Fire on the Trail… Hiking down the PCT

Cow along the PCT in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness
I stopped for a discussion with a cow about trail conditions in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.

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.

2018 PCT through-hiker Bone.
Bone and 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.

French through hikers, Camilla and Bastien, at Sonora Pas in 2028.
Photo of a happy Camilla and Bastien after eating peanut butter with a scone attached. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

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.

A smokey day along the PCT in the Carson Iceberg wilderness.
PCT Association volunteers working on the trail in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.
A trail crew of volunteers from the Pacific Crest Trail Association. Much of the PCT trail work is carried out by volunteers.
Tree along the PCT in Carson Iceberg Wilderness with scars caused by barbed wire.
This was an interesting tree trunk. The ridges were caused when the tree grew over attached barbed wire. We have a few like it on out property.
Cattle in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
Cattle are not uncommon along the PCT. I always stop to chat with them.
Rhyolite boulders along Pacific Cres Trail in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
I was surprised to find rhyolite boulders along the trail.
The boulder had an interesting little cave. I wondered what lived there.
Guess who volunteered?
A patch of asters was growing nearby.
Here’s the reason why Boulder Mountain is called Boulder Mountain. It was one heck of a scree slope.
A tree perched on a granite rock caught my attention…
And I took several photos.
Hiking down into the East Fork of the Carson River provided this view.
I filled my water bottles here at a small creek crossing the trail.
This is a photo of the Eastern Fork of the Carson River. The water falls were indicative of the fact that the trail had started to climb.
When I stopped to photograph the river, I also caught these roots.
And this knot with a personality.
PCT trail work in the Carson Iceberg Wilderness.
Climbing higher I came across some extensive trail work. I have nothing but admiration for the crews that placed these heavy rocks.
A view of the trail after I left Camilla and Bastien.
Looking down toward the Sonora Pass where Peggy was waiting.. This is where Portland Bone and I had encountered the high winds.
Another view.
I’ll conclude today with this shot of smoke boiling up from the Donnell Fire. Had it been like this an hour earlier, I might have made that last 4 miles in 30 minutes instead of an hour! (grin)

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.