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.

When Fire and Smoke Strike along the Pacific Crest Trail… (Plus more photos from Section P)

Smoke from the Carr fire out of Redding plus smoke from a nearby Susanville fire impact the PCT near Chester, California

Up until now, I’ve been lucky in avoiding fires on my hike down the PCT to Mt. Whitney from Southern Oregon. Certainly this was true of Section P that I have been featuring in my last few posts. Jay and I had a couple of days of minor smoke from fires near the Oregon border, but as my photos have shown, most of our trip was either beautifully clear or only slightly hazy. My luck continued all the way through Lassen National Park to Highway 36 and Chester (close to half of my trip). The Carr fire near Redding and several other Northern California fires have changed that.

It seems like the whole West is burning, a phenomenon that has become all too common. And it’s no stranger to those who hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Tinder dry forests, excessive heat, low humidity, strong winds, lightning, and people careless with fire are all factors. A small blaze can quickly escalate into a conflagration that consumes hundreds and even thousands of acres.  Through-hikers and section-hikers pay close attention to the latest news. First, because of potential danger. Pushed by strong winds, forest fires can move quickly and threaten life. Second, and much more common, fires force trail closures. Dreams of hiking the whole trail straight through are often frustrated. Global warming is taking its toll on the PCT!

I met “Steady” from the Netherlands when I was hiking into Lassen National Park. “My trail name is Steady,” he told me, “because I am slow but steady on the trail.” He immediately wanted to know about fire closures along the PCT. Like so many through hikers, he dreamed of making the whole trail without any interruptions. The dead trees in the background are the result of a past fire.

Smoke is also an issue. Visibility drops quickly. Distant vistas that the PCT is famous for and that trekkers love disappear. Of even more concern, air pollution becomes a health threat. The fine particulate matter created by smoke can make its way deep into your lungs. As the American Lung Association notes: Wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs, especially for children, older adults (which I vaguely resemble at 75) and those with asthma, COPD and bronchitis or a chronic heart disease or diabetes. Unhealthy air from the Ferguson Fire was a major reason for evacuating Yosemite Valley this summer.

During heavy smoke episodes, people are warned to stay inside and avoid exercising outdoors. The harder a person breathes, the deeper smoke is pulled into his or her lungs. As you might imagine, staying inside and avoiding exercise are not options for people out on the PCT. In fact, through-hikers are exercising way beyond what is normal, especially when hiking up a steep trail or backpacking 20-30 miles a day. (I’ll add my 13-15 miles a day here— grin)

Many of you have expressed concern over how the numerous fires in Southern Oregon and Northern California are impacting my journey. The Carr fire that has garnered so much national media attention, is a case in point. As of this morning the fire has consumed 89,000 acres and is threatening Redding. It has even created its own weather system, including fire tornadoes. Fortunately for me and others hiking the PCT, it is about 50 miles west of the trail. We don’t have to worry about the flames, at least not yet. Hopefully, the fire will be contained by the time you read this post.

Avoiding the Carr fire hardly puts through-hikers in the clear. Numerous other mountain fires rage in California and Oregon. We came across this sign just a few miles outside of Chester on our way to Susanville. It is a sign of the times.

The smoke from the Carr fire was something else.

When Peggy drove me over to the trailhead on Highway 36 yesterday morning (July 28) for the next segment of my trip, the smoke was so thick that visibility was severely reduced. Smoke from the Carr fire to the west had been joined by smoke from the Susanville fire, about 30 miles to the east. With a 2600 foot climb ahead of me in temperatures likely to climb into the 90s F and possibly low 100s (32-37 C), I was not a happy camper. I would be working hard, hot, and breathing smoke. So, I decided that there was another solution: Give the smoke 2-3 three days to clear out a bit or pick up the trail farther south. While most through-trekkers prefer to hike straight through, nature often has other plans. High snow in the Sierra’s, for example, often forces people to skip that section and hike it later. (I had already skipped one section of the trail where 100 degree plus F heat combined with no water for 30 miles.)

The early morning sun in Chester had been turned red-orange by smoke from the fires.

I can always come back and do the trail or make up the distance in a less smoke-choked area, if one exists in California or Oregon or Washington. My goals are to enjoy the wilderness and its beauty, hike a thousand miles, and follow the PCT as much as is possible, hopefully ending with Mt. Whitney. But beyond enjoying the wilderness, there is a lot of flexibility in my plans. My trail of choice for the moment is to follow the PCT from Carson Pass on Highway 88 to Sonora Pass on Highway 108 and then do the section just north, hiking from Donner Summit to Carson Pass.

……..

But enough seriousness, now it’s time for some fun— brought to you courtesy of my being off the trail for a couple more days. In addition to beautiful scenery and wood sculptures, the trail from Etna Summit to Castle Crags was filled with flowers, some interesting characters, colorful rocks, a seemingly tame frog, pitcher plants, and a very colorful caterpillar. Here are some photos. Enjoy.

This happy fellow who had its own spring seemed to pose for us. It was used to being admired by through-hikers.

And this fat caterpillar was not about to stop its consumption of a leaf because of our attention.

Have you ever seen a rock like this? I could only wonder about its mineral composition and the forces of nature that had created it.

This woman, whose trail name was Mama Bear, had been traveling with her cubs since Mt. Whitney, a distance of several hundred miles.

Wendy and Tim were doing an excellent job of representing Australia. They were hiking down the PCT and hoped to hike across America. Tim, who hailed from Sydney, had previously hiked from the southernmost point in Australia to the northernmost point, raising money for suicide prevention. Wendy hailed from Queensland.

We met Rowan later. She was also from Australia and was hiking in memory of her twin brother who had died. Another brother was also hiking with her. Rowan works as an actress in Sydney.

A beautiful small stream where we met Rowan, made an excellent camp site for Jay and me.

Shooting down into the water, I caught this photo.

PCT trail signs come in many flavors depending on the particular national forest, wilderness, park, etc. I liked the sentiment that someone had expressed on this one.

It seemed to go along with this Zen-like garden a spring had created.

There is nothing calming about this sign. It’s for Bloody Run Trail. Given how the tree is consuming the sign, I thought of running myself.

Also in the slightly weird category are these pitcher plants we found where the frog was hanging out. These guys, a young one and an old one, are carnivorous plants that eat insects, which are trapped inside the ‘pitcher.’ Another name for this plant is the cobra plant, given the shape of the plant and its ‘forked tongue.’

This unusual flower went with the pitcher plant.

There was no lack of ‘old friends’ when it came to flowers along the trail. Yellow lupine decorated this one.

A close-up of the Lupine.

Recognize this little beauty? It is a wild hollyhock.

I caught this cow parsnip backlit by the sun, but I had to sit on wet ground to do it.

A morning-glory if I am not wrong. Strange leaves, it seemed to me.

A shooting star flower. Hundreds grow in our backyard.

The back side of this tiger lily was quite attractive…

But not as pretty as the front.

I took this photo of Jay as we were hiking down into the Castle Crags Wilderness. No smoke here!

Around the time I took the photo of Jay, we ran into Bill Whitaker. Bill had started his hike at Castle Crags and done a little over 10 miles in two days. He was planning to hike on to the Washington/Oregon border, a long ways at that pace! He was 68 years old.

We also ran into Bilbo, Ducky and Shoe. Their approach to the trail was to take a couple of hours off everyday at lunch, which was a quite civilized approach to the PCT. Bilbo was from German, Ducky from Utah, and Shoe from Canada, representing the international nature of those who hike the trail.

“Watch out for rattlesnakes,” a through trekker told us. Jay, who was in the lead, didn’t have to be told twice. In fact he found two. Neither seemed to be interested in a photo-op and disappeared into the brush even though I invited them to come out. Can you find the rattler here?

Jay and I at the end of the trail where Peggy was waiting for us. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I’ll conclude with this photo of ‘Aunt’ Peggy and Jay at Railroad Resort RV Park beneath the Crags.

Next up: Peggy’s photos of Etna and Dunsmuir, two small towns that through-hikers visit on their way through Northern California.

 

 

 

 

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The Incredible Castle Crags… Hiking from Etna Summit to Castle Crags: Section P of the PCT, Part 3

One of our first views of the Crags, which are indeed craggy.

 

For those of you who are following me along on my journey, I am now in the Northern California town of Chester, having finished hiking through Lassen National Park. I just ate four pieces of French Toast, two eggs, two sausage patties and half of Peggy’s garlic french fries. I’m ready to blog!

Actually, when you read this post, I should be nearing the town of Belden on the Feather River, which will be close to my halfway mark! Peggy and I are planning to take a break for a few days there, which should allow me to get caught up on the blog.

But for today, I want to introduce you to Castle Crags, a massive hunk of carved granite that sits beside Interstate 5. I’ve been passing and admiring it from the highway for decades. It is totally different to see it from the Pacific Crest Trail. My nephew, Jay, and I experienced it as we dropped several thousand feet down to I-5 on an 18 plus mile day. The views and photography helped me forget my aching feet.

The Crags are noted for their white granite.

A photo showing how dramatic the spires can be.

And a closer view.

As we dropped down, the Crags took on a different look.

Again, closer.

The trail down also provided this dramatic view of Mt. Shasta with its interesting cloud.

Early the next morning provided this view.

Followed by this…

A final view from the trail.

And this was Peggy’s view from where she was staying at the Railroad Resort RV Park. No climbing up or down involved. (grin)

 

Scenes from along the Trail… Hiking from Etna Summit to Castle Crags: Section P on the PCT Part 2

The100-mile section of PCT trail through the Russian Wilderness, Trinity Alps and Castle Crags Wilderness is filled with beauty and wide open vistas, making it one of the most impressive sections of the route,

 

I played a bit in my last post, featuring wood sculptures and ‘faces’ from along the trail from Etna Summit to Castle Crags following the PCT. I can’t resist these sometimes beautiful, sometime humorous and sometimes downright weird contributions by nature. You’ll see more. Guaranteed! Today, I am going to take a different tack and make an effort to capture the beauty of the Russian Wilderness and the Trinity Alps, which I hiked through with my nephew, Jay. I’ll follow up with a post on the incredible Castle Crags. As one through-trekker noted, “Why aren’t these a National Monument?”

I wish I had more time to devote to these posts, but I face the same problem as folks doing the whole PCT. Time. You have to do the miles. Because I am only doing a thousand, I have a bit more. I can leave my camp around seven and usually get in somewhere between three and four, having done my 12-15 miles. It’s a good thing! My 75-year-old body can use the recovery time. When I camp with through hikers, they are almost always out by 6 or earlier (some tromp by in the dark), and don’t come in until 7-9ish. Or by flashlight. Once they hit the trail, they are moving. There is little time to stop and admire the flowers like I do.

My layover days, when Peggy picks me up, are crammed with activity. First up, is stuff Curt. Peggy is quite concerned about how skinny I have become and I have no objection to her admonitions to “eat!” Then there are the necessary chores to prepare for the next leg. I am ever so lucky to have Peggy’s help here. She does the laundry, for example, and earns beaucoup credits for handling my ‘trail-flavored’ clothes. PCTers are a smelly bunch. There is no help for it, even though most of us make an effort to stay clean. A shower is top priority, right after the cold beer. Organizing my resupply and repacking takes time, and I need to review and pack my next set of maps. And then there are the posts, reviewing my journal, downloading and processing photos, and writing.

So, without further ado, here’s my photo essay for the day. These are from the Russian Wilderness.

Views of mountain ranges entertained, and wowed us, every day. These photos are from the Russian Wilderness.

Another view…

Snow was light this year, so there isn’t much left.

I found these craggy peaks lined up against the mountain unusual.

A snag added color here.

Every corner Jay and I hiked around provided another view. We were cutting across the ridge on the left. In a day or two, we would be to the distant mountains.

This section had much more than mountains. Rocks, for one.

A close up.

This snag with its curled limbs caught my attention. Our trail snakes along on the bottom right across quite steep terrain.

Again, we found ourselves passing through burned over areas.

Our campsite that night, however, was blessed with these beauties, and a barely flowing stream. But water is water!

Our journey then took us into the Trinity Alps.

The area has a number of enticing lakes, many of which I have camped on in previous treks into the area.

And Alp-like mountains, for which it was given its name.

The same peaks rendered in black and white.

And, as we have gotten used to in our trek through Northern California, enticing views of Mt. Shasta.

Another.

Forest fires burning in the area provided this smokey perspective.

This stand-alone forest giant, a cedar, was impressive.

And who can resist mountain meadows that invite you into distant views.

Another.

I liked this white pine with its long cones.

And I will close today with this forested view of Mt. Shasta in the distance.

What’s in a Name? … Hiking from Etna Summit to Castle Crags: Section P on the PCT Part 1

My nephew, Jay, and I couldn’t resist the beautiful wood sculptures along the PCT between Etna Summit and Castle Crags. I liked the drama created by rendering this one in black and white.

 

It’s official: I am The Wanderer, or more simply, Wanderer, which will come as no surprise to followers of this blog. Trail names are important out here on the PCT. You are supposed to earn one by your actions, looks or quirks. For example, a young woman came in to get water at Deer Creek Springs above the McCloud River where I was camping for the night and introduced herself as Pez. Apparently, she likes the candy, was using it for encouragement along the trail, and was glad to share.

“I’m running low,” she told me, somewhat concerned. I understood. It would be like my eating the last of my nightly Oreos before reaching Peggy and my resupply. It’s like seeing your gas needle hit empty on a lonely road. I pictured Pez raiding the stores in the Castle Crag area, buying enough to get her over the next mountain range.

Pez allowed that she might not keep the name. Through-trekkers are allowed to accept or reject the trail names they are given, and choose another— if a better one comes along. Does that make us a fickle bunch? She chatted for a while, maybe a little lonely. Her boyfriend was hiking the Appalachian Trail while she was hiking the PCT. She seemed so young. “I felt it was important for my independence.” I admired her.

There is great equality out on the trail. We are all hiking up the same mountains, facing the same issues of weather, biting insects, and miles and miles to travel. The lack of water in the last section I just hiked through, added the serious problem of having adequate water to drink. Forget having enough to bathe or wash clothes! My nightly sniff-test suggested I was deteriorating rapidly.

Beat up feet are one of the things that PCT hikers share, although problems like blisters are more likely in the beginning before feet toughen up. Paper tape has always been my go-to solution. I earned the black and blue toenail on the Rogue River. In six months there should be a new one.

“Grab a handful of fir needles and rub them over your shirt,”Pop Corn! suggested. “Then you will smell like a fir-tree.” I was bemoaning the fact that there was no swimming hole in Peavine Creek to jump in before I met up with Peggy. None of us ‘smell like a daisy’ out on the trail, which isn’t a problem until we approach civilization. I thought Pop Corn’s! suggestion was the ultimate in PCT wisdom. (grin)

Temperatures climbing above 100-degrees F (37.7 C) on the sizzling hot afternoons didn’t help. There was also a major lightning storm. It missed me; Peggy was worried. Another through-trekker was struck. Luckily he wasn’t killed and is recovering. Several forest fires were started as well, which are always a worry for those of us who live and travel through Western forests in this era of global warming. I can smell smoke now. One is out there lurking, waiting to pounce.

As a general rule, the through-hikers are a cheerful bunch. I rarely hear a negative word, regardless of how tough the day. A ready smile and “How are you doing?” is the normal greeting. “Great” or “Good” is the normal answer. And there is always, “Have a great hike!” or something similar. Occasionally we stop and chat. But the need to get on down the trail always drives us on.

As usual in my life, I am going against the flow. While the vast majority of trekkers are going south to north, I am going north to south, hiking to my own drummer, so to speak. In fact, I have only met one other couple going the same direction I am. It makes it more difficult in the name game. One minute, or even five-minute encounters along the trail, are hardly enough time to observe a quirk or trait that might suggest one. “Grey Beard” Peggy urged. And that fit. At 75, I am certainly of the age that a name implying elder seems appropriate. And it made me think of Gandalf the Grey! But I have seen several youngsters along the trail in their 60s with magnificent grey and white beards that put my puny efforts at growing whiskers to shame.  (My students in Africa where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching high school in the 1960s called me Ho Chi Minh because I sported a see-through beard like his.)

It’s pretty hard to claim the name Grey Beard when the competition is this tough. Jay and I ran into Bill Whittaker as he was climbing out of Castle Crags.

I was hiking up Grider Creek out of Seiad when I came on Adam and Eve. They wanted to know my trail name. “Happy Wanderer,” I replied spontaneously. I had just been singing the song to help me up the trail. Immediate recognition filled their eyes as they sang a few bars of the tune that was once popular in my (and their) youth. It fit even better than Grey Beard.

The title of my blog is “Wandering through Time and Place.” My business card for this trip announces ‘celebrating 75-years of wandering in the wilderness.” I have a lifetime of wandering behind me. But it goes further. Ancestors on both sides of my family were wanderers. My father’s side, the Mekemsons, arrived in Pennsylvania in 1755 and had soon moved on the Maryland. (All six sons fought in the Revolutionary War.) They were living in Kentucky by the late 1700s and had then moved on to Illinois, Iowa and then west coast by the early 1900s. My mother’s side, the Marshalls, followed a similar route, arriving even earlier in Boston in 1630. They had moved on to Connecticut, New York, Illinois, and then west. Wandering is in my blood.

The name fit well but I had given it to myself, which certainly happens… but isn’t supposed to. I was reluctant to use it.  The next time someone asked, I replied “still searching,” meaning I was still searching for my name. They assumed it was my name and liked it! It certainly isn’t a bad one. I am ‘still searching’ at 75 and would love to be at 95. But now I had three active names, and that can get a bit confusing.

I was hiking along the ridge above Moosehead Springs a few days ago between Castle Crags and Burney Falls when a fellow with a large red beard, named Red of course, stopped me and asked “Are you Curt, or Grey Beard, or Wanderer?” Naturally I was delighted. The question meant he had run into Peggy and was carrying a message. But you can see the difficulty.

It came to a head when I was hiking out to Burney Falls. Peggy was a bit confused about when I would arrive and had found a much better location to pick me up. The confusion wasn’t surprising. My first four days on the section had been tough (I’ll cover them in a later post.) I’d given myself a semi-layover day on the McCloud River and fallen behind. Three days out from the falls, I’d found myself with over 45 miles to travel— a walk in the park for the hardened PCTers with 1500 miles under their belts, but tough for my 75 year-old-body that was already complaining.  None-the-less, I buckled down and vowed to do it. I dutifully arrived at Peavine Creek, 15 miles from the Falls at the end of the second day. The next morning found me shooting down the trail at 3-4 miles per hour. I can still move when inspired and It was mainly downhill. Peggy, cold beer, a shower, a good meal, and clean clothes were waiting!

I’d made it 10 miles when Patch stopped me. He had pointed to his belt pouch and pulled out my card. “You must be Grey Beard or Wanderer, or something else,” he had announced laughing. ‘Peggy is waiting for you at the Dam and she is a really neat woman.” Peggy had given him and his buddies apples and PCTers respond amazingly well to fresh fruit. Thus, it started. A dozen people must have told me that Peggy was waiting and raved about her. “A lovely young woman is waiting for you at the Dam and she said you should hurry,” was one comment. I hurried. Peggy was now distributing cold beer and I wanted to make sure I got there before she ran out. (Kidding, sort of.) A couple greeted me at Rock Creek and the man asked if I was Graveyard— at least that’s what my ears heard. “Um, not yet,” I had responded. He assured me he had said Greybeard. His companion asked, “Wanderer?”

Patch pulled out my business card and told me Peggy was waiting for me at the Pit River Bridge/Lake Britten Dam.

That did it. When I reached my lovely wife, and had been properly greeted and handed a cold beer, she announced, “We have to do something about this name thing. You are Wanderer!” Peggy had spoken— and I couldn’t have agreed more.

*******

Now it’s time to drop back to my 100-mile trip between Etna Summit and Castle Crags of a week ago. There is a lot to cover, having hiked through the Russian Wilderness, the Trinity Alps, and the magnificent Castle Crags Wilderness. I was lucky to have my nephew Jay along. He had joined when he was a somewhat shy 16-year-old as I wrapped up a 360-mile backpack trip from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney 15-years ago. Now he was 31 years old and a talented photographer, cameraman, and director in the early stages of a Hollywood career. He was also in love; no longer shy. I heard a lot about the young woman. (grin) More to the point of this trip was his incredible enthusiasm for the country we were hiking through. I’d often hear him exclaim “Wow!” as he found something of interest or beauty. It seemed that half of our hiking time was taken up with photography as we found something new to photograph.

Jay on our Etna Summit to Castle Crags trip.

At age 16 on top of Mt. Whitney when he joined me on part of a 360 mile backpack trip I did from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney.

I could tell that Jay was a serious photographer by the various poses he assumed while taking photographs— all with a pack on his back!

Here’s my photo of what I believe Jay was trying to capture.

I am going to do several posts on this section. One, because there is so much to cover, and two because I would like to do a separate post featuring Jay’s photography and another featuring Peggy’s photos of Etna. The small towns along the PCT are very important to the through hikers. They are where they pick up their resupplies but they also provide a break from the trail. Again: think cold beer, good meal, shower, and clean clothes.

I’ll do these as photographic essays on a thematic basis. Where to start is the question? Logically, I would show photos of the general terrain we were hiking through. But for fun, I am going to start with the natural wood sculptures Jay and I found along the trail. These almost guaranteed a frenzy of photography. Also, there were the strange faces peering out at us from the wood. The forests are alive. A little theme music please…

I am a bit of an Animist when it comes to nature. I believe that awareness flows through all living things, be they animal or plant. Finding faces staring out at you is totally for amusement, however. This fellow with his bulbous nose and laughing eyes resembled an ancient Greek comedy mask.

While this guy hidden in the crack seemed a bit more ominous!

And this one was just ducky. Check out his bill. Is he grinning or grimacing?

It was the ‘wind-blown’ hair that captured my attention here.

This was our first view of the wood sculpture I featured at the beginning of the post. It guaranteed that Jay and I would be off on another detour. Completing the PCT would probably take the two of us years because of all the time we spend being sidetracked.

This was another impressive wood sculpture that caught our attention. It looks like it was climbing the cliff.

A close up.

Less dramatic wood sculptures created by dead trees also demanded stops. I thought of these two as ‘family.’

This large dead tree provided…

… this interesting limb.

Roots grow around rocks and continue to hold onto them after the tree dies, providing for interesting contrast of wood and stone.

And one of the downed trees that give Deadfall Lake its name provided Jay with a convenient place for a nap.

I imagined a discussion going on here. The bird with the large beak is giving the snooty creature on the left an earful, and he doesn’t want to hear it!

I’ll conclude today’s post as I started, with another black and white.

I am back into the woods today, but this time for a short 50 miles. I’ll get up more posts on the PCT between Etna Summit and Castle Crags when I come out, including photograph collections by both Jay and Peggy.

 

Hiking from Seiad to Etna Summit on the PCT: Part 2— I Photograph Bigfoot, and Peter Pan… The Thousand Mile Trek

Marble Mountain. This may not be the type of marble that excited Renaissance Sculptures, but it obviously caught the attention of the people who named the Marble Mountain Wilderness as it does people who hike the area today.

I am stuffing myself. Today is my last day to cram in the calories before I hit the PCT again and I am bone-showing skinny, skinnier than I have been in about a thousand years, give or take a few. “Eat!” Peggy commands, and I eat. Bring on the half pound hamburger.

Today I am focusing on the second half of my trek from Seiad to Etna Summit, Section Q as it is defined on the PCT. I’ve just left Paradise (as in Lake), and what the heck is left after Heaven. How about meeting up with Bigfoot and his partner Peter Pan. Once again, I’ll be using the photograph format for my post.

I meet Truckee near Big Rock. “My trail name is Truckee,” he informs me, “because I live in Truckee.” Good reason. Truckee was raised in the California Central Valley city of Stockton but returned to the mountain town of Truckee so often he moved there. Having lived in Stockton’s sister city of Sacramento, I was forever escaping to the mountains.

Following Truckee south as he disappears into the distance, I come on Black Mountain, the partner to Marble Mountain, as dark as it is light.

My next landmark is Big Rock , a huge chunk of Marble that resides near the PCT giving both a creek and campsite its name. I wonder if it rolled down from a nearby mountain or was deposited here by a glacier.

I meet up with a snowpack and see Truckee’s trail racing across it. I follow in his footsteps.

I work my way around a marble rock face…

And find this hole. Water dissolves marble as it does the rock it derived from, lime, often leaving caves and holes in the ground such as this.

I catch up with Truckee again filling his water bottles at this small stream…

He introduces me to Uphill. “You need to talk with this man,” Truckee announces. Like me, Uphill (Mark Bowden) is blogging about his PCT experience. “Back home,” he explains to me, “I blog about hikes along the Appalachian Trail.” He is out of Atlanta, Georgia. “I retired one day and was on an airplane west the next.” Two days after his retirement he was on the PCT. His blog is http://www.uphillhike.com. “Be sure to say hi to Dirt and Rye when you meet them,” he admonishes me.

I thought Christmas when I saw these firs and then apologized to them about my evil thoughts of turning them into Christmas trees.

I’ve rendered the Marble Valley Guard Station in black and white given its historic status. Years before I had hiked through here and even then it seemed old.

There was nothing old about Dirt and Rye who came into the meadow as I was eating lunch. I had to ask about the names. Dirt had Dirt tattooed on her knee. There had to be a story, which I didn’t hear. Rye was a baker, so rye bread was the answer. The girls were sisters hailing from Southern California.

The Guard Station also had a great view of Marble Mountain.

Another perspective.

A creek, running close to the ranger cabin, was filled with butterflies on its moist sides.

A close up of one of the butterflies.

There’s great water down here,” I heard piping up from below the trail after I had just finished a long climb. “Come on down,” they urged. “You must be the 75-year old blogger.” (They’d run into Truckee.) And thus it was that I met Bigfoot after searching for him for years. He wasn’t nearly as hairy as I expected. And what was he doing running around with Peter Pan? And since when was Peter Pan a girl? It was all more than I could grasp. “I tried to persuade him to take the name Tinker Bell, ” Peter Pan told me with a laugh. No deal. Turns out that this delightful couple is from Palmer, Alaska. They had worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School for decades and are dedicated outdoor adventurers.

I detoured off the trail that night to camp at Cold Springs, which I shared with a frog.He didn’t drink much.

The view from the springs the next morning.

The trail to Etna Summit continues on, providing stunning vistas:

 

Welcome water…

Colorful flowers…

Red Mountain Heather.

Marsh Mallows…

Poppies…

Close up of poppies…

These beauties…

A member of the composite family…

And this strange fellow.

Closing with Spirea.

I continued to meet through-trekkers hurrying on their way north. Very few travel north to south, the direction I am traveling. Some pass by with barely a grunt of recognition as they run their unending marathon. But most have a smile and a hello, and many stop to chat. Hiking the PCT is much more of a social experience than I ever imagined.

The PCT has become a major attraction for hikers from all over the world. This is Oscar from Birmingham, England.

Caveman from Austria stopped to chat. “This trail is incredible,” he told me. “We have nothing like it in Austria or Europe.” It is a refrain I have heard over and over again. I flashed on the Sound of Music, however, and broke out with a not so stirring rendition of “Climb Every Mountain”. He laughed. “I guess I need to see the movie again.” I apologized for my breaking out in song. “It happens all the time,” he assured me. My girlfriend is an opera singer.”

Ridge Route and Short Cut were from closer to home: San Diego. Ridge Route explained to me that Short Cut got her name because she was just over five-feet tall. It didn’t seem to slow her down.

There are times when the trail seems to go forever on, like it will never end…

But eventually, through trekkers come to another trail head, another opportunity to resupply, another opportunity for a cold beer, hot shower and good food. For me it’s the view of Peggy waving excitedly, and our van. I am ever so lucky.

The cold beer comes next.

Hiking from Seiad to Etna Summit on the PCT: Part 1— Searching for a Fig Leaf… The Thousand Mile Trek

This tree I found along the PCT near Paradise Lake reminded me of Japanese Bonsai.

 

1200 feet up, 5,000 feet down, 18.5 miles, two rattlesnakes, and a stretch with no water for 12 miles. I want to go on for another 1.5 miles, to break into the lower range of what through-trekkers consider an average day. But neither I, nor my nephew Jay, who is doing this 100-mile segment with me, see any convenient campsites ahead on our maps. We’ve found a semi-dry stream bed with a few inviting water holes and a ‘sort of’ level campsite. A quick decision is made. We will stay. My first 20-mile day can wait. I make my way across large boulders on my now shaky legs to the campsite. A large blister on my right heel and a shin splint on my left leg complain. (A couple of smaller blisters on my toes shout, “Hey, don’t we get credit?”) I’m careful, almost behaving like the 75-year-old I am. We’ve been on the trail for 10-hours, hoofing it.

Arriving at the campsite, we break into our routine. Jay offers to take Spot, our GPS locator device, to a clearing where it can reach a satellite. Peggy likes to know where we are— and that we are okay. While he scrambles up the mountain, I head down to the stream for a bucket of cold water; it’s bath time! We are meeting up with Peggy in the morning and I want to be clean. Well, make that partially clean. Or, make that at least less smelly. A few hopeful mosquitos follow along. I’ll be exposing parts of my body not covered with the potent insect repellent, DEET, and be a target for the blood suckers. But the target is smaller than it was. I’ve now been on the trail for 250 miles, one-quarter of my 1,000-mile journey. There isn’t much fat left. Quick swipes with my pink wash cloth qualify as my bath. The water turns brown. Who needs soap? I quickly don my ‘clean’ clothes which were swirled around in water the day before. A sniff-test by a not-very-discriminating nose suggests I’m ready for Peggy. Besides, she will be hustling us off to showers first thing. No dummy, that kid.

Next up is dinner. I’ve decided to go cold. After a week on the trail, our fuel is low. Hot coffee in the morning is more important to me than a hot dinner. I happily munch away on one of my “Old Trapper” sausage sticks and a chunk of cheddar cheese that has survived the week. Then I greedily down the last of my nuts. Jay, who is cooking himself up some Miso soup offers me a chunk of salami that also goes down my gullet. I follow up with a Cliff Bar and then my last two Oreos— almost growling like a dog with a bone over my cookies. Dinner!

We clean up our dishes (mine is the spoon I sampled Jay’s soup with), put up our tents and crawl in. I barely have enough energy to read a few pages in “The Snow Leopard,” do my journal, and re-bandage my blisters before arranging my mattress on what I hope is the most level section of ground and drift off to sleep. Is that a rock digging into my hip? Who cares? I am no princess with a pea under her mattress.

Peggy and I are now hanging out in our van at the Railroad Park Resort beneath the towering and magnificent Castle Crags that Jay and I had just hiked by on our trip from Etna Summit through the Trinity Alps and the Castle Crags Wilderness. That’s the story for my next series, however. For today, we will return to the small town of Seiad where I wave goodbye to Peggy and begin the first solo-section of my trek. I’ll be hiking through Klamath National Forest and the Marble Mountain Wilderness. Once this area was part of an ancient sea bed with sea creatures depositing lime from their skeletons to the sea floor for millions of years, lime that would eventually become the marble of Marble Mountain. I am dividing this part of my trip, which is known as Section Q of the PCT, into two parts: my hike from Seiad to Paradise Lake and then on from Paradise Lake to Etna Summit. Once again, I will be doing it as a photograph essay.

 

Peggy drops me off at the Grider Creek Campground in the Seiad Valley to start my first solo section of the PCT. It’s early. Temps are supposed to climb to a hundred degrees F and I want to climb out of the valley.

I wave goodbye to Peggy. I can’t deny the slight lump in my throat. My buddy and I are rarely apart for a week.

This elevation profile of the PCT in Northern California amuses me. While the foreshortened nature of the graph exaggerates the ups and downs, it gives a good perspective of the nature of the PCT. You follow the Crest and then drop off it into valleys and towns. The downhill on the far right represents our drop into Seiad Valley. The climb back up represents what I faced when Peggy dropped me off. I’d be climbing over 4000 feet in 13 miles! (The next big drop represents Jay and my 18 mile drop into Castle Crags.)

I’ve become used to faces staring out at me from trees and rocks as I hike along the PCT. (I’ll feature several on the Etna to Castle Crag’s section.) Most are natural, but this one appears to be carved into a burned tree. If not, a bit scary.

This beautiful Madrone reminded me of the giant that provides shade in our back yard.

One key to getting up long climbs is to amuse yourself along the way. I stopped to chat with this snail and he commented on the speed of my travel. “I may beat you to the top of the mountain!” The next morning as I left my camp, I found a snail with its neck stretched out racing up the mountain at the fantastic pace of .5 inches per minute. “Told you so,” it said.

I met up with an older couple on the PCT. “We’re Adam and Eve,” they told me, revealing their trail names. “That’s because we are older than the hills.” They were six months older than I, which made me wonder about how old I was. While they weren’t hiking my distance, they had hiked 1200 miles of the PCT over time. I’m sorry I didn’t get their photo, but their status led me to an interesting observation: There weren’t any fig leaves on Grider Creek. That led me to go in search of possible substitutes. I suspect this Big Leaf Maple was the best bet, but I found others with possibilities. Thoughts?

Looking up at the sun through Maple leaves capturing the sun.

The most enjoyable part of hiking up Grider Creek was the creek itself, burbling and roaring as it tumbled down the mountain.

I also crossed over several small streams, always welcome for a cold drink and resupplying my water bottles!

My lunch break provided this view looking up.

Flowers also kept me company as I hiked up the trail. These happen to be Mock Oranges that we have growing on our property. Their smell is out of this world, easily matching that of roses.

I think this was the flower of a salmon berry.

And these pretty fellows…

Butterflies were everywhere, often flying up the trail in front of me. This one seemed to be saying, “My flower!”

Eventually the trail left Grider Creek and began to climb seriously. Sometimes it was so covered in brush, you couldn’t see your feet. I like to know were mine are stepping! Here, it was a gorgeous woodland path.

Eventually my trail out of the canyon came to an overlook where I was able to look back to where I had been. The two distant peaks left of center are the Red Buttes that Peggy and I had hiked around three days previously. We’d dropped down the ridges into Seiad Valley. Our home is beyond the Buttes.

Shortly afterwards, I came to the Marble Mountain Wilderness and Bone insisted on getting into the photo.

I found it interesting that different National Forests mark the PCT differently. This is one more example.

Water is often an issue along the trail. That is one of the primary challenges of hiking the crest. Careful planning is required to reach water before you run out.

Buckhorn Spring. Not much, maybe two feet wide and three feet long, and filled with swimming critters, but very welcome!

Camp sites are normally found next to sources of water. These trees provided shelter for the site next to the springs.

I still had miles to go. These mountains are above my destination for the night at Paradise Lake. The rock on the right is known as King’s Castle.

Once again, flowers such as this Scarlet Gilea are in abundance.

Fascinating wood sculptures also catch my eye and lead me detouring off the trail to catch their photos. This is manzanita that had been killed by fire.

Again and again, I come across wood sculptures with individual personalities.

This strange, senuous, snake-like limb also caught my attention.

These steps were toward the end of my day and near Paradise Lake. The amount of work that has gone into building and maintaining the Pacific Crest Trail is amazing.

And finally, I reach Paradise Lake, my long day over.  I took this reflection shot featuring King’s Castle the next morning when there was still mist on the lake.

NEXT POST: I continue on from Paradise Lake to Etna Summit and take my first ever photo of Bigfoot. But what is he doing hanging out with Peter Pan?

 

 

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When Large, Very Noisy Animals Invade Your Camp, Who Do you Call… Hiking 1000 Miles Down the PCT at 75

Our backpack trip though the PCT section R of the Siskiyou Mountains took us through our backyard…the Red Buttes.

The Red Butte Mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon.

The other side of the Red Buttes Mountains as they appear from our patio during the winter.

I’m happily settled in the small community of Etna while Peggy and our nephew Jay shuttle his car down to the town of Dunsmuir, which is 100 miles down the PCT and our next resupply point. He is joining me as I hike through the Russian Wilderness and the Trinity Alps. Jay is a budding cameraman and director out of LA who focuses on documentaries and independent films. He  last joined me on a backpacking trek when he was 16 and I was 60! “Follow your bliss. Do what you love to do,” I had urged. And he has. I am looking forward to seeing this section of the trail through his cameraman’s eyes and will share some of his photos. 

I’ve now completed my first two segments of the PCT, which included hiking through the Siskiyou and Marble Mountains. Today’s blog will take us back to finish up hiking through the Siskiyous, quite literally our backyard, and down into the small, very independent-minded town of Seiad. Again, given my time limitations, I will do this post mainly as a photo essay.

 

Life slows down when you enter the wilderness and the every-day world fades away. The beauty of the woodlands and mountains, the sheer physical challenge of the journey, and the brief encounters with the cast of characters hiking the PCT become our everyday reality. I go for days without thinking of ‘The Donald’ or what he might be up to. Instead, the almost mystical Mt. Shasta provides us with tantalizing glimpses, endless flower gardens cling to the steep paths we climb, butterflies flutter among the flowers and then shoot into the air in mating rituals that predate humankind. What’s happening in Korea doesn’t seem to be nearly as important as where the next watering hole is. Even the flatness of our tent site seems to take priority.

What’s around the next corner or over the next mountain always pulls us on. This is Sheep Camp, which I featured in my last post. The lush green grass seen here appealed to both sheep herders and cattlemen for summer grazing. It also appealed to us! This was the view from our campsite.

Water can be plentiful or precious in the mountains, and a spring attracts both animals and people. Through hikers on the PCT pay close attention to where the next water may be found. It may be just around the corner or 15 miles up the trail. A pipe delivered water directly from the spring to thirsty hikers at Sheep Camp. And it was cold and delicious!

Peggy found this natural chair along the trail, perfect for the weary hiker. Her grin says it all.

Like lack of water, snow conditions are always a major consideration of people who hike the PCT. Many of the hikers we met had skipped the southern Sierras because of heavy snow over the passes and would return to them after reaching Canada. In fact, through-hikers jump around a lot depending on conditions. I planned my trip so snow wouldn’t be an issue. The concern here was the snowball that I knew would soon be flying my way. Peggy simply can’t resist. It was guaranteed as soon as I turned my back. That’s my “Don’t do it, Peggy.” Ha!

Only a small portion of the people hiking the PCT go from Mexico to Canada. May people hike sections. Molly and Brandon were hiking from Castle Crags to Crater Lake. Others may be out for just a day hike like many of the people we saw around Mt. Ashland.

Ezra and Janie were a mother and son team (the second mother/son team we saw that day) who were hiking from Seiad to Ashland, I believe. Jane owns a clay sculpture shop in the historic mining town of Jerome, Arizona. Ezra is going to college in Portland. “We try to get out on a backpacking trip together every summer,” Ezra told us.

If there is one sign guaranteed to get the heart of every through-hiker beating fast, this is it.

Here’s why. If you are hiking to or from the Mexican border where the PCT starts, it is 1,706 miles away.

Like Sheep Camp, Donomore Meadows was another area that appealed to early ranchers and miners. Just before we reached this meadow, Peggy and I had stopped to check out a lightning damaged tree and a fawn  jumped out of the grass where its mother had hidden it. It bounded off with a squawk that sounded very much like “Mom!” Deer usually do a great job of hiding their newborns. The color of the fawns, their absolute stillness, and an almost total lack of smell helps guard them from hungry predators. Just like human moms, babies can come early, however! We came down our driveway a couple of days before starting our trip and a doe had dropped a pair of twins in the road. One was spry enough to stand up on wobbly legs, but the other still couldn’t move!

The Offenbacher Cabin, built by stockmen in the 1930s, still stands today in Donomore Meadow. Descendants of the family have turned the cabin into something of a haven for through-hikers. Water, chairs, and even a bed greet trekkers.

I found this unusual fungus growing near the cabin…

And Peggy stopped to admire this tree.

Our camp at Bearground Springs brought an unusual surprise. And it wasn’t a bear. We could hear them coming from a long ways off… with bells. BTW, I have my Kindle along and am reading “The Snow Leopard” by Peter Mathieson.

The bells came into our camp and stopped. Peggy, who had to go out and ‘serve nature’ took this photo. Nine cows had come to visit! It sounded like a hundred and it appeared that they were going to hang out with us for the night. There would not have been much sleep. I growled like a bear from inside the tent and the cows remembered an urgent appointment they had over the mountain. We could hear their bells rapidly fade into the distance. Each bell, BTW, makes a different sound and the cowboys are able to recognize the cow by the bell.

Rocks also captured our attention and schist, a metamorphic rock, was common along this section of the trail. Quartz, which Peggy loves, is often found with schist. In fact, Peggy likes to pick quartz up to take home for her rock garden. There was no picking up quartz to go in our backpacks this time, however!

It was ‘look but don’t touch.’

Always on the lookout for strange or interesting things along the trail, I found this rock and couldn’t resist a photo. Quite a set of choppers, eh?

I also find interesting wood sculptures irresistible.

This tree stump looked a bit like a river otter from one perspective…

And quite reptilian from the other side.

“There’s water down here,” we heard a voice pipe up. It was a welcome announcement. We’d been many miles without any. Turns out, it was Strawman, who we had met a week earlier and given a ride when we were scouting out the Etna area where I am today. We had a happy reunion. Such meetings are typical encounters along the PCT. Strawman, we had learned, navigates from a PCT App on his phone, as many, maybe most, trekkers do. I’m old fashioned and prefer a map.

Not too far from Beardog Springs where we met up with Strawdog and camped the night, we began to hike through areas that had been ravaged by forest fires. This was the same series of fires that had forced Peggy and me to evacuate our home last fall. (I’ve rendered it in black and white.) A through-hiker commented to us how ugly it was— I think it was Road Runner who hikes 40 miles a day. Peggy replied she found it interesting and got a strange look. But forest fires are a part of the natural process. A combination of us doing everything to prevent forest fires for the last 70 years and drought/global warming has created the situation where the whole west seems to be burning. (More on this in later blogs.)

Knob cone pines, like this one, actually require fire to free the seeds from the cone so they can germinate.

We found these strange looking schist stones in the burn area that looked something like tombs in a fantasy movie. All that was missing was a winged demon…

Which the fire had provided! Note the glowing eye.

Peggy and I felt right at home on Cook and Green Pass. We had hiked up here last year from the road above our home.

The trail from Cook and Green Pass that goes around the Red Buttes Wilderness goes up a bit. Peggy went through 99 bottles of beer on the wall, and then 99 bottle of rum, and then 99 bottle of wine, which was beginning to sound a bit like 99 bottles of whine. 🙂 The hot afternoon sun didn’t help. Flowers did, however. We had found them all along the trail from Mt. Ashland to Seiad. Here are a few of the many:

We also learned what makes the Red Buttes Red. These reddish rocks when broken open…

Are filled with the blue/black mineral Olivine that happens to be rich in iron. The red is rust!

We camped that night at Kangaroo Springs, which is just below Kangaroo Mountain. For my friends in Australia, I don’t know how the mountain got its name.

Here I am with my first aid kit of drugs looking like maybe I’ve had a few too many. Actually, I am contemplating the 4,000 foot drop we have to hike into Seiad Valley. Are my 75-year-old knees, ankles and hips ready for the descent? They are screaming “no.” (They ended up doing fine.)

Looking down at the steep, narrow, rocky, occasionally overgrown trail. You can see the switchbacks on the left.

Some stunning views helped. Once again, Shasta can be seen in the distance.

We met Crazy 71 Plus who is now 72. He insisted on pulling his pants up for the photo. Crazy, who is from Hong Kong, got his name last year when he hiked the first half of the PCT. He has returned to hike the second half. Part of what he is doing is raising funds for charities in China.

“We need to take a selfie,” he directed. So we did. “Your face is in the wrong place,” he chided. I told him I liked the photo. I think he was disappointed to learn that I was older.

Once again, our water was getting low when we reached Fern Springs near the bottom of the trail. The water tasted great, but not nearly as good…

As the cold beer we bought first thing when we reached the Seiad store!

We stayed at the Mid Valley RV which welcomes PCT Trekkers allowing them to stay over night and use the facilities for $15.

The owner, Bruce, does everything he can to make hikers feel at home.

As does the Seiad Cafe that has a pancake challenge. They make five big ones for $15. If you can eat them all, they’re free. The owner told me that several hundred trekkers have tried in the past ten years, but only four succeeded.

Peggy ordered two of their regular size and could only eat one. The owner told me the challenge pancakes were five times as large!

Here’s the spatula used to turn the pancakes.

We met this Jack-a-lope at the store next door where we bought our beer.

The residents of Seiad are an independent bunch who would dearly love to break off from California and create a separate state. This is the seal. The two x’s apparently mean California double crossed them by not letting them break off after they had voted to do so prior to WWII.

A number of trekkers were staying at the RV campground. We sat around and chatted. Bone, who has been traveling the world since 1977 and is accompanying me on my 1000 mile trek, insisted on coming out and visiting. Mr. O is on the left, Jeanine is in the middle and Julie is on the right.

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From Mt. Ashland to Seiad on the PCT: Section R… Hiking 1000 Miles on the PCT at 75

Sheep Camp seems like an appropriate place to start. We camped there on our second night out. It is a beautiful place, but my reason here is the tiny knob you can see off on the left horizon. Early pioneers used it as a major landmark at the end of their 3000 mile journey to guide them into Oregon and a new life. This also shows the distant vistas that inspire and pull long distance hikers on.

The knob lit up by the evening sun.

The day had finally arrived. I was both nervous and excited. How could I not be? I was heading off on one of the great adventures of my life, leaving my home on Southern Oregon’s Applegate River and backpacking 1,000 miles to Mt. Whitney in southern California following the Pacific Crest Trail.

I wasn’t nervous about the backpacking; I am not a novice. In fact I’ve backpacked tens of thousands of miles in my life. Man was landing on the moon in 1969 when I shouldered my first pack. I watched the landing at a Denny’s when I was returning home from backpacking in the Canadian Rockies. The PCT organization, the folks who have done so much to create and maintain the trail, was a fledging one year old. I had stopped in Seattle to buy my gear from REI on my way to Canada when that was the only store that REI had. I guess that puts something of a perspective on how long I’ve been doing this.

But I had never been on a thousand mile trip. And I am no longer the 25-year-old I was then. Knees, hips, shoulders and ankles don’t have the same sense of humor they once did. That’s why I am not telling them they are on a thousand mile journey until I reach at least 500 miles. They understand going home, which is what I will tell them. It isn’t even lying.

One of my friends on WordPress, who thought I was being a little crazier than usual, wanted to know why I was doing this. My answer was simple: Because I love wandering in the woods. I am at home there in a way that I have rarely been anywhere else. This is an opportunity to revisit many of the areas I have backpacked in my life, plus see some new ones that I have always been curious about. And the truth is, I am not getting any younger. I realize how fortunate I am at my age to go out and do this.

The reason I emphasize the 75 part of it is because my wife Peggy and I believe age shouldn’t be a barrier to trying and experiencing new things, whether it is taking up gardening or going on a thousand mile hike. There are  millions of things to explore out there in the world. They help keep us young, both mentally and physical. Plus, just maybe, there are 25 and 35 and 45 and 55 year olds out there who will say, “Wow, if that old dude can do something like this, maybe I can too!”

And perchance, there is something for the soul in this kind of journey as well. John Muir certainly thought so. When Peggy and I hiked into Seiad yesterday, a through-hiker handed me this:

For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” From the Bhagavad Gita.

But then the trekker, (Mr. O is his trail name) also handed me this. I added the bear, a big fellow I met up in Alaska.

“I thought you said beer was around the corner, but it was a bear.” I’ve met my share of bears over they years. I’ll be sharing some of those tales. But I have also downed my share of beer.

Peggy happily consumes a cold Sierra-Nevada Pale Ale yesterday after we concluded dropping 4000 feet into the town of Seiad on a hundred degree day. We stopped at the store, threw down our packs, and bought the beer before doing anything else! The PR Director for the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, BTW, backpacked with me as a 9-year-old.

There will be lots of time to ponder and wax philosophically over the next three months as I make my journey so let me share a few of the 400 photographs I took on our way from Mt. Ashland. I’ll be doing this as a photo essay in three parts.

The beginning point, Mt. Ashland. I was born in nearby Ashland in 1943. At the time, World War II was raging, Westinghouse Engineers were shooting dead chickens at airplane windows and women considered bow ties to be the latest fashion statement.

A pair of trail angels. Barbara and Carl Krack picked us up from our home on the Applegate River and took us up to the trail head.

Let the journey begin. Through and section hikers beginning the trail from the Mexican border to the Canadian border will begin their adventures with this trail sign and follow it throughout their trek. The weather forecast had talked about 90 degree plus days. It was cloudy and cool. Our first night was spent in the rain.

Guaranteed: Every corner you come around on the PCT will give you a new view. The granite caught our attention, here.

The Crest part of the Pacific Crest Trail is serious. It means you will spend much of your time hiking along mountain crests with views like these.

One of the problems can be a lack of water. It may be five-miles between watering holes, or 10, or maybe even 15. Trekkers often have to hike off the trail to find water.

That happened to us on our first night! Water was only four miles ahead but we were tired and it was getting late, plus threatening to storm. We followed an old road down the mountain and found one of the streams that feeds the Applegate River, the river we live on. Here I am happy to be in camp with a cup of hot tea. It started raining hard shortly afterward and we scrambled to put things away as the thunder roared.

Peggy found this spider web reflecting sunlight the next morning. It promised to be a beautiful day.

A shot of the head waters of the Applegate River. The PCT is found on the ridge to the right.

Our trail that morning was up, as it seems like most of our trails are at the beginning of our days.

Flowers were in abundance along the whole trail between Mt. Ashland and Seiad. These are flox.

And this is a wild iris.

Ann and Dave Kelly looking jaunty. We met a number of day hikers near Mt. Ashland, including Ann and Dave who are from Ashland. Dave actually hikes with a replaced hip joint and has done part of the John Muir Trail with it!

We are always on the lookout for wild life as we hike. When you can’t see the animals, they often leave other signs like tracks or scat. This animal, probably a chipmunk, had left bits and pieces of pine cones outside its front door.

I’ll conclude with this cloud covered picture of Mt. Shasta. I will literally be hiking around it for the next three weeks. Expect lots of photos! I consider it one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

I have to pack up for the next section of my trail, friends. I head into the Marble Mountains tomorrow, solo. And it will be early since it is promising to be around 105 degrees down here in the valley. When I get to Etna in a few days I will continue with the Mt. Ashland to Seiad section of my trip.

Would You.. Could You.. Hike A Thousand Miles? By Johanna Massey

My fellow blogger and friend JoHanna Massey from Sedona, Arizona sent the following post out to her followers about my thousand mile backpack trek and gave me permission to repost it, which I am doing today as I begin my journey from Mt. Ashland. (Peggy is along for my first six-days of hiking.) My sincere thanks to JoHanna. You can find her delightful posts at https://johannamassey.com.

 

“The Mountains Are Calling

And I must Go.”

John Muir

 

Curt Mekemson has just left on a thousand mile chunk of a hike that begins in Ashland Oregon, travels south to Mount Whitney, through Siskiyou, Marble, and Sierra Nevada Mountains.This is quite the hike, through some of the most beautiful places in America. Places most people, Americans too,  never will see. Curt Mekemson is  an excellent nature writer, with an eye for detail and a way with words that could convince anyone to go outside to play, to explore, to see the beauty of it all.

Author of  The Bush Devil Ate Sam,  I first came across a batch of stunning photos,  the Burning Man Collection, and have been enjoying Curt’s  writings, adventures,  and photography since. His insatiable curiosity for exploring the planet is matched by his wife Peggy, who sharing his wanderlust, high spirits and a fine camera eye of her own, …makes their website Wandering Through Time and Place  one of the best and most interesting websites to savor and enjoy.  A fellow WordPress Blogger, Curt has in turn been a real source of inspiration, support, and contributor of smart comments for my own, JoHannaMassey.com for several years now.

When it comes to backpacking, Curt Mekemson speaks with experience on provisioning, food considerations, resupply points,  and permits that all need to be planned out and reviewed when undertaking a big or small adventure.  Whether a novice backpacker, a seasoned explorer, or someone wanting to see/learn of the back country of America in almost real time, here’s your invitation:

I’m inviting everyone to join me, tell all your friends and family, co workers, neighbors, and acquaintances too. This is a real big deal hike and I am thrilled for my friend. Let’s tag along this next three months with  Curt Mekemson’s Hike of One Thousand miles. I just think it would be so cool, if a million people worldwide, but especially the WordPress bloggers followed along with Curt Mekemson’s One Thousand Mile Hike.

No matter how huge our numbers swell to, how gaily and  daily we tramp along with Curt, via WordPress, we will ‘leave no trace’ behind us, the lightness of Curt’s steps one for all and all for one!

All my best to each and everyone of you. See you along the trail!

 

I doubt a million people will come along on my journey, but I certainly welcome any and all who want to hike along with me! 🙂 I can pretty much promise some interesting adventures and hopefully lots of fun photos. I would appreciate it if you could mention my adventure on your blogs. I am off the net this week as Peggy and I hike down the trail but my first post should be up on June 23/24. See you then! –Curt