Day 92: Burney (1411) to near Lake Britton Dam (1421)
Day 93: 1421 to an unnamed ridge (1451)
Day 94: 1451 to West Trough Creek (1482)
Day 95: 1482 to Dunsmuir (1501)
Day 96: 1501 to an unnamed ridge (1526)
Day 97: 1526 to Masterson Meadow (1556)
Day 98: 1556 to edge of Russian Wilderness (1586)
Day 99: 1586 to Etna (1599)
Highlights: Nice views of Shasta and hints of Pacific Northwest vibes (#TeamEdward); Picking up steam with back-to-back 30-mile days; Dunsmuir was a lovely town.
Lowlights: Getting caught in a thunderstorm while camping without a tent; Back-to-back 30-mile days is actually kind of tough.
Burney to Dunsmuir
After a relaxing and pleasant morning and early afternoon eating and shopping in Burney, I hitches back to the trail around 5pm to do a few miles before dark. The trail early on remained low and near a large hydroelectric project, whose dam I crossed after dark that night. I stopped briefly at Burney Falls, a pretty cool waterfall and state park. I would have liked to camp there and see it in the morning sun, and explore the surrounding area a bit more, but I needed to hike more miles that evening.
The following day, the trail quickly left the moonscapy volcanic terrain by Burney and entered into heavy, damp forests, as I imagine Oregon and Washington to be, with occasional open ridge views out to Mt Shasta, the second largest volcano in the Cascade range, after Washington’s Mt Rainier.
In order to keep pace with my goals as well as to prep for more consistent big miles in Oregon, I decided I ought to do two consecutive 30-mile days. I just about managed, hiking slightly after dark both nights, while gaining a lot of confidence in my ability to do so (30 miles increasingly feels standard rather than daunting).
At the end of Day 94, after my second 30-mile day, I camped in a wooded area by a creek with two other hikers. As is my standard practice unless I have a good reason not to, I cowboy camped (i.e. no tent). I’d heard from somebody in Burney Falls that there were supposed to be thunderstorms in two nights (from the point when we spoke), but I thought that meant the night of Day 93, when I did sleep in a tent because I was on a windy ridge and when there was no rain. Anyway, it started raining at about 1 am, and light-up-the-sky lightning began with a frequency of several times per minute not long after. Being down in a canyon and in heavy forests, I was never at risk of being struck, but the mind tends to go in that direction when awoken by heavy lightning.
Additionally, I wasn’t in a tent, which isn’t great for down sleeping bags. My rain fly was nearby, and in my drowsy attempt to rectify the situation, I spread it out over my sleeping bag like a second blanket. At this point, I thought it was like 5 am and that I’d be getting up soon, so I didn’t really feel like expending too much effort. Then I checked my watch to find that it wasn’t even 2 yet, so I very deftly managed to set up my tent poles and put the fly up over them without leaving a seated position inside my sleeping bag. The lightning stopped after probably an hour, but the rain continued for the rest of the night. Most of my stuff got pretty wet, but I was still able to sleep the rest of the night. I guess the same thunderstorm hit all the way up to Washington, so other hikers in more exposed spots had pretty harrowing experiences hoping they wouldn’t get struck. As a side note, why do they call it a thunderstorm? Thunder is only a byproduct of the thing that’s actually dangerous, which is lightning.
The next day, I had a relatively short 19 miles to get into Dunsmuir, a railroad town on Interstate 5 and the upper Sacramento River close to Mt Shasta. The hike down to the road featured occasional great views of Castle Crags, a large cliff formation which looms directly over the road. I remember driving by this in awe a couple of times in high school on my way to go skiing in Shasta with my friend Henry, so Henry, if you’re reading this, this made me think of you.
I got to Dunsmuir at around 5 and was picked up by a hippy woman named KellyFish who runs her house as a hostel. She drove me and another hiker Sugar Rush back there and set us up on the mattresses in the backyard. We then borrowed bikes and rode the remaining 2 miles into Dunsmuir proper for dinner and shopping.
Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures in town (I really must get better about that), but Dunsmuir was a surprisingly hippy town, given how rural it is. Lots of older homes with fairy lights or artwork hanging on porches or in the window. For the Davisites among you, these reminded me of the homes in Old North Davis (i.e. C and D streets between 5th and 7th). There were lots of restaurants and many people eating in them (this was a Saturday, in fairness). I mentioned this to KellyFish (who also does yoga lessons), and she explained that until a few years ago, Mt Shasta City was the hippy town while Dunsmuir was meth-addled and more typical of the rest of rural California. Since then, many urban refugees from the Bay Area have escaped to Mt Shasta, driving up prices and pushing its hippy population out to Dunsmuir.
Dunsmuir to Etna
I spent the night on a bed outside at KellyFish’s house, cooked pancakes for myself and two others, then hit the trail around 10:30 am. Day 96 was largely uphill, ascending out of the Sacramento River, past Castle Crags, and into the Trinity Alps. I’m meeting my friend Étienne in Ashland, Ore., on Sunday night, and in order to make that, I have to be hiking 30-mile days when I’m starting and ending on trail, and not lose too much time when a town is involved, so I managed 25 miles coming out of Dunsmuir.
During the climb, I came across this couple going southbound (on the much shorter Siskiyou Trail), and the dude (Duncan, I think) noticed my guitar and asked if he could see it. He then proceeded to perform an original of his, which was really well written and performed. Turns out he used to perform in a band, unsurprisingly. Before the trip, I was looking forward to farming out my guitar and hearing other hikers do their stuff. I’ve tried to make that happen, but I’ve been surprised at how few hikers actually play or are willing to perform to an audience. So it was awesome that Duncan was willing and actually really good.
The next three days into Etna were pretty mellow, with primarily ridge walking with good views into lakes and mountains. Classic stuff. I managed 30 miles on the first two of these, and then 13 into Etna on the third. It took like 2 hours to get a hitch into Etna, but had a fantastic meal of poutine and woodfired pizza with some very lovely people I’d met trying to hitch.
Heading back to the trail now – big miles ahead to get out of California and to Ashland in the next few days.