PCT CA Section L

Castle Pass to Sierra City: Good luck and bad

The previous section had been intended to be Echo Lake to Sierra City, the whole thing at once, but the side trip into Truckee and the whole matter of the broken phone kind of forced the section to be somewhat split. As such, this will be a shorter section/post.

Day 1

We left off in the morning with my intention to hike back to Donner Pass to get a replacement phone. I figured I could get a warranty replacement overnighted there and get a new phone for just the price of a hotel stay in Truckee.

Right off the bat, though, I already got some good luck. I chatted up Teresa and Mike as they were finishing packing up their camp. Mike was going to keep hiking through this section, but Tereza was headed back to Arizona to get some work done. She would be going right through Truckee, and her car was parked much closer than Donner Pass. So I had a ride and saved two miles of walking just by talking to everyone I passed.

She dropped me at the Verizon store (actually a Victra store), where I would end up spending most of that day. I hope I didn’t smell too bad sitting in their storefront on hold with Verizon customer service all day. Eventually, I got through and got in the offline queue to be called when a rep was available. I ran around the corner to get some taquitos for lunch and then back again to catch the call. I had gone through a whole shtick when suddenly the store’s phone started buzzing and I couldn’t hear anything the rep was saying. I asked her to call back, but the buzzing didn’t go away. There was no way to get the thing done here and I didn’t want to wait an hour in the phone queue again, so I told the store employee, “Screw it, just sell me a pixel 3a and order me a case for it to be delivered to Quincy.” I also bought a new pair of headphones while I was there.

About that time, I got some more luck. Paul came into the store and offered to wait for me to ship my old phone to the data recovery service from the FedEx store next door and then drive me back to the trail. He was retired and looking for an excuse to take his new old Jeep off-roading. He drove me all the way back to Castle Pass, way beyond where I had expected to be taken. I had to rehike at most a mile. And I was back on the trail instead of wasting the night in town spending my money on hotel rooms and town food.

I had enough time left to use the privy at Peter Grubb Hut, get some pictures (which you’ve already seen) and hike as far as Paradise Lake before it was dark.

After going down a mile long side trail and circling the rock barrier surrounding the lake confusedly, I finally found the lake’s edge when I chatted up a man who was sitting there next to his tent. The light was nearly gone, but he was interested in chatting about everything. His son was in the tent, recovering from the ten mile hike and possible altitude sickness which had led to vomiting.

I broke off the conversation to cook and set up my tent closer to the water. In doing so, I majorly bent one of my stakes trying to hammer it into the sand.

More conversation with the man ensued by headlamp light when his son came to ready to eat something. The full moon rose over the lake and I tried to catch its reflection in the water. Unfortunately, a will-o-the-wisp ruined the shot.

Total distance: 9 miles

Trail progress: 5 miles

Day 2

I woke up at first light and was leaving camp just as my neighbors were emerging from their enormous tent. He tried to ensnare me in another conversation, but I finessed away and got back to the PCT.

I stopped at Snowbank Spring, a beautiful little trickle just beside the trail, to get some good cold water and spend a little time communing with nature as it were. I ended up having lunch there before leaving.

Spent the night at a campsite near Mule Ears Creek. A couple of college boys had spread out all over the campsite, but made room for me to put my tent. Apparently they had known each other so long that the talkative one accidentally introduced himself by the other’s name. They sequestered themselves inside their tent to play a modified version of War in which they made up lots of crazy extra rules like it was Mao crossed with Nomic. They were incredibly nerdy engineers and probably lovers too, but they had come halfway across the country to hike a short section together while school was out, so I tried not to bother them too much. Also, they seemed very COVID-shy so I tried not to get too close to them.

I also took this opportunity to record a time lapse movie of my nightly cooking and set up routine.

Total distance: 15 miles

Day 3

The day started with a trip down to the creek to fetch water. I packed and left the other two still in camp barely moving.

Halfway through the day, I turned down a paved road and took a quarter mile side trip to a lakeside campground to take advantage of the flush toilets and trash cans.

A few miles later, I spent an hour chilling beside the falls of Bear Valley Spring, getting some water and washing my feet and legs and just generally enjoying the beautiful waterfall cove. The two boys from camp caught up to me here as I was leaving. I let them have the spring to themselves.

Late in the afternoon, I turned down the side trail that led into the Wild Plum Campground. I thought I could hitch into Sierra City from there, but only three cars passed going that way, none willing to pick me up. So I walked 3 miles to the highway and another half mile into town. It was too late for the general store to be open, but one of the restaurants was open, and I got to order a nice meal in the garden. I paid way too much for an overcooked steak and watered down root beer, but at least the ice cream was good.

After calling around and finding that every single lodging establishment in the entire area was completely booked for the weekend, I walked to the community center and found that the bathroom where hikers can normally get a free shower had been locked shut for COVID-19 reasons. A man living next door informed me that it was no longer allowed to camp next to the church. So, it seemed, I would have to get back to the trail to stealth camp.

Fortunately, I was accosted by some hikers right there in front of the community center who were willing to give me a lift back to the hilltop and the trail. I found a singular stealth site just a few tenths of a mile from the road and set up.

Total distance: 16 miles

Day 4

After I packed up and made my way back to the road, I was moments too late to catch a likely ride into town. No one who passed on my two mile walk down the hill to town wanted to make it easier on me. I stopped at the coffee shop for a bagel and peppermint mocha for breakfast, then arrived at the general store just an hour after it opened. I needed to pick up two boxes there. One with my maps and one with my food.

There was only one box for me there.

After calling home for the tracking number on my food box, I learned it was still in San Francisco, having taken three weeks to complete 80% of what should have taken only a week. A chat with the postman made it clear that the current political situation has finally reached me on the trail. Trump’s attack on the post office (as the postmaster himself described it) had now become an attack on my wallet, as I was now forced to resupply at the general store, which had only some of the things I wanted at massively inflated prices.

Not that I blame Larry, the proprietor, one bit. He probably isn’t even making a profit in a year like this. He’s probably barely staying open. So I bought what I needed to get as far as Quincy and packed it all up.

It was around this time I bumped into Jeff. Yes, Jeff from Kennedy Meadows South. He had been hiking with Adrienne whom I met here for the first time. Her trail name is Pants. And she had decided to call him Heisenberg thanks to his resemblance to Brian ? though I would find out later that he preferred to spell it Hei-Zen-Berg. He was just as skinny but indicated he had stopped precipitously losing weight. I left them repacking food (which had arrived in time for them) beside the post office. They had disappeared when I passed that way again.

I got a hot pastrami sandwich from Larry’s deli inside the general store. It was great. Then, just before the store closed, I bought a box of beer and a bag of ice. I put the ice in my water bag and the rest in the box with the beer. I left my phone plugged in beside the store and walked the beer down to the local swimming hole on the Yuba River.

It had been a very hot day and I was finally getting cooled off, along with the closest thing one could get to a shower and laundry in this town. But I had been there only an hour–already done swimming and starting to put my shoes back on thankfully–when storm clouds came rolling in and dropping rain on us river visitors. I rushed back up the hill to make sure my phone (which lacked a case, you’ll recall) didn’t get wet, but the rain stayed light and didn’t last much longer than a few minutes beyond my arrival.

My phone, by the way, had turned itself off due to the intense heat of that day. Nonetheless, I spent another hour making sure I had enough books and podcasts downloaded, visited the trash can at the community center to clean up the remains of all I had bought, met a nice dog, then set off looking for a kind soul to get me back to the trail. This is where I got some good luck.

I saw a couple of guys sitting in front of the bar waiting for some beer to be brought out (as entering the bar was not allowed and the general store was closed). Said beer was too be taken to their campsite and they agreed to take me along.

Calvin and his stepdaughter’s boyfriend John were camped with several others at Upper Tamarack Lake on the far side of Sierra Buttes, which meant I could skip a notoriously nasty climb by riding along with them.

Few trucks would be able to make it up the janky dirt road to the lake. John had even had to walk a mile up it carrying a disk bag from the farthest point his car could reach (a feat which bought him a full day’s respite from Calvin’s teasing). But Calvin’s pickup made it.

After circumnavigating the lake, I identified a nice spot to put my tent, then went back for my pack. It was at this time I realized the belt I’d been using as a sternum strap since the first week had disappeared, probably fallen beside the road in Sierra City.

I talked to a family that had parked their camper within inches of the PCT and for my trouble got a nice beer and two of the ripest, sweetest plums I’ve ever tasted. They also told me they would keep a limit for my belt as they packed up in the morning.

From there, I walked my pack to the store I had found and set up my tent before returning to Calvin’s party’s campsite to repay their kindness by talking to family friends Greta about the trail since she was planning to do it herself once she had graduated from college. I ended up staying there for hours and learning a lot more about that family and in particular about Calvin’s brand of humor. (For example, his stepdaughter was half-Chinese and her boyfriend John was Mexican, so he referred to the pair as Rice and Beans.)

They kept me well supplied with beer until 11pm, when Calvin pulled a trout they had caught earlier out of the lake, cleaned it, wrapped it in foil, and grilled it over the campfire. So, just before midnight and my trip back to my tent, I was eating a mouthful of fresh trout grilled in almonds. What a day!

Total distance: 0 miles

Trail progress: 10 miles

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