PCT Day 87: Lassen Up

July 14, 2022

Mile 1331.4 to Lassen Volcanic National Park northern boundary at mile 1365.5

34.1 miles

My alarm goes off at 4:20. I’m very confused. I think I was dreaming about pineapple. Where am I? Where’s the pineapple? What’s happening? Then I hear Jumbo rustling around and everything snaps into place. Ah, right. I’m hiking the PCT. Today we’re doing 34 miles. Time to move.

Today is pretty much entirely in the burn zone, which is why it’s amazing to be hiking before the sun comes up. I hike with Jumbo for the entire morning. The scenery is… unremarkable. Burnt. Ashy. Dry. It gets into my mouth and makes me cough. I wonder what this forest looked like before Dixie.

We stop at a spring after about three miles. There’s what one Guthook comment calls a “death pool” in front of the flow, and this is pretty accurate because the ash has mixed with the water to make a gray sludgy soup. Thankfully there’s still a piped spring flowing with actual fresh water behind it. We fill up and keep on moving.

We’re moving quickly and talking a ton this morning. Jumbo’s friend from back home is thinking about coming out for a visit, and we’re trying to work out the logistics of that. We get on a tangent about recycling and how imperfect it is as how even if everyone in the world recycled everything they could, it wouldn’t even make a dent in climate emissions because it’s corporations that are the most responsible. Then we inevitably shift into talking about movies and shows. It’s an energetic morning on the conversation front.

At 10 miles we take a decent break. It’s not even 9 yet. Woo! I eat a wrap and chip drink and camel up on some water. Not much after that is a spring where I run off for Morning Cathole Time™ and, in the meantime, Tribute catches up. It’s a hot minute until the next water, so I make sure to drink some while I’m still here.

The three of us walk together for a long while after that. The trail makes two of those annoying, unexpected sharp uphills, and we’re in deep burn zone again. At the bottom of one of the hills, we take a side trail to Terminal Geyser, a steam vent that emits puffs of hot, sulfury clouds. It smells and looks like Yellowstone, with the steam above a boiling creek. It’s so cool! I’m very over the burn area, but at least this is an interesting little tidbit.

Shortly after the geyser we see another feature called the boiling lake. The name makes a lot of sense because this muddy, sulfurous puddle is indeed steaming. Volcanic activity is so neat!

After a couple more miles we stop at the Warner Valley campground for lunch. It’s technically closed, but the pit toilet is open and it is extremely clean and luxurious. Lunch is in the shade on the ground; there are picnic tables but they’re in the full sun so no thanks. I demolish the bag of salad I bought and down some chip drink for good measure. It’s definitely over an hour before we start moving again, which we can’t really afford to do, but we’ve already gone 19 miles so I think we’ve earned a rest.

It’s so hot after lunch. There’s a relatively small uphill, but it’s in the sun and I’m quickly entering that afternoon sleepy mode. Jumbo gets ahead as he is wont to do on an uphill, and I put some music in, but I’m not really into it and I thrash around between albums and playlists before just giving up entirely. I make it to the top and then the bottom of the hill. There’s a creek, Kings Creek, that I vaguely feel like I should be crossing, but the trail marker seems to indicate that I need to go up a hill to the left. I start doing this, but then after maybe a quarter mile my “this doesn’t feel like the PCT” warning system goes off in my brain. I check Guthook, and it turns out that I’m indeed off trail. Sweet! I love going half a mile out of my way for no reason!! Lassen: mark your trails better.

I find the downed tree mentioned in the FarOut comments and cross it at the creek, then turn uphill (AGAIN) and start trudging. Ugh. Big ugh. I feel so slow. I don’t have cheese. Not even string cheese. I hear a hiker behind me and turn around to see Tribute.

“I found one of those mushrooms you were talking about,” he reports.

I gasp. “A morel?”

He thinks. “Are they the ones that look like a brain penis?”

“Yes!” I say excitedly. “Like if your brain was four inches tall and shaped like a penis! Exactly! Where? How far back?”

It turns out that it’s way too far to go back and see the morels, and anyway Tribute says they looked a little crunchy and past their prime, but I’m scanning the ground for the next few hours. I missed morel season in Ohio and Kentucky this year, and I know they grow erratically in burn zones, so I should have been looking this whole time. Shoot.

I’m trudging along slowly when I check the mileage and realize that we’re going to make it to camp very late if I don’t start going faster. I kick it into a slightly higher gear and soon run into Jumbo at a water source. We fill up, and then the moment I start walking again I feel every single mile of today in my tendons and bones and soul. Oh my lord. I’m in pain. It takes ten whole minutes of walking before I can trudge at a normal gait. I walk with Jumbo for a few miles, and neither of us says a word. I’m zapped, and I can tell by the awkward gait he’s walking with that he is too. There’s a lake coming up, and I don’t care what time it is or how far back it pushes our arrival at camp. I am simply going to go in, end of story.

Before long we arrive on the shores of Lower Twin Lake. We follow the comments instructing us to continue to the far end where there’s a beach. When we get there, it’s a little slice of heaven. The sun is still pretty high, but it’s just starting to slant into evening. It shimmers and sparkles on the water. Oh. Yes. Jumbo takes his shoes off and cautiously wades in up to his shoes, but the moment my feet touch the water and I feel that it is the most utterly perfect temperature, I sprint all the way in. My joints sing in relief. It’s so clear and beautiful and the water laps up against me like a cool, merciful hug. I could cry. I swim around and dunk my head in and feel the dirt and miles and pain wash away. Jumbo, seeing my delight, is persuaded to follow suit. Meanwhile, Tribute sits calmly on a rock on the shore methodically scrubbing down his toes. We can’t persuade him to join us. To be fair, in his words, he “swims like an anvil tied to another anvil.” To each their own.

But I’m in heaven.

Tribute heads out before us, and Jumbo and I make a quick dinner and then load up on water. I think I’ve had seven or eight liters today, easy. It’s been boiling and dry and ashy and I can’t keep up with my thirst. We have eight or so miles left, it’s deep evening now, and we’re racing against daylight. But as I pull my hiking clothes back on and cinch down my pack straps, I feel so much better than I did before, and I know this next set of miles will be much more enjoyable than right before the lake.

I’m right. It’s an amazing evening. Jumbo gets the cheese and zooms ahead, and I settle into my own pace that feels good and relaxing. I’m so placid. So at peace. I start listening to music, but it doesn’t feel right somehow and I stop after a few miles and just listen to the night. It’s completely flat, and although we’re still in a burn zone and there are hardly any trees on this sweeping plain, it’s somehow still very beautiful. The miles fly as it gets dark. I see some deer. I start getting a little nervous about mountain lions and bears so I put on a podcast out loud and feel like I’m walking with old friends. Then, just as the last drops of daylight are fading from the sky, I pass the northern boundary of Lassen and see Jumbo and Tribute.

“Longest day ever!” Jumbo says, giving me a fist bump. Tribute tells me how Jumbo came careening over a ridge and scared him half to death. I smile, too tired to laugh, but I feel alright all things considered. 34 miles in a day was unthinkable to me once. It’s still pretty unthinkable. But we did it somehow. I set up my tent, crawl in, eat a fig bar and brush my teeth. Then I curl up and wait for sleep. I don’t have to wait long.

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