August 6 (~07:00 – ~20:15)
Bug Gulch Junction – Siphon Lake Junction (25.6 mi / Total: 1585.2 mi)
Total PCT miles: 1906.2
Weather: The day starts a little cooler with faint clouds. Soon the day is hot again, and the heat stays even in the evening.
I wake up to the beautiful views of the valley. This is a great spot to start my day, and with a 7 am start, I feel more positive than I did these past few days already. I’ve recovered a little, and the milder temperature this morning certainly helps.
The elevation this morning is a lot easier – finally. I needed this. It’s about ten miles to the road to Etna, and the trail continues as yesterday, leading me through burnt forests. I leapfrog with a loud group of 18-20 year olds, and I take some breaks to keep them ahead of me. Then I run into Goodfind. He was part of Prince’s first trail family at the start of the desert, and we have a little catch up. I tell him I’ve been hiking alone for a long time now, and he tells me he went through the Sierras alone, but has been feeling a lot better since he started hiking with someone else. He tells me to befriend JMTers. (The John Muir Trail hikers that overlap with the PCT in the Sierras for a large part.) They will all be going southbound, just like me. ‘They’re like normal people’, he says, ‘they bring four pairs of shoes.’
The trail remains easy until I change mountain sides, and the rocks come back, spectacularly so. This is a romantic view, curving along the ridge, surrounded by a variety of plants and layers of sharp edged light grey and red rock. In the distance it’s green and grassy, a bit more lush, if i ignore the remaining burnt slopes. It’s also the end of the Marble Mountain Wilderness, which is a shame, because I was beginning to take to it, despite the demanding elevation changes.
I break just before the road to Etna, and then I continue my mission. After the road there’s some 1300 elevation gain in less than 4 miles, but I feel good when I begin the ascend. Of course, this changes quickly, and soon I’m panting throughout my many quick stops. A northbound hiker tells me the views from the top are marvellous, and he’s right. The path is carved out of light grey stone and I look out over a background of layered mountain ranges, and a spotless alpine lake lined with trees.
Here a hiker actually recognizes me from Instagram, and we chat before he hurries off to Etna – everyone is rushing towards Etna, but not me, although I wish I was. Despite all the food I brought, I’m running out of toppings for my wraps, and I’ll need to get creative. It’s not worth hitching all the way into Etna for though, I’d lose way too much time.
The trail continues to offer more rock, mountainsides covered in hefty boulders, ups and downs and ups and downs, and then burnt forests that allow me to put my head down and just walk.
But the day isn’t over yet. There’s one more ascend, which of course I’ve underestimated, and it’s long and steep, a mountainside drowning in late afternoon sun, all the plants a yellow glow, the heat unmoving, thick in the air. I’m passing rocks the size of houses, precariously balanced on top of each other, so seemingly fragile, as if from another world.
I keep going higher and higher, surprised at the empty campsites and the number of hikers still passing me this late, and then I reach a nameless pass over 7300 ft overlooking Mt Shasta and Jackson Lake, and it’s splendid.
When I pass to the other side, I hear music. Bells resound in the valley, and I can’t figure out where it’s coming from, until I realise it’s cows. Black cows roaming the valley freely, some carrying bells. I quickly hike down before it gets too dark, grab water from the tiny stream that is now covered in poo and cow footprints and I keep hold of the water bottle, looking out for a place to camp. The spot I had in mind seems too exposed to the mooing herd, so I backtrack to a small spot next to a tree, in between the trail and a dirt road, and set up under many watchful cow eyes.