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://aclayjar.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.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Joyful in Trials

Trials, difficulties, challenges, confrontations, IRS audits, economic meltdown, out of control kids, unemployment, persecution, etc., etc., etc..  None of us are immune to the difficulties of life.  And it oftentimes seems like being a Christian only makes things worse. How should I respond to the rocks that life throws at me?

James has something to say about this in his letter to Christian Jews scattered around the Roman world, who were also having rocks thrown at them.  But his message to them, and to us, can be pretty hard to swallow.
Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. - James 1:2-4 HCSB
Respond to trials with joy?  Sounds crazy doesn't it.  That actually sounds like a response that should get us locked up in a padded cell as a masochist.  But before you pass off James guidance as foolishness, take a closer look at what he is telling us.

How do I respond to trials?  I could see in them the end of a dream, an overwhelming obstacle, or a painful experience.  Or, as a Christ follower, I could choose to respond in faith.  In faith, I believe that God cares about me, and that he is working to perfect me.  In faith, I can choose to believe that God will take this trial and use it to draw me closer to him, making me more dependent on him, and further develop me as a disciple.  Through faith, I can develop endurance, the ability to continue through the trial without being discouraged and giving up.

And at the end of endurance is maturity, becoming what I was created to be.  The trials I go through are not fun, and nowhere am I called on to enjoy them.  But they will be used by God in my development, if I respond in faith.  And so, knowing what the trials can produce in my life, I can respond joyfully; not joy because of the trial, but joy in what they can produce in me.

I run.  I am not particularly fast, and will likely never win a race with many competitors.  And, for me at least, running is not the funnest thing I do in a day.  My legs get tired, I huff and puff, my feet get sore, I have to dodge cars, and it can be a real mental struggle to continue.  So why do I continue; why run when watching TV is so much easier?  Because of that these "trials" produce.  I am in better physical condition than most 60 year old men. I can mostly eat what I want without worry. I can go out on long distance hikes and enjoy the creation.  And I just feel better.  I take joy in what the trials of running produce in me.

James calls on me to do the same thing with the trials of life.  Take joy in what the testing of your faith will accomplish.  Take joy in your spiritual development and maturity.  Dare to confound the world around you when you respond with a joyful attitude to the inevitable trials of life.

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.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

PCT 2013: Old Station to Belden

I had originally planned to head south from Old Station the day after finishing with the Hat Creek Rim, but a sore back led to a change in plans.  I had two friends lined up to hike with me through parts of the PCT, and I needed to be sure that I didn't overdue and end up unable to finish.  So I opted to hang tight a couple of days until Rabbit, a friend new to backpacking, joined me; and then we did this section together.

A note about Rabbit.  Since I am Eeyore, I figured that my companions should also have Winnie the Pooh character names.  My friend originally wanted to be Pooh, but that seemed somewhat awkward: "Hello, I'm Pooh", just seemed hard to pull off with a straight face.  So, since (at least to me) he is compulsively organized (little did I realize just how much), he became Rabbit.  At the end of a long day we would come into camp and I would dump the contents of my pack onto a small piece of tyvek and then set up the hammock and organize briefly.  Rabbit would carefully spread out a small 2 x 5 section of tarp, make sure it was nice and straight and free of any dirt, and then very carefully lay out all of his neatly organized stuff stacks (in which everything was neatly folded without wrinkles).  By the time he had his pack unpacked, I was setup and watching the show.  I really enjoyed having him along, and had a lot of fun at his expense.  Hopefully he enjoyed it as much as I did and will be game for next year.

After helping get Rabbit packed up, and doing a quick visit through Lassen NP, the wives dropped us off at Old Station mid afternoon.  Our plan was to walk about 4 miles, have a milkshake, drop off anything that seemed unneeded at that point, and then walk another 4 miles to Hat Creek for the night.  The first four miles were fairly flat and went pretty quickly.  We met the wives for our milkshakes, and a final goodbye (Mrs Rabbit was really nervous about letting Rabbit wander around in the wilderness.  Afraid he would get eaten or something).  Rabbit dropped off his belt, and off we went.

The first 8 miles of this section, at least for south bounders, is very pleasant and easy to walk, although not overly scenic.  The trail intersects briefly with Hat Creek about 8 miles from Old Station and that was the destination for our first night.  We got into camp and I taught Rabbit how to hang a hammock, ate dinner and cleaned up a bit and then turned in.

The night was unexpectedly cold, 37 degrees, although the stars were beautiful.  Rabbit is not sold on the idea of using a hammock but did manage to get some sleep.  We are up and on the trail around 7:30 and headed for Lower Twin Lake in Lassen.  After climbing a bit we came into an area that had burned last year.  It is always a bit sad to travel though an area that has burned, but I was amazed to see how quickly much of the undergrowth was recovering.  The trees will take longer, but the forest is very resilient.

The road through Lassen travels high up on the shoulder of its namesake mountain and is very scenic.  The trail, on the other hand, stays fairly low and is anything but scenic.  The trail is gentle and pleasant and easily traveled, but, apart from about 10 miles of mostly burned forest, and numerous meadows, it is unremarkable.  I don't understand why the trail avoids the high country through the park.

We pulled into Lower Twin about 1:30 and enjoyed the lake.  It was fairly warm and made for a good swim/bath.  This is a popular lake for hikers who are touring the park, and there ended up being quite a few folks scattered around the lake; but the lake is big enough that it easily accommodated all of us.  We set up next to the lake and Rabbit took advantage of the extended afternoon to further organize his stuff.

Shortly after turning in, about 8 PM, I heard someone tromping trough camp followed by a deep voice identifying himself as a back country park ranger.  So we rolled out of the hammocks and showed our permits, which was the good part.  However we were camped too close to the lake.  Fortunately the ranger was not a hard nose about it and just wrote us up a warning.  I also had to explain to him what the Ursak was that I had tied off to a nearby tree.  He had never heard of one and thought our food should be in a bear can or hung.  But again, he was sympathetic to us and let it go.  We visited for a while and eventually climbed back into our hammocks for another cold night.

The third day dawned clear and crisp, a big day for Rabbit since we were going to be traveling about 17 miles, his biggest day on the trail by far.  While there was more climbing today that there had been, we never did get very high through this section, although the descent into Warner Valley was exciting for Rabbit; his first opportunity to traverse, and switchback, along a steep ridge.  The highlight of the day though was Boiling Springs Lake.  We circled the lake and took half a hundred pictures and wondered about the daring (foolishness) of those who seeming willing to defy fate by ignoring the warnings about breaking through if you leave the path, and walked up to the edge of the lake.  I was quite willing to admire the lake from a safe distance.

We also took the side trail to Terminal Geyser.  The sign said it was a 1/4 mile trip, although it seemed much longer than that, being nearly vertical for much of it.  We zoomed down, took a few pictures and opted not to wait for it to erupt, and headed back out.  On the way we passed a family who had been watching it when we got there and asked about the frequency of eruption.  According to them, it never did.  It was actually just a steam vent.  Impressive none-the-less, but very glad we did not hang around waiting for some excitement.

After climbing back up to the PCT, we continued to climb for a while before beginning a long descent down to the North Fork of the Feather River.  There were several nice spots on the south side of the river where we setup and had a pleasant stay.  Rabbit was tired, but still enjoying the trip.

The last day in the first half of this section was an 8 mile trip up and over a ridge and down to Highway 89 for a meet with the wives, along with a burger and night in the town of Chester.

Day 5 was going to be Rabbits biggest day of the trip.  We left the trail head about 7 and headed up toward Humboldt Summit, about 20 miles away with an initial 2600 foot climb.  And to top it off, the only on trail water source was about 3 miles into the day, with no water at the summit.  While the initial climb was long, it was fairly mellow and under cover most of the way up.  Soldier Creek was a welcome break and a place to load up with water for the dry stretch ahead.  The couple camped at the creek reported that the only identified water source for the next 20+ miles, at Carter Meadows, was nearly 1/2 mile off trail, and not all that great.  They also reported that there had been a sign to an earlier spring but they had not descended to it and so could provide no information.  So, loaded with a gallon of water apiece, we continued on up the climb.

Toward the top of the climb we passed the halfway point in the trail, signed the register and went on, shortly coming out into the clear with some wonderful views.  We spent 6 or 7 miles up over 7000 feet before dropping back to 6000 and then up to 6700 at Humboldt for the night.  The views, as well as the fantastic rock formations, made the initial climbwell worthwhile.  This stretch of trail had some of the most bizarre rocks and outcroppings I remember seeing anywhere.

Before hitting the Carter Meadow trail, we encountered another north bounder who had gone down to the earlier spring and reported it to be very nice.  So when we hit the Carter Meadow trail we opted to just stop for lunch and go on another 2-3 miles to the next spring.  While there was a camping spot there at the junction, I would recommend not stopping there.  The yellow jackets were thick, and eating lunch was an adventure with a dozen of more of the little buggers swarming around.  Little Cub Spring did end up being very nice, although a steep 1/4 mile below the trail.  And we also found a sign to yet another spring within a mile of Humboldt Summit.  

Humboldt Summit has a maintained dirt road running through it and a large campground in the saddle.  We opted to stay just north of the saddle and a bit more isolated from the road.  Rabbit had opted for a tent through this stretch and found a place to set it up while I watched from my hammock.  Shortly after dinner is eaten and food secured for the night, Rabbit crawled into his burrow for the night, one tired little bunny.

We were up early, and again on the trail by 7.  Most of the day was spent up close to 7000 foot and was fairly pleasant.  Cold Springs was a highlight early in the day, with water gushing out of a big pipe and into a cattle trough; lots of cold clear water.  Unfortunately as we spread out for breakfast the yellow jackets started to congregate, so we quickly packed up and moved on down the trail for a while before eating.  The final climb of the day took us past Frog Spring, which was the first on trail water in some time, and up near the top of Frog Peak.  From there it was all down hill.

Along the way we passed Andesite Spring, labeled on the map as Poison Spring, and then began the descent into the Chips Creek canyon and then along the creek.  The upper canyon was pretty rocky and open; and dry at this time of year.  After a couple of miles we hit the first water that forms the creek, and from there on down water was pretty abundant.  After crossing Chips Creek a couple of times, we stopped at Myrtle Flats Camp for the night, after about 19 miles.  We could have gone on further, but we were starting to get into some poison oak and wanted to be able to clearly see it in the light of day.  Myrtle Flats was actually a signed Forest Service campground with a little stream, one of the few backcountry F.S. camps I have run across so far.

The last day heading out was fairly short, which was good since Rabbit is wearing down.  We descend for a bit in the trees before breaking out onto a mostly open traverse through a recently burned area.  Both of us are somewhat paranoid about poison oak, and in places the trail was pretty bushy, so it went pretty slowly at times.  Eventually we rounded a corner and there was the river down below, and what looked like a little settlement.  Shortly after there was an unsigned Y in the trail, with one branch running down to the town/road, and the other heading up a canyon away from the road.  Usually you can tell by the condition of the trail which is the proper path, but not in this case.  Out comes the phone and Backcountry Navigator sends us away from the road and back into the canyon; the branch we didn't want to take.  But the right branch none-the-less.  Within a half mile we found our wives waiting for us on a bridge that crossed the canyon's little stream.  From there it was less than a mile to the trail head and a cold chocolate milk.

Since the trail head was across the river from Belden, we opted to drop off the packs in the car and walk the road across the Belden Bridge and through town to tomorrow's starting point.  Then we jumped into the car and headed to Quincy for the night.

Eeyore and Rabbit ready to hit the PCT near Old Station.  

During the course of this section you get to see Lassen from the north, east and south.  This is an early view from north of the park.

This is a portion of last years Lassen fire that reached out to the north of the park.

The walk through Lassen Nation Park was filled will meadows.  While not overly high, much of the country was pretty open.

Lower Twin Lake was a bit windy when we first got there.  That can make it a bit challenging to get a hammock hung and properly leveled.

Lower Twin Lake makes a good overnight stop.  It is a pretty, decent sized lake, warm and with gravel beaches rather than muck.

A four foot log with a star hidden inside.

Looking down at Drakesbad and its pool from the descent into Warner Valley.

Boiling Springs Lake with Lassen in the background.  There is a trail that encircles the lake and intersects with the PCT.

Terminal Geyser should be called Terminal Steam Vent or Terminal Fumarole.

At the south end of the park, and almost exclusively west of the trail, are dozens of stacks of cut logs and branches.  I assume it is a part of reducing the amount of available fuel in case of a fire.  Looks like they are ready for roasting marshmallows.

A little weasel standing guard over the trail a couple of miles north of the North Fork Feather River.

It's always nice to get some confirmation that I am going in the right direction.  Lot's of north bounders ask me if I am going south (maybe they are not sure of their own direction), and one was convinced that we were going the wrong way.

At the halfway point for the PCT.

To the right is Lassen and to the left is Brokeoff.  All of the little peaks in the middle, including Brokeoff, were once a larger volcano that blew some time in the past.

I really loved the rocky formations throughout the south half of this section.  

Just a little bit harder and I should be able to get this little rock to role down the hill.

Sunrise over Humboldt Summit.

Cold Springs.  One of the nicest springs I have run into on the trail.

Bambi and his mom, eyeing us from the far end of a stretch of trail.  While Bambi moved out of sight, mom never did.  She stayed close to the trail, even when we walked by.  Very unlike any other doe I saw on the trail this year.

I do not know what kind of flower this is, but we found one large group of bushes just above Belden and a couple of other single blossoms elsewhere.  I was really surprised to see such a large flower on the trail.

The Belden Bridge.  Cross the bridge and to the right is the little town of Belden.