A Break from Hiking… The Magic of Chihuly: Part 2

The Seattle exhibition of Dale Chihuly has a number of chandeliers and brightly colored glass balls that will be the focus of today’s post.

In my last post, I featured sculptures created by Dale Chihuly and his team of artists that are located in a permanent exhibition at the base of Seattle’s Space Needle. (The Space Needle was built at the Seattle Center for the 1962 World’s Fair.) Peggy and I visited the exhibit two weeks ago when we were wandering around Washington at the conclusion of my hike down the PCT. Today, I am going to show several chandeliers and brightly colored glass balls included in the exhibition.

The room containing the orange chandelier shown at the top included three others. This red chandelier…

A green chandelier…

Close up.

And a blue chandelier.

Another look at the chandelier at the top of the post.

This white sculpture was the centerpiece of the room featuring the four chandeliers.

When I included two of the chandeliers, I felt an ‘alien’ presence. (grin)

Outside, Chihuly presented what he called a chandelier walkway of chandeliers highlighting  different colors and forms.

The chandelier walkway.

The’ sunset’ chandelier.

The ’emerald’ chandelier.

‘Royal Jo’ Chandelier.

Olympic blue and turquoise’ chandelier.

‘Alfa red’ chandelier.

‘Fly yellow’ chandelier.

In my last post, I introduced several of Chihuly’s brightly colored glass balls, which he displays in a variety of settings. As I mentioned, my favorite was the boat.

Another view of the Chihuly boat.

Balls are strategically placed inside and outside with colorful backdrops.

The garden surrounding the Glasshouse and exhibit building features a number of balls including these five in a row.

A blue sculpture and green plants set off these glass balls.

I discovered a selfie in the ball.

The plants around the glass ball helped highlight the green in the ball.

A red sculpture provided a dramatic backdrop for this ball.

Black with swirls of yellow. Trees and leaves are reflected on the surface of this ball.

A  blue glass ball with veins.

This ‘alien’ sculpture in the garden caught my attention.

As did this one.

I’ll conclude today with this blue sculpture that was artfully entangled in the flowers.

Next Post: I’ll finish my Chihuly series with smaller pieces included in the Seattle exhibit. Then it will be back to the Desolation Wilderness!

 

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A Break from Hiking… The Magic of Chihuly: Part 1

This boat with its brightly colored and patterned balls may be my favorite piece in Chihuly’s collection. I say ‘maybe’ because how do you choose? I also love the reflection.

I missed my annual art-fix at Burning Man this year since I was out on the trail. Peggy and I made up for it when we traveled to Washington and Northern Oregon after we came out from our 50-mile backpack trip in the Three Sisters Wilderness. In addition to checking out the Colombia Gorge, disappearing into Powell’s Bookstore in Portland for three hours, visiting with our niece Christina and her partner Dustin in Tumwater, and driving through Cascades National Park, we stopped off at the permanent Dale Chihuly exhibit in Seattle. We both love his inspired glass work. The exhibit, located at the base of the Space Needle, has been on our bucket list for several years.

The Seattle Space Needle provides a backdrop for Chihuly’s sun sculpture.

I decided to provide a quick break from my Pacific Crest Trail series today to focus in on Chihuly’s art. He has been designing and producing blown-glass sculptures since the 60s and is known for his creativity and large pieces. He has also produced some lovely smaller work. Being blind in one eye and limited by an old shoulder injury, he now works with a team in producing his magic. For the most part, I’ll let his art speak for itself in this 2-3 part series. When I am finished, I’ll return to featuring my PCT adventure.

Peggy poses in front of the sun sculpture. Given her often wild, curly hair, she related well to this piece.

Here, the sun sculpture sets off Chihuly’s Glasshouse.

The Glasshouse contains this magnificent sculpture.

It is one of the largest hanging sculptures in the world. I’d love to see it at night.

A close up of the flowers in Chihuly’s Glasshouse.

A number of large sculptures are featured in the exhibit. This one, located inside, reflects the ocean and includes sea life.

A closeup of the sea life.

Outside, Peggy and I found this tall green sculpture…

Another perspective.

A red sculpture spouting what looked like horns to me.

Here, the ‘horns’ are shown more clearly. I could imagine them playing beautiful music!

A purple sculpture reminded me of sugar crystals forming on a stick.

Sweet.

Chihuly vowed to use every color available to him in his Macchia series.

A close up I felt was ‘artsy.’ (grin)

Three other pieces in the Macchia series.

One room was devoted to what I consider a sculpture of a riotous garden. Or maybe it was an altar to the yellow and red creature. Chihuly often repurposes his art in various exhibitions, recombining it in creative ways to fit into the environment. I liked the way he uses reflections to enhance his work. The boat at the top is an excellent example.

Another view of the ‘garden’ from the side.

And from the opposite end.

Starting with a glass ceiling lit from above and then placing his art on top of the glass, Chihuly created what he calls his Persian glass ceiling. The results were stunning.

A whole room was covered by the celling done in segments.

This fun piece was created by standing on a step-ladder and blowing glass. When the glass reached the floor it created the globular bottoms for the forest of glass. Once again, reflection is used to magnify the effect.

I’ll conclude today with another boat sculpture. This one backed up to the boat sculpture I featured at the beginning. I don’t think that Chihuly could have fit anymore into this boat.

NEXT POST: Some really incredible chandeliers plus more of Chihuly’s colorful ball sculptures.

 

Winding Down the Journey… Hiking on the PCT at 75

Some trail names are really obvious. Take Big Red, for example. Peggy and I met him in the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon.

 

Big Red from San Diego towered over my 5’11” height, putting him somewhere up in the stratosphere. Peggy and I met him along the PCT in the Three Sisters Wilderness area of Oregon. He had been hiking for 2,000 miles. “This is my first and last through hike,” he informed us. “There are times,” he explained, “when I camp on a beautiful lake and would love to stay there. But I can’t. I have to keep moving. I have to get in my 25 miles for the day.” Otherwise, he might not be able to finish the trail before winter storms hit northern Washington.

There is something close to heroic about completing the 2600 miles of the PCT in a year. Sacrifices have to be made— like not enjoying the incredible beauty of the trail as much as you might like. Red had also made another sacrifice.  His walking sticks were encased in balsa wood that he had planned to carve. But it wasn’t to be. “I’m just too tired at night,” he told us.

Big Red posed for a photo with me, making me feel small.

I understood both sentiments all too well. It’s just hard. At 75, I found hiking 15 miles a day exhausting. In fact, the day and a half breaks I had planned between segments of the trail to allow my body time to recover weren’t long enough. I realized this as I made my way up the humongous hill leaving Interstate 5 going south. I was fine for the first three hours. After that, it was all I could do force one foot in front of the other. I had just completed hiking 100 miles from Etna Summit to Castle Crags and my body was threatening to go on strike. I loaded up on water and decided to dry camp when I reached the top instead of hiking on to the next source. I was cooking dinner on my ultralight propane stove when I found myself nodding off, unable to keep my eyes open. Not good! Can you imagine how dangerous that was given the bone-dry condition of the forests? Three massive forest fires this summer within 50 miles of where I was camping have proved the point.

The thought of creating a life-threatening fire that would burn tens of thousands of acres if my small stove was accidentally knocked over woke me up like a bucket of ice water. It also forced me to rethink my schedule. I would reduce the number of miles I was traveling each day and increase the number of layover days I would take between hiking segments of the trail. If I didn’t make my 1,000-mile goal, so be it. There was another factor as well. I really did want to enjoy the beautiful lakes, and mountains, and trees, and flowers and rocks and streams. That had been my reason for returning to the wilderness again and again throughout my life. And it was my reason for being out there at 75.

Fires and smoke continued to be a reality of my hike, as it has been for all PCT hikers this year. I jumped from northern California to Central California and back to Northern California in an unsuccessful search of clear skies. As my journey wound down, I had a decision to make. Would I head toward Yosemite and the John Muir Trail or would I go elsewhere? There really wasn’t time to finish the JMT and I had hiked it several times over the years, so I opted for the Three Sisters Wilderness of Oregon. I’d never been there plus Peggy would be able to backpack with me. We would finish our adventure as we had started it, backpacking together in Oregon. It was a great decision. The area is drop dead beautiful.

Mt. Washington, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood as seen from the Three Sisters Wilderness, which features another three volcanoes of the Cascade chain in Oregon.

I came off the trail last week with close to 700 miles behind me. It has been an incredible experience and I will continue to post blogs on it for the next month. Plus, I’ll start writing the book that will tie this summer’s adventure together with several other backpacking experiences I have had over the years.

Today, I will continue with my trip between Donner Pass and Echo Summit that I started to blog about last week with an exploration of the Granite Chief Wilderness behind Squaw Valley.

My grandson Ethan and I started our journey through the Granite Chief Wilderness with a trip up the Squaw Valley tram. Squaw Valley was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. I used this same tram system when I began my first 100 mile backpack trip in 1974.

The ride provides great views of the granite that forms the backbone of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Once again, smoke from Northern California forest fires filled the air, promising to obscure our views and poison our lungs. Fortunately, the smoke was limited and we even experienced some ‘clear’ days.

Peggy took this photo of Ethan and me at the end of the tram ride, ready to tackle our first mountain.

Our goal for the day was a short hike over to Little Needle Peak and Lake, both shown here. The lake is a mile or so off the PCT on a little used trail that we had to search for. I’ve camped on the lake several times over the years.

Another reflection shot. Ethan and I were camped in the trees to the right.

Bear scat and other bear sign was everywhere! I wondered if our food would survive. A black bear had ripped open this dead tree to go after the carpenter ants inside. Ethan and I were intrigued by the labyrinth the ants had carved out of the tree. It was worthy of a fantasy novel, or a Greek myth.

This caterpillar had tethered itself to the same tree and was making a cocoon. The claw marks above and beside the caterpillar were left behind by the bear.

The PCT drops into a canyon going south from Squaw Valley. A month earlier, this field of mule ears would have been yellow with flowers. But now they were drying out, predicting the coming fall.

As the PCT returned to crest and climbed above the Five Lakes Basin behind Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, Ethan and I  continued down the canyon and followed Five Lakes Creek down to Diamond Crossing. Whiskey Creek Camp greeted us a quarter of a mile after we left the trail. Starting in the early 1900s, the camp had served as a resupply point for Basque sheep herders who were running flocks in the area.

Ethan provides perspective on the height of the door in the cabin. I explained to him that the horseshoe above the door was for good luck.

Fresh bread, baked in this oven, was on the resupply list for the Basque Sheepherders.

The PCT is like a freeway working its way from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. In comparison, most other trails are like country roads. The route along Five Lakes Creek would qualify as a rarely used dirt road— my kind of trail! This late summer meadow had turned to California gold. The Sierra thistles in the foreground were going to seed.

As was this Sierra thistle.

Backlit by the sun.

The seeds are disbursed. Another year in the life of a Sierra thistle is over.

One challenge of hiking in August in the Sierras is that water sources dry up. This can become a real problem along the PCT, which is noted for its lack of water to begin with.

Fortunately, more water can be found hiking among creeks and lakes at lower elevations. Welcome water greeted us at Bear Pen Creek. (I’ve always wondered about the name.)

A close up.

Less water does make for easier stream crossings. The rocks here provided our bridge across Five Lakes Creek.

An old tree blaze on a downed snag would have been used to mark the trail in earlier times.

Bark had grown over this blaze, which is very rare.

A ‘whirlpool’ of wood caught my eye.

Leaving Diamond Crossing, we followed Powderhorn Creek for four miles as it made its way up a very steep canyon toward Barker Meadows where we would rejoin the PCT. I think we counted two switchbacks on the whole trail. It was definitely not the well-graded PCT!

A basalt cliff entertained us along the way. I was teasing Ethan about having to climb it.

The hexagonal basalt columns are similar to Devil’s Postpile. These columns are formed when thick layers of flowing basalt cool slowly.

Photographing goldenrod also offered a break from the hard climb. It was one of the few flowers we found in bloom.

Ethan celebrated when we reached the top.

While I found other interesting rocks to photograph. I thought the outcrop looked a bit like a Scotty dog.

A couple of days later I found one in the clouds!

Back on the PCT, we found more flowers in a spring area. Ethan urged me to take his photo next to the monkshood. “My mom likes purple,” he explained. (Tasha has lots of purple clothes.)

When we reached Richardson Lake the next day, Ethan’s foot was beginning to hurt. Apparently, he had a minor sprain.

Leaving the lake, it hurt more. A few more miles down the trail, we decided that hiking out seemed to be the best decision. We returned to the lake and followed a jeep trail that would take us down to Lake Tahoe.

We were fortunate to flag down a group of jeepers. It turns out they were from Motor Trend Magazine and were filming a TV special on taking a stock 1970s jeep and a stock pickup truck over the Rubicon Trail, one of the toughest jeep roads in the world, made famous by the annual Jeepers Jamboree. Bruce, who generously provided us with a ride, told us that it had taken a full day just to go three miles!

Ethan displays the ankle that I had bandaged. Not a bad job, I thought.

Reunited with his mom, Tasha, his little brother, Cody, and Peggy, the family hangs out above Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay.

NEXT POST: I’ll focus on Desolation Wilderness and Peggy and I will take Bone back to where Tom Lovering and I discovered him in 1974!

 

Bone Travels the PCT Looking for His Home… Backpacking the PCT at 75— and 40

Bone found this convenient PCT marker on the trail leading south out of the Echo Summit area on Highway 50 going south toward Carson Pass, about five miles from where he was discovered 40 years ago.

It was always assumed that Bone— the diminutive four-inch, five-ounce dynamo that was once part of a horse’s foot— would one day return to his home along the PCT. What’s surprising is that it took 40 years. He’s been riding along with me on my trek this summer and meeting backpackers with that goal of visiting his birthplace in mind.

My friend Tom Lovering, the owner of an outdoor/wilderness store in Sacramento, and I found Bone in 1977 hiding out in a young corn lily patch near the PCT between Echo Summit and Carson Pass.  At the time, I was scouting a new route for the 100 mile treks I led in the Northern Sierras. Tom and three women were hiking with me for company. It was early in the season and the trail kept disappearing under the snow.

Tom and I take a current photo with Bone outside the Fox and Goose Restaurant in Sacramento. The goose seems particularly interested in what we are up to. Alpine West, one of Tom’s outdoor/wilderness stores, was located in the 10th and R Building in 1974 when Tom became a sponsor of my first Sierra Trek.

Here’s the story of how Bone was found from an earlier post:

Our fourth day started out as a typical backpack day. We climbed. It was gentle at first and then became more serious. Once again snow covered large segments of the trail. We spread out and searched for tree blazes. I scrambled over a particularly steep section and found myself in a high meadow.

Something half buried in a field of young corn lilies caught my eye. A few days earlier it would have been covered with snow. Curiosity led me to detour through the still soggy ground. Mud sucked at my boots.  My treasure turned out to be a disappointing, short, squat bone. Gnaw marks suggested it had been part of someone’s dinner. I was about to toss it when a devious thought popped into my mind.

“Trash!” I hollered at Tom and held up the bone. We had a game where if one person found a piece of trash, the other person had to carry it out. But first you had to catch the other person.

Tom sprinted down the trail with me in pursuit. Once we had made it over the mountain, our route ranged from flat to downhill. Tom was very fast. We had traveled two miles and were almost to Showers Lake before he stopped, concerned about leaving our companions too far behind. Very reluctantly, he took the bone and stuffed it in his pack.

“How can you classify a bone as trash,” he whined. I figured Tom would toss his new traveling companion as soon as I was out of sight. Wrong.

Here’s Bone’s perspective on the occasion:

“I didn’t plan on seeing the world and becoming famous. Once I was part of a horse located just above the hoof. I had no freedom; I had no glory. Wherever the horse went I went, a mere slave to his desires. During the summer this meant carrying greenhorn tourists into the backcountry of the mountains above Lake Tahoe. The added pounds gave me bone-jarring headaches. Then the horse died; I like to fantasize that a large bear with big teeth and sharp claws ate him.  Hopefully he ate the tourist as well.

Whatever happened, I was free to be me, Bone. Yes, that’s right, Bone is my name. A kindly coyote picked me up and carried me to a high meadow filled with corn lilies. It was there that I discovered my Zen-like nature as I meditated through the seasons. I was alone except for a mouse that came by and nibbled on me occasionally. That hurt. In fact, it interrupted my meditation and scarred me for life; you can still see teeth marks. I blame all of my subsequent bad behavior on that flea-bitten miscreant.

My annoyance at the mouse, however, was minimal in comparison to my anger at the large, two-legged creature who yanked me from my meadow home and begin yelling I was trash as he ran down the trail in pursuit of another two-legged creature.  Can you imagine the insult? I had no way of knowing that this was the beginning of my world travels or that the two creatures, Curt Mekemson and Tom Lovering, would become my servants.”

When I arrived home and emptied my backpack, there was the bone. Tom had slipped it into my pack. I had been carrying him for several days. Small b bone had become large B Bone and begun his 40-year odyssey! A year or so later when Tom arrived in Japan and unpacked his suitcase at the beginning of a three-year journey through Asia, Africa, and Europe, there was Bone. And thus it has gone. He has never stopped traveling. (For those of you who are new to Bone’s world, I’ll list his travels and an interview with Bone in the last two posts of this series. Long time followers will have read these posts. Go here for the complete series of posts on Bone’s discovery: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

The past couple of weeks, I have been exploring the area between Donner Summit and Carson Pass, retracing paths I have been hiking since I started backpacking in 1969. In many ways, I think of this area as my home. My 13-year-old grandson, Ethan, joined me two weeks ago until a sprained ankle cut short our trip. (Ethan carried Bone and now thinks of him as an heirloom. Forget great, great grandmother’s silver.) I went back in to finish this section of the PCT last week, and, of course, go on detours. Why hang out on the busy freeway when there are country roads to explore?

Bone, happy to find a new traveling companion, perches on Ethan’s knee.

When I came out at Echo Summit, my wife Peggy and I went on a day hike toward Carson Pass to take Bone back to where he was discovered. It was a sentimental journey. Bone was very excited.

While I’ve been posting photos to follow the progression of my journey down the PCT, I am skipping forward to honor Bone (and my youth) this week and next with a look at the area between Donner Summit and where Bone was discovered. I’ll then return to my trip between Castle Crags and Burney Falls. I’ll start today with my hike between Donner Summit and the Granite Chief Wilderness.

The PCT follows a ridge line south of Donner Pass. Here it makes its way up toward Tinker’s Knob.

I used to start 100 mile treks near Mary Lake, shown here. The Sugar Bowl ski area is nearby. I cross-country skied for several years along the distant ridges and down through the forests.

Wagon trains into California once made their way up and over Roller Pass. It wasn’t easy, as suggested by information sign located on the PCT. The sign notes that the “drawing is not an exaggeration.”

I’ve included this because I want to recognize the thousands of hours volunteers spend on maintaining the PCT, with some, like Don and Pat Malberg, actually adopting sections of the trail.

The folks who build and maintain the PCT take the ‘crest’ part of its name seriously. The result is great views, lots of ups and downs, and not much water, especially later in the season. I’ve often found myself hiking 10-15 miles between water sources. Anderson Peak is in the distance and Tinker’s Knob on the other side.

A closer view of Anderson Peak.

Another photo of the trail near Tinker’s Knob. The trail cuts to the left of the peak and then drops into a canyon of the American River.

A view back down the trail.

Normally, the PCT is like the ‘freeway of trails,’ broad and well graded. It can get difficult at times, especially when heading across rocky slopes like this. Hiking becomes challenging. Each step needs to be placed to avoid a sprained ankle or a tumble. Care becomes almost instinctual. The granite boulder trail reached the lava cliff and then switchbacked up the mountain.

A snag near Anderson Peak. Peggy thought ‘three witches.’

By now (late August) most flowers are past their blooming stage and have gone to seed. This fellow was still blooming, however, and goes by the rather quaint name of pussy paws because of its resemblance to cats’ feet.

Large volcanic rocks are found along the trail, speaking to the area’s volcanic history.

The trail switched back rapidly down from Tinker’s Knob and I came on my first water of the day. This rubber boa was there to greet me. Known for their gentle nature,  they are sometimes used to help people get over their fear of snakes. I picked it up and repositioned it for a photo-op. 🙂 I filled my water bottles with five liters of water knowing I would be dry camping for the night.

I didn’t have to hike much farther, finding a lovely campsite beneath Tinker’s Knob with great surrounding views.

Looking out from my kitchen as the sun set…

And another photo, a few minutes later.

Slightly later, this was my bathroom view looking in the other direction. Not bad, eh?

Early the next morning, I was treated to a sunrise view of Tinker’s Knob.

It’s for moments like these that I have spent 50 years backpacking.

My hike the next morning took me towards the mountains that form the rim of the Granite Chief Wilderness and back up to Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Needle Peak is seen to the left. I will have hiked across those mountains and several miles farther by night.

My morning walk took me through a meadow filled with drying mule ears that rustled in the wind.

Sierra thistles were looking quite bushy as they prepared to disperse their seeds.

I caught these thistles, along with mule ears, backlit by the sun.

A lone tree decorated a gap in the mountains.

Looking back, I could see Tinker’s Knob and the mountains I had camped beneath.

Looking forward, I was faced with mountains of granite and one of the Northern Sierra’s more wild areas, the Granite Chief Wilderness.

Next two posts:

  • The Granite Chief Wilderness Area
  • The Desolation Wilderness Area and Bone’s home

 

 

 

Towns along the PCT

While I puff my way up and down mountains, Peggy explores the surrounding country and towns, having adventures of her own. A hike over to Burney Falls rewarded her with this view. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

 

Today’s Post:

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.

 

Current Location

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.

Camilla and Bastion, PCT hikers from Leon, France, on Sonora Pass. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

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.

I insisted that Bones have his photo taken with Bone when he passed me. Both seemed delighted.

Bones, who comes from Portland, Oregon, had been chatting with Peggy for an hour and a half when I came off the trail. You can tell he is a PCT hiker by how skinny he is. I look equally gaunt. I was surprised that Peggy hadn’t pulled out her guitar so the two of them could have performed a concert. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

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.

The wind hit me as I came over the trail pass. I could hardly take this photo. Highway 108 can be seen in the distance on the top right (the white speck). I still had a ways to get to Peggy!

Smoke from the Donnell fire was rapidly increasing when we left Sonora Pass.

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.

Peggy and I stayed at a KOA along Highway 395 that night. Once again, smoke filled the air. It did make for a rather dramatic photo of the cliffs overlooking the KOA, however.

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.

Etna is a favorite town along the PCT, known by hikers for its hospitality. Peggy found the historic buildings in the community of particular interest. This one sported a mural emphasizing its history, as did a number of other buildings. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The town’s museum was located in what I assume was an old school.

I suspect, or at least hope, that this boarded up historic building will morph into some modern use. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Speaking of historic, this phone booth certainly fits the bill. And it still functions! Local calls were for free. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This “Little Library” where folks can pick up, trade, or donate books was near and dear to Peggy’s heart. As President of Friends of the Library in Ruch, Oregon, she has supported a similar program for our community.

This restaurant was ‘near and dear’ to my heart. Our trail friends, Big Foot and Peter Pan, had recommended it and Peggy considers it a sacred duty to stuff me every time I come off the trail. Stuff away we did.

Peggy entertained herself with a long hike at Caste Crags and was rewarded with this view. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

She also found these large Umbrella plants fascinating… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

And used her foot for perspective. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

One place she stayed at Castle Crags while waiting for me was at the RV camp at Railroad Resort Park. People can actually rent these cabooses to stay in. Castle Crags looms in the background. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

This train engine is located at the park. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

As was this dining car— another place that I was stuffed. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

McCloud featured this somewhat scary sculpture of a logger. You wouldn’t want to meet him at night— or get in an argument over logging practices with him! (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

In the town of Dunsmuir, we were joined by Sandra and Tim Holt. Longtime friends, they had kept my nephew Jay’s car for him while we hiked from Etna Summit to Castle Crags. Peggy had lunch with Sandra while we were out on the trail.

Tim and I go all the way back to the 70s and 80s in Sacramento when he wrote, edited and published the Sutter Town News that focused on downtown Sacramento where I was a community activist on health and environmental issues. Now days, Tim and Sandra perform folk song concerts at local venues as well as volunteer extensively in Dunsmuir.

Peggy enjoyed numerous views of Mt. Shasta just as I did out on the trail. This photo was also taken at McCloud by Peggy.

A long hike in Burney took Peggy over to Burney Falls where she even found a rainbow, which she was quite pleased to capture. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I’ll conclude today with this close-up that I really liked. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

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.

When Fire and Smoke Strike along the Pacific Crest Trail… (Plus more photos from Section P)

Smoke from the Carr fire out of Redding plus smoke from a nearby Susanville fire impact the PCT near Chester, California

Up until now, I’ve been lucky in avoiding fires on my hike down the PCT to Mt. Whitney from Southern Oregon. Certainly this was true of Section P that I have been featuring in my last few posts. Jay and I had a couple of days of minor smoke from fires near the Oregon border, but as my photos have shown, most of our trip was either beautifully clear or only slightly hazy. My luck continued all the way through Lassen National Park to Highway 36 and Chester (close to half of my trip). The Carr fire near Redding and several other Northern California fires have changed that.

It seems like the whole West is burning, a phenomenon that has become all too common. And it’s no stranger to those who hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Tinder dry forests, excessive heat, low humidity, strong winds, lightning, and people careless with fire are all factors. A small blaze can quickly escalate into a conflagration that consumes hundreds and even thousands of acres.  Through-hikers and section-hikers pay close attention to the latest news. First, because of potential danger. Pushed by strong winds, forest fires can move quickly and threaten life. Second, and much more common, fires force trail closures. Dreams of hiking the whole trail straight through are often frustrated. Global warming is taking its toll on the PCT!

I met “Steady” from the Netherlands when I was hiking into Lassen National Park. “My trail name is Steady,” he told me, “because I am slow but steady on the trail.” He immediately wanted to know about fire closures along the PCT. Like so many through hikers, he dreamed of making the whole trail without any interruptions. The dead trees in the background are the result of a past fire.

Smoke is also an issue. Visibility drops quickly. Distant vistas that the PCT is famous for and that trekkers love disappear. Of even more concern, air pollution becomes a health threat. The fine particulate matter created by smoke can make its way deep into your lungs. As the American Lung Association notes: Wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs, especially for children, older adults (which I vaguely resemble at 75) and those with asthma, COPD and bronchitis or a chronic heart disease or diabetes. Unhealthy air from the Ferguson Fire was a major reason for evacuating Yosemite Valley this summer.

During heavy smoke episodes, people are warned to stay inside and avoid exercising outdoors. The harder a person breathes, the deeper smoke is pulled into his or her lungs. As you might imagine, staying inside and avoiding exercise are not options for people out on the PCT. In fact, through-hikers are exercising way beyond what is normal, especially when hiking up a steep trail or backpacking 20-30 miles a day. (I’ll add my 13-15 miles a day here— grin)

Many of you have expressed concern over how the numerous fires in Southern Oregon and Northern California are impacting my journey. The Carr fire that has garnered so much national media attention, is a case in point. As of this morning the fire has consumed 89,000 acres and is threatening Redding. It has even created its own weather system, including fire tornadoes. Fortunately for me and others hiking the PCT, it is about 50 miles west of the trail. We don’t have to worry about the flames, at least not yet. Hopefully, the fire will be contained by the time you read this post.

Avoiding the Carr fire hardly puts through-hikers in the clear. Numerous other mountain fires rage in California and Oregon. We came across this sign just a few miles outside of Chester on our way to Susanville. It is a sign of the times.

The smoke from the Carr fire was something else.

When Peggy drove me over to the trailhead on Highway 36 yesterday morning (July 28) for the next segment of my trip, the smoke was so thick that visibility was severely reduced. Smoke from the Carr fire to the west had been joined by smoke from the Susanville fire, about 30 miles to the east. With a 2600 foot climb ahead of me in temperatures likely to climb into the 90s F and possibly low 100s (32-37 C), I was not a happy camper. I would be working hard, hot, and breathing smoke. So, I decided that there was another solution: Give the smoke 2-3 three days to clear out a bit or pick up the trail farther south. While most through-trekkers prefer to hike straight through, nature often has other plans. High snow in the Sierra’s, for example, often forces people to skip that section and hike it later. (I had already skipped one section of the trail where 100 degree plus F heat combined with no water for 30 miles.)

The early morning sun in Chester had been turned red-orange by smoke from the fires.

I can always come back and do the trail or make up the distance in a less smoke-choked area, if one exists in California or Oregon or Washington. My goals are to enjoy the wilderness and its beauty, hike a thousand miles, and follow the PCT as much as is possible, hopefully ending with Mt. Whitney. But beyond enjoying the wilderness, there is a lot of flexibility in my plans. My trail of choice for the moment is to follow the PCT from Carson Pass on Highway 88 to Sonora Pass on Highway 108 and then do the section just north, hiking from Donner Summit to Carson Pass.

……..

But enough seriousness, now it’s time for some fun— brought to you courtesy of my being off the trail for a couple more days. In addition to beautiful scenery and wood sculptures, the trail from Etna Summit to Castle Crags was filled with flowers, some interesting characters, colorful rocks, a seemingly tame frog, pitcher plants, and a very colorful caterpillar. Here are some photos. Enjoy.

This happy fellow who had its own spring seemed to pose for us. It was used to being admired by through-hikers.

And this fat caterpillar was not about to stop its consumption of a leaf because of our attention.

Have you ever seen a rock like this? I could only wonder about its mineral composition and the forces of nature that had created it.

This woman, whose trail name was Mama Bear, had been traveling with her cubs since Mt. Whitney, a distance of several hundred miles.

Wendy and Tim were doing an excellent job of representing Australia. They were hiking down the PCT and hoped to hike across America. Tim, who hailed from Sydney, had previously hiked from the southernmost point in Australia to the northernmost point, raising money for suicide prevention. Wendy hailed from Queensland.

We met Rowan later. She was also from Australia and was hiking in memory of her twin brother who had died. Another brother was also hiking with her. Rowan works as an actress in Sydney.

A beautiful small stream where we met Rowan, made an excellent camp site for Jay and me.

Shooting down into the water, I caught this photo.

PCT trail signs come in many flavors depending on the particular national forest, wilderness, park, etc. I liked the sentiment that someone had expressed on this one.

It seemed to go along with this Zen-like garden a spring had created.

There is nothing calming about this sign. It’s for Bloody Run Trail. Given how the tree is consuming the sign, I thought of running myself.

Also in the slightly weird category are these pitcher plants we found where the frog was hanging out. These guys, a young one and an old one, are carnivorous plants that eat insects, which are trapped inside the ‘pitcher.’ Another name for this plant is the cobra plant, given the shape of the plant and its ‘forked tongue.’

This unusual flower went with the pitcher plant.

There was no lack of ‘old friends’ when it came to flowers along the trail. Yellow lupine decorated this one.

A close-up of the Lupine.

Recognize this little beauty? It is a wild hollyhock.

I caught this cow parsnip backlit by the sun, but I had to sit on wet ground to do it.

A morning-glory if I am not wrong. Strange leaves, it seemed to me.

A shooting star flower. Hundreds grow in our backyard.

The back side of this tiger lily was quite attractive…

But not as pretty as the front.

I took this photo of Jay as we were hiking down into the Castle Crags Wilderness. No smoke here!

Around the time I took the photo of Jay, we ran into Bill Whitaker. Bill had started his hike at Castle Crags and done a little over 10 miles in two days. He was planning to hike on to the Washington/Oregon border, a long ways at that pace! He was 68 years old.

We also ran into Bilbo, Ducky and Shoe. Their approach to the trail was to take a couple of hours off everyday at lunch, which was a quite civilized approach to the PCT. Bilbo was from German, Ducky from Utah, and Shoe from Canada, representing the international nature of those who hike the trail.

“Watch out for rattlesnakes,” a through trekker told us. Jay, who was in the lead, didn’t have to be told twice. In fact he found two. Neither seemed to be interested in a photo-op and disappeared into the brush even though I invited them to come out. Can you find the rattler here?

Jay and I at the end of the trail where Peggy was waiting for us. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I’ll conclude with this photo of ‘Aunt’ Peggy and Jay at Railroad Resort RV Park beneath the Crags.

Next up: Peggy’s photos of Etna and Dunsmuir, two small towns that through-hikers visit on their way through Northern California.

 

 

 

 

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The Incredible Castle Crags… Hiking from Etna Summit to Castle Crags: Section P of the PCT, Part 3

One of our first views of the Crags, which are indeed craggy.

 

For those of you who are following me along on my journey, I am now in the Northern California town of Chester, having finished hiking through Lassen National Park. I just ate four pieces of French Toast, two eggs, two sausage patties and half of Peggy’s garlic french fries. I’m ready to blog!

Actually, when you read this post, I should be nearing the town of Belden on the Feather River, which will be close to my halfway mark! Peggy and I are planning to take a break for a few days there, which should allow me to get caught up on the blog.

But for today, I want to introduce you to Castle Crags, a massive hunk of carved granite that sits beside Interstate 5. I’ve been passing and admiring it from the highway for decades. It is totally different to see it from the Pacific Crest Trail. My nephew, Jay, and I experienced it as we dropped several thousand feet down to I-5 on an 18 plus mile day. The views and photography helped me forget my aching feet.

The Crags are noted for their white granite.

A photo showing how dramatic the spires can be.

And a closer view.

As we dropped down, the Crags took on a different look.

Again, closer.

The trail down also provided this dramatic view of Mt. Shasta with its interesting cloud.

Early the next morning provided this view.

Followed by this…

A final view from the trail.

And this was Peggy’s view from where she was staying at the Railroad Resort RV Park. No climbing up or down involved. (grin)

 

Scenes from along the Trail… Hiking from Etna Summit to Castle Crags: Section P on the PCT Part 2

The100-mile section of PCT trail through the Russian Wilderness, Trinity Alps and Castle Crags Wilderness is filled with beauty and wide open vistas, making it one of the most impressive sections of the route,

 

I played a bit in my last post, featuring wood sculptures and ‘faces’ from along the trail from Etna Summit to Castle Crags following the PCT. I can’t resist these sometimes beautiful, sometime humorous and sometimes downright weird contributions by nature. You’ll see more. Guaranteed! Today, I am going to take a different tack and make an effort to capture the beauty of the Russian Wilderness and the Trinity Alps, which I hiked through with my nephew, Jay. I’ll follow up with a post on the incredible Castle Crags. As one through-trekker noted, “Why aren’t these a National Monument?”

I wish I had more time to devote to these posts, but I face the same problem as folks doing the whole PCT. Time. You have to do the miles. Because I am only doing a thousand, I have a bit more. I can leave my camp around seven and usually get in somewhere between three and four, having done my 12-15 miles. It’s a good thing! My 75-year-old body can use the recovery time. When I camp with through hikers, they are almost always out by 6 or earlier (some tromp by in the dark), and don’t come in until 7-9ish. Or by flashlight. Once they hit the trail, they are moving. There is little time to stop and admire the flowers like I do.

My layover days, when Peggy picks me up, are crammed with activity. First up, is stuff Curt. Peggy is quite concerned about how skinny I have become and I have no objection to her admonitions to “eat!” Then there are the necessary chores to prepare for the next leg. I am ever so lucky to have Peggy’s help here. She does the laundry, for example, and earns beaucoup credits for handling my ‘trail-flavored’ clothes. PCTers are a smelly bunch. There is no help for it, even though most of us make an effort to stay clean. A shower is top priority, right after the cold beer. Organizing my resupply and repacking takes time, and I need to review and pack my next set of maps. And then there are the posts, reviewing my journal, downloading and processing photos, and writing.

So, without further ado, here’s my photo essay for the day. These are from the Russian Wilderness.

Views of mountain ranges entertained, and wowed us, every day. These photos are from the Russian Wilderness.

Another view…

Snow was light this year, so there isn’t much left.

I found these craggy peaks lined up against the mountain unusual.

A snag added color here.

Every corner Jay and I hiked around provided another view. We were cutting across the ridge on the left. In a day or two, we would be to the distant mountains.

This section had much more than mountains. Rocks, for one.

A close up.

This snag with its curled limbs caught my attention. Our trail snakes along on the bottom right across quite steep terrain.

Again, we found ourselves passing through burned over areas.

Our campsite that night, however, was blessed with these beauties, and a barely flowing stream. But water is water!

Our journey then took us into the Trinity Alps.

The area has a number of enticing lakes, many of which I have camped on in previous treks into the area.

And Alp-like mountains, for which it was given its name.

The same peaks rendered in black and white.

And, as we have gotten used to in our trek through Northern California, enticing views of Mt. Shasta.

Another.

Forest fires burning in the area provided this smokey perspective.

This stand-alone forest giant, a cedar, was impressive.

And who can resist mountain meadows that invite you into distant views.

Another.

I liked this white pine with its long cones.

And I will close today with this forested view of Mt. Shasta in the distance.

What’s in a Name? … Hiking from Etna Summit to Castle Crags: Section P on the PCT Part 1

My nephew, Jay, and I couldn’t resist the beautiful wood sculptures along the PCT between Etna Summit and Castle Crags. I liked the drama created by rendering this one in black and white.

 

It’s official: I am The Wanderer, or more simply, Wanderer, which will come as no surprise to followers of this blog. Trail names are important out here on the PCT. You are supposed to earn one by your actions, looks or quirks. For example, a young woman came in to get water at Deer Creek Springs above the McCloud River where I was camping for the night and introduced herself as Pez. Apparently, she likes the candy, was using it for encouragement along the trail, and was glad to share.

“I’m running low,” she told me, somewhat concerned. I understood. It would be like my eating the last of my nightly Oreos before reaching Peggy and my resupply. It’s like seeing your gas needle hit empty on a lonely road. I pictured Pez raiding the stores in the Castle Crag area, buying enough to get her over the next mountain range.

Pez allowed that she might not keep the name. Through-trekkers are allowed to accept or reject the trail names they are given, and choose another— if a better one comes along. Does that make us a fickle bunch? She chatted for a while, maybe a little lonely. Her boyfriend was hiking the Appalachian Trail while she was hiking the PCT. She seemed so young. “I felt it was important for my independence.” I admired her.

There is great equality out on the trail. We are all hiking up the same mountains, facing the same issues of weather, biting insects, and miles and miles to travel. The lack of water in the last section I just hiked through, added the serious problem of having adequate water to drink. Forget having enough to bathe or wash clothes! My nightly sniff-test suggested I was deteriorating rapidly.

Beat up feet are one of the things that PCT hikers share, although problems like blisters are more likely in the beginning before feet toughen up. Paper tape has always been my go-to solution. I earned the black and blue toenail on the Rogue River. In six months there should be a new one.

“Grab a handful of fir needles and rub them over your shirt,”Pop Corn! suggested. “Then you will smell like a fir-tree.” I was bemoaning the fact that there was no swimming hole in Peavine Creek to jump in before I met up with Peggy. None of us ‘smell like a daisy’ out on the trail, which isn’t a problem until we approach civilization. I thought Pop Corn’s! suggestion was the ultimate in PCT wisdom. (grin)

Temperatures climbing above 100-degrees F (37.7 C) on the sizzling hot afternoons didn’t help. There was also a major lightning storm. It missed me; Peggy was worried. Another through-trekker was struck. Luckily he wasn’t killed and is recovering. Several forest fires were started as well, which are always a worry for those of us who live and travel through Western forests in this era of global warming. I can smell smoke now. One is out there lurking, waiting to pounce.

As a general rule, the through-hikers are a cheerful bunch. I rarely hear a negative word, regardless of how tough the day. A ready smile and “How are you doing?” is the normal greeting. “Great” or “Good” is the normal answer. And there is always, “Have a great hike!” or something similar. Occasionally we stop and chat. But the need to get on down the trail always drives us on.

As usual in my life, I am going against the flow. While the vast majority of trekkers are going south to north, I am going north to south, hiking to my own drummer, so to speak. In fact, I have only met one other couple going the same direction I am. It makes it more difficult in the name game. One minute, or even five-minute encounters along the trail, are hardly enough time to observe a quirk or trait that might suggest one. “Grey Beard” Peggy urged. And that fit. At 75, I am certainly of the age that a name implying elder seems appropriate. And it made me think of Gandalf the Grey! But I have seen several youngsters along the trail in their 60s with magnificent grey and white beards that put my puny efforts at growing whiskers to shame.  (My students in Africa where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching high school in the 1960s called me Ho Chi Minh because I sported a see-through beard like his.)

It’s pretty hard to claim the name Grey Beard when the competition is this tough. Jay and I ran into Bill Whittaker as he was climbing out of Castle Crags.

I was hiking up Grider Creek out of Seiad when I came on Adam and Eve. They wanted to know my trail name. “Happy Wanderer,” I replied spontaneously. I had just been singing the song to help me up the trail. Immediate recognition filled their eyes as they sang a few bars of the tune that was once popular in my (and their) youth. It fit even better than Grey Beard.

The title of my blog is “Wandering through Time and Place.” My business card for this trip announces ‘celebrating 75-years of wandering in the wilderness.” I have a lifetime of wandering behind me. But it goes further. Ancestors on both sides of my family were wanderers. My father’s side, the Mekemsons, arrived in Pennsylvania in 1755 and had soon moved on the Maryland. (All six sons fought in the Revolutionary War.) They were living in Kentucky by the late 1700s and had then moved on to Illinois, Iowa and then west coast by the early 1900s. My mother’s side, the Marshalls, followed a similar route, arriving even earlier in Boston in 1630. They had moved on to Connecticut, New York, Illinois, and then west. Wandering is in my blood.

The name fit well but I had given it to myself, which certainly happens… but isn’t supposed to. I was reluctant to use it.  The next time someone asked, I replied “still searching,” meaning I was still searching for my name. They assumed it was my name and liked it! It certainly isn’t a bad one. I am ‘still searching’ at 75 and would love to be at 95. But now I had three active names, and that can get a bit confusing.

I was hiking along the ridge above Moosehead Springs a few days ago between Castle Crags and Burney Falls when a fellow with a large red beard, named Red of course, stopped me and asked “Are you Curt, or Grey Beard, or Wanderer?” Naturally I was delighted. The question meant he had run into Peggy and was carrying a message. But you can see the difficulty.

It came to a head when I was hiking out to Burney Falls. Peggy was a bit confused about when I would arrive and had found a much better location to pick me up. The confusion wasn’t surprising. My first four days on the section had been tough (I’ll cover them in a later post.) I’d given myself a semi-layover day on the McCloud River and fallen behind. Three days out from the falls, I’d found myself with over 45 miles to travel— a walk in the park for the hardened PCTers with 1500 miles under their belts, but tough for my 75 year-old-body that was already complaining.  None-the-less, I buckled down and vowed to do it. I dutifully arrived at Peavine Creek, 15 miles from the Falls at the end of the second day. The next morning found me shooting down the trail at 3-4 miles per hour. I can still move when inspired and It was mainly downhill. Peggy, cold beer, a shower, a good meal, and clean clothes were waiting!

I’d made it 10 miles when Patch stopped me. He had pointed to his belt pouch and pulled out my card. “You must be Grey Beard or Wanderer, or something else,” he had announced laughing. ‘Peggy is waiting for you at the Dam and she is a really neat woman.” Peggy had given him and his buddies apples and PCTers respond amazingly well to fresh fruit. Thus, it started. A dozen people must have told me that Peggy was waiting and raved about her. “A lovely young woman is waiting for you at the Dam and she said you should hurry,” was one comment. I hurried. Peggy was now distributing cold beer and I wanted to make sure I got there before she ran out. (Kidding, sort of.) A couple greeted me at Rock Creek and the man asked if I was Graveyard— at least that’s what my ears heard. “Um, not yet,” I had responded. He assured me he had said Greybeard. His companion asked, “Wanderer?”

Patch pulled out my business card and told me Peggy was waiting for me at the Pit River Bridge/Lake Britten Dam.

That did it. When I reached my lovely wife, and had been properly greeted and handed a cold beer, she announced, “We have to do something about this name thing. You are Wanderer!” Peggy had spoken— and I couldn’t have agreed more.

*******

Now it’s time to drop back to my 100-mile trip between Etna Summit and Castle Crags of a week ago. There is a lot to cover, having hiked through the Russian Wilderness, the Trinity Alps, and the magnificent Castle Crags Wilderness. I was lucky to have my nephew Jay along. He had joined when he was a somewhat shy 16-year-old as I wrapped up a 360-mile backpack trip from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney 15-years ago. Now he was 31 years old and a talented photographer, cameraman, and director in the early stages of a Hollywood career. He was also in love; no longer shy. I heard a lot about the young woman. (grin) More to the point of this trip was his incredible enthusiasm for the country we were hiking through. I’d often hear him exclaim “Wow!” as he found something of interest or beauty. It seemed that half of our hiking time was taken up with photography as we found something new to photograph.

Jay on our Etna Summit to Castle Crags trip.

At age 16 on top of Mt. Whitney when he joined me on part of a 360 mile backpack trip I did from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney.

I could tell that Jay was a serious photographer by the various poses he assumed while taking photographs— all with a pack on his back!

Here’s my photo of what I believe Jay was trying to capture.

I am going to do several posts on this section. One, because there is so much to cover, and two because I would like to do a separate post featuring Jay’s photography and another featuring Peggy’s photos of Etna. The small towns along the PCT are very important to the through hikers. They are where they pick up their resupplies but they also provide a break from the trail. Again: think cold beer, good meal, shower, and clean clothes.

I’ll do these as photographic essays on a thematic basis. Where to start is the question? Logically, I would show photos of the general terrain we were hiking through. But for fun, I am going to start with the natural wood sculptures Jay and I found along the trail. These almost guaranteed a frenzy of photography. Also, there were the strange faces peering out at us from the wood. The forests are alive. A little theme music please…

I am a bit of an Animist when it comes to nature. I believe that awareness flows through all living things, be they animal or plant. Finding faces staring out at you is totally for amusement, however. This fellow with his bulbous nose and laughing eyes resembled an ancient Greek comedy mask.

While this guy hidden in the crack seemed a bit more ominous!

And this one was just ducky. Check out his bill. Is he grinning or grimacing?

It was the ‘wind-blown’ hair that captured my attention here.

This was our first view of the wood sculpture I featured at the beginning of the post. It guaranteed that Jay and I would be off on another detour. Completing the PCT would probably take the two of us years because of all the time we spend being sidetracked.

This was another impressive wood sculpture that caught our attention. It looks like it was climbing the cliff.

A close up.

Less dramatic wood sculptures created by dead trees also demanded stops. I thought of these two as ‘family.’

This large dead tree provided…

… this interesting limb.

Roots grow around rocks and continue to hold onto them after the tree dies, providing for interesting contrast of wood and stone.

And one of the downed trees that give Deadfall Lake its name provided Jay with a convenient place for a nap.

I imagined a discussion going on here. The bird with the large beak is giving the snooty creature on the left an earful, and he doesn’t want to hear it!

I’ll conclude today’s post as I started, with another black and white.

I am back into the woods today, but this time for a short 50 miles. I’ll get up more posts on the PCT between Etna Summit and Castle Crags when I come out, including photograph collections by both Jay and Peggy.

 

Hiking from Seiad to Etna Summit on the PCT: Part 2— I Photograph Bigfoot, and Peter Pan… The Thousand Mile Trek

Marble Mountain. This may not be the type of marble that excited Renaissance Sculptures, but it obviously caught the attention of the people who named the Marble Mountain Wilderness as it does people who hike the area today.

I am stuffing myself. Today is my last day to cram in the calories before I hit the PCT again and I am bone-showing skinny, skinnier than I have been in about a thousand years, give or take a few. “Eat!” Peggy commands, and I eat. Bring on the half pound hamburger.

Today I am focusing on the second half of my trek from Seiad to Etna Summit, Section Q as it is defined on the PCT. I’ve just left Paradise (as in Lake), and what the heck is left after Heaven. How about meeting up with Bigfoot and his partner Peter Pan. Once again, I’ll be using the photograph format for my post.

I meet Truckee near Big Rock. “My trail name is Truckee,” he informs me, “because I live in Truckee.” Good reason. Truckee was raised in the California Central Valley city of Stockton but returned to the mountain town of Truckee so often he moved there. Having lived in Stockton’s sister city of Sacramento, I was forever escaping to the mountains.

Following Truckee south as he disappears into the distance, I come on Black Mountain, the partner to Marble Mountain, as dark as it is light.

My next landmark is Big Rock , a huge chunk of Marble that resides near the PCT giving both a creek and campsite its name. I wonder if it rolled down from a nearby mountain or was deposited here by a glacier.

I meet up with a snowpack and see Truckee’s trail racing across it. I follow in his footsteps.

I work my way around a marble rock face…

And find this hole. Water dissolves marble as it does the rock it derived from, lime, often leaving caves and holes in the ground such as this.

I catch up with Truckee again filling his water bottles at this small stream…

He introduces me to Uphill. “You need to talk with this man,” Truckee announces. Like me, Uphill (Mark Bowden) is blogging about his PCT experience. “Back home,” he explains to me, “I blog about hikes along the Appalachian Trail.” He is out of Atlanta, Georgia. “I retired one day and was on an airplane west the next.” Two days after his retirement he was on the PCT. His blog is http://www.uphillhike.com. “Be sure to say hi to Dirt and Rye when you meet them,” he admonishes me.

I thought Christmas when I saw these firs and then apologized to them about my evil thoughts of turning them into Christmas trees.

I’ve rendered the Marble Valley Guard Station in black and white given its historic status. Years before I had hiked through here and even then it seemed old.

There was nothing old about Dirt and Rye who came into the meadow as I was eating lunch. I had to ask about the names. Dirt had Dirt tattooed on her knee. There had to be a story, which I didn’t hear. Rye was a baker, so rye bread was the answer. The girls were sisters hailing from Southern California.

The Guard Station also had a great view of Marble Mountain.

Another perspective.

A creek, running close to the ranger cabin, was filled with butterflies on its moist sides.

A close up of one of the butterflies.

There’s great water down here,” I heard piping up from below the trail after I had just finished a long climb. “Come on down,” they urged. “You must be the 75-year old blogger.” (They’d run into Truckee.) And thus it was that I met Bigfoot after searching for him for years. He wasn’t nearly as hairy as I expected. And what was he doing running around with Peter Pan? And since when was Peter Pan a girl? It was all more than I could grasp. “I tried to persuade him to take the name Tinker Bell, ” Peter Pan told me with a laugh. No deal. Turns out that this delightful couple is from Palmer, Alaska. They had worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School for decades and are dedicated outdoor adventurers.

I detoured off the trail that night to camp at Cold Springs, which I shared with a frog.He didn’t drink much.

The view from the springs the next morning.

The trail to Etna Summit continues on, providing stunning vistas:

 

Welcome water…

Colorful flowers…

Red Mountain Heather.

Marsh Mallows…

Poppies…

Close up of poppies…

These beauties…

A member of the composite family…

And this strange fellow.

Closing with Spirea.

I continued to meet through-trekkers hurrying on their way north. Very few travel north to south, the direction I am traveling. Some pass by with barely a grunt of recognition as they run their unending marathon. But most have a smile and a hello, and many stop to chat. Hiking the PCT is much more of a social experience than I ever imagined.

The PCT has become a major attraction for hikers from all over the world. This is Oscar from Birmingham, England.

Caveman from Austria stopped to chat. “This trail is incredible,” he told me. “We have nothing like it in Austria or Europe.” It is a refrain I have heard over and over again. I flashed on the Sound of Music, however, and broke out with a not so stirring rendition of “Climb Every Mountain”. He laughed. “I guess I need to see the movie again.” I apologized for my breaking out in song. “It happens all the time,” he assured me. My girlfriend is an opera singer.”

Ridge Route and Short Cut were from closer to home: San Diego. Ridge Route explained to me that Short Cut got her name because she was just over five-feet tall. It didn’t seem to slow her down.

There are times when the trail seems to go forever on, like it will never end…

But eventually, through trekkers come to another trail head, another opportunity to resupply, another opportunity for a cold beer, hot shower and good food. For me it’s the view of Peggy waving excitedly, and our van. I am ever so lucky.

The cold beer comes next.