Friday, Sep 1st, 2023, 0600-1940
Ridge NE of Spencer Lakes to 8 miles past Sierra City
28 miles, Gain 4100′, Loss 5000′, elevation 6440′
I woke just as rain started to splatter my tent. It remained light until I was able to pack, thank goodness. I hate packing a wet tent. The wind howled all night but the trees ran perfect interference. A few breezes reached my tent but nothing major. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be protected in this way, but every gust still worried me. I ended up putting my earplugs in…if I couldn’t hear the gusts coming, they couldn’t bother me.
Most would be hesitant to leave their tents in such gusty and wet conditions, but we were both raring to go at 6 am. A town stop beckoned. Besides, it had temporarily stopped raining as we set off. There were even some misty views early on. The trail bounced along the ridges in a fun way. Then the rain picked up, making the exposed ridge walking not so much fun. I still managed to keep my umbrella up but had to hold it in my hand so that I could appropriately manipulate it each time the wind threatened to rip it away. I was so glad to have it, even if it was a bit unwieldy at times. My arms and lower torso started to get pretty wet but my core stayed dry. This makes all the difference to me, allowing me to walk all day in the rain…as long as I keep moving!
We came to a junction where the old PCT used to stay high on the ridge but the new reroute took hikers down into a valley towards several water sources, then back up to the ridge. The old route was about 3 miles shorter but without water sources and potentially much more exposed to the wind and rain. We took it anyway. I was intent on covering new ground when possible and we both liked the idea of a quicker route into town. The ridge walking wasn’t that bad. There were enough trees to break up the wind and there would have been great views too, if not for the fog and mist. We came to the side trail to the fire lookout on top Sierra Buttes and promptly blew past it. There was no sense in going up on a day like this. I didn’t even notice it was an option in 2018. Guess it will have to wait again until next time.
Wrapping around the south-facing side of the mountain, we came to a long series of traverses and switchbacks through manzanita. I distinctly recalled this section as being very scenic but also going on forever, being very hot and exposed. The exposure meant something else entirely this day. We were getting blasted by wind and rain gusts, instead. Rather than wilting from the heat, I was starting to get pretty cold. I also remembered there being a good chance of encountering rattlesnakes in this section, but not today! They were all hiding in their holes…which is where I started to wish I could be. Every time we came around a ridge, I would see the trail traversing to a far ridge, over and over again. Neither of us wanted to pull out our phones to check the remaining distance because we didn’t want to get them wet. So we just kept shuffling along. I was really glad to have Out Here’s company (because misery loves company), but I’m not certain he appreciated my ‘false’ recall of the trail this day. “We go down just around the next bend, I’m certain of it!” Then the next bend came and I’d have to repeat the same thing again. Just one more mile!
We did reach the trees, then many many many more switchbacks down into the valley. At one point I guessed there were about 5 switchbacks remaining. I intentionally guessed low, trying to help with morale. Out Here guessed there were at least 15 more and we bet a beer on who was closer. I knew his guess was more accurate, but we both wished I was right instead. On the 26th! switchback (many of which were over a quarter mile long), we finally came to the road into Sierra City. The last 4 or 5 switchbacks were comically misleading. We dropped down so close to the road that it seemed like we could touch it, but the trail just seemed to go on forever and the road continued to drop away, just out of reach. We discussed making a thru-hiker video game in which a player could be stuck in infinite switchback hell. Town could appear so close but one never makes it there unless they battle some sort of trail monster standing in the way and collect enough points. Our monster this day was the wind and rain. We battled and finally earned our reward of a quick ride into town, a hot cup of coffee and a GINORMOUS 3 lb burrito. Out Here also noted my knack for getting hitches easily…first vehicle to come by in fact. Yes, I know, it’s another of my strong suits.
The tiny town (rather a collection of a few buildings) was swarming with hikers. There was already a multi-day build up of those who had delayed because of the weather forecast…now calling for THREE STRAIGHT days of rain. Then there were those of us that rushed to get into town (20 miles by 12:30!) and many many more that simply hitched from whatever road crossing they came to, from probably a 30 mile or more radius of town. We shortly saw all the hikers we had passed the day before. It seemed like a mass exodus from the trail, with everyone converging on this tiny place with one restaurant and a few hotels. All the rooms were already booked, sinking my plans of staying the night. Originally I had hoped to camp in the little plot next to the church, but a big “No Camping” sign had sprung up since my last visit. It was a very damp plot anyway, none too appealing. Without any viable place to stay or squat, I became resigned to hiking out of town, back into the rain. But first, at least we were able to dry off and fill our stomachs with hot stuff. The burrito situation was ridiculous. I swore I could eat it all in one go but only made it halfway through. I had to pack it out, having some for dinner and the rest for breakfast the next day. To liven our spirits, we also packed out some festive beverages. We would need all fun we could get to counteract the rain.
Out Here accidently mailed himself a 6 day resupply box, leaving half of it to give away. Luckily I was there to intercept it before it reached the hiker box. Thanks to him, I didn’t really need to buy a single thing from the store…besides the coffee, burrito, peppermint schnapps and a beer that I owed him (plus one for me too). I didn’t really even do an inventory of all the stuff he gave me, just kind of shoved it into my food bag and called it good by the weight. I only needed to make it a few more days to my next resupply…if only I could get through the rain and cold. A few of the hikers near us were talking about it like it was the end of times. They proclaimed that they were lucky to be alive after the dangerous winds almost blew them off the ridge. Yes, it had been uncomfortable out there but I didn’t feel it was life threatening, not yet anyway. We walked out of town around 4 pm and were pleasantly surprised that the rain had stopped. It even appeared to be clearing a bit. We saw patches of blue sky and our spirits were high. We could handle a little bit of rain! We were tough!
We took a side road directly out of town that crossed the trail further up. Another couple miles got us out of the creek valley and onto a ridge for a “dry” camp. Once again, I sensed that a spot in the trees would be good for the night, out of the wind at least. Out Here pitched in a well-established, hard packed tent site but I went for a site under a tree, on top a couple inches of pine duff and at a slight incline. I spent extra time picking out the pine cones and sticks but had an inkling it would be worth the trouble in the long run. Boy was I right. We chatted in the dark and took some swigs of schnapps. It was another productive day of big miles and hours in and out of town. We were pretty good at fitting it all in, even in the rain!