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!
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.
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.)
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.
Next up: Peggy’s photos of Etna and Dunsmuir, two small towns that through-hikers visit on their way through Northern California.
56 thoughts on “When Fire and Smoke Strike along the Pacific Crest Trail… (Plus more photos from Section P)”
Great photos! Be safe out there.
Thanks, Kate. And I am careful. –Curt
Relieved to know the fires and common sense mean that you aren’t sticking religiously to the PCT. Stay safe and keep your wits about you.
One day at a time out here, Peggy. All of us keep a close eye out for fires. As far as I know, no PCTer has ever been injured by one. –Curt
Hope the smoke clears soon. Sure that you’re putting the time to good use while waiting. Plenty of beauty around. Nope, can’t see the rattler. Wouldn’t do well on the trail 😉
Still smokey! Rattlers can blend in well. Luckily, they rattle. 🙂 –Curt
Mother Nature is fickle. What she denied the west, she dumped here. I have a hay field that thinks it’s a pond and I haven’t been able to mow large sections of my lawn since April, they are too soft to even walk on. Farmers struggled to plant and what they were able to get into the ground has been ruined by water.
Love flowers photos…
Fickle is a kind word, More like nasty! I think she is trying to tell us something. My empathy goes out to the farmers. And thanks. –Curt
Dry in the UK right now, a temporary smoking ban at the golf course in place. Love that red sun!
Yeah, adding a fire as a golf course ‘hazard’ might be a bit much, Andrew. Smoke does make for some dramatic pictures. Thanks. –Curt
Nice photos! I live near Ashland and have come to think of wildfire season as our 5th season of the year, right between summer and fall. For now I’m hanging out in Portland under blue skies breathing clean air.
We are right there with you, Karen since we live near Applegate Lake on Upper Applegate Road. Our approach over the last few years has been to escape during the ‘fifth season’ as well. Unfortunately, my escape this year has just taken us into more smoke. 🙂 –Curt
Thanks for more gorgeous shots! Glad to hear you’re able to be flexible with your route- stay safe 😀
And thank you, Anne. Except for the hard core PCTers who are going to hike straight through come snow, fire or high water, most seem quite flexible when it comes to jumping around. Good thing. –Curt
“Global warming is taking its toll on the PCT!”
FEMA says no… https://www.usfa.fema.gov/data/statistics/
And what does FEMA know!
What can I say, Curt, you still amaze me! I’m relieved that Jay is with you too. I agree that the leaves on the morning glory look strange, unreal, like plastic. Stay clear of the fires and say Hi to Peggy!
Just said hi to Peggy. (grin) My grandson Ethan joins me tomorrow. That will be fun! Fires got a little closer this last section I did. Thanks, G. Always appreciate your support. –Curt
Always here, Curt.
Somehow I eliminated a comment below, G, where you wanted to know how far I have travelled. Over 500 miles.
Thanks, you found it somehow! Isn’t technology grand….
I’ve been thinking about you as the fires cut their path through so much of the west. Yosemite, as you write, has closed several routes and most people stay away since the air is really bad. I don’t know of anyone who has been evacuated because most people I knew have moved away over the last two years when fires became a serious issue. The air all over the Central Valley is bad and people who suffer from asthma have left if they can afford to. Be very safe and I hope that you’ll be soon on the trail again, under clear pure skies.
Your last sentence… Me too! 🙂 I came out at Sonora Pass on Saturday and Peggy picked me up. We had just made it down to 395 when they closed 108 because of the Donnell Fire. They just keep coming, Evelyne. –Curt
The skies are dirty and even beyond California:(
I’m too far to be impacted, but it’s concerning.
Hope you can go on with your plans. Be safe.
I go back in on Monday. Still focused on California. See how it goes. 🙂
Loved these images Curt, and so happy to know that you are safe!
One day at a time out here, Sylvia. 🙂 Could do without the smoke but the beauty is always incredible. Thanks. –Curt
Great show again, Curt. Love the photo of the pitcher plants. The must get their nurture from both below and above the ground. Clever little plants.
Fascinating plants, Gerard. I hung out and admired them for quite some time. The frog there amused me as well. Never know what’s coming next on the trail, but I can always count on the beauty. Thanks. –Curt
Hoping those fires get under control Curt. Be safe out there. What an international representation of hikers!
Fires and California seem to go hand in hand, Sue. And yes, I have truly been impressed by the international representation on the PCT. Some fun! –Curt
So scary. Stay safe, Curt!
And it continues… as I explain in my latest post. But so far so good, besides polluting my lungs. 🙂 –Curt
Ha! I never knew there was yellow lupine. I’ve seen blue, pink, mauve, and white, but not yellow. Hope those fires are sorted soon. Smart decision to avoid them.
Gorgeous yellow lupine, Alison. I’ve seen it but never so much! Fires keep popping up. I may be heading to Washington. 🙂 –Curt
All this smoke is getting a bit too common here in the West. Your blood red sun looks just like one I saw in Portland last year during the fire in the Columbia Gorge. We’ve been visiting the Pitcher Plants up in our playground in the Rogue-River-Siskiyou NF. They are some very strange plants. I think the flowers are quite handsome though.
Still with you, but the eye surgery cut my screen time way back. Hoping to catch up some day!
Glad you are still here, Gunta! Just look at the photos if the eye strain becomes too much. And aren’t pitcher plants wonderful— unless you are an insect, of course. 🙂 The smoke continues to be horrendous. –Curt
You began with the grim and dangerous and ended in a happy place. It was a long but good read today.
Thanks, Beth. Both the beauty, and the danger, continue. I’ve backpacked for years with all the normal hazards of backpacking: snow, river crossings, dangerous trails, wild animals, etc., but the smoke and fires are new to me. Give me a bear any time. –Curt
Bears are predictable! They can climb trees; they are curious; they will kill to protect their young. Maybe play dead?
Talk about curiosity— I woke up with a young one standing on my chest once, smelling my breath to see what I’d been eating. 🙂 –Curt
Glad to hear you can (and do) avoid any dangerously smoky sections; that would give me quite a scare to be anywhere near that stuff. Love the frog in particular of your more whimsical photos! Stay safe!
Thanks, Lexi. I liked the frog, too. 🙂 The fires and smoke are dangerous, and obviously they aren’t going away. I may head up to the PCT in Washington where the fires aren’t so dominant. Every time I turn around in California, there is a new one. And the smoke is almost impossible to escape. –Curt
I hope all’s still well for you. Carr fire’s 47% contained at this point, but Mendocino’s still bad, and now there’s fire in SoCal: Orange/Riverside counties. You’re smart enough to make good decisions, and to be flexible with your plans.
The photos are wonderful. Did you see the little insect inside the tiger lily? Those little “gifts” always are wonderful.
I missed the insect, Linda. 🙂 There is so much to photograph, that it’s amazing I ever get any hiking done! Safety is a primary concern. I’ll have more about the fires on today’s blog. They are getting a little ‘too close and personal.’ Not sure what my decision is going to be next. I’ll decide after my hike this week with my grandson Ethan. Thanks. Curt
I love meeting all the people you encounter on the trail! Stay safe out there, Curt!
A true cast of characters, Kelly. It takes a unique personality to decide to go on months-long hikes. Thanks. –Curt
I was sorry to hear about the fires this summer! Stay safe and have fun Curt!
Beautiful photos, the nature is amazing out there (excluding the smoke).
I cannot stop noticing that there is a real traffic jam on PCT, so many hikers 🙂
Thanks, Christie. The beauty makes photography easy! And I agree on the traffic jam. It’s slowed down in California, now ,however, with most of the though-hikers in Oregon and Washington. –Curt
Glad you ended it on a lighter note, but those fires…so worrisome. And the health impacts are hard to put your finger on day to day while you’re breathing it. I hope for the clearest possible skies for your future hikes. I spotted the rattler!
Yes! Hoping for the cleanest possible skies. Been much better this past week.
I tried to talk the rattler into coming out of the brush for a better photo but he refused and I wasn’t willing to go in. 🙂 –Curt
Amazing! Thank you for sharing this journey with us! 🏵
On Thu, Aug 2, 2018 at 8:00 AM, Wandering through Time and Place wrote:
> Curt Mekemson posted: ” 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” >
My pleasure, Mindy. Glad you are enjoying the adventure. –Curt
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