Days 6-12 on the Pacific Crest Trail: California Sections O and Q

Hiking the PCT from Shasta to Seiad Valley

  • PCT miles are not AT miles. We can hike much longer distances because the terrain, generally speaking, is much more pleasant. Gentle dirt paths that skirt the mountainsides rather than climbing straight up them. Actual switchbacks. It’s nice and we can move. Only blowdowns really slow us down and there are plenty of them right now. 
  • Views on views on views. There are literally no “viewpoint” icons on FarOut because everything is a view! We’re loving this as it fills us up so much, but it’s also making some beautiful scenery days seem mundane. It’s like oh another sweeping vista, whatever. 
  • The flora and fauna out here are absolutely beautiful. We are noticing so many fields of wildflowers, pollinating bees and butterflies, grasshoppers, scurrying lizards, and overly friendly deer. 
  • So much more patient, calm, and compassionate. Last time we did a long-distance hike, we were constantly working on how to be better partners and hiking partners. The AT was difficult and unfamiliar. We both had our own personal challenges going on. And, although we are so proud of how we handled the AT, we feel so much calmer on the PCT. We are significantly more understanding of each other and much more willing to do things for each other without prompting. 


Day 6, 6/28/23: Indian Creek (mile 1506) to White Ridge (mile 1530.8)

24.8 miles and 6,1000 ft of elevation gain 

We got a slightly later start today and felt a little sluggish getting out of camp, but our energy changed quickly when we met new hikers and started our ascent in earnest. We climbed, climbed, and climbed up and around Castle Crags in the hot sun, which was both physically demanding and rewarding. Then we spent the rest of the day up around 6,000ft. We loved seeing the trail wind around mountains in front of us and behind us and getting expansive views filled with alpine lakes, Mount Shasta, Castle Crags, and even Lassen Volcanic way to the south. It was a hot one, with few clouds in the sky to give us respite from the strong sun. We really put our heads down toward the end and just cranked mileage after a long day. A thru-hiker asked us how we still have our trail legs after the AT, which gave us some affirmation and motivation! We can still hang with the thru-hiking pace. We ended the day with a few other hikers at a remarkably beautiful campsite looking at Shasta. Every campsite seems to be better than the last one, if that is even possible. The views out here on the PCT are spoiling us. While our feet were super achy and today was physically tough, it was also the most enjoyable so far.

Day 7, 6/29/23: White Ridge (mile 1530.3) to Tentsite (mile 1557.1)

26.8 miles and 2,500 ft of elevation gain

We hiked a marathon! We left one of our tent fly doors open so that we could get a sunrise view of Shasta when we woke up. It did not disappoint. At around 5am, the sky lit up red and orange, glowing around the mountain. We started hiking around 8am with a plan to take a quick dip in a nearby lake on the way. It has been a week since we showered so we thought it was time to get “clean.” But we got in such a hiking zone that we accidentally blew past the turnoff! Whoops, next time—we had way too many miles to hike to do any backtracking. 

It was hot and sunny all day, something we are getting used to out here, so we both applied sunscreen multiple times and kept our long sleeved shirts covering our arms. Lotus is getting a seriously bad forehead tan. We passed a bunch of pretty alpine lakes and pretty meadows lush from spring snowmelt. Most of today’s terrain was exposed with sweeping views. We traversed the sides of ridges around a couple of big arcing loops. Though it was beautiful, nothing was as spectacular as the day before. Still, we were grateful for mostly descending and flat trails with only some patchy snow. The last 6 miles were tough, as our feet hurt after 20 already, but we listened to music and powered through. When we stopped for a break late in the afternoon, Lotus got bit in the crotch by some ants. She literally has ants in her pants. Why!?! We had to laugh at the absurdity. We ended at a tentsite with Leapfrog who told us that this was the biggest day he’s ever hiked, which was pretty awesome to celebrate. 

Day 8, 6/30/23: Tentsite (mile 1557.1) to Tentsite (mike 1582.2)

25.2 miles and 4,800ft of elevation gain

Today we hiked up and up into the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The first half of the day was super pleasant. Even with the climbs, the views of alpine lakes and jagged mountains covered intermittently with snow were beautiful. We leapfrogged with Leapfrog then had lunch with Kick, a hiker from Tennessee who has been pretty nervous about the snow. She followed us on a few snow fields until we got through the worst sections. The snow was melting fast and we felt super comfortable and safe walking across it today. We watched an outdoor guide encourage their students getting down a tricky snowy steep section and it was awesome seeing how much a positive and strong guide can help kids feel like they can do difficult and scary things. 

During the second half of the day, Lotus’ feet were super super achy and sore, potentially from general overuse but also from all the stabilization we had to do on the snow. We walked for about 5 miles through a section that was completely scorched from a forest fire. This stark change in landscape meant we had very little shade on a hot and sunny day. Suffice to say we have not enjoyed burned sections. Then we came upon one of the most otherworldly lush green valleys and mountains that shined in the afternoon light like they were from Lord of the Rings. We hobbled into the valley for water where lotus soaked her feet and Stretch made a woodpecker friend, then powered up a climb for the last 2 miles of a 25 mile day. We felt really good when we got to the top—so proud of ourselves. What a physical and emotional rollercoaster! But, that’s thru-hiking. 

Day 9, 7/1/23: Tentsite (mile 1582.2) to Etna City Park (mile 1600.8)

18.6 miles and 3,400ft of elevation gain

As soon as we opened our eyes and looked out of our tent, we saw multiple hikers coming up the mountain. Everyone got an early start to get into town! We made breakfast and packed up camp in exactly an hour, probably a record for us as we are pretty slow to get started in the mornings. Motivated to get to Etna for food and a shower, we moved fast. Much of the morning traversed an open hillside with views of the wide valley and was hot and exposed to the sun. The scenery was nice, the trail got rocky at higher elevations, and we stepped carefully over a few more snow patches, some a bit steep but still manageable. Most seasonal water sources are running well so we’re taking advantage and carrying less water between them. It’s a nice perk of this season while the snow is still actively melting.

We stopped at Paynes Lake just off trail for lunch and our first swim of the PCT! The alpine lake sat just under a jagged gray mountain with pine trees. Soaking our tired feet and bodies in ice cold water was just what we needed. We found a shady spot next to the lake to sit, cool off, and eat before hiking the last 5 miles to the road in the baking sun. Stretch’s quad and Lotus’ feet were really talking to us, so we were relieved when we saw the road. Stretch spotted a pair of “fresh” looking hikers and we hoped we could score a hitch with them to town, but the two mothers and their sons filled up their car. They were super nice, though, and loved hearing about the trail. We waited at the parking lot with two other hikers, Pole Dancer and Jenny Craig, for about 10 minutes until a truck stopped to pick us up. We hopped in the truck bed and the husband and wife took us to their local swimming hole for a quick dip before dropping us in the center of Etna. We walked about a half mile to the town park that lets hikers tent for $5 (but we had to buy tokens for the shower from the grocery store). So hungry, we walked back into town, resupplied at Ray’s grocery, then ate dinner with Happy Mule at Denny’s Distillery. Pizza, arugula salad, beer, and a gin and bourbon flight were a great way to end the day, topped off with an ice cream float for Stretch. We proceeded back to the park to shower and hand wash some of our clothes in the shower with us (the laundromat was way too far!). 

Day 10, 7/2/23: Etna (mile 1600.8) to Fischer Lake (mile 1614.8)

14 miles and 2,500ft of elevation gain

Again, we slept like rocks. Our bodies are definitely tired! Lotus thinks she has plantar fasciitis, so taped her feet up with KT tape after watching a video. Stretch thinks he strained his quad just a bit and will need to watch that over the next couple days. We broke down camp and headed into town for a hitch. Surprisingly, a couple and their 2 year old picked us up within 5-10 minutes! They dropped us off at the trailhead and we were so grateful that it wasn’t 90 degrees in the mountains like it was in the valley. We planned a “short” 14 miles today to let Stretch’s quad muscle heal. It was really bothering him so he took the day super slow and carefully so that he will be ready for bigger miles tomorrow. We’ve just realized that there will always be some kind of physical discomfort. Lotus’ feet still hurt, but way less after taping them. 

We hiked much slower today to let our bodies rest and took a lovely lunch break in the shade with a view. The trail wound around open hillsides with sweeping views, hot sunny burn sections, and over some rocky scree and such. And there were blowdowns on blowdowns, especially through the burns. It took so much more effort to climb over or around them. We ended our day at Fisher Lake. It’s smaller than the other ones we’ve seen but super inviting with its little dirt beach, last patch of melting snow at the foot of the steep slope behind, and a steady waterfall trickle halfway up. We set up our tent, took a quick dip, chatted with Kick and Burps before getting rest. 

Day 11, 7/3/23: Fischer Lake (mile 1614.8) to Tentsite (mile 1638.5)

23.7 miles and 4,500ft of elevation gain

Today was potentially the best day so far—not just because the scenery was beautiful (which it was), but because we felt so happy to be walking together and supporting each other through tough hiking! In the morning we did some steep climbs, passed over a few patches of snow, and went up and over a high pass where we got a view of a gorgeous alpine lake slowly being lit up by the sun. The colors were deep blue and green. There were plenty more blowdowns to contend with, but we’re getting used to that being the trail right now. We chatted all morning, feeling really good and enjoying the breeze. After lunch, Stretch’s quad started bothering him more and I could tell he needed some TLC when he started hobbling to conserve energy. We took a pause at another lake and Stretch really rallied for the last 8 miles of the day, which had the steepest climbs. Luckily, after the tough ascent, the PCT rewarded us with a couple of relatively flat dirt path miles through gorgeous meadows speckled with bright red wildflowers against a backdrop of a sea of mountains. It’s exactly what we needed to motivate us to hike the last three miles to our campsite. Tonight, we enjoyed fancy backpacker meals that we treated ourselves to. And as always, we ended our meal with a little mint tea, crystallized ginger, and a bar of dark chocolate with sea salt. It’s the little things to look forward to that makes long-distance backpacking so great. 

Day 12, 7/4/23: Tentsite (mile 1638.5) to Seaid Valley Wildwood RV Park (mile 1657.5)

19 miles and 976 ft of elevation gain

When we have motivation, we move! And today, food was our motivation. We found out that the only restaurant in town (given its population of 300 people) would close at 2pm. This meant we had a mission to walk as quickly as possible to get in for lunch. Luckily the entire day was downhill. With the exception of navigating over very challenging blowdowns of charcoal covered trees from fires and overgrown bushes scratching our legs, the trail was really pleasant and easy to move miles on. The last 6 miles or so were on gravel and paved road, which wasn’t the most interesting, but quick. We got to the diner at 1pm and the server laughed saying it looked like we had smoke coming off our shoes with how quickly we must have moved. We ate a classic Lotus order of chicken tenders and fries with coleslaw and Stretch ordered a burger with mozzarella sticks on top and a salted caramel oreo milkshake. It was worth every hurried step. We sat in the AC eating while other hikers, Kick and Burps, attempted a PCT eating challenge—5lbs of pancakes…they were not successful. Then we resupplied at the only store, which luckily stocks good hiker food. 

The only place to stay in Seaid Valley is the Wildwood RV park, and it was awesome! It’s run by partners who lost everything to the fires last year and started opening the area up to hikers. A local cooked everyone a huge meal (donations only), we did laundry, and chatted with lots of hikers over beers for the 4th. It was a good day on the PCT. 

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