PCT Day 102: Blowdown City and the Swimming Hole

July 29, 2022

Campsite at mile 1625.5 to Grider Creek Campground at mile 1649.5

24 miles

Tribute doesn’t set an alarm, but that doesn’t stop him from being the first one awake and rustling around this morning. To be fair, I’m awake before him because everyone else at this campsite seems to be keen to do the full 30 to Seiad today, but still. I don’t want to move. But I do, because the hills don’t look as bad as yesterday’s and there’s a huge downhill that will put us within six miles of town. Today is going to be good, and I can feel it.

There are a few uphills for the first part of the day, but they’re all very manageable. Tribute looks around at the fields of wildflowers below craggy hills and declares that it bears a striking resemblance to the Uinta Highline Trail in Utah, which he did last year. It really is a gorgeous morning.

I hike just behind Jumbo for a while and follow when he detours from trail to stand on the banks of Paradise Lake. It’s a lovely lake below a wall of grassy mountains. We decide to take a tea break here. Jumbo makes his standard Yorkshire tea while Tribute and I have packets of vanilla chai that we got in Etna. It’s so relaxing and lovely on this shaded, chill morning.

The only problem with this is that when we start hiking again, it’s already blazing. We stop for water at a frigid spring and dunk our hats and sleeves, but it’s dry almost as soon as we soak. Jumbo starts heading up the hill before it gets too hot. I’m expecting to feel like shit because that’s kind of the standard recently, but I actually feel really good, full of energy and ready to rock up the hill. I put on some music and blast it up the steep slope. There are great views and the trail isn’t too rocky and I feel like a million bucks.

I stop again for water at Buckhorn Spring, using the extra in my CNOC to splash all over my head and neck. Then it’s three lovely downhill miles through alternating open fields and pine forests to a dirt road where I plan to have lunch. When I get there, Jumbo is already sprawled out on his tyvek, pulling out food items. Since I lost my tyvek somewhere in the past couple of days, I’m not quite as comfy as I normally make myself at lunch, but I still enjoy my overstuffed turkey and cheese wraps and spoonfuls of Nutella.

Jumbo and I have to dash off in opposite directions for cathole time right after lunch, almost like we’ve been hiking together for three months and are on the same schedule. Then it’s all downhill the rest of the day.

It looks great on the elevation profile, but the problem is that this section is extremely overgrown and there are tons of blowdowns among the crowded branches. It’s hot and I’m sweating like a pig in a sauna. There are whole sections where we basically have to bushwhack while grappling with multiple downed trees in a row. Needless to say, it’s slow going.

We get through the worst of the overgrown section and then there’s a beautiful, miraculous creek. It’s ice-cold and there are butterflies all over the place. One lands on my shoe and sits there, gently flapping its wings while I filter water.

We read on the FarOut comments that there’s a major creek in about a mile with a great swimming hole just under the bridge. We book it down there, which is a lot easier now that the trail is not overgrown or covered in blowdowns. When we get to Grider Creek, we see Tribute casually chilling on a rock next to what looks, sure enough, to be the most pristine little pool for swimming. We waste no time getting down to the edge of the water, shedding layers, and plunging in. It’s cold, way colder than a lake, but it’s so refreshing after the hot, muggy few hours we’ve just had.

After the creek, it’s a smooth and easy seven miles to our Forest Service campsite. The last mile is miserable even though it’s basically flat because it has become extremely humid, and it looks like there’s a storm rolling in. We set up camp near Clash and some other hikers, gather water, and eat dinner at the picnic table. Just as we’re finishing, the wind picks up and the rain starts to come down in earnest. There’s thunder and lightning, too, and some of the dead trees in the distance start to fall with a cascade of crashes around us. It is, in a word, terrifying. All the trees in our immediate vicinity are alive and healthy looking, thankfully, but I don’t know how long the storm is going to last.

After we get chased away from the table and into our tents, I finish up my hot chocolate and brush my teeth, and by the time I have to exit the tent to go to the privy, it’s calmed down to a gentle patter. Still, the sound of the rain on my Duplex reminds me of the third and fourth days on the trail, the ones with all the wind, when Andy, Petra and I hitched into Julian a few days early. I smile, remembering those rosy early days, even if that storm was pretty gnarly. Is it weird to be nostalgic for the start of an adventure you’re still on? I can’t believe that was the same trail.

We’re going to Seiad Valley tomorrow, the last town before Oregon. We can sleep in because it’s a quick six miles. I lay down and listen to the gentle rain, perfectly relaxed.

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