I wake late-for-me at 6, and not a human is stirring yet. I made enough noise coming in late last night, and I don’t want to bother anyone on both ends of the sleepytime clock, so I eat my dinner for breakfast in my bag. I’ve never eaten in my sleeping bag before – I’ve been a bit wary about critters of the bear-y variety – but I am sitting and warm and getting calories, and that’s kind of all a thruhiker can ask for. As I finish my dinn-fast(!), the other tents start to stir, so it’s pack up time for me. I apologize to Tumbleweed for last night’s late entry, then head out across the North Fork of the Feather and onwards.
Pretty much as soon as I cross the bridge, I meet Neilbob packing up from his cowboy camping. He didn’t see Six and Meer last night, so they got waaaay ahead, apparently. Womp womp. I bet they’re gonna make the 100 mile challenge. No way they won’t. I mosey on along, cross a road, hit some trail magic just on the other side of a dirt road, where Sprinkler is investigating the coolers. There are no bees, but also not much magic left here, either. As Sprinkler moves on, I sign the register, grab a tootsie roll pop, and head off to face the waiting up.
I hit the top and get a text from Pineapple, saying where she’s headed – 1362.5, only 24 miles from where I started this morning. I think I can make it further, and I say so. I think I can make it to Hat Creek, at 1367.1. She sends back the straight-faced-yet-somehow-judgy emoji1 and says she’s never gonna catch me. I’m pretty sure that’s not true – she’s still faster than me – and I tell her I want to hike the waterless Hat Creek Rim with her, so I’ll see her then.
Then, I hit the Boundary Spring and cross into Lassen Volcanic National Park – a park I didn’t know was a thing until a couple of days ago, and which I apparently won’t be seeing the coolest parts of. Something to come back to, I guess.
The first thing I notice inside the park is how much of the ground is covered in dead trees and fallen branches and other detritus that pretty much looks ready to burst into flames at any minute. I’ve heard that this is one of the places you aren’t even allowed to smoke on trail, let alone light campfires, and that makes sense to me now – the whole place is a tinderbox, waiting to go up. It probably will, one day, without a lot of maintenance and care. With the way our national parks are funded – to my knowledge, the more visitors you have, the bigger the piece of the pie you get – I’m not sure Lassen will ever get what it needs.
I round a corner to see four hikers bunched together. As I approach, two of the hikers move on up the trail, but the other two are still staring at something. “Bear,” one says. I look where they’re pointing, and sure enough, about 40 feet away, a young bear is hanging out. Sniffing a tree. Scratching his ass on said tree. Just doing bear things. The hikers and I talk about the warning on Guthooks about Lower Twin Lake – there’s a bear there that likes to steal packs, so that’s fun. We put some space between us and the bear before we split up.
Up we go, and back down – there’s something rotting here, something that turns my nose so much I’m concerned it’s a body, at least before I hit the turnoff for Terminal Geyser. Apparently, it’s a sulfuric geyser, which makes sense given the stench. I start seeing dayhikers shortly after, and they confirm my suspicions. I think about going to see it, but I’ve seen Old Faithful2 , and after that, I’m not sure other geysers can compete.
I pass Boiling Spring Lake because I want to keep my momentum – I feel like I’m doing pretty well today – but then I’ve never seen a boiling lake, and I don’t want to pass up too many things. Part of doing the PCT is seeing cool things you’ve never seen before, right? So I turn around and go have a look.
After the lake, it’s down to Drakesbad Guest Ranch, home of the expensive yet supposedly worth it meals. I’ve just missed the breakfast window, and I’m not interested in staying til lunch, so it’s moving on along for me. Still, as one might suspect, a place with geysers and boiling lakes is also a place with hot springs, and I touch the tiny trickles crossing the trail and find them to be warm3 . So cool.
I take a break at the nearby Warner Valley Campground and spend most of my time in the pit toilet, enjoying the luxuries of
pooping under a roof civilization. I also grab water, and am able to dump my trash in the bear-proof trashcans that are about. I wave to a brown family as I head up up up again.
The profile today is kind of sort of chill – I only have to make it to mile 16 before it’s pretty much down for the rest of the day. And there are some downs in between – like the down I take to Kings Creek, where I find Neilbob and Sprinkler lounging and washing their socks. I join them, relax an hour, hang out a bit longer when they decide to pull chocks. This turns out to be a mistake, as I struggle to find the trail on the other side of the Creek once they’ve gone. It probably doesn’t help that there are a couple of confused dayhikers trying to find a place on the other side. They don’t seem to have maps, and I’ve only got the corridors delineated by Guthook and Halfmile. I hope they find where they’re going, particularly when I find the trail after a measly three minutes of looking.
Afterwards, it’s the last up of the day! Hooray hooray! And down, down we go, with 180° walking views of Lower Twin Lake.
It’s such a gentle down, it’s almost flat – and the views of the lake touch my heart. So nice to see rich blue hues after so much volcanic red and brown and flat-blue sky.
Of course, right after the lake, there’s a burn.
A burn and tons of butterflies, making the still forest a practical sea of movement. It’s the hottest part of the day, and I imagine them trying to shake the heat off their tiny wings. I wish I could do the same, but the best I can manage is trying to make wind by walking faster.
That doesn’t last long – the flatness makes my knees ache, and I’m becoming annoyed by this episode of Hardcore History I’m listening to – it’s not as good as everyone says it is. I eventually get so flustered that I sit to take a break, eat to control my hanger, drink more water because I’m probably dehydrated to boot.
I’m in so much pain that I decide to stop at the camp that Pineapple designated. I want company tonight. The thought lifts my mood, and I continue on to better views of the volcano.
The trail continues downward, leading out of and back into the burn, and my mood goes up and down to suit.
Finally, the site that Pineapple was aiming for – but there’s no flat place to sleep here, and I’m back in the burn, and I don’t think this is the smartest place to camp. I text Pineapple about it, tell her I’m aiming for two miles up, and move on out of Lassen.
Down, down, down – I’m regretting listening to the Stuff You Should Know podcast on rabies, since I’m barely halfway through my hike. It’s taking up most of my attention, and by the time I look down to check my distance I’ve gone a lot farther than two miles. Well, shit. I guess I’ll try for Hat Creek like I initially planned.
In my second wildlife encounter of the day, I come across what I presume is a jackrabbit, sitting in the trail – it’s huge, and its enormous, black-tipped ears are just a twitching away. It doesn’t seem to be particularly scared of me, but it does hop off trail a few feet before I manage to snap a picture.
There are abandoned roads criss-crossing the trail at relatively even intervals – there are places I could stop to camp, but I’m kind of unsettled by the area. The sun’s going down, though, so the pressure is on to either move or camp, but I can’t bring myself to do the latter. It’s flat – more and moreso the further I go – but I’m super creeped out, and it takes me a while to figure out why. All the trees are planted in a grid, evenly spaced – ominous, looming sentinels, all in a row – and it doesn’t sound like anything lives here. This forest is dead silent. It feels like something out of a horror movie, and I’m practically running down the trail at this point, because the dark is coming, and I do not want to be alone in this place.
Finally, FINALLY, the forest turns back into a normal forest, birdsong and everything, and I’m able to release all that built-up tension. Jeez. But hey, I’ve made it to Hat Creek, and shortly after the recognizable-if-sketchy bullseye that marks the beginning of the good campspots nearby. There are tents, and a little farther from the trail there is also Neilbob, and Sprinkler, and space for my tent. I ask to join them, and they accept; we talk music and podcasts and India until it’s late and my sleeping bag is too warm to resist.
Start: 1338.2 • End: 1367.1 • Day: 28.9
Notable Accomplishments: Another accidentally long day • Was lonely for the first time on trail • Survived the weird forest of weirdness
 My Mom and I went on a cross-country road trip after I graduated from college. Yellowstone was one of the many highlights.