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Having completed the database several months ago the app design and development phase is now in full swing. If my research is correct, this app will be a first of its kind in bringing together several unique user functions that are available individually in different field guide apps for other places/regions, but as of yet have never been brought together in one app, and certainly not for a digital field guide covering such a large geographic span. Without spoiling the surprise, keep in touch for updates on publication progress, and what these features will entail. We are ramping up the workload in order to hopefully have the app available to PCT thru hikers by the first week of April (if nothing else, at least for a beta version) Yes, it will ultimately be available on both android and apple platforms!!
We are also working on logos, so if you have creative ideas for that please feel free to shoot me an email.
How ironic that I haven’t posted anything in over a year, and yet so much time has been spent sitting at this dusty thinkpad. It hasn’t all been clickity-click and tappity-tap but there has been a lot of that the past few months. I should back up though. A solid chunk of last year was spent just working my way through the 1648 specimens and 18,206 photos. “Spring break” was spent not in Baja on a road trip with my brother and Green Tortoise (though it probably should have been), but in the UC Berkeley Jepson herbarium pulling marathon 12 and 14 hour days keying plants and utilizing that world class resource to compare my specimens with those of the herbarium. I am thankful to have such liberal access to that obscenely large repository of knowledge. I am also thankful to have been able to knock on various people’s doors there in order to get some second opinions on things. There are some truly amazing botanists down their in that basement, quietly and continually pushing the frontiers of science even while the Cyrus-swinging-on-a-ball caliber shenanigans carry on up above.
Given that it’s Thanksgiving, and it just so happens that today, after two and a half months, I finally finished the bulk of building up the database for the field guide app, I would like to give thanks for that too. The effort has been hard fought. That is to say, I have worked my way through over 1200 of the most common trees, shrubs, and perennial species and now have compiled key identifying information and geographic data on all of them into a database from which a more user friendly app can be derived. The next order of business though is to dig into the ethnobotanical side of things and gather knowledge on edible, medicinal, and other uses on as many of these as I can. If anyone has sources they’d like to recommend I am all ears. I am thus far working with Facciola (Cornucopia), Elliott (Handbook of Edible and Poisonous Plants of Western North America), Moerman (Native American Ethnobotany), pfaf.org, and of course personal experience…the best source out there to which we all have access.
From there? I guess it’s polish and publish? I am in conversation with a company about publishing the app, but no contract as of yet. Stay tuned…
Aug 23rd about 10 am.
Well, the walk anyway…for now. The real work of putting the book together has just begun.
I plan to upload a load of photos over the coming days, but I felt it would be good to try and get a post up before I get any further sucked back into this other ‘real’ world of clocks, appointments, schedules, and general bustle.
I suppose I haven’t had an opportunity to write since Snoqualmie Pass. I couldn’t really summarize the experience of those last 260 miles and the last 12 days it took to hike them except that it is truly one of the most spectacular, difficult, wild, animate, and engaging landscapes on the entire trail.
There are several climbs and descents over 3000 feet including an arduous and infamous overgrown south facing avalanche chute that requires 47 switchbacks to make it back up onto the alpine ridge from a start at about 2000′ elevation at Milk Creek. This section of the PCT around Glacier Peak I vote as simultaneously the best and the worst maintained section of the entire trail, which I think is a testament to how difficult it is to keep a trail operational in that lush part of the backcountry. Between the bridges constantly being blown out by the burgeoning Spring pulse of glacial snow melt, and the consistent need to not only cut but also dynamite massive fallen trees out of the way, there leaves little in the budget to do the kinds of things to a trail that really make it functional. Brush clearing just doesn’t seem to get done there, and as such those long up and down climbs lead one into tangles of growth well over the head height.
At times you are literally encased in Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), Alder (Alnus viridis), Corn Lily (Veratrum viride), and Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum). It is at those moments that you hope you Don’t run into a bear as you can only but remain focused on trying to see if there is a rock or log across the trail. That said, it is a wild place and full of animals, and I am thankful I have now had many encounters.
During those last ten days I about doubled my black bear count for the hike to 17 in total. One such recent encounter lasted for about twenty minutes. I had stopped along the trail at the base of a granitic boulder field to photograph a wild raspberry bush when I heard a strange noise uphill and to my left. Looking up I see a momma bear gracefully gliding out of a Devils Club (Oplopanax horridus) thicket into the boulder field no more than 20 feet away from me. She had a fair sized cub at her heels. I sensed no aggression from her, transmitted no fear to her, and just watched in awe and amusement as she moved on above me to another bush wherein she would pull the spiny plant towards her and in one bite ravage the entire spike like raceme of red berries. I had no idea they ate them, and had actually been wondering earlier that day what were all the seeds I was seeing in the plentiful bear scat along the trail. (I think they are also eating a lot of Kinickinick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) this time of year while waiting just a little longer on the masses of huckleberries to come in season.) After polishing off all the ripe Devils club she ballet danced her way across the scree field and climbed straight up a granite boulder to gain access to a rotting standing dead tree. I couldn’t really tell what she was doing under the thick of the vegetation, until I heard a loud cracking sound and saw a chunk of tree go flying past me across the trail. It was big enough to easily knock a person right off their feet if they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I suppose she was after grubs of some kind within the rotting log. I marveled at the bears ability to transition seamlessly from tip toeing around on boulders while gently eating berries to the next minute scaling a rock face and tearing a tree in half. With respect and admiration I decided it was a good time to move on. While the bears had enough common sense to stay on the cool north facing slope for the afternoon, I, and other hapless humans trudged on up the hot, exposed south face through North Cascades National Park and towards Rainy Pass
This was a section that I was actually already familiar with and passing through Rainy Pass, Cutthroat Pass, Snowy Lakes, and Golden Creek I reminiced about weekend hikes I had taken there two years ago. I also marveled at how really different an activity weekend hiking and thru hiking are. This time through by noon I had already passed both of my old campsites from a three day trip in 2010. I am not even sure what it was I had been doing that enabled me to move that slowly through the landscape back then, but I do recall a fair amount of lollygagging at Snowy Lakes. I have actually changed my opinion about the idea of moving 30 plus miles through a landscape in a day. I used to think that to do that requires one to have their head down and see nothing of what they are experiencing. In truth, while I typically averaged about 28 miles/ day this summer I had several days over 30 and apart from one of those days I never felt like I was pushing myself beyond a speed of being able to absorb my surroundings. On the contrary, my longest day of the trip was also the day I saw the most elk, and probably one of the most memorable days of the trip on account of having goofed and run out of water midday. What a thirty mile day does require is getting up at about 5 am and hiking until early evening. However, in terms of seeing things (especially wildlife) these are precisely the times of day you want to have your eyes open.
At any rate, as they say on the trail, “HYOH” (Hike your own hike). Everyone finds their pace eventually if they don’t allow themselves to get caught up in the pace of another or a group.
The Snoqualmie to the Canadian border section also has a couple of the nicest trail towns on the PCT. At Stevens Pass hikers are fortunate to be welcomed into ‘Hiker Haven’ at the Dinsmores. These generous folks have created a hostel in miniature but totally not for profit by donation only. They have a room finished off in their long metal shop/barn which they have furnished with bunks, a computer, wood fire stove, books, movies, etc etc. There is also access to laundry and shower at their house, and they live about two stones throw from a real decent cafe/general store.
Pretty much the only other stop available through this section is in the totally surreal town of Stehekein, WA. This fairytale place can only be accessed by foot, boat, or sea plane as it is on the western tip of Lake Chelan. There is one small stretch of non connected road along the lake. Strung down this road between the trail head and the boat landing like pearls are bus stops not to be missed; the bakery, and ‘The Garden’ are two such gems. Legend of the Stehekein bakery travels deep into the southern reaches of the PCT. I was hearing about those pastries and pies high in the California Sierras, nearly two thousand trail miles away. To discover that all tales told were true nearly overwhelmed the senses and my ability to decide what to order. In truth, if out on the trail long enough, one can get pretty obnoxiously excited about the idea of getting to a can of beer at a Chevron station, let alone this deep woods hut full of rainbow apron clad women beating, mixing, rolling, spreading, and filling the most obscenely delicious pastries I have ever seen in my life.
Then the bus stops at ‘The Garden’ where Karl, barefoot and ripped jeans monastically ignores the fact that his land is adjacent to a mosquito infested wetland. Swatting not, he will calmly ask you “how many carrots did you say you wanted” before he heads out into the garden and picks them for you right then and there. It just doesn’t get any fresher than that. I was ‘forced’ to do a ‘nero’ (trail jive for nearly a zero day ((8.2 miles in my case))) as I arrived to Stehekein on a Sunday morning and had to wait for the post office to open Monday morning to get my 13th and final food drop as well as pick up my passport sent out by a friend in Berkeley. Being forced to spend a day lounging on the sunny docks in Stehekein and periodically jump into the lake doesn’t really take much ‘forcing’ at all. It comes pretty naturally I’d say.
But so did the end of this long walk.
I wrapped up my hike of the PCT on Thursday the 23rd at about 10 am and hiked out from there to Manning Park, British Columbia. I was blessed to finish with another guy my age who goes by the name of ‘Pockets’. In some ways the terminus there at a random spot in the woods with a thirty foot wide clear cut line demarcating the boundary between Canada and the US is not exactly the kind of climatic finish one would hope for. However, that place is special and being a focal point for so many people each year, it seems to hold a certain unique energy about it. There is a wooden monument exactly like the concrete one down on the Mexican border, and there is also a metal obelisk about four or five feet tall. It is hollow and contains the last (or first) trail register of the PCT. Fortunately it was a continuation from last year and I was able to read the many entries of familiar faces and names from folks who hiked thru last year. In that small way I was able to connect last years hike through California with this years trek through the Cascades. I laughed when I saw the last entry in the book was by a pair of young Israeli guys (Pepper and Mace) who finished on Oct 27th! The last I saw them was just north of Deep Creek Hot Springs in southern CA where they were ducking behind a Juniper bush to take a snooze after eating some pizza brought by a couple of trail angels to us at the road crossing. I think I give them the award for having spent the most time out there on the trail last year. On the flip side you have folks like Swami, who finished this year at the end of July and moved immediately to the Continental Divide Trail to southbound that before he will hop over to the Appalachian Trail to try and hike that one as well all in one calendar year! Seems to me you could wear out your hip sockets doing a thing like that, but I guess he is up for it so what can you say? HYOH. Or how about Burning Daylight? He is a 65 year old retired law enforcement officer who completed his SECOND thru hike of the PCT the day before Pockets and I.
For me the trail was neither a race nor a prolonged slog. It wasn’t really a thru hike and not really a section hike either. It was something of a ‘chunk’ hike I guess, but mostly it was a treasure hunt. Every single day I met new plants I didn’t know the day before. Every day was indeed something new. The movement, the passage, and the sweat weaves those new interactions, new places, new plants, and new people together for me into a coherent story, a whole experience that like all experiences live on within us, but fade away a bit each day. Already I am forgetting chronology. Already I am searching for names of lakes and passes. Already my legs and feet are forgetting what it is to get up before dawn knowing they will be moving all day long, and the next day, and the next day, and the next. But on a cellular level it all remains intact. Muscles will atrophy this winter, feet will grow soft again, memories will fade, but on a cellular level the experience will endure.
A warm thanks to those of you who have been reading this sometimes gibberish blog. It isin’t over. I hope to be posting periodic updates as the book progresses.
For now, I am back in Berkeley, back in my home, and if my lovely sub-letter ever decides to give me my room back I might even stop sleeping in the backyard under our giant Doug Fir and move back into a bed…maybe.
What to say? The homestretch lays before me. I have completed another 250 miles over the past 10 days from Cascade Locks OR. I write from the apartment of two 2011 trail friends, Marmot and Roo, in Seattle. The weather held spectacularly well and the forecast remains excellent. My feet are in strong shape, my legs are hitting full stride, and the mountains get bigger and bigger. Thoughts cannot help but begin to drift back to my other reality, my other world in which I will too soon have to immerse myself again. But for now I look forward to the North Cascades and the last 265 miles.
The past ten days flew by. I had two days over 30 miles, one of which was 34.5, the other, on my birthday was 31 miles of perhaps the least spectacular section of Washington. In that though it was special, and you see, little tiny things we take for granted in ‘the real world’, on the trail can make one thankful indeed. It was a blessing indeed to camp at Trout Lake Creek and be able to take a dip in the evening and get the salt off my body, if not the dirt. A meal of dehydrated ground venison and home grown shiitake mushroom spaghetti with sauce grown of tomatoes of my father and sauce made by my mother hit the spot, and a dessert of Mountain House freeze dried raspberry crumble out of a bag served as a birthday cake extraordinaire.
The following day, with spectacular views of Mt Adams I had several miles of snow slogging, and camped in the alpine beneath the shadow of that massive volcano. The next morning pulling water from lava spring, truly a sacred site and I am sure a place visited by mankind as long as humans have been plodding through these hills, felt rejuvinating and humbling. Seeing boot tracks in the mud there right in the spring reminded me that we as ‘amplified’ humans in our modern world have a lot yet to which we remain deaf and blind. Who would tread through this spring? The water literally flows out of the tip of a massive lava flow into a beautifully built stone lined pool.
The goat rocks wilderness, the day after, proved to be in full bloom up on the knife ridge. What started as a day of ominous and serious looking cloud cover, turned out to be a sunny, warm, breezy day up in some of the most spectacular and difficult terrain I have seen since the Klamath of northern California.
Since then I have been ‘pouring it on’ as one rotund bearded old man sitting in his pick up truck in Cascade Locks said to me. I have been entertaining myself with that memory for days. He had asked me if I came up from Mexico. I said ‘yeah’, being a little cheeky as I didn’t say when I left Mexico. He said to me, “Boy! You’re really pouring it on!! We don’t usually see you all until September!” Since then whenever it starts to get late in the afternoon, maybe I have 20 miles done or so and want to get a few more before night fall I laugh to myself and say in his hearty deep voice, ‘whelp, time to pour it on!’
Yesterday, 22 miles from route 90 and Snoqualmie pass I was hungry. Every bit of my rations was neatly accounted for and every last bit was being rapidly consumed over those last 22 miles. I thought again of that big guy in that truck and imagined for a moment him and I sitting at a massive oak wooden table. In front of each of us stood a mountain of huckleberry pancakes, each with half a stick of butter melting rapidly at the summit. We each held a gigantic pitcher of maple syrup and…well… you know, we were getting ready to ‘pour it on!’
“Don’t I just wish” I laughed to myself as I stuffed another handful of dried blueberries in my mouth followed by another snickers bar (gone in two bites or less) On the wild foraging side of things the fertility of August is really starting to be felt. The huckleberries are starting to come ripe, the fire weed presents itself occasionally in mass as a staple wild vegetable, and the mushrooms pop up here and there. Alas though, no big oak tables stacked with pancakes out there in the woods.
However, Marmot and Roo have been spoiling me for the past 24 hours here in Seattle with every possible edible option they can come up with. They rolled me out of the restaurant last night painfully full. Hopefully I tucked some of those calories away somewhere on my sinewy frame for use at some point on down the line.
This land is becoming increasingly Cascadian. It is beginning to seem like land of the lost. Ferns abundant and massive grow beneath the giant hemlocks and firs. The air can go from clear and sunny to completely encased in a cloud in a matter of minutes. It rains here even if it ain’t. The fog can get so thick at night that the trees actually precipitate the moisture out of it and rain it down to the thick litter and duff layers beneath which in turn soak it in and slowly draw it down to the wanting roots beneath. One night I cowboy camped under a tree. Got wet. The next night I camped under the stars. Got dewed. This land is moist through and through.
As my friend Kevin would say, “these are elky days”. True enough. One morning, passing east of Mt Rainier I was on the trail before 6 am completely encased in fog and in a matter of minutes I came upon about a hundred elk down in a large meadow below the trail. I watched them for about a half hour as they stomped, bum rushed, bucked, and splashed in a recent ephemeral snow melt pond. The calves were kicking and having a hoot. It occurred to me that the elk perhaps even more than the hikers were all too happy to see the snow finally melting out. Everywhere the snow vanishes is not simply clear trail for them. It is food. Lush and green and coming up in a hurry.
All that said, the ten day forecast calls for fair weather, and that should be just about enough to get me to Canada. Praise be, and I will happily put up with the tree sprinkling and deep dewy mornings.
You know, about now I feel as though I could go for another 1000 miles or so. Crossing paths lately with the south bound thru hikers I cannot help but feel a bit jealous that they have so much trail ahead of them. They haven’t a clue yet how good they’ve got it.
By the numbers:
What a difference a couple weeks make.
I am in Cascade Locks, at the foot of the ‘Bridge of the Gods’. Washington beckons. Oregon is done. Given the extraordinary snow fall of last winter here in the Pacific Northwest and the relative lack of a summer they have had thus far (even while the rest of the country has apparently been baking) I have had to cross snow fields on every major volcanic mountain all the way up Oregon. My 9 zero days at Mt Thielsen, waiting for snow to melt out helped some, but there was still plenty left by the time I arrived at Thielsen, Diamond Peak, The Three Sisters, Three fingered Jack, Jefferson, and finally Mt Hood. Despite all that the weather has held perfect and I have been able to make many miles the past twelve days. Given the elevation changes through these mountains I have also been able to experience the botany in ‘winter’, spring and summer.
Apart from the few fast packers passing me by at speeds of 35-40 miles/day, I remain well ahead of the main pack of thru hikers and therefore my journey remains very much a solo one. Since I started on June 14th I think I can count on one hand the number of nights I camped with others. During the day the cadence of my foot falls and my the click of my trekking poles add the beat to the visual cacophony of plant diversity around me. I have had three resupply points since I headed back out at Mt Thielsen; Shelter Cove, Big Lake, and Timberline Lodge. At each of these points I ran into warm interesting people who color the journey and provide mental waypoints to what can otherwise become a blurred temporal landscape. Was I on Jefferson three days ago or four? Where was it I camped last night? How many times have I seen that species of Penstemon now? When was the last time I saw water? It all starts to blend together into one whole lived landscape.
Given the snow, the periodically wet feet, wet shoes, and resultant stiff-as-cardboard socks my feet have taken a beating. Today they get to rest, but not for long. There are over 500 miles yet to go, many a pass, many a mountain, and surely more snow ahead.
My trail angel Grace back in Berkeley has been commandeering my gear resupply box, as well as been on the receiving end of my shipments of fresh plant specimens. I am indebted to her and I was happy to wake up this morning and discover that the new shoes she sent had arrived. New shoes and new socks should make a world of difference. For the rest, I apply duct tape and seam grip liberally to heels, soles, tent, pack, and pretty much anywhere else I can think to stick it. I arrived here in Cascade Locks more dusty and sweaty than I can ever remember being. It is a particular quality of insanity this long distance hiking, and it doesn’t readily translate into words. I met a hiker yesterday who was laughing about the idea of being done soon, going back to whatever other life he lived before this and then what? Inevitably whatever you do will feel lazy in comparison to daily 14 hour hikes.
I have been thinking a lot about pain lately. My feet have been giving me some insight. It seems that we fear pain and try to avoid it at all cost, but there is a quality of beauty to pain that we often overlook. Pain is a presence that does two things, it provides in stark tangible bodily reality two facts to the receiver.
1) I am alive
2) I have certain responsibilities towards myself to insure that I take care of myself.
If I disregard the second fact, the first too may well become false
I think a lot of endurance athletes reach a pain threshold and transcend it. The typical path along pain is something like this: You initially ignore it as a nuisance. In the case of your feet that is when the ‘hot spots’ start. Then you start to treat it. Perhaps you use second skin or moleskin, duct tape, maybe some vitamin I (Ibuprofen). This is pretty much as far as a weekend trip will take you. But if you are in for the long haul, eventually you actually do have to confront it in a real way. You have to accept it as an inherent part of the journey. Given time you learn to love it. This is when the mind gets real weird. Mine does anyway. However, I think this is where the real learning lay. At this point you begin to transform, to learn from your deeper self, and here is where you grow. Long distance hikers become more than the person they started as precisely because they bring themselves to the edge…and then embrace it all.
In dealing with emotional pain I believe much of this holds true as well. It is a long road, many take detours and short cuts, but those that stay with the pain can find breakthrough
In the case of neither my feet nor my heart am I there, but well…the journey continues.
Northward movement has been sparse this past week.
Arriving at the Rim village of Crater Lake and allowing myself a few precious moments to chuckle at the scene in the parking lot; children, backs turned and oblivious to what is unquestionably one of the greatest geological formations on the planet, hurling snowballs at each others faces and sliding down a dirty remnant pile of plowed parking lot snow. Kids are like that though. It has to be tangible, felt experience. Give a kid a cardboard box and he’s happy as long as he can smack himself in the head with it. Put a work of art at a distance and there is no connection….bored to tears. I chugged down a quart of water and moved on.
I made it through Crater Lake, nay, I reveled precipitously in her presence, slept on the knife edge that is her defining perimeter, and awoke for sunrise in stillness apart from the Clarks Nutcrackers singing up the sun. And yes at times it also kind of felt like just ‘making it’ while glisading through snow fields. The going was slow and water (ironically all around me in both liquid and solid form) was not at hand. This is a 27 mile section without water (the photo above betrays the fact that to get down to the actual lake would mean pretty much throwing yourself off a cliff).
Unsurprisingly, the botany was not exactly steller with all this snow. By the time I got through the hot lodgepole pine low land, skirting the Pumice Desert and onward to Mt Thielsen, the remnant snow (10 feet thick in places) had made the going sufficiently slow that I bushwacked my way down to Diamond Lake Resort. I was planning on taking this weekend to go to the Oregon Country Fair and meet up with my brother anyway, and therefore decided to take the better part of the entire week off too, allowing time for these hot dry July days to melt off the snow. It is going, and fast, but it never seems fast enough.
Rewind two weeks back to Ashland:
I was blessed to have met Sunshine, friend of Bri whom picked me up hitchhiking in the Klamath last year. Sunshine provided me with a place in Ashland to really recharge, re-gear (thanks to my superb new Mariposa pack courtesy of Gossamer Gear), and replenish. She is a whirlwind of talent and well…sunshine. I am so thankful for her help in preparing me for starting north into Oregon even if it was temporarily stymied by a late spring and lingering snow.
The location for getting bogged down was not too bad though. I was only 20 miles from the Umpqua hot springs and therefore made my way there (with a little help from Sunshine again) for a couple of zero days. My feet were grateful, but I kept itching to get back on the trail. I finally caved in and hitched back up to Mt Thielsen, only to bail on it again a few soggy, exhausting miles (and hours) later. I made my way back down to Diamond Lake, and as luck would have it, I ran into some of the early bird thru hikers, there also bailing on that area, but with some Bay area friends up for a couple days…and with a car. They ended up getting me all the way to Eugene where I caught a bus up to Portland.
Seeing long time friends and trail angels (of sorts) Bob and Kate…and the wee one Cassidy in Portland is a treat I hope to never be foolish enough to pass up when given the opportunity. Solid gold these friends are.
Well…there’s more…there’s always more, but the Fair calls…time to reconnect with my brother…it’s been too long
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…
Amongst all the things I have to do when I get into a town (clean up, laundry, food and fuel resupply, pack plant samples with dry paper to ship back to Berkeley, recharge devices, backwash water filter, gear repair, emails, download photos and waypoints, upload new waypoints, change out maps…) this blog post didn’t quite happen when I got to Mt Shasta a week ago. The trail from Sierra City to Belden was largely clear of snow this year and the weather was ideal, although hot at lower elevations. The highlight of that week surely was the steep drop into the Feather River drainage (and subsequent long climb back out). After having to wait until about 11:30 on Monday morning for my food drop to finally arrive in Sierra City, I got onto the trail pretty late, but made good time in walking. Everything this year is easier, faster, and smoother traveling solo. I ended up catching up with the Hawaiian brothers and camped two nights with them, first at the Feather River and again the next night up on a windswept ridge. They were pushing pretty hard to get to Belden before 12:30 on Friday (when the post office there closes) so that was the last I saw of them, save when I caught a ride of town and saw them walking back up the road. I suppose they caught the post office in time. Having already done section N and O from Belden to Mt Shasta last year my plan was to skip ahead to Mt Shasta and enter into the Klamath (sections P, Q. I caught two very quick rides to Chico, but bogged down there trying to hitch up to Mt Shasta. 6 hours standing at a traffic light at an on ramp for route 99 yielded my little more than some smiles, a guy offering me a couple dollars, and a girl who literally threw crumpled up dollar bills out the window to me as she drove by… It was an interesting perspective on what it must be like to be homeless.
I ended up going into a gas station convenience store and talking with the manager, Greg, about where I was and why it was nobody seemed to be headed north. He thought it likely a difficult spot to hitch from, but very kindly offered up the futon on his back porch for the night, and a ride to the bus station in the morning. I gladly took him up on the offer, had a good night sleep and caught a bus to Mt Shasta the following day. I zeroed there at Kristin and Julian’s place where I had mailed ahead my bounce box and food drop. I am so grateful to them for the (now many) times they have helped me out this year and last year in dealing with the various logistical details that northern CA has required. They are good friends and are truly trail angels.
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.
Less than 48 hours after arriving back in the country (a hiatus best left for a different blog), months of periodic preparations have now culminated in a crazed food box explosion–> implosion. 13 boxes of food have been packed and shipped, my gear is prepared, and my pack is full. I am off to the high hills of the northern Sierra. Tomorrow I return to the place left last August; Tahoe, CA. I return to continue North, and with lightness and luck, to finish what was started in duo, though I am now solo.
1455 miles relished, 1200 left to savor