Bone Travels the PCT Looking for His Home… Backpacking the PCT at 75— and 40

Bone found this convenient PCT marker on the trail leading south out of the Echo Summit area on Highway 50 going south toward Carson Pass, about five miles from where he was discovered 40 years ago.

It was always assumed that Bone— the diminutive four-inch, five-ounce dynamo that was once part of a horse’s foot— would one day return to his home along the PCT. What’s surprising is that it took 40 years. He’s been riding along with me on my trek this summer and meeting backpackers with that goal of visiting his birthplace in mind.

My friend Tom Lovering, the owner of an outdoor/wilderness store in Sacramento, and I found Bone in 1977 hiding out in a young corn lily patch near the PCT between Echo Summit and Carson Pass.  At the time, I was scouting a new route for the 100 mile treks I led in the Northern Sierras. Tom and three women were hiking with me for company. It was early in the season and the trail kept disappearing under the snow.

Tom and I take a current photo with Bone outside the Fox and Goose Restaurant in Sacramento. The goose seems particularly interested in what we are up to. Alpine West, one of Tom’s outdoor/wilderness stores, was located in the 10th and R Building in 1974 when Tom became a sponsor of my first Sierra Trek.

Here’s the story of how Bone was found from an earlier post:

Our fourth day started out as a typical backpack day. We climbed. It was gentle at first and then became more serious. Once again snow covered large segments of the trail. We spread out and searched for tree blazes. I scrambled over a particularly steep section and found myself in a high meadow.

Something half buried in a field of young corn lilies caught my eye. A few days earlier it would have been covered with snow. Curiosity led me to detour through the still soggy ground. Mud sucked at my boots.  My treasure turned out to be a disappointing, short, squat bone. Gnaw marks suggested it had been part of someone’s dinner. I was about to toss it when a devious thought popped into my mind.

“Trash!” I hollered at Tom and held up the bone. We had a game where if one person found a piece of trash, the other person had to carry it out. But first you had to catch the other person.

Tom sprinted down the trail with me in pursuit. Once we had made it over the mountain, our route ranged from flat to downhill. Tom was very fast. We had traveled two miles and were almost to Showers Lake before he stopped, concerned about leaving our companions too far behind. Very reluctantly, he took the bone and stuffed it in his pack.

“How can you classify a bone as trash,” he whined. I figured Tom would toss his new traveling companion as soon as I was out of sight. Wrong.

Here’s Bone’s perspective on the occasion:

“I didn’t plan on seeing the world and becoming famous. Once I was part of a horse located just above the hoof. I had no freedom; I had no glory. Wherever the horse went I went, a mere slave to his desires. During the summer this meant carrying greenhorn tourists into the backcountry of the mountains above Lake Tahoe. The added pounds gave me bone-jarring headaches. Then the horse died; I like to fantasize that a large bear with big teeth and sharp claws ate him.  Hopefully he ate the tourist as well.

Whatever happened, I was free to be me, Bone. Yes, that’s right, Bone is my name. A kindly coyote picked me up and carried me to a high meadow filled with corn lilies. It was there that I discovered my Zen-like nature as I meditated through the seasons. I was alone except for a mouse that came by and nibbled on me occasionally. That hurt. In fact, it interrupted my meditation and scarred me for life; you can still see teeth marks. I blame all of my subsequent bad behavior on that flea-bitten miscreant.

My annoyance at the mouse, however, was minimal in comparison to my anger at the large, two-legged creature who yanked me from my meadow home and begin yelling I was trash as he ran down the trail in pursuit of another two-legged creature.  Can you imagine the insult? I had no way of knowing that this was the beginning of my world travels or that the two creatures, Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering, would become my servants.”

When I arrived home and emptied my backpack, there was the bone. Tom had slipped it into my pack. I had been carrying him for several days. Small b bone had become large B Bone and begun his 40-year odyssey! A year or so later when Tom arrived in Japan and unpacked his suitcase at the beginning of a three-year journey through Asia, Africa, and Europe, there was Bone. And thus it has gone. He has never stopped traveling. (For those of you who are new to Bone’s world, I’ll list his travels and an interview with Bone in the last two posts of this series. Long time followers will have read these posts. Go here for the complete series of posts on Bone’s discovery: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

The past couple of weeks, I have been exploring the area between Donner Summit and Carson Pass, retracing paths I have been hiking since I started backpacking in 1969. In many ways, I think of this area as my home. My 13-year-old grandson, Ethan, joined me two weeks ago until a sprained ankle cut short our trip. (Ethan carried Bone and now thinks of him as an heirloom. Forget great, great grandmother’s silver.) I went back in to finish this section of the PCT last week, and, of course, go on detours. Why hang out on the busy freeway when there are country roads to explore?

Bone, happy to find a new traveling companion, perches on Ethan’s knee.

When I came out at Echo Summit, my wife Peggy and I went on a day hike toward Carson Pass to take Bone back to where he was discovered. It was a sentimental journey. Bone was very excited.

While I’ve been posting photos to follow the progression of my journey down the PCT, I am skipping forward to honor Bone (and my youth) this week and next with a look at the area between Donner Summit and where Bone was discovered. I’ll then return to my trip between Castle Crags and Burney Falls. I’ll start today with my hike between Donner Summit and the Granite Chief Wilderness.

The PCT follows a ridge line south of Donner Pass. Here it makes its way up toward Tinker’s Knob.

I used to start 100 mile treks near Mary Lake, shown here. The Sugar Bowl ski area is nearby. I cross-country skied for several years along the distant ridges and down through the forests.

Wagon trains into California once made their way up and over Roller Pass. It wasn’t easy, as suggested by information sign located on the PCT. The sign notes that the “drawing is not an exaggeration.”

I’ve included this because I want to recognize the thousands of hours volunteers spend on maintaining the PCT, with some, like Don and Pat Malberg, actually adopting sections of the trail.

The folks who build and maintain the PCT take the ‘crest’ part of its name seriously. The result is great views, lots of ups and downs, and not much water, especially later in the season. I’ve often found myself hiking 10-15 miles between water sources. Anderson Peak is in the distance and Tinker’s Knob on the other side.

A closer view of Anderson Peak.

Another photo of the trail near Tinker’s Knob. The trail cuts to the left of the peak and then drops into a canyon of the American River.

A view back down the trail.

Normally, the PCT is like the ‘freeway of trails,’ broad and well graded. It can get difficult at times, especially when heading across rocky slopes like this. Hiking becomes challenging. Each step needs to be placed to avoid a sprained ankle or a tumble. Care becomes almost instinctual. The granite boulder trail reached the lava cliff and then switchbacked up the mountain.

A snag near Anderson Peak. Peggy thought ‘three witches.’

By now (late August) most flowers are past their blooming stage and have gone to seed. This fellow was still blooming, however, and goes by the rather quaint name of pussy paws because of its resemblance to cats’ feet.

Large volcanic rocks are found along the trail, speaking to the area’s volcanic history.

The trail switched back rapidly down from Tinker’s Knob and I came on my first water of the day. This rubber boa was there to greet me. Known for their gentle nature,  they are sometimes used to help people get over their fear of snakes. I picked it up and repositioned it for a photo-op. 🙂 I filled my water bottles with five liters of water knowing I would be dry camping for the night.

I didn’t have to hike much farther, finding a lovely campsite beneath Tinker’s Knob with great surrounding views.

Looking out from my kitchen as the sun set…

And another photo, a few minutes later.

Slightly later, this was my bathroom view looking in the other direction. Not bad, eh?

Early the next morning, I was treated to a sunrise view of Tinker’s Knob.

It’s for moments like these that I have spent 50 years backpacking.

My hike the next morning took me towards the mountains that form the rim of the Granite Chief Wilderness and back up to Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Needle Peak is seen to the left. I will have hiked across those mountains and several miles farther by night.

My morning walk took me through a meadow filled with drying mule ears that rustled in the wind.

Sierra thistles were looking quite bushy as they prepared to disperse their seeds.

I caught these thistles, along with mule ears, backlit by the sun.

A lone tree decorated a gap in the mountains.

Looking back, I could see Tinker’s Knob and the mountains I had camped beneath.

Looking forward, I was faced with mountains of granite and one of the Northern Sierra’s more wild areas, the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Next two posts:

  • The Granite Chief Wilderness Area
  • The Desolation Wilderness Area and Bone’s home

 

 

 

39 comments on “Bone Travels the PCT Looking for His Home… Backpacking the PCT at 75— and 40

    • I broke out my more serious sleeping bag for the next two weeks. Freezing is predicted and my skimpy quilt isn’t going to keep me warm. Even with all of my clothes on! 🙂 Woohoo. Harvest. After that a well earned rest, I hope. –Curt

    • My feet are now happily ensconced in my library at home, Sue. While the rest of me may still want to be out on the trail, they are happy to be out of the boots. They’ve started replacing six toenails. 🙂 Thanks. –Curt

  1. http://PartTimeJob.online/?user=270073

    On Mon, Sep 3, 2018 at 6:09 AM Wandering through Time and Place wrote:

    > Curt Mekemson posted: ” It was always assumed that Bone— the diminutive > four-inch, five-ounce dynamo that was once part of a horse’s foot— would > one day return to his home along the PCT. What’s surprising is that it took > 40 years. He’s been riding along with me on my trek th” >

  2. So good to read you, Curt. Love the views from your temporary home. And the blue skies are better than when they are smoky. Bone doesn’t look its age on Ethan’s knee. Although I already knew about the challenging route emigrants took to reach California up and over Roller Pass I still get the goose bumps each time. Their resilience and hope were outstanding.
    Take care. Be safe. And stay warm too. Getting cooler up there now.

    • Getting cooler, yes! I switched out my light quilt for my heavier down sleeping bag. Toasty warm! Should have done it weeks earlier. There is something about wearing every stitch of clothing you have to bed every night that detracts from sleeping. 🙂 I’ve always been amazed by the hardships the emigrants underwent.
      I don’t think Bone has aged one iota! 🙂 Wish I had his secret. Thanks, Evelyne. –Curt

  3. I love that Ethan considers Bone an heirloom. Sounds like Bone has traveled much farther than he would have had he stayed intact with the rest of his counterparts. And maybe Ethan will continue on carrying Bone for more adventure?

  4. Such beautiful photos, Curt. Your writing on the area is simply marvelous. Glad to hear all is well.

    The care and consideration you have shown Bone in revisiting his origins is to be applauded. Your Grandson is correct in his assumption that Bone is an Heirloom in your family. It has been reported that Bone’s recent visit to his origins has secured his place in local history and legend. The sudden return, as sudden as his disappearance forty years ago, was celebrated by all species and spirits. Bone regaled and mesmerized with tales of all that he has seen, and heard were inspiring, transforming, and fantastical. Any lingering doubts, or cautionary tales told of what happens upon leaving are forever vanquished, his role of Hero established, and you might wish to check your pockets to see how many quietly left the area with you, determined that Bone’s and your visit was their own destiny.

    Be well dear friend. Aren’t you and Peggy having just the best of times! Thank you- JoHanna

    • I shared your comments with Bone, JoHanna. 🙂 He has indeed had a grand journey that most folks, even less so, bones, can only dream about. Joseph Campbell would have bee quite amused by Bone, and might just have turned him into a legend. Thanks, as always. –Curt

  5. You just may have the luckiest bone on the planet; after all, it’s seen more of the gorgeous northwest than I’ll ever see. And it didn’t have to walk on its own two feet (if it had had two feet)! I’m impressed with all you are doing and envious of all you are seeing. What a trip! Thanks for taking us all along for the walk.

    • Always glad to have you along on my journeys, Rusha, and vice-versa! Thanks. Bone was quite pleased to be out there. (grin) I made sure he had a front row seat. He is a bit spoiled, however. –Curt

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