Castle Crags to Etna Summit PCT Section Hike Overview
The Pacific Crest Trail is quick turning into one in every of the most well-known and most-walked long-distance climbing trails in America. Its size stretches roughly 2,650 miles from the Mexican border south of Campo, California to the Canadian border close to Manning Park, British Columbia. Hikers and horse riders could be discovered on path all yr lengthy, however the prime thru-hiking season lies between April and October when snow ranges are at their lowest.
With many quick access factors alongside its size, the Pacific Crest Trail can also be extensively utilized by day hikers and part hikers who don’t have 5 months to spare for a thru-hike. Wanting ahead to a number of weeks out on the path, I deliberate a northbound part hike alongside the Pacific Crest Trail, intending to stroll from California’s Castle Crags Nationwide Park all the approach to Oregon’s Crater Lake. I couldn’t wait to get out on this 330 mile stretch over the Marble Mountains and thru the Trinity Wilderness.
This was a smokey journey due to wildfires, however you’ll be able to simply see Shasta poking its head in the distance.
That is the third time in as a few years that I’ve tried to full this part of path, and I’m decided to end it. As luck would once more appear to have it, my destiny was altered by the wildfires that have been ravaging all of western North America. Learn my about my smoke-and-fire-filled journey under.
Desk of Contents
Castle Crags to Etna Summit Journey Particulars
Castle Crags to Etna Summit Trail Report
Plans are made to be damaged.
Planning for this journey started a number of years in the past. In 2015 I thru-hiked the complete Pacific Crest Trail with my spouse, all of it apart from the part between the Trinity Wilderness and Russian Wilderness in Northern California. After climbing 1,500 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, a debilitating case of tendonitis had flared in my proper foot, which took me off the path for a pair weeks. Having a timeline we would have liked to stick to, my spouse continued the journey solo throughout my restoration time, strolling day after day alone till I used to be in a position to return to her and the path at Crater Lake Nationwide Park.
We completed our Pacific Crest Trail journey six weeks later at the Canadian border and I used to be formally a through hiker, a person who had walked from Mexico to Canada…apart from this one piece of path. It was a chip on my shoulder, an asterisk to my journey.
The Pacific Crest Trail marker on a tee. You’re in the proper place.
So I deliberate to full it the subsequent yr, 2016, this time with my father. We made it about 15 miles southbound from Crater Lake earlier than calling the journey a wash. There was nonetheless an excessive amount of snow in June and we weren’t assured sufficient in our talents to tackle the problem.
So I deliberate to full it the subsequent yr, 2017, this time with my sister. Sense a theme? I don’t typically hike alone. We set our begin date close to the finish of August to keep away from the snow, however for private causes my sister had to abandon the journey simply weeks earlier than it was set to start.
I used to be decided to proceed on, however a number of logistics had to be altered since this was now a one-person journey. This was simpler, in a means, since I knew what mountaineering tempo I used to be able to sustaining. Utilizing Craig’s PCT Planner, I scheduled my anticipated resupply dates and their places. Right here’s a full overview of my plan.
Resupply bins. Hiker meals is the greatest meals.
With a mean of 21 miles per day I might solely want to make two resupply stops, and although I might have determined to take some relaxation days (aka “zero” days, as in zero miles walked), I figured I might make the entire journey in a single go and relaxation once I was accomplished.
I wasn’t wanting ahead to being alone for almost a month of strolling, however the timing appeared proper and I had a mission to accomplish. Flex Capacitor absolutely packed and resupply bins mailed, I used to be all set to bounce again on the Pacific Crest Trail and see what lovely surroundings this part had to supply.
Setting off on my solo part hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. The Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor absolutely loaded.
I didn’t want a allow for this journey, although most long-distance PCT excursions would require one. When you’re mountaineering over 500 miles of the path in a single journey you’ll want a PCT Lengthy-distance Allow, and different businesses (comparable to Nationwide Parks) have their very own permits and laws for the land they handle that you simply’ll be strolling over.
The journey began with uncertainty. All the trails in Crater Lake Nationwide Park had been closed due to hearth the week earlier than, however I discovered a workaround that might permit me to end 99% of my meant hike. Then, the day I used to be setting out to begin, one other part of path was closed by hearth in the Marble Mountains. Once more, I discovered a workaround (which the Pacific Crest Trail Affiliation is all the time fast to assist with on their PCT path closure webpage), however it appeared as if the wildfires have been rising uncontrolled.
Beginning at the begin of this PCT part hike.
Smoke and Extra Smoke
I triple-checked to ensure that the place I might be beginning out was protected to hike. Different hikers had posted on-line that the path was good, that each one I had to do was climb up above the layer of smoke.
Once I say smoke, I imply it.
I stepped onto the Pacific Crest Trail figuring out that if I had to flip round I might achieve this with out hesitation. Smoke crammed the skies throughout me, a lot in order that I couldn’t catch even a glimpse of the outstanding Mt. Shasta which dominates the space’s panorama on a typical day.
My trek started with a 5,000 foot elevation achieve as I climbed my method up into Castle Crags State Park. The stellar mountaintop rock formations have been hidden from my view in the smoky haze, however the forest by way of which I hiked should have filtered the air someway as a result of I used to be in a position to breathe simply high-quality. Thanks timber!
The peaks of Castle Crags coated in smoke.
The La Sportiva Wildcats gripped the path’s incline properly because it transitioned from dry mud to granite boulders. After 20 miles of nothing however uphill I might have thought that my ft have been going to be coated in blisters, however they weren’t!
As soon as I had made it to the prime of the ridge I began having hassle. I used to be above the worst of the smoke, positive, although the late August warmth was one other issue, as was the altitude. My residence at the time was on the Oregon Coast (I’m in Eugene now) so I had turn out to be accustomed to a cool breeze at an easy-breathing 15 ft above sea degree. In in the future, although, I had hiked my method up to the place the air was skinny and the solar shined brighter than the inside a tanning mattress.
Flattening the miles.
I would really like to say that I took my time by ready out the warmth of the day in the shade whereas sipping some cool creek water from my Smartwater Bottle (that may have been the sensible factor to do), however the CLIF Bar-fueled climbing engine inside me fired up and my legs crushed extra miles regardless of the torrid circumstances. I made 30 miles on the second day and certain would have finished so once more the subsequent day if a thunderstorm hadn’t stopped me in my tracks.
Thunder, Lightning, Oh My!
The heavens began rumbling early in the morning of the third day earlier than there was even a cloud in the sky. I knew that these Northern Californian mountains have been notorious for his or her shock thunderstorms, however I used to be nonetheless shocked to see the large thunderhead that crept up on me later in the afternoon. It got here out of nowhere!
The clouds moved in nearer as the minutes handed and throughout the air shook with electrical depth. There was a second when the wind stopped, when the forest turned quiet and nonetheless, after which the rain lastly fell.
In the wilderness, when it rains it pours.
I threw on my backpack rain cowl and Frogg Toggs rain jacket, then ran underneath a tree to wait out the worst of the storm. Forward of me was a naked ridge, a spot I didn’t need to be whereas lightning exploded above me like a barrage of fireworks.
A painful headache kicked in following the atmospheric strain change of the storm, and so when the climate lightened I took the alternative to pitch the Tarptent Double Rainbow to relaxation. It was early to arrange for the night time, however I used to be exhausted. I spent some hours studying tales on my telephone earlier than drifting off to dreamland.
Dreamland is however a second away.
Smoke, As soon as Once more!
That night time, at some ungodly hour between midnight and dawn, I awoke in a panic. My tent was filled with smoke, sufficient in order that I used to be choking with each breath. My first thought was that considered one of the close by fires had flared up whereas I used to be sleeping, or perhaps the thunderstorm had began a brand new blaze proper close to my campsite.
I obtained out of my tent in the pitch blackness of the night time. It was troublesome to see, not solely due to the darkness, but in addition as a result of I had fallen asleep with my contacts in, inflicting them to be dry and blur my imaginative and prescient. After a variety of eyeball rubbing I walked to a naked spot on the hill with a 360 diploma view of the surrounding space. The smoke was nonetheless intense, however I noticed no different indicators of fireside in the neighborhood.
Clearly not that night time, however right here’s an concept of the smoke on the path.
Ought to I keep or ought to I rise up and hike in the darkness of the night time? What if I have been to stroll proper into the hearth? Worry was rampaging by way of my ideas. The choice I used to be about to make might actually be life or dying.
Perhaps it was as a result of I couldn’t spot any close by sources of smoke or hearth, or perhaps it was as a result of my want to get again to sleep was stronger than my worry of a fiery demise (in all probability the latter), however I made a decision to keep the place I used to be till daylight. I knew that my speedy space was hearth free: I wasn’t so positive about the path forward. The winds quickly shifted, abating the depth of the cough-inducing fumes, and by morning all was nicely once more.
Later that day I discovered a spot of mobile service on prime of a mountain and discovered that the path closures had grown to the level the place there was not an alternate route round them. I might have to skip the majority of the Marble Mountains by catching a journey from the city of Etna to Seiad Valley. It was unlucky that I might have to miss part of the path.
Plans are made to be damaged, although.
I had made it to the final stretch earlier than Etna, mountaineering up a rocky a part of the path once I noticed 4 deer about 200 ft forward coming down the path towards me. This was alongside a granite cliff with nothing however boulders above and under. I ended and watched the deer as they walked, then they all of the sudden darted downhill at a breakneck tempo. It took me a second to course of that a cougar was chasing them down the ravine.
You’ll be able to’t see the cougar or deer, however they’re down that slope.
I swear to you that I’ve by no means hiked quicker in my life then I did after witnessing that 200 pound cat seek out its prey. I hustled previous the place I noticed the cougar race after the deer (who knew if there have been extra hiding behind the rocks above? Ahh!) and didn’t cease for the subsequent 10 miles till I had made it to the street to Etna.
Sadly, Etna is the place my hike ended. As soon as on the town I discovered that the wildfires had exponentially elevated, and now the path north of Seiad Valley was closed as properly. With most of the remaining Pacific Crest Trail towards Crater Lake underneath hearth, I made a decision to finish it now earlier than it received any worse and make one other try at this part in the future. Sure, once more.
I met some through hikers on the town who have been despondent, to say the least. Earlier in the summer time that they had to work round the heaviest Sierra Nevada snowfall in recorded historical past, and now they have been making an attempt their greatest to plan their hike round the quite a few fire-caused path closures.
Plans change, individuals. Plans change.
This part of the PCT is gorgeous, even by means of a smoky haze, and I can’t wait to get again on it to end what I began. It’s loopy how the circumstances on anybody part of path can drastically change — from dry and smoky to moist and chilly to summer time snow, however that’s all a part of the journey. You by no means know what you’re going to be confronted with, and it’s going to be a unique expertise for each individual.
A reflective second on the path.
This was my first time backpacking solo for such an extended stint. It was scary, difficult, and exhilarating. The worry was far more intense. Not solely was I strolling in a celebration of 1, however as a result of the fires have been so dangerous there was hardly one other soul to be came upon on the path. There was nobody to share my fears with, nobody to depend on if hearth, thunder, or cougars obtained the better of me.
I might have loved it extra with a associate, and felt safer, however I’m glad to have a journey to name my very own, to inform tales about. It was a check of self-reliance, a solitary exploit the place my experiences, talents, and braveness have been pushed to their limits. I’ll backpack solo once more, although perhaps not when wildfires threaten to bake me like a hiker cake.
An indication in the Russian Wilderness.
I’d encourage you to give this part of path a attempt, or any a part of the Pacific Crest Trail. I’ll be again on it subsequent summer time. It’s a simple path to comply with, and it’s beautiful each step of the method, however plan correctly, be protected, and know that plans are made to be damaged.
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