30.2 miles (Miles 1576.3 – 1606.5)
Middle Boulder Lake Trail – Etna Summit
Yesterday I brought up a lot about miles. Numbers run through our heads out here, and simple math is being calculated constantly. Pace… miles… elevation loss and gain… time… I try not obsessing too much, but I certainly can’t ignore it – at least not on a trip like this – and planning resupply requires it. How many miles to the next town? How many days will that take? Can we push miles to get there sooner? Then once on the trail it continues. “Wow, we did 25 miles… if we do a 30 and a 28 we can get out early the next day and get omelettes.” Okay, maybe all the math is sometimes centered around food, but we think about town food a lot – probably way more than math.
Anyway, I wrote about confidence and big miles and pushing and challenging myself. I think it’s all fun stuff as long as I don’t feel like I’m cheating myself out of anything else, like passing on a swimming hole, or a fun break with other hikers. I know there are more important things than getting my “best mileage day.” With that being said, and on my mind, I did my first back-to-back 30-mile days. I don’t feel like I cheated myself at all, so that’s good. However, I did have to stop once in the middle of a big climb with 5 miles to go, sit down, take off my shoes, eat, drink, go to the bathroom, rub my fatigued feet, look down the trail, sigh and tell myself, “Okay… there’s only one way off this mountain. I have to keep going.” Today’s terrain made a 30-mile day a struggle. After yesterday’s smooth terrain and “easy” 30, I thought, “Sure! I can kick out another 30 and spend an extra night with Aloha!” I was excited. The terrain can’t change that much in one day… right? DUH, Toots… it’s the PCT, and it happens daily. Oh, wishful thinking! I started out strong, but once I hit 20 miles, the terrain turned steep with exposed climbs in the hot sun on a shadeless, exposed, sharp-rocky ridgeline. I fatigued quickly. Okay, I simply struggled the last ten miles… but I was stubborn. I took more breaks to check in on myself and finally made it to the road where Aloha was waiting for me. Yay!
As I struggled through those last ten miles, I still smiled and “ooohed” and “aaahed” over the views, colorful boulders and cliffsides, spatters of wildflowers all over, and the variety of small, young pine trees with their soft-looking needles. The last ten miles also brought me into the smokey haze from nearby wildfires. I lost some of my far-off views, and the hillsides just across the valleys were hazed behind a thin layer of white. Hannah, another hiker mentioned feeling fatigued, too, and wondered if breathing the smoke played a part in that. I imagine it could. I hear rumors of the smoke getting worse and hikers skipping north because of it. Aloha heard the trail might officially close out of Etna, so we have some poking around to do in town to see what the scoop is before heading back out. We’ve been pretty lucky with no detours or required jumps yet from fires, but they happen out here every year. I can’t help but still hope we make it all the way through without having to skip and come back later.
I’m jumping around a lot in this post today… so back to the first part of today’s hike – this morning’s hike was spectacular. I love northern California. I love that rough terrain I struggled through this afternoon because of it’s sheer beauty, as well as the contrasting softer, shady, forested terrain from earlier. What variety we have out here! This morning started out cutting across steep, short sections of grassy meadows, alternating with small sections of tall pines, shady and highlighted gold from the rising sun. Mt. Shasta displayed one of my favorite sunrises yet. The smoke floated in a hazy pink line across the middle of the mountain leaving the base and peak exposed while the sun coming up behind it laid soft light on everything around it. Sometimes it’s really hard to walk out here! I should count my stumbles from looking up some day.
Oh! Holy cows… I met cows on a very precarious ridge today. The trail wasn’t wide enough for all of us. There was a cowboy on a horse behind the first seven cows – I hand-signaled him asking if I should go uphill or down. He poined up and asked me to squat or sit down. I had to scramble up some rocks to go up, but was able to find a spot where I didn’t feel like I was going to fall off the mountain. I sat there and watched them as they heavily walked by, mooing loudly with their bells clanging. After the first seven, another group came through – this time with a cowgirl behind them. I spooked a couple of the cows when they saw me, and I feared they would fall over the edge as they panicked, jumped back and kicked up dust. Thankfully there were no cow tragedies. What an interesting trail experience. I couldn’t have met them in a crazier place!
In summary, a long, foot-tiring day of hiking started strong with soft trails and clear views, and finished with rocky hard trails, hazy but pretty views from smoke, cows, and one really tired set of hiker feet. There are two bonuses to pushing out today: seeing Aloha and having a full day off to rest those tired feet! I’ll be ready to roll again on Wednesday. Let’s just pray the trail doesn’t close!
Tonight I love chipmunks. They are so freaking cute and so very entertaining.
Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey!