In researching the PCT, you rarely hear about Northern California. Both the desert and the Sierra are heavily detailed by former hikers, but once you start researching the trail’s midpoint and beyond, you have much less of an idea about what to expect.
- Days since Mexico: 101
- Total miles hiked: 1699
- Days camped: 74
- Days camped alone: 14
- Zero days: 18
- Near-o days: 8
- Days slept off trail: 26
- Miles per day: 20.47
- Miles per day (including zero days): 16.82
- Longest day: 41
The trail in Northern California is interesting (read: not that interesting). Instead of climbing huge mountains and going down the other side as you did in the Sierra, you are now doing the inverse as you descend steeply into towns and then face large climbs following your resupply.
I found the trail itself in Northern California to be quite boring. You do get some fantastic views of Mount Shasta, and there are some nicer areas around Lake Tahoe, but the NorCal experience is rather underwhelming when compared to the majesty of the Sierra (this is where a lot of people supposedly get off the PCT).
So what are some of the highlights of Northern California?
Not too exciting, huh?
NorCal also brought about my first full days and nights of rain on the trail – possibly the worst thing ever. I would welcome hungry packs of genetically engineered super bears stalking me and my fellow hikers before walking another day through the rain. Although my expectations for Oregon and Washington are far from optimistic.
My stops between South Lake Tahoe and the Oregon border included:
- Sierra City (full resupply, laundry, river bath)
- Quincy (two nights, one zero, full resupply, mailed resupply box to Seiad Valley)
- Chester (one night, small resupply)
- Burney Falls (one night, one near-o, pick up resupply box)
- Castella (small resupply)
- Etna (two nights, one zero, full resupply from supermarket)
- Seiad Valley (one night, one near-o, pick up resupply box)
Seiad Valley, the final resupply stop in Northern California, features a six-mile road walk (officially the PCT), a (supposed) five-pound pancake challenge (1. chances are you will fail, and 2. it’s surely more than five pounds), and then an exciting ten-mile, 5,000 foot climb out of town (and you get the added bonus of learning about the State of Jefferson).
FLORA AND (LACK OF) FAUNA
The animal life north of the Sierra tapers off dramatically, but the low elevations encountered bring about new and exciting plant life to compensate. The most exciting, of course, is our friend poison oak.
Like the poodle dog bush of the desert, the poison oak in Northern California is incredibly prevalent. If you have heard the rhyme “leaves of three, leave them be”, you may think that you are prepared to meet with this rash dealing demon, but identifying the plant is not as easy as the rhyme would suggest.
You see, most plants you find in poison oak territory have “leaves of three”, and distinguishing one from another is not a simple task. Take a look at the photos below. Which are poison oak? All of them? Some of them? None of them? Let’s see what you’ve got.
So what’s what? I’ll be honest here, I have no idea.
My initial solution was to simply be careful and avoid all plants meeting the “leaves of three” criteria. However, I soon grew tired of staring at my feet and decided to stop caring (and yes, I did end up getting some mild poison oak – worth it).
In the rain it becomes hard to care about anything except not being in the rain.
So here is a quick recap of the gear I added for my entrance into the Sierra:
- Got rid of the BV-500 Bear Canister!
And that’s about it. You can get rid of your bear canister (legally) as early as Bridgeport, but most people do so around South Lake Tahoe (as Bridgeport is not a common resupply stop).
Reaching both the trail’s midway point and reaching the California/Oregon border are both huge milestones on the Pacific Crest Trail. To keep yourself optimistic about finishing you need to be wary of employing the words “still” and “only”, as in “we still have two more states to walk through” or “we are only halfway through this thing?”
I seriously considered what I was doing out on the PCT whilst in the North of California, and found myself wondering if I was going to end up at the Canadian border in the end.
Everyone says that Oregon is flat and you can cruise through the state in just fourteen days if you really push. Perhaps I can make this a reality.