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Pacific Crest Trail hikers avoid McKinney Fire

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Andy Seldon, 51, PCT trail name “Sad Spot,” brushes his teeth Tuesday with a toothbrush he cut in half to save weight in his backpack at Jackson Wellsprings in Ashland.

Navigating a 110-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail closed in response to the McKinney fire took the work of some angels.

“Trail Angels” and other connections PCT hikers rely on helped ease their transition from the trail after the U.S. Forest Service closed the trail between Etna Summit in Siskiyou County, Calif., and Mt. Ashland.

More trail closures are ahead, with more fires along sections of the trail north of the Rogue Valley, making these disruptions part of a new PCT reality.

Three hikers who broke camp Tuesday at Jackson Wellsprings considered themselves lucky to have escaped the closure relatively easily. All three insisted on a PCT tradition, going by their names.

Sad Spot, Bed Penny and Tinder were determined to keep going and looked to lose a couple of hundred miles with optimistic acceptance.

“It’s getting weird that people can hike the PCT the entire way,” Sad Spot said.

“It’s just a new reality on the court,” Bed Penny said.

The three hikers had planned to meet two of their friends, Melissa Villars and Jeoff Calkins, and hike part of the trail together outside of Yreka when they learned of the closure.

Villars and Calkins already live in their van traveling around the area and were ready to ferry their friends around the McKinney Fire and up to Crater Lake, where the group hopes to get back on track, despite another 60-mile closure come in. due to the Windigo and Potter fires.

Hikers hope to avoid these closures the same way they have the McKinney closure, through close communication with hikers and reliance on help from those off the trail.

Sad Spot said he heard reports of a closure due to the fire from other hikers, but didn’t believe it until the group ran into a group of hikers stopped and waiting for rides in an area 50 miles south of Etna.

All hikers would need outside help to get out, he explained. His group had his friends; the others had trailing angels.

“A whole caravan of track angels came over and got everyone out of there.”

“Every year there’s a problem,” said Bill Exley, an eight-year rink angel, “and this year it was the McKinney Fire. This year has been exceptional.”

Trail Angels, Exley explained, help PCT hikers complete the arduous 2,650-mile route by offering rides, places to stay or hiking sections of the PCT with cold water, beer, soda or other sugars and carbohydrates loved by hikers who burn thousands of calories per. day.

Every year, PCT hikers flip-flop: Skip a section of the trail because of unexpected conditions like fire or snow, then come back and hike that section later, Exley explained. But this year, he said, dozens of hikers were forced to abruptly change plans when a larger-than-normal stretch was closed by the McKinney fire.

“I bow to all the angels in Southern Oregon and even Central Oregon who rose to the occasion and helped the hikers,” he said.

Daryl Burks described himself as not a super angel, just a kind of angel, because he recently refused to drive a mother and her teenage children from Ashland to Bend. But even limiting himself to ferrying hikers from Callahan’s Lodge to Ashland, Burks described himself as busy.

“There are a lot of them struggling,” he said. “This summer has been a little different. We had it sweet until this last week of July.”

Sunny J. Lindley estimated that she has helped about 10 hikers over the past eight or nine days. Several have stayed in their homes while they figure out how to avoid the shutdown.

“According to my experience, they are very determined. They want to finish the road. Everyone’s choice of how they want to surf is very different,” he said.

Although they all said they expected fires, Lindley described them as affected by the experience.

“They try to act invulnerable, but you can see it in their eyes,” he said.

Lindley said he remembered three men in particular, one from Italy, one from France and one from Austria, all with varying levels of understanding and fluency in English.

They awoke in the night to find ashes in their tents and were told to move; they moved in only to be told again, Lindley said, stating that he had a hard time understanding them as they told their story and assumed they probably had a hard time understanding the evacuation orders.

After a couple of days of rest, the three men continued on their way, he said.

“A lot of them, they seem to be looking for some kind of transformation, that’s a unique mindset that prepares them to deal with a wildfire,” Lindley said.

A group of hikers resting by the waterfall outside Callahan’s Mountain Lodge on Tuesday said they escaped the fire with the help of angels and southbound hikers alerting them to the danger.

Despite the smoke, they prepared to walk to Crater Lake.

One hiker, who named the trail Fly, said he and his fellow hikers understood what they were up against.

“Hiking in Northern California at the end of July, oh yeah, right in the lion’s den,” he said.

Another hiker, Fried Green, said he was working toward a “triple crown,” the title he’s earned by hiking the Appalachian Trial, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. She has already traveled the other two paths; the PCT is all that’s left, and she wouldn’t accept gaps.

“I have to connect my steps,” he said.

She and other hikers in her group will hike this section of the trail when it reopens.

The disappointment of the closed trail was a painful moment for Fried Green, who confessed to a brief cry in his tent, but said hiking means rolling with the punches and accepting the conditions as they are.

Contact Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.

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