Monday, August 18, 2008

A Fire and a Volcano

It is July 23. Three days ago we just celebrated our 3 month anniversary of walking the Pacific Crest Trail. We left on April 20 and on July 20 we found ourselves right about at the halfway point on the trail at mile 1325 in Lassen National Park. This was particularly neat because Lassen National Park is home to Mt. Lassen, which like Mt. St. Helens, was once an active volcano. Thus we got to walk around and on the old ashes of the remnants of the last explosion. That meant the trail was covered in fine dust that is known as pumice. This is sort of a grey ashy material that is soft and almost beach-like to walk on, left over from the remains of lava and other volcanic dust. So the trail has definitely changed from the steep climbs over solid granite walks we found in the Sierras. Now it is almost entirely flat as we travel around 5,000 and 6,000 feet through the dense conifer forest that has overgrown the volcanic remains. In fact, one would never really suspect tha! t we were walking over a volcano because the trail seems rather lazy, forested, and unassuming. But under all this peaceful pine forest is a mass of boiling and bubbling heat, turning and churning waiting to release its tremendous fire. It is sort of like walking by a sleeping dragon, if you wake it, it coould very well spew flames. But, in all honesty, Mt. Lassen isn't showing too many signs that it will awake from its sleepy rest anytime soon. At best, we walk by signs that remind us it is still breathing its smoky fumes as we pass lakes and springs heated form the geothermal steam and some active geysers. In particular, the PCT goes by Terminal Geyser and we got to see plumes of steam spraying up from vents in the earth. This was pretty cool because right where the steam was being released from the ground you could see a natural hot spring boiling up from the ground! It looked like a pot of rolling, boiling water bubbling and frothing but right inside a pool of roc! ks on the ground! There were even signs posted that read, "Please stay on the trail as geothermal activity may cause vents and cracks to unexpectedly collapse resulting in scolding hot burns." We definitely noted that and suddenly, along with the smell of burning sulfur that permeated the forest like rotten eggs, were aware that there was some hot stuff going on right beneath our very feet!Additionally, we also got to see some pools filled with burning acid. These were lakes that had been filled by hot minerals leaching up from the earth and they were all sorts of colors - grey, red, orange, and yellow (from the boiling sulfur) and a mixture of those somewhere in between. What was interesting is that we saw a couple of mature bucks lounging by the boiling mineral pools. Here there was this tremedously hot acidic pool and these deer with these huge antlers were just laying mere feet away from the gurgling hot pit! Apparently they like the sauna effect and that is relaxing to them! In the middle of Lassen National Park is Drakesbad Resort. This ia an upscale resort for families on summer vacation. It runs something like 300 or 400 dollars a night for most of the simple, woodsy cabins and a few good meals. Now this is not exactly in the means of a thru-hiker budget, but they give us a pretty good discount that makes this place a hard stop to refuse! The five course meal they offer (complete with fresh salad, homemade bread, large portions, and peanut butter mousse) was ten dollars and worth twice as much as they charged PCT hikers. The best part was that after all the guests had eaten they brought us leftovers of their scrumptious meal. Rarely is it that hikers walk away from a meal totally stuffed. At Drakesbad they all do. That night, after the best dinner on the trail we stayed in one of their awesome cabins with no electricity and real old-timey gas lamps. What with the woodsy quaint cabin and the candle flicker on all the wooden boards of the walls, it was a very romantic and special night. We couldn't have asked for a better way to celbrate the halfway point on our 6 month honeymoon.Which may bring some readers to wonder: "How they did get halfway when just a little while ago they were a couple hundred miles away from that point?" The answer lies upon your television, and, perhaps, in some indirect way, on some unused hiking poles. You've probably heard from television new reports about the 1,000 some wildfires that have been rampant to California. At one time, just a few weeks ago most of those fires were raging and considered uncontained. Don't worry - we haven't had to walk through anymore of them, although they have affected parts of the trail. In fact, as we came to Donner Pass, site of the infamous Donner party and their tragedy in the snowy mountains of their winter trek, we realized that we would have to skip ahead on the trail because of a closure from fire. The U.S. Forest Service had officially closed the trail and had posted signs reading that anyone found on the closed section of trail would be fined 5,000 dollars. With that, and afte! r hearing stories of people who had attempted to walk through the fire and who said they could barely breath in all the thick smoke, we decided to hitch around that section. The other alternative to bypassing the fire would have been to road walk for about a hundred miles around the fire while dodging traffic on a narrow and hot paved road. We opted not to roadwalk and to find a ride to where the trail was open again. The trick was that this was a long distance to hitch. It certainly wouldn't have been impossible to find a ride, but it would've meant standing out on a road with our thumb out for a couple of hours while traffic zoomed by us in a frenzy!Enter the trekking poles into the story. After 950 miles of walking with my poles attached to my backpack, preferring to walk with my hands free and finding the poles a bit clunky and clumsy to walk with, it was probably about time to send them home. Admittedly they had helped steady me across some pretty hairy steep snow slopes in the Sierras, but we were out of the snow and the Sierras now so they had been dead weight on my pack for awhile. I kept thinking about sendng them home, but never quite got around to it, so they just stayed in their little niche hugging the side of my pack. But, nothing happens without a reason - even carrying a useless device on the trail for 950 miles. Turns out, we met some southbound section hikers named Ann and Paul. Both middle aged parents and avid hikers and outdoor educaters... (to be continued...)

... It turned out that Paul was having some pretty bad knee problems, especially in the steep descents of Yosemite Park. So, in a flash I threw off my backpack and whipped the poles off the side of my pack and gave them to Paul. As a competitive cyclist and a mountian man, Paul had worn out his knees enough to give him some pain on the jarring downhills and I hoped that the poles would support some of the weight as it came down on his cartlidge and his joints. So, that was the answer to that. I got to get rid of my poles and Paul got to equally benefit by finishing his hike with a little less pain and a little more support.A long story made short, I gave my poles to Paul and he said he'd mail them home to me. In exchanging addresses he told me that they lived in Truckee, CA and that there were some pretty bad fires there and said that he could probably give us a ride around them if we needed it. So, a couple weeks later, we indeed found ourselves sitting in Truckee and wondering how in the world we were going to get a hitch around hundred miles of fire closures. We remembered Paul and Ane and as soon as we called them they came and got us the next morning, cooked us an awesome breakfast of fresh waffles (they were even shaped like hearts for our Honeymoon) and eggs. They took us to look at shoes, got us to the grocery store, and drove us a longgggggggggg way ahead up to Chester, CA where we got off right by Lassen National Park. Thanks Paul and Ann! We couldn't have gotten around the fire without you!

1 comment:

Paul Stephens said...

Hello Rose and Ben,
We are flattered to be included in your memoirs. It has been our pleasure. I think of you often...where are they today? what pass will they cross? are they close to Washington? I have a Cross country runner that told me at high altitude camp that she was going to walk the PCT. I was so excited to tell her about our summer stories and about you guys. Well I have bought poles and have made about a dozen pepsi can stoves. I change the hole diameter, number of holes, wicking materials, V-8 cans. My son Zack has gotten into it too. We time how long it takes to boil a pint of water, burn time with 3 tbsp of alcohol. We are such nerds.On another note, Chico State offers a certificatte in Outdoor Education. I grabbed a couple of brochures for you. I have sent your poles so they should be arriving soon to your mother's house ben. I included some trinkets. If you two are going to walk the section between tahoe and Lassen be sure to let us know. Cheers and safe trails
thinking of you often
ps You are a very good writer