Section O Day 4: Trail Thrills, Trail Fails

April 20th
15 miles
I wake up at 5:45 and get to watch the sunrise from my tent. The sky goes from muted blues and purples to a dazzling pink. Then it is daybreak, so I get up. I start to climb the mountain, and an unnatural sweat forms on my brow. It intensifies, and then breaks. Ah! I had a fever this whole time! I was sick, duh. I don’t know why I didn’t understand this until right now. Did I drink some bad water in the last day or two? I recall accidentally drinking out of my water collecting bottle once….maybe that was it.

So the fever breaks and I feel great! The lead from my legs unshackle and I am striding up the mountain. This is it! This is what I’ve been waiting for, what I picture when I think of backpacking. I take deep breaths and a goofy grin takes over my face. And the views open up again; ever closer to Shasta.

The trail gets rocky as it climbs toward the ridgeline. There are patches of snow. It’s beautiful. Wonderful. At the ridgeline, I can see all the way back to where I came from, Lake Britton. The slopes on the south side are a joyous green, like a little Scotland. There is an epic cairn on top of an outcropping.


Things get higher, hotter and the trail gets thinner as I make my way to Grizzly Peak. This kind of side-of-the-giant-mountain trail makes me nervous. Theres lots of it on the JMT and a fear of heights was often triggered in me. This mountain is more mellow, but when I have to walk over a washout where a misstep could easily lead to death, I panic and freeze. Luckily, its been such an incredible day so far, my confidence is high, so it’s not too hard to push myself forward. The scariest parts are traversed in just a few minutes and then things settle into a still exposed, but less heart pounding route up the mountain for another mile.



I make it down to Gold Spring. There is a sign that says No Trespassing, but there are cairns pointing the way down the road, and it is on the Water Report. I spend an hour there refilling my water and retaping my feet. I wonder if the person who put the trespassing sign up actually ever comes here, and what do they do when they are here. I’m assuming they are ok with PCT’ers taking some water. I hope so!

I head up the jeep road and back down to the trail, and to the forest. My feet are sore, but I feel awesome anyway. “If your feet hurt and you’re happy, clap your hands,” I sing to myself.

Then, “Oh shit.” The trail in front of me is destroyed. Nothing but dead trees and bramble and mean branches as far as I can see. I think if I just climb over all of it, maybe the trail will reappear on the other side.

The slope is steep, and I’m slipping and falling all over the place. I have to keep using branches to save myself from falling down the gully, or maybe it’s mini ravine. Almost every time I step on a fallen tree (and these are huge!), it crumbles under my feet. It’s like I’m postholing through wood and dead stuff.

After ten minutes, with no trail in sight, I’m regretting my decision. The bravado of earlier has gotten me into this mess. But I’m not panicking quite yet. I slide down to a very small semi-clear spot, branches lacerating my arms and legs as I go. I look around. No trail. I look at the Halfmile App. It points me back the way I came. Im not even sure I can go back that way, I barely made it here. No, I’m convinced the trail is somewhere over here; it has been V’ing most of the section, it is reasonable that that’s what it will keep doing.

I’m not LOST lost, since I generally know where I came from, even though it’s waaaaay over there. I need to make sure I don’t get truly lost, so I pick a prominent feature of the landscape to keep track of. There is a large, charred tree stump in the gully, so I use that as my home base. I trip and slide up the steep slope, then back down to the stump. Then I do the same to thing to my left. Then down. No trail. I can’t find it.

There is a little clear spot here; kinda looks like a very faded trail. But it ends just 30 feet from me. I contemplate just setting up my tent here. There is a creek shrouded in bramble and bushes not far from me. Deer Creek. I get out my map. I think I know where I am. If I bushwack around the creek, I will probably find the trail. But do I really want to leave my home base? Do I really have the skills for that? What if? What if?

I look at the Halfmile App again. It still wants me to go back the way I came. I am farther down the gully, so maybe it wont be quite so bad getting back up there. I decide that the safest thing for me to do is go back to where the trail is, and probably camp near Gold Spring and then head back to Burney tomorrow.

I slog and slip my way back up. I find the trail. I feel like I should see if there is any sign or anything near where I began my bushwhacking adventure. I keep the app out to take note of the mile, so I can notify the Forest Service of the impassable section.

Wait a minute. Why is the mileage on the app going backward? Am I……backtracking? Wtf? I get to where all this started to find…that the trail SWITCHBACKED! I had been off trail from the beginning! If I had just looked down, I would have seen that the trail did NOT go straight into the tangle of woods, but turned and kept heading down toward the creek. I can’t believe I’ve made such a silly, embarrassing and potentially dangerous mistake, all because I assumed where the trail was going. Because I didn’t pull out my map right away. Because I wasn’t paying attention.

I am bone tired. I’m covered in scrapes and scratches. I’ve lost a water bottle and my sun shirt in the process. But I am on the trail. Pointed in the right direction. Relief.

I rotate between laughing and cringing as I make my way to camp. What a day. What a frickin’ day! There has to be a trail name in this for me. Wrong Way? Scrapes? Fiasco?