Day 20: Castle Crags State Park

PCT Mile: 1501.2 to 1518.9

Miles Hiked = 17.7

This morning I was picked up at my hotel in Mt. Shasta at 6:30 and driven back to the trailhead. I was on the trail and hiking before 7am.

My pack felt heavy because I had just resupplied with 4+ days worth of food to get me to my next resupply in the small town of Etna. I felt like I hadn’t been eating enough calories on the trail so I brought additional food which made my pack seem even heavier.

There is something called “hiker hunger” that kicks in for most hikers after several weeks of hiking. I think it happens when your body has depleted most of your fat reserves – maybe that was happening to me???

My hike today started where the PCT crosses under Interstate-5 near Castle Crags State Park.

The elevation at the interstate is about 2100 feet. As is typical after town stops, the first day back on the trail will be uphill. Today I would go up over 4000 feet! And my pack was heavy! But it started out with a slow ascent through the forest.

The first mile or two was in Castle Crags State Park then the trail entered the Castle Crags Wilderness.

The trail was traversing below and around the Castle Crags – occasionally I would get glimpses of the Crags.

The elevation gain was only about 1000 feet in the first nine miles.

Then it got steeper and more serious! The next nine miles went up over 3000 feet. There are times on this trail when I can tell I’m not a “young buck” anymore! Today was one of them!

As I slowly increased in altitude I enjoyed more views of the Crags.

I had good views of Mt. Shasta also

My plan was to camp at mile 1519 – there were hiker comments on my PCT app about this campsite having great views of the Crags and Mt. Shasta as well as good sunset and sunrise views.

When I arrived at my campsite there already was a tent set up. It was a young lady by the name of Daisy – I had met her back at Burney Guest Ranch . She is a section hiker also and started her hike at Lake Tahoe. She is planning on hiking to the Oregon-Washington border. She starts law school at Temple University in Philadelphia in late August.

A short while after I set up my tent PopTarts and Quotes (the newly engaged young couple) showed up. It was good to see them again.

As the sun got lower I took a few more photos of the Crags and Mt. Shasta from my tent.

Castle Crags from my tent
Mt. Shasta from my tent

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Day 18: Into Mt. Shasta

PCT Mile 1484.9 to 1501.2

Miles Hiked = 16.3

I was motivated to get up and get hiking today because I was headed into town – a little town called Mt. Shasta that is right next to the same-named mountain. I had a hotel reservation for the next two nights and was looking forward to a zero day tomorrow.

The trail was uphill through the forest for the first seven miles and gained over 2000 feet.

I felt strong and felt like I was moving at a good pace – it sure helps to be almost out of food! But the motivation factor to get into town and have a big juicy burger is pretty strong also.

As the trail crested there were views of Mt. Shasta

As well as my first views of Castle Crags

For several miles I hiked along with “Going Postal”. He’s a retired US Post Office employee who had started his hike in March from the Mexico border. He had previously hiked the Appalachian Trial. We had a nice conversation and it helped pass the time.

The last nine miles were downhill to where the PCT passes underneath Interstate-5. As I neared the interstate I crossed over the Sacramento River.

Sacramento River

I reached the interstate at 1:15pm and called the local taxi shuttle – they only have one car. I was picked up in twenty minutes. We stopped at the post office to pick up my resupply box and then he dropped me off at the motel.

I dropped my backpack off in my room and immediately walked the half-a-mile to the Black Bear Diner. I was looking forward to that burger as well as a beer. Unfortunately the California governor had just banned indoor dining so I had to eat my burger in a shaded area outside in 95 degree heat! And they couldn’t serve beer outside! So I had a big Dr. Pepper with free refills and enjoyed the burger anyway!

Later that evening I ordered take-out from the Italian restaurant across the street from the hotel.

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Day 16: Veer West

PCT Miles 1440.4 to 1463.9

Miles Hiked = 23.5

As I was getting ready to hit the trail this morning, PopTarts and Quotes passed by. I wished them good luck and doubted I would see them again. Their young legs and over three months of hiking allow them to hike close to thirty miles a day

It was another beautiful morning in Northern California – clear blue skies once again!

I enjoyed colorful purple flowers and more views towards Mt. Shasta

Since I started this section hike over two weeks ago, the PCT has generally headed in a northerly direction. Today it veered to the west and would continue in that direction, sometimes even in a south-westerly direction for the next 100+ miles.

I stopped at Moosehead Creek and filtered some water

The trail today was “relatively” flat and bounced around between 5000 to 6000 feet. Even on a “flat” day I hiked uphill almost 3600 feet, but I went downhill 4300 feet. Kind of flat, don’t you think?

Today’s elevation profile

Here are some more views from today’s hike

And then it happened again …. rattlesnake warning!!! Once again it took me a second or two to locate him. I had once again passed by within a foot or two before I was given a warning to stay away.

Later in the day I caught a glimpse of Mt. Lassen in the distance behind me – it’s only been five days since I exited the northern boundary of the park but yet it looked so far away.

Mt. Lassen in the distance

Later the trail cut across a hillside

Around 6pm I reached Deer Creek

I collected some water and camped nearby.

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Day 17: Poopy Day

PCT Mile 1463.9 to 1484.9

Miles Hiked = 21.0

The morning started “as per usual” on the PCT. I was stirring by 5:15am and in short order was in the process of breaking down camp and re-packing my backpack. That’s when “as per usual” ended.

How can I put this delicately … I had a personal emergency and you might say that things did not come out as planned … in fact it was quite a mess … and required me to hike “commando” the rest of the day!

Although down “in the dumps” and slightly delayed, I was not totally discouraged and was hiking by 7:15am.

The trail was downhill for the first 9+ miles. Going downhill is usually nice (not always) but eventually the trend reverses and then it’s back to uphill. It would be easier if the trail was more or less flat for 2650 miles… but life is never ALWAYS easy, is it?

So downhill thru the forest I hiked

I met another forest friend

And continued my hike through the forest.

After about 7 miles I got to Ash Camp/Centipede Gulch Trailhead – it’s basically a trailhead at the end of a dirt road that is accessible to car campers and fisherman. The McCloud River runs adjacent to this camping area.

McCloud River

Luckily the trailhead/campground was empty. So I took the opportunity to “skinny dip” and do some laundry! It was actually very refreshing – I should do this more often!!!

Skinny Dip Site

I continued downhill for a few more miles and then started uphill. I soon came to Fitzhugh Gulch, the last water source for the next eight miles. I collected a couple liters.

Fitzhugh Gulch

I met another friend who didn’t mind sharing the water but didn’t want to get too close and kept a wary eye on me.

And then uphill I went for the next six miles. It was hot today – probably in the mid-80’s – so it was nice that I generally hiked in the shade of the forest.

But the forest doesn’t offer a lot of photo opportunities … no grand vistas or majestic views. Those are the perspectives that I prefer.

Late in the afternoon I arrived at a bridge that spans over Squaw Valley Creek.

Squaw Valley Creek

After crossing the bridge the PCT goes to the left. But there is a short side trail that goes 0.2 miles right to a trailhead called Cabin Creek. There are campsites there as well as a pit toilet! Better camp there tonight!

My camp at Cabin Creek

So today was my least favorite day on the trail this year … almost all forest hiking and no majestic views for miles above the tree line. All in all it was a thoroughly “poopy day”!

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Day 15: Hiking On

Status Update: As I write this post it’s Day 25 and I’m in a small motel in Etna, CA. Today is a Zero Day. I exited the trail yesterday afternoon at mile 1600. I am doing well and have no physical problems. I’ll be back on the trail tomorrow with about six more days of hiking to Ashland, Oregon.

PCT Miles 1419.0 to 1440.4

Miles Hiked = 21.4

I slept well last night in Burney Falls State Park and was walking back through the campground towards the PCT by 6:30am. When I left, PopTarts and Quotes (the newly engaged couple) were still in their tent – the parents were gone. They had all quietly celebrated with Champagne last night as I retired to my tent.

The campground is quite large and there were campsites with tents, some with large RVs and even some small cabins that could be rented. There were ice chests and Coleman stoves on the picnic tables. There were bicycles and inter tubes and fishing poles. Just about all the conveniences of home. Quite the contrast with what we PCT hikers carry on our back.

I took one last look at the Falls in the early morning light

In a few minutes I was on the Trail and passed a bench with words to ponder

As I hiked away from the Park I caught glimpses of Lake Britton

In a few miles I walked across the dam that created the lake

Lake Britton Dam

As the trail rose up into the hills I passed by these pretty blooming plants

Later in the morning I came to a footbridge that crossed over Rock Creek

I stopped and collected some water for the upcoming miles.

The rest of the day was a slow and steady climb of approximately 2500 feet. I popped out on a ridge and enjoyed expansive views in the direction of where I was headed.

Wind turbines in the distance – look closely

Then dropped back down into the forest

I stopped for a rest and fixed up a gourmet lunch

Later in the afternoon I enjoyed nice views of Mt Shasta looming in the distance

Late in the afternoon I arrived at a spring where I would fill up for the evening and make camp nearby

I had seen very few hikers on the trail today but as I was preparing my dinner (boiling water to add to my packet of freeze-dried food) PopTarts and Quotes showed up. I directed them towards the spring and they camped nearby.

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Day 13: Hat Creek Rim

PCT Miles: 1385.5 to 1409.8

Miles Hiked = 24.3

I slept well last night and was up and hiking at 6:15am. I knew it was going to be a long day. The next water source is the Cache 22 Water Tank at Mile 1393.5 – eight miles away – and then the next water source after that was over thirteen miles.

Shortly after I started hiking I came to a PCT register which I signed with my trail name.

As usual, it was a beautiful morning. I don’t know why I even bother to pack a rain jacket???

After a couple hours I came to a fenced in communication facility.

There was a nice shaded area so I took a short break and had a snack.

And then I continued on. I really enjoyed the views from the rim. Slowly Mt. Lassen became a distant memory and my focus turned to Mt. Shasta in the distance ahead of me.

Hat Creek Rim Video
Mt. Lassen to the South
Mt. Shasta to the North

The trail was generally good but because of the lava rocks I had to pay attention and stay focused. This would not be a good place to turn an ankle or take a fall.

I arrived at the Cache 22 Water Tank right at 10:00am. My understanding is that a Trail Angel maintains this water cache. If this water tank wasn’t here there would be over a twenty mile section with no water. Thank you Trail Angel!

Within a minute of my arrival at the water tank – in fact I was still trying to figure out exactly where the tank was – I heard the sound of a truck coming up the dirt road. Amazingly, it was the water truck coming to fill up the tank! What are the chances of that??? It had last been filled up in March.

The next water source was in 13.5 miles so I “cameled up” once again and continued on with about two liters of water. I enjoyed the hike and the views.

Mt. Shasta

In the early afternoon the trail dropped down from the rim towards the valley below. I stopped and had lunch right at the 1400 mile marker.

Then I continted on towards the next water source.

Finally, a little before 5pm, I arrived at an unnamed stream. There was an old plastic chair that someone had left so I took off my pack, collected and filtered some water, hydrated myself and took a short break.

Unnamed stream

The water gave me a boost and I decided to push on to the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch where I had sent my next resupply package. It was another three miles. As I hiked on there was suddenly an abundance of water.

As I headed uphill away from the water and towards the Guest Ranch I was suddenly jolted to attention. Three feet in front on me was a good- sized healthy rattlesnake.

I let him pass and finished my days hike.

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Day 12: Old Station

PCT Mile 1369.7 to 1385.5

Miles Hiked = 15.8

Most long distance hikers try to hike with the lightest pack possible. But yet we all have different priorities, preferences and needs just like in regular life. Hikers talk about their “base weight” – their pack weight less consumables (food, fuel & water). My base weight is about 14 pounds. I spent a lot of time researching and money investing in what I believe is the best ultralight gear for me – see my gear list for details if you’re interested or curious.

Many, if not most, of the thru hikers that hike 30+ miles per day (like T-Rex & Ritz) have a base weight less than 10 pounds. John, the “senior” hiker that I mentioned a few posts back carries a 60+ pound pack – he’s a photographer and carries a full size digital SLR camera. He also resupplies less often and therefore carries more food than I typically do. To each their own.

One of my strategies to keep my pack weight down is to resupply often (every 3-5 days) rather than carrying more food for longer periods and resupplying less often. I also try to be smart about how much water I carry.

So, even though I had only hiked two full days since my last resupply in Chester, I had mailed a resupply to the Old Station post office (Old Station is a small community just north of Lassen Volcanic National Park). What I didn’t realize, however, is that this post office is only open daily from 11-3.

Last night I had camped alongside Hat Creek and only had about four miles to hike to get to the Old Station post office. As usual, it was a beautiful morning.

The post office is only 0.3 miles off the PCT – I arrived at 8:30am. Luckily, they have a table in the shade with electrical outlets so I was able to hang out and charge all my devices while I waited.

The post office opened right at 11am and I was back on the trail by 11:30.

Another three miles up the trail is a short side trail to a restaurant called JJ’s. It’s had good reviews by hikers. As I hiked along I debated about stopping and having lunch. The thought of a burger finally won out and off the trail I went, once again.


Just north of JJ’s is Subway Cave – a 1000 foot long lava tube cave that is also just 0.2 miles off the PCT. So, no sooner had I finished lunch and hopped back on the trail than I decided to leave the trail again to visit the cave. I’m glad I did – it was interesting and only took forty-five minutes.

After the cave I was back on the trail by 3:15 and I had only hiked maybe seven miles total for the day. I needed to pick up the pace.

Ahead of me was the Hat Creek Rim – an approximately 30 mile long rim or upraising caused by a vertical shift in the earth’s crust hundreds of thousands of years ago. The rim is about 900 feet higher than the valley floor below where Hat Creek actually flows. The PCT runs along the western edge of the rim.

Three miles into my hike up and onto the rim is the Hat Creek Rim Overlook.

Hat Creek Rim
Mt. Lassen to the south
Mt. Shasta to the north

I enjoyed the views from the overlook for a few minutes and then pushed on for another 5.4 miles. The Hat Creek Rim is like a high desert environment in an area with a history of volcanic activity. It is hot and dry and there is a lot of volcanic rocks along the trail.

There are no natural water sources directly on the trail along the rim. There is one spring that is a challenging 0.3 miles and 400 feet drop down on steep switchbacks off the trail. That’s where I was headed tonight – I arrived at the campsites on the rim above the switchbacks a little before 7pm. I quickly set up my tent and then headed down to the spring to collect some water for the evening and the next day. It was a 30 minute round trip.

Down the Switchbacks
Lost Creek

Once I had the water it was a nice place to camp with nice expansive views and a beautiful sunset.

By the way, remember yesterday when I was able to rinse my feet and legs off at my camp at Hat Creek? Well, this is what a days worth of hiking the PCT looks like when you take off your shoes and socks!


On that note, thanks for following!!!

Day 11: Out of Lassen Volcanic National Park

PCT Miles 1350.3 to 1369.7

Miles Hiked = 19.4

Last evening, an hour or so after I set up my tent, two obvious PCT hikers (guy and a girl) arrived at the campground and set up in the campsite next to mine. I walked over and introduced myself and we chatted for a few minutes. I discovered this was their fourth time hiking the PCT and that they had started at the Mexican border in “late May”. It was now a week into July. Most of the other thru hikers that I had met started at the Southern Terminus in mid-March. I thought to myself …. wow, you guys are fast. Their trail names are T-Rex (girl) and Ritz (guy). I wished them good luck and returned to my camp.

This morning when I got up at 5:30am they were already gone. Over the next few days I learned from other hikers that this couple are “Double Triple Crowners”. In other words, they have completed the PCT, Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide Trail at least two times each! I also learned that they typically hike about forty miles per day! That’s how they are able to hike over 1369 miles (Mexico to Lassen) in five or six weeks.

Warner Campground is approximately 6000 feet in elevation. It was cold last night. When I started hiking at 7am this morning I had several layers on. The trail immediately headed uphill out of Warner Campground. I had a friend lead me up the path for several hundred yards.

In a few minutes I was high enough that I had a good look down Drakesbad Guest Ranch and the meadow that it occupies.

As I continued I once again walked along a manzanita-lined smooth forest trail through the pine tree forest.

Eventually I got to a fairly large stream that required crossing via a large fallen log. This photo was taken after I crossed the stream.

I walked across the log on the right. It was a big log so the walk across was easy but I was stayed focused as the log was maybe 7-8 feet above the quickly flowing water beneath.

There was a wooden walkway through a delicate marshy meadow. There were a few mosquitos so I applied some repellant to my exposed arms and face.

And then a large pheasant-like bird crossed the trail just in front of me. It was the size of a large chicken and probably would make for some good eatin!

Later in the morning I passed another lovely mountain meadow and then passed by an area with many downed trees.

I passed by Swan Lake to the right of the trail.

A mile later I came to Lower Twin Lake – this was my last water source for over ten miles.

I collected and filtered a couple liters, “cameled” up and then enjoyed the view before getting back on the trail.

As I reached the northern edge of the lake I saw a gaggle of geese waddling their way towards the lake.

In a few minutes I passed by a back-country ranger cabin – it was unoccupied.

The next eight to nine miles were mostly through previous burn zones – 2009 and 2012 according to my NatGeo map.

I had another view of Mt Lassen – this time from the northeast – I had finally passed to the north of the volcano.

At 2:35 and after hiking fifteen miles I exited the northern boundary of the National Park

I continued north along the PCT in search of my next water source.

Late in the afternoon I finally exited the burn zone and walked through an obvious man-planted forest. The trees were all in a row, equally spaced and about the same size.

Finally I reached Hat Creek where I set up my tent along the side of the creek. I even had the opportunity to rinse off all the dust and dirt on my legs and feet – well, maybe not all… but most.

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Day 14: Burney Falls State Park

PCT Mile 1409.8 to 1419.0

Miles Hiked = 9.2

Late yesterday afternoon I arrived at the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch after a 24+ mile hike across the Hat Creek Rim. The Guest Ranch caters to PCT hikers. Hikers sleep in their own tents on Ranch property but the Guest Ranch provides an number of other amenities that I will outline below.

My Tent at the Guest Ranch

The Guest Ranch also has a few cabins for rent to non-hikers as well as a restaurant for all guests but because of Covid-19 restrictions they have chosen only to service hikers this year and not to open their restaurant.

The Burney Guest Ranch is an awesome place for hikers to spend some time to “rest and recover”. I was able to take a shower and do my laundry. I picked up a resupply box that I had mailed to myself several weeks ago. I also rehydrated with water and multiple Gatorade drinks. The Guest Ranch is alcohol and drug free so unfortunately having a beer wasn’t an option but Gatorade and water worked well.

The Guest Ranch also has a well stocked “general store” that operates on an honor system. Hikers are able to help themselves to whatever they want in the store. Each hiker keeps an itemized list of “purchased” items and then settles up on departure. The store is geared towards hiker needs and has just about anything a hiker could possibly need on the trail.

They also have ice cream and awesome breakfast burritos!

As usual I was up early this morning and enjoyed some hot coffee and one of the aforementioned breakfast burritos. I spent most of the morning relaxing in the shade, visiting with a few other hikers, organizing my resupply for the next four days and updating this blog. The WiFi was very slow so it took a while just to upload photos and post three blogs.

My plan was to get back on the trail in the late afternoon and hike the 9-10 miles to Burney Falls State Park.

As I left the ranch at 3:15, my hiker friend John (with the big pack) was arriving at the ranch. We chatted for a few minutes and then hiked on. We weren’t sure if we would cross paths again – I have a much lighter pack and tend to hike more miles per day. HYOH is a hiker motto: “Hike Your Own Hike”.

As I left the Ranch I noticed a large Osprey in its nest on top of an electrical tower.

And then had a nice view of Mt. Shasta to the north – that’s where I’m headed.

The hike to Burney Falls State Park was a relatively flat pleasant walk through grasslands and woodlands.

As I approached the State Park I heard it – the UNMISTAKABLE sound of a rattlesnake giving it’s warning – and I hadn’t seen it first! That’s never happened to me before and I’ve seen quite a few rattlers over the years. Where was it!!! It took me a few seconds to locate the little basard (actually it was a good sized healthy rattler). Apparently it was just off the trail to my left and I walked right past him within a foot or two.

After I resumed my walk I passed the following sign – at least I’m closer to Canada!

When I got to the State Park I checked in with the ranger and paid $5 to camp in the designated area for hikers and backpackers. And then proceeded to the Falls Overlook.

Burney Falls
Burney Falls Video

Burney Falls is obviously quite spectacular but what’s interesting (if I understand this correctly) is that all this water comes from a spring less than one mile upstream from the falls. This isn’t snowmelt coming down a river for miles and miles and then over a falling over a cliff.

When I got to the designated area for hikers there was already a tent set up and some gear on the picnic tables … but no hikers. I went about my business – set up my tent, blew up my mattress pad, got some water (from a spigot for a change), prepared and ate my dinner, etc. Still no other hikers. And then they showed up. They were a young twenty-something couple and they were with the guys parents. Apparently PopTarts (the guy) had just proposed to Quotes (the girl) at the waterfall. They are all from nearby Redding, CA. PopTarts and Quotes started at the border three months ago and the guys parents were in on the surprise. Isn’t that romantic ( I’m really a big softie at heart).

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Day 8: Chester

PCT Miles 1312 to 1331.3

Miles Hiked = 19.3

You remember those pesky deer that were around my camp last night? I mentioned that they weren’t too afraid of humans. Well apparently they are thieves also. At night I usually leave out my stove and cooking pot as well as my lightweight tin cup that I enjoy a few sips of Jack Daniels in every evening. Those damn deer stole my sipping cup!!! It was dented and beat up and had traveled a lot of trail miles with me over the years. I wasn’t a very h uhuhi happy camper this morning.

But it was another beautiful morning in the mountains.

I met this gentleman yesterday on the trail. He was out doing trail maintenance on his own – trimming back overgrown bushes, etc. Because of Covid-19 the trail has been ignored this year by all the official authorities.

Problem Bear

Anyway, I saw him again this morning. His trail name is Problem Bear and he thru-hiked the entire trail in 2011. He lives in Sacramento and just comes out to take care of the trail because he loves it. Quite an interesting man.

I had about a 1500 foot uphill hike this morning and then it was all downhill to Highway 36. Chester is about eight miles east so requires a hitch to get into town. As I hiked along the trail I enjoyed more views

Mt. Lassen keeps getting closer!

Around noon I reached the official Midpoint Monument. In theory it marks the halfway point on the trail – 1325 miles to Mexico and 1325 miles to Canada. But, because of trail reroutes it’s not exact. But it’s close enough – within a mile or two.

Sorry – sometimes I get silly on the trail (too much alone time?)

Later in the afternoon I had one last view of Lake Almanor

As I approached the highway I crossed this meadow.

I reached the highway around 4:00pm – it took about twenty minutes to hitch a ride. Looking forward to a shower, a bed, a pizza and a couple of beers – not necessarily in that order.

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