Burney Falls is about 3.5 hours from my house, so I figure as long as I get there by noon, there will be plenty of time to go 9 miles to my first campsite. I’m not sure what to expect. The combination of not being able to walk the last few weeks, plus a voracious hunger left over from eating under 1000 cals a day in the desert (and that horrible inclination to feed the depression that came from leaving the trail) has plumped me up right quick, not just regaining the 10 pounds I lost on trail, but adding 5 more to boot. Has anyone ever gained that much weight that fast?? Sheesh. Yeah, it’s true, I ate tons of stuff I don’t normally eat, like fast food, and…..well, mainly fast food. Every day. It’s like I’ve spent a month being Morgan Spurlock.
So, I’m apprehensive. We get to Burney Falls around 11:15. I ask the Park Ranger if she has any info on the PCT. She says that everything just opened today, and that she thinks there is just a bit of snow out there. Okay. Sounds good to me.
It’s warm, almost 80 degrees. There are people milling around, looking at the falls, taking pictures. No backpackers. “These are probably the only people I am going to see for the next 6 days,” I say to Aaron. “Is that good or bad?” he asks. I say nothing. I have no idea.
I sit at a picnic table and begin the painstaking task of prepping my feet for the hike. Basically, I am pre-taping the suckers. I have also switched to wearing thin toe socks with Smartwool liners over them. And I am wearing Hokas now, instead of my LaSportivas. I don’t know if any of these things, like my old shoes or socks, have anything to do with how bad my feet got in the desert, but I’m changing it up anyway.
Aaron decides to walk an hour with me, so off we go, the trail taking us over a bridge and begins skirting Lake Britton. It’s a shaded trek as we catch peeks of the lake down below. All the people are already gone. How many even go past the falls? It’s another case, I guess, where people do all the camping without the hiking. The concept is absurd to me. Camping. Bleh.
Trees turn to shrubbery, and the trail is a bit clogged and overgrown. We come to a curve along the mountainside and see there is a dam down below us, with sharply steep (and probably rickety) stairs that wind down to the river. “Is that where we are going?” Aaron asks. Unfortunately, or fortunately, no. We head downhill to find the trail travels across the dam and climbs upward between two mountains.
Aaron is ready to go home, and I have an intense urge to go with him, just forget all this backpacking crap. Take up knitting. Enjoy the safety and comfort of home. Where my bed is. And my shower. And a toilet. To my back is steep red dirt, heading upward to who knows what suffering. In front of me is Aaron. Wonderful Aaron, my best friend that is more than willing to whisk me away from here. “You’ll regret it,” he says, reading my mind, “You’ll just make me bring you back out here in a week.” So I hug him tightly and smooch him hard. “See ya later,” I say. Not good-bye. Never good-bye.
The trail mellows out pretty quick into a darker dirt, covered in a carpet of pine needles. I am in a meadow that is also speckled with trees. Everything is dry. Black gnats find me and harass me the rest of the day, flying in my mouth, crashing into my eyeballs. I hate them. I call them names I never use in my daily life. Hiking brings out my inner foul mouth.
I reach the top of the mountains, where it becomes clogged with plants that have angry, sharp branches. It’s sunny and I contour near the top for a while, getting sweaty and puffing gnats out of my face every 30 seconds. Finally, after a trek down and back up from to the lovely Rock Creek, and some more sweaty contouring, forest reappears, and I stroll downward into it -shade, hooray! I find the campsite, and am pleasantly surprised. It is so flat!
I have enjoyed being in the mountains. But I like camping more in the desert, where there are such wide open spaces, I can see miles around me. Here, among the trees, I can’t see far at all. Anything can be out there and I wouldn’t see it.
I fall asleep around 8:30. I wake up a few hours later to…silence. I mean, it is dead quiet. I don’t know if it’s a normal desert thing, or if it was because of the full moon, but nights in the desert were quite loud. Birds were out cackling. Bugs were buzzing. Coyotes were howling. This silencing is disconcerting. But I will take the silence over branches snapping or noses snuffling or paws creeping, ever closer to my tent. With nothing there to fret over, I can finally fall back into a restless sleep.