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

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

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

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

NEXT POST: Some thoughts on the New Year.

An Active Volcano and an Interesting Bush… Hiking the PCT through Mt. Lassen National Park

The Pacific Crest Trail wanders along the east side of Lassen National Park and provides limited views of the mountain. I took this photo from the PCT south of the park boundary.

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.

Peggy, who was driving along the road through the park, had closer views of the mountain than I did. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
She planned on hiking to the top of the mountain but was concerned that she might miss me coming out at Chester. I promised her we would climb the mountain for her 70th birthday. The trail up is visible on the lower right. I climbed the mountain the year I led the Trek through the park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This photo of the mountain was taken when Peggy and I had visited the park earlier.
As was this impressionistic reflection shot.
I really liked this meadow shot that Peggy caught. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Mt. Lassen sits in the caldera of was once a much larger Mt. Tahama. The large rock points toward what was once the edge of the mountain. Picture a line following the ridge and stretching off to the left. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The power of the 1915 eruption was such that it blew out huge boulders and started a major a avalanche that carried boulders like these far from the volcano. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A number of other geologic features common to volcanic areas, such as this boiling mud pot at the Sulphur Works, are located in the park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This colorful hill was located above the mud pot at the Sulphur Works. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

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.

Our manzanita brush with the deer skull. Note the smooth bark.
The deer I disturbed when I went outside to take a photo of the bush and skull. She was not happy with me interrupting her snooze.
Ripe manzanita berries covered the bush. These are quite edible. (I consumed many as a kid for their sweet taste.) Judging from the berry-filled scat in our neighborhood, the local fox population is enjoying the berries now.
When I hiked the PCT through the Mt. Lassen area, the berries were still green. It’s easy to see how manzanita, which means little apple, got its name.

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.

A dead bush draped across a boulder rendered in black and white.
A dead bush set off by live manzanita.
I will conclude today’s post with this rather dramatic bush.

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.