July 16, 2017
Day 47 Castle Crags to Gumboot Pass, Mile 1501-1526
Miles ridden; 25.1, trail time; 8:42, average speed; 2.9, minimum elevation; 2131, maximum elevation; 6761, total ascent; 6569, total descent; 2253
Leaving I-5 BG and I were headed north on the PCT again, a small psychological advantage, but an edge just the same. The trail gently climbs through the lush forest of Castle Crags State Park passing many side trails with “view or crags” in their names which the GPS showed as short loops back to the PCT. I would have like to take at least one of them; however, all were marked with no horses or dogs restrictions. I had tantalizing glimpses of the Crags through the slender gaps between the tops of trees but no full on views. Closer at hand the trail wound its way up the valley crossing multiple small creeks of crystal clear water. Some creeks rushed down the hill, while others dropped from one still pool to another. Not surprisingly I saw several deer.
Leaving the park and entering Castle Crags Wilderness, after gaining only 500 vertical feet in the first seven miles the trail began to climb in earnest. I began to get peeks of one Crag or another as the trail climbed their flank. Finally after another seven miles we had climbed two thousand more feet and as the trail turned away from the peaks I finally got a clear view of what I had been riding up all day. I regret that I was unable to take one of the side trails to get an up close view of the Castle Crags, maybe one day I will be able to return and hike them. The final four miles the trail continued to climb as it traveled above the tree line, providing many vistas of the Castle Crags, Trinity Alps and Mt Shasta.
Random pictures from the day:
July 17, 2017
Day 48 Gumboot Pass to Parks Creek Pass, Miles; 1526-1540
Miles ridden; 14, trail time; 5:51, average speed; 2.4, minimum elevation; 6464, maximum elevation; 7627, total ascent; 1663, total descent; 1306
Today was scheduled to be a long 35 miler. As I was reviewing Halfmile’s maps and notes this morning with my oatmeal, as is my daily habit, there was a notation about the trail crossing the “Paved Parks Creek Rd” after 14 trail miles. The horses had tough days down south, and their only break had been the trailer ride back up here. The temperatures remain in the high 90, so I thought it might be better to give the horses some shorter days up here in the Trinity Alps and build their confidence back up, so we will take an extra day and shorten the next few rides to a 15 and three 20 milers and finish with two 30s. Quite frankly, I could use some easier days as well.
Today’s 15 was a beautiful 15. We started high and stayed high all day. Except for a few brief periods we were in the open all day. The trail is basically headed west though it meanders about the hills like a river through the tidal flats. It circumnavigates one watershed bowl crosses the ridge at a saddle then circles the bowl on the other side whose waters flow the opposite way, making a track that is more or less like horseshoes laid out to form a series of S curves.
The effect is you can see where you are going to be in the next hour or two across the valley then when you get there you can see where you are going to be in the next hour or two. Sometimes when you are on one of the higher ridges you can figure out where you will be at the end of the day or even the next day. Looking back you can see landmarks from where you were days and even weeks ago.
I failed to switch the battery in the camera this morning so it ran out of juice early in the day, just when I wanted to take some pictures. Some of the things I saw but didn’t get pictures of were; where the trail crossed a rock face of rust colored rock, in some places the rock had been blasted to create the trail. About every so often, from four inches to a foot or more, there was a horizontal stripe of white quartz like rock, very even in width, 3/8 to ½ an inch wide with an even narrower black pinstripe on either side of the white stripe. These stripes ran straight as an arrow, as even as ruled paper across the rock face.
I saw two small hawks fighting over the carcass of a chipmunk, completely oblivious to my presence. The chipmunk was nearly as big as the hawks, the hawk in control of the chipmunk couldn’t generate enough lift to fly away with his prize. The other hawk would pester him until he dropped the chipmunk to fight back, running the other hawk off, then he grabbed at his meal couldn’t fly away and the cycle would begin again, they were still at it when I rode off.
I saw the totally inappropriately named Deadfall Lakes, (except for a couple of smallish trees I cut out of the trail yesterday the trail had been pleasantly deadfall free). Upper Deadfall has four separate outlet creeks that flow down to Lower Deadfall. The creeks each are large enough to require stepping stones or fallen logs for hikers to keep their feet dry when crossing. Each creek remains separate from the others though at times they are within 50 grass and brush covered feet from one another. Each creek is labeled at the trail crossing with a sign identifying it as Deadfall Creek.
I saw a mountain with a rounded peak that had four, straight, parallel, evenly spaced, deep lines dug into its side from top to bottom as if a giant bear had dug its claws in tearing at the mountain side in search of grubs.
July 18, 2017
Day 49 Parks Creek Pass to Scott Mountain/Hwy 3, miles; 1540 to 1560
Miles ridden; 21.5, trail time; 5:00, average speed; 4.3, minimum elevation; 5320, maximum elevation; 7081, total ascent; 1310, total descent; 2726
BG and I had another great ride today. Short mileage, not much elevation change, above the trees with great views, birds singing, flowers booming, just a really good day. Like yesterday, we worked our way around one drainage after another. After riding five miles this morning I could look across the valley and see where I had started from less than a mile away.
As good as it was today it wasn’t all fun and games. The side hills that form these bowls are often quite steep. When a windfall comes down across the trail, my first choice is the same as a hiker’s go over, under or around. There are times though when the only sane action is to cut the tree out of the way. I have two saws made by Silky, one, the Big Boy 200 has a 14 inch blade and handles the majority of the work. My Katanaboy 650 also has been a real blessing. Advertised as the largest folding saw on the market the 24 inch blade handles larger cuts with ease. On one such log today I was sawing away but the saw felt sloppy. Upon closer inspection the nut that holds the bolt the saw pivots on was missing. I carefully examined the ground where I was cutting, then I checked out the scabbard, nothing. Feeling a little panicky I started searching around BG’s feet where, there, in the gravel alongside the trail it was. I’m here to tell you now, that the saw is now put together as tightly possible.
I wish I had a better way to describe just how much I’ve been enjoying the ride here on the west side of I-5, sometimes it is just better to let the pictures speak for themselves.
July 19, 2017
Day 50 Hwy 3 at Scott Pass to Hidden Horse Camp, Miles 1560-1580
Miles ridden; 20.3, ride time; 6:36, average speed; 3.1, minimum elevation; 5346, maximum elevation; 7404, total ascent; 3678, total descent; 3132
Doing shorter mileages I’ve been doing the past few days has allowed some hikers to keep pace. In particular we have come to know a charming young German couple, Kris and Kathrin. In their early twenties, this working class couple are spending what amounts to an extended honeymoon on the PCT. Their observation on the peculiarities of American life near the trail has been enlightening.
Mercedes and I didn’t have quite as easy a day as yesterday, however all in all it would be a hard ride to beat. We climbed a little more as we continued to ride along the top of the Scott Mountains. Most of the day we were within the Trinity Alps Wilderness. The trail continues with the twists and turns of the last couple days. We spent a lot of time going south, and then east to get further west on a northbound trail, yeah I’m confused too. I rode the valley floors, the forested ridges and in the sub alpine meadows today.
The views are somewhat obscured by the smoke in the air. There is a fire in the Marble Mountain Wilderness; still two riding days ahead of me that has spread it’s smoke all around the area. Visibility is about 10 miles under 7000 feet of elevation, higher peaks and ridges are clear further away. I’ve tried taking some pictures of the vistas I am surrounded by; even though I can enjoy them with the naked eye the camera is unable to capture them.
I did run into on patch of down timber, which looked to be the result of a winter avalanche. Luck was on my side as I only had to cut a few trees and was able to find my way around the rest. Tonight’s camp is in a real horse camp, corrals and all. There are even some genuine horse people camping next to us to visit with, a good time for all.
Janis has heard in town that there is no plan to contain the fire, called the Island Fire, as it is entirely within the wilderness; nature is being allowed to take its own course. I am hoping the fire does not spread to cover the PCT. So far there are no travel restrictions for the area.
July 20, 2017
Day 51 Hidden Horse Camp to Etna Summit, miles; 1586-1607
Miles ridden; 20.5, ride time; 6:37, average speed; 3.15, minimum elevation; 5790, maximum elevation; 7336, total ascent; 4275, total descent; 4164
I guess Janis and I weren’t paying very good attention to Rose this morning. She had been playing with our neighboring camper’s puppy and I lost track of her as I got myself ready for another day on the trail. I had just gotten saddled up and on the trail when here came a dozen or so cows marching down the road through the horse camp, with Rose keeping them lined out. The cows had been grazing the nearby meadows where Rose took it upon herself to bring them to us. I’m glad she didn’t decide to bring the whole herd.
I’ve enjoyed this section of trail, west of I-5. Today I rode through the Russian Wilderness. Though I’ve not been to Europe and as such have not seen the Alps, I think these piles of rocks here in California are impressive in their own right. BG and I left the horse camp this morning and climbed 1000 feet in the first mile. From there throughout the day there were lots of ups and downs, short steep ups and downs, roller coaster ups and downs. Today was one of the most beautiful days as well.
I’ve noticed that the most spectacular scenery usually comes with the most rocky and/or challenging trail. BG and I managed to get around a couple of particularly daunting trees on steep rocky slopes. Both times the best route was going low, I lead her down and around the end of the log then she takes the lead going back up to the trail while I grab a stirrup and let her pull me along. About eight miles into the ride I passed a trail crew, who were cutting out the downed trees, they guaranteed me a log free trail the rest of the day. They also warned me a rock blocking the trail not too far ahead. As it happened the rock provided me with the scariest two seconds on the trail so far. Situated on a sheer rock ledge, completely covering the width of the trail, the only portion of the rock that BG could get over was on the outside edge of the trail where she would have to curve her body out and over the certain death drop. I led her up to the rock, stepped over myself and without putting any pressure on her lead let her look the situation over. I thought if she hesitated at all I would call it quits and turn around, however she barely hesitated before neatly stepping across to safety.
Tonight we are camped at Etna Summit where many hikers hitch to the small town of Etna to resupply and rest. We served up beers and sodas to several hikers we have come to know the past few days, most notably Kris and Kathrin from Germany, they headed to town, us headed north on the trail, probably not to meet again.
There was another gentleman, from Salem, who had thru hiked some years ago but has reached the age where knees and hips won’t allow him to do so now. Instead he drives his pickup around to trail heads then hikes in half a day and back out again. He offered the hikers that were going into Etna for a zero day a ride. While he was waiting for a couple more hikers to come down off the trail we visited a bit and he showed us a couple of “trail” banjos he had made.
One looked like a regular 5-string, except the body was made out of a round Christmas cookie tin box. The other, also a 5-string is a “walking stick” banjo with a rectangular toffee box for the body. On one end of the body is a handle like a cane would have which the tuning pegs are attached to. The neck forms the length of the walking stick and has a rubber tip on the end.
He wouldn’t part with the round tin banjo but we did talk him into selling Janis the walking stick. The asking price was $100 to which we readily agreed. The problem arose when we started digging in our pockets for cash. It’s been nearly a month since we left home and our traveling cash supply has dwindled, ATMs are in short supply in the back country. Janis had $76, I could only come up with another $12. Janis thought of our laundry money jar, a jam jar full of quarters, at least another $12, more likely closer to $20 worth. At first he wasn’t much on taking change, but when he saw the jar I think the grab bag aspect had some appeal so he accepted, jar and all. We now have a traveling banjo.