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.

Into the Mokelumne Wilderness… South from Carson Pass on the PCT

Lakes, mountains, and meadows, oh my. The Mokelumne Wilderness south of Carson Pass has it all, plus streams and rivers. I took this photo of Round Top Mountain from along the Pacific Crest Trail.

I’ve backpacked south from Carson Pass several times over the years, usually leading backpack treks following the old Tahoe Yosemite Trail. Those were the days before the present PCT route was built. I was excited to explore the new trail.

I arrived at the trailhead a few weeks earlier than I had planned. When I came out at Chester after hiking through Lassen National Park, smoke from the massive Carr Fire near Redding was so thick that it was difficult to see a couple of hundred yards into the trees. Having empathy for my 75-year-old lungs, I decided to skip south in hopes of finding clean air to breathe. 

Smoke from the Carr Fire on the PCT near Chester, CA

The pass was named after the mountain man, explorer, military leader and rancher, Kit Carson. During California’s gold rush era, it had served as one of the main entrance points to California. The trail worked its way down the mountain eventually delivering its gold seeking 49ers to the small town of Diamond Springs where I was raised. The town was established when some miners from Missouri found a 20 pound nugget of gold lying on the ground and decided to stay. Which I get. As a youth wandering far and wide through the woods surrounding Diamond, I’d always dreamed of finding my own large nugget. It wasn’t to be. But I did develop a love for the outdoors, which is worth a lot more.

Peggy dropped me off at the trailhead and waved goodbye. She had seen me off several times by now, and was more confidant that she would see me at the other end. But my lovely friend was always a bit nervous…

Peggy waves goodbye with sincere hopes that she will greet me at Sonora Pass when and where I predicted I would come out.
Being a sucker for roots and wood sculptures, this was the first photo I took along the trail. I hit the wrong button and my camera took several more photos, rendering each one differently. Normally, I like to stick with realistic portrayals, but I was amused with the results…
In yellow…
And in strange, impressionistic colors, like a Van Gough haystack.
I took a short detour up to Frog Pond. In the past, I had always hiked by it and wanted to see what it looked like. I thought it might connect to the PCT. It didn’t, but I enjoy detours. They added lots of miles to my journey. There weren’t any  obvious croakers.
The correct trail provided this view of Elephant Back, one of the primary landmarks of Mokelumne Wilderness.
Another view of Elephant Back from the PCT.
I had always hiked around the front of Elephant Back. The ‘new’ PCT took me behind it. The trail starts off making its way through Queen Anne’s Lace, a member of the parsley/wild carrot family.
A close up of the flower with a bee providing perspective.
Hiking on, I was reminded that I was well into summer. A granite rock provided the backdrop for this colorful grass.
The brown grass here, which Californians insist on calling golden, provided a foreground for this photo of two snags.
These pods on a lupine bush were also reminders of the fact that summer was winding down. They also show that lupine is a member of the pea family.
There was still plenty of water along the trail, however, which was a fact that I appreciated given how often water was scarce along the PCT.
And there were lots of flowers where I found water! This is rock fringe.
And what I know as ranger’s buttons, another member of the carrot/parsley family.
You can smell this one as you pass by. It is western pennyroyal, a member of the mint family. I always break off a leaf (it has lots) and urge people I am hiking with to sniff it and take a bite. It can also be used in making mint tea.
Larkspur is always a challenge to photograph, but I wanted to emphasize the ‘spurs’ here, from which it gets its name.
This daisy is known as fleabane. Pioneers believed that the bundled flowers would chase fleas out of their homes.
And here we have greenish corn lily flowers.
I found this half dead tree dramatic.
Another grass, rock, and tree photo. The haze in the distance suggests that my hopes for escaping smoke were about to be thwarted. Smoke from the Carr Fire had followed me south!
I almost tripped over this wood sculpture. Can you spot the sad owl-like face?
My next PCT post will take us up this flower covered ridge and far beyond.
I will also introduce you to a 65-year-old trekker who has hiked the PCT, the Appalachian Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail, giving him the right to wear a Triple Crown patch.

NEXT POST: For my next post, however, I will take you back to Puerto Vallarta again and some really neat art!