But of course, the store accepts the boxes for free, so there was not much to complain about. We struck out on the road walk back to the trailhead. California tourists zipped merrily by, not caring about our uphill slog. Gaining the trailhead at the alpine start of 1000, we steeled ourselves for the hot climb ahead. However, it proved to be gently graded and tree-lined, much less worse than we thought. A rocky section that traversed along ridgelines slowed us down, and I watched the thru-hikers with envy. After three months of walking, they danced along the rough terrain, unlike us graceless section hikers.
Though this section of the PCT passes close to many lakes, it teased us by staying just out of reach. We could look, but it wasn't worth the steep and long descents to reach them. Plus, many of the lakes in this lake management basin were off limits to camping. We weren't sure why. They looked deserted and appealing.
However, after eleven miles a lake opportunity presented itself, a camping spot we couldn't pass up. It was early in the day, but seize the lakes when you can. We went for a swim and enjoyed the view.
The next couple of days stayed high on ridgelines, providing great views. Until they didn't, and we dove way down into the Middle Fork of the Feather River. I had planned this trip so that we could swim in its mythical deep holes, but after 23 miles we couldn't take it any further, so we camped on an old road instead. Sadly, I looked at the river as we descended into the canyon and again as we took on the seven mile climb out--again, a well-graded and forested climb.
|Sierra Buttes, with haze from a distant fire|
We had heard about the descent into Belden for years. Billed as a torturous, steep ordeal, complete with resplendent poison oak, I had been worrying about it for quite a while. I'd much rather climb a mountain than climb down one. But as we approached the canyon, I relaxed. So far it had been great. How bad could it be?
With those famous last words, I soon regretted my optimism. Short, steep pitches, endless switchbacks, and dense heat greeted us. We could see the river, and some associated techno music, but never seemed to get there. Poison oak grew merrily along the edges, discouraging any stops. Sunk in misery, my feet hurting, I trudged around yet another switchback. Then I screeched to a halt.
A striped object lay in the trail. A rattle filled the air. A rattlesnake!
We stood in the trail, nobody willing to concede. Whenever I advanced toward the snake, it lifted its head and rattled. The slopes were too steep and brushy to go around. I threw a few rocks, but soon ran out. Would I be stuck on this trail forever?
Finally the snake slithered off the trail and Flash and I scampered across. Several more switchbacks and we were inexplicably walking through...a rave.
What is a rave, you ask? Drunk people, techno music, river floaty toys, and tents crammed together in a small space. Feeling like strangers in a strange land, we dubiously walked past to the tranquility of a trail angel's house. Asking only a donation, she allows four people at a time to stay at her little cottage, and with the rules of no alcohol, smoking or drugs, eliminates 90% of PCT hikers. We shared our cottage with a German hiker named Salty.
|The "town" caretaker|
We had hiked about 130 miles in a short amount of time, and once again I wondered why I opted for this. Flash revealed that she was done with PCT style hiking and was ready to go back to regular backpacking. I sort of thought I was too--once I finished the PCT.