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PCT section L: Paradise Lake to Sierra City

Think this might be the shortest and possibly the easiest section on the entire 2663-mile PCT. That’s based on a personal knowledge of two-thirds of the trail in California. That’s all I know, admittedly, with some reading and searching, for instance such as Jeffrey Schaffer’s venerable and helpful set of guides on Wilderness Press.

Still. Turns out the section is but 38 miles long — something a experienced thruhiker can possibly do on a very good day or a day and a half, with fitness and luck. So says Schaffer and I agree (Birdman above was on that kind of schedule, having spent the night at the Sierra Club’s Peter Grubb hut, just five miles from Donner Pass).

Plus, it finishes in Sierra City, an altitude of about 5400 feet, well below the trail at the starting point of the section, at Donner Pass, which is about 7200. And the trail flows up from there to a high ridge of about 8,000 feet, following the crest as much as best as possible across the fields of so-called mules ears flowering out in the bright sunshine. Intoxicating with their beauty.



Of course a true thruhiker will not deviate from the trail without a fight, but nonetheless a night at Paradise Lake about a mile or a mile and a half down Paradise Valle, proved hard to resist. Would have been great stay — and it’s super popular — except the mosquitoes were pretty fierce.

Why in the world, may I ask, have we no measure whatsoever of the mosquito menace? Drives me crazy. We have indexes for everything else, from solar radiation to flower displays — why not mosquitoes? Something we could do towards solving a problem.

But still Paradise Lake lived up to its moniker — would like to see this lake on a chilly morning before the pests hatch out, maybe in June, with a warm sun but some snow still too. Has such a quiet beauty. .



That’ll give you some idea of the first day or two methinks — that and a mention of the fact that (at least around July 4th) this area is absolutely thronged with people. It’s still gorgeous, and it’s easy to find privacy, but know that you won’t be “alone alone” as we say today.

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Thinking about wildness in CA: Daniel Duane

Daniel Duane first came across my media screen last summer with a spectacular essay in the NYTimes Sunday Review — My Dark California Dream — in which he thought through some of the problems that have hit California lately, from wildfire to drought to traffic to the devastation of sea life off our shores.

But it was not a litany of horrors, nor a blaming, it was a wrestling with the issue(s), including the issue of one’s own lost paradise, one’s own inevitable self loss.

Confusing one’s own youth with the youth of the world is a common human affliction, but California has been changing so fast for so long that every new generation gets to experience both a fresh version of the California dream and, typically by late middle-age, its painful death.

Tremendous. Now Duane brings another top of the Sunday Review section essay, a long thoughtful look at what is known, in a somewhat Orwellian way, as “wildlife management.”

Duane puts it more vividly, in the opening of The Unnatural Kingdom:

If you ever have the good fortune to see a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the experience might go like this: On a sunny morning in Yosemite National Park, you walk through alpine meadows and then up a ridge to the summit of Mount Gibbs at 12,764 feet above sea level. You unwrap a chocolate bar amid breathtaking views of mountain and desert and then you notice movement below.

Binoculars reveal three sturdy ewes perched on a wall of rock, accompanied by two lambs and a muscular ram. The sight fills you with awe and also with gratitude for the national parks, forests and, yes, environmental regulations that keep the American dream of wilderness alive.

Unless your binoculars are unusually powerful, you are unlikely to notice that many of those sheep wear collars manufactured by Lotek Wireless of Newmarket, Ontario. You will, therefore, remain unaware that GPS and satellite communications hardware affixed to those collars allows wildlife managers in distant air-conditioned rooms to track every move made by those sheep. Like similar equipment attached to California condors, pronghorn antelope, pythons, fruit bats, African wildebeest, white-tailed eagles, growling grass frogs, feral camels and countless other creatures, those collars are the only visible elements of the backlot infrastructure that now puts and keeps so many animals in the wild.

Phenomenal. Part of a book Duane is working on about the Sierra. That’ll be good…


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a rare soupcon of spicy humor

From Kelly Conaboy at The Awl:

What does a bay leaf taste like? Nothing. What does a bay leaf smell like? Nothing. What does a bay leaf look like? A leaf. How does a bay leaf behave? It behaves as a leaf would, if you took a leaf from the tree outside of your apartment building and put it into your soup. People say, “Boil a bay leaf in some water and then taste the water if you want to know what a bay leaf tastes like.”


In search of confirmation, as well as freedom to ignore the bay leaf portion of future recipes I might encounter, I reached out to a number of chefs and asked them, “Are bay leaves bullshit?”

Chef Anna Klinger, of Park Slope’s Al Di La, said: “I like them and use quite a bit.”

Anna Klinger and I are not technically friends so I do not take this lie personally, and I appreciate the way she did not explicitly state on record that bay leaves are not bullshit. Sneaky.

And yes, it goes on that way, adamantly, and it’s pretty hilarious. If a bay leaf can be funny and not bullshit.

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The Revenant: from the bear’s POV

The Revenant, the most spectacularly cinematic contender for Best Picture in years, did not take home that particular Oscar at the Academy Awards presentation this past Sunday,  but it remains a massive world-wide hit, far bigger than “Spotlight,” won three other major awards — best director, best actor, and best cinematographer — and will almost certainly be the best remembered picture of 2015.

And what stands out first in the movie? Of all the early scenes, which one makes the greatest impression?

The bear attack, surely, in which our hero, scouting through the woods for a way across the mountains, hears hoarse breathing, sees a couple of bear cubs, and then out of nowhere is brutally attacked, bitten, and torn open by a bear. He ultimately shoots the bear, as it attacks again, and then stabs it, and finally kills it.

How did they film this? Well, first they did their homework, according to a story in Backpacker:

Glenn Ennis of Vancouver, one of the performers who played the bear, told Backpacker the team prepared by studying videos of wild and captive bears, including several attacks.

Ennis recalls one clip of a man being attacked after entering a zoo enclosure. The footage went on for quite some time, with the bear wandering away mid-attack but then coming back and getting vicious again, he says. The bear in The Revenant behaves similarly.

The bear itself was created with computer effects, but it was superimposed over Ennis and his actual movement. He had to call on his acting background to practice ursine walking and “getting into the headspace of a bear,” he says. When they’re not attacking something, “they have a nonchalance to them.”

Earlier on in the film’s production, a group including director Alejandro González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and visual effects supervisor Richard McBride met for an informal consultation for the film with Scott McMillion, a Montana-based writer and author of Mark of the Grizzly, a 1998 nonfiction book about bear attacks.

It’s impressive as hell, and from that moment onward the movie takes on a legendary cast, This is the story of a man who survived a bear attack. He is no longer a white man, a fur-trapper, a father — he is the man who survived the bear attack. He has become a myth, though he still has a life to live through.

The bear, quoted in The New Yorker, has a different POV:

There has been a lot in the press about how nightmarishly gruelling the shooting was on “The Revenant.” In fact, it was as difficult as I’ve ever experienced. I’m no diva—I mean, I’m literally a bear, I defecate in the woods—but even I must go on the record to say that there were times during filming when I longed for death.

Read the whole thing.


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The Lost Brother — Latterly strikes again

To encourage interest and subscription, Latterly magazine, an on-line journal of stories from around the world,  run by the wizardly editor Ben Wolford, released as a “single” a marvelously rich and well-written, well-edited, and well-composed story about life north of the Arctic Circle, on an island off the coast of Iceland. It’s called The Lost Brother. It’s free, and it’s a journey into another world.

Grímsey had built a reputation as an oasis of the north — an island with endless supplies of fish in nearby waters, pleasant weather and peace (to date, there has been no recorded crime on Grímsey, nor has there ever been a local police force).




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People of the PCT: Dirt Stew and Dormouse

About eleven months ago, I ran into a couple of thru-hikers as I approached Kennedy Meadows on the PCT. I was coming off the end of a super-hot section of the Mojave with little or no water, and they were south-bound.

In SoCal, mostly hiking earlier in the year, heading north I hadn’t met many southbounders, hadn’t seen hikers that experienced: these two looked ready for the Sahara. Or anything.

We stopped for a minute and I asked a question or two and Dormouse plopped down on the trail without a second’s hesitation to dig something out of her pack as I learned her name and her husband Dirt Stew’s. They seemed as comfortable in the raw desert wilderness as if it were their living room. I was pretty amazed by these two — sort of an exotic species for me. They made an impression and I asked a question or two.

About a month ago I ran across an excellent story about their journey that Dormouse wrote up for the PCTA Association: much of it sticks in my memory still. For instance, in Oregon for a week or two they passed hordes of northbounders. Dormouse wrote:

To them, we were a rare sighting, but to us, they seemed like an endless parade. There is something funny about the moment when a northbounder and a southbounder cross paths.  Together we have completed an entire thru-hike and yet we do not have a single shared experience of the trail. It makes for both helpful and frustrating conversations. I think hikers have selective memories, and a lot of the information we got from northbound hikers was false.

True. You have to consider the source, and realistically, on the trail you rarely can with any certainty.

Reading this put me on to their blog, which includes good journaling about their trip. Well, turns out my questions and curiousity awoke something in themselves as well, which they wrote up!

We hiked out in full ninja-hiker gear with shirts around our faces in order to protect ourselves from the sun and wind, and ran into a northbound section hiker who said “you guys must be thru-hikers”. “How’d you guess?” we asked. “Well, you look like you’ve walked almost 2000 miles!” He replied. “Can I take your picture?”. “Sure!” We answered. As he left I said to Dirt Stew: “Let’s take a picture of ourselves! It’s the first time someone’s told us we look like we’re thru-hikers who’ve hiked 2000 miles!” We snapped a picture at arm’s length and looked at ourselves on the little screen. We looked a lot like we did only 100 miles in. We were covered from head to toe so as not to get sun burned.

Here’s the picture I took of them:

Dirt Stew + Doormouse

Dirt Stew + Doormouse


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Ballet of the bats over Lake Aloha

At Lake Aloha, mile TK on the PCT, I saw a sight the likes of which I’ve never been so privileged. A ballet of bats, so to speak, dancing over the still waters of Lake Aloha, chasing I think big fat whitish moths that unaccountably flutter around the water there (or so I’ve seen).

bat over Lake Aloha

bat over Lake Aloha

The picture cannot approach the experience, but it can evidence the existence of these extraordinarily gifted flyers, and their dance over the waters, just touching now and again.

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PCT Section I: Kerrick Canyon (mile 972-986)

Miles 972 to 986 on the PCT offer gorgeous views at the price of real effort. This was one time on the trail that yours truly, age sixty, was passed by folks, both younger and older, from twenty-somethings coming south from Truckee to family groups passing heading north, in both directions. Didn’t manage to capture portraits this day.  Spectacular to see though. Let me feature this image of the lake at the top of the first pass, a sizeable jewel, which had an excellent campsite that appears rarely used — perhaps because it’s at the top of a pass. I wanted to make it here on day three,  but ran out of steam at the end of day two of this part of the trail, section I.

This is what it looks like as you crest the top of the ridge at 9002 feet, headed northbound, at mile 975:


Not too shabby, no? I wished I had camped there. For more of this section, featuring yet another paradise called Kerrick Canyon, please see below the fold. Read More →

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An air mattress for the trail: REI Flash pad review

The REI Flash insulated air Pad is the third air mattress for backpacking I've tried since starting on the Pacific Crest Trail a couple of years ago, and, to be truthful, the first that really worked well.

Alternatives such as NeoAir, by the well-known brand Thermarest, and the Oak Street, by the great tent makers Big Agnes, both fell victim to punctures. Oak Street, despite being relatively heavy and looking formidable, and being placed properly on top of a groundcloth, still managed to develop a leak on the first night on the trail. Yes, it's rocky out there, but c'mon!  

And although it's possible to patch an air mattress, in my experience it's still going to leak some — and leave one deflated and chilly on the ground before the end of the night. 

The Flash, knock on wood, remains intact and frankly, amazing. Three nights ago I was camping near Mulkey Pass, at about 10,000 feet, on a night so cold that my wet boots froze even under the vestible of the tent, but on the pad in a bag (and bundled up, to be fair) I was completely warm and fine. In my long experience with Ensolite pads, I don't believe this has ever happened on a really cold night. 

The insulation works superbly well. The pad is a little awkward but not difficult to inflate, and easy and quick to deflate and store in its container bag. And it's not only the best, it's the least expensive that I've found among the air pads for backpackers. 

Looks a little bright, but highly, highly recommended. 



And of course, since it's REI, if it does fail — you can take it back. 100% guarantee. Other reviewers, from outlets large and small, agree on its virtues. 


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From Kennedy Meadows north on the PCT

It's May, and though California only recorded 5% of a normal snowpack, err, 3%, still that turns out to be plenty when climbing from the desert up the Pacific Crest Trail into the mountains, into the high Sierra around Cottonwood Pass and Horseshoe Meadows. I couldn't dawdle through this section, not while trying to keep my nephew Eli Huscher, here seen in a typical pose, in sight: 


More on this surprising section of PCT for the curious, bellow the virtual fold:

Trail touches the south fork of the Kern River briefly, then shoots up a pinyon'ed slope, through a burn, and into a vast openness, Beck Meadow:


At 716 you will come to a cross of the south fork of the Kern River, and find a great sign, not far from which, comes a special crossing:


Lovely for a walker to have the need to cross this river taken so seriously:


Arrived at this superb half-hidden campside, at mile 716, in mid-afternoon. Eli was long gone, so I couldn't stay, but I enjoyed visiting with Noah (in the shades) and Topher from Georgia, who said he had never been out west before. He plans to go on to hike the John Muir Trail to Yosemite. What a great way to first see California, to journey through the High Sierra!


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