July 14, 2017, Southbound
Day 46 Gold Lake to Little Lasier Horse Camp, Milepost; 1213-1182
Distance; 32, Time; 11:32, average speed; 2.8, Minimum elevation; 4602, maximum elevation; 7486, total ascent; 5506, total descent; 5451
In 2017 we were dealing with record snowfalls all along the Pacific Crest. In order to have any chance of completing the PCT we would have to go where the snow wasn’t. After our Phase 1, from Mexico to Chimney Creek we went home for a month, waiting for snow to melt. In mid-June we picked up the trail again just North of Mt Lassen near Hat Creek. We made it as far as I-5 before the snow in the Castle Crags stopped us again. We went home for another week, then came back and started up again in Seiad Valley. We made it almost to Crater Lake before once again ran head long into 20 feet of snow. I was afraid I was going to run out of the time needed to complete the PCT before winter snow fall so rather than take any more time off we decided to return to Hat Creek and ride South until we ran into the Sierra snowpack. Even though I was riding north to south I am posting the trail sections south to north, again as an aid to someone who wants to give a thru ride a shot.
Knowing snow waits at the higher elevations beyond Little Lasier this would be our last southbound ride. Mercedes and I left the Gold Lake Pack Station climbing back to the PCT, on the three mile long Round Lake trail, which I officially nominate as the rockiest trail in America. As I rode down, the obviously well used trail, yesterday I was wondering to myself “Who in their right mind would subject themselves to this?” Shortly I had my answer, as I spied a mountain biker laboring up the hill towards me. He assured me, and his partners who soon caught up, that it was a work out going up but the thrill of the downhill more than made up for the effort. Rocky, but beautiful, the trail skirts a lake basin that would rival any in scenic splendor.
Once on the PCT we continued to climb up until we reached the spine of a long ridge. Near the junction to Deer Lake I came upon trail angels in an old school bus converted to camper. There were several hikers resting there, some that Janis and I had been friendly with earlier, including Dos Tacos, Gramps and The Chief, sharing afternoon beers or morning coffee with. The angels were offering king sized, fresh, and still warm from the oven chocolate chip cookies and strong coffee, and for once I partook of their generosity. Who could pass up an offer like that at nine o’clock in the morning?
Still following the ridge I came upon three trail maintenance workers unloading tools from their truck at Packer’s Lake. These were members of the legendary PCTA Trail Gorillas. They were just heading out to work on rerouting a portion to the trail, taking it of the ridge line down to where it would pass in close proximity to the several lakes in the area. The ridge eventually took us to the junction the Sierra Butte trail. From there the PCT goes around the side of picturesque Sierra Butte. That piece of the trail is on a wide open very steep side hill with incredible views, before it drops down to Hwy 49 not far from Sierra City. There was a small stream of water crossing the trail where Mercedes was glad to get a drink. We paused there for a few minutes waiting for a hiker coming up the hill towards us to pass as it was one of the few places in either direction that was wide enough to pass.
At Hwy 49 the trail crosses the North Yuba River. As this was the last water we would see before camp Mercedes and I hazarded the risky little side trail down to the water, or at least close enough to the water I was able to dip some buckets to quench her thirst. From there it was uphill all the way to the night’s camp at Little Lasier, the steepest part saved until the last. Mercedes was draggin’ wagon, we would ride a couple miles then stop to eat a little grass for five or ten minutes where ever we could find some.
In camp Janis had made friends with a large extended family campout, sharing our story with them. When at long last I did ride into camp Mercedes and I were greeted with a loud and enthusiastic cheering section, not the type of greeting we expected or usually get.
Again no internet and much socializing around the campfire, maybe tomorrow I’ll post.
July 13, 2017, Southbound
Day 45 Quincy-LaPorte to Gold Lake, milepost; 1235-1213
Distance; 37.1, trail time; 11:30, average speed; 3.2, minimum elevation; 5657, maximum elevation; 7493, total ascent; 5955, total descent; 5964
Today’s ride was similar to yesterday in that there was a fair share of trees down. Dos Tacos and Gramps are hiking with two other couples that came through camp this morning just as I was mounting up. They were able to keep pace with me most of the morning as the time spent working around trees that they could go over allowed them to catch up.
Trent had told me to expect a tree that was impassible on this section of trail. He also explained an alternative that required a 10 mile road ride go around. Riding north as he did the fallen tree is close to the southern end of the go around. Riding south as I was the tree was six miles from the northern terminus of the go around. Naturally I missed the turn, rode 3½ miles before realizing my mistake, making a total go around of over 17 miles, dammitt.
I had passed one group of hikers, a father and his four teenage girls, as I headed down the trail. When I started running into snow drifts I knew I had missed my turn. As I was back tracking I passed the family of hikers taking a break by a creek. They were curious about BG and why I was coming back so soon. They had a good topographical map that we studied, showing them where I should have gone. As they each had a copy of Halfmile’s maps with them they insisted I take the page that showed my proposed route. Just another example of people on the trail helping each other out.
The road detour, mostly on the Johnsville McCrea wasn’t too bad, generally well packed gravel with no signs of recent use, in the shade of the forest. Gently climbing a thousand feet in six miles with more up and down the last five it was the kind of terrain BG can make some time in. We rejoined the PCT at a water spot/trailhead called ATree Spring. It was the first accessible water BG and I had seen since starting our detour and one we wouldn’t pass. The spring wasn’t readily apparent so I wandered over to ask some hikers resting in the shade for directions. Wouldn’t you know, it was Dos Tacos again, for a person so physically small in stature that girl can hike. She did have the advantage of going five miles over trail compared the 17 detour miles BG and I traveled.
Still having about eight miles to ride I didn’t dally long at the spring. There were down trees immediately, it took me a good 15 minutes to get started leaving ATree. The trailhead sign was actually covered by down timber. We quickly climbed past 6800 feet where the snow started obscuring the trail. Between the snow hiding the trail and trees down over it we spent a lot of time wandering hither and yon, adding miles onto our path. In due course we got up over 7500 feet where the snow was unbroken. I gave up on following the trail, choosing to go in the general direction I knew we needed to take. Fortunately the ridge was wide and allowed for such maneuvers.
Meanwhile Janis had set up camp near the Gold Lake Pack Station and had introduced herself to the packers. They suggested a route down the mountain that would be better than others. She texted me directions, which I tried to follow. I think the packers hadn’t been up that trail this year, as there was no sign of their passing, BG was breaking through the crusty snow and sinking to her belly. I opted to go back to the PCT and work may way below the snow line where there was another trail into Gold Lake. That trail would be a couple miles further, a fair trade for the extra safety.
It had been a long day before I saw Janis again. BG thought it had been too long since she had last seen her feed pan and hay bag. Too late to write, too tired to care, maybe tomorrow.
July 12, 2017, Southbound
Day 44 Red Ridge to Quincy-LaPorte Rd: milepost; 1262-1235
Distance; 26.4, minimum elevation; 3031, maximum elevation; 6594, total ascent; 5360, total descent; 4935
Following our zero day, with Trent and Cheryll, Janis and I drove back to Big Creek Rd. The following morning we woke up to the smell of smoke in the air. It was a little disconcerting to see the valley below filled with smoke. There was no wind, the smoke was not rising to the sky, it was just laying in the lower elevation like a pool of fog. Making the assumption the smoke had drifted into the valley from a fire somewhere out of view, I continued riding south.
The ride down the hill to the Feather River stayed pleasantly in the shade of trees. The Feather River lives up to its “Wild and Scenic” designation. The trail crosses the river via a steel bridge which arches high above a portion of the river that is a series of waterfalls. Some have the bottom of one separated from the top of the next by a pool but most of the time the water just crashes and roars over and between boulders from one to the next. On the south side of the bridge it is possible to access one of the pools and several hikers were taking the opportunity to cool off and bathe, sunning themselves afterwards on the warm rocks. One young couple who declared to be thru hiking had with them a small kitten that they were attempting to train to ride on the top of their packs. I’m not sure whether to admire them or shake my head in consternation by their willingness to make a hard task harder. While many of their contemporaries are going to great lengths, cutting off the handles of their toothbrushes to save a fraction of an once, these youngsters added the weight of a cat carrier and canned food for their pet.
Pulling the hill up out of the river the trail stayed in the trees, the ones that were still standing anyway. I’m sure in retrospect there were some smaller downed trees that we were able to just step over, however at the time it seemed every down tree was a big tree. And every big tree fell on a steep slope. When those 4 foot and larger trees fall, sometimes, they break into several lengths on impact. The gap between the broken sections of trunk may, or may not, be enough to squeeze a horse through. I don’t know how tall these trees were but I don’t think a hundred feet is an unreasonable guess. If we can go off trail for 20 feet or less and slip through a gap in the log all is well. Otherwise Mercedes and I are fighting our way fifty feet or more up and down hillsides so steep I have to grip the Manzanita brush with my hands and pull myself up and to arrest my fall on the way down. Mercedes isn’t as fond of going through Manzanita as it is just one more thing to trip on.
I came to one particularly large windfall that Trent had warned me about. Trent had cut a notch with his axe, about two feet wide and a quarter way through the log. His horses were then able to jump across. Regrettably the notch, while perfectly placed for a north bound horse so that they would be aimed for a landing spot in the middle of the trail, was aimed in such a way that a South bound horse would be jumping into the abyss of the downhill side of the trail. BG might have given it a try, but Mercedes called BS. The trail was uphill for us at this point, considering the angle of the tree as it crossed the trail would make extending the notch all day job, time I didn’t have.
The downhill side looked to be the more passable of the two options so with brush knife and saw I started blazing a path. After half an hour of sweat inducing labor I found a second huge log buried in the Manzanita, getting around it would also be an all day job. My only alternative was to try and go high around the original log that I could see from the trail disappeared after 50 feet into a five foot tall patch of Manzanita. Fifty yards before the tree the upper hillside was more forested and the Manzanita a little thinner so Mercedes and I started there trying to zigzag up the steep hillside in an effort to get around the tree. Much to my delight after only a hundred feet or so we came upon the trail which made a switchback shortly after the windfall. If only I had taken the time to check the GPS I would have seen the switchback and could have avoided all the sweat and labor. Oh well, it made a good rest for Mercedes.
Just before getting to Janis I heard a jet scream by on the other side of the ridge from where I was riding, as I was only 20 feet or so from the top of the ridge he must have been flying quite low. Close enough the sound was deafening and I swear I saw the pine boughs waving in its wake. Janis was parked in a saddle on the same ridge and said the plane flew directly over them. She was sharing trail magic with a hiker form Switzerland at the time, after removing their hands from their ears his comment was “What the f**k, why so low?”. I believe the Swiss have a gift for cutting to the heart of the matter.
No internet at tonight’s camp, we did have guests, Dos Tacos, Gramps and Twigsy, so we had a couple of beers and visited instead of writing, maybe tomorrow I will make up for it.
July 10, 2017, Southbound
Day 43 Belden Town to Red Ridge, mileposts; 1289-1262
Distance; 25.6, trail time; 9:11, average speed; 2.8, minimum elevation; 2281, maximum elevation; 6999, total ascent; 6604, total descent; 2991
BG and I had a wonderful ride today, it nearly made up for yesterday afternoons struggles. BG wasn’t too high on the first five miles as we gained 3000 feet in elevation. I tried to boost her spirits by bringing her attention to the excellent footing, how the trail curved around the mountain keeping us in the shade and the remarkable vistas in all directions above the tree line. It wasn’t until we came upon a small creek bordered with tall grass that she finally conceded that it could be a good day.
I met a couple of hikers today resting in the shade. One was from Boston, the other Texas, an interesting combination of accents. They had seen Trent Peterson, the handsome young man with the mustangs, yesterday and expected that I would run into him soon. The Texas fellow professed to be a ranch hand back home, so naturally I inquired as to his opinion on the trail ahead. He and his companion had hooked up with a few others to make their way through the Sierras, they had gone weeks without seeing dirt relying on GPS to get across the snow. He also stated that there was some snow between where we were and Sierra City that might give me some trouble, and that a horse couldn’t get much past Sierra City before the trail would become unpassable.
Getting information about trail conditions ahead is an iffy proposition. Hikers going in the opposite direction are really the only source of current conditions for what lies ahead. Regrettably, hikers are a notoriously poor source for trail conditions as they relate to horses. It isn’t that they don’t mean well, rather it is the rare hiker that can truly assess a trail in consideration of a horse’s abilities and limitations. It is because of these hikers sincerity that it is so hard to judge whose appraisal of the trail has value and who’s doesn’t. Today Janis and I decided to end our south bound effort due to repeated reports of a snow avalanche across the trail and a tree that is impossible for a horse to get around in what would be tomorrow’s ride. Trent left the trail northbound to ride forest service roads and blacktop around the beautiful trail I rode today because he had been told it was totally impassible for horses. Janis had passed Trent and his mother along the highway today, they were headed to Belden Town and we decided to join them. I could get info from Trent about the trail south and could update him on the trail north.
Janis, I, Trent and Trent’s mother Cheryll all met up at the Belden trailhead. After discussing what Trent and I have experienced on the trail, sharing alternate routes and go arounds that we found the hard way we both decided to continue with our original plans, he northbound, Janis and I will return to Red Ridge to travel south. Meanwhile we were both due a zero day and what better place than Belden Town?
Belden Town is a congregating spot for hikers. The lure of the restaurant/bar, showers, a relaxed comfortable spot to rest, a good swimming hole to beat the heat on a rest day proves to be too much to ignore. Hikers often plan to get to Belden before the heat of the day, rest up and head back up the trail after the heat dissipates a bit in the evening, only to be tempted to spend the night, have a good breakfast and hike up the hill the following morning. A row of hikers can be seen most any time of day occupying the chairs, stools and benches that line the board walk that fronts the lodge. Janis and I were going in for dinner, there was a couple sitting near the door that I had met on the trail so we stopped to say hello. When I asked how they were doing her face broke into a huge smile with a glow that would have brightened the darkest room, “Great life! We had cheeseburgers and cold beer” was her reply. And I think to myself, it really is a great life when a cheeseburger and beer can bring that much delight, we all need to stop to enjoy the little things.
July 9, 2017, Southbound
Day 42 Humboldt Summit to Belden Town, milepost; 1315-1289
Distance; 25.6, trail time; 10:27, average speed; 2.4, minimum elevation; 2317, maximum elevation; 7146, total ascent; 3021, total descent; 7068
You would think that by now I would have this blog thing figured out. I would have developed some sort of format to aid me getting my thoughts into print each day. That is not the case. I think of things during the day, and then forget about them until two or three days after I should have written about them. I take pictures during the day and build a narrative around them, then forget why I took the picture in the first place and delete it. The things I do remember and write about I have no pictures for. Today is such a day.
The day started out well enough, said fare thee well to our new friends from the night before, Chaski headed north, the girls south, saddled up and got on the trail. The first half of the day went pretty well, ran into a little snow again when we got over 7000 feet, but it was all easy to cross. There were a few logs that presented some challenges, but not so many it made me want to cry. The last half of the day was a little tougher from Mercedes point of view, and what is harder for Mercedes is harder for me.
All the feeder creeks to Chip’s Creek are still flowing fast with the last of the melting snow. There is much evidence that these creeks were flowing even higher and faster earlier in the year. All of the creek crossings are washed out, several were more than just a little sketchy. Most I had to dismount for, if I wasn’t already leading Mercedes. The trail itself also became a temporary stream bed for the overflowing creeks. The tread was washed down to bare rock for a lot of the way. In places the water had washed all the dirt out of the trail creating ditches that were 4 or 5 feet deep, a horse width wide. Most of the time Mercedes and I were able to make our way paralleling these ditches but in a couple of spots we were forced to jump down into them to proceed on our way. Tough enough for a southbound horse, nearly impossible for a northbound one, even then it would take some serious shovel work to make the trail passable. All you can do is slow down, looking every washed out spot over carefully before proceeding. Tough way to make a living.
On the bright side camp tonight is at Belden Town which consists of a combination lodge, bar, restaurant and small store with a few cabins to rent as well as RV spots. Belden Town is a hiker friendly business, providing showers, and a washer and dryer in addition to camping spots. Janis and I took advantage of the showers with unlimited water, the bar and the restaurant. We are feeling pretty good tonight.