Etna to Ashland – Mile 1.600-1.719

Hello from Ashland, OREGON, for the update on my PCT days 87-94, 14-21July.

Finally not in California any longer! Since the last update, I have completed section 3/5 of the PCT, Northern California, mile 1.092-1.692. And with that, I also completed thru-hiking the state of California from the Mexican to the Oregon border. My hike through the Northern California section started on 25 June in South Lake Tahoe/Echo Lake and ended on 17 July around 15:30h with a simple sign on a tree after 600 miles for Northern California respectively  1.692 miles for the whole of California.
The trail profile of these 600 miles was much more demanding than I thought. I don’t have any facts as my research for the total elevation gain of the different sections wasn’t successful resp I stopped searching for it after a while. Information can probably be collected somewhere here: https://www.pctmap.net/maps/ 😉 And it wasn’t only challenging from a physical part of view. Mentally this has been the most challenging part so far. Partly because I hiked by myself for a good portion of the section but mainly because the landscape didn’t change so much and I didn’t get to see as gorgeous views as in the Sierras. I read about the increased mental challenge beforehand but didn’t expect it to kick-in that much.

So far on the foreword, now back to Etna where the last post ended.

After a very effective 5 hours stop, Tenderfeet and me were back at the trailhead by 14:30h. A quick 14 mile hike through a burned forest later and we pitched our tents at the grassy shore of Fischer Lake, mile 1614. The feeling of being freshly showered and wearing clean clothes lasted about 2 miles until the afternoon sun had grilled us again. A nice surprise was the trail magic from a Southbound hiker for us NoBo’s. This guy carried an extra 10 pounds of trail magic goods and we could choose between chips, coffee and hard candy. I went for option no. 3 as he had Werther’s Original and the German in me came through. 😉

The trail register we signed confirmed our observations and information that we are ahead of a bubble of hikers and that there are only few hikers still on the trail compared to desert times. Only 6 hikers had passed and signed the register that day before our entries around 17:00h. Shank & Pocket Knife have left the trail because the experience didn’t fulfill them the way they anticipated, Hoosierdaddy had to quit for medical reasons, so did Circus Act due to his ankle injury 3 days after having returned to the trail after having left it for a week for family reasons.

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15 July we were on trail by 5:35h and the agreed goal for the day was 28 miles. But the miles went by slowly…. even the first 10-12 miles in the morning that usually pass in no time. My legs felt super tired, probably a combination of the heat of the past week that wore me out a bit, the many miles and long days pushed since my last zero day and just the demanding profile of the trail. But there are days like this if you are hiking day by day over several months. A nice lunch spot at a lake lightened up the mood at least a bit. Tenderfeet agreed that the miles were hard work that day but nevertheless, she took the lead in bringing us another 28 miles closer to Canada. I am glad we are hiking together. It works out great, we push each other every day, one day she has a better day, the other day I am taking the lead. And so far we have no difficulties finding a topic to talk and/or laugh about.

In the afternoon, we harvested the first ripe boysenberries. I enjoyed the sweet taste of each single one of them. And in the evening again, we enjoyed the luxury of having water right next to our campsite for the „evening beauty program“, aka rinsing off the legs and face with water and rinsing our dirty, dusty, sweaty socks.

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The time needed from my alarm setting off till being ready for take off has decreased to 35 minutes, incl. breakfast, but without brushing my teeth. That is done whilst hiking. My efficiency thinking still exists. 😉
We had to hike only 14.5 miles to Seiad Valley, PCT mile 1.655 where we planned to wait out the heat of the day, eat and rest before starting our 5.000 ft climb out of the valley. It was an easy first half of the hike with the trail being covered in a forest, following a creek. Several miles of road walk later, we arrived in Seiad around 10:00h. When walking on roads, I always have the feeling that I am ruining my feet after only one mile… More berries found their way into my mouth, this time it were blackberries I picked along the road. When arriving at the village, the temperatures were in the higher 80^F and would rise to 106^F/41^C during the afternoon. We had breakfast at the only gastronomic place and that closes at 14:00h. So I had to „force down“ a huge milkshake at 13:45h just before they would close.
I decided to „slackpack“ the 63 miles to Ashland. This means that I sent ahead a package with the content of my pack that I wouldn’t need for the coming 2 1/2 days to the hotel we booked in Ashland. Puffy jacket, long underwear, the brain of my pack, excess food… felt good to be an ultralight hiker for a few miles! And it turned out that we would outperform not only our own plan of arriving in Ashland on Thursday but also the US Postal Service by arriving in Ashland on Wednesday and the package wouldn’t arrive until Friday…
During our 3rd or 4th trip to the General Store to buy some cold soda, we met Brazil Nut. When she finishes her PCT hike (her target is to hike the 2.652 miles in 60! days and beat the speed record for an unsupported hike), she will be the 3rd woman to complete the Double Triple Crown, i.e. having hiked all three long trails in the US twice (http://www.aldhawest.org/Triple-Crown). Being on such a mission, she hiked out after a short rest and resupply in the heat of the day. As our timeline is a bit different, and given circumstances of the still very high temperatures at 18:00h and the exposed trail and nobody being able to give us a reliable information if there would be water available the coming 15 miles of the trail, Tenderfeet and me decided to take the Seiad Creek Road. By this we would follow the recommendation of the owner of the General Store. It was a 4 miles road walk followed by 9 miles on a dirt road. We thanked him for his offer to give us a hitch the 4 miles on the road and took off. The climb was gradual and the trail mostly covered by trees and with access to water from the creek. This alternate was 3 miles shorter than the PCT, with a good 1.000 ft less of altitude gain, but we agreed that we would be fine with that. 10 miles in 3 hours later with around 2.600 ft climbed, we pitched our tents at an outlet of the dirt road just after dark which left us with around 3 miles for the coming morning until we rejoined our temporary home, the PCT, again. After a rather short night but with a good sleep, we were ready to go at 5:30h. At the time the sun came out, we had completed the first bigger altitude gain of 2.200 ft. We were cruising through the day with our usual breaks for 2nd breakfast and lunch with the big highlight of the day waiting for us around 15:30h. We reached the California/Oregon border… after 1.692 miles and in my case exactly 3 months after having started my hike at the Mexican border on 18 April. A big milestone that we celebrated with taking some fun videos and pics and a short break.

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The rest of the day became less pleasant. During our stay in Seiad Valley when having internet service again, we learned about a new forest fire that broke out around 3-4 miles away from PCT mile 1.700, the Hendrix fire (https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5939/). It is one of dozens of wild fires that broke out in Southern Oregon on Sunday 15 July as a result of lightning strikes. Few miles after passing the border, we could smell and see the smoke from the fire. Luckily we had mobile service at our initially planned campsite at Sheep Spring, mile 1.696.

We gathered the latest information available and if the trail would still be open. We couldn’t see the fire as we were behind the top of the mountain, but the smoke cloud was quite close and the wind peaked up. As we both didn’t feel comfortable sleeping in that spot and after the US Forest Service confirming they evaluated the situation that day and came to the conclusion not to close the trail, we decided to continue hiking another 6.5 miles in order to get around the fire. 2 miles after Sheep Spring, we reached Wrangle Gap dirt road where we ran into three local guys that came up there to watch the fire. The wind peaked up and the smoke got thicker. They said if they would be in our place, they wouldn’t continue hiking on the PCT. There would be a detour around the fire on a forest service road that would rejoin the PCT about 4 miles later. After a short discussion, Tenderfeet and me agreed, safety first, and accepted the offer from the guys.
We hiked another .6 miles and camped at mile 1702.6 together with Ben who was on his first day of his section hike. We felt safer than at Sheep Springs and went to sleep around hiker midnight.

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When Tenderfeet and Ben woke up around 4:00h, our campsite was covered in smoke and the air smelled like in a smokehouse. They woke me up and within 20 minutes, we were packed up and ready to get out of that place. The air quality improved with every foot we climbed and we were out of the thick smoke cloud in about 30 minutes. The fire is keeping to spread fast and the trail was closed on a 13 mile stretch one day later on 19 July.

We made it to Callahan’s lodge from where we would immediately get a hitch to the town of Ashland after about 17 miles of hiking. To our surprise, we met Brazil Nut there who got slowed down in her aspirations as she had to wait the whole morning for her resupply package to arrive.

The initial plan was to take a double zero in Ashland. As we arrived a day earlier than calculated due to the longer days pushed, we agreed to keep the departure date 22 July and take 3 days. I didn’t take a zero day in 628 miles resp since 24 June and I noticed the last days that I am coming to a point where more food doesn’t help any longer and my body just needs a short rest. Also, I had planned to buy and pack 6 resupply boxes from Ashland. The chores of buying the content for those from different shops, putting the boxes together and ship them via UPS resp USPS as the different resupply points have different preferences for the carrier would take one day which would leave me with two less busy days to rest and relax, something I haven’t done since starting the trail.

In order to ease the running around town to different places, we had rented a car for the Thursday, pure luxury. In fact, the day felt a bit like a vacation day. Downtown Ashland is a cute little city with great food options (always important), small stores and narrow streets. Once we were done with our shopping, I received a message from the two other hikers from the Eifel that they got stuck in Seiad Valley due to the fire and if I wouldn’t want to rent a car to pick them up… well, I replied that we actually had rented a car for the day and I would be happy to be a trail angel and pick them up. They got a hitch to the town of Yreka a 40 minutes drive away from Ashland. It was great to see the guys again after 1.000 miles and we shared our stories about the Sierras and Northern California over a beer in the evening and during the coming two days.

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After a busy Thursday and Friday morning, I spend most of the Friday afternoon and the Saturday in the air conditioned room, not doing much else than eating and browsing the internet. Currently I am soaking my feet in a Epsom salt bath (one foot per trash can 😉 and with an ice-cream in my hand)

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Tomorrow morning the trail is calling again, 428/455 miles of Oregon are waiting to get explored, of course with a new pair of shoes. Just on time, the trail part that was closed due to the Klamathon Fire re-opened this morning which saves us from a 15 mile road walk along a highway.

/Anja

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