Day 79: Roller Coaster

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Mile 1586.1 to mile 1618.5 (32.4 miles, 52.1km)

For a second day the morning air is choked with smoke from wildfires and much more noticeable today. A thick brown haze lays on the horizon and the surrounding air a thin layer of grey. Smoke particles float in the sunlight streaming through the trees. Distant Mt Shasta can just be made out.

The smoke was just another challenge thrown in to what would be a relatively hard day. Steep climbs marked the day, the first one straight from camp. Smoke choking the lungs making chugging in air fairly difficult, particularly mid climb when you’re in a stride and trying to take in as much as you can.

And like most of Northern California once at the top of a climb, the trail heads straight back down and up another mountain. The PCT roller coaster. I don’t mind this too much as it makes for a more direct line and a lot of the trail ends up on ridge tops. I’m sure the view would be spectacular any other time but not with the smoke haze. Mountain lakes, granite spires and lush valleys all obscured today.

There was a long descent down to the Sawyers Bar Road, the access road to Etna, and on the way down I ran into a couple of locals out for a day walk. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, talked about the fires and the weather. They told me this run of heat is a record breaker.

I left Camel and No Cello at the road as they attempt to hitch into Etna for a resupply. It’s a difficult hitch and not one that I wanted to do. Arriving at the road 6 other people were waiting their turn for rides on this not so well trafficked road.

The afternoon was much of the same roller coaster ride with two really difficult climbs, long and some of the steepest grades encountered thus far. Hard work indeed.

I met Sparkles, a Swiss girl at the last water source for the day and we decided to push on another five miles to a small camp. This section is marked with long gaps between both water and camp areas given that much of the trail is located high on rocky ridges or sidecut into steep mountain sides with limited flat ground. We made it at around 8pm with just enough time to pitch tents and cook up some dinner.

In a deep sleep I’m woken by Camel as he shows up in the dark of night, flashing his head lamp around the place and noisily sets up his tent. He has managed to get in and out of Etna plus put the distance in for the day – impressive.

Note: I didn’t take many photos at all today with the smoke obscuring any views. It just got thicker and thicker throughout the day.

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