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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
33 thoughts on “Towns along the PCT”
Thank Peggy for the great photos. Washington sounds like a good alternative.
I passed it on Peggy. And much appreciated. Anywhere with smoke free air is sounding pretty good now. 🙂
Gorgeous all. Peggy’s photos take the cake! Awesome.
Thanks, Cindy. And Peggy thanks you as well! –Curt
Wonderful that you’re taking family members along, especially the younger set to carry on the tradition. Lovely photos. Peggy ought to think about doing her own blog! Glad to hear that you’re considering a wise move out of all that smoke. It’s nasty stuff (remembering last fall when we were enveloped by the Chetco Bar Fire smoke and ashes.)
Ethan is here and excited! 🙂
Peggy has done guest posts before and finds them fun. She always contributes photos but I don’t think she is ready for full time blogging. (grin)
I can’t believe I am hiking in the stuff! I’d hardly go outside last year when we were surrounded by fires. Thanks, Gunta. –Curt
I have really enjoyed this series, Curt. And Peggy’s photos are just great.
Thanks, Ray. Much appreciated. And Peggy adds her thanks. –Curt
What wonderfully quaint towns along the trail. They obviously feel about history as I do!! Bone certainly deserves his nickname – you HAD to have pix of him with Bones – that goes without saying.
I know Peggy will worry about you, no matter what you or anyone says, but take your time, that smoke is nothing to fool with (as you know of course!).
Love the update and tell Peggy to keep on clicking that camera!!
I always love the reuse and renovation of the historic buildings, G. It’ seems much more common now. I still remember when the solution was to bulldoze them down and throw up something else.
Bones was tickled to meet Bone. And I am not that skinny, but certainly more than I have been any time since my early 20s.
I’m off again today, this time with my grandson. He is one eager kid! Hopefully, the smoke won’t be too bad. –Curt
We enjoyed Peggy’s photos, Curt. It was fun to see her Monday and catch up on stories from her perspective as your support person. We toasted you as we enjoyed her (belated) birthday hot fudge sundae!
I heard there was a lot of hot fudge, Leslie. 🙂 Peggy was getting desperate for that sundae, and enjoyed the visit.
I think she is having as much as an adventure out here as I am. And she has been having fun with her camera. Thanks much for checking in. –Curt
I love the photo with Bones and Bone! Tell Bone I say hi and its good to see him again. I love your partnership with Peggy and think it must feel good to have a wonderful woman worrying about you, even if you don’t think you need to be worried about. Great post.
Bone says Hi right back, Crystal. He’s quite proud of his journey with you to the Cherokee nation! My grandson carried Bone on our backpack trip last week. Ethan now thinks of Bone as a valuable heirloom! 🙂 –Curt
It is wonderful how people pitch in to help each other, even for something as simple as passing a message. The PCT sounds just as much like a community as a trail.
I think that is a good observation, Craig. Sharing the challenges and the beauty creates a unique bond. –Curt
Hi Wanderer and Peggy, it has been great to see your photos and read your blogs. Peter Pan and Bigfoot were able to complete the CA PCT by end of July. We felt fortunate to have the hike done before smoke and fires had taken over some of the trails. Getting ready to head back to Alaska and look for our skis. Glad that our paths crossed in northern CA. Hope you find some trails that are smoke free.
Thanks so much for checking in, Donna. It was my (and our) pleasure to meet Peter Pan and Bigfoot!. Smoke seems to have abated, a little at least, so I am continuing my journey down the Sierras. Have a great trip back to Alaska. PS Ran into a guy carrying skis at Carson Pass. He was out spot skiing on snow where ever he could find it! –Wanderer/Curt
You continue to amaze me, and all of us reading your blog, I’m sure. The air quality will be your main concern as you go on. Although far now, I know it’s pretty bad everywhere in CA. So changing your original plans and going north is very wise.
I couldn’t miss your encounter with the French couple. I’ve met occasional French hikers in Yosemite, and it’s always so lovely to share the beauty of our local surroundings with people who travel so far to admire them.
Trader Joe’s scones are divine after a hike. And slathered with PB? Miam-miam.
Take care, Curt. Whatever your plans will be, be safe.
My upcoming French Friday is dedictated to your expedition.
Here’s the French couples blog site, Evelyne: http://www.cambast.blogspot.com
They are writing about their journey up the PCT. Peggy thought you might enjoy it.
Thanks so much for dedicating a French Friday post to my journey. Merci beaucoup! The fires continue on… and on. But containment seems in reach and they have now let people back into Yosemite. There’s hope! –Curt
Thank you, merci Curt and Peggy!
I was planning to dedicate you last Friday and then Aretha Franklin passed away. I listened to her songs when I lived in France, so I wrote about her. You are coming up next with a twist that I hope you’ll find funny or at least interesting:)
Best to you, as always.
Looking forward to it Evelyne! 🙂
I so enjoy following your journey. The photographs are wonderful and I am especially touched by your detailed descriptions of the people you meet and the connections you make with them. I feel moved by the care with which you hold each other and sense that you will always remember meeting on this journey, which in my mind becomes more and more of a pilgrimage each day.
It definitely has elements of a pilgrimage to it, Arati. And it certainly is a shared adventure for everyone making the trek. I am glad you are enjoying both the journey and the photos. Thanks. –Curt
It was great to see Bone with Bones. As for your bones, it sounds as if they’re holding up relatively well. If you lungs can do the same, you’ll be in great shape. I must admit I laughed at that photo of the phone booth. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one, but I well remember the days of pay phones, telephone credit cards, and fake collect calls, just to let friends and family know we were alive.
Something about the community along the trail’s been nagging at me, and I finally remembered. When I went back to Liberia in the mid-’80s, I wanted to find a particular woman who’d worked at the hospital and around the area as a midwife and health educator. She wasn’t around; the word was that she was up in the bush somewhere. But some friends in Monrovia said they’d put the word out, and about three or four days later, she showed up. The word had been passed and passed, in that mysterious way that it happens, and without a cell phone or computer, she’d gotten the message. The coconut telegraph lives — even on the PCT.
A little Jimmy Buffet always livens up the day, Linda. Certainly worked in Liberia. Cell phones are much more common there now. It seems strange. I suspect the telegraph still exists, however. Especially when the bush is involved.
Bones and Bone were indeed a pair! I had my grandson Ethan carry Bone on his section of the trip. They bonded. Now Ethan is talking about Bone as an Heirloom. Who needs Great Granny’s silver when Bone is around? 🙂 –Curt
Great read! I love the parallel journey with Peggy as she explores her own path. Burney Falls is beautiful! We’re back in Tahoe now — hopefully you hit Donner Pass on a clear day. The smoke is finally dissipating around here. Happy trails, Curt!
We lucked out with the smoke, Kelly. After we came out we spent a couple of days at Sugar Pine State Park. Ethan and his brother Cody were even treated to seeing a bear. 🙂 Their first. Thanks. –Curt
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I have to say, the small town pit stops and the people you met along the way are the things that would interest me most in hiking the PCT. The actual hike would just be the means to get to these ends. 😉
Definitely an important part of the story. 🙂 But then, so was the incredible wilderness.
I am loving the balance you have achieved of being in some of the wildest places in America, and socializing with friends, new and old, all along the way.
Looking forward to Peggy’s forthcoming post. Just simply righteous that she is off having her own adventures.
Your photo essays are really quite as astonishing as your adventure.
Be safe. All my best.
I was surprised by the social aspect of it JoHanna. Had I been traveling south to north, there may have been even more.
Peggy’s experiences were equal to mine. She really met some neat people. One just made and sent her a quilt!
Thanks so much. Glad you are along. –Curt