I slept in this morning, not getting on the trail until 4:30 a.m., and it was cold. I find it amazing that morning after morning, regardless of the weather or how I feel, I still wake up, get myself ready and am on the trail anywhere between three thirty and four thirty every morning. I really, really would like to sleep in like normal people, partake of a hot breakfast, and then get on the trail around 7:00 a.m., but I have this gnawing fear of every day falling farther and farther behind the “mystical” herd that I believe to be just behind me and that someday, very soon, the bulk of the herd – fellow thru-hikers, will pass me, and I’ll be all alone on the trail, fending for myself.
Every new face I see on the trail confirms my warped belief that the herd is closing in on me, and I can’t let that happen. I have to keep making my miles; I have to stay ahead of the herd. I know this thinking is asinine, but because I’m slow, I can’t shake the feelings. Even though I make twenty to twenty-four miles a day, I do so only because I’m on the trail so early.
It was getting quite dark when I stopped for the night, and I did so just because I happened to find a flat spot among the trees, just large enough to accommodate my bedroll. While snuggled in my down comforter, three hikers passed me – Veggie, Track Meat, and Ole'. They said they were headed for a campsite called Alex Hole. When I checked my maps this morning for this particular campsite, I saw it was a mile farther up the trail and then a quarter mile west off the trail.
For all my time in California, it has been my standard practice to camp no more than a few hundred feet from the trail; I would never go a quarter to a half mile off the trail just to camp.
From camp this morning, the trail began an upward climb to the Siskiyou crest, and then made a long traverse through open country, past Mud Springs and Big Rock, before dropping down into tree cover around Bearground Spring. On the Siskiyou crest, I had wonderful panoramic views of the rugged mountains all around me, and off to the southeast loomed the ever-present hulk of Mount Shasta. On this day, there was a layer of haze/smoke that encircled the volcano about halfway up its slope, while smoke and fog fill the valleys below me.
There was a plethora of dirt roads in this region of forest – old logging roads, I suppose, which gave car campers access to the wonders and beauty of this mountainous wonderland. Bearground Spring was such a campground, and passing through it, I found an older couple camped there who offered me an orange to eat and water for my Camelbak reservoir. Not far beyond was Wards Fork Gap, a six-way road junction that dispersed mountain travelers to various locations throughout the region, including roads that lead down the mountain to small hamlets.
Today was August 2, 2013; I have been on the trail for 101 days and it has taken me this long to traverse the entire length of California. At 10:26 a.m., I left California and crossed into the state of Oregon. Wall-E, a fifty-eight-year-old retired Forest Service smoke jumper from McCall, Idaho, record holder for the most jumps – over eight hundred, was sitting beside the trail having a snack. I joined him, and after enjoying a snack myself, we traded cameras and took pictures of each other to commemorate this most audacious occasion.
California was beautiful and rugged; it pushed me to the limits, but I was very happy to be leaving it behind. Setting foot in Oregon, I now felt that I was making real progress north towards the goal of making it to the Canadian border. I only have a thousand miles farther to travel, roughly five hundred miles each for Oregon and Washington.
The trail stayed high on the ridge as it crossed Jackson Gap, below which was Silver Fork Basin, a land ravished by fire. I noticed landscape terracing around the gap which was standard Forest Service procedure to prevent erosion on burned-over slopes.
Red Mountain loomed ahead, and although the trail could have passed below and to the east of the mountain, the trail builders decided it would be more scenic to have hikers climb to the summit of the mountain, and then drop down the other side to another gap labeled Siskiyou Gap on the maps. From the top of Red Mountain, the sweeping panoramic views of Southern Oregon are impressive, or at least they are on those days when the whole region isn’t covered by smoke.
The guidebook gave the following interesting tidbit of information about the next little section of trail:
“...the north-east portion of section 34 is privately owned and permission was never granted for the Forest Service to build a trail across its property, a trail that essentially would parallel road 20; with no other options available to it, the Forest Service was forced to build a trail twice the distance to cover the proposed route it was denied.”
Studying the map, I can see that the trail makes a wide, southeasterly route between Siskiyou Gap and Long John Saddle that almost comes full circle.
If I were to walk the PCT again, I would make the effort to become more knowledgeable about the coniferous trees that are my companions all day long. I know I’ve passed numerous varieties of pines, spruces, fir, hemlock cedar and oak trees, and yet I can’t really tell one from another. It’s like walking through the Louvre Art Museum in Paris and not being able to distinguish the works of various painters. It’s a travesty, that I’m so unknowledgeable.