Small towns along the PCT are lifelines to through hikers. First and foremost, they are where hikers pick up their supplies for the next section of the trail. But they also provide a break— a chance to eat a good meal, shower, wash clothes, and possibly down a few cold beers. Sometimes the towns serve as meeting points where trekkers catch up with friends they have made along the trail.
Information about the communities passes along the trail quickly. One night I was perched in a dry camp up on a high ridge between Castle Crags and Burney Falls when a hiker came through and asked a person camped across the trail from me if he had heard about the pizza parlor in the town of Mt. Shasta that offered an all you can eat lunch for $7.50— a through-hikers’ Paradise. I felt for the owner as he saw his profits dwindle and disappear down the gullets of gaunt, semi-starved PCTers. It would be like seeing a plague of locusts take on your wheat crop.
Between the time Peggy drops me off and picks me up, she has been exploring these small towns and having adventures of her own. She is going to be doing a ‘guest’ post on her experiences in a couple of weeks but today I want to share some of the photos she has been taking.
I was late and Peggy was starting to worry. She was waiting at Sonora Pass on Highway 108 to pick me up. As usual, she was making friends with through-hikers. She had asked a charming French couple from Leon (Camilla and Bastion) to keep an eye out for me on the trail since they were hiking north and I was hiking south. I met them while they were enjoying a snack break as I was slowly making my way up the north side of Sonora Peak to the 10,400-foot (3170 meters) trail pass.
Let me emphasize “slowly.” The last half-mile had been steep and my short legs had not been happy with the numerous knee-high stone steps built into the trail. They were squeaking unprintable comments whenever I came to one.
“You must be Curtis,” Camilla called out. The PCT Telegraph was at work. “You have a wonderful wife. She’s worried about you.” It sounded like Peggy to me— both wonderful and worried. Peggy had fed Camilla and Bastion blueberry scones from Trader Joes. More to the point, she had fed them scones slathered in peanut butter that Camilla had been lusting after. They were still talking about it. Apparently, they had hung out with Peggy for almost an hour while they waited for their resupply.
Bastion explained that the trailhead parking lot closed at 6:00. Peggy would have to move. And there was no cell phone service. I’d be stuck up on the mountain for the night with my remaining Cliff Bar for dinner and Peggy would probably be frantic. It was now 3:00. I assured them that I would be there before 6:00. Bastion looked a bit skeptical, (he’d seen me coming up the mountain), but Camilla was more optimistic. I hiked in at 5:00.
Later, I told Peggy not to worry about the no-parking after 6:00 rule. What cop or forest service official is going to seriously hassle a 68-year-old woman who is concerned about and waiting for her 75-year-old husband to come off a difficult and occasionally dangerous wilderness trail? “Move on lady. Rules are rules.” I doubt it.
But I had already made use of the PCT telegraph to alleviate Peggy’s worry. I’d been hiking up the East Fork of the Carson River when Bones had come beeping by as if I were standing still. Like me, he was traveling north to south. I assume his long and lanky build had earned him his trail name. I knew that he would be into Sonora Pass a couple of hours before me so I asked him to check for Peggy and tell her I was fine and coming along. Which he did. When I arrived, he had been chatting with her for an hour and a half while he recharged his phone in our van.
We were fortunate to leave Sonora Pass when we did. Peggy had been watching a worrisome cloud of smoke. It had grown from a small, seemingly insignificant plume to covering a third of the sky. The Donnell fire located a few miles farther to the west on Highway 108 was being pushed by winds and had jumped the highway. Bones and I had experienced the winds up on the trail around Sonora Peak. I estimated that they were gusting close to 50 miles per hour. Bones had put his pack down to take a photo and watched it be blown along the ground. He scurried to retrieve it. So much for the photo-op. I’d had to lean into the wind to keep my footing, not particularly pleasant on a narrow, high-pass trail with steep drops. But it wasn’t boring.
I was familiar with the area from previous backpack trips and told Bones the fire could easily make its way from Clark’s Fork up to the PCT. An hour later, after Peggy and I had driven down to Highway 395, we were informed that the Sonora Pass Road had been closed. I read this morning (August 6), that the PCT above Clark Fork was in danger of being closed as well. Kennedy Meadows, where Bones was going to spend the night and wait for his parents, had been evacuated. Peggy and I are concerned for Bones, Camilla, Bastion and other trekkers in the area.
This is a major story of the PCT this year. In my last post, I had reported how I was jumping south to escape the thick smoke from the Carr fire near Redding. I didn’t escape. As I made my way from Carson Pass to Sonora Pass over the past week, I was followed by smoke from the Carr fire and greeted by smoke from the Ferguson/Yosemite fire. Now smoke from the Donnell fire had been added to the equation. The huge new Mendocino fire around Clear Lake is threatening to be the largest in California’s history. Other fires are raging around LA. Air pollution levels in California are now some of the worse in the world because of the smoke.
Peggy told me that all out-door sports events in Sacramento had been cancelled yesterday because of the problem. And yet, here I am hiking up mountains, pushing as hard as I have ever pushed in my life, breathing the same pollution deep into my lungs. I may have to change my objectives. One possibility that several hikers are considering is to head north to Washington where the fire problem (so far) isn’t nearly as extensive. I’m thinking about joining them.
Photos taken by Peggy as she has her own adventures while providing support for me.
My 13-year old grandson is joining me today. Tomorrow we will start a journey from Donner Summit to Carson Pass. A trip I have been on many times and sections of which I have done with his grandmother, mother, Uncle Tony and Cousin Jay.