July 26th, Saturday
1487? to 1498.6
I woke up before the sun had cleared the mountains, though that wasn’t surprising considering that we were camped in a valley. The woods around us were dark and gray, and a quick glance around our campsite showed me that no animals had disturbed us in the night.
We were in no great hurry to get to Castella (since we wouldn’t be able to pick up our package until Monday), so we got off to a leisurely start. The terrain was nice and easy at first, winding us through the pleasant woods. It was already a little hot, though.
After several miles we stopped at a spring (poised precariously on the edge of a manzanita-covered cliff) and met some weekend hikers who were hiking southbound. They told us that the best part of Castella was Castle Crags State Park, and that we should definitely check it out. We thanked them and kept hiking.
While we were walking along the ridge, we saw Mount Shasta again, as well as a massive series of granite outcroppings, on the mountains opposite us, that looked like a castle. It wasn’t too hard to figure out that these were Castle Crags.
After a while the trail began a long descent, taking a huge roundabout route in order to traverse the steep mountainside. Despite walking in the shade, we felt the heat oppressive, and were sweating profusely.
We approached a narrow paved road, and saw a cooler next to it. Our spirits lifted, we opened the cooler to find only melted ice. Trying to shrug off our disappointment, we continued, following the PCT to where it joined up with a paved road a bit further down. As we approached the gate, we saw a handmade sign taped to the gate. Our hopes rising, we hurried up. In big letters it said, “I am giving rides to PCT hikers.” But when we got close, we saw that this person was “giving” the rides for a price— $20 for the first person and $10 for each person thereafter.
It wasn’t exactly an outrageous price, but Zach and I were not in a good mood at this point. “Go to hell,” Zach murmured, and just then, a silver car drove up.
“Do you guys need a ride?” the guy called, rolling down the window.
“We’re just going to Castella,” we said. It was two miles away— miles we’d rather not walk if we had to, but we were wary now.
“Did you see my sign?” the guy asked cheerfully. “I’ll take you there.”
Thirty bucks for two miles. Yeah, that was a good deal. “No thanks,” Zach said.
“It’s not in our budget,” I added.
“Okay,” the guy said, then rattled off some confusing directions to help us get there. With a friendly wave, he drove off— in the direction we were heading.
“I don’t like Castella,” I said.
In the sweaty heat which tends to pool in valleys like this, Zach and I walked along the paved road. It seemed to take ages, but almost no cars passed us, and no one heeded our outstretched thumbs. We passed some small houses and trailers, and finally crossed under an overpass to arrive at a gas station with Ammaretti’s Market. There stood the market, with PCT resupply boxes piled in the window. There was the post office, with its doors closed until Monday. I wanted to scream and time-travel to myself and slap myself silly for sending our box to the post office instead of the market.
Zach and I wandered into the convenience store and poked around. Zach got some soda and I bought some incidentals. We learned that we could camp for $3 a person at Castle Crags State Park, so we soon left in search of it.
A long detour down a hiking trail at last led us to the campground, and after much searching, we found a campsite reserved specifically for PCT hikers, with the $3 rate. We were the only ones here tonight. Unfortunately we realized that we didn’t have enough cash to get the spot. We set up anyway, hoping the park rangers would have mercy on us and let us pay tomorrow after we got access to an ATM.
|Oh yeah, and we walked 1,500 miles.|
In the meantime, we sat and ate some snacks. Zach’s stomach was hurting him. As we ate, a ranger (named Ranger Todd), approached our campsite. I was about to apologize and explain that we didn’t have enough cash, but he laughed and said, “Oh, I’m sure you guys will get some cash. I just wanted to to invite you to the geology talk happening at the campground tonight.” He told us that Dr. Bill Hirt was here to talk about how the crags were formed. We thanked him and agreed to go.
When 7:00 rolled around, we hiked up to a little amphitheater that had been set up with a slide projector. While we waited for a crowd to gather, Ranger Todd told stories about his time here at Castle Crags, and then he mentioned that we were PCT hikers and the audience peppered us with questions. Then Dr. Hirt stood up and opened his first slide.
Dr. Hirt was clearly enthusiastic about the topic, painting a picture of the incredible geological history of the region, often running back and forth from the podium to the slides to point out different features.
He told us that the whole west coast was originally a chain of islands in the Pacific which drifted over the millennia toward the North American continent, eventually crashing into the side and being forced under the North American tectonic plate. As the islands slid under the plate, they dragged ocean water with them, which got super-heated and had nowhere to go except blasting through the crust. Castle Crags was an example of this: the super-heated vapor had hurled a mountain-sized block of granite up to the surface. Then another form of water went to work: ice. Each winter, the ice squeezed in between the little cracks in the stone, eventually forcing them apart into the castle-like bastions we saw today.
As if this wasn’t interesting enough, he also told us about “Ancestral Mount Shasta,” a 14’er that stood on the same spot as Mount Shasta does today. Eons ago, for whatever reason, the top half of the mountain suddenly detached and plummeted in the valley below, leaving a ten-foot-deep layer of sediment for a fifty-mile stretch. With the destruction of that mountain, volcanic activity reawakened and pushed up modern Mount Shasta.
We listened in rapt attention, awed by the violent geological history. The whole audience, old and young alike, was very engaged and asked lots of questions, and you could tell that Dr. Hirt was loving it.
After the talk was over, we got chatting with several people about our hike. Zach stuck around for a while, then discreetly slipped away. I kept chatting with people, soaking up the attention and conversation. At last the crowd dispersed and I returned to our campsite. Zach said that he had actually thrown up! His stomach issues continued to worry us.
The family camped next to us called over and asked if we wanted any food. They ended up giving Zach a beer (that’s good for an upset stomach, right?) and me a huge serving of bean salad and kale salad. I devoured as much as I could of both of these, savoring the fresh nutrients.
It was now dark out, but we still hadn’t set up our tent. We found a little out-of-the-way site on the edge of the area and used our headlamps to help us set up. It was long after “hiker midnight” when we crawled into the tent and conked out.