I arrived in Sierra City yesterday afternoon, it seems before my food box. How I managed to walk here quicker than the postal service was able to deliver a box (presumably with motorized transportation) is beyond me. My feet, shins, and stomach are thankful though that I am delayed here a day. I have actually had a number of chance encounters already with folks both off and on the trail. Several of the speed hikers who left in April from the Mexican border are already past here, another I met two days ago. I also had a chance to hike a few miles with mother daughter duo, Blairswitch and Trailbait, and share some stories with them about the botany of the trail as well as epic hiking moments of our pasts (Blairswitch thru hiked the PCT back in ’77).
Pulling into town here a friendly hiker face popped his head out of the front door of the Red Moose Inn explaining to me that hikers are welcome to camp in the back, enjoy free showers and laundry, and if interested, an endless plate of ribs for dinner. He turned out to be none other than Charlie, whom I had met not far from here last year on the trail. The day after meeting him last year he apparently sprained his ankle and was off the trail for the rest of the season. He is back, the beard is longer and the trail calls him for a seventh year. (Long distance hiking can be addictive.) I also have met a team of brothers, part Cherokee, part Irish, part Hawaiian (ages 20 and 16, look out ladies!) who just got on the trail a few days ago and plan on heading to Canada. They have an excellent assortment of home made/ home improvised gear with them. For every ounce they manage to shave off their pack weight (trimming the edges off their maps…and yes…then also ditching the scissors) it seems they add an additional ton of spirit and love for the freedom these next couple months have granted them. I see so much of my 1999 Appalachian Trail thru hike in them and the gear they carry.
While the trail has been pretty smooth sailing, the landscape remains infinitely varied. Up on the high ridges the views back to Sonora and Donnor Passes are outstanding. Amongst the volcanic rubble on the ridges up spring forth sickle leafed onions, various California Buckwheats, pink and white Phlox, and fields of velvety soft Mules Ear. Passing from about 8500′ down to 4500′ one sees the transition from a White Pine/White Fir/Red Fir/Hemlock/Lodgepole Pine matrix down into the yellow Pine belt of the Jefferey Pine/White Fir/ Incense Cedar down to Douglas Fir/ Ponderosa Pine/ Incense Cedar with pockets of rugged dry Sierra Juniper stands and more lush shady groves of Canyon Live Oak and Black Oak. The rivers are still flowing plentifully, as thick Hemlock groves on the shady north faces continue to secret away intermittent mounds of snow beneath their boughs. The snow, however, is nothing at all like it was last year. This time last year we were struggling to find soil at 5000′. Here now after one of the driest winters on record Spring hurtles forth as high as 8500 feet. At the higher elevations I am still a bit early for really good botanizing, and down low it is already past, but in the Goldilocks zone the flowers abound, and keep my plant press and I busy.
This land is strong medicine…and…it seems…welcomes me back.