Start: Honeymoon Creek (1810)
Camp: Squaw Lake (1789)
Setting up a tent makes it dark and cozy, and way too easy to sleep in. I really need to stop. It’s a habit I got into about a week ago when it started raining every night and I haven’t gotten up before 8:00 since.
As it was I got on the trail about 9:00 and began a long switchbacking climb up a bowl layered with almost-white pumice and dark gray basalt. There wasn’t any pumice in the North Cascades of Washington, but the grade reminded me of them and I felt a tinge of nostalgia – they were still my biggest challenge of the trip, so I was excited to be back on terrain so stark, jagged and exposed. From the top I climbed onto a rocky prominence and called my old friend Yvan from Santa Cruz. The reception was crystal clear; I had a clear if hazy view of Klamath Falls in its wide tan valley far to the east. It looks dry down there, very dry.
Back down at my pack I chatted with passing hikers, all of them northbound, even the section hikers (who are “just” hiking across Oregon. With its reputation I started the state thinking these people were uninformed because, like most everybody knows, Oregon is just a boring green tunnel that you use to get between the interesting parts of the PCT so to hike it by itself must mean you have a penchant for boredom. It turns out Oregon has been just as breathtaking as Washington, California will need to resemble a combination of hiking across the american west around the year 1800 (Indians and buffalo strictly required) and circumnavigating Saturn on one of its rings in order to be more interesting, and I was the one who was uninformed.) At this point I need to point something out: as of today I have been on the PCT for two months and three days, and I have crossed paths with about three hundred other through hikers, of both the section and full-trail varieties (give or take a couple hundred of course, I’m not counting) and every single one has approached me from the south. They pass with a puzzled look or they squint and then forget about me like they thought I was an apparition but it was just the sun in their eyes. If I stop them – and that duty always falls on me because if you’re going south you must be old, extremely wise, and the dictionary definition of hard ass – they sort of come to, they say “Oh I haven’t seen many of you,” and then they either ask a string of questions about whatever northerly obstacle is concerning their unoccupied skull at the moment or they simply say “How was the snow?” and then turn a pale shade of regretful mixed with sorry before they even finish the question, or, these days, most just launch straight into why they were justified, why they just absolutely, unequivocally needed to skip 400 miles of open trail at the Oregon-California border.
Are you getting this? Not a single hiker in over two months has approached me from behind. I pointed out the prominent features of the Crater Lake crater 30 miles to our north to a nice lady that was from Oregon but had never been there. Then another guy and I ragged on the younger hikers destroying the trail and the towns and, in general, people’s love for us, the true through hikers. He blamed it on Sheryl Strayed, I on their poor upbringing that would lead them to give up so easily during the fires (“It’s not a through hike for me anymore,” a girl about 21 that goes by Blocks told me) which, naturally, leads to immense frustration which, apparently, leads most of the “Class of 2014” to heavy drug and alcohol use.
Anyway, that’s what happened before 11:00 a.m. Then I walked through a tribe of Kevlar clad wildland firefighters chillaxing as a fire burned voraciously in a valley below and they monitored, watched their helicopter land, got rained and hailed on, walked half a mile to a nasty evaporated pond to get water then walked half a mile the other way to a beautiful lake that should have been the suggested water source in Guthook’s app but wasn’t, and finally, with a little bottle of dish soap I’d found in the hiker box, washed the copious dirt and DEET from my body. It had been my second full day without taping my feet; “tape it till you make it” is my policy.