PCT The Sierra – Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows to Independence Sunday 20th September We spent a rest day down in Yosemite valley with Gordon and Eric. The valley, although extraordinarily beautiful, does suffer a bit from extreme tourist crowding and we were lucky to find a campsite in a quiet hiker-only area by using our PCT permit we had obtained at the start of the trip. Martina and I had visited Yosemite on a rock climbing trip two years earlier and, creaking our necks gaping upwards at the granite walls, we vowed to return again!

Next day Gordon drove us back round to the trail at Tuolumne Meadows and we parted there with he and Eric to continue our hike (Eric was to take part in a uphill running race from Lee Vining to the Tioga Pass). We met up with Ron Vaughn and Hikin Mike here – Mike had just sold his car to Ron who was going to use it to return home after the trail. Given the slightly dilapidated state of the car we doubted whether it would get Ron very far at all but both seemed happy with the deal!

On Tuesday 22nd September We hiked south with Hikin Mike from Tuolumne Meadows up Lyell Canyon with its lovely tumbling river and spacious views. Martina and I had good memories of chilling out here after a rock climb two years ago but our minds were set on more strenuous things.  We were both certainly lean and fit now (‘as a butchers dog’ as the saying goes) in our sixth month of the journey but this was offset by the fact that we were pretty fatigued and sore from so much constant hiking and load carrying- our bodies were craving for a long rest.

Wild mountain scenery was the next best thing to a rest- and the area of Donahue Pass with its snowy bowls, rocky tops and distant high mountains- gave us a spring to our step. Over Island Pass and its superb views to Mt Ritter, Banner and Thousand Island Lake we dropped down to stunning Garnet Lake feeling like we were immersed in the Sierra Nevada mountains already.

We passed by the Minarets mountain area the next day- home to lots of great rock climbing- and were stopped by a female ranger out hiking who asked us for our park permits. This was the first time we had been asked in our whole trip and, as we had convinced Mike that he wouldn’t need one, we had to do some serious persuading with the ranger to let Mike off. Hiked past Devil’s Postpile Monument- a basalt columned rock structure which was impressive but a bit like our Island of Staffa off the coast of Scotland but not as spectacular!

After a cold camp that night we ascended up to Silver Pass at 10,900 feet with some hail on top to greet us so we descended quickly to camp down at Pocket Meadow. It hailed heavily that night and we had to get out our sleeping bags in the dark to move the tent as a large puddle had gathered underneath us.

Our aim from there was to hike to Vermillion Lake and take a boat ride to the resort at the far side of the lake. Our only problem being that we didn’t know when the boat ran so we got up at 6am and hiked down to the steaming, frosty lake edge, cooked breakfast with some hot mugs of tea and waited. Luckily, the boat arrived at 9.45am disgorging other PCT hikers El Nino and the Nike Girls along with a lama! After a chat we had a lovely 4 mile trip across the lake to the lodge – only to meet our PCT friend Brian Sweet last seen in Washington state. He had finished the trail ahead of us and had got a job as a waiter at the lodge until the end of the season. It seemed that the other hikers had been told to keep it a surprise for us that he was here!

We rented a caravan as cold, snowy weather set in and had lots of good food, borrowing a tape player and generally having a ball. It stayed wet and cold the next day so we got a lift down to local Mono Hot Springs with Scott and Rebecca for a refreshing dip.

We reluctantly left the restful lodge on the boat the next day, hiking on fresh snow in more lovely country all the way up to pitch the tent with hats and gloves near Seldon Pass. Our tactic in the morning was to get up and hike quickly in the freezing cold until we were hit by the sun, at which point we stopped and had breakfast. Evolution Valley was wonderful with its waterfalls, lakes, mountains and clear, clear autumnal air- the Sierra were well named ‘The Range of Light’ by John Muir the Scottish born naturalist and “Father of the American Natural Parks”.

Although the weather was certainly crisp and cold, we did have the great advantage that this normally popular hiking area was now virtually empty as this was considered post season to most. As for us, we were having one of the best days of our entire hike out there. I picked up some dead wood for a fire and filled up with water as our aim was to stay in the Muir Hut at the top of 11,955 foot Muir Pass (John Muir made a big impact here!). This is a remote stone shelter or ‘bothy’ as it would be called in Scotland. We made it there in a tired state at 6.30pm with temperatures well below freezing but it was a welcome sight.

Our fire wasn’t a total success as I just succeeded in smoking out the shelter – so we reluctantly had to put the fire out and, as it was so cold, we opted to pitch the tent inside the hut for extra warmth. A lively mouse tried to get in the tent by jumping up the tent door through the night- we named it ‘Murdo the Mouse’ and wondered how it would survive the winter up here.

Thunderstorms and heavy snow fall greeted us in the morning and we settled in the hut to wait for a clearing in the weather. Our few foray’s out during the day did not look good as we must have had about 18 inches of new snow fall and by about 3pm we concluded we would stay another night as at least we had a solid, if cold, shelter here. For a diversion Martina busied herself by sculpting a snow-bear and we cooked our way through a fair bit of food and stove fuel to keep ourselves warm.

Thankfully the next morning was cold but gloriously sunny with the fresh powder snow glinting in the light. Our descent down past Helen Lake and lots of other smaller tarns in pure snow was another highlight of the trail for us. As the trail dropped down to around 8,000 feet the snow cleared and we could tread on dry ground again. We stopped at a ranger station ‘Le Conte’ where the ranger was packing up to leave for the end of the summer season. He told us another storm was due in three days and we made our mind up to hike out to the town of Independence at Kearsarge Pass in another 40 miles where we could pick up extra supplies and sit out the storm for a day.

Another bitterly cold camp at Lower Palisade Lake around 10,600 feet that night and the next day involved crossing two high cols at Mather Pass and Pinchot Pass passing beautiful blue green, boulder dotted lakes. The crisp crunch of snow underneath our boots was constant until we dropped down low to camp at Woods Creek settled in a canyon at 8,500 feet. More stunning scenery followed as we ascended rocky Glen Pass in snow and split from the PCT trail to hike 9 miles out to the road end over Kearsarge Pass. Although this diversion was a long way off the trail it provided delightful scenery to match any on the main trail itself and we had a great time that day.

With a two hour dash down the path we made it to the trailhead around 4pm, however despite our good efforts, it took an hour to get a ride into the nearest small town of Independence where we settled down for a wash and some food in a hotel.

Next- Our final stage out to Walker Pass …………….. 

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PCT The Sierra – Echo Lake

Echo Lake to Tuolumne Meadows Sunday 13th September Our next section of the hike at 155 miles to Tuolumne Meadows was to be one of the longest between resupplies and, with the reputation of consisting of lots of steep climbs, we made sure we had plenty of food for fuel to keep us going for the estimated seven days hike. Sam, the owner of the Sunset Lodge where we stayed kindly gave us a lift from South Lake Tahoe back up to the trail at Echo Lake. Here we left a note for Hikin Mike as we hoped to meet up with him along the trail.

We sped off southwards from Echo Lake a bit late at 11am over rolling hills and granite outcrops to camp with an excellent sunset at Frog Lake.

We hiked 17 miles that day and were aware we would have to average a bit more than 20 miles per day for the next 6 days to meet Eric and Gordon as agreed at Tuolumne Meadows.

Next day we were delighted to talk to a northbound PCT hiker, Alison, who we had last seen way back in Wrightwood in Southern California. Then she had been with her partner Richard who had since stopped hiking and Alison was continuing on solo.

We met up with Hikin Mike near Eagle Creek and enjoyed an excellent and varied day hiking south at and above the tree line with stunted cedars, fine mountains and sparkly lakes to be seen.

Mike left us at Sonora road pass to attend a wedding, after which we climbed up on to the ridge crest where we collected some ‘grainy’ water from a snow patch right on the ridge. We enjoyed some sublime hiking here along volcanic ridges with panoramic views.

Our hiking rate was increasing again and we managed 26 miles the next day to put us back on target for our Tuolumne Meadows rendezvous. At Dorothy Lake we met some rangers on horseback out looking for an escapee horse that had been lost by a tourist! Unfortunately we couldn’t help them. The route crossed a few deep canyon like valleys giving us lots of ascent and descent but the sweeps of granite slabs and walls and the wilderness feel made up for it easily.

Brian frazzled after a long hot day!

Our hiking was going well in this scenic area and with 10 miles to Tuolumne we were pleased to see the familiar figure of Eric hiking out to greet us. Gordon appeared as well at the waterfalls of Glen Aulin – his tendon had recovered well and sufficient to be able to hike out for a 14 mile round trip to here. After a cool dip in the pool below the waterfall we made the final seven miles to the road at Tuolumne Meadows in style and the four of us had a celebratory huge Mexican meal in the nearby town of Lee Vining that evening.

Next, we join with the John Muir Trail past Yosemite National Park…..

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PCT The Sierra – Beldon

Beldon to Echo Lake Wednesday 9th September As it was raining we had an early breakfast with Eric and Gordon in Truckee near Lake Tahoe. We then drove up Highway 80 to Donner Pass where we left the hire car and the four of us set out south on the PCT towards our next stop at Echo Lake.

L-R Gordon, Eric, Martina, Brian at Donner Pass

It seemed strange to be hiking with friends from home again. Martina and I had got into some sort of rhythm over the past few months and had probably developed a pretty fair level of hiking fitness. It would be difficult for the otherwise super-fit Eric and Gordon to step off the plane and expect to put in the long miles carrying backpacks.

Our route took us along a viewful volcanic ridge to an alpine hut where we stopped for some lunch. The weather was a touch colder that day and some rain turned to hailstones as we ascended up to Five Lakes area to camp, half a mile off the trail. At 20.5 miles hiking it was a long day for the PCT newcomers!

Stopping of at the Sierra Club Hut

That night the temperature dipped dramatically and we woke to a lining of ice on the inside of the tent outer. So it was a slow start that morning as we all thawed out before zigzagging back onto the trail. Gordon was suffering from a tendon injury and, when we crossed a small road about midday, made a decision to take a lift out from a fellow hiker we met on the trail. The remaining three of us carried on up to Richardson Lake and stopped after 17.5 miles at a pleasant spot by the lake.

Eric surprised us by going for a pre breakfast dip in the cold lake before we set off to cross into the splendidly named Desolation Wilderness. The scenery improved here to one of crystal clear lakes etched out into a bare granite mountain-scape. Dick’s Pass at 9,400ft gave great views north and south across the region and our descent into a lake filled valley provided marvellous hiking.

Next day we had 8 miles to walk in more lovely lake filled country before we reached Echo Lake resort and our next resupply. Gordon met us there after he had managed to pick up the hire car and we all travelled down to the town of South Lake Tahoe for some lunch and food shopping. Eric and Gordon headed off to visit Yosemite with an arrangement to meet us in seven days after we have hiked 150 miles to our next stop at Tuolumne Meadows.

Next into the Sierra mountains with the 150 miles from Echo Lake to Tuolumne Meadows….

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PCT The Sierra – Introduction

Central California Donner Pass to Walker Pass 505 miles

The Pacific Crest Trail in Central California is in many respects the finest part of the trail. Most of its length consists of stunning high granite mountains with many lakes and a remote feel being far above and away from urban California. Its main feature is the Sierra Nevada mountain range running roughly north-south and the PCT joins up with another more famous and popular path here for about 130 miles – The John Muir Trail. During this stretch the hike traverses spectacular high alpine mountains up to 13,000 feet and passes beneath the highest point in the contiguous US, Mt Whitney.

South of Mt Whitney the trail slowly drops down to more arid high terrain, past the outpost at Kennedy Meadows and on to our finish point on Highway 178 at Walker Pass. This is the location where we had walked north to from Mexico for the first 650 miles of our journey and would mark the end of our hike.

We decided whilst in Beldon to start this section at Donner Pass, 130 miles to the south and skip these miles unfortunately. This meant that we would be able to hike a more attractive section with Gordon and Eric and would give us a better chance of reaching Walker Pass, 505 hiking miles away before winter snows set in. It also gives us an excuse if its needed to return for these 130 miles!

Next from Donner Pass through Desolation Wilderness to Echo Lake……

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PCT Northern California – Burney Falls

Burney Falls to Beldon 31st August Our next section of the hike took us southward round Hat Creek Rim, one of the hottest, driest parts of the PCT. The 134 miles to Beldon included a 30 mile section without water, so we gratefully accepted park warden Shirley’s offer to drive out to a lookout on Hat Creek Rim and deposit a container of water, splitting the waterless stretch up into more palatable shorter hikes.

On 1st September we set out early from Burney Falls with Sideshow via the park entrance nearby where Shirley worked. She presented us with ‘Campground Host’ baseball caps which I proudly donned for the next part of the hike! The heat increased quickly in the morning and we made it to our first water source for lunch at Rock Creek after 12 miles. We were all so hot that we agreed to have a siesta under a riverside tree until about 4pm when we hoped it would have cooled sufficiently for hiking on uphill onto Hat Creek Rim.

Not surprisingly it was still stiflingly hot at 4pm but we headed off anyway with thoughts of a cool evening ahead. Sideshow hiked on ahead and we eventually made it up onto the rim around 7pm and stopped for an evening meal. A cooked dinner would be too hot so we had our breakfast muesli with dried milk instead. When a bright moon appeared and the temperature dropped, we felt things were going our way at last, following a beautiful moon dappled route along the escarpment rim- although we did have to keep a good look out in case we stepped on rattlesnakes. We met Sideshow around 9pm – coming northwards- in the wrong direction! I think he had lost the trail at some point and was trying to locate it again. We camped soon after by a small cow polluted pond, 2 miles short of our water cache.

We hiked onto our water in the morning and had breakfast with the refreshingly cool water. The rest of the day was hot, but not as bad as yesterday as we descended down to a cluster houses at Old Station. Our route led on into Lassen Volcanic National Park, an active volcanic area with thermal springs, geysers and hot pools.

We managed a swim at Feather Lake in the park and enjoyed the variety of scenery hereabouts. We met a couple on a short trail to hot springs from nearby Drakesbad Lodge and they invited us back for a lunch at the lodge – an offer we couldn’t resist. We dived into a huge buffet salad followed by cheesecake and felt energised for the afternoon- the owner also gave us fresh fruit and cookies- maybe we looked undernourished!

In the afternoon we were entertained by more hot springs, bubbling pools, Sulphur smelling ponds and geysers along the route. Our evening was livened up by a huge thunderstorm. We dived for cover with our tent outer draped over us as a lightning bolt crashed maybe only 100 meters away. As we sat under the tent sheet hearing the rain drumming against our shelter, we both began to regret sending our waterproof jackets away in our resupply box to save weight. After an hour like this we thought it best to get off the broad ridge we were on and we dashed ahead to Stover Campsite in the dark around 9.30pm. An interesting day!

Storm brewing

Some uneventful hiking days passed by – except us finding a can of beer by a river that we later found out that Sundog had left behind.

On the 6th September, Labour Day weekend, we heard the sound of gunshots in the woods and were immediately wary.  We had already seen some 4WD vehicles crammed with camouflaged hunters roaming through the forest and had wished the deer good luck. We headed on warily and soon passed by some guys with rifles shooting at a tree with a box of beer bottles beside their vehicle. We scuttled on as fast as we could. It was difficult for us to comprehend the open gun laws in the US that seem to allow anyone to own a gun and shoot up the woods.

Rare shot of the two of us hiking

Our trail descended into Chips Creek valley system and we failed to notice a sign indicating a diversion due to landslides taking out the trail lower down. By the time we noticed our mistake we decided just to keep going along the original trail and take our chances with the landslides.

We hit two huge landslides into Chips Creek which caused some missed heartbeats as we slithered across steep mud slopes with semi-cemented rocks which mostly came loose when we pulled on them. We heaved a sigh of relief once we made it across and settled down to camp that night at Williams Cabin feeling grubby, dirty and sweaty.

That night I calculated that we had now hiked 2,000 miles– but that still meant 641 miles to go in the fading summer and into autumn. However, closer to hand, we were looking forward to meeting Eric and Gordon from Scotland next day at the small store of Beldon, 6 miles away.

It was an easy downhill stretch to Beldon and we ambled into town around 10.15am to see Eric, Gordon and fellow hiker Sundog. It was great to see them but we had hoped to get a clean up before they saw us – as we were slightly grotty!

Next Central California and The Sierra mountains, our last section ……..

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PCT Northern California – Etna

Etna to Castella 23rd August After a lovely breakfast and a refreshing stay in Etna we hopped into our pre arranged lift in a pick up truck  back to the trail.

At the pass we met two north bounders with their hiking dog and exchanged tales of the hike. We all enjoyed listening to other hikers experiences and we could also glean information from north bound hikers on the conditions ahead for us. We joined up with Svein and Ron for the day and the four of us continued our chat as we hiked along sub alpine terrain to camp at twilight after 21 miles.

On the next day we split up again as Ron headed off early from camp and we followed on meandering through trees and meadows with distant views out to the volcanic cone of Mt Shasta.

It was here that we met Dave and Gretchen who were spending the whole summer up in the mountains with their horses and had done so for the previous 5 years. Although they were ‘roughing it’ in the wilds, Dave was keen on electronics and enthusiastically showed us his gadgets including  TV, radio, laptop and even a fan to cool his chickens – all powered by batteries charged by solar panels! A local trail maintenance crew joined us as we chatted in the trees next to the grazing horses in a meadow. Dave and Gretchen were a wonderful example of how people can live away from the dependence of a ‘9 to 5’ job out here in the US and we took our hats off to them.

We reluctantly dragged ourselves away to hike on south past Scott Mountain road pass and up to camp beside a natural spring. The PCT took us through the Trinity Alps here, however we managed a wee short cut on the Trinity River Trail as the PCT swept in a huge arc round the river valley whist we dropped straight down and climbed back up on trail-less terrain to rejoin the PCT. Some pitcher plants were growing on a marshy meadow next to a spring here- this is a carnivorous plant that feeds on insects by trapping them in a sticky nectar.

Pitcher plant

Our camp that evening on the 25th August was at beautiful Porcupine Lake high up at 7,200 feet in the Trinity alps and nestled under steep hills. The water was cold so we managed only a short but worthwhile dip before cooking dinner by the lakeshore. That evening as it was getting dark, two people came rowing across the lake to us – on a log! They brought kind offerings of popcorn and it turned out they lived nearby in Shasta City and visited the lake frequently. I marveled at their ability to steer and row the log without falling-in in the dark!

We dropped down past scenic Castle Crags to tiny Castella- a garage, store and post office with a nearby campsite. To our delight it had a section marked ‘Reserved for PCT hikers’ .

Next from Castella to Burney Falls through the dreaded Section ‘O’.

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PCT North California – Oregon Border

Oregon border to Etna Our way led south from the Oregon border sign post on 17th August along broad ridges through vibrant flower meadows with our main obstacle being limited water sources. We saw very few other walkers in this area but met a fellow European PCT hiker called Svein at ‘Cook and Green Pass’. Svein was from Norway and we kind-of hit off as our sense of humour matched as we all had a bit of rant about how weird but also wonderful the people are here compared to Europe.

From a ridge top past hot Kangaroo Mountain at near 6,000 feet we looked down at a long, long descent into the Klamath river valley at 1,400 feet where we knew there was a cafe, grocery store and a post office, hopefully holding our resupply box. My feet hurt horribly on this descent, I think from the heat and building humidity but mostly from the general continual pounding of going downhill.

Our hiking feet- we owed them a lot. Don’t look closer if you are squeamish!

We stumbled into Seiad on the evening of 19th August and found the staff friendly in the small store where we had a huge evening meal with Svein and also Sideshow who turned up. The milk shakes and pancakes at the store were something else and Seiad store holds a pancake challenge where I think six of their HUGE pancakes have to be eaten in one go. Of course this gauntlet must have been taken up by most long distance hikers passing through but I am afraid to say that Martina and I only made it through one and a half pancakes each. Quite a feeble effort really. We later heard that Josh, a northbound PCT hiker, had completed the challenge, but only after semi starving himself on the days before arriving at Seiad!

Our start the next morning was a bit slow after another large breakfast at the café and sorting food to do us to our next stop at Etna. The post office held a ‘hiker box’ which contained food and bits of equipment that hikers had left behind. Since our resupply parcel hadn’t arrived we were able to scrounge our way through the ‘hiker box’ and, after swapping a pancake for some dehydrated meals with Ron, were able to make up our supplies. The ‘hiker boxes’ became a major source of supply for some as food was often left by hikers who had dropped away from the trail or their tastes had changed and they couldn’t stand the food they had faithfully packaged in the spring before setting out.

We dragged ourselves away around noon with Buzz, a local teenager in tow, who managed to show us a shortcut across the valley saving half a mile of road walking. The next stretch involved a long gradual climb of nearly 6,000 feet up into the Marble Mountains and the promise of some more dramatic glaciated scenery to look forward to.

At our second camp at Cold Springs we noticed a slight mistake with our food. What we thought was a pasta sauce packet which we duly cooked  with our pasta, turned out to be orange drink mix. It was a tribute to our hunger that we still managed to eat the results! So much for our scavenged food from the ‘hiker box’.

The scenery was splendid, bright and open without being overly dramatic and reminded me of the Pyrenees in France/Spain. Sixty miles south of Seiad Valley we hit the Etna road on 22nd August travelling over a high pass and we decided to hitch down into town for the night as we had heard good stories about Etna.

We waited for a while at the pass with very few cars passing until one eventually stopped for us. It was only once we were in that we both realised that the Native American driver and his white pal were both high on a mix of beer and drugs. The journey downhill via steep hairpin bends was a nightmare as we swayed across the road and hurtled around each bend. We finally staggered out the car feeling happy to be alive into Etna and vowing to check the driver next time before we excepted a lift. I suppose we had been extremely fortunate up until then and had always had helpful people offering us lifts who usually went out of their way to help us out. Maybe this, added to the fact that we were tired and just wanted to get into town had made us a bit complacent on this occasion.

We liked Etna, it was small, old fashioned with big white-painted wooden houses and none of the usual chain stores like McDonalds and Taco-Bell to be seen. The Alderbrook B&B was delightful and we had a clean up then headed into town for a big supper. Martina had two large fruit pies – so her appetite had now officially returned! On departing the diner we met Ron and Svein and we all agreed to pay $5 each for a lift back up to the road pass the next morning.

Next up in Northern California ……..from Etna to Castella

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PCT North California – Introduction

Northern California Oregon border to Belden 410 miles

“I’d like to rest my heavy head tonight on a bed of California stars

I’d like to lay my weary bones tonight on a bed of California stars”

Woody Guthrie

Introduction From the Oregon border in the north, the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern California follows a wide sweep eastwards to connect with the Sierra Nevada mountain mass to the south. There is a great deal of variety in this region; from live volcanic activity in the shape of steam vents and hot pools around Mt Lassen and the dominating snow covered cone Mt Shasta to the more rugged Trinity Alps with the metamorphic Marble Mountain. Forest covers much of the lower terrain but the trail takes in some extremely arid semi desert areas as well such as Hat Creek Rim near the resort of Burney Falls.

Towns passed through tend to be small country stores and lodges as the trail avoids any larger urban areas. Seiad Valley, the first stop south of the border lies deep in the trench of the Klamath river, 5,000 feet below the ridge crest of the PCT.

We would be hiking this area in mid to late August and the hot daytime temperatures would be our biggest danger even higher up in the mountains. Despite having various aches and pains, our condition was fairly good by now – having already hiked around 1,500 miles in all kinds of terrain and Martina thankfully seemed to have recovered from her prolonged bout of Giardia. Our slight concern at the back of our minds as we left the Oregon border on the 17th August was that our summer was beginning to draw to a close and we still had around 1,000 miles to go, with the final section over the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountains on the Pacific Crest Trail and the ones most likely to attract autumnal snow. Anyway, we just kept on hiking and waited to see what weather we would encounter.

Our guidebook split the PCT into alphabetical sections and it was the name ‘Section O’ between Castella and Burney Falls that was much talked about amongst hikers as being the worst section of path on the whole trail. Indeed we first heard about the infamous ‘Section O’ back in northern Oregon. This area was still being actively logged and the trail disappears for miles on end under a tangled mesh of fallen trees and bulldozed dirt tracks.

(Note: I understand that the trail has been upgraded substantially in this area since we were there in 1998).

We had not heard much other information about the area so we were to hike into fairly unknown country for us…….

Keep hiking in northern California from the Oregon border to Seiad Valley………

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PCT Oregon – Crater Lake

9th August Sunday Crater Lake  From our great campsite on the crater rim we sauntered down to the rim cafe for breakfast then descended through forest to the post office only to find that it was closed on Sundays. As we were due to pick up our resupply box we would have to wait until tomorrow.

The campsite was down the road so we set off to pitch our tent and enjoyed inactivity for the rest of the day. Chatted to Rebecca and four female hikers dubbed ‘The Nike Girls’ as they were bedecked in sports lycra clothing. They were thru-hiking south with the help of a parent with a support vehicle which gave us a lift back up to the village for some supplies.

Crater Lake camp L-R Martina, Scott, Sundog, Rebecca

After collecting our packages the next day and reading our mail we hiked south at 12 noon with heavy packs in hot weather. We walked on until 8.30pm through more lodgepole pine forest spotting some elk along the way and passed Rebecca and Scott bivvying beside the path (they were hiking ‘ultralight’ and were using a tarp sheet instead of a tent to save weight).

Discovering the possibility of more swimming potential, we took the Sky Lakes trail for the next few miles descending down to sparkling Margurette Lake for a swim before regaining the PCT. This area was ‘lake heaven’ as the terrain was dotted with lakes much to our glee and we camped between Island and Dee lakes just off the trail. The water in these high lakes still felt cold and there was some magical quality about immersing our overheated bodies into the waters. It seemed like it could revitalise us and add strength to our hiking limbs!

Map of Sky Lakes with its lake dotted landscape

Martina was up and active the next morning at 6am cooking breakfast. I followed groggily in the dark and put my feet into my boots to go to the toilet. I hit something distinctly soft and squidgy and let out a yelp! When I looked at my boot there was a big ‘Western Toad’ sitting inside that had found a lovely dark warm home for the night. I jumped back and Martina had to empty it out for me as I was a bit squeamish. The toad didn’t seem too bothered by its ordeal and leapt off into the woods.

Our hike continued round the east flank of another volcanic mountain, Mt McLoughlin. Unfortunately the trail stayed in the trees most of the way past the hill and we didn’t see too much of it. The heat was almost unbearable that day- not helped by the red lava rock that we hiked over which seemed to intensify the suns rays. It was probably the hottest day of our hike and we visibly wilted in the heat. Our lunch stop was by a gurgling stream near a road crossing of Hw 140 which we made use of to cool down a little. In the afternoon we struggled on to gain 10 miles over more lava slopes in stifling heat. Martina was delighted to find a diversion picking berries alongside the trail which now were ripening perfectly. Our bed for that night was in a small wooden shelter with its own water pump.

We left at 6.15am the next morning and by 7am it was already getting hot as we climbed the slopes of Baldy Mountain. We passed lots of variety of trees which was nice to see- Douglas Fir, Sugar Pine, Cedar, Ponderosa Pine and others which we couldn’t identify! At a road crossing near here we were startled as we emerged from the forest by huge trucks coming trundling by at speed.

We reached Hyatt Lake that afternoon where we had sent a resupply box. Unfortunately it hadn’t arrived so we decided to hike on the next day and go into the town of Ashland nearby and try and intercept the parcel there. An interesting meeting for us was with a hiker called Jonathan Breen who had hiked northbound all the way through the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains that we retreated from in early June- our first northbounder encounter!

Next day after a bit of hiking we hitched into the town of Ashland. The guy who gave us a lift is planning a golf trip to Scotland this year so we had plenty to chat about. Ashland is small, touristy, expensive – and we loved it! It has an annual Shakespeare Festival which was running when we arrived and the town felt bustling and alive.

Since it was Sunday 16th August we waited in Ashland for our parcel to arrive on Monday. It was no hardship and Martina in particular enjoyed the cosmopolitan feel of the place.

We managed to deal with our parcels on Monday and were able to hitch out back to the trail without too much difficulty with a young girl driving her fathers Range Rover – I guess we must have looked trustworthy!

Our next few days were on open rolling ridge lands with plenty of flowers to keep our interest as well as views south to the Trinity Alps – our next major mountain range in California. About thirty miles south of Ashland we came across a PCT California border post – we had made it back to California. A hiker trail book was attached to the post and we had an interesting time reading the comments of hikers we knew who had already passed this way. Marathon Man was heading south at speed but Brian Sweet, our fellow hiker on many occasions, seemed to be having difficulty hiking alone and his entry sounded a bit down. When hiking a trail of this length every one of us had their ups and downs (ours mostly when we were ill, or it was too hot or there were too many trees and no views!) but it was more difficult I think for Brian hiking alone as the days through trees can seem very lonely indeed.

Anyway, we were in good spirit, it was 17th August and we were in our final US state with only a mere 1,050 miles to go !

Next Northern California………

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PCT Oregon – Cascade Summit

5th August Cascade Summit Resort We arrived here mid morning and, picked up our resupply box, showered, pitched our tent nearby and started some ‘serial snacking’. A few other hikers turned up and there was a nice laid back atmosphere as Sideshow got his guitar out and the rest of us dozed or chatted away in the shade of a tree beside the wooden veranda of the shop front. The ‘A team’ with dogs, Sideshow, Mensa were there and two hikers we hadn’t met before- Scott Williamson (aka Let it Be) and  Rebecca. Scott, amazingly enough, was on his 4th PCT and has completed the other long distance trails the CDT and AT. He was seemingly in training for a double ‘there and back’ PCT hike the next year. Martina organised everyone to chip in for a local pizza delivery to the campsite that evening to end a lovely restful day.

Our chosen route out of Cascade Summit was on the Skyline Trail which followed Trapper Creek upstream to Diamond View Lake. Strangely enough, the PCT rarely followed rivers, tending to traverse round hillsides and keep to higher ground, so it was an unusual pleasure for us to follow this variant trail.

Diamond View Lake and Diamond Peak

We moved into a dry forested region of lodgepole pine which was one of our least favourite environments. The trees formed a bit of a monoculture and didn’t provide enough shade from the sun for us. To add to that, the ground was now very dry and dusty and we found that  the person in front kicked up a huge cloud of dust as they hiked such that we ended up hiking 100m or so apart. For us it was the ‘Oregon Desert’.

Martina hiking through Lodgepole Pine in Oregon

We had a new plan today to add a bit of variety to our hike. Instead of camping mid evening, cooking dinner and sleeping, we thought we would stop around 6pm and cook/eat dinner for an hour beside the trail then move off and get a few extra hours hiking done in the cool of the late evening and into the night. This plan was helped by the fact that there was a full moon at the time and might mean that we could cover more miles in the day.

As it turned out, cloud moved in around 8.30pm so that we were walking in the semi-dark but we still made it to Tolo Camp with more than 28 miles hiked.

We needed to descend off trail to pick up stream water the next day as we had a 16 mile waterless stretch to a creek at the foot of Mt Thielsen. Our route took us along pleasant tree covered ridge tops before we arrived at the creek at 3.30pm where we both promptly fell asleep after making and eating an instant cheesecake. Perhaps our tactics of hiking so long yesterday were not so good after all! Wisely deciding to listen to our bodies we set up camp in this lovely spot below Mt Thielsen. Another hiker, Sundog, arrived later on- Sundog is a pharmacist in Arizona (when he is not hiking) and told us about excellent hiking down there where there are cliffside Indian dwellings and carvings.

8th August We knew we had 26 miles to go to our next planned stop at Crater Lake village so we rose early and hauled lots of water for this hot dry stretch. At about 4pm and after 20 miles we reached a busy tourist road lookout over Crater Lake itself. And what an impressive sight it was. A deep turquoise blue colour lake, seven miles in diameter and formed around 7,700 years ago when volcano Mt Mazama blew up and then collapsed in on itself. After a few days hiking ourselves in the forest we observed some intriguing tourist activity here- one RV trundled up to the viewpoint, the driver wound down his window and started shooting a movie of the scene whilst the rest of the family didn’t even look up as they delved into their takeaway burgers. A few minutes later they drove off- I presume they had ‘done’ one of the natural wonders of North America!

It was easy to leave this scene and hike for 5 minutes on the rim trail round the edge of the caldera to stop on our own for lunch. It didn’t seem that many people left their cars or RV’s here on foot, so it was quiet.

An enjoyable 6 mile hike round the rim of Crater Lake took us to the rim village where we met Sundog again and indulged in a $10 buffet dinner. We decided it would be nice to camp on the crater rim itself rather than in the forest so we walked a mile back up the trail and discreetly set up our tent at sunset ( camping is not actually allowed here). We were rewarded with a beautiful sunset and then with the reflection of the moon on the lake’s surface.

Next from Crater Lake to California!

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