Thursday, August 05, 2010

Bucks Summit to Highway 36 on the PCT

I put my pictures up from my hike from Bucks Summit to Highway 36 on the Pacific Crest Trail. You can see them here.

Here is my journal.

Wed, July 28
We drove forever through the hellish industrial agriculture of the San Juaquin Valley. The weather was comfortable in the mid-80s. Once we got to the forest, we rolled down the windows of the car and were hit immediately with the heavenly aroma of the forest. I was coming home.

We parked at Bucks Summit trailhead. It was not hard to find. It was instantly recognizable where the trail would be.

We made last minute adjustments and hit the trail. We were instantly taken to a world of wildflower loveliness. So many kinds! So much sweet fragrance in the air!

The trail climbed gently. We passed numerous creeklets, all really the same little creek as we switchbacked up the slopes.

We were in low manzanita brush with oaks and pines. The bees were still busy. Flickers darted from the trees. I saw chipmunks, a bunny, lizards, ants and small birds. We were in a world that is alive.

We hiked only 2 or 3 miles until we found a small campsite with a nice flat spot of forest duff for our tent. There was a little creek nearby. There were mosquitoes, but they were lazy, not like the Oregon mosquitoes. We set about cooking our dinner and setting up our tent. Mule ears and Indian paintbrush glowed in the sun above us on the trail. I was Home again.

Thu, July 29
It was cooler at night than I expected. The moon came out and flooded the darkness with light. I felt something crawling on my face in my sleep. I slapped it, felt a large insect body and threw it across the tent. Later I found a dead fly so thankfully it wasn't a spider.

In the morning we packed up and walked through the beautiful forest, through a bouquet of wildflowers. We couldn't stop taking pictures. Trailhacker's new trailname is going to be Too Many Pictures. We also took pictures of Gold and Silver Lakes.

I remembered much of this trail very vividly. It was a very beautiful section. It reminded me quite a bit of Oregon now that I know what Oregon is like.

By lunchtime we had started the long descent to Belden. The bare, manzanita-clad hills at the top of the descent smelled wonderful. Spicy and floral. I tried pulling off leaves of various shrubs to try to determine which ones gave it that scent, but I couldn't figure it out.

The descent was long and torturous. I felt sore and tired by the end of the millions of steep switchbacks. We stopped in Belden at the restaurant/bar/store to sit in the shade on the back deck by the Feather River. It was cool and comfortable back there and we whiled away the hours drinking beer and watching scrub jays steal food. Our plan was to backtrack on the trail a little bit and camp by the river in an old washed away campground.

It was a pleasure not feeling like we had to keep going and put in our miles. We were free to relax all afternoon. We had time to hike two or three more full days if we wanted. I certainly did not want to hurry and go back to civilization.

I found the trail register inside the store and took it to our table to read. Too Many Pictures got a chance to sign it. He jokes that he's got pictures of himself and his name signed at the Mexican border and the Canadian border. He just needs a little more filler and he can say he hiked the whole trail. He had been singing a made up song all day about drinking beer in Belden so he wrote it down in the register.

As I was returning the register to the store, I noticed some hikers had arrived. Too Many Pictures offered to buy them a beer and we ended up spending another hour or so chatting with them. By the time we got up to leave, there were 5 hikers at the next table. They said there were still lots more behind them. We had thought maybe we'd missed the herd but it appeared we were somewhere within it.

Our camp by the river was as peaceful as can be expected next to a railroad track and highway. We planned to get up early to tackle the long climb out of Belden. We had 5000 feet of elevation to gain.

Fri, July 30
The hike out of Belden did not see as difficult as it had been for me last year or as long. I believe it took me 8 solid hours of toil to reach the summit last year, and this year it took us only 7 or so and we were not tired. I wondered if that was because last year I had put in three 25 mile days before the climb. Perhaps I could have had an easier time of hiking last year if I had done fewer miles each day. I wonder if there is a sweet spot where fewer miles goes faster than many.

By the end of the day, my feet and legs were pretty tired, but otherwise I felt very good. We decided to eat dinner at Cold Spring and decide what to do after dinner. It was a little before 5 when we arrived. But I'm ahead of myself, so back to the beginning...

The hike out of Belden had begun gently. The grass was dry. The trees were oaks and pines. There were little creeks here and there in the ravines. Soon we entered the shade of the forest. There were cedars.

We walked a long way under the forest canopy. We found three campsites. One was about 2.5 hours up from Belden and was just big enough for 1 tent. A few minutes beyond that, we found another camp and then just up the hill from that, another with a sign that said it was the Williams Cabin site. No cabin anymore, but a tree with pots and pans hanging from it. A fire was still hot. The hikers we had met last night in Belden must have left it burning. We learned later that they were new hikers who claimed to have started at Walker Pass but had hitchhiked around the trail most of the way. They were from the east coast so had no idea about fire in California and how to be safe about it. I hoped they wouldn't start the West on fire with their carelessness. We attempted to put out the fire with dirt and water.

Another mile beyond Williams cabin we found Myrtle Flat camp. It had really nice benches for sitting by the fire. The fire here was cold.

In and out and up and up we went, passing little creeklets so often we did not need to carry any water at all. But of course I did. Silly me.

Before lunch, we had met a young woman named No Pants. She wore a skirt with draw strings up the side. She was flying and wanted to make 35 miles today. She picked a tough day to do it and a late start, but she looked as though she could make it.

We finally stopped for lunch at noon. We rested and ate next to a rushing little creek in the shade. Our next bit of climbing looked like it would be in the blazing sun.

Once we began hiking again after lunch, we hiked in full sun up clinking slatey rocks. Flowers bloomed in clumps and a creek rushed below. It was lovely.

Then we reached a meadow just as I was wondering if my memory of it had been a hallucination. It was exceedingly beautiful with carpets of flowers.

Then began a large switchback climb in the forest again. I remembered there had been a lot of blowdowns last year. They were all gone now.

Soon we reached the summit. Frog mountain was nearby but the sign did not say how far. We did not go. We had visited Spanish Peak yesterday and that had been a treat, but today we felt more determined to stay on the trail.

From the edge of the summit we could see Mt. Lassen and the tip of Mt. Shasta. Trees were in the way of a really good picture.

Almost as soon as we reached the summit, the trail went down the other side. there was only one patch of snow to negotiate. Easy.

We entered an open area of broken trees, then descended into a clear-cut that was growing back. Pretty purple penstemons grew in clumps and carpets.

We arrived at the long meadow where cattle were moaning and wailing last year. It was quiet today. Before I knew it, we were at Cold Spring.

The water was cold and sweet. My dinner came out really good. It was my own mac and cheese recipe. After we ate, we washed up a little and decided to keep hiking. Unfortunately, hiking on a full stomach of pudding and mac and cheese didn't feel very good.

We found a camp site near a dry meadow and pond and decided to stop for the evening. Three thru-hikers went by as we lounged. Bones, who wore Chaco sandals like me, Lip Service who was limping, and Princess who seemed strong and really happy to be here.

I went to bed thinking about what a fun trip this had been so far. It felt good to see Too Many Pictures happy and smiling for a change. It looked like we would probably finish the hike tomorrow instead of the day after as I had thought originally.

Sat, July 31
I slept really hot at night but Too Many Pictures said he had been cold. We packed up our things and passed Lip Service and Princess having breakfast just a little beyond us in the meadow.

The hike was again full of flowers most of the day. We reached an area full of interesting volcanic spires and pinnacles. Sometimes the trail was placed just perfectly to display Mt. Lassen between the pinnacles. Lip Service caught up to us in this area and as we stopped to admire the view, I told her how one thing I really enjoyed about hiking last year was how I could see a large mountain approaching and then within a day be on its shoulder and within another day see it fading into the haze in the distance. Being able to walk such a long distance made me feel powerful and free. It was a feeling of independence that was very profound. I did not need machines to do this. I could do it myself. It's a feeling I carry inside me now, a sense of my own strength, power and independence that feels unshakable even immersed once more in a world that tries to make you feel weak, powerless and very dependent.

We made a large arc along the crests of the mountains, dropping a thousand feet, and then regaining 1500 feet toward Butt Mountain. We stopped for a brief moment at the junction with Carter Creek trail. Cold Spring had been the last on-trail water source and the next would be 23.5 miles from Cold Spring. Carter Creek was off-trail water. Too Many Pictures and I did not need any water. The hiking had been relatively cool and easy so we had not drunk all our carried water.

Lip Service and Princess were at the trail junction. Lip Service was struggling with her foot. She feared she had a stress fracture. I offered her my mother's telephone number and my own as well. It looked like she could take Carter Creek trail to a road and possibly get a ride from a passing vehicle or maybe even from my mom if her foot was too bad to continue. She thought she ought to be able to make it to Highway 36 and didn't want to miss the half-way marker. I felt bad for her. It looked to me like her hike might be over, at least for a week or more.

Too Many Pictures and I continued on toward Butt Mountain, making the final climb. Great views were to be had of Lassen. It already looked so much closer.

We began the long 10 mile descent to the Highway. It was through forest that was unremarkable. We stopped briefly at Soldier Spring to enjoy some cold water and wash our feet. The we hurried down to the flatlands, through clear-cuts and private property to the highway.

When we reached the highway, there were three hikers hanging around at the trailhead on the other side. My mom has decided she loves the thru-hiker community and has started stocking a cooler on the trail and giving rides into town and sometimes offering her home for a place to stay. I met Anicca swinging in a hammock strung between two trees. He was a young man hitchhiking around the trail with an injured knee. He was waiting for Lip Service. They were friends or maybe more than friends and planned to spend time recovering from injuries together. I also met Melissa and Chief Daddy who already knew who I was because my mom told them I'd be coming. Chief Daddy was excited because he was carrying a strumstick and my mother had told him I also had a strumstick. I didn't have it with me, though. He wanted me to show him how to play it so I played him a tune called Folding the Sheets.

Soon my mom arrived and brought us home. Our hike was over. It had been a wonderful adventure and I was sad to see it end.

Sun, Aug 1
Anicca and Lip Service spent the night at my mom's house. They waited patiently as Too Many Pictures and I retrieved our car at Bucks Summit. We drove all the way there and parked next to our car before realizing we had forgotten the keys. We spent 6 hours retrieving our car. After we picked it up, we spent another 2.5 hours driving Anicca and Lip Service to Old Station so they could have a relaxing place to recover for a while.

While at Old Station I met Warner Springs Monty who was doing kitchen duty. We talked with Firefly for a while, then hurried home. We made a brief stop to look at Shasta from the Hat Creek Rim lookout. We saw Bones, the hiker with the Chacos, starting across the rim. Good for him for not taking a zero in Old Station. A lot of the hikers we had met were starting to feel like they needed to get moving so as to make it to Canada before the autumn snow.

Most of the hikers at Old Station seemed like they were in denial about their ability to finish. The place had been full of casts, ice packs and ace bandages. It was a resort for the wounded. One man asked if we thought he would be able to finish. I didn't want to say no. What I kept trying to tell people was to forget about what they hear about Oregon being so flat you can make up time with 30 mile days. The trail was flat right now, starting here. Make those 30 mile days starting now. And then if it looks like you might run out of time, if you think you need to skip a section of trail, skip the awful 2nd section in Washington or just save Washington for another year. People did not want to hear anything about skipping, so I tried to stress getting the miles in now.

Once we left Old Station it was good to get out of the funk of thru-hiker dreams being on the rocks and back into the joy of just being here.

The next day was Too Many Picture's birthday and we shared it with Swope and Steel-Eye at my mother's house. It was a successful birthday for Too Many Pictures. I had finally managed to make him happy.

The following day we drove home again. Now I look forward to my next section hike mid-August to complete my remaining 60 miles of High Sierra Trail.

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