August 1, 2015
South Fork of Scott River (1585.5) to Cub Bear Spring (1614.0)
28.5 PCT miles today
1654.3 miles total
Today’s Elevation Gain/Loss: + 6,031 ft, – 5,533 ft
When you hear people talk about the PCT, it is rarely about Northern California. The desert gets tons of attention because it is a proving ground and unlike what most of us have ever hiked before, the Sierras can’t be talked up enough and nothing spells adventure like 5 passes over 11,000 feet in one week, Oregon is where everyone goes fast, and Washington is always a race against the elements. But what about Northern California? This Southern edge of the Cascades with practically no big towns and very few residents. This is where we believe the trail really gets good. The temperature is just right, there are very few bugs, perfect swimming lakes abound, and many of the mountain ranges would hold their own against anything the Sierras have to offer. This is hiking and camping at its best. Not to say that we haven’t loved other sections, but we expected that…Northern California, however, we did not expect.
We didn’t exactly choose the easiest section of trail to start picking up our mileage, but we’re on a roll now, and we’re certainly enjoying the challenge. Today it felt like we were always going either up or down, there was very little flat. We enjoyed our morning hike, and were surprised to find some trail magic waiting at the road to Etna when we got there in the afternoon. The weather was strange all day. It started raining right as we finished lunch and rained off and on, even though the sun still blazed, all the way until the trail magic mid-afternoon. We enjoyed apples, cherries, grapes, and a Vitamin Water, courtesy of some very nice stranger who failed to leave behind an identity, and then worked up the energy to hike 7.5 more miles to camp.
We actually hiked another big day out of necessity more than anything. There was a 13 mile dry stretch without water, and rather than carry enough to drink and camp with, we decided to just push it to this water source. The afternoon hike was marked with a tinge of concern over the increasing amount of smoke coming from a wildfire. It’s hard to tell exactly how far away the fire is, but as all the surrounding mountains became socked in and it was hard to make out the ridge opposite ours, I began to realize just how ill-prepared and uneducated I am about forest fires. I assume that the forest service has it under control and would come evacuate the trail if we were in danger, but what if lightning hit a tree nearby and the fire was on us before anyone could tell us to leave? Or what if I was out bushwhacking on a separate trip? How would anyone find me to save me? How do you survive a forest fire? We did consider that we could try swimming to the middle of a lake if we had to, but I honestly don’t even know if that’s a good idea. Have any hikers ever been caught in a fire?
Obviously, today’s smoke got us thinking. Northern California, for all its beauty and enjoyment, is also unapologetically dry. This isn’t the first smoke we’ve seen this week, and it might not be the last. We’ve walked through a few burn sections already, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more. We feel the dryness in our lungs and throats, we witness it in the dried up creek beds, and now we see its consequences in the numerous forest fires that must be fought every summer. Hopefully the one currently burning somewhere in our vicinity was squelched by today’s rain and is nothing that we have to worry about.