Up and on the trail a little earlier than normal since we were hoping to get off the rim before the day heated up. We didn’t have far to go before we reached a few switchbacks and descended to the land below, which sat on top of a massive lava flow. We hiked through scrub and small trees, sometimes shaded and sometimes not. It was heating up quickly and we were glad to be off the exposed fault. Our switchbacks marked the start of another western swing. We’ll follow the trail west along the top of California until we reach I-5, when we’ll turn north again and make for Oregon.
After crossing a forest road we started through a stretch of open grassland. We could finally see Mt. Shasta towering on the horizon. It held much more snow than Lassen, which had only had streaks. The open grassy stretch signaled that we were coming to the end of the lava flow. Although we could still see chunks of porous volcanic rock there was a forest on the near horizon and we hiked towards it as fast as we could go. We were eager to get out of the sun and off the small rough rocks.
After weaving through the trees for a few miles we came to the Crystal Lake fish hatchery and a creek with our first natural water in 30 miles. We stopped here for lunch even though it was early. Since the next 12 miles to Burney Falls state park are waterless too we decided to eat here rather than carry extra water for cooking. The park would likely have snacks in case we wanted something other than what we had in our bags.
After lunch we hiked past the hatchery and the beautiful lakes in the area. What we could see of the facility looked cool – long concrete troughs of water, just like in the old Disney cartoon with Humphrey the bear. Except I’m pretty sure raising fish is more difficult than the ranger in the cartoon made it look, with his packet of rainbow trout seeds. We eventually left the lakes behind and climbed up a slight ridge, heading west for the state park.
It was very hot – hotter than yesterday, although this was supposed to be the cooler day. We were mostly in the sun with only intermittent shade as we hiked through open forest, crossing forest roads every mile or so. After a few miles we met a southbound thru-hiker and exchanged water information – especially important for him since he was bound for the dry rim. He mentioned that we were about a mile out from a cache, which moved us along a little quicker. If there were chairs there it would make for a nice break spot.
There were chairs, as it turned out – and a cooler full of sodas and ice and tootsie rolls and mini candy bars, and a plastic bin full of ramen and boxes of cracker jacks, and trash barrels, and a big cooler jug full of cold water. It was the best-stocked cache in 1400 miles of hiking and we couldn’t resist taking a long break. A soda full of ice tasted wonderful after the dusty heat we’d been hiking through. While we were there Manchurian hiked in. We’d seen him at lunch for the first time since Chester.
He shared an interesting bit of trivia: the railroad bridge from the movie Stand By Me was located just a mile or so off trail, spanning Lake Briton south of the highway. He was going to get to the railway by way of a jeep road on our maps, then follow it out to the bridge. We thought this sounded like an awesome idea – especially since the line was decommissioned, so we didn’t have to worry about getting run down by a train ourselves. We left about 15 minutes after him and followed his footprints up the trail.
The heat of the afternoon hadn’t passed yet but a breeze helped keep things somewhat comfortable. We hiked through a burn area again and were glad for any moving air at all. We passed road after dirt road before reaching the one we’d picked out on our maps. It led us steeply down towards the long, narrow lake reservoir but was in good enough shape to hike with ease. At the bottom it joined a road of crushed red rock that we had crossed a mile back. This was supposed to be the rail tracks as marked on our maps, but it was obvious that the railroad company had reclaimed the material. Would the bridge still be there or would it be gone too? The suspense was building.
At least we knew we were on the right track, as it were, because we were suddenly following Manchurian’s tracks again. He must have taken the road at the first crossing. We walked up the tread past tall, chalky cliffs that were eroding drifts of loose white dust. Suddenly, instead of being coated with red volcanic dust, our shoes and gaiters were powdered with white. We turned a corner past the second chalk cliff and there it was: an old railroad trestle blocked off with concrete bulkheads and barbed wire. It was easy enough to get around the wire, but there was no way I was going very far from the fence. Being able to see down between the cross-ties gave me vertigo. Keith went out far enough for me to take a picture, then we both went back to the road. Manchurian must have crossed to the other side – a crazy idea given how rotten some of the wood looked.
We retraced our steps to the PCT and started towards the park again. We made good time over easy terrain. After entering the park we took an alternate route to the store and water spigots. This took us along a dry creekbed that became the raging Burney Falls in less than a mile, fed by underground springs. It was as if the water appeared from nowhere. The falls itself was amazing too – a few main streams from the creek above, and a hundred little streams coming out of the rock face. It all drained into a deep blue pool. Incredibly picturesque…
After dropping by the store for some ice cream and drinks, we filled up our water bottles and hit the trail to find a campsite. Tomorrow the terrain starts climbing again. We’ve been spoiled for the last few days since it’s been so flat. Each day brings us closer to our next town stop…
– Posted from the PCT
Location:Pct mile 1424