The First 500 Miles on My Thousand Mile Backpack Trek: Mt. Ashland to Lake Tahoe

I should see the striking Mt. Shasta several times as I make my way through the Siskiyou’s, Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps— and quite likely after I cross Interstate 5.  Mt. Shasta is part of the volcanic Cascade Range that stretches up to Canada.


It’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty planning of my thousand mile trek from Mt. Ashland in Southern Oregon to Mt. Whitney in California. I’ve been poring over maps, thinking about distances and planning out resupply points. I love maps, so this is a fun activity for me. I think I am being realistic, but you never know. Most through hikers (as people who hike the whole PCT are called) can average around 20-25 miles per day. Maybe even more. That’s a marathon per day! But the 75-year-olds out there are few and far between. I am planning on 12-13. If I can do more, great.

Today, I am going to share the first half of my route, approximately 500 miles, beginning at Mt. Ashland and ending north of Lake Tahoe. While I have backpacked in the Marble Mountains, Trinity Alps, and Lassen National Park, it is the area I am least familiar with. Once you hit Interstate 80 southward to Mt. Whitney, the second half of my journey, you are in my ‘old stomping grounds,’ so to speak. I’ve hiked through this country many times over the years. Below is a map of the first half of the trail.

This map of the PCT traces my route from Mt. Ashland to Lake Tahoe. While not as clear as I would like, it provides a good overview. Peggy and I live just north of the trail where it snakes its way along the California/Oregon border. Our property backs up to national forest land.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains provide some of the most beautiful hiking in the world. They are John Muir’s Range of Light. The northern part of my journey lacks the drama of the Sierra’s, but there is still considerable beauty in the Siskiyou’s, Marble Mountains and Trinity Alps. Once I cross Interstate 5, I have Burney Falls and Lassen National Park to look forward to. Here are a few photos I have taken over the years to whet your appetite for what is coming.

Another view of Mt. Shasta.

The PCT works around the edge of the Red Buttes Wilderness where Peggy and I have been backpacking the last few years. This small lake is in the wilderness.

As are a number of giant trees such as this sugar pine Peggy is standing next to.

And this large red cedar.

Last year Peggy and I followed what is known as the Cook and Green Trail up to the PCT. We camped under this canopy of trees.

We found three through hikers on the pass. They were quite excited to be nearing the Oregon Border after their long sojourn from the Mexican Border. Most through hikers travel south to north.

We also found a PCT trail marker. They will serve as my guide on the trek.

The trail is well-marked for the most part. Where it isn’t, I’ll be using other guides, like maps and tree blazes.

The Marble’s and the Trinity Alps have numerous pristine lakes such as this.

And mountains. These are part of the Trinity Alps.

There are cascading waterfalls…

And large and small streams to cross— always a challenge for backpackers…

There are lovely flowers to admire, such as this Tiger Lily.

And possibly bears. This tree has been well-marked by bear claws! Peggy and I were in the Marble Mountains a few years back celebrating her birthday with a small cake I had brought along when a bear decided to drop in. Peggy told it in no uncertain terms that it was not invited to the party! Rather than face such a formidable opponent, it remembered some ants it wanted to eat.

Ponderosa Pine tree and Burney Falls in Northern California.

Once across I-5 , I will travel 83 miles to reach Burney Falls. In this photo, a lone Ponderosa Pine grows between the two channels.

Water comes out from layers of rocks as well as over the top at Burney Falls.

The water shooting out from the rocks provides an almost etherial quality to the falls. Peggy will meet me at the falls with resupply. Basically, she will be catching up with me once a week and I will have a layover day to feast, shower, and hopefully put up a post on my previous 6-8 days.

Burney Falls in Northern California. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A final view of the falls.

Another week down the trail should bring me to Lassen National Park, one of two parks I will be hiking through. The other is Yosemite. Mt. Lassen looms above the meadow. I’ve climbed to the top of both Lassen and Shasta.

I thought this reflection shot of the mountain was fun.

And this one.

I’ll close today with this view of a stream winding its way through a park meadow.

Next Tuesday, I will take you through the second half of my journey from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney. Peggy and I will be doing our 40 mile conditioning trip down the Rogue River Trail. I should say conditioning plus trial. I’ll be carefully monitoring how my body responds to being back out on the trail with a loaded pack!

FRIDAY’S POST: MisAdventures. It is really hard to be a sports hero when you are as blind as a bat! Especially when it comes to playing hard ball… “Where’d that ball go?” Bonk!

53 thoughts on “The First 500 Miles on My Thousand Mile Backpack Trek: Mt. Ashland to Lake Tahoe

    • Thanks, Brigitte. 🙂 it’s going to be fun with all of my ‘hiking companions!’ There will be many tales, and hopefully, lots of beautiful photos. There will certainly be lots of gorgeous country. –Curt

    • Ah yes, Gerard, the feet and the knees aren’t what they once were. But I will use walking sticks, and that takes off a lot of the strain. Also my feet have many thousands of miles of hiking behind them. They know where they are supposed to go. Thanks! –Curt

  1. Curt, I imagine you have read many of the books about hiking the PCT. Not a backpacker, I have read just one, “Wild,” but your proposed adventure made me think of it immediately. The hike is not “a walk in the park.” I admire you for taking it on.

    • I’ve seen both the movie and read the book, Ray. And you are right, the hike is far from ‘a walk in the park,’ in one sense. In the other, that’s exactly what it is, just a long walk.
      Cheryl and I will have covered much of the same territory. Her greatest challenge was lack of experience, i.e. zero. 🙂 It was hard for me to believe that she started out knowing as little as she did. But she hung in there, and she learned. Thanks. –Curt

  2. I’m really excited for you. I can’t imagine all the gorgeous sites you’ll see. Will hopefully make the long miles and the host of critters you’ll encounter worth it. 😁

    • It always amazes me at how fast the body adjusts out on the trail, Carrie, and how quickly you become familiar with its rhythms. This is something we tend to forget in our every day lives. All of this is to say that the miles become easier. The secret is in listening. As for the gorgeous sites, that’s a given. Hopefully I can do justice with my camera. Thank you! –Curt

  3. Just looking at the map gives us a feeling of how epic this is all going to be.
    And yeah, we do relish being able to see the sights you shared, if only with a touch of luxury of not having to trek there! lol. Lazy us…. you must think.

    • Nah, not lazy you, Suan and Mel. I just have a different orientation and background. It seems to me that you pursue what you do with passion as well. 🙂 There should be lots of sights and tales! –Curt

      • Heheh… yeah lots of tales indeed. Looking forward to reading about the journey. Sing “Well I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more”…

      • Yes, the old Peter, Paul and Mary folk song: “Lord I’m one, Lord I’m two, Lord I’ m three, Lord I’m four, Lord I’m 500 miles from my home.” 🙂

  4. I hope you get time to stop and enjoy the scenery around you. Me, I’ll kick back with some red wine and enjoy what you write. Have a wonderful adventure.

    • My days are planned to include ‘scenery appreciation,’ Yvonne. 🙂 Plus you have lots of time to admire the scenery when you are hiking over mountains! Thanks. –Curt

  5. I personally know I would never accomplish a feat such as this, Curt. I do admire your initiative. (not to mention – your great photos!).
    I’ve forgotten – exactly WHY are you doing this?

    • Why? Laughing. Because it is there… That’s what folks who climb mountains always say, G. 🙂 More specifically, I love the wilderness and backpacking; this is some of the world’s most beautiful country, I always like a challenge, it should make a good book, I am not getting any younger, and because I can. It’s not unlike the massive effort you have made to chronicle the Pacific theater of WWII and the Korean War. In fact it is very similar. –Curt

    • A lot Craig, with vertical being a relative term. 🙂 Let’s just say there is as much up and down (and probably more) than there is flat, ranging from moderate to fairly steep. –Curt

  6. Curt I am in awe. I tend to overuse the word inspiring and realize I should have saved it for your upcoming journey. Triple WOW! I shall look forward to hearing more but I have to tell you the bear business gives me shivers.

    • Thanks, Sue. The jury is still out. 🙂 As for bears, California’s black bears aren’t nearly as scary as Canada’s grizzly bears. I watched one once tear apart a hill trying to catch a marmot in the Canadian Rockies. Dirt was flying everywhere. Actually, it was kind of funny. The bear would be ripping up one section when suddenly the marmot would pop his head up out of another hole several yards away. The bear would then charge over there. A few minutes later, the marmot would poke his head up out of another hole and whistle again. –Curt

      • Straight out of a comedy sketch. Maybe not quite as funny. For the bear, or the marmot if caught. I know you have lots of experience and thus a great deal of bear smarts.

  7. My spirits soar when I see your beautiful photographs – it must be amazing to hike through such landscape. The giant redwoods are something I desparately want to see in real life! Curt, I look forward to your next instalment of this fabulous adventure!

    • I’ve been privileged to spend as much time as I have over my life in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and other beautiful wild areas, Annika. It is indeed an experience that makes the spirit soar. Thanks, Curt.

  8. You are wise to plan shorter days than the other way around. Twelve miles, depending on the terrain, can already be plenty enough. You don’t want cramps when you wake up the following morning, but you want time to admire the amazing scenery and take photos for the flatlanders.
    The beauty (in my opinion) is the reason why some of us like to hike. The rewards are priceless. You are in for a treat. But you already know that.

    • I may find after 2-3 weeks on the trail that it is easy to go more miles per day, Evelyne, or not. 🙂 But I would rather plan under than over. It’s my goal to be comfortable out there and plan in plenty of time to admire nature, read, take photographs and write. It’s amazing how quickly the body adjusts, and how it lets you know if you are overdoing it. Thanks. –Curt

  9. What, no GPS??? 😉
    I’m gobsmacked, of course! What a stupendous journey you’re undertaking. Enjoy, enjoy and enjoy some more. I’ve been to most of the locations you mentioned, but never as intimately as you’re planning. You’ll be in your native county once you get to Lake Tahoe. Just watch out for ticks! We camped up in the Kalmiopsis at the beginning of this week and I got bit twice and Eric once. We both developed symptoms of an encounter with the Lyme carrying deer tick, with the dreaded target ring around the bite. I hate to take antibiotics, but we’ll be taking them for 3 weeks. I’m hearing the ticks are really, really bad this year (or is that said every year?) Hope you’re taking precautions.

    • They are particularly bad along the Rogue River where we head Monday. We will be spraying clothes and socks. They aren’t much of a problem in the high country, once I get there.
      Nope, no GPS. I will be carrying Spot, however, the geo-locater that can be used to call in emergency troops, if necessary, and let Peggy know where I am each night. I am an old hand with maps. 🙂 –Curt

      • I was pulling your leg just a tad about the GPS. I know better! But the ticks are incredibly BAD this year, at least in our neck of the woods. We were up in the Kalmiopsis at around 3,000′ when we were attacked. I just pulled an engorged one off the dog and she’d only been out in our yard. It’s just yucky!
        That Spot sounds like a great idea. I might consider getting one for the times I send Eric off camping in the woods when I’m needing some peace and quiet. Come to think of it, it might not be a bad idea when we head up together since there’s rarely cell signal most places we go.
        Happy hiking! You’re going to be in our neighborhood!

  10. Just hanging around, wishing you — and Peggy, and Bone — the very best. I’ve never been a hiker, period, but I may put in a couple of miles every day while you’re gone, just in solidarity. Who knows? If I kept that up every day, I might be ready to take on something with a little verticality at the end! 🙂

  11. This looks incredible, Curt. I would love to do something like this but my solo hiking days are done, I think. I still have dreams of a long through-hike but I’ll need to wrangle someone else to go with me! The scenery on your trip will be so gorgeous – wow!

    • I’m on the edge, myself, Lexi. Carrying an emergency signaling device certainly makes it safer out there. I’m more concerned about my body saying ‘enough is enough’ than I am about emergencies. 🙂 I know that getting older won’t make it any easier. As for the country I will be packing through, some of the most beautiful in the world. –Curt

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