(Edit: I realized long after creating the title of this blog post that it could be the title for an editorial on current American politics. Well, sorry to disappoint… it’s just my mundane musings on walking from one place to another.)
After a wonderful stay in Etna (involving home cooked meals, top-notch thrift stores, and incredibly friendly locals) we headed back to the trail. We cruised through an easy, snow-free 14 miles that afternoon to set up camp near a snow-melt creek. We slept well having no idea what was in store for us the next day.
We had high hopes of achieving at least 20 miles the following day, in spite of two tricky snow sections that we expected to encounter. The first, involved a mile long ascent and traverse across a snow bowl. Although not particularly technical, it was likely to be time-consuming. One of the southbound hikers we met suggested taking an alternate route around the back side of the hill along the Kettle Creek trail. It looked dry enough initially that we went for it, failing to appreciate that it actually crossed a steep north face of the mountain. When we arrived at this slope, we had already spent close to an hour on the detour and were reluctant to go back the way we came. Luckily, we had hung on to our traction devices and ice axes since the Sierra. We geared up and Everett led the way cutting steps across the perilously steep hill. With every step, fragments of ice skittered down the slope, reminding us where a fall would take us. My brain fought with itself: “We shouldn’t be here!” “Quiet, please, I’m focusing.” “I don’t want to do this, though!” “I said, QUIET!” Probably thanks to going through this process with difficult situations at work, I was able to quiet the reluctant part of my brain and set myself to focusing on the task at hand. We were all relieved and quite exhausted by the time we reached the dry trail again. We were well into our day at this point and had covered less than 5 miles.
Although the next few miles were dry, we had only covered 10 miles by the time we stopped for lunch. We knew we had another 2 mile stretch of snow in the afternoon, and visions of a normal-mileage day were fading fast. The afternoon section was, if anything, more tiring than the first. A steep traverse led into the trees and required navigating up and down large mounds from tree well to tree well. Finally, having made very little progress following the PCT route, Everett led us down below the snow line where we were able to cut across the valley and up the other side to the trail. Having accomplished less than 1 mile/hour in this section and with evening approaching, we called it an early day at Kelsey Creek with less than 16 miles travelled. It was a bit demoralizing to spend 12 hours hiking a distance that we could normally crack off before noon on dry trail. However, we knew we could make up the miles the next day on the long descent to Seiad Valley.
The next morning we enjoyed a beautiful ridgewalk for the first 6 or 7 miles, getting our final views of the Marble Mountains before dropping down towards the valley. The initial descent was also quite pleasant and we were making great time, doing between 3 and 3.5 miles/hour. After about 12 miles though, the trail became hopelessly overgrown and there were plenty of blow downs to navigate around. It slowed us down and I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated as I tripped and stumbled down the hill. After 3 miles of this, we stopped for a super early lunch to see if hunger was playing a role in my failure to cope with the trail conditions. Bingo. I had been hangry.
A new person after eating my fill of tuna tortillas, we set off again. We were able to pick up the pace again, in spite of the trail conditions (and the addition of poison oak to the mix). The trail spat us out at the bottom of the valley at the Griper Creek campground. It was after 1 PM and hot. It was now time for a 7 mile road walk into Seiad Valley. Pounding the pavement in body-temperature air for 7 miles has not been one of my favorite experiences on trail so far, but we made it. We rolled into Seiad Valley around 3:30 PM after a 27 mile day. We treated ourselves to cold drinks, showers, hot dogs and ice cream for our efforts. Having the afternoon to hang out in Seiad was great! We met a couple from Pittsburgh and discovered that they are ER physicians! The conversation that ensued must’ve been insufferable for our fellow hikers, but it was incredible and cathartic to talk medicine again. We were also surprised and pleased to see Bangarang (one of the guys we hiked with in the Sierra) roll into camp that evening as well! He was planning to hike with Toodles from Seiad through to the Northern Terminus.
The next morning after eating our fill at the Seiad Cafe, we started the 5500 ft climb back out of the valley. It was hot and we were grateful for the breeze! When we camped for the night, we ate dinner with Bangarang and Toodles and watched as the evening glow illuminated the ever-present Mt. Shasta. The next day would take us through the final sections of snow before Ashland and across the Oregon border! The SoBos we met were incredibly helpful in describing the sketchy sections and the alternate routes they took. As a result, our day was largely uneventful and we were able to enjoy the warm weather and beautiful scenery. We decided to camp at a place called Sheep Camp Springs that evening, and when we arrived we were treated to the most pleasant surprise. A couple of Oregon section hikers had just started their hike and were ready to set up camp there with their most lovely, snuggly, orange dog! Delilah Q Pumpkin is her name and it was love at first sight! There is just a void in my heart that only puppy love can fill! We enjoyed a social evening full of food, trail stories, and laughter as several other hikers joined our camp, and again watched the glowing sunset against the backdrop of Mt Shasta.
Waking at sunrise, we headed out with our sights set on Callahan’s Lodge – a resort near Mt Ashland that provides camping and bottomless spaghetti and pancakes for hikers! I was feeling incredibly drained (and grumpy) through the day and was sincerely looking forward to a couple days off to eat real food and rest my tired body. On the final descent with less than a couple of miles to go, Everett stopped suddenly his face blanched and panicked. My wallet is gone, he said. We tried to stay calm as we mentally retraced our steps. But there are many steps in 60 miles and neither of us could recall with absolute certainty when we had last seen it. We hiked down to the junction to Callahan’s where Martyn was waiting for us. We tore apart Everett’s pack searching for the wallet to no avail. At that point, we were faced with two options. The first, was to retrace our steps back to Seiad Valley looking for it. The trouble is that bad trail conditions from snow had made us take several detours and alternates that would likely be difficult to replicate. The second option, was to continue to Callahan’s, post on the PCT Facebook group and hope that some other hiker would find it and contact us. A long shot, to be sure, but much preferred to hiking back through the 60 miles we had just completed. So, we headed on to Callahan’s in a somewhat somber procession.
The showers, free beer and bottomless spaghetti went a little ways to improving our mood. We felt encumbered by the idea of needing to find a way to get new credit cards, a new passport and new drivers license for Everett. In the morning, we were both able to get the assurance that VISA would be sending us new credit cards within 1-2 days. Though that helped, we still had the issue of sorting out Everett’s passport. After a breakfast of all-you-can-eat pancakes (and my first gluten-free pancakes on the trail!) we were waiting for a ride into Ashland when Everett got a call. A hiker had found Everett’s little orange wallet! And, this hiker was staying in Ashland! What are the chances? The best part was that when we met up with the hikers who found the wallet, they were people we knew and had hiked around for miles through the desert! However, none of them had recognized Everett in his passport or drivers license due to the lack of beard and general criminal appearance in those photos. We bought them a pitcher in thanks and spent some time catching up with them. It’s always nice to see familiar faces on the PCT!
The rest of our time in Ashland has been rather uneventful and relaxing. We are now preparing to head back down to Chester and hike southbound from there through the rest of Northern California and the Sierra. We are looking forward to putting California behind us for good (even though it has been beautiful) and getting back to Oregon and Washington. But, most of all, we are looking forward to continuing this amazing journey together!