Smoke, Sickness, and Sore Feet to South Lake Tahoe, Part 1

A photo of Truckee’s historic district, near the train station.

I was in Truckee. I had just returned from Utah. I intended to return to the Pacific Crest Trail.

And the air quality was worse than I had hoped for. It was worse than when I had left Truckee to go to Utah.

Furthermore, something weird was happening to my feet. It wasn’t blisters, but it was leaving my feet a little sore. Furthermore, it started happening to me when I was off-trail, not when I was hiking. I figured it was probably nothing, and would go away if I ignored it.

I then asked myself – do I return to the trail, and hope the air will get better, or do I return to San Francisco.

I had missed the train to San Francisco, or rather, the train which dropped me off at Truckee was the train to San Francisco (in fact, it was the same train line I used to get from Chicago to San Francisco). I still had the option of taking a bus that evening to San Francisco.

I had a couple hours in Truckee to ponder whether I would go to the trail or I would go home.

A hiker I encountered in Truckee said ‘Do it! Go back to the trail! So what if you have to breathe smoke for a few days?’

I finally did decide to go back to Donner Pass to get back on the trail, mainly because I was psychologically prepared for returning to the trail. I was not psychologically prepared to go home so soon.

This is a photo taken near Roller Pass, and the campsite I slept at when I got back on the trail from Truckee/Donner Pass. Roller Pass was where the mid-19th century immigrant parties crossed the Sierra Mountains. The infamous Donner Party planned to go to Roller Pass, but because of a navigational error, they ended up in Donner Pass instead, which is part of why they had such a tragic fate. Even though Roller Pass was the better route for a group travelling with oxen and wagons, nowadays the highway, freeway, and train tracks all go via Donner Pass, whereas Roller Pass is only accessible by dirt trails.

As soon as I returned to the PCT, the air quality got better. I got to camp a little later than I would have liked, and it was windy, but it was okay.

The next day was good. The air was better. There was good scenery. I passed by Squaw Valley and the Granite Chief Wilderness. My feet were okay. I told myself I had done the right thing by returning to the trail.

The air got worse in the evening, but I hoped that was temporary.

The next day, I woke up with a sore throat. My first thought was that maybe the air was so bad that it had triggered the sore throat. Later, it occurred to me that I might have a cold, but I was not sure.

And the air was awful.

And my feet hurt, far more than the previous day. In fact, my feet hurt more than they have every hurt in all of my hikes. Every step was painful.

All of the smoke in the air was changing the color of sunlight.

It sucked. It became clear that I really had a cold, though I’m sure the bad air did not help. And my feet hurt. And the air was bad. And there were not many nice views. And even the water sources were worse than what I was used to dealing with in Northern California (and even worse than average for water sources on the PCT in Southern California). I was going slower than usual, and I was getting tired faster than usual. The cold was really draining my physical energy! I was thinking a lot about how much I wanted to get to a town, and regretting my decision to return to the trail at Donner Pass.

What finally improved my mood, at the end of the day, was seeing Lake Fontainallis.

A big clear lake with bare granite mountains with a little snow behind the lake.

Lake Fontainallis

Seeing that lake was the best thing that happened to me that day, because it was so beautiful that it shook me out of my suffering.

And it was only a mile from my campsite. At my campsite, I stopped hiking, and after I set up camp, I lay down, and stopped putting pressure on my sore feet.

I camped near Dick Lake, which was about a mile away from Lake Fontainallis.

I hoped I could get into town the next day. But I still had about 20 miles of hiking to get to the next road. And I had to hike those miles while I had a cold that was draining my energy, with feet that felt pain whenever I put them on the ground. And who knew what the air would be like? And when I got to the road, how difficult would it be to get a ride?

To be continued…

4 thoughts on “Smoke, Sickness, and Sore Feet to South Lake Tahoe, Part 1

  1. Dang, the smoke! I live near Ashland and met thru-hikers who never saw Mt. Shasta because of the smoke. They kept hiking right thru the murky air. We’ve had more smoke this summer than any in the past. Hope your feet and throat get better fast.

    • This happened in early August, and I am happy to say that I’ve already recovered, in fact, I even went to the top of Mt. Whitney a few weeks ago. There was a lot less smoke on that trip, and my feet were fine, thank goodness, I had some minor respiratory issues on Mt. Whitney hike but not as bad as what I describe in this post

      Anyway, part two is coming this week (I would have posted it last week, but I wanted to post something about recent events, so I postponed part two).

      EDIT: And I’m sorry to learn that the smoke is so bad in Ashland. And given that Ashland has had some awful fire/smoke seasons before, I am impressed that this year is the worst ever.

      • Glad you made it up Whitney – I’m looking forward to getting there next year. Yes, it seems the wildfires and smoke are going to continue to have an impact on our hiking – as well as the rest of life – from here on out.

  2. Pingback: Smoke, Sickness, and Sore Feet to South Lake Tahoe, Part 2 | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

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