Wednesday, Aug 9th, 2023, 0610-1730
Seiad Valley (Brian’s Place) to Paradise Lake, BFT mm 147.5
25 miles, Gain 6880′, Loss 2170′, elevation 6110′
The best way to break a vortex is to get out early! I was actually hoping for a 5 am dark start but 6 am was good enough. Everyone else was still asleep and the morning perfectly cool…what a change from 100 degrees the day before! With a 6000′ climb over nearly 20 miles, I couldn’t imagine a better tactic than what I employed. I walked the road as fast as I could, eating the 4 miles in 1 hour. I said goodbye to the Klamath river for the second time…I passed it a week ago while hiking the Coast Trail in the Redwoods.
A car with a “PCT 2023 ON” logo drove by and I wondered what the logo was about. When I saw them again at the trailhead, it dawned on me that it was the support vehicle for Karel Sabbe, the Belgian Dentist, who was making his second attempt at setting the supported PCT Fastest Known Time (FKT). After a pit stop at the privy, I inquired with the crew how far away he was (so I knew when to jump out of his way). They said he was still about an hour south. I’d get to cross paths with him, something to look forward to.
I counted 3 thru-hikers before he came by. Karel was easy to spot, packing only a hydration vest and jogging a slow pace. He was trying to do the entire PCT in under 50 days. His previous record was 52 days, 8 hrs. He also held the AT record at 41 days 8 hrs. I cheered him on and gave him a high-five as he went by. It all happened so fast that I didn’t even get a picture of him. If he had to stop for every hiker, he’d seriously miss his FKT. I hope my cheering was at least a boost for his spirits. He’s why I laugh when people say I’m a fast hiker. There are thousands that can do what I do. There are not so many Karel Sabbe’s.
After the most exciting event of the morning, I passed the time by counting hikers and blowdowns, something to get my mind off the ginormous climb. It was a contest …which would there be more of? For awhile, both were neck and neck, but shortly the blowdown count greatly surpassed the hikers. In total, I counted around 160 blowdowns in about 20 miles. I only saw 22 hikers all day.
Near the last of the climb, I stopped for lunch at Buckhorn spring at 12:30 p.m. I made 19.5 miles in that time, which is probably close to the best effort I’ve ever done…maybe even an FKT? It’s pretty incredible, considering how much my pack weighed with 6 days of food and the massive elevation gain. The entire section was uphill. I maintained 3 mph pace right up until the last 6 miles…the steepest. I guess taking two zero days in Seiad Valley was really a boost to my recovery. All that food I ate probably had something to do with it.
At the spring, I met NOBOs Flotus, Hornet and Travis. I walked up just as Flotus was mentioning the name Mr. President. I interrupted immediately, “wait, does he have red hair and always looks very clean cut?” Yep, that’s the guy! I met him on the CDT in 2019 and had been following him since. They met him on the AT in 2020 and he gave Florus her trailname. We proceeded to tell all the stories of our meetings and marvel at the small world of thru-hiking. Mr. President was going to give them a ride to PCT Trail Days in Cascade Locks. I’d been entertaining the idea of going but first I had to survive the rest of the Bigfoot Trail. I didn’t know if I had enough time, plus it was a long ways north, the opposite way I was headed.
I regret that I didn’t have a chance to talk to them more because mid conversation, I turned to my right to see a familiar hiker standing next to me For a second, I thought I was back on the PNT as I stared at Costanza in disbelief. I met him hiking through the Puget Sound, bumping into him throughout the Olympics, and finally hiking much of the coast section with him. He was one of the 4 I finished the trail with, 3 of which were now hiking the PCT: Costanza, Funk and Wolverine. I’d just been in contact with Funk (who like Wolverine had flip-flopped and were both going south in OR, behind me). We were all wondering where Costanza was. Funk had last heard from him when he was near Truckee, which was hundreds of miles away.
Looking back on it, it’s a miracle that we met up at all. I was only coinciding with the PCT for a 3 day window (minus zeros in Seiad Valley). If I’d been just one day early or late, I probably would have missed him. Plus, we’d both planned to take lunch breaks in the same spot. Consider the distance and timeline he traveled to get to this point, more than halfway through a 2700 mile hike. He’d even gone all the way through the Sierra in a record high snow year. What are the chances that our timelines aligned? Best of all, we hadn’t planned it. I had his number but neglected to reach out since before he started. I so love hiker reunions anywhere, but especially unexpectedly on the trail.
Side note, but it’s funny that Costanza wasn’t even the first PNT hiker I bumped into this year. I ran into Number 2 while I was in the middle of nowhere around the Escalate river on the Hayduke. I passed him outside of Bonners Ferry, ID, the year before. Then a few days later, as we were having lunch at the Escalate Outfitters, a woman I met at Luna’s hiker hostel and had dinner with in East Glacier, recognized me and re-introduced herself. My Hayduke companions joked that I must be famous and now the other 3 hikers at the lunch spot said the same thing. I knew both Mr. President and Costanza. With as many trails as I’ve done, it’s bound to happen. I know this is all way too much for a reader to remember, I’m just trying to keep my tally straight in my own head. I guess I do bump into people from my past very often, but it still blows my mind, especially considering the vast geography involved. I’ve also bumped into high school and college classmates in Mexico and New Zealand. It is a small world.
It’s a good thing I made so many miles early, because we ended up taking a 3-hr lunch break. We both had lots of stories and catching up to do. I wished that I was going his way but no chance was I about to go back down into the hot valley. It made sense to take a long break through the heat of the day, though. Amazingly, while sitting in the shade for so long, I actually became cold! I needed to finally say goodbye to Costanza so that I could hike to warm up. My spirits were really lifted from this chance encounter and the rest of the day felt like such a breeze.
Also, I had no idea NoCal was so beautiful! As I approached the Marble Mountains, the alpine glory really started to take hold. I kept stopping to look at the distant mountains and ridges, including Mt Baldy and Harrington, which I traversed the week before. With all the smoke in 2018, I could barely see the nearby Marble peaks and nothing of the valleys below. The other ranges were a complete mystery to me. I also remembered very little of the trail in this section. Passing by a few of the lakes jogged my memory but that was about it.
I called it a day just 5 miles later at Paradise lake. Sadly I didn’t even go for a swim because I didn’t feel the need and the lake was sort of mucky. I did try to go for a side trip to Kings Castle Peak, only 2 miles round trip and 1k of gain. I set out at 5:30 pm, as if this was enough time in the evening to accomplish something like this. I mean, after a full day of hiking and so much elevation gain, why did I feel the need to peak bag? Fortunately I didn’t make it far before the alpine meadows stopped me. It was a wet winter and spring, so the wildflowers and bushes were in full swing. I enjoyed overhead views of the lake at least. A few other were camped nearby, including a small trail crew of about 5. I chatted with them briefly and retired for the night.