Monday, September 16, 2013

Enjoying Cedar Lake

The weather forecast was amazing.  A three day string in the middle of September of hot and sunny with no significant calendar obligations.  How could I not go up into the mountains for a last fling.  I thought about doing a long loop and covering some new ground in the Olympics, but ultimately decided I had done enough long walking for the year and opted instead to find a place where I could just sit and enjoy the solitude.

Five years ago, in the midst of hiking the Grand Loop with a friend, we stopped over in Cedar Lake for the night.  It was a pretty lake sitting in a bowl near the Graywolf Pass. We made a trip back there a year or two later when it was still mostly under snow and very cold.  And the more I thought about it, the more I felt like that would be a good spot to go and just sit for a complete day, free from distractions, and hopefully from people.

I had to stop by the office briefly on Tuesday and so did not get to the Deer Park trailhead until about 11:30.  Cedar Lake is actually about 400 foot lower than Deer Park, but with a serious dip in between.  The first 4 miles or so is a 3400 foot drop down into Three Forks, followed by a 9 mile, 3000 foot, ascent up the Graywolf and then the Cedar Lake way trail. Overall the trail was in pretty good condition, although wet and a bit brushy in spots.  The Cedar Lake way trail was particularly wet and brush covered in places, although it was obvious that someone had been in there with a chainsaw recently.  That trail has some sections that are seriously up, but fortunately not for extended stretches.

The most exciting part of the trip was getting across the Cedar Creek.  I could have taken the easy way out and just splashed across, but I opted to try and keep my feet dry and found a log jam just upstream from the ford and worked my way across it, slipping in a hole once and scraping up a shin.

I hit the lake about 6 PM, setup camp, ate dinner and cleaned up a bit before turning in early.  Sometime during the night the wind kicked up and I spent the last half of the night playing rock-a-bye-baby in the hammock.  Fortunately it was fairly warm and so the wind was not an issue.  There was no moon out and the stars were brilliant.

I spent Wednesday exploring a bit, including a walk around the lake.  There was still some snow melting above the far end of the lake, leaving the water still a bit chilly.  But with the warm air temps that was no obstacle in taking a couple of quick swims.  But most of the day was spent in quiet reflection and contemplation, time alone with God; something I am not very good at doing at home because there always seems to be something else to do.

The day in paradise passed quickly and before I knew it dark started to settle in and I hurriedly prepared for bed.  No sign of people all day other than a passing plane.  Nothing to disturb the quiet and solitude.  Even the bugs were for the most part content to leave me alone.

The night passed, warm and still, and with morning came time to break camp and head back for home.  I was nearly packed when a guy wandered over from the other camp, just across the outlet stream.  He had apparently come in from the Graywolf Pass traverse late the previous evening.  He was looking for information on a traverse over to the Cameroon Pass area, but I had little to offer him other than speculation as to where the trail crossed out of the bowl we were in.

Heading back down the the Graywolf, I found a better way across the Cedar Creek.  There was a largeish log that crossed downstream from the trail; a log with no bark and slightly damp.  As graceful as I am, I opted to sit down, straddling the log, and then scooted across on my bottom.  Slow and undignified, but safe and dry.

I met a few more people on the way out, including what appeared to be a 5 year old boy slowing trudging up from Three Forks to Deer Park with his dad. I was pretty impressed.  He was already 2/3's of the way up and dad said he had walked most of it.

One thing that really stood out to me on the Graywolf and Cedar trails, after 435 mile of the PCT through northern California was the amount of moss, mushrooms and water on the trail (yeah, I know that is three things, but all related).  It seemed like there was more of each of those three things than the entire 435 miles of northern California; so very lush.

All in all this was a wonderful trip; although with a 2 hour drive at either end and a trail with a single significant up and down each way.  Of course that helps keep the crowd down at the lake as well :).

Looking down from near Deer Park into the Three Forks area.

The Three Forks shelter down at the bottom of the Deer Park trail.

I know little about mushrooms, other than red ones with white spots are to be avoided.  But I was really impressed with the number and variety of mushrooms throughout the length of the trail.

Self protrait

The lake is nestled close up to the rocky bowl on one side.  I really liked the reflection of the rocks in the lake.

Home on the lake.  There are two primary spots at the lake, each of which has multiple tent spots, and even a couple of spots to hang at.  The outlet creek is just behind and below my hammock.

Up on a bluff at the far end of the lake.  The outlet creek and camp spots are in the trees by the lake and directly below the highest peak..

Still a bit of snow in the bowl.  The traverse from the Graywolf Pass comes in at the low point in the ridge, just to the left of the green patch above the snow.

Lots of fish in the lake if you are into fishing.

Other than a nail or two in trees, and lots of trails, this was the only sign of humanity I saw on my full day at the lake.

While eating dinner on a rock by the lake, I noticed this butterfly going for a swim.  I watched to see if a fish would snag him, but eventually fished him out with a stick.

A waterfall mid-way down the Cedar Creek.

Another interesting looking mushroom.

This tree, loaded with burls, was near the bottom of the Cedar Lake way trail.

A mossy rock with a contrasting pair of mushrooms.

A star in a tree.  

This stretch of the Graywolf trail is covered with a thick carpet of moss.  One of my favorite spots on the trail.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

2013 Gear Reviews

I am not an expert gear reviewer, but I have put in a lot of miles on the trail this year and have developed some opinions on the gear I have been using this year, and in many cases, for the past several years. These reviews are not exhaustive, and are just my opinion but hopefully they will be useful.  And, for what it's worth, I'm 60 years old, 6'1", 170 pounds and have been tramping the back country for a couple of decades.

ULA Circuit 

ULA Equipment
http://www.ula-equipment.com/product_p/circuit.htm

I have been using this backpack for two years now and it is without doubt my favorite all time pack.  I like the big mesh pocket in front, the side pockets are easy to get to and pull quart Gatorade bottles out of, the hipbelt pockets are convenient and the large main compartment is spacious enough for all my gear, generally with room to spare.  After 2 years and over 1100 miles, the pack shows no sign of wear.  My only gripe about this pack is the fit.  I have a large, based on an incorrectly measured torso length, where I should have purchased an extra large (I have a very long torso).  I also have very bony hips and the hipbelt on pretty much every pack I have ever had becomes uncomfortable after a few hours of use.  I will likely get a larger pack before next year, and have learned to live with the hip discomfort.

Blackbird Hammock

Warbonnet Outdoors
http://warbonnetoutdoors.com/blackbirds.php

I have been sleeping and lounging in this hammock for four years now.  And it is, without doubt, my favorite piece of gear.  I spent years of sleepless nights on the ground; but no more.  Hammock sleeping takes a little to get used to, but I now sleep as well on the trail as I do at home.  The Blackbird has an integrated bug net, ridge line and tieouts that make it the Cadillac of hammocks. In addition to a restful nights sleep, it also makes a superb camp chair.  I can, and have, lounged in it for hours at a time.  And if the bugs are bad I can pull my feet in and zip up the bug net.  The best camp chair I have ever had.  It's not the lightest hammock around, but it is well worth the few extra ounces.

Cuben Fiber Hammock Hex Tarp

Hammock Gear
http://www.hammockgear.com/cuben-fiber-hammock-hex-tarp/

A tarp is a tarp is a tarp.  It covers the hammock in case of inclement weather.  But this tarp from Hammock Gear does a better job than most for three season hanging.  It is a hex cut tarp, meaning that it uses less material than a rectangular tarp, while still providing good coverage.  It is made of Cuben Fiber, so it is very light, only 5.2 ounces.  And it has pull outs built into the sides of the tarp to give more room inside when hung, as well as prevent a breeze from pushing the tarp into the hammock.  It you have the money, this is a very good hammock tarp.  It has not gone up many times this year, but has performed well when it has.  And even when not used, its weight makes it easy to carry.

Sawyer Squeeze Filter

Sawyer
http://www.sawyer.com/water.html

I have been using this filter for two years now, for pretty much anytime the water is not coming from a faucet or directly from a spring.  It's easy to use, appears to be effective, lighter than mechanical filters, and adds no taste to the water.  This year I replaced the original mylar bag I used last year with one from Evernew.  While I have never had one of the mylar bags pop a seam, many seem to have so I opted for a bag that was a bit sturdier.  I reviewed this filter last year at http://eeyorehikes.blogspot.com/2012/09/sawyer-squeeze-filter-review.html and will be updating that review soon.

BugsAway shirt, pants and hat

ExOfficio
http://www.exofficio.com/products/details/mens-bugsaway-chasr-long-sleeve-crew-tee

Over the past several years I had been treating my clothes with permethrin to keep the mosquitoes at bay.  This year I opted to try a shirt and pants, along with a hat, from ExOfficio with the permethrin applied during manufacture.  The shirt was a bit heavier than I would have liked, and ended up badly stained.  But all three pieces seemed to work well and warded off the few mosquitoes and flies that came my way.  And all three ended the trip in good physical condition and will likely be used next season.

Brooks Cascadia 7

Brooks
http://www.brooksrunning.com/on/demandware.store/Sites-BrooksRunning-Site/default/Search-Show?q=cascadia&mkwid=sWk0Ekozc&pcrid=21783114506&pmt=e&pkw=brooks%20cascadia%207&mr:adGroup=2801816306&mr:ad=21783114506&mr:keyword=brooks%20cascadia%207&mr:placement=&mr:match=e&mr:referralID=NA&gclid=COWspp7Qo7kCFUSCQgod1BAAfg

I joined the herd this summer on the PCT, wearing what seemed like one of the most popular shoes on the trail.  Not a whole lot to say about these shoes.  They worked, felt good and after nearly 600 miles, they only have a single small hole.  I ended up with my first blisters in several years, but I believe that was because I bought a pair that was a size too large and then spent over a day traversing along the same side of the slope.  I ended up with a blister on each foot on the uphill side.  As an aside, I bought a pair of Cascadia 8's when I got home, and when I got ready to lace them up the first time, discovered that one of the lacing loops was broken.  They seem much flimsier that they did on the 7's.

Canon PowerShot SX260 HS

Canon
http://shop.usa.canon.com/shop/en/catalog/cameras/powershot-sx-series-digital-cameras/powershot-sx260-hs-black

I have been using this camera for 2 years now, and have really enjoyed it.  I like to take pictures along the trail, both so I can remember what I saw, as well as to share with others.  And this year I took nearly 1000 pictures along the PCT, almost 2 a mile.  But I don't like spending a lot of time fiddling with the camera.  I want to just pull it out of the pack, zoom in on the object of my desire, and snap a shot.  The faster I can do that the better.  And the 260 does that well: seldom do I spend any time fiddling with settings, apart from going into macro mode to take a picture of a flower or a bug.  While it has some issues getting the color of a sunset right, pale pink flowers look white, and close up focusing can be a challenge; in general it takes very good pictures with little effort.

One of my favorite features of this camera, and the primary selling point, is its zoom capability.  It has a 20x digital zoom, and will go out to 39x when digital zoom is added.  With every point and shoot camera I have had in the past I was limited in what I could shoot; if the bear was not too close for comfort, it was just a dot in the picture.  Now if I can see it, I can get a picture of it.  In fact, I have started to use the camera to zoom in on stuff I could not clearly see with my naked eye.  Very cool!

Battery life is good.  1000 pictures over 6 weeks required one recharge.  It might be nice to use AAA or AA batteries, but the life is so good, and the batteries so small, that I just carry a spare.  The camera also has GPS tagging, but this is a feature I have never used so cannot comment on it.  I also cannot speak to its ruggedness since I have never dropped or banged it on anything, being very careful with it whenever it is out of its bag.  But after 2 years and over 1000 trail miles, it is still performing flawlessly.

SPOT Connect

SPOT
http://www.findmespot.com/en/index.php?cid=116

My son gave my wife the original SPOT for Christmas about 6 years ago; a gift that I was expected to carry for her whenever I went out into the great unknown.  This was a peace of mind gift that has meant a lot to her.  I replace this original SPOT with a Connect a few years ago, and still take it with me when I am out.  The Connect is smaller than a regular SPOT, and requires an Android or iPhone to be very useful.  The phone has SPOT software loaded and makes a blue tooth connection to the Connect.  When you have done that, you can send a variety of text messages from the phone to the Connect for transmission to a predefined list of recipients.  The messages can either be ones that you prepared ahead of time, or 45 character messages that you type up on the spot.  Like SPOT, the Connect also has a tracking mode, where it will send a position message every 10 minutes, allowing folks back home to track your progress as you wander the wilderness.

In theory this all works great, but there are some issues.  Blue tooth paring can be painful, sometimes requiring multiple reboots of the phone and the Connect.  The Connect is very sensitive to its orientation.  You really need to have it laying flat, so I usually carry it connected to the top strap on my pack, pointing up.  And even in ideal circumstances not all messages will make it out: I have sent messages from high above the treeline with an unobstructed view of the sky, that did not make it.  I suspect that the GlobalStar network of satellites is either having reliability issues, or coverage holes.  And there is no feedback provided that will let you know if the message transmission was successful or not.  It is sent 3 times, but with no assurance that any of them made it out.

Another shortcoming in my mind is that the unit cannot be used to receive a message from home.  Carrying it gives my wife peace of mind, and she is fully aware that no message does not mean a problem has occurred  But I have no way of knowing if some disaster has occurred at home.  It would be nice for me to have the same peace of mind that she has.

For all of these reasons I am looking at the new InReach SE.  It is a bit heavier, but uses the Iridium satellite network rather than GlobalStar, it will receive messages from home, and it provides confirmation of message receipt.  It is more costly with a pricier subscription plan, but may well be what I take into the wild next year.   This device will also provide a certain amount of GPS data to the phone, which the SPOT devices do not.

Droid Bionic Smart Phone

Motorola
http://www.amazon.com/Motorola-DROID-BIONIC-Android-Wireless/dp/B005IQOFW0

I have had this phone for a couple of years now, and it has as many miles on it as my backpack.  I know that whether or not to take a phone, and what kind of phone to take are highly personal choices and few are likely to agree with my choice.  But for what its worth, this is my everyday phone, and it works well for me in the back country.  I have an a pair of extended batteries that go with the phone, one installed and the other as a backup.  I generally get a couple of days out of a battery, but it is really dependent on how much I use the phone and what services are turned on.  I primary use the phone for:

  • Navigation using Backcountry Navigator with half mile way points loaded.  I also have half miles PCT app installed and use it just as much.  Seldom are these apps really necessary, but they do give me assurance when a trail junction is not well marked.  I have yet to take the wrong turn, but I have frequently felt the need to check out my choice to avoid possibly walking the wrong direction for an extended period.
  • SPOT: Sending out status messages on SPOT is a primary use of the phone.
  • Text Messaging: For those times that I have cell coverage.  
  • Kindle: While I seldom use it for this, I can access the trail guides or just something lite to read.
  • Music
Battery life is the biggest constraint on using the phone in the back country.  I have tried a couple of solar panels but never have been able to find one that was actually useful.   Until now, that is.


Suntactics sCharger-5

Suntatics
http://www.amazon.com/Suntactics-sCharger-5-Performance-Extremely-Reliable/dp/B003ZFQUWO/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377908353&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=suntatics

I encountered a number of people with solar panels strapped to the top of their packs this year, and finally asked someone about theirs.  They were using a Suntatics model and really liked it.  So I ordered one and picked it up when I passed by the house on the way from California to Washington.  I only have 4 days on the trail with this unit, but am fairly confident that I will be able to use it to keep devices charged in the field.

It does not do a very good job of directly charging my phone while directly connected to the panel and marching down the trail.  Every time a shadow passes over the panel my phone disconnects and then reconnects when back in full sun.  In testing, it seems like the phone gets very little, if any, charge while connected this way.  Fortunately I had taken along a USB battery pack, and it was able to slowly charge this device, even under low light conditions.  The phone, as well as any other USB chargeable device, can then be charged from the battery at night.  I have since bought a Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp that will recharge off of a USB cable, and the new InReach SE will also charge off of USB.  Looks like only my camera will not be chargeable from the panel.

The big downside is the weight of the device.  The panel is 8 ounces and the battery and cable add a few more.  Extra batteries are lighter, so long as the trip is short.  But for longer trips, the panel should be useful and not so much heavier than all the extra batteries. It will also ensure that I am able to get at least a little charge on the phone in an emergency.


Monday, August 26, 2013

PCT 2013: Snoqualmie Pass to Chinook Pass

This trip was actually supposed to be Rainy Pass to Stevens Pass.  But on the way home from California I found out the Rainy Pass was closed because of mudslides from a storm.  That made getting to Rainy Pass problematic, so my hiking partner for this section and I decided to shift south and hike from Snoqualmie Pass to White Pass.

The trail south from Snoqualmie starts with a climb under the ski lifts and then runs parallel to and above I-90 heading west to Seattle.  After following the course of I-90 for a while the trail flips to the other side of the ridge and you find yourself following I-90 as it heads east, although quite a bit more distant.  That was a bit unexpected; but interesting.

The initial 40 or so miles of this trail passes in and out of areas that have been clear cut in the past.  But the clear cuts are generally old enough that they are not objectionable at all.  Depending on when the area was logged, the new trees are 10 to 30 feet tall, and the huckleberries and other shrubs are thick.  It is quite an interesting contrast to pass between the cool dark old growth with sparse undergrowth, and into the new growth with lots of sun and thick growth on the ground.

Having spent the previous month hiking northern California, one of the things that stood out most to me was how lush and moist the forest was here.  The California trails were mostly dry and dusty with fairly sparse undergrowth.  In contrast, this part of the trail had little dust, quite a bit of water on the trail, and thick, sometime wet, undergrowth.  I spent most of the morning of the second day with wet legs from plowing through the brush.  The trail also stays fairly low during this stretch so the views are generally just of the more local mountains, seldom are you able to see very far.

After a quick 8 mile day, we spent the first night at Mirror Lake.  This was a beautiful, moderate sized lake with at least a dozen established camp sites.  It was also fairly warm and would have normally called for a swim if we had been out more than just a few hours.

The second day continued through the rolling low lands with alternating clear cuts and old growth.  We started to see Rainier on occasion during this stretch, as well as an occasional opportunity to see some other distant vistas.  We also were able to see a fire that was burning to the east of us; a fire that was up high on the backside of a mountain and made it look like a volcano.

Huckleberries!  Sometimes it was hard to make progress down the trail.  Probably the best crop of berries I have ever tried to hike through.  It would have been easy to just eat all day and never make any significant progress down the trail.

What do you do when you are walking down the trail and you hear a cry of distress?  We stopped and listened for a while, trying to figure out what the sound was.  My initial thought was that it was a person crying out in anguish, but there were no discernible words that I could make out, and we had not seen any other hikers recently, so I finally decided that what we were hearing was a bear cub.  And if that was the case, then further investigation would not be the wisest of moves.  So off down the trail we scurried before momma found us.

We had planned on spending the second night at what the data book identified as a seasonal creek with a campsite.  The creek was there, actually a pair of creeks, one of them barely flowing and the other pretty stagnant.  But the campsite was not overly inviting, and it was still a bit early, so we loaded up with water and ended up at Tacoma Pass for the night.  Tacoma Pass was dry, but it was a much better site for spending the night than the spot a couple of miles back.

The climb out of Tacoma was the longest of the trip, but still fairly gentle.  The trail was a bit higher on the third day, but we still encountered a number of old clear cuts.  We also passed through an old burn area.  The  sign at the north end of the burn described it as occurring back in 1988.  Unlike the clear cuts that are regenerating nicely, this burn had few, if any, trees growing on it.  Instead the slope was covered with white poles and huckleberries.

I crossed the 500 mile threshold on the PCT for the year during this day and was feeling good about not having fallen down yet, something that I generally end up doing once or twice a year.  And sure enough, it happened.  Walking down the trail across a decent slope; and suddenly found myself face down alongside the trail.  It all happened so fast that I have no memory of the event.  Just glad the slope wasn't a bit steeper or I may have ended up at the bottom.  As it was I was cut up around my left eye and nose as well as my left shin.  Fortunately there was no serious damage and after a few minutes I was up and on the trail again.

Night 3 was spent at Government Meadows, although it was a strange evening.  When we came to the Urich Shelter, we found it occupied by 4 hippies and a junk yard dog.  The hippies were friendly enough, although they left us with an uncomfortable feeling.  So we moved on over the creek and hung from some trees just inside the treeline from a large and beautiful meadow.  We had quite a few thru's come through that evening, including one pair that had flipped and were heading south.  This ended up being the second of three consecutive nights that we spent camped close together.

Day 4 finally got us up over 6000 feet and the opportunity to see some pretty country.  Easily the most impressive was coming through Scout Pass and seeing Mt Rainier dominate the sky behind Crystal Mountain.  We spent quite a bit of time gawking at the mountain and trying to figure out the layout of the ski resort.  We also ran into Linda, a crew chief surveying for an upcoming work party.  Enjoyed talking to her about what she was looking for and what the plans were for repairing the trail.  The trail seemed mostly pretty good to me, but there were some big issues she was wanting to get under control before they deteriorated further and became harder to deal with.

The day was mostly overcast and we passed through a rain shower before going up and over Sourdough Gap and down to Sheep Lake for the night, another beautiful location.   While we had originally planned on going on to White Pass, a less than favorable weather report, and a couple of showers early in the morning made us rethink and decide to call it a trip at Chinook Pass. So daybreak found us texting our wives to come and get us a day early.  We hung around Sheep Lake until around 11, at which time we turned our site over to a dozen cub scouts, and dropped on down to Chinook Pass and a ride home.  And, after over 530 miles on the PCT in the last month and a half, my 60 year old legs are ready for a break.

Tigger and Eeyore ready to hit the trail.

View of Mirror lake from our camp at the north end.

These crags to our north were in frequent view for the first couple of days.

Another peak to the north that was in periodic view the first couple of days.

This fire off to the east had an eerie resemblance to a volcano.

Tigger and his mountain.  This was a good spot for breakfast on the second day.

The Falls Creek Burn from 1988.  Still looking desolate even after 25 years.

Looking out across Government Meadows from our night 3 camp. This is one of the biggest lowland meadows I can remember ever seeing

The trail also passed through a number of higher meadows like this one around Big Crow Basin.

I have grown to really like these flowers.  In norther California and Oregon they were yellow, orange and a burnt red.  Along this section were pink and white.  I think they would do very good in a dried flower arrangement.

Mt Rainier raising up above Crystal Mountain.

I love my Canon SX260 HS and its ability to zoom way in.  The facility on top of Crystal Mountain was barely discernible to the naked eye.

Linda's PCT tattoo.  My chances of ever getting a tattoo are pretty slim, but if I was to get one, this would be it.  Linda said it is a replica of a sign near Timothy Lake in Oregon.

This trail on the knife edge is, I believe, is near Blue Bell Pass.  If I got it right, water falling to the right flows into Puget Sound, while water falling to the left flows into the Columbia River.

The seed head for a western pasque flower.  These things look like something out of Dr Seuss.

Looking down the trail from camp to Sheep Lake.  Sourdough Gap is the low spot to the top right.  Some ambitious trail angel had lugged an ice chest with fruit and muffins up in that pass, some 3.5 miles from the nearest road.

The low lying clouds in the morning descended nearly to the lake.

Got the hammock rigged with a front porch.  Had a nice view of the lake, and occasionally of the bowl the lake sites in, while sitting in the hammock waiting for a ride.

One of the Gray "Camp Robber" Jays that paid us a periodic visit at Sheep Lake.

Lots of ground squirrels are busy around Sheep Lake as well.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

PCT 2013: Belden to Sierra City

Rabbit had one more day to hike, so we decided to slack pack up from Belden and across to Bucks Summit, where the wives would pick us up and then go into Bucks Lake Resort for a zero day.  Since every report we had for the trail south out of Belden was that it was steep (steepest on the PCT), brushy and full of poison oak, and was 'only' about 19 miles long; traveling with only a light pack seemed like a pretty good approach to both of us.

The wives dropped us off and we finished the road walk, crossed a pair of train tracks and began to climb.  The trail started with a 4000 foot climb in 5 miles with 38 switchbacks.  While not overly steep except for a couple of short stretches, it was pretty steadily up.  While we did find a lot of poison oak along the way, the brush had been cropped back pretty well so it was not really much of an issue.  While still fairly low on the climb, we saw switchbacks along the next ridge over and expected to traverse over there at any time, but never did.  There are apparently a number of trails that make similar climbs in the area; we saw another one after we were at the top.

At around the 5000 foot level the trail came out of the forest and continued to climb through the manzanita and other shrubbery.  The trail continued to climb to over 6000 foot but at a moderated rate and we enjoyed the views, even though a bit hazy.  Up near the top we passed a sign pointing to a Canyon View Spring down below the trail, but since we still had plenty of water we went on; fortunately.  About 100 years further down the trail was a spring flowing out of a pipe and across the trail.  So glad I had not gone down to the earlier spring.

Once the trail makes it to the top, it stays pretty high and alternates between heavy forest, meadows and rocky outcroppings.  There is some water in the area so there is no need to carry all that much once you get past the first 6 or 7 miles.  The trail does drop about 1500 feet over the last 4 miles or so, but the trail is generally broad and easy to walk.  All in all this was a much more pleasant stretch of trail than we had feared.

After taking a day off to visit with the Rabbit's as well as resupply, I headed back down the trail heading for Sierra City.  The first day out was pretty mellow with a 10 mile fairly level jaunt through the trees followed by a 10 mile descent down to the Middle Fork of the Feather River.  Mid way through the morning I started hearing gunshots that got louder the further south I went.  It was pretty spooky and I debated with myself about turning back.  Eventually the sounds seemed to be coming from just down in the valley below me.  Finally I came out on a road and looked back to see a few jeeps with a trap launcher shooting traps out over the valley and the 'hunters' trying to shoot them down.  It made me feel a whole lot better to know they were at least shooting away from the trail.  One of the guys saw me standing there watching and rode his jeep back up the road to tell me what they were doing, and I suspect to see if I was going to cause trouble.

This was really a very easy section of trail and was rewarded by what was to be a unique experience with a river.  I am used to rivers that are cold.  I cannot recall ever being in a river that was a comfortable temperature.  The Middle Fork, as the locals seemed to call it, had a number of deep pools where the bridge crossed it.  I setup camp and wandered down to a pool further upstream for my evening bath and was surprised that I was able to comfortably sit in the river, and even swim across it without being cold.  I could easily see staying there for a longer period of time if time wasn't a factor.

The next day the trail climbed pretty steadily all day, especially in the morning, as it ascended from just below 3000 foot at the river to well over 6000 foot.  While the trail was never steep, it was pretty steady all day and I was getting pretty worn out before it was over.  This day did have the distinction of being my only full day on the trail without seeing a thru hiker, or long distance section hiker.  I met a large group scattered over a couple of miles that were heading for the Middle Fork, but no long distance hikers.  They had been dwindling down for a while but it is evident that I have passed through the main pack by now.  Mid afternoon I popped out onto Highway 511 where the wife picked me up and we went down to a local campground to spend the night.

The next morning was kind of ominous looking.  There was the smell of smoke in the air and the west was shrouded in fairly heavy smoke.  I had not heard of a fire in the area, but it sure looked like there was a new one nearby.  I kept a close eye on this potential problem until Mrs Eeyore managed to get some information about what was a distant fire to me.

While the smoke hampered visibility, the views were good and the water was plentiful.  The trail mostly walked the high country with only one significant dip below 6500 foot.  When I was in the Navy I was stationed for a few years in Sicily, living on Mt Etna.  So it was kind of cool to hike along under Mt Etna during this stretch.

Toward the end of the day the trail made about an 1800 foot climb back over 7000 foot, my last long climb in California for the year.  And part way up I noticed what looked like caves with a connecting trail on what I think is Gibraltar.  I assume they were actually gold mines since there was so much mining in the area.  I was hopeful the PCT would get closer, but it never did.

My destination for the evening was a spring that is described in the data book as being just beyond a diminutive pond.  Since everything is generally written with a south to north perspective, I expected to find this spring before the pond.  I found the pond OK, but initially search in vain for any other water.  Only when I went to the south of the pond did I find the sign pointing down to Jamison Creek.  And then, after dropping down to the creek, there was a sign to the spring.  It was a good source of water, but the signs had warned against camping down in this basin except at select lakes, so I loaded up with water and moved on up the trail a ways until I found a good looking pair of trees just off the trail where I could setup camp.

I had been seeing mountain bike tread marks on the trail since just south of the 'A' tree, and would until I got to Packer Saddle the next day.  As I was getting ready for bed I briefly hear dirt bikes roaring down below.  There are a lot of logging roads in the area where they can travel, but I found myself hoping I wouldn't see them racing down the PCT.  While I didn't that night, I did see their tracks on the trail further south the next day.

This was actually a rather interesting evening.  In addition to the dirt bikes, I had deer in the area who seemed disturbed with me hanging in their backyard; cows lowing and playing bells all night; and coyotes howling during the night.  One of the most exciting campsites I have had in a while.

The last day on the trail was one of my best.  I suspect in part because I was ending strong and was ready to go on further.  But also because it was so scenic.  I probably saw as many lakes that day as I had in the preceding month; at least it seemed that way.  Everywhere I looked there was another lake or three.  I can only imagine that if it had really been clear that I might have seen more.  The only real downside to the day was the amount of mountain bike activity evident in the tracks they left behind, and that all of the trail markings appeared to have been removed.  I was told the next day at the Red Moose Inn that the mountain bikers are lobbying hard to get that section of the trail opened to them.

So far I have traveled through part of Washington, all of Oregon, and the northern quarter of California, and had yet to see a snake.  But that changed midway through this last day.  My wife had parked at Packer Saddle and hiked a mile or so up to meet me, but ran into what she took to be a dead snake laying in the path.  But being the cautious woman that she is, she decided to stand guard over this dead snake until I came along, hoping to warn me off.  After standing watch for 10 or 15 minutes she heard trekking poles coming down the trail and yelled at me as I rounded the corner.  I tossed a small stone toward the snake which, surprisingly enough, actually landed on the snake, who then proceeded to slowly slither into a hole at the side of the trail.  Watching Mrs Eeyore's reaction was comical.  You would have though that this 2 foot rubber boa that fled from us was actually a massive rattler that had actually stuck her.  I rather enjoyed the show, but have my doubts about ever getting her to hike out to meet me again.

The last 8 miles of the trail was a 2700 foot descent into Sierra City.  About half of this was a long traverse high across the face of the Sierra Buttes; one of the highest and steepest traverses I have ever done.  I don't normally have an issue with heights, but did find myself getting dizzy a time or two when looking to the bottom of the slope, which as a couple thousand feet below me.  The last half of the descent moved into the forest and dropped quickly, with a total of about 40 switchbacks overall.

Sierra City was a quaint little town, and the Red Moose Inn fit right in.  The retired couple who run it seem more interested in helping out hikers than they do actually running a business.  The only time I saw anyone other than hikers in the place was at breakfast, where they seemed to have a regular following among the citizens of the small town.  They did report a downturn in the number of hikers that had come through so far this year, about 3/4 of what they had last year.

From here I had to say good-bye to California for this year and we headed back to Washington to prepare for one last section, this time with Tigger.  I had lost 5 pounds and was worn out; but I felt good about the trail and had enjoyed the journey.  Looking forward to picking up here next year and tackling the Sierra's.


I loved these signs on the outskirts of Belden.

While this is not the PCT, this is very reminiscent of the ascent we had just completed coming out of Belden.

Quite a few springs along through here were plumbed out using either a pipe or an angle iron.  This one is just south of the Canyon View Spring, that requires you to leave the trail.  This one is just above the trail.

While I have no idea what this shrub is, it is quite common in the higher country of northern California.  The lighter green is clusters of burs, each with a diameter amount the size of a quarter.  They are covered with fine hairs that will stick you if you grab them too hard.  But I never had one actually detach from the bush and stick to me.

On the trip from Belden to Bucks Summit there were a number of large meadows filled with Lupine and a few other flowers.

Silver Lake, also between Belden and Bucks Summit was a pretty lake, but obviously below it's 'full' level.

That's a size 15 shoe next to this small cone.  Glad none of these decided to drop on my head as I went by.

The bridge over Bear Creek, just north of the Middle Fork.

One of the largest trees I saw on the trip, with nearly a six foot diameter.  Notice the trekking poles at the left.

Bridge over the Middle Fork of the Feather River from near my campsite.

This pool was just downstream from the bridge and would make a wonderful swimming hole.

Had a little buddy join me for lunch one day.

Hard to see how ominous this looked, but the smoke to the west was a bit concerning.

Mount Etna sticking up through the trees.

Gold mines on Gibraltar?
 
A bit graphic, but none-the-less interesting trail marker at the top of my last significant climb.

This is, I think, a Western Tanager.  Don't recall ever seeing one until the day before I got this picture.

Two nice trees about 15 feet apart, check.  Minimal brush on the ground, check.  Ground not too steep, check.  Time to set up camp.

Deer Lake just north of Packer Saddle

The fire lookout on the Sierra Buttes, seen from Packer Saddle.

Somewhat level ground is over 2000 feet below, on a greater than 45 degree slope.  The descent into Sierra City was like this for nearly 4 miles.

Switch backing down the slope.

The Red Moose Inn in Sierra City.