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North Texas

Another Hiccup

At church in Dunsmuir took in hikers, which was perfect timing as far as I was concerned. The next two days would be cold and wet, and I needed to wait for the snow to melt before I continued. While I waited out the weather, I got to stay somewhere warm and dry, rinse and wring out all my clothes, read a book, use WiFi, watch TV, and fulfill the donut and coffee requirement for state #1. Blueberry cake donut and a cinnamon Keurig pod.

I happened to be there on a weekend, so I went ahead and attended service Sunday morning. It's a small church, and over half its attendees were either sick or caring for someone who was. The service turned out to be five people sitting at a table and simply having a discussion. Not a bad format! I would've liked to participate more, but wasn't able to; one of the members decided to talk enough for everyone. The fact that her 7-year-old was afraid of the dark turned into a meandering soliloquy about how we should walk in a garden instead of being attracted to death.

Still with the intent to give the snow some time to melt, I only did 27 km the day I got back on trail, and planned to crank out only about 25 km/day for the next week or so after that. During my time off, I looked ahead, and noticed that after Etna, the elevation never got quite as high. If I could get through that area, it should be smooth sailing the rest of the summer, at least as far as snow was concerned.

Climbing out of the I-5 corridor took some effort, but the next few days after that were easier. I cranked out 44.5 km one day, followed by 37 the next, and neither seemed particularly difficult. Some days I saw half-a-dozen other hikers, and other days, none at all. There didn’t seem to be a pattern to that.

I was still making a point to rinse ‘n wring my socks and underwear each day, but began changing into my clean pair in the morning, rather than immediately after washing the old pair. That way, I can change in the tent, rather than getting naked on the trail and hoping no one happens to pass by. I usually did the same to my shirt and simply put it back on, which sometimes felt nice if I was in the middle of a long climb on a warm afternoon. Something eventually needed to be done about my shorts. I knew they wouldn’t stay white for long, but their appearance was beyond a mere discoloration.

One evening, Zeff arrived at my campsite, shortly before dark. I’d seen him about a week ago, hiking in the opposite direction, and now he was moving northbound like me. I never quite found out what his hike was, but like many I’ve met lately, he was probably making up miles he’d missed last year, due to wildfires.

When I headed out the next morning, at 6:00 AM, Zeff hadn’t yet started taking down his tent, but I could hear some activity in his direction. He’d probably be walking in an hour, maybe less. I wanted to cover 45 km today, so I kept moving at a solid pace all day, and that meant I might not see Zeff.

I was only two days from Etna, and I’d heard there was a dangerous patch of snow only 8 km shy of the road to Etna. Other hikers had described it as virtually impassable if you don’t have microspikes (which I didn’t), and less than a week earlier, a hiker had slipped and wound up in the hospital. I wasn’t going to chance it, but a close look at the map revealed a side trail that would add a few km of hiking and several hundred meters of descent and ascent. That day was going to be a short hike anyway, so adding onto it wouldn’t be a problem. If that’s what I needed to do to stay safe, it’s what I’d do.

The first 15 km of the day were spent hiking through a burned forest. I didn’t mind the scenery; it had a cool look, like how an animated Halloween movie would depict the spooky woods. However, the condition of the trail itself was miserable. The surface wasn’t level, and instead was flush with the hillside, often at a 45° angle, and you had to walk across it. The “soil” was now deep sand-like ash, which got everywhere, stuck to your sweat, and turned everything black from the knees down. It took many rinses and wrings before the water coming out of my socks was merely gray and not entirely black.

At midday, I crossed the last road, and therefore the last bail-out point, before the final 30 km south of Etna. I charged up the next hill in high spirits. I’m gonna make it! I’m gonna do 45 km today, camp next to that beautiful lake, and then all I gotta go is a little detour tomorrow and I’m in Etna!

Nine km later, I turned around.

I’d reached a peak at an elevation of about 2,220 m, facing north. It wasn’t so much the amount of snow, but rather, the angle at which it sloped. More than 45°, probably closer to 60°. One slip and you’re a dead man. It would take only about a second before you’re sliding downhill at lethal speed, and a second or two longer before you slammed into a tree or a boulder.
No. We’re not doing this. We’re not risking our life today only to go for a hike. I headed back down to the road. Only nine km of back-tracking, mostly downhill, and hopefully I’d get a hitch into Etna before dark.

Only about one km later, I found Zeff. He must have stayed fairly close behind all day, impressive given I was hustling the whole time. He was supposed to meet a friend at Paynes Lake, the same spot I was aiming for today, and since he didn’t want to leave his friend stranded, he was going to go for it.
“Is there a way around? Like if you climb over some rocks?”
“I thought there probably was, but I also thought there was no guarantee that there weren’t more snowdrifts like it. This wasn’t even the spot we were warned about.”
“Well, you’re probably doing the smart thing.” He sighed. “You sure you don’t want to try this together?”
“I’m sure.”

I managed to get back to the road just before 5:00 PM. A work truck went by every half-hour or so. These mountain roads don’t exactly have a lot of traffic, and this road didn’t even lead directly to Etna. There was a strong chance I’d have to camp here tonight and keep trying in the morning.

At some point, a 1990s Toyota Corolla pulled over.
“Are you going to Etna?” I asked.
“I just need to make a call, and if not, then I’ll come back and get you.”
What? “OK!!”
“I’ll just be a few turns down the hill, where I can get service.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant about “if not, I’ll come get you,” but I went along with it. Beggars can’t be choosers.

15 minutes later, I was still trying to put together what she meant. Maybe the phone call determined if she needed to go south on Highway 3 to get someone, and if not, then she could take me north? I should’ve asked if she could at least take me to the bottom of the hill, where this road met Highway 3 and I’d probably have better luck.

20 minutes. She’s not coming back, is she…

25 minutes, and here she is! I happily hopped in. In conversation, I eventually figured out that she must be older than she looks, since she had eight kids and all of them were out of college. Some of them had kids in high school. She was originally from Alaska and misses the good seafood.

I didn’t get into Etna until 7:00 PM, but since it doesn’t get dark until past 9:00 up here, that gave me plenty of time to walk to the city park and set up the tent, but only after raiding the hiker box at the local motel, which included a beer, a can of soup, a few Rice Krispie Treats, and half a pack of Oreos. Dinner that night was enjoyable.

Jun 14, 2022
from PCT North

I am a carbon-based life form.


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