22.0 miles (1566.3 to 1588.3)
As I climb away from camp, the sun’s first rays touch the trail. Sawtooth Ridge, Sawtooth Peak, and Caribou Mountain appear through the trees. The granite mountains are distant, but I can identify them even at this distance, along with what appears to be Thompson Peak, tallest mountain in the Trinity Alps.
I pass the fork to Middle Boulder Lakes and enjoy a view of the lakes from an overlook adjacent to the PCT. Wind races over the ridge, so I snap a few photos and don’t stay long. Shortly after, I see a scraggly coyote running away from me. Poor thing looks mangy.
I continue to catch views of the peaks in the heart of the wilderness. Then, at last, the trail ends its obnoxious southward trajectory and turns north. Here the whimsical contouring ends. I descend to the South Fork Scott River, my last water source for 10 miles, then climb toward Forest Highway 93. Climbing to a highway feels weird and wrong; the trail descends to all other highways and major road crossings – Rainy Pass being the only exception that I can immediately recall.
I leave Trinity Alps Wilderness, cross the highway, and continue climbing. I haven’t done this much climbing since my first day out of I-5, but my legs soon remember what to do. I hike to a campsite on a ridge where I get reception. Here I stop for lunch.
I receive a text from Dad: “The trail is still CLOSED in the Rogue/Siskiyou forest.”
I fine-tune my position on the ridge until I have a strong enough signal to give him a call. Because the closure information he received yesterday was unclear, he called the Forest Service again and was told that the trail is closed eight miles south of Mount Ashland. Damn.
He gives me the phone number for the Sisiyou forest. I call. The woman who answers says there have been some discrepancies, but the trail is open in her district, however she doesn’t know about conditions on the Klamath Forest. She gives me the phone number for that office. I call. The man who answers says the trail is open, but he doesn’t know about conditions on the Siskiyou. Well, both offfices have told me the trail is open. Apparently I can get all the way to Ashland.
I call Dad. While we discuss our ever-changing plans, two men walk up. One walks right up to me and starts talking as if he doesn’t realize I’m on the phone. After a few paragraphs he mentions they’re out looking for cattle. I tell him about the cattle I heard yesterday. These cows probably belong to his cousin, who runs on the range to the south. Eventually the two men hike on, but I soon catch up to them when I resume my hike after finishing lunch.
The older man is Carl, the younger is Jeff. Carl is a talker. I can’t politely break away. I’m always conscious that I represent thru hikers to those I interact with, and I want to leave a positive impression, so I’m as patient and polite as I can be. Finally I seize an opportunity and bid them goodbye and hurry on up the trail.
It’s already 2:40. Almost 10 miles stand between me and the campsite I had in mind for tonight. I’d actually hoped to go another three miles beyond that, which is clearly impossible now that I spent so much time with the ranchers. With day length so short, one hour makes a huge difference in what I can accomplish. Now I’m going to have to push hard, push to my limit, to get to camp before dark.
As if in compensation for all those earlier miles of easy walking on the contour, the trail now turns steep. The terrain becomes nearly vertical. One wrong step here and I’ll end up at the bottom of the canyon. Small patches of snow put fear into my heart as I pass by. No, it’s not dangerous, not even close, but who knows what lies ahead. Until the last stretch before Sonora Pass, the trail was perfectly safe. I can’t stop worrying about snow and other potential hazards that come with hiking in late fall.
I push on over steep, eroding trail on the wall of a steep, steep canyon. I enter a burned area. I cross several springs. At the top of the canyon, there’s a rock formation that looks like a Trojan helmet.
At last I reach the top of the climb. I speed over a gentle grade through the remaining half mile to the campsite. The campsite is better than I hoped, despite sitting on a north-facing slope: no dead trees overhead, relatively sheltered from the wind.
I’ve arrived two minutes before 6pm (a few minutes before darkness falls) after a tremendous effort. Had I not been waylaid, I probably could have reached the next campsite, three miles away, beside a lake. Instead I’m dry-camping once again and hoping I sleep well enough to recover from the hard push to get here.