We’ve started our journey around America traveling over the country’s backroads while wearing masks like bandits. The beginning of the trip was in Fallon, Nevada, which might seem strange given that we live in Oregon. Getting to Fallon, however, involved traveling over I-5 and I-80, two of Americas busiest freeways. Freeways are to be avoided and ignored in this series— even though Peggy and I have to use them on occasion.
In Fallon, we climbed on Highway 50. Its claim to being the ‘loneliest road in America,’ gives it genuine backroad credentials. I’ll get back to it. There is much to tell about the legendary highway I grew up near. But given Covid-19, our two to three month backroads exploration is off to a rocky start— and there are few places in America rockier than Arches National Park. Peggy and I know. We took 572 photos of rocks there. Peggy promises you won’t have to look at all of them. But there will be quite a few. Grin. I love red rock country.
Today, I am going to start with just one, the famous Balanced Rock. Its total height is 128 feet. The boulder on top makes up 55 feet of its height and weighs in at 3500 tons. If you have been to Arches, the odds are you have a photo. Millions of tourists have stood and stared up at it in awe.
It stands as a testament to the fact that there is much more to see in Arches than just arches. A lot more. Geology is the reason for the park’s unique look. The rocks that make up Arches have been layed down over hundreds of millions of years under a wide range of circumstances ranging from deserts to seas. Their different makeup impacts how fast they erode and that leads to the fantastic rock sculptures and monuments seen through the park. There will be more on the geology in coming posts.
In addition to its unique look and geology, the thing that fascinates me about Balanced Rock is how its look changes drastically from different angles as you walk around it. And that is the subject of today’s photos.
NEXT POST: We’ll start at the beginning of the park with Wall Street, the Organ, and the Sheep.
Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is serious business for those who decide to backpack the 2650 miles from Mexico to Canada in one season. Think of it as hiking a 26-mile-marathon each day while carrying your food, water and camping gear on your back over mountains, across deserts, through snow, and every imaginable kind of weather. As such, it is not an exercise in wilderness appreciation; it’s an exercise in human endurance. It is one of the toughest, most grueling physical challenges in the world. People involved in can be forgiven if they don’t have time to stop and smell the flowers.
This isn’t to say they don’t have an appreciation for the incredibly beautiful country they are hiking through. It’s impossible not to. But this appreciation is limited. When Peggy and I were backpacking through the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon as part of my 750 mile trip, we met Big Red, a giant of a man who summarized it well. “I’ll camp on a beautiful lake,” he said, “and I’ll think, ‘Wow! I would love to spend a few days here.’ But I can’t. I have to get up the next morning in the dark and be on the trail by dawn. Otherwise I’ll never finish.”
I felt the pressure myself, even though I was moving along at around 15 miles a day. At 75, my shorter days were the equivalent of the longer days being hiked by the 20-40 year olds. I was glad I had my camera along and was committed to recording my journey with digital photos. It forced me to stop and smell the flowers— and to admire the beauty of my surroundings. Plus it was one hell of an excuse for a break even though I rarely allowed myself more than a minute or so to capture a subject and had mastered taking my camera out and putting it away while walking. (Okay, some subjects required 15-30 minutes!)
The flowers along the trail were gorgeous. I shared some of these when I blogged about the journey. I’ll be sharing more over the next few weeks as I use my photo-essay Wednesdays to feature pictures from the PCT. Enjoy.
FRIDAY’S POST: My final rock art post for now featuring petroglyphs from Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, Petrified Forest National Park and northern Nevada.
I’ve been hard at work on my next book: It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me. In it I tell stories from 50 years of wilderness adventures ending with my 750 mile backpack trip down the Pacific Crest Trail to celebrate my 75th birthday. I’ve reached the point now where I am about to embark on the last section, my hike down the PCT. In preparation I’ve been going through my photos of the trip for inspiration as well as to jog my memory.
As I reviewed photos, I was struck by the idea that they would make appropriate content for my Wednesday Photo Essays. Rather than follow my days, which I more or less did in the blogs I wrote about the adventure, I’ve decided it would be fun to do a categorical approach and look at flowers, trees (mainly dead trees that have unique personalities), rock formations including mountains, and streams and lakes. There may be other categories as well. Today, I am going to include trees and brush I found particularly interesting. (I have a lot more but will alternate with flowers, etc. to keep things interesting.)
FRIDAY’S POST: I am going to do a wrap on the petroglyphs from the Three Rivers National Petroglyph Recreation Area. (I still have two more petroglyph posts covering other areas we visited on our fall Southwestern tour.)
I know, I know… I promised to cover our train trip on this post but I got side-tracked (in more ways than one). On Saturday, I was diligently working away in our library writing about the cast of characters who ride the rails when I looked out the window and noticed three deer madly dashing around our yard with their tails straight up signaling “Danger! Danger! Danger!” They charged up the hill, jumped the five-foot fence into the neighbor’s yard, did a 180, flew over the fence again and disappeared into our canyon going all-out. If you’ve ever watched frightened deer running, you know how fast this is. Seconds afterwards they burst out of the canyon and repeated the process. I called Peggy in to watch.
“Something big that likes venison must be visiting and the deer smell it,” I speculated and suggested that the local cougar might be back.
A few minutes later the deer had hightailed it up the mountain. Our property, which is normally busy with deer, squirrels, numerous birds, and other wildlife, had become eerily silent. Even the ever-squawky jays that I depend on to tell me when dangerous predators— like the local cat— are about, were uttering nary a peep.
Since we needed to do our daily mailbox walk and a fair amount of snow from the storm that I featured in my last post hadn’t melted, I proposed we keep an eye out for cougar tracks. The walk is close to a mile with the mailbox being at the halfway point. We do a round trip, leaving by our back road and returning by our front road. There would ample opportunity to look for tracks.
We found them near the mailbox! I confess I felt a bit like the deer, ready to raise my tail and dash off.
We were on the homestretch, heading up the hill to our home when we saw the next set of tracks. They came out of the canyon and headed straight for our house. That added a bit of excitement (he noted in understatement). Peggy and I quickly checked around the house. Sure enough, the big cougar had wandered around in our backyard the night before and possibly onto the snowless section of our deck. If so, it would have been about six feet away from where we were sleeping. That’s Peggy’s side of the bed. (Grin)
Things were more or less back to normal on Sunday. The deer were back, a bit jumpy, but none-the-less munching away. The bird feeder was a circus with six species contending over who got the sunflower seeds. And three squirrels were busy chasing each other in a row with love on their minds. They shot up, down, and around trees nose to tail, nose to tail.
Monday, Martin Luther King’s Birthday, had a slight twist. There was no mail, so we decided to hike up into the forest where we had taken our snow hike. This time, however we would veer off to visit what we call the bear cave. Not that we’ve ever seen a bear; it’s an old gold mining operation. We named it the bear cave to give our grandkids more of a sense of adventure when they visited. I once took our grandson Cody up there when he was five on a bear hunt with our sling shots. He’d been excited to go on an adventure with Grandpa. The closer we had got to the cave the more reluctant he had become. We’d stood back from the cave and lobbed pellets in to scare the bear out.
This time, my lovely wife was the reluctant one. She suggested we go for a walk on the road instead. Could it be that the cougar had her spooked? I laughed and away we went up the mountain. We had made the cutoff when we saw a set of huge tracks heading in the general direction of the cave. Bear tracks. Peggy let me take a couple of photos before she insisted that we beat a hasty retreat.
Following are some photos of the various tracks we came across.
NEXT POST: The train trip! Unless, of course, someone else comes to visit. 🙂
It was in the fall of 1915 that I first had the idea that what I had been taught was of little value to me except for the use of my (art) materials as a language… I had been taught to work like others and after careful thinking I decided I wasn’t going to spend my life doing what was already done. –Georgia O’Keeffe in her autobiographical book on her art.
Georgia is on my mind. I had stopped off in Reno to check out the city’s River Walk on my road trip down Highway 395 this past summer when I saw a poster that the Nevada Museum of Art was featuring an exhibit on Georgia O’Keeffe titled Living Modern. There was no question in my mind. I had to go. O’Keeffe had been a favorite artist of mine ever since the 60s when I had been a student at Berkeley and first encountered her paintings of flowers. The exhibit in Reno was excellent, including several of her well-known works, but it also looked at her life, right down to her unique style of dress and the camping gear she carried when she made her painting expeditions into the remote parts of New Mexico.
One thing that surprised me at the museum was the number of photos of O’ Keeffe. Starting with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and including her friend, Ansel Adams, a number of world class photographers were enticed by her unique looks. It might be argued that she was the world’s first super model.
My visit to the Nevada Museum of Art started me thinking about our planned visit to the Southwest this fall. We would be traveling through O’Keeffe Country, as they call it in New Mexico. I —along with Peggy’s enthusiastic support— decided to make where she lived and what she painted one of the focuses of our trip, which we did. We stopped by the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, went to Taos where she was first introduced to New Mexico by Mable Dodge Luhan, and then visited her homes in Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch. Today, I am going to start at Taos with a post on the Rancho de Taos and the Church of San Francisco de Asis. Its considered a must stop for photographers and painters who visit the town.
Naturally, Peggy and I had to wander around Rancho de Taos and take our own photos. I included one of mine at the top of the post. Here are a few more.
Next Post: I’ll write about the unusual patron of the arts, Mable Dodge Luhan, who brought the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe and D.H. Lawrence to Taos. Peggy and I will visit the Taos Pueblo that was also painted by O’Keeffe and photographed by Ansel Adams.
There were times that communication with Curt was critical. For example: Circumstances sometimes required that I change my location from where we had agreed to meet. That’s where the trekker telegraph came in handy! Curt was hiking north to south while most through-hikers were traveling south to north. This meant that the majority of hikers I met at the trailhead would pass Curt along the way. Much to my delight, I could send messages with them. They had a true appreciation of just how difficult the hike was and were more than supportive of Curt’s adventure. They were also used to sharing information with fellow hikers. (It didn’t hurt that I bribed them with apples, apple juice, fresh water, peanut butter, scones and beer.) I’d give them his card with his photo and away they would go. The more worried I was, the more hikers I gave the message to. Curt laughingly told me when he came out at Burney Falls that he had heard I was in a new location some 13 times! Good thing, since I was several miles away from where he was expecting me. Laugh all you want, Curt.
I truly enjoyed getting to know the through-hikers. I was amazed at the variety of ages, genders, nationalities, repeat trekkers, segment trekkers, first timers, and seasoned hikers. They all had stories to tell and were glad to share. They also wanted to hear about Curt. We had a sign on the back of our van that featured his adventure.
The sign also drew people in at campgrounds and in the small towns where I shopped along the way. They would stop by to visit, ask questions, share personal or family stories about the PCT, and often ask how they might help out. I distributed lots of Curt’s cards.
Trail angels are people who volunteer to support trekkers by providing water, food, lodging, and transportation along the way. We met a great one in Seiad Valley. Jeanine had hiked the PCT, as had her son. She lived near Burney Falls and regularly supported through hikers on the 30-mile section south of the Falls where there wasn’t any water. She immediately offered to help Curt, becoming a friend to be cherished! I saw her again near Burney Falls where I had a fun lunch with her and her friends. Later, she and her husband joined both of us for pizza in Burney. Her information about the trail was invaluable. The lack of water combined with 105 F temperatures ultimately persuaded Curt to save the Burney section for another time, however.
Other people jumped in to help whenever help was needed. My friend Barbara and her husband Carl, long time hikers, gave us a ride to Mt. Ashland where we started the TMT. Tim and Sandra Holt in Dunsmuir, friends from Curt’s past, offered to let our nephew Jay leave his car at their home when Jay joined Curt for a 100-mile segment. My own trail angel activities paid dividends. One couple I had given a ride to, drove all the way to Sonora Pass just to check on me and to see if there was any news from Curt!
RV Angels is a new category! I made that one up but I have a few stories of campground hosts and RV Park hosts who helped me out. I was traveling without reservations for most of the trip as I needed the flexibility to be where I was needed most. The challenge was finding space. One host (in Chester) who had no open spaces heard my story, told me to wait a moment, made a call, and then returned to tell me she had a spot. That night she returned and said I could stay as long as I needed! Another host (in Burney Falls) offered her private phone number for emergencies and her private internet server so that I would have consistent service. Another host (Lake Tahoe/Truckee) squeezed me in between some big rigs and said she would find a spot for me if I needed to stay longer.
Several friendships were made. Some will continue to grow over the next few years. A favorite story is about Linda. I had just returned to Quivera (the van) and saw Linda with her quilting supplies, sewing machine, and materials spread out over the picnic table. Yes, I love quilting so, of course, I had to introduce myself and rave about her skill! Next thing I know we are sharing a glass of wine and just having a great time talking a mile a minute! She and her husband Pete were part of a local group that RV together. The men would go fishing and the women would quilt. Then all would party in the evening. Turns out she grew up in the Lassen NP area and still had a summer home. We agreed we would tackle Lassen Peak next summer. When we finally returned home in September, Linda had sent me the quilt that I had so admired. What a gem!
Then there was the homemade coconut cream pie. Jeanine and her friends had recommended a restaurant in Falls River. It was known for its coconut cream pie. Curt was excited; he loves coconut cream pie. Bad news, they were out. Good news, when the baker heard Curt’s story, she headed into the kitchen and made another pie!! Little things mean a lot. Curt claimed it was it best he has ever eaten. (I wonder if that had anything to do with eating backpacking food for weeks?)
Family connections:Yes, I worried about Curt on the trail. That is who I am. Our kids were great about checking in regularly. They were also receiving the evening messages from Spot, the GPS tracker, letting them know where Curt was and that all was well. What was best, though, was that our 13-year-old grandson Ethan joined Curt for one segment and Jay, our 30-year-old nephew, joined him for another. Now I could relax. A bonus came along with Ethan. Our daughter Tasha and her other son, Cody, joined me and we were able to play for a week.
Birthday at Castle Crags:Believe it or not, I have never spent my birthday alone! I LOVE birthdays and have turned mine into a day per decade celebration. So, this summer was a bit different. However, there were a few surprises. Of course, the kids called. Then I received a phone call from Jay and Curt who stopped on top of a mountain and discovered a cell signal. I had answered concerned about an emergency and was greeted by a stirring rendition of Happy Birthday to you! What fun! To celebrate, I then called our friend Sandra Holt and invited her to join me for train-car dining at the Railroad Park where the wait staff spoiled me rotten. OK, I really was not alone.
On being by myself:One afternoon I was enjoying a beautiful spot at my campsite in a forest campground about ten miles from Sonora Pass. Shaded by pine trees and enjoying incredible mountain views, I pulled out my guitar and softly sang and played my favorite folk songs (Think 60s-70s.) I noticed a father and daughter standing behind the van and listening discretely. When I picked up some artistic word searches I had been designing, the two of them approached. The father said his daughter had a question: Was the TMT sign on the van true? Yes. Then what did I do with myself each day?
It was a good question. I had never really traveled on my own in the RV. There was plenty of down time while I waited for Curt. My day included reading (lots), playing the guitar, writing a daily journal, creating artistic word searches (the daughter got quite excited about this and offered to test them for me!), following the news, keeping the RV resupplied, researching campgrounds, hiking, and supporting Curt. I used social media when I had an internet connection to keep up with friends and my responsibilities as President of the Friends of Ruch Library.
Hiking alone in the woods by myself was also a first. Walking 2 to 3-miles daily on local trails wasn’t a problem. Longer hikes presented a bit more of a challenge. First, I had to get used to the quiet. Then there was the expectation of encountering large, furry animals on my own. Deer fine. The mama bear and her two cubs was another story— especially when they decided to walk toward me. Being directionally challenged, I am always concerned about getting lost. I paid real close attention every time the trail split, carried a whistle, and loaded up with water and snacks. My conclusion, I love hiking but I prefer to hike with Curt. (Grin.) We finished off our adventure by backpacking together in the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon.
This wraps up my observations. I was reminded that being back in nature does rebalance the mind. The think time and quiet time when wandering in the woods cannot be matched. There is a good reason that Curt and I are soulmates. So, here’s to our next adventure. I am thinking the PCT in Oregon deserves much more of our attention!
Curt knew I would be nervous without detailed planning of trails, mileage, rendezvous points, and alternatives. With 50 years of backpacking experience including planning, organizing and leading backpack treks for 30, he is something of an expert on the subject. Having a GPS/Spot Gen 3 tracker along was a new experience for him, however. He could upload his location each night via satellite and I could track his progress on my maps. He could also use Spot to signal for emergency help if needed and carried a cell phone, which he could use in the rare times he had cell service or if he had to hike out for some reason.
Then there was the unexpected— lack of water, smoke, fire, and possible injuries on the trail plus my challenges on the road of finding campgrounds and spaces near trailheads, power outages, limited cell service, and RV repair issues.
The first part of the trek introduced us to water shortages! Following mountain ridges over much of its length, the PCT is noted for its limited supply. The mild winter of 2017-18 with its lack of snow fall in the Siskiyous, Cascades and Sierras made it worse. Streams that would normally have been running through July were dry. Springs were sometimes a mere trickle. Even though we had downloaded the most recent information from the PCT site on water sources, the situation was changing rapidly. Our first day on the trail from Mt. Ashland proved the point.
We had planned a 10-mile day since it was our first day out. There had been sufficient water over the first seven miles. It wasn’t the case when we came to our planned camp site. Curt parked me in a pleasant location and took our water bottles down into the canyon where a stream was located. And came back empty. The stream was dry. “The map shows that there’s a spring in about a quarter of a mile off on a side road,” he announced. “We can camp there.” I loaded my pack and away we went. The spring was also dry. Have I mentioned that I was getting grumpy? Our options now appeared to be hiking three miles back or three miles ahead on the trail. “Let’s try farther down the canyon,” he suggested as a third alternative. I dutifully followed along. Fortunately, we hit water in a half mile. Curt’s experience with all-things-woodsy had paid off. The creek, by the way, was the headwaters of the Applegate River, which runs past our front yard.
We had just set up our tent when crashing thunder announced a deluge. I made it inside dry. Curt came in soaked. Mother Nature was having fun at our expense!
The greatest surprise and challenge was fire and smoke. The thought of making a fast exit ahead of a fire was always on our minds, but smoke was the main problem. Curt’s many years of working with the American Lung Association had educated him to the danger. “Wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs, especially for children, older adults and those with asthma, COPD and bronchitis or a chronic heart disease or diabetes,” ALA warns. “I resemble one of those categories,” Curt said. Older people are to stay inside and avoid strenuous exercise. Ha!
Fires started to impact the plan as soon as Castle Crags and smoke changed the trail plan totally in Chester when we couldn’t see a hundred yards into the forest. As Curt has shared on his blog, he had to alter his journey to avoid the worst of smoke and fire. Was I worried? Yes! The most difficult situation encountered was at Sonora Pass. I awoke the morning I was to meet him there to learn that a new fire had started on the far side of the pass. As I waited, I watched the smoke billowing from the fire grow larger and larger. When Curt hadn’t arrived several hours after I expected him, I became quite concerned. Fortunately, a long skinny fellow with the trail name of Bone came hiking up to our RV.
“You must be Peggy,” he said. When I responded yes, he told me that he had passed my missing buddy on the trail. Curt had asked him to pass on the information that he was fine and should be along in an hour or two. Much relieved, I settled in to wait and invited Bone to charge his cell phone in our van and have a cold beer. After Curt’s safe arrival (he tells the story in his blog), we drove to an RV campground for the night and learned that the pass and the PCT trail had been closed after we left!
While Curt was facing challenges out on the trail, I also had my share doing back up. As I mentioned earlier, I’d had lots of experience in camping with the RV. But I was a newbie at camping alone. Fires and lightning caused outages at campgrounds and RV parks, cell phone service was often spotty, And Quivera, our RV, demanded attention. Internal lights, the awning, and the air conditioning unit all had issues.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. We’d just find a shop that serviced RVs. But the local shops had a common response: “If you have a problem, call 30 days in advance for a reservation.” Does anyone else see a problem here? Repairs were up to me. Fine. The awning jammed, my solution? U-tube! I fixed it. Internal lights out? I read the manual, rewired the one I needed to read by and decided to let the other three go. AC servicing: well, other than pumping out playa dust from Burning Man— a forever problem— it was still working. Why worry?
There was a good ending to my efforts to find an RV service shop. I stopped by Camping World in Rockland near Sacramento and talked with the service staff. One of them walked out with me, confirmed that I would need to replace the awning eventually but told me bungee cords were a great temporary solution. He then replaced all the lights for me. Last but not least, he told me how to flush the AC with a hose. There was no charge for his good advice and help!
Next up: I will talk about the help that was generously offered to me along the way and a unique way of communicating with Curt: The Trekker Telegraph. Bone was a good example.
When Curt first shared that he wanted to celebrate his 75thbirthday hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was not surprised. He has 50 years of backpacking experience and loves wandering in the woods. Then he added the 1000-mile goal. That surprised me! There were so many questions. Reading about the challenges faced by Bill Bryson in A Walk in the Woodsand Cheryl Strayed in Wildadded more. Their combined ages when they started their adventures was less than Curt’s. The conversations and planning began.
The first question was, can we (yes, we) physically do this? I had every intention of joining Curt on the trail whenever possible. He had introduced me to backpacking in 1980 and I, too, had fallen in love with the sport. But there was this age thing— for both of us. I’m 68, a child bride perhaps from Curt’s perspective, but not in the reality of miles traveled in life. Off we went for a week’s backpacking trial run on the 40-mile Rogue River Trail. Other than Curt falling down a cliff (well, only 20 feet head first) after his trekking pole collapsed, suffering minimal damage to his arm, and bouncing back on the trail, it was a beautiful adventure and a confirmation that we could still backpack longer distances with a bit of practice and preparation.
The next question was how much could I backpack with Curt and still provide support along the way? I was to be his ‘trail angel’ in PCT lingo. I’d be driving our 22’ Pleasure Way RV/van as the support vehicle. We had been traveling in it for years sharing driving responsibilities, so I was confident I could manage. It was to be my first solo trip, however! My job included carrying three months of food and other backpacking necessities and resupplying Curt between trail segments. There was the fine print of course— and other duties as required (grin).One was that I’d greet Curt with a big smile, a hug, and a cold beer when he came off each segment. Given that my young/old husband had survived another 70 to 100 miles of backpacking through the wilderness over challenging terrain, the smiles and hugs were really easy! My presence would also offer a comfortable break from the trail and provide the flexibility of changing mileage, timelines, and length of breaks if needed. It was an advantage that few PCT hikers have. Curt is spoiled rotten, what can I say.
Realistically, I would not be able to backpack much of the way without someone moving the van from Point A to Point B. However, we could backpack the first segment together from Mt. Ashland to Seiad Valley which would be a great confidence builder for both of us. The rest we would figure out on the run! Once we hiked into Seiad Valley, 6 days and 60 miles later, I was assured Curt could do anything he put his mind to! (So could I.) Still, waving goodbye to him as he left Seiad Valley on his first solo segment up through the Marble Mountains was hard. “If you don’t come out, Curt, I am coming in after you,” I told him and meant it. He had looked nervous and said, “Call Tony first.” I am geographically challenged when it comes to finding my way around in the woods. Tony is our Coast Guard pilot son who has participated in numerous rescue operations.
NEXT POST: When the unexpected happens along the PCT. Peggy’s perspective: Part 2.
Our son Tony, his wife Cammie and our grandkids are visiting from Florida and wanted to go skiing, so we took them up to Mt. Ashland, which is where I started my journey south on the Pacific Crest Trail this past summer. It was a gorgeous day with lots of fresh snow so I thought I would share some of the photos.
NEXT POST: A wrap up on Burning Man’s mutant vehicles.
I was late, like the white rabbit, for a very important date. Peggy was waiting for me at Sonora Pass and I had miscalculated the distance and difficulty of the trail. The night before I had found this lovely little campsite on the edge of a creek that I couldn’t resist. Later, as large ashes began falling on my tent, I began to question the wisdom of my decision. The 97,000 acre Ferguson fire near Yosemite and the 229,000 acre Carr fire near Redding that had been filling the skies with lung-choking smoke for the past month were now contained. Another fire was lurking out there— close by somewhere — and it was suggesting that I get on down the trail.
My goal, I decided, would to be get up at four and on the trail by five. But sleep had been as elusive as my knowledge about the fire. My eyes had popped open around 6:30. There would be no early start. The good news was that the smoke had partially cleared. All that remained of my previous night’s threat was a thin layer of ash. By 8:00 I was fed, watered, packed and raring to go. I figured the 1000-foot, three-mile drop into the East Fork of the Carson River would fly by. I figured wrong. The last part of the trail was steep and narrow over loose rock. It was not the type of trail that one flies over, at least not at 75 . I was ever so glad that I hadn’t tackled it the evening before when I was tired.
It was with relief that I began hoofing up the Carson River. While I had a 2500 foot climb ahead of me up to 10,000 feet, the first part of the trail was relatively gentle. I was making good time when a small root hiding out in the shade caught the toe of my boot and I went crashing down. This wasn’t one of those stumbles where you catch yourself, or at least slow your fall. It was a nose crunching, glass breaking fall. Thankfully, I bounce well. Lying there face down in the dirt, I reached up and touched my nose. It was solid and not spurting blood, although my finger came away bloody. Even my glasses had survived without a scratch. I picked myself up, shook the shock out of my head, and babied the scratch on my nose.
Right about then a through-hiker came hurrying by, going in my direction, moving out. We said hi as he disappeared down the trail. A thought passed my mind. “Can I ask a favor,” I called out to his disappearing back. He stopped immediately and walked back.
“My wife Peggy is waiting for me at Sonora Pass, I explained, “and I am running a couple of hours behind time. I know she will be worried. Could you carry a message for me?” I figured he would be there by mid-afternoon.
“Sure,” had been his response. I provided the details and we introduced ourselves using our trail names. “I’m Bone from Portland,” he told me. I imagined a small squeak in my pack and yanked Sierra Bone out. I made the introductions. “Bone meet Bone,” I said. Naturally there had to be a photo of Bone with Bone.
Relieved that Peggy would get the word that I was alive and well, I continued my journey and started the slow, steep climb out of the river canyon. I spotted a couple near the top who were off the trail eating a snack. One called out, “You must be Wanderer,” she said. “Your wife is worried about you.” Of course. Turns out Camilla and Bastien were from Leon, France and Peggy had met them while they were waiting for resupply at Sonora Pass. She had fed them scones loaded down with peanut butter. Peggy, Camilla explained, was concerned because the parking lot closed at five and she would have to move. Bastien chipped in that he didn’t think I would get there in time.
I wasn’t concerned. I had two hours and it was only four miles. Still, I moved out and made it in a little over an hour. Bone was waiting with Peggy when I arrived. She had offered our van to charge his phone. He was enjoying a beer. While Peggy got me one, Bone and I discussed the wind we had encountered up on the mountainside. He had put his pack down and barely caught it as the wind had pushed it down the narrow trail toward the edge. My pack was fine but the wind had almost sent me tumbling off the cliff. We estimated that there were gusts between 50 and 60 miles per hour. I’d had to lean in toward the mountain to keep my balance.
The wind was having another impact as well, pushing a fire up the mountain. As we watched, a small plume of smoke had grown to cover half of the sky. It was the Donnell fire that had dropped ashes on my camp the night before. It was frightening to think of being out on the trail facing a fire pushed by 60-mile an hour winds. An hour after we left, the Sonora Pass road was closed. The next day, the PCT was closed between Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass, the trail I had just hiked.
The following photos are taken along the Pacific Crest Trail between Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass traveling south.
NEXT POST: You met the large mutant vehicle animals of Burning Man in my last post, now it is time to meet the small mutant vehicle animals.
The Bush Devil Ate Sam is an important record and a serious story, yet told easily, and with delightful humor. This is one of the most satisfying books I have ever read, because it entertained me thoroughly AND made me feel better informed. —Hilary Custance Green: British Author... Click on the image to learn more about my book, the Bush Devil Ate Sam, and find out where it can be ordered.
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