23.0 miles (1290.2 to 1313.2)
For much of the night, I’m in too much pain to sleep. My feet and legs throb. I toss and turn right off of my flattened egg carton mattress, no easy feat. Well, I did just do my fifth day of 20+ miles in a row. Of course my feet hurt. Hey, have I done 100 miles in four days? I plug in my numbers and…I’ve done 99.5. Rounded up, that’s 100. But that won’t stand up in court. To pull off a legit 100 in four days, I’ll have to hike 22.3 miles today.
Here in camp, I’m already six miles up this climb. I have about eight more miles to go. Those eight miles will take me from 3,600 feet to 7,100 feet. My clothes are still wet from all of the sweating I did last night. I pull them on and try to ignore the sticky funk. I eat breakfast. I make what may be my latest departure on the trail: 8am. Oh well. I needed sleep.
I still need sleep. I lurch up the trail in a daze. My head feels like it’s underwater. Groggy. That’s the word for this condition. I stagger along, stepping over stream after stream, making my feet go one after the other uphill. Sections of this climb look exactly like sections of Canyon Creek Lakes trail in the Trinity Alps. I love it. This is beautiful country.
But I’m having trouble getting myself up the trail. My head is barely attached. I need to stop and let myself sleep. In a campsite near Chips Creek, I sit in the shade and lean against my pack, which leans against a boulder. With my mosquito net over my head and my pants tucked into my gaiters, I drift to sleep. After my nap, I check my progress. I’ve done 3 miles by 10am. I’ve also – somehow – already climbed 1,100 feet. No wonder I was so slow back there.
I take off my socks and remove the insoles from my shoes and cross Chips Creek. I’ll have to cross again in half a mile, so I walk that half mile without socks or insoles. I cross again and give everything a few minutes to dry while I sit and eat a snack. My shoes are still soaked when I put them back on.
At mile 1295, I enter a gorgeous little meadow featuring wildflowers in every color. I also pass the first southbounder of the day, the first hiker I’ve seen since the dropping off the ridge yesterday. I keep climbing. I’ve seen the elevation profile; I know this climb ends. But when? All I do is climb. I think I’m near the top, but then the trail turns and takes me higher. I catch a view of Lassen and Shasta. On the ridge, I sit down for lunch at 1:30, having hiked only eight miles.
A man and two horses pass me. I want to ask if he’s the magician I followed from Jackson Meadows Reservoir, who conjures horses over insurmountable obstacles, but the situation isn’t ideal for conversation. He keeps moving. Soon, I follow. Highway 36 is still over 30 miles away. I’m supposed to meet Greg there tomorrow. I have to make more miles today so there’s less to do tomorrow.
I find myself back among snowbanks. But only a few, and soon I’m back on dry trail. I walk through an old burn, then through dense red fir forest. Am I in a grazing allotment? I see cattle trails and cattle prints and partially dried manure. I see no cattle. When I stop for water at Cold Spring, I see a doe, two cars, two motorcycles, and an ATV. I keep walking.
The trail still goes up. I’m supposed to be going down now, right? I don’t want to believe the numbers coming out of my PCT app. If the trail would stop going up, I’d have a chance at getting somewhere. Instead, all I do is go up. At 5pm, I’ve only done 14.5 miles. I’m walking and walking but not getting anywhere. I don’t remember ever being so slow.
All at once, I’m out of red fir, walking across a huge volcanic rock formation. This is really cool. I go a little farther, and Mount Lassen appears. My camera gets a workout. Staring at the volcano, walking through these red rocks, I suddenly need to hear the Last Unicorn theme song. How…odd. But happily, I have the soundtrack on my iPhone. The music and the views revive me. One hundred miles in four days? I can do that. I bound down the trail. I’m aliiive!
I come to a dirt road. In the dust, I see two sets of northbound prints. So I’m not the only northbounder out here, after all. These prints look fairly fresh; these hikers aren’t too far ahead. At the intersection with the dirt road, there are a few signs nailed to trees. I know trail signage isn’t a contest. But if it was, Lassen beats Plumas.
Magically, at the end of the day I’m hiking faster and feeling better than I did this morning. I pass two campsites, both just short of my mileage goal. Good thing someone’s already set up in the second site; the view is so cool, I’d be tempted to stay. Instead I push on. One hundred miles in four days, here I come. My intended campsite isn’t much of a campsite. I walk another half mile to the next site. Someone’s already here, too. Two someones. But there’s room for a few more. I pitch my tent as the light fades. I did it: 100 miles in four days!
Nighthawks dive in the distance. Their booms reach me in my tent. Deer wander through camp. Deer in camp are always annoying. They linger and lick things and stomp around and cough and sneeze and generally keep me awake. Tonight, though, I’m not even trying to sleep. I’m massaging my feet, then I’m typing up a summary of my day. When I do close my eyes, I don’t hear the deer.
*More photos on Instagram.