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Grouse Gap to Seven Mile, mile 1708 – 1804

Leaving Mt. Ashland
Grouse Gap to Little Hyatt Reservoir

July 2, 2017

Day 36 Grouse Gap to Little Hyatt Reservoir, miles; 1708-1741

Distance 33, trail time; 8:42, average speed; 3.8, minimum elevation; 3720, maximum elevation; 6662, total ascent; 4983, total descent; 6992,

Morning Trail

Oregon, sweet home Oregon.  It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.  Stayed in the trees most of the day, which was nice in the heat.  We broke out into the open often enough to keep the ride from getting boring.  Most of the day we were in the Soda Mountain Wilderness.  I’ve seen more day hikers the past two days than on all the rest of the trip.  Janis explained it is the 4th of July weekend.  I saw my first rattlesnake of the trip today.

The snake was a little bugger, maybe 18 inches, but fast.  I was off leading Mercedes and had stopped to let her grab a bite if trailside grass.  The bank on the high side of the trail was about knee high and the snake jumped out from under a bush, streaked across the trail and hid under a little fir tree just a foot or two off the trail.  I tried to take a picture but branches were obscuring my view, l looked around for a stick to move them, but thought better of that plan when he gave me the rattle.  Some things are just better left alone.

Hiker fun

Five miles into the ride today Mercedes and I left the Rogue River Nat’l Forest and entered privately owned land.  The trail paralleled and stayed close to Mt. Ashland Rd. from camp until we reached I-5, a distance of nearly 20 miles.  Perhaps the local land owners have been taken advantage of in the past as there was an overabundance of No Trespassing and Keep Out signs.  One property owner felt so strongly that a string of large boulders, complete with accompanying signs were situated in such a way that travelers on the trail were confined to a five foot wide strip between the rocks and the 50 mph traffic on Mt. Ashland Rd.  All this in a place where there was a clear line of sight for a half mile and no residence, building or other sign of human occupation.  It seems a shame to me that either the trail users are so ill mannered the land owner thought this their only recourse or the land owner couldn’t see their way to sharing 20 feet of their property for a national treasure.

Last view of Shasta

Further down the trail we approached the I-5 crossing, for a short distance we were riding along one of those side hills where a misstep can result in a hundred foot fall.  Only in this case instead of crashing into rocks or a tree we would land in the southbound lanes of I-5.  Mercedes didn’t like those trucks rushing by one bit

Sometimes they take my picture.
Sometimes I take theirs.

Once across I-5 the vibe was a lot more relaxed.  The day hikers, while surprised to see a horse, were friendly and inquisitive.  I’m getting pretty good at explaining what I’m doing, why I don’t need a packhorse or even large saddle bags, what kind of horse Mercedes or BG is, and the like in five friendly, smiling sentences or less.  I’d like to stop and visit for as long as they would like to, but I’ve got a long ways to go and I kind of need to stay with it. Sometimes they are just so friendly I linger awhile.  All the same good manners are good manners and we need to make time to be ambassadors for all horse people.

There wasn’t a lot of trail water today and a lot of riding in the sun, Mercedes was glad to see her bucket and pan of mash.

These are two of the more original keep out signs today.
Pilot Rock
Afternoon Trail
Across the meadow
Through the woods
Rose doesn’t give up her stick easily.
Little Hyatt Reservoir to Dead Indian Memorial Highway

July 3, 2017

Day 37 Little Hyatt Reservoir to Dead Indian Memorial Highway, miles 1741-1761

Distance; 20.4, trail time; 5:08, average speed; 4 mph, minimum elevation; 4485, maximum elevation; 6163, total ascent; 3786, total descent; 3024

Morning Trail

And before someone brings it up, I did not name the highway, it is the only name used on three separate mapping applications, and you are right, politically incorrect at a minimum.  I really don’t want to taint this column with politics, this bombshell was dropped in my lap and I’m not exactly sure how to get around it.  In the most simplistic terms my philosophy is not to dwell on the past, we can’t change it anyway, best to move on in as positive of manner as we can.  As my wise old grandfather always used to say sometimes “nuff said”.

Gunsight Stump

Did I mention we are back in Oregon?  And Oregon means trees, lots of them.  BG and I were in the trees for all but the briefest of periods today.  Nice trees, big trees, healthy trees.  Except for one small reprod area of 20 year old trees and a couple acre patch of bug kill, the forest was beautiful.  A local couple was out day riding today, I passed them as I was coming into camp as they were going out.  They came over to our camp when they got back and we shared beers and tall tales.  Turns out he is a forester for the Rogue River National Forest, assigned to this neck of the woods.  He was naming off the different species we could see from where we were sitting, he named so many so fast, no way could I keep up with all but the most obvious, Doug Fir, White Fir, Red Cedar, Hemlock, Ponderosa Pine and as he said about every kind of fir you’ve heard of.

BG traveling light and fast, except for me the majority of her load is trail clearing, then again, I may fall under that classification too.

Rumor has it that we are about to run into more snow, soon.  I hope to make it to the horse camp at Four Mile Lake tomorrow. We should know more when we get that far. Think warm thoughts, no snow, no snow…

Bridge over Grizzly Creek
Photo courtesy of the hiker on the bridge.
many trees down
Afternoon Trail
A rare look at the distant horizon.
Dead Indian Memorial Hwy to Fourmile Lake

July 4, 2017

Day 38, Dead Indian Memorial Hwy to Fourmile Lake, miles; 1759-1779

Distance; 22.6, ride time; 8:14, average speed; 2.7, minimum elevation; 4955, maximum elevation; 6263, total ascent; 2825, total descent; 2398

Brown Mountain

Happy 4th of July.  Mercedes and I had a pretty good day today, no super climbs, and no steep descents.  We started out riding through the same big timber as yesterday but that didn’t last long.  According to the map we were traversing the side of Brown Mountain, a volcanic cone whose slopes are covered with dark boulders and rocks. 

Red Cinder Rd

The trail itself is really amazing when you stop to consider the amount of labor that went into its construction.  In the first place this trail is remote, judging from the trees it has never been logged and is miles from any road.  All the labor must have been manual, all materials probably packed in on horses and mules.  Rocks, some as large as washing machines were rolled down from the high side of the trail tread to form a shelf on the lower side. 

Filling the grade

In places, where the natural grade dipped below the desired tread elevation, rock walls, the tops of which were about six feet wide were built up to form the trail.  The rocks creating the trail are so large they would be difficult, indeed dangerous to walk on not only because of all the foot trapping holes but the rocks themselves want to (oh I can’t help myself) rock and roll under foot.  The solution the builders came up with was to pack in small red pumice gravel, from who knows where, to pour over the trail tread until the holes quit swallowing it up and a nice gravel walk way was fashioned.  I’m not talking 50 feet or a 100 yards, I’m talking miles and miles of it.

and it goes for miles

 Somehow in the middle of all that rock plants started to grow, given enough time leaves and needles fell, filling up the holes between the rocks, more plants and trees took root and now there are tree islands dotting the rocky slopes.  Some are quite small, a few square feet with a couple of tough little alpine firs; others are a half acre or more and contain trees 60 inches in diameter and larger.

We had to go above the tree on the left to get around this log, then down a similar rock chute on the other side.

It is these big trees that bring me to the point of this rant, when one falls across the trail the only way by is to cut it out or scramble through the rocks with no neat little foot path around the tree.  And that is why it took me over eight hours to go 22 miles.  Mercedes and I took no breaks for snacks, there was precious little for her to munch on anyway. 

some trail was clear, some was not.

I was led to believe that no trail maintenance, tree clearing, has been done in many years in this area.  That is not exactly true; there are ample signs of logs recently cut from the trail.  There are signs of trees cut last year, and from what I believe to number in the thousands since I got to Oregon many have been cut in the past 10 years.  The problem is there are so many more that have fallen since.  And when they fall they fall across logs that had already fallen so that to get around the tree in the trail you might have to work your way around 10, 20 or more other trees, often in not the most hospitable locations.  Thick brush and steep hillside add to the length of time it takes to navigate.

Brown Mountain Ski Shelter

Not that I’m complaining, we knew we were in for an adventure from the beginning.  You can’t have good times if you don’t have hard times to compare them to.  On the bright side, the snow after Hwy 140 has failed to materialize, we walked on dry dirt all day. 

Tonight we are at Fourmile Horse camp.  I spent an exciting night here some years ago, but that is whole ‘nother story, what I remembered was a really nice horse camp.  The camp is still here, however now it is open to all campers, not just those with livestock.  Most of the corrals have been removed, judging from what we saw today, burnt for firewood.  The remaining corrals are in poor condition, doesn’t matter all of those sites are occupied by boaters.  We did get a nice “for people” site with a couple of well positioned trees suitable for highlining.  No one seems to mind as we haven’t been asked to leave.

Tomorrow the trail climbs to 7000 feet and may tell a different story – stay tuned.

Mt. McLoughlin
Cascade Canal
Cascade Canal
Afternoon trail
Norris Pond
Fourmile Lake and Brown Mountain
Fourmile to Luther Mountain to Cold Springs Trailhead

July 5, 2019

Day 39 Fourmile Lake Horse Camp to Luther Mtn to Cold Spring Trailhead, miles; 1779-1792

Distance; 25.1, trail time; 8:07, average speed: 3.1, minimum elevation; 5652, maximum elevation; 6818, total ascent; 2877, total descent; 2628

Morning Trail

Today was all about work.  I had my head down, concentrating on the task at hand, putting one step down after another.  Only took eight pictures instead of my usual 50 or more.  The number of down trees is amazing.  I doubt that my longest tree free stretch was over a quarter of a mile, fifty feet or less was far more common.  BG and I went over, under, around and way around countless logs.  I cut at least 20 that we had no other way to get past.

Squaw Lake

It got to the point I wouldn’t have minded a huge snow field blocking my way.  Eventually I got my wish.  We started running into patches of snow as low as 6000 feet in deep shade or northern exposures, nothing too tough, nothing I even felt the need to dismount for.  We worked our way to 6800 feet mostly on east or west exposures.  When we reached a saddle near the top of Luther Mountain the trail doubled back on itself across a full northern exposure in a heavily forested deeply shaded area.  According to the maps, the trail maintained that course for a mile as it gradually climbed four hundred more feet in elevation.  The trail then remained at about 7000 feet for four miles after that.

What I saw looking down the trail for as far as I could see, which admittedly wasn’t far, was a solid snow bank reaching above and below where I believed the trail to be until it disappeared into the trees.  I know a volcano cone has sides of 30°.  Rock slopes can be even steeper up to 60°.  But when you are standing there staring at a snow bank that you are contemplating traversing, a snow bank covered with 2 inches of ice, and you look down at your Rebook tennis shoes and BG’s plate shod feet, it sure looks steeper.  No place for an old man in tennis shoes, BG didn’t sign on for anything like that, the only rational decision was to turn around, and turn around we did.

Trail to Coldsprings

I texted Janis our new meeting site and bless her she was there waiting as BG and I rode into the Coldsprings Trailhead.  I write this while over-nighting at the Klamath Fairgrounds.  Tomorrow we will go back to Mount Lassen where we started north a few weeks ago and start riding south.  Hopefully I can get five full days in before we run into snow on the north end of the Sierras.  Then we will head back to the Castle Crags and ride to where we started last week at Seiad Valley.  Then maybe if all goes well the trail will be open past Crater Lake all the way to the Columbia River.

Think warm thoughts, but not too warm, it is hot out there on the trail.  No snow, no snow.

Coldsprings Trailhead camping
Cold Springs to Seven Mile Trail heads

July 24, 2017

Day 54 Cold Springs TH to Seven Mile Trailhead, miles; 1788-1802

Distance; 20.9, trail time; 7:03, average speed; 3, minimum elevation; 4865, maximum elevation; 7420, total ascent; 2659, total descent; 3698

Happy Campers!
As long as she has a stick Rose is happy too.

What a difference a couple of weeks can make in trail conditions.  The first seven miles of today’s ride were over the same trail that I had to ridden a little more than two weeks ago.  Earlier I had to find routes around what seemed to be countless downed trees.  This time the trees were still down, but enough hikers have gone by that go arounds are well established, no need for raw bush whackin’, which really speeds up progress.  Also this time the snow was totally gone on the part of the trail I had ridden before.  I did have to cut a few trees out of the way, though none were over 12 inches.

Where there was once several feet of snow, now there is none. My turn around spot from the last attempt.

There was still one treacherous bank on the saddle over Devil’s Peak, I thought we could traverse it following the footsteps of earlier travelers but Mercedes was having none of that.  The next safest option was to skirt the edge around the top of the bank, about a hundred feet up, then down through loose shale back to the trail, about a hundred and fifty feet down.  The going up wasn’t too bad except for the steepness of the slope and the lack of oxygen at that altitude. Finally we crossed the top and got a good look at what we would have to go down, and Mercedes said no way again.  I tied her reins to her lead rope to make a longer lead, then I managed to flip the bigger pieces of shale down the slope, where they bounced and crashed for a good long ways, creating a path through smaller rocks.  I got at the far end of the lead giving Mercedes room to pick and choose her path.

Doesn’t look so bad from this perspective.

Hesitantly she took a few steps, I moved a few steps, she took a few more steps moving onto larger rocks that she would slide down, get traction again in the smaller rocks, step on another big one, slide, dig in, repeat.  I was kept busy trying to stay ahead of her and not let her get tangled in the ropes.  I’m thinking if we had it to do again she would probably traverse the snow.  The rest of our ride was uneventful, the trail more dirt than rock, even the downed trees seemed less in number and easier to get around.

Another mile”stone”.

While we were riding south in California the temperature was in the 90s at elevation and pushing the 100s down lower.  I traded in my Levis for shorts finding them to be ever so much more comfortable.  The last couple of days in the Marble Mountains cooled down and I went back to jeans, though now here in Oregon I’m about to make the switch again.  The only problem with riding in shorts is no one really believes I’m the horse-guy, they want to see Levis along with the Straw hat.

We are camped at Sevenmile Horsecamp. It is a nice big gravel lot with plenty of room for even the biggest of rigs. Though there aren’t any kind of horse amenities, and it is three quarters of a mile removed, it is still an improvement on the original trailhead which is a little tight. Storm coming!

Morning trail
Luther Mountain
100° and not much shade.
Kalamath Lake
snow crossing
Storm coming at Sevenmile

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

Etna Summit to Paradise Lake Trailhead

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.
Paradise Lake Trailhead to Hwy 96, Seiad Valley

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, 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.

Seiad Valley to Reeves Ranch Springs

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.

NF47n81, Reeves Ranch Springs to NF20, Grouse Saddle

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.

Castella to Etna Summit, mile 1501-1600

Leaving the trailhead, off I-5, exit 726
I-5 to Gumboot Pass

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

Morning Trail
One of the many creeks we crossed.
Peek-a-boo glimpses

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:

Castle Crags closeup
my mid-day break view
Mt Shasta
My back trail.
Afternoon Trail
And always there are flowers.
Gumboot Pass to Parks Creek Pass

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

Morning Trail

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.

Still Standing

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.

Mid day trail

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. 

Afternoon Trail

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.

Deadfall Lake

  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.

Looks like snow in the Marble Mountains
Parks Creek Pass to Hwy 3, Scott Mountain

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

Morning Trail
The ridge in the middle distance, a mile away as the crow flies, or five miles by trail.

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. 

Oops, I lost a piece of my saw.

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.

Afternoon Trail
Scott Pass to Hidden Horse Camp

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

Morning Trail
Through the trees.

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.

Smoke in the valleys.

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.

obstacles wherever
I look.

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.

This creek started under this rock.
then flowed through this meadow
These last three pictures
were all taken within a half mile
and are a pretty fair representation of the country.
Opps, didn’t turn on the GPS until I’d gone a few miles, Cecilville Rd to Sawyers Bar Rd, Etna Summit

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

Rose’s herd.

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.

Morning Trail
There are always trees to go around.

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’m glad I didn’t have to cut this one.
Wouldn’t you know the trail crew had just been through and then another tree came down.

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.

Doesn’t look so bad from here, must be all about perspective.
but missing the landing could have been bad.

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. 

Russian Wilderness

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. 

Afternoon Trail

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.

Paynes Lake
Smith Lake
Mt Etna
Almost to camp.

Hat Creek Rim to I-5/Castella, mile 1391-1501

Hat Creek Rim to Burney Falls State Park

June 15, 2017

Day 29; Hat Creek Rim to Burney Falls State Park, milepost 1391-1419

Miles ridden; 29.1, Time 7:15, Average speed 4.0, Minimum elevation; 2965, Maximum elevation; 5312, total ascent; 1558, total descent; 3709

Hat Creek Rim, looking south from our camp at the lookout.

BG and I had another good ride today.  No horse drama yesterday or today.  They were perfectly willing to let me open and close gates without dismounting.  BG even left camp at a reasonable speed; she was willing to walk out without wanting to continually speed up.  Once we selected a speed she stayed with it until I or the terrain dictated a change, very pleasant.

Morning Trail
Lots of rocks.

The first 10 miles we traveled along the Hat Creek Rim, a continuation of yesterdays ride.  For a while we would be right along the edge, then the trail would wander a hundred yards inland only to return to the edge in due time.  This is cow country; grass grows thick between the sage bushes, Manzanita and lava rocks. 

Trail on the edge.

From atop the rim I could watch the ranchers putting up hay in the bottoms.  There is a fair amount of rock on the rim trail.  The tread itself is dirt however golf ball to softball sized stones are scattered every so often.  It is hard to set any kind of consistent speed.  I’ve noticed I take a lot more pictures when we are going slower.  The quality doesn’t seem to improve, only the quantity.  Three miles into the ride we crossed the road that Janis would be taking to our next camp.  When we were scouting the trail there had been a water trailer for the cattle trough parked here.  It’s gone now replaced by a new, well hidden from water thieves, tank.  While I was searching for the tank Janis drove by, it was nice to see her in the middle of the day.

The next 10 miles we spent a lot of time in lava beds.  Here there is so much rock in the trail a good flat walk is about all we could hope for.  I spent a lot of time off the horse walking.  For once my walking speed was pretty close to what the horse could do due to all the loose stones.  Occasionally we would get into some pretty good footing, BG would get her march on for a half mile, and then we’d be back in the lava.  I saw several more of those holes that indicate a collapsed lava tube but thought better of getting too close for a better view.

Afternoon Trail
The rim tapers off to the north.

The last 10 miles, while not stone free, were the best of the day.  Much of it went through pine and oak forest that has years of accumulated needles and leaves to soften the tread.  There wasn’t much water on the trail today.  BG’s only opportunities to drink came in a two mile stretch about midway in our journey.  Hat Creek supplies the water to turn the turbines in one of those old small scale powerhouses.  From the architecture I would guestimate the, 50 feet to the side, square building to have been a Depression Era WPA project.  Amber brown bricks framing tall narrow arched windows, with lots of rock walls terracing the work yard and framing the parking areas.  The kind of facility we can’t seem to afford now days even if we could get the permits.

 What we do seem to be able to afford is the quarter mile of aluminum foot bridge, powder coated brown the better to blend in with nature, two wheel chairs wide, gracefully curving down and around from parking lots on both sides of the creek to allow for fishing in and pondering of in general the 50 foot wide discharge pool from said powerhouse.  Now here is the kicker: on both ends of the bridge right next to the warning signs reminding me to lead my horse across the bridge (yes, it is the PCT) are warning signs stating that full force discharge from the powerhouse can happen at any time, complete with poster sized pictures, one showing the bridge as I saw it over an idyllic pond, the other showing a tsunami like wave crashing 20 feet over and above the handrail of the bridge.  The time frame given for the two pictures is three seconds.  There is no way a person in a wheel chair is going to clear that bridge to a safe elevation in less than three seconds, a fact that didn’t seem to bother the two wheelchair bound fisherman who were casting their lines when I went past.  Actually the bridge was two wheel chairs and one horse wide.

Cattle Country
The needles on this Pine are as soft and fine as lace

Anyway, I seem to have gotten side tracked, no water for BG.  One could hear the turbine in the powerhouse a good quarter mile off.  The trail switch backed down the hill so we were listening to the turbine for at least a half mile.  BG always gets a little excited when she sees roads, parking lots and the like and starts nickering, thinking Mercedes is down there waiting for her.  There was a really nice little creek where she could have drank, but again she is all excited her buddy is waiting for her (and there is always water at the trailer) she did take a couple of swallows but not much.  Then there was the bridge crossing at the powerhouse where Hat Creek is confined by those beautiful rock walls, no horse access.  So we rode to the boat launch, half a mile away, but there are kayaks, little kids running and screaming and fishermen galore, as if BG would drink in those conditions, if we could get to the water.  Rode along the lake for another half mile, after crossing yet another rickety bridge that has two tsunami wave rapids flowing through concrete channels, BG is settled down now and thirsty, she wants in that lake, but up here it is a muddy fifty foot wide cattail swamp between us and the water.  We carefully picked our way on the firmest of ground but there just isn’t any way BG can get the last two feet.  So I slid a six inch thick, four foot long branch from firm ground to water, crawled out on my hands and knees, filled the collapsible bucket three times before BG was satisfied.

Wild Bird Cache

I passed a nice trail magic offering just after crossing Wild Bird Rd.  These angels had packed in a picnic table, sun umbrellas, coolers and garbage cans.  It was all very neat and tidy, obviously someone polices the area, at least they had not too long before I passed by.  It always amazes me that this type of set up is left unmolested.  The coolers and other items don’t seem to get stolen, even the small cash box left for donations was u not tampered with. 

Just a mile or so before I reached the spot where Janis and I would camp on a dirt road just outside the Burney Falls Park,  I rode through a horse camp, unoccupied except for a couple of hikers taking a break at one of the picnic tables.  This camp would have made an excellent overnight camp but in all our research we had never encountered any information regarding a horse camp at Burney Falls, too bad, the horsed would have enjoyed a good roll in the large corrals.

Home at the end of the trail.

PCT road signs, billboards and rest stops:

traffic sign
Road sign
Rest Stop
Median Landscaping
Burney Falls to Rock Creek

June 16, 2017

Day 30, Burney Falls State Park to Peavine Creek or 5 miles short of going nowhere. Mile 1419 to 1433

Miles ridden; 23.7, Trail Time; 10:32, Average speed; 2.2, minimum elevation; 2790, maximum elevation; 5067, total ascent; 3371, total descent; 3194

Morning Trail

We were up and going first thing this morning, I managed to get on the trail by 7:00.  The first few miles today were a ride in the park, Burney Falls State Park, a well maintained bridle path, reminded me of the one where Robin Hood would lie in wait to ambush the Sherriff of Nottingham by dropping out of a huge Oak tree.  After a mile Mercedes and I crossed a dam bridge over the dam Janis refers to later.  I wanted to go down the steps and check it out, but Mercedes was having none of it.

Only kidding, I wouldn’t have ridden Mercedes down these!

Crossing the dam and leaving the road we began the climb that would take us to the top of the ridge we will follow to I-5, eighty-one miles away.  The first ten miles were pretty good, beautiful healthy forests, lots of dogwoods in bloom.  

The trail wandered through mixed forest decorated with meadows.  Trail markers change from area to area.  The most common trail markers here in the Shasta Cascades are 4X8 post about 24 inches high. They are surprisingly easy to spot from some distance at confusing intersections and road crossings.  Bridge construction is also changing, with wooden glue-lam beams becoming more common. The way the decking is first laid perpendicularly to the trusses then a second layer is layed length wise may contribute unusual hard knock sound the horse makes when crossing.

Well done dry stone wall.

Why is it you never truly appreciate maintenance until you are suffering the effects of its absence. The last two days riding from Mt Lassen up to about mile 1434, I passed hundreds of freshly cut logs that had fallen across the trail.  Even though I mentally noted and valued the work I made no effort of public display, not one line here.  I apologize to all the volunteer trail crews everywhere.  And when those volunteers clear past that mark I will give the kudos then.  But as it was, it was tough slogging.  Brush grown so thick over the trail there were times Mercedes vanished from my sight.  There were enough logs to cut and go around to satisfy any trail crew.

Really nice trail where it was clear.
Beautiful but tough to get through.

Janis had been concerned that the road to our next meeting place might be obstructed, after talking with the Brits I was a bit concerned about their snow report.  I had been checking the text phones regularly for possible change of plans.  Sure enough just as I made the halfway point today the message came that Janis would be waiting for me about 4 miles down the road from where we had planned to be.  No big deal, I would just ride down and meet her there.  Why I didn’t do that is really Janis’s story:

Comments from the side lines Chapter 7.1

Day three started like any other PCT crew day; set my course and drive.  Knowing I had a lot of spare time and wanting to get something green for dinner, I drove past the turn to that night’s camp and into McCloud.  I fueled up, bought some Blue Def for the truck, and crossed the street to buy a Latte and Caesar Salad for dinner.  Heading back out to my night’s camp, I had dueling GPS’s – the Nuvi and the truck GPS which had the camp spot keyed in and both were talking to me – confusing!  Unfortunately the truck GPS was louder and opted to take me the shortest route.

I turned down a gravel road I did recognize from a few years ago, but after a few miles, a few dicey wash out crossings and trees cut, I cautiously continued, hoping for no more challenges.  I met my match in a severe washout that I had no intention of crossing.  I backed up for maybe 1/8 of a mile to a flat spot I could turn around and parked.  I sent Gary a message that I could not make it and he said he would ride to me.  I unloaded the horse, put some hay and water in front of her, climbed up on the hayrack to drop another bale for the day and then began to play with Rose who was bored to tears. 

I went into trailer for a moment and came back out and noticed something dark about 30 feet away… it was an enormous bear!  I am talking the size of a Welch Pony.  I said “WHOA” and clapped my hands.  The bear just kind of swayed and stared.  I shouted and clapped louder and then Rose took off after the bear!  I screamed “ROSE” and then the bear left.  Rose came to me and I got her into the truck at which point a second bear emerged from the brush.  That one did not hang around after I shouted again.  By now my adrenaline was really pumping.  The horse was upset seeing the bears and haring them crashing around behind her.  I got her untied and loaded in seconds.  I grabbed the hay bag and water bucket, threw them into the back of the truck and got into the cab – safe!  I started the truck to further deter the bears from coming closer.  I had no idea if they would run away or hang around but I wasn’t getting out to of that truck.  I grabbed the InReach and sent Gary a message – Bears!  I was so scared and shaking so badly I could not hold the InReach.  I thought I was going to be sick to my stomach for a moment.  It took me longer than it should have to get the message typed.  Sometimes it takes a good long time for the message to send or be received.  And it is hard to hear the signal if you are riding.  Thank goodness he finally responded and said “Load Up”.  Yep, already done!  I was ready to get the heck out of there! 

I could not imagine being able to sleep there knowing the bears might be lurking.  Gary suggested I meet him at another location.  The message was received and the truck was in gear almost simultaneously!  The relief of leaving that place was short lived as I had one heck of a time finding where Gary wanted to meet up.  It included a few false starts including crossing the very narrow dam bridge then having to come back across – oi vey.  We finally connected, a mere 5 miles from where we started this morning.  Oh well, sometimes stuff happens.  After dinner I dug out my bear spray and air horn and will keep those on me while out in the woods from now on.  Will give me peace of mind – hope I don’t have to use them!!  And I sincerely hope that I do not see another bear on this trip.

Back to Gary:

I never could decide whether this rock was painted or a freak of nature. At any rate he summed up my feeling while waiting for the text messages.

These inReach devices aren’t really made for fast paced information sharing, at least not as fast as I would like when you get a “Bears, I’m really scared” message.  They are tedious to type on if you don’t have a smart phone or pad.  You have to highlight one letter at time using a the up/down/right/left arrow button, then press select, go to the next letter.   After you write the message you can send, then wait for the unit to upload the message to a satellite, then the satellite down loads the message to the intended unit.  This can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour or more depending upon what kind of reception the units have.  Staying out in the clear with a full view of the sky really helps.  What happens is you send a message, then think of a clarification or something, send a second message, recipient gets first message, responds, gets the second message, gets confused, sends another message – pretty soon no one knows which response goes with which message.  Bottom line, inReaches work, but not at the speed of light. Plans can be made, misunderstood, changed, it just takes time.

It’s funny how things work out, Janis had followed the instructions from the truck’s GPS rather than the tracks we had downloaded onto the Garmin Nuvi.  Basically that put her on the wrong road and five miles away from where I thought she was.  Had it not been for the bear who knows how long it would have taken before we discovered that error.  So in fact I did ride to meet Janis, just not where we thought we would, or plan B, or C but D worked just fine.

Tall Trees

June 17, 2017

Peavine to Bartles Gap Rd.

Peavine Creek to Bartles Gap Rd, Mile 1433 to 1444, or the snow that never was.

Miles Ridden; 23.5 miles, Time 6:50, 3.4 mph average, minimum elevation; 3156, maximum elevation; 5496, total ascent; 4020, total descent; 2354

Trinity Alps

Yesterday I rode 24 miles to end up five from where I started, today I did a little better 23 miles ridden to end up 20 trail miles from last night’s camp but only 11 miles from our furthest trail mile yesterday.  I know, it gives me pause when I think of it too.  After yesterday’s troubles with the truck’s GPS sending Janis up the wrong road, which was washed out, which set up the bear encounter, I thought today might be clear sailing, law of averages and all.  The first five miles today was up a not too bad road to where I could pick up the trail again. 

Morning Trail

While beating through the brush yesterday I encountered a young couple from the UK who were at least temporarily giving up.  They had run into snow and either were not equipped or mentally prepared for the challenge so they turned around.  It was partly due to their assessment of trail conditions that Janis and I ended up where we did last night.  I wanted a chance to reconsider and make alternative plans.  According to the Brits the snow started at mile 1444, five miles before Janis and my rendezvous at 1449, and continued  for six miles, though having turned around I don’t know how they determined the extent of the snow.  At any rate we went for it today, Janis had new coordinates for the correct road and I was prepared to do more road riding around the snow if needed.

Back on the trail the troublesome brush had vanished.  The trail was passing through a well managed stand of mature trees.  Sun light dappled the forest floor which was carpeted with low growing bushes.  Further on we passed in and out of clearings where we could easily see the Castle Crags and Trinity Alps, three and four days ride away.  When I got to where the snow was supposed to be there were a few scattered drifts, none much larger in footprint than our pickup and trailer or more than four feet tall, all easily crossed.

Pit River Drainage

Towards the end of the day we got back into overgrown trail and downed trees.  In one area of private land foresters had thinned a replanted area of 15 to 20 foot tall trees, falling dozens of the small trees across the trail, bad enough when nature does it.  I wonder if the thinners didn’t know, or just didn’t care?  The former I hope.

About a mile before I was to meet Janis I met a hiker, sitting in the shade, who had hurt his back and wondered did I know how to get to the highway and how far it was.  I told him we were camping just ahead and that Janis could give him a lift to town in the morning, an offer he gratefully accepted.  As I was explaining how to get where Janis was he just kept getting more confused.  It was then it dawned on me that Janis and I are operating on 2014 maps and mileages while the hikers mostly use their phones and 2016 data – which can mean up to a 10 mile difference in mileposts for the same spot.  He thought he was at 1441, I thought we were at 1448.  The next step in this awareness was the Brits snow starting at 1444 would be my 1452, I haven’t got there yet!  So much for an easy-squeezy day tomorrow, the test is yet to be.

Mt. Shasta

When I got to our camp spot, Janis was not there. The lack tire tracks indicated no one had been around recently. A little unusual, I had 23 miles to ride, she had 25 miles to drive, I started to worry a little. I hadn’t been there too long when a text came through. A new gate had been installed, preventing her from coming up the last mile and a half, SHeww, I could ride that much further pretty easily.

Besides the injured hiker we were surprised to have Randy and Bigfoot, the Texan and German who were traveling with the Aussie, Rattler all of which I first met a couple of days from the border, then again by Lake Hughes, Chair in the Road and Bird Springs.  Rattler was last seen hiking into the Sierras but Randy, smallish, wiry, intense man with a ponytail, graying temples and wire rimmed glasses who could have been 40 or 65 was still partnered up with Bigfoot, a large, 20 something with an ever present smile (at least he is always smiling when the top pops on a cold beer).  Pleasant company they visited long enough to have a sandwich and some chips but felt the itch to get to town that day and soon left us.

fresh from under the snow
Bartle Gap to Centipede Gulch, McCloud River

June 18, 2017

Day 32, Bartle Gap to Centipede Gulch, Mile 1444-1471, or there was some snow

Miles Ridden; 27.1, Time; 12:47, Average Speed; 2.1, Minimum Elevation; 2662, Maximum; 6152, total ascent; 3741, total descent; 5769

The brush got quite thick.

We didn’t actually camp at Bartle Gap (which isn’t really Bartle Gap, it’s where the road intersects the PCT about a mile south of the gap) as we intended, a new gate blocked the road so I had a two mile road ride down to where Janis had made camp.  In the morning Mercedes made short work of those two miles then off down the trail we went.  Beautiful trail through the forest, perfect footing of dirt covered needles. 

This part of the trail passes through private as well as National Forest land.  There are numerous logging roads covering the area.  Main lines are well graveled, wide enough for two log trucks to pass without slowing down much.  Feeder lines are narrower but still generally in good shape, certainly pickup and trailer worthy.  The condition of spur roads, often dirt, depend greatly upon how long it has been since they serviced active logging.  The Summit Lake road, which parallels the PCT for 25 miles or so, probably predates the logging roads, however now parts of it are used for logging and the state of the road reflects its status at that point, main, feeder or spur. The rest of Summit Lake road down grades from dirt to two track to a barely discernible track through the bush.  The PCT crosses and recrosses Summit Lake Rd many times.

From snow to
brush and then back again.

At last I did come to snow fields that I felt too risky to attempt crossing.  To slip on them would certainly mean a fall that Mercedes and I would not survive.  Not wanting to quit just yet I thought I would try detouring on the Summit Lake Rd, which was a nice, snow free, dirt road when I had last crossed it, just a mile back.  Riding up the road was just as nice as being on the PCT, until it wasn’t.  Manzanita five feet high or more crowded in from both sides until any sign of the road vanished.  Walking, leading Mercedes, I had to crouch, head down and bull my way through, Mercedes did the same and was none too happy about it, though she never resisted the lead rope she did give me an occasional low nicker which is hers of saying this is bs.  After a mile or so of this we burst free of the bush, or rather we got to where the bush was still covered under six feet or more of snow.

I called this one the “Snake”. While we could walk on top of it all was well, however about two thirds of the way down it we had to veer off into the forest.

It was about 9:00 by then, late enough in the day that the glaze of ice had melted but early enough the crust would hold Mercedes weight.  The snow got deeper, the drifts higher with steeper edges as we progressed into the trees. Most of the time I was able to ride, however when the addition of my weight caused Mercedes to punch through the snow I would walk.  Mercedes had excellent traction; her hooves would sink into the snow two or three inches with each step.  I on the other hand did not.  I had to be very careful to keep balanced or I would slip.  I shamelessly used Mercedes lead rope when needed to keep upright.  As we came out into the sun the snow gave way to the bush, I was pretty happy to be dealing with leaves and limbs at that moment.  I love being in the mountains in the sun when you can see for miles with the sky so blue and the green ridges stretching off into the distance, makes me a little euphoric.  Until we go around the corner and see a lot more snow.  It is a little odd crossing the snow, the temperature is around 100°, and feels like it on my head, but there is no doubt the snow working its way into my boots is still freezing, all in all it makes a nice balance.

A hundred degrees and still my feet were cold.

I saw a continuous drift covering both the road and trail which were only a few yards apart now.  From the distance I could see that it was a long snake like drift, a snake with tumors, a snake with undulating top and side lines.  The bank to get up on top is a good 15 very steep feet at its beginning, later I found it was much taller where I would have to come down.  I tried to gradually side hill it, until Mercedes had enough and charged straight to the top, then turned to face me, allowing me to use her lead for support to pull myself up to her side.  We worked our way along the top line of the snake, up one side of the tumors and down the other for almost a mile.  When we reach the south end of a razor back hill I could see clear trail at the far end on the southwest side not more than a quarter mile away. 

Out of the snow at last, now it really felt like 100°.
Trail freshly repaired by favorite crew.

My problem was the southwest side was a sheer cliff; the trail went around the north east side.  To make matters worse I ran out of snake, the last bit was across a sloping snow bank that clung to the side of the hill, with no top to walk on. The high edge buried in Manzanita, the lower edge 100 yards down the mountainside in the trees.  The lower edge didn’t look as steep from up where Mercedes and I studied the issue, Mercedes voted to try our luck down below and worry about finding a way back up later.  That plan was working out pretty well when we came upon a fresh set of tracks from somebody with really big feet.  Big feet with crampons, strap on spikes for crossing ice and snow.  Perfect, by stepping into those foot prints I was able to make the crossing without difficulty.  Now we were standing on dirt all we had to do was work our way over another snake to the dry trail on the other side, a task that Mercedes handled with ease.  We had make it through the snow, I may have broken out into a little bit of the Hills are Alive with Music, or maybe the Rocky theme.

It took some effort to find a go around for this washout.

After the snow crossing the last 19 miles were fairly uneventful.  I did meet a trail crew taking a lunch break, the same volunteers I met on Mission Creek down south in what seems a lifetime ago.  Mercedes remembered them too and once again charmed some carrots from their lunch.  From there I had beautiful trail to where they had parked their vehicles.  From their trucks north there were several big trees down and a nasty washed out culvert to get past.  Shortly after the washout I came to a huge old windfall, well over four feet in diameter, freshly cut out of the trail, sawdust still littered the ground.  Then I saw horse prints and before long caught up with a group of three Back Country Horsemen who had packed in and were also clearing trail.  They had cut and cleared their way to that big log, called it a day and were headed back to the same trailhead that Janis was waiting at.  They let me pass at the first safe spot a mile or so later, steep narrow trails again, so we had a little time to exchange pleasantries before we parted ways, clear trail all the way to the truck.

Ash Camp camp.

By the time I got to the truck the temperature at climbed to well over 100°, Janis was offering cold beers to the hikers as they came down off the trail.  Janis keeps the cooler well stocked as I got into the habit of offering to buy a beer for those who made it to our camp.  Now she is able to make the offer to all who come by and we have become a popular rest spot for weary travelers.  It is an interesting group of people we encounter.  At one point we had five from Switzerland and three from Seattle, none of whom knew each other before starting up the trail.  While not walking together during the day they tended to camp close and have become good friends.  Moral for the day: Be kind to your fellow travelers.

Camp guest.
Ash Camp to I-5, Castella

June 19, 2017,

Day 33, Ash Camp to I-5/Castella, Miles 1471-1501

Miles Ridden; 30.1, Time; 8:20, Average Speed 3.6, minimum elevation 2271, maximum elevation 4675, total ascent 4473, total descent 4950

Morning Trail, Ash Camp Bridge, over the McCloud River.

For a change of pace we had an uneventful day.  For the most part we were in the trees all day, given that it was 100° again today the shade was much appreciated.  It was one of those rare days when the trail was able to hold to its standard of a 3% grade.  Interesting factoid: in order to make that criteria the trail wound around hill and dale, requiring 30 trail miles to cover 12½ miles as the crow flies.  Still, it was a lovely ride.  We passed in and out of areas with trees large in girth and tall.  36 inchers were common, with many six foot plus.  After all the burned areas, and insect infested dead forests I really enjoyed seeing all the healthy trees.  There was just enough elevation change to experience the different distinct tree zones, big trees in the lower area, deciduous hardwoods above that and subalpine conifers above that.

A warning for Motorists.

Riding along the trail I crossed one of the hundreds of abandoned or little used narrow dirt roads that I have passed since starting this adventure.  An old sign post had fallen across the track, but it was the warning message that caught my eye, Equestrian Crossing, the first such sign I’ve seen for the PCT this trip.  I was tempted to take it home, if it hadn’t been so hot I would have.  I’m pretty sure no safety hazard would have ensued if I had.

and the road being protected.

The final part of the day was a long downhill to Interstate 5.  A couple of times the trail went across rock faces so I was able to get close up views of what I have been looking for the last week.  The Castle Crags which appear to be snow free, and the Trinity Alps beyond which are not.

Castle Crags

Today we took a rest day for the horses.  I drove the truck around to the next few camp spots checking out snow levels in person.  Too much snow to safely get through at the present time.  The trail stays up over 6000 feet for much of the next 200 miles.  In a couple of spots it goes over 7000.  The trail snow is up over 5800 feet.  The snow is melting fast in this heat, the snow line has risen dramatically since we drove past a week ago, but is still to iffy for my taste.  I think a couple more days will make all the difference.  The packers we met at Ash Camp live in the area and are keeping a close watch on conditions for us, as are the stable crew at the horse motel we are staying at tonight.  Most likely, Janis and I will go back home tomorrow, and then come back in a week to start up again.

Afternoon Trail, mid day break.

Humboldt Pass to Hat Creek Rim, mile 1312-1391

Mt Lassen
Humboldt Summit to Stover Springs

July 7, 2017, Southbound

Day 41 Stover Springs to Humboldt Summit, milepost; 1338 to 1315

Miles ridden; 22.7, trail time; 6:58, average speed; 3.3, minimum elevation; 4913, maximum elevation; 7619, total ascent; 4155, total descent; 3246

Morning Trail
Fortunately they weren’t cutting when I went through.

BG and I had a pretty good ride today. The first eight miles were relatively level, the footing was excellent, BG was able to stretch her legs out and roll along. We started out on an old railroad grade, then went through alternating sections of private and public lands, both of which were being selectively logged.  The private land in particular was beautifully managed, both from forestry and a PCT standpoint.  Though the signs indicated logging was in progress and slash was being left for critters and bugs to consume, the trail itself was clear of debris.

Mercedes and I
Photo by Unicorn;
Lake Alamor through the haze of distant fires.
PCT Midpoint monument, trail registar ammo box and the official greeter.

Leaving the logging behind the trail climbed to over 7600 feet crossed some snow that wasn’t in the least dangerous and was treated to views of Butt Mtn.  I don’t know why the hikers and I find that so funny, never the less there are a lot of cell phone photos of the sign.  While we were skirting Butt Mountain we passed the official PCT Midpoint monument.

The sign
The mountain.
Afternoon Trail

I got to camp to find Janis visiting with a couple from Chico, John and Janet with their friend Charles, who were dispensing trail magic in the form of beer, soft drinks, fresh fruit, and best of all, some really good BLT sandwiches, chips and guacamole.  Though they aren’t hikers themselves, John and Janet drive the two hours from Chico to Humboldt Pass one day each year with coolers full of goodies.  Their BLTs are incredible; the vegetarian hikers said the same of their veggie offering.

Janis with Hitch, Spidermama and Tetris. Photo by Unicorn:

Wouldn’t you know after the angels went home we were joined by four out of five young women, Hitch, Unicorn, Tetris, and Spidermama.  The fifth member, Monarch, didn’t make it to our camp.  They are more or less following the same course we are, dodging snow, and camping together.  We were also joined by a Scotsman, Chaski, all enjoyed a cold beer and Janis’s homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Chapter 6 – Notes from the sidelines

On the road again…   Our first couple weeks back on the trail have been routine for me.  Drive to destination, unpack, get horses set up, make something for dinner, clean up, go to bed, get up early, feed and clean up after horses, coffee, eat, pack up  and go.   Included in my morning commute is attempting to resupply horse water, ice, etc.  Some days that are easier than others…there have been days I did not pass a single store or gas station; so much space.   I am having a hard time this phase due to the lack of human interaction and the heat.  I am a native Seattle girl and like 75-80 degree days and the occasional rain showers.   Today in Beldon, it is 100+ degrees.  We are parked next to a river in the shade; regardless, it is hot and muggy.  The river is high and flowing extremely fast so no wading or swimming here.  I am hopeful that being this close to the river helps keep the temps a bit lower here.    

I am sorry that I have not seen many hikers this phase.   Unlike the first month out on the trail, now I am alone most of the time for much of the day.  Once I reach my next camp and get set up, I am not able to leave which is why I am happy to see the occasional hiker.  Yesterday I enjoyed visiting with several hikers and two very nice trail angles that spent the day talking and offering food and drink to hot hungry hikers, one rider and one driver J   It is interesting to hear about each person’s background and why they are out here.   Dan, from England asked if he could “pinch” a cookie for the trail, while Jon the Frenchman just smiled.  Later more hikers came and a group of young women camped near us, as did a Scotsman. 

I was beginning to think this phase would be rather dull when on this mornings’ 16 mile drive down Humboldt Rd I encountered something that got my heart racing.   The first 1.3 miles was a terrible section of road with big rocks buried in hard dirt road making for the bounciest ride, ever, at 1-2 mph.  I was thrilled to reach the beautiful wide gravel road that would take me the -next 5 miles to the final 10 paved road.   These are the little things that can make my day – a good piece of road.  Time goes so slowly when you have to creep down these bumpy roads.  I spend a lot of time watching the Nuvi for the miles to tick down.  It is like watching grass grow.   Anyway, as I drove down this morning, I opened my windows so I could let some cool air flow through the truck.  I had reached the smooth gravel and was going about 15 mph.  On the right side of the road was a steep hillside covered in a thick layer of manzanita and on the left, a steep forested ravine.  As I drove, I heard a loud crashing through the manzanita, it sounded like a truck was coming down the embankment toward me.  I quickly looked in the side mirror to see what was making that noise, hoping it was not the trailer dragging something.  I saw the briefest flash of thick brown and blonde colored long hair, and then it disappeared.  The noise continued, and something was running alongside me in the ditch crashing through the brush and branches.  The brush was so thick the animal could not get back up the hill there.  I thought I was going to run over whatever it was.  I tried to stand in my seat to see over the side of the door but this truck is too big to do that.  I eased off the gas and could not believe what I saw.  A very large brown bear ran diagonally across the front of the truck, his butt just clearing my left front tire as I drove by.  He dove off the side and down into the ravine, gravel scratching as he dug in to get the heck out of there.  I think I actually could smell him, a heavy gear oil smell.  The trailer was making quite a racket coming down the hill.  All I can come up with is that he was in the brush and just got scared and ran for home, right across my path.  This is the fourth bear I have seen this trip, and I had expected to see none.  My adrenaline was pumping after that happened and I decided to roll my windows up the rest of the drive down that road!     

Stover Springs to Badger Mountain

July 8, 2017, Southbound,

Day 40 Badger Mt to Stover Springs, milepost; 1338-1368

Miles ridden; 30.3, trail time; 10:52, average speed; 2.8, minimum elevation; 5051, maximum elevation; 6718, total ascent; 4717, total descent; 4045

See you this afternoon!

I’m officially a SOBO (South Bound) now.  Or more accurately a SOBO/NOBO (north bound, that is PCT talk, I love that kind of talk) wannabe.  I passed several hikers today that I last saw in Southern California.  It was kind of neat to catch up on their stories.  A couple of them I didn’t recognize at first, there has been some weight lost and beards grown since our last meeting.  It is kind of funny, when you pass some people want to chat a little, others prefer to keep moving.  Of the chatters eventually the conversation comes around to what’s your horse’s name?  When I reply Mercedes that is when recognition kicks in and they remember me from where ever we met before, then that location prompts my memory, sometimes I can even remember their name.  More often it is some detail of their story, the girl from Portland, the guy from Kelso.

Dropping off Flat Iron Ridge into the Warner Valley

Going the opposite direction I see a lot more peopleWhen we are traveling the same direction I gain about 5 miles a day on the hikers, so basically I see the people within a 5 mile moving section of the trail.  Going the opposite direction I cover about 25 miles a day, they go 20 to 30 miles a day so in effect I am seeing people over a 50 mile stretch of trail, just in case you are wondering what I think about during the slow times.

I started the day on the side of Badger Mountain in the Lassen Volcanic Wilderness.  The trail was fairly level with good footing through an area that had burned some years ago.  The areas that did not burn had significant bug kill damage; both environs gave off the same feeling of ghost trees standing.  In the burnt areas the grassy new growth is giving way to the ever dominating Manzanita and Ceanothus brush which this time of year has a very strong sweet smell. 

Today I had the closest thing to a bear encounter I’ve had so far.  I had been seeing a lot of bear sign throughout the morning, scat alongside the trail and rotten logs torn apart in search of insects.  I was just day dreaming along when a flash of dark brown fur crossed the trail 50 yards ahead of me.  By the time I got to where the bear had crossed the trail it had disappeared into the

Bear sign, looking for bugs.
One of the boardwalks, view #1
same boardwalk, view #2

Once out of the burned area the trail continued on it winding slightly sloping way through forested valleys.  Eventually all good trails must end and once again we began to climb, this time over Flat Iron Ridge and then down the other side into Warner Valley and Hot Springs Creek near Drakesbad Guest Ranch.  The trail traverses several long board walks which protect the wetland of the valley floor.  I liked hearing the rhythmic sound of Mercedes hooves as we navigated the boards, Mercedes liked not having to slosh through the muck.

and view #3
Boiling Springs Lake

Climbing out of Warner Valley the trail passes through an area of volcanic activity.  The vents under and around Boiling Springs Lake fill the air with a strong sulfur area,   Side trails with names like; Terminal Geyser, Devils Kitchen and Bumpass Hell lead on to believe there may be more adventures to be had.

Closest road; 7 miles south, closest fence; who knows?

The rest of the day the trail passed through forested slopes, over Manzanita covered ridges and passed through the occasional grassy valley.  Our intended campsite at Stover Springs was occupied by highway construction workers repaving Hwy 35 three miles down the road, however Janis had found an excellent alternative only a quarter mile away.

Crossing the North Fork of the Feather River
A welcome sign.
Badger Mountain to Hat Creek Rim Lookout

June 14, 2017

Day 28 Badger Mt to Hat Creek Rim Lookout, milepost 1364-1391

Miles ridden; 28.4, Time 7:13, Average speed 4.0, Minimum elevation; 4360, Maximum elevation; 6519, total ascent; 1621, total descent; 2856

From here to Canada all trail miles were in a northbound direction.  I rode this portion starting in mid June after our return to the trail from our mid May completion of the southern California desert section.

Mt. Lassen

It feels so good to be back on the trail again, I keep making up lyrics to go with Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” tune.  Not very good lyrics, not worth repeating – but it keeps me happy.   What a glorious day and trail, this is what I was imagining all those years of planning this trip. 

Morning Trail
Ceanothus grows along most of the PCT
Sweet Smelling Ceanothus

Mercedes was feelin’ good.  Fit and ready, all fed up from a few weeks on the deep green grass at home.  The first half mile or so was cross country through a burn area with down trees laying all helter skelter, like a giant game of pick-up sticks.  Picking our way over and around is not Mercedes idea of a good time; she is a bit of a diva you know.  But once we got on the trail, and headed the right direction (my internal compass was stuck this morning, but we figured it out before we had gone much more than 100 yards the wrong way, even so it was a couple of miles before I could shake the feeling something wasn’t right, it’s just not right when to ride south on a northbound trail.)  the good Mercedes took over.  Pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down, traveling so lightly it is easy to imagine you are floating.  It’s a rare day riding Mercedes when the thought doesn’t occur to me “damn, I like this horse”.  Today it came early and stayed late.

Another variety of Ceanothus, but just as strongly scented.

  The trail from Mt. Lassen gently descended the first six miles; the next eight miles traversed a nearly flat pine forest.  For a few miles we paralleled Hat Creek.  Mostly the footing was loose pumice ash with a generous cover of pine needles that released a puff of forest scent with each foot fall.  There was an occasional lava outcropping, just enough to keep the trail interesting.  The forest gave way to clearings periodically which afforded some grand panoramas that included Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta and all the snow covered ridges in between.  Riding through the Manzanita and Mountain Lilacs the sweet smell of the flowers was so thick you could nearly wash with it.

Hole in the ground
Climbing the Hat Creek Rim.

Down on the flats the underground is riddled with lava tubes.  The Subway Caves are a popular destination for some.  There are also unnamed, unmarked openings scattered across the landscape.  One such opening is not five feet from the side of the PCT; it is a squarish hole, maybe 20 plus feet per side.  From the trail it looked like a shallow pit, it had a tree growing from the rubble pile at the bottom.  Riding around to the far side of the opening I could see the beginning of a large lava tube, one that could have easily held a Greyhound bus, stretching off into the darkness.  Most startling to me was the roof of the tunnel, that was directly under the trail could not have been more than two feet thick, with a thirty foot plus drop to the bottom of the cave, no guard rails, no warning signs, just like the old days, hiker beware.

Mt Shasta

The last fourteen miles climbed up the side of escarpment along Hat Creek Valley.  The near vertical wall of the Hat Creek Rim towers a thousand feet above the valley and runs a good thirty miles.  The trail stays near the edge, though not so near one would fear a fall, providing a practically unending vista.  The flat top of the mesa was struck (according to a reader board) by 800 bolts of lightning during a storm in 2008 lighting wild fires that completely consumed the forest.  Some parts have been reforested, some parts are being left to nature to recover, at the present time it is a rare tree or bush more than ten feet high.

Tonight we are camped by an old look-out tower.  The building at the top is gone except for the metal floor joists, I suppose it would all be gone if it weren’t such a good cell phone dish support.  A couple from Texas have stopped by and shared a beer with us, made a nice finish to an exceptionally good day.

Tonight’s camp on the edge of the rim

Little Lasier Horse Camp to Humbolt Pass, 1182-1315 miles

Little Lasier HC to Gold Lake Pack Station

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

Sierra Buttes

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.

Biker Trail
Morning Trail

The Story:

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.

North side of Sierra Buttes

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? 

South side of Sierra Buttes
Waiting for the hiker to pass

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.

North Yuba Bridge

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.

Historic Round Lake Mine, the mine shaft extended 400 feet under the lake
equipment base for mine
Foundation for mine shaft
Shadow Horse and Shadow Guy stop to smell the flowers.
North Yuba dip the bucket site
Lone Pine
Break time for the hikers
The 1200 mile marker
I’m glad I didn’t have a pack animal as the marker could have caused interference, located in the middle of the narrow trail as it is.
Gold Lake Pack Station to Quincy-LaPorte Rd

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

Morning Trail
Plenty of windfalls to negotiate

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.

Five miles from nowhere, somebody went to the trouble of packing in the materials and erecting this sign which told me I was there.

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.

Johnsville/McCrae Rd.

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.

Flowers at ATree Spring

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.

Below the Snow

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.

Gold Lake at last

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.

Home sweet home near the Gold Lake Pack Station
Quincy-LaPorte Rd to Red Ridge FS23N60

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

Smoke of unknown origin.
Morning Trail

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. 

Look Out Rock
Feather River Bridge
Bear Creek Bridge

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.

Happiness is a clear trail through the trees.

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.

Afternoon Trail

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.

Belden Town to Red Ridge on FS23N60

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

Morning Trail

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.

And at the bottom of the canyon is Belden Town

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.

Indian Paintbrush, saddle high.

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?

and still more hill to go.
Above the tree line,
BG likes it, a log she doesn’t have to go over or around.

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.

Another Gold Lake.
Silver Lake
Belden Town to Humboldt Summit

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

Morning view at Humboldt Pass

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.

Morning Trail
Good travelin’ trail.

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.

Shadow Guy is a good trail partner, his mother told him “if he doesn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” He doesn’t talk much. Shadow Horse is a pretty good trail horse, nice steady gait, always keeps up.
The fence at Cold Springs

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.

Afternoon Trail

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.

Bridge at Indian Creek

Kennedy Meadows to Kersarge Pass, miles 704-789

Kennedy Meadows to Sage Flat Trailhead

September 20, 2017

Day 92 Kennedy Meadows to Sage Flat, miles 0704-0720

Trip data:  Distance; 23.3, Time; 7:43, average speed; 3.0, minimum elevation; 5849, maximum elevation; 9224, total ascent; 4450, total descent; 4685

Trail Companions

Kennedy Meadows marks the unofficial end to Southern California and the beginning of Central California as well as the Sierras.  Leaving Kennedy Meadows one climbs past the 7000 foot mark, an elevation that won’t be seen again for over 400 miles, in fact the trail only dips to the 8000 foot mark half a dozen times in the same distance.

Coats, hoods and hats.

The weather is decidedly colder today.  Last night it was cold enough the horses needed their fleece blankets to ward off the chill.  This morning there was ice in the water buckets.  I’ve added a warm jacket to my morning wear. 

The trail is well used through the developed campground.

Today we left Kennedy Meadows, I was firmly convinced we were about to enter the Sierras, and we did, though I have yet to see the crags and lakes that I expected.  Following the trail through the Kennedy Meadows Campground was a bit challenging.  Several unmarked intersections with side trails that were more heavily used than the PCT made guessing the correct path iffy.  I wasn’t totally sure I was going the right way until we passed the sign that said we were entering the South Sierra Wilderness.  Just a few miles later we entered the Golden Trout Wilderness.  We did climb to 9000+ feet but mostly we saw beautiful valleys with tall grass, flowing water and black cows.  I also saw what must be a cowhand’s summer residence, with two or three pickups parked nearby in what my maps show to be the middle of the wilderness, great job if you can get it.

Morning Trail

Leaving the PCT I took the trail over Olanche Pass and down to Sage Flats.  The first part of this side trail was really nice.  The landscape was pretty evenly divided by patches of good sized evergreen trees and meadows lush with grass, one with an old stock camp with holding corrals and a picnic table.  Shortly though we started down into drier country, the trail got steeper.  It became obvious that this trail was mainly a stock trail, what must have been thousands of cattle over the years have beat out a five foot wide path almost entirely made up of jagged rocky footing.

Beck Meadows where the cabin and barn is located.

On the way down the hill we passed a small wildfire on the other side of the canyon 100 yards off the trail.  The fire was smoldering in a rocky area that, seemingly to me, not to have much of a chance to spread.  There are three trucks from the Arroyo Grande Hotshots here at the trailhead.  They said if the wind changes and starts blowing our way we may have to evacuate.  For a while it seemed the wind had changed, we can smell smoke now, however it seems to have died down, at least for now.  A crew of a dozen or so firefighters are hiking up to the fire while half a dozen more wait at the trucks in reserve.  There’s not much for them to do while they wait so Janis, Rose, the horses and I are providing them a welcome distraction.  They are giving us a glimpse into the life of a wildfire fighter.

Rejoining the S Fork Kern River
Bridge across the Kern
Corral on Olanche Pass Trail
Olanche Pass trail
Rocky Afternoon Trail
The horses get the overnight freedom of a corral at Sage Flat TH
Had to jack the trailer up a bit to find level.
Evening Sky
Sage Flats to Horseshoe Meadows

September 21, 2017

Day 93 Sage Flats to Horseshoe Meadows, mileposts; 0720-0745

Distance; 32.3, trail time; 9:47, average speed; 3.3, minimum elevation; 5842, maximum elevation; 10662, total ascent; 8547, total descent; 4346

Looking at the back trail to Sage Flats
Morning Trail

Leaving Sage Flats going up the Olanche Pass trail reinforced the conclusion I came to yesterday, no more off PCT trails to trailheads that don’t have a packer station.  There is a reason Sage Flats doesn’t have packer, no self respecting horse person would willingly subject their horses to a trail like this on a regular basis.  The trail climbs 3500 feet in the first four miles up what can only be described as a truly awful trail, all boulder hoping and sharp rock tender footing. 

I’m still dry but won’t stay that way long.
Olanche Pass cow camp
Over the hill and out of the wind, still, the ice lingers on.

A mile up it started to mist, I could feel my face and the back of my hands getting wet, but the wind blew the rocks dry before the moisture could build up.  Two miles up the rocks were getting wet, still a fine mist, taking it head on in the stiff wind was uncomfortable.  When we reached the PCT we had to climb to over 10500 feet, up a treeless ridge, exposed to stronger winds.  As we climbed the temperature dropped, the mist became a driving snow, the snow turned to ice crystals that made your face feel like it was being sandblasted.  BG did not like it one little bit.  I passed one south bound hiker, neither of us was inclined to stop and chat.  Ten miles in we crested the hill and dropped down into some timber where we got a little protection from the wind, a few more miles and the clouds began to break up and we could see a little sunshine, though it was weak and did little to raise the temperature.  By then my feet were wet, my gloves inadequate so I did a lot of walking to help stay thawed.

Belle Camp Meadow

After the sky cleared I could see for some distance, getting just a hint of what was to come, but for the time being despite the altitude the grandeur of the Sierras was being elusive.  BG and I were glad to see Janis and the rig at the Horseshoe Meadows Horse camp, a blanket, stall, mash and hay for BG, a furnace and dinner for me.  Horseshoe Meadows is an extremely nice horse camp.  Pipe corrals with piped water, flat and level parking spaces, paved road all the way from the highway.  I wish I were visiting when the temperatures were above freezing.

More snow in the distance
Afternoon Trail

There are two trails, about a half mile apart, leading from the PCT to Horseshoe Meadow.  I took the southern one, Mulkey Pass Trail, as it was the first I came to.  In hindsight the northern one, Trail Pass, would have been a better choice.  The Mulkey Pass route is steep and not used as much, the track sometimes disappearing.  It also discharges into the meadows and eventually leads to the road going to the people camp.  From there one must bushwack cross-country up a pretty good hill to find the horse camp.  The Trail Pass trail leads directly to the horse camp and is the one the pack station uses so it is well trodden and easy to follow.

Looking from Lone Pine towards Horseshoe Meadows
Beauty is where you find it.
A big pine and BG

Horseshoe Meadows to Wallace Creek

September 22, 2017

Day 94 Horseshoe Meadow to Wallace Creek, mileposts 0745-0770

Distance; 24.1, Time; 7:47, average speed; 3.1, minimum elevation; 9558, maximum elevation; 11512, total ascent; 4834, total descent; 4505

Leaving Horseshoe Meadow horse camp.
Morning Trail

Today the horses and I started our packing portion of our journey through the Sierras. It is cold, the horse’s water buckets were frozen this morning and we had to get them water from inside the camper.      We will spend one night on the trail and come out over Kersarge Pass. Leaving camp at Horseshoe Meadows I struggled to find the trail as I often do around well used areas.  Over time people have created a myriad of paths, none anymore major than any of the others that wander helter skelter over the landscape.  I opted for one trail that seemed to be headed in the direction I was going only to find myself headed into the packer’s station.  A pack string was being loaded and BG, Mercedes and I created quite a ruckus.  One of the packers was happy to get me started in the right direction and out of his way.

Mulkey Pass Trail

We skirted the meadows passing the Mulkey Pass trail we should have used yesterday.  The footing was soft sand until we started climbing towards Cottonwood Pass.  According to the maps today we would stay well above 9000 feet passing the Mt Whitney trail junction, surely we would get some views of the tallest mountain in the lower 48 as well as the other legendary peaks of the Sierras.  Despite climbing Cottonwood, 11000’, and Siberian, 11500’, passes we never really got above the tree line and in fact I was taken aback by how large the trees are at these elevations.  The expected views never materialized, I did get scattered glimpsed from between the trees

Horseshoe Meadow
Fine place for a gate.
Hitching rock.

The trail was working its way through a boulder pile when we came upon oddest gate I have seen on this trip.  Right at the high point of this small ridge was a two pole gate, no attached fence on either side.  There was meadow behind, meadow ahead and meadow on both ends of the rock pile and not a fence in sight.  A horse could easily walk around the rocks and pick up the trail on the other side, which I might have done had I not already committed to going through.  The rocks were so close and high that a horse would have trouble turning around on the trail.  After opening the gate I led the horses through and that’s when I realized that I might be in a bit of a pickle.  There was nothing to tie BG to and I was pretty sure that the sight of me scrambling up and over the rocks to go back and close the gate might be enough to send my, never too loyal, horses off down the trail on their own.  It took a bit of searching but I managed to find a rock small enough and close enough to the trail to wrap my lead around.  We found out later that the gate was to block an escaping pack string.  Apparently they are so habituated to the trail they won’t leave it even when running away.

Whitney Creek and somewhere beyond Mt. Whitney.
trail markers

Mt Whitney managed to stay hidden despite its close proximity.  At Crabtree Meadow we crossed Whitney Creek which was all we would see of the mountain.  Climbing up out of the meadows we caught up with two packers each leading half a dozen mules.  I fell in behind them for a mile or so until we came upon a place where it would be safe for me to pass.  The packers stopped on the trail to allow me to swing out into the brush to pass.  BG and Mercedes were cool with following the mules but not so much with the passing.  Even though we were 50 feet wide of the string my girls felt obligated to rush with a hop and a skip to get ahead.  I don’t know what they have against mules; maybe they just wanted to give the packers something to laugh about later.

From Cottonwood Pass

The weather remained cold and windy.  I was better prepared this time with Gore-Tex boots, cold weather gloves and extra sweatshirts.  I found a nice campsite along Wallace Creek with a meadow for the horse to graze in and shelter in the trees from the wind.  The horses in the meadow didn’t seem to faze the resident deer in the least as they grazed alongside BG and Mercedes as the sun went down.

Peaks are getting closer.
Wallace Creek to Onion Valley Trailhead

September 23, 2017

Day 95 Wallace Meadow to Onion Valley Trailhead, mileposts; 0770-0789

Distance; 28.1, trail time; 9:14, average speed; 3.0, minimum elevation; 9205, maximum elevation; 13130, total ascent; 6345, total descent; 7474

Morning Trail
Bighorn Plateau

We had a long way to go today, I thought about going further last night but at 25 miles Mercedes, carrying a heavy pack, was getting tired and the campsite was so good.  It’s a good thing we did stop as the next water and campsite was another 4 miles and up on an exposed plateau, it was so cold anyway I’m glad we didn’t camp there.  It was cold enough where we were.  The only place I was moderately warm was inside my sleeping bag.  I put on every piece of clothing I brought and still I was cold.  I’m hoping this is a temporary cold snap and we get the warmer weather I’ve been told possible this time of year.

Tyndall Creek Canyon in the distance.

I finally got to enjoy some of the spectacular panoramas that the Sierras are so famous for.  We climbed from Wallace Creek into open country almost immediately.  Crossing the Bighorn Plateau I felt as if I had reached the top of the world, a feeling that would repeat throughout the day.  Crossing Tyndall Creek and passing the Ranger Station I had a chance to speak with several hikers that were camped there.  They asked if I had any reports on a coming snow storm, which I did not.  They also mentioned the Ranger was talking about closing shop for the season.

Looking for Forester Pass

The highlight of today’s ride was the crossing of Forester Pass, the highest spot, 13130 feet, on the PCT.  The climb was mild but steady until the last mile.  Coming up the valley I had ample time to examine the ridge ahead to determine where the pass might be.  Normally one can see a faint line of the trail on the hillside, but not Forester Pass.  I searched in vain as we slowly gained the last four miles to attack the last and steepest mile.

Still looking
Oh, there it is.

The trail switch backed up a rock face that I had eliminated as being too sheer.  By the time I got to where the route became obvious it was too late to do it photographic justice.  At first the trail was pretty good, there was the typical rock climbing and pit run footing but the trail was surprisingly wide.  The last quarter mile got a little dicier; the trail got narrower, steeper and the footing less sure.  The last little bit, couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred feet, though in the moment I thought it would go on forever, got crazy, teensy narrow trail, switchbacks so short and tight I wasn’t sure a horse could turn that sharp and there was only room for one horse before you were faced with the next turn which resulted in the BG and I on one switchback and Mercedes on the next one down, going the opposite direction.

Right there.
Waiting for the hiker

Just as I gained the top, which was a one horse length long knife’s edge, I saw a hiker almost to me coming from the opposite direction, so we stopped to wait until he saw us and we could formulate a passing strategy as the trail was too narrow for such a maneuver to be easy.  Fortunately he was a grizzled old veteran who willingly held on to the sign post, (yes there was a sign, this is a National Park after all, informing us that we were at the top as if a thousand foot drop in all directions wasn’t obvious enough) leaning over the abyss so that the girls and I could get by.  We chatted a few minutes about the trail, he warned of some snow I would have to cross, at least 20 feet wide.  I could see the patch he was talking about and was thinking it shouldn’t be a problem.

Ice banks
Head of Bubbs Valley

The snow was left from last year and due to the low temperature was a solid bloc of ice.  It was only five or six feet of steep climb to get on top but the horses struggled to get traction and did some slipping before we got across.  Later there were some more short ice crossings, the last of which required the horse to hop up a three foot tall rock to regain the trail.  BG did ok, but Mercedes lost her footing and nearly fell over the side before she managed to scramble to her feet and back on the trail, not without acquiring a couple of minor nicks.  After that the rest of the day was anticlimactic. 

Afternoon Trail

The next ten miles we traveled down the gently sloping Bubbs Creek Valley, where the views were fantastic; I finally felt I was in the Sierras.  Rugged pinnacles and peaks towered overhead on both side of the valley.  We left the PCT to cross Kersarge Pass, which is as beautiful as promised, then down to the Onion Valley trail head made a good end to the day.

Bubbs Valley from Kersarge Pass Trail

Janis managed to set up at the packer station and make friends with the operators, Jim and Barb Nivens, gaining some very valuable information from them.  They were pretty sure we were the first horses across Forester this year.  Due to the heavy snowfall last winter there is still a lot of ice left in places.  The next pass for me to cross, Glenn Pass, is considered by the Forest Service impassible to stock this year, Jim concurred saying it would be foolish to try, something he and his surefooted mules wouldn’t attempt.  To make matters worse the next three passes that would take me around Glenn Pass, Sawmill, Taboose and Bishop Passes are also still snowed in, or this spring’s floods washed the trail or road or some combination of the three.  The only trail Jim thought he would try would be Piute some 65 PCT miles north.  After Mercedes incident I saw firsthand how dangerous these ice crossings are, Janis and I have decided to take an experts advice and skip ahead.

Note: We spoke to Mike Morgan of Bishop Pack Outfitters located at North Lake.  Mike said he was canceling the rest of his planned pack trips this year as trail conditions were too dangerous.  Janis and I thought that if the professionals were not willing to risk going back into the high country, then I shouldn’t either.  The goal at this point is to return in 2020 to finish the portion from Kersarge Pass to Little Lasier Meadow.

Kersarge Pass View

Landers Meadow to Kennedy Meadows, mile 611 to 704

Landers Meadow to Bird Springs Pass

May 10, 2017

Day 25, Landers Meadow to Bird Springs Pass, mile 0608 to 0631

Distance; 23 miles, Time; 6:41, 3.4 mph average, minimum elevation 4567, maximum elevation 6690, total ascent 3494, total descent 4320. Total miles traveled 608

Morning Trail

I was sorry to leave Landers Meadow, Janis maybe not so much, but that is a story for her to share.  Given time I think this is an area I might want to explore further some day.  The ride to Bird Springs Canyon Rd was 23 waterless miles.  There was a spring 14 miles into the trip; however it was a mile and a half off trail with a loss of 1000 feet in elevation.  So we filled up two gallons of water jugs to give Mercedes a mid ride sip and hit the trail.

Nature’s cairn

What a beautiful morning it was.  Riding through a Ponderosa Pine forest up a gently sloping hill, with plenty of land on both sides of the trail was a very pleasant change of pace.  Add to that general sense of well being, an appreciation of a sun that rather than being a harbinger of high temperatures was a sun that spread a little warmth on my back on a cool morning.  With ears perked forward Mercedes eagerly gaited down the trail, smoothly anticipating my cues.  After the heat of the open desert the coolness and shade of forest was much appreciated by both of us.

Even in areas long ago burned
Beauty can be found

The forest did give way to another burned area which in turn gave way to more desert.  The gently sloping hill turned into yet another steep side hill and another mountain to climb.  Eight miles into the day the trail crossed Kelso Valley Rd.  From over a mile away I could see a truck and trailer parked at the crossing, I reasoned that it might be Phyllis and Bryce Keller.  Phyllis is riding the PCT and Bryce is her crew.  They are employing much the same methods as Janis and I.  Mercedes thought it was Janis and BG; she was destined to be disappointed.  The Kellers had started 10 days before us but were taking more zero days as Phyllis’s horse, Georgie, was carrying most of the load.  Her back-up horse, Mattie, is mostly used on shorter days.  I thought we must be getting closer as I occasionally saw hoof prints ahead of me on the trail.  Hoof prints that hadn’t been erased by the many hiker footprints.

Kelso Valley

Sure enough, it was Bryce who was taking his time getting ready to move to his next camp after Phyllis had left on the trail.  I had talked to Phyllis on the phone a few days prior, but had never met or spoken to Bryce.  Bryce generously provided a couple buckets of water and a basket of hay for Mercedes while we got to know each other a bit, falling into an easy friendship.  As it turned out our schedules were going to line up for a few days and we would be able to camp together.  I looked forward to sharing camps; it is always nice to meet new people, especially when they have similar interests and goals.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful, more high desert, more rock ledges, more steep side hills and finally the first view of our rig from on high a couple miles distant. 

Afternoon Trail

I need to work on my timing for announcing myself to hikers as approach from behind them.  Normally if they haven’t sensed my presence by the time I close within 50 feet I’ll start with an outside voice “Good Morning”.  If that doesn’t work when I get to about 25 feet I will try “How’s your day going?”  Usually if that doesn’t work it is because they are wearing ear buds and listening to Lead Zeppelin.  So I will follow, keeping pace with them about 10 feet back.  If I hear a pause in the music I will try again with some pertinent comment such as “doesn’t that look like a rock?”  Today I startled a couple of hikers, getting to the third greeting before they heard me.  The first was a young man who just had a “WHOA” reaction.  The second was late in the day in a particularly strenuous big rock section.  A young woman, who was obviously about done for the day, plodding slowly, so tired she wasn’t even swinging her arms in time with her steps, wearily stepping 12 inches ups onto a rock that projected over the cliff, suddenly saw Mercedes’ head and nearly jumped off the side.  I felt bad I had scared her so; I apologized as I went by, and even so I earned a look from her hiking partner.

In this land of scarce shade several hikers are taking refuge under this Joshua Tree.

At Bird Springs Pass there were several hikers taking shelter in the shade of Joshua trees waiting out the heat of the day, and enjoying the water from a large trail angel cache, before tackling the next few miles of trail which included a 2000 foot climb to over 7000 feet on Skinner Peak.  Among the resting hikers were an Australian, Rattler, and a German, Mozart, to whom I had offered a cold beer, several days before, if they passed by our camp.  They took advantage of the offer as we sat in the shade of our camper and visited a bit.  They like the rest of the hikers left singly or in pairs scattered out over a couple of hours wanting to top the hill before making camp for the night.  Most hikers hike alone, but tend to gather together in the evening or at rest spots during the day.  There are a few that are partnered one way or another, couples, father/daughter, mother/daughter and the like that hike together, but even they can get separated by a mile or more during the course of a day.

Milwaukee Bob

Later in the day Janis and I were joined by Milwaukee Bob and Cherry Pie.  Bob is from Wisconsin and has been doing a solo hike up to this point, his daughter plans to join him for a couple weeks soon.  Cherry Pie, or Dave, is a section hiker from Portland who teaches at Portland State.  I find the individual stories of how we ended up in the same place and time interesting, which at least partly explains the lateness of this note.

Bird Springs Pass to Hwy 178 at Walker Pass

May 11, 2017

Day 26 Bird Springs Pass to Walker Pass, Mile 0631 to 0651

Distance; 19.9 miles, minimum elevation 5051, maximum elevation 6981, total ascent 4684, total descent 4994, somehow I lost my track information, these numbers are from Halfmile’s data

Janis heading out to our next camp.

It was cool in the morning at Bird Springs.  It is hard to dress for the day when you get up as it is at least two sweatshirts cold first thing in the morning and depending upon the altitude tee-shirt warm between 9 & 12:00.  I should amend that, it is tee-shirt warm on the leeward side of the hill.  On the windward side it can stay at the two sweatshirt level.  Early in the trip I wore a long sleeved cotton shirt to protect from the sun but it just wasn’t warm enough after the Anza-Borrego.  Most mornings now I start out with a tee-shirt under a zip-up hoody under a pull over hoody.  Along about what I have come to know as geck-O-clock, that time of day when it warms up enough the geckos start to scurry about, I tie the pull over onto the back of my saddle.  From that point on I adjust with the zip up.  From zipper and hood up on the windy side of the hill, to unzipped, hood down, Shady Brady on in the full sun and no wind.  The last couple of days I have been so brave as to ride with my arms exposed in the afternoon.

Morning Trail

I thought I might be riding into a more forested area again as we approach the Sierras, but alas, it is more high desert.  What trees I do see are pretty scattered and consist of mostly Juniper, Live Oak (these are the ones I didn’t think were really oaks because of the leaf shape) with the occasional scrub pine thrown in.  That isn’t to say the drier landscapes aren’t striking in their own right, panoramas without trees to block the view have a lot going for them.  I like to try and spot where the trail is going to go in the distance.  Sometimes I can see a hint of trail four or five miles away.  I like looking at rock formations, like cloud watching, scenes and figures can be spotted among the ever changing scenery.

What I see is a giant rock man using the top of the ridge as a backrest…

It was a short day on the trail so it was still early afternoon when I rode into the campground at Walker Pass.  I was greeted by Phyllis and Bryce Keller as well as Janis and Rose.  There were also two young ladies from Portland Oregon offering trail magic.  Walker Pass Campground has two car camping sites with corrals, hitching rails and picnic tables under permanent sun shade structures.  In addition to the car sites there are several walk in tent sites.  One of the car sites was blocked by three 12 passenger vans, but no people.  With a little creative parking, the Kellers, Peggs and trail angels shared the other camp spot.  

The trail angels had planned on thru hiking the PCT but after the first couple of brutal days down by the border decided that hiking wasn’t their cup of tea.  Rather than give up all together they thought they would get their PCT experience by providing trail magic at Walker Pass.  This was their tenth day of providing the most comprehensive offering I have seen to date.  As we were all either sitting at the picnic table or on chairs gathered close, to take advantage of the shade, I got a first hand, close up and personal view of hikers reactions to what these girls were providing; fresh bread, deli meats, cheeses, fruit, condiments, chips, salsa, beer, soft drinks, water, even hard liquor.  The girls also provided rides to the two towns relatively nearby, Lake Isabella, 39 miles west and Ridgecrest, 25 miles east.  They even gave the two Toms from Belgium a ride to Bakersfield, a five hour round trip.

Afternoon Trail

For hikers who have been expending large amounts of energy and subsisting on minimal diets this was a smorgasbord not to be passed up.  Throughout the afternoon and into the evening hikers came and went.  Most had planned to hike further before turning in for the night, however once their bellies got full and they’d had a drink, some of them decided to stay the night and visit awhile.  It was nice to have a chance to interact with this diverse group of people.  There were people from Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Belgium, Wisconsin, Oregon, California, Nevada and I don’t remember where all.  They ranged in age from their late teens to mid-seventies.  Academics and professionals sat next to tradesmen and farm laborers sharing food, drink and stories.  Besides the obvious link of the PCT, It was somehow satisfying to discover we had more commonalities than differences.

Walker Pass to Spanish Needles Creek

May 12, 2017

Walker Pass to Chimney Creek, Mile 0651 to 0672

Distance; 32 miles, 11:48, 2.7 mph average, minimum elevation 3949, maximum elevation 7299, total ascent 6017, total descent 7118

Clouds from the west side pouring over to the east.
East Side

The day started out with some iffy looking clouds to the west.  They were bunching up obscuring views of the mountain we would be crossing that day.  The trail climbed right from the beginning to over 7000 feet.  The first part was on the east side of the ridge, while still in the sun the strong wind made it seem cool.  On the east side the trail clung to the face of a rocky precipice where retaining wall had to be made in order to make the footing trail wide.   On the west side the side hill was less abrupt and covered with trees, the trail less rocky.

Morning Trail

As I came to where I would cross over to the west side I stopped and put my raingear on which helped with the wind chill.  Crossing over we were in the clouds, visibility dropping to a couple hundred feet.  Then we would cross over to the west side again and be in the sun, back to the east and in the clouds.  Finally around 10:00 the clouds lifted, the wind died somewhat and I was able to remove the raingear and one of my sweatshirts.

West side trail.

From time to time on this trip we have set out to ride a portion of the trail identified in the trail reports as impassable for horses.  In each of the earlier cases I found the hazard overstated or corrected by the time I came to it.  At first I had had the advantage of following Phyllis, who was followed by Trent with me bringing up the rear.  Admittedly I had been the beneficiary of their limb and tree cutting up to this point.  On this day I would be the first out on the trail, “Be sure to have all the trees cut before I get there” Phyllis called to me as I left camp.

The worm turned, I-Beam noted in the water report; “A trail crew has been through there and cleared all of the downed trees. However, it looks like they stopped at Mile 669.4. From 669.4 to Chimney Creek, mile 680.8, there are over 100 trees across the trail. You can get around or over them, but it really slows you down and is exhausting. I don’t think a horse could make it through.”  That would basically be the last 11 miles of today’s 32 mile ride.  As a general rule, hikers are not very accurate in accessing a horse’s abilities.  It isn’t that they don’t mean well, they just aren’t familiar with a horse’s capabilities.  In this case, I-Beam nailed it.  For the first two miles after where the trail crew had been I was able to go around, over or under the downed trees.  Sometimes I had to cut some branches, sometimes I was able to muscle the tree over the side, nevertheless go arounds were doable.  At a little over two miles, the trail sides turned from steep sandy slopes to sheer rock walls.  Go arounds were no longer possible; to get past the tree had to be removed.

Riding into the clouds

The new Silky Katanaboy and Big Boy saws worked great.  I cut one tree after another, each time thinking I’ll be able to get on my horse and ride a bit when I get past this one.  It wasn’t even worth getting on the horse; within yards there would be another sizeable tree to cut.  It took me 4 hours to go half a mile, it was 3:30 there were ten miles to go and who knows how many more trees to cut.  I knew I didn’t want to be on that narrow trail at 7000 feet elevation after dark, it’s bad enough during the day when you can see what is going to kill you, so I made the decision to turn around.

I had seen a ranch road across a valley three or four miles back.  I thought I could cut across country to pick up the road which would then lead me Chimney Creek Rd where I could meet Janis another four miles away.  The other option was to ride back 22 miles to Walker Pass and I wasn’t going to get there before dark either and only then after backtracking over some pretty hairy trail.  I texted Janis the plan and started back down the mountain.

When trees fall across this trail the only option is to cut it out of the way.

Shortly I met Phyllis coming the other way.  I explained that a horse couldn’t get through and if we wanted to get out before dark I thought the ranch road was our best option.  With so much time and effort invested in getting to where we were Phyllis needed to look at the trail ahead before turning around, she wanted to try getting through as she really didn’t want to go back over the past two miles of tough trail again.  I said that I would walk back down the trail until she caught up or not if she should be able to get through.

Going down that ugly two miles of fallen trees wasn’t quite as bad as the going up, gravity was working for us somewhat, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.  Getting back to the cleared trail was like getting on the freeway, nothing but clear sailing.  I kept going back on the trail until I realized I was putting more gulleys, steeper hillsides and trashier bottoms between where I was and where the ranch road should be.  We stopped at a creek crossing to let Mercedes tank up on water and get a few mouthfuls of grass, then turning around once more we headed back up the hill searching for a way to the distant road.  Eventually we got back high enough that I thought there was only one small draw that wasn’t too brushy between Mercedes and I and the ridge I believed the ranch road was on.  By then it had been nearly an hour and a half since I had seen Phyllis, more than enough time for her to get to where I had turned around and back to where I was now.  With only a couple hours of light left and an uncertain path ahead of me I opted to strike out for the road rather than wait any longer for Phyllis who might not be coming anyway.

Luck was with me as within 50 yards of where I dropped down into the draw I picked up a trail that took me around the ridge and to the beginning of the ranch road.  Heading down the road I soon began to see lots of horse and cow sign.  Mercedes gave quite a start when we came around a corner and face to face with a pair of big ol’ well fed stock horses.  It would have taken two of Mercedes to make either one of them, Mercedes was nervous, they were curious.  We continued down the trail, now a three horse convoy the back two tailgating closely, Mercedes was really picking ‘em up and putting ‘em down, a tempo that carried us down the valley, past the ranch and out to a waiting Janis in no time flat.

Phyllis’s Georgie

Unluckily, I had not checked my inReach for messages since starting down off the mountain.  If I had I would have seen the one that said wait for Phyllis. (note to self, figure out how to make the inReaches ring when a message comes in as well as goes out!)  In the meantime she had tracked me down to where I had watered Mercedes before turning around and going back up the hill, naturally my downward tracks disappeared at that point.  We texted her directions on how to find my trail.  I say texted very loosely, inReaches are meant to be paired with a smart phone using the smart phone’s keyboard and software and the inReaches satellite capabilities.  Neither Bryce, Janis nor I use smart phones, so we had to use the four directional arrows to highlight each letter on the screen, a tedious process at best  I wasn’t convinced my directions were clear, so I headed back up the hill to give what help I could.  Between Phyllis and a couple of hikers they were able to decipher my code, thus, I met her coming down the ranch road, boy was I glad to see her.

View from the ranch road

Bryce knew of a good camping spot right alongside Lake Isabella, where we could spend the night.  It didn’t take us long to set up camp and pour adult beverages all around.  Janis and I decided to end the first part of our PCT journey right there.  I passed mile 665, just barely, which is the quarter mark to Canada.  Initially we wanted to make it to Horseshoe Meadow, but that road was washed out.  We backed our goal back 50 miles to Kennedy Meadow but got stopped by the trees 35 miles short of there.  It isn’t the end of the world, when we come back we will tack those 35 miles on to the beginning or end of the Sierra section.

Chapter 5 – Notes from the sidelines

We are home now for a few weeks rest, horses are out enjoying green grass and their pasture buddies.  At the request of a few, here is chapter 5 of my “sidelines” stories, describing the last few days of our PCT Adventure, phase 1.

Leaving Landers Meadow, I drove back down Piute Mtn Rd and was pleased to see that the road crew had finished the road grading project, making my drive easier than I anticipated.  Rose, BG and I drove to the Lake Isabella KOA to refill our water tanks and proceeded to Lake Isabella to fuel up and find a pair of hind shoes for BG.   I also stopped to buy a few pre-mixed salads and a pre-cooked chicken breast.  A cold salad for dinner on a hot day was a real treat for us.

 Our destination was Bird Spring Pass.  Before we left home for this trip, the truck routes had been loaded in the Garmin Nuvi.  Unfortunately, once we were on the road, the routes disappeared so I spent quite a bit of time studying maps.  Backing up on narrow dirt roads was something I wanted to avoid.  We drove 5 mph for over an hour, finally reaching our parking spot for the night.   The top of Bird Spring Pass which was not set up for trailers and I needed to turn around.  I started to maneuver the trailer when a voice from the shadows called out and asked if I needed a spotter.  I looked up the hill and saw 6-8 hikers huddled under a Joshua Tree, resting in the shade.  I laughed and said “oh good, an audience” which brought laughter and encouragement.  I got the trailer turned around and parked in just the right place with minimal effort and received a round of applause for my efforts. 

Next morning the hikers that camped with us were up early, ready to tackle the long steep climb they faced that morning.  Gary and BG started up the trail as Mercedes, Rose and I drove down to the next camp, Walker Pass, an easy paved drive.  We pulled in and saw another horse trailer parked, which I parked alongside.  The driver was Bryce, the other rider’s husband and crew.   We exchanged introductions and after I got my horse taken care of, we sat with the trail angels who had set up an amazing selection of beverages and food for the hikers.  The look on each hikers face when they saw the food was priceless.  We saw the hikers who had left Bird Spring Pass that morning, among them “Milwaukee Bob” who talked about home and his daughter, who he hoped could join him soon.  Gary and Phyllis, the other rider, arrived and at one point there were quite of few of us huddled around the picnic table and “trail magic”, all talking and laughing at the same time.  It was an especially nice day with the abundance of hikers that came and went… such a variety of people from all over the world and of all ages. 

The drive to our next camp, Chimney Creek Campground was long but much of it was along a highway.  I parked in a great spot only to have someone in a US Government truck tell me the campground was closed so I moved to a wide spot on the gravel road, 500’ from the PCT trail crossing.  I didn’t unpack because Gary was unsure if he could actually make it to camp.  We knew a trail crew had cleared trees up to mile 668 or 669 but we weren’t sure Gary could ride the next 12 miles – dozens of trees were reportedly down and getting past them with a horse would be challenging.  I waited a few hours and just when I started to unpack, Gary texted and gave me a location to meet him.  Bryce was parked at the trail crossing and was walking up to ask me if I had heard anything.  I told him Gary was turning back and found the location we needed to be on the laptop maps, then on the Nuvi and plotted a course.  It was 3 miles as the crow flies, but 8 miles on a steep windy road.  Bryce had been warned that this road included a massive boulder that had come down and the forest ranger was not sure we could make it past that boulder.  We set out for the bottom of the hill, several thousand feet down.  We finally saw the boulder on the road and were able to get by with about a foot to spare – piece of cake! 

Gary and Phyllis ride in.

We reached the location Gary had mentioned and within 20 minutes I saw him riding toward us.  After texts were received from Phyllis, Gary went back up the trail to help her find her way out to where we waited.  Bryce and I had decided it was time for a large adult beverage, and after Gary and Phyllis both arrived, we all drove to a quiet spot along Lake Isabella to camp for the night, took care of the horses then sat in our trailer talking about the day’s ride and the frustration of having to turn back.   Gary and I planned to head for home to give the horses a rest and wait for the snow to melt while Phyllis and Bryce stayed to ponder their next move.

Camping with Bryce & Phyllis

Sunday evening, we arrived home to rain.  I hadn’t seen rain other than a few sprinkles, since I left home 30 days earlier!   It took me a day to adjust to no travel.  I’ve had just enough time to get all the laundry done, repack clothing in the trailer, make the bed and prepare a shopping list for our resupply.   The trailer will soon be ready for phase 2.  Now we need the weather to cooperate.  Hard to imagine the snow all melting when it is still snowing in places.   Stay tuned… more in a month!

Chimney Creek to Spanish Needles Creek and back

September 18, 2017

Day 90 Chimney Creek to Spanish Needle Creek & back, Mile 0681-0672-0681

Back on the Trail again!

Distance; 18.9, trail time; 5:20, average speed; 3.5, minimum elevation; 5525, maximum elevation; 7013, total ascent; 3136, total descent; 3099

Morning Trail

I am posting out of chronological order starting with this days ride.  It is my hope that someone may use my experience to plan their own.  To that end; I am going to post as if I was able to do the trail south to north in one continuous ride.  The majority of the text is from my original blog, with some additions that time and memory has allowed me to add.

Rose is officially a trail dog.

It is now late September and Janis and I have returned to Southern California to pick up riding from where we were forced to abandon the trail in early May.  The weather has cooled considerably, from the high nineties to low seventies during the day.  Today was the first day of the Sierra segment of the trip.  Actually it was the first day of the preSierra portion.  Janis rode BG and I took Mercedes, accompanied by our faithful dog Rose who was going for her first real trail ride, we rode south from Chimney Creek campground to where I was frustrated by downed trees last May and forced to turn around.  I had been told by hikers that we camped with at Walker Pass, and who I shared a camp with at the Canadian Border that had I only gone another half mile the trail would have been clear for me last spring.  I think that in the last half mile we passed four good sized logs I would have had to cut out and several more that would have been challenging go arounds.  Perhaps I could have made it through, or perhaps I could have fallen off the cliff in the dark, given what I knew then I still think I made the right choice.

Brush and boulders

Good trail most of the way today, sandy through huge boulder fields and hillsides.  There were some rocky ledges to go over but even they were in the “not so bad” class.  It is kind of nice to ride some trails where you are only going to fall a couple hundred feet instead of a thousand.  We noticed the sun was different here than in the North Cascades, it seems more intense, the air is definitely drier.  I thought we might get away from the smoke but a fire northwest of us is making a slight haze that obscures distant ridges.  Tomorrow we resume our trek north.

The air is a little smokey.
Late morning trail
Mid-day Trail
Afternoon Trail
Chimney Creek to Kennedy Meadows

September 19, 2017

Day 91 Chimney Creek to Kennedy Meadows, miles 0681-0704

Distance; 23.9, Time; 6.22, average speed; 3.7, minimum elevation; 5643, maximum elevation; 7991, total ascent; 3904, total descent; 3562

Morning Trail

Today BG and I started back north.  Yesterday we were in the Owens Peak Wilderness, crossing the road where we were camped we entered the Chimney Peak Wilderness. For the first seven miles the trail was heavily forested, heavy by Southern California standards. We climbed to 8000 feet over a ridge where we entered the Domeland Wilderness.

Chimney Peak
From the top of the ridge, no Sierras in sight.

 I thought as we were climbing to the top of the ridge that we would be getting a panorama of the Sierras but it wasn’t to be.  From the top of the ridge what we saw were more burnt trees and more dry ridges.  We dropped down the other side into the high desert landscape of Rockhouse Basin.  Skirting the east side of the basin we intercepted and then followed the south fork of the Kern River.  The trail itself was good, mostly sandy tread; it did get soft and deep in spots.  The grades were steady but gentle and the pure rock ledges rare.

Rockhouse Basin

I was anxious to reach Kennedy Meadows. Meadows would be a loose term, high desert flat is more accurate, except for a narrow strip along the Kern River which is thick with willows and grass.  Though I was arriving four months later than I’d planned the name still holds a mystical quality for the thru hiker or rider.

Kennedy Meadows

Every thru hiker knows Kennedy Meadows.  Kennedy Meadows is also a remote hamlet reached by 25 miles of narrow, STEEP, twisty road.  Kennedy Meadows offers the last on trail resupply for the next couple hundred miles.  There is a small general store and an internet café, both of which offer meals, camping, showers and laundry to the hikers.  In the spring the businesses are awash with hikers waiting for the snow to melt in the Sierras. 

Afternoon Trail

We had stopped at the store a few years ago, in late May, on one of our scouting missions.  At that time there must have been twenty or more hikers lounging about the steps, porch and yard.  The sheer number of hikers had put a strain on the store’s resources, to the point a cup of coffee was hard to come by.  This late in the fall the store had an abandoned feel, though the shelves were well stocked.  Janis and I were the only ones camping in the dispersed camping areas in the three miles between the store and the campground, which was empty as well. Tonight we are camped along the South Fork of the Kern River which is a high mountain stream at this point.  The horses are enjoying the running water and even got baths while the sun was still hot.

Kennedy Meadows Camp, it’s cool enough when the sun goes down the horses need a little fleece.
BG taking a break along the S Fork Kern River
The Kern behind our Kennedy Meadows camp.
Vacation Property near Kennedy Meadows

Pine Canyon Rd to Landers Meadow, mile 510-611

Pine Canyon Rd to Cottonwood Bridge

May 5, 2017

Day 21, Pine Canyon Rd to Cottonwood Bridge, Mile: 0510 to 0535

Distance; 24.3 miles, Time; 4:34, 5.3 mph average, minimum elevation 2874, maximum elevation 3870, total ascent 1783, total descent 2419. Total miles traveled 503

Morning Trail
The Mojave ahead

Today we said goodbye to the San Andreas Fault, almost crossed the Mojave and are but five miles or so from climbing into the Tehachapi Mountains.  The first few miles went across private property, owned by a Hunt Club.  There were warning signs entering and exiting the property warning users to stay on the trail as there could be hunting and shooting going on.  We were a week past the shooting season so I wasn’t too concerned, though the sign looked old and season dates can change.  There was some up and down, mostly trending down as we exited the fault and entered the Mojave. 

The Hunt Club Trail

Once in the Mojave all resemblance to a trail disappeared as we followed dirt roads the rest of the day.  I thought for a minute I was still in Kansas, except Joshua trees for scenery instead of corn fields.  Straight roads laid out on section lines, go one mile turn left, go one mile turn right, go three miles turn left.  The only variation was riding along the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct which more or less follows the contours of the terrain, making a two lane road, one lane concrete, the cover to the aqueduct, and the other lane dirt.  The First Los Angeles Aqueduct is uncovered and built between two massive dikes that allow it to stay on grade and be straight, running down a section line.