It was already 6PM. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get too far before I’d have to camp. The air had cleared up a little, but it was still misty. At least it was warmer. The trail ducked into the brushy woods on the other side of I-5, I was on my way. The first few miles of trail wound through the back of a privately owned ranch. Large gooey cow patties matted down the grass along the trail. At one point I looked up and saw a giant owl on top of a 20 foot high snag. It was a great gray owl, the largest species in the US. It saw me coming, and effortlessly glided to another tree. Its giant wings didn’t make a sound as it wove its way between the branches. This tree was just a bit further up the trail, so I soon approached the owl again. It continued to fly further down the trail 3 or 4 times before taking a left turn and disappearing into the evening mist.
I was traversing northeast, between the Klamath mountains and the Cascades, making up for the big western detour in northern California. I was walking on low hills covered with long golden grasses and occasional oak forests. If it wasn’t for the recent rain and cloudiness, this would have been a hot dry place. I eventually came out on top of a grassy hill. It looked like as good a place as any to set up camp.
I woke up soaking wet. Moist clouds had passed right through me all night, and my tent was the perfect filter – straining all the wetness out of the air. Everything around me had giant beads of water on it. I beat my way through the wet brush, before long my legs were completely saturated. The trail continued dipping up and down the hills. The clouds started to break up, and after a little while, I had my last view of Mt. Shasta to the distant south. It had been a constant familiar landmark for the last 3 weeks. I was getting ready to head up the volcanic backbone of the northwest. Lassen and Shasta were only a preface of things to come.
The rest of the day was more of the same. At one point, I came across a number of motocross enthusiasts heading down a hill. The ones in front were flying from bump to bump, gracefully dancing down the dirt. The ones in back were put-putting tentatively down the same slope, feeling every rock and ridge. I caught up with another hiker, Junkyard Dog, who I hadn’t seen since Burney Falls. We exchanged stories of the times between there and here. We’d only been a day or two apart, but had completely different tales to tell. The sun came out for a while, and it actually warmed up.
We finally made our way to Hyatt Lake resort, where I had a package waiting. It was Sunday evening, and the place was quiet. Luckily, the restaurant was open so we got another meal… my third in as many days. While we were there, the clouds returned and it started to drizzle. One more hiker came in. The waitress told us that we could probably sneak into the shelter at the nearby campground – it was in the “group camp area”. “But you didn’t hear it from me…”, she whispered as she looked around nervously. I don’t know what she was worried about.
We finally made it to the group camp area just as it was getting dark. We slept on top of the picnic benches under the roof of an open-air shelter.
The other hikers left before I even woke up. I wandered down to the campground area to get some water. I found nice hot showers. I was in no rush, so I decided to wash up. These were really nice new showers, I was impressed. I finally got out of the campground around 10AM. The day started out much like the day before – more uninspiring semi-forested trail through rolling hills. As the day went on, the hills became more forested and the mosquitoes came back. I had heard about the “terrible oregon mosquitoes”. They weren’t so bad here, just a swat every few minutes did the job. Little did I know what awaited me in the sections ahead.
Later in the day, I took a short side route to get some water. There were 4 hikers there who I hadn’t met… at least not in person. I had exchanged e-mails with one of them, Ant. They were hiking Oregon in slow-gear… smelling the roses, and meeting all the hikers. I was almost convinced to stay there, but I had a late start that morning and wanted to keep moving. I finally set up camp just before Brown Mountain. The mosquitoes closed-in as I sealed my tent. It started to drizzle a little later in the day. It seemed like the rain would never go away.
The next morning, I kept going around Brown Mountain – a 7000 foot pile of pumice. I was traversing around it at 5000 feet, weaving in and out of every ripple in the mountain. The pumice on the mountain was a deep dark brown, but most of the trail was filled with crushed bright orange pumice. It was an interesting contrast, like a trail designed by “Better Homes and Gardens… and Trails”. I crunched along my cheery path. Tall trees frequently popped out between the large irregular pumice boulders all around me. I was glad that I had a trail to walk on, cross-country walking in this terrain would have been nearly impossible. Every now and then I got a view of Mt. McLoughlin to my north. It was the next volcano on the route. I’d be hiking over the eastern flank later that day