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?