Day 81: Seiad Valley Plan B

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Mile 1649.5 to mile 1679.3 (29.8 miles, 48 km)

A two hour leisurely road walk saw us in to Seiad Valley. Settled low, the fire smoke was super thick. There has just not been any wind or rain to disperse it. The air is hazy and yellow obscuring the flanking ridge lines and visibility is down to about a mile, maybe two.

Timing arrival into Seiad Valley for the cafe opening at 8am I took the opportunity for a cooked breakfast and had heard great things about the milk shakes there so of course had to grab one.

Finally able to get online after a few days I learned of a new fire closure just across the California-Oregon border. The Klamath closure has been opened but the new Hendrix fire closure has everyone scrambling to work out what to do. There seems to be an alternate route around on a maze of forest roads. Other than a line on some maps little information is known. Info on water sources is particularly sketchy. The PCTA is advising hikers to hitch around straight to Ashland.

After resupplying on the slim pickings in the small store I tell everyone that I’m doing the alternate and head out just after 10am, rapidly changing my plan from yesterday from a short day to a big one. Some will hitch around, others will follow after lunch. I’ll have to push two big days to get around the closure and a shorter 3rd day. I consider myself an expert navigator so that is not an issue on the web of back forest roads but where to source water on the alternate is the unknown factor. I’m willing to risk it and take a chance. Without a willingness to fail or taking risks in life you don’t grow as an individual. No-one has been through the alternate fully yet and I tell people I’ll mark the route on the way through, scratching directional arrows into the dirt at key junctions.

Back on trail, straight away there is a massive climb, close to 5000 ft in 8 miles; one of the steepest climbs on the PCT. The heat is incredible and again my clothes are saturated. The smoke is thick making the climb all the more exhausting. You can barely see a mile ahead. At least this confirms my decision to push on and not wait around in town to do laundry etc… it would have been a waste of time. What is three more days in the same soiled clothes anyway I think.

The ascent was killer. It’s hot, exposed and there is no escaping the sun. I use my umbrella as a portable tree until the wind picks up and turns it inside out. Stowing it away I have to rely on my caps neck flap which offers great protection but shields half my face and makes me feel claustrophobic walking in the heat; there is just not enough air movement. Nothing for it but to persist. At the top I am saturated head to toe and can literally wring out my shirt and shorts.

Most of the day was spent walking through previous burn areas.

What goes up must come down. Climbing down again as the trail does in NorCal I run into an a crew of firefighters. A US Forest Service engine crew from Prescott Arizona standing-by for predicted lightning activity. I introduce myself and what I do for work back home and we are instantly mates. I rest up for a bit sharing fire stories and they hand me an ice cold water and bottle of Gatorade. I exchange a patch with the crew chief and am sent on my way with heart felt best wishes, only to climb high again through yet more burnt and blackened country.

I expect to push well into the evening and stop in a barren, lifeless patch of bare soil in amongst the charred tree limbs to make dinner. This way if it gets dark by the time I reach camp I can simply roll out a ground sheet and collapse instead of having to cook. Wanting to conserve water by not cooking, dinner is a simple affair of tuna in wholemeal tortillas.

Part way along the ridge the black abruptly stops and I’m back in a vibrant world of green. Waist high wildflowers spill over the track. There is a spring shortly after which I top up water and continue on until my feet cannot take the punishment any longer. I reach a tree covered saddle and set up camp. Sweet Tooth and her hiking partner (not sure of his name) are cowboy camping in the same place.

A big day it was. I quickly fall asleep to the sound of cowbells jangling in the valley below.

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