Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pacific Crest Trail, Castella to Burney: a different forest every day

My expectations for California's section O were not high. I had read other trip reports and a few terrifying things stood out. Poison oak. Bears. Downed trees. All in all, it didn't sound that great. 

But I had to drive right by on the way to a work trip, and this was an isolated section that would fill in a PCT gap. How could I resist? I couldn't. With some trepidation (and with the added weight of bear spray), I headed southbound from Castella, bound for Burney Falls.

I came upon this detour, but people had written "not that bad" and "Nah, do it anyway", so I didn't take it. It wasn't that bad. Do it anyway.


Because most thru-hikers should be past this point by now if they have a prayer of making it to Canada or Mexico, the trail was mostly empty. The few views showed a wide expanse of trackless forest. In four days, I passed through old growth trees, savannas, oak groves, pine forests, and wide rivers. Ranging from two thousand feet to nearly seven, this felt like a whole world compressed into eighty-two miles.

Squaw Valley creek, which hasn't been renamed on PCT maps but is called "Politically Correct Creek" on some Forest Service maps. I wonder how that slipped by the Washington Office.
There was poison oak. There were more bear tracks than I've ever seen (but no sightings). There were a few downed trees. But of the nearly five hundred miles I've hiked on the PCT this year, this was my favorite. It is also the scene of my longest day--27 miles, all uphill (northbounders have it much better). The next day I struggled to reach 20, so it all evens out. 

The best campsite ever, overlooking mountains and Shasta.
A few stragglers lined the trail, people without a prayer, but cheerful nonetheless. A Swiss guy was taking his time, stopping for hours at the creek to cook lunch. A writer earnestly told me how she had been doing thirty mile days in Washington State (which seems a little hard to believe given the terrain) but had to slow down due to smoke. Another man who mistakenly called me "sweetheart" (ugh) mansplained about the trail, but redeemed himself by saying, "I'm just so happy to be out here." And another Oregon escapee, who said he just had to get out of the smoke. All of us on one ribbon of trail, people who would never camp together in the real world. The trail brings us together. I love that. Seven hundred and eighty-eight miles to go (this math problem occupied many, many miles as I hiked).

Miles and miles of forest.

11 comments:

  1. Lovely view for the rest of us...except for the 27 mile day! Glad you had a good hike and could breathe clean air for a few days.

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    1. 27 miles felt surprisingly easy, the next day not so much.

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  2. I love when a trail exceeds your expectations. It is the best surprise.

    Are you going to section hike the CDT after the PCT?

    Our 2018 hiking plans are still up in the air while the docs try to figure our J's treatment regimen. For now, we will keep working while we both can to stockpile some savings.

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    1. I'm thinking of the Colorado Trail! I'm interested in your 2018 plans...maybe we can meet up.

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  3. Glad you were able to get out of the smoke and complete another section. Only 788 miles to go? Wow, that makes only 39.4 days of hiking 20 mile days.

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    1. Whoa really? Nice! (If I could pull that off. I might get a little tired)

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    2. If anybody could pull it off it would be you. Then you can take Madison and I on a super cool hike next summer too.

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  4. You have really been knocking off PCT sections this year! I'll bet you're glad you hiked the Gorge section when you did - it's gonna be closed for at least a year now, maybe longer.

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  5. I'm so glad there are people like you who hike this trail and share it with people like me who would never dare such an adventure but love seeing it.

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    1. I feel the same way about reading other people's adventures that I wouldn't attempt.

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