I had been hearing about section “O” since before the trip began. The ominous “O”, the horrible “O”, the dreaded “O”… The problem? Hundreds of blown-down trees were rumored to make passage in this section next to impossible. I had talked to a southbound hiker who had just come through “O”. He said that he made it through, but it wasn’t easy. I wasn’t too worried, how bad could it be?
The first couple sections of “O” went smoothly, a gently ascending trail though the forest. It was “classic California” – dry dusty trail, blue skies, big trees… About mid-day, I arrived at Peavine Creek and was confronted with a lengthy sign posted at a trailhead. The sign went on and on about how bad the conditions ahead were. It spelled out numerous alternate routes around sections of the trail. It talked about future plans to clear up the section. There was so much information on this one sheet of paper, that I didn’t bother trying to copy it down. I figured it would just make me confused anyway. I decided to take the PCT as much as possible. But if it got too bad, I’d jump over to a nearby forest road which paralleled the trail. Just before I left, another group of hikers arrived. After reading the sign, they decided to take the alternate – along road 38N10.
About 5 minutes from the trailhead I got my first taste of “O”. The real problem didn’t appear to be blowdowns, the trail just hadn’t been maintained in years. The thick bushes were over my head, and growing completely over the trail. It was slow, scratchy going. To make matters worse, there were occasional messy blowdowns. Not the simple “big fat log across the trail” which I could just step over. These were whole tops of trees thrown down in twisted angular positions. I couldn’t climb over them, I had to crawl through them. The thick bushes made this even more difficult. After about a mile, I’d had enough. I passed under some power lines and crossed an access road leading to 38N10. I headed over to the road.
It wasn’t long before I came across another problem. The road forked, then a little while later, it forked again… then again. None of these side roads were on the map. There was an active logging operation going on in this area. The loggers had carved roads into all the hillsides so they didn’t have to drag the trees far. There were roads going up, down, sideways. Intersections were all over the place. The roads usually dead-ended in big flat cleared circular areas which contained piles of logging debris. It didn’t take long before I was thoroughly confused. I decided to pretty much ignore the roads shown on the map. I climbed a nearby hill to get a view of the surrounding terrain. I determined that I was in-between Red Mountain and North Red Mountain. If I just went east, I’d cross the PCT. So, that’s what I did. Luckily, I came across a clear section of trail, and was again on my way. The rest of the day went about the same. I’d follow the trail when I could, take the road when I couldn’t. I finally got to another unmapped fork in the road and called it a day. I slept on hard gravel next to the road – not exactly comfortable.
I looked at the footprints on the fork in the road. They went in every direction. I figured my best bet would be to follow the map as best I could. As long as I kept track of where the trail was, it should re-appear somewhere. I followed one of the forks up the road and came to a peculiar area. The letters PCT were spray-painted in fluorescent orange on some of the trees. There was even an old trail sign next to the road which said “PCT”. I searched in vain for any rudiments of a trail. All I found was a sparsely forested hillside littered with random bits of trees. I looked at my map and realized that the trail crossed a saddle about a half mile away. The direct route to the saddle was across a vertical cliff. I’d have to go down the hill and then back up the other side in order to get there. So, I picked my spot and headed down through the twisted mess of fallen trees and tangled bushes. After a quarter mile of slipping and scratching, I came across a road. This one was even on the map! I followed the road up to the saddle, and it crossed the trail. The trail slowly ascended some hillsides and crept up onto a ridge. Sections of this ridge-trail had recently been cleared of a tremendous number of blowdowns. Every few feet, there were freshly sawed tree trunks. I was thankful that I didn’t have to come through this area a couple weeks earlier. After getting a couple fleeting views of Mt. Shasta (which was now closer than ever), I re-entered some “overgrown” sections of trail. I plowed through the bushes. The only way I could tell I was still on the trail was that no bushes were actually rooted in it. As long as my feet had somewhere to go, the rest of my body followed. Finally, after a few good miles of pushing through bushes, I made it to Grizzly peak. The rest of the trail in this section was “O”K. I headed down the trail to follow a creek. I hiked as late and as fast as I could. By nightfall, I had made it 29 miles. Not bad for a day filled with annoying conditions and route finding delays. It was only the second occasion in my trip where I didn’t see another single person all day. As far as I knew, I was the only person in the world.
The next day was a “work day”. This area wasn’t terribly exciting. It was nice to be “out in nature” and watch the terrain slowly change, but my mind was focused more on the next stop rather than the place I was hiking through. After hiking all morning up around some dry forested hillsides, I stopped at 2PM to cook at Squaw Valley Creek. It was a nice creek with a footbridge over it. While I was there, another hiker caught up to me. He had similar problems getting through the worst of “O”. He pulled out a slipper and said “I found this on the trail”. I immediately recognized it as mine. My slippers had fallen off my backpack somewhere in the bushes. I hadn’t missed them, and almost considered it a blessing in disguise – I was going to get rid of them anyway. I thanked him as sincerely as I could, and after a nice long break I headed out. I tried to get as close to Castella as possible that night. By the time it got dark, I had gone about 26 miles. I even caught up to a couple other hikers who had left Burney Falls a day before me. Exhausted, I made a simple camp right on the border of Castle Crags State Park. It was only 4-5 miles to Castella, tomorrow would be a rest day.
I started hiking at my usual 9AM the next morning. By 10:30, I had reached I-5. 2.5 more miles of walking along a deserted frontage road and I made it to the Post Office. A lot of other hikers were already there. About 50% of the hikers that came through section “O” had gotten lost. They all had different stories to tell. One of the hikers was upset with the PCTA (who organized a lot of the trail maintenance crews). He was one of those hikers who’d hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT), and expected the PCT to be one step down from a paved road. “I don’t know how anyone could be expected to make it through there…” he went on complaining. When I told him I made it through, he asked me how. “I looked at my map.”. He stopped complaining. Apparently, through all his getting lost, he never bothered to actually look at the map and figure out where to go. I never saw this guy on the trail again. In fact, there were a bunch of hikers who I only saw in Castella – nowhere else. I don’t know what happened to any of them.
I checked with the Post Office and realized that I’d beaten my resupply package to Castella by a day. What an excellent excuse to take a day off! Just when I started to wonder what to do next, Adelle came to the rescue.
Adelle was another one of those angels of the trail. She almost considered it her job or duty to help out hikers in any way possible. Apparently, her father had a long tradition of doing the same. He’d passed away a few years ago, and Adelle picked up the torch. She drove a bunch of us to the nearby town of Dunsmuir where we could do laundry and get a hotel room. She even lent her extra car to one of the hikers (who didn’t even really need it.). I was starting to feel like I could never repay all the kindness I received on the trail. I was going to be doomed to a life of giving. Aaaaah!
Dunsmuir was a perfect little town. Although I-5 was nearby, you’d never know it. The interstate was above the town, and none of the traffic noise echoed down. There were a few diners, a few hotels, a couple small grocery stores, a pizza place, everything. While I was stuffing myself in the pizza place I had a revelation. The wooden benches were uncomfortable. I’d hiked my ass off… literally. Hmmm. So THAT’s where that expression came from.
The next morning I got a ride to the PO, packed up my 6.5 days worth of food, and psyched myself up for an entire day of uphill hiking.