I’d be lying if I said that I dream of making an epic backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Yes, I know that marching from dawn until dusk with a load on one’s back has become the in thing to do, ever since Cheryl Strayed ballyhooed the PCT in her book “Wild” (2012), which spawned a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.
But I prefer day-hiking bits and pieces of the PCT, a few miles here and there, picking up the trail at various spots close to the Rogue Valley. For my most recent outing, I accessed the PCT just past Milepost 27 on Dead Indian Memorial Road, east of Ashland. This well marked turnout serves as Pederson Snowpark in winter.
My destination, a good four miles south of there, was Old Baldy, described on a Forest Service website as “a small, long-extinct volcano that once had a fire lookout on its summit.” The trail rounds Old Baldy’s slopes rather than climbs to the top, so the uphill grade is not very steep.
The hike amounted to a long, pleasant stroll through the woods. The trees were mostly Douglas-firs wearing green shawls made of moss. They seemed overdressed for such a warm summer morning. Scattered among them were some true firs, easily identifiable by their upright cones.
Along the way, I encountered a young couple lugging bulging backpacks. They told me they were long-distance hikers who had covered nearly 600 miles since starting their journey.
The young woman looked grubby but seemed in good spirits. The guy was more stoic, with a beard as bushy as John Muir’s.
“Well, that’s about 598 more than I’ve gone so far,” I informed them, then wished them good luck.
Do I admire the determination of PCT hardcores, especially the few who do the entire 2,650 miles? Or do I pity their proclivity for self-torture?
It’s not just the aches and pains of marathon hiking that would get to me, but everything from the bland backpacking food to the danger of getting lost.
On my hike to Old Baldy, I faced challenges no greater than some downed trees that blocked the trail intermittently. A truly humongous one had crashed right in front of a sign that read “Leaving Rogue River National Forest.” It took me a minute to detour around that fallen giant.
Soon after that, on BLM land, I reached a clearing with a stone outcropping, like a guard post. Although there was no sign announcing it, I was confident I was on Old Baldy, according to my Forest Service map.
In a meadow below was a mysterious ghost forest — a broad patch of dead trees missing their tops. Rows of mountain ridges seemed to float in the hazy distance.
Mount Shasta dominated the south view, fluffy white clouds stroking its snow-covered face.
I have no idea where you would have to be standing for Old Baldy to appear bald, but I reclined in the shade of some tall conifers to eat the snack I had packed.
Songbirds piped nonstop. A woodpecker’s rapid-fire, percussive drilling sounded like a beatnik pounding on a bongo. A late-morning jazz concert on Old Baldy, plus great views and solitude.
Two hours later, I was back at Pederson Snowpark with a creaky left knee and sore thighs. For me, these minor discomforts were the perfect amount of suffering to feel after a hike.
Paul Hadella is a freelance writer living in Talent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.