Friday, August 24, 2012

2012 Pacific Crest Trail: Crater Lake to Seiad Valley

This is part two of my recent PCT trip through the southern 2/3's or Oregon.  This post follows the 8 days in the middle third as well as a zero day at Crater Lake.

Because of the warmth of the earlier portion of the trip, and the upcoming forecast, I decided to leave the down coat and possum down socks behind.  I had also been having a bit of soreness in my right arch so I decided to change shoes at this point, a change which didn't work out too well.  Otherwise I stayed with the same gear set that had been serving me well so far.

Day 9

The second half of this trip started at Mazama Village, heading back to the trail, across the highway and to points south.  The initial plan had been to hike 20 miles south to the first water on the trail at Honeymoon Creek and stop for the night.  But the trail was generally level and mostly viewless and as I got closer to the creek I started toying with the idea of going on over Devil's Peak before quitting for the night.  This meant that there would be a dry camp but for some reason that didn't seem so bad on this first day out again.

The sky was mostly smokey all day long, and even when the view did open up some I could not see very far.  A number of northbound hikers asked about where the fire was; and as far as they, or I, could tell it was not too close by since none of us had seen any evidence other than some pervasive smoke in the air.  I did have some periodic cell reception and contacted Sue, who assured me that there was no fire nearby.

I did go through a second burned area midway through the day, but it only lasted a couple of miles.  Neither of this years burned areas came close to the 20 miles of devastation from last year.

The trail was pretty crowded today, with 46 hikers and 4 horses with riders.  The gals on the horses were getting their first exposure to the PCT and thru-hikers and were pretty amazed by what they had seen and heard.  The last person I met was a newly retired 65 year old school teacher from Florida who was taking 6 weeks to hike through Oregon.  She was just poking along having a good time.

The folks today ran the spectrum of friendliness.  Some seemed quite willing to stand and talk for a bit; others were friendly in passing; and some would not even acknowledge my greeting and just blew past as if I didn't exist.  Not sure I understand the latter, but to each their own.

Once I hit Honeymoon Creek I knew I was not going to stay there.  It was only 3PM, the spot was not all that great, and the water was barely moving.  So I loaded up with 5 quarts of water, enough to finish the day, have some for camp, and then get the first 10 miles in the morning, and then headed up Devil's Peak.  Overall this was only a 1500 foot climb but was a bit steep and switchbacked up over scree fields.  The trail then traversed along a ridge for a while, peaked again and then dropped a bit.

Since I was going stoveless I decided to stop around 5:30 and start hydrating my burrito mix and again about 6 to eat it before proceeding on down the trail.   This was a first for me.  Always before I have waited until I was in camp to have dinner.  But it did work well and allowed me to put in some additional miles.

At some point I realized I was closing in on my first 30 mile day so started to push a bit.  Unfortunately sunset caught up with me just before I hit that mark and I had to start looking for a pair of suitable trees to hang from.  I did not want to do that in the dark.  So at 29.5 miles I found my trees and got the hammock hung just before I had to pull out the headlamp to finish.  I also risked, for the very first time, going without a tarp over the hammock.  It was cool seeing stars during the night and a satellite passing overhead.

I felt good about the day and the mileage; especially that I could have continued for quite a bit yet if darkness had not descended; over 13.5 hours walking.  The only issue was the right quad had started to act up again over the last 10 miles.
Not sure what this rodent is, but he raced away from the trail and posed on a log about 10 feet away.  About a foot long.

This burned area was midway between Crater Lake and Devils Peak.

Much of the trail around Devils Peak was along old talus fields, many of them with flowers taking hold, Pasque Flowers in this case.

Looks like it could be used for a wash basin.

Not very good at identifying rocks, but this looks like the stacks of stepping stones at the local home improvement store.

Sunset from the hammock a few miles south of Devils Peak.

Day 10

Since I only had 20 miles left until I met Sue, I decided to sleep in and did not get up until 6, hitting the trail about 7.  The trail tended downhill most of the day with a small climb in the middle over a shoulder of Mt McLoughlin, dropping over 1500 foot during the course of the day.

The day started off good but after a few hours it started to get really hot.  The heat, and likely yesterdays exertion, really took a toll and I felt like death warmed over before I hit the trail head for the day.  It didn't help that I lose my appetite when it gets warm, so I was not eating as much as I should have.

Along the way I passed by Christie's Spring and made the 100 yard excursion to take a look at it.  It had good water flowing from it, but I foolishly decided not to tank up while I was there.  I still had a quart and a half of water and only 10 miles to go.  But drinking a quart of cold water then would likely have helped a lot over the next few hours.

I finally made it to the trail head, beating Sue by a few minutes.  We headed off to the trailer she had rented for a few days at the Howard Prairie Resort, had a cold shower and chilled for a while.  It was nice to not have to be walking any longer in that heat.

I did end up with a blister on my left heel today, my first blister in years.  I had worn these shoes earlier in the year without any problem so don't know what caused this.  I guess its back to the original shoes for the remainder of the hike.

Day 11

Our initial plan on leaving home was to slack pack (carry only a day pack) through this next section.  Because of the large number of roads it seemed like a way to minimize the effort through this 53 mike stretch.  I could hike15 to 20 miles a day, with Sue getting in some miles each day, and then go back to the trailer for a shower and dinner.

After doing the previous 50 mile section in two days, it seemed overkill to spend three days on this section, especially with such a light pack.  So I decided that I would attempt this stretch in two days as well, starting with a 30 mile stretch.  Unfortunately I did not reckon with the heat.  10 miles into the day I was already wrung out so I called Sue and arranged for a pickup after 20 miles.  That allowed me to slow the pace and enjoy the scenery more.

This whole section was relatively level and lower than most of the rest of the trail.  As a result there were few open vistas.  But it more than made up for that with the diversity of flowers and the amount of wildlife.  I am used to seeing a chipmunk and squirrel or two during the course of a day.  Through this area I was seeing dozens of both.

I was also noticing more pine trees, including one (a Sugar Pine?) that had cones as long as my size 14 shoe.  I carried one for a while, intending to bring it out with me, but eventually gave up on it because it was so sticky and I ended up having to walk farther than expected.

The first few miles south of highway 140 went through a lot of small lava fields.  But the trail crews here had done a wonderful job of producing a trail through the jumble of rocks.  It was much easier to walk on than the fields around McKenzie Pass.

The Wilderness Press book that I was using for a guide did not care for this section of the trail at all, and encouraged alternative routes.  But I thought, once I slowed down enough to enjoy it, that it was really a very pretty area and would encourage others to ignore the advice of the trail guide.

Sue and I miscommunicated on the days pickup point so I ended up walking an extra 3 miles before we met up, but still had plenty of time to get back and cleaned up in time for dinner. While I was disappointed to not get my 30 mile day, it was a good walk.  The quad continues to give me so grief, and the blister (drained and bandaged) was tender, but all in all I still felt pretty good.
The trail constructed through the rock fields on this section of the trail was wonderful.

Looking north at Mt McLoughlin.

These flowers appear to be especially attractive to butterflies.

The trail through this section is filled with these little flower gardens.

Biggest pine cone I can remember ever seeing.  For reference, that is a size 14 shoe next to it.

Day 12

This day was down scaled to a 13 miler followed by a trip into Ashland and Medford.  It started early and proceeded south through terrain very similar to the previous day.  The quad and blister, with a moleskin doughnut around it, were still irritants, so I kept the pace nice and easy.

There have been quite a few thru-hikers and long section hikers come through in the past couple of days.  I would guess that I am in the middle of the pack now.  Also saw my first lizard on the trail today along with several game birds.  The small rodents, birds and grasshoppers continue in great abundance.

I had one rather unsettling experience today.  I had come to a trail junction and followed the signed PCT route.  A couple miles into it, it just seemed like something wasn't right so I pulled out the phone and fired up Backcountry Navigator to check on my position.  According to it I was nowhere near the trail, although was going in the right general direction.  So I proceeded along and kept getting closer and closer until eventually I hit the 'correct' trail again, although the signage when I joined back up indicated I had been on the real PCT. Apparently the halfmile maps on the phone took the alternate route instead of the official trail.

One of the thru-hikers I met today asked about a spigot that was supposed to be on the trail.  I hadn't noticed it and she thought she should have passed it a mile ago.  We went on and about a mile later I found a hose across the trail attached to a spigot.  Seemed kind of hard to miss; not sure what she was looking for.

Overall a good walk today apart from the quad and blister.  Nice and easy and done before noon.  I enjoyed the varied landscapes, flowers and wildlife.  Back to the trailer for a shower and an afternoon in town.
This looks like sage brush, and there was a lot of it in the drier areas.  It was covered in small yellow flowers.

Even the dry rocky patches are filled with flowers.

Just an old snag, but I thought it had character.

In places the trail was cracked and as hard as a rock.

My very first lizard on the PCT.  There would be several more the next day.

This meadow of yellow flowers was pretty common as the trail approached Highway 66.   On closer look you would find that each blossom is has a circle of thorns just below it, and has a very tough stem.  

Day 13

Today was mostly a repeat of yesterday.  The trip was longer, at 17 miles, but still with a pretty gentle trail and great variety of plant and animal life along the way, and lots of lizards.  Some north bound hikers told me of a rattlesnake sighting just a few minutes ahead, but it was gone by the time I got there.  But for a while, every grasshopper that took flight, and there were a bunch of them, caught my attention.  I have yet to hear a rattlesnake do its thing, so the flights of grasshoppers, and their 'rattling' always got my attention.

Over the last few miles of the trail today I met quite a few hikers coming out of Callahan's.  Seems like breakfast had finished up and they had launched out for the day fairly close together.  Either Callahan's serves a mighty big breakfast, or there are some real plus size guys starting up the trail in Oregon.  Can't imagine that some of them were actually thru-hikers.

Today was the last of the 'easy' days.  The blister is better but the quad still is tight.  So I have decided to take an unscheduled day off to let it rest better before heading out again.  There are also several fires burning near the trail up ahead so I will need to decide what to do about that.  I really don't want to end up having to take a big detour.
A view of My Ashland from the north.  The white spot on top turned out to be an observatory.

Just another in an endless succession of little meadows.

Don't know what these are, but the came in a variety of shades between yellow to dark orange.  Looked like they would make great dried flowers, and were in great profusion.

The paintbrush came in a variety of shades and was also pretty common.

Pilot Rock.  Once you knew what it was, it was visible for quite some distance.

Day 14

Felt better after the day off so headed up into the Siskiyou's for the final 3 day section.  Sue and I had identified several escape routes should fire interfere and I felt comfortable that there would be no need for any kind of excessive detour.

I started from I5 right at 6 and headed up.  There was an initial 2700 foot climb over the first 10 miles.  It was generally not too steep but was steadily up.  Along the way I passed Mt Ashland and was pretty impressed by the meadows surrounding it.  I must say they were the best I had seen in Oregon over the past two years.  They seemed a bit past their prime but were still wonderful.  I would have liked to have seen them a couple weeks earlier.

Much of today was spent up high and the views were great.  It never ceases to amaze me how fast mountains seem to go by as you walk along all day.  It somehow makes the day go by faster as well.  I am also amazed at the diversity of flowers.  There are some that are everywhere.  But I saw several today that I did not remember seeing anywhere else; and they were only in very limited locations.

Passing through one of the meadows near the end of the day I felt a sharp pain on a finger and looked down to see a bumble bee sitting on the joint of my right ring finger.  Apparently I had gotten too close to a flower he was on and took offense.  I shook him off and had a painful joint for 20 minutes.  But fortunately that was all it amounted to.  I had visions of swelling up over it, which I have done once before.

Still lots of thru-hikers coming through today.  The fires ahead seem not to be a hindrance to them yet.  After I had camp set up I had my first encounter with a southbound thru-hiker.  He decided to stay with me that night and we ended up traveling together the rest of the way into Seiad Valley.

In camp that night we had a doe with twin fawns circle around us.  It was really fun watching the fawns checking us out.  They were like little springs bouncing around.

Our campsite had a couple of small pads that were useful for those who just curl up on a flat spot, but not particularly useful for a hammock.  So I ended up off the trail a bit further.  Found the right trees, kicked aside a few dead branches and setup.  I debated about deploying the tarp; the sky was clear but the weather forecast called for a chance of rain.  So I compromised and stung the tarp but left it in its snakeskins.  About 1 in the morning I was awaken by the other guy in camp with the news that it was raining.  There were only a few drops falling but I got up quickly and staked out the tarp and then helped the other guy deploy his new poncho, which he had never setup, over his sleeping bag; a very interesting operation.  Had a bit of rain during the night but not all that much.
Part of the PCT up Mt Ashland was shared by a Nordic ski route.  And high up in a tree was a left over ski.  Hopefully it was not a crash that put it up there.

Yet another little patch of color along the way.

The Mt Ashland observatory dome peeking over the hillside.

Where the springs were still active, and Mt Ashland had a lot of them, the meadows were still pretty lush.

In many places it was like walking through a botanical garden.  Sometimes the flowers soared over my head and I almost had to push my way through the jungle.

A trail angel near Grouse Gap provided cool soda, water and some chairs for a quick break.

One of the springs I stopped at had a lush meadow with the flowers in the lower left.  This was the only place I recall seeing these little white balls.

It was fun watching these two little fawns bounce around camp.

Day 15

Got a notice from Sue this morning that one of the fires had spread and the trail was now closed at the end.  The trail closure required a 12 mile road walk, but was actually shorter and required less climbing that the trail would have, so it looked like it would work out well.

Today was another beautiful day on the trail; lots of vistas and flowers and surprising little smoke from the fires to the south of us until near the end of the day.  I chased Red Cedar, my south bound friend, all day.  He was expecting a package at Seiad Valley and would have to wait for the post office on Monday, so he was in no hurry.

Midway through the morning we hit the California border, took a bunch of pictures and signed the trail register.  It was a pretty cool feeling, knowing that I had completed one of the three states along the trail.

Although the trail through California was very similar we did find three differences.  We quickly found that there was some active logging going on in the neighborhood of the trail; hunting season for archery had opened that morning (lots of hunters setup in camps), and the sound of cowbells was a frequent accompaniment as we hiked.

We had initially planned on staying a Beardog Spring for the night.  But when we got there at 3PM we found no good place to camp.  The water was good so we had lunch, drank our fill of semi cold water, and set out for Cook and Green Pass, 5 miles further on.  This is were the detour started and we understood that there was someone there passing out cold drinks to hikers.

We got in around 5, after about 27 miles, had some cold water and Gatorade while setting up and then visited with the forest service folks who were there, or who passed through.  While today was longer than originally intended, it was one of my better days on the trail.  Very little issue with the quad, or anything else for that matter.  Turned in at dusk and slept the night away.
The California/Oregon border

This little butterfly, and his siblings and cousins were everywhere.

It's a bit hazy, but Mt Shasta is in the distance to the right.

This was as close to any of the fires as I got.  

Day 16

Up early and hit the road down into town by 5:50; tear down only took 35 minutes this morning.  It was still a bit dark but since we were walking a road there didn't seem much chance of getting lost.  Half an hour from camp we ran across a hiker sleeping on the shoulder of the road.

The road was in good shape, 7 mikes of dirt followed by 5 miles of pavement.  There were a lot of blackberries along the last few miles and we spent more than a few minutes stuffing our faces.

After right at 4 hours we hit the end of the road and had a 5 minutes walk up the highway to the general store/post office/cafe.  Sue arrived a few seconds after we did.  Shared a few drinks (chocolate milk and tea), said good-bye, jumped into the car, and headed back north.  Overall this had been a very good trip and I am looking forward to a section here in Washington this month as well as tackling a big chunk of California next year.
At lease one star, or planet, was still out when the road walk started on the last day.

A simple, but beautiful, little flower that was common along the road down.

Red Cedar, my traveling companion for the last two days.  He left the Canadian border on June 27th and is heading for Mexico.  I wish him well.

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