Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers
July 23, 2000
6:42 AM: I hobble up to the resumption of trail tread (any time we start hiking after a prolonged break, a slow hobble is the best we can manage, at least initially). Earphones are put in place and I tune into Chico's finest alternative music at The Point, 107 FM. I am greeted by Dave Matthews' "Crash" and am thankful for my Walkman. In pre-radio hiking days our musical options were threefold and off-tuneour own renditions of a triplet of songs that we had memorized ("Like a Rolling Stone," "Free Fallin'," and "The Gambler").
7:06 AM: After a mile or so of crest walking through pine forest, we emerge on to open ridge. In the distance is the monolithic, snowy master of the Southern Cascades, Mount Lassen, 10,457 feet high. I stop and collapse forward on my trekking poles (the Komperdell Collapse) and take in the view. About a half minute later, Angela appears, intently chugging up the hill.
"How are you?" I ask.
"Tired," she replies.
We admire Lassen for a few moments and then quickly head back into the pines.
7:17 AM: I'm getting rather bored of our shaded, viewless path. Beneath the canopy of lodgepole, ponderosa, sugar pine, and white fir is a graveyard of trees and tree parts. The attrition rate for limbs is high in this area, and the trail is scattered with scraggly branches that make a satisfying crunch under your feet. On both sides of the trail, dead wood of all sizes and shapes swarms over itself, providing plenty of nooks and crannies for spiders to spin their webs.
7:23 AM: I biff my toe on a protruding root and catch my balance, but not before my pack bounces heavily against my back. I mutter a well-practiced curse. No doubt, this will not be the first time I nearly eat trail today.
7:39 AM: We arrive at a junction with the Carter Meadow Trail, which leads a half-mile north to a creek. Angela gathers up our Nalgene bottles and heads in that direction. This is our last water source for nearly 11 miles on the trail. While she's gone I snack on some tired looking beef jerky, knock out 50 pack-ups, and consult the guidebook. The forest is silent with the exception of distant bird calls and the occasional crack of falling branches.
9:44 AM: After 3.7 miles and almost 1000 feet in elevation gain we arrive near the top of lovely Butt Mountain. We promptly shoot a photo of my butt in front of the big Butt and sit down for a morning snack courtesy of the hiker's box in Sierra Citya mixture of granola, Special K, and Chex appropriately labeled "Mountain Cereal." 10:47 AM: Out in the open mountain chapparal while descending down The Butt, I look south to slopes of forest marred by logging clear-cuts. Without the shade of the pines, matters begin to get toasty. 10:57 AM: Static is taking over on The Point, so I turn the dial to Lassen's Q102 and attempt to enjoy a contrived host leading me through Music Magazine's weekly Top 20 countdown.11:35 AM: We are back on forested crest, now of Ruffa Ridge, and I am moving well on a gradual descent. I cruise by, without full recognition of the significance, a tree with the familiar metal diamond trail marker. On it is the fraction 1/2. Halfway to Canada (1327.5 miles). There's no turning back now.12:09 PM: After over an hour-and-a-half of hiking we stop and plant our butts on a downed log. Foxtail chides me for failing to snap a photo of the halfway marker.
"You shouldn't listen to the radio so loud, I was screaming at you to stop."
"Hmmm," is the best response I can muster.
A glance at the guidebook indicates that we are only a couple miles from Soldier Creek and an opportunity to refill our water bottles.
12:40 PM: We arrive at a crossing of small Soldier Creek and find an old trail friend, Lora. She and her sister Sarah, who is hiking with her until Ashland, are sitting Indian style on the creek's bank cooking lunch. We haven't seen Lora since Kennedy Meadows, and she fills us in on her journey from there to Tahoe and her jump up to Belden Town to meet Sarah. Lora had forgotten the nuisance that blisters can cause to trail novices, and Sarah is hurting. They have decided to get off the trail in several miles at Highway 36 and hitchhike 8 miles into Chester for blister supplies.
1:02 PM: It is uncomfortably hot in the sun by now, and I am grateful for the mostly forested trail that weaves, on level terrain, in and out of parcels of national forest and private land. The scenery has taken on a more volcanic and verdant character. Pock-marked, scarlet-tinted volcanic rocks and boulders mingle with a collection of wildflowers. The tread is reddish and dusty, engulfing my boots in a thick cloud with each step.
1:19 PM: Staring at a large, dead insect under a tree, I wait for Angela. For some reason, this locust-sized fella reminds me of something else I recently spied under a pinea six inch banana slug with delicate antenna.
"Have you seen a banana slug yet?" I ask Foxtail when she pulls up next to me.
"No, what do they look like?"
"Oh, they're cool, long, banana-colored, and with a cute antenna. You'll have to kiss one when you see it."
"No thank you."
"Oh come on, you can join the Kiss the Slug club. I did it in grade school. In fact, everyone was doing it."
"Yeah, don't be a furristdo you think that only cuddly furballs deserve your attention?"
"Hmpf. I think I'll withhold judgement until I see the banana-dude."
1:47 PM: Lunchtime underneath a grove of Jeffrey pine. As is frequently the case, peanuts are the dominating ingredientPB on hot dog rolls and PB on crackers, and Snickers for desert. Angela and I joke that our trail names should have been The PeanutsSkippy and Jiffy, Smooth and Crunchy, or Salted and Honey Roasted. So many possibilities.
2:45 PM: After a brief and unsatisfying nap on pine-needle and pine-branch we reluctantly prepare to resume trail travel. We have covered 16 miles so far, but due to the increasing heat we are starting to doubt whether we will make our 30. I try to focus on the four miles to Stover Spring rather than the 14 till bed.
"Let's roll, Lodgepole."
"Hail to the trail, 'Tail."
3:01 PM: Highway 36. Lora and Sarah are sitting on their packs, and Lora is holding a sign saying "10 Miles" that she has found on the side of the road. Right after we cross the road they are picked up by a threesome of cowboys in a twin-cab pick-up. I attempt to note the license number, out of concern that the girls may turn up missinghijacked into the world of rodeo and line dancing.
3:05 PM: In an effort to pass the time through hot miles, Angela and I devise a "category" game. We take turns naming people we have met on or along the trail, accompanied by several words of description. Dudley, section hiker and veteran of many mind-altered miles, and Donna, trail angel and every hiker's mom, are a couple that come up.
3:45 PM: The grade is getting moderately steep and we are running out of names and descriptive imagination, so we fall into a silent trudge.
4:20 PM: Refreshing, cool water at Stover spring. We fill up our bottles and attempt to wash our trail-dusted feet. The Moaks are cooking dinner in the shade, looking beat. We aren't the only ones struggling with the mid-90 degree heat.
4:46 PM: We hike on. I can feel a blister developing on my left pinkie toe. You'd think that after 1300 plus miles a hiker would overcome the blister menace, but wishful thinking is common on the trail. Angela makes sure to inform me that she has now developed five separate blisters.
5:12 PM: We are heading down again, towards the North Fork of the Feather River. I put my earphones back on and search for KNBR 680, "The Sports Leader." After surfing through static and suffering a false find (a Born-Again Christian station), I find the Dodgers-Giants from Dodger Stadium. I am forced to remove the radio from its clip on my hip belt in order to attain the audible reception. I learn that Tiger Woods has won the British Open and Lance Armstrong the Tour De France. It also seems that Maurice Green has borrowed my legs for the dayhe and Johnson both pulled up lame in the 200.
6:44 PM: It has cooled off, thank goodness. Often the evening provides our best hiking, cooler temperatures, and a second wind that sometimes allow us to cruise up to ten miles after 5 PM.
7:16 PM: After a short series of switchbacks we reach the North Fork of the Feather River, flowing briskly under the usual collection of downed logs and branches. We cross on a wooden bridge and drop our packs near a fire pit. I attempt to sit down on a log near the pit and promptly fall over backwards. From this position, legs propped on the uncooperative log, I engage Angela in a discussion. We both agree that we are tired as hell and that 26 miles and a campsite near water seem to be an acceptable way to finish off the day. We can make up the miles tomorrow.
7:40 PM: I am still reclined on the ground when the Moaks arrive. After several minutes of reviewing the heat, the trail and all those limb cadavers, we all motivate to set up camp.
8:02 PM: After throwing up our Sierra Designs Clip 3CD tent, I resolve to finally thwart my dirty feet. You'd think I was a chimney workera barefoot chimney worker. I plunge into the river and vigorously scrub with Camp Suds. Yet the grime lives on.
8:27 PM: Dinner time. Tonight the chef has prepared a delightful mixture of Top Ramen, instant potatoes, and Mountain House Beef Stew. Nutritious and delicious. We spoon the stuff out of our off-white camp bowl while listening to the North Feather rush by.
9:07 PM: After rinsing out our bowl and pot and procuring more water, I crawl into the tent to work on this diary entry. Normally I would study the next section of trail in the guidebook, but tonight I don't have the energy for two intellectual chores.
9:14 PM: Angela arrives at the tent door with a hot drink. Clasping a warm mug is one of the few relaxing rituals we have, and rarely fails to induce a rather rapid "flashlights out".
9:27 PM: Lights out and head pressed against a small pile of extra clothing, I briefly consider the morning. We have a 33-miler planned for tomorrow to get to town. It looks like I may be forced to heed those 4:45 beeps. One of these days I will need a vacation from this vacation.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication