Winding Down the Journey… Hiking on the PCT at 75

Some trail names are really obvious. Take Big Red, for example. Peggy and I met him in the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon.

 

Big Red from San Diego towered over my 5’11” height, putting him somewhere up in the stratosphere. Peggy and I met him along the PCT in the Three Sisters Wilderness area of Oregon. He had been hiking for 2,000 miles. “This is my first and last through hike,” he informed us. “There are times,” he explained, “when I camp on a beautiful lake and would love to stay there. But I can’t. I have to keep moving. I have to get in my 25 miles for the day.” Otherwise, he might not be able to finish the trail before winter storms hit northern Washington.

There is something close to heroic about completing the 2600 miles of the PCT in a year. Sacrifices have to be made— like not enjoying the incredible beauty of the trail as much as you might like. Red had also made another sacrifice.  His walking sticks were encased in balsa wood that he had planned to carve. But it wasn’t to be. “I’m just too tired at night,” he told us.

Big Red posed for a photo with me, making me feel small.

I understood both sentiments all too well. It’s just hard. At 75, I found hiking 15 miles a day exhausting. In fact, the day and a half breaks I had planned between segments of the trail to allow my body time to recover weren’t long enough. I realized this as I made my way up the humongous hill leaving Interstate 5 going south. I was fine for the first three hours. After that, it was all I could do force one foot in front of the other. I had just completed hiking 100 miles from Etna Summit to Castle Crags and my body was threatening to go on strike. I loaded up on water and decided to dry camp when I reached the top instead of hiking on to the next source. I was cooking dinner on my ultralight propane stove when I found myself nodding off, unable to keep my eyes open. Not good! Can you imagine how dangerous that was given the bone-dry condition of the forests? Three massive forest fires this summer within 50 miles of where I was camping have proved the point.

The thought of creating a life-threatening fire that would burn tens of thousands of acres if my small stove was accidentally knocked over woke me up like a bucket of ice water. It also forced me to rethink my schedule. I would reduce the number of miles I was traveling each day and increase the number of layover days I would take between hiking segments of the trail. If I didn’t make my 1,000-mile goal, so be it. There was another factor as well. I really did want to enjoy the beautiful lakes, and mountains, and trees, and flowers and rocks and streams. That had been my reason for returning to the wilderness again and again throughout my life. And it was my reason for being out there at 75.

Fires and smoke continued to be a reality of my hike, as it has been for all PCT hikers this year. I jumped from northern California to Central California and back to Northern California in an unsuccessful search of clear skies. As my journey wound down, I had a decision to make. Would I head toward Yosemite and the John Muir Trail or would I go elsewhere? There really wasn’t time to finish the JMT and I had hiked it several times over the years, so I opted for the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon. I’d never been there plus Peggy would be able to backpack with me. We would finish our adventure as we had started it, backpacking together in Oregon. It was a great decision. The area is drop dead beautiful.

Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood as seen from the Three Sisters Wilderness, which features another three volcanoes of the Cascade chain in Oregon.

I came off the trail last week with close to 700 miles behind me. It has been an incredible experience and I will continue to post blogs on it for the next month. Plus, I’ll start writing the book that will tie this summer’s adventure together with several other backpacking experiences I have had over the years.

Today, I will continue with my trip between Donner Pass and Echo Summit that I started to blog about last week with an exploration of the Granite Chief Wilderness behind Squaw Valley.

My grandson Ethan and I started our journey through the Granite Chief Wilderness with a trip up the Squaw Valley tram. Squaw Valley was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. I used this same tram system when I began my first 100 mile backpack trip in 1974.

The ride provides great views of the granite that forms the backbone of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Once again, smoke from Northern California forest fires filled the air, promising to obscure our views and poison our lungs. Fortunately, the smoke was limited and we even experienced some ‘clear’ days.

Peggy took this photo of Ethan and me at the end of the tram ride, ready to tackle our first mountain.

Our goal for the day was a short hike over to Little Needle Peak and Lake, both shown here. The lake is a mile or so off the PCT on a little used trail that we had to search for. I’ve camped on the lake several times over the years.

Another reflection shot. Ethan and I were camped in the trees to the right.

Bear scat and other bear sign was everywhere! I wondered if our food would survive. A black bear had ripped open this dead tree to go after the carpenter ants inside. Ethan and I were intrigued by the labyrinth the ants had carved out of the tree. It was worthy of a fantasy novel, or a Greek myth.

This caterpillar had tethered itself to the same tree and was making a cocoon. The claw marks above and beside the caterpillar were left behind by the bear.

The PCT drops into a canyon going south from Squaw Valley. A month earlier, this field of mule ears would have been yellow with flowers. But now they were drying out, predicting the coming fall.

As the PCT returned to crest and climbed above the Five Lakes Basin behind Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, Ethan and I  continued down the canyon and followed Five Lakes Creek down to Diamond Crossing. Whiskey Creek Camp greeted us a quarter of a mile after we left the trail. Starting in the early 1900s, the camp had served as a resupply point for Basque sheep herders who were running flocks in the area.

Ethan provides perspective on the height of the door in the cabin. I explained to him that the horseshoe above the door was for good luck.

Fresh bread, baked in this oven, was on the resupply list for the Basque Sheepherders.

The PCT is like a freeway working its way from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. In comparison, most other trails are like country roads. The route along Five Lakes Creek would qualify as a rarely used dirt road— my kind of trail! This late summer meadow had turned to California gold. The Sierra thistles in the foreground were going to seed.

As was this Sierra thistle.

Backlit by the sun.

The seeds are disbursed. Another year in the life of a Sierra thistle is over.

One challenge of hiking in August in the Sierras is that water sources dry up. This can become a real problem along the PCT, which is noted for its lack of water to begin with.

Fortunately, more water can be found hiking among creeks and lakes at lower elevations. Welcome water greeted us at Bear Pen Creek. (I’ve always wondered about the name.)

A close up.

Less water does make for easier stream crossings. The rocks here provided our bridge across Five Lakes Creek.

An old tree blaze on a downed snag would have been used to mark the trail in earlier times.

Bark had grown over this blaze, which is very rare.

A ‘whirlpool’ of wood caught my eye.

Leaving Diamond Crossing, we followed Powderhorn Creek for four miles as it made its way up a very steep canyon toward Barker Meadows where we would rejoin the PCT. I think we counted two switchbacks on the whole trail. It was definitely not the well-graded PCT!

A basalt cliff entertained us along the way. I was teasing Ethan about having to climb it.

The hexagonal basalt columns are similar to Devil’s Postpile. These columns are formed when thick layers of flowing basalt cool slowly.

Photographing goldenrod also offered a break from the hard climb. It was one of the few flowers we found in bloom.

Ethan celebrated when we reached the top.

While I found other interesting rocks to photograph. I thought the outcrop looked a bit like a Scotty dog.

A couple of days later I found one in the clouds!

Back on the PCT, we found more flowers in a spring area. Ethan urged me to take his photo next to the monkshood. “My mom likes purple,” he explained. (Tasha has lots of purple clothes.)

When we reached Richardson Lake the next day, Ethan’s foot was beginning to hurt. Apparently, he had a minor sprain.

Leaving the lake, it hurt more. A few more miles down the trail, we decided that hiking out seemed to be the best decision. We returned to the lake and followed a jeep trail that would take us down to Lake Tahoe.

We were fortunate to flag down a group of jeepers. It turns out they were from Motor Trend Magazine and were filming a TV special on taking a stock 1970s jeep and a stock pickup truck over the Rubicon Trail, one of the toughest jeep roads in the world, made famous by the annual Jeepers Jamboree. Bruce, who generously provided us with a ride, told us that it had taken a full day just to go three miles!

Ethan displays the ankle that I had bandaged. Not a bad job, I thought.

Reunited with his mom, Tasha, his little brother, Cody, and Peggy, the family hangs out above Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay.

NEXT POST: I’ll focus on Desolation Wilderness and Peggy and I will take Bone back to where Tom Lovering and I discovered him in 1974!

 

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

 

 

 

From Etna Summit to Castle Crags: The Photography of Jay Dallen… Backpacking the PCT

This little fellow decided to visit with Jay and landed on his finger. I might add, he did not want to leave. I had experienced this several time in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. I think the butterflies liked the salt on our skin created by sweating our way up and down mountains! (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

 

It’s a wrap, as they say in the movie industry. Today is my last post on Etna Summit to Castle Crags, and then I will be moving on to the trek from Castle Crags to Burney Falls. As promised, I am going to feature my nephew Jay’s perspective on the trip, since he hiked the hundred miles with me. He sent some 1400 photos he had taken on his iPhone! I had to increase my Drop Box space to accommodate them all. (grin)

Jay works as a cameraman in Hollywood and has a good eye for photography. (He also works as a director, which is where he wants to end up.) I’ve selected 30 photos from the 1400. I continue to be amazed at the quality that can be achieved with cellphones.

Note: Many of these photos will seem familiar since Jay and I often photographed the same subjects, like the frog, for example.

Jay spotted this frog at a spring and we both took photos of it. I was convinced that it liked to pose. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

This fat caterpillar that was busy devouring leaves also caught our attention. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

An ancient snag was brought into the modern world by a jet contrail streaking across the sky. It’s unlikely that jets, or even propeller-driven airplanes, were invented when it was a youngster. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

This snag entertained us for at least 20 minutes. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

We were both kept busy taking photographs of Mt. Shasta. Jay included me in this one, hat in hand, so to speak. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

A Trinity Alps lake (I believe it is one of the Boulder Lakes) points toward the distant Mt. Shasta.(Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Trees in shadows can make dramatic photos. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

As does the contrast between light and dark with this snag sculpture being set off by the sun on the grass in the foreground. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

And these shadow trees framing the white snag. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Sun on the PCT in the foreground and white clouds in the background served to set off the dark forest with its tall pine tree between. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Shadowy trees add drama to dark clouds as the sun breaks through. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Sunlight illuminating the green moss helped to light up this photo of a twisted snag. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Did Jay take as many photos of flowers as I did? Hard to say, but he took plenty. A stark, burned forest provides the backdrop for this columbine closeup. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Jay spent a lot pf time on his back shooting up. It worked well for these tiger lilies. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Neither of us could resist the yellow lupine. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Or the marsh mallows. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Corn lilies about to bloom… (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

And corn lilies blooming. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Azaleas. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

And, Bigelow’s sneeze weed. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

“Crest” is the defining word in Pacific Crest Trail, and hiking along the crest can be depended on to provide awe-inspiring views, such as this one in the Trinity Alps. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

And the Castle Crags… (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Including this ‘Sound of Music’ shot of the Crags. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

A fun tent photo of Jay’s tent. I, too, was carrying a Big Agness tent. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

I’ll conclude with this selfie that Jay took of the two of us with Castle Crags in the background, and… (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Of himself. (Photograph by Jay Dallen.)

Want more? Jay’s photography can be found at: https://www.instagram.com/jaydallen/

 

Here’s an update for those who are following along on my journey. After finishing the Carson to Sonora Pass section of the PCT, I doubled back to pick up the Granite Chief and Desolation Wilderness section west of Lake Tahoe. I had promised my 13-year-old grandson, Ethan, that I would take him through the area where I had led many 100-mile and 100-kilometer backpack trips in the 70s. We had great fun. Ethan is a real trooper. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle about 34 miles in and we had to bail. (We were ‘rescued’ by a TV crew, but that is for a later post.)

And how far did we travel? Two of our days included hiking from below the distant peak to where Ethan is standing.

When Fire and Smoke Strike along the Pacific Crest Trail… (Plus more photos from Section P)

Smoke from the Carr fire out of Redding plus smoke from a nearby Susanville fire impact the PCT near Chester, California

Up until now, I’ve been lucky in avoiding fires on my hike down the PCT to Mt. Whitney from Southern Oregon. Certainly this was true of Section P that I have been featuring in my last few posts. Jay and I had a couple of days of minor smoke from fires near the Oregon border, but as my photos have shown, most of our trip was either beautifully clear or only slightly hazy. My luck continued all the way through Lassen National Park to Highway 36 and Chester (close to half of my trip). The Carr fire near Redding and several other Northern California fires have changed that.

It seems like the whole West is burning, a phenomenon that has become all too common. And it’s no stranger to those who hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Tinder dry forests, excessive heat, low humidity, strong winds, lightning, and people careless with fire are all factors. A small blaze can quickly escalate into a conflagration that consumes hundreds and even thousands of acres.  Through-hikers and section-hikers pay close attention to the latest news. First, because of potential danger. Pushed by strong winds, forest fires can move quickly and threaten life. Second, and much more common, fires force trail closures. Dreams of hiking the whole trail straight through are often frustrated. Global warming is taking its toll on the PCT!

I met “Steady” from the Netherlands when I was hiking into Lassen National Park. “My trail name is Steady,” he told me, “because I am slow but steady on the trail.” He immediately wanted to know about fire closures along the PCT. Like so many through hikers, he dreamed of making the whole trail without any interruptions. The dead trees in the background are the result of a past fire.

Smoke is also an issue. Visibility drops quickly. Distant vistas that the PCT is famous for and that trekkers love disappear. Of even more concern, air pollution becomes a health threat. The fine particulate matter created by smoke can make its way deep into your lungs. As the American Lung Association notes: Wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs, especially for children, older adults (which I vaguely resemble at 75) and those with asthma, COPD and bronchitis or a chronic heart disease or diabetes. Unhealthy air from the Ferguson Fire was a major reason for evacuating Yosemite Valley this summer.

During heavy smoke episodes, people are warned to stay inside and avoid exercising outdoors. The harder a person breathes, the deeper smoke is pulled into his or her lungs. As you might imagine, staying inside and avoiding exercise are not options for people out on the PCT. In fact, through-hikers are exercising way beyond what is normal, especially when hiking up a steep trail or backpacking 20-30 miles a day. (I’ll add my 13-15 miles a day here— grin)

Many of you have expressed concern over how the numerous fires in Southern Oregon and Northern California are impacting my journey. The Carr fire that has garnered so much national media attention, is a case in point. As of this morning the fire has consumed 89,000 acres and is threatening Redding. It has even created its own weather system, including fire tornadoes. Fortunately for me and others hiking the PCT, it is about 50 miles west of the trail. We don’t have to worry about the flames, at least not yet. Hopefully, the fire will be contained by the time you read this post.

Avoiding the Carr fire hardly puts through-hikers in the clear. Numerous other mountain fires rage in California and Oregon. We came across this sign just a few miles outside of Chester on our way to Susanville. It is a sign of the times.

The smoke from the Carr fire was something else.

When Peggy drove me over to the trailhead on Highway 36 yesterday morning (July 28) for the next segment of my trip, the smoke was so thick that visibility was severely reduced. Smoke from the Carr fire to the west had been joined by smoke from the Susanville fire, about 30 miles to the east. With a 2600 foot climb ahead of me in temperatures likely to climb into the 90s F and possibly low 100s (32-37 C), I was not a happy camper. I would be working hard, hot, and breathing smoke. So, I decided that there was another solution: Give the smoke 2-3 three days to clear out a bit or pick up the trail farther south. While most through-trekkers prefer to hike straight through, nature often has other plans. High snow in the Sierra’s, for example, often forces people to skip that section and hike it later. (I had already skipped one section of the trail where 100 degree plus F heat combined with no water for 30 miles.)

The early morning sun in Chester had been turned red-orange by smoke from the fires.

I can always come back and do the trail or make up the distance in a less smoke-choked area, if one exists in California or Oregon or Washington. My goals are to enjoy the wilderness and its beauty, hike a thousand miles, and follow the PCT as much as is possible, hopefully ending with Mt. Whitney. But beyond enjoying the wilderness, there is a lot of flexibility in my plans. My trail of choice for the moment is to follow the PCT from Carson Pass on Highway 88 to Sonora Pass on Highway 108 and then do the section just north, hiking from Donner Summit to Carson Pass.

……..

But enough seriousness, now it’s time for some fun— brought to you courtesy of my being off the trail for a couple more days. In addition to beautiful scenery and wood sculptures, the trail from Etna Summit to Castle Crags was filled with flowers, some interesting characters, colorful rocks, a seemingly tame frog, pitcher plants, and a very colorful caterpillar. Here are some photos. Enjoy.

This happy fellow who had its own spring seemed to pose for us. It was used to being admired by through-hikers.

And this fat caterpillar was not about to stop its consumption of a leaf because of our attention.

Have you ever seen a rock like this? I could only wonder about its mineral composition and the forces of nature that had created it.

This woman, whose trail name was Mama Bear, had been traveling with her cubs since Mt. Whitney, a distance of several hundred miles.

Wendy and Tim were doing an excellent job of representing Australia. They were hiking down the PCT and hoped to hike across America. Tim, who hailed from Sydney, had previously hiked from the southernmost point in Australia to the northernmost point, raising money for suicide prevention. Wendy hailed from Queensland.

We met Rowan later. She was also from Australia and was hiking in memory of her twin brother who had died. Another brother was also hiking with her. Rowan works as an actress in Sydney.

A beautiful small stream where we met Rowan, made an excellent camp site for Jay and me.

Shooting down into the water, I caught this photo.

PCT trail signs come in many flavors depending on the particular national forest, wilderness, park, etc. I liked the sentiment that someone had expressed on this one.

It seemed to go along with this Zen-like garden a spring had created.

There is nothing calming about this sign. It’s for Bloody Run Trail. Given how the tree is consuming the sign, I thought of running myself.

Also in the slightly weird category are these pitcher plants we found where the frog was hanging out. These guys, a young one and an old one, are carnivorous plants that eat insects, which are trapped inside the ‘pitcher.’ Another name for this plant is the cobra plant, given the shape of the plant and its ‘forked tongue.’

This unusual flower went with the pitcher plant.

There was no lack of ‘old friends’ when it came to flowers along the trail. Yellow lupine decorated this one.

A close-up of the Lupine.

Recognize this little beauty? It is a wild hollyhock.

I caught this cow parsnip backlit by the sun, but I had to sit on wet ground to do it.

A morning-glory if I am not wrong. Strange leaves, it seemed to me.

A shooting star flower. Hundreds grow in our backyard.

The back side of this tiger lily was quite attractive…

But not as pretty as the front.

I took this photo of Jay as we were hiking down into the Castle Crags Wilderness. No smoke here!

Around the time I took the photo of Jay, we ran into Bill Whitaker. Bill had started his hike at Castle Crags and done a little over 10 miles in two days. He was planning to hike on to the Washington/Oregon border, a long ways at that pace! He was 68 years old.

We also ran into Bilbo, Ducky and Shoe. Their approach to the trail was to take a couple of hours off everyday at lunch, which was a quite civilized approach to the PCT. Bilbo was from German, Ducky from Utah, and Shoe from Canada, representing the international nature of those who hike the trail.

“Watch out for rattlesnakes,” a through trekker told us. Jay, who was in the lead, didn’t have to be told twice. In fact he found two. Neither seemed to be interested in a photo-op and disappeared into the brush even though I invited them to come out. Can you find the rattler here?

Jay and I at the end of the trail where Peggy was waiting for us. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I’ll conclude with this photo of ‘Aunt’ Peggy and Jay at Railroad Resort RV Park beneath the Crags.

Next up: Peggy’s photos of Etna and Dunsmuir, two small towns that through-hikers visit on their way through Northern California.

 

 

 

 

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The Incredible Castle Crags… Hiking from Etna Summit to Castle Crags: Section P of the PCT, Part 3

One of our first views of the Crags, which are indeed craggy.

 

For those of you who are following me along on my journey, I am now in the Northern California town of Chester, having finished hiking through Lassen National Park. I just ate four pieces of French Toast, two eggs, two sausage patties and half of Peggy’s garlic french fries. I’m ready to blog!

Actually, when you read this post, I should be nearing the town of Belden on the Feather River, which will be close to my halfway mark! Peggy and I are planning to take a break for a few days there, which should allow me to get caught up on the blog.

But for today, I want to introduce you to Castle Crags, a massive hunk of carved granite that sits beside Interstate 5. I’ve been passing and admiring it from the highway for decades. It is totally different to see it from the Pacific Crest Trail. My nephew, Jay, and I experienced it as we dropped several thousand feet down to I-5 on an 18 plus mile day. The views and photography helped me forget my aching feet.

The Crags are noted for their white granite.

A photo showing how dramatic the spires can be.

And a closer view.

As we dropped down, the Crags took on a different look.

Again, closer.

The trail down also provided this dramatic view of Mt. Shasta with its interesting cloud.

Early the next morning provided this view.

Followed by this…

A final view from the trail.

And this was Peggy’s view from where she was staying at the Railroad Resort RV Park. No climbing up or down involved. (grin)

 

Scenes from along the Trail… Hiking from Etna Summit to Castle Crags: Section P on the PCT Part 2

The100-mile section of PCT trail through the Russian Wilderness, Trinity Alps and Castle Crags Wilderness is filled with beauty and wide open vistas, making it one of the most impressive sections of the route,

 

I played a bit in my last post, featuring wood sculptures and ‘faces’ from along the trail from Etna Summit to Castle Crags following the PCT. I can’t resist these sometimes beautiful, sometime humorous and sometimes downright weird contributions by nature. You’ll see more. Guaranteed! Today, I am going to take a different tack and make an effort to capture the beauty of the Russian Wilderness and the Trinity Alps, which I hiked through with my nephew, Jay. I’ll follow up with a post on the incredible Castle Crags. As one through-trekker noted, “Why aren’t these a National Monument?”

I wish I had more time to devote to these posts, but I face the same problem as folks doing the whole PCT. Time. You have to do the miles. Because I am only doing a thousand, I have a bit more. I can leave my camp around seven and usually get in somewhere between three and four, having done my 12-15 miles. It’s a good thing! My 75-year-old body can use the recovery time. When I camp with through hikers, they are almost always out by 6 or earlier (some tromp by in the dark), and don’t come in until 7-9ish. Or by flashlight. Once they hit the trail, they are moving. There is little time to stop and admire the flowers like I do.

My layover days, when Peggy picks me up, are crammed with activity. First up, is stuff Curt. Peggy is quite concerned about how skinny I have become and I have no objection to her admonitions to “eat!” Then there are the necessary chores to prepare for the next leg. I am ever so lucky to have Peggy’s help here. She does the laundry, for example, and earns beaucoup credits for handling my ‘trail-flavored’ clothes. PCTers are a smelly bunch. There is no help for it, even though most of us make an effort to stay clean. A shower is top priority, right after the cold beer. Organizing my resupply and repacking takes time, and I need to review and pack my next set of maps. And then there are the posts, reviewing my journal, downloading and processing photos, and writing.

So, without further ado, here’s my photo essay for the day. These are from the Russian Wilderness.

Views of mountain ranges entertained, and wowed us, every day. These photos are from the Russian Wilderness.

Another view…

Snow was light this year, so there isn’t much left.

I found these craggy peaks lined up against the mountain unusual.

A snag added color here.

Every corner Jay and I hiked around provided another view. We were cutting across the ridge on the left. In a day or two, we would be to the distant mountains.

This section had much more than mountains. Rocks, for one.

A close up.

This snag with its curled limbs caught my attention. Our trail snakes along on the bottom right across quite steep terrain.

Again, we found ourselves passing through burned over areas.

Our campsite that night, however, was blessed with these beauties, and a barely flowing stream. But water is water!

Our journey then took us into the Trinity Alps.

The area has a number of enticing lakes, many of which I have camped on in previous treks into the area.

And Alp-like mountains, for which it was given its name.

The same peaks rendered in black and white.

And, as we have gotten used to in our trek through Northern California, enticing views of Mt. Shasta.

Another.

Forest fires burning in the area provided this smokey perspective.

This stand-alone forest giant, a cedar, was impressive.

And who can resist mountain meadows that invite you into distant views.

Another.

I liked this white pine with its long cones.

And I will close today with this forested view of Mt. Shasta in the distance.

Hiking from Seiad to Etna Summit on the PCT: Part 2— I Photograph Bigfoot, and Peter Pan… The Thousand Mile Trek

Marble Mountain. This may not be the type of marble that excited Renaissance Sculptures, but it obviously caught the attention of the people who named the Marble Mountain Wilderness as it does people who hike the area today.

I am stuffing myself. Today is my last day to cram in the calories before I hit the PCT again and I am bone-showing skinny, skinnier than I have been in about a thousand years, give or take a few. “Eat!” Peggy commands, and I eat. Bring on the half pound hamburger.

Today I am focusing on the second half of my trek from Seiad to Etna Summit, Section Q as it is defined on the PCT. I’ve just left Paradise (as in Lake), and what the heck is left after Heaven. How about meeting up with Bigfoot and his partner Peter Pan. Once again, I’ll be using the photograph format for my post.

I meet Truckee near Big Rock. “My trail name is Truckee,” he informs me, “because I live in Truckee.” Good reason. Truckee was raised in the California Central Valley city of Stockton but returned to the mountain town of Truckee so often he moved there. Having lived in Stockton’s sister city of Sacramento, I was forever escaping to the mountains.

Following Truckee south as he disappears into the distance, I come on Black Mountain, the partner to Marble Mountain, as dark as it is light.

My next landmark is Big Rock , a huge chunk of Marble that resides near the PCT giving both a creek and campsite its name. I wonder if it rolled down from a nearby mountain or was deposited here by a glacier.

I meet up with a snowpack and see Truckee’s trail racing across it. I follow in his footsteps.

I work my way around a marble rock face…

And find this hole. Water dissolves marble as it does the rock it derived from, lime, often leaving caves and holes in the ground such as this.

I catch up with Truckee again filling his water bottles at this small stream…

He introduces me to Uphill. “You need to talk with this man,” Truckee announces. Like me, Uphill (Mark Bowden) is blogging about his PCT experience. “Back home,” he explains to me, “I blog about hikes along the Appalachian Trail.” He is out of Atlanta, Georgia. “I retired one day and was on an airplane west the next.” Two days after his retirement he was on the PCT. His blog is http://www.uphillhike.com. “Be sure to say hi to Dirt and Rye when you meet them,” he admonishes me.

I thought Christmas when I saw these firs and then apologized to them about my evil thoughts of turning them into Christmas trees.

I’ve rendered the Marble Valley Guard Station in black and white given its historic status. Years before I had hiked through here and even then it seemed old.

There was nothing old about Dirt and Rye who came into the meadow as I was eating lunch. I had to ask about the names. Dirt had Dirt tattooed on her knee. There had to be a story, which I didn’t hear. Rye was a baker, so rye bread was the answer. The girls were sisters hailing from Southern California.

The Guard Station also had a great view of Marble Mountain.

Another perspective.

A creek, running close to the ranger cabin, was filled with butterflies on its moist sides.

A close up of one of the butterflies.

There’s great water down here,” I heard piping up from below the trail after I had just finished a long climb. “Come on down,” they urged. “You must be the 75-year old blogger.” (They’d run into Truckee.) And thus it was that I met Bigfoot after searching for him for years. He wasn’t nearly as hairy as I expected. And what was he doing running around with Peter Pan? And since when was Peter Pan a girl? It was all more than I could grasp. “I tried to persuade him to take the name Tinker Bell, ” Peter Pan told me with a laugh. No deal. Turns out that this delightful couple is from Palmer, Alaska. They had worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School for decades and are dedicated outdoor adventurers.

I detoured off the trail that night to camp at Cold Springs, which I shared with a frog.He didn’t drink much.

The view from the springs the next morning.

The trail to Etna Summit continues on, providing stunning vistas:

 

Welcome water…

Colorful flowers…

Red Mountain Heather.

Marsh Mallows…

Poppies…

Close up of poppies…

These beauties…

A member of the composite family…

And this strange fellow.

Closing with Spirea.

I continued to meet through-trekkers hurrying on their way north. Very few travel north to south, the direction I am traveling. Some pass by with barely a grunt of recognition as they run their unending marathon. But most have a smile and a hello, and many stop to chat. Hiking the PCT is much more of a social experience than I ever imagined.

The PCT has become a major attraction for hikers from all over the world. This is Oscar from Birmingham, England.

Caveman from Austria stopped to chat. “This trail is incredible,” he told me. “We have nothing like it in Austria or Europe.” It is a refrain I have heard over and over again. I flashed on the Sound of Music, however, and broke out with a not so stirring rendition of “Climb Every Mountain”. He laughed. “I guess I need to see the movie again.” I apologized for my breaking out in song. “It happens all the time,” he assured me. My girlfriend is an opera singer.”

Ridge Route and Short Cut were from closer to home: San Diego. Ridge Route explained to me that Short Cut got her name because she was just over five-feet tall. It didn’t seem to slow her down.

There are times when the trail seems to go forever on, like it will never end…

But eventually, through trekkers come to another trail head, another opportunity to resupply, another opportunity for a cold beer, hot shower and good food. For me it’s the view of Peggy waving excitedly, and our van. I am ever so lucky.

The cold beer comes next.

When Large, Very Noisy Animals Invade Your Camp, Who Do you Call… Hiking 1000 Miles Down the PCT at 75

Our backpack trip though the PCT section R of the Siskiyou Mountains took us through our backyard…the Red Buttes.

The Red Butte Mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon.

The other side of the Red Buttes Mountains as they appear from our patio during the winter.

I’m happily settled in the small community of Etna while Peggy and our nephew Jay shuttle his car down to the town of Dunsmuir, which is 100 miles down the PCT and our next resupply point. He is joining me as I hike through the Russian Wilderness and the Trinity Alps. Jay is a budding cameraman and director out of LA who focuses on documentaries and independent films. He  last joined me on a backpacking trek when he was 16 and I was 60! “Follow your bliss. Do what you love to do,” I had urged. And he has. I am looking forward to seeing this section of the trail through his cameraman’s eyes and will share some of his photos. 

I’ve now completed my first two segments of the PCT, which included hiking through the Siskiyou and Marble Mountains. Today’s blog will take us back to finish up hiking through the Siskiyous, quite literally our backyard, and down into the small, very independent-minded town of Seiad. Again, given my time limitations, I will do this post mainly as a photo essay.

 

Life slows down when you enter the wilderness and the every-day world fades away. The beauty of the woodlands and mountains, the sheer physical challenge of the journey, and the brief encounters with the cast of characters hiking the PCT become our everyday reality. I go for days without thinking of ‘The Donald’ or what he might be up to. Instead, the almost mystical Mt. Shasta provides us with tantalizing glimpses, endless flower gardens cling to the steep paths we climb, butterflies flutter among the flowers and then shoot into the air in mating rituals that predate humankind. What’s happening in Korea doesn’t seem to be nearly as important as where the next watering hole is. Even the flatness of our tent site seems to take priority.

What’s around the next corner or over the next mountain always pulls us on. This is Sheep Camp, which I featured in my last post. The lush green grass seen here appealed to both sheep herders and cattlemen for summer grazing. It also appealed to us! This was the view from our campsite.

Water can be plentiful or precious in the mountains, and a spring attracts both animals and people. Through hikers on the PCT pay close attention to where the next water may be found. It may be just around the corner or 15 miles up the trail. A pipe delivered water directly from the spring to thirsty hikers at Sheep Camp. And it was cold and delicious!

Peggy found this natural chair along the trail, perfect for the weary hiker. Her grin says it all.

Like lack of water, snow conditions are always a major consideration of people who hike the PCT. Many of the hikers we met had skipped the southern Sierras because of heavy snow over the passes and would return to them after reaching Canada. In fact, through-hikers jump around a lot depending on conditions. I planned my trip so snow wouldn’t be an issue. The concern here was the snowball that I knew would soon be flying my way. Peggy simply can’t resist. It was guaranteed as soon as I turned my back. That’s my “Don’t do it, Peggy.” Ha!

Only a small portion of the people hiking the PCT go from Mexico to Canada. May people hike sections. Molly and Brandon were hiking from Castle Crags to Crater Lake. Others may be out for just a day hike like many of the people we saw around Mt. Ashland.

Ezra and Janie were a mother and son team (the second mother/son team we saw that day) who were hiking from Seiad to Ashland, I believe. Jane owns a clay sculpture shop in the historic mining town of Jerome, Arizona. Ezra is going to college in Portland. “We try to get out on a backpacking trip together every summer,” Ezra told us.

If there is one sign guaranteed to get the heart of every through-hiker beating fast, this is it.

Here’s why. If you are hiking to or from the Mexican border where the PCT starts, it is 1,706 miles away.

Like Sheep Camp, Donomore Meadows was another area that appealed to early ranchers and miners. Just before we reached this meadow, Peggy and I had stopped to check out a lightning damaged tree and a fawn  jumped out of the grass where its mother had hidden it. It bounded off with a squawk that sounded very much like “Mom!” Deer usually do a great job of hiding their newborns. The color of the fawns, their absolute stillness, and an almost total lack of smell helps guard them from hungry predators. Just like human moms, babies can come early, however! We came down our driveway a couple of days before starting our trip and a doe had dropped a pair of twins in the road. One was spry enough to stand up on wobbly legs, but the other still couldn’t move!

The Offenbacher Cabin, built by stockmen in the 1930s, still stands today in Donomore Meadow. Descendants of the family have turned the cabin into something of a haven for through-hikers. Water, chairs, and even a bed greet trekkers.

I found this unusual fungus growing near the cabin…

And Peggy stopped to admire this tree.

Our camp at Bearground Springs brought an unusual surprise. And it wasn’t a bear. We could hear them coming from a long ways off… with bells. BTW, I have my Kindle along and am reading “The Snow Leopard” by Peter Mathieson.

The bells came into our camp and stopped. Peggy, who had to go out and ‘serve nature’ took this photo. Nine cows had come to visit! It sounded like a hundred and it appeared that they were going to hang out with us for the night. There would not have been much sleep. I growled like a bear from inside the tent and the cows remembered an urgent appointment they had over the mountain. We could hear their bells rapidly fade into the distance. Each bell, BTW, makes a different sound and the cowboys are able to recognize the cow by the bell.

Rocks also captured our attention and schist, a metamorphic rock, was common along this section of the trail. Quartz, which Peggy loves, is often found with schist. In fact, Peggy likes to pick quartz up to take home for her rock garden. There was no picking up quartz to go in our backpacks this time, however!

It was ‘look but don’t touch.’

Always on the lookout for strange or interesting things along the trail, I found this rock and couldn’t resist a photo. Quite a set of choppers, eh?

I also find interesting wood sculptures irresistible.

This tree stump looked a bit like a river otter from one perspective…

And quite reptilian from the other side.

“There’s water down here,” we heard a voice pipe up. It was a welcome announcement. We’d been many miles without any. Turns out, it was Strawman, who we had met a week earlier and given a ride when we were scouting out the Etna area where I am today. We had a happy reunion. Such meetings are typical encounters along the PCT. Strawman, we had learned, navigates from a PCT App on his phone, as many, maybe most, trekkers do. I’m old fashioned and prefer a map.

Not too far from Beardog Springs where we met up with Strawdog and camped the night, we began to hike through areas that had been ravaged by forest fires. This was the same series of fires that had forced Peggy and me to evacuate our home last fall. (I’ve rendered it in black and white.) A through-hiker commented to us how ugly it was— I think it was Road Runner who hikes 40 miles a day. Peggy replied she found it interesting and got a strange look. But forest fires are a part of the natural process. A combination of us doing everything to prevent forest fires for the last 70 years and drought/global warming has created the situation where the whole west seems to be burning. (More on this in later blogs.)

Knob cone pines, like this one, actually require fire to free the seeds from the cone so they can germinate.

We found these strange looking schist stones in the burn area that looked something like tombs in a fantasy movie. All that was missing was a winged demon…

Which the fire had provided! Note the glowing eye.

Peggy and I felt right at home on Cook and Green Pass. We had hiked up here last year from the road above our home.

The trail from Cook and Green Pass that goes around the Red Buttes Wilderness goes up a bit. Peggy went through 99 bottles of beer on the wall, and then 99 bottle of rum, and then 99 bottle of wine, which was beginning to sound a bit like 99 bottles of whine. 🙂 The hot afternoon sun didn’t help. Flowers did, however. We had found them all along the trail from Mt. Ashland to Seiad. Here are a few of the many:

We also learned what makes the Red Buttes Red. These reddish rocks when broken open…

Are filled with the blue/black mineral Olivine that happens to be rich in iron. The red is rust!

We camped that night at Kangaroo Springs, which is just below Kangaroo Mountain. For my friends in Australia, I don’t know how the mountain got its name.

Here I am with my first aid kit of drugs looking like maybe I’ve had a few too many. Actually, I am contemplating the 4,000 foot drop we have to hike into Seiad Valley. Are my 75-year-old knees, ankles and hips ready for the descent? They are screaming “no.” (They ended up doing fine.)

Looking down at the steep, narrow, rocky, occasionally overgrown trail. You can see the switchbacks on the left.

Some stunning views helped. Once again, Shasta can be seen in the distance.

We met Crazy 71 Plus who is now 72. He insisted on pulling his pants up for the photo. Crazy, who is from Hong Kong, got his name last year when he hiked the first half of the PCT. He has returned to hike the second half. Part of what he is doing is raising funds for charities in China.

“We need to take a selfie,” he directed. So we did. “Your face is in the wrong place,” he chided. I told him I liked the photo. I think he was disappointed to learn that I was older.

Once again, our water was getting low when we reached Fern Springs near the bottom of the trail. The water tasted great, but not nearly as good…

As the cold beer we bought first thing when we reached the Seiad store!

We stayed at the Mid Valley RV which welcomes PCT Trekkers allowing them to stay over night and use the facilities for $15.

The owner, Bruce, does everything he can to make hikers feel at home.

As does the Seiad Cafe that has a pancake challenge. They make five big ones for $15. If you can eat them all, they’re free. The owner told me that several hundred trekkers have tried in the past ten years, but only four succeeded.

Peggy ordered two of their regular size and could only eat one. The owner told me the challenge pancakes were five times as large!

Here’s the spatula used to turn the pancakes.

We met this Jack-a-lope at the store next door where we bought our beer.

The residents of Seiad are an independent bunch who would dearly love to break off from California and create a separate state. This is the seal. The two x’s apparently mean California double crossed them by not letting them break off after they had voted to do so prior to WWII.

A number of trekkers were staying at the RV campground. We sat around and chatted. Bone, who has been traveling the world since 1977 and is accompanying me on my 1000 mile trek, insisted on coming out and visiting. Mr. O is on the left, Jeanine is in the middle and Julie is on the right.

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From Mt. Ashland to Seiad on the PCT: Section R… Hiking 1000 Miles on the PCT at 75

Sheep Camp seems like an appropriate place to start. We camped there on our second night out. It is a beautiful place, but my reason here is the tiny knob you can see off on the left horizon. Early pioneers used it as a major landmark at the end of their 3000 mile journey to guide them into Oregon and a new life. This also shows the distant vistas that inspire and pull long distance hikers on.

The knob lit up by the evening sun.

The day had finally arrived. I was both nervous and excited. How could I not be? I was heading off on one of the great adventures of my life, leaving my home on Southern Oregon’s Applegate River and backpacking 1,000 miles to Mt. Whitney in southern California following the Pacific Crest Trail.

I wasn’t nervous about the backpacking; I am not a novice. In fact I’ve backpacked tens of thousands of miles in my life. Man was landing on the moon in 1969 when I shouldered my first pack. I watched the landing at a Denny’s when I was returning home from backpacking in the Canadian Rockies. The PCT organization, the folks who have done so much to create and maintain the trail, was a fledging one year old. I had stopped in Seattle to buy my gear from REI on my way to Canada when that was the only store that REI had. I guess that puts something of a perspective on how long I’ve been doing this.

But I had never been on a thousand mile trip. And I am no longer the 25-year-old I was then. Knees, hips, shoulders and ankles don’t have the same sense of humor they once did. That’s why I am not telling them they are on a thousand mile journey until I reach at least 500 miles. They understand going home, which is what I will tell them. It isn’t even lying.

One of my friends on WordPress, who thought I was being a little crazier than usual, wanted to know why I was doing this. My answer was simple: Because I love wandering in the woods. I am at home there in a way that I have rarely been anywhere else. This is an opportunity to revisit many of the areas I have backpacked in my life, plus see some new ones that I have always been curious about. And the truth is, I am not getting any younger. I realize how fortunate I am at my age to go out and do this.

The reason I emphasize the 75 part of it is because my wife Peggy and I believe age shouldn’t be a barrier to trying and experiencing new things, whether it is taking up gardening or going on a thousand mile hike. There are  millions of things to explore out there in the world. They help keep us young, both mentally and physical. Plus, just maybe, there are 25 and 35 and 45 and 55 year olds out there who will say, “Wow, if that old dude can do something like this, maybe I can too!”

And perchance, there is something for the soul in this kind of journey as well. John Muir certainly thought so. When Peggy and I hiked into Seiad yesterday, a through-hiker handed me this:

For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” From the Bhagavad Gita.

But then the trekker, (Mr. O is his trail name) also handed me this. I added the bear, a big fellow I met up in Alaska.

“I thought you said beer was around the corner, but it was a bear.” I’ve met my share of bears over they years. I’ll be sharing some of those tales. But I have also downed my share of beer.

Peggy happily consumes a cold Sierra-Nevada Pale Ale yesterday after we concluded dropping 4000 feet into the town of Seiad on a hundred degree day. We stopped at the store, threw down our packs, and bought the beer before doing anything else! The PR Director for the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, BTW, backpacked with me as a 9-year-old.

There will be lots of time to ponder and wax philosophically over the next three months as I make my journey so let me share a few of the 400 photographs I took on our way from Mt. Ashland. I’ll be doing this as a photo essay in three parts.

The beginning point, Mt. Ashland. I was born in nearby Ashland in 1943. At the time, World War II was raging, Westinghouse Engineers were shooting dead chickens at airplane windows and women considered bow ties to be the latest fashion statement.

A pair of trail angels. Barbara and Carl Krack picked us up from our home on the Applegate River and took us up to the trail head.

Let the journey begin. Through and section hikers beginning the trail from the Mexican border to the Canadian border will begin their adventures with this trail sign and follow it throughout their trek. The weather forecast had talked about 90 degree plus days. It was cloudy and cool. Our first night was spent in the rain.

Guaranteed: Every corner you come around on the PCT will give you a new view. The granite caught our attention, here.

The Crest part of the Pacific Crest Trail is serious. It means you will spend much of your time hiking along mountain crests with views like these.

One of the problems can be a lack of water. It may be five-miles between watering holes, or 10, or maybe even 15. Trekkers often have to hike off the trail to find water.

That happened to us on our first night! Water was only four miles ahead but we were tired and it was getting late, plus threatening to storm. We followed an old road down the mountain and found one of the streams that feeds the Applegate River, the river we live on. Here I am happy to be in camp with a cup of hot tea. It started raining hard shortly afterward and we scrambled to put things away as the thunder roared.

Peggy found this spider web reflecting sunlight the next morning. It promised to be a beautiful day.

A shot of the head waters of the Applegate River. The PCT is found on the ridge to the right.

Our trail that morning was up, as it seems like most of our trails are at the beginning of our days.

Flowers were in abundance along the whole trail between Mt. Ashland and Seiad. These are flox.

And this is a wild iris.

Ann and Dave Kelly looking jaunty. We met a number of day hikers near Mt. Ashland, including Ann and Dave who are from Ashland. Dave actually hikes with a replaced hip joint and has done part of the John Muir Trail with it!

We are always on the lookout for wild life as we hike. When you can’t see the animals, they often leave other signs like tracks or scat. This animal, probably a chipmunk, had left bits and pieces of pine cones outside its front door.

I’ll conclude with this cloud covered picture of Mt. Shasta. I will literally be hiking around it for the next three weeks. Expect lots of photos! I consider it one of the most beautiful mountains in the world.

I have to pack up for the next section of my trail, friends. I head into the Marble Mountains tomorrow, solo. And it will be early since it is promising to be around 105 degrees down here in the valley. When I get to Etna in a few days I will continue with the Mt. Ashland to Seiad section of my trip.

Trail Angels of the Pacific Coast Trail… I Have My Own

I am ever so lucky to have my wife, Peggy, out on the route supporting me. Most PCT hikers mail their resupply to Post Offices along the way. Peggy will be at trailheads to supply mine plus give me a day’s break from hiking. I suspect that there will be a cold beer in there as well.

 

People who go out of their way to support through-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail are known as Trail Angels. My barber, Ed McBee, is such a person. He has written a book on vehicle access locations on the PCT in Oregon. But, more to the point, he also goes out on the trail to greet through-hikers and provide them with fresh food and cold beer. One of his favorite locations is on the Oregon-California border. Trekkers who reach there have hiked from the Mexican border and are ready to celebrate! Knowing how much a cold brew is appreciated out on the trail, I contributed to Ed’s beer fund last summer.

Ed is now working on a book about people doing the PCT. “I feed them hot dogs,” Ed told me. “They are much more likely to talk to me.” I’ll bet. There is no telling what somebody who has been hiking 20-30 miles a day while living off of backpacking food will do for a hot dog! Now, make that a beer and a hot dog…!

Backpacking food is adequate for getting down the trail. Just barely. I have never seen a fat through-hiker. The food has to be light and compact to carry on your back. And while you try to find high calorie food, it’s hard to pack much more that 2 to 3,000 calories for each day. Now, consider that you are burning 4-6,000 calories, daily. Hot Dog? Bring it on!

Below is what my food for 90 days looks like. I tried to compromise between things I like and things that might be a little healthy. Those Oreos you see in the back certainly don’t meet the second criteria,  but they are a treat. I’ll be eating two per night, along with my 16 ounce cup of tea. (When I was a poor student at UC Berkeley ever so long ago, lunch was always a cup of coffee, a baloney sandwich and four Oreos.) The #10 can you see in the back is chicken teriyaki. It includes 10 dinner’s worth of food. Instructions are: Add one cup of the freeze-dried dinner to 3/4 cup of boiling-hot water. Cover. Wait 4 minutes. Stir. Cover and wait another 8 minutes. Eat. Life is pretty darn simple out on the trail.

Peggy organized my food for me while I was taking care of other miscellaneous chores and then took this photo. It’s what I will be eating on the trail over the next three months.

Here is the resupply packed in the van. Our sofa/bed comes down and actually covers the food.

Most PCT-ers would kill to have the kind of back-up I will have on my thousand-mile trip. I have my own trail angel, Peggy. Once a week or so, she will meet me where the PCT crosses a road and resupply my food, plus have a cold beer ready (grin). Our plan for most resupplies is to work in a layover day where I can shower, wash clothes, pack in some calories (imagine being able to eat whatever you want to eat), and put up a post or two on my previous week’s experience.

Peggy assumes her ‘where is Curt’ pose. She sees her role as backup (when she isn’t hiking with me) as her own adventure since she will be traveling and camping on her own.

Who knows!? Actually I carry an emergency Spot geo-tracker that I can use in an emergency, if needed, and can keep Peggy and family informed of where I am each night.

Anyway, here I am in black and white, ready to hit the trail. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I even developed my own ‘business card’ for the trail. (grin) The photo is taken from our front patio. Next week I will be hiking around the mountains you can see in the distance on my way south!

FRIDAY’S POST: I wrap up my MisAdventure series for the summer. Was I actually able to stay out of jail on my graduation day from high school.

SUNDAY’S POST: I am going to reblog a really nice post from my friend and fellow-blogger out of Sedona, Arizona, JoHanna Massey, that she wrote in support of my journey.