PCT Day 123 : Into The Marble Mountains

August 5 (~07:50 – ~20:30)
Before Tyler Meadows Junction – Bug Gulch Junction (21.6 mi / Total: 1610.8 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1880.6
Weather: Very hot. Some wind and faint clouds towards the end of the day.

I was up so late chatting with Bryan that an early start isn’t really possible. We both pack up around the same time, and then I tell Bryan to head off without me, knowing that I’m better off moving at my own pace anyways. I’m not wrong, the moment I leave the strange little forest we’re in, I find myself going up in this hobbit landscape of small round rocks, as if they’re the building blocks of this wilderness area. The mountain of rock only gets bigger, the colour almost orange, then a silver grey, huge platforms and high crests, that deliver me to a land of green hills and trees.

The colours here are different from Oregon and Washington – less saturated, less lively. The greens are just that, plain forest greens, and the wild flowers, the light blue butterflies and those little orange ones with the dots – are the only details that spring alive. It’s dry and rocky and all the elements seem to appear at random and it reminds me, in the crudest way, of someone’s messy back garden.

Still, the craggy peaks are different from what I’ve seen before, and a change in landscape always intrigues, this small scale ruggedness interesting in its own way. I look at the ground I’m walking on, some of it is almost ochre, and everything is entirely dried out after all the snow this winter and spring.

I have a few miles of downhill, and after that the terrain proves as unforgiving as before. All the ups are cutthroat and the heat defeats me completely, but luckily the downs save me again, a little bit. I wonder how long these hot days will go on for, when it will cool down just a little bit.

It’s 1 when I take a break, almost at the top of a hill, but just about not – I simply didn’t make it. I sit down for quite a while, too long probably, and then move on to a small spring, where I find Ru scooping up water from the smallest trickle yet. I haven’t met Ru before, but we quickly commence a fun banter while we both fill up our bottles. Ru is wearing a skirt he found in his pack, all the heat and the uphill causing him to chafe all over the place. He’s funny, and I leave him there to resume his break.

It’s already afternoon when I think I’m finally done with the uphills, but I’m not. I pass a small tentsite next to the trail and the view here is different – it’s grand, it’s rugged, it’s so much. I must have reached the core of the Marble Mountain Wilderness I’m in. But the path keeps going up, and there’s just no way I can enjoy it. All the northbounders who ask me how I’m doing, receive a ‘hating every minute of it!’ as an answer. It’s funny but really, I’m struggling. Northern California is no cruise.

The trail continues upward, all lined in rock, the grade relentless. I stop and catch my breath every ten steps. I’m not very good at this. I pass a beautiful alpine lake – such a sight, but only partly appreciated because I’m just too exhausted. When I reach the other side of the pass I can finally go down. Finally.

I get myself to a small stream where I sit on a big rock and have another break. It’s quite late for a break – it’s 6, but I’ve been looking forward to a moment of rest. I still have 7 miles to walk as well. If I can make it, that is. I’m still carrying all that water from the last spring – I drank so much this morning, then suddenly I stopped needing all that liquid. Just as I leave, Ru arrives. We share stories of aggressive deer, and aggressive ducks, a pet marmot we plan to keep called Terram, and I’m off again.

Now I’m in another fairytale land of rock, the trail carved into stone, curving around, looking out over the forest in the valley below. It’s an impressive landscape. The steepest ups and downs are done for the day, but I’m still not flying, and I wonder if I’ll ever fly in Northern California. Just after I begin to smell smoke the trail turns away from the rocky land and into a burn area – I was smelling the ashes. It’s a little creepy. I’m at high elevation, close to the ridge, so the trees are thinned out and everything is black, the sound of dead branches crashing worrying me of bears, even though I’m sure they wouldn’t walk around burn areas this high up.

I was aiming for a tentsite 25 mile into my day, which is still 3.5 miles away when it begins to get dark. I decide to aim for another one a little more nearby, on an exposed pass, overlooking mountains and civilisation. Two people are there already but there’s enough space left for me. While I set my tent, Ru walks by, and he asks if I’m hitching into Etna tomorrow, but I’m not.

I seem to be one of the few skipping Etna, but I still have enough food, and it’d be a waste to spend time going into town for no real reason. I already had two very short days, and today wasn’t nearly enough either. It’s frustrating, but then I realised that without these failed days, I wouldn’t have met two friendly southbounders during these past two days, Bryan and Ru. Even though I may not see either ever again, it was nice to have some friendly faces to connect with for a short time.

I set up my tent just before darkness hits and fall asleep to the creaking and snapping of burnt trees.

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