I am in love.
I walked into the Klamath with a lot of high expectations. All were met and exceeded. This part of California is truly a mysterious place. The botanical diversity is remarkable in just how many species have found a home in these mountains. The Klamath somehow brings together the best of the Sierra, the Cascades, and even species found in the Rocky Mountains such as Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa).
Foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana), found only in the very southern Sierra also live in small isolated stands in the Klamath. Coming across a stand of these trees, after not having seen hide nor hair (so to speak) of the Foxtail for about 800 miles was truly mind blowing. What explains their growing in two geographically separate locations and nowhere in between?
The topography is varied for sure, so too is the geology. As many have pointed out the Klamath, Trinity, and Marble mountains present a pretty interesting patchwork of rock including Serpentine, a metamorphic rock formed of ancient sea floor which can contain toxic (to many plants) amounts of nickel, chromium, and cobalt as well as low levels of phosphorous, potassium and low calcium/magnesium ratios. There are plants however that have adapted to live on Serpentine formations and these add to the botanical diversity of the Klamath region.
Coming across some seeps full of the carnivorous California Pitcher Plant (Darlingtonia californica), and seeing it in flower one late evening was another cheap botanists thrill. These tube forming herbaceous plants apparently don’t actually do the digestion of the bugs that get trapped and drowned in their hollow pitchers, but rather like us, the bacteria that live in those photosynthetic cauldrons do the work for them.
The hiking was solid, the views were outstanding, and I am finally getting my trail legs back. I am finding 25 miles/day fairly easy, and even starting to do some 30’s while still finding time to posey pick, press samples, ID plants, and take it all in as best I can. My mind keeps whirring with thoughts about the other mysteries of my life over the past few months. Things incomprehensible to me, questions unanswered, life lessons yet unlearned. I would prefer if I could stay more attuned to my immediate environment more of the time, and stay attentive to the mystery right around me rather than the blurry confusion surrounding the decisions of other people, decisions that inevitably affect and detract from my life as well, but as a good friend of mine told me…let the mouse wheel spin.
Bears are good at bringing one back to their sensual experience.
Over the past week I have met 6. The first two were just before arriving to the Etna Summit. There was a pair of them hanging out, one being by far the largest black bear I have ever seen in the wild. And jet black she/he was. The other with her was a cinnamon brown colored black bear probably about two years old. The larger wasted no time in crashing headlong and at top speed down through thick Greenleaf Manzanita and Huckleberry Oak shrub. The younger and more foolish hung around looking at me for a while.
Shortly after that I hitched down into Etna, planning to stay just long enough to pick up some food, hit the brewpub for a pint and meal, and hitch back up to the summit. As often happens, the town drew me in. More specifically a very generous family of trail angels invited me into their home, plied me with home brew raspberry and blackberry hooch, and filled me up with a home cooked meal of venison burritos.
This venison was the first I have ever had from a bell jar. I have always wondered how canned meat would taste. Now I know. It is a lot like pot roast, very tender, and very edible. Most of the way through the meal, and well into my fourth or fifth burrito I asked Gary for the story of this deer. I asked him if he had gotten it last year. He said, ‘Nope…2004’ matter of factly. I had to laugh. Well, I thought, if eight year old canned and cellared venison doesn’t kill me, I am sold on canning meat. So far so good.
Chris got me back up to the trail early the next morning with only a faint hang over, a pack full of hooch, and about a half -gallon of fresh picked cherries from their tree (ultralighters eat your heart out!) I thank the Flecks for their warm hospitality, interesting military stories, and incredibly well stocked pantry to which they swung the doors wide open for me.
…back to the bear tales…
Two days later, just past the Marble Mountains (so named for the fact that they are gigantic hunks of marble) I saw four more bears in the span of about two minutes. The first was a large solo bear who had smelled or heard me coming and by the time I spotted him, was making his way lazily up the slope out of Big Rock Creek Valley. I watched him until he got into a few trees and out of sight. He kept looking back, not wanting to put much effort in the hide out. Shortly I entered into a bitter cherry thicket. Having just crossed out of it I heard a crashing sound above me. I looked up just in time to see a bear running full speed at me. I hollered out “hey bear!” at which point she looked up at what she was charging, realized it was a human and did an on-the-dime turn of about 140 degrees bolting straight down the mountain through thick forest, up and over logs and branches. Out of the thicket came two tiny cubs hot on her heels, but so small they could barely scramble over all the downed wood. It all happened so quickly it wasn’t until after they were gone that I realized I had just been charged. That was a nice little shot of adrenaline to get my through what became a second rainy 25 miles out to Grider Creek.
Despite the rain, rather, thanks to the rain, the descent from 7000’ into Seiad Valley (infamously known as the ‘hottest town on the trail’ being at only 1500 feet above sea level) was a comfortable and cool one. The ‘jungle’ became more and more lush and overgrown as Grider Creek canyon got deeper and deeper. The Douglas Firs seemed to extend forever skyward in search of light while the undergrowth filled in with Big Leaf Maple, Madrone, Canyon Live Oak, Deer Brush, and endless waist high Thimble Berry. I rolled into the campground just after dark, pitched my soggy sack of tent, heated up some deer, beans, and rice, and crawled in. I still had a bag of plants to get into the press so I sat up by headlamp plunking them in between sheets of newspaper and finally, finally, cranked the straps down. Day done, sweet sleep imminent… dreaming of buying land in the Klamath…