Monday, November 5, 2012

Day 107 to 108 - Seiad Valley and the Goff Fire

August 10 to 11
Day 107-108
Miles:  38
Total Miles: 1656

Wildfires west of the PCT
The next two days were spent winding toward the small town of Seiad Valley which sits a few miles from Grider Creek and less than fifty trail miles from the Oregon Border.

The descent down Grider Creek Canyon was long, about fifteen miles, which began by gently criss-crossing dirt roads and than descending more earnestly down a deep canyon into thicker vegetation and a canopy of trees:  thimbleberries, and wild blueberries became more abundant and poison oak cropped up along the trail.  The Madrone (Bearberry) Tree with it’s thin layers of orange-red bark peeling away in sheets appeared as I neared the first of four wooden bridges spanning the creek.

Thimbleberry plant
The Madrone Tree
As I made my way down the steep-walled canyon, the air got thicker and the humidity increased.  Walking by several waterfalls and bounding over creeks I felt like I was walking through a South American rain forest.  The steep walls began to give way as I neared the fourth bridge crossing and I knew I was not far from to the Grider Creek Campground where I would camp for the night alone.  Just six miles of road walking, the longest road walk of the official PCT, separated me from the community of Seiad Valley.

The next morning Weather Carrot walked into my camp as I was packing up my tent and rinsing out my coffee mug, having camped at the second bridge crossing over the creek a few miles back.  We walked the road together, pausing here and there to sample the abundant blackberries, and made it to town for breakfast at the cafe.  The town of Seiad Valley consists of the Cafe/General Store and a campground that hosts hikers who can camp at a discounted rate.  The store accepts hiker resupply boxes where mine was waiting for me after breakfast.

I took a shower at the campground and then picked up my resupply box and made preparations to leave that afternoon.  As I was doing my resupply Siddhartha and Threshold hiked in!  I hiked with these two from Mt. Whitney through much of the Sierras until we split up before Muir Pass, so it was good to see them again.  Washout, another hiker I had not yet met, rolled into town with them.

During lunch at the same cafe, we were debriefed by area firefighters on the Goff fire raging west of the trail.  The status was evolving and changing every hour - one volunteer firefighter came by the campground and told us we would have to take an alternate road walk that by-passed the first eight miles of the trail.  An hour later, another came and told us that in fact, the trail was not closed and we would be safe as the fire was still several high ridges to the west of the trail and winds were favorable.  The debriefing at lunch confirmed this last update, so after several “beer” delays, the four of us hiked down the road toward the trail at 6 PM.  

Immediately after leaving the road, I split from the others and began a long climb from the road at 1400 feet up to a dirt road crossing at 5800 feet, covering eight miles of trail.  I ended up hiking well into the night reaching the campground at 11 pm.  The night hike was surreal as I watched the sun drop to the west behind ridges blazing with the Goff fire.  One by one I could see trees explode into flame as the fire burned up the ridge.  The brilliant colors of the sunset made all the more brilliant by the diffusive effect of the smoke spreading across the valleys.  Briefly I imagined flames racing toward me and smoke chocking me out as I became the first fatality of the 2012 season.  These thoughts were tempered by a realization that the prevailing winds were to the southwest, keeping the flames and much of the smoke moving in the opposite direction from the trail.  Still, I didn’t dare stop and camp before putting some distance between myself and the fire.

Once the sun dipped below the horizon and the flames retreated behind me, I hiked in almost complete darkness - any light from the moon and stars being drowned out by the lingering smoke in the air.  My world on night hikes typically extended only ten feet directly in front of me on the trail (the range of my headlamp).  Tonight the forests and hills revealed a new world coming alive and invading my reality:  large toads enjoying the cover of darkness found a place to rest on the path frozen by my headlamp (I nearly stomped on one the size of a baseball) and scorpions several inches long scuttled across the trail escaping my bright light.  Every noise in the trees jerked my neck in that direction searching for the source, looking for a shadow or a pair of glowing eyes.  Once I spotted these eyes glaring wearily back at me in what I believe to be a meadow, first one pair, then scanning the area, three additional pairs reflected off my headlamp-too narrow to be bear, too high off the ground to be fox or coyote-must be deer.  Owl’s hooted in the shadows and feet crunched branches and leaves in the forest.  I felt a strange combination of alertness and peace, I belonged in that wilderness as much as the animals around me belonged there.  My senses were attuned to the sounds and smells and sights just as they were evolved to do over millennium.  I was not a stranger walking through an inhospitable and dangerous land, but a creature of the earth re-connecting with his natural habitat after being steered away by a society that has developed an unnatural fear and uneasiness of wild places.

UPDATE:  As of August 24th, the Goff Fire officially closed a nine mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail.  On August 28th, just two weeks after I hiked through Seiad Valley, evacuation orders were given to the town.


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PCT Northern Terminus

PCT Northern Terminus
On September 30, 2012 I reached the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thanks to everybody who supported and followed my journey. It was a life-changing experience!