Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Chester, Mile 1329, Jul 13

W e ' r e   n o w   H A L F W A Y   t o   C a n a d a !

Los Molinos - We wound us staying in Sacramento a little longer than we had expected, as we had to wait for John, Scott's cousin, to finish work and drive us the 60 miles back to the trailhead. Hey, we weren't complaining. What better excuse to relax for another half day and enjoy the wonderful hospitality of the Krezek family? Knowing that we weren't going to be getting an early start on the morning of July 3rd, we sat up and watched videos until late at night. While we have never been huge TV watchers at home, we have been longing to 'veg' in front of the television since we began this hike; it is a perfect excuse to sit still and do nothing -- the epitome of 'vegging'. As a group, we settled down to watch "Shrek" after dinner, and then when it was finished, John and Didi plugged in "Harry Potter", while they retired to bed. It was one of our latest nights in quite some time, as we didn't get to bed until shortly after midnight.

While sleeping on a bed was luxurious, both nights we found ourselves longing to be back in the mountains as the temperatures in the valley were so warm. We have gotten used to the cool evenings in camp, enjoying the light breeze that blows through our tent and we were sorely missing them while we were trying to get to sleep. When we finally did doze off, we slept well and managed to sleep in a bit, knowing that we didn't have to rush off to the trail. Scott got up just after 7 AM, but Rachel slept until just before 9 AM (what luxury!!!).

We had a few more things to attend to that morning, like going through our re-supply and float boxes (we had managed to put it off until the last possible moment), heading off to the post office to send our float box onward and the 'Bearikade' bear canister back to the manufacturer we had rented it from. With that all done, we had McDonalds burgers for lunch and then, when John came back from work, we loaded the packs into the back of the truck, the family into the cab and then hit the highway for the hour drive back to the trail. We fought the traffic on I-80, as many people were either getting off work or heading out of town for the 4th of July long weekend, but the further up the highway we got, the smoother the traffic became.

We arrived at the PCT trailhead near Donner Pass just before 5 PM. We all piled out of the truck and said our good-byes, as we unloaded our packs and struggled to get them onto our backs. They were sitting pretty tall because we had managed to stuff ten days worth of food and supplies into them and as we groaned under their weight, we reassured ourselves that it will only be a couple of days before they are back down to their normal size. After our final hugs and good byes, we set off down the trail. It was a mile-long lateral, side-trail that connected us up with the PCT about 1/4 mile south of I-80.

By the time that we were on new territory, we had already walked the better part of 2 miles. We hiked along the trail that skirted the westbound I-80 rest stop, from where we had hitch-hiked from, then the trail gradually distanced itself from the interstate, (although we could still hear traffic from where we ended up camped that night). We began a gradual climb that took us up and over the ridge, hiking through forested areas. At last, we came out of the trees into an open meadow, that (like so many others) gave us something else to watch out for -- water and muddy sections of trail!

We hiked about four miles and then came across the Peter Grub Hut, a sierra club backcountry ski hut. We went inside to check it out and were quite amazed at what good shape it was in and how clean it was. The hut reminded us of an old English tavern. The walls were textured concrete, painted with a whitewash and the floor was bare, unsmoothed concrete. One of the rooms of the hut was sunken a little lower than the main room so that it was only partly above ground level. There was a large wooden table in the middle of the main room, with benches, a upstairs sleeping loft with a vertical ladder providing access to it, and then there were a few appliances and odds and ends scattered around the interior - such as a Coleman stove, some bottled spirits, a few items of food, a hydraulic wood splitter, and so on. All-in-all, it was a very homey little hut and we could see that it would be quite the gathering place in the middle of the ski season, when there were half a dozen cross country skiers around. While it was a neat little place, we decided to move on up the trail and find ourselves somewhere else to camp; our experience with these types of shelters is that they are plagued with mice, but we were later informed by someone who did stay, that the mice weren't bad at all.

A mile further up the trail and we found a level spot off to the side of the trail, under some pine trees. There was a little creek a hundred yards further, so we had a water source and we were set. Dinner was not our usual fare that night, as we were still reasonably full from the two Big Macs that we had each wolfed down just after 2 PM. Rather than cooking up a big meal and then having trouble finishing it, we decided to dine on our homemade soup, combined with a 'Top Ramen' noodle package. It was enough to tide us over, because neither of us woke in the middle of the night for a snack.

It was good to be back in the mountains and the cooler temperatures. It obviously had a positive effect on us, as we both dropped off to sleep very quickly and slept soundly. It wasn't until about 5:15 AM that Rachel stirred awake (before Scott - if you can believe that!) because she heard a noise near the tent. We had slept without the fly on that night and she sat up in her sleeping bag and peered through the mesh, into the bushes beyond. The rustle of her sleeping bag startled two deer that were grazing nearby and they both bounded off on all fours (boing, boing, boing ...) into the trees. A quick look at our 'Ursacks', which we had lazily left lying beside the tent, unsecured to a tree, confirmed that what she had seen was deer, not a bear, as the bags where still lying just where they had been left.

The morning's hike began with a climb out of the meadow area and up onto the ridge. Our route crossed a couple of jeep tracks and at one point we were surprised to come out onto the road and find a young couple climbing out of a jeep and getting ready to head off on a 4th-of-July hike down to Paradise Valley. What they didn't know was that they were going to be heading into thick swarms of mosquitoes. After we had gained the ridge, we dropped down into North Creek canyon and they had been bad all through that area, but as we had climbed back up out of the meadows again, we had managed to give them the shake. We stopped for a cold cereal breakfast about five miles into the day and while we were eating, another thru-hiker (Mark from New Jersey) passed along. We chatted for a bit, while we ate, then he moved on ahead. After breakfast, it was time to climb again and once we were done with that, we dropped. It was a morning of 500-foot climbs and descents, one right after the other, but the terrain was no t too bad, the trail was mostly clear and in the shade of trees, so it was a relatively pleasant morning's hike.

We ate lunch near the end of one of our many climbs, enjoying the views below us. With lunch done, we continued along the ridge for a while and we were treated to great views of the peaks to both the north and the south. To the west of us were lakes - "French" and "Meadow". We were able to gage our north-westward progress by where they lay in relation to us.

It was up on the ridge that we first realized that water is really starting to be something that we have to be conscious of once again. The guidebook was beginning to make "Water Access" notes, and for the first time in many weeks, we had to venture off the trail to obtain water. While we had been expecting the transition for some time, it came a more suddenly than we had expected. Earlier that morning, we had been passing by small creeks and walking through boggy meadows, and then -BOOM- before we knew it, we were having to hike a number of miles before coming across a creek, and even then, we had to scramble down to it.

With water being a concern once again, we knew that we were going to have to leave to trail to take a minor detour into one of the two National Forests campgrounds, it was just a question of which one. As it turned out, we put the detour off as long as we could and we hiked past the turn off to East Meadow Campground and walked the 0.4 mile further on to Pass Creek Campground. It was the 4th of July, so we entered the campground expecting it to be completely full and a bit of a zoo, with lots of people, but we were pleasantly surprised. Whether staying in the campground or not, we had decided that we would, at least, cook dinner there (so we wouldn't have to carry as much water up the hill to wherever we decided to camp). We walked in and noticed that the first couple sites were empty, but reserved for that day. The third site was empty and reserved for the next day, so we decided that that would be a safe place to cook dinner. We plopped down at the picnic table and began our meal preparation. As w e sat there, we were entertained by a very fat chipmunk. He ran around our site and would stop every few feet to sit up on his haunches and try to peer up onto the table. A second later he would run a little closer and sit up again, as though somebody had trained him to "sit up and beg". When he didn't get any food from us, he promptly ran over to the next site and began his routine all over again. A few sites later and he was back to us, trying again to entice us into giving him some scraps from the table before continuing on through his circuit. His little circus act worked well, as he was about the fattest little chipmunk we've ever seen!

While Scott was cooking, Rachel got restless, sitting at the table and she found that she could not get comfortable. At last, she commented that she was uncomfortable because she is used to being in a horizontal position while Scott is cooking and she was longing to get her legs up. After a few minutes discussion, we decided that we might as well put up the tent and stay the night. So while Scott finished with dinner, Rachel put up the tent and got everything organized so that we could dive inside and resume our normal routine.

The whole time that we were cooking dinner and preparing to relax, we had been amazed at how quiet the campground was. Aside from the idiot zooming around the loop on his ATV, there was very little noise coming from the other sites. We found out later, that everyone was still down at Jackson Meadow Reservoir and they didn't head back from the lake until we were nestled into our sleeping bags. The people arrived to occupy the two sites next to us and our other neighbors all returned back to their tents and engaged in loud conversations. We lay there for a little while, dreading what was to come, expecting that the 4th of July celebrations were soon to get going, but if that is what happened, we have no idea because we inserted our ear plugs and promptly fell asleep.

We awoke at our usual time to a silent campground. All of the other people in their hotel sized tents and RVs were still fast asleep, as we went through the routine of packing our gear and preparing for another day of hiking. We hit the trail just after 6 AM and began our climb up onto the ridge. It was not a particularly pleasant segment of trail, as for the first five or so miles, we were making our way through selectively logged areas. There was an array of rough logging roads crisscrossing our path, and the scars that the logging process has left on the environment are rather unsightly. Large stumps littered the hillside as did more than the usual amount of downed branches and small stuff. At last, however, we made our way off the ridge and down a lengthy series of switchbacks into Milton canyon. We reached the bottom and crossed the creek on a bridge, only to re-cross the creek twice more within the next couple of miles. We were nearing Sierra City -- (bridges across creeks are always a good indication that we are getting closer to civilization).

At last, we found ourselves standing at the trail junction where the PCT branched north and another trail ventured 3-miles off to the west, toward town. We crossed the creek and stayed on the PCT, but to our displeasure, it began to climb. We could hear the highway below us and we knew that we were going to have to cross the highway before we could begin our climb up the Sierra Buttes so it seemed really nonsensical to have to climb, only to drop down to the highway. Scott was getting fed up with the trail routing and it became apparent that he was getting hungry, so we decided to stop and eat. On the side of the trail, we dropped our packs and dug out the bread, cheese, peanut-butter and cookies.. Once he had a full stomach, he seemed to be much more forgiving of the trail route.

The guidebook forewarned us that once we began the climb up the Sierra Buttes we would likely not pass any water for a hot 7.5 miles and it suggested that we fill up before we start. We decided that we would replenish our supplies at a spring that the guidebook said was just before the highway crossing, a quarter mile past roaring North Yuba River. When we got to the spring, we were regretting not filling up at the river, or the small creek that we passed just before that, because the spring was barely trickling. Scott unrolled the windscreen for our stove and used it to channel a trickle of water into our water bottles. The water came complete with a few "floaties" but it was better than walking back to get water (PCT'ers hate to go back along the trail for any reason!).

We began our 7.5-mile climb up the Sierra Buttes, in the shade of Douglas Fir trees and other deciduous vegetation. The trail switch-backed up the ridge, staying close to the noisy highway for a mile or so, before we started to leave the whizzing cars behind. We remained in the shade for the first 3.4 miles, which was a good thing, because it was a hot day and we were already sweating hard. Beyond that, however, we traversed through huckleberry oak, manzanita, bitter cherry and other shrubs as we crossed the open, sun-exposed, south slopes of the Buttes. We had been dreading the sun-drenched clearings, because of the heat, but when we reached the open traverse, we were delighted to find that there was a constant breeze that kept us cooler throughout the remainder of the climb.

It was a hard four mile climb across the slopes of the Sierra Buttes. The guidebook states that it is an "easy" route, but we found that not to be the case. We were walking on loose rock (metamorphic scree) that was difficult to navigate and hard on our feet, ankles and knees. The first couple of miles the rocks were all a little larger than ones fist (cobbles) and they made for very precarious footing, but after a couple of miles, we found that we were venturing further away from the peak and the size of the rocks were getting smaller and easier to walk on. In addition to the rough terrain, the trail seemed to go on and on forever. Each time we rounded a minor ridge, we would hope to see the end of the climb, but all we would see was another couple of gullies and a few hundred feet of elevation gain. At last, we reached the Sierra Buttes Summit Jeep track and we moved over to the tree-shaded western face. What a relief!

Half a mile further on, we stopped to fill up with water at a spring just below the trail. It was spewing out delicious, icy-cold water and we guzzled a quart before filling up our bladder bags. We each loaded an extra four or five quarts into our packs and then groaned as we slung them onto our backs. We wanted to get another three or four miles completed, before we stopped for the night and figured that we were in for a dry camp. At that point we had already hiked about nineteen miles and we were getting tired and thinking a lot about finding a good camp.

We continued on along the trail, rounding the west side of the Sierra Buttes and then we were in for a surprise. As we crossed over onto the north descending ridge, we stopped to look at the map and we saw a couple of day hikers climbing up the ridge. Rachel asked them if they had had a good hike and the guy replied that they were just getting started. A few hundred yards later, we came across two older couples and a dog, apparently out for a little stroll, but they didn't have the slightest hint of sweat on them. We commented to each other that this was the last place that we expected to find so many day hikers, but within a couple more minutes, we found out the reason why there were so many people around: there was a paved forest service road up to the saddle behind the Buttes. We descended to a gravel parking lot off to the side of the road and it was virtually full of parked cars. The PCT followed the road for a while and we walked about half a mile to another saddle and parking area. We were discouraged that we had walked so far, uphill and now, as we were looking for a place to camp, it was seeming as though there were people everywhere and cars zooming around on all of the logging roads.

From the second road saddle we regained trail tread and we told ourselves that as soon as we were out of sight of the road, we would take the first camp spot. We passed over the low rise, quickly taking us from eyesight of the road, but then, we were on a traverse with nowhere to camp. After about half a mile or so, we noticed a flat area up and west of the trail a little ways, but when we climbed the few feet over to it, we noticed that there was another logging road within another thirty yards and with the amount of traffic that had been around in the saddles we didn't want to take our chances. Back to the trail and onwards we went. It is typical that when we are looking for a camp spot, there is nothing suitable. The trail began to steepen and pretty soon we were climbing switchbacks. Being optimistic (and a little desperate) we were still scanning the hillside for anything remotely flat and big enough for our tent. Without any luck, we continued up the switchbacks, until we found ourselves skirting an area that had been logged a number of years previously. The gradient lessened as we traversed around it and eventually we came upon the easternmost ridge and a flat spot big enough for our tent. We pitched and crawled inside to enjoy our dinner, bath, foot rubs and finally, sleep.

While we were sitting in our fly-less tent, a southbound PCT hiker passed by. Her name was Mona, from Vancouver, and she was able to tell us that there were a bunch of northbound PCT hikers within a days hike ahead of us. We asked about whether or not she had seen John and Julie, Anne and Lee, and she told us that she had passed them but a few hours previously. In fact, she had encountered 15 northbound PCT hikers that she had encountered that day! And to think that we hadn't bumped into even one! It made us feel good to know that we might be able to catch up to some of our friends within the next day or so, and we thanked her for the information before she bustled on her way.

We slept really well that night, so well that when Scott tried to get Rachel up and moving little earlier than usual, there was no budging her - she wanted more of that delicious sleep. Scott even tried to coax her into motion by reminding her that if we got going quick we might be able to catch up with our friends that much faster. Even that didn't work. All Scott got in response was a grunt. After that, he gave up until the usual time of 5:30 AM. While we weren't up and moving until the usual time, we seemed to get packed up and onto the trail faster, as we hit the dirt at 6 AM.

We began our day by enjoying about six miles of hiking along the crest, dropping down into different saddles to cross jeep roads and making our way through alternatively treed and clear areas. All the time, the hiking was pleasant and we often had great views to the many lakes below us.

It was not a good morning for Scott. He was in a blue mood, thinking about the sad state of the stock market and our future finances. His mental outlook had an impact on our hiking that morning, as our progress was seemingly slow and arduous. We stopped often to take little breaks, get water from a fresh spring, or just to rest. We stopped for a snack at one saddle, by an diminutive pond and then later we had lunch at another saddle and both times we encountered day hikers and had a nice chat with them before they moved along. It wasn't until after lunch that there was a smile back on Scott's face. When asked what the change had been in his perspective, he replied that he had just eaten chocolate chip cookies.

Shortly after we started moving again, we climbed up and over then next ridge and then began our long descent down into Nelson Creek canyon. As we hiked underneath Gibraltar rock (a large cliff face made of lava mud flows) and negotiated the first of the many steep switchbacks, we got our first good look at Mt. Lassen off in the distance. Scott pointed her slightly snow-covered peak out to Rachel who quietly said, "but it's so far away". We had already been amazed at how quickly the Sierra Buttes were disappearing off into the distance behind us, and we could only hope that Mt. Lassen would grow just as quickly.

As we descended down into the creek canyon, we crossed a few flowing springs and tributaries. It was a hot afternoon, but as we were crossing water every mile or so we were not too concerned about it. Perhaps that was our mistake, we should have been more cautions and carried more water with us, because as soon as we left the canyon and started up the ridge, we were going to be longing for water. We began a lengthy, hot climb up to the ridge, through many gullies and saddles, each of which proved to be dry as a bone. We sweated up the hill, holding out hope for the two springs 6.4 miles up from the creek. We hiked along the ridge for a ways and passed by a pond 50 feet below the trail, on a bench. We had already gone 23+ miles, but we decided to push on the remaining 0.7 miles to the spring, as the pond water had a greenish cast. Mistake number two. We hiked along, dragging our feet behind us, pooped and ready to camp, but we didn't see the jeep trail heading towards the springs. We finally figure d that we had passed the saddle and the jeep trail, so we looked at the map to determine where the next water source was: another 2.7 miles along the trail. We weren't sure if we had another 2.7 miles in us, so we decided to scout around a little and see if we could find the springs. Scott backtracked to the pervious saddle while Rachel ventured on over the next ridge. We finally met back up on the road paralleling below the trail. While Rachel had determined that the springs were not ahead, Scott had some good news and some bad news: he had found the springs, but they were both dry. Backtracking the better part of a mile to the lake was not an option, so we picked up our packs and hiked on.

The guidebook talked about the next water source being the Middle Fork of the Feather River. We had to hike another 1.9 miles along the trail and then take an alternate, one and a quarter mile, route that would take us down a dirt road to the paved Quincy-LaPorte road, which we would follow for 100 yards to the river. We would then be able to follow the paved road up a quarter mile to rejoin the PCT. That 1.9 miles felt like five. We were tired and only wanted to find a little water so that we could camp, but the trail seemed to go on forever. At last, we reached the dirt road junction and we began to follow it. It lead around a bend and then out into a meadow, but with every step we took the quality of the road lessened until we ere finally standing in the meadow wondering where the road had gone. We were uneasy about following it further, so we referred to the map once again and then decided to hike along the PCT to the Quincey-LaPorte road and then take that down to the river. Another mile! This was getting to be too much., but we had no choice, as we didn't have enough water for dinner. At last, we managed to shuffle along the trail to the road. We had hiked 27.2 miles (our new record), it was 7:30 PM and we were totally wiped. Where the trail met the road there was a trailhead parking lot and right by that were some level patches in the trees, far enough back from the road so as not to be totally visible. We dropped the packs and Scott went off down the road to fetch water while Rachel set up camp. By the time that Rachel had finished clearing a spot, pitched the tent and blown up the Thermarests, Scott was back with two bladder bags full of water. At last, we could relax. It had been a long, hard day.

While we had feared that camping so close to a major road would prove to be noisy, we actually had a very pleasant camp. As it turns out, the Quincey-LaPorte road is quite quiet and as soon as it got dark (which was not long after we got settled into camp) the traffic died off and we really only remember one car driving by before we dozed off into slumber. We slept soundly all that night and didn't stir until our usual time, right around 5:30 AM.

We hit the trail around 6 AM and proceeded to cross and re-cross another, lesser road a few times in the next few miles. After the third crossing of the road we stopped in a small clearing to have our breakfast and then, as we were finishing up with our cereal, a group of five hikers came walking along: T-Bob (who we had met very briefly in Tuolumne Meadows), his wife, Linda, and daughter, Serendipity, (who are providing vehicle support for a couple of weeks) and then Don and Leslie from Colorado. We were really glad to finally meet Don and Leslie, as everyone else has mentioned them on occasion and we had never met them. The interesting thing is that they started the trail two days before we did. Somehow we got ahead of them and we finally meet, almost three months later, halfway through the trail. We chatted for a while, before they moved on down the trail..

We had expected to overlap with the group of five a few times throughout the morning, but we didn't see them again for another 12 miles. Linda and Serendipity, however, we bumped into a couple of miles down the trail, as they were turning back to return to their car. After we had heard that they were providing vehicle support the thought had occurred to us that perhaps they couple pick us up another couple of bags of chocolate chip cookies. They were more than happy to help us out (it would have been slim pickings and Scott would have been very grumpy for a couple of days had we run out).

We were having another slow morning, taking our time over breakfast, stopping so that Scott could put some moleskin on his blister (new shoes in Sacramento), talking to day hikers, and taking our usual bevy of rest breaks. Our slow pace meant that we didn't see Bob, Leslie and Don again until we reached the swimming hole at the Middle Fork Feather River. This depressed Rachel. Rachel enjoys the company of other hikers and it deflated her to think that we couldn't keep up with this group of older hikers. As it turns out, we just have different hiking styles, as they don't stop often as we do.

We arrived at the Middle Fork Feather River at about 1:30 PM and promptly scrambled down the rocky bank to where the other three were perched on the granite rocks at the water's edge. There were two natural pools of water out of the major flow of the river, deep enough to stand in up to our armpits and then there was the wide calm part of the river just past them which was inviting to anyone who desired to actually swim rather than just get in the water. Scott striped down to his shorts and was in the water within minutes and then he was into the river for a real swim. Rachel, on the other hand, was a little more hesitant about jumping into the cool water; she took her time about getting in, and then once in, it was only for a minute to rinse the dust off her body.

Once we had been in the water and were back up on the rocks drying in the heat of the sun, it was time to have our usual lunch before hitting the trail again. We were sorry to leave the cool of the river, knowing that we were about to begin a climb that would last the better part of nine miles. It was 3 PM by the time we finally crossed the bridge over the river and began our climb through the trees to Bear Creek. We stopped at the creek to consult the guidebook again and see where the next water would be. Our original plan had been to fill up with water at Bear Creek, hike another three miles and call it quits. Looking at the map, we got the impression that we might not find camping, as we were about to start on the second portion of the climb, this one lasting 7 miles. . As we weren't too eager to carry a gallon of water up the trail, which would eventually gain over 2000 feet, we decided to press on to the next springs, six miles further. (One would have thought that we had learned from the previous night!)

It was a long, steady climb up to those springs. Fortunately for us, most of the trail was in the shade of live oaks, Douglas-firs, ponderosa pines and sugar pines. The springs were running and we filled our extra bladder bags full, downed a quart between us, and then started up the trail. We weren't at the top of the hill yet and the trail continued to climb. Now with the extra eight or ten pounds of water in our packs, the climb was very tiring. We were making our way up to the ridge, traversing across steep slopes, and so far, for the five miles since Bear Creek, we had not spotted one suitable (flat) camp location. Ahead, the trail just keep climbing, but the guidebook had stated that another 0.9 mile further on, one might be able to make a camp in the shade of the white-firs. That 0.9 mile seemed to go on forever, as our eyes scanned the slopes above and below the trail looking for anywhere even remotely flat enough for us to call home for the night. At last, we came upon a leveling of the terrain, but there was an incredible amount of fallen branches and forest droppings that there didn't seem to be anywhere to pitch the tent. We ventured off the trail, through the underbrush and branches looking for somewhere, but we quickly gave up and headed back to the trail so that we could just head further on. Another few hundred yards and we found a patch of ground, clear of underbrush and branches, where we could pitch the tent, so we jumped on it. It was about 7:30 PM, a late night for us, so we set up quickly and went about bathing and preparing our nightly meal in the waning light of the evening.

Darkness settled in around us and because we were still under the cover of thick forest, there was very little light penetrating through the trees. We had to use our headlamps for finish up our last few chores of the evening and then when we finally turned them off and settled down to sleep the darkness enveloped us. We lay there in our sleeping bags, preparing for sleep to come and take us away to another place, when all of a sudden we heard some loud and heavy crashing through the forest underbrush, not too far away from where we were camped. We sat up and looked through the mesh of our tent to see if we could determine what it was, but it was so dark that we couldn't see anything other than the first few trees around us. We consulted with each other and both agreed that the heaviness of the noise suggested that it was a bear, and our conclusion was reinforced by the fact that we had seen a lot of bear scat on the trail up and that Scott had even picked up a clump of bear fur. The noise stopped. S o nervously, we lay back down in our sleeping bags and waited for sleep to come.

We were awoken once again that night, some hours later, shortly after 1 AM. This time the noise was a little different - it was more of a prancing through the brush, but it was accompanied by a very strange whining or whizzing noise. This time we got the impression that the crunching through the underbrush was the product of a hoofed animal, but the whizzing noise had us spooked as it reminded us of the night that we had spent on the ridge just before reaching Wrightwood when we thought a gun was being fired off in our direction. This noise were similar, except they didn't have the bang at the beginning. Again it was too dark to see anything around us, so we lay there listening with every fiber of our bodies, hoping that it didn't get any closer. What ever it was out there, it stomped around for a while, first moving to the left, then back towards the right, and then finally it took off down the hill and out of earshot. We held each others hands for reassurance, as we lay there trying to go back to sleep, and the following morning, in the light of day, we readily admitted to each other that we had been really freaked out.

That next morning we came across T-Bob, Don and Leslie within minutes of starting out on the trail. They had camped no more than a couple hundred yards away from us, just outside of the trees, and they reported that they had also heard the strange noises in the night. Once we reached Lookout Rock, half a mile up the trail, we didn't see them again for a while, as we stopped to check out the view while they pressed on.

The remaining 8.4 miles to Bucks Summit were relatively uneventful. For the most part we were hiking along the ridge under the cover of trees and the views were rather limited and infrequent.. We passed a number of logging roads and at one point we were given to option to take a shortcut down the road, cutting out one mile of the trail that simply traversed out and back. As tempting as that was, we stuck to the route and hike the uneventful extra mile out along the ridge and back.

At last we came up to Buck Summit and as we hiked up the small hill towards the parking lot our hearts sank when we didn't see the other three with Linda, Serendipity and OUR COOKIES. For a second, we thought that they had already loaded into the mini-van and driven the couple of miles down to Buck Lake campground, forgetting to leave us OUR COOKIES, but then we climbed a little closer and saw that they were just parked in the parking lot on the other side of the road. We crossed over to the group, took off our packs and joined the little party. Linda had picked up OUR COOKIES for us (yay), and she had also brought us each a banana, which we eagerly devoured as it has been about two months since we have had one.

After resting up for about twenty minutes, it was time to press on. T-Bob was going to head down to the lake with Linda and Serendipity. Leslie and Bob, however, were going to hike on ahead and meet up with T-Bob and Serendipity at Clear Creak, about ten miles further on. The four of us set out on the trail, right away facing a 1500 foot climb. It was a hot morning and we quickly left Don and Leslie behind, as we steadily made our way up the hill, though the brush, and eventually moving into the cover of trees. We hiked about four miles before stopping in a small clearing to have our lunch and as we were getting ready to leave we saw Don and Leslie making their way through the meadow below us, so we waited for them. The four of us hiked together the remaining six miles to Clear Creek, over a series of knolls and saddles, along a ridgeline and through the trees. Don and Leslie had purchased a wild flower guidebook in Tahoe so they were able to help us identify some of the flowers that we had been seeing along the trail. It is really nice to be able to put the names to some of the beauty we have been seeing, like "Mountain Pride", "Washington Lily", "Tiger Lily", etc.

We arrived at Clear Creek at about 4 PM, and while we had been planning on filling up with water and then hiking on another three or four miles, we were enjoying Don and Leslie's company so much that we stopped to chat with them longer. After a while the afternoon was turning into evening and we were still sitting on a log chatting away. T-Bob and Serendipity came along just as we were debating whether or not we were going to move on, but with the new comers came new conversation and more hiking became even less of a priority. It was well after 5 PM and we decided to camp. We had looked ahead and realized that we only had another 55 miles before pulling out at Highway 36, and we felt confident that we could complete that quite easily in another two days and one morning of hiking. It was nice to stop hiking early and to take it easy for a change. We only hiked about 17.3 miles that day, but it felt great. After a relaxing and social evening, we all retired to our tents (including another hiker, Matt "Iron Chef", who had joined us just before dusk) to get away from the ferocious mosquitoes that had descended upon us with dusk, and we settled in for a good nights sleep.

The group was up and moving around at our usual time the next morning. We left camp minutes before T-Bob, Serendipity, Don and Leslie, but the first two went cruising past us at a trail junction, while Don and Leslie stopped to hike with us. We had nine miles, an elevation loss of about 4000 feet, before we reached Belden Town. The idea of reaching "town" was great, as we were in the mood for a good cooked breakfast. We didn't stop to have cold cereal, but instead pressed on, ignoring our grumbling stomachs to get to Belden in time for breakfast. As we stood on the ridge, looking 4000 feet below us into Feather River Canyon, we imagined the smell of bacon cooking and we could almost taste the breakfast that we were going to be digging into shortly.

The drop off the ridge into the canyon was a steep one. We switch-backed down gradually, but the 4.7 miles of constant descent was enough to have our knees groaning by the time we reached the bottom. With each few hundred feet that we dropped, we could feet the temperatures getting warmer and we were dreading the intense heat that we were expecting at 2000 feet, an elevation much lower than we have seen on the trail for a long time. Every now and then a cool breeze would penetrate through the trees, rush over our sweaty bodies and we would find a moment of relief from the intensifying heat.

At last, the four of us found ourselves at the bottom of the trail, standing beside the two sets of Western Pacific railroad tracks. We ducked into the shade behind a maintenance shed to consult the map and then set off down the road for the mile to Belden Town. The guidebook indicated that we would walk past the entrance road to the former Belden Campground, which was eradicated by the 1986 flood, so when we found ourselves walking amidst a number of fifth-wheel trailers we assumed that we were passing through the new campground. It wasn't until we approached long building with a general store, saloon and cafe (the later two of which were closed) that we realized that we were in Belden Town. All of a sudden it became clear why it is called Belden Town rather then just Belden, because its not enough of a town to have it's name stand by itself.

As we walked up to the building, we saw the other hikers gathered around outside, seeking shade and drinking cool pops. We dropped our packs and went inside to purchase a drink for ourselves. We inquired about getting breakfast, but were quickly informed that breakfast is not served on weekdays, so we had to settle for an ice-cream sandwich and a package of post-dated Danishes -- what a disappointment when we had been hopping for a sausage and egg breakfast with all the fixings.

Back outside again, we saw a figure wave to us from underneath a large oak tree and a closer look told us that it was Anne. We went over to her and gave her a big hug and told her that we had been hoping to catch up with them but had just about given up. From what we gathered, she was just as thrilled to see us as we were her, and when Lee returned from the Post Office with their re-supply box, he was pleased with reuniting too. While we were not re-supplying in Belden, we were so pleased to have caught up with Anne and Lee that we decided to wait for them to repack their packs so we could all head out together. They sorted through their box and supplies while we all sat around and caught up on news and trail gossip, and then we were finally ready to venture back to the trail at about noon.

The hike out of the canyon a hot and tiring one. The day was a real scorcher, supposedly the beginning of a heat wave that was supposed to break all time records just to the west of us in the Sacramento Valley. The fact that we were walking three miles of it through an area that had been burned two years previously didn't help matters any - not only was it hot, but there was no shade to be had. Before we left Belden Town we had noticed that a thermometer in the shade was reading 92 degrees F at 10:30 AM. We were now in the full heat of the afternoon, with no shade to be had. We had the choice of two routes to take, the original PCT route (which was supposed to be closed due to a winter avalanche), or a rerouted section up the valley to the east. We opted for the original route, as we had heard from a south-bounder that the route was passable, had more water access, and was very pretty, whereas the reroute climbed steeply to the ridge and then followed logging roads to the PCT.

The four of us left Highway 70 and immediately began our climb up the canyon. Within minutes of hiking, we were already looking forward to the first creek crossing a mile up the hill. When we got there, we all stopped, took off our packs, and climbed down to the creek to dunk our shirts, hats, bandanas and any other article of clothing that we thought might help to keep us cool (this is a practice that Scott has often taken to as he hikes in a long sleeved shirt for UV protection, but Rachel, with her aversion to cold water, has usually resisted except for in the most extreme cases). With wet, but rapidly drying clothing, the four of us again set out on the trail and we moved out of the shade of the Douglas-firs and oaks into the burn area. It took little more than minutes for our clothes to dry, only remaining wet where our steady stream of perspiration saturated them, leaving behind thick and dark salt stains. We steadily proceeded up the switchbacks, leaving Anne and Lee behind, to follow at their own pace. We kept a slow and constant pace, placing one foot in front of the other, stopping only briefly in the narrow strips of shade provided by a dead and burned trees that still had a few branches attached to it. The climb seemed to go on forever, feeling like we had hiked well double of what we had and we were just getting to the point when we were questioning whether we were going to make it (although we really knew that we had no alternative) when we came across a little creek. We dropped our packs, pulled out our quart bottles, filled them up with the cool fresh water and then guzzled, letting the water spill out of the side of our mouths, as we couldn't get it down our throats fast enough. We sat down beside the shallow trickle of water and drenched our shirts and bandanas again, waiting for Anne and Lee to catch up. About twenty minutes later, they came around the corner, moving very slowly and deliberately in the heat. We cheered them on as they approached and then sat with them as they attempted to quench their thirst with the cool water.

Moving on further up the trail, we encountered a couple more small creeks, before we finally reentered forested areas, after about four miles of burn. It had taken us almost four hours to cover the six miles since the highway, and we were exhausted. We arrived at the Myrtle Flat camp and stopped to take a break and enjoy a late lunch. It was 5 PM before we had eaten, recovered and were ready to head on again, but this time Anne and Lee were not going to follow behind us; they were going to stay in the relative cool and shade of the camp, prepare their evening meal, and then hike a few more miles in the cooler temperatures of the evening. We left them, hoping that they would catch up to us a little later on as we camped, but we haven't seen them again since and word has it that they may not have moved on past Myrtle Flat that night.

We left and continued up along the canyon, in shade, but still hot temperatures. After covering a couple of miles, we reached the segment of the trail that had been wiped out by the avalanche and we followed the newly constructed trail and flagged trees, around the washed out area. While the trail was most definitely passable, it was a little knarly. Being a new segment, the trail was not well established - the dirt not compacted under our feet, we had a lot of rocks and roots to navigate past. Walking that segment of the trail gave us a great appreciation for how much work goes into trail construction and we marveled at what a task it was to construct the whole 2,658 miles of the PCT.

We had set our sights on reaching Poison Spring, before setting up camp that night, but the trail was rough enough that it took us much longer to reach the spring than we had anticipated. It was only about 6 miles from Myrtle Flat to Poison Spring, but it took us almost four hours to hike it. When, at last, we got in the vicinity of the spring, it was nearing 8:30 PM and we were eager to find a suitable camp before darkness settled in around us. We kept to the trail, expecting to cross the path of the spring, but when we reached the logging road on the ridge and we hadn't found it yet, we assessed our water supplies and figured that we had enough to camp on and we would worry about finding more water the next morning. It was our latest night yet, but we felt good, had covered 22.5 miles, and had enjoyed some good socializing at different points throughout the day. We set up our camp and then cooked and ate dinner by the light of our headlamps, before rubbing each others feet and settling down to sleep sometime just before 11 PM.

The following morning we were up and moving at the usual time, and to our relief, we encountered another spring just on the other side of the ridge. We replenished our water supplies and quickly moved on, eager to make some mileage in the relative cool of the morning, before the day developed into the record breaker that it was projected to be.

Now that we were back up on the crest, the going was a little easier. We were hiking through forested areas that showed the wounds of having been logged in the past. We crossed a number of logging roads and jeep tracks and then hiked through a partially burned area where many of the trees were spray-painted with a blue "H's". We wondered what the "H" stood for and guessed that those trees survived enough of the burn that they have been marked for Harvesting when the logging companies get to that section of the National Forrest. A few miles further we came upon Humbug Road and the refreshing Cold Springs, where we again replenished our water supplies for the 13 mile hike to the next source.

By about 11:30 AM, Scott was wanting to stop for a break. His stomach was growling badly and he also wanted to attend to his feet. Scott was still being bothered by the blister that he has developed on his left heel (from the new shoes he is wearing) but more troublesome than that, he has been experiencing some irritation between his toes, caused by the dust.

Since approaching Sonora Pass we left behind the hard granite rocks and have moved into volcanics. When volcanic rocks erode and break down they form a much lighter powder-like dust and we have been encountering a lot of it on the trails. There have been times when the dust is so thick that each step causes a cloud to enter the air and cling around us. It is not uncommon for us to encounter patches of trail where the dust is literally three inches deep and it almost buries our feet with every step. Despite hiking in long pants, our shins and calves are absolutely filthy by the end of the hiking day.

For Rachel, the dust is a nuisance, as she gets tired of following in the cloud of dust created by Scott walking ahead of her, but for Scott the problem has been much more critical. He has been wearing New Balance trail runners, and they have meshing patches on the uppers. The dust has been penetrating into the shoe through the mesh and then turning to a muddy, gritty mess between his sweaty toes. The end result is that the dust has acted like a sand paper, abrading away at the skin between his toes which have been rubbed raw and have become very painful.

At first, he was trying Vaseline between the toes to act as a lubricant (we had used this earlier in the hike when we were getting blisters between the toes), but it didn't help and we surmised that it was actually serving to trap the dust and further aggravate the problem. Next, Scott tried some Liquid Band-Aid that Lee had given him, and while it seemed to help a little, we only hiked 12 miles that day, through not-so-dusty terrain, so it hasn't been truly put to the test. Nonetheless, while w e were in Sacramento Scott decided to buy some more Liquid Band-Aid and try it, but he was unable to get the Band-Aid brand and settled for another type. After his first application we realized that all it really was a hyped up nail polish with antiseptic. Nonetheless, he kept using it because if nothing else, it gave the moleskin he as applying to his blister a better surface to cling to. On this particular day, however, all of the previously tried tactics were failing. We were hiking through an extremely dusty area and Scott's toes were being rubbed raw. It was early for our usual lunch break but his toes were hurting so much that we stopped so that we could eat and he could attend to his feet.

In mere desperation, Scott washed his toes in a pot of water, put on clean socks, and then put plastic bags over his feet before reinserting his feet into his shoes. Aside from the bags getting a small hole in the toe area, and a minor heat rash around his ankles, the bags seemed to work reasonably well. The amount of dust that penetrated to between his toes was significantly lessened and he was able to hike more comfortably. The next day, he used the same plastic bags over his feet but cut them down so that they covered only his toe and ball. With any luck, that will take care of the heat rash and still provide him with some dust protection.

While we were sitting there attending to our appetites and Scott's feet, we met a south-bound section hiker, Al. He stopped and joined us for a while and we chatted about the trail, the physical hardships, the heat, and what was to come in either direction. He was able to give us a few tidbits of advice on what to expect on the trail to come before he said his good-byes and we headed off in opposite directions.

The remainder of the day was spent hiking along, or near, the crest. While the day was progressing and the heat intensifying, a breeze was building, which helped to keep us tolerably cool. In that latter part of the afternoon, we passed more exposed ridges where and were able to enjoy the views: to the west we were getting some views of the hot and dusty Sacramento Valley; to the east we were seeing Lake Almanor; logged patches to the south; and the ever nearing peak of Mount Lassen to the north. As we hiked further, we started to gain more elevation again, commencing a steady four-mile climb to the trail junction with Carter Meadows. Here we had to drop our packs and hike the 1/4 to 1/2 mile down the hill to our next water source, a little trickle of water running through the meadow. When we got there we found a boy scout troop camped out by the stream (almost on top of it, which we found a little disturbing). They were out trying to do achieve their 50 mile badges and were then going to enjoy a few days at the nearby Boy Scout camp. We filled out water bags in preparation for a dry camp and then returned back up the hill to our packs.

With the water loaded into our packs we were ready face the last section of our daily hike. Our plan was to make it to the Butt Mountain trail junction, another 3.7 miles, and 1000 feet elevation. We began the climb at our usual slow and steady pace and we plodded up the hill. We switch-backed up the hill, this time under the shade of the trees. The trail segment was relatively uneventful until we finally reached a level crest just before the trail junction where the views opened up to the north and the vegetation opened up to the south. The day was progressing into evening and the light was beginning to change from the harsh, bright sunlight to the subtle glow of the late afternoon and it was filtering in through the trees and vegetation, falling upon the open areas cloaked with thick, stunted manzanita bushes. The effect was very beautiful and we immediately began to look for a place to camp. We hadn't reached the junction yet, but we figured that we were close enough, and we were in such a lovely spot that we wanted to stay.

At last we found a small clearing in the low manzanita shrubs and we set up our tent on the dusty patch of dirt. Just as we had finished taking all our gear out of our packs and throwing it into the tent we heard this loud crashing coming through the bushes and trees immediately to the north of us. Startled, we looked over and we saw that it was a deer, equally as startled to see us. From the sound of it, he had only been a few feet away and then had decided to venture into the clearing, unaware of our presence, despite that we had not been making any special effort to be quiet. The deer stopped short in his tracks and looked like he was about to take off in another direction when we both began to talk to it in a soft and gentle voice. The deer visibly calmed, stood there for a few seconds and then came around the other side of the trees while we talked to it the whole time. After another couple of minutes the deer was comfortable enough around us to start grazing on the fir trees and tanzanite bushes around our camp, coming within ten feet of where Scott stood watching, before his grazing eventually took him off elsewhere.

While we were delighted to have been visited by a deer, we were pestered by him in the middle of the night. His usual stomping grounds must have been right by where we camped, because throughout the night, we heard him stepping through the nearby bushes, making a racket and waking us up. Unlike other nights, we were at ease with the noise (except for the sense of frustration at being repeatedly woken up) as we knew what was making it and we figured that as long as the deer was around that was a good sign that bear weren't.

It was nice to make camp at a decent hour that day. We had plenty of light by which to bathe, cook, eat, journal, and even lounge around a bit with. As the sun set in the west, we watched as the sky turned a beautiful rosy pink and highlighted the bottoms of clouds on the horizon. Every couple of minutes, we would look over our shoulder and appreciate the changes in the coloring, before the sky finally lost the pink hue and dusk enveloped us.

The following morning we were awake at the usual time, but we were moving a little faster than normal. No lounging in our sleeping bags bemoaning the fact that we had to hike 20+ miles, but rather, we were eagerly packing our gear within minutes of opening our eyes. This is usually the way it is on a day when we will be making it into town, as we are excited about the rest and all the things we will be able to enjoy that we don't get on the trail. We like to position ourselves the day before so that we only have a half-day's hike into town, that way we can maximize our time in town. We had about 11.2 miles to hike out to Highway 36 and then a 70 mile hitch into Red Bluff where we would be taking a mid-hike hiatus at Scott's parent's place.

On the trail by 6:20 AM, we quickly made our way up to the Butt Mountain trail junction (who names these places?) and then beyond. We started to drop around Butt Mountain and eventually began dropping down the east side, getting wonderful views of Mount Lassen, which now appeared close. As we hiked, we encountered a second troop of Boy Scouts heading up the hill and we stopped to chat briefly with each cluster that passed by. We descended past Soldier Spring, which we had learned had hosted about half a dozen PCT hikers the previous night and continued on down the hill to the highway. Like two days previously, we pressed on through the miles, not stopping to have breakfast, but rather being fuelled by the prospect of what was to come when we hit the road. At last, we could hear the traffic on Highway 36 roaring past, and then finally we could see it through the trees, before we eventually stepped out onto the narrow shoulder of the highway. We had done it! We had hiked 1,329 miles. We were half way to Canada! What an appropriate place to be pulling off the trail for an extended break. Scott's parents couldn't have lived anywhere better.

The PCT crosses Highway 36 in the middle of nowhere. We found ourselves standing on the side of the narrow road with not so much as even a pullout to designate anything special about the location. The town of Chester was about 10 miles to the east of us and the, even smaller, community of Mineral was about 20 miles west. We crossed the highway and began walking west, attempting to hitch a ride as we went, but we soon realized that it was not going to be as easy of a hitch as we had hoped. The traffic was cruising down the two-lane highway at such a speed that it was unlikely that people would stop to pick us up. Nonetheless, we were in the middle of nowhere, so we had no choice but to head to the nearest cafe or store and hitch hike along the way. We had gone about a mile by the time a pick-up truck pulled over and offered us a ride. They were only going as far as the turnoff to Mount Lassen National Park, but it was closer to Red Bluff and we figured that it would be easier to catch another ride t he remainder of the way from there anyway. We threw our packs in the back of the pickup and then jump in with them, enjoying the breeze as we cruised down the highway.

As we were climbing out of the back of the pickup at the turnoff to Mt. Lassen a small white vehicle pulled up and a lady got out and approached us. She asked us if we were doing the PCT and then asked if we happened to know of Josh. When we informed her that we did know him and that we had even hiked with him and his sister Naomi for a few days through the High Sierra, she introduced herself as Josh's mom. She and her youngest daughter were planning on meeting up with Josh to hike with him for a few days and she was wondering if we knew if he was ahead or behind. We told her that we thought we was a day or so ahead and she then thanked us and returned to her vehicle to enter into Mt. Lassen National Park. What a small world this trail community is and how identifiable we must be in our dusty, dirty clothing with big backpacks and Scott with ten days worth of growth on his face.

Out on the side of the highway again we positioned ourselves in a good spot to hitch a ride. Unfortunately there was no shade to be had and we began to swelter as we stood there. The amount of traffic passing by was significantly reduced, as half of the cars were turning into the park, but the rest of the car occupants seemed to be doing their best not to notice us. After a little while, we began to make minor adjustments to our appearances that we hoped might help us to get a ride: Scott changed out of his salt stained blue hiking shirt into a t-shirt and he tucked the cape of his hat up inside so it looked like a normal baseball cap, and Rachel let her hair down so it would be more obvious that we were a couple hitch hiking. After standing on the side of the road in the hot sun for about half an hour a large white Chevy SUV pulled over. We told the driver that we were trying to get to Los Molinos but that Red Bluff would suit us find and then he informed us that he was going into Los Molinos so t o "jump in".

We loaded our packs into the back of the truck and then climbed inside the air conditioned interior, happy to be out of the heat and considering ourselves fortunate to have gotten a ride the extra 12 miles to Scott's parent's place. The drive into town took about an hour, and we kicked back and relaxed in the cool comfortable confines of the truck. When we got into Los Molinos, Kevin was kind enough to drive us right to the door, so we didn't even have to suffer through the 1/2 mile hike from the highway in the 100 degree F heat. He pulled up on the driveway outside the house and Scott's mom poked her head out of the door, as we were hauling our packs out of the back.

Despite the significant increase in temperatures down here in the valley, we are really glad to be resting up with Scott's parents. We have been hiking hard to get here and now that we are here we know that we are half way home. We have been told by many other hikers that the remainder of the hike is much faster than the first half and that once you hit Oregon you can almost taste the finish line. We are looking forward to seeing what the northern half has to offer, but before that happens, we have a few more days of relaxation to enjoy.

While we have already been here for a full two days (today is July 13th) they have been busy and we are only just beginning to be able to think about relaxing. We spent yesterday doing an assortment of chores such as washing our clothes, cleaning our packs and Thermarests, sorting through the many rolls of film that have been delivered here, going through our mail, and generally trying to make some sense of our finances. Today we have confronted the task of finishing the journal, and the balancing of our finances and reorganizing the freezer holding all of our dehydrated foods, waiting to be mailed out, and redoing our re-supply boxes, pulling things that we don't want and adding more that we do. The next three days are reserved for relaxation and maybe a movie in town. We plan to be back on the trail on Wednesday July 17th, doing another long 170-mile segment to the crossing of Interstate 5.

The adventure continues!