Mount Shasta as it looked at dusk, as I and several other hikers, set out to night-hike Hat Creek Rim to avoid the soaring daytime temperatures in this largely shadeless and waterless section.
Northern California is proving to be a section requiring real mental toughness. It is a long way between completing the Sierra’s and reaching Oregon. California from South to North is 1700 miles and it feels like Oregon will never come. That said there is some real beauty in this area. The Trinity Alps Wilderness and Russian Wilderness are areas I hope to come back to one day and share with Lisa.
Highlights of the last week or two have included Drakesbad Lodge, nestled deep in the woods and mountains of the Lassen Volcanic National Park, at the site of a natural hot spring. This was a reminder that much of the hike follows the eastern edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a 25,000 mile horseshoe of nearly continuous oceanic trenches, moving belts or plates, volcanic arcs, and active volcanos. Shasta would be the first of many ‘classic’ looking volcanos on the route. Drakesbad itself was little more than a series of cabins in the woods, but they welcomed passing PCT hikers providing a shower, laundry and a hot meal for a small fee, as well as the obligatory dip in the hot spring, a gift beyond description for those of us who are now starting to feel the effects of hiking so far, and for so long.
Soon after Drakesbad came Hat Creek Rim, an exceptionally hot and dry section of over forty miles without water. I’d been missing Lisa tremendously since she returned home for the second time, and for some company i’d taken to hiking, on and off, with a loose group of hikers I knew that had travelled at a similar pace since early in the hike. I was especially glad of the company to travel the rim at night, an area known for its bear and snake activity. True to form we’d only been going for about an hour before dusk when we encountered an aggressive green rattlesnake.
I’m told there are numerous variations of rattlesnake, some more aggressive than others. This one was certainly not happy to see us and, despite several polite requests, he would just not move away from the trail so we had to take a wide detour to keep out of striking range. I’d heard of at least two hikers whose hikes had been ended this year by rattlesnake bites. I led our little group for much of that night and encountered two more rattlesnakes, both brown and much less aggressive than this early one. We probably passed within a few feet of many more though without knowing. I later spoke to another English hiker who had come face to face with a black bear on that section of trail at night! Despite actively looking for them I had yet to see a bear on this trip. What we did see plenty of during that night were small rodents I later identified as the California Pocket Mouse (forgive the poor photo, they didn’t stay still long – must be something to do with being a rattler-snack):
Hat Creek Rim in the dawn light was simultaneously harsh and gorgeous. Dark, coarse lava rock was sparsely covered by scrub and small thickets of low, hardy trees. Crickets chirped incessantly and giant ants forged tracks across our path. An escarpment led to a drop to the valley floor where the temperature soared. The whole scene that morning reminded me strongly of being in East Africa and it struck me again how incredibly diverse the environments and climates of the American West are. The beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail is that it takes the hiker through so much of it.
Later that morning our pace had slowed as the sun grew stronger and rose higher in the sky. We spotted an opportunity for a shady rest and moving in we disturbed a snake I didn’t recognise. If anyone can identify this one do leave a comment and let me know.