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More Mosquito Mayhem!

July 6, 2018

The downed tree effectively obscured the trail for several yards, draping green branches across the path in tangled extravagance.

As we edged around its top, Jay exclaimed, “Look at these cones!” He brushed the tips with an exploring finger. “They’re soft! And look! The cones are growing upright, even though the tree is laying on its side. What kind of tree is this?”

Leaving Jay to identify the tree, I walked the length of the trunk. Looking back from the root ball, I was startled at how far away Jay appeared. This was one tall tree!

“It’s a Pacific silver fir! It can spend up to a century of its life as a sapling, but eventually it will outcompete the Douglas fir and hemlocks to become the dominant tree species. The cones grow upright at the very tops of the tree, and they disintegrate up there, they don’t fall to the ground.” Jay caught up to me, phone in hand.

“That explains why I haven’t seen bunches of cones laying around!” I shared a grin with Jay, happy in newfound knowledge.

The trail clung to the ridges most of the day, contouring back and forth across the tops of the mountain arms, only gaining and dropping a few hundred feet. On the windward sides, fresh breezes cooled our faces and effectively banished our winged escort. But on the lee sides of the ridges, swarms of enthusiastic blood suckers vied for our attention, urging us to increase our pace again and again.

Mid-afternoon brought us to the shoulder of Cowhorn Mountain. We met a group of four hikers and one dog who had just climbed to the peak. “It’s great!” One woman assured us. “Definitely worth the climb!”

I eyed the knife-edged ridges above and shook my head. “You’re braver than I am!”

After contouring around Cowhorn Mountain, Jay and I stopped to consult the map. Ahead of us, the trail dropped about 1,000 feet in elevation, zigzagging downward towards a series of small lakes and ponds. Definitely mosquito territory.

I looked across the breezy ridge where we sat. “I know it’s early, but what about stopping here for the day? This wind feels lovely, and we have hiked 12 miles already.”

Jay grinned at me. “I’m in no hurry to meet the swarms waiting for us below. This looks good to me.”

July 7, 2018

As we descended into dense, well-watered greenery, winged denizens swarmed to meet us. Already clothed in rain gear and insect repellent, I gritted my teeth and batted at our admirers.

Bird songs echoed through the tree tops. I knew the haunting flute-like call of the Swainson’s thrush, but another common call was a mystery to me. The bird sounded as if it was saying, “Mc-BE-du! Mc-BE-du!”

“Listen!” Jay turned to me. “Can you hear our theme song?” Mimicking the pitch of the mystery bird, he called, “Mos-QUI-to! Mos-QUI-to!”

(Later, in the luxury of unlimited electricity and internet, Jay found the call, finally identifying the olive-sided flycatcher. I also learned that the Swainson’s thrush is sometimes called the mosquito thrush for its voracious insect appetite.)

Here are two sites if you’d like more information about these birds. Jay and I especially enjoyed the recordings of the songs in these sites.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Swainsons_Thrush/overview

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/olive-sided-flycatcher

Six miles of racing the mosquitoes brought us to the shore of Summit Lake. We stopped for a photo opportunity on a small peninsula.

Diamond Peak, a possible mosquito-free haven framed by Summit Lake, looks awfully far away!

A bird winged past me, landing on the shore, then hopping over a rock into the undergrowth. It bobbled and teetered as it walked, perhaps looking for food? I managed one quick picture before the bird flew off, enough to help me later identify it as a spotted sandpiper. Here is a link with fascinating facts (and a better picture).

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Spotted_Sandpiper/overview

The spotted sandpiper is one of the most common shorebirds in North America.

The north end of Summit Lake had a stiff breeze blowing across. We gratefully stopped at the Forest Service campground, deciding to eat lunch insect free, even though it was only 10:30 a.m.

“Do you reckon we might get above the mosquitoes as we climb the shoulder of Diamond Peak?” Wistfully I looked at the far away peak.

“I don’t know,” Jay replied. “When I hiked this in 2012, I don’t remember mosquitoes. I do remember quite a few snow fields. It will be interesting to see what it’s like this year.”

Finishing our lunch, we girded up and dove back into the forest. Six miles later, we stopped at Mountain Creek to refill water bottles. At 7,031 feet altitude, this was the highest the trail would take us on Diamond Peak. We had only seen small patches of snow, and the mosquitoes had stayed respectfully behind once we had reached the mountain’s shoulder. However, stopping at the creek gave the little terrors free reign to attack as we busied ourselves with Aquamira and water bottles. Quickly we completed our chore and fled, hiking at high speed until we reached the next windy ridge top. Even there, a few extraordinarily athletic mosquitoes found us.

“This is crazy,” Jay observed. “Let’s just keep hiking until evening. I don’t want to stop for more than a moment.”

Diamond Peak, up close and personal.

Another six miles found us physically tired and emotionally drained. Hidden Lake offered a campsite, with the possibility of a slight breeze. Gratefully, we turned off the trail and pitched our tent. Once again, my appreciation of our fabric abode soared as I climbed in, escaping the onslaught of bloodthirsty companions.

July 8, 2018

Morning brought a scant breath of wind across the water. I opened my eyes, enchanted to see a faint mist rising from Hidden Lake, disappearing into a cloudless purple dawn.

Then my eyes focused upon the undergrowth next to the tent. I watched in horror as first two, then eight, then a dozen, twenty, thirty mosquitoes emerged from under leaves and branches, making a straight line for the netting of the tent door.

A quote from Lewis Puller, one of the most decorated Marines ever, seemed appropriate here. “They are in front of us, behind us, and we are flanked on both sides by the enemy … They can’t get away from us now!”

I’m afraid the enemy managed a few bites in unmentionable places before we were able to hit the trail this morning. Once we started hiking, we didn’t stop for six and a half miles, until we reached the luxury of Shelter Cove Resort and Campground beside Odell Lake.

We stopped at Shelter Cove, glad to escape mosquitoes and recoup after nine days on the trail. We had three more miles to hike in order to reach Highway 58, where Jay’s sister and brother-in-law would pick us up tomorrow for a visit with family and yet another week of cat-sitting. I was glad to spend the rest of this day enjoying the lavish wind and sun at the lake shore, as well as treats such as hot food, showers, electricity, and internet!

From Mountains to Anthills

July 4, 2018

The importance of water is a lesson the PCT teaches again and again. Though this area boasts of many ponds, lakes, streams, and springs, the actual trail tends to stick to the tops of ridges, making for a very dry walk with steep side trips to fetch life-giving liquid. Thus, you can imagine our delight and appreciation this morning when we came across a water cache left by a trail angel named Devilfish.

Once again mosquitoes reigned as we hiked through the forest. “Just keep walking,” became our mantra as we swatted whining insects and applied repellent.

Mid-afternoon came, with heat and sun. ‘You can do it,’ I encouraged myself. ‘It’s lovely out here. This is just a few miles of discomfort.’ I swatted two more mosquitoes. ‘Okay, maybe lots of miles of discomfort.’

Just then, the trees opened up as the trail contoured across a scree field. Above Jay’s head loomed a giant pointed mountain with towers and castles off each side! Where had that come from? “Jay!” I called out. “Oh my gosh! What is that?”

“Mt. Thielsen,” came the matter of fact reply. “It’s something, isn’t it?”

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Our map informed us that Mt. Thielsen was an extinct shield volcano which stopped erupting about 250,000 years ago. Three different ice ages had eroded the mountain, leaving the center of the volcano as an eye-catching spire. The thin, tapering pinnacle acted as a natural lightning rod, forming a rare variant of fulgurite (substance formed when lightning melts rock). Lathrop Glacier, just below the summit, gave mute testimony of long ago mountain-shaving ice age forces.

A couple hours after my first sighting, the trail brought us to the shoulder of Mt. Thielsen, with a beguiling breeze which blew away all traces of mosquitoes. It was an easy decision to eat dinner there, watching light and shadow chase across the surface of the mountain as clouds scudded high above.

‘Here we are, on the birthday of our country,’ I thought. ‘We haven’t spoken to another person all day. One state away, my best friend is singing in a chorus, listening to cannons firing, and eating chocolate cake surrounded by hundreds of other celebrants. All over the nation, people will be watching fireworks tonight. The thing is, I’m totally content with our light and cloud show! This scenery is truly incredible.’

“What a way to appreciate our nation,” I sighed in happiness. Jay grinned at me, silently agreeing.

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July 5, 2018

We camped last night above Thielsen Creek, with a view of the mountain top from our tent door. This morning Jay woke me just in time to see the whole mountain awash with the alpine glow of sunrise. Later, as I braved mosquitoes to fetch water, I couldn’t resist one more picture of this incredible mountain.

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In the early afternoon, Jay and I noticed a log with a rather large symmetrical pile of sawdust beside it. Intrigued, we stopped to watch.

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A tiny fleck of sawdust caught a miniscule speckle of sunlight as it drifted onto the top of the mound. Fascinated, we leaned in for a closer look.

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Dark movement in the hole above the pyramid of wood shavings caught our attention.

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As we watched, we suddenly saw … carpenter ants! They were busily hollowing out this log, turning it into a catacomb of intersecting tunnels and passageways, making a safe nest for their colony. That pile of chewed wood had been placed there one infinitesimal fragment at a time. No ant had said, “Oh, this is too big of a job.” They’d just got on with it, busily making a place for themselves.

Once again I found myself lost in wonder, this time inspired by a small pile of sawdust. Truly we live in an extraordinary world, from awe-inspiring mountains to staggering examples of the minute. It is a privilege to witness this earth!

(Below is a 15 second video of the ants in action, from Jay’s phone camera.)

Crater Lake

July 2, 2018

Yesterday, I ran a gauntlet of winged, bloodthirsty adversaries to fetch cold, crystal clear water from Christi’s Spring. Today our watering hole was an unnamed pond near Jack’s Spring.

The forest around the pond was patchily burned, giving the breeze room to maneuver and blow away many of the mosquitoes. Sitting next to the lily pads, we drained the last drops from our water bottles.

Holding empty bottles, I slowly sidled onto a fallen log, scooping water several yards from the shore.

The water was a discouraging yellow color, but we went ahead and treated it with Aquamira drops, hoping it would taste okay.

Thirty minutes later, when the Aquamira had taken effect, I took a careful swallow. Fresh green taste permeated my mouth – reminiscent of a kale and spinach smoothie with no sugar. The last pond had tasted of fermented alfalfa (aka the smell of horse manure), so I was encouraged by the relative fresh taste of this pond. Jay and I put tea bags in our water bottles anyway. If I’m going to drink yellow water, I’d just as soon drink tea flavor!

Flowers mixed with mushrooms and burned areas gave us endless variety in the day.

Much of the forest we hiked through today was intermittently burned, with blackened tree trunks and little undergrowth, but green needles in the treetops. However, one area had been seared so badly, even the dirt was charred.

Sixteen PCT miles plus one mile of road walk brought us to Mazama Campground at Crater Lake in the late afternoon. We carefully threaded our way through a large parking lot, blessedly mosquito free, though busily full of moving cars. Jay agreed to guard our packs outside the campground store while I joined the line to register for a campsite.

I relaxed as I stood in the long, slow moving line, enjoying the opportunity to listen, trying to identify people’s origins from their accents. At the registration window, I heard a lady tell two well-dressed women before me, “I believe we have one or two campsites left.”

The second registrar beckoned me over. I grinned at him. “My husband and I are PCT hikers. We would like to camp here tonight if it’s possible?”

“Oh sure,” the young man smiled back. “It will cost $5.00 to camp at the ‘Hike In’ site. There are already several PCT hikers down there. Let me take your name and print a permit for you to attach to your tent.”

The other registrar interrupted. “Did you just give her the last empty campsite?”

From the other window, a chorus of “Oh, nooooo!” sounded from the two women, who looked slightly desperate.

“No,” my registrar reassured. “She’s a PCT hiker.”

“Yeah, he put me with all the other hiker trash,” I laughed. The two registrars snickered.

“What does that mean, hiker trash?” One woman looked puzzled.

“Oh, well,” I paused in thought. “We’re all on the trail for so long, and we get so dirty … and by the time we’re finished, our gear and clothes are ragged and done for. ‘Hiker trash’ seems a good description.”

“Oh, I see. It’s a term of endearment for your colleagues,” she nodded. I giggled as I looked down at my stained and ragged shirt. What a way to describe us!

With tent permit in hand, Jay and I bought six days of food from the camp store, treated ourselves to a delicious hot meal at the restaurant, then moseyed downhill to the campground. Jay set up our tent in the deepening dusk among other quiet PCT hiker tents. I happily stowed our heavy food bags in the bear box provided, then skipped off to the campground bathhouse for a wonderful shower!

July 3, 2018

Colors glowed with the appearance of light in the sky. We rose, silently breaking camp, trying not to waken occupants of the many tents nearby. Even in the predawn coolness, sweat beaded across my face as we climbed 1.5 miles up the steep trail from the Mazama Campground back to the PCT. From there, it was 3.5 miles to Crater Lake Lodge, still mostly uphill. Breakfast was a treat after such a workout!

How to describe the next 10 miles as we hiked alongside Crater Lake? The water glowed, a mixture of deep royal and sapphire sky blue. A breeze swept over the lake, effectively vanquishing mosquitoes as it cooled my face. Next to the lodge, the trail looked deceptively inviting, wide and flat. Soon it began a series of steep ups and downs, giving my legs a workout, but rewarding my soul with stunning vista after vista. We climbed Watchman’s Tower, and could see all the way from Mount Shasta in the south to the Three Sisters in the north!

The Klamath tribe of Native Americans have an oral history of ancestors witnessing the collapse of gigantic Mount Mazama. Geologists estimate the event happened about 7,700 years ago, with the mountain blowing out 12 cubic miles of volcanic rock, creating a caldera 5 miles in diameter. Once the insides of the exploded mountain cooled, water began collecting from rainfall and snow melt, creating the incredible beauty of Crater Lake.

Infant to the Earth

Blue abyss enclosed in rock

Ancient to mankind

(Haiku by Jay)

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Words cannot do this place justice. Perhaps this quote from one of my very favorite books helps to illustrate that sense of being transported to a place of mystery as we hiked, seeing the lake again and again this day.

“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Mosquitoes!

June 30, 2018

With singing heart and a bounce in my step, I headed north from Hwy 140 through a fairly flat forest filled with evergreens. My pack, stuffed with ten meals and all my gear, felt light, mirroring my mood.

Streamers of usnea adorned the trees.

I grinned at Jay. “Blue sky, warm sun, cool breeze – what more could a person want?”

“Mosquito repellent?” Jay asked as he slapped his arm. “I can’t believe these things are biting through my jacket!”

I realized that the bloodthirsty insects were penetrating my shirt and pants also. Quickly I pulled out DEET, applying it liberally to my clothes, more sparingly to my bare skin. The repellent did make the tiny monsters back off a bit. Instead of biting, they just followed me, eagerly seeking a chink in my armor.

We continued hiking, and I went back to contemplating the natural wonders around me. Every now and then a mosquito would commit suicide by diving into my ear or nose or mouth. Jay could hear me behind him, choking and spitting. Aack!

After 11 miles, we reached the trail to Christi’s Spring, and were delighted to meet an old acquaintance, Phoenix from France, last seen on May 6, approaching Tehachapi. As we chatted, catching up with each other, another hiker, Hollywood, approached from the spring. Seeing empty water bottles, he asked Phoenix, “Are you prepared to meet Armageddon?”

“Mosquitoes are that bad down there?” Phoenix sounded surprised.

“You wouldn’t believe,” Hollywood shuddered.

I had read about Christi’s Spring in Guthook, the online PCT map. Chaucer, a PCT hiker, had written, ‘Get your water and RUN!’

Phoenix eyed my preparations, and decided to put on a bit more protection.

Hiker PapaDen refers to this type of outfit as a “hazmat suit”.

We camped early, just for the relief of crawling into a bug-free space. I love our tent! As we lay on our sleeping bags, listening to the whine of frustrated tiny vampires, Jay asked, “Hey, can you hear the nighthawks?”

I strained my ears, and suddenly heard “bbeerrnt“, a distinctive nasal vocalization, sounding much like a miniature airplane diving. I imagined the birds, plummeting through the air above me, intent upon filling their bellies with insects. Cheered by this sign of mosquito demise, I fell asleep.

July 1, 2018

Nighthawks provided air support as dawn peered between the tree trunks, but the mosquitoes were undaunted, tinnily demanding that we emerge from our tent haven.

These bloodsucking winged terrors provided escort service for our first eight miles, until we finally left them behind by climbing onto dry Shale Butte.

Jay pulled ahead of me, disappearing as he topped out on a long, breezy arm of the butte.

Suddenly, I heard a loud, rattling fall of rock. ‘An avalanche?‘ I wondered. The sounds of disturbed rocks continued. ‘I hope that’s not Jay falling off this ridge,’ I thought with sudden anxiety. ‘No,’ I reasoned. ‘I would have heard a yell. Maybe it’s a bear taking the short way down the mountain.’ (I never did see the cause of the sliding rocks, so I have only my bear theory.)

I continued walking, contouring around the ridge, and noticed musical notes emanating from beneath my feet. I looked down. The trail at this point had been hacked across a scree field. My footsteps clinked over loose pieces of flat shale, making a faint tune, as if someone were gently tapping each pitch in a set of wind chimes. Charmed, I slowed my steps, immersed in the unexpected enchantment of the moment.

Flowers began making a show as I caught up with Jay. Penstemon, western wallflowers, Indian paintbrush, and bleeding hearts splashed the rocks with pockets of color.

Suddenly I saw a new flower! Shaggy gray and white feathers swirled in coiffed mops, looking exactly like miniature versions of the truffula trees in the Dr Seuss book, The Lorax!

Jay looked it up, and we had a name, the white pasqueflower, it’s feathery top the flower gone to seed.

We came to a side trail for Devil’s Peak. The top looked so close, we couldn’t resist dropping our packs to climb. Another couple with the same goal took our picture before we started. The view was well worth the effort. Mt McLoughlin and far off Mt Shasta greeted us from behind, Klamath Lake lay on our right, a wilderness of jumbled green ridges stretched out on our left, and the rim of Crater Lake loomed before us.

Devil’s Peak is behind us.

A familiar whine greeted us as we descended the mountain, and once again I was thankful to dive inside our tent that night, leaving bloodthirsty insects mindlessly battering the mosquito netting.

Jay surveyed the day’s collection of mosquito bites in disgust. “To think, only the female half of the population was after me! Being a babe magnet is overrated.”

Ashland! (aka, a week with Kitty)

June 29, 2018

Celebrated as the largest “trail town” on the PCT, Ashland is known to the rest of the world as a center for Shakespeare and other plays. Tourists mingle with bearded hikers, seekers of alternate lifestyles, and busy locals, making downtown an endlessly interesting place. Jay and I discovered this while walking through Lithia Park on our first evening…

Perhaps a common sight in Ashland, but unique in our experience!

Of course, our main job was to take care of Jay’s sister’s cat, known as ‘Kitty’. Once Kitty conveyed our roles to us, we got along fine.

“Sarah will feed me, Jay will give me cuddles, and I will entertain myself. Just make sure to leave a sunbeam on the floor in which I can bask each morning.”

We did enjoy some entertainments when two friends, Linda and Dave, visited us from Gardnerville, NV. They flew into town in a glider that Dave built himself!

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We wandered the streets, stopping in several cafes for food and drink. At the Agave, the waitress gave us an impromptu lesson in margarita making. We were fascinated! (And Dave and Jay agreed that the margaritas were quite good.)

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They hand squeeze this many limes in one evening for their margaritas!

We walked along the creek in Lithia Park, and Dave and I stopped to climb a giant rope jungle gym.

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We closed our day with a free concert at an outdoor stage. The Green Shows happen every evening except Mondays, featuring different fine arts performers. It’s a big draw for tourists and locals.

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The Bathtub Gin Serenaders played catchy jazz and blues tunes, and invited everyone to dance! These two were the first to respond, but by the end of the gig, most of the children had gravitated from the audience to the stage. Great music, and fun times!

Often, after a day of slack packing, Jay and I wandered down to the Green Show. The eclectic nature of the Green Shows gave us new experiences nearly every night.

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The Fantasia Performing Arts Center brought Chinese dance and opera to the Green Show one evening.
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Their performance ended with a rendition of an old Chinese tale of star-crossed lovers, much like Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It was beautifully danced and enthusiastically narrated!

As Jay and I explored each evening, we were treated to tunes from street musicians. Some were very good, some were just beginners. All added to the holiday atmosphere that permeated the heart of Ashland.

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Beautiful classical tunes brought us around a corner and down some steps to sit and enjoy this woman’s music.

We have enjoyed this time of culture and fun. Tomorrow we continue hiking the PCT. I intend to enjoy myself there, also! This world is truly a wondrous place.

Slackpack!

June 20 – 25, 2018

So here we are, cat sitting during a truly lovely part of summer. The PCT continues to tug at my soul. What to do? Slackpack, of course!

“I’ve never heard this term,” a day hiking mother of two told me on our second slackpack. So, I looked it up. To quote from the website, Slackpacker.com, “Slackpacking was originally coined to describe a day’s worth of thru-hiking unencumbered by a [full] pack.”

The PCT crosses several asphalt roads within easy driving distance of Ashland. Logistically and emotionally, slackpacking made sense.

On our first day of this adventure, Jay dropped me at Highway 66, then drove to the next asphalt road, Hyatt Lake Road. I began hiking north, he hiked south. We met in the middle for lunch and a key hand off. When I reached the car, I drove back to the first trail head to pick up Jay. It worked like a charm!

On our first day, though we saw no other backpackers, flowers were our constant companions!

The trail became quite populated the second day. I met two families enjoying a day hike. One of the children asked me if I thought a PCT hiker could live off the land.

“I suppose it would depend upon how much one knew about edible plants, and ones skill at hunting,” I told him. “Jay and I ate violets, dandelions, and ramps on the Appalachian Trail, but here, the only edible plant I know is the dandelion. And I’m a truly rotten hunter. I think I would get very hungry if I had to find all my food in the wilderness.”

After wishing the families a good hike, I continued on, enjoying the feeling of being all alone in the forest. I passed a turn-off for a horse camp, then suddenly spied a bright yellow book inside a hollow log!

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Curious, I opened the notebook to find that many hikers ahead of me had recorded a continued story. Enchanted, I was quickly drawn into the plot of an evil Darkwing Goose chasing after The Maiden, who was helped by a host of thru-hikers as they encountered the adventure upon the trail. Needless to say, I added my own bit to the story and returned the tale to its log. The magic of the unfinished yarn stayed with me for several miles afterwards.

Meeting Jay for lunch, I found that he, also, had been encountering hikers today, including Texas Teacher, whom we had not seen since sharing a bus ride from San Diego to Campo on our very first day of the PCT! What a treat for Jay to run into him!

As we were eyeing lunch spots, we met another PCT hiker, Trailbait. We invited ourselves to lunch with her, and spent an enjoyable 30 minutes trading trail talk. Among other tales, we learned that Trailbait had attended a survival camp at the age of 14, and could kill a rabbit with a throwing stick! If the little boy had asked her about living off the land, he would have received a very different answer! After lunch, she and I walked together a bit before her youth and vitality left me in the dust.

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Trailbait knows how to make herself comfortable on an afternoon break.

During these days of slack packing, I noticed that some spring flowers were beginning to fade, especially the bleeding hearts, which have turned darker purple and begun to grow seed pods.

One never knows what will be seen on the trail, and our third slackpack was unique for a pelvis bone in the path. It still had a few scraps of tendon attached, pretty fresh. Due to its size, Jay theorized that it could possibly be from a fawn.

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Our fourth day of slackpacking found me exploring one of the few shelters on the PCT. It is sturdily built, with a wood stove inside, and a mouse-chewed journal. I read about hikers waiting out May and June snow storms here, happy for the warmth of the stove.

Brown Mountain Shelter

Soon after seeing the shelter, I met Pathfinder, a hiker who is intent upon completing the PCT for the second time. He averages 40 miles per day, and has already hiked through the high Sierras this year. We met Jay, and the three of us talked for a few minutes.

“How were the Sierras for you, starting so early?” Jay asked.

“There was a lot of snow,” Pathfinder acknowledged. “The worst part for me was trying to find the trail. I don’t carry GPS, I just rely on maps. I got lost several times. It got to where, whenever I saw snow, I just sighed in disgust.”

“With the permit system the PCTA has started, a lot of hikers are getting to the Sierras early,” Jay observed.

“Yes, I don’t think the system really works.” Pathfinder shook his head. “I understand that it’s designed to spread out the hikers and reduce the impact upon the trail. But everyone gets bottled up at the Sierras anyway. And some hikers are heading into those mountains earlier than they should. It takes experience to navigate safely through snow and high altitudes. Heck, I weathered three snow storms while I was up there!”

“Also, the people who can’t get an early permit to start north are hiking southbound through southern California,” Jay added. “So there are still too many hikers all in the same place. This trail has very specific weather and time windows for the different parts. I don’t know what the answer is.”

After lunch, I had the excitement of hiking around Brown Mountain, a small cinder cone on top of a shield volcano. The path passed from tall trees sporting streamers of usnea to blocks of hardened black lava devoid of vegetation. Such a fascinating ecosystem! As I gratefully hiked along the carefully constructed path, I marveled at the amount of work the trail crews had lavished on these lava crossings. Without the trail, my forward progress would have made a snail look speedy, and I would have probably broken a leg!

Near the end of the day, Mt. McLoughlin made an appearance, promising more adventure ahead.

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Four days of slackpacking gained us 38.8 miles of completed PCT, for a total of 721 PCT miles since beginning our pilgrimage on March 22nd. Much more importantly has been the many memories of people, flowers, and natural beauty that we’ve collected over the past 3 months. I can hardly wait to continue – with a full backpack!

Slow Motion Ramble

June 15, 2018

One entertainment while hiking the PCT has been watching landmarks change perspective over the course of hours and days. Seeing views in slow motion, as we hiked past Mt. Ashland and caught glimpses of far away, snow-covered Mt. Shasta, emphasized the unique nature of our rambling days.

Jay and I noticed many alpine clearings, covered with a huge monoculture of pussy paws. Each time the trail skirted a clearing, the fragrance of these wildflowers swamped our senses. Jay smelled honey, I smelled intense, almost overwhelming burned caramelized sugar, and a forester we met described it as “the smell of three day old gym socks.”

We enjoyed chatting with the forester. “These pussy paws are a pioneer species,” he told us. “Cattle and sheep have grazed here for much of the past 100 years, especially in the early 1900s. A friend of mine remembers hiking with her father to the Silver Fork Basin and seeing clouds of dust rise in the air as they approached. The soil is so fragile up here. Heavy rain or wind can disrupt struggling plants as the fine, light particles of dirt are moved. It is very exciting to see the ground getting covered with these first plant colonizers. Pussy paws are a sign of hope.”

Here is a close up picture of a pussy paws plant, and a panorama of alpine clearings covered in these flowers.

While eating dinner, a day hiker stopped and offered to take our garbage! We were so overwhelmed with such an unexpected and thoughtful offer, I forgot to take his picture or get his name. But thank you, unknown hiker! It was wonderful to suddenly have more room in our packs that night and in the next couple of days.

June 16, 2018

Nearing Siskiyou Pass, just as the sun threw long legs over the horizon, we stopped, transfixed with an early morning show of white fog streaming through a gap between steep-sided canyons. Brilliant sun picked out highlights while shadows preserved a myrtle green and slate blue background, and sapphire blue sky arched overhead.

Five miles from our lovely morning beginning, the trail crossed a dirt road with a sign half hidden in the trees.

My imagination was immediately captivated. I could almost hear the creaking of wooden wheels, the calls of pioneers and gold seekers as they urged their teams up the mountain.

Another sign high on a tree informed us that “Callahan’s” could be found down this overgrown road. Although we hadn’t planned to stop there, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to walk through history, sharing a trail with long ago frontiersmen and women. Besides, we had been so enchanted with the morning, we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet! Callahan’s Lodge and Restaurant promised to fill our empty stomachs.

1860s travelers never had it this good on their stage stops!

Another distinctive landmark on our horizon today was Pilot Rock, a volcanic plug which helped guide early travelers through the Siskiyou Pass. As we passed the turn off for the trail which climbs Pilot Rock, two young men came bounding down the path, faces alight with exhilaration, jubilant triumph spilling from their every pore!

“You must have just climbed Pilot Rock,” I observed, smiling at their obvious joie de vivre.

“Yes! It was awesome!” they assured me, beaming.

For a brief moment, this dome of hardened magma beckoned me upwards. But the pull of the PCT was stronger, so I continued contouring around the monument, promising myself to return someday.

Jay approaching Pilot Rock.

After a day of walking through conifer glades, skirting meadows filled with pussy paws and other flowers, seeing an incredible mosaic of ecological diversity, we camped near an unnamed spring. Soda Mountain loomed to our right, reminding me that the Soda Mountain Wilderness, through which we had been privileged to walk, had been created by grassroots efforts, including it in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 which President Obama signed into law on March 30, 2009. That evening, as a frog lullaby began at the spring, I felt an upwelling of thankfulness to the unknown people who had worked so hard to protect this beauty.

June 17, 2018

With only five and a half miles to hike before reaching Highway 66, we spent most of our walk today photographing wildflowers, playing with the settings on my phone camera. Tonight we plan to stay at Green Springs Inn, before beginning a week of cat sitting for Jay’s sister in Ashland. This Oregon part of the hike is allowing us to make connections with many of Jay’s family – or at least with their pets!

So I close this post with a positive plethora of wildflower and butterfly images!

From left to right, top to bottom: thimbleberry, columbine, western wallflower, purple trillium, Indian paintbrush, blue star tulip, Oregon manroot, salsify, camas, wild rose, Henderson’s stars, unknown orange flower, great basin fritillary, pale swallowtail