PCT Day 71, A-Tree Spring to Highway 49 (Sierra City) 24 miles

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better. – J.K. Rowling

I wake to a purply-orange glow on the horizon and my owl’s “Hoohoo-hoo-hoo!” It’s cold and I wonder if I’ll be warm enough in the Sierra as I pack up and start the morning routine, surprised again to be ahead of Klaus. I use the time to send a message to Richard to reserve me a room tonight in Sierra City. I’m so dirty, I’ve got to clean my clothes and myself.

The trail heads up into the rock I saw lit orange by the sunset. From the ridge, I look down to myriad glacial lakes nestled into rocky bowls. The air is brisk and the wind chills me, so I move faster. Below, cowbells tinkle at different pitches. A man passes me wearing a milk jug tied diagonally to his chest.

The jagged mountain is closer today and I know I’ll be right up in it soon. There’s snow on the ridge. My nose is running. Klaus wants a break at this open space with wide views and I find one more Clif bar to gobble up, the bottomless pit of my stomach never sated. Hikers don’t shake hands, perhaps for obvious reasons – we’re never very clean. Instead we bump fists. Klaus uses it often to show his appreciation for something cool we come across or make happen. He is especially fist-bumpy when it comes to taking time in spectacular places, like swimming in lakes or exploring steam vents. There’s not always time to do everything, but even small detours remind me why I’m here.

I walk on granite dust, past enormous white fir and ponderosa pine, learning it’s the fir that create the enormous cones. Lakes come into view and I make a note to return and explore this area more thoroughly. Klaus is ahead and suddenly extends his arms. A woman walks towards him, who I learn hiked with him through Oregon. She is picking up all the missing trail pieces before she needs to head back to Germany, telling us after Sierra City, we have two days in the forest.

The jagged mountain is called Sierra Buttes and becomes even more beautiful as we get closer, first heading down long switchbacks, so tempting to jump is why trail workers pile brush in between. At a road, there’s a camping area I take note of to return to before it’s time to saddle up and ascend right into the crag.

It feels so much like Yosemite here, down to the sound of my shoes on the crunchy trail. Mule deer cross the path and watch me pass. The buttes disappear as I come to a lake, then it’s carefully built rock walls and stairs guiding me to a final lake directly under.

I find it curious seeing this jaggedness from afar and understanding it as one thing, but when I come close and can really see it, I notice less a rock face in one dimension and more its multi-faceted intricacy. It’s an ever-evolving entity with rocks crumbling, boulders tumbling into fanned piles and trees working their way into the mineral-rich remains. Though even the trees show a life span, with huge trunks stripped bear hulking high up on the tiny ridges close to the summit. Like a person, we only really know a thing when we get close.

I zigzag up the neighboring mountain, looking back all the way to the top before popping over. A spring beckons a mile below and I head for it and a late lunch. Curious yellowjackets mill about, landing on my food but never threatening me. Klaus talks through the coming days telling me he still wants to hike with me. I laugh. “Really?!” We may be a bit of an odd hiking couple, but we make this hike happen and it’s somehow better together even if he says I sometimes speak “bullshit.”

It’s a long way down and I assume it’s in trees. Never assume. Right away, things open to a tremendous valley, deeply sweeping away at our feet. It’s aerie up here and I feel like I’m flying, breaking into ‘The Sound of Music.’ I see enormous zigzags carved into the mountainside ahead. Tinkly broken rock is at my feet, soon making walking difficult. A seep dampens a boulder, swelling the brown lichen and producing bunches of wildflowers. A landslip gets my attention, exposing the gnarled roots of a huge fir hanging on for dear life.

Down and down I go, with a little up to shove the route over to a more advantageous side before more down. Over here, I see the tiny town below wishing I could simply drop straight down. I come to the forest and then it’s one switchback after another for miles, the North Yuba River and paralleling highway teasing me into thinking I’m close.

It seems like it will never end, but, of course, it does and we come to the highway, just a mile or so above town. Klaus dumps his pack and takes my seat to rest. He’s not one to complain, so laughs at how done in we are. I try and hitch, and lose patience after several cars pass. When I ask how long we should wait before walking, he picks seven minutes. So I set a timer and within five, a truck stops and offers us the bed. It’s a windy ride, but one I’m very grateful for.

Richard made me a reservation at River Haven where Susan welcomes us to her charming home right on the river. Laundry is done, I am clean (aside from my toenails) and the three of us head to Sierra Pines Resort for trout right from their pond along with a huge salad, fresh bread, local IPA and a big desert. I am cuddled into a huge bed – yes, it is different sleeping in a bed, basically better – and the river is rocking me to sleep. The trail carries on tomorrow after a bit of sleeping in. Good night!

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