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California Section N
Belden (Hwy 70) to Burney Falls

    The first thing which greeted us north of Belden was a sign: "PCT closed, trail washed out.  Use alternate route". We knew that some hikers had decided to hike the PCT anyway, others took the alternate.  By looking at the footprints, I estimated it was a 50/50 split. The alternate intersected the PCT in 7 miles, about the same distance as the PCT itself.  We decided to take the alternate. (We later learned that an entire mountainside had come down on the PCT. The trail was gone, and the cross-country route was reported to be difficult) The trail steeply ascended the hill.  After an hour and a half, Donna realized that she'd left her cell phone at Belden.  She decided that the smartest thing was to go back and get it right away.  I camped at a little flat spot near the trail, Donna returned around 10PM with her cell phone.  

    The next day, we continued following the alternate trail up the hill, then along a jeep road. We had occasional views of Mt. Lassen along the way.  At one point I was just barely able to make out a little white bump on the horizon, west of Mt. Lassen and obviously much further away.  I could barely see the tip of the mountain, but I was excited anyway. It was Mt. Shasta. I had climbed to the top of Mt. Shasta almost a year earlier, and I felt like I was returning to "familiar territory".  Mt. Shasta is 14,162 feet high, the second highest volcano of the Cascade range (Mt. Rainier is higher).  We'd be slowly hiking around it for the next 3 weeks.

    We rejoined the PCT and continued down the trail.  For most of the day, the trail was somewhat flat.  We finally came out of the forest on a barren volcanic ridge.  The sun was going down, and we could tell it was going to be a beautiful sunset.  We decided to camp right there on the ridge.  Donna had bought some marshmallows in Belden, so we built a fire and prepared for a roast.  During the day, the marshmallows had all melted into one big sticky clump.  Although it was a complete mess, it was a satisfying end to an otherwise mediocre day.

    The trail next wound around a large bowl/valley on a ridge.  We almost hiked in a complete circle.  It was a little frustrating, but it was where the trail went... no sense in getting upset.  We finally got around Butt Mountain (yes, there is a mountain called Butt Mountain - there's also a Butt Creek) and down to Hwy 36.  We were now half-way to Canada!  We decided to celebrate with a meal at a restaurant down the Highway.  Our thumbs went out, and a ride appeared.  A couple of young women who worked at Lassen National Park drove us a couple miles to the St. Bernard Inn.  I ate one of the biggest burgers I'd ever seen.  We headed back to the trailhead after dinner.  It was already getting dark, but we wanted to make it another 3 miles to a campground area.   Before long, it was pitch black.  The moon was out, but the trees were so thick that no light was getting to the ground.  About halfway to our destination, I noticed a faint light on the side of the trail.  It was some kind of millipede which had a glowing exoskeleton.  I'd never heard of such a thing, but it was neat - one of those brief random experiences that made me smile and say "Huh".  We finally stumbled over some tents at the campground and found places to camp.  Somebody had driven a pickup truck to this campground, and was at the nearby spring.  He was filling up about 20 large water jugs with natural spring water.  Why not? 

    As we got closer and closer to Lassen, we could see it less and less.  We were mostly hiking through thick forest.  Although we didn't get many views of Lassen, we did see evidence that a recently active volcano was nearby.  We took a short side-route to Terminal Geyser  (which is actually a fumerol... I guess "Terminal Fumerol" doesn't sound so catchy).  It was like a hot spring out of control.  Water was coming out of the ground superheated and boiling.  It sprayed up into a continuous cloud of steam 20-40 feet high.  The stream flowing down the hill was just below the boiling point.  There was a dirt road nearby, and the national park was building some kind of viewing area or parking lot at the end of it.  The gentle hiss of the steam was occasionally interrupted by the beeping and grinding of construction trucks.   Not far away, the PCT went right by Boiling Springs Lake.  The lake wasn't boiling, but it was murky and surrounded by dried volcanic mud.  Quite a contrast to the hundreds of absolutely clear lakes we'd passed previously.

    We finally worked our way down to Warner Valley Campground, where we were once again blessed by the general kindness of the everyday people along the PCT.  While we had been eating at St. Bernard's Lodge the previous evening, we had received a phone call.  A phone call?  It was the woman who had just given us a ride down the road.  Donna left her camera in the car.  The woman couldn't make it back to the restaurant that evening, so she agreed to drop off the camera at Warner Valley Campground.  When we arrived at the campground, everyone we met had already heard the story, "are you the hikers looking for the camera?".  After a little footwork, Donna located the campground host and got her camera back.  By now, I had almost gotten used to the regular kindness of absolute strangers.  Before I started this trip, like so many other people, I was deluged with the typical negative image of the average U.S. citizen.  "Look out for yourself, because nobody else is gonna" seemed to be the battle cry of the media.  Whenever I did see a positive image of society, it was portrayed like a freak occurrence.  "Oh my god! somebody was nice to someone else!".  Maybe the only way to combat this propaganda is to go experience reality for oneself.  "Deal" with people.  Communicate.  Show a little trust.  Don't be so worried that you'll be taken advantage of.  It seems like such a logical thing - most people in a civilization are civil.  But still, people are regularly amazed by kindness.  I look forward to the day when we are amazed by cruelty.

    We hiked out of Warner Valley Campground through mosquito-infested forests until we got to a ridge by Lower Twin Lake.  There were some other hikers already there, all in their mosquito armor.  We joined the larger group.

    Everyone else left camp at the crack of dawn.  Donna and I started hiking about 3 hours later.  The trail was mostly flat or somewhat downhill the entire day.  We even followed an old wagon trail for about 5 miles.  We eventually worked our way down the hot dry hillsides and over to Old Station, CA.  Along the way, we learned that the pizza place in Old Station was closed on Wednesdays.  Today was Wednesday... of all the rotten luck.  Hikers had taken over the little motel in Old Station.  We were dead in the "middle of the pack" - there were PCT hikers everywhere.  Some of them had rooms, some were just tanking up on half-gallons of ice cream outside the store.  It was almost too much. As soon as I got myself organized, I wanted to go.  We went 2 miles up the road to the local restaurant with a third hiker, Junkyard Dog, got crummy service (probably the worst service and meal I've ever had), and walked into the "Cave Campground" area.  We slept on a stretch of beach right along the Hat Creek.  It was a nice place, even if it wasn't totally "legal".

    We woke up to fisherpeople (as opposed to fishermen - plenty of fat "RV wives" out fishing too) walking around us.  We were facing a 30-mile dry stretch.  The trail followed a hot dry ridge, the Hat Creek Rim, for most of that length.  We decided to try and make it the whole 30 miles.  We figured this wouldn't be too difficult since the trail was relatively flat.  Before tackling the rim, we took a side trip to Subway Cave.

    Subway Cave was a lava-tube cave.  Lava had once flowed through this area.  The exposed surface of the lava cooled into a hard insulating shell, while the molten rock continued to flow within.  Eventually, this molten rock drained out, and the result was an almost perfect semi-circular cave.  It was a neat little diversion.  There was a water fountain nearby, and a trail which led directly to the PCT.

    So, we started up the rim.  I wanted this to be over as quickly as possible, so I just bolted out ahead.  I figured I'd meet up with Donna at the water in 30 miles.  A fire had swept through Hat Creek Rim some 10 years earlier.  Skeleton-colored snags now decorated the side of the hill.  It didn't look like the forest would ever re-establish itself here.  There were no young trees growing, only tall brown grasses.  The place looked ugly and dead.  To our south was Lassen Peak, and to the north was Mt. Shasta.  All day, Lassen got smaller while Shasta got larger.  I could see the slow progress we were making with every footstep.  The trail eventually wound down from the rim and across some pumice fields.

    The loose pumice sucked.  With every step, my feet twisted and sunk.  I was cursing the earth by the time I finally reached the creek.  The sun was setting.  If Donna was going to catch up, she wouldn't arrive until well after dark.   I filtered some water, cooked dinner and pulled out my sleeping bag.  Donna never showed up.

    I had picked the one spot in 40 miles of dusty trail which had mosquitoes.  When I went to sleep I didn't think they were too bad.  I woke up with a hand covered in bites.  It seems that my hand slipped out of my bag sometime during the night and provided the little suckers with a gourmet feast.

    The next day was 13 miles of "get me there as quick as possible".  We shot through flat forested pumice fields on the way to Burney Falls.  I stopped as little as possible.  I finally got to Burney falls around 1PM.  The falls themselves were quite a sight.  Burney Falls is one of the largest falls, measured by volume of water, in the United States.  Most of the river flows underground, so the falls not only come over the top, but also straight out the sides of the earth.  It makes for an impressive cascade which is more than "just some falling water".

    Donna was already there when I arrived.  Apparently, she had hiked until 11PM the previous night.  She got lost, and wound up ahead of me.  She needed to meet her Mom in Ashland, OR by Aug 1.  There was no way we were going to make it there in time by walking.  So, she decided to skip ahead a bit from Burney Falls.  It was the last time I saw Donna on the trail.  We'd hiked together occasionally since the border of Mexico, and almost continuously since Mt. Whitney.  Although I was sad to say good-bye, I looked forward to the solo hike which awaited me - no set plans, no set goals, only life, time, and miles of unexplored trail.


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