17.2 miles (1390.0 to 1407.2), plus 0.3 to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch
Less than half a mile from my campsite, I run into cattle on the trail. “Hello, ladies,” I say, to make sure they’re aware of me. “I’m going to walk by now. Nobody freak out.” I take a step.
Behind me: “Hello.”
A hiker with an extra small backpack has come up behind me. I let him pass. He walks by without announcing himself to the cattle. I follow. There’s a bull in the mix, but he’s even less interested in our presence than the cows are. These animals must see a lot of hikers.
For maybe a mile, cattle congregate near the trail. They walk across the trail in front of me, or stand and watch me pass, or moo from somewhere in the shrubs. For long stretches, the trail is nothing but powder. Each step sends powdered soil into my shoes and my nose. Where it’s not powder, the trail is volcanic rock. I trip and twist my feet on the rocks. The slope may be mostly flat, but this is not an easy section.
I descend from the rim into black volcanic rocks. The trail doesn’t have a clear destination. It wanders aimlessly through unpleasant terrain. Shrubs and foothill pine dominate a volcanic rock understory. How many miles of this?
I stop for lunch in the shade of a foothill pine. I text Marla, a trail angel who’s offered me a place to stay, giving her my ETA. After lunch I find myself in blue oak-foothill pine woodland. Are you sure this is the right trail? The PCT goes through blue oak woodland? I never expected this, though I probably should have, given the elevation profile. Blue oak. Foothill pine. Patches of medusahead thatch. Yellow star thistle. Unconsciously, I get to work cataloging the plants I recognize. Most are crispy beyond recognition. Someone I know once called this forensic botany – an excellent description. There’s rose clover. There’s a perennial grass. There’s a patch of perennials! Looks like blue wild rye, or something related.
I continue to lose elevation. It’s hot out here, and getting hotter. I’m hot and uncomfortable. The last two high mileage days have caught and tackled me. My body feels like one big cramp. My left shoulder hurts. I’m tired and I’m not feeling well. If I wasn’t already getting off the trail at Burney Mountain Guest Ranch to meet Marla, I’d probably have to get off there anyway. I’m too hot and too tired to go much farther. I’m so slow that I’m not even going to make my ETA, which I’d padded with an extra half an hour to make sure I gave myself enough time.
Finally I leave the PCT and follow a series of hiker-friendly signs to the guest ranch. Marla meets me there. She takes me to her house, where I meet her husband Tim. They are top notch trail angels. They feed me a delicious dinner and a pint of almond milk ice cream. I get to shower and wash my clothes and sleep in a comfortable bed. Thank you for your generosity. I’m the luckiest hiker on the PCT.