Chester, CA to Dunsmuir, CA
After eating our “free” breakfast at the Chester Best Western we hitched a ride back to the trail and were hiking before 10am (good for us when coming out of a town). Today I felt like I could walk forever. The trail was relatively flat and the weather was perfect. We hiked 16 miles to the border of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The Park requires campers to have a bear canister, which we are not carrying, so we literally camped outside the park sign. Kilo did see a bear today walking ahead of him down the trail. We met Josh and Sara from Michigan at our campsite. They were doing a two week section hike and entertained us with stories of Josh dry heaving due to “nutrition lockout.” Josh built a campfire which I was grateful for because as soon as the sun went down it was cold. And the smoke from the fire helped to combat the mosquitos.
We slept in until 7am the next morning as we were doing a low mileage day so we could enjoy the National Park. First, we went to the Terminal Geyser followed by Boiling Springs Lake (the lake was indeed boiling). We indulged in the All You Can Eat sandwich and salad lunch at the Drakesbad. I am still dreaming about the bacon turkey sandwiches (so good). We had a couple of beers and then grabbed a tent site at the park campground. They had bear lockers at the campground so no need for Bear canisters. We snagged the last of the campsites that did not require reservations so we let a couple other PCT hikers that strolled in later join us. As we were sitting at the picnic table chatting Prometheus and NotAMiner hiked in. We had not seen them since Aqua Dulce. They camped with us for the night and told stories about their time in the Sierras (which we skipped). They went into the Sierras from Kennedy Meadows, but had to pull out at Bishop as the high water crossings from snow melt were becoming too dangerous and stressful. It was awesome to see them again!
The next day’s hike across Lassen Park consisted of diverse terrain. Immediately after leaving camp we had a 1,000 foot climb up into snow. The snow was patchy and nothing harder than what we had already been through. We did take a wrong turn, but it led to a bear sighting for Kilo and Fish Tank (I have yet to see a bear). There was a precarious water crossing that caused me to have a slight panic attack. Having to walk a log balance beam over ice cold rushing white water was my least favorite activity for the day. Fish Tank took my pack across the log first so that at least I did not have that weighing me down. Rather than tight rope walking my way across the log, I scooted my butt across. Hey, whatever works so long as I did not go for a frigid swim. The rest of the day was less stressful as it consisted primarily of walking across burnt forests and around alpine lakes until we exited the park. We snagged a campsite by the river and called it a night.
In the morning we were about a 1/2 mile into our day when we saw “Trail Magic” and “Fish Tank” signs. What? Just off the trail were several parked RV’s, one of which belonged to Fire Weed, a friend Fish Tank met on the PCT last year. They invited us in for hot coffee and brownies. If we would have walked that additional half mile last night, Fire Weed had steaks, hamburgers, soda, beer and ice cream all waiting for us...but we missed it. Total bummer, but it was great to meet Fire Weed and his wife, both good people.
Onward we hiked into Old Station, CA. We had lunch at JJ’s Cafe and ran into Prometheus and NotAMiner again. With burgers, French fries, beers and cinnamon rolls (we were hungry) in our bellies, it was time to keep hiking. First we had to resupply at the local gas station. This resupply consisted of exactly what you would expect from a gas station...Ramen Noodles, Slim Jim’s, Snickers and Doritos. I am winning at nutrition these days. After a two mile climb up with heavy packs full of food and water we got to an overlook where you could see both Mount Lassen and (for the first time) Mount Shasta. The next section of trail is notorious for being dry, so it was a heavy water carry. Low on motivation to hike in the heat of the day, we took a nap in the shade provided by the pit toilet and resumed hiking at 5pm. We got to our campsite in time to watch the sunset behind Mount Shasta.
We hiked the remainder of the Hat Creek Rim the next morning which was flat and cruisy. We hit a water cache provided by a trail angel and Fish Tank and I crashed. We took an hour nap in the shade while Kilo listened to us both snore. Feeling recharged we hiked on, later meeting a Southbound hiker who said he ran into Trail Magic with ice cold beverages about four miles back. That was enough to put a spring in our step. We took off with Kilo leading the pack. Despite the pain in our feet from walking over volcanic rocks, that was probably the fastest four miles we have done to date. It was getting late and my optimism that the Trail Magic would still be there was fading and I started to slow down, but a Southbound hiker came by and said they were still there, but packing up. I literally started running dreaming of an ice cold Coca Cola. I was only about a quarter mile away when I heard a car take off. I knew then we had missed the Magic, but when I came around the corner, I saw Kilo sitting on the ground drinking a Corona. We did miss the trail Magic, but a group of SoBo hikers had snagged some snacks and two beers which they kindly gave to us. Unfortunately those same SoBo hikers then left all of their trash on the ground with one of them saying “oh, they’ll get it tomorrow.” Who? Who will pick up your trash left in the woods tomorrow? Your mom is not here to pick up after you this time. Frustrating, but I was not going to leave the trash there. I picked up their liter, put it into a plastic bag and tied it to the outside of my backpack to carry into the next town. We only had 0.2 miles to hike into camp for the night.
Every SoBo hiker we had seen the previous day mentioned the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch and how amazing it was. So, this morning we hiked seven miles to the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch where we took a Nero to shower and do laundry. The Ranch also had a swimming pool and a resupply store. The owners cooked dinner that night. It was truly a relaxing oasis.
In the morning, Linda, the owner of the Ranch cooked an amazing breakfast. We had huge breakfast burritos and all-you-can eat flaxseed and cinnamon waffles (seriously the best waffles ever). We rolled on out of the Ranch after stuffing our faces and hiked ten miles into Burney Falls State Park. First stop was the General Store for soft serve ice cream cones. As you can see our hiking plans revolve around all possible opportunities to eat more food. We hung out at a picnic table with Josh, Sara and Paper Maps (an 18 year old from Germany section hiking who did the snowy section out of Sierra City without Guthooks, only using paper maps) for about four hours. While purchasing a beer in the General Store, I was carded (a compliment). And when the clerk looked at the year I was born, she said, “no way, I never would have guessed. You look so young.” Awesome, now I am feeling real good about myself. And she continues, “you’re my mom’s age.” Bam, my self confidence high comes crashing down.
Finally, we say goodbye to Josh and Sara who are headed back to Michigan and we head down to the waterfalls. Burney Falls are spectacular. It was well worth the slight side trek off the PCT (not just for the ice cream). We hiked out another eight miles and camped for the night.
We hiked twenty miles the following day and camped with an amazing view of Shasta.
We set our alarm for 5am the next day as we planned to do twenty plus miles. The start of the day brought us to snow on the North Face of the mountain. Snow on the Fourth of July! For the most part we were able to go around the snow on dry patches of dirt, but there was one particular snow hill we could not avoid. I had to put my microspikes on to make it up the slushy mountain. Kilo was in front of me and had to self arrest with his ice axe twice to stop himself from sliding. Once we got through that section the remainder of the day was snow free and offered spectacular views of Shasta (once again). While stopped at a water source filtering water, Ginger Balls and two of his friends showed up. We first met Ginger Balls outside of Big Bear over two months ago. He went into the Sierras, got stuck in a snow storm and got frost bite on his toes. He had to take about a month off trail to heal. He was now doing 40 miles for the day for the 4th of July. He is a beast; an amazing athlete. It was motivating just to see him again and hear his trail stories. Ginger Balls and his friends took off. They had nine more miles to complete their 40 for the day, which they started at 4am. We had six more miles for our 21 mile day. As we were cooking dinner at our campsite, we heard a familiar voice coming down the trail. It was Just Jeff from Akron, Ohio. We had not seen Just Jeff since Aqua Dulce, before our road trip to Utah. Just Jeff was now hiking with a 28 year old mountain guide from the French Alps, Munk Chip (apparently she hunts back home and likes to eat meat. When she saw a chipmunk on trail she said, “Oh, a munk chip, a tasty snack). Just Jeff met Munk Chip in Sierra City as he was planning his exit from the trail due to the snow, but she was able to help him navigate through the remaining snow and convinced him to continue hiking.
It was great to see Just Jeff again. We hiked with him and Munk Chip the whole next day for 24 miles. The last two miles for the day were brutal and up a steep mountain. We were exhausted as we got into camp that night. And we were definitely experiencing “nutrition lockout.”
Town day! We had a 17 mile hike down into the small town of Castella, CA. On our way down the mountain, we ran into Eco Man and Sunshine hiking up the mountain. They are from Cape Town, South Africa. We met them on Highway 2 outside of Wrightwood. They had gotten off trail to avoid the Sierra snow. They purchased a used truck and drove to Death Valley and then up to the Oregon desert. We had been following their adventures on Instagram and did not think they would return to the PCT, but here they were hiking Southbound. After a brief catch up on trail, we continued into Castella where I shipped myself new shoes to the only market in town. I definitely waited too long to get new shoes as my old ones were breaking down. After about 500 miles through snow and dirt they had holes in the side, the laces were breaking, and the soles were flattened and I could feel every rock and root on the trail. We picked up my shoes and some Gatorade and then sat outside the market for about two hours trying to get a ride into Dunsmuir. One guy did not have room in his car and was going in the opposite direction, but he did buy us a beer. Finally we called the Shasta Taxi Company, which only had one active driver. Melissa picked us up at the Castella Market and drove us to the Dunsmuir Brewery for lunch (where we saw Travis and Tiger, who we met on day one of the PCT at mile 6 and have not seen since). Before dropping us off, Melissa let know that we were the worst smelling hikers she has ever picked up. And I was sitting in the front seat! We knew we smelled bad, but we have all become immune to the stench. Not Melissa. After some lunch and a beer we showered and crashed at the Dunsmuir Inn. The push to Oregon is now on!