Northern California on the Pacific Crest Trail

We left Chester, CA after our unexpected double zero at an amazing trail angel’s house (thanks again and again Sean and Kari!!) and headed towards Lassen Volcanic National Park. We took the short side trail to Terminal Geyser once inside the park and saw our first (huge!!) bear shortly after from the PCT.

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Steam rises from Terminal Geyser

Soon, we found ourselves in Old Station and stopped to pick up a mail drop from the post office. After breakfast, we resumed hiking and were headed towards Hat Creek Rim. Though it is quite a beautiful walk, Hat Creek Rim is the longest stretch on the PCT (outside of the desert) without water – 29 long, dry miles to be exact. It was hot leaving Old Station, but we knew it wasn’t as hot as the hikers in the bubble would experience in about six weeks.

With packs fully loaded with food and water, we began walking. Once on the rim, the concerns of water and the heat melted away as we were completely distracted with the amazing views. Behind us, we could still see Mt Lassen shrinking slightly as we walked, and in front of us was Mt Shasta in all her glory. I couldn’t help but stop and take in both of these massive and oh so beautiful volcanoes from the same vantage point. It was a remarkable place to be on the summer solstice.

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And much to our delight, there was more eye candy essentially right around the corner. Two days after the Hat Creek Rim walk, we found ourselves in Burney Falls State Park. Not only were the falls exceptional, the park itself was one of the nicest state parks I’ve ever visited. And to top it all off, it was new shoes day!! Our new shoes had been delivered to the general store (thanks, always, Mike and Jo), and we tossed our beaten up first pair that had traveled over 800 trail miles.

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129′ foot Burney Falls. I was dazzled by the sparkling jewel toned pool below.

With fresh shoes on our feet, we continued north on the PCT towards our next stop in Mount Shasta City. Over the next few days, we neared the 14,000 ft snow capped volcano, each view somehow better than the last.

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It was a Friday morning when we set out to complete our first 30 mile day. At 1:00, we were half way done and came to Ash Camp on the McCloud River. We walked through the camp and were greeted by some friendly strangers. Soon, a man motioned us over to his truck where he and a group were gearing up for the afternoon fly fishing on the river.

Craig, owner ofย Shasta Trout, quickly introduced himself and started handing us snacks, fresh fruit, and beer! We were already blown away by this generous trail magic, but he had one more gift for us.

“Tomorrow is my 30th anniversary party and, if you’ll be in Mount Shasta, please join us. We’re roasting a whole lamb and making pisco sours. Here’s my card and address.”

My jaw dropped. I assured him we’d be in town and told him not to be surprised when we stopped by. He said, “See you tomorrow!” and continued with his group down the river.

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Sean and I sat under a bridge to enjoy our treats and dreamt about the party we would attend the next day. Once again, we were stunned with how perfect our timing was and in disbelief at the kindness of total strangers.

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We woke early the next day and hiked the remaining 15 miles to the I-5. Mount Shasta City was about 15 miles down the interstate, and it took us about 2 hours to find a ride. But, thankfully, a kind young pilot in training picked us up in his freshly purchased VW van and got us into town. We did our town chores as quickly as possible then walked to Craig’s house.

Upon arrival, the sidewalk chalk guided us to the backyard where we were greeted with curious smiles.

“Uh, Craig! There’s a couple hikers here,” a guest called inside.

“Oh, yeah, I invited them!”

Craig’s wife, Jerry, warmly welcomed us and quickly offered us beers and showers which we gratefully accepted. We munched on appetizers while the lamb finished roasting chatting with Craig and Jerry’s friends and family. Soon, Craig made pisco sours that took me right back to Peru where I first tried the cocktail.

It was very obvious that this was a special and intimate gathering. Almost all of the people present were outdoor enthusiasts and athletes – some present or former Shasta guides, fishermen, rock climbers – and they truly treated us like family.

In traveling, it’s very rare and precious to feel the warmth of family and the comforts of home. Though, of course, this was not my family and I am thousands of miles away from home, the love of this family radiated and was shared with Sean and I. Sure, the food and drinks were a literal dream come true, but the kindness of these people, their generosity, and inspiring stories will truly never be forgotten.

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Beautiful people, beautiful mountain. I really fell in love with Shasta.

As the evening wound down, Craig’s friend, Peter, offered us his guest room for the night and a ride back to the trail in the morning. We left the party with hugs and so many thank yous and made our way to Peter’s. We spent the next few hours chatting and sampling his homemade infused vodkas before falling asleep in a cozy bed.

In the morning, Peter took us to a seriously delicious diner for breakfast, and then we returned to the trail. The guests from the party were all gushing about our next section of the trail, and we soon saw why. Climbing up Castle Crags (though slightly difficult from the previous night’s drinks) was quite a treat.

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Castle Crags

A couple days later it was time for another resupply, and we came to a highway crossing about noon on a Tuesday. We were anticipating an “in and out” town stop hopefully lasting no longer than four hours. After two hours of trying to hitchhike into town, we realized this might be a more difficult endeavor than we imagined.

Eventually, a truck pulled over and offered us a ride halfway into the small town of Etna leaving us at the tiny town of Callahan. About 15 minutes later, another truck stopped and got us the rest of the way into Etna. All said and done, it was about 3 hours from highway to town. And as soon as we arrived, we started to wonder how long it would take to get back to the trail.

We ate some mediocre food at a local restaurant, resupplied, and made our way back to the highway to attempt to get back. We waited for awhile and were soon offered a ride halfway back to Callahan.

We sat at the closed general store, smiling and sticking our thumbs out to the very few cars that passed. The sun was starting to set, and we knew better than to try to hitch after dark. A couple locals approached and offered us some lawn space for our tent. Well, that was helpful. We decided to give up for the evening and hoped we could get back to the trail as soon as possible in the morning.

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But, there wasn’t much traffic at 6:00, 7:00, or 8:00 a.m. By 8:30, I knew it was time to start walking the remaining 10 miles back to the trail. We would be back to the trail by noon if we walked and who knew how long if we sat and, essentially, pouted.

Frustrated, we began walking the miles that didn’t count towards the 2650 mile goal. The few cars that passed weren’t interested in giving us a lift up the mountain until we were about 3 miles from our destination. I’m sure she saw the desperation in my eyes, and I couldn’t have been happier that she saved us another hour of walking. It was 11:30 when we returned to the spot we had left 23.5 hours earlier. Heavy sigh.

We did our best to keep our cool, ate some food at the trail head, and, finally, continued down the PCT. Our moods quickly shifted as the woods calmed our frustrations, the endorphins from the exercise kicked in, and the views were truly picture perfect.

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The Russian Wilderness

From this point, it could’ve been a great day, but as late afternoon hit, my new shoes suddenly seemed too small and both heels rubbed with every step. I trudged on through the pain, leaving the back of both heels raw by the end of the day. Sigghhhh.

Well, the foot damage was done, but thankfully the next few days didn’t cause further pain. The blisters were already hardening to calluses proving once more that every time you feel your weakest, you’re actually getting stronger.

Over the next few days, we hiked our way to Seiad Valley, the final stop in California before entering Oregon. We picked up our expected resupply package and decided to stay at the RV Park for the night. After breakfast the next morning, we were back to it.

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It was Cookies n Cream. It was 95ยฐ. It was glorious.

Two days later, on the 4th of July, we crossed the state line, and we were in Oregon. And just after, Pinnacle, author and former PCT Hiker, had holiday trail magic set up – hotdogs, chips, watermelon, and beers!!

As with the trail, and life in general, thru-hiking will always have its ups and downs, its highs and lows, its challenges and rewards.

With the Sierra Shuffle, we still have 590 PCT miles of California to complete from Tehachapi to Truckee. But the state line marked 1100 miles completed in southern and northern California. Now to see what’s in store in Oregon!

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One Comment on “Northern California on the Pacific Crest Trail

  1. Hello there,

    Jeff, legend, sent me your website–very cool stuff you are doing and
    have accomplished over the years. I live above the PCT in a cabin(Cascade Locks) and have taken in hikers over the years. This year I am working on a pilot podcast that invites hikers like yourself to tell their story. Let me know if you would like to provide some input regarding said podcast. Also, you can camp at our cabin if you feel so inclined.

    Lastly, if you meet any other hikers that would be interested in working with me on the podcast that would be great,

    Look forward to meeting you,

    Peace and safe travels,

    Matt

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