As a year filled with seemingly insurmountable national and international problems draws to a close, my mind turns to the beauty and the peace of my 700 mile journey down the PCT this past year. The issues of the everyday world fade as you are hiking up a mountain, providing a different perspective on what is important. As the renowned naturalist John Muir noted, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
There were tough days out there— as tough as any I have ever faced— but even the most difficult were countered by the beauty of the areas I hiked through. It was a beauty that ranged from towering mountains down to the cheerful monkey flower above. Today, I will continue to share that beauty in my third post about the Pacific Crest Trail between Carson Pass and Sonora Pass in the central section of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
Section N of the PCT includes Mt. Lassen National Park. This series includes portions of the trail leading into and out of the Park as well as the Park. Unfortunately, the PCT passes through the eastern side of Lassen and misses some of the Park’s more impressive features. I was lucky to have Peggy exploring the Park from the road while I hiked the trail, so this post will feature photographs from both of us.
In 1988, I led a backpack trek in Mt. Lassen National Park to honor my old friend Orvis Agee. His family lived near the mountain and he had been working outside on the family ranch when it erupted on May 22, 1915. He was an impressionable 12-year-old. Fifty-eight years later when Orvis joined me on the first hundred-mile backpack trip I led in 1974, the memory was still fresh in his mind.
By the end of that trek, Orvis had become an inspiration for me on what older people can accomplish— and a friend. He proved that an active lifestyle doesn’t have to end at 60, or 70, or even 80, assuming you are healthy. In 1980, Orvis took me to the top of the top of the nearby 14,180 foot Mt. Shasta, a mountain he had climbed many times starting at age 60. He made his 30th and final ascent at 85. He went on his last backpack trek with me at 87! Peggy was along on that week-long expedition. We had just started our relationship and it was her first long distant trek. Given how much I enjoyed backpacking and liked Peggy, I really wanted her to enjoy the experience. I figured that hiking with Orvis would help. It did. As she noted to me later, “It’s really hard to complain when an 87-year-old cheerfully hikes down the trail beside you and sings “Wake Up Little Buttercup” to you in the morning.” Indeed.
Mt. Lassen sits near the southern end of the Cascade Range, a
volcanic chain of mountains that reaches from Northern California into British
Columbia. It is one of only two mountains that erupted in the contiguous United
States during the 20th Century. Mt. St. Helens was the other. (I
flew over Mt. St. Helens shortly after it had erupted and was amazed by the
devastation.) Lassen, still active, serves as a laboratory for volcanologists
and is closely monitored. Oceanic plates diving under the continents and
islands around the Pacific Ocean assure continuing volcanic activity, not only
for Lassen, but for volcanos all around the Pacific Rim.
I found the Manzanita roots along the PCT near Mt. Lassen strange enough to feature on my Halloween post. Today, I want to focus on the rest of the plant. I was raised in what is known as the chaparral belt of the Sierra foothills where manzanita is common. As kids, we went on outings to gather the large mushrooms that grew under the bushes in a symbiotic relationship with their roots. It was like a treasure hunt.We’d bring the mushrooms home, slice them up, and then dry them on the woodstove that heated our house. My mother then added them to a number of dishes like spaghetti and beef stroganoff where they contributed their unique flavor and texture.
Our property in Southern Oregon also includes a number of manzanita bushes, but I have yet to find mushrooms under them. One of the bushes grows just outside our backdoor. Deer like to bed down near it, which seems a little strange since it features a deer skull. Peggy had found a dead deer on the road near our house, victim of an unfortunate encounter with a car. She decided that it would be interesting to cut off its head, bring it up to our yard, and let nature (translate maggots) clean it off. (Think of it as a scientific experiment.) When I had appeared reluctant to carry out the chore, she had persuaded a deer-hunting neighbor to do it, paying him with a can of beer and a Peggy-smile.
The plant is sturdy and can be quite beautiful with its
entangled limbs and smooth, skin-like bark. It is often used in decorations. I
found the dead bushes along the PCT l particularly striking.
Peggy and I are on our way to Mexico for three weeks, so my posts on the trip down the PCT will be put on hold until I return. My plan is to feature some older posts, which will give followers a perspective on the variety of subjects they can find on my blog that I have covered over the past ten years.