Hiking on the PCT at 75… Carson Pass to Sonora Pass: Part 3

As a year filled with seemingly insurmountable national and international problems draws to a close, my mind turns to the beauty and the peace of my 700 mile journey down the PCT this past year. The issues of the everyday world fade as you are hiking up a mountain, providing a different perspective on what is important. As the renowned naturalist John Muir noted, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” 

There were tough days out there— as tough as any I have ever faced— but even the most difficult were countered by the beauty of the areas I hiked through. It was a beauty that ranged from towering mountains down to the cheerful monkey flower above. Today, I will continue to share that beauty in my third post about the Pacific Crest Trail between Carson Pass and Sonora Pass in the central section of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

Thistles are often thought of as invasive weeds, something to be chopped down or poisoned out. It is hard to think of this fellow as anything other than a beautiful wild flower.
I caught this Sierra thistle in full bloom.
When I backpack by myself, as I was on this section of the trail, I try to find secluded campsites. To me, it is much more of a wilderness experience. I lucked out with this little no-name lake. I had it to myself and there was no sign of people recently camping in the area. It was a bit of a challenge to climb out on these rocks and dip up my water, however. (grin)
The lake provided some great reflection shots, capturing the surrounding forest. They ranged from this impressionistic view…
To clearer views.
As evening approached, thunderheads suggested I might be in for a rip-roaring thunder and lightning storm. I put on my rainfly.
I would have much preferred that to what I got. I woke up in the middle of the night to the strong smell of smoke creeping into my tent. I climbed out to make sure that there were no flames about! As it turned out, smoke from the Redding fire to the north and the Yosemite fire to the south had caught up with me. Above is how my little lake looked in the morning.
And as I hiked down the trail through the Mokelumne Wilderness.
Whenever smoke blocked views of the surrounding mountains during my hike down the PCT, I focused on closer views, like this massive granite boulder that was likely left behind by a glacier.
This sign made me smile. It was a good thing that I knew which direction I was traveling.
A gnarled tree caught my attention. I can’t help but think of hobbits and elves when I find such trunks.
Junipers can almost always be depended on to have unique personalities.
Rabbit brush provided a burst of color.
As I made my way south, some impressive mountains came into view. Checking my map, I found I would soon be climbing them, naturally.
And up I went, through the still smokey air. My 75 year-old lungs were not happy.
As through-hikers say, it is what it is, however, so I hiked on—and on— into some fascinating rock country, that I will feature on my next PCT post.

NEXT POST: Some thoughts on the New Year.

40 thoughts on “Hiking on the PCT at 75… Carson Pass to Sonora Pass: Part 3

  1. Your post is so beautiful Curt and I so understand you and John Muir when you talk
    about what the wilderness gives. I am enchanted with your beautiful photos and
    smiled when I saw the striking Thistle. I have a bigger Meadow area at my place in
    Sweden and it has just these same thistles. Tall and shining they stand there.

    Sad about the smoke but glad you are o.k.


    • Thank you, Miriam. A lot. One can never capture all of the beauty out there, but there is so much that you can capture some. Especially if you pay attention. Thistle grow on our property in Oregon as well. –Curt

  2. Curt I wondered if at any time you felt you were in danger from the fires? Or was the smoke just drifting in from a far distance? Your 700 mile hiking adventure astounds me, inspires me and makes me believe most anything is possible. Inspire on and we will be following.

    • When I came out at Sonora Pass, Sue, a new fire had just started up. I got out before it became a real threat, but in an hour or so, the story might have been different. Peggy picked me up and the roadway closed 30 minutes after we got off the pass. The PCT would have been closed in a similar time frame, I suspect. Anyway, it was closed when I checked the next day. And thanks much. 🙂 –Curt

  3. HA! that 3rd one reminds me of the fiery Christmas cartoon character “Heat Miser”
    Been out pulling up a few far too early dandelion weed in the yard before the net cold front – we are bouncing between heat and chilling rain…so the lovely flowers and rabbit bush are a nice break from the mud here.

    • So I went and googled ‘Heat Miser,’ Phil. And you are right! The only thing that gets pulled up around here is star thistle. Nasty stuff. Do you have it? Cool and cloudy out here now, but the weather people are promising some better weather this week The flowers work for me, as well! –Curt

  4. Here in Australia, it would not just be fires but flies that could deter one from hiking. There is not a creature in the world that is as persistent as the Australian fly. I remember standing in front of Uluru at the centre of Australia and busloads of tourists just admired this large rock from within the confines of their buses, a fly-free zone. Outside the flies were in a rage trying to find an opening in my fly-net wrapped around my face. We went on a hike there and one day I ate 27 flies!.
    Your hike is so beauty inspiring, Curt. What a great photographic feast.

    • Ah, I am thinking of our horse fly and the TseTse fly of East Africa, both nasty creatures and very hard to kill. I ran into horse flies on my trip. And yellow jackets, and mosquitoes, and small flies that like to hang out around your eyes, of which I ate a bunch (like you :)) I’ll be sure to carry my netting when I visit Australia!
      The beauty makes up for it all, Gerard. –Curt

  5. Beautiful, pristine lake. I imagine the water was cool and refreshing. God, the fires and smoke have been so intense! I love the thistles… from a distance! And the gnarled tree does look to be the home to many wonderful little creatures.

    • I suspect lots of little creatures did make that tree home, Arati! Ice cold springs, streams, and lakes along the way are always welcome. I do miss the old days when we never had to filter our water, however. Thistles do have thorny personalities. 🙂 –Curt

  6. Blimey, the smoke looks bad and scary. Did you know it was a safe distant away from you? I can definitely see how it would be preferable to wake to a downpour. Ahh…I love the character of tree trunks and you’ve given us a couple of treats here… the gnarled one is my favourite. A perfect post for a grey cold December morning which allows me to dream of faraway travels! 😀

    • Not always, Annika. It was always a topic of conversation among through-hikers, however. And the forest service was very good at closing trails if their was any danger.
      My next post features a number of junipers, always a candidate for unique looks (and some fun rock formations). Plus more sunshine for cold, wintry, days. 🙂 –Curt

  7. That lake was certainly a lucky find. I always try to find solitary campsites as well. My point when backpacking is to get into the wilderness, not go hang out with more people. I can relate to the instinct to think of Hobbits and elves and dwarves and faeries when I see places in the wilds that I think might suit them.

    • I was surprised at how social the through-hikers were. I had expected more of a solo experience from them. And the books/maps have recommended campsites. They were almost always occupied, especially if water was involved. My years of leading groups, gave me all of the group camping I needed. 🙂 It isn’t hard to find the forest ‘magical.’ –Curt

  8. The PCT marker with arrows pointed in both directions reminded me of Lake Jackson, a town just down the road from me. It was a planned community, built in the 1940s. The short story is that Dow Chemical wanted to build a plant, needed housing for workers, and decided a brand new town was the answer.

    While they were laying it out, some unexpected problems arose — like a shortage of creative street names. Finally, in desperation, two primary arteries were named “This Way” and “That Way.” As you drive through town, you cross both of them, and yes, they do meet: at the Lake Jackson Historical Museum.

    • Now that is a story I like, Linda. Someone had a sense of humor. Most PCT markers were a little more directive. But there were a couple of times that had me scratching my head and getting out my compass. Once I even went a quarter of a mile in the wrong direction. Fortunately, I stopped and said ‘this can’t be right.’ –Curt

  9. Loved following your adventures on the PCT! We lucked out this summer with most of the smoke heading away from us. The previous summer was bad enough. We drove up into the Siskiyous a couple of days ago and were glad to see some humongous slash piles have been burned during some rainy days recently. Some of those piles were the size of a two-story house. A bit too close to our house for comfort, too! Seems that the talk I’ve been hearing about controlled burns hasn’t just been blowing smoke (so to speak)! The step-kids living in the Rogue Valley said the smoke this past summer was horrific.

    • The step-kids were absolutely right. Fortunately I missed that. Just got to breathe smoke from other fires. Controlled burns are happening around here too, sigh. It’s beautifully clear now, however. –Curt

  10. I love the thistle! And the little lake you had to yourself is so serene. I would have been a nervous wreck out there with wildfires in the area. Happy New Year to you and Peggy!

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