Etna Summit to Oregon, Grouse Gap, mile 1600-1708

July 21, 2017

Day 52 Etna Summit to Paradise Lake TH, miles; 1600-1629

Miles ridden; 31.3, trail time 11:35, average speed; 2.7, minimum elevation; 4887, maximum elevation; 7083, total ascent; 5537, total descent; 6513

Morning Trail. Maybe the biggest cairn I’ve seen on the trail, nearly as tall as a horse.
The snow bowl I’ve been concerned about turns out to be not so bad, this is about half way up the bowl.

Mercedes and I headed north into the Marble Mountain Wilderness.  This next 60 miles of trail has been the last to lose its snow on this phase of the trail, my straw poll of southbound hikers has been about 50/50 as to whether a horse could make it through even now.  We talked to a couple of hikers in Seiad Valley, they got off trail in the snow, went down into the wrong river drainage and spent a day trying to find their way back to the trail. According to the last hiker we spoke to as he passed our camp on Etna Summit “the worst snow bank is exactly 15 miles back”.  Other hikers had spoken of a bowl filled with deep snow that they had found treacherous.  The bank and bowl turned out to be one and the same and, thankfully, quite easy to get over.  I can’t help but think that all these 90 to 100° days have been melting the snow, the snow the hikers were crossing was probably more dangerous than what I experienced.  Mercedes steel shoes provided excellent traction and she motored up the hillside as easily as she would have on dirt.  I could see where hikers had been slipping as their boots gave them no purchase on the crusty snow.

Smoke from the distant fire obscures the horizon.

Most of the day was spent at 6000 foot plus in elevation, mostly in the open which afforded me one grand vista after another.  This is some of the prettiest country I’ve been through.  The trail while rocky in stretches typically has a good dirt base and we are able to make fair time.  As always there is some up and down but the grade has been good.  Plenty of watering spots for Mercedes has kept her happy.

Marble Mountain on the left, Black Marble Mountain on the right.
Meg on Mercedes, photo by Ollie

I stopped in a little meadow by the Marble Valley Cabin to take a little break and let Mercedes graze a little.  There were already some hikers there, Meg, an Aussie that goes by Mental Snakes, was very curious about the horse aspect of the PCT.  Being totally unaware of Tennessee Walkers I offered to let her try Mercedes out before we parted ways.  She accepted the offer, and seemed to enjoy it, another convert to the walker way.

I’ve learned that a pack left in the trail is a hiker road sign indicating some privacy is requested, usually because of the need for a bodily function. In this case skinny dippers at Marten Lake.

 The two miles of feeder trail, to where I would meet Janis, was exceedingly steep; steep enough I walked, or slid or stumbled, down a good portion of it.  I was very happy to see Janis and the camper after an 11 hour day.  Today we passed the halfway point for trail miles ridden, whoooohooooo.

Random Pictures from the Marble Mountain Wilderness:

Climbing towards the snow bowl on Kidder Creek.
Vertical layers from ancient lava flows
The beginnings of a high mountain creek.
Man Eaten Lake
Summit Meadow Lake
It isn’t all rocks, there are meadows for grazing.
Marble boulders
Afternoon Trail.
As always, trees to cut,
and wild flowers.

July 22, 2017

Day 53 Paradise Lake TH to Seiad Valley, miles; 1629-1657

Distance ridden; 29.7, trail time; 7:00, average speed; 3.9, minimum elevation; 1395, maximum elevation; 6915, total ascent; 3423, total descent; 6894

Morning Trail, steep with plenty of roots and rocks.

BG didn’t like going up the Paradise Lake trail any more than Mercedes liked coming down it the night before.  We climbed 3000 feet in something under three miles, brutal.  Once on top we cruised along for the next ten miles or so before dropping down along Grider Creek 5000 feet in the next ten miles.  Pictures tell the story.

Paradise Lake and Kings Castle

Once we reached the PCT we had a great view of Paradise Lake and the Kings Castle in the morning sun.  From there the trail got very rocky. In places stone stair steps had been made to get up and down the steeper parts.  In due course we made it to the top of, the aptly named, Big Ridge which we followed to the Three Forked Tree near Buckhorn Springs.  I had been curious about this tree which had been used as a landmark by several hikers in their descriptions of trail conditions and water sources.  I needn’t have worried about missing it, as it sat in a small copse of trees in an otherwise treeless meadow, and was obviously a well used camp site.  From there it was all downhill the next 15 miles to Grider Creek Campground.  Except for a few windfalls that needed cutting BG and I quite enjoyed getting into the shade and back on dirt trail.

Big Ridge
Three Forked Tree
Grider Creek Camp

When we scouted Grider Creek campground we were pleased to see it had a large corral.  Unfortunately the floods of the previous winter had damaged the corrals as well as wiping out the road into the camp.  The camp is still officially closed, but the hikers still use it and Janis managed to get in with the trailer.

Wooden culvert, sign of an earlier time.

When we scouted Grider Creek campground we were pleased to see it had a large corral.  Unfortunately the floods of the previous winter had damaged the corrals as well as wiping out the road into the camp.  The camp is still officially closed, but the hikers still use it and Janis managed to get in with the trailer.

Survivers on a hot dry Big Ridge

Janis and I had guests when I got to camp.  Meg from Australia, and her partner, Oliver from the UK spent some of the hot, over 100°, part of the day bathing in the creek and hanging out in the shade of Grider Creek campground.  Meg travels with the additional weight of a professional quality SLR camera.  She took several pictures of Mercedes and me and promised to share them through email.  She also keeps a blog, mentalsnake.wordpress.com which I look forward to reading when I can.  Ofir from Israel also visited for a while.  Ofir is up against a tight visa deadline and is averaging 30 miles a day.  He planned to go another ten miles once he left us.  Janis gave Meg a ride to town at Idyllwild back in April.  Ofir and I played leapfrog a few times the past week.

Janis and I also took advantage of the most excellent bathing in Grider Creek.  The stream flow is quite fast but there are a couple of waist deep pools where the current isn’t so fast you get swept off your feet, if you are careful.  The water is cool and refreshing, where the water tumbled over the rocks into our little pool it is like a giant cool Jacuzzi, full body massage at no extra cost.

More trail pictures:

Kelsey Creek
Big Ridge meadow
Three Forked Tree camp

The Four Bridges of Grider Creek:

First Bridge of Grider Creek
The Second Bridge of Grider Creek
The Third Bridge of Grider Creek
The Fourth Bridge of Grider Creek, at the campground with the good bathing holes below
A last view ftom Big Ridge

June 29, 2017

Day 33A Rainier Oregon to Seiad California

Janis and I have spent the past week at home waiting for snow to melt.  Every day I have been studying the snow maps on the NOAA and PCT snow sites.

I have also been in contact with Veggie and Festivus, who are fast becoming my favorite hikers, as well as an employee from the Iron Horse Equestrian center and Ryan Yeager, a Back Country Horseman from Scott Valley, who spends his weekends conditioning his horses and mules for hunting season, by packing in and clearing trail.  What I’ve learned is the maps lie.  The web sites are supplying information on the snow pack, which is not the same thing at trail snow.  Once the snow pack melts pockets and drifts of snow may cover the trail on north slopes and shaded spots for some time to come.

The advantage to a day off in Seiad Valley, breakfast at the cafe.

Based on what we have learned from all our sources is that our best chance for our northward trek at this time is to start an Seiad Valley, two days ride south of the Oregon border.  The 150 miles, from I-5 near Castella to Seiad Valley, that I am skipping now will be ridden when we come back to do the Sierras.

Camp on the Kalamath River

I am trying to remain optimistic about my goal of riding the PCT this year; however I am starting to hear the clock tick.  There are about 75 riding days remaining, plus travel days back to the Sierras, maybe a day off or two, I think the weather is going to have to hold until the end of September, a dicey proposition at best.  Still, with Janis’s support, I am going to give it my best shot, if we don’t make it we don’t make it, but it won’t be for lack of try.

June 30, 2017

Day 34 Seiad Valley to Reeves Ranch Springs, Trail Data: miles 1657-1680

Distance ridden; 23.2, trail time; 9:56, average speed; 2.3 mph, minimum elevation; 1499, maximum elevation; 6343, total ascent; 7478, total descent; 2759

Kalamath River from camp.

The PCT makes a 225 mile loop to the west from where it crosses I-5 at the Castle Crags in California to where it recrosses I-5, 65 miles north, near Mt. Ashland.  There was still too much snow for me to make an attempt for the first 160 miles of that loop, so once again we have skipped ahead, with the intention of picking up those miles when we come back to do the Sierras.

Good Morning wave

Our intended overnight spot, Grider Creek Horse Camp was closed due to flooding earlier in the year.  The trailhead where I was going to start my ride was unsuitable for an overnight stay with barely enough room to get clear of Hwy 96.  We found a nice spot at a river access site in the large parking area.  Initially we had the place to ourselves but before dark we were joined by a passing car camper and a little later by a commercial rafting crew that had an expedition the next day.  What we learned about camping on round river rock is that it was dreadfully difficult to clean up after the horses.  We did the best we could, but certainly not up to Janis’s normal “Leave no trace” standards.

Morning Trail

Most of that PCT loop is quite high in elevation, bouncing around from 5500 feet to over 7000.  Seiad Valley is one spot where the trail drops down to cross a river or highway.  In this case the Klamath River at 1300 feet.  Today we climbed out of the valley to over 6000 feet in less than seven miles, a rate of over 700 feet per mile.  A hill like that is custom designed to take the silliness out any of horse, Mercedes is no exception.  When she saw her first silver umbrella since way back by the Mexican border she didn’t so much as give it a second glance, I’m not entirely sure she gave it a first glance.

Seiad Valley from the trail

Anything under 5500 feet is heavily forested.  This close to the coast there are a lot of firs and redwoods, along with the ever present oak.  The first couple thousand feet of climb we transitioned from blackberries and ferns to huge rhododendrons, some seemed to be 15 feet high or more.  The higher we climbed the shorter the brush.  At one point l was riding through an extensive zone miniature mountain lilac, no higher than my thigh with blossoms barely as large as my little finger.  The lilacs competed with cyanosis, Manzanita and Oregon grape, the air was heavy with the scent of all the blossoms.

Hot and Dry trail

Above 5500 feet the trees thin out somewhat, exposing grassy meadows and bare rocky slopes.  Climbing the hills today I came to the conclusion that all ridges at some point turn into a hogback and all trails are obligated to go straight up and over those hogbacks.  The area I was in today is just north of the Marble Mountain Wilderness.  The trail shared many of the same conditions one will find in the wilderness. 

Afternoon Trail, Middle Devil
Copper Butte
Not all the snow has melted, the trail is up the bank.

About eight miles into the ride Mercedes had worked up a bit of a thirst.  We had heard running water ahead of us a couple of times but it seemed the trail would turn away, down a switchback, before we could actually see water.  As this is pretty steep country we couldn’t do anything but stay on the trail and hope that eventually we would make a crossing.  Finally we came a little bowl where we heard the water again.  I know water runs down hill, and the way the trail traversed the bowl we would have to cross the stream, but no stream.  Mercedes and I turned off the trail and headed towards where we could hear the babbling brook.  Sure enough there it was running down the hill into a slight depression where it disappeared into a group of marble boulders, kind of a spring in reverse.

One of the down sides to going through an area so soon after the snow has mostly melted is trail crews have not had a chance to cut out trees.  There are also the late melting snow banks to deal with.  We didn’t run into anything so bad it disrupted an otherwise good ride.  One of the up sides is all the wildflowers.  My camera battery went dead early in the ride today or I would probably still be out there taking pictures.  Maybe tomorrow.

The view from evening camp.

Tonight, as is my practice, Janis and I were sitting in the truck where I can plug in the laptop, download the GPS and camera while writing these posts.  Because of the heat we had the windows down and doors open.  The PCT runs parallel to the truck and trailer, maybe 20 feet away but not visible due to the brush.  Janis and I were just talking and relaxing when we heard something rustling the bushes alongside the trail.  I thought maybe it was a couple of hikers that I had passed earlier in the day and was getting ready to call out to them to offer some refreshment, when out from the brush, not a car length in front of us stepped a large bear.  It swung its head back and forth, peering in that near sighted way bears do, before focusing on us and our big black truck.  Letting out a grunt it spun on its haunches, crashing back into the brush disappearing immediately from our sight.  We didn’t hear or see it again; all the same I was glad we had the trailer to sleep in tonight.

July 1, 2017

Day 35 Reeves Ranch Spring to Grouse Saddle, miles 1687-1706

Distance ridden 27.4 mi, trail time 9:19, average speed 2.9mph, minimum elevation 5354, maximum elevation 7180, total ascent 4930, total descent 4475

Morning Trail
Snow Trail.
The snow isn’t dangerous, just tedious.

BG and I spent the day on the top of the Siskiyous.  We spit our time between the trail and on roads going to common mid trip destinations.  Road in this sense is a pretty loose term.  By and large the roads were more jeep tracks than something suitable for a Prius.  The criteria for selection of road or trail was; is the route on a north slope, in the shade, higher or lower elevation, heavily forested, did it lose elevation that would then have to be regained?  Recent tire tracks could tip the scales as they indicated someone had cut the big logs out of the way.  It ended up being about 50/50 road/trail.

(heavy sigh..) Another log, this one we could cut the stobs off and BG jumped it.
Bridge over Donomore Creek

Ten minutes out of camp this morning I came to two dead trees, neither over couple inches in diameter, which the snow had bent over blocking the trail.  One was chest high for BG and the other chest high for me.  I could have easily ridden around them but for some reason, maybe because it was such a beautiful morning, I decided to cut them out of the way.  I started with the taller one, mainly because I wouldn’t have to dismount to cut it.  Holding it steady with my left hand, wielding the folding saw with my right, I set about making short work of it.  Then BG took a step, not wanting to stop cutting I uttered a quiet “whoa”, another step, a louder Whoa.  A third step earned her a “WHOA dammit”, to no avail, now it was too late to grab the reins, I was leaning back in the saddle as far as I could, when I lost my grip on the tough mountain fir, which by then has the tension of a coiled spring that when released ki-walloped me about the head and face.  Fortunately I ride with safety sun glasses, built in readers you know, or I might have gotten more than a few scratches and a bloody nose.

is now being restored.
The Donomore Cabin

Entering Oregon
Leaving California

We passed a major milepost today, the Oregon/California border.  I stopped and signed the trail register, looked to see if any of the friends we have met had been by recently, and took the requisite photos.  Fifty feet later there was a 20 inch log, three feet off the ground where it crossed the trail.  Steep banks covered with old growth Manzanita made a go around next to impossible.  Not to worry, this is the very reason I pack the world’s largest folding saw, a Silky brand Katanaboy 650.  24 inches of fine Japanese cutlery that unfolds into a 48 inch total length cutting phenomenon.  I got to use all the big ammo, wedges, axes and the like.

BG signs the register.
My “Welcome to Oregon” moment.

I managed to get the tree cut and was just picking up my tools when a woman day hiker happened along.  She was a bit nervous acting, and hastened to tell me her husband and the rest of their party were right behind her.  It wasn’t until I got back to the trailer and had a chance to see my face in the mirror, covered with the blood I had smeared all over when checking my injuries and staunching the flow.  I must have make quite a sight standing there with an ax in one hand and a nasty looking saw in the other, my face covered in blood.

OK, so some of the snow was a little dicey, in this case we had to go over the side where an avalanche is starting.

There were lots of downed trees, lots of deep snow and more importantly beautiful scenery.  Where the trail was clear it was gorgeous.  Someday I would like to come back later in the year after the snow has melted and the trail crews have had a chance to work their magic.  Usually it was easier to follow a road when we were in the snow.  There were times when there wasn’t a road going in the right direction so we were forced to stay on trail.  In these cases the trail could be difficult to follow as in the heat foot prints melt fast, all the down trees obscured the trail, one direction looked pretty much the same as another and taking what appeared to be the trail was actually taking you away from the trail.  At one point I came across a southbound hiker searching for the trail, just as I was.  I pointed out where I thought the trail was behind me, he pointed in the direction he’d come from and after a few minutes of catching our wind we parted ways.  I hope he had a better go of following my tracks than I did of his.

I’ve never seen fields of Bear Grass like there are here.
Home is where the heart is, Grouse Gap.

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