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Old Station to Mount Shasta: A Last Fling in California

Sometimes I find myself annoyed by what other people find mannerly.

I’m sure you have all found yourself in the position of seeing someone holding a door open for you while you’re still on the other side of the parking lot. You feel like you’re being rude if you don’t hurry up because you’re now holding them in place.

As someone who walks around town a lot, I’m often met with a car that stops just where I am planning to cross a road and waves me by. They frequently do this when they have one or more cars behind them followed by a huge gap so that if they had just kept going, I would have been able to cross anyway five seconds later and no one would have to wait for me to cross. Yet I know that were I to try to wave them by at that point, they would just double down and wave me through again as if to say “This has nothing to do with you, buddy. That guy behind me has been following too closely for miles, and you’re just an excuse for me to force him to wait.” To which I would think “Why did I have to be the scapegoat for this vendetta?” as I go ahead and cross. (I’ve learned to solve this problem constructively by simply turning my back on the driver when I see it’s about to happen. Unable to signal me to cross, the driver can no longer begin this game and is forced to do the thing that is most efficient for all involved.)

A similar thing happens out here on the trail. The footpath is only wide enough for one person to pass at a time, so whenever two people meet going opposite directions, one must yield and step off the trail. Rather than have this turn into an inefficient negotiation every time, someone somewhere long ago handed down a traditional rule: the uphill party must yield to the downhill party.

I find this rule annoying at best. It has a number of flaws:

  • It does not specify what should be done on level ground, thus forcing such meetings to devolve into negotiations anyway.
  • People going uphill tend to take more frequent breaks and often want to stop. They still can, of course, but only if they are the first to do so. Otherwise, the situation devolves into a negotiation.
  • Like with the door holding scenario, the climbing party will feel pressured to climb faster once the uphill party yields, but it’s harder to speed up when climbing.
  • Because the climbing party tends to be slower than the descending party, this criteria is designed to maximize the amount of time someone has to wait.

On the other hand, the system does have one benefit: for someone who climbs quickly and has a lot of momentum, they don’t have to lose that steam and get that rush of stiffness to the legs that comes with even the briefest of stops while climbing.

I would like to propose an alternative rule for deciding which hiker should yield which solves all of the above problems without throwing out that one benefit: the slower hiker yields to the faster hiker.

In every situation, this minimizes the amount of time someone will have to wait and maximizes the average distance traveled by the pair of hikers during the interaction. Moreover, it applies just as well on flat ground.

What should happen if both hikers go the same speed? Well, the amount of time someone has to wait will be the same either way so it doesn’t really matter. I’d say whoever gets to a good place to step out first should yield in that case.

One exception though: just like it’s inefficient for a car to stop for me when there are cars behind it, it’s inefficient for an entire large group of hikers to stop for a single passing hiker. This is even more true on the trail, in fact, since there is often a scarcity of safe places to step off the trail, so forcing more people to find one is sometimes just not possible. Therefore, if the interaction involves groups hiking together, the smaller group should always yield to the larger group.

Now back to your regularly scheduled diary/travelogue. When I last left off, I was hiking along Hat Creek down into Old Station.


Day 1

The first place the trail passes is the Hat Creek Resort, a campground with a small store. I stashed my pack behind a tree and went down through the campground to the store. It was closed, but I was able to talk to some of the staff who were already there. I just wanted to know if they sold limes so I could decide whether to wait there until they opened. They did not.

So I went back through the campground to the bath house to steal a shower. I washed with paper towels and hands soap and some shampoo someone had left behind and dried with even more paper towels. Then, I returned to the trail and my pack to hike the four miles into the main part of town.

Along the way I passed the Spatter Cones trail and went up to look at one of the lava tubes that had popped up through the ground long ago. Later, I turned off on a side road that passed the forest service fire station (with an incomprehensible intercom blasting information probably related to the nearby wildfires) and spat out on the highway right next to the town’s only real store and gas station.

It was open. And it had limes. And root beer for that matter, but only the inferior kind (Mug). I bought it anyway.

Next door was JJ’s Cafe, just opened and my main destination for the day. I got a table on the back patio, ordered a Hot Mess with sausage and a cinnamon top on the side, picked up my food package that had been delivered there from Quincy, and plugged in my devices inside.

My cell phone case I had ordered shipped there had not arrived. I told them to have it returned to sender when it arrived.

After eating breakfast, I went about packing up all the food from my box. Then, I went ahead and ordered lunch. I intended to stay until closing time.

Pants and Blueberry had a table at the far end of the front porch. I joined them there as the cafe was closing. We made plans for how to finish out the day.

My part of that plan was to buy a roll of toilet paper (after declining the leftovers of Blueberry’s roll and learning that he stretched it via a commitment to use no more than three sheets per go–yes, three sheets), fill up my water bag from the cafe spigot, and leave together with the other two for an evening visit to Subway Cave.

We got into such an intense discussion on the walk out of town that we missed the turnoff for the cave and house to hike backwards to get to it. We spent a decent amount of time exploring the old lava tube, but I’ll let the photos serve as document for that. We did try to navigate it with our headlamps off as well, just for fun.

Following a brief break in the parking lot to text some pictures, we hiked full speed without slowing to the Hat Creek Rim Overlook. They asked me to lead at first, but I had a bad case of gas and soon took up the caboose. In spite of the steep hill, we finished the 2.5 mile section in only an hour.

There was no view to be had from the overlook (as the pictures make clear), but there was a woman parked there who chatted with us but never once admitted to the fact that she intended to sleep there in her car.

Just down the hill from the overlook was a nice campsite with a picnic table and a privy. We set up there and ate dinner together at that table. Blueberry had packed out a sandwich from the cafe. I probably should’ve done the same.

It was just dark enough to require headlamps when we hit the sack, giving us plenty of time to sleep and get an early start the next morning.

Total distance: 10 miles

Hat Creek
Spooky house
Spatter tube
Pants
Blueberry
Blueberry
Pants
Me
Hat Creek Rim Overlook

Day 2

I got up before the sun and Blueberry was already in the privy. We all ended up leaving camp at the same time, waving aside the herd of cattle inundating the trail. The trail was easy and mostly level, so we were able to move steadily and quickly without slowing.

Five miles in, we came to the junction for Lost Creek, a quarter mile trail downhill. Blueberry volunteered to take all our bottles and bags down and carry water back up while we waited on the rim. What a savings of effort! How very nice!

The next water source was Cache 22, another 8 miles on. Blueberry and I contained to hike quickly, rarely stopping, never for more than a couple of minutes. At some point along the way, lost in conversation, we missed the disappearance of Pants.

We arrived at the cache around 1pm, perfect timing for lunch. HeiZenBerg was already there, having skipped Subway Cave and trying to hike way ahead to avoid awkward interactions with Pants. She arrived less than half an hour later, so his plan clearly hadn’t worked. He hadn’t counted on Blueberry’s speed and propensity to speed up those in his wake.

I was the last to leave the cache as I wanted to soak my shirt before hiking out. I would not catch up to the others before nightfall.

The trail remained mostly flat and easy except for a brief traverse of a jagged lava flow which was nonetheless the most interesting part of the trail that day.

It was 13 miles to the next reliable water source from the cache, but there were several gallons in bottles at the edge of a road just 10 miles down. I filled up and walked on. As soon as I crossed a road, a passing SUV stopped and turned around just to come back and meet me. They handed me two Michelob Ultras for the trail, and I drank one on the spot.

The sun set as I continued without stopping for another four miles, arriving where Blueberry and Pants were camped by headlamp light. The area was very slanted and there wasn’t really enough room for another tent, so I went on.

I passed the hydroelectric dam, crossed the bridge to the lake area, watched some bears fishing in the fish hatchery, and continued along the lake until I found a nice open area right next to the lake. It was after 10pm by the time I had to set up and finished eating.

Total distance: 28 miles

Blueberry
The Lost Creek ravine
Lava flow
1400

Day 3

There were some birds calling every little while all night, but when the dawn started coming on, I could see that the lake was absolutely teeming with fowl. Also, the shore was overgrown with brambles carrying some of the sweetest blackberries I had found to date. About the time I had finished packing up, Blueberry came up the trail, so I made him come down and check out the beautiful site I had managed to find in the dark.

It was only a mile or so from the site to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, now closed to all but thru hikers. We hiked together and got in about 8 am. Pants came in while I was showering maybe half an hour later. HeiZenBerg also arrived some time after that. Blueberry left again within hours of arrival, skipping a shower and laundry and everything. I would not catch him again in California.

The rest of us stayed into the afternoon, having done laundry and waiting for it to dry on the clotheslines. We ate breakfast burritos and lasagna from the store. We took advantage of the wifi. There’s a lot to be said of Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, but I’ll only say that it ate up half our day. HeiZenBerg and I walked out together around 2pm. After a short break about 7.5 miles later, I left HeiZenBerg with the promise that Burney Falls was only a mile and a half away. And that was the last I saw him and Pants.

At Burney Falls, I went down to the lower bridge, crossed the creek, walked back up to the base of the falls, stuck my second beer in the water, and had a snack, watching the wannabe Instagram girls take ridiculous photos in clothes too skimpy for the chill of the falls. Then I squeezed a lime into the beer and drank it before walking back up the other side of the falls and following the creek upstream until the place it emerged from underground. The whole detour was around 3 miles and took me back to the trail a mile south of where I had turned off for the falls. I didn’t see any of the others at the falls, so I may have been the only one of us who went down to it.

Anyway, I took a tent site at the apparently closed campground beside the trail nearby and spent a mostly pleasant night illegally camped by myself. Except for the sounds of the cars on the nearby roads.

Total distance: 14 miles

Trail progress: 11-1=10 miles

Day 4

Another day of chasing Nutter Butter shoe prints. I left camp fairly early but not early enough to avoid the intense heat and mugginess of the climb up from the Lake Britton dam. The days of walking quickly over mostly flat ground were over, so it was time to treat myself to a break when I reached the top of the ridge.

I took a long lunch under the Rock Creek footbridge right next to the water, but it was far too shady to go for a swim. Besides, I was still relatively clean from the previous day’s shower.

Following this, I had a 7 mile 2000 foot climb to Peavine Creek to fill up my water for the evening.

Stopped at dusk at a small clearing in the bushes off the trail near Clark Spring.

Total distance: 16 miles

Day 5

Pretty uninteresting bit of trail this day for the most part. A lot of logging going on around the trail, which made for a lot of exposed, ripped-up ugliness. A couple of tiny creeks. Camped in the remains of an old road at the top of a ridge. Relatively flat, not very pretty.

Total distance: 15 miles

Day 6

Another mostly uninteresting hiking day. Near the end, I crossed the huge, rushing McCloud River.

A few miles up from that I turned down a dirt road for a mile and arrived at Ah-Di-Na campground. I had the place to myself but not enough change to pay. I set up in a site beside the river anyway because I wanted to camp near trash cans, running water, and flush toilets.

Before setting up, I searched for other campers to give me change but found instead an interpretive trail through the ruins of an old remote fishing resort for the rich. One stop on said trail was the remnants of the orchard where the apples were ripe and actually fairly tasty. (The ones elsewhere in the campground were rather bitter. Many were quinces, but I can’t tell the difference without tasting them. Apparently, the owners had once planted cherries and pears too, but there were none there.) Anyway, I had some fresh picked apples with dinner that night. The roaring McCloud River brought me to sleep easily.

Total distance: 21 miles

Trail progress: 20 miles

Day 7

Before leaving camp in the morning, I went back up to the orchard and grabbed two handfuls of the good apples to throw in my pack. I was passed on the way back to the trail by a fisherman who had come down while I was packing up, but didn’t think to flag him for a ride up the hill. So my day started with an extra uphill mile.

I had a great time eating lunch on a rock above the Trough Creek falls. I climbed down to the pool at the bottom of the falls but it was too cool and shaded there to enjoy taking a dip.

A few miles later, I climbed down to the surface of the beautiful Squaw Valley Creek. It looked like a great place to swim but way too cold on such a cool hazy evening. I collected water and washed my legs and feet.

I stopped to camp at the top of an ugly ridge 5 miles later.

Total distance: 17 miles

Trail progress: 16 miles

Day 8

An easy 6 miles down to the road, except for the surprise horsefly bite on my knee in the last mile. My first real insect sting of this trip, and it was pain sudden and sharp enough to make me stumble. I was practically running down the trail, and the thing got me without any warning.

Anyway, because the state park at the road was closed, there was almost no traffic, so I called a local cab service. A driver took pity on me and drove me into town even after his shift had ended.

But let’s save all the non-trail-related stuff for the next post.

Total distance: 6 miles

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