MOUNT SHASTA, Calif. — For the last three weeks, Mount Shasta has figured large in the daily panorama as the Pacific Crest Trail makes an enormous westerly arc around the massive mountain. The summit of the snow-capped 14,179-foot peak – the second highest in the Cascade Range and the fifth highest in California – is just 9 miles from me now as I take a well-deserved day off in the pretty town of the same name at its base.

In another 50 miles, the PCT will bear south away from Shasta and head for Lassen Volcanic National Park before connecting with the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Mount Whitney all await, and I am thrilled to be making good progress in their direction.

The decision to leave the northbound trail at Kennedy Meadows at mile 702 at the start of the monumentally snowy Sierra (212% of normal snowpack by some reports) and jump up to southern Oregon to trek south has proven to be a perfect plan. The hiking has been splendid, the weather pleasantly summer-like and the trail relatively snow-free. To be sure, I’ve encountered a few stretches that have required microspikes and even my ice axe, but it’s been much more manageable than the winter mountaineering I would’ve encountered in an attempt to push straight through the Sierra.

On the way into Kennedy Meadows, I developed gastrointestinal issues, which made the 27 hours of travel to Oregon – a hitched ride, two buses, two trains and another bus – a bit of a nightmare. By the time I got to Medford, I was really sick, necessitating a visit to an urgent care facility. The diagnosis was infectious diarrhea, probably from E. coli or Giardia, and the cure was a course of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin. Test results later came back negative, so the culprit was likely a virus – norovirus, perhaps, according to the nurse practitioner. In any case, I was terribly ill and spent nine days off trail recovering.

I returned to the PCT at Highway 140 near Fish Lake, an hour northeast of Medford, and struck off southbound in the company of “Ranger” and “Billy the Kid.” The striking cone of 9,945-foot Mount McLoughlin shadowed the hike for the first few days through the black lava beds and old growth forests of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

A record heat wave clamped down as we crossed the California state line into Klamath National Forest, sending temperatures in the valleys past 100 degrees, and up on the ridges into the mid-90s. The bugs came out in force, too, adding to the enjoyment. The 5,000-foot descent from Devil’s Peak into Seiad Valley was a true sweat fest in the high humidity, and the 6,000-foot climb out was equally brutal on poorly maintained trail choked with brush and blowdowns.

Carey Kish’s hiking buddy, Billy the Kid, ice axe in hand, descends a snowy bowl on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Marble Mountains Wilderness. Photo by Carey Kish

All was forgotten upon entering the Marble Mountain Wilderness, 241,000 acres of craggy peaks, exquisite lakes, tumbling creeks, grassy meadows and views almost to forever. The Russian Wilderness followed, and then the astounding Trinity Alps Wilderness, a 40-mile segment that was said to be impassable due to dangerous snow conditions. We completed it with no problem in three glorious days, easily the finest walking of the trip to date.

Carey Kish’s amazing campsite at Upper Deadfall Lake on the PCT in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Photo by Carey Kish

A few days ago in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, I reached Upper Deadfall Lake, which fills a huge bowl at 7,250 feet beneath the snow covered walls of Mount Eddy. It was the end of  a 19-mile day, and I pitched camp on a small patch of gravel just 10 feet from the lake.

That evening in the tent, I gazed out through the insect netting (yes, there are black flies here, too) at the lovely scene before me and was reminded once again why I am hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

I walk carefree every day from morning till evening. I carry a backpack that holds my few worldly possessions at the moment. I have no schedule. I stop, look and listen at will to the beauty of Mother Nature. I eat what I want when I want (about 3,500 calories a day). I sleep comfortably under the stars every night.

My entire being overflows with gratitude for this precious opportunity to spend six months simply putting one foot in front of the other. Such is the true essence and allure of long-distance hiking.

I’ve covered almost 1,000 trail miles, and when I report next, I should be in the Sierra. Until then, happy trails.

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1977 and 2015, and completed the 1,100-mile Florida Trail in 2017. Follow Carey’s PCT adventures on Facebook @CareyKish.

 


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