting until hiker midnight (9pm). It was extremely windy that night. Again, I was so thankful Legs had found our rainfly because even with it on, the inside of our tent was covered in sand in the morning from the fierce winds. The saying, “The trail provides” is indeed true.
In the morning we had a seven mile hike down switchbacks to the small town of Belden, CA. We were going down from 6,200 feet in elevation to 2,100 feet and the knees felt it. Only 0.4 miles into the hike down we had to cross a steep snow chute, but because it was so early in the morning the snow was frozen and no issue for our micro spikes. I was definitely nervous though. It has been hard to shake off the falls I had in the previous snowy section. In Belden, we had breakfast at the one restaurant in town. We bought AK and Legs their breakfast plus beers to wash it down (they were taking a Nero in Belden). That was a much cheaper purchase than a new tent.
After breakfast we began the climb out of Belden which in hindsight was not our best decision. The three of us had full bellies and it was now midday which meant it was HOT. We made it about 4 miles up before we had to seek shade near a stream for about an hour before carrying on to our campsite. There was a lot of talk about the upcoming Frog Mountain and all of its snow. We would hit that tomorrow and naturally it made me nervous. Today we left Plumas National Forest and entered Lassen National Forest.
We were back to climbing in the morning. We knew in about 8 miles we would hit snow, but first we would have to make it over/through several river crossings. We all fell today. First, Kilo fell over a branch and again got stuck with his backside in the air and backpack hanging over his head. Then Fish Tank fell. We reached a river crossing. I stayed down below thinking I would just walk through the river, but I was wearing trail runners that dry fast. Kilo and Fish Tank have hiking boots which do not dry as fast and so they were looking for an alternate way to cross the river. They climbed up onto a snow bank. Fish Tank took one step in front of Kilo and suddenly the ground beneath him gave way and he fell. From down below I knew something had happened because suddenly Fish Tank disappeared and Kilo stepped back with a look of panic on his face. Fish Tank was a bit shaken from the fall, but ultimately came out with minor cuts and dirt all over his face. We all ended up walking through the river and then changing our socks on the other side. Finally, my fall for the day. We had just crossed another stream on a log. When I went to step off the log onto a pile of wood, the wood pile gave way and my right leg fell down into the freezing cold water up to my hip. The water was so cold it took my breath away. And now I was stuck. Once I was finally able to pull myself out of there, I surveyed the damage to my leg. I officially have the legs of a 12 year old boy; bruised, scraped and covered in bug bites.
With all of that excitement behind us we now had to summit Frog Mountain. Despite all of my worries about the snow conditions on the mountain, it actually was not that bad. We managed to get up and over the mountain without incident. I can understand why hikers coming southbound found that section difficult as it is one of the first spots with a lot of snow that requires more technical climbing and navigating. But after what we had been through coming out of Sierra City, Frog Mountain was no problem for us.
Dare I say it...the next day of hiking was peaceful. It was almost back to “normal” meaning the days before the snow. We had some snow patches at the start and at the end of our day, but nothing sketchy. We had amazing views of Lassen Volcanic National Park. A trail angel offered us beers to go with our lunch. The wild flowers were blooming. We camped at a chilly 7,300 feet that night. Again, the trail provides.
We had eleven miles downhill to hitch into Chester the next day. Once we got down the mountain, we got an immediate ride into town. Two gentlemen on their way into town passed us up, but then turned around and came back to pick us up. The first thing we did in town was of course eat, followed by resupply shopping, purchasing Deet (please help) and going to the laundromat. It was Fish Tank’s birthday. To celebrate, he not only got to sleep in a bed, but we passed the half-way marker of the PCT today. For Fish Tank the marker truly is the halfway. Kilo and I are short of that because we skipped the high Sierras for now.
This morning we are headed back out to the trail with so much to look forward to as we work to reach Oregon. Next up is Lassen Volcanic National Park.