On Being Exhausted… Hiking along the PCT at 75 between Castle Crags and Burney Falls

We rarely stress about water in our everyday life. If we are thirsty, the nearest faucet is usually a few steps away. It becomes a precious commodity along the PCT, however, where your next source may be 15 miles down the trail and what you have to drink is what you carry. This welcome sight is Squaw Valley Creek, which was my destination on day one out of Castle Crags. I didn’t make it.

Although I am now off the trail and happily settled into our home in Southern Oregon, I have several more posts to put up on my backpack trip this summer. Today, I am covering the first half of my trip between Castle Crags and Burney Falls.

Peggy waved goodbye to me as I started up the PCT east of Castle Crags. I had spent two days in the Dunsmuir area happily stuffing myself and it was time for me to hit the trail again. She was less nervous than she had been in the beginning when her 75-year old husband disappeared into the woods for a week. “If you don’t come out on time, I am coming in after you,” she had declared ferociously. But each time, I had hiked out more or less when and where I said I would after backpacking 70-100 miles. Still…

I knew I had a significant climb ahead. I’d dropped several thousand feet coming down from the Trinity Alps to Interstate 5 and now I had to regain altitude. I also knew that there was limited water along the way, which is par for the course on the PCT. The trail was shaded and well-graded, however, so I started off at a decent pace. I met a fellow out walking a big shaggy dog that wagged his tale vociferously at me and then a number of through hikers hurrying north toward Canada. Or maybe they were hurrying for the good food, cold beer and hot showers that Dunsmuir promised. I suspected the latter.

At one point, I found a number of pinecones beside the trail that had been carefully organized to spell out 1500. Curiosity brought out my camera, and then I realized that the 1500 represented the number of miles that the PCTers had hiked from the Mexican Border. I would have been arranging pinecones too! The hikers were a couple of hundred miles past the half way point. It was all downhill, uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, uphill from here on. You get the point. Which brings me back to my own uphill climb.

I had determined that these pinecones represented how far through hikers had traveled since the Mexican Border.
Not far beyond the pinecones, I came on a tree with another type of marker, this one represented time. Someone, probably the rangers from Castle Crags State Park, had counted the rings in a tree all the way back to 1765. This tree was a baby when the American Revolution was still brewing and when my Mekemson ancestors had only been in the country for 10 years.

After about three hours, I began to run low on energy. This wasn’t surprising considering my age, but it seemed to come sooner and go deeper than usual. It was like I had been hit by the proverbial ton of bricks and I was carrying them all in my backpack. I shifted into granny gear and dug into my mental reserves. “Ok, left leg, move! Good job.” It helped for a while, but Squaw Creek was still several miles away.  I loaded up with five liters of water at Bear Creek. I certainly didn’t need the extra 11 pounds, but a vision of dry-camping on top of the Girard Ridge had insidiously inserted itself into my brain. My map showed that an old, abandoned road provided a flat space.

Eventually I arrived and futzed around for an hour finding the best campsite, setting up my camp, and cooking my dinner. I am not the fastest person in the woods when it comes to camp chores, and being exhausted didn’t help. I’ve already told the story of falling asleep when I was cooking dinner. It was scary. My super-hot, MSR propane stove could have turned the kindling dry forest into a conflagration within minutes had I knocked it over. Three major forest fires that happened afterwards in July and August within 50 miles of where I was camped highlighted the potential danger. They ended up burning over 300,000 acres, and one, the Carr Fire, was one of the worst in California history. I would breathe its smoke for weeks.

I vowed to go to bed as soon as I had done my dishes, reviewed my photos from the day, and completed my journal. But first I had to find a tree, a big one. Nature demanded it. This required getting up, a fact my body was not happy about. It had settled into not-moving. I rolled over onto my knees and pushed up with my arms, glad that no one was around to witness the effort. I wandered through a campsite I had rejected and followed a trail up the hill behind it to find the perfect place for my business. Location, location, location as they say in the real estate business. I like guaranteed privacy and a view. Walking back, I was surprised to discover that a through-hiker had settled into my rejected campsite, unpacked, set up his tent and was boiling water for dinner. “How in the heck did he do this?” I declared to myself. I would have been lucky to unpack in the same amount of time. But, in fairness to myself, I had taken longer than normal up on the hill.

I had found my ‘perfect place’ and dug my cat hole only to discover I was 10 feet away from the trail. Not good. A bird’s eye view of Curt’s naked butt does not meet my definition of privacy. So, whining a bit, I went in search of another location. This time I found a slight hill with a good view. I was unbuckling my belt when a thought crossed my mind. My ‘hill’ was a mound about six feet long and three feet across. It bore a striking resemblance to a grave! Now, I am not overly suspicious, but pooping on a dead person’s home almost guarantees a haunting, a spectral visit in the dark night, if such things exist. And I had met a couple of ghosts in my life. There was no whining this time. Faster than a ghoul can say boo, I had apologized and was 50 yards away digging another hole.

My next day wasn’t much different than the first. My reserves were so low I didn’t bounce back. I still struggled with the uphills and ended up dry camping again. The third day, I added struggling with the flats and downhills as well. I got up early with thoughts of making up for lost time. It wasn’t to be. I arrived at Ash Creek camp on the McCloud River around 10 a.m. and decided that was it for the day. Hiking farther involved a ten-mile climb. It’s a good thing Peggy wasn’t around. I might have bailed for the week. Fortunately, my 22-hour layover provided enough time for my body to recover. I managed the 10-mile uphill climb to Deer Springs in good shape and even stayed awake through dinner! But my dawdling meant that I had 45 miles to hike in the next three days. That’s a story for my next post. Here are photos from my first four days. Enjoy. Tired or not, there was still a lot of beauty along the route.

Hiking along the high ridges of the PCT may mean a lack of water, but it provides terrific views— both of where you are going and where you have been. This is Castle Crags that I had just hiked down with my nephew, Jay.
A closer look at Castle Crags.
I am ever so grateful for the wildflowers like this pine drop that entertained me throughout my journey regardless of how tired I was.
What the wildlife had been up to also entertained me. For example, who had chomped down on this bird and left its feathers behind.
But to a thirsty guy, nothing could quite matches up to the beauty of flowing water. These are small rapids along Squaw Valley creek.
I was fascinated by the large umbrella plants growing along the stream.
Another photo of umbrella plants…
And a final— looking more umbrella-like.
Rock sculptures along the trail are guaranteed to make me pause. This was just above the McCloud River.
The McCloud River and Ash Creek camp provided a welcome respite from hiking for me.
Looking downstream on the McCloud River from a footbridge that was a few yards away from where I was camped.
Hiking up toward Deer Springs after my stay at Ash Creek, I saw a junco fly out of a grassy area. Closer inspection revealed its nest and three babies.
A closer view showed that the baby birds that were filling up the nest and still lacking in feathers.
I liked these heart shaped leaves. Peggy had also taken photos of them in Castle Crag State Park.
This large cedar had been hollowed out by fire. I was surprised that it was still standing.
Especially given its size.
This doe appropriately greeted me when I arrived at Deer Creek Spring. After I rinsed out some clothes and hung them up behind my tent, she repeatedly came over to check them out. It became annoying when she woke me up. I went out around 10 p.m. and retrieved them. They might have been missing in the morning!
I found the butterflies flying around and landing on my pack and gear more interesting than the curious deer. Check out the orange eyes on this one!
I’ll conclude today’s post with these brave souls who were willing to check out my boots. There is no way I would have gotten near those socks. They were banished outside my tent at night.

NEXT POST: I finish my journey to Burney Falls where Peggy has been hanging out taking photos of the falls and bribing through-hikers with food and beer to carry messages to me. 

Lyla the Goldendoodle: I Discover a Dog That Is All Legs

The six-month old, long-legged Lyla checks to see where Mommy (Cammie) has gone. Golden doodles  are known to suffer from separation anxiety. “Leave the radio on” the literature suggests. Had Lyla realized that ‘Mommy’ was going to be gone for five days and that Grandpa was taking over, she would have been even more anxious.

Peggy and I are in Safety Harbor, Florida about 45 minutes north of St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast. We came to visit with our son Tony, his wife Cammie, and our three grandkids: Connor, Chris and Cooper. Part of the reason for our trip was to give Tony and Cammie a short vacation. They had a challenging summer and deserved a break. As you might imagine, Grandma and Grandpa have had their hands full with three rambunctious boys aged 6, 8 and 9. They are great kids— but the comparison with herding cats applies here. I never imagined how difficult it might be to get three boys to put on three pairs of socks before the school bus arrived.

The boys were easy in comparison to the fourth kid, however. Lyla is a six-month old goldendoodle. A goldendoodle, for those of you who don’t recognize the name, is a designer dog, a mix between a golden retriever and a poodle. They come in various sizes, from mini to maxi and Lyla definitely fits the maxi description. I have never met a dog with longer legs! Goldendoodles are known for being bright, easily trainable and super family-friendly. They are also close to shed-free, which is a huge plus for people with allergies. The down-side here is that they require frequent grooming.

Cammie provides Lyla with her nightly brushing. (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)

Lyla fell under my list of responsibilities and I soon found myself following her around outside with a bag in hand. Collecting dog poop is not how I envisioned grandpa duty, but a grandpa has to do what a grandpa has to do. I suspect there was a bit of karma involved. I had opted out of changing diapers when the boys were younger.

Mischief might very well be the puppy’s middle name. I had to persuade her that my hand was not a chew toy and that my shoes were off limits. Earlier today we found her chewing up a a pencil and her poop bags. There is a long list of what Lyla has sunk her teeth into. I was rooting for her on the poop bags.

Then there was the night that I fixed Peggy a large bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate, one of her all-time favorite desserts. She had spent an hour persuading the boys that it was bed time and I felt she deserved a treat. I had left the room for five seconds when I heard the ice cream bowl moving across the table. Ice creams bowls don’t move around on their own, I thought to myself, quickly returning. Let me report that Lyla really likes ice cream and she can eat really fast. She also likes lasagna, bread, salsa, chips, cheese, cereal, chicken, ribs, PB&J, and anything else resembling food that her long legs can reach when no-one is looking. I even caught her slurping down Peggy’s coffee and cream, and worse, licking the top of my beer bottle! Think of me as picky, but there was no way I was going to drink from the same bottle as a dog who eats her own poop bags. 

Still, with all of this, or maybe because of it, I really like the dog. She’s a real character. And she is also photogenic, which is how she made it into my blog. I don’t usually photograph pets, but with Lyla I couldn’t resist. Enjoy.

It’s hard to imagine that the long-legged Lyla started out as this puppy a few short months ago. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Super Pup! (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)
A bit older, Lyla poses in her pre-clipped phase. (Photo by Bailey Bordwell.)
Cammie caught this photo of Lyla with her three boys and Tony in an ice cream cut-out board ad. Connor is on the top, Cooper in the middle, and Chris on the bottom. Lyla is the fuzzy kid with the big nose. Maybe this is where she gained her fondness for ice cream. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
Dirty Dog… after a long romp in the dog park. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
Another furry photo. And a very pink tongue. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)
A decision was made to clip the doggy..
Did someone mention food?
While all the boys love Lyla, Connor seems to have a special relationship. Here they are playing who is top dog. (Connor is careful not to put his put full weight on her.) They seem to be evenly matched but Lyla’s teeth are bigger.
We are used to kids today having more toys to play with than we did growing up. But the dog!? Lyla even has her own toy box that she empties out each day. I was playing fetch with her when she got tired and took her ball over to her toy box and dropped it inside. Game over.
I couldn’t get over the length of Lyla’s legs.
Here she looked like she was running full speed. Even her ears look wind-blown.
Her feet matched her legs. Does she look like trouble, or what!
Who? Me? Trouble?
Miss Innocent.
One of my favorite photos. A throw rug comes to mind.
Lyla having a bad hair day?
Peggy says she can identify….
Lyla does have a regal side…
That really came out when she was riding a paddleboard.
Even I was inspired to try my luck. And yes, I  stood up! Just before I fell off. Eventually, I was able to stand up and paddle. (Sort of.)
I’ll conclude with this photo of Tony and Lyla demonstrating how it is supposed to look.

NEXT POST: It’s back to the PCT with the section between Castle Crags and  Burney Falls where I fall asleep while cooking dinner.

The Desolation Wilderness: Hiking on the PCT at 75

Lake Aloha is one of the Desolation Wilderness’s best known landmarks. It was lower this year than I have ever seen it, but still dramatic with its backdrop of the Sierra peaks. 

I ran my first Sierra Trek through the Desolation Wilderness in 1975. The year before, I had created a nine-day, hundred-mile backpack trip as a fundraiser for the American Lung Association in Sacramento. With high hopes of not losing anybody, I had chosen a route across the Sierra Nevada Mountains that was used for a popular horse-endurance race from Squaw Valley to the foothill town of Auburn. Known as the Tevis Cup Trail, it was well marked with yellow ribbons and horse poop.

While the route had been easy to follow, we had been faced with struggling up and down steep canyon trails in 100 degree plus weather (37.7 C) in the Sierra Nevada foothills.  I’d vowed to keep future trips higher in the mountains. My 1975 adventure had zigzagged through the Granite Chief and Desolation Wilderness areas, occasionally touching on what would become the finalized PCT.

When my plan to take my 13-year-old grandson into some of the more remote sections the Desolation Wilderness was cut short by his sprained ankle, I revised my plan and backpacked from Donner Pass to Echo Summit. I’ve already done posts on the Donner Summit through the Granite Chief Wilderness. Today’s photo essay will focus on Desolation.

The Desolation Wilderness is one of the most highly used wilderness areas in America. One reason is because of the numerous lakes. Middle Velma Lake, where I camped, is a popular destination.  Like Lake Aloha, it is filled with small islands.
A view of Middle Velma Lake early in the morning from near my campsite as the sun rose in the east.
Not long afterward, the sun was lighting up the trees that overlooked my campsite.
My morning hike took me to the top of Dick’s Pass which provided a view of Dick’s Lake. More distant views from the pass were limited by smoke from the summer’s fires.
My hike down from the pass took me by these flowers…
These berries…
A very knotty cedar…
And this view of distant mountains.
I found an isolated campsite on Susie Lake. Given the popularity of Desolation Wilderness and the lake’s proximity to a trailhead, it wasn’t easy.
The campsite also provided this view.
Hiking up to Lake Aloha the next morning, I passed by Heather Lake.
One of my first views of Lake Aloha. I once organized a 60 mile cross-country ski trek that included skiing across the lake. That night we had played on the mountains across the lake while skiing under a full moon. The mountain on the far left is Pyramid Peak.
This driftwood had washed up on the shore of Pyramid Lake.
A closer view of Pyramid Peak across Lake Aloha.
Coming out at Echo Lake. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Being greeted by Desolation Wilderness volunteers Maryann Frantz and Charlene Clark.

As most of you are aware, the world famous traveling Bone has been ‘hiking’ with me on this journey. (He rides comfortably in a pouch and urges me to hike faster when I am making my way up steep mountains.) After coming out at Echo Lake, Peggy joined me on a day hike to take Bone back to his origin where my friend Tom Lovering and I found him south of Highway 50 in 1977 beside what is now the PCT. He has been traveling the world ever since.

Tom and I with Bone outside of the Fox and Goose Restaurant in Sacramento. Tom once owned an outdoor/wilderness store that was located in the same building. The goose seems quite interested in Bone.
Over the years, numerous people have carried Bone including Mary Johnson who has taken Bone to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro to the base of Mt. Everest. She also took Bone on an elephant ride.
Many others have simply befriended Bone like Linda and Bob Bray. Bob actually went to First Grade with me and continued on for another 14 years through community college.
Bone was excited to be returning to his home and posed on a PCT sign. “I am going back to my roots” he proudly proclaimed to anyone who would listen.
Including this group of backpackers from Sacramento and San Francisco.
Indisputable proof that Bone has roots.
Always up for adventure, Bone went toadstool surfing on our way to where Tom and I found him.
Snow still covered sections of the trail in 1977. I was following tree blazes when I spotted something strange in a field of young corn lilies. It turned out to be Bone. 
Forty generations of corn lilies have come and gone since and this year’s crop had already grown up. Bone figured they would be good for sunbathing.
We completed our trip to Bone’s home with him regaling Peggy with tales from his childhood.

NEXT POST: Lyla the Dog… NEXT BACKPACKING POST: The trail between Castle Crags State Park and Burney Falls.

A Break from Hiking… The Magic of Chihuly: Part 3

The Chihuly exhibit at the Seattle Center includes a number of smaller blown glass pieces including these shown above.

While I normally picture large glass sculptures when I think of Chihuly, he also has a number of smaller pieces on display at the Seattle Center exhibit. The gift shop actually has several for sale. Had I had an extra six or seven thousand dollars lying around, I would have brought one home.

This photo of a younger Chihuly at the Seattle Center, shows Chihuly working on one of his larger pieces. The paddles are used to shape the still fluid glass while his assistant turns the sculpture that is affixed to the pipe used to blow the glass. The expression on the face of the assistant suggests the weight of the sculpture.

Peggy really liked the nesting glass sculptures.

Another example.

And another. The pine shelving really served to emphasize the beauty of these pieces. This was my favorite among this type of nesting bowls.

Several more nesting bowls of a different type were for sale in the gift shop.

Chihuly had a fascination with Native American crafts including baskets and blankets. A number of pieces were shown with Indian baskets including the three below.

Chihuly’s interest in ocean creatures led to a realistic depiction of sea creatures in glass.

Squid…

Sea turtles…

An octopus…

Hermit crabs.

And eels.

I’ll conclude my Seattle Center Chihuly series with several more colorful and creative sculptures from the gift shop.

NEXT POST: It’s back to the Pacific Crest Trail with a hike through the Desolation Wilderness.

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A Break from Hiking… The Magic of Chihuly: Part 2

The Seattle exhibition of Dale Chihuly has a number of chandeliers and brightly colored glass balls that will be the focus of today’s post.

In my last post, I featured sculptures created by Dale Chihuly and his team of artists that are located in a permanent exhibition at the base of Seattle’s Space Needle. (The Space Needle was built at the Seattle Center for the 1962 World’s Fair.) Peggy and I visited the exhibit two weeks ago when we were wandering around Washington at the conclusion of my hike down the PCT. Today, I am going to show several chandeliers and brightly colored glass balls included in the exhibition.

The room containing the orange chandelier shown at the top included three others. This red chandelier…

A green chandelier…

Close up.

And a blue chandelier.

Another look at the chandelier at the top of the post.

This white sculpture was the centerpiece of the room featuring the four chandeliers.

When I included two of the chandeliers, I felt an ‘alien’ presence. (grin)

Outside, Chihuly presented what he called a chandelier walkway of chandeliers highlighting  different colors and forms.

The chandelier walkway.

The’ sunset’ chandelier.

The ’emerald’ chandelier.

‘Royal Jo’ Chandelier.

Olympic blue and turquoise’ chandelier.

‘Alfa red’ chandelier.

‘Fly yellow’ chandelier.

In my last post, I introduced several of Chihuly’s brightly colored glass balls, which he displays in a variety of settings. As I mentioned, my favorite was the boat.

Another view of the Chihuly boat.

Balls are strategically placed inside and outside with colorful backdrops.

The garden surrounding the Glasshouse and exhibit building features a number of balls including these five in a row.

A blue sculpture and green plants set off these glass balls.

I discovered a selfie in the ball.

The plants around the glass ball helped highlight the green in the ball.

A red sculpture provided a dramatic backdrop for this ball.

Black with swirls of yellow. Trees and leaves are reflected on the surface of this ball.

A  blue glass ball with veins.

This ‘alien’ sculpture in the garden caught my attention.

As did this one.

I’ll conclude today with this blue sculpture that was artfully entangled in the flowers.

Next Post: I’ll finish my Chihuly series with smaller pieces included in the Seattle exhibit. Then it will be back to the Desolation Wilderness!

 

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A Break from Hiking… The Magic of Chihuly: Part 1

This boat with its brightly colored and patterned balls may be my favorite piece in Chihuly’s collection. I say ‘maybe’ because how do you choose? I also love the reflection.

I missed my annual art-fix at Burning Man this year since I was out on the trail. Peggy and I made up for it when we traveled to Washington and Northern Oregon after we came out from our 50-mile backpack trip in the Three Sisters Wilderness. In addition to checking out the Colombia Gorge, disappearing into Powell’s Bookstore in Portland for three hours, visiting with our niece Christina and her partner Dustin in Tumwater, and driving through Cascades National Park, we stopped off at the permanent Dale Chihuly exhibit in Seattle. We both love his inspired glass work. The exhibit, located at the base of the Space Needle, has been on our bucket list for several years.

The Seattle Space Needle provides a backdrop for Chihuly’s sun sculpture.

I decided to provide a quick break from my Pacific Crest Trail series today to focus in on Chihuly’s art. He has been designing and producing blown-glass sculptures since the 60s and is known for his creativity and large pieces. He has also produced some lovely smaller work. Being blind in one eye and limited by an old shoulder injury, he now works with a team in producing his magic. For the most part, I’ll let his art speak for itself in this 2-3 part series. When I am finished, I’ll return to featuring my PCT adventure.

Peggy poses in front of the sun sculpture. Given her often wild, curly hair, she related well to this piece.

Here, the sun sculpture sets off Chihuly’s Glasshouse.

The Glasshouse contains this magnificent sculpture.

It is one of the largest hanging sculptures in the world. I’d love to see it at night.

A close up of the flowers in Chihuly’s Glasshouse.

A number of large sculptures are featured in the exhibit. This one, located inside, reflects the ocean and includes sea life.

A closeup of the sea life.

Outside, Peggy and I found this tall green sculpture…

Another perspective.

A red sculpture spouting what looked like horns to me.

Here, the ‘horns’ are shown more clearly. I could imagine them playing beautiful music!

A purple sculpture reminded me of sugar crystals forming on a stick.

Sweet.

Chihuly vowed to use every color available to him in his Macchia series.

A close up I felt was ‘artsy.’ (grin)

Three other pieces in the Macchia series.

One room was devoted to what I consider a sculpture of a riotous garden. Or maybe it was an altar to the yellow and red creature. Chihuly often repurposes his art in various exhibitions, recombining it in creative ways to fit into the environment. I liked the way he uses reflections to enhance his work. The boat at the top is an excellent example.

Another view of the ‘garden’ from the side.

And from the opposite end.

Starting with a glass ceiling lit from above and then placing his art on top of the glass, Chihuly created what he calls his Persian glass ceiling. The results were stunning.

A whole room was covered by the celling done in segments.

This fun piece was created by standing on a step-ladder and blowing glass. When the glass reached the floor it created the globular bottoms for the forest of glass. Once again, reflection is used to magnify the effect.

I’ll conclude today with another boat sculpture. This one backed up to the boat sculpture I featured at the beginning. I don’t think that Chihuly could have fit anymore into this boat.

NEXT POST: Some really incredible chandeliers plus more of Chihuly’s colorful ball sculptures.

 

Winding Down the Journey… Hiking on the PCT at 75

Some trail names are really obvious. Take Big Red, for example. Peggy and I met him in the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon.

 

Big Red from San Diego towered over my 5’11” height, putting him somewhere up in the stratosphere. Peggy and I met him along the PCT in the Three Sisters Wilderness area of Oregon. He had been hiking for 2,000 miles. “This is my first and last through hike,” he informed us. “There are times,” he explained, “when I camp on a beautiful lake and would love to stay there. But I can’t. I have to keep moving. I have to get in my 25 miles for the day.” Otherwise, he might not be able to finish the trail before winter storms hit northern Washington.

There is something close to heroic about completing the 2600 miles of the PCT in a year. Sacrifices have to be made— like not enjoying the incredible beauty of the trail as much as you might like. Red had also made another sacrifice.  His walking sticks were encased in balsa wood that he had planned to carve. But it wasn’t to be. “I’m just too tired at night,” he told us.

Big Red posed for a photo with me, making me feel small.

I understood both sentiments all too well. It’s just hard. At 75, I found hiking 15 miles a day exhausting. In fact, the day and a half breaks I had planned between segments of the trail to allow my body time to recover weren’t long enough. I realized this as I made my way up the humongous hill leaving Interstate 5 going south. I was fine for the first three hours. After that, it was all I could do force one foot in front of the other. I had just completed hiking 100 miles from Etna Summit to Castle Crags and my body was threatening to go on strike. I loaded up on water and decided to dry camp when I reached the top instead of hiking on to the next source. I was cooking dinner on my ultralight propane stove when I found myself nodding off, unable to keep my eyes open. Not good! Can you imagine how dangerous that was given the bone-dry condition of the forests? Three massive forest fires this summer within 50 miles of where I was camping have proved the point.

The thought of creating a life-threatening fire that would burn tens of thousands of acres if my small stove was accidentally knocked over woke me up like a bucket of ice water. It also forced me to rethink my schedule. I would reduce the number of miles I was traveling each day and increase the number of layover days I would take between hiking segments of the trail. If I didn’t make my 1,000-mile goal, so be it. There was another factor as well. I really did want to enjoy the beautiful lakes, and mountains, and trees, and flowers and rocks and streams. That had been my reason for returning to the wilderness again and again throughout my life. And it was my reason for being out there at 75.

Fires and smoke continued to be a reality of my hike, as it has been for all PCT hikers this year. I jumped from northern California to Central California and back to Northern California in an unsuccessful search of clear skies. As my journey wound down, I had a decision to make. Would I head toward Yosemite and the John Muir Trail or would I go elsewhere? There really wasn’t time to finish the JMT and I had hiked it several times over the years, so I opted for the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon. I’d never been there plus Peggy would be able to backpack with me. We would finish our adventure as we had started it, backpacking together in Oregon. It was a great decision. The area is drop dead beautiful.

Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood as seen from the Three Sisters Wilderness, which features another three volcanoes of the Cascade chain in Oregon.

I came off the trail last week with close to 700 miles behind me. It has been an incredible experience and I will continue to post blogs on it for the next month. Plus, I’ll start writing the book that will tie this summer’s adventure together with several other backpacking experiences I have had over the years.

Today, I will continue with my trip between Donner Pass and Echo Summit that I started to blog about last week with an exploration of the Granite Chief Wilderness behind Squaw Valley.

My grandson Ethan and I started our journey through the Granite Chief Wilderness with a trip up the Squaw Valley tram. Squaw Valley was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. I used this same tram system when I began my first 100 mile backpack trip in 1974.

The ride provides great views of the granite that forms the backbone of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Once again, smoke from Northern California forest fires filled the air, promising to obscure our views and poison our lungs. Fortunately, the smoke was limited and we even experienced some ‘clear’ days.

Peggy took this photo of Ethan and me at the end of the tram ride, ready to tackle our first mountain.

Our goal for the day was a short hike over to Little Needle Peak and Lake, both shown here. The lake is a mile or so off the PCT on a little used trail that we had to search for. I’ve camped on the lake several times over the years.

Another reflection shot. Ethan and I were camped in the trees to the right.

Bear scat and other bear sign was everywhere! I wondered if our food would survive. A black bear had ripped open this dead tree to go after the carpenter ants inside. Ethan and I were intrigued by the labyrinth the ants had carved out of the tree. It was worthy of a fantasy novel, or a Greek myth.

This caterpillar had tethered itself to the same tree and was making a cocoon. The claw marks above and beside the caterpillar were left behind by the bear.

The PCT drops into a canyon going south from Squaw Valley. A month earlier, this field of mule ears would have been yellow with flowers. But now they were drying out, predicting the coming fall.

As the PCT returned to crest and climbed above the Five Lakes Basin behind Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, Ethan and I  continued down the canyon and followed Five Lakes Creek down to Diamond Crossing. Whiskey Creek Camp greeted us a quarter of a mile after we left the trail. Starting in the early 1900s, the camp had served as a resupply point for Basque sheep herders who were running flocks in the area.

Ethan provides perspective on the height of the door in the cabin. I explained to him that the horseshoe above the door was for good luck.

Fresh bread, baked in this oven, was on the resupply list for the Basque Sheepherders.

The PCT is like a freeway working its way from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. In comparison, most other trails are like country roads. The route along Five Lakes Creek would qualify as a rarely used dirt road— my kind of trail! This late summer meadow had turned to California gold. The Sierra thistles in the foreground were going to seed.

As was this Sierra thistle.

Backlit by the sun.

The seeds are disbursed. Another year in the life of a Sierra thistle is over.

One challenge of hiking in August in the Sierras is that water sources dry up. This can become a real problem along the PCT, which is noted for its lack of water to begin with.

Fortunately, more water can be found hiking among creeks and lakes at lower elevations. Welcome water greeted us at Bear Pen Creek. (I’ve always wondered about the name.)

A close up.

Less water does make for easier stream crossings. The rocks here provided our bridge across Five Lakes Creek.

An old tree blaze on a downed snag would have been used to mark the trail in earlier times.

Bark had grown over this blaze, which is very rare.

A ‘whirlpool’ of wood caught my eye.

Leaving Diamond Crossing, we followed Powderhorn Creek for four miles as it made its way up a very steep canyon toward Barker Meadows where we would rejoin the PCT. I think we counted two switchbacks on the whole trail. It was definitely not the well-graded PCT!

A basalt cliff entertained us along the way. I was teasing Ethan about having to climb it.

The hexagonal basalt columns are similar to Devil’s Postpile. These columns are formed when thick layers of flowing basalt cool slowly.

Photographing goldenrod also offered a break from the hard climb. It was one of the few flowers we found in bloom.

Ethan celebrated when we reached the top.

While I found other interesting rocks to photograph. I thought the outcrop looked a bit like a Scotty dog.

A couple of days later I found one in the clouds!

Back on the PCT, we found more flowers in a spring area. Ethan urged me to take his photo next to the monkshood. “My mom likes purple,” he explained. (Tasha has lots of purple clothes.)

When we reached Richardson Lake the next day, Ethan’s foot was beginning to hurt. Apparently, he had a minor sprain.

Leaving the lake, it hurt more. A few more miles down the trail, we decided that hiking out seemed to be the best decision. We returned to the lake and followed a jeep trail that would take us down to Lake Tahoe.

We were fortunate to flag down a group of jeepers. It turns out they were from Motor Trend Magazine and were filming a TV special on taking a stock 1970s jeep and a stock pickup truck over the Rubicon Trail, one of the toughest jeep roads in the world, made famous by the annual Jeepers Jamboree. Bruce, who generously provided us with a ride, told us that it had taken a full day just to go three miles!

Ethan displays the ankle that I had bandaged. Not a bad job, I thought.

Reunited with his mom, Tasha, his little brother, Cody, and Peggy, the family hangs out above Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay.

NEXT POST: I’ll focus on Desolation Wilderness and Peggy and I will take Bone back to where Tom Lovering and I discovered him in 1974!

 

Bone Travels the PCT Looking for His Home… Backpacking the PCT at 75— and 40

Bone found this convenient PCT marker on the trail leading south out of the Echo Summit area on Highway 50 going south toward Carson Pass, about five miles from where he was discovered 40 years ago.

It was always assumed that Bone— the diminutive four-inch, five-ounce dynamo that was once part of a horse’s foot— would one day return to his home along the PCT. What’s surprising is that it took 40 years. He’s been riding along with me on my trek this summer and meeting backpackers with that goal of visiting his birthplace in mind.

My friend Tom Lovering, the owner of an outdoor/wilderness store in Sacramento, and I found Bone in 1977 hiding out in a young corn lily patch near the PCT between Echo Summit and Carson Pass.  At the time, I was scouting a new route for the 100 mile treks I led in the Northern Sierras. Tom and three women were hiking with me for company. It was early in the season and the trail kept disappearing under the snow.

Tom and I take a current photo with Bone outside the Fox and Goose Restaurant in Sacramento. The goose seems particularly interested in what we are up to. Alpine West, one of Tom’s outdoor/wilderness stores, was located in the 10th and R Building in 1974 when Tom became a sponsor of my first Sierra Trek.

Here’s the story of how Bone was found from an earlier post:

Our fourth day started out as a typical backpack day. We climbed. It was gentle at first and then became more serious. Once again snow covered large segments of the trail. We spread out and searched for tree blazes. I scrambled over a particularly steep section and found myself in a high meadow.

Something half buried in a field of young corn lilies caught my eye. A few days earlier it would have been covered with snow. Curiosity led me to detour through the still soggy ground. Mud sucked at my boots.  My treasure turned out to be a disappointing, short, squat bone. Gnaw marks suggested it had been part of someone’s dinner. I was about to toss it when a devious thought popped into my mind.

“Trash!” I hollered at Tom and held up the bone. We had a game where if one person found a piece of trash, the other person had to carry it out. But first you had to catch the other person.

Tom sprinted down the trail with me in pursuit. Once we had made it over the mountain, our route ranged from flat to downhill. Tom was very fast. We had traveled two miles and were almost to Showers Lake before he stopped, concerned about leaving our companions too far behind. Very reluctantly, he took the bone and stuffed it in his pack.

“How can you classify a bone as trash,” he whined. I figured Tom would toss his new traveling companion as soon as I was out of sight. Wrong.

Here’s Bone’s perspective on the occasion:

“I didn’t plan on seeing the world and becoming famous. Once I was part of a horse located just above the hoof. I had no freedom; I had no glory. Wherever the horse went I went, a mere slave to his desires. During the summer this meant carrying greenhorn tourists into the backcountry of the mountains above Lake Tahoe. The added pounds gave me bone-jarring headaches. Then the horse died; I like to fantasize that a large bear with big teeth and sharp claws ate him.  Hopefully he ate the tourist as well.

Whatever happened, I was free to be me, Bone. Yes, that’s right, Bone is my name. A kindly coyote picked me up and carried me to a high meadow filled with corn lilies. It was there that I discovered my Zen-like nature as I meditated through the seasons. I was alone except for a mouse that came by and nibbled on me occasionally. That hurt. In fact, it interrupted my meditation and scarred me for life; you can still see teeth marks. I blame all of my subsequent bad behavior on that flea-bitten miscreant.

My annoyance at the mouse, however, was minimal in comparison to my anger at the large, two-legged creature who yanked me from my meadow home and begin yelling I was trash as he ran down the trail in pursuit of another two-legged creature.  Can you imagine the insult? I had no way of knowing that this was the beginning of my world travels or that the two creatures, Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering, would become my servants.”

When I arrived home and emptied my backpack, there was the bone. Tom had slipped it into my pack. I had been carrying him for several days. Small b bone had become large B Bone and begun his 40-year odyssey! A year or so later when Tom arrived in Japan and unpacked his suitcase at the beginning of a three-year journey through Asia, Africa, and Europe, there was Bone. And thus it has gone. He has never stopped traveling. (For those of you who are new to Bone’s world, I’ll list his travels and an interview with Bone in the last two posts of this series. Long time followers will have read these posts. Go here for the complete series of posts on Bone’s discovery: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

The past couple of weeks, I have been exploring the area between Donner Summit and Carson Pass, retracing paths I have been hiking since I started backpacking in 1969. In many ways, I think of this area as my home. My 13-year-old grandson, Ethan, joined me two weeks ago until a sprained ankle cut short our trip. (Ethan carried Bone and now thinks of him as an heirloom. Forget great, great grandmother’s silver.) I went back in to finish this section of the PCT last week, and, of course, go on detours. Why hang out on the busy freeway when there are country roads to explore?

Bone, happy to find a new traveling companion, perches on Ethan’s knee.

When I came out at Echo Summit, my wife Peggy and I went on a day hike toward Carson Pass to take Bone back to where he was discovered. It was a sentimental journey. Bone was very excited.

While I’ve been posting photos to follow the progression of my journey down the PCT, I am skipping forward to honor Bone (and my youth) this week and next with a look at the area between Donner Summit and where Bone was discovered. I’ll then return to my trip between Castle Crags and Burney Falls. I’ll start today with my hike between Donner Summit and the Granite Chief Wilderness.

The PCT follows a ridge line south of Donner Pass. Here it makes its way up toward Tinker’s Knob.

I used to start 100 mile treks near Mary Lake, shown here. The Sugar Bowl ski area is nearby. I cross-country skied for several years along the distant ridges and down through the forests.

Wagon trains into California once made their way up and over Roller Pass. It wasn’t easy, as suggested by information sign located on the PCT. The sign notes that the “drawing is not an exaggeration.”

I’ve included this because I want to recognize the thousands of hours volunteers spend on maintaining the PCT, with some, like Don and Pat Malberg, actually adopting sections of the trail.

The folks who build and maintain the PCT take the ‘crest’ part of its name seriously. The result is great views, lots of ups and downs, and not much water, especially later in the season. I’ve often found myself hiking 10-15 miles between water sources. Anderson Peak is in the distance and Tinker’s Knob on the other side.

A closer view of Anderson Peak.

Another photo of the trail near Tinker’s Knob. The trail cuts to the left of the peak and then drops into a canyon of the American River.

A view back down the trail.

Normally, the PCT is like the ‘freeway of trails,’ broad and well graded. It can get difficult at times, especially when heading across rocky slopes like this. Hiking becomes challenging. Each step needs to be placed to avoid a sprained ankle or a tumble. Care becomes almost instinctual. The granite boulder trail reached the lava cliff and then switchbacked up the mountain.

A snag near Anderson Peak. Peggy thought ‘three witches.’

By now (late August) most flowers are past their blooming stage and have gone to seed. This fellow was still blooming, however, and goes by the rather quaint name of pussy paws because of its resemblance to cats’ feet.

Large volcanic rocks are found along the trail, speaking to the area’s volcanic history.

The trail switched back rapidly down from Tinker’s Knob and I came on my first water of the day. This rubber boa was there to greet me. Known for their gentle nature,  they are sometimes used to help people get over their fear of snakes. I picked it up and repositioned it for a photo-op. 🙂 I filled my water bottles with five liters of water knowing I would be dry camping for the night.

I didn’t have to hike much farther, finding a lovely campsite beneath Tinker’s Knob with great surrounding views.

Looking out from my kitchen as the sun set…

And another photo, a few minutes later.

Slightly later, this was my bathroom view looking in the other direction. Not bad, eh?

Early the next morning, I was treated to a sunrise view of Tinker’s Knob.

It’s for moments like these that I have spent 50 years backpacking.

My hike the next morning took me towards the mountains that form the rim of the Granite Chief Wilderness and back up to Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Needle Peak is seen to the left. I will have hiked across those mountains and several miles farther by night.

My morning walk took me through a meadow filled with drying mule ears that rustled in the wind.

Sierra thistles were looking quite bushy as they prepared to disperse their seeds.

I caught these thistles, along with mule ears, backlit by the sun.

A lone tree decorated a gap in the mountains.

Looking back, I could see Tinker’s Knob and the mountains I had camped beneath.

Looking forward, I was faced with mountains of granite and one of the Northern Sierra’s more wild areas, the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Next two posts:

  • The Granite Chief Wilderness Area
  • The Desolation Wilderness Area and Bone’s home

 

 

 

From Etna Summit to Castle Crags: The Photography of Jay Dallen… Backpacking the PCT

This little fellow decided to visit with Jay and landed on his finger. I might add, he did not want to leave. I had experienced this several time in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. I think the butterflies liked the salt on our skin created by sweating our way up and down mountains! (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

 

It’s a wrap, as they say in the movie industry. Today is my last post on Etna Summit to Castle Crags, and then I will be moving on to the trek from Castle Crags to Burney Falls. As promised, I am going to feature my nephew Jay’s perspective on the trip, since he hiked the hundred miles with me. He sent some 1400 photos he had taken on his iPhone! I had to increase my Drop Box space to accommodate them all. (grin)

Jay works as a cameraman in Hollywood and has a good eye for photography. (He also works as a director, which is where he wants to end up.) I’ve selected 30 photos from the 1400. I continue to be amazed at the quality that can be achieved with cellphones.

Note: Many of these photos will seem familiar since Jay and I often photographed the same subjects, like the frog, for example.

Jay spotted this frog at a spring and we both took photos of it. I was convinced that it liked to pose. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

This fat caterpillar that was busy devouring leaves also caught our attention. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

An ancient snag was brought into the modern world by a jet contrail streaking across the sky. It’s unlikely that jets, or even propeller-driven airplanes, were invented when it was a youngster. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

This snag entertained us for at least 20 minutes. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

We were both kept busy taking photographs of Mt. Shasta. Jay included me in this one, hat in hand, so to speak. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

A Trinity Alps lake (I believe it is one of the Boulder Lakes) points toward the distant Mt. Shasta.(Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Trees in shadows can make dramatic photos. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

As does the contrast between light and dark with this snag sculpture being set off by the sun on the grass in the foreground. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

And these shadow trees framing the white snag. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Sun on the PCT in the foreground and white clouds in the background served to set off the dark forest with its tall pine tree between. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Shadowy trees add drama to dark clouds as the sun breaks through. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Sunlight illuminating the green moss helped to light up this photo of a twisted snag. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Did Jay take as many photos of flowers as I did? Hard to say, but he took plenty. A stark, burned forest provides the backdrop for this columbine closeup. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Jay spent a lot pf time on his back shooting up. It worked well for these tiger lilies. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Neither of us could resist the yellow lupine. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Or the marsh mallows. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Corn lilies about to bloom… (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

And corn lilies blooming. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Azaleas. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

And, Bigelow’s sneeze weed. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

“Crest” is the defining word in Pacific Crest Trail, and hiking along the crest can be depended on to provide awe-inspiring views, such as this one in the Trinity Alps. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

And the Castle Crags… (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Including this ‘Sound of Music’ shot of the Crags. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

A fun tent photo of Jay’s tent. I, too, was carrying a Big Agness tent. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

I’ll conclude with this selfie that Jay took of the two of us with Castle Crags in the background, and… (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Of himself. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Want more? Jay’s photography can be found at: https://www.instagram.com/jaydallen/

 

Here’s an update for those who are following along on my journey. After finishing the Carson to Sonora Pass section of the PCT, I doubled back to pick up the Granite Chief and Desolation Wilderness section west of Lake Tahoe. I had promised my 13-year-old grandson, Ethan, that I would take him through the area where I had led many 100-mile and 100-kilometer backpack trips in the 70s. We had great fun. Ethan is a real trooper. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle about 34 miles in and we had to bail. (We were ‘rescued’ by a TV crew, but that is for a later post.)

And how far did we travel? Two of our days included hiking from below the distant peak to where Ethan is standing.

Towns along the PCT

While I puff my way up and down mountains, Peggy explores the surrounding country and towns, having adventures of her own. A hike over to Burney Falls rewarded her with this view. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

 

Today’s Post:

Small towns along the PCT are lifelines to through hikers. First and foremost, they are where hikers pick up their supplies for the next section of the trail. But they also provide a break— a chance to eat a good meal, shower, wash clothes, and possibly down a few cold beers. Sometimes the towns serve as meeting points where trekkers catch up with friends they have made along the trail.

Information about the communities passes along the trail quickly. One night I was perched in a dry camp up on a high ridge between Castle Crags and Burney Falls when a hiker came through and asked a person camped across the trail from me if he had heard about the pizza parlor in the town of Mt. Shasta that offered an all you can eat lunch for $7.50— a through-hikers’ Paradise. I felt for the owner as he saw his profits dwindle and disappear down the gullets of gaunt, semi-starved PCTers. It would be like seeing a plague of locusts take on your wheat crop.

Between the time Peggy drops me off and picks me up, she has been exploring these small towns and having adventures of her own. She is going to be doing a ‘guest’ post on her experiences in a couple of weeks but today I want to share some of the photos she has been taking.

 

Current Location

I was late and Peggy was starting to worry. She was waiting at Sonora Pass on Highway 108 to pick me up. As usual, she was making friends with through-hikers. She had asked a charming French couple from Leon (Camilla and Bastion) to keep an eye out for me on the trail since they were hiking north and I was hiking south. I met them while they were enjoying a snack break as I was slowly making my way up the north side of Sonora Peak to the 10,400-foot (3170 meters) trail pass.

Camilla and Bastion, PCT hikers from Leon, France, on Sonora Pass. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Let me emphasize “slowly.” The last half-mile had been steep and my short legs had not been happy with the numerous knee-high stone steps built into the trail. They were squeaking unprintable comments whenever I came to one.

“You must be Curtis,” Camilla called out. The PCT Telegraph was at work. “You have a wonderful wife. She’s worried about you.” It sounded like Peggy to me— both wonderful and worried. Peggy had fed Camilla and Bastion blueberry scones from Trader Joes. More to the point, she had fed them scones slathered in peanut butter that Camilla had been lusting after. They were still talking about it. Apparently, they had hung out with Peggy for almost an hour while they waited for their resupply.

Bastion explained that the trailhead parking lot closed at 6:00. Peggy would have to move. And there was no cell phone service. I’d be stuck up on the mountain for the night with my remaining Cliff Bar for dinner and Peggy would probably be frantic. It was now 3:00. I assured them that I would be there before 6:00. Bastion looked a bit skeptical, (he’d seen me coming up the mountain), but Camilla was more optimistic. I hiked in at 5:00.

Later, I told Peggy not to worry about the no-parking after 6:00 rule. What cop or forest service official is going to seriously hassle a 68-year-old woman who is concerned about and waiting for her 75-year-old husband to come off a difficult and occasionally dangerous wilderness trail? “Move on lady. Rules are rules.” I doubt it.

But I had already made use of the PCT telegraph to alleviate Peggy’s worry. I’d been hiking up the East Fork of the Carson River when Bones had come beeping by as if I were standing still. Like me, he was traveling north to south. I assume his long and lanky build had earned him his trail name. I knew that he would be into Sonora Pass a couple of hours before me so I asked him to check for Peggy and tell her I was fine and coming along. Which he did. When I arrived, he had been chatting with her for an hour and a half while he recharged his phone in our van.

I insisted that Bones have his photo taken with Bone when he passed me. Both seemed delighted.

Bones, who comes from Portland, Oregon, had been chatting with Peggy for an hour and a half when I came off the trail. You can tell he is a PCT hiker by how skinny he is. I look equally gaunt. I was surprised that Peggy hadn’t pulled out her guitar so the two of them could have performed a concert. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We were fortunate to leave Sonora Pass when we did. Peggy had been watching a worrisome cloud of smoke. It had grown from a small, seemingly insignificant plume to covering a third of the sky. The Donnell fire located a few miles farther to the west on Highway 108 was being pushed by winds and had jumped the highway.  Bones and I had experienced the winds up on the trail around Sonora Peak. I estimated that they were gusting close to 50 miles per hour. Bones had put his pack down to take a photo and watched it be blown along the ground. He scurried to retrieve it. So much for the photo-op. I’d had to lean into the wind to keep my footing, not particularly pleasant on a narrow, high-pass trail with steep drops. But it wasn’t boring.

The wind hit me as I came over the trail pass. I could hardly take this photo. Highway 108 can be seen in the distance on the top right (the white speck). I still had a ways to get to Peggy!

Smoke from the Donnell fire was rapidly increasing when we left Sonora Pass.

I was familiar with the area from previous backpack trips and told Bones the fire could easily make its way from Clark’s Fork up to the PCT. An hour later, after Peggy and I had driven down to Highway 395, we were informed that the Sonora Pass Road had been closed. I read this morning (August 6), that the PCT above Clark Fork was in danger of being closed as well. Kennedy Meadows, where Bones was going to spend the night and wait for his parents, had been evacuated. Peggy and I are concerned for Bones, Camilla, Bastion and other trekkers in the area.

Peggy and I stayed at a KOA along Highway 395 that night. Once again, smoke filled the air. It did make for a rather dramatic photo of the cliffs overlooking the KOA, however.

This is a major story of the PCT this year. In my last post, I had reported how I was jumping south to escape the thick smoke from the Carr fire near Redding. I didn’t escape. As I made my way from Carson Pass to Sonora Pass over the past week, I was followed by smoke from the Carr fire and greeted by smoke from the Ferguson/Yosemite fire. Now smoke from the Donnell fire had been added to the equation. The huge new Mendocino fire around Clear Lake is threatening to be the largest in California’s history. Other fires are raging around LA. Air pollution levels in California are now some of the worse in the world because of the smoke.

Peggy told me that all out-door sports events in Sacramento had been cancelled yesterday because of the problem. And yet, here I am hiking up mountains, pushing as hard as I have ever pushed in my life, breathing the same pollution deep into my lungs. I may have to change my objectives. One possibility that several hikers are considering is to head north to Washington where the fire problem (so far) isn’t nearly as extensive. I’m thinking about joining them.

Photos taken by Peggy as she has her own adventures while providing support for me.

Etna is a favorite town along the PCT, known by hikers for its hospitality. Peggy found the historic buildings in the community of particular interest. This one sported a mural emphasizing its history, as did a number of other buildings. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The town’s museum was located in what I assume was an old school.

I suspect, or at least hope, that this boarded up historic building will morph into some modern use. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Speaking of historic, this phone booth certainly fits the bill. And it still functions! Local calls were for free. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This “Little Library” where folks can pick up, trade, or donate books was near and dear to Peggy’s heart. As President of Friends of the Library in Ruch, Oregon, she has supported a similar program for our community.

This restaurant was ‘near and dear’ to my heart. Our trail friends, Big Foot and Peter Pan, had recommended it and Peggy considers it a sacred duty to stuff me every time I come off the trail. Stuff away we did.

Peggy entertained herself with a long hike at Caste Crags and was rewarded with this view. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

She also found these large Umbrella plants fascinating… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

And used her foot for perspective. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

One place she stayed at Castle Crags while waiting for me was at the RV camp at Railroad Resort Park. People can actually rent these cabooses to stay in. Castle Crags looms in the background. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This train engine is located at the park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

As was this dining car— another place that I was stuffed. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

McCloud featured this somewhat scary sculpture of a logger. You wouldn’t want to meet him at night— or get in an argument over logging practices with him! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

In the town of Dunsmuir, we were joined by Sandra and Tim Holt. Longtime friends, they had kept my nephew Jay’s car for him while we hiked from Etna Summit to Castle Crags. Peggy had lunch with Sandra while we were out on the trail.

Tim and I go all the way back to the 70s and 80s in Sacramento when he wrote, edited and published the Sutter Town News that focused on downtown Sacramento where I was a community activist on health and environmental issues. Now days, Tim and Sandra perform folk song concerts at local venues as well as volunteer extensively in Dunsmuir.

Peggy enjoyed numerous views of Mt. Shasta just as I did out on the trail. This photo was also taken at McCloud by Peggy.

A long hike in Burney took Peggy over to Burney Falls where she even found a rainbow, which she was quite pleased to capture. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I’ll conclude today with this close-up that I really liked. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

My 13-year old grandson is joining me today. Tomorrow we will start a journey from Donner Summit to Carson Pass. A trip I have been on many times and sections of which I have done with his grandmother, mother, Uncle Tony and Cousin Jay.