In my last post, I was in Mount Shasta, California. Since then I have hiked about 170 miles of trail and had quite a few adventures and memorable moments. Most of the hiking through Washington and Oregon was pretty mileage-focused. There were always good views or exciting spots to get to. Northern California has had its beautiful spots, but I have enjoyed making it more fun-focused.
A heat wave hit California last week and temperatures got above 100 degrees several days in a row. Big Papa and I waited until the afternoon to leave Mount Shasta in hopes it would cool off a little bit. The afternoon and evening of hiking were hot and even when we arrived at camp we were still sweating. Luckily for us, we found trail magic under a bridge consisting of cold sodas in the creek and some other treats.
The next morning I took a look at the elevation profile map on the app I use for the trail. I was hoping to do around 30 miles this day, but I saw that we would gain 8,500 feet over that distance making it a pretty tough day. As we hiked, Big Papa mentioned he was feeling a bit of the “NorCal blues” recently. Many people get this feeling on the trail. I had the feeling in Washington, but was also feeling it in Northern California. With a bit of a lack of motivation and knowing we had a big day ahead, we trekked on quietly.
Later in the morning, we smelt smoke, but we didn’t see anything. It eventually went away and we stopped at a bridge over the McCloud River for lunch. Suddenly a helicopter hovered above seemingly looking for something. We wondered if there was a tree on fire somewhere as there had been lightning storms a couple of days before. The helicopter continued to circle the area as we ate lunch and we knew something was up. The helicopter eventually left and we decided it was time to keep hiking. The rest of the day would include a 6,000-foot climb over about 18 miles and it was already hot.
We reluctantly packed up and started off down the trail when we came across two hikers we had seen throughout the desert. “Platinum” and “Detour,” asked if we saw the helicopter and said it was for their friend “Lizard” who was really dehydrated. They then said they concocted a shortcut that would connect back to the trail and shave off a few miles plus the ridiculous elevation gain. Big Papa and I were certainly down for a shortcut, especially after feeling a bit of the blues that morning. The shortcut would follow the trail along a forest road making a more direct path to a place called Burney Falls State Park instead of cutting north for a bit and then going southeast to the park like the trail did.
There wasn’t much to the road walk on the forest road, but it was fun to switch it up. Whether we were on the trail or on the forest road, we would still be surrounded by trees. As the day went on we started to think about where to camp. We figured since we were in the national forest on a pretty unpopular road we could set up our tents just about anywhere. However, the road eventually turned from dirt to pavement and became surrounded by private land. On a map, we saw a hot spring a few miles ahead. We wondered if we would be able to camp there.
When we arrived at the hot springs, there was a fence and a dirt path following a river. It was on private property but it was open to the public to visit for free. We walked back to the pools and checked them out. They were extremely hot, but it would be a cool spot to stay for the night. We set up our tents and then went back to the pools to find a spot to soak. A guy was soaking in a pool down the river and had a bucket to add cold river water to the hot water in the pool. It made for a perfect temperature and that’s where we hung out until it was dark. When I woke up that morning and checked the elevation and saw there would be a lot of elevation to gain I certainly didn’t picture myself relaxing in a hot spring that night. We had gone from dreading the day to having one of the best days on trail, and we weren’t even on the actual trail. It’s funny how the trail really does provide sometimes.
The next morning we packed up and headed out. A couple of miles down the road was a town called Big Bend. “Town” might be a generous term for this one street, one gas station/grocery store, sketchy house area. We of course had to check out the store which ended up being a pretty stocked-up place. We got drinks, snacks, and even some California scratch-off tickets because if there was any place to win big it would be the tiny “Pit Stop” store in BFE. I didn’t win anything on my ticket but Big Papa won $15 on his $2 ticket!
After our morning of wild gambling in Big Bend, we continued on to Burney Falls. We passed raspberry bushes and apple trees along the road snacking like bears after a long cold winter. The road eventually hit a fence and signs that said private property. We realized we plus have to turn back and take a different route that would add a few miles. The road would still be shorter, but the store at Burney Falls had soft-serve ice cream and it closed at 5 pm. We figured we wouldn’t make it in time for ice cream, but we had already had quite the adventure over the last day.
As we walked back to another forest road, a guy on a 4-wheeler passed by. He waved and kept going, but eventually turned back and asked us if we were hiking the PCT and where the heck we were trying to go considering we were quite far from the trail at this point. We said we were trying to go to Burney Falls and we were going to walk the forest road there. He offered to give us a ride on his 4-wheeler and we said sure thinking he meant just up the hill to the forest road off the main road we were in through Big Bend. The guy started chatting with us as he drove and he just kept on driving. His name is Damian and he has had some of his own adventures in his time. Damian kept driving and didn’t seem to mind taking us all the way to the falls. It probably sounds pretty crazy to hop on a 4-wheeler in a random town in the middle of nowhere and ride through the national forest with some man you don’t know. It is a bit crazy, but it’s one of those adventures that you can’t say no to and you just hope he isn’t a serial killer.
Along the ride, we talked to Damian. I asked him where his favorite place he had ever been to was and what his crazy stories were. He was a really nice guy and I think it was fun for him to go on an adventure with us. Platinum and Detour had got a bit ahead of Big Papa and I the day before. While riding the 4 wheeler down the road we suddenly came across them. They hopped on too and the four of us plus Damian all rode the 4-wheeler to Burney Falls. I’m sure we were pushing the weight limit, and we were certainly breaking all the safety rules, but the 4-wheeler handled the trip like a champ.
Because of our sneaky hitch, we arrived back to the trail about 5 or 6 miles from Burney Falls. We made it in time for soft-serve ice cream before the store closed and we were able to see the falls! The last two days had really felt like an adventure. None of it was planned or even imagined. It all happened at a time when we weren’t super excited to hike and it was a couple of days I know I will never forget.
After Burney Falls, we hiked to the town of Burney the next morning where we stayed the night to resupply. For Sale, who got a day behind back in Ashland, Oregon while waiting on something in the mail, caught up to us the next day before we left town. He went to the grocery store and got some real food and then left with us. For the first time in a little while the gang was back together.
Our next stop would be Chester, California. It was 80 miles away and the plan was to take it easy for a few days. We hiked 11 miles out of Burney and camped at a spot before the “Hat Creek Rim”, an infamous section of the trail that is usually very hot and exposed. The heat wave had seemed to have disappeared. It was now 70 degrees and cloudy, which was welcomed for our hike across the Hat Creek Rim. We ended up doing 30 miles (funny how I said we would take it easy) and camped just before Lassen Volcanic National Park. Most people try to hike the 19.3 miles through the park in one day because you are supposed to carry a bear canister if you want to spend the night. We would hike through the park the next day.
I woke up the next day at 4 am to rain. It had been about 50 days since I had been rained on while on trial, so I couldn’t complain too much. I fell back asleep and then woke up at 6 am to see the rain had stopped. We packed up and began hiking. It was cool and felt like a nice change after the extremely hot temperatures the week before. It had started to rain again but it was a slow drizzle. As we entered Lassen Volcanic National Park, the rain picked up some. Tiny frogs hopped all over the trail and it was fun to watch.
As we hiked through the park, which was completely burnt up from a wildfire, the rain picked up more and more. It was pretty chilly and getting wet didn’t help. The raincoat was good for the first hour or two but once it was drenched it began to wet through. It was a bit miserable, but we had to keep going to stay warm. Big Papa and I came across a backcountry ranger cabin. We figured we could see if it was unlocked and could sit in there to wait out the rain. It was locked, but an overhang of the roof provided a little dry spot to sit for a bit. We tried to dry off and warm up while we ate lunch and then when the rain let up a bit we continued on.
The rain started up again and soaked us even more. We were so cold and wet. I really can’t tell you what the backcountry of Lassen Volcanic National Park looked like but I am very familiar with the ground. The rain eventually stopped after many hours just in time to visit the Boiling Spring and Terminal Geyser. These two spots were the most interesting spots of the day. They reminded me of Yellowstone National Park.
The day ended with camp, which was one of my favorite camp spots yet. Our tents were soaked from getting rained on in the morning and we didn’t get a chance to dry them out all day. There was a campground on a road a few miles out of the park a few miles before our next town that apparently had “immaculate pit toilets”. I am not going to lie, I have always wanted to sleep in a pit toilet while hiking if the conditions were right. We had been so cold and wet all day that any pit toilet might have done the trick, but the one we found smelt clean and was almost spotless. Most people might think sleeping in a pit toilet is a new low, but it ended up being a really fun night. We ate dinner and watched one of my ridiculous reality TV show episodes I had downloaded. The next morning we were headed into town.
The last week since Mount Shasta has felt like a long time. From being drenched in sweat during a heat wave to trail magic under a bridge to a crazy detour shortcut to a hot spring to a 4-wheeler hitch and then to being drenched with cold rain in one of the hottest spots on the trail, it was all an adventure. As the miles left to hike become less and less each day, I soak in each of these moments a little more.