Dunsmuir (my mile 872, trail mile 1501) to Seiad Valley (my mile 1027, trail mile 1656).
My own poor organisation caused me to spend nearly two full days in Dunsmuir while I waited for a package with my new odour-proof food bag. In hindsight I’m glad it worked out that way, because Dunsmuir is delightful. It’s an historic railroad town on the Sacramento River in the shadow of Mount Shasta, tucked away in a wooded valley.
We stayed at the Crossroads, a hostel three miles out of town run by local woman Kelly Fish. She provides bicycles for hikers to make trips into town, so Tidbit and I took a couple and cycled along the river. We passed pretty 1900s timber houses and stone cottages along the banks of the rushing river before crossing the railroad tracks on the outskirts of downtown.
Comments from other hikers on the Guthook PCT app strongly urged us to try Yaks, a burger restaurant on the far town. I ordered the “Melt Your Tongue Off” burger, which lived up to its name. It was also the most delicious thing I’ve eaten on trail.
I did a whole resupply for the next 98 mile stretch to Etna at the Dollar General, which was great for my wallet but not great for my tastebuds or general health. I still need to work on my food strategy, or the combination of instant mashed potatoes and candy bars will probably kill me before I get to Canada.
A UPS truck finally arrived near 5PM on my second day in town, and I couldn’t get a ride for the 1.5 mile distance back to the trail. I said goodbye to Tidbit, who was skipping ahead to Etna while she waited for her feet to heal. I walked out of town along some railroad tracks, and only made it three miles further before I came across a friendly British couple camped by a river and decided to call it a day.
I got up early the next morning, determined to make up some of the time I’d lost. I was out of camp by 6:20 and soon began the long, arduous climb out of the valley and up to Castle Crags, a chain of spectacular rock formations that tower over the forest. I schlepped my way straight up for six miles, heart pounding and sweat pouring from everywhere. When I finally reached the top, I had a magnificent view of the crags.
Somehow I’d manage to make the climb in decent time, and I was feeling good. I wanted to get some decent miles behind me, so I took a quick lunch break and pushed on. By late in the afternoon I was in sight of my first 30-mile day, so I decided to go big. Guthook promised a beautiful campsite by a lake at 32 miles and I was determined to make it. An hour before camp I had to traverse a snowy peak, so I strapped on my microspikes and ploughed across.
Around 8PM I finally made it to the lake, which was as beautiful as all the comments on Guthook suggested. Deer wandered around the water, which was set against the backdrop of a snow-capped ridge. I met Hoarder and Bubbles, section hikers who walked from Campo all the way to Castle Crags last year and were picking up where they left off. We all enjoyed a stunning orange-red sunset before crawling into our tents.
My legs were stiff and a little sore, but in good shape considering. I was glad I’d proved to myself that I can do these kind of distances if I have to. I’ll probably need to at some point if I’m going to finish on time.
The next day I managed 28 miles, through more alpine terrain and dense pine forests. I came across a sunny meadow in the mid-morning, and spotted the rear end of a bear disappearing down the trail ahead of me. Cautiously, I crept forward. Again I saw it scampering up the trail. Then a third, then a fourth time.
I stopped at a stream and was collecting water when Hoarder and Bubbles caught up to me, so I told them to be on the lookout. They passed me, but came back to the stream a minute later. They said they’d come across the bear sitting near the trail, and it wasn’t moving. We waited a few minutes and continued together, making as much noise as possible. We didn’t see it again.
I made it 26 miles on my third full day out of Dunsmuir, through a gallery of colourful wildflowers. I’d planned a slightly shorter day to give my feet and legs a break, but a complete lack of flat ground for the last five miles forced me to tackle a long climb I intended to do the next morning. At a particularly high peak I had cell service for the first time in days, and checked in with Tidbit. She’d made it to Etna and was staying with a trail angel, who was happy to drive up to the trailhead at Etna Peak the next morning to bring me into town. It was a relief, as the quiet road is a notoriously difficult hitch.
I was excited to see Tidbit, who I’d been missing since I left Dunsmuir. I make more miles when I’m hiking alone, but mostly just because there’s nothing else to do with my day. I missed having someone to share my experiences with, and to talk about anything other than hiking with when it all gets too much.
My third long day in a row left me just nine miles out of the Etna trailhead, a distance I covered quickly the next morning. I was met by Tidbit, Grit (who I’d caught up to), Buck the local trail angel, and Buck’s aqua blue 1960s Chevy Suburban. The Chevy was a thing of beauty. It rumbled down the mountain and into town. Buck dropped us at his place, where his brother Chris made me a plate of bacon an eggs. The brothers served in the military together, and now hosted a plethora of hikers at their two family homes in Etna.
Tidbit and I wondered around the charming little town, which consisted primarily of one main street with an assortment of historic brick buildings. We had lunch at Denny Bar, and upscale brewery and distillery that seemed curiously out of place in such an out-of-the-way corner of northern California.
Around town we noticed mailbox stickers and flags proclaiming Etna to be not in California at all, but in the “State of Jefferson”. Jefferson is a fictional state dreamt up by disaffected northern Californians and southern Oregonians, most of whom are conservative and feel unrepresented by their predominantly liberal and metropolitan states. The separatist movement has been clamouring for independence for decades, but the idea doesn’t seem to have gotten much traction. Still, Jefferson flags are everywhere in this area, all the way up to Ashland.
After resupplying at the Dollar General, I returned to Buck’s place where the brothers were putting on a feast for about a dozen hikers. We gorged ourselves on burgers, steaks, chicken wings and all manner of salads, nearly all prepared by the jovial Chris. I’m constantly amazed at the lengths trail angels will go to extend their hospitality to PCT hikers. It’s truly humbling to experience that kind of generosity.
The next morning, Buck and Chris’s younger sister drove me, Grit and two other hikers back up the mountain to the trailhead. I didn’t start hiking until nearly 11, but still managed a 21-mile day. Midway through, I stopped for lunch with six other hikers at a picturesque lake, set against a backdrop of snowy peaks. The trail for the next few miles was essentially a river, thanks to a torrent of snowmelt that was gushing down from the parallel mountain ridge. Two of the hikers I’d share lunch with rushed ahead of me, while the rest lagged behind.
I saw nobody but a couple of southbounders the next day in 26 miles of walking. A couple of deer stumbled across my path early in the morning, and didn’t seem at all bothered by me. I stopped and took a video as they grazed nonchalantly on some bushes.
Around noon I passed my personal 1000 mile mark, which happened to be by a spectacularly beautiful lake that looked like something out of The Sound Of Music. I stopped for a long lunch to celebrate, and spent a long time trying to compose a selfie to mark the milestone by propping my phone up on my backpack, only for it to fall off the first four or five times before I finally got my shot.
In the middle of the afternoon I began the long descent toward Seiad Valley, along a section of trail that is notoriously poorly maintained. I’d be warned of fallen logs and thick overgrown vegetation, which there was, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d been expecting. After a few wearing hours of clambering over log after log, I arrived at a campsite by a footbridge and set up my tent.
In the morning, I left camp early and made good time on the last few miles of the descent to the Klamath River. According to a local I met there was once a bridge here directly into Seiad Valley, but it was washed away in a flood and never replaced. Now, hikers have to road walk for about four miles to the highway bridge on the other side of town. I did so, and made it to the town’s only cafe by 10:30.
Tidbit was there waiting for me, along with the rental car she’d brought from Ashland. We’d planned to skip up there to celebrate the Fourth of July, which turned out to be a great idea. We stayed with a local trail angel, Nancy, who took us to the town’s famous parade. We had lunch at an English pub downtown afterward (irony) and watched the fireworks at the college stadium in the evening. Best zero day ever.