Castella to Etna

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Day 106

We awoke in the Castella Campground  after a short but good night’s sleep. We knew we had a big climb that day (don’t we always coming out of trail towns in Northern California?) so thought it best to make an early start of it.

Getting back to the PCT from Castella while maintaining a continuous path from Mexico to Canada was going to be a little tricky. We had already hitched to Castella from near the Interstate 5 junction, so we had to somehow get back there.

We decided hitching back early in the morning was probably not an option, because of the lack of traffic. So we decided to hike back to the PCT from the campground, drop our packs, and slackpack back to where we had hitched from, turn around, walk the same miles back to our packs, pick them up and keep walking north on the PCT.

From our hiker site at the campground there was a path that Mama Goose said would take us to the PCT. Unfortunately it wasn’t on any of our maps, but we decided to try it anyway.

After some steep climbing we started to feel like we were walking in the wrong direction. We decided to check an offline map app on our phone called Maps.Me (thanks Kahlil & Caroline) which indicated we were walking too far north. If we followed the trail we would eventually meet the PCT, only our slackpack would be around 4 miles instead of 2. At this point Physio was starting to feel annoyed. Any additional hiking to the PCT without substantial reward (especially steep uphill) makes him very mad.

Despite Physio’s feelings of frustration we turned around and walked right back to our camp. From there Cashmere successfully navigated back to the PCT to a point much closer to the I-5 intersection. Physio continued to feel depressed, especially when we climbed up a huge hill, only to descend steeply down the other side to meet the PCT.

Once back to the trail Physio took some ibuprofen (‘vitamin i’ in thru-hiker slang) and drank lots of water. Physio wasn’t feeling it. Despite Physio’s intense headache (we can blame our friend Two Mile’s late night “peach schnapps” offerings) we dropped our packs and started to slackpack. 

Once at the Interstate 5 junction we made sure we walked to exactly where we hitched from, then turned around and headed back to our packs. Luckily for us the best blackberries always seem to grow along highways and railway tracks, so we had a berry fest on the way back. The combination of ‘vitamin i’ and blackberries seemed to help Physio and he was suddenly into hiking again. Meanwhile Cashmere was just acting all “berry f@#ked” as usual.

Shortly after starting to hike north from where we left our packs we passed the 1500 mile mark.

After that it was pretty much just normal hiking, first through the woods, then crossing some streams and increasingly in more exposed places. One of the first streams we crossed really gave us some mixed signals saying not to pollute it because it was the water used in the campground below (that we had stayed in the night before) while another sign said not to drink that water because it was polluted. Moreover our water report said that creek was polluted with fire retardants, which we have read are particularly bad to ingest.

After some leapfrogging with other hikers and passing lots of streams, we began the big climb we had known would be in store. We had tried to get a bit of an early start so as to not be doing the biggest and steepest portion of the climb during the hottest part of the day. However, despite our best efforts we ended up hitting it in the early afternoon. Luckily it clouded over and a cooling wind kept us from overheating as we climbed.

I keep dreading these big climbs out of towns and with a fully resupplied (heavy) pack but keep finding them to be not that bad. “I can do this. I now have really strong trail legs” plus we’ve usually just had a little rest and a lot of food. We have gotten to the point where we don’t have a heap of extra body fat available to serve as energy reserves so you really notice the renewed energy you get from eating. We’ve talked to hikers who have said things like, “I had to take a few days off the trail just to stay in town eating because I had just lost so much weight and had no energy left”. The frustrating thing when you get to towns with their delectable offerings is that you often don’t have the stomach capacity to pack away as much as you’d like.

The other thing that may have been powering our climb was the incredible vistas. How is this place not a national park?

Cashmere & Castle Crags

Cranking it up the Crags
Seriously Craggy

After most of the climbing was past we stopped by a spring to fill up our water bottles and cook dinner. Then we carried on as the sun began its daily descent. As it got to be time to make camp, the winds picked up and we got to a more exposed section of the ridge. We saw a few campsites that Physio wanted to take advantage of but Cashmere knew there were a few with a view 0.2 miles (0.36km) around the corner. Maybe it would be the sheltered side of the ridge? She went to investigate and was awestruck by the views of Mt Shasta and the Castle Crags at sunset. There was even a rainbow and a bolt of lightening from a near by storm (no we aren’t lying).

Majestic Crags

Mt Shasta...from a new angle!


Sadly the campsites were really exposed to strong wind so we returned to the previous campsites (we hate walking backwards!) and set up shop.

Day 107

We awoke to blue skies and almost no wind in the morning. We did our usual morning routine and set off. We crept closer to majestic Mt Shasta, a giant volcano of more than 14,000 feet (~4,500m) and looking at it just never got old.

Are you sick of Mt Shasta yet?

Then we started to head more westerly toward some rocky stuff. We saw a snake along the way and went over a little pass. In the far distance we could see some triangular peaks, presumably the Trinity Alps we were supposed to head to. The annoying thing was, they didn’t look northerly at all, just westerly.

Trinity Alps

We skirted around some more and came upon a junction to ‘Porcupine Lake’. In the guide we use (Yogi’s), someone had said that Porcupine Lake was worth the 0.2 mile (0.36km) each way side trip. Now that may not sound long but us PCT hikers are, ironically, famously lazy. We walk so much that we sort of hate walking extra, unless maybe if there is pizza involved. However, being the so-called “cleanest hikers on the PCT” (but we’re not really) we really liked the prospect of having lunch by the lake and a dip.

After some confusion with navigating the trail to Porcupine Lake we did finally arrive and it was a beautiful clear blue lake.

Porcupine Lake

We were getting ready for a dip when we heard a man coming through the bushes. Okay guess we won’t go in naked then. He was a lovely local who had never left the area because he likes it so much. We had a chat to him and admired his dog and we all went for a swim and the water was so warm. Clearly we were not in New Zealand anymore, that’s for sure. Then the lovely man gave us a whole big cucumber from his garden that he had picked that day. We had it with lunch and life was very good.

But all good things must come to an end and we did eventually have to head back to trail. Our afternoon hiking was fairly standard with some more views of Mt Shasta as well as other lakes.

Shasta with Lake

We had dinner by ‘Deadfall Lake’, admiring the big peaks around us, one of which even had a speck of snow.

Next we walked a bit more, saw some hikers we know, headed just into the Shasta-Trinity Wilderness and set up our tent under a big pine tree. Then we went to sleep knowing we had a fine day.

Day 108

After packing up our camp and departing in the morning we walked for a bit and then had morning tea in an exquisite location with a view of a lake and the lovely Mt Shasta.

Different lake - same Shasta

Then we kept on walking, getting closer and closer to the Trinity Alps. We always seem to go to weird Alps; the Australian Alps, the Southern Alps (New Zealand), and now the Trinity Alps, but still no Alp Alps (the European ones). Maybe one day.

Some of the colours of the rocks we passed by were beautiful blue green. After lunch we descended to a road, and there, at the Mt Scott summit Trailhead we examined a map for our upcoming trail. We would be walking southwest for more than 10 miles! What a blooming slow way to walk north to Canada.


But what choice did we have? So we started climbing up the hill from the road. It was mid-afternoon and it was hot. We sweated and endured until we made it most of the way up the hill and then we found something very interesting. An epic patch of ripe wild raspberries!  It took us a few minutes to realize we just needed to drop our packs because we were going to be there awhile, but eventually we did. Cashmere also pulled out a plastic zip-loc bag and we picked a bunch to have with breakfast too.

Berryfest 2015

Once we were done living up the berryliciousness of the PCT, we got back to the matter at hand, walking. We hiked until we reached a spring where we cooked dinner. It was on a steep hillside and at first the pot and stove fell over! You will be relieved to hear that no dinner was lost. Phew. Thereafter Cashmere cooked on the only flat place around: the track to the spring. Since it was the first water for some time, there were many awkward interactions with other hikers trying to get water. Meanwhile Physio tried to wash himself in the ice cold water and groaned a lot. Cashmere tried to wash some clothes too but was concerned the dirt was freezing on. Once it was ready, the hot dinner was a welcome contrast.

After dinner we came up from the spring to find the nearest campsites full of loud campers which we interpreted as a sign we needed to walk further and set off. A few miles later we passed a really warm creek (an outflow from a lake) which we wished we had used to wash ourselves and our clothes. Then we saw a perfect campsite we could have to ourselves and went to bed.

Day 109

In the morning as we got ready to head off again we had a visit from a deer who seemed surprisingly unintimidated by us. She was eating lots of lichen off a tree branch nearby. However, she didn’t respond well to Cashmere trying to feed her bonus lichen treats and ran off.

Trinity Alps

We were right in the midst of the Trinity Alps and they were pretty gorgeous. For lunch we were looking forward to getting to a river, the Scott River, for a swim. However, when we reached it, we saw that it was more of a creek that didn’t offer ample swimming opportunities. So we just ate lunch in the shade and put our feet in the water.

For lunch, we often just eat peanut butter on crackers. After more than three months of regularly eating peanutbutter on crackers we were getting sick of it. To make matters worse many of our crackers were broken into pieces. On this day, to add some variety and counter issues of unspreadable crackers, Physio started getting spoonfuls of peanut butter and wedging chunks of cracker and dark chocolate in it. Delicious!


After we finished eating, Physio had a spectacular mosquito-eating visitor come hang out on his leg. The Dragon Fly just stood there on his knee munching a May Fly whole.

Physio and his new best friend

Once we started walking again we went through wildflowers, got some views and then heard some cowbells. We’d heard them before but had not yet actually seen any cows out in these ‘wilderness’ areas. However, our water report said that the spring we were approaching had ‘cows everywhere’ (a warning to be sure to treat the water). Sure enough there they were. It was like we were in New Zealand.

Somehow cows seem photo worthy on the PCT

We climbed up past the cows, got some more views of Mt Shasta, then walked along a tree-lined ridge. We could see a weird little hut below us at one stage. Then we passed a sign indicating we were in the “Russian Wilderness” and it was like we were in a whole new world. The track started to descend steeply with sheer rocky cliffs both above and below the track. How was this track clinging to the side of the mountain even built?

Steep rocky terrain abounds

Once we could see out from the trees we realized that huge granite mountain sides faced us, a bit like Yosemite, here in Northern California. It was beautiful. We continued moving along and could not believe how perfect the trail was in such inhospitable terrain.

Russian Wilderness

As we hiked into the evening we stopped at a spring to collect water, and have dinner. We were joined by Little Bear, who seemed to be procrastinating. He sat with us the whole time while we ate a three course meal, even though he wasn’t eating dinner and finished collecting water before we ate our first course.

After dinner we continued towards one of the only campsites between the spring and the road to Etna. With often ridiculously steep terrain above and below the trail camping opportunities were severely limited.

Just before dark things got cool

We walked until well after dark before reaching the best camping potential for miles around. However, as is often the case on the PCT there were already people at the campsite we were walking to. Arriving ahead of Cashmere, Physio heard loud yelling from the direction of the campsite and was wondering to himself “who the hell are these idiots?” (Answer: the loud campers from the night before who have apparently annoyed a few people around.) Without consultation Physio decided we would have to find somewhere else to camp. After a bit of exploration we found a perfectly flat patch of ground up the hill from the trail, and it was free from screaming idiots!

We quickly set up camp, and washed ourselves ‘hiker trash style’. If we are dry camping we basically wash ourselves by spreading the dirt on our bodies around more evenly using a slightly damp bandanna. Then we go to bed sticky and uncomfortable, but pass out anyway because we’ve walked 25 miles (~40km).

Day 110

After setting our alarm for 5:30am we both randomly woke up before 5am and decided to just get up and get moving. We wanted to get to the road to Etna early – because we wanted to be there before the 10 other people camping nearby. Why was this necessary? We had heard the hitch to Etna can be difficult, and didn’t want to be numbers 11 & 12 in the hitching queue that morning.

Our plan sort of worked – we hiked the nine miles to the road by around 9am and were numbers 4 & 5 in the queue.

After a long wait an old pick-up truck with a trailer on the back stopped and picked us up (let’s be honest, at this point you knew it would be an old pick-up truck). The driver had been blasting classical music and was probably around 70 years old with a long white beard. Cashmere rode in the front, while Physio had a very bumpy ride down the windy road to Etna in the trailer with Fun Bags and Not Sauce. Cashmere found out that he was a local weed farmer, a common occupation in Northern California. It was interesting.

Once in town we headed straight to the diner and ate an epic breakfast and then checked into our motel.

Our time in Etna was special because we were celebrating Physio’s birthday. Barb (Cashmere’s step mum) had also sent us our new shoes – which is a big deal when you’ve been wearing the same pair of trail runners for over 800 miles.

New shoes definitely required

And a new skirt too...

So we celebrated Physio’s birthday and the arrival of our new shoes by having dinner with our long lost friend Meta/The Dentist/Trash Can (he is indecisive when it comes to his trail name) at the Etna Brewery. We had not seen Meta since Mount Whitney – almost 700 miles ago (~1120km) but you may remember him as the guy whose foot Cashmere sewed up in Agua Dulce. After much peer pressure we convinced Meta to give up the name “The Dentist”, but he refused to be Meta again. He decided to be Trash Can from then on.

Crazy sunset in Etna

After lots of food and a couple of pints of beer we retired to our motel room.  Cashmere promptly fell asleep – while Physio celebrated turning 31 by watching a full replay of the All Black’s vs Springboks test match in Johannesburg.

Day 111

In the morning we took our sweet time leaving the motel room – eating baguettes with spinach-artichoke dip and packing up to be more trail ready. In fact, we took so long we had to ask for a late check out.

The rest of the day was spent frequenting the local cafe, the library, and generally enjoying air conditioned environments as much as possible. It was over 100°f (~40°C) outside.

In the evening, after sharing a 2 litre tub of “Chocolate Brownie Thunder” ice cream with Trash Can, we contemplated our hitch back to the trail.

At around 5pm the power in Etna went out and shortly afterwards a car pulled up in front of the library. The driver called out “are you looking for a ride to the trail?”. Christopher, a local, was sitting at home when the power went out. With nothing else to do he decided to go find some hiker trash to take for a drive. We piled in the car with another hiker named ‘Whatever’ and then collected Trash Can from the backpackers.

Back at the PCT trail head we were relieved to find the temperature far more pleasant (Etna was a few thousand feet lower than the PCT).

Cashmere near the trailhead

I will leave the tale of our hike from Etna to Seiad Valley for the next post.

(Note: if you have provided comments suggestions for the blog and don’t see them reflected, we haven’t had internet for awhile so haven’t seen them yet but will try to adopt in posts later on. Thanks.)