July 13, 2016
I Woke up a few times before at sunrise as the residents of the RV park fired up their diesel engines and headed out to work. Most were logging crews that were taking out the good timber from the major Happy Camp Complex Fire of 2014. The soot covered younger guys must have been the Choke-Setters where the cleaner mid aged guys must be the Hookers. A hardy bunch of guys working 12+ hour days.
I fell back to sleep awoke around 6:30 and stayed in bed an extra half hour enjoying the soft lawn under my tent. 7 am I check into the small café and have a fabulous plate eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast and a few cups of coffee. This place is notorious for their PCT pancake challenge – the pancakes are huge and plentiful. I knew not to try. I have a friend who thru-hiked in the mid 90’s and tells the story of when he and his two hiking partners took on this challenge. They couldn’t finish the pancakes, but they did take a doggie bag to finish on the trail. Before they had a chance to get back on trail they all got sick from over indulgence and ended up remaining in Seiad an extra two days…needless to say, they never finished their doggie bags of pancakes.
I take it easy this morning, which seems to be my norm for town visits. I walk into the store to grab some benadryl and the clerk just looks at me and chuckles as he says, ‘Rough night? You look like you have had better days!’ I respond, ‘Yeah, I appear to have an allergic reaction going on…’ He quickly replies with ‘looks like you got poison oak in the eyes, that’s painful.’ All I can say is, ‘yeah, I suspect the same and yes, it is not going to be fun hiking in this weather with these eyes.’ He sells me a couple single packs of benadryl and wishes me luck.
I am miserable and really don’t want to hike today. I sit at the RV park for another hour contemplating my strategy. I really don’t have many options and it’s not like my eyes are going to feel any better if I hitch a ride to Yreka then down to Etna so I can find my stashed bear canister resupply. It’s going to be better hiking this morning when its cooler than the afternoon…So, I bite the bullet and take on the 6 mile road walk to get back on to dirt.
I pass a group of 4 college students who are doing an environmental study /species count of birds and amphibians in this region. They are using the PCT because it is a convenient slice through the wilderness. It was nice to hear them say that they are finding more species and population that they had expected. The fires over the past few years have taken their toll, but everything is springing back.
I get to Girder Creek campground, cross the bridge and back onto the trail. The trail stays fairly close to the creek which luckily protected it from the fire that burned both sides of the canyon, but spared most of the riparian vegetation. It was another hot day with a noticeable rise in humidity being near water. The shade was a welcome treat from yesterday. Every bit of water I pass I take a handful and splash my eyes for some temporary relief.
I eat some lunch on an island in the creek and enjoy the light breeze that flows with the water. I pass a few thru hikers along the way and each ask about the store and restaurant hours. Everyone was looking forward to another town stop. One of those through hikers was a young guy from Ireland. He was very depressed and really wanted someone to talk to. He had been traveling around the world for the past couple years and was looking forward to going home to Ireland once he reaches Canada by foot. He was definitely homesick and was being affected by the mental side of Northern California. He mentions that he has not seen another hiker in 5 days as he skipped Etna. I assure him that there are a few people a couple miles ahead of him today, which he seems surprised by.
Thirteen miles in and 4 water crossings, the trail began to climb the ridge to get us back on top. I heard a loud crash as a bear came down a tree and hit the ground running up the other side of the canyon. It was like déjà vu. My first bear sighting while backpacking was 20 years ago when I was on a solo hike in the next watershed, Elk Creek, 5 miles to the West. The same thing happened then as a bear came crashing down a tree and ran up the opposite side of the canyon. Both times it sounded like a truck crashing through the forest, nothing graceful about the escape.
I passed a guy setting up camp at cold creek spring and he was dancing around due to a swarm of mosquitoes on attack. The mozzies where out in force and causing insanity.
I grab 4 liters of water as I will be dry camping tonight. Today’s goal was another 7 miles uphill and I knew that my body was not going to take me that far.
I pass a few more thru hikers coming down the trail, each ask about the store and a couple ask if I have seen so and so. It was a slow grind for me moving up the hill, I was completely out of energy and just not feeling good about this trip in general, I guess the NorCal blues are coming on.
I reach the end of a gravel road which is about half way up the climb by 8 pm and drop my bag and call it quits for the day. The road is actually a large gravel landing from a previous logging operation. The gravel is larger rubble road base that is compacted very well. So well compacted that tent stakes can’t penetrate easily and the surface is by no means smooth. I make myself eat dinner even though I just wanted to go to bed. I am in bed just after sunset and quietly peering at the forest in twilight. I hear an animal start barking, not like a dog barking, but a ‘bark/growl’. I have heard this sound before, but still don’t know the animal that creates it. Of course, my first thought is a young bear calling out for mama, but that’s my typical paranoia just after I eat dinner and am laying helplessly in my tent. Eventually I hear some scuffle in the brush a few hundred feet away, then silence and sleep.
I was short 4 miles of my goal, but will have to try and make it up tomorrow. I am looking forward to finishing this uphill in the morning then cruising through the Marble Mountains. Another one of my favorite places.
10 thru hiker, 4 section hikers, 1 bear, 2 deer