Scott and Rachel's Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike journal: Ashland, Mile 1721, Aug 7

Ashland - Leaving Seiad Valley was no easy task. Rachel had a hard time saying goodbye to her parents, especially in light of her bout with an intestinal upset (it really had her feeling terrible for two of the two and a half days off). There was a strong temptation for her to throw her pack in the back of the Pilley's Volvo and head north, the quick and direct way, with them, but fortunately Scott kept her grounded and didn't give in to the temptation to end this adventure prematurely. In addition to the difficulties of saying goodbye to Rachel's parents, we were sorry to leave Seiad Valley and all of the wonderful people whom we had met. We had seen Cowboy Bill around town a couple more times than were mention in the previous section of journal, and he even made gave Rachel a birthday present -- a book of cowboy poetry in which a handful of his poems had been published. Bill was a truly wonderful man, with a heart the size of Texas and a knack for making people feel special, but he wasn't the only one in town who seemed to have that knack: Rita, the proprietor of the Wildwood Restaurant treated us like long lost friends and waved frantically at us the day after Rachel's birthday dinner when we saw her in town; the cook in the cafe remembered us and was curious as to why we were still in town two days after T's attempt at the pancake challenge; the proprietors of The Midriver RV Park were kind enough to set us up with their ISP account so that we could send off our journal segment; and just about every one else in town would smile and say hello as they walked past. It seems that most hikers make either Etna (to the south) or Ashland (to the north) their rest over places and only stop in Seiad Valley long enough to have a meal, maybe attempt the pancake challenge, stay the night and then move on. For us, Seiad Valley was a very memorable and pleasant place to spend a few days and celebrate Rachel's birthday (and she still can't get over how many journal readers sent her birthday greetings -- it really helped to make her birthday that much more special).

After having lunch in the Seiad Valley Cafe it was time to head back to the trail and get some miles under our belt. We piled in the car and drove the remaining 0.8 mile section of the trail that is on Highway 96 to where the trail started steeply up the hillside to the north. We said our final good-byes to Rachel's parents and then before Rachel could change her mind (although her eyes were defiantly moist) we walked across the road and started up the trail.

Seiad Valley, at 1380 feet, is the second lowest point on the PCT (next to the Columbia River at Cascade Locks), so it would only figure that there was a big climb out of the valley, back up to the crest. Over the next 6.7 miles we were to face an elevation increase of about 4400 feet, and it didn't waste any time about getting started. In the first two tenths of a mile we gained 220 feet and despite the gray and cloudy (and still slightly smoke choked) skies, we were sweating and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. After that first little stint, the grade did ease up a little bit and we gradually chipped away at the remaining 4180 feet. After a couple of hours we reached the spur trail to the lookout at Lower Devil's Peak, but rather than take the 1/4 mile side trip we continued along the trail. Next we rounded Middle Devil's Peak and then at last the Upper Peak. By that point we were beginning to think about finding water and a suitable campsite so we poured over the map and guidebook to see if we could gain any insight as to where those commodities might be found. We set our sights on Kangaroo Mountain's meadows, about 2 miles further ahead, and in the cooling temperatures of the late afternoon we made our way down the gradual descent to the meadows.

Once in the meadows we found ourselves a relatively level spot, that was neither covered by cow pies or pot holes, and we decided to make our camp. Scott went off in search of the nearby spring while Rachel went about pitching the tent. The evening was proving to be a cool one with a stiff wind blowing down into the meadow off the ridge above us so Rachel put the fly on the tent for the first time in a few weeks. Once inside the tent, preparing for our baths, we were still cold (but at least the wind-chill factor had been reduced) so we decided to splurge and heat our bath water (another thing we haven't done in a very long time). By the time our baths were done and we were thinking about dinner it was about 8 PM so we got moving on that quickly and ate a delicious meal of beef stew and mashed potatoes as darkness settled in around us.

Nestled into our sleeping bags we managed to have a pretty good nights sleep other than Scott being woken up in the middle of the night by a snorting deer not far off in the meadow, but it didn't stay long and moseyed along its way. As we prepared for sleep Scott had been a little worried about being too cold; he switched from his sleeping bag to his homemade Jardine sleeping quilt and that night was the first time that he has had it in colder temperatures. While we woke to frost on the outside of the tent, and inside tent temperature reading a frigid zero degrees Celsius, Scott's quilt had kept him warm enough throughout the night, although it was verging on too cold.

We left camp at about 6:45 AM, wishing that we had not left our gloves with the rest of our gear at Scott's parent's place. We had heard that a cold front was going to be moving in, but when we have been told that before we have barely noticed a significant change in the temperatures, therefore, this one caught us by surprise. Eager to get warm, we started out of camp at a pretty good clip, hoping that we would stoke the fires burning within us and keep warm that way. We began with a climb up and out of the meadow back to the ridge where we traversed along through the manzanita and tobacco brush that frequent this areas dry slopes. The colder temperatures and accompanying winds seem to have cleared away some of the smoke that has choked the area for the last week, and we were treated to some views of the surrounding ridges as well as the tree clad slopes and valleys below. After a couple of miles we began a gentle 1200 foot descent down to Cook and Green Pass before we crossed a logging road and began the 1400 foot climb up the other side to Copper Butte. We stopped for breakfast at a breezy overlook near the summit of Copper Butte and then quickly packed up again and pushed on as we were getting cold sitting there.

From the summit of the Butte, we remained on or near the crest for the rest of the day. We went from crest saddle to crest saddle, making our way through the stands of Douglas-fir, ponderosa pines, mountain hemlocks, and other coniferous trees. By the time we stopped for lunch we had hike 15 miles and we were still 11 miles from making it to the California - Oregon border (a real milestone for us), but as the afternoon progressed it became apparent that to make it there would be to push ourselves a little harder than we wanted to do. While the cool temperatures of the day were nice to hike in, by late afternoon we were starting to get tired and having a hard time keeping warm, even when hiking. As we neared the 23 mile mark we began to consult the guidebook for an idea of where we might be able to get water and make camp and we decided that Bearground Spring would be a good place to try for both.

As we neared the area of the springs we came a cross a trailside note indicating that one spring, just behind us and below the trail, was particularly good as it was running well and there was no evidence of cow pies in the immediate vicinity. We dropped our packs and hiked the 30 yards to the spring that was gushing cool fresh water straight from the ground and we filled up our extra bladder bags for that evenings camp. With our packs a few pounds heavier, we continued on down the trail another half mile to where the rest of the springs were running and there were supposed to be good campsites, but as we drew near we heard the melodious chiming of numerous cow bells. While the bells were very pleasant to listen to, what they meant was not good news for weary hikers seeking a camp. We came around a corner and saw half a dozen cows standing on and around the trail and as soon as they set eyes upon us they dashed off into the bushes. Although they were no longer visible they could still be heard and we immediately knew that the lovely campsite just below us would not be where we were staying that night. It would have only been a matter of time until those cows came wandering back to the springs and the chiming bells would wake us up. No, we had no choice but to leave the lovely campsite to them and find somewhere else, preferably out of earshot.

We wound up camping on an old logging road about half a mile further. We didn't want to go much further along the trail as we were coming up on a six way road junction and the idea of camping near that was almost as distasteful as camping with the cows and cow bells. The good thing about our road location, however, was that not only was it flat, but it was in the lee of the road embankment which served to shelter us from much of the brisk and cold wind. By the time we got the tent up, the fly on, and had crawled inside, Rachel was visibly shivering and Scott was so chilled that his fingers weren't working all that well. Without much discussion we decided that we would be heating our bath water for the second night in a row.

Despite being so cold when we arrived in camp, we warmed up after our baths and we were able to crawl inside of our sleeping bags. We had a good meal of Beef Stroganoff and then bunked down to bed nice and early. We had made camp just around 6 PM so by the time we finished all of our evening chores and were ready for sleep it was still light out: the first time that has happened in a long time.

What a wonderful sleep we had. The cooler temperatures are enabling us to sleep more soundly. Despite the early hour that we went to sleep, we did not stir until about 5:45 AM, and even then we lounged in our sleeping bags having a bit of a snuggle. Just as we were about to doze off again we forced ourselves to get up and face the cold morning. It was just after 6 AM by the time we got moving and the temperatures were one degree above freezing. We bundled up in our warmest clothing (which is limited as we had previously shed some of those warm-wear articles out of our packs) and went about the process of packing up the camp. The inside of the tent fly was wet with condensation so we got our hands wet while packing that up and then they took the better part of an hour or more to warm them up again. The first couple of miles of the morning were all about trying to warm up. We could see our hot breath as we exhaled -- just another reminder of how chilly it really was. We dropped down to Works Gap, the six way junction, and then began our climb back up to the crest, towards Oregon.

After hiking up and around Donomore Mountain we found ourselves in Donomore Meadows. There were lots of cows grazing, enjoying the lush, damp grasses that flourished there. As we made our way between groves of trees and up along side the meadow, Scott greeted each cow with a good morning, "Mooo!" They looked back at him with an expression on their faces that said something like, "You're the funniest looking cow I think I've ever seen."

Once we reached the north end of the meadow we had a last push up the hill to the California - Oregon border crossing. Half way up the hill we came to it: a couple of signs denoting remaining mileage and a trail register stand. Rachel had a tear in her eye as she saw that it was 965 miles to the Canadian border. We posed for the obligatory photos and stopped to read the hikers entries in the trail register. All in all, we were there for about half an hour before we started making tracks into Oregon.

While we had heard that the terrain in Oregon gets easier and flatter, it wasn't so for the first few miles as we had to continue the climb out of the basin. Fortunately, the scenery was beautiful. The smoke has lifted, although we could see it hanging low a couple of valleys over, and we were treated to beautiful views of the surrounding hillsides. We were traversing up the side of the hills, alternatively through groves of Douglas-firs and open meadows filled with wildflowers. It was still cool and there was a brisk wind blowing so we kept moving in order to keep our body temperatures up. We did, however, stop for breakfast on a ridge overlooking the valley, but as soon as we were done eating we had to move on to keep warm.

We proceeded to hike the rest of them morning, going from one crest saddle to the next. This meant a little bit of climbing, proceeded by a bit of crest walking and then a descent back down to the next saddle. The trail tread was generally good, walking on forest duff or smooth, relatively dust free dirt tread. A couple of miles after the border the trail started to parallel Forest Road 20 which would lead us all the way to the I-5. On a couple of occasions we took the road instead of the trail as the trail would go up and over a ridge only to drop back down again, where the road would take and easier, more consistent grade to get to the same point.

We stopped for lunch at Long John Saddle where Forest Road 20 met up with a couple other logging roads. At that point we looked at the map and decided that we would venture into the meadows near Grouse Gap. We climbed up and around the next ridge and came out near a lookout. There was a vehicle parked there and the lady was lounging on the stone wall reading a book. That planted the seed in Scott's mind -- we could hitch the remaining 13 miles to the end of the section -- but we resisted the temptation and continued along the trail. As we hiked through the wild flower filled bowls we saw cars driving by on the road above, and as each of them drove past, Scott would whine and quietly say "Wait, wait for me. There goes my ride."

Once we reached Grouse Gap, we stopped to look at the map. We had 11 more miles to go before the end of the section and we were thinking that if we were going to stop short and camp somewhere shy of the I-5 it would serve us well to get an idea of where that might be, and where we would be able to get water. Scott was wanting to stop sooner rather than later, but then Rachel finally confessed that she had been hoping that we might be able to make it out that day, although we didn't think that we had that kind of mileage left in us. From the map we saw that we were going to pass by a number of springs within the next mile, but then after that we would be hitting a dry spot that would stay with us almost until the highway. We decided to make for a Bed and Breakfast, another 3.5 miles down the trail, as the guidebook reports that they freely offer water to PCT hikers, and then we would go on from there in search of a campsite.

We picked up the pace a little and marched through the beautiful meadow bowl below Mt Ashland, and before we knew it we were crossing Forest Road 20 again, and then half a mile after that we crossed Road 2080. As we blazed across the road we notice a trail sign indicating that Interstate 5 was only 8 miles away. A few paces further down the trail Scott suggested that we shoot for the end and have a celebratory dinner at Callahan's Restaurant, (a nice establishment a quarter mile from where the trail meets the I-5). While Rachel was doubtful that we would make it, she was game to give it a try so on we marked, maintaining the steady pace.

Soon enough, we arrived at the Bed and Breakfast establishment, but as we were no longer planning on camping anywhere, we didn't need (or want) to load up our packs with water. We climbed the next bluff and dropped down to saddle after saddle, the whole time following closely along beside the road, which was now paved. After a couple of such saddles we got tired of climbing up and over the bluffs to end up on the road again, so we opted to take the road instead. While hiking on the road is tough on the feet because of the pounding, it is easy walking in comparison to having to watch every foot as we navigate the rocks and roots on the trail. We hiked a couple of miles along the road enjoying the fast pace with which we could move, but then after a bit the cumulative mileage of the day, compounded with the hard pavement, started to take its toll on our bodies. We were getting tired and eager to get the last two miles done and get to Callahan's.

At last e caved in. We stuck out our thumbs as a car when zooming past us back down towards the Interstate. A few yards past us it pulled over, and the occupants quickly went through great pains to make room for us in the small Toyota Tercel. This couple were from British Columbia and had been doing a camping trip down the Oregon Coast. The back seat of the car, as well as the hatchback, were littered with belongings and it all had to be rearranged to make room for us and our bulky external frame packs. It never ceases to amaze us that the people with the least amount of room in their vehicles for us, are typically the ones who stop (mind you, in this situation, they were the first ones to drive past us when we were hitching).

Before we knew it we were at the I-5 and searching for Callahan's. We pulled into the parking lot and managed to pry ourselves and our belongings out of the back seat of the vehicle and we walked across the parking lot to the main building. The guidebook had indicated that the restaurant was a little pricey (but excellent) and for those who didn't want to dine with them, there was a general store. We looked for the store but didn't see any sign of it as we dropped our packs outside the front entrance and walked inside. Once in the building we were struck by the plush atmosphere and furnishings. The inside was all wood and it was designed to look like a log cabin. Past the front lobby we could see that there was a dining room and lounge from which we could hear the sound of a jazz pianist playing. The wait staff were running around in their crisp uniforms and the other customers coming and going were all clean and freshly polished. Coming in off the trail, with our stinky dirty clothes on we felt very inadequate. We finally picked up the guts to approach the front desk and inquire about the possibility of camping somewhere on the grounds, and to our surprise they indicated that we could pitch our tent on their lush lawn out back for $5. They also told us that if we wanted a shower in the morning and a guest had just checked out of their room, they would give us clean towels and let us in to shower in the vacated room for an additional $5. We agreed to camp on the lawn, but Rachel was a little nervous about it as she felt weird about climbing in and our of the tent in view of all the people who were dining in the restaurant. Nonetheless, our options were limited and unless we wanted to spend $65 on a room it was the best we were going to get.

We walked back outside to collect our packs and head around to the back lawn, but as we were doing so we were approached by two other individuals who looked like thru-hikers. They both had the appropriate amount of dirt and grime covering their bodies, and the guy had long thick dreadlocks -- not the type that one would expect to see patronizing a place like Callahan's under normal circumstances. As they walked up to us, they asked if we were thru-hikers (they weren't sure because of our external frame packs and that we were so clean looking - comparably anyway) and then they asked us if we wanted a ride into Ashland. Apparently they had become friendly with some section hikers who had offered them their vehicle to use for a couple of days, so we gladly accepted the offer and loaded our packs into the vehicle to head into town.

Our game plan had now changed. We would try and find a cheap hotel for the night and then go about our re-supply chores the following morning Well, to put it quite simply, there are no cheap hotels in Ashland. After checking out a few, even those on the outskirts of town, we realized that the cheapest we were going to get was $50, so our plan changed again. We would have dinner in town with Seaweed Sally and Dert (the couple who had picked up) and then rather than driving all the way back to Callahan's we would try and find a good stealth camping spot at the end of some road somewhere.

We stopped at Pizza Hut for dinner and then asked the waiter if he knew of anywhere suitable to camp. He directed us towards Emigrant Lake, between Ashland and the trail. We headed that way and explored a couple of roads, but they all seemed to lead to a built up area or they had countless notices announcing that camping was prohibited. After a couple of attempts we found a road that lead to a parking lot up above the lake, and beside the parking lot there was a patch of level ground. Dert and Seaweed Sally decided to sleep in the car while we pitched the tent and made ourselves at home.

We got up early this morning and packed up the tent as we were worried that it was visible from the road. We headed back into town at about 7 AM and found the local Denny's so that we could have a tasty breakfast while waiting for the post office to open. By 8:30 AM we were standing outside the P.O. eager to get our parcels and get on with the rest of our duties so that we could return to the trail. Seaweed Sally and Dert went off to find a payphone while we waited inside the Post Office foyer. There was a postal worker there placing parcels into lockers and he asked us if we were waiting for a parcel and when we told him that we were he went inside and grabbed our re-supply box and two more birthday greeting cards for Rachel. Back outside in the parking lot we went through our boxes and then prepared to send the excess supplies back home.

By 9:30 we were in the Laundromat getting our clothes washed while Dert and Seaweed Sally browsed around a little. Now that our clothes are clean we are going to head back to Callahan's, try to gain access to the internet so that we can send this journal update off, and then we will be back to the trail and on to Crater Lake. We want to thank Lloyd from San Diego for sending us his ISP information so that we could attempt the up-link. Now if we can just find someone who will lend us a phone line.