221 miles – August 13th through August 26th, 2011 Castle Crags State Park, California, to Callahan’s Siskiyou Summit, Oregon. This year the strapped state of California said it would close a lot of parks, among them our trailhead, Castle Crags State Park. The good news is they’re not closed yet and the PCT continues through an unmanned portion of the park. I don’t think closed California parks will stop PCT hikers. I’d been thinking about or preparing for this trip all year. I don’t think you ever stop thinking about your sections: doing, buying, training, studying etc. You can never be fit enough, but you have to be fit to start. Crasher, a through hiker we met this year, said, “I think it’s harder for section-hikers,” but I think she’s wrong, especially after successfully negotiating the snowed-in Sierras. Rachel Ginsburg kindly, for the third time, picked me up at Oakland airport and drove me to Dunsmuir to meet John Hart, my hiking companion and mental trail giant, for our second section together. He’d just finished a week on the trail from Burney Falls to make up for the part he missed last year. His final total for this trip would be 301 miles - his longest! Rachel gave us a send-off kiss, and although she and her new dog, Athena, intended to join us in the Marble Mountain Wilderness, that sadly didn’t come to pass due to another commitment. To start off, I went back under the Hwy 5 underpass to touch a post on the other side. John and I always make every trip “honest”; we don’t miss a step. That first afternoon we started off at 1PM and hiked nine miles. We had a ridiculous hope we’d do 11 miles. Our intentions are stronger than our legs. We ended the day at Castle Crags, a dramatic and beautiful outcropping. The next morning we started a big day: 20 miles or so, with over a 4500 feet gain in altitude, to the only guaranteed spring in the first section. There were several water sources in the first miles but we were so enamored with the sight of the Pitcher Plant at a stream (the North American habitat of this carnivorous plant) that we’d tanked up too late. It made for a dry end-of-day. We did meet our first through-hikers: Feisty, Gnarly, and Han Solo, who was from Germany. Even with my 35-year-old German, I succeeding in convincing him I was fluent. He went on in German for quite a while before he caught on. Late in the day, but before the final spring, we found our first Trail Magic. We were far from dying of thirst, but were thrilled to come across a five gallon drum filled with Hansen’s soda just past the dirt road down to Gumboot Lake! Thank you, Trail Angel, whoever you are! We trudged on, found the spring, filled up our bladders and bottles, and found a campsite late. I’ve said it before: the most important thing to find is water next to a flat spot. It’s amazing how few places there are to camp in the wide open wilderness. Settling down to start cooking dinner, I found that my gas canister was empty! Note to self: Shake that thing before a trip! John shared his cooking gear with me. Later , as I was dropping off to sleep, it seemed that the earth below me was getting harder every second. Another surprise: my NeoAir Mattress had sprung a leak! It was two days of lying on the ground positioning my three foam pads on shoulders and butt before I found and fixed the hole. Also, I found spiders and silverfish crawling all over me during the night. I’ve never been bit or harmed, but I’m buying an enclosed tent next year. I think I drink half again as much water as John. He uses bottles, and has to stop to drink. I sip away on my bite valve as I go. Extra water weight creates foot pain, I’ve found. More about that later… This section is a big tipped over U. We launch east and southeast from Hwy 5 for several days. You often see Mount Shasta and realize you’re barely moving north. John, who knows these things, says for every mile north we have over 4 miles of trail here. There are 2.3 trail miles for every mile north to Canada. The territory north of Shasta is very dry, which explains the routing. We laughed over how often we’d discussed the bazillion trees we’ve seen in 1700 miles. We’ve seen plenty of nature. There’s no lack of it. Every day on the PCT is hard. Climbing up and down mountains with a pack on your back is masochistic. Everything is inconvenient in the wilderness. You have to bring everything with you. The challenge of the adventure is what drives me on; not nature, but the achievement and social aspect of hiking with friends.
We met Pete from Portland going south. He’d hiked the trail before but was walking from Ashland to Sierra City. A transplanted Brit, he was one of those hikers who look shockingly clean and unfazed by the rigors of the journey. He’s probably doing more sensible miles than we are. We spent a long lunch at Upper Deadfall Lake. Few lakes are accessible from the trail, and even when they are it’s often hard to get to the water. Reeds, logs and mushy ground make it hard to filter water or jump in. This one was lovely, and we saw lots of day hikers who had gotten there from a nearby forest road for good camping and a beautiful view of Mount Eddy. After the road we had a 4 mile half-circle of easy walking. We had a laugh when we finished a long traverse and then looked over to where we started hours ago. We wondered why the PCT doesn’t have an air bridge. There were lots of signs and posts in this area. Like states’ rights, the marking of the trail is inconsistent. I thank the energetic people of this area for clearly posting the trail. We passed a lake listed as a water source in Erik the Black’s book. We would have stopped for water, but it had a hundred foot drop so we would have needed someone to rappel down to get it! Baby wipes are sure handy. Ultralight hikers don’t carry them but I use them for cleaning my hands before putting in contacts, general cleanup and of course after the outdoor toilet. Figuring out what to take in your pack, and in what form, is a big job. It’s got to be light and have multiple applications if possible. When we got to Chilcoot Creek we met the previously-mentioned Crasher and her parents from Connecticut. While filtering we learned she had successfully navigated the snowy Sierras and was spending five days with her daring parents on the trail. She was jumping to Ashland to rejoin her through-hiking group to Canada, hoping to do the section she missed in October. I complemented her and she said, “Go big or go home.” What a sweet and determined young woman. Around noon, when we stopped to rest after a long, hard traverse on steep slopes,Frito Ray and his wif (wish I could remember her name) caught up with us.. He worked for Frito Lay and had a bag of the chips on the back of his pack. As I mentioned before, I drink a lot of water. Seems I carried too much up the mountain and my right heel started to hurt. Stopping to check it out, I saw a red spot on the bottom of the heel. John helped me apply Moleskin with duct tape. I was fearful the trip was in jeopardy, but that was my hysteria, as usual. We passed by Echo Lake and Rattlesnake Mountain on this trip. It reminded me of the limits of human creativity. There are at least three “Buckhorn”s, and probably too many “Kennedy Meadows” to count. So many places: you have to call them something. But it’s much more pleasant that just using a number, as in “Peak 5142”. We ran into Overload (good name), One Step (finishing her last section, she’d met Bill Redman at Paynes Lake), and Silver Toes and Mog Apion, all going south. We spent the night at Bull Lake. It was a great camp but we had to descend a rocky slope to get there. The next night was spent at Mosquito Creek, which lived up to its name in a minor way. We go a few bites that night, but on the whole the trip was blessedly free of mosquitoes. Positive ID came in late and camped with us. He’s Adam from Portland, and his father knows a man who knows me. Small world. Our last day before Etna Summit was a long one. We couldn’t find a camp until late after an arduous climb that left us exhausted. John and I knew we’d done too much and were breaking down. I’ve had tendonitis in my left wrist for the last year. Using hiking sticks doesn’t bother me as long as it’s a vertical motion, but my hiking pole slipped and twisted on a steep climb and it hurt like hell. I had to favor it for the rest of the trip. I slipped on the trail that day but fortunately fell on my backpack and lay there squirming like the beetle in Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Anyone who says they haven’t tripped or fallen on the trail has never hiked. It wasn’t all bad, though - we passed some plants that smelled like sweet pumpkin. I carry my MP3 player on the trip so there are plenty of programs to listen to at night in the tent. FM reception was poor: country western - Red Neck Yacht Club; religion - How to share your faith with the Muslim next door; a little NPR. We were definitely in the tulies. I heard about future Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Wouldn’t that make a great trail name? As I said, there’s never an easy day on the PCT, but some are worse than others. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done: carrying your 35 pound house on your back; walking up 5000 feet in one day. There’s nothing like it, and it’s great for weight loss. I lost 8 pounds on this trip and have a new business concept: “Lose belly fat with this simple trick. Hike the PCT!” Paynes Lake was our last body of water before Etna Summit. We met a batch of day hikers: “Seniors on a Mission”. Saw Newts! There I said it: Newts! I was dumbfounded. I didn’t recognize the swimming lizards immediately, and didn’t know they existed in North America. I’d never seen Newts in the wild. We met Bill Jeffrey (Asabat) at Etna Summit. He has huge hiking experience and is a wiz with maps. Plus, he’s a trail celebrity because of his water report for Southern California. He brought potato chips on request from John. Etna Summit is a terrible place to camp. I wound up in the parking lot on gravel behind an SUV parked on a slope. Bill ended up near some buildings and John on a dirt road. The next day we had an 800 foot up and stopped at a trail register along the way. Someone had put a baggie of marijuana in the box, but we were the wrong demographic for it. We ran into Oakdale going southbound. The climb continued through a landscape of steep granite dotted with lakes and streams. We broke off early to camp at Fisher Lake, putting off to the next day a big climb to a saddle. It’s risky to go on unless you have assurances of camping ahead. Wiz and Mrs. Wiz from Australia passed us that night. He was a through-hiker but she’d joined him at Sierra City to share quite a big section. He had a cute miniature Aussie outback hat. The Marble Mountain Wilderness is unique. Soon after dropping into a pretty valley you pass marble outcroppings dotted with jagged caves. John remarked on the two dramatic peaks that dominate the area: one black and one white.
About that this time, John’s back started to bother him. I looked back at a crooked man hiking behind me. I know that feeling. He was better off after the day in Seiad Valley. We met some archers in a jeep on the way down to Seiad Valley, and had a nice talk about the trail. They were hunting deer. If you can shoot a deer with an arrow you’re a serious hunter. I haven’t had deer or Elk (venison) meat since I was a child. We talked about how hard hiking is. They jokingly offered to drive us to Cook 'n Green Pass, hard miles ahead, but, as I said, hiking is masochistic, so we turned them down. The long way down to Seiad Valley is a green tunnel with excellent trail through lush forest that ends with a long parallel to Grider Creek. We camped at Grider Campground, wiped out after a big day. Even downhill, 20 miles can tear you up. I took a lovely bath in a natural half-Jacuzzi at the creek, then had to scurry back to our tents through a short summer rain. I found a frog in my tent trying to get out. I liberated him and went to sleep. The next day we road-walked 6 miles along the Klamath River into Seiad Valley.
What a joy to come into a town with food, a shower and rest at the Mid Valley RV Park! Seiad Valley is about 50 compact yards of town on one side of the highway. It’s a plum and poke town as my fellow traveling magicians would say. “If you poke your head out of the window you’re plum out of it.” However small it may be, it is mighty! We had lunch at the Seiad Café. Shanda, the proprietor, is a sweet lady, as is her daughter, the waitress. I had Eggs, Bacon and Pancakes! We met Bruce who runs the RV Park where we spent the night. “I sweat when I think” was one of his memorable sayings. He had had some trouble with immature hikers who’d made a mess of the place. We’d heard about it from the trail grapevine. I heard him out (which took some time) and apologized. He sets aside a covered space on the grounds for hikers: chairs, fridge, microwave, space for tents, power for charging, hiker box, Wifi and a whole lot more for 12 bucks including showers and laundry. It’s a low rent hiker wonderland. I picked up my resupply box at the PO, and bought stuff at the general store which stocks a little bit of generally everything. We met Will, Noodles Romanoff, Rockfish (a triple crowner doing the PCT again) and Icarus and saw a family picking Blackberries. For a week in advance, we’d been lamenting the next day’s climb out of Seiad Valley and its more than 5000 feet in elevation gain past the delightfully named Lower, Middle and Upper Devils peaks. John repeated his distaste for it. We decided to launch early in the morning at 6. Bill left separately about 4:30. I worried out loud about having enough water but Icarus said take no more than two liters (“It weighs two pounds per liter!”) and “Camel up” before you go. So I chugged as much water as I could, and waved at Shanda in the dark as we passed the Café. Remarkably it went well and easy. We were strong and slowly conquered the elevation. Some days that should be easy are hard and vice versa. Bill stayed ahead of us, and we shared updates via text about his progress. Icarus flew by us (I know) and I thanked him for the good advice. We passed some vestigial outcroppings of marble, and then had lunch on the south side of desert-like Kangaroo Mountain. We shared our beloved Gallo Dry Salami. That afternoon, we passed lovely eponymous Lily Pad Lake, and at about 4 met Bill at Cook and Green Pass where we camped at the crook of a well used dirt road. Reason 42 for hiking with friends: Remember how I discovered the canister I brought was empty and John kindly shared his? We discovered at about this point that he left his canister somewhere, and so I was able to return the favor and I shared mine that I got from my resupply at Seiad Valley. I carry the Pacific Crest Handbook section pages for each hike. John and Bill, great navigators, carry every other bit of data about the trail. They provide the facts of the trail and I provide the color. It makes for a great combination. Again I was reminded how much an altimeter helped locate us. The weather was good during the trip. The first night was the coldest. I don’t carry long underwear so I put my fleece on my legs and wore my windbreaker in the sleeping bag. It did get really hot down in Seiad Valley but we were lying around in the shade eating ice cream. One remarkable thing was that it was Spring in the mountains and Fall in the valley. Up at altitude the big winter produced wildflowers and gorgeous butterflies in August and down low there were leaves on the ground. I’ve never seen much fauna on the trail. Rarely do you see or hear a bird. I’ve realized that the mammals in particular hear, see and smell you long before you them. John mentioned that he sees and hears enormous amounts of birds at home, but rarely in the wilderness. We did hear a Hoot Owl twice, and can vouch for the accuracy of the name. On the 24th we had a 21-mile day. It kicked our butts. John’s back acted up again and I felt for the crooked man hiking behind me. He’s a strong hiker and definitely not a quitter. During the trip, we never felt that that we were close to humanity, and the first 1/3 of the trip really is the boonies, but the last 1/3 of the trail runs pretty consistently along Road 20. We ran into an “active logging area” and a sign that insisted we follow a ribboned bushwhack detour out of the section for about a mile and a half. But it was late and we weren’t in the mood to obey, so we kept on walking. Many trees had been marked for cutting but there wasn’t a soul around. Once we heard a truck and dipped behind the trees like snipers. I realized when we got to Ward’s Fork Gap (where seven forest roads meet that the detour would have taken us down to a road and then to the Gap. There was no danger on the trail but we’re guessing that legal worries make them overreact. Always bring a watch. I have a sport Timex. It wakes me up in the morning, gives me an idea of my speed, and lets me know if we have enough time to meet our goal for the day. If you’re doing big miles you need a watch as much as if you were at work. Hiking is not a vacation for me. We have a job to do. The biggest curse of hiking is that you move in and out of your apartment every day. Setting up and striking camp is tiresome. Worried about water, I decided to filter at Mud Springs Even with cow tracks and leavings everywhere. I added Bill’s Aquamira drops to my water to insure health. No sooner had I made this poor choice than we ran into one sweet spring after another in the Bearground Spring area. Even so, it’s never worth passing water sources. I would rather have my heart broken than run out of it. We camped at Donomore Creek, with John on the bridge and Bill and I on the trail. It’s never easy to find a flat spot. We saw a deer who wasn’t concerned about us at all. Next morning: Oregon! I’ve passed many demarcation points, county lines, state and federal parks, but this was tops! We’ve accomplished a lot; over 1700 miles in eight years. As we neared Ashland, or more accurately the Siskyou Summit, we saw more roads, Ski areas and people. We ran into two Park Service guys doing work on road signage. “Welcome to the Beaver State.” One of them was with ODOT (Oregon’s Caltrans) and talked about Sheep Camp Spring being the best water around. He said, “I’ve been drinking it for over 30 years and never got sick.” Turns out the Promised Land is the interstate. This section ends at Hwy 5. There’s a cutoff with a sign for Callahan’s before the end. We wisely walked all the way to the highway before doubling back to the Inn on an easy frontage road and under 5. This was a lovely section. John told me that we walked up over 38,000 feet according to maps from Halfmile. It wasn’t easy, but nothing compared to the Sierras. It has some beautiful areas. There was more logging than I had seen on the entire trail but it wasn’t distracting. We met fewer than 25 section- or through-hikers in 220 miles. I’ve said it before, never has more money and time been spent on so few. I read recently that there’s been a 25 percent reduction of people visiting the wilderness since the 80’s, and people are wringing their hands about it. . I don’t think it’ll get better, but they don’t know what they’re missing. I think I’m the luckiest guy in the world on the trail. Next year we’ll strike out for the first half of Oregon. Looking forward to it. .