There was a fire raging nearby while we were in Etna, so we knew we would be battling heavy smoke for a few days, but we decided to press on. Even though the trail was still open, there were a lot of hikers leaving Etna and skipping ahead to further up the trail to avoid the smoke. I’m so glad we decided not to join them. This ended up being one of the most fun little sections we’ve done in a while.
We got a hitch back to the trail late in the afternoon and intended to do about 15 miles before calling it a night but the weather had other plans. We knew there was a chance of thunderstorms but it was hard to tell storm clouds from the smoke and haze. At about 5:00 pm we started seeing lightening, much closer than we felt comfortable with. We typically march on during inclement weather, never paying it too much mind, despite the fact that our trekking poles are essentially lightening rods in our hands. But this was much closer than any storm we’ve hiked through. The lightening was right on top of us and we were traversing an open rock face between bouts of limited tree cover. It’s honestly the closest I’ve come to feeling anything close to fear on this entire trip. So when a quick check of the map showed a suitable campsite half a mile away, we booked for it. Despite being several hours earlier than we’d intended to stop hiking, we pitched our tent there, just before the skies opened up and starting dumping rain. We also enjoyed a brief but violent show of hail from the warmth of our tent, making it the third occasion this trip we’ve been hailed on. So much for a dry year! ;)
Stormy and smoky skies were the norm for the next couple days, accompanying us into the tiny trail town of Seiad Valley, California … or Jefferson, if the people living there had their way. They’re part of the movement in northern California that is calling for a separationof northern and southern California into two states. We decided not to mention where we were from. The little town was incredibly welcoming, though. The RV park lets PCT hikers set up in their grass and use their facilities for a small fee, so there was a small encampment of tents the night we were there, all people we’d been running into or camping near for the last few days. We all piled into their little TV room to watch a movie from their extensive VHS collection. Predator was the big winner, and while it wouldn’t have been my first selection, it was a weirdly wonderful movie night.
We elected to skip the famous Seiad Valley Cafe Pancake Challenge the next morning. The challenge includes 5 one-pound pancakes and your meal is free if you can down them all within 2 hours. If I tried to eat even a pound of pancakes I’d probably never want to hike (or move) again, so we opted for hefty omelets instead. One of the hikers there had attempted the challenge the day before and made it through three pancakes before throwing in the towel. I don’t imagine many people get their meal on the house, but the cafe has been featured on Food Network (or maybe the Travel Channel?) as one of the premier places to “pig out” in America.
Leaving Seiad Valley, we went straight up into one of the more notorious climbs along the PCT. You gain 5000 feet of elevation in about 7 miles and it’s among the steeper climbs we encounter along the way. In fact, we heard that some of the hikers skipping out from Etna due to the fire had decided to skip ahead all the way to Ashland just to avoid it (lame). It’s something we had been kind of dreading since we were first perusing the elevation profiles before our trip started, and I was weirdly looking forward to tackling it and putting it behind us. It turned out to be over-hyped and not nearly as horrible as we’d been led to believe. We made the climb at the same time as two other hikers we’d camped with at the RV park and ended up seeing both of them at the border crossing the next day so we got to celebrate the passing into Oregon together.
That’s right – after 3 months of hiking we have finally set foot in the beautiful state of Oregon! Our first resupply stop brought us into the cool, funky town of Ashland where we have been enjoying ridiculously good food, good coffee and beer, and a comfy hotel bed. People here has been overwhelmingly friendly and I could easily see spending more time here. But we are marching on! Can’t wait to see what the rest of Oregon holds.