7/11/17 – Mile 1597.2, Etna, CA

7/6/17 – Met a former PCT hiker at the bar last night, always nice when people know and understand what we’re up to!  Slept in a bit this morning and eventually made our way out of the hotel.  Relaxed in the park behind the health food store for a bit sipping on one of our favorite town luxuries, coffee.  Went back to Black Bear Diner again (hiker friendly and affordable, well portioned food!).  Afterwards we got a ride back to the trail from a trail angel, Tony.  We met him yesterday outside the post office, but today he was dressed different – he’s a Highway Patrol officer!  Thought we were about to get cited for loitering and instead got a ride to the trailhead in the back of a cop car.  Strangest hitch so far for sure…  Made quick work of the next ~10 miles and setup camp near Disappearing Creek at mile 1508.6.

Tons of waterfalls this section.

7/7/17 – One of the most scenic days on trail yet.  Endless mountains, waterfalls, spires, and forests.  Twenty six miles today, 6800+ ft gain, most of it at the start of the day.  Saw a ton of deer today, on trail, in our campsite… After a final push in the late afternoon we made it to the Deadfall Lakes and camped.  Mile 1534.3.

Sara cooking dinner; watching the fish.
Deadfall Lakes
A deer came up to our tent to visit here.

7/8/17 – Easier day of hiking today terrain wise.  Still tons of epic views, we hear they get even better in the Trinity Alps Wilderness coming up… Hiked in 6-7 mile pushes today with breaks in between to air out the feet – can’t wait to get our trail runners back in Etna!  After about 24 miles we camped at Scott Mountain Campground, mile 1557.8.

There were some surprisingly flat parts, surrounded by boulder fields and ridge walking.
Scott Mountain Campground. Had a few sites, but mostly a free for all.
 

7/9/17 – Another day of hiking.  Views of the Trinity Alps Wilderness occasionally stolen by Shasta.  A slightly shorter day today as we are ahead of schedule!  More food than the last segment, but starting to have coffee and omlettes on my mind.  I’m not sure why, but for me breakfast foods and coffee drive my hunger a little more than even burgers and beer.  Hiked up and down a few more times then camped on a saddle at mile 1578.6.

7/10/17 – Short day today, but quite a bit of elevation gain and loss.  About 10 miles into the day, we started seeing the smoky haze of a forest fire near Etna.  Neither of us have any experience with forest fires, so it was a bit surreal, especially as we started smelling it too.  As the wind picked up and the trail headed northeast, the smoke dissipated.  The next several miles flew by and we ended up arriving at Sawyer Bar Road, our hitch point into Etna.  Had a nice dinner with great views and a ton of people watching – Etna Summit is a busy place!  Lots of noisy high schoolers gettin’ drunk… Camped by the parking area at mile 1597.2.


7/11/17 – Today Sara and I celebrate not only one thousand (techinically a little more) miles of PCT completed together, but also two years together!  Easy hitch into town with a friendly county worker and a great breakfast at Bobs Ranch House.  The Hotel Etna was super accommodating and let us into our room before noon!  Super hiker friendly, let us do laundry there as well.  After a brief stop to the post office and a trip to the grocery store, we’ve settled into a great day off!

7/5/17 – Mile 1498.7, Mount Shasta, CA

Back to beautiful shaded woods this whole section.  Snow free, a bit warm, and a few mosquitos out now.  It’s been fun watching Mount Shasta grow closer – it takes our breath away each time we emerge from the woods and it’s there, taking up the horizon. Apparently the spirit chief Skell lives within the mountain and fought with Llao, god of the underworld.  Llao resides in Mount Mazama.  There is a lot of fascinating lore surrounding Mount Shasta…

6/30/17 – Low mile day; letting our feet heal at the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch.  Spent most of the day watching the birds and other wildlife at the pond outside our cabin.  Also plenty of time spent utilizing the cell service/wifi (and a little printer troubleshooting for the hosts).  Waited out the afternoon heat and stayed for a delicious homemade pizza and salad dinner.  Thank you Mike and Linda for knowing and providing just what hikers want!  Late evening we headed out from the ranched and walked an easy ~5 miles until we found a meadow to camp in at mile 1412.4.

Custom fireplace, welded by Mike and Linda’s friend.
 

Trail magic!

7/1/17 – Good rhythm today; around five miles of hiking followed by a half hour to hour break then repeat several times.  Nice shady woods most of the day.  While we gained several thousand feet, the grade was gradual.  A few parts of the trail were very overgrown.  Camped by Clark Spring at mile 1434.4.

Lake Britton Dam
Deer carcass.
More of Mount Shasta
Just a little overgrown around these parts…

7/2/17 – Good views, shade, and ridge walking most of the day!  Pushed 6 miles in the morning then took a break to air out the feet.  Another 7 or so miles and a lunch break.  5 or so after that, another break, then another 3 miles.  We’re both a little light on food this section, but hey at least the packs are lighter.  Camped near Gold Creek, at mile 1455.6.

Sara rolling over a blowdown.
Seemingly endless mountains and trees…

7/3/17 – Easy ~12 miles of downhill to start off the day.  Mostly shaded, too dark for sunglasses in some parts of the woods even.    A few more miles and we took a siesta.  Another push late afternoon and we stopped to camp at mile 1475.6.  We’re well ahead of schedule to get into town on the 5th, so no reason to push on.  Lots of skeeters around today; probably time for the bug nets.

Snow free ridges are the best ridges.
Sara gathering plant photos for later identification…
McCloud River


7/4/17 – Textbook trail through the woods again.  First day in a long time I haven’t worn sunglasses.  Took a break after 6.5 miles at Squaw Valley Creek, then continued on another 5.5 miles (uphill, ~2,300ft!) until taking a lunch break with a good Shasta view.  Walked another 4 or so miles then a brief break for water.  A few more miles and we camped just before I-5 at mile 1495.8.

Waterfalls, everywhere.
Some more or less textbook trail.
So hot at night now. Didn’t get below ~70.
 

7/5/17 – Easy couple miles in the morning down to I-5.  Took about an hour but got a hitch into Mount Shasta and breakfast at the Black Bear Diner.  Been fantasizing about hot breakfast and coffee for days!  Short walk to the post office, hotel, then onto the usual town activities – specifically beer, ice cream, resupply, shower, laundry.  Not quite in that order.  We’re both looking forward to a relaxing evening around town!

6/29/17, Mile 1407.2, Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, CA

6/18/17 – Back on the trail at mile 1092.3, Echo Lake.  Snow covered after about 2 miles, snow was the same slush all day.  Used Gaia GPS and Guthook to find our route.  Warmer than we expected, doesn’t seem to be dropping below freezing up here at night.  Found a couple of other thru hikers that skipped ahead as well and a section hiker.  We all camped in the snow on the banks of thawing Lake Aloha, mile 1098.4.

Echo Lake
The best path we had this section, thanks day hikers!
Sunset from Aloha Lake

6/19/17 – Started early and finished Dick’s Pass before noon.  A few feet of trail exposed here and there, but mostly snow covered.  Snow was same slush all day, didn’t seem to get much worse in the afternoon.  Compass/apps to find route, or footsteps of hikers in front of us.  Had a couple river crossings and reroutes due to flooded areas.  Camped in a nice dry patch at mile 1112.3.

Found a snow free pocket to camp in.

6/20/17 – Started the morning crossing Phipps creek – 0.3mi upstream log goes most of the way across for now.  A little exposed trail here and there around 7500′.  Crossed a few more creeks and had our first waist deep one – there’s a section ~0.3 upstream before the two creeks combine that was slower.  Met up wit Double D and Tops and hiked for the rest of the day.  Plenty of dry, flat places to camp up on Barker Pass.  Great views all around.  Mile 1124.8.

Edit

Trail starts here somewhere.

6/21/17 – Mentally and physically exhausting day today!  Started out right back into the snow making our own trail, descending steep switchbacks, avoiding tree wells and blow downs.  Caught up with DoubleD and Tops mid day. Lots of steep snow to traverse and some rock scrambling.  Around mid morning we hit some exposed trail on a ridge, nice for awhile until happened upon a snow chute covering the trail – thank you to Tops for leading and kicking in a track.  Descended pretty directly down to Five Lakes Creek – crossed where we descended, probably a mile or so downstream from the PCT – knee deep and not too fast.   Trail was expose for the next mile or so then turned back to snow as we climbed.  Found a place to camp in the snow at ~8000ft, mile 1139.1.  Hail storm rolled in as we were setting up camp!
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Not a fan of snow chutes with rocks and fatal fall potential.

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Another night on the snow. It’s actually pretty comfy!

6/22/17 – Another day filled with snow, some trail visible in clear spots.  Lots of traversing, more sketchy snow chutes, etc – micro spikes and ice axe needed for sure.  While the day wore us down, we lifted our spirits by stopping a little earlier and making a campfire at mile 1149.7.

Tinder Knob in all its glory.
Selfies have been requested.

6/23/17 – Traveresed one sketchy switchback up to Mt. Lincoln, then took the long but safer and snowless climb up to the summit/ski gondola.  The alternate was crossing the snow covered front,  very steep with runout over rock faces.  After taking a look at the trail coverage, we decided to descend the ski area via various runs down to the Judah Lodge, then road walked to Donner Pass. Amazingly, we ran into a hiker we knew from the desert being dropped off by a trail angel.  Nancy took us into Truckee and to her house, told us to make ourselves at home and welcomed us to spend the night.  I can’t get over the generosity of wonderful people like this!  Our spirits were lifted and we went out to dinner with Nancy and four other hikers staying at her place.

The safer path down.
Typically the tree wells have been 10-15ft, not like these couple foot ones pictured here.
More hazards!

6/24/17 – Zero day in Truckee, cool town!  Lots of outdoor shops, food, and things are mostly within walking distance.  Nancy has been a wonderful host and we spent the day figuring out the next couple resupplies. We’ve decided to go north again to Chester, CA, mile 1328.8.  Tired of GPS nav all day and slushy snow.  A couple hikers set off from Donner summit then bailed and returned to the house, affirming our decision.  Nancy is driving us up to Chester tomorrow and sadly we have to take another zero, until the post office opens Monday morning.   Will be nice to get back into the swing of things again hopefully.


6/25/17 – Woke up at 6 and enjoyed he scenic drive up 89 to Chester, CA.  After dropping off Mitten and The Kid at the trailhead we headed into town and got a quick bite, cheap room, and hung out by the river until the room was ready.  Pretty uneventful day, prepped a box for Old Station and rested up.

6/26/17 – Back to cruising!  After stopping by the post office we got back on trail around noon.  To our surprise we got in 20 miles before stopping.  Exposed trail makes for fast hiking.  Around mile 1345 we had our first bear encounter!  Adolescent blonde colored one on the trail about 30 yards from me.  We both started trying to scare each other off and I won.  Most importantly, neither of us shat ourselves.  After a few more miles we got to Warner Valley Camp, a beautiful managed campground.  Flat sites, fire rings, clena pit toilets, picnic tables – feeling spoiled at mile 1347.8.

Flat and snow free!
Giant pinecones, were hoping to find one bigger than Sara.
Warner Valley Camp

6/27/17 – Another easy ~20 mile day!  The trail is spoiling us with boardwalks even.  Lassen is beautiful.  We made it just about to Old Station then decided to camp early as we have to wait on packages arriving tomorrow – their PO is only open 11am – 3pm.  So a lazy morning of sleeping in then some more easy miles.  Camped by Hat Creek at mile 1367.2.

Eerie burn area.
Raging river whirlpool plus lava rock pumice stone makes for happier feet.

6/28/17 – Easy few miles in the morning into Old Station.  Very friendly lady at the post office was able to bounce the boxes we were expecting there north for us!  Walked a few more miles to JJs Cafe – delicious burger and beer shortly followed.  Checked out a lava tube cave and then got back on trail.  Got water down an epic set of switchbacks/boulder problems, then camped nearby at mile 1383.0.

Walking out of Old Station.

Lava tubes!
First views of Shasta, excited to stare at this for the next 100 or so miles!

6/29/17 – Long day of hiking – 25 miles and not much shade!  Beautiful views of Burney mountain and Shasta from Hat Creek Rim.  Took several breaks to air out our suffering feet and made it to the Burney Mountain Guest Ranch by mid evening.  Had a wonderful home cooked meal, did some laundry, and took a much needed shower.  Looking forward to jumping in their pool tomorrow!  Spending the night here at mile 1407.2.

Flora of the PCT: Desert Wildflowers Part II

We’ve finally made it 700 (702.2 to be exact) miles through the desert and could not be more excited for the snow to come!  This section of desert tends to wear on people and for good reason.  The sun and heat are relentless and there are so many miles of burn. 

As grueling as these burn areas may be, they’re are also beautiful and full of life.  It’s easy to notice the towering burned trees, not as easy to notice some of the dwarf flowers like desert calico (Loeseliastrum matthewsii) and cushion cryptantha (Cryptantha circumscissa). 

Desert calico
Cushion cryptantha

Many desert plants have trichomes, or hair on their leaves and/or stems.  Some, like desert calico and cushion cryptantha, are spiny and unfriendly to the touch. Others, like two-color phacelia (Phacelia bicolor) and creamcups (Platystemon californicus) are more wooly and soft to the touch. 

Two-color phacelia
Creamcups
While trichomes peak my tactile interest, they also serve a purpose. The hairs can restrict insect movement and herbivory on leaves. They also reduce the rate of transpiration, or water loss, by reducing the amount of air that’s able to flow across the leaf surface. 


There are over 50 species of Lupinus in Southern California which is very exciting for a lupine lover like myself. These flowers are one of the first to repopulate an area after fire and bring some much needed color to the landscape. 



One of the most exciting finds in this section was this butterfly mariposa lily (Calochortus venustus).  These flowers are endemic to California, meaning they’re native and growth is restricted to particular areas. 

Butterfly mariposa lily

The desert mariposa lily (Calochortus kennedyi) is native to California, but not endemic. They are common in the Southwestern US and come in a yellow and orange variety. See Part 1 for orange.

Desert mariposa lily
Clarkia are difficult to capture on a good day with my iPhone due to their small nature and the wind. But they’re beautiful and also uncommon so we just have to deal with the poor quality. 

Elegant clarkia

Elegant clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) and two-lobe clarkia (Clarkia biloba) can most easily be distinguished by their flower petal shape. Elegant clarkia petals are paddle shaped while two-lobe clarkia have heart shaped tips. 

Two-lobe clarkia
Very few days passed that we didn’t come across a species of Indian paintbrush (Castilleja).  In fact there are so many species of Indian paintbrush and lupine that I could spend six months trying to identify individual species. But there are miles to be made and just not enough time for that. 

This is a particularly red Indian paintbrush. I wish I could give an explanation as to why it’s so red, if anyone knows I’d love to hear! This genus of flowers are pretty incredible. Not only are they capable of growing in unforgiving landscapes, they do so with very small leaves. So how do they photsythesize and get nutrients you may ask?


Castilleja species are parasitic plants. Their roots have tubes called haustoria that absorb moisture and nutrients from other plant roots it comes in contact with. 
There are many species of Penstamon, another species that seems to be one of the first to colonize recently burned sections.

Showy penstemon
Showy penstemon of a pink variety
 

This wishbone bush (Mirabilis laevis) is in the same genus and Colorado 4 o’clock identified in Part 1.  They are a wonderful pop of color in areas dominated by Joshua trees and sagebrush.

Wishbone bush

In our time out here I’ve only spotted this single red-rayed alpinegold (Hulsea heterochroma).

Red-rayed alpinegold

Scale bud (Anisocoma acaulis) is very common in the Southern California desert. It also happens to be the only known/identified species of its genus. 

Scale bud

This mountain beebalm (Monardella odoratissma) became more common as we approached Kennedy Meadows. 
Mountain beebalm
This flower has a wonderful smell and like all other members of the mint family, has a square stem. 

And last, but certainly not least beautiful, is this speckled fairyfan (Clarkia cylindrica). 

Speckled fairyfan

Day 5 – Mile 77.3, Julian, CA

We’ve made it to Julian, CA after a solid 5 days.  Starting with a ~15 mile/day pace seems to work well – as does hiking from about 6:30-13:00ish.  It’s amazing how easy it is to switch into the natural circadian cycle with the sun.  I’ve jotted down a few notes and pictures from each day below…

Day 1 – camped at mile 15.4, Hauser Creek.  About 25 people at the site, mostly European/Australian with some Scandanavians as well.  Everyone uses the metric system, with good reason, guess I’ll have to start thinking in Celsius.  Saw a rosy boa (?) and a couple horned lizards, but no rattle snakes yet.


Day 2 – camped at mile 32, Fred Canyon.  Started the day with a huge climb out of Hauser Canyon, brutal.  Shit is getting real, we are getting into the swing of the backpacking routine, it’s been awhile for all of us.  Tons of herpatiles and flowers though – all photos of em by Sara of course.


Day 3 – camped at mile 47.8, exposed site with 60-70mph wind gusts, as best as we could find without side tracking to a campground.  Didn’t expect to deal with that much wind, but not surprising at ~6000ft.  Good test of how well I can setup the ZPacks Duplex in the wind – it withheld the whole night with the exception of one stake – probably due to the rock I placed over it being a tad too small.  I managed to fix it without leaving the tent at least.


Day 4 – camped at mile 63.8, in a valley, mostly protected from the wind, after a 1000ft decent.  Windy day of hiking after not much sleep, but slept great tonight.

Nothing like filtering water from an algae filled trickle across a two track.

Day 5 – mile 77.3, Julian, CA.  We got a hotel after a ~13 mile day – it was either that or hitch back out of town and sleep under the bridge.  Not a bad option, but the shower and food was welcome after several miles of hiking in full sun.  Visited Carmens for a burger and free beer then Mom’s for a free slice of pie and ice cream.  Hiker friendly town.

Carmen’s…great burgers!
Hotel room clothesline.
 

It’s been challenging, simple, and beautiful everyday so far.  Hoping that continues, along with my lack of blisters.