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.

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).

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!

A Tactile Smorgasbord

June 5-6, 2018

Two years ago I read a book which changed my life. Though I never aspired to become a runner, Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, gave me a different way of walking which cured the extreme back pain I suffered due to a herniated disc. The book also led to many other changes in my life. (For more information on this, see Jay’s blog post, “What are we doing differently this time?” from our Appalachian Trail 2017 hike.)

The feet of a long distance hiker are constantly changing. They bear the weight of body and pack for countless steps, thousands of miles. One’s shoes must be flexible to adapt with one’s feet. When I began hiking the PCT, I wore Altra Timps, which fit my feet at the time. But after 650 miles, my feet cringed each morning as I shoved them into my shoes. Last year on the Appalachian Trail I wore New Balance MT10v4, all 2,200 miles. Unfortunately, New Balance discontinued that model. But with my feet rebelling over Altras, I decided to try a different New Balance minimal shoe, the MT10v1. It has no arch and very little padding, giving one’s feet a unique ground feel. Jay decided to try them, also.

“They’re so light, it’s like wearing house slippers,” Jay marveled.

“I prefer to think of them as modern day moccasins,” I laughed. “It’s the closest I’ll ever come to hiking barefoot!”

“Yes! Strap-on calluses!” Jay agreed.

Our feet informed us of each small item on the trail!

Our new shoes added a novel dimension to the trail. Hemlock and fir needles covered the path in a thin woven layer, like a yoga mat which blunts the outlines but lets one feel every dimple and bump in the ground. Small pine cones and hemlock cones gave a satisfying crispy crunch as we stepped upon them, reminding me of the sound of Rice Krispies. Twigs had a bouncy “crik-crack”, reminiscent of carrot sticks which had lain in my lunch bag for two days. Clumps of usnea, or beard lichen, felt like marshmallows squishing under my toes. And when we reached a snow bank, the crunch of ice crystals sliding and compacting beneath my feet made me think of teeth crushing peppermint pieces. Fun!

The path in Oregon is quite different from the trail tread in southern California. We had transitioned from dry sand and dirt to needle-carpeted ground. Due to the large amount of hikers on the southern portion of the PCT, it was usually easy to tell which way to go – one only had to follow the sandy path that had the most footprints. Here, we have hiked over 24 hours without seeing another person. There is one set of footprints ahead of us on this trail, which show up faintly sometimes when we cross a snow drift. This isolation has set me wondering about finding our way.

What happens when a tree covers the trail? What if we get so much snow we can’t see the path? Of course, we have GPS, but what if we need it for several miles and the battery gets drained? What are the markers here?

One tree isn’t too bad, but a grove of downed trees could make the trail very hard to see!

On the Appalachian Trail, there are white blazes painted along the whole 2,200 miles. “There are blazes here, also,” Jay reminded me. “They’re a bit older than painted rectangles. Look for axe marks in a specific pattern, much like the small letter ‘i’ on the tree trunks.”

“Oh, right!” I exclaimed. “I remember seeing those when I was a kid!” And naturally, as soon as I began looking, I saw many.


Sometimes, when the trail took a small curve, the blaze was marked to one side of the tree trunk. And occasionally we saw a double blaze, marking a complete change of direction, such as on a switchback.


We began running into more snow drifts, especially whenever the trail switched to a north-facing slope and rose above 5,500 feet. I started to see the blazes as necessary, not just comforting.


Sometimes a cut log also signaled the presence of the trail.


A couple of times we saw very old Pacific Crest Trail markers.


About once a day, a modern PCT marker would appear.


We continued to be charmed with nature, especially whenever the trail dropped below 5,500 feet. The Pacific wren sang, sounding as if he were having a party all by himself in the top of the tree. A red-breasted nuthatch called, “yank, yank”.  Every time we stopped for a meal, a gray jay came by to check us out. He would look around with an opportunistic eye, then fly off to wait until we were finished with our repast. At lunch near Desane Lake, we saw a hooded merganser fishing for his own midday meal. In the early morning and late afternoon, a Swainson’s thrush serenaded us with beautiful flute-like melodies echoing through the forest.

We hiked through an old burn area, dotted with stark trunks towering above optimistic new growth.


Usnea, or beard lichen, adorned many trees, waving gently in the breeze and giving notice of the excellent air quality in these mountains.


We also saw many examples of a striking orange and black fungus.


I close this post with flowers, the jewels of the forest.

white trillium
yellow violets
bleeding hearts
an alpine white marsh-marigold (I think) and purple shooting stars