Day: Tuesday, 16th August 2016
Miles: 1653.4 – 1663.4
Seiad Valley RV Park 1653.2 – Kangaroo Spring Remote Site 1663.4
Its an age old story (or at least as old as my blog). I get into town, I make myself at home, and then I don’t want to leave. Whilst predictable at this point, the reasons for not wanting to leave are usually attributable to the welcome I received, but that wasn’t immediately the case in Seiad Valley, California. My morning routine in Seiad Valley as such, was not marked by a wonderful welcome or an amazing trail angel, it was marked an early morning wake-up call from the RV park owner, who bizarrely wanted to turn on the sprinklers at 8AM. Conveniently for him, the sprinklers would also banish today’s thru-hikers from his lawn. In short, I was not feeling too welcome here this morning , and with temperatures rising fast, it was clearly going to be a long day in this little hamlet as I had missed the morning exodus on account of my late arrival. The early crew including my old friend ActionJackson and Yoda had raced out at 5AM in the hope of beating sunrise and advancing up the highly acclaimed northbound elevation gain after Seiad Valley. This mammoth rise was nothing short of hell, based on most wise-accounts from the elders of the trail. Continuous. Hot. Never-ending. It had a notoriety and an aura that we had not encountered since the Hat Creek Rim (of hell) stories back in Old Station.
With the sprinklers about to pour, I packed up my camp and enjoying finding some snickers bars that an unknown hiker-fairy had left in my doorway during the night. I wandered to the post office and shop (the one I so disappointingly missed last night) for some top-up supplies. It immediately struck me that there may be more to this little place than perhaps I had granted it on first inspection. Seiad Valley is the gateway to one of the strongholds of the free State of Jefferson movement. An idea that rural Northern California would be best served by secession from California, creating the state of Jefferson, a largely rural state centered on Redding, CA and with a heavy focus on extractive industries (timber etc) and conservative policies befitting the majority of its populace. Signs of the movement are strong and active everywhere you go. The distinctive gold-pan flag with double-x’s displayed proudly in stores and on vehicles, even on local municipal trucks, up to and including signage from some large national brands saluting the State of Jefferson.
After picking up some items I needed including powdered Tapitio (one of the most glorious finds of the entire trail), I wandered next door to the definite highlight of Seida Valley, the local cafe. This was surely one of the greatest examples of breakfast perfection that one could hope for on the trail. So good, the cafe doesn’t even bother staying open for dinner, pouring all of its energy into breakfast and lunch as well as a healthy trade in floats, frappes and malts. For the thru-hikers in search of breakfast, copious amounts of carbs and coffee were available. In fact so many carbs that if one was of a mind for it, the pancake challenge was available, with 5lb of Americas finest pancakes awaiting an owner. A number of people attempted it unsuccessfully whilst I was there, including my old friend Hobbit. One hiker had finished it a few weeks before, gaining the trail name ‘pancake man’ in the process. Plonking myself at the counter at the early morning, I couldnt help but love the banter and comeraderie between the locals, the hikers, and the woman who runs the cafe with her 2 daughters.
Spending most of the morning at the cafe, reading the local paper and drinking buckets of coffee that endlessly came at me, was one of those amazing contented moments on the trail. A moment where you realize that all you really need around you is good food, interesting people, and maybe 3 gallons of thick black coffee.
Alas, the beauty of the Seiad Valley cafe was also due to its exclusivity. Just at the same moment that we were all hooked on the wifi and banter, it was time to close. Akin to being thrown out of a bar at 2AM in the morning with nowhere to go, the largely thru-hiker based group congregated in the cafe car-park, unable (unwilling?) to hit the trail in the searing heat, and teased by the idea that a local gentleman named Art *might* arrive on his ATV and give people a ride up the hill. I was certainly not of a persuasion to take a ride, but many others decided that the ATV was worth a look. Some were also interested in hearing about Arts suggested alternate trail which afforded much greater shade and a gradual, if continuous hike, saving some miles and elevation gain/fall. A large group hung on in the shade late into the afternoon as a result, good times with good people. The fact that the store sold beer an ice cream, a convenient coincidence.
As the evening light began to wane slightly, the oppressive heat was still hanging in the air. Art arrived on his ATV, and along with some locals there was some good conversation going on, particularly for me, around taco night which was a community gathering up the road on Tuesdays, being run by a local woman using local produce. A few of us decided that with no end to the heat, some Tacos and a later start was the best strategy for a good evening of night hiking out of the heat. Taco night ended up being a really great evening rubbing shoulders with some locals and enjoying some really delicious tacos.
It was around 8PM when we finally began to aim for the trail, just a few hundred feed further up the road. Breakaway and FlyBy, the dream-team were on our way. Of course the idea of a team is not entirely the way it works, other than a loose expectation or understanding of where we were planning to stay, given everyone hikes at their own pace. As a result, soon after hitting the trail, I was enjoying the sight of Seiad Valley dropping below, to my beloved silence and solace in the forest.
The sun set in a magical explosion of reds and oranges to the west as I began to crest the ridges after a long series of wide switchbacks. There was signs of a forest fire at some point in the distant past, but the terrain was pleasant, and following the expected (if loathed) continuous gain. Passing a high ridge giving views to the west and the east, I was able to enjoy the twinkling lights of Seiad in the dark on one side, whilst the other was still lit up in a firy orange glow. Passing some hikers camped early on a ridge, I continued past a water source and caught up to FlyBy, spending the remainder of the nights’ hiking with him in close proximity. At this point it was dark, and an intensely bright moon was lighting up the surrounding peaks in a ghostly glow.
Aiming for Kangaroo Spring, we followed a series of switchbacks on an exposed ridge, constantly amazed by the brightness of the moon and the stillness of the evening. We noted that tiny glints of light could be seen in the distance, as other hikers followed the same strategy as us, and made their way slowly up and over the hill under darkness and in this blissfully cool moment after the days heat subsided.
After battling an unexpected and freakesh series of gales as we summited ridges to the north-side of the range, we descended finally to the Kangaroo Spring area. We quickly found Breakaway and I spent some time being overly fussy about finding a spot to camp in, eventually deciding to cowboy camp a little ways along the trail in a horribly rocky and uncomfortable patch on a slightly sad looking area of dirt. The area appeared to have incredible pale granite cliffs to the north and I was excited to see what the morning would unveil given the dramatic shadows illuminated by the moon. It was 11:45PM, and in hindsight, a thoroughly enjoyable day in Seiad Valley came to a close!