PCT Day 122 : The Toughest Day Yet, The Heat Hell Ascend From Seiad Valley

August 4 (~09:30 – ~20:20)
Grider Creek Campground – before Tyler Meadows Junction (17.1 mi / Total: 1632.4 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1859.0
Weather: Burning hot, again.

I wake up several times during the night, and every time I do, I’m clammy and hot but I’m happy it’s not because of a bear trying to nosedive into my tent and steal my food. I sleep in, and it feels great after all those busy days. The only downside is that by the time I leave the sun has grown strong, and the burning heat has returned.

I don’t leave until 9:30, and I’m looking at 17 miles of continuous uphill, from 1700 feet to almost 7000. On top of that there’s a lot of overgrowth and sections covered in poison oak. This isn’t going to be fun.

The trail follows Grider Creek up, and there isn’t much change throughout the day. Trees, the water, a burning sun and a few burn sections. The trail continues to go up and it just refuses to stop. I look out for the poison oak – it looks so generic, I still can’t figure out exactly which plant it is. I try and avoid any bush with three leafs, and luckily the overgrowth isn’t too bad, and I think I’m avoiding everything quite well.

At least that’s one thing going all right. Meanwhile, the sun is searing hot and I’m drenched in sweat. I keep stopping, leaning forward in some effort to relieve my desperation, my head resting on my poles to catch my breath, to take a few more sips of water. My head is so overheated I can’t even wear my new visor. I watch several people pass me and I just don’t know how they do it. How am I ever going to make it to the top of the mountain?

When the trail hits over 3000 feet, the poison oak disappears, and in its stead I get an overgrown section, with lots of prickly berry plants that cut my legs and scratch the knee wound from yesterday’s fall, causing more pain. By the time it’s 3pm, I’ve only done 10 miles and my frustration is growing. The ascend north of Seiad Valley was definitely not this awful, and I’m beginning to despise being a southbounder. I hate getting the extended ascends as opposed to the short and steep ones, and getting the steep downhills, instead of the long ones. This southbound route offers no respite, no small downhill or level sections to relieve the strain of going up, it’s just a continuous ascend. It’s utterly ruthless. Soon, I’m cursing at the trail and every little misstep, and all I want to do is rest. Rest until the sun goes down, rest until this mountain is done with.

Then I run out of water. I’d passed the creek so many times that I didn’t think there would be a point where there wouldn’t be any water anymore, but now I have just a little bit of water in my bottle left, and 3.5 miles to the next spring. Any other day this wouldn’t be a problem, but today, here in this heat, those 3.5 miles could take me another few hours and there’s nothing I can do. I can’t even walk faster, I’m just not capable of anything in this heat.

On the way I meet a girl, sitting next to the trail. Her name is the Cow Whisperer and we chat for some time. She’s hiking half of the trail northbound, and I’m enjoying the distraction, and to chat with someone nice again. I tell her about my NoBo vs SoBo theory with regards to the steepness of the mountains in each direction. She says she also feels like Northern California has just been a lot of climbing, which doesn’t bode well for me.

A little further up the mountain I meet another hiker. I’m standing there resting, my leg folded up against a tree when someone approaches from behind, also going uphill. I can’t help myself but ask, ‘Do you hate this hill as much I hate this hill, because I hate it a lot.’
And I can see his face, he’s not having any fun either right now. And he turns around and agrees. Finally, someone who isn’t all sunshine and roses over this trail.

I barely manage to continue up the hill, but at least I find some water in two small puddles next to the trail. I’m clearly desperate to scoop water from these stagnant sources, but it tastes amazing. I meet the hiker from earlier, his name is Bryan, again at the actual running water source, a small stream. I’ve only made it 15 miles from where I was camping this morning and it’s after 7 now. It’s taken me all day for such a small distance. So much for continuing my 25 mile days to reach the Sierras in good time. Getting out of Seiad Valley has been a true hell, I’ve hated today. I tell Bryan I’ll probably go to the next campsite 2 miles up, and watch him go.

I take enough water and continue my way. The trail is still going uphill. I can’t believe I’m still going up. Then I actually get my first views of the day, but they’re just not worth the effort. Dry mountains with burnt trees. It gets a little better further up, crests of rock, a mixture of that dry desert feel and greenery. It’s nice, but I can only hope it will get better further on.

I find Bryan sitting under a tree and we set up camp together – finally another person going in the same direction. He’s also been through a lot of snow, and it’s nice to share experiences. He tells me that during the climb up today he seriously considered going into the next town Etna and take a week off. We bond over our communal agreement that hiking isn’t fun, and we don’t understand people who are so happy all the time. He also enjoys taking pictures, and we sit in our tents and talk about everything that’s happened to us until late at night.

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