August 19 (~06:50 – ~19:40)
Before Sierra City – after Snowbank Spring (30.2 mi / Total: 1168.5 mi)
Total PCT miles: 2199.1
Weather: Warm with some wind. Cold at higher elevation at the end of the day.
It’s cold when I wake up, but my tentsite is pretty spectacular, and I’m excited I got such a good spot again. I watch the sun swiftly colour the rocky mountain above me, bright and yellow. I continue my way down the switchbacks, which continue for another three miles through a forest, before meeting the road that leads to Sierra City, where I won’t be stopping today.
Just as I’m about to head down another hiker approaches. He’s making a lot of noise, talking out loud, cursing and shouting about trail maintenance, as though he’s the one having to do it. He blanks me as he thunders past and I know there’s something off about this guy. I realise he must be the person who I saw camped at the top of the mountain last night – and he’d found the one small stretch of forest that was dark and dreary, and there was something about his setup that made me feel cautious. I don’t think he’s a PCT hiker, possibly a crazy person hiking these trails, I’m not sure. Either way, I don’t want to get too close so I give him some space to get ahead, but I keep catching up to him on the way down. I stay and linger, until I notice he’s stopped close to the road and I hurry along past him, hoping he doesn’t catch up, or goes into town.
I quickly cross the road and continue the trail up. Somehow, I progress pretty well despite all the muscles in my legs hurting from the long days, but perhaps that’s what happens when you think a madman is right behind you. I follow the narrow path as it snakes through the forest, then finds open air and climbs up the rocky mountainside. I run out of space on my camera’s memory card in the middle of this – I’ve taken 11,997 pictures. Luckily I anticipated this happening and I bought a new memory card in Canada. I switch the two. I’m ready now.
I hike 15 miles before I break, which means it’s a good day, and I sit next to a stream and tear off pieces of bread I got in the health shop in Quincy. When I continue I start seeing notes to someone called Pasha – ‘0.2 miles ahead’, they say, and when I get there, a man in a truck is waiting. He’s there for a Russian hiker called Pasha, he says, and I wonder, could my raging madman actually be a Russian hiker called Pasha?
The afternoon has me climbing higher and higher, up ridges of volcanic rock and fields of those yellow flowers that almost look like some kind of wild tulips. I look ahead at the landscape and try to anticipate where the trail is going, but every time I hit a curve the mountains change shape, and everything is forever further away than I thought. For a moment I think I can make my 30 miles well before dark, but the trail just keeps on going, and I go up and down and up and down again, all of this after that long uphill that took up most of the day, and then the light glows golden once more and I’m over 8000 feet now, higher than I’ve been before – NorCal is high.
It’s cold now, that icy chill in the air that comes with the proximity of snow, and there it is, there are patches, even across the trail. I haven’t seen snow in so long. It’s not much, but it’s there, and immediately I react to it – something tightens inside of me, something’s not okay. I move around the snow and there it is, the tentsite I was looking for. High up with a great view but not close enough to the edge, unfortunately. Mosquitoes land on me, leisurely biting. I haven’t seen those in a while either, but of course – the melting snow. Of course they are here.
Once I’ve set up it’s dark and I crawl into my quilt to stay warm, and I hear some odd noises. They must be coyotes, quite nearby, but I’m not too worried about them. Then there are footsteps and sighing. Another hiker? I wait, listen. More walking. I hope it’s not a bear. There are trees behind me, who knows. Then I turn on my light and clap loudly, and the noise of the animal running away is that of a deer. Of course. I go to sleep a little weary, but nothing else happens. The night turns quiet.