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?




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

    • We had a 3 day layover to let Curt’s body catch up! Grin…also gave Curt a chance to process photos (several hundred….all gorgeous…I don’t know how he can only choose a few for the blog. He is back on the trail this morning, looking great and excited to continue the adventure.

    • Peggy captured it, Alison and Don. It is hard out here, especially climbing up mountains in the afternoon when the temperature tops out at over 100 F. But the beauty and interesting folks make up for it… and the body toughens up. (grin) I am lucky that my body also has lots of experience out on the trail. –Curt

  1. We look forward to each episode of your journey, Curt. May your trip continue apace, with nothing more painful than blisters and shinsplints.

  2. Yay! You are getting close to Burney! We are really looking forward to seeing you guys if you have time 🙂 Love reading about your journey! Safe travels my friend!

  3. I agree with going cold for dinner to save the heat for your morning coffee – that would be my choice! About seeing faces in the trees – you’re not coming down with a case of forest-fever, are you? (We had a blogger see Scooby-Doo in his beer foam yesterday).
    I have to admit, looking at the scenery would make my progress rather slow. I’ve sure got to give you credit for this!! Say Hi to Peggy at the next stop-over!

  4. Curt,
    I imagine like Susan above, my first instinct here on the other side of the continent when I read of the California fires was to check a map to assure myself they were not near the PCT.

    • Curt and I were fortunate to be two weeks ahead of that fire which did impact the PCT around Mt. Ashland ! Whew! I was worried about the smoke while Jay and he were between Etna Summit and Castle Crags…..however, minimal impact and gorgeous scenery the whole way as evidenced by the hundreds of photos I was treated to!

      • Fires are a part of hiking the PCT, unfortunately, Ray. So far I have continued to dodge them. The forest service does a very good job of detouring through hikers when necessary. –Curt

  5. So glad you are well, if tired and possibly hungry. You’re doing great at any age, but knowing how I feel in my 70s, I’m even more in awe of what you’re doing. Love the photos — especially the close-ups: tree faces, snail, leaves, etc. But the panoramas let me know what beautiful country you are in and why you are doing this. Good luck with nature and your older bones. You’re an inspiration, for sure.

    • Thanks, it can be hard, especially hiking up hill in the afternoon on a hot day after already having hiked for 6 to 7 hours, Rusha. But the beauty makes up for it. There is always something along the trail to capture my interest, and often my camera. Thanks so much for your good words. –Curt

  6. You’re so right: hot breakfast rather than dinner. (and an Oreo or two is certainly a necessary luxury on the trail for some reason)
    Beautiful places (being watch: by GPS is smart…those natural faces – a worry they’re the are smart ones?)
    Great photos – enjoy traveling along

    • Glad to have you along, Phil. Great beauty. The GPS keeps Peggy happy, except when it doesn’t work. I keep an eye out for the faces. Must be my active imagination, or… Hmmm. –Curt

  7. Know the feeling of taking so many photos when out in the hills and woods! I was looking at the California fire map and a bit concerned about Whitney Portal being shut down to hikers: http://tinyurl.com/yb3pbs23 But I suspect you’re on top of all that stuff! Good to hear the hike is going well.
    Not so sure about that Buckhorn Spring for drinking water, but I suppose if you’re thirsty enough?
    May the pleasures continue… Perhaps you’ve started a trend of hikers that are a young and tender over-75-crowd?

    • Should be plenty of time before I get to Whitney, Gunta. 🙂 But there are plenty of other fires to contend with, sigh. The water was good. Seen a number of folks out here between 50 and 70. The over 70 crowd is few and far between, however. Laughing. -Curt

      • It would be really tempting camp at Lone Pine campground just below the Portal to celebrate the end of your hike. Lone Pine is right up there competing for our #1 favorite spot with a dispersed site we did at Mojave. Pity I’ll be tied up with cataract surgery this week.
        Keep those feet moving and in good health. I’ll be there at the end of the trail in spirit!

      • Thanks, Gunta, and it would be a blast!
        Hope the cataract surgery goes well. They can come close to working miracles in this day and age.
        Much appreciated. –Curt

    • Thanks, Kelly! It is definitely one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ type experiences. Great beauty with a challenge. Hope you make it at some time. Given your posts, I can’t imagine you not loving it. –Curt

    • Those Marbles were a while ago! But it was a fun trip that still resides in my memory banks. Or did you go on a trip led by Tom? Glad to have you along on my adventure. I’ll bet you have a name beyond the “someone” my post is showing? 🙂 –Curt

  8. Again, I applaud your stamina and your sense of humor too 🙂
    Love the details about camp life. The photos are gorgeous. The flowers are always my favorite on a hike, especially if they smell good, but the French could not resist the beautiful snail. Wow. Rare to see in the States, I mean, way less than in France. This one is awesome.
    You continue to inspire me and all of us following your journey. I think of Peggy, too. She must be proud but anxious too, sometimes. Especially now as you are on your own. Good luck and be safe. Have fun too!

    • Laughing about the French approach to the snail, Evelyne. Does that mean you were thinking of eating it? A little raw escargot on the trail— so to speak? It can be tough for Peggy. On my last section the GPS tracker I use that lets her know where I am each night was on the blitz. So she had a worrisome night or two. But for the most part, she is having a wonderful time. Thanks. It is an incredible experience. –Curt

      • I never enjoyed eating escargots, in fact. Sounds strange to most Americans, but I’ve never been a fan. Maybe because I loved watching them moving around at their leisurely pace after a downpour in Normandie. I like the garlic sauce that accompanied them. But I can always have garlic bread, right?
        I wish you to be safe and to enjoy yourself in the wild. Yosemite is sadly unbearable with the wild fires now:)
        Best to Peggy too.

      • Grin… I had escargot a few times, Evelyne. Just to prove to myself I am willing to try different things. Not bad, but nothing to write home about, a bit like how I view oysters, except better. And, as I rediscovered today, a garlic covered french fry meets my garlic requirements. 🙂
        Yosemite is suffering, no doubt about it. Again. As is the area I am hiking through, with Redding nearby. I am seriously beginning to think about jumping around to avoid major fires, if that is possible. Thanks. –Curt

  9. Oh I just know you are having such a hoot of a good time. Food is fuel. All my best to you Curt. Thank you.

    • Indeed it is, JoHanna! And there is no such thing as enough. I estimate I am burning 4-5 thousand calories a day on the trail and downing a thousand. Peggy force-feeds me when I come off to make up part of the deficit. Laughing. And thank you! –Curt

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