HOB-nobbing on the PCT in the Mokelumne Wilderness

I was looking for the perfect camp location on Forestdale Creek when I noticed another man putting up a tent nearby. I went over to chat, or hobnob, so to speak.

The 65-year-old Hob McConville was on a mission: finish his second trip over the PCT. (His first trip had been back in 1976 when I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.) He had already hiked the Appalachian Trail twice, and the Continental Divide Trail once. He and his wife had walked across Europe three times. In other words, hiking long distances is pretty much what Hob does. He didn’t know whether he would do the Continental Divide again. Large bears, i.e. grizzlies, worry him. 

“I’ve camped under this beautiful sugar pine,” he informed me, “because it is my tent’s last night and I want to give it a good experience.” Obviously he liked his tent. In fact, it was well-loved, like a child’s teddy bear after five years of hard loving. The tent was literally falling apart at the seams and Hob had been repairing it with Post Office packaging tape. “My wife is meeting me at Echo Summit with a new tent,” he sighed, more sad than excited. Hob deeply believes that anything you purchase should be used until it is beyond use, and then a little longer.

I hated to tell him that his beautiful sugar pine was a white pine. I’m not sure why I did, except older mountain men like the two of us enjoy knowing our trees. He wanted to debate until I pointed out the cones. And the tree was a beauty, regardless of the type of cones it produced. I am sure that his tent felt well-honored. I wondered if Hob would take it home and bury it in his Connecticut backyard, like a favorite pet. Hob’s pack was in similar condition, but apparently it had a lot of miles left.

This gorgeous white pine with limbs askew sheltered Hob’s tent on its last night.
Hob’s backpack looked a bit threadbare, as well. But it hadn’t quite reached the status of being retired.

The next morning, our discussion turned to the PCT and Hob’s philosophy on long-distance hiking. “It shouldn’t be a race,” he proclaimed fervently. His feeling was that it was becoming more and more like one. He could foresee the day when companies like Nike might sponsor races to see who could finish the trail in the shortest amount of time. I agreed. Just completing the trail in a season leaves little time to appreciate the beauty of the region. Jumping from the already long 20-25 mile days to 30 or 40-mile days would make such appreciation much more difficult. I see nothing wrong with the pride through-hikers feel in finishing the trail; it is a pride well earned. And Hob was quite proud of his accomplishments. But the ultimate value of the hiking the PCT— beyond personal satisfaction and growth— is in experiencing nature and developing a commitment to protecting wilderness areas. The PCT is not a race track.

While the conversation had been stimulating, Hob had miles to go to meet up with his new tent (and wife), and I had more nature to go appreciate. We parted company with Hob heading north and me heading south. Here are some of the things I saw along the way.

No more than a quarter of a mile up the trail, I came on a beautiful flower garden that would make an English lord lust over having it on his estate. I promptly took a half hour off to admire it, which is time that few through-hikers could spare.
The garden was filled with a variety of flowers. I think that the daisy like flowers are asters. The yellow flowers are groundsel.
The aster-like flowers up close.
And the groundsel.
More groundsel.
Rock fringe.
And monkey flowers.
Not much farther along, I came on this small lake that demanded another 15 minutes of my time.

I passed a few more lakes and then the PCT did what the PCT always does. 

It headed up a mountain.

I met a young woman who was talking on her cell-phone with her brother. “I just saw a bear up the trail,” she told me breathlessly. I didn’t see the bear, but I did see…

Red elderberries…
Rabbit bush with an iridescent blue butterfly… 
A caterpillar chomping down on a leaf. When I tried for a closeup, it saw my shadow, assumed I was something wanting to eat it, and dropped to the ground.
Charteuse green on the rocks. This may not be Facebook, but I am lichen it!
A closeup of the lichen. A pretty rust-colored lichen is also found in the area.
I don’t have a clue what this plant is, but I am pretty sure it was left behind by a UFO-alien. I kept my distance.
Looking way down from the mountain I could see the Blue Lakes. The tiny dot on the road is a car.

The last time I had hiked through this area, we had walked around the lakes. The night before, one of my long time trekkers, Nancy Pape, had choked on pills. My friend Ken Lake had jumped in with the Heimlich Maneuver and saved her life. The time before, we had hiked out from the lakes to the small town of Markleeville, California and happened upon the Clampers holding their sacred initiation rites. Men were walking around with toilet seats over their necks shouting obscenities. They were quite upset that we had women along who witnessed the ceremony. The women were amused.

As I started down from the mountain, I came on this bunch of dead flowers that were reflecting the coming fall. I thought of it as a dried floral arrangement.
I also had a view of this Mokelumne Wilderness landmark that has been known from the days of the early pioneers up to today as the Nipple. Once again, smoke filled the skies.
I found a snag…
That pointed toward the Nipple.
And a tall, weird, flowering plant that is known as deer’s tongue. Why? I don’t know.
A close up of its greenish flowers.
Corn lilies are another plant with greenish flowers. These were backlit by the sun.
These are corn lily flowers.
I’ll close today’s post with this shot of hemlock trees silhouetted against the sky and forest. You can tell that they are hemlocks by the way their tops are bent.

NEXT POST: A walk down Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon and an exploration of the public art along the way. After that, I will do a post on Huichol art in PV and then another post on the PCT.

28 thoughts on “HOB-nobbing on the PCT in the Mokelumne Wilderness

  1. Yes, some hikers do make it a race. They raced past us when doing the Tasmanian wilderness hike. It seemed they were possessed with doing it in the shortest time. I don’t think they saw much. Great post, Curt.

  2. I think I’ve seen the UFO-alien plant up in the hills behind us here. I think “UFO-alien” is an excellent name for it. I hate it when I’m forced to rush through wild places. Luckily I don’t go there with anyone who fidgets during photo shoots!

  3. A glorious photo essay, Curt. I’m so glad you took the half hour to admire the flowers and share them here with us. The views from the mountain to the lake gives me vertigo but stunning sights! Ahh…Hob sounds like a great guy. I bet you could have chatted away for hours, swapping tales!

  4. Both you and this gentleman you met amaze me. Yes, bears would worry me. But so would getting tired on a trail and taking a much-needed nap only to find that things have gone awry. You’re better men for it, but oh, my. I do see why you hike even late in life. When else would you get to spend time examining closely the beauty of the world. Thanks for the detailed photos. And for letting me know that age is just an age.

    • It was hard out there, Rusha, more so than in the past, but ever so worth it. I will continue to enjoy the experience through my photos. Our aging is a reality that we can’t reverse. But we can slow it down. 🙂 Thanks. –Curt

      • All things considered, we’re doing pretty well. I just took another part-time position with my school district in addition to my Friends of Library work. It’s not hiking, but it’s also not sitting around on the sofa watching TV. Here’s to many more productive, enjoyable years! Happy holidays.

      • Thanks, Rusha. Sounds like you are more than keeping busy. I am often pulled into FOL activities since Peggy is president of the local branch. (Translate ‘when moving books is involved.’)
        I’ve never been very good at sitting around and watching TV. 🙂 Even then I have to have projects that I am working on. A very Happy New Year to you! –Curt

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