I have also been in contact with Veggie and Festivus, who are fast becoming my favorite hikers, as well as an employee from the Iron Horse Equestrian center and Ryan Yeager, a Back Country Horseman from Scott Valley, who spends his weekends conditioning his horses and mules for hunting season, by packing in and clearing trail. What I’ve learned is the maps lie. The web sites are supplying information on the snow pack, which is not the same thing at trail snow. Once the snow pack melts pockets and drifts of snow may cover the trail on north slopes and shaded spots for some time to come.
Based on what we have learned from all our sources is that our best chance for our northward trek at this time is to start an Seiad Valley, two days ride south of the Oregon border. The 150 miles, from I-5 near Dunsmuir to Seiad Valley, that I am skipping now will be ridden when we come back to do the Sierras.
I am trying to remain optimistic about my goal of riding the PCT this year; however I am starting to hear the clock tick. There are about 75 riding days remaining, plus travel days back to the Sierras, maybe a day off or two, I think the weather is going to have to hold until the end of September, a dicey proposition at best. Still, with Janis’s support, I am going to give it my best shot, if we don’t make it we don’t make it, but it won’t be for lack of try.
For a change of pace we had an uneventful day. For the most part we were in the trees all day, given that it was 100° again today the shade was much appreciated. We passed in and out of areas with trees large in girth and tall. 36 inchers were common, with many six foot plus. After all the burned areas, and insect infested dead forests I really enjoyed seeing all the healthy trees. There was just enough elevation change to experience the different distinct tree zones, big trees in the lower area, deciduous hardwoods above that and subalpine conifers above that.
Riding along the trail I crossed one of the hundreds of abandoned or little used narrow dirt roads that I have passed since starting this adventure. An old sign post had fallen across the track, but it was the warning message that caught my eye, Equestrian Crossing, the first such sign I’ve seen for the PCT this trip. I was tempted to take it home, if it hadn’t been so hot I would have. I’m pretty sure no safety hazard would have ensued if I had.
The final part of the day was a long downhill to Interstate 5. A couple of times the trail went across rock faces so I was able to get close up views of what I have been looking for the last week. The Castle Crags which appear to be snow free, and the Trinity Alps beyond which are not.
Today we took a rest day for the horses. I drove the truck around to the next few camp spots checking out snow levels in person. Too much snow to safely get through at the present time. The trail stays up over 6000 feet for much of the next 200 miles. In a couple of spots it goes over 7000. The trail snow is up over 5800 feet. The snow is melting fast in this heat, the snow line has risen dramatically since we drove past a week ago, but is still to iffy for my taste. I think a couple more days will make all the difference. The packers we met at Ash Camp live in the area and are keeping a close watch on conditions for us, as are the stable crew at the horse motel we are staying at tonight. Most likely, Janis and I will go back home tomorrow, and then come back in a week to start up again.
Stay tuned for more fun on the trail – gary
miles 1486-1506, 30.1 mi, 8:20, 3.6, minimum elevation 2271, maximum elevation 4675, total ascent 4473, total descent 4950, total miles as ridden 824
Day 32, Bartle Gap to Centipede Gulch or there was some snow
We didn’t actually camp at Bartle Gap (which isn’t really Bartle Gap, it’s where the road intersects the PCT about a mile south of the gap) as we intended, a new gate blocked the road so I had a two mile road ride down to where Janis had made camp. In the morning Mercedes made short work of those two miles then off down the trail we went. Beautiful trail through the forest, perfect footing of dirt covered needles.
This part of the trail passes through private as well as National Forest land. There are numerous logging roads covering the area. Main lines are well graveled, wide enough for two log trucks to pass without slowing down much. Feeder lines are narrower but still generally in good shape, certainly pickup and trailer worthy. The condition of spur roads, often dirt, depend greatly upon how long it has been since they serviced active logging. The Summit Lake road, which parallels the PCT for 25 miles or so, probably predates the logging roads, however now parts of it are used for logging and the state of the road reflects its status at that point, main, feeder or spur. The rest of Summit Lake road down grades from dirt to two track to a barely discernible track through the bush. The PCT crosses and recrosses Summit Lake Rd many times.
At last I did come to snow fields that I felt too risky to attempt crossing. To slip on them would certainly mean a fall that Mercedes and I would not survive. Not wanting to quit just yet I thought I would try detouring on the Summit Lake Rd, which was a nice, snow free, dirt road when I had last crossed it, just a mile back. Riding up the road was just as nice as being on the PCT, until it wasn’t. Manzanita five feet high or more crowded in from both sides until any sign of the road vanished. Walking, leading Mercedes, I had to crouch, head down and bull my way through, Mercedes did the same and was none too happy about it, though she never resisted the lead rope she did give me an occasional low nicker which is hers of saying this is bs. After a mile or so of this we burst free of the bush, or rather we got to where the bush was still covered under six feet or more of snow.
It was about 9:00 by then, late enough in the day that the glaze of ice had melted but early enough the crust would hold Mercedes weight. The snow got deeper, the drifts higher with steeper edges as we progressed into the trees. Mercedes had excellent traction; her hooves would sink into the snow two or three inches with each step. I on the other hand did not. I had to be very careful to keep balanced or I would slip. I shamelessly used Mercedes lead rope when needed to keep upright. As we came out into the sun the snow gave way to the bush, I was pretty happy to be dealing with leaves and limbs at that moment. I love being in the mountains in the sun when you can see for miles with the sky so blue and the green ridges stretching off into the distance, makes me a little euphoric. Until we go around the corner and see a lot more snow.
I saw a continuous drift covering both the road and trail which were only a few yards apart now. From the distance I could see that it was a long snake like drift, a snake with tumors, a snake with undulating top and side lines. The bank to get up on top is a good 15 very steep feet at its beginning, later I found it was much taller where I would have to come down. I tried to gradually side hill it, until Mercedes had enough and charged straight to the top, then turned to face me, allowing me to use her lead for support to pull myself up to her side. We worked our way along the top line of the snake, up one side of the tumors and down the other for almost a mile.
When we reach the south end of a razor back hill I could see clear trail at the far end on the southwest side not more than a quarter mile away. My problem was the southwest side was a sheer cliff; the trail went around the north east side. To make matters worse I ran out of snake, the last bit was across a sloping snow bank that clung to the side of the hill, with no top to walk on. The high edge buried in Manzanita, the lower edge 100 yards down the mountainside in the trees. The lower edge didn’t look as steep from up where Mercedes and I studied the issue, Mercedes voted to try our luck down below and worry about finding a way back up later.
That plan was working out pretty well when we came upon a fresh set of tracks from somebody with really big feet. Big feet with crampons, strap on spikes for crossing ice and snow. Perfect, by stepping into those foot prints I was able to make the crossing without difficulty. Now we were standing on dirt all we had to do was work our way over another snake to the dry trail on the other side, a task that Mercedes handle with ease. We had make it through the snow, I may have broken out into a little bit of the Hills are Alive with Music, or maybe the Rocky theme.
After the snow crossing the last 19 miles were fairly uneventful. I did meet a trail crew taking a lunch break, the same volunteers I met on Mission Creek down south in what seems a lifetime ago. From there I had beautiful trail to where they had parked their vehicles.
From their trucks north there were several big trees down and a nasty washed out culvert to get past. Shortly after the washout I came to a huge old windfall, well over four feet in diameter, freshly cut out of the trail, sawdust still littered the ground. Then I saw horse prints and before long caught up with a group of three Back Country Horsemen who had packed in and were also clearing trail. They had cut and cleared their way to that big log, called it a day and were headed back to the same trailhead that Janis was waiting at. They let me pass at the first safe spot a mile or so later, steep narrow trails again, so we had a little time to exchange pleasantries before we parted ways, clear trail all the way to the truck.
By the time I got to the truck the temperature at climbed to over 100°, Janis was offering cold beers to the hikers as they came down off the trail. Janis keeps the cooler well stocked as I got into the habit of offering to buy a beer for those who made it to our camp. Now she is able to make the offer to all who come by and we have become a popular rest spot for weary travelers. It is an interesting group of people we encounter. At one point we had five from Switzerland and three from Seattle, none of whom knew each other before starting up the trail. While not walking together during the day they tended to camp close and have become good friends. Moral for the day: Be kind to your fellow travelers.
Trail Data: mile 1449-1476, 29.6 mi, 9:00(ap), 3.2mph, minimum elevation 2513, maximum elevation 6152, total ascent 4140, total descent 6064
Peavine Creek to Bartles Gap Rd or the snow that never was
Yesterday I rode 24 miles to end up five from where I started, today I did a little better 23 miles ridden to end up 20 trail miles from last night’s camp but only 12 miles from our furthest trail mile yesterday. I know, it gives me pause when I think of it too. After yesterday’s troubles with the GPS sending Janis up the wrong road, which was washed out, which set up the bear encounter, I thought today might be clear sailing, law of averages and all. The first five miles today was up a not too bad road to where I could pick up the trail again.
While beating through the brush yesterday I encountered a couple from the UK who were at least temporarily giving up. They had run into snow and either were not equipped or mentally prepared for the challenge so they turned around. It was partly due to their assessment of trail conditions that Janis and I ended up where we did last night. I wanted a chance to reconsider and make alternative plans. According to the Brits the snow started at mile 1444, five miles before Janis and my rendezvous at 1449, and continued for six miles, though having turned around I don’t know how they determined the extent of the snow. At any rate we went for it today, Janis had new coordinates for the correct road and I was prepared to do more road riding around the snow if needed.
Back on the trail the troublesome brush had vanished. The trail was passing through a well managed stand of mature trees. Sun light dappled the forest floor which was carpeted with low growing bushes. Further on we passed in and out of clearings where we could easily see the Castle Crags and Trinity Alps, three and four days ride away. When I got to where the snow was supposed to be there were a few scattered drifts, none much larger in footprint than our pickup and trailer or more than four feet tall, all easily crossed.
Towards the end of the day we got back into overgrown trail and downed trees. In one area of private land foresters had thinned a replanted area of 15 to 20 foot tall trees, falling dozens of the small trees across the trail, bad enough when nature does it. I wonder if the thinners didn’t know, or just didn’t care? The former I hope.
About a mile before I was to meet Janis I met a hiker, sitting in the shade, who had hurt his back and wondered did I know how to get to the highway and how far it was. I told him we were camping just ahead and that Janis could give him a lift to town in the morning, an offer he gratefully accepted. As I was explaining how to get where Janis was he just kept getting more confused. It was then it dawned on me that Janis and I are operating on 2014 maps and mileages while the hikers mostly use their phones and 2016 data – which can mean up to a 10 mile difference in mileposts for the same spot. He thought he was at 1441, I thought we were at 1448. The next step in this awareness was the Brits snow starting at 1444 would be my 1452, I haven’t got there yet! So much for an easy-squeezy day tomorrow, the test is yet to be.
Mile 1437 to 1449, 23.5 miles, 0:00, 0 mph average, minimum elevation 3156, maximum elevation 5496, total ascent 0, total descent 0
Burney Falls State Park to Peavine Creek or 5 miles short of going nowhere.
Day 30 Burney Falls to Peavine Creek or 5 miles short of going nowhere.
We were up and going first thing this morning, I managed to get on the trail by 7:00. The first few miles today were a ride in the park, Burney Falls State Park, a well maintained bridle path, reminded me of the one where Robin Hood would lie in wait to ambush the Sherriff of Nottingham by dropping out of a huge Oak tree. After a mile Mercedes and I crossed a dam
and began the climb that would take us to the top of the ridge we will follow to I-5, eighty-one miles away. The first ten miles were pretty good, beautiful healthy forests, lots of dogwoods in bloom.
Why is it you never truly appreciate maintenance until you are suffering the effects of its absence. The last two days riding from Mt Lassen up to about mile 1434, I passed hundreds of freshly cut logs that had fallen across the trail. Even though I mentally noted and valued the work I made no effort of public display, not one line here. I apologize to all the volunteer trail crews everywhere. And when those volunteers clear past that mark I will give the kudos then. But as it was, it was tough slogging. Brush grown so thick over the trail there were times Mercedes vanished from my sight. Logs to cut and go around enough to satisfy any trail crew.
Janis had been concerned that the road to our next meeting place might be obstructed so I had been checking the text phones regularly for possible change of plans. Sure enough just as I made the halfway point today the message came that Janis would be waiting for me about 4 miles down the road from where we had planned to be. No big deal, I would just ride down and meet her there. Why I didn’t do that is really
Day three started like any other PCT crew day; set my course and drive. Knowing I had a lot of spare time and wanting to get something green for dinner, I drove past the turn to that night’s camp and into McCloud. I fueled up, bought some Blue Def for the truck, and crossed the street to buy a Latte and Caesar Salad for dinner. Heading back out to my night’s camp, I had dueling GPS’s – the Nuvi and the truck GPS which had the camp spot keyed in and both were talking to me – confusing! Unfortunately the truck GPS was louder and opted to take me the shortest route. I turned down a gravel road I did recognize from a few years ago, but after a few miles, a few dicey wash out crossings and trees cut, I cautiously continued, hoping for no more challenges. I met my match in a severe washout that I had no intention of crossing. I backed up for maybe 1/8 of a mile to a flat spot I could turn around and parked. I sent Gary a message that I could not make it and he said he would ride to me. I unloaded the horse, put some hay and water in front of her, climbed up on the hayrack to drop another bale for the day and then began to play with Rose who was bored to tears. I went into trailer for a moment and came back out and noticed something dark about 30 feet away… it was an enormous bear! I am talking the size of a Welch Pony. I said WHOA and clapped my hands. The bear just kind of swayed and stared. I shouted and clapped louder and then Rose took off after the bear! I screamed ROSE and then the bear left. Rose came to me and I got her into the truck at which point a second bear emerged from the brush. That one did not hang around after I shouted again. By now my adrenaline was really pumping. The horse was upset seeing the bears and haring them crashing around behind her. I got her untied and loaded in seconds. I grabbed the hay bag and water bucket, threw them into the back of the truck and got into the cab – safe! I started the truck to further deter the bears from coming closer. I had no idea if they would run away or hang around but I wasn’t getting out to of that truck. I grabbed the InReach and sent Gary a message – Bears! I was so scared and shaking so badly I could not hold the InReach. I thought I was going to be sick to my stomach for a moment. It took me longer than it should have to get the message typed. Sometimes it takes a good long time for the message to send or be received. And it is hard to hear the signal if you are riding. Thank goodness he finally responded and said “Load Up”. Yep, already done! I was ready to get the heck out of there! I could not imagine being able to sleep there knowing the bears might be lurking. Gary suggested I meet him at another location. The message was received and the truck was in gear almost simultaneously! The relief of leaving that place was short lived as I had one heck of a time finding where Gary wanted to meet up. It included a few false starts including crossing the very narrow dam bridge then having to come back across – oi vey. We finally connected, a mere 5 miles from where we started this morning. Oh well, sometimes stuff happens. After dinner I dug out my bear spray and air horn and will keep those on me while out in the woods from now on. Will give me peace of mind – hope I don’t have to use them!! And I sincerely hope that I do not see another bear on this trip.
Back to Gary:
These inReach devices aren’t really made for fast paced information sharing, at least not as fast as I would like when you get a “Bears, I’m really scared” message. They are tedious to type on if you don’t have a smart phone or pad. You have to highlight one letter at time using a the up/down/right/left arrow button, then press select, go to the next letter. After you write the message you can send, then wait for the unit to upload the message to a satellite, then the satellite down loads the message to the intended unit. This can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour or more depending upon what kind of reception the units have. Staying out in the clear with a full view of the sky really helps. What happens is you send a message, then think of a clarification or something, send a second message, recipient gets first message, responds, gets second message, gets confused, sends another message – pretty soon no one knows which response goes with which message. Bottom line, inReaches work, but not at the speed of light. Plans can be made, misunderstood, changed, it just takes time.
So in fact I did ride to meet Janis, just not where we thought we would, or plan B, or C but D worked just fine.
Mile 1424 to 1437, 23.7 miles, 10:32, 2.2 mph average, minimum elevation 2790, maximum elevation 5067, total ascent 3371, total descent 3194
BG and I had another good ride today. No horse drama yesterday or today. They were perfectly willing to let me open and close gates without dismounting. BG even left camp at a reasonable speed; she was willing to walk out without wanting to continually speed up. Once we selected a speed she stayed with it until I or the terrain dictated a change, very pleasant.
The first 10 miles we traveled along the Hat Creek Rim, a continuation of yesterdays ride. For a while we would be right along the edge, then the trail would wander a hundred yards inland only to return to the edge in due time. This is cow country; grass grows thick between the sage bushes, Manzanita and lava rocks. From atop the rim I could watch the ranchers putting up hay in the bottoms. There is a fair amount of rock on the rim trail. The tread itself is dirt however golf ball to softball sized stones are scattered every so often. It is hard to set any kind of consistent speed. I’ve noticed I take a lot more pictures when we are going slower. The quality doesn’t seem to improve, only the quantity.
The next 10 miles we spent a lot of time in lava beds. Here there is so much rock in the trail a good flat walk is about all we could hope for. I spent a lot of time off the horse walking. For once my walking speed was pretty close to what the horse could do due to all the loose stones. Occasionally we would get into some pretty good footing, BG would get her march on for a half mile, and then we’d be back in the lava. I saw several more of those holes that indicate a collapsed lava tube but thought better of getting too close for a better view.
The last 10 miles, while not stone free, were the best of the day. Much of it went through pine and oak forest that has years of accumulated needles and leaves to soften the tread. There wasn’t much water on the trail today. BG’s only opportunities to drink came in a two mile stretch about midway in our journey. Hat Creek supplies the water to turn the turbines in one of those old small scale powerhouses. From the architecture I would guestimate the 50 foot square building to have been a Depression Era WPA project. Amber brown bricks framing tall narrow arched windows, with lots of rock walls terracing the work yard and framing the parking areas. The kind of facility we can’t seem to afford now days even if we could get the permits.
What we do seem to be able to afford is the quarter mile of aluminum foot bridge, powder coated brown the better to blend in with nature, two wheel chairs wide, gracefully curving down and around from parking lots on both sides of the creek to allow for fishing in and pondering of in general the 50 foot wide discharge pool from said powerhouse. Now here is the kicker: on both ends of the bridge right next to the warning signs reminding me to lead my horse across the bridge (yes, it is the PCT) are warning signs stating that full force discharge from the powerhouse can happen at any time, complete with poster sized pictures, one showing the bridge as I saw it over an idyllic pond, the other showing a tsunami like wave crashing 20 feet over and above the handrail of the bridge. The time frame given for the two pictures is three seconds. There is no way a person in a wheel chair is going to clear that bridge to a safe elevation in less than three second, a fact that didn’t seem to bother the two wheelchair bound fisherman who were casting their lines when I went past. Actually the bridge was two wheel chairs and one horse wide.
Anyway, I seem to have gotten side tracked, no water for BG. One could hear the turbine in the powerhouse a good quarter mile off. The trail switch backed down the hill so we were listening to the turbine for at least a half mile. BG always gets a little excited when she sees roads, parking lots and the like and starts nickering, thinking Mercedes is down there waiting for her. There was a really nice little creek where she could have drank, but again she is all excited her buddy is waiting for her (and there is always water at the trailer) she did take a couple of swallows but not much. Then there was the bridge crossing at the powerhouse where Hat Creek is confined by those beautiful rock walls, no horse access. So we rode to the boat launch, half a mile away, but there are kayaks, little kids running and screaming and fishermen galore, as if BG would drink in those conditions, if we could get to the water. Rode along the lake for another half mile, after crossing yet another rickety bridge that has two tsunami wave rapids flowing through concrete channels, BG is settled down now and thirsty, she wants in that lake, but up here it is a muddy fifty foot wide cattail swamp between us and the water. We carefully picked our way on the firmest of ground but there just isn’t any way BG can get the last two feet. So I slid a six inch thick, four foot long branch from firm ground to water, crawled out on my hands and knees, filled the collapsible bucket three times before BG was satisfied.
Day 28 Southeast side of Mt. Lassen to Watch Tower on Hat Creek Rim
or The beginning of Phase II
It feels so good to be back on the trail again, I keep making up lyrics to go with Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” tune. Not very good lyrics, not worth repeating – but it keeps me happy. What a glorious day and trail, this is what I was imagining all those years of planning this trip.
Mercedes was feelin’ good. Fit and ready, all fed up from a few weeks on the deep green grass at home. The first half mile or so was cross country through a burn area with down trees laying all helter skelter, like a giant game of pick-up sticks. Picking our way over and around is not Mercedes idea of a good time; she is a bit of a diva you know. But once we got on the trail, and headed the right direction (my internal compass was stuck this morning, but we figured it out before we had gone much more than 100 yards the wrong way, even so it was a couple of miles before I could shake the feeling something wasn’t right, it’s just not right when to ride south on a northbound trail.) the good Mercedes took over. Pickin’ ‘em up and puttin’ ‘em down, traveling so lightly it is easy to imagine you are floating. It’s a rare day riding Mercedes when the thought doesn’t occur to me “damn, I like this horse”. Today it came early and stayed late.
The trail from Mt. Lassen gently descended the first six miles; the next eight miles traversed a nearly flat pine forest. For a few miles we paralleled Hat Creek. Mostly the footing was loose pumice ash with a generous cover of pine needles that released a puff of forest scent with each foot fall. There was an occasional lava outcropping, just enough to keep the trail interesting. The forest gave way to clearings periodically which afforded some grand panoramas that included Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta and all the snow covered ridges in between. Riding through the Manzanita and Mountain Lilacs the sweet smell of the flowers was so thick you could nearly wash with it.
Down on the flats the underground is riddled with lava tubes. The Subway Caves are a popular destination for some. There are also unnamed, unmarked openings scattered across the landscape. One such opening is not five feet from the side of the PCT; it is a squarish hole, maybe 20 plus feet per side. From the trail it looked like a shallow pit, it had a tree growing from the rubble pile at the bottom. Riding around to the far side I could see the beginning of a large lava tube, one that could have easily held a Greyhound bus, stretching off into the darkness. Most startling to me was the roof of the tunnel, that was directly under the trail could not have been more than two feet thick, with a thirty foot plus drop to the bottom of the cave, no guard rails, no warning signs, just like the old days, hike beware.
The last fourteen miles climbed up the side of escarpment along Hat Creek Valley. The near vertical wall of that mesa towers a thousand feet above the valley and runs a good thirty miles. The trail stays near the edge, though not so near one would fear a fall, providing a practically unending vista. The flat top of the mesa was struck (according to a reader board) by 800 bolts of lightning during a storm in 2008 lighting wild fires that completely consumed the forest. Some parts have been reforested, some parts are being left to nature to recover, at the present time it is a rare tree or bush more than ten feet high.
Tonight we are camped by an old look-out tower. The building at the top is gone except for the metal floor joists, I suppose it would all be gone if it weren’t such a good dish support. A couple from Texas have stopped by and shared a beer with us, made a nice finish to an exceptionally good day.