The Gratitude Cafe Part 6

DAY 51, 52, 53 - Burney falls Campground to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch to campsite 2028.64km to Hat creek Campsite

Yep. Blogging has been slack these last 3 days. I'm going to play full disclosure here and admit that these last few days have been tough. I'll post a lot of pictures  with this post, to accompany what the days have looked like, but I'll explain a little further into why this has been a little difficult. 

But first, Burney Falls. A magnificent way to begin a day. The water pelted down at 7am with an incredible morning mist. Part of me wished I could just sit and watch these falls all day, but hiking calls because the time frame to get to the Sierras is looming.

I am approaching the mid point of the trail soon. This might explain the mind frame and the struggle I am dealing with at the moment. A reminder of the miles to go is a more prominent thing throughout California so far. Signage has been much more frequent and it strikes both a happy and sad emotion within me. The accomplishment so far, and the final stages approaching. Of course there is still a whole 50% more to go, but it's a mind game.

The terrain probably also doesn't help this current mood either. It's been hot, and when I say hot, I mean Straya!! The thermometer read 46 Degrees Celsius yesterday walking around Hat creek rim trail and there was no shade. For miles. And no water. For miles. It was tough and exhausting. 

Everything has been dry and unappealing. But that's no excuse to not still find the beauty. But like life, everything comes in ebbs and flows. Not every day is joyous. It's hard out here. F****** hard. There is no other way to say that and I'm not going to sugar coat it. 

Now, I have been hiking in a group. There's roughly 8-10 of us. Socially, this is wonderful. I do love a chat and human interaction, but it has definitely added a whole new element.

I'll outline some of the last weeks difficulties.

Number one: CAMPSITES.

Campsites are roughly for 3-4 tents. Each of these last few days, I have felt as though I am running for a camp spot. It's increased the stress and added a complete level of competition. I REALLLLLY don't need that out here. I am trying to sort it out and find my vibe again, but it just doesn't work that way. 

Number two: HIKER HUNGER. This is the hunger that sets in when hikers have been hiking (obviously) and crave a ridiculous amount of food (mainly sugar and carbs) after hiking each day. It generally results in hikers eating copious amounts of the worlds most disgusting foods - like two medium pizzas squished together to make a burger, with a huge meat patty, two eggs, cheese slabs etc. It's epic and people can polish off two or three of everything. 

Hiker hunger hasn't got me to me yet. Maybe because I don't overload my body with sugar, it's not crashing and requiring epic amounts of it. I'm not sure, but I haven't experienced this outrageous appetite. Don't get me wrong, I'm still hungry, but I listen to my body and feed it where necessary. In most towns, if I order a veggie burger, I have been known to be full and still have food on my plate. Most people order again. I feel so full after these town meals that they actually make me feel sick and overloaded with indigestion. 

But with hiker hunger, comes the obsessive talk about food. Whilst hikers hike. And whilst hikers eat. Haha I haven't been subject to this because I haven't hiked in groups much, but it's become overwhelmingly in my everyday conversation. The dissection of calories and counting. People eat buckets of ice cream and then congratulate themselves on the fact that they just enveloped 4000 calories in one sitting! It's hilarious, but also mind boggling because I haven't done this yet!

Number 3: I CAN'T SING OR LISTEN TO MUSIC. Being social is nice, but music is my joy out here and without it, it's difficult. I feel the days are heavy. My mind is heavy without music. The PCT has really heightened my love for music and the effect it has on me. I realise that when I haven't listened to music for 3 days, I'm a little lost and the trail starts to feel even more difficult. 

Number 4: SCHEDULES. Every hiker has a different schedule, but somehow, when you get in a group, your schedule goes out the door. It's like when you hit the town with some friends and you planned to be home at 10pm because you work at 6am, but all of a sudden your dancing on tables at 3am. That wasn't the plan. Then the next day you are incredibly angry at yourself (or hungover) and vow never to do that again and stick to your plan; only to find a repeat incident the following night!!

Hiking in groups is a bit like that, but without the party sense. It's like you plan to get to a certain town by a certain day, doing certain miles, at a certain pace. Next minute, you are having an hour and a half lunch break by a creek, just because everyone else is! It's wonderful, but it's not your schedule and it's not helping you get to the Sierras any faster!! Ha!

Number 5: DEHYDRATION. This last stretch has been epic. I have noticed myself getting bogged down about the lack of water. It's all mental, but when you have 16 kms to go and only 500mL of water left and the sun is scorching you at 46 degrees, you'd really like some liquid!! Or lots! Rationing water is a hard game and not one that I would recommend. If you want to give it a go, fly to the Simpson desert in January and walk 50kms with 1L of water. You can only stock up on water at 30km, and collect $250 as you pass go. GOODLUCK.

Number 6: UPHILL. I know I keep banging on about it, but seriously!! SOBOs have a 75% uphill track on the PCT. I feel like I should be seeing God by this stage, because I just keep climbing elevation. It's outrageous. I don't need to say anything more about that.

The trail just got hotter and more dry as the day went on. Fingers crossed for a more pleasant day tomorrow. These are only obstacles. Nothing serious. Just little things that you figure are important factors to your hike. Hike your own hike. There's no rules. 

- Gx

DAY 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62 Hat Creek campsite to Donner Pass

Part of the fun is the climb

There's been no blogging these last few days. Why, you ask? Number one: Timing. It's difficult getting to camp at 7pm, taking an hour to do the basics and can barely keep eyes open at 8.30pm! But also, someone was charging her battery pack at the outside charge station at Drakesbad Guest Ranch, when the heavens opened and decided to suddenly downpour. The water from the above landing, seeped through and soaked my battery pack, particularly the 2 USB ports. When I ran to collect it, it was nice and juicy. The ports were drenched. The pack would not turn on. What did that mean? Gretel had 3 days for her phone and emergency Garmin device to last, when both devices were on 44%. Yep. So, no blogging and minimal use all together!

Which means an overload of photos to catch up! 

A lot of this last section was hiking through Lassen National Park, which was an incredible break from the dry, hot, smokey, gnats-eating-your-face areas and entering into some deserved green and luscious forests.  The air suddenly felt clean and fresh; something I had been craving for a while now. 

The morning involved a climb uphill, which I am proud to say that I am getting so much better at. It's still always going to be a struggle for me. One of my oldest best friends, Alisha (Bazza) and I, would walk to school together. There was a climb uphill towards The Range (which seems like a little Hill compared to some of these ridiculous climbs!!) and I seriously always felt this climb. So, it's always something I'm going to feel. With or without packweight. It's a nice feeling to have made progress throughout the PCT. Don't get me wrong; you won't ever see me hop, skip and jumping uphill on treks, but it's nice to have made a steady pace for myself and know I'm capable. 

Entering Mt Lassen National Park was a blessing. Green! Forests! Woods! The morning was one of the most beautiful walks. Refreshing. As I sat for my lunch break, our group of SOBO's were all spread around the lake in pairs. I was ahead of the gang and was on the other side of the lake. It was one of the greatest views! The clouds were beginning to roll in and I was very aware that a thunder storm was on the horizon. I was wanting to push higher miles today, as I have been frustrated with feeling like I'm lacking in mileage since hiking in this group. Don't get me wrong, it's been amazing, but I feel a little slack and worried about my push for the High Sierras! So, my aim was to get to the Drakebad Guest Ranch and camp around another 8 miles on trail. 

Coming in to Drakesbad Guest Ranch, the clouds began to roll in and the thunder was starting to clap. As I arrived at the campground at Drakesbad around 3pm, I knew the heavens were soon to open. I would've liked to have kicked on, but it wasn't the greatest choice to be soaking wet and cold getting in to camp. So, I stayed put. Another 8 miles lost. 

The next morning saw a clear sky and a climb uphill again. That seems to be all we SOBO's do; uphill climb!! It's ridiculous. This next section was notorious for its hot springs. Boiling springs had an incredible steam rising from its surface. It was a rather huge lake with 360 degree views. The second view photo was around the southern end of the spring, where Mt Lassen can be seen in the distance. 

A short 0.3 mile side trail lead me to the Terminal Geyser. It was a steep trail down, but it lead to an intensely hot spring, erupting from the rocks. The temperature around this area was muggy and warm. It's all very similar to New Zealand's Rotarua, so I actually didn't hang around too long and made sure my miles were picking up a little more today. Onwards I trekked! 

Lunch time by the river was necessary before another huge climb. This climb was not my friend. It's climbs like this one that make me contemplate leaving the PCT! Ha! I just feel as though every day I am climbing. To be completely honest, my body is sick of uphill. It loves hiking and walking, but constantly smashing it to get uphill is draining. Find the joy. This was more of a moment of frustration that the Nobos get so much more downhill and all us SOBO's do is constant incline. 

The clouds were coming and going all day, and I wasn't quite sure whether a storm was on the horizon or not. But it sure made for some incredible sky pictures. 

Of course towards the end of the day, the PCT reminded me where I was heading. With the mileage frustration and the constant group hiking, I had my goal in front of me and that's all that matters. 

The following morning began with an epic trek uphill (surprise!) to the official PCT mid point!! The half way mark. It was no where near as bad as I thought the uphill would be. But more than the trek up itself, it felt strange to be standing here. I didn't know what I felt. Part of me thought 'Hooray! I have made it half way to Mexico!' and the other part thought 'Oh no! Only 50% to go!' I was torn between two emotions and I actually didn't want to face either! I took a photo and contemplated what this meant. Did I ever think I would be here? At this moment? I turned on my phone to check if I could post something with cell reception and up came my Facebook memories. Three years ago to the day, my album was released. And there I was, standing at the midpoint on the PCT. Yeah, I can do anything I put my mind to. And from that moment, I made a promise to myself to keep making milestones and pushing my boundaries. I really can do anything.

The hike continued on for the day as I promised myself to make bigger miles. It's hard on the body when you slack off and try to push bigger miles again. It's a complete kick in the stomach and a wake up call. 

The clouds were rolling in and I was questioning whether a storm would show. The day was getting colder as the night drew closer. The views of this part of Northern California were epic and vast. The winds were picking up and majority of the day saw me hiking in my wind breaker. It's scary how fast the weather is cooling down. Another reason to push miles and get to the Sierras! 

There was a shift in terrain which had me hiking through private properties and crossing huge rock formations. As I was approaching the top, the winds were freezing! I was climbing uphill and supposed to be sweating! It was so cold, I had my jacket zipped up and around my face. I could not wait for my tent to be up tonight!

The rocky ridges towards my campsite were gorgeous and an absolute treat to hike on, but the wind was cutting like a knife. I now understood why 1-2 months ago, this whole section was under snow. It was easy to believe! 

Getting to camp and quickly setting up my tent, meant keeping as warm as possible. It's had me contemplating my warm gear for the Sierras. Sleeping warm is integral as the body isn't doing anything during this time and hypothermia is not something one wants to be faced with. Of course, you wake in the morning freezing cold and hike in all these layers, but then you heat up like a furnice and you strip everything off. Then you get cold again. Then hot. Then cold. It's a vicious seasonal change!

The next morning was a kind and gentle 10 miles to Belden. Did I just say that?! It was 10 miles/16kms of horrendous downhill that was constant and steep. It was jarring on every joint and nothing could take away the constant bashing of the body against the terrain. It was covered in rocks for miles of this entrance to town and considering I had brand new Salomon shoes with rock plates, I was definitely having a moment for the people on trail who just wear trail runners! Yikes! 

After nearly 4 hours of pure downhill terrain, I started to make my way into the town of Belden. But first, gnats. My lord. They swarmed on in. Attacking every centimetre of my face! It was ridiculous. The elevation was so low into the town, that poison oak was surrounding and gnats were alive and well. They are intense. If there's one thing I cannot live without out here, it's the headnet. I would go insane! I completely understand why people left the trail at the first Mosquito season hatch! I laughingly joked about that concept at first, but I have full respect for the humans who escaped the PCT because of bugs!! Haha

After a quick resupply in Belden (that town was probably my least favourite so far), it was back to the trail. This time, uphill. Approximately 6 miles of pure uphill! Apparently this was meant to be excruciating. Everyone along trail and all of the online blogs were saying how terrible this is for southbounders. I'm proud to say, I didn't struggle!! I made it uphill in great time to an awesome exposed campsite at the top of the mountain. The views of this section were spectacular and I loved hiking this section so much. 

Finally, some ridge walking. It completely takes my breath away and I then know why I am out here. I simply feel like I could fly. The climb is hard and difficult in more ways than one can imagine, but it's worth every step. I feel like I'm actually alive on top of these mountains; as if nothing else in the world matters for a while. It's just me, the mountains, the wind and the freedom. I could live here forever. 

My campsite gave an amazing sunset to view and I watched it as I setup my tent for the evening. I thought about all the magnificent things out here and, again, how much I love the outdoors. This is our backyard and it's pure beauty. If you haven't, go and climb a mountain. Forget about all of this other stuff. Just do it. I promise, you won't regret it.

I awoke to a textured sunrise and started my morning hike as the sun continued to show. It was freezing!! The weather is changing, and fast, but more importantly, the elevation profile is picking up. It's a sign of the Sierras to come! Going from climbing up and down 8000 feet, four times a day, to 13000 feet, four times a day, is going to be beyond epic. Which is why today I was rowing my own boat. The mileage was being picked up again and I had my goal for the day. 

The views were starting to show and rewards were around most corners. Being above treeline is always a bonus, however there is also a huge frustration to this process. The PCT is all about balance. Again, like life. There are good days and absolutely horrendous days. There are beautiful moments and moments you'd rather not live again. There is also magnificent views, but to every outstanding view comes ten outlandishly crap ones. It's not all fun and games.

Most of the climbs are through what I would now refer to as 'mundane' sections of trees, shrub, dirt, wood and fallen pine cones. But when you get to the top, there's a picture waiting and some extraordinary ridge walking. What I've started to figure out is the climb is 90% of every moment. The other 10% is the stuff that's personally satisfying, rewarding and the magic you constantly look forward to. Some of these climbs involve anywhere between 2-5 hrs of pure uphill to then walk on top of the world for 30 minutes. It's ridiculous! However, if we don't enjoy and actually 'do' the 90% hardwork, the 10% success isn't worth it. Right?! 

I've suddenly begun to answer my appall for humans in all industries of life who just get to do the 10%. What a life to live. It's only hit me recently that things that require no effort or challenge are completely unrewarding and unsatisfying. Even if someone constantly reaps the reward but never actually does the work, that life would get boring after years of living that way; but also, what's your story to tell? What do you actually live for? When you sit around your grand children in years to come, what journeys have you actually been on? Not just physically, but mentally. Lazy is unattractive. Look in the mirror and actually see a person who accepts challenges and lives to tell them. If you can't see it, go and find it. You're just being lazy not attempting to find a better you.

Side note: I had to laugh as I entered this next section; Fern Gully!! My family had Fern Gully the movie on VHS when we were younger, and it used to be a family favourite. All I could think about was Batty. Haha 

After such low miles these last few days, trying to aim for extra mileage was a definite struggle. I could not wait to set up camp at the creek. I was slightly beating myself up over allowing myself to get caught up in a SOBO group and slipping back on miles, but there's only one thing you can do out here. Hike on and get the miles back up! 

The next days terrain was not as exciting. There were sections, but it was all in need of significant maintenance and was a pretty monotonous day. Days like these make you think about why you are walking the PCT. It's treacherous, it's tiring, it's hard on the body, it's demanding physically and mentally. It's not for the faint hearted and I began to think if I would recommend the PCT to people. 

Pretty pictures and all this beauty is only a slice of this experience. 

My response: no. You don't "recommend" the PCT. I recommend buying a Soda Stream, or going to The Kettle Black in Melbourne for incredible coffee and brunch (say hi to Tim for me)! But I wouldn't recommend the PCT. It's not something that people are guaranteed to enjoy. At times, it's hell. At times, it's bliss. But most of the time, it's pure endurance and fighting the urge to hitch a ride to Mexico at every road crossing! Haha 

But each day, you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Your campsite. Taking your house off your back and setting up camp is one of the best feelings. It's conquering. One day at a time. It's the big picture. You don't get a result in one day. Just like Rome. This is a big trek and no matter how far I walk tomorrow, I definitely won't be at Mexico yet! So step by step. 

With open skies, the next morning I could see the peak where I was heading. The Sierra Buttes. They felt like forever away and I was thinking to myself that I would be there in a few days. It's strange to now know that half a day of hiking can get me to that point! That's completely overwhelming, but 50 km days can cover some huge distance. 

Today was one of those days that was all about making the miles and was simply about pushing on and on in order to make it in to Sierra City before the store closed, to pick up the next resupply. I had just carried 6 days of resupply, and was about to pick up another 7. 

Big food carries are difficult, and seldom, something people avoid. Most hikers attempt a 3 day food carry and a huge meal in each stop. In order to rack up miles, I've had to limit town stops for this next section, and thus, carry longer resupplies. This is when it feels as though you are hiking with a small child on your back. No. Strike that. A teenager. 

It was a gorgeous section for reintroducing the lakes surrounding the PCT. A lot of these lakes were all on side trails. These are trails that intersect with the PCT but ones you don't actually walk. It's a choice to walk them and generally, going to a lake means downhill. The only way back to the PCT is up. Yeah. AVOID. Plus, with the change in air temperature, a lake is no longer feeling 'refreshing' right now. 

The ridges heading towards Sierra Buttes were striking and a delight to hike on, but the higher the elevation, the rise in wind speed. Some of these ridges were cyclonic and almost a bit dangerous if you didn't stand your ground. 

It was nice to pass some day hikers in the area, as it has been weeks since actually passing anyone. Northbounders are still amongst the trail, but not necessarily hikers who intend to finish the trail this year. They are a little late in the season and as with all the seasonal weather changes, Washington is now starting to drastically change too! So they are also under a time limit now. Day hikers are always fresh and fun. They always seem to be enjoying themselves and never look anywhere near as downtrodden as us thru-hikers do. They have an appreciative demeanour, but also an encouraging one. They are always so supportive of thru-hikers and full of questions and wonderment. It's a nice feeling to be cheered on. I crossed three women who were genuinely sending all the love and positive vibes our way. Tripsy and I were in conversation with them, and they were so thrilled that two solo hiking females were attempting to hike to Mexico. They couldn't have been more thrilled! It was a nice feeling. Women supporting women. Genuinely supporting each other. My heart felt warm and I soaked up a moment of feeling wonderfully proud.

The Buttes were getting closer and closer, but the sky was doing weird things. Without cell reception all the time and constantly changing location every few miles, it's hard to actually know what your current weather situation is going to be. Ideally, you don't want to hike in rain. If you can time it so you can set up tent before it happens, that's the best plan! Aiming for Sierra City was all that I was planning on. 

To be completely honest, I've started to despise town days. My body is getting so used to hiking everyday, that a town day is actually ruining my 'mojo'. My thru-hiking flow. 

I know, I know. "But Gretel, you must rest!" I hear you all telling me. The problem is as follows:

My body gets up at 5am. I hike from 6:30am to 7pm. I have a 15 minute break at 9am, 30/45 minute break around 11:30/12, 15 minutes break again around 2:30/3, then hike to camp. I sleep on a blow up mattress with my clothes sack as a pillow - it's awful but I'm used to the angle. I sleep uncomfortably in a mummy down sleeping bag and roll around like an unsettled child having nightmares each night. Everyday I repeat this. When I do this, my body gets used to the demand. It feels a little uncomfortable in the mornings to get moving, but I know the feeling goes as I start to hike. 

On town days, my body is in shock. And not a good shock. It's got no idea what's going on. It's in a proper bed, with pillows, blankets and an abundance of room. I have hot water and showers and can lie down and not move for hours. It's in heaven, but that's not beneficial. This is great if you are taking a week off to rest and relax. But doing this for a day makes it so incredibly difficult to get back out on trail. The body starts to shut down and trying to get the engine back up and going takes more effort than the normal everyday. So, I've sort of figured out that full rest days are not my friend.

Trying to hike out of Sierra City was excruciating. I had never felt this pain. My body was just not working like I wanted it to and I was cursing it every chance I could. My feet, my ankles, my shins, my calves, my knees, my hips, even my left shoulder?! I pushed on, but promised myself not to have a rest day until after the high sierras. 

And yet here I am. Day 63. Stopped. Not by choice. Snowed in. Yesterday the weather turned sour. Wind, rain and then snow. The ridges were freezing. The rain was chilling and the winds were getting dangerous. Hiking nearly 50km in to a place nearby to get warm and safe was the goal. 

The morning skies were looking rather angry, but the cloud cover was circling fast above, and I wasn't sure what the real weather intention was. I'd been hearing online and from family and fellow hikers, that the weather was about to turn today. 

The trail was still dry in the early morning but the wind was cutting like a thousand knives. It was also a little out of control and hard to walk in a straight line at times. My winter clothing was also not sufficient at the moment, as none of us SOBO hikers have been prepared for such a drastic change.

There were moments of superior beauty where the weather didn't even matter. But then reality struck. The heavens opened and shit got real! 

My phone was out of reach because the rain was coming from all directions. My love for rain suddenly went out the door. I was freezing cold, soaked, tired, fed up and just wanted refuge. I was also trying to coordinate how to pick up a resupply of winter clothing in time with my family on my phone, but I couldn't juggle all this at once. It was severely frustrating and also dangerous. I was climbing up and down rocks that were drenched and slippery, stepping in mud puddles with socks and shoes completely soaked through, and also having to deal with a PCT trail that is severely poorly signed for all SOBO's! I was angry, frustrated, upset and emotional. I wanted out! I just wanted to sit and cry. 

But you can't. That gets you no where. You suck it up and just keep going. The thought crossed my mind several times - why in god's name am I doing this? 

It's at that point that you pick your phone up and call your person and say "come and pick me up, I'm done." But hey, I'm in the USA. I don't have that contact. I just have to keep going, and eventually I will find the light at the end of the tunnel. 

After hours and hours of trekking in these conditions, Tripsy and I arrived at Donner Pass ski ranch to the most incredible bunch of humans I have ever come across. Soaked through to the bone, the men at the bar came running to us with dry clothing and towels, offering us cars and rides to lodges up the road and even offering their own places for the night. It was overwhelming and my heart sank with adoration for these humans and their community. I never expected such care from strangers and here I was, surrounded by it in an abundance. Donner Pass has been the greatest place on trail. The workers at Clair Tappan lodge also drove up to collect my package and personally bring it to me, with excess warm clothing, donating their own goods. It was beyond anything I could've wished for. 

I showered, dried clothing and shoes, and slept in a warm bed at the Ski Ranch. This morning and awoke to this. 

My first official snow fall. I have been like a child all day. Not cursing it. It's magical and subliminal. 

Unfortunately, it's continued throughout the day and the levels are rising. This is currently at 7000 feet and the summits I am next to climb go to 9000 feet. Apparently, the snow and lightening up top has been dangerous and hikers have even turned around to get back to safety. 

I sit here pondering what next. I don't want to take more days off because that affects my High Sierra dates, so a plan of attack is what must happen. It supposedly meant to rain tomorrow. This isn't great news. Fresh snow and rain equals ice. Ice equals slippery. Slippery equals death off ridges. So... I shall put something into action and work out where to from here. 

PCT 2017. The year of fire and ice. But right now, I'm safe and sound. Please appreciate whatever your source of Shelter may be. Your beds, your roofs, your dry clothing and your hot water. As Joni Mitchell pointed out 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone'. 

- Gx


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