Most of the hikers in camp got up early to arrive in either Castella or Mount Shasta (the city) around mid-day. For me this would mean getting up around 4:30 am to be on trail at 6:00. Of course that didn't happen. I was happy to be on the trail by 7:15 am.
The trees were tall but dense, but the lack of foliage on the ground made it feel roomy, holding off the sense of being smothered by a green tunnel. When the trees would break, as they would often do, magical views of Mt. Shasta made me want to stop and break. I did a few times, but my mind was set on getting to Castella with plenty of time to resupply, relax, and eat a pint of ice cream.
In previous days, Simon and I had talked about cutting off-trail for one of the large switchbacks which would cut off about 4 miles of the PCT. Having contemplated it for a couple days, when I arrived at the point to go off trail... I did. At first, it seemed like a lot of other hikers had had the same idea.
For the first 100 yards, the path was well defined and easy to bushwhack through the overgrown areas. After the first 100 yards, the path slowly started to disappear as the hill started to get steeper and the chaparral became more and more overgrown. I popped out of the brush to a logging road. I could hear the chainsaws nearby but couldn't see any people.
The path I had chosen was faint all the way to the logging road. But beyond it turned into a pathless hillside covered in grass-seeds (those nasty things that stick to your socks and shoes), Poison Oak, and a very lose layer of pine needles making it impossible to be in control at many points while descending. From the logging road back to the PCT, I figure it was .4 miles, it took me one and a half hours, I fell 2 times, dodged all the Poison Oak and got eaten alive by a dense cloud of mosquitoes that I couldn't run away from though I desperately wanted to.
When I finally laid eyes on the PCT, I had a moment of elation. Never had I been so happy to see a trail. Hiking until I found a good resting point, I stopped to eat lunch and mentally recover from my recent ordeal which brought my mind back to walking on the snowfields in the Sierra's. If I were to do it all over I would do it again for the incredible feeling that comes from extreme discomfort followed by a beautiful 16 inch path clear of all obstacles.
Not knowing if I passed Butterfingers, who had left camp well before me, I hiked on and quickly found a hitch into Castella. Very shortly after arriving in Castella, Butterfingers text me to see where I was. She was behind me and walking to town after being unsuccessful finding a hitch. Evidently she had waited for me at the last water source, not knowing that i took a path that skipped that part of the trail. Some day I will return to complete that 4 mile switchback.
Castella consisted of a Gas Station and Convenient Store which held my resupply package. The store had a deli which made very good burritos and had plenty of ice cream (very important!).
Once at the campground, a 0.5 mile walk from the store, Butterfingers and I setup and camp and watch the many other hikers pour in. The showers at the campground had hot water, good water pressure and best of all, they were FREE! With no pressure to take care of chores this afternoon and evening, I relaxed knowing tomorrow was going to be a zero day, and I couldn't think of a better place to take one at this point in Northern California.