Days 0-5 on the Pacific Crest Trail: California Section O

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail California Section O

PCT California Section O, Burney Falls State Park to Shasta, California: June 23-26 

  • The PCT is wild, beautiful, and a bit unpredictable. In our first three days on the PCT we encountered hail, two thunderstorms, incredible sunshine, and miles of snowfields to hike through. We also feel like we are really out there—way less connected to civilization than we felt on the AT. We aren’t crossing roads as frequently and are not seeing day hikers at all so far. Also, the expansive views, gigantic trees, and blooming wildflowers have been overwhelmingly beautiful. It feels like we are just small specks in this giant world!
  • Backpacking feels like riding a bike. It’s incredible how quickly our minds and bodies readjusted back to long-distance backpacking. Even though we don’t have full trail legs, they are in such great condition. Instinctively, our bodies remembered how to hike up to 20 miles a day. And, we fell into our routines together seamlessly. Even with a new tent, we felt like we knew how to set up camp and break it down without needing to talk. It felt like coming home.
  • We trust ourselves to make decisions and handle challenging situations calmly and responsibly. The PCT has brought so many unexpected challenges so quickly. The 8 mile stretch of snow with steep inclines and no trail markers would have typically sent us into a tailspin. But knowing ourselves and our capabilities from years of hiking and winter hiking, we felt that we could accurately assess the danger of a situation and use our trail knowledge to make decisions together in ways we haven’t been able to before. We recognize that we each have different concerns, strengths, and needs and we’ve learned to communicate calmly in tough situations!

 

Day 0, 6/22/23: Boston to Burney, California

0 hiking miles and a lot of travel time 

And it begins. For the last week we’ve been running on adrenaline and fumes to get us ready for our 1,200-mile “long ass section hike” or LASH! The PCT is much more remote than the AT, so not only did we have to prepare our apartment for being gone for 2 months, we also had to prepare boxes of food, resupply, and gear to send ourselves ahead to locations in Oregon and Washington. Each night this past week we’ve been awake until midnight doing various tasks. We are starting to wonder if we’ll always feel down to the wire with these trips? Is it the nature of the trip or is it us 🤔? As Lotus worked until the last minute (typical), Stretch really got us to the finish line by packing and sending all of our resupply boxes. These are the newest thing for us so far. We didn’t send ourselves any food on the AT – we only resupplied along the way. It was a huge task to put the boxes together. Sending a full resupply to a location without any other options is stressful. We were super detailed because we need to have the right amount of food for those sections. Having predicted as best we could, knowing our bodies from the AT, we’ll see if we packed enough or too much.

Our new trekking pole tent, the Unbound 2P (this was compensation from Hyperlite in exchange for Lotus’ modeling talents!) came in just one day before we left for the trail, so we have to learn how to set it up on trail. Stretch made an attempt to practice setting it up in a local park at 7:30pm the night before we left with moderate success. We’re confident that we will figure it out…

On June 22, we woke up at 4:00am for a 7:00am flight to San Francisco. We then connected to Redding, CA. Our first stop was a Safeway to grab a few more lunches for our first section. We are back to being hiker trash sitting under trees in parking lots and couldn’t be happier about it. Also, check out Stretch’s new Darn Tough PCT themed socks! Thanks Ramie and Alex!

We sat at the bus stop in Redding for about 2 hours because the local bus was late. Hey, it’s only $5, so we will take what we can get. While we sat at the station, we found ourselves in conversation with people from all walks of life: a section-hiker from Washington who recently retired from his teaching career, a nomadic guy from the area who recently sold all of his belongings to travel the world. We saw another thru-hiker across the street and we gave each other a knowing wave and nod. One of the best parts about long-distance hiking isn’t just the hiking, but seeing the multitude of ways people live in different places in our country. 

After an hour-long bus ride to Burney, we grabbed Subway and settled into our room at Green Gables Motel—exhausted from the day of travel but so excited for what’s to come.

 

Day 1, 6/23/23: Burney Falls State Park to tentsite just after Clark Spring

18 miles and 4,050ft of elevation gain 

We woke up early, partly due to jet lag and partly due to all of the anticipation. First thing we realized: we forgot to buy fuel yesterday. No!! We had to wait an extra hour until the local sporting store opened. The good news is we handled it really well and were surprisingly calm. After making a handy hitching sign, we picked up two hitches to Burney Falls State Park. Within the first 2 minutes of the first ride, the driver made multiple racist remarks. Ugh. Stretch tried to find ways to counter some of what he said, but didn’t want to do so at the risk of our safety. The second ride was much better! 

We entered Burney Falls State Park and made sure to see the actual waterfall, which is just off the PCT. It was beautiful! Well worth the quick side jaunt. Then, we walked across a bridge to join the PCT and began walking northbound. Only 1,232 miles to Canada!

As soon as we started to hike, we felt like we picked up right where we left off from the AT. It was so nice to feel back at home on trail. The day was ideal: sunny and warm with a slight breeze. Not to mention the trail!! It was so kind and gentle—-just well graded dirt paths that skirted up and around mountains. It couldn’t have been more different than the rooty and rocky terrain of the AT that we are used to. Some highlights of the day were seeing so many gorgeous wildflowers and getting some stellar views of snow-capped Mount Shasta! After 18 miles, we were disappointed when the spring we got to didn’t have any decent campsites. We wandered further and found a nice stealth spot with a gorgeous view. We successfully put up our tent for the first time, meditated, drew, made dinner, and retired to our tent as the bugs started to eat us alive. 

Day 2, 6/24/23: Tentsite after Clark Spring to Alder Creek

18.4 miles and 2,800 ft of elevation gain (more with the route finding in the snow)

From our tent this morning, we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise. The sky was bright red and orange and as soon as the sun rose, it warmed us so much. Our tent had a fair amount of condensation on the inside, common for trekking pole tents apparently, but it’s something we are going to have to get used to. There were some drips and Stretch’s foot box was wet from his feet hitting the edge of the tent. After a big first day, our bodies felt super tired this morning. We know they will get used to the heavy packs soon, but wow are our shoulders feeling it today.

The first 8 miles flew by. With an easy trail, we cruised at 3+ miles per hour. Then, the snow. We heard there was an 8-mile ish section of snow, but wow, we weren’t expecting what we got. It started with snow patches that were easy to traverse and gradually turned into fully snow covered trails and mountains. The trail was unmarked and indecipherable. We often had to take routes off trail because of how treacherous some of the sections were. Often, the PCT skirts the sides of mountains, so throw snow in there and you’ve got a steep slide that you don’t want to fall down. So we climbed up the flanks of the ridges and bushwhacked through thick spiky brush to find a way down the other side. Our route had to meander through the forest in zigzag motions, backtracking when needed, to get good traction and follow the safest path. Honestly, today was one of the toughest days of hiking we’ve had. And, we are so proud of how we handled it. We were very cautious, moved very carefully, and stayed super calm. We trusted our navigation abilities and knowledge to get to where we needed to go when we came up on impassible areas. Lotus fell, a lot. And got scratched to hell from the bushwhacking. Seeing Mount Shasta from a snowfield was pretty cool, though. At the end of the day, we chose to take a bypass of the last snowy peak. We were way too exhausted and needed to make the smart call. Those snow miles just took so much concentration and energy to get through. When we got to our campsite, we were dismayed by the water situation. There was essentially no trail down to what was supposed to be a water source. We ended up melting snow to get just enough water for our dinner and the next morning. What a day. Brutal!

Day 3, 6/25/23: Tentsite at Alder Creek to Fitzhugh Gulch

17.9 miles and 2,400ft of elevation gain 

We woke to sunlight streaming into our tent around 6am. With earplugs and exhaustion to aid us, we both slept relatively well even though our tentsite was definitely slanted. We said bye to a German and Austrian couple who camped near us and made our way up a beautiful mountainside covered with shrubs and wildflowers. Low on water, which tasted like burnt bark from Lotus accidentally scorching it while melting snow the day before, we happily gathered with other hikes around a small stream. Today there would be no shortage of water sources and we were happy for that. 

The next section was a completely exposed bit of trail that weaved around a mountainside and was lined with blooming wildflowers bright with all kinds of colors. We could look back and trace the trail with our eyes and then also take in a huge vista with layers of mountains to the side. The rest of the day we spent descending along soft dirt trails, moving quickly and getting into flow. It was a welcome change from yesterday’s snowfields. We came upon our first trail magic, which was an interesting combination of piles of chefboyardee cans and tackle boxes of supplies. Lotus picked a can up, thought about its weight, and decided it was worth the extra ounces for a midafternoon snack, which we ate promptly before needing to set up our tent to wait out a thunderstorm complete with hail. 

Day 4, 6/26/23: Fitzhugh Gulch to tentsite near Girard Ridge Junction  

20.6 miles and 5,300ft of elevation gain

Hiking felt great today. Within the first mile, we ran into a hiker we knew from the AT, Purple Haze! After a brief catch-up, we let him continue on his 30-mile a day pace, way faster than us. We gained a couple thousand feet of elevation, then dropped down to a beautiful flowing river for lunch, and then climbed another 3,000 feet of elevation up to a ridge. Even though today had a lot of elevation gain, the trails here are so pleasant! It was hot and our feet hurt, but it was all totally doable. 

Once on the ridge we had some views of Shasta between the trees. The sun went away and storm clouds were brewing. We heard some distant thunder and knew the forecast of 30% chance of rain and thunderstoms so we booked it from there. We got to our campsite, which was just off the PCT, by 3:30pm, really early. Also, our campsite, WOW. Stunning views of Shasta and Castle Crag. We were joined by Artemis, a hiker who lives in NH and wants to be a science teacher! We chatted a ton and have a lot in common. Many more hikers rolled on one after another. Then, the thunderstorm started moving towards us and we retreated to our tent. During a respite from the rain, we popped out to snap some photos of the sunset which was pretty nice despite all the clouds. 

Day 5, 6/27/23: Tentsite near Girard Trail Junction, resupply in Shasta, to East Fork Sulfur Creek

13 miles and 1,700ft elevation gain 

Town day! Yay! We set the dreaded alarm to make sure we got up early enough to get to a bus scheduled for 9:09am. One by one hikers left and as per usual, we were the last ones. Within the first 10 minutes, we saw a bear cub scurry down the side of the mountain. For the next five minutes, we talked loudly and Stretch laughed lovingly at Lotus who was nervously chatting and clutching her poles tightly. We made it to the underpass where the bus was supposed to pick up an hour early and watched as multiple hikers started congregating. $5 for the bus that stopped at Castella, Dunsmuir, then Shasta – super easy. 

We made stops at the laundromat, post office, a great lunch place (Yaks), and finally a grocery store for resupply. Not clean (no showers here) but with less smelly clothes, we got a ride back to the trail with a super nice man for 6 miles in to camp. 

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