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Mile 1331.3–1323.2–1332.5 (17.4 miles)
Rose: midway monument Thorn: getting filthy from the burn Bud: early start tomorrow to beat the heat
The sprinklers did come on at 1am and 2am. During my various wake-ups, I tracked the dark spot on the pavement of the basketball court. If it reached X spot, I would move camp. It looked like two people had to move in the night. Thankfully. It was not me or Beans.
We got a late start with everyone in the park slowly awaking between 6 and 8. No one seemed to be in a hurry to move out. We grabbed tea and a donut from the grocery store and got a hitch before I had finished my tea. The driver related to us the difficulty of seeing the burn scar every day, the logging trucks running nonstop cleaning up around the town and highway, and PTSD when the smoke from the Yosemite fire wafted north. The burn scar goes right up to town.
The plan was to hike 8 miles south of the highway to see the midway monument, hike back north, and proceed northward from there. We were reunited with Hurdle for ten minutes not long into the hike. About twenty minutes in, we found a clump of live trees where we set up my tent and stashed all non essentials for the return retrieval; we were going to slackpack it to the monument. 😊
Hiking through the burn is eerie and unpleasant. It’s boring and horrifying to look at all the dead trees. No undergrowth. Only a few live plants this year. No animals. No bird song. Beans kept count of the animals she saw: a butterfly, grasshopper, 1 scrawny squirrel, a beetle. The only sounds were snapping branches every few minutes as a widow maker succumbed to gravity. For most of our climb, the fire had burned so hot that there were bit needles left in the upper branches so even the forest floor was raw ash and dirt. There were hollow scars in the earth where entire trees had been burned through the roots. There wasn’t even ash left of them; their whole existence had burned up. The forest has died standing up; it is just waiting for the dignity of laying down and decomposing.
So it was through this eerie landscape that we gently ascended to the midway monument with a dozen NOBOers passing us along the way. ATF and Gandalf were on the same mission. They reached the midway and turned around shortly before I arrived.
The midway monument was a little underwhelming. Only 2.5 feet tall, the simple concrete post declared the midway, how many miles to Mexico, and how many to Canada. Maybe because I’ve skipped around too much, but it was not an emotional experience for me. It may be the midway point, but I’ve skipped 250 miles of the desert (which I intend to finish) and 130 miles of this burn (which I am glad to have skipped); it does not feel like my midway.
In general, I’ve become number to the accomplishments of the experience. It does not feel like “I’m doing the PCT! Wow!” It feels like a bunch of short backpacks. I do not feel like I’m in the wilderness; I’m following a highway of hikers north. I rarely see animal tracks, I’m rarely surprised by terrain, and I do little planning. Far Out makes the logistics too easy. If it were not for the social aspect and the bottlenecked hoards of hikers in town sometimes, I would not believe that I were actually doing the trail. It is physically challenging for me to hike 20s every day. Some hikers brush it off with arrogant aplomb. It is hard for me to do. I don’t think I’ve gotten comfortable or successful at doing that consistently, let alone the even bigger mileage days that I need to be doing. The hardest aspect for me is the mental game: the social dynamics in the desert and the steely determination in Nor Cal. What keeps me going is stubbornness in my goal and the promise to see so many friends and lovely terrain in Oregon and Washington.
Beans and I took a short break at the midway, eating lunch, taking photos, and signing the log book. We became filthy sitting amongst the dirt and ash. Hiking in these conditions is a dirty business. Ash does not act like dirt does. Even hiking just one day, our backpacks, shoes, legs, and feet are filthy. Everyone who hiked this section is coming off dark and filthy. My cough is more active from all the particulates.
We collected our gear and came up with a game plan from the highway to Old Station. Unfortunately, the game plan quickly fell apart when we saw that the Warner Springs Campground in Lassen National Park was closed. We had been counting on doing a shorter day to camp there tomorrow. You have to have a bear cannister to camp in Lassen National Park, otherwise you have to push through the 19 miles in one day. The push, whatever, but the location of those 19 miles is inconvenient for hikers: the southern border only 15 miles from the highway and the northern only 8 miles from old Station. It’s a perfect two days to Old Station if you could camp in the middle, but the park’s canister regulation prevents that. So now… we either have a short day tomorrow to the southern boundary and then a long day the next ooorrr we stealth camp… 🤐 We’ll decide tomorrow.
Picking out our camp, we were also thankful for skipping the majority of the burn. Our collective knowledge of burned, rotting trees had us questioning wobbly widowmakers. Eventually, we accepted there would be no spot that was entirely safe, and we set up camp.