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PCT Day 144 – Hiking through Forest Fire Smoke

Last updated Mar 24, 2020 | Published on Sep 12, 2017

I hiked fewer miles than planned today. Washington’s terrain has a more difficult elevation profile than Oregon’s, which will take a bit of getting used to. Also, I had just taken a couple of days off. It always takes me a few days to find my mojo on trail after a break.

Red Sun at Dawn

Autumn is Here

It was overcast today with clouds and smoke from nearby fires blocking the sun. Despite the overcast skies, the day was hot and a little muggy. The trail wound through mossy green lowland forests, climbing up and down ridges and valleys. The sun was a deep orange-red color for the first couple of hours after sunrise due to the forest fires. Spooky.

Smoke forms Wavy Clouds

Smoke in the Distance

I ran into Giggles and Bearcan during my morning break and hung out with them for a while. They hiked through the Sierras with Sunkist and Halfway and, although I didn’t know them very well, I felt like we were friends by proxy. I also knew Giggles from the Sea Biscuit vs Sea Biscuit Foosball Death Match (you can read more about the foosball tournament here).

Giggles and Bearcan

The rest of the day was relatively uneventful. The sky grew darker and darker from gray clouds that drifted in from the south. I met another hiker named Picante at a creek who was equally wary of the ominous weather. We speculated about the gray skies as we filtered water. Neither of us had cell reception so we had no way to find out more details about our situation, other than what we could see with our eyeballs.

Oh Look – it’s a Clear Cut! How Lovely.


I eventually camped on an unused forest service road. The weather confused me – I couldn’t tell if the haze was from smoke or from rain clouds. So I put up my rainfly just in case. The rainfly blocked any breezes from blowing through my tent and I sweated in the stagnant air.

Rock Creek

So much of the trail is closed right now due to wildfire that it’s really discouraging. I’ve already had to exit the PCT multiple times to avoid sections that are actively on fire. And I have two more wildfires ahead of me in Washington state to navigate around. I really want to hike as much of the PCT as possible this year, but I feel like I’m missing out on part of the experience. Smoke from wildfires is decreasing visibility so that I’m not able to fully enjoy the views and also decreasing air quality to the point that I’m worried for my health.  I resolved that if one more fire broke out, I was out of here. I haven’t hiked the Sierras yet – I’ve been planning to save the Sierras for another year – but there is no reason why I couldn’t go down and hike them now.

I eventually drifted off to sleep, feeling vaguely uneasy.

Gray Skies

PCT 2017 Stats

PCT Day 144 – Monday September 4
Mile 2152.7 to Mile 2169.9

PCT Miles Hiked Today: 17.2
Total PCT Miles Hiked: 1608.1
Feet Ascended Today: 4394
Feet Descended Today: 3441
Current Elevation: 2972
Steps: 56979

For more on my experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, visit my Pacific Crest Trail 2017 Blog page:


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Hi, I'm Unicorn!

I am an avid hiker, traveler, and adventurer who is on the mission to explore hiking trails around the world.  I’m also obsessed with National Parks, long-distance trails and other outdoorsy things.

I hope to share this knowledge with you and inspire you to explore new hiking trails too!


  1. OSCAR

    Hello good morning, I’m a follower who reads your post daily, I got confused when you got sick, and you came back to the trail, I was aware that you were heading south towards the sierra nevada, but you started north, I got confused. My question is no longer going to do the Sierra Nevada section? I would appreciate it if you clarify my doubt, thank you.

    • Unicorn

      Hi Oscar, well it’s been an interesting year. I’ve ended up bouncing around a lot on the trail. I started at the Southern Terminus and hiked north to Lone Pine. I decided not to hike the Sierras at that time due to snow. Then I skipped up to Ashland and hiked south to Sierra City (although I skipped the Trinity Alps and Marble Mountains due to snow). Then I had to get off trail for a few weeks for a medical issue. When I got back on the trail I started hiking northbound. I first hiked from Castella to Seiad Valley to pick up the miles I skipped earlier due snow. Then I went to Ashland and hiked north, but I had to keep skipping sections of trail that were closed due to fire. Shortly after I got to Washington state I got tired of hiking through fires and skipped back down to Lone Pine to finish the Sierras. And that’s where I’m at now 🙂

      • oscar

        I am grateful that you took time to answer, thank you, what a beautiful adventure you are living, congratulations.

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