May 17 (~07:55 – ~18:15)
Before Cache 22 Water Tank / FS 22 – ridge before Red Mountain (21.2 mi / Total: 1434.6 mi)
Total PCT miles: 771.6
Weather: Changeable. It’s overcast and chilly, with only a little sun. Later it begins to get foggy, rainy and cold.
I wake and it’s quiet. All I hear are birds chirping outside, and it’s light. The sun rises early, it’s always light nowadays. Everything is still wet from the nightly downpour and mud is splashed onto my tent. I’m not looking forward to packing my things up, everything undoubtedly covered in dirt.
I watch Speedy and Prince walk by as I’m packing up. I’m just off the trail and I have to call out even though I’m in plain sight. I’ve observed their tunnel vision while walking before, and I think most of the time they would’ve completely missed me if I didn’t wave my arms and say anything when sitting next to the trail. They usually pass me in the morning, as they’re both early risers – not saying I don’t prefer to start early either, but who can say no to late night blog writing and episodes of Deep Space 9?
Once I leave the deserted plains, I quickly find myself in a forest and it’s lovely. Everything is wet, it’s cold, but the birds still sing and the path winds along the flat grounds, it’s a great start of the day. I wonder if I can push myself and do a longer day today.
But first I’m going to visit the waterfall. Burney Falls is just a few miles into my day, and I follow the side trail towards it. I don’t normally enjoy tourist destinations, and I always find myself sadly underwhelmed by the view of water falling from rocks. I wish I could be one of those people who marvels at sights like these. Prince was looking forward to the falls, so after a visit to the store where I pick up a disgustingly syrupy cappuccino, I head for the viewpoints and give it my good consideration. It’s a nice view, but I can’t rid of the feeling that ultimately, it’s just a lot of water falling from mossy rocks. I do oddly enjoy being surrounded by tourists and being thrown out of the remote thruhiker scene for a moment. Suddenly I’m a tourist amongst tourists.
When I return to the PCT I can still hear the cascading while the path resumes through the forest. It goes up now, and after a large dam there’s a long climb waiting for me. I’m headed into the Shasta-Trinity National Forest now, I’m going back up into the mountains for the next few days. The sand from the desert is really gone now, and so are the small scurrying animals. I miss the panoramic faded desert views and at the same time I revel in the freshness of the forest. Here the soil is a thin layer of mud although I feel as though I could break through the top surface at any moment. There’s a lot of overgrowth and the overhanging bushes and grass are wet from the intermittent rain, soaking my shoes. The weather keeps changing. It’s overcast, chilly, then it rains and gets cold. When I sit down for lunch, the sun peeks out a little.
After lunch the climb proves to be a solid steady one. I’d hoped it wouldn’t be too bad, but it requires some endurance. The forest is dark and wet, and soon it feels more gloomy than comforting. The muscles in my legs are tight. Rock solid. I probably need to stretch but I don’t know how to. My idea to do a long day quickly fades away.
Slowly, I climb higher and it gets colder out. Patches of snow appear. Thin patches, mostly just an inch thick, but they add to the cold. It doesn’t take long for the conditions to go wholly downhill. Thick bushes that line the trail hunch closely over the path, and I have to force myself through, the raindrops on them soaking me throughout. It takes too long for me to realise my down gloves are saturated, and have instantly become useless for the days ahead. Snowmelt turns the trail to rivers and my feet are drenched once again. Fog appears. Everything freezes.
I painstakingly collect water for camp from an icy river and find Speedy and Prince setting up in the trees nearby. When I pass them I yell out my frustration. I hate this forest. I hate the snow, I hate the trail that has turned to a river, I hate the overgrowth, I hate the fog, the cold, the wet, everything. They concur. We’re all having a miserable time.
Once again I’m so happy not to be in the Sierras, but these conditions aren’t fun either. I continue on, aiming to camp at least a few miles further up but it soon proves a mistake. The conditions get worse. I certainly won’t be doing a long day today – I barely make it another two miles. As I keep on going I actually get to a point where I think I’m drying out a little but then the wet bushes come back, creating solid barriers between me and the way forward, and soon enough everything I wear is soaked again. I know this won’t dry for tomorrow and I feel miserable thinking about it. I finally find my intended campsite on an exposed mountaintop, freezing cold and windy, and it’s everything I don’t want right now.
The fog is so thick I can’t see beyond the rocks and the edge of the forest. I don’t think I’ve even seen Mt Shasta since I started walking here, and the views of the mountain are meant to be superb. I barely manage to erect my tent along the ridge and push the pegs into the rocky ground and climb in. It’s cold. It’s too cold to do anything. Fog moves through my tent and I hear the wind roaring in the trees. It rains again. I’m supposed to stay at this elevation all day tomorrow. I wonder when it’ll be warm again.