Days 121 – 132 Dunsmuir to Ashland

Day 121 10.07.18 9 Miles / 14.5km
Waking up in our Dunsmuir hotel at 6:30am we make coffee, have our breakfast and finish packing our bags. Jack Rabbit gave us a lift to the trailhead and we were off walking North again.

Met with an immediately uphill trail the nerve pain down my right leg flared up, always triggered by uphill climbs without prior warmups and particularly after a few days rest. For an hour the searing hot pain burned next to my shin and down my ankle until it eventually warmed up enough to stop.
With the terrain getting steeper and rockier I check the map, not recalling such a huge ascent until the afternoon, and noting the trail doesn’t often take you to a peak like it looked we were going. Checking Guthook confirmed my suspicions, we were 3km off trail on a side track to summit Dome peak. Turning around Ross and I pass another off track PCT hiker, altering them and hoping Four Eyes also notices soon.
Getting back to the intersection where it all went wrong we determine the PCT is the small little nothing trail to the side and we were on the wide, maintained summit summit trail. Great.
Back to business Ross and I continued in the heat to climb the much more reasonable uphill terrain, delaying lunch until 1:30pm as we tried to cover some distance on the correct trail. In the heat my tomatoes has fermented so I ate my bagels with cream cheese as is, noting to bury the tomatoes later. I showed Ross how to use his new filter, a sawyer squeeze, and we watch a woodpecker as we eat.
Just after packing up and getting ready to keep moving Four Eyes caught up. She was extremely unhappy that she’d walked all the way to the summit before realising she was off Trail. In a huff she sat down as she tried to reason with herself that it’s ok. But in the heat and with a pack full of food, and after walking an extra five off trail miles (8km) she was done for the day, asking if we could make camp. Not one to say no to a lazy day I agree and we set up camp by the spring.
In a nice short introduction to the trail we lay in the sun with Ross, drinking litres of water to rehydrate from the day. Glamourpus from Tasmania walks past and joins us for a chat, surrounding Four Eyes 3:1 by Australians. It was great.
While off exploring our campsite Four Eyes finds a rattle snake curled up in some leaves. Excited Ross and I check it out, being both our first times seeing one. It’s hard to believe, but I managed to go the whole way through the desert without seeing one and was thoroughly disappointed.

Day 122 11.07.18 21 Miles / 34km
Waking up early it was still warm from the night prior. I’d slept with the sleeping unzipped and draped over me wearing just undies. Nights that hot are unusual out here.
Picking up on the hill we avoided yesterday we stare up the mountain in the distance and walk towards it. Starting before 7am we got through the switchbacks and to the top before it got too hot. Four Eyes was feeling the burn from her steep detour to the peak yesterday so stayed at a pace closer to mine, meeting us for breaks and lunch.
Taking it easy in the heat Four Eyes and Ross napped at lunch while I wrote, then we strolled along the flat terrain for the rest of the day. Views of Mount Shaster appeared often, which Ross would point out every time.

Making it to camp at 6:15pm we agree I definitely walk faster when I’m with someone. I stop often when I’m walking alone, usually distracting myself as I write down a thought, take photos or generally drag the chain. Ross did an awesome job hitting 33km at our pace, only admitting to suffering through the last 200m of offtrail rocky trail to Porcupine Lake where we camped.
Arriving just before the sun sank behind the mountains Four Eyes and Ross jumped in for a swim. I sat by the edge with my legs in as I washed the rest of my body. If only there was a lake at the end of every hot day.

Day 123 12.07.18 18 Miles / 29km
Being a downhill day we toss up if it’s possible to push Ross to 38km on his third day on trail. It’s a stretch so we opt for another 33km day.
In such favourable terrain we make excellent time, covering 22km before lunch at midday. We stop by a small stream and take refuge from the heat under trees. After an hour we get up to start walking but decide it’s way too hot on the ridge line so opt to wait out the heat for another few hours when it’s more comfortable to walk.

Once we hit the trail I was making good pace. I turn to Ross and say: “Sorry Ross, after a good break I have a full new days worth of energy” to which he responds out of breath “I know”.
We reach the spring to refill our bottles and find Four Eyes there and extremely excited. “Guys looks what I found! Carnevorous plants! Can we stay? Look I’ll cut one open and show you how it works”. They were Cobra Lilly’s and as promised she dissected it pointing various features such as the hairs that trap bugs and the fly carcasses at the bottom. It was a good day for Four Eyes.

We ended up stopping to camp early, making time for Four Eyes to draw a Cobra Lilly. The sunset was particularly special throwing an orange glow over the mountains. Four Eyes sat outnumbered and horrified as we played Australian folk songs like Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport and Waltzing Matilda.

Day 124 13.07.18 23.5 Miles / 38km
First thing in the morning we passed the much anticipated junction to Kangaroo Lake. As per tradition Ross and I got a photo at the sign, just like the time we found an “Aussie Bay” while on a mountain bike trip in New Zealand. I see a new tradition starting.

As we continued we could hear bells ahead…which was strange considering we were far from anything. A cow emerged, followed by more cows; some wearing bells. They spooked and ran across the trail and into the safety of some trees while we walked past entertained and puzzled. A few hours later we passed horses then a large group of riders sitting down to a huge lunch spread. They were farmers driving their cattle through the wilderness on an annual trip. And they offered us lunch. It was amazing. There was cabbage, chilli beans, fruit salad and soft drink. Feeling spoilt we sat down and shared stories of the trail so far which they were so eager to hear about.

As per the tradition of Four Eyes missing trail magic when she speeds ahead I pack out a soda and some fruit salad for her and remain her favourite person.
Collecting enough water to camp and hike with we carry the 3.5km (2 miles) to our agreed campsite. On arrival we notice the whole site is on a slant and Four Eyes isn’t to be seen. Pushing on another 3.5km (2 miles) we find her at the next site which is considerably flatter, which I’m grateful for. I’d already told Ross that I was willing to sleep slopped at this site if it meant we got to stop.
Day 125 14.07.18 20 Miles / 32km
Met with another warm day we hit the trail by 6am to get as much mileage in before it was too hot. I end up sweating so much my eyelids feel sticky and I chafed under my arm as salt covers my body.
Desperate for a break near some water Ross and I squash onto my mat on a slightly wider narrow section of trail. We guzzle water trying to rehydrate ourselves and make the most of a spring through a section that is otherwise exposed and surrounded by burnt trees. Eventually we get moving again and prepare ourselves for the climb ahead.

Looking uphill we dread the exposed trail etched into the the side of mountain. I put on some classic rock anthems and march up the hill in what felt like record time. Stopping half way for water we were hit with a cool breeze and both let out a sigh of relief. It was only brief, but so so appreciated.

Hiking down the other side we flew back down the mountain and were propelled back up the other side as we followed the windy trail to camp, motivated by a swim in the lake. Making great time we arrive at 4:30pm, rushing to put up our tents before threatening clouds roll in. Dipping my toes in the water I recoil in the cold. I then remind myself this is everything I want and take the plunge. Taking my socks with me I rinse them out then use them as a washer to scrub my body in the lake. It feels so amazing to have the layer of dirt lifted.

Once out I hang out clothes to dry and cook dinner. I notice it’s raining on the other side of our site and in slow motion we watch it start to rain on our side, sending us scattering like ants back to our tents for a very intense five minute shower. Those threatening clouds weren’t so bad after all.
Day 126 15.07.18 5 Miles / 8km
Keen for a town day we smashed the short walk to the highway. Arriving at 8am we waited until almost 9am for our first car to drive past. Luckily they stopped and picked up all five of us hikers who had been waiting, which is true to the reputation of anyone taking this local road.

Immediately we picked up boxes from the hostel then went to the bakery, making the most of the day old goods for $1 each. After a small grocery shop we were deciding where to eat when we were offered a lift from an older couple so jumped in and asked their advice on which brewery to visit. Excited, they drove us around giving the grand tour of Etna, pointing out the murals she had painted everywhere and telling us who owned which stores. It was amazing to have such rich history given to us in such a passionate, authentic way.
After lunch at the brewery we spent a fair bit of time outside on the wifi while our devices charged. The clouds grew darker, thunder rumbled in the distance and eventually, it rained. Someone came out from the brewery and said “Hey, I read your blog! I’m Ian, I work for the PCTA” and shook my hand. We spent the next 20mins chatting about the trail, getting valuable updates on the Klamathon Fires which were now contained and no longer threatening.

Watching as new clouds rolled in we decide to stay the night in town to wait out the storm. Walking to the hiker hostel we learn it’s full (still getting our steps for the day) so we book a room at the motel for the three of us to share. We emabrace the luxury of a shower, I wash some clothes in the sink, and we lay in real beds while it threatens to rain but doesn’t actually. I have no regrets, any excuse to spend a little longer in a place as nice as Etna.
Day 127 16.07.18 15 Miles / 24km
Proving Etna to be the most hiker friendly town so far we were given a lift to the trailhead by the motel owner, entertained the whole way up the windy highway by her chatty two year old daughter.
With full resupply pack weights through a hot exposed stretch we opt for a shorter day as we hit the trailhead at 10am.
After following a ridgeline all day we arrive at camp and Four Eyes points out a small single tentsite cleared on the rocky ridge. I’m in love and leave the others in their tree cove to spend the night with gorgeous mountain views, despite the clouds rolling in. I’m learning out here they look worse than they are.
I spent the evening in my tent in awe of the views, feeling the most gratitude I’d experienced in a long time. After this long on trail I’ve grown accustomed to the beauty of nature, so it was nice to be blown away again.

After a drawn out soft pink sunset the night ended up being dead still. Feeling so relaxed I fall asleep with my tent and fly wide open, looking out over the mountains until I could no longer keep my eyes open. Late in the night I’m woken to the crunching steps of something walking around. After freezing for a moment I hear teeth tearing grass and peering out I see a large deer stroll past lite up by the moon. It’s so dam majestic I think I’m dreaming. Just in case, I close the mesh door of my tent, gawking at the milky way during a full moon. Since I never need to pee in the night I always miss the night sky, this was a memorable night.
Day 128 17.07.18 26 Miles / 42.5km
With Ross, Four Eyes and I all starting 10mins after each other we ended up spaced out for the day. I enjoyed a sunrise over the mountains and treated myself to a green tea with my breakfast for once.

Still mesmerised by the night I’m slow to start, walking in a daze as I appreciate the view of the trail for the day. I want to hold onto the feeling for as long as I can so try not to rush.
Feeling strong I made great distance by lunch despite the heat. After the first 22kms (13.5miles) I slow down as I walk towards camp. Water is spaced out so I stop at the spring and take my shoes off to air my sore feet and drink as much water as possible before continuing in the sun. You’d think after all the time we spent in the desert we’d be used to the heat, but all the hikers around me were also gathering under trees or near water.
In a change of terrain the trail leads down a steep descent as we prepare to drop into Said Valley the following day. I notice the wild strawberries growing alongside the trail, and later confirm the chest high overgrown raspberry bushes we pushed through for a mile. Getting into lower elevation I keep an eye out for poison oak but thankfully don’t find any.
Eventually I made it to camp at 7:40pm for the furthest day I’ve hiked so far. Ross killed it and arrived an hour before me, which I’m going to put down to his fresh legs…despite the thousand miles of practice I’ve had.
Day 129 18.07.18 11 Miles / 18km
It’s town day and I’d been dreaming of burgers! Preparing for the poison oak we’d been warned of from hikers ahead, Four Eyes and I wear our leggings on this fine hot day. Immediately the trail is covered both sides in the plant and I point it out to Ross who just can’t seem to remember it well enough to identify for himself. I sing out poison oak and step to avoid whenever it’s across the trail it so Ross stays close and does the same. Frustrated by the oak dodging and heat I find myself hot and bothered, needing a break and stopping in the middle of the trail. It turns out we were only a few hundred meters from the bridge where our road walk begins, but I was ready for either a rest or a full blown tantrum.

Once reaching the bridge we find Four Eyes in a similar condition. She’d sat in the creek to try and get any poison oak residue off her clothes as she’s extremely allergic.
Appreciative to be off the trail and now on the road we head the 8km (5miles) down the hard pavement. Four Eyes quickly spots blackberries lining the road so we slow to a stroll between bushes, stuffing our mouths full of juicy berries still warm from the sun.

Before long my feet ache from the hard ground and I’m chanting “you can do it” mantras while fighting the urge to give up and wait in the shade. Eventually I catch up to the others resting near the highway so take the opportunity to change into shorts and have a snack. While putting my shoes back on a car passed and I give an average attempt of a hitching thumb which to my surprise works and the car pulls over. I’m sure our lethargic heat exhausted expressions helped.
We were finally at the Seiad Valley cafe for my last burger in the state of California.
In the heat we lay in the shade and sweated for a few hours before even thinking about heading out again. One couple attempted to head back out on trail, but only made it across the road and to the shade of a tree on the other side.

Because of Four Eyes’s hyper sensitivity to poison oak we decide to take a road walk detour to access the trail above 4000feet where the oak no longer grows. We started the long walk up the road in the heat and tried our luck, semi sarcastically, for a hitch from a gaiter (four-wheel drive buggy) which to our surprise stopped. They said they could only get us 3 miles (5km) up the road, so we cheered and jumped in the back. At three miles he slowed down in his driveway and said “ah heck, I’ll take you all the way”. We were on top of the world! The wind in our hair, dust in our mouths and holding on for dear life as we sat awkwardly while our legs fell asleep and our upper bodies began to shake from gripping so hard for so long.
Arriving at camp by gaiter we were on a high all afternoon. A combination of sugar from town, and left over energy after not hiking all afternoon made for a chatty night with fellow hiker we met, Leg Day.
Leg Day is a 27year old Finance Analyst from Seattle who look like he never misses Leg Day…hence the name.
Day 130 19.07.18 28 Miles / 45km
In the early hours of the morning I wake up to a flashlight and the sounds of what I thought was Four Eyes packing up her tent. Confused, I look at the time and realise it’s midnight; and a hiker has just arrived and was setting up near us with no etiquette after night hiking to escape the heat. I poked my head out and asked him to use his red light to be less disruptive, but he simply said “I’m almost done” and continued lighting up the campsite. This happens to be the same person who has arrived late in the past loudly talking about their 35mile days. This person is now on my dislike list.
The smoke was thick from the Hendrix fires nearby but we took comfort in the fact the helicopters had stopped flying over us. The dusty pink of the sunrise lingered for longer than usual in the smoke, and most views for the day were void. Our throats hurt all day as we hiked fast to get out of the area. By lunchtime we had covered an impressive 16m/25km.

Ross and I kept ourselves entertained by making up a song about brushing your teeth, deciding on my upcoming state border crossing dance, and singing other songs. Ross is great with lyrics which is perfect for long hikes without much phone service.
Not long after lunch we find Four Eyes and Snow Flake at a dirt road junction. They had fire updates and it wasn’t favourable. The PCTA had issued a notice for all hikers in Said Valley to stay put, and discouraged hikers crossing the California/Oregon border with closures expected to come into place overnight. We were just 2.5miles from the border. Together we discussed our options and decided to exit via the forest service road for a 15mile/24km walk down the dirt road to a highway where we could hopefully hitch into a town.
Other hikers in the area decided to hike through and camp 16miles away on the other side of the closure, but hearing the fire was just 1mile/1.6km off trail it was too close for comfort for me. Growing up in Australia it’s bred into us not to gamble with bushfires.
I was so disappointed. We’d walked all this way to get across California to be turned around at the border. Ross, Leg Day and I decide to still walk to the border for photos and some closure before turning around to exit. Four Eyes and Snowflake start down the maze of service roads, agreeing to camp and wait for us in a few miles.
In excitement we power walked the 2.6miles to the border, so ready to finally finish California. One by one each of us jumped over the invisible border and high fived each other. After signing the trail register and letting out hot red faces settle we take our token photos with the sign and I record my border crossing video, the hokey pokey – fitting since we could only dip our toes into Oregon then took them back out again.
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Doubling back to the road junction we follow arrows made from sticks and stones by the girls until we find Four Eyes at camp. We go for a short excursion with Four Eyes to the blackberry bush and snack on our haul for dessert.

Day 131 20.07.18
Getting an early start on the road walk Four Eyes is out of camp at her usual crack of dawn while Leg Day, Ross and I move a little slower after yesterday’s big day.
Three of us keep ourselves entertained with chatter as we settle in for a long day. Out of nowhere a truck appears behind us and tells us to join the other hikers on the back. The driver had been out training his dogs and was helping hikers exit after hearing about the fires. Thrilled we jump in, letting them know we have one more hiker ahead to pick up. Four Eyes had managed to get an impressive distance with her head start, to which she was piiiised she didn’t need to walk after getting a lift to her. She jumped in the cab while Leg Day, myself and Ross all sat on the tray. Ross sat looking out over the back saying he had the best seat in the house. Almost two hours later we emerge at the highway and get out of the overloaded truck to finish finding our way to Ashland. Looking over at Ross I nearly wet myself seeing how dusty he was from “the best seat in the house”. Leg Day suggested we trail name him Dusty, to which Ross accepted. He’s a true hiker now.

Walking across the road and towards the trailhead there was another truck waiting to help hikers. He was surprised to see so many of us at once, but packed us all into the back and drove into the town centre of Ashland. On our way to the hostel Four Eyes stumbles across a fig tree full of fruit in the park so we stop and eat fresh figs until we were so full we needed to leave.

We did our usual jobs of showers, laundry and groceries, arranging boxes to be sent ahead. Realising I was short on time before the post office closed Ross helped me repackage food and pack boxes in the foyer. Addressing them I realise Shelter Cove doesn’t accept USPS, so I now have a spare box. Frustrated I give up and post it to the next major town, Cascade Locks on the border of Washington.
Once the boxes were posted I turn to Ross and say “that was stressful, let’s go to the brewery”. Those were my famous last words for the night. Drunkenly I encourage Four Eyes and Leg Day and Chariot to join us. The next thing I remember I’m at a Thai restaurant, and from there we went and had second dinner of meat pies. I was over the moon to have found meat pies and the others assure me I made a huge mess.

Day 132 21.07.18
Waking up feeling fragile I wash gravy off my arm then lounge around writing this blog post.
Four Eyes did what she consistently does best and made friends with a girl in our room who could give us a ride to Crater Lake, getting away from the fire closure ahead and all it’s smoke. We waited until Hanna was ready to go then all four of us piled in her Sedan for the road trip. Hanna was our age and worked in Yosemite National Park, sharing some entertaining stories on the way.

Once at Crater Lake National Park we camp at Mazama Village in the hiker allocated area making the most of clean tap water and picnic table. We sat around for story time while Four Eyes read Roughing It by Mark Twain who recounts exploring the Sierra regions back in the 1860’s. It’s fascinating to be hearing of these now familiar places from such a long time ago.

(2) Comments

  1. Colleen Fraser says:

    Love following your journey! Such a great job and thanks for journallng!

  2. Femke says:

    Following your story from the Netherlands, I so much enjoy your writing and adventures along the PCT. Have fun!!

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