Tag archive for PCT

Trail signs along the PCT: Section Q

Just have to say that the trail signs in Section Q — the Marble Mountains — in the far north of California were the best (that is, most Zen) that I have seen along the length of California. They deserve remembering in their own right, so here goes:

Marble MoCame untain Wilderness sign IMG_2590

Next day I after about 5 or so miles I came to what turned out to be a superb water source, the sort of place I should have camped near, but oh well. Lovely place for a second breakfast.

Water sign IMG_2620

It’s a gorgeous area, which the signs hint in their own quiet way. If you look very closely you can see a grasshopper crouched in a nick in the sign above tghe “I.”

Sky High Lakes IMG_2728

This isn’t exactly a sign but it’s emblematic as hell of the area.

log waterfall IMG_2754

Wasn’t all beautiful: substantial burns to walk through at times, and the sky was smoky, from fires burning to the north and west.

PCT burn sign

This sign, at the base of the gorgeous trail along Grider Creek; well, if you look closely you will see it has some occult aspects. On the top post is written “State of Jefferson” with its rebel XX symbol, but below the post is written State of Mind. Pretty cool.

Cliff creek sign

Entering the tiny town of Seiad Valley, one sees these “No Monument” signs everywhere…though this one simplified the question impressively.

No Monument sign IMG_2918

Even the official signs in this area (Section R now) are most interesting than most.

Snag signs IMG_2929

I love the way signs in this section live past their legibility.

Zen sign IMG_2998

Or are taken into the landscape via trees:

Echo Lake IMG_3021

But this was my all-time fave:

PCT in tree IMG_3050

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last morning in California

I’ve now been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in sections since 2012, and have reached Oregon. I’ve been sorely remiss in posting of my progress, which I regret, and will in some measure redress. For the sake of beauty at this site if no other.

This shot comes from my last morning in California, as the sun rose.


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Thoreau: Craving Reality

The New York Review of Books posts in its entirety a spectacular essay from Robert Pogue Harrison, this time on Thoreau on his centennial birthday, and en or so books and exhibits about The True American.

Thoreau (to my blinkered view) is that exceedingly rare writer/philosopher capable of seeing afresh the most fundamental elements of our lives, such as the ground on which we walk and the air we breathe. For example:

Paradise exists all around us, in America’s “wildness,” the natural environment of the continent. In the contact between his own body and America’s forests, meadows, lakes, rivers, mountains, and animals, Thoreau discovered what he called “hard matter in its home.” That home was the “hard bottom” or “reality” that we crave. “I stand in awe of my body, this matter to which I am bound,” he wrote in his journal. “Daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it,—rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks!… Contact! Contact!”

That contact between body and wilderness speaks to me, having spent the last week and half on the PCTsleeping on the ground (and sleeping well). I’ll try to post a picture to give some idea. But let me conclude this post with another compelling — even alarming — quote from Mr. Thoreau,

If you stand right fronting and face to face to a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter [scimitar], and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality.

If only this were true! But from the world I stand in awe of, with him, here’s a sunset at mile 1600 of the PCT.

Sunset at mile 1600

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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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People of the PCT: Birdman

Met Birdman a day or maybe two south of Sierra City, in Section L, north of Donner Pass. He’s a true thruhiker: “flip-flopped” the AT last year (meaning he went up and back down).

“And I’ll tell you, it’s a lot more dramatic finishing up at Mt. Katahdin than it is in Springer, Georgia!” he said. Think he has the right to say such a thing, given that he hails from Georgia.

Birdman (from Georgia)

Birdman (from Georgia)


Birdman was making what I would consider excellent time — 25+ miles a day — but complained of a knee that was giving him trouble, and was trying not to give up on the trail at the halfway point, just a few days ahead.

“Never quit on a bad day!”


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PCT section C: I-10 to Big Bear

Haven’t had a chance to discuss or portray my experience in the San Gorgonio Wilderness just (amazingly) about three weeks ago now. Was one of the harshest and ugliest and yes, most beautiful stretches of the trail in SoCal.

Blazingly hot on a Tuesday in the desert (80+ degrees). Cold and snowy three days later in the mountains (25). That’s California for you, I guess.

Began in a mostly barren little desert town incongruously named Whitewater, near the Morongo casino on the I-10 west of Palm Springs. Here’s where the trail officially begins.



Camped a little over an hour later, at sunset about 5:00, after this:

December 8, 2015

December 8, 2015


One of those pictures you have to see to believe. This was the camp.

packing up after a night under a thorn tree

packing up after a night under a thorn tree

Pretty harsh, but I was clearly not the only one to camp there…that evening, about an hour after nightfall, I saw bright lights on the trail, and pretty soon five guys on mountains bikes with powerful lights rode by. One apologized for getting in the way. Thought they were pretty cool, actually.

About eight miles north the trail crosses the Whitewater River, which, a couple of hiking locals told me, actually looks like a wild and scenic river at times during the spring. Believe it or don’t.

Whitewater River

Whitewater River

.Trail featured some pretty great markers, erected I was told by the Friends of the Desert Mountains.



Trail passed over a ridge or two and then came down into the Mission Creek streambed, and picked up some fall colors — for about the next twenty miles. Incongruous but appealing.



The desert can distort your sense of beauty: what you thought you knew was beautiful (and it is) — visable life, trees, greenery — becomes an idiosyncratic personal value in an environment that values starkness, simplicity, and hanging on.

Mission Creek is not the biggest or most awesome of watercoursees, but it runs like an artery through the San Gorgonio wilderness, and the trail hugs it close, crossing back and forth, unwilling to let it go.


Enjoyed camping in the leafy colors, despite the coldness and the emptiness, but next day the trail turned away from the creek and headed up the ridge towards the mountains — 5000+ in a day — into an increasingly barren landscape, interrupted occasionally by shrubbery. Left the San Gorgonio Wilderness reluctantly. True wilderness in my experience usually has a kind of wholeness, where BLM or Forest Service land may not.



As the trail steepened, occasionally ran into trees, but then the trees were overwhelmed by burn. Ouch.

1-DSC05497 1-DSC05514

As the wind picked up and the daylight began to fade, had to camp on at a place also called Mission Creek, but at about 8000 feet — in a devastated forest, evidently burned not long before. Call it the Black Tree Camp.


This may have been the grimmest campsite I’ve experienced along the trail. This did have spring water (which I drank, and haven’t gotten sick yet!) but nothing but ash, silt, and enormous black trees. Wind and snow howling in the wind above the mountains.

Onward over the ridge the next day, and, eventually, into the snow — a cleansing experience.


This turned all too soon into a full-on snow storm mode, but I was ready. Only got lost once.


And the snow has its compensations.


Happy New Year, everyone. Onward northward in 2016.

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PCT haiku from section C




semi-circle of
pine bark
half-mooned on the trail
to be crunched

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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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Why does the park service make wilderness visitors lie about camping next to water?

If you wish to obtain a permit to visit the Yosemite Wilderness, to hike perhaps on the PCT, one goes to the Wilderness Permit office labeled as such, off the main road (not the stone building near the campgrounds) and stands in line and picks up one’s reserved permit, or hopes that someone else does not, and a permit becomes available. I was told this year that fights have broke out in the line to get permits.

If one reaches the desk, one speaks to a polite but stern young park ranger, who asks a number of good questions. Do you have a bear canister, and if so, what type? (Not all bear canisters have been approved for use by the park service.) Where will you camp the first night? (PCT hikers heading north from Tuolumne Meadows will likely be commanded to stay at the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, a very beautiful but crowded place for backpackers.)

And will you promise not to camp within 100 feet of water?

The park service forces people who want a permit to walk out ride in these areas to swear not to camp next to water. To tick off a box pledging such and sign.

Even though most camps and most fire rings — which are implicitly sanctioned by the park service, and destroyed if they are too numerous or scarring — are found within fifty feet of water in this section of the trail.

Perhaps the park service has found this method of dealing with the public is most effective, but to this hiker it’s unfair and frustrating. It’s a brutal refusal to see the way people live in nature, and have always lived in nature. It’s like telling lovers they mustn’t kiss, for similar and similarly misguided reasons — fear of diseases.

For example: What hiker/camper could not be drawn to this perfect camp at the aforementioned mile 1024?

No one else is around. It’s not crowded, not polluted, and you will not harm this water in any way, shape, or form with your existence. Further, you have a right to be in this water, to drink it (safely, in my experience) and bathe in it, and live with it.

Now tell me: Who would not camp here?


But wait! There’s more. The vast majority of campsites and fire rings on this trail are like this: right next to water.

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“Hiker Trash” at Sonora Pass: Sec J of PCT

PCT hikers who passed through Sonora Pass this summer were fortunate to have available the mobile cooking center/store/community center Sonora Pass Resupply. For $50 this 21st century company will take your package sent by mail and have it ready for you when you arrive at the startof Section J. Plus proprietor KC has whatever else you might need in the way of food etc to hike the trail.

I tried his service myself this year, and sure enough, KC (spelling?) in his nifty truck parked in the campground, by agreement with the Forest Service, deilivered me the package, no problem. (Though he chided me slightly for being a day ahead of schedule, and thus a challenge to his team’s organizational abilities.) Then he helped me send back all the extra stuff I didn’t need.

Around the back of his substantial truck, under a canopy KC set up, around a stove he provided, drinking coffee he percolated, grew a small crowd of hikers and a few non-hikers too.

Ran into my new pal Honeybun. He’s standing looking at the camera, his pal Miner is standing looking away from the camera, and KC is seated in the truck. Can’t ID the others.


“Hiker trash,” Griffin/Honeybun called the group — including himself. And in truth, some of the denizens at the table at other times that morning were smoking, overweight, or living on the edge. Read More →

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