Section 20. Stevens Pass to Manning Park. 26 September – 5 October.  The Mountaineers Lodge at Stevens Pass reminded me of a slightly shabby Alpine hut in the French or Italian Alps, but without their excellent food. There was some food here it was a bit haphazard so I left early to go down to one of the 3 lodges at Stevens Pass where there was a simple cafe. I bought more snacks for the next section, ate ice cream had a coffee and set off at 1030 as the mist disappeared and the skies turned blue.

Initially for the first 5 miles there was a level path and then a slight climb up to Lake Valhalla. A picturesque lake set under the steep crags of Lichtenberg Mountain. The entire north side of the cirque the lake was nestled in was ablaze with crimson huckleberry bushes. I paused here for a break in a meadow. As I ate I noticed large spiders webs were being carried up in the gentle breeze or thermals and just hovered over the meadow before drifting into a tree. I then continued another few miles to a cold, clear creek just before Lake Janus. As I was sitting on a mossy rock beside the creek a Canadian girl called Jen appeared. She had also done continious footsteps but had been in cars to resupply.

I walked with Jen for a few miles past the beautiful Janus Lake and up the hillside towards Grizzly Peak. About half way I had to stop and Jen charged on. I was rushing to get to Grizzly Peak as I could see there would be a nice sunset. However I was astounded with the evening colours both on this mountain and the others. Especially stunning was the view north to Glacier Peak, a glaciated cone of a mountain soaring 20 miles to the north. In the hour the sun set the colours were just incredible and the views in all directions were stunning. It was one of the most memorable hours of hillwalking I have ever had. The camera photos did not do it justice.

01.The imposing Glacier Peak dominated the views to the north for the first 2 days after leaving Stevens Pass. After reaching it the next 2 days were spent skirting round its west and north flanks.

In the dusk I had to push on to Pear Lake as that was the next water. I managed 2 miles in the last of the dusk and two miles with a headtorch. As I descended I disturbed birds who were roosting in the lower branches of the hemlocks. They flew off with great alarm, especially the blackbirds. The next two days were supposed to have great weather and then it would snow again.  I wanted to push past the high exposed sides of Glacier Peak before the rain or snow returned in a few days. I heard Glacier Peak was no place to be in bad weather. I found a campsite in the dark beside the lake and got water from it. I had enjoyed today with the clear weather and crisp views but had 10 days of food in my rucksack slowing me down. I put the tent up in the dark and crawled into my cosy sleeping bag as the temperatures fell to near freezing.

Despite the late finish I managed an early start and was off just before 7, but well into the dawn. I left the pretty Pear Lake, seeing it for the first time, and started up through the hemlocks for a couple of miles to gain a ridge. Here I glanced over my shoulder and got a fantastic view of Mount Rainier in the morning sun. It must have been 70 miles away!.

It was rugged terrain and my legs were pumping hard with yesterday’s efforts and with now 9 days of food. The uphills were taxing me. A hiker from Minnisoata caught up, and we chatted a while. He was trying to do a calendar Triple Crown but still had the north half of the CDT to do, and with winter approaching I did not fancy his chances.

I stopped at a creek for a pause while he carried on. I felt tired today and the uphill bits were taking it out of me. Nonetheless I had to do them and it was up again after the break. Eventually the climb eased and I was at the treeline again and walking through alpine meadows. When the sun hits the berry bushes at a certain angle it makes them iridescent. The huckleberry bushes were taller and the berries had no flower remnants beneath them, while the blueberry bushes were more prostrate and the berries had shrivelled flowes beneath them. The blueberries were ripe now but the huckleberries were already shriveling. To my mind the huckleberries were sweeter.

03. Huckleberry bushes are taller than blueberry bushes and generally found at lower altitudes. There are often the shrivelled remnants of the flowers on the blueberries.

There were birds feasting on the berries, especially the blackbirds. However they were vulnerable here from predators like hawks. I passed a few mountain ash and noticed something had been eating the pips inside but leaving the fleshy skin, which is bitter. I think it was chipmunks and they migh be storing them. In a meadow I saw a kestrel riding a breeze to soar backwards and forwards looking for critters to no avail. I think the Pika’s squeak would have alerted them.

I had another break at Lake Sally Ann, with its crystal clear waters. It was an idyllic spot and basking in the sun. There were small trout rising occasionally in the sun to grab flies. After Lake Sally Ann the hillsides became even brighter with iridescent leaves. The were whole hillsides ablaze in autumnal berry colours,  and mountain  ranges in every direction,  but to the north was Glacier Peak, at nearly 10,000 feer it dominated these Cascade Ranges. I was running out of superlatives to describe the simply awesome views and crimson hillsides. I think this was one of the top 3 days on the hike so far, and rivalled the best of the Sierra.

11. More of the gorgeous hillsides covered on berry bushes which are lit up buy the sun to form a kaleidoscope of colour. The trees here would be either sub alpine firs or mountain hemlock

I noticed a family of 4 falcons playing. I wondered if it was mum or dad and 3 adolescents. They were just playing, but the speed of their dives was terrific. Suddenly they were joined 4 ravens, who were the same size. Now ravens are master acrobats but the falcons were out mastering them with tight turns and quicker reflexes. It looked like the ravens were playing a dangerous game as a falcon could easily have hit a raven.

After more climbs and descents I came to a picturesque pond, Reflection Pond, in a meadow with a great view. It was only 1730 and I had just done 18 miles today so far but I was shattered. There had been 10,000 feet of ascent and descent in the last 36 hours. With campsites and water trickey for the next 4 miles I threw in the towel early. I also wanted to savour the day. It had been one of the best and I did not want to spoil it with another march into the night. I had supper before the sun set behind an array of jagged peaks.

The early finish did me a lot of good and I felt stronger in the morning and managed a 7 o’clock start. It was windy but it was another fantastic day with blue skies and clear air. The path climbed up the hillside to White Pass where a kestrel was hovering over the mountain ash  shrubs hoping to catch a critter eating the bright, red berries.

08. One of a large brood of Ptarmigan who nonchalantly wandered down the track in front of me. I am not sure of the spieces yet or if it changes plumage colours

From here the path made a long traverse on a steep grassy hillside with a couple of small streams and a marvellous view to a glaciated massif just across the valley the south west. Along this traverse I passed the 2500 mile mark. I was  astonished how far I had walked. This 2 mile traverse ended at Red Pass which again had fantastic views both north, and especially south. Near the pass I came across a party of about 10 ptarmigan, which were still in their summer camouflage. They were not easily scared and clucked happily beside the path, before stepping onto it near me.

06.Looking down across alpine meadows in to a valley heading west with perfectly formed interlocking spurs.

Initially from Red Pass northbound I could have been in Scotland on a fine autumn day down a remote glen until I went round a corner and the massive snow covered cone of Glacier Peak appeared. The more I descended down the valley, the more of it appeared until I went into the hemlock forest which swallowed up the view.

The path dropped steeply into the forest  which was initially nice with a mixture of copse and glade, but soon it was all trees. Down and down it went into the depth of the White Chuck Valley until the floor of the valley flattened out. There was a mile of dank overgrown forest with brown stagnant water and thick willow scrub near Chetwood Creek. This was the day’s low point and it was now a massive climb.

The climb was tedious as it was all in the forest with plenty of windblown trees across the trail. It went up Kennedy Creek, crossed it and then climbed up Kennedy Ridge, where the forest thinned out and the views reappeared. A little further it arrived at Pumice Creek,  a crystal clear small creek with mossy banks and sunny meadows nearby. I had my last  break here lying on the warm  grass in a sunny hollow beside the creek. At one stage a dipper appeared and started searching the moss for larvae.

I had a final ridge to get over before my planned campsite at Mica Lake. Once the climb was over it was a lovely walk at the treeline. There were occasional views of Glacier Peak which was right beside me, and it glaciers just a mile from where I was walking. At the crest of the ridge looking north yet another range appeared with its 8000 foot peaks white and glaciated.

I could not linger as the sun just set and I would have half an hour  before I put my headtorch on. The descent to Mica Lake was steep and rocky. I could see why people warned me not to venture here in bad weather. Down and down the path went, going from scree to heather and then to forest by the fantastically beautiful Mica Lake. It was fabled for it clear turquoise water but it was dark when I arrived. This was  very rugged hiking and in the last 3 days I had done 15,000 feet of ascent since Stevens Pass, initially with 10 days of food.

The weather today was supposed to deteriorate culminating in rain, however when  I woke in the morning it was superb.  The forecast, from Norway’s Weather Service, was 4 days old now so  hopefully it would remain nice. I admired the saphire blue colour of Mica Lake before beginning the long 3000 foot descent down to Milk Creek which drained the Ptarmigan Glacier on Glacier Peak.

The descent was full of zig-zags as it plummeted  into the depths of the valley. There were some grand old hemlocks here and one was  the biggest I had seen with a bole 8-9 foot in diameter. As I neared the bottom I noticed the sky had clouded over. The scrub maples were on fire in the valley with oranges and reds on all the bushes. Just as the forecast said it started to drizzle at 1100 and it got heavy enough to put a jacket on. The Norwegian forecast never fails me.

14. Looking up the valley to the north side of Glacier Peak where the Ptarmigan Glacier terminates in the mist. The yellows are a willow in autumnal splendour

From Milk Creek I started up the 3000 foot ascent which I had already mentally prepared for. My rucksack now only had 7 days food, as opposed to the 10 days at Stevens Pass and it was much more acceptable. Up  and up the zig zags went with the rain soaking the leaves of the vegetation overhanging the trail. In no time my feet were wet from water running down my legs after being dislodged off the leaves  and twigs.

At the top of the climb were acres of blueberry bushes. Their fruit was plump and  the bushes were laden. Suddenly a bear stood up in the berry bushes nearby. I could see his face and the fur each side of his mouth was sodden with berry juice. I think he was putting a branch in his rmouth and then running it through his lips. The bear scat I have seen waa full of huckleberry leaves. After a few seconds it turned and bolted down hill. In a flash it had gone.

I stopped at the top for a break as the rain eased but the mist swirled around the cirque and drifted in the valley. It was atmospheric indeed. I wonder were the other hikers were. Jen I think passed me when I had the early night and Dixie was supposedly a few hours behind. But I had not seen anyone for a day. I was beginning to feel alone which was nice but I could also have chatted with another Thru Hiker; even a  flipper,  skipper or section hiker would do.

From this cold windy cirque with the spirals of mist in the rotors off the ridges I started down to Vista Creek and Suiattle River. It was a steep descent across open mountainside then the Mountain Hemlocks and then into the larger Western Hemlocks. Down and down the path Zig-zagged the steep hillside until at last it reached the milky Vista  Creek 3000 foot below. The rain came and went but the bushes were dripping wet and my legs never got a chance to dry.

At last the path levelled off and followed Vista Creek. There were some grand  trees here. Initially  some old growth Hemlock, but as I reached the fertile silty land each side of Vista Creek the odd  Douglas Fir appeared. By the time I reached the Suiattle River the trees were impressive. However, as I walked beside the river I came across some gigantic trees, especially Douglas Firs but also Western Red Cedars.

Indeed they were the most impressive trees of the trip so  far. One Western Red Cedar put all  the Douglas firs to shame with a bole about 12 foot in diameter. It was the tree of the day. I passed through this avenue of giants and quickly reached the new bridge over the Suiattle River which was large and unfordable.

It was still drizzling a bit but I found a campsite on the northside under trees. It was, I found out later, plagued by the pesky Washington mice and one even got into my tent by chewing a hole in the mesh. I had seen no one today for only the  second time in the entire trip. More bears than humans today!

The day started badly. First big drops on tent indicated it was raining still and dripping off the trees and this cost me a good half hour as I mustered the willl to get up. Secondly a mouse had enlarged the hole in the tent mesh, come in and had chewed through my waterproof cuben food bag and then another bag inside this to get at some granola, while I slept with my head  beside it. It had also had also left a few faeces and urinated on it to rub it in. It took some 15 minutes to clean up, so I did not leave until well after 8.

Initially the path went up the north side of the Suiattle River for a few miles to Miners Creek. It was not that inspiring a forest as I think there had been a fire some 20-30 years ago as all the trees were the same size. Around Miners Creek there were a few venerable survivors but nothing like on the otherside of the river. The path then started a long climb up Miners Creek, crossing it o  a bridge and then climbing more steeply through forest and dripping vegetation to Suiattle Pass at 6000 feet.

It had drizzled or rained lightly the whole way while I climbed these 4000 feet except near the top where the rain turned to sleet. My feet were soaked from the overhanging vegetation brushing against my legs and running down. As I neared the top the hemlocks got smaller and more scattered and I could see peaks around me in the mist and there was snow from 7000 up. Still the colours of the mountain ash, the berry bushes,  and a willow like shrub were all making a riot of colour agaibst the backdrop of the green conifers and the grey mist.

13. Mountain hemlocks and sub alpine firs in a huckleberry field on the way up to Suiattle Pass with the first of the snow showers rolling in

I was feeling miserable with cold feet and a clamy shirt under my waterproof top. My legs were still bare with the shorts on. Still I was walking well and could now just spot light at the end of the tunnel 100 miles away.  However the descent brought more misery as the temperatures fell and the sleet turned to wet snowflakes. This ran down my legs with abundance and soaked into my shoes chilling my toes. The descent was long a took a good few hours during which the snow turned to sleet, then to cold rain, chilling me further.

The colours were magnificent on the way down also despite the grey weather. The shrubs almost conspired to form sunshine on their own. I also noticed a new tree which I had seen more and more of and initially though it was a true fir. Now I could see this tree’s needles were turning bright yellow or even brown and it dawned on me that these must me tamaracks. Some had a bole of 4 foor, but not as big as the Western Hemlocks which were the dominant tree at thas altitude. I later discovered that these were not tamaracks at all but a true fir which had been stressed  by the dry summer

As I descended I decided on an early campsite and got to it at 1800 after wading the icy waters of the Agnes Creek. I had done 20 miles which was a good days walking in these wet conditions and just wanted to get into my tent. As I was setting it up 3 Thru Hikers appeared. They were also going north.  They had heard of me from Dixie who was apparently a few hours back but I had not heard of them, which is very unusual at this stage in the hike. It was good to chat to them but they were more cold and wet than I was and were eager to get into warm clothes. We were  all in our tents by 1930. From the occasional screams from both the other tents it seemed they were under attack from the mice also, sharing what would have been my burden alone, for which I was grateful.

The drips off the hemlock I was camped under continued all night and it was a struggle to start getting up in the morning, but the other 3 were packing up and it forced me to confront my cold wet socks. I eventually left camp around 0830.  It was a pleasant walk down the east bank of the Agnes Creek, which I had to follow for 11-12 miles.

The tamaracks I noticed yesterday were absent here, perhaps they preferred the higher elevations.  The main trees here on this walk were the ubiquitous Western Hemlock, some large Douglas Firs and some enormous Western Red Cedars. Where the latter were growing near a creek or moist ground they reached colossal proportions and out muscled even the Douglas Firs. As I walked through this forest the drizzle came and went and occasionally I could see the mountains were snowy from 6000 feet upwards.

About half way down this hike I met a Southbound Hiker who had flipped. He wore no socks, his trousers were rolled up the knee, he was bare topped save for a blanket wrapped round his shoulders and kept in place with the smallest rucksack on the trail. With his longish curly hair and head band he looked like his trail name which was Savage. Indeed I can picture a ink drawing of him on the cover of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s 16 century masterpiece.  He was in his early 20’s and new to hiking, he had a down bag but also a hammock! He was heading to Stevens Pass over Glacier Peak and I hoped he would not get any poor weather.  He was very affable and we chatted for 15 minutes.

As I reached High Bridge ranger station I passed over high bridge and looked down into the pool below the bridge. There were hundreds of fish in it. Each one about 2-3 pounds. I thought they were salmon but a passer by said they were neither salmon or trout, but Kokanee.

I had now entered The North Cascades National Park and there were special rules on camping in it and a permit system was in operation. However to get one I would have to go to Stehekin 11 miles away. I was sorry not to be going to Stehekin as I heard it was a special place with access only by boat, sea-plane, or foot and bus. But I was not going to ruin my carless to Canada record and take the bus. Besides the Ranger Station at High Bridge was closed and it was now October and I doubt there would be anyone else camping at their designated campsites.

As I was packing up Dixie appeared. She had been hiking with Percolator who had a Rasputin type beard. She was 2-4 hours behind me apparently for the last 4 days. She camped in 6 inches of snow at the top Suiattle Pass last night. She had taken loads of video footage with her drone for her Youtube channel. She was heading down to Stehekin on the last bus to dry off and resupply so we said our goodbyes as I would be half a day ahead of her again.

There were a few people milling around and everyone was of the opinion that the weather forecast was saying it would clear up and get cold. This was music to my ears as I had just 4 days left to Canada! Hopefully the snow falling on the mountains yesterday and this morning would not thaw and freeze to much, as I had no microspikes.

I was told there was a great campsite just 5 miles up the trail at Bridge Creek with picnic tables, bear locker and a lean-to. I bounded up the flattish trail towards it and got there at dusk. The lean-to was perfect and looked like the sort of thing a scout group would build over a weekend. It was covered in wooden shingles and had a picnic table inside it. There was also a sleeping platform so I would not have to put the tent up.

15. The lean-to at Bridge Creek Campground was a simple affair but made life much easier as my tent was still damp from the previous night

Furthermore the bear boxes for food were also mice proof so I could put all my food in one and forget about the mice chewing through things. As the evening drew on though I could feel the temperature plummet to around freezing and I was just at 2000 feet, the next nights I would be camping around 6000 feet!

I got an early start and was away by 0700 as it was getting light. The sunrises were really starting to eat into ones day now. I left the camp and followed the Bridge Creek up in a north east was a fine morning but it was overcast with just the odd glimmer of blue sky. Down at this altitude of 2000 feet there were virtually no autumn colours yet, just the maple vines which were reddening and the sycamores which were yellowing. It was only a few miles up to the next camp at North Fork and in that small climb of around 500 feet the colours were equally mute.

The  patches of blue sky grew larger and larger until the whole sky was blue save a fifth of it which were isolated clouds blowing in from the north east. It was decidedly colder but the air was clear. It looked like a high pressure system was just rolling in from the north. In the sun it was almost hot and after 6 miles I stopped for a break and dress down. I also hung up my tent, sleeping bag and down jacket to dry a bit. The tent was wet but the footbox of the the sleeping bag was quite sodden. I took my shoes and socks off and put them on bushes in the sun too. While I snacked my items dried and after an hour I was ready to move on.

Pretty soon I ran into Chris; a fly fishing expert. I quizzed him a bit about the nature and fishing in particular. He was very knowledgeable about the salmoniod genus and was going to the Stehekin River to make a video. He said the salmon I saw yesterday in the Stehekin River were Kokanee, probably originally a Sockeye who path to the sea had beeen blocked and they now remained in the Stehekin River and Lake Chelan further down. I asked him about the weather and his reply was music to my ears. It was to remain dry and clear for the rest of the week but it would get cold. I had just 4 days left to Canada and it seemed I would do it in a bit of an Indian Summer rather than in the rain, or worse still deep snow.

I left Chris in a buoyant mood,almost euphoric with the weather news he had given me. It was another couple of hours up to the highway at Rainy Pass. I just walked through hemlocks and a true fir spieces and some Douglas Firs most of the time. The mountains on each side of Bridge Creek were about 6000 feet and were rugged. Snow lay just on their upper slopes.

At Rainy Pass I lingered in the parking lot ar the trail head. A few people came over to chat to me. Washington has more than its fair share of friendly people; hikers, foresters, firefighters, and the genreal public have been more friendly here than anywhere else on the trail. One man Iwas chatting with had a PHD in forestry from Harvard so I quized him about a few things. It aeems what I thought were tamaracks 2 day ago were sub alpine firs yellowing due to a dry summer. He pointed some tamaracks out to me and they were the highest trees on the mountainside and made the treeline. Tamaracks were in the larch genus.

I also chatted sith another couple who  were going to the same campsite as me this evening. As they packed we chatted and they gave me a few snacks. It was only 4 miles to this camp but the path continued to climb through the fir and hemlock trees. As I approached the 6000 foot mark snow which had fallen over the last couple of days was starting to accrue on the ground. The trees were now the thin pointed Subalpine firs near the campsite were the unmistakable tamaracks.

17. As I neared my campsite just before Cutthroat Pass the setting sun lit up the underside of the clouds in a manner I have not seen before

But the camp I turned to see the most sensational sunset of the trip. The bottoms of all the clouds were crimson and the snowy mountains below them looked very dramatic, especially when seen through gaps in the snow-clad pointed firs. It was both colour and drama. The couple  who gave me the snacks were already at the camp. But I could not find a flat spot near them, but found one just above, and it was covered in an inch of snow. I had the tent up in the late dusk as the temperatures plummeted to below freezing – but it was dry. All my equipment was also dry which was a godsend. I had just 67 miles to go now and with this forecast hoped I could do it in 3 days, which is also when my food would run out.

It was a bitterly cold night which had all the signs a high pressure weather system was arriving; crystal clear, no wind and a massive drop in night time temperatures. I would say it got down to -10 centigrade. Even with all my clothes on I could feel the cold and the tent was soon covered  in frost.

However a 0530 I suddenly realised I had to go to the toilet  at once. I scrabbled around and found the torch and then my shoes. They were partially frozen. I slipped them on and without doing the laces dashed up the trail in the dark clutching my water bottle. Once far enough away from camp I charged into the bushes like a fleeing bear, and got just a few yards in. There was no time to dig a hole, this was blind panic, and I made it just i time. I then discovered at least half the water in the bottle was frozen. They say you are not a  true Thru Hiker until you have shat yourself. I haven’t so far, and that was as close as I would would like to come.

I did not go back to bed but packed up and set off at 0630 in the early dawn. There was a sprinkling of snow on the mountains from 3 days ago and even before the sun came up the colours of the fading larch and the deep nracing green of the sub alpine firs stood out against the pale mountainside. I got to the top of the first pass, Cutthroat Pass as the first rays were hitting the peaks and then spreading down their alpine sides.

19. Tamaracks and blueberry bushes in the morning sun on Cutthroat Pass

The views were tremendous and by the time I reached the second pass, Granite Pass,  most of the mountains were lit up and also some of the valley sides. It seemed whenever I went over a pass an even more  spectacular scene would suddenly unfold of jagged peaks and forested U-shaped valleys. From Granite Pass the path contoured round the south side of a valley near the treeline of 6500 feet to Melthew Pass. The trees here were small, struggling in the alpine conditions.They were mainly the now golden Tamaracks, the tough Subalpine Fir, the Mountain Hemlock and occasionally a 5 needle pine – white barked pine I think.

21. Looking west down Swamp Creek from Granite Pass towads Mount Goode and Storm King, two 8000 foot mountains in the North Cascades National Park

From Melthew Pass the path cut over the ridge through a notch and then entered the Melthew Valley at its head. It descended speeply in zig-zags down into this cold valley which was still in the shade. The zig-zags took me past the 2600 mile mark and down into a valley full of hemlocks and firs. They were all the same size and about 30 years old so I imagine a fire destroyed the old growth forest here.

I followed the valley for 5 miles through the cold forest passing the occasional glade of mountain ash in its bright autumnal colours. At one I stopped for lunch and hung up the tent and groundsheet, which were even now covered in ice. They dried quickly and I moved on to Bush Creek where I would climb again. Just at the junction of the 2 valleys I met Mayor. He was the only person I saw all day.

Mayor was doing the CDT southbound and had got as far as central Colorado when early snows had blocked his path, probably permanently for the season. So he came over to the PCT to surprise his girlfriend Dixie who was just half a day behind.  Dixie had already told me a lot about Mayor and I felt I half knew him so I stopped for half an hours chat. He was very affable and knowledgeable and it was a pleasant break. We then parted, me north to Harts Pass where Mayor had come from and him south up the Melthew valley to meet Dixie, and walk with her to the finish.

The trail up Bush Creek was like all the trails so far in Washington, well made and well maintained. It climbed to Glacier Pass and then climbed again up the east flank of the pass ascending 3000 feet in total from valley forest to just above the treeline dominated by the yellowing tamaracks. It look a couple of hours to reach the top and I was in the shade just below a shadow line,  which rose just faster than me as the sun was settiing.

Mayor told me the weather was to be superb for the next two days so I took my foot off the accelerator and opted to camp in a south facing cirque rather than walk through darkness for 3 hours to Harts Pass. The campsite was nearby and I got there in the dusk as the temperatures plummeted again. The near full moon shone through the tamaracks as I put up the tent, hopefully for the penultimate time. It was  a nice campspot and I was soon cosy in my bag, outside the snow on the ground started to sparkle as frost settled on it, and the stars shone brightly through the very pointed firs and tamarack trees. I had the end in sight with just 45 miles to go.

I woke late and when I looked out of the tent the sun was just starting to make the larches in the cirque I was camped in glow. Behind them the snowy mountainside highlighted their delicate colour. I packed up and wrapped up the frozen tent with my fingers burning in the cold. I finally shouldered my pack at 0730 and set off to Harts Pass.

24. The very first ray of morning sun hitting the tamaracks by my campsite on the south side of Tatie Peak sone 5 miles south of Harts Pass

The path builders in Washington, probably during the Roosevelt era after the great depression, did a fantastic job here. The paths contoured round the hillsides keeping level on ridges for miles before they had to cross from one ridge system to another. The route to Harts Pass was one of these trails contouring the mountainside, in this case for about 5 miles. En route there were some tremendous views to the south from the area I had just walked through.

25. Looking back south to the mountains I came through yesterday just before I descend down to Harts Pass

Harts Pass was served by a dirt road from Manzama and there is an old guard station and trail register here. It had a Forestry Service campground nearby but there was no water. I spent ages looking through all the names in the register of hikers I knew who had passed through en routd to Canada just 35 miles away now.

The trail north climbed a gentle hill where I saw 2 adult bald eagles keeping an eye on this years juvenile as it learnt how to soar in themals. I could see the yellow beak and white tail quite clearly. Once the trail reached the ridge it wove along other ridges for nearly 10 miles keeping around 6000 feet. It cut from one side to another through notches between knolls and small mountains.  Each of these notches had names and in order they were Buffalo Pass, Windy Pass, Foggy Pass and Jim Pass. It was a lovely  beautiful walk with stunning views to distant glaciated peaks vibrant under a blue sky, and neaby meadows with the golden Tamaracks scattered about them. I passed a few groups of day hikers and they all congratulated me and shook hands.

They path then took a dive into the woods as it descended down to Holman Pass deep in the forests of the valley. It was dark and lonely down here with no sun and a cold chill in the air. The trail was crossing from one ridge system to another. The climb up the far side was quite easy but dusk was falling fast. A mile before my chosen campsite was a clear creek where I filled my water bottles  before carrying on in the dark for another mile to a campsite. I wanted to get here as it made it much more plausible to get to Manning Park tomorrow with just 23 miles left. The temperatures plummeted again and i expect it was around – 10 centigrade again, but that was a small price to pay for the beautiful weather.

I set the alarm for 0530 as I wanted to do the 24 miles to Manning Park by dusk. Camping under the trees sheltered me from the freezing dew and my tent was not so wet. I had the headtorch on for just 15 minutes before I could see the rest of the route up to Rock Pass. It was going to be a glourious day with no clouds again. It was going to be a glourious day to finish my hike.

The path traversed up the east side of a cirque with extensive grassy slopes encircling a meadow. After a short hour I reached Rock Pass as the sun was starting to brighten up the peaks. From Rock Pass the trail dropped down a huge scree slope, crossed it at the bottom and then climbed back up the north side to Woody Pass. As I neared the top  of Woody Pass I came across a confident Pika. It let out a squeak to warn others and then stood its ground watching me.

27. The confident Pika watches me as I approach. He had already made the warning squeak to alert the others who scurried for their holes with mouthfuls of leaves. This one is for you Oscar and Felix

Once up on Woody Pass the trail had regained the 6-7000 ridgeline again and contoured north across the mountainside. There were great views to the west across the valley and to ridge after ridge beyond each one getting progressively higher until they culminated in a rampart of glaciated peaks which were perhaps the watershed of the Northern Cascades. As the trail contoured it inevitably went across some north facing slopes. Some of these were steep and covered in snow, having never seen the sun for the last month.

The trail got to a small saddle and then climbed gently up to a small knoll, which was 7200 feet and the highest point on this stretch. It had  a fantastic view on all sides and was now basking in the sun. I lay on the grass here and had a snack and a study of the map. This was the last high point and from now it was virtually all downhill to the end. I rolled over to look south and gaze back over the peaks and ridges of the Cascades which I had just come over. Then I realised it was perhaps the last look and what had been home for the last 5 months. Content with my extraordinary summer I left myself have a snooze for half an hour in the warm sun. I was woken by the Canadian medic and his dog, a very alert Border Collie, who I in turn disturbed when I arrived at his campsite late last night.

28. Hopkins Lake from the last highpoint. From here it was all down hill to the notder with Canada in about 5 miles

We chatted and set off together but I soon got distracted by the fantastic view down to Hopkins Lake, a clear lake with a greenish hue in a deep cirque. We zig-zagged down to Hopkins Pass and then I turned north for the final descent down to Canada. The sub alpine firs and tamaracks were soon replaced by hemlocks and true firs and the understorey got richer with berry bushes, vine maples and mountain ash.

There was a brief  lull in the descent as I passed Castle Pass where the Pacific Northwest Trail, an epic route which runs parallel to the Canadian Border from Montana  to Washington’s coast. After Castle Pass the trail continued down through the warming forest to a couple of small switchbacks. My feelings were mixed as I knew these switchbacks heralded the Northern Terminus of the PCT.  And then there it was. The monument and just me in the forest.

I stood looking at it and then had a snack on a log. I then dragged a log and stood it upright so I could get some photos. I wanted one in the same pose as I had from the Southern Terminus 5 months ago. The selfie shots were just completed when the Medic and his collie arrived and there were handshakes and high fives. He also took a few more photos of me on the monument.

30. ‘Look Mum No Cars’. On top of the Northern Terminus after 2650 miles since the Southern Terminus – with No Planes, Trains, or Automobiles!

One reason my joy was a bit muted was that although this was the official end of the PCT there was still another 9  miles to go before the end of the trail. Initially the path for these 9 miles was rough and slow, but as it rose and then fell over a ridge it gradually improved until it was virtually a dirt road. It took longer than I expected but as it was getting dark I reached Manning Park and it’s lodge.

I went into the foyer and let out a bellow of fist clenched joy, like Andy Dufresne emerging from the pipe into the rainstorm after escaping from Shawshank. Now it felt like the end, 2670 miles, 490,000 feet of ascent and descent over 159 days, 9 of which were zero, or rest, days. I got a nice twin bedded room and went over to resturant and had 2 meals. I had been chronically hungry over the last 10 days and this gluttony was a treat. I then went back and washed myself and boots in the bath. It felt luxurious crawling into the Egyptian cotton sheets but I did not sleep well as it was to stuffy. The comfort was quite wasted on me.

31. Manning Park Lodge; the real end of the PCT is 9 miles north of the Northern Terminus and 9 miles into Canada. This is where readjustment back to the real world begins after 5 months of hiking heaven

The next morning I washed my clothes and then looked at flights. There was one that evening with good timings for 400 Canadian Dollars, but then as it was Canadian Thanksgiving the price went up to 1200 for the next 4 days. The trouble was I could not get to the airport in time. Unless, yes unless I took a taxi. It was 400 Canadian Dollars but it made sense so I ordered one. It delivered me to the airport with hours to spare.  Less than 24 hours after finishing the PCT I was airborne. It might seem a shame not to linger a bit, at least meet some of today’s finishers like Dixie, but I had done what I wanted.

It had been a tremendous summer, of my 58  so far this would be in the top 3, together with the one on my 8 month trip. The PCT hike was certainly much easier. It was a delight really to be able to wander through fantastic scenery and nature with just fellow hikers, chipmunks and conifers as my companions. I did it vehicle-less not to make it more difficult,  but just to avoid the banal trivia of urban encounters to muddle my quest. My Campo to Canada Carless bid became a bit dogmatic round the fire closures, and it would have been so easy to skip these sections. I am glad I didn’t both for the satisfaction of continuity and the fact that they had their own rewards, like seeing the Metolius River at Camp Sherman, and meeting the characterful firefighting foresters at Bumping Lake. Above all the PCT rekindled my passion for nature and my  understanding of the connectedness of everything in nature; and what it can teach us is boundless.


Section 19. Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. 22-25 September. I left late at around 9 lingering in the comfort of probably the last hotel on the trail. After a short walk on the verge the trail started to climb up the east side of Snoqualmie Pass, zigzagging up through large conifers and perhaps the biggest hemlocks of the trail so far. The path was quite busy with day trippers even though it was Friday. I chatted with many of them, as it seemed hikers in Washington were the friendliest and also the most dedicated hikers on the trail so far.

The trail climbed relentlessly for a good 2 hours slowly gaining on the peaks I could occasionally see through the trees until it go to a saddle. The saddle was sensational as the path along it was blasted out of a rock slab, with a huge fall down the west side. Once I was over the traverse I looked around and saw steep mountains covered in dusting of snow in every direction. It was a fantastic view despite the low clouds and occasional mists. Washington was living up to expectations.

01. My first view of the North Cascades at the top of the climb up from Snoqualmie Pass.

The path then went across steep hillsides with mountain hemlock clinging to their flanks for a good 8 miles to reach Chikamin Saddle. These 8 miles were superb with high alpine lakes nestled into high rocky cirques. There were plenty of scree slopes and on them Pika scurried around with mouthfuls of grass to take into their rocky burrows to help them feed through the winter. There were also some marmot and and they were a different species to the Yellow Bellied Marmots of the Sierra. These were Hoary Marmots. From here I hiked with a lovely group of 3 for a couple of miles. One of the ladies, Tannie, had also written a couple of guidebooks on this area and knew all the flora and fauna.  We chatted a lot but they went on when I stopped to put on waterproofs.

03. The Hoary Marmot occupied the scree fields, sharing them with the Pika. Marmots hibernate while Pika survive off stored fodder.

The path was quite arduous with frequent climbs and descents across rocky terrain on steep hillsides but the dramatic alpine views were wonderful. There was up to 6 inches of snow of some sections of the path and one had to be careful not to slip as it was steep. The colours of the shrubs and berry bushes were orange and red and it looked like parts of the hillside were ablaze, especially beside the snow or green hemlocks.

As I approached the Chikamin Pass it started to rain and the swirling mists thickened. The next 2 hours were a bit miserable but the drama and atmospheric views continued over the pass and down the twin Park Lakes. It was getting cold and miserable now and with dusk approaching I decided to camp her. Just then the cheerful Dixie appeared. She was a well known character on the PCT and I had met her twice before in the desert and Sierra. She was renowned for two things, firstly having a YouTube channel about her hikes with over 60,000 followers and secondly for having walked 62 miles in 24 hours. We found a spot for 2 tents beneath some hemlock near a pond and put up the tents in the drizzle and dusk fell.

I got up and was away by 8, while Dixie was packing up and having her coffee. It was a much nicer day but still a bit overcast with the sharp peaks in the mist. Just beyond the ponds in the Park Lakes vicinity the path started a long descent to Spectacle Lake, with its multiple promontories and bays, and then continued past a lovely waterfall and on down many zig-zags into the Lemah Valley. It was a drop of 2000 feet all together.

By now the weather had cleared up and the peaks were unveiled from the mists. They were very impressive and I was surrounded by them on all sides. However to the west they were the most alpine with small glaciers and sharp summits covered in a dusting of newer snow. The North Cascades were a truly alpine range. Below the peaks were ridges and cirques of hemlock and fir and then glades of orange and red maple scrub.

04. Alaska Lake with some typical North Cascades peaks in the background.

I now had a long near 3000 foot climb north out of the valley. I felt good and powered up the whole thing without stopping in about 2 hours. My legs of steel working automatically and without much effort. As I climbed more and more peaks appeared revealing a true grand and dramatic landscape.

05. Crossing the ridge on Alaska Mountain with Joe Lake nestled in its deep forest clad cirque.

As the top was a small lake where I rested in a heather and berry glade. The sun warmed me as I lay on the heather eating lunch. Chipmunks scurried around eating cranberries which were abundant. They would pluck one and then stand on their hind legs while nibbling on the berry which they held in their front paws. I am not sure if chipmunks hibernate or survive in the subnival layer between the snow and heather. There would be plenty of berries buried in the snow for them to eke out the winter.

07. Looking down onto Spectacle Lake with some peaks in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of the North Cascades.

After my leisurely lunch I started the long descent to the Waptus Valley with its relatively large lake. Soon I was into the hemlocks again which steadily got bigger. I saw a hare on the path as I went down it, and also a lot of grouse, but I was not sure what species but got some photos. The maple scrub was turning into rich colours but were still not full orange. It was not prime time for leaf watchers just yet.

08. The rich shades of the shrub maple were getting more spectacular every day as autumn progressed.

Just as I reached the Waptus Creek Dixie appeared. We both agreed it had been a fabulous day with great scenery. A day like this can almost leave you euphoric. It was a great privilege to be fit enough to walk in this mountain range and appreciate it.

10. The small lake were I could relax and enjoy a lunch in the warm sun before the descent to Waptus Lake.

Dixie and myself agreed on a campsite in 3 miles and we set off for it chatting about the glorious area. We crossed the Waptus Creek and the  headed east through the forest on the north shore of Waptus Lake. Half way along the head torches came out as it was dark in the forest now by 1930. When we got to the campsite there were already 2 other tents there, but were managed to squeeze another two in. By the time the tent was up I noticed that the place was home to about 5 brazen mice who were not afraid of humans. There scurried all over the place and even up and down the mesh of the tent door.

In the morning the brazen mice were the talk of the camp. Dixie had managed to get some great videos of them hopping onto her cooking pot lid while she was cooking. I left about 8 and started up the gentle Spinola Creek Valley to the north. It climbed gently through the hemlocks for 4 miles to reach Deep Lake. It was a beautiful day with blue skies but there was little view through the thick forest. However there were some beautiful glades where a shafts of light illuminated the yellow, orange, and crimson leaves of the understorey.

I stopped for breakfast at Deep Lake. It was a calm lake surrounded by high jagged peaks many with snow on the upper slopes from the cold front nearly a week ago. Around the shore of the shoreline of the lake were grassy meadows, golden in their autumnal colours, and drifts of huckleberry bushes bright red in the sun. It was a picture postcard setting. As I ate Dixie appeared and crossed on the stepping stones across the lake’s outlet. I had just seen a chipmunk do the same but it had to leap from stone to stone.

11. Dixie crossing the stepping stones at the outlet of Deep Lake.

After breakfast I continued up the path which climbed in zig-zags up the east side of Deep Lake to the rocky spire of Cathedral Rock. As i climbed the views got better and better. The North Cascades were much more rugged than I thought and there were ridge upon ridge of sharp glaciated mountains in every direction. The Cascades were full of grandeur and at this time of year colour also. The trees were still mainly hemlock but there were firs and the graceful western red cedar with its drooping branches.

12. A sample of the vibrant autumn colours by the outlet of Deep Lake. The crimson is largely the huckleberry bushes.

From the top of the climb by Cathedral Rock the path now descended for 5 miles keeping high above the Hyas Lakes, which were seldom visible due to the trees. It then started yet another sustained climb for a 5 miles up to Piper Pass. Once out of the hemlocks mountain views opened opened up again with new glaciated peaks appearing. Half way up the climb I passed the beautiful Deception Lakes before the final ascent. As I climbed there were more and more boulder fields and scree slopes and these were rife with Pika. Their amusing squeaks warning others I was about. They were like small marmots but much cuter on account of their big ears.

13. Looking back down to Deep Lake from the pass to the east of it by Cathedral Rock.

From Piper Pass there was a short steep rocky descent down the path covered in snow to Glacier Lake. Dusk was approaching and the comfortable warm temperature of the day was vanishing and I could feel my hands getting cold out of the sun. At the bottom of the descent I reached a small stream and a camp spot and called it a day. Everyone else had gone on so I had it to myself. I had really enjoyed myself today walking through this fantastic scenery with the vibrant autumn colours. It had been a joy from dawn to dusk.

There was some light drizzle when I woke which surprised me as I was not expecting any. I got up and packed my stuff under the dripping trees and headed off by 7.30. It was more of a mist than drizzle and it soon cleared leaving overcast skies. I expected to see Dixie at the campsite on the first pass as she was a slow starter but she was already away and I had little chance of catching her with my careful deliberate pace. The descent down the north side of the pass to Trap Lake was gorgeous with grand views down the autumnal valley to distant ranges.

14. Looking down onto Trap Lake with the mist clearing from the pass with a superb campsite.

The path now remained quite level as it traversed across the hillside over a spur and down to two stunning lakes surrounded by crimson berry bushes and yellow grasses. These vibrant colours were highlighted by the dark green backdrop of the hemlocks and firs. I paused at both lakes as the thin mist came and went and trout snatched flies from the surface. Both Hope and Mig Lakes were a perfect poetry of nature with their evocative atmosphere.

15. The serene, idyllic Mig Lake with its water lillies and fringe of Huckleberry bushes.

I continued north over a couple of smaller passes and past a few more lakes as the mist returned. This time it was heavier and I had to stop to put waterproofs on me and the rucksack when it turned into a drizzle. Even with the poor weather there was plenty to inspire me; pikas running around with mouthfuls of grass and leaves stocking there subterranean larder before the winter, grouse which sat on the trail looking at me in a bemused manner, and the stunning colours of the mountain ash and huckleberry leaves.

16. Plump, sweet huckleberries undiscovered by bear, chipmunks or birds so far. Yours for the picking!

As I neared Stevens Pass I went under some pylons and past by some ski lifts before the final descent to the ski lodges. One of them Tye Creek Lodge, had my last resupply package with all the food for the final 200 miles which would hopefully take 10 days weather permitting.

I had also learnt, to my unrestrained joy, there was the Mountaineers Lodge which was open for about 6 weeks in the autumn to cater for the steady trickle of PCT hikers. It was an old building with rustic toilets on the ground floor, a wooden lined lounge with bench tables, a kitchen and a roaring fire on the first floor, and 2 large dormitories on the second floor in the attic space. There was just myself and 3 other hikers, here plus the volunteer hosts. After my shower it gave me great pleasure to sit beside the fire and watch the rain fall outside. This warm cosy shelter was a great surprise.


Section 18. White Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. 17-20 September. I had a coffee in the shop and tried to glean more information about the fire closure but there was nothing new. However the general consensus was that it would start raining in the afternoon and continue for about 4 days on and off. I walked the half mile back to the PCT and turned north.


The PCT was open to Chinook Pass in 20 miles, I was just going 13 to the path junction to Bumping Lake. These 13 miles were a delight as I cruised along the flattish path in the hemlock  and fir forest. There were many small lakes and ponds each side of the path, surrounded by conifers. Occasionally there were some ducks on lakes. The huckleberries were still ripe in places and I ate a few handfuls.  The path was quite busy with day trippers, but the further I got from White Pass the less there were. There were also some bow hunters in their tight fitting camouflage, usually with a gut.


Just before I reached the junction to Bumping Lake the weather arrived. First it was drizzle but then it got stronger. I put my jacket and rain poncho on and also the rucksack cover. Just my legs were exposed to the rain. The poncho kept the warm air underneath it.

03. The mossy stream that is some typical of the lush temperate Washington forest. This stream was to become the Bumping Creek

Near the junction was a creek. It was thick with moss on each side and the rocks were covered in moss  also.  It was the typical image one conjures up of Washington. Later this creek became the Bumping Creek and it was quite wide. Luckily there was a large hemlock across it. The trail down to Bumping Lake was much more rustic with dripping vegetation overhanging the path and soaking my shoes.


As this rough path dropped through the forest I came across many Elk deer. There were large with powerful antlers. It was the mating season and the males were bellowing to attract the females. I saw most of them in the meadows each side of the creek. There was also a mother and calf which was just about half an adult size. My camera was tucked away and I could only get a few poor photos in the rain.

04. An Elk deer and her calf in a rainy meadow beside Bumping Creek on the way down to my campsite near Bumping Lake

The rain was persistent now and puddles were appearing on the rustic trail. My fingers were getting cold, but the poncho helped. The path went on for longer than I thought with very little camping opportunities. It was only towards dusk when I found a flatter dry site. It was raining quite heavily now and it was a joy to get the tent up and get into my sleeping bag. I was almost at the lake and tomorrow I could reach a campsite at the bottom of the Manastash ridge.


The rain continued all night, at times belting off the tent loudly, but by the morning it had returned to a drizzle. One of the hardest things to do on this trip, physically and especially mentally,  is to get up is bad weather. I had not done it yet, but today was perhaps the first of many in Washington. I put on cold damp socks and then packed everything into bags, trying but failing to avoid the wet tent fabric. I had to keep my feather sleeping bag and down jacket dry at all costs or they would get soggy. Once it was all in waterproof bags I got out and stuffed it all into my rucksack, put on all the waterproofs and poncho and headed off down the Swamp Lake path.


After a half mile it came to the wide shallow Bumping River which I had to wade. It was only ankle deep and my wet socks had barely warmed up eo getting wet feet was no great hardship. The path continued on the east side of the river for another half mile to reach the trailhead at the end of the dirt road. All I had to do now was follow it down for about 15 miles until it hit the highway 410.


I had only walked a few hundred yards when I saw a Cascade Red Fox cross the track. It was very furry and perhaps had its winter coat already. It vanished into the forest in a flash. After a few miles the rough track turned into a dirt road and then after a few more miles it reached Bumping Lake Campground. There were lots of fire fighters and wood cutters here clearing ladder fuel beside the road to try and make a barrier should the fire reach here. I understood it was not a closed area so greeted them and carried on.


I had gone a mile along the now paved road through big conifers and just crossed the Bumping River on a bridge when a pickup stopped and two military police got out and told me they had been instructed to escort me out of the area. I protested my innocence and explained, quite strongly, why I was here, my ambition to get to Canada without getting in a car and the fact I had not crossed any signs. After 5 minutes of stalemate when I explained I would not get in their truck they decided to phone their supervisor, called Columbo, who had initially instructed them to escort me off. Columbo said he was nearby and would soon arrive to talk to me.


When Columbo arrived he said the whole road was shut as 700 firemen, foresters and the National Guard were doing timber operations along it. There were roadblocks manned by military police but as I had come in the back entrance I had eluded them. He said I had to be escorted out in the back of the police vehicle for my own safety due to the ongoing timber operations.


I could see my carless to Canada going down the tubes and protested again, pleaded and suggested I take an open track to the south of the Bumping River where there were no timber operations. He as safety officer had quite a firm line, but had the compassion to refer it to his boss,  Dan, who was summoned and arrived within 10 minutes.


Dan was a forester in his 50’s who had seen it all in his time. He was also the type of man you could easily have a beer with. I explained my situation again explaining I was here in good faith after talking to the Forestry Service and that I had even kayaked over the Columbia River in my carless to Canada bid.


He said if I walk down the road I should be fine. He stood the police down, having given me clearance. Columbo returned to his duties of overseeing the felling of dangerous trees before the foresters went in to tidy up the brush beneath. Dan and myself chatted for half an hour and then he said he would inform others I had been given clearance. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and shook hands heartily with Dan when he went.


As I continued down the road I passed more crews who gave me the thumbs up and shouted good luck, then medics beside an ambulance did the same and shouted hope you reach Canada. Then a white pickup stopped and a forester got out and introduced himself as Brad and shook my hand and asked me questions on the trip so far. Then another 5 pickups in all stopped and heaped snacks into my pockets. I don’t know what Dan said on the radio but suddenly I felt like a mini-celebrity with everyone stopping to talk to the Scottish PCT hiker. The police came back and stopped, got out shock my hand and said “so glad you got clearance”. Columbo the same when he passed by.


I sauntered past Goose Prairie, a charming hamlet of log cabins and scout camps, which had been evacuated except 4 who refused to leave. In the next 7 miles to highway 410 at least another 5 pickups stopped to chat and heap more snacks into my bulging pockets. Tough working men in pickups appreciating a stubborn dogmatic Scottish hiking purist.


Near highway 410 Columbo reappeared. His men were just ahead felling problematic trees. He would drive beside me for a mile as they did their work. I walked in the middle of the road and chatted with him the whole way, and was fascinated by the complexity of this fire fighting operation. We paused occasionally while his men felled the marked trees before moving on. I got even more snacks from Columbo as he went.


When I got to the highway 410 there was a military roadblock, but the portion I wanted to walk now was open. It was 5 pm and there was a stream of fire fighters and foresters leaving the Bumping River Road and also the closed section of the 410 highway. As I walked away nearly 200 firefighting/ forestry vehicles went past with many double beeping their horns as they went past, including the ambulance. What a friendly sociable group they were.


I walked another 3  miles to cross the Little Naches River on a bridge and reached the Little Naches Campground. The rain of the morning had turned into sporadic showers and it was dry at the moment. I decided to camp here as I had already done about 20 miles. I could also use the damp picnic table to write the blog and plan my route tomorrow over the Manastash Ridge. My vote for fire fighting hero of the day must go to Dan who conjured me from felon to mini-celebrity.


I was away by 0700 and started up the road to Kaner Flats Campground 3 miles up the Little Naches River where there was another roadblock manned by military police. I would essentially have to leave the road here and head NE away from the fire closure area.


A few pickups went by, and a few tooted and waved, and then Dan pulled up. We chatted a bit about my route and then he gave me an invaluable copy of map of the Manastash Ridge. Looking at the map we could instantly see I would be better for me to continue 5 miles past the next military roadblock, to Four Way Meadow and take a path from there up Mount Clifty. He said it should be OK given the weather and today’s  forecast,  which had completely subdued the fire. He went off to clear it with the military police at the roadblock.

05. The second road block manned by the military police stopping the public going up Little Naches Road.

When I arrived at the roadblock the two police knew exactly who I was and started asking me questions about my Norway trip. Obviously Dan had briefed them. They were both very chatty and I was there for about half an hour. During this time a few deer and elk hunters wanted to drive through but they were all refused, which pleased me and no doubt the deer and elk. Then after a round of selfie photos and handshakes I was on my way up the closed road.


It was a pleasant and quiet walk beside the river. There was a beaver dam on it but no lodge. There was a bit of fire and wood clearing traffic but it was generally quiet. 3 or 4 pickups stopped for a chat and to refill my pockets with snacks. Two of them were Jonathan and Alex from yesterday.


At Four Way Meadow I left the road and starting following path 947. I thought it was a hiking path, but it was for motocross bikes. There were no bikes about on a cold misty Tuesday in September and I had it all to myself. It was just like a hikers trail really and I could easily imagine I was on the PCT. The path climbed quite steeply at times as it headed up past Douglas Firs, pines and a relatively newcomer to the trail; Englemann Spruce, all rising from a autumnal carpet of reddening berry bushes.

06. Atmospheric scenery when the mist lifted for an while on my way up Mount Clifty while crossing the Manastash Ridge

After a couple of hours it started to drizzle. I feared it was the cold front the foresters and firefighters had been talking about. It was not heavy but as I  climbed further it got misty and colder. Then i came across a log covered in snow and pretty soon there was snow lying on everything. There were plenty of grouse about in these woods and I saw a few deer.


The path twisted up the mountain until the snow was settling on the tree branches almost an inch thick. There were a few trail junctions but with Dan’s map I knew which path to take. As the path reached the top of Mount Clifty the snow was dry and powdery, but the mist was thick and there was no view.


I took the trail down the north ridge of Mount Clifty. The snow stopped for a while and the mist cleared and I got a great view over the gentler mountains of the Manastash Ridge. There were grouse everywhere up here and I was flushing out a group every 10 minutes.

07. The arrival of the cold front with a gale and frequent snow showers at about 6000 foot on Mount Clifty

As I started the descent the snow returned, and with a wind. This must be the start of the cold front. Soon it was a heavy snow shower and the wind was near gale. It was as good as a blizzard and it lasted for an hour. In the trees there was some shelter but on the treeless ridge it was dramatic. Only when I dropped from 6000 to 5000 feet did it soften. I was on the lee side of the Cascades so further to the west it must have been very wet.

08. It did not take long for the snow to start to accumulate on the branches of the hemlocks and firs on the North Ridge of Mount Clifty

The North Ridge of Mount Clifty was a sharp ridge and quite rocky. Between the snow showers there were some dramatic views. It undulated badly and the motocross bike trail I was following went up and down all the undulations.  I just had to walk them.


After 5 hours of descent the trail finally reached a road. There were some camping areas near and I had just filled my water bottles at the only water since leaving Little Naches Valley. Luckily the wet cold weather did not linger and the snow turned to rain and then the rain stopped. I put up the tent and was inside just as another rain shower arrived, but I was protected now.


It had been a great day. The scenery was dramatic and ever changing especially in the wind snowy conditions on the exposed ridge. But I enjoyed that weather, as it was out of the ordinary for the PCT. The campsite was great and I had almost completed the Manastash Ridge crossing. There was just a short section left but that was an old footpath, and I was worried it might disappear and this was steep terrain and would be difficult to bushwhack.


The rain pretty much petered out in the night but everything was damp the next morning. I started on what I thought was the trail down but after 100 yards realised it was a animal or hunters trail and it would take me into a nightmare of a rocky overgrown gorge, so backtracked. In another half mile I found another trail down. It was even signposted “1341 Big Creek Trail Junction”. I followed it down steep zig-zags into Big Creek Gorge. It was a built trail but had not been maintained for 5 years or so, and there were a few windfalls across the path, but without this trail the terrain would have been near impossible to negotiate. Once I reached Big Creek the trail almost vanished, swallowed up by the tireless temperate jungle. I just managed to follow faint signs and judgement as to where the path might go. Frequently I had to wade across Big Creek to avoid areas where the creek had eroded a earth bank. I knew it was only for a mile but was worried I might get ensnared or the creek might go over a waterfall and I could not climb down. It was an inhospitable, dank, gorge full of thick wet dripping vegetation.

10. In the depths of Big Creek Gorge with an intact section of the path. Frequently it dissappeared and I had to cross the creek pr walk down the middle of it.

Eventually the gorge sides opened out and the path became more pronounced before it spilled out of the dripping jungle onto a track under power lines. I followed this track for 2 miles north while being prevented from getting to an old railroad trail by a deep and sinister canal. After the 2 miles I reached a bridge and crossed it to reach the civilized homesteads around the small town of   Easton. These homesteads were probably all retiree owned and were mostly hobby ranches. Many had horses but there were also a few with llamas.


Reaching Easton was like reaching the promised land. The old railway line from Chicago to Seattle went this way. It was now abandoned but the route had been turned into a hiking/cycling trail in the summer and ski-touring/dog-sledding route in the winter. All I had to do was follow its benign gradient up to Snoqualmie 20 miles away. The trail was called the John Wayne Pioneer Trail after the actor. It was an easy route slicing a path through the mixed forest with the dark green conifers slightly overhanging the trail, and glades of acer shrubs turning into their bright autumn red colours.

11. A view down the John Wayne Pioneer Trail which was.on the bed of the old Chicago to Seattle railway. I followed this trail for and easy 20 miles between Easton and Snoqualmie Pass.

I made good time and only stopped once to eat some snacks. The drizzle came and went but when it was falling it was so light I did not need to put a jacket on. As the afternoon unfolded and I walked along the west shoreline of Keechelus Lake I realised I could easily reach Snoqualmie Pass an hour after nightfall, where there was a hotel used by PCT hikers and where I had my next resupply box. At dusk the the drizzle returned with a vengeance and I had to don my poncho, but it mattered not as I would surely be in bath in under 2 hours. The hotel was a typical Best Western type and I got a  room with twin queen beds and bathroom. I did not bother with dinner but just bathed and went to bed.
This 100-mile Section 17 was almost entirely off the PCT trail. The route I took when I started it was perhaps the shortest possible reroute and one I thought was perfectly legal and open. However it was not, and it was by sheer good fortune that someone like Dan was working as a senior forester in the fire Norse Peak/American Ridge fire closure area that I managed to get through. The Manastash Ridge was perhaps the highlight, and the wild weather of the cold front with heavy snow showers made it all the more interesting. It was again a revelation that going off piste and making up your own reroute was more exciting than following the tyranny of the trail. The PCT Association suggested that there were no reroute options other than to hitchhike the entire 100 miles. Initially I thought this was lily-livered, but there was no way it could suggest anything like my route, or even the Manastash Ridge crossing, or it would be considered irresponsible.


Section 17. Hood River to White Pass. September 11-16. I had a very pleasant zero day in Hood River at the Gorge View Bed and Breakfast, with the cool and helpful hosts of Pat and Ann, and a few of the guests who were here to enjoy the wind, either on a kitesurf board or windsurf board. Gorge View was no ordinary Bed and Breakfast but a home from home for the windsurfing fraternity. During the afternoon a trail angle from Cascade Locks delivered all my parcels which was a huge relief and then a friend of a friend, Oriol, lived across the Columbia River in White Salmon arrived

The last time I saw Oriol was in 1992 at Mount Cook village in New Zealand, and he had his leg in plaster after a climbing accident on Mount Tasman. We took a walking tour of Hood River and checked out the kayak I was to use tomorrow at the Gorge Paddling Center run by a whitewater paddler called Todd. We then went for a simple meal where Oriol remarked I ate like a winter mountaineer. It was good to have some non-PCT social life with Oriol’s intellectual chat and the sophisticated vibe at the Gorge View B&B.

In the morning I packed a box with everything to return to Scotland and took it to the Post Office and then bought some outdoor nick nacks. I was now ready to continue north. I walked down to the Gorge Paddling Center with a paddle and found a suitable sit on top to use from where Todd had previously shown me. The rucksack slotted into a space at the back and I launched in my full hiking gear. Initially I paddled across the Marina and then out into the Columbia River just downstream of a huge sand bar and below the ‘no-pedestrians’ bridge. Once in the river I felt the water. It was very pleasant and there was virtually no current. It would have been easy to swim across from the end of the sandbar and only ½ a mile at the most.

01. Looking down the Columbia River on my kayak crossing with Oregon on the left and Washington on the right. The Columbia River is about a mile wide.

The river was calm and relaxing with virtually no other boat traffic. There was a bit of a haze in the air but I could still see some 20 miles each way. There was little sign of the fire raging downstream and it was hopefully under control now. In no time I was approaching the other side with a small bow wave radiating behind me on the glassy water. I went to the railway bridge where the White Salmon River empties into the Columbia River. The White Salmon was significantly colder and must have come from the snowfields on Mount Adams, a bit to the north.

02. Arriving in Washington with Oregon in the background. The kayak was lent to me by Todd of The Gorge Paddling Center, who was in turn friends of Pat and Ann who had the superb Gorge View B&B in Hood River.

Here Pat and Ann met me and we carried the kayak up and put it on their pick-up so they could take it back to Todd on the other side. I was very fortunate to have come across their webpage for the B&B; not only were they extremely helpful, but they also knew who to contact and how to help. After I Said goodbye to them I sat and studied the map. I would after all be better off going up the road to Trout Lake rather than try and follow small forestry roads which wiggled through the valleys and over ridges. It meant a 21 mile road walk however, which I could split into 2 days.

I set off up the road beside the river. It was not as busy as I feared with a car a minute on average.nonetheless it felt humiliating. Three times cars pulled over to ask me if I wanted a lift which did much to raise my spirits on this trudge. I walked about 8 miles to the hamlet of Husum. There were a few orchards and homesteads to see en route but it was not the wilderness I had become used to. Husum was a hamlet which had become something of a whitewater mecca. There were two rafting companies here and loads of whitewater kayakers, all of which came to play on the river’s rapids. One of the rafting companies had a riverside picnic area and I sneaked  in there at dusk a found a picnic table for the night.

I left early in the morning hoping to beat the traffic. But it was already busy by 0600, presumably with cars going in to Portland for work. Still the road was not that bad and I could easily keep to the side and even leave the road verge if I saw a lorry coming. There was the odd section where there was a good verge to walk on but these roads  are not built with pedestrians in mind. By 8 I got to BZ Corner. There was a Chinese shop here which opened at 0600!. The shop sold everything from Oreo biscuits to anchor chain and coffee to taxidermied moose heads. I had coffee and some snacks and then carried on for the next 10 miles to Trout Lake.

This road continued much the same. There were a few sections I could parallel the road but most of the time I was on it. The traffic  was much quieter now the “rush hour” was over. There were the odd old barn, a garage with antique cars, and many retiree-owned small ranches. It was pleasant for a road walk but I would not choose to do it on its own. One redeeming feature was the ever increasing dominance of Mount Adams with its snowfields which filled every view. Just before Trout Lake a local joined me and we chatted for 2 miles as we walked in.

03. On a road walk there are sights and smells totally different to the subalpine environment of the PCT. However they are seldom fun and these cars sum up how I felt.

Trout Lake itself is really a village, but with a high school. It also had a post office, charming store and a cafe beside the garage. There was also a few bed and breakfasts and a Buddhist abbey  it was a lovely place and a favourite with hikers who hitched down from the PCT to resupply. The shop had a register and I recognised 20 names of people who had been in over the last 3-4 days. I had not seen a PCT hiker for about 10 days now so was keen to bump into one, but there were none about. I went to the cafe and had lunch there before the final push.

04. Some views on road walks are also good. Here is Mount Adams from a little north of Trout Lake.

It was up 14 miles of very quiet road. I planned to do half today and half  tomorrow. The road was paved but there was about 4 cars an hour. The ranches  and homesteads soon disappeared as the forest returned. The road climbed steadily for a few hours until it reached my goal at a stream.  However the stream was dry so I had to continue through the forest for another 3 miles to another. This took me well into dusk and it was almost dark when I arrived. I collected water and just spread my protective sheet on the ground and cowboy camped on it in the forest, beside the large side stream of ice cold clear water as it made its last few independent tumbles before flowing into the White Salmon River.

I had a slow start and then finished the walk up the road for another 5 miles to reach the PCT again. I had not been on it for 5 days now and it was good to return to it. There were no more route choices or cars to worry about. I just had to get in the track and follow it north. I stopped at the first water and had my breakfast granola.

05. The 2200 mile mark as I rejoined the PCT near Mount Adams.

After that I started up the path through the hemlocks to Mount Adams. Initially it was nice but then I entered a longer fire burn area. It meant more light on the forest floor and the huckleberry bushes were laden with fruit here. I paused and picked a few handfuls and they were delicious. There were also better views in the fire burn areas if one looked beyond the charred remains of forests. Mount Adams was very close but I could also see the massive glaciated cone of Mount Rainier some 50 miles to the north and Mount St Helens some 25 miles to the west.

Finally I met another PCT hiker. He was called Zoro from Israel. He had skipped most of Oregon  and then had a break from the trail and had now just rejoined by getting a lift up from the Columbia River. He was also planning on skipping the fire closure in 3 days time, so there seemed little point in getting to know him. He went on as i picked more huckleberries.

When the fire burn area finished the character of the mountain changed completely. It was stunning with meadows and small lava fields between some large Mountain Hemlocks. There were plenty of streams tumbling down from the snowfields and glaciers on Mount Adams. The going was slow because of the terrain but at last I felt I was back where I should be. At every corner there were great views and sights. I was back in the mountains again and could see I would be for a while.

The path went around the west side of Mount Adams into glades, through meadows and across ridges for about 3-4 hours until it got to Killen Creek. Here a clear creek tumbled down a cascade into a lovely meadow. There was also a spectacular view up the glacier on the north side of Mount Adams from the meadow. It was only 1830 with still another hour’s daylight but it just seemed too good an opportunity to pass. I put the tent up and felt the temperatures plummet. By the time I got into my sleeping bag it was below zero and still falling. I think cold air was descending from the glacier above, and the meadow after all was at 6000 feet.

07. The northern slopes of Mount Adams in the evening sun rising above the meadow of Killen where I camped.

The cold air had gone by the morning and it was easy to get up at 06 in the lovely meadow I was camped in. It was a bit overcast as I set off which nulled the sunrise on Mount Adams and it looked quite plain compared to last night. The first 5 miles were easy and I cruised along through forest and meadow. The trees were packed enough that I could not see any of the other mountains.

I reached a spring where intended to have a break. Zoro was here and just getting up. As I as  breakfast a small Pika appeared from beneath the lava rocks and started eating a mushroom growing at the side of the spring. Pikas do not hibernate but collect grass in the autumn and store it in their rocky burrows as their winter fodder.

08. A Pika eating a mushroom beside a spring. Pikas do not hibernate but store fodder in their burrows to last the long winter months.

After breakfast Zoro disappeared into the distance and I plodded along the track. It was remarkable how much understorey was here and it was largely huckleberries. They were starting to turn autumnal crimson and the berries were beginning to shrivel. There were still some plump ones which I occasionally stopped to gather.

There was a lovely series of ponds or small lakes in the middle of the day. They were a bit muddy for swimming but they looked calm and tranquil. None of them had and wildfowl. The path was beautiful throughout this stretch, as it was to remain all day as it wove through the hemlocks and firs beside carpets of crimson huckleberry bushes.

Towards the end of the day I decided to push on up to Snow Lake. I could see glimpses of the Goat Rocks ahead and was eager to get within striking range. They formed a spectacular ridge and everybody was raving about them. The path up to Snow Lake was lovely going through extensive forests of a true fir; Noble Fir I think. What was remarkable were the meadows between the trees which were still lush and green, although the flowers were spent. These lush glades were everywhere.

I got to Snow Lake at dusk. There was already a group camped here but they were on a short trip and smelt of soap and deodorant. I put the tent up then collected water from the lake in near darkness and retired into my sleeping bag. It was cold but well above freezing. My spirits had certainly lifted after the last two days hiking. It was not only spectacular, but also very beautiful  with lush scenery and forests.

I was excited when I woke as nearly everyone had said this is where Washington proper starts and it will match the Sierra, which set a very high benchmark. I left the campsite around 7 as all the day trippers were getting up, and set off up through the hemlocks and firs. The meadows here were lush and there was still the occasional flower in the swathes of plants. The path climbed steadily past two rounded towers on a ridge and into a new valley system, the Klickitat Valley. To my east now were high craggy mountains with extensive snowfields called the Goat Rocks. I could see from the map there were glaciers just the other side of them on their north east faces.

09. Approaching the Cispis Pass with the Klickitat Valley on the right and the Goat Rocks Range beyond.

I skirted up the east side of grassy Klickitat Valley to a pass at its head called the Cispus Pass. Here I met two local  hikers who gave me great information about getting round the impending fire closure. From Cispus Pass i contoured round a great bowl which was forested below and covered in meadows and copses of conifers higher up before the scree led up to the high rocky peaks.  Waterfalls cascaded down the meadows into the forest below where there merged to form the Cispus River. It was a noble and huge vista and exactly what I had been hoping for.

10. The Cispis Valley with its lush meadows, copses of subalpine firs and hemlock, splashing cascades and craggy backdrop was a mountain paradise.

From the valley round the headwaters of the Cispus River I climbed again. Initially through meadows of spent lupins and many other flowers with small alpine firs and hemlocks dotted about in copses. Small streams were abundant, their cool waters keeping the meadows lush. Blue gentians were perhaps the only flower still blooming. As I neared the top of the meadows at the start of the scree I passed a family of marmots. They were unfazed by me and were gorging themselves on lupin leaves trying to lay down as much fat as possible for the start of their 7 month hibernation.  They seemed lighter in colour than the Sierra marmots.

13. A fat marmot, stuffed with lupin leaves from the meadow, is almost ready to face 7 months hibernating in its burrow. These seem a different sub-species to the Yellow Bellied Marmots of the Sierra.

The path continued to climb across some snowfields to rocky pass where the most amazing view burst upon me to the north. Just across the valley were more craggy mountains with huge rock faces and beyond that rose the conical Mount Rainier, with its sides covered in huge glaciers. In the haze I could just make out Mount Adams and Mount St  Helens behind me. This was the Land of Volcanoes.

The path split here with an alternative going up the north flank of Old Snowy Mountain. It was supposed to have superlative views and was a sharp ridge, almost an arete. I took it as it was short and was not disappointed as it gave me some of the most lofty walking since the Sierra. There were quite a few day hikers up here and I chatted with a few of them. I had already abandoned my goal of getting to White Pass, as today was not a day to rush.

14. Looking north from Old Snowy Mountain where the PCT reaches its highest in Washington.

On the descent the one thing i was desperate to see appeared. There were about 10 white mountain goats some 500  feet below me. To far to photograph well but a joy to watch as they effortlessly bounded from rock to grass patch and onwards. I stopped and had lunch while they slowly made their way across the cirque floor. It was one of the wildlife highlights of the trip so far. They were bigger and more noble than the domesticated varieties. They were protected here in this area but in other areas they were hunted, completely needlessly and probably by morons which the world could do without.

15. A herd of 8 wild Mountain Goats grazing in one of the high alpine meadows kept moist by the melting snowfields. These magnificent animals are protected here.

The path continued along a sharp ridge for another mile before starting a long descent past glaciers and snowfields. Eventually I dropped down to McCall Basin, there was a meadow here and I had a pause in it. I lay on the grass surrounded by purple flowers and admired the views and then had a small siesta. This was the most perfect days walking really since the High Sierra and among the top 5 days of the whole trip.

I dragged myself up and made a long easy descent down past more meadows and eventually into the hemlock and fir forests, the trees soon swallowing up my view of Mount Rainier. Once in the forest I walked a couple of miles to a small campsite near a rivulet of water. It was just 1900 and I had only done 15 miles but decided to call it a day as it just left me 10 to White  Pass tomorrow where I would spend the night anyway. As I put the tent up I noticed how cheerful and buoyant I was and this must be attributed to a sensational days walking.

11. A meadow of spent flowers with the Goat Rocks Range in the background.

I got up at 0600. It was dark now at 6 with the autumn equinox approaching. By 7 I was on the trail and made the climb up to Shoe Lake where I had breakfast. There was a cold wind but out of it, sheltering among the sub alpine firs, the early sun warmed. There were great views back to the Goat Rocks Range from here and a fantastic view north west to Mount Rainier, however the latter was slightly obscured by smoke from the Norse fire.

16. Looking back south to the Goat Rocks Range and seeing the glaciated north east faces. Old Snowy Mountain is the last big mountain on the left.

From this small pass on the ridge above Shoe Lake it was a near continuous 6 mile descent. First across barren north facing scree slopes which took me into the subalpine firs again. Then down into the mountain hemlocks which grew in size as I descended. Finally I was passing the odd Douglas Fir even as I approached the highway 12. There were a lot of day trippers all of whom wanted to talk to me once they knew I was on the PCT. It cost me 5 minutes each group and in the end I charged past the rest with my stomach rumbling, eager for the treats at the shop at the highway, where I had a resupply box, and then wanted to spend the night at the motel.

17. Looking north down the last ridge of the Goat Rocks Range on the long 20 mile descent down to White Pass. In the distance one can see the vast cone of Mount Rainier rising above all.

The shop was adequate but the attached deli looked foul, even to me. I got my box and then checked into the nearby motel which matched the deli for quality. The real reason for me stopping here was to package up and send the blog, to figure out what the hell to do next regarding the Norse fire, and have the weekly clean up.

The Norse Fire was between White Pass and Snoqualmie Pass and a 30 mile section of the PCT was closed in this 90 mile stretch. There was a lot of misinformation about it and the PCT Association were quite adamant that there was no way round other than by car for the entire 90 miles. Most people opted for this, but there were also many hikers with “continual footsteps” and they did not want the lily-livered advice of the PCT Association and were making up their own reroutes. A lot of my purist friends had gone west and picked up the Wonderland Trail on Mount Rainier but then had to go 60 miles north to avoid 2 drinking water catchment areas before heading back east on a trail to pick up the PCT again. This detour was about 150 miles with perhaps 40 miles on a highway.

However a change in the fire closure meant I could go east to Bumping Lake and Goose Prairie and then try and find a trail over the Manastash Ridge descending to Easton where I could pick up the John Wayne Trail to Snoqualmie Pass. It would be shorter, at perhaps 110 miles,  hopefully not as miserable in the wet weather forecast than the west alternative, and it would mostly be on trails. I spoke a ranger in the Forest Service and he confirmed my route was OK and outwith the ever changing  fire closure legislation. I think the rain next week will kill the fires anyway. My one concern was finding a route over the Manastash Ridge from the Naches River to the Interstate 90, only 10 miles as the crow flies.


Section 16. Sisters to Hood River. 2-9 September.  Sisters was full of charm and it was nice to see deer and their well grown fawns wandering the streets and grazing on the irrigated lawns and parkland. I would have liked to linger and enjoy its Bohemian tourist vibe, but Canada was calling and I had to go north. I also had unique permission to through a small part of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation on certain conditions. One of which was I only camped in a certain place, so I had to make sure I was at the southern boundary tomorrow night to achieve this.

01. Deer and fawns in the streets of Sisters eating the urban vegetation.

There is a network of trails around Sisters, and I was going to use two of them to head north. One today and one tomorrow. So after my final meal I headed off to the ranger station to pick up the Sisters Tie Trail,  a 6 mile trail which delivered me to the Indian Ford Campground on the south side of Black Butte.

The well marked trail was pretty much flat the whole way as it followed a series of paths and very infrequently used and faint dirt roads. The trees along the trail were nearly all second growth ponderosa pines some 60-70 foot high with a undergrowth of patchy bitterbush growing in the sandy soil. It was very easy underfoot and gentle walking. it got dark before I reached the campground but when I did it was easy to find what was becoming my favoured campsite, a US Forest Service picnic table, on which I cowboy camped.

From the campsite it was easy to find the adjacent Metolius-Windigo Horse Trail, which was an extensive trail in Oregon. I followed this trail through ponderosa forest on the east side of the conical Black Butte mountain for about 6 miles. It crossed a few other trails but I looked for the yellow diamonds which seemed to mark the trail. When it reached the north side of Black Butte it descended gently to a parking area near the headwaters of Metolius River which I detoured to see.

Underground water channels took water from far away and brought it to here on the north side of Black Butte, where it emerged as a vast spring, which was the source of the Metolius River. More springs feed into it within the first mile and soon it was a river 10 yards wide and a foot deep. I followed it down and noticed how lush the banks were. There were many old bohemian cabins on each side of the river, and 2 miles from the source was the lovely village of Camp Sherman.

02. The cabins beside the upper Metolius River were a century old and many were heirlooms

Camp Sherman was obviously a tourist destination but it had huge charm. The cabins surrounding it were either old and traditional, or made to look so. There was a great store which was also a deli, fishing tackle shop, clothes store and meeting place. Next to it was a very traditional post office with old PO boxes lining the wall. The whole place had a very relaxed vibe. I took advantage of the deli and had a couple of bean burgers while the owners charged my phone battery.

From the relaxed, riparian, fly-fishing culture of Camp Sherman I continued down the Metolius River for another 8 miles. There were many fishermen fly fishing here, and it was the only type of fishing allowed. There was hatchery half way down which ensured the river was well stocked with about 4 different types of trout.  There was a path down each side of the river with huge ponderosa and Douglas Firs beside it. Near the path was a gravel road which allowed access to a few Forest Service campgrounds along its banks, which were quite busy. However there were also long stretches of wild river with ospreys nesting in the ponderosa pines. I was surprised how quickly the river grew and just 10 miles from it source it was 30 yards wide and 4 foot deep, with small rapids.

It was as good a walk down the river as I have had in Oregon, or indeed North California, and it was quite refreshing to know that the PCT was not the only beautiful path. Indeed it was exciting to go off piste and wander at will and come across such gems.

At the Lower Bridge Campground I left the beautiful Metolius River and headed west on a series of dirt roads for a few miles crossing Abbot and Candle Creek until I reached Jefferson Creek. It was the southern boundary of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and I did not have a permit to enter it until tomorrow so I camped just before it.

One must have permission to enter the Reservation. It is almost the same legal entity as a separate country with its own laws and regulations. US federal authorities do not have jurisdiction here.  Entering without permission is trespassing and subject to the reservation administration laws. I was lucky to have obtained permission for 3 days but it was subject to certain conditions, two of which were I could only camp in one particular campsite at Trout Lake 30 miles to the north, and I had to stay on established roads and trails to get there. So I planned a very early start.

The alarm went at 03 and I walked across the bridge over Jefferson Creek, through the gate and onto the Indian Reservation at 0345. The moon was full but it was blocked by smoke. I trudged up the track for a good 2 hours until the first hint of daybreak appeared. The only incident of note was having a skunk run at me, tail up and eyes gleaming in the headtorch. I backed off a good 10 foot but it kept coming. Just as I thought I was going to get sprayed it turned and fled.

I think the SW portion of Whitewater is primarily used for timber. It was a mixed forest with Ponderosa and Douglas Firs being the larger trees. The harvesting timetable and the process of felling seemed to be well managed. On each side of the main arterial road I was on were many different smaller access roads, all well numbered and maintained. The harvested areas were scattered about with, 100 acres or so done at any time. So the forest was varied with some areas just harvested and others with 100 year old trees ripe for harvest. In the harvested areas there were plenty of seeding trees left with a mix of species, including Larch, Western White Pine, Sugar Pine, A true Fir and mostly Ponderosa and Douglas Firs reflecting their natural mix.

By 10am I had already done 16 miles and reached the White Water Creek. It was cloudy with glacial silt from Mount Jefferson to the west. At the creek a pickup stopped and questioned me. He was a forestry worked from Oregon contracted to work on the Reservation. I showed him my permit and he seemed skeptical. I mentioned that the forest seemed well managed. He scoffed at this and said they had a lot of fires. I thought that was ironic coming from a man whose whole State seemed to be on fire at the moment.

My encounter with him unnerved me a little. I had verbal permission to walk the roads and a fishing/camping permit for the day’s destination at Trout Lake. However, should the Tribal Police or a group of lads come by and arrest me or rough me up I would have no leg to stand on. I was on thin ice. So I decided to keep off the main roads and take the smaller tracks, even if it added 3 miles to my 25 mile dirt road walk. So just before the Whitewater Access Road met another arterial road I cut off and followed 2 small dirts roads doing 2 sides of a triangle.

The triangle was nice to walk. There had been smaller fires here over various decades and the forest was regrowing proportionally. It is said the Indian methods of fire management have much to commend them. Instead of total suppression the Indians let them burn. This is the only practical solution anyway as they don’t have the resources. The consequence is that the “fines” burn and what “ladder fuel” there is in the scrub and undergrowth burns taking only some crowns with it. But because fires are more regular the ladder fuel does not build up so much and most crowns are saved. That certainly seemed to be the case here and beneath the tall flourishing crowns, were blackened stumps of scrubs hidden amongst the newer colonizer shrubs like Manzanita.

After the triangle of roads I dropped down to the Shitike Creek. There were some specimen trees here especially the Douglas Firs which would thrive in this deeper sheltered valley with moister air. I crossed the bridge and found a lovely glade for rest. I had done 25 miles and it was just 2 o’clock. After this I followed the Harvey Lake Road for 3 miles. I knew Harvey Lake itself was sacred place and hoped there would not be elders returning from it, despite the fact it was a rough little used road.  There were lovely groves of smaller ponderosa pines growing here.

04. The Shitike Creek on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation was in a valley of huge trees. I think the barrel was for the harvesting of crayfish.

After 3 miles the road petered out  and I had to take a 4 mile path to Boulder Lake which was marked on my atlas. However the atlas was not that accurate and the path turned out to be hellish. The area had suffered from a fire and it was intense enough to become a crown fire, perhaps 10 years ago. The path had fallen into disuse and was overgrown with Manzanita. I had to use 40 years of hiking and route finding experience, and no small measure of tenacity, for forge along it.

After a couple of miles it went from bad to worse as the route was continually blocked with windfall, some of exceptionally large trunks. In the damper areas new growth was coming through and was already 6-10 foot high. Unfortunately the windfall lay perpendicular to my route and I took ages climbing over them. Between them brambles lassoed my legs and Manzanita scratched them. Often the trunks were overlapping 2 or 3 high and there was a real danger of falling off the uppermost ones, by as much as 8 foot and impaling something as I fell down on a jagged branch stump. For 2 miles my speed was perhaps half a mile an hour as I gingerly forced myself  through this carnage of logs and thicket.  Sometimes I would go 100 yards without touching the ground. By 6 o’clock I reached Boulder Lake.

There was no let up here either. I knew there was no path here and was prepared for a bushwhack, but not one of this intensity. I tried along the west shoreline, but that was a tangle of alder and willow. I tried to the west of the shoreline, but fire damage had caused a jumble of windfalls again and it was dangerous, slow and exhausting. In the end I opted for route nearer the lake. I passed a bush covered in white guano and looked up to see an osprey nest. On another occasion I passed a small promontory covered in crimson berry bushes with a serene view over the lake. There was a cairn of stones here and it looked a sacred place, so I withdrew and continued. This lake was very remote with impossible access so I am sure the ospreys had a monopoly on the fishing.

05. The serene promontory overlooking Boulder Lake was covered in huckleberry bushes and near an osprey nest.

At the north west corner of the lake I encountered the worst bushwhack off all, just a mile from my destination. Huge pines had blown down some 10 years ago in a damp area and impenetrable thickets of alder and willow 10 foot high had grown up amongst them. I was marooned in this prison for a good half hour struggling just to gain a few hundred yards. Thankfully it eased as I gained a small ridge and then at last saw Trout Lake. It was only half a mile away but it still took nearly an hour to get down. I reached the dirt road to it well into dusk and walked the few hundred yards up the road.

It had been a massive day. Perhaps 33 miles, but the last 5 miles were worth about 4-5 each. My legs were scratched by numerous brambles and cut with a few sharp branches. The bee sting I got was a mere bagatelle. Luckily I am now supremely fit otherwise i would never have managed the near-continuous 17 hours on the go. It shows just how necessary a path is; because without one it is a nightmare.

The campground at Trout Lake was set up by the Warm Springs Indian Administration. It was well organized and tidy. Though it catered for fishermen with fishing permits, it was far too big for that with about 30 tables. It was obviously primarily  a place for Native Americans to come and enjoy and fishermen just slotted in. The only thing which marred it was the rubbish disposal. 12 round galvanised bins were set up in a frame for rubbish disposal. They had all been full until very recently when a bear had rummaged through them scattering the contents. Bear proof bins are essential for campsites like this and this bear will get more brazen and more addicted to human food, before it develops an expectation of entitlement, like a spoilt Western teenager, and then has to be euthanised.

06. Trout Lake on Warm Springs Indian Reservation is where the proscribed campground is.

In the last light I collected water from the lake and set up to camp on  a picnic table. I hoped I would not be woken by the hot breath of the bear returning to show an interest in my food bag which I used as a pillow. As I fell asleep the full moon shone through the pines and firs. It was coloured deep orange by the smoky atmosphere so it looked like a ripe Himalayan apricot.

When a road is built to a place as quiet and serene as Trout Lake people inevitably follow. Still the Indian Administration had taken pains to ensure it would not get out of hand like some US counterparts. Cutting of firewood was not allowed and no motorised boats were allowed. I have seen many Indian Reservations where the territory was hopeless land nobody could do anything with. Rubbish land Indians were cajoled into accepting as part of a “treaty” and then dumped on it to eek out an impossible living. It seems the Warm Springs Indian Reservation is an exception, as the bits I walked through were bountiful.

No bear did appear in the night and I slept well. I could not get up early and left around 8 heading west. I followed a string of lakes for about 3 miles. The path was good which was a blessing as beside it there were extensive fire burn areas with a jumble of windblown trees covered by a tangle of new growth.  The next three lakes on the Indian side, namely Island Lake, Dark Lake and Lone Lake were marred by fireburn. What were once idyllic placid lakes lost in pristine forests were now exposed windswept lakes surrounded by dead white trunks and the charred remains of forests, which a new young forest was rising from.

Once I got to Lake Olallie I crossed back into the US administration. This area was not burnt and I enjoyed the green path through the pines. Each side of the path tall berry bushes were crimson, but there were very few berries on them, as per the Indian side, perhaps due to the dry summer. After a mile I reached Lake Olallie Resort, a small cosy store and some 12 cabins. Lake Olallie Resort was completely off grid with no electricity, but it did have a great view of Mount Jefferson. I ate here, learnt of yet more fire closures up ahead.

After a few hours at the small store and the centre of the cabins, which felt more like a rustic retreat rather than a resort I set off and found the PCT at the end of the driveway. I had enjoyed being off piste and having an adventure within and adventure, but now it was great to be back on the trail. My flirt with other trails over I strode out along an old friend. I had forgotten how easy it was with its gentle gradients, and prepared path which 1000’s of feet had pummelled into a soft, dusty layer.

The vegetation along the trail was also lush and lovely, tall conifers and an undergrowth of huckleberry bushes. It was all much softer and more pleasing to the eye than the harsh fire burns of the Indian Reservation or the managed ponderosa forests around Sisters. After 3 miles I reached the lovely tranquil Jude Lake,  the nicest I had seen since in the last 5 days. This lake was back on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, as the PCT had an easement of about 23 miles which went through the very western edge of the reservation.

07. The early autumnal woods around Jude Lake where the PCT has an easement through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

From Jude Lake the path contoured around the forested hillside through idyllic forests of Hemlock, Douglas Firs and true firs (as opposed to Douglas Firs which are not true firs), with the odd larch. There was enough light getting down to the forest floor to allow a carpet of huckleberry bushes, which were all turning crimson now. It was a delightful section of trail and ironic that it was in the Reservation. Perhaps fire control was better at preventing wildfires here as this was still pristine forest.

The only issue I noticed was that there were  a large number of dead lodgepole pines. I think they had been weakened by drought and this allowed the bark beetles to overwhelm them, as they could not produce enough sap to repel them. After another 6 miles the path came to a spring, Trooper Spring, a deep pool full of cold but stagnant water, which seeped in from an underground source. It was nearly 7 and I deserved an early night after yesterday. Beside the spring was a meadow, and there was great camping nearby in a copse.

When I started around 7 I felt lethargic. The big day in the Indian Reservation was taking its toll now. I had wanted to get the lion’s share of the 42 miles to Timberline Lodge today but it was soon apparent I would be lucky with half. The 10 miles to the Warm Springs River took 4 hours and I had to push myself at that.

The PCT entered the Warm Springs Indian Reservation yesterday and it went through it for 23 miles altogether with an easement. The forest was varied with some areas of feeble lodgepole pines and other areas with magnificent Douglas Firs which were just morphing from tall trees to leviathans. As the path climbed the huckleberry bushes got thicker and as it descended rhododendron bushes became dominant on the forest floor, especially where the canopy was thick. I noticed that although each side of the PCT was not logged for about 100 yards, beyond that it was logged quite heavily in patches.

At Warm Springs River I had a longer break and afterwards felt much stronger. It was just a quick saunter up a hill and then a long descent to Timothy Lake. Before the PCT reached the lake it crossed out of the Indian Reservation and into the Mount Hood National Forest.  The forest changed, with it going from feeble lodgepoles and small hemlock to massive Douglas Firs and huge hemlocks. Previously today the hemlocks had mostly been Mountain, with the needles arranged like a bottle brush, but now they were Western with the needles more flattened on the branches. The douglas firs and hemlocks have small cones and seeds, and made for slim pickings for the squirrels and chipmunks, but luckily there were some true firs amongst them to give the critters something to eat.

At Timothy Lake the trail looked very well used and there were a lot of side trails and horse trails. Obviously this was usually a heavy day use area with punters parking their cars nearby and picnicking beside the lake. But with the smoke in the air and the views obscured there was no one about. Indeed I had not seen a person since I left Olallie Resort. It was as if there was a apocalypse somewhere and I knew nothing of it. The trail was abandoned. In fact I had not met a PCT hiker, north or southbound, since leaving Elk Lake nearly a week ago.

I walked round the east side of Timothy Lake for a few miles passing lovely beaches and empty picnic spots until I got to the meadow where a creek entered at the NE corner. Just beyond was a turn off to Little Crater Lake and Campground. I took it and reached the lake in no time. It was a geological spectacle. Underground water had welled up from a fault below and eroded a deep hole in the ground rock here. It was perhaps 30 yards in diameter and probably as deep. It was crystal clear with a blue tinge and one could see down the side of it to the submerged trees lying on the floor of the lake.

The campground was just beyond. It had a old fashioned hand operated water pump, probably connected to the same artesian water that welled up in Little Crater Lake. It was very cold. I found a good table to lay out on and had my chores done by 2030. I still managed 24 miles today despite the slow start leaving just 18 tomorrow, much of it uphill, to reach Timberline Lodge, where I could get fresh information on the newest fire closure.

I walked past Little Crater Lake on my way to the PCT from the campsite in the very early dawn. Even with low light the pool seemed to glow and it was possible to see the bottom. I finished crossing the meadow and then was back on the PCT.

09. Little Crater Lake was a 30 yard diameter and perhaps the same deep spring of crystal clear water with a blueish tinge

My route took me through more magnificent Douglas Firs and Western Hemlocks, the latter being the biggest I had seen. It was as if I was wandering through a sepia painting, a miniscule figure weaving through the trunks of leviathan trees with the odd shaft of light breaking through the canopy onto the rhododendrons. I noticed there were a few newts on the path, still slow and sluggish after a cold night, but now waiting for a shaft of light to warm them into activity.

08. The huge boles and trunks of some of the Douglas Firs and Hemlocks where I was a small figure wandering through the forest floor

The path climbed to a refreshing spring gushing out of the ground. It was ice cold and the last water for 12 miles according to reports so I drunk well and filled a litre. The path continued through large trees crossing a highway and climbing up to Barlow Pass, a historic pass in the 1850’s for the wagon trains coming west.

At one stop I paused at a Hemlock which had fallen across the path. It had been cut with a saw, a year or two earlier, and the exposed end was now dried and cracked, radiating from the middle. There was a lot of sawdust piled at the end of the log. Then I noticed an army of ants in the cracks. Each one had a small piece of sawdust in its jaws. When it reached the end it simply dumped the sawdust down the cracked face onto the growing pile. The ants were obviously hollowing out a nest in the log. I was not sure if these ants I saw were the ones excavating the nest or whether specialist ants with powerful jaws were biting bits off, and those I saw were the transport ants.

10. Ants had discovered this log and were busy hollowing out the insides. They were carrying small pieces of sawdust from the interior of the wood to the cut face and dumping it. If one lookes carefully at the right had crack one can see a few in action.

After Barlow Pass the path started to climb. The Douglas firs were replaced by true firs, and the western hemlock by mountain hemlock. It went up for a good two hours and the trees started to thin when suddenly I got a great view of a huge mountain, whose flanks I was on. It was the snow capped Mount Hood, a volcanic cone with glaciers and deeply eroded gullies down it.

The path went up a ridge between gullies and steepened. The surface was sandy and it made for hard work to ascend. Beside the path a few hardy conifers persisted and beneath them were shrubby mountain ash bushes, their heavy bunches of berries starting to turn orange.

At the top the path levelled off and contoured round a small part of the cone to reach Timberline Lodge, a historical edifice built during the Great Depression with the initiative from Roosevelt, an enlightened president. It had a breakfast buffet infamous with PCT hikers. I had already decided to stay here and dark skies and gusty winds confirmed that.

It was expensive but what the hell. I had been in a sleeping bag every night for the last 900 miles. I also needed a shower badly as my legs were dark brown with ingrained dust. I had a lot of cuts and scratches from my bushwhack on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and needed to see how bad they were and stop them getting infected.

I also made a few calls. My next resupply box was at the town of Cascade Locks in 50 miles. However the PCT to it was closed by a serious fire, Cascade Locks itself was evacuated and in danger of going up in flames, and the crossing over the famous “Bridge of the Gods” was closed. It seems as soon as I have finished one problem another arises just when I think my path to Canada is clear. The easy solution of course would be to hitch hike round the problems, but that would be throwing the towel in on my purist hike. It seems I have to detour to Hood River and somehow cross the Columbia River there. No doubt that would be an adventure within the greater adventure, rather like the Warm Springs Indian Reservation detour, which had its own rewards.

After my breakfast buffet where I had a few enormous platefuls of food in the sumptuous surroundings of the main dining room with white table linen I reluctantly had to depart around 9. At last there was a blue sky, with just a bit of cloud lingering on the summit snowfields of Mt Hood. The valley below was full of cloud with forested ridges emerging from it.

Mt Hood was an impressive cone volcano some 12,000 feet high. It had masses of snow towards the summit and it seemed there were a few glaciers on it. I was seeing the SW side and I am sure that the NE side would be much more glaciated. There were a number of ski lifts going up from the vicinity of the lodge, and a hikers path to the summit. After weeks of smoke obscured woods it was nice to see a clear mountain.

11. A view of Mount Hood from the Timberline Trail which circumnavigated the 12,000 foot conical mountain at the treeline.

There is a 4 day trail which circumnavigates Mt Hood called the Timberline Trail. It was quite demanding because of the ascent and descent in it, as it crossed over all the side ridges which came down from the summit cone. The PCT followed this Timberline Trail for a good few hours or 10 miles, at around 5-6000 feet.

It was nice walking through the top of the forest, mostly of Mountain Hemlocks and hardy true Firs. Mountain Ash scrub was scattered through the clearings and around the base of the trees. Every so often the path came to an abrupt halt and one looked down into a massive eroded ravine with white sides. I assumed this was where the ash, or pumice, which made up much of the volcano sides was eroded. The path either descended into it and climbed the far side or descended the forested ridge to find an easier way to cross the ravine and then climb up the far side. The ravines looked very inhospitable with the soil being too loose and steep for vegetation to take hold.

12. The 2100 mile mark on the slopes of Mount Hood

After a couple of hours the path finally dropped down a ridge to the mantle below and left the flanks of Mt Hood. I passed a few Timberline Trail hikers here. I had not seen a PCT hiker for a week now. At the bottom of the ridge was a side loop to the Ramona Falls, a beautiful wispy cascade of fine water which fanned out across a rock face. The waterfall was hidden in the Hemlock forest and was as high as the largest trees here at around 130 foot.

I followed the rest of the Ramona Loop down through a mossy glade to pick the PCT up again. I had hoped all the day’s climbing was done but when I looked at the map I could see I still had 2000 feet of ascent to do over Bald Mountain, a foothill of Mt Hood, before the descent down to Lola Pass where I intended to spend the night. On the descent a light coloured owl flew right past me and then perched on a branch and watched me.

13. The white owl which flew deftly through the trees and sat on a branch to watch me go by.

Lola Pass was the end of the PCT in Oregon. From here to Cascade Locks, which was only about 30 miles it was closed due to a terrible fire caused by arson. I would say goodbye to it and then make my own way off piste down the 30 miles to the town of Hood River tomorrow. It would be my last days hiking in Oregon.

I knew California would be a hard act to follow but Oregon has disappointed.  Unfortunately her best parts of The Three Sisters Wilderness, Mount Jefferson Wilderness and the Eagle Creek Trail, between Lola Pass and Cascade Locks were all closed, so it is unfair to dismiss her. But this year was an especially poor and frustrating year to be a hiker in Oregon with no views, endless and often mundane forests, and virtually no hikers as they all abandoned the State to skip up north to Washington. I must admit I will be glad to be out of Oregon as I found it quite boring.

I woke early at 0400 to an very unusual sound. Water was dripping off the trees I was camped under onto the tent. I had not seen rain for over 120 days and just took sunny weather for granted. It was just 0400 and I wanted to get going early, so I was soon wandering down the gravel road NE from Lola Pass with my rain jacket on and touch beam shining into the drizzle.

This weather was exactly what the 1000 or so firefighters working on the local fire Eagle Creek fire just over the ridge wanted. It had apparently already burnt 35,000 acres in the last week since a hoodlum started it by throwing a firecracker into the forest.

I walked for an hour and a half in the dark until I could turn my torch off. By then the drizzle had stopped. I was now in a heavily logged valley with mist hanging on the hillsides on each side and reddening maple leaves dripping water beside the road.

This road soon merged with the Lost Lake Road, a paved road with a yellow line down the middle. After a few miles a pickup came towards me a stopped. An extremely friendly avuncular man asked me a few questions about my detour and inquired if I needed snacks and told me he had seen many deer and bear migrating away from the fire over the last few days. He kindly gave me a handful of snacks. Only then did I notice the writing on the side of the truck. It said Hood River Sheriff. He was perhaps the friendliest policeman I have ever met.

I followed the Lost Lake Road for a good 10 miles to the fruit growing community of Dee. Suddenly the forest was replaced by orchards; pears, apples and huckleberry/blueberry were all growing well here under the imperial gaze of Mt Hood which dominated the skyline to the south. There were grander orchard houses where the owners or managers lived, and then shacks with older cars and small fields of maize where the probably Mexican workers stayed. It was an interesting cultural landscape.

At Dee the road got busier. I hated it. Beside the road was an old railway track which was probably just used to transport fruit. It was in poor shape, and the tracks were rusty and the sleepers wobbly.  If a train used them it would have to go very slowly, so I decided to walk on it as it paralleled the road for a few miles until it veered off and I returned to the highway 281.

I had done about 20 miles now and was getting thirsty, but the creeks were now muddy rivers and not inviting. I then saw some flags ahead and as I approached deciphered they said open. It was an antique shop but they also sold Ice Cream and sodas. I went in curious to see what Americans class as antiques. Once I entered I became the oldest thing in the shop, it was mostly bric a brac and collectibles from the 60’s and 70’s. However the Ice Cream from the Tillamook Dairy was the best I have tasted. It was a renowned brand.

The next 3-4 miles of road walking were unpleasant but eventually I got to the outskirts of Hood River and could escape the main road and follow leafy side streets in posh neighbourhoods. I phoned a bed and breakfast which had a bunk room and they had space, so I now had somewhere to aim for.

When I reached the bed and breakfast and went in I was overwhelmed. The couple who ran it, Pat and Anne, were part of the cool windsurfing and kitesurfing scene in Hood River which was on the world circuit. They had been doing bed and breakfast here for decades and the house was full of signed photos of the leaders of the sport who had stayed here. I am sure back in the old days it was a rougher, crash pad for the competitors, but today it was a sophisticated and chic with the friendliest hosts you could conjure up. They offered me craft IPA beers and invited me to join them for dinner with a few other guests. How my fortunes had changed from trudging down beside the highway to listening to tales of windsurfing antics and feats in a gorgeous house.

Meanwhile my packages were hopefully being transferred from Cascade Locks, which was still evacuated due to the very real fire danger, and Anne had contacted someone who could help me over the Columbia River. There was a bridge but it was prohibited to walk or cycle on it. One had to go in a car across the mile long bridge, and as a purist I could not do that. Anne’s friend had a kayak and that would do perfectly.


Section 15. Manzama to Sisters. 26 August -1 Sept. There were perhaps 20 northbound PCT hikers at Manzama campground. I knew most of them. They had all arrived because they hitch-hiked the last 20 miles, forced off as I was by the fire closure, or 60 miles using the excuse of the fire closure to make up time. I had breakfast with a few of them and then went to find out more information on the fires to the north at Manzama, but the place was just geared up for hospitality.

I knew the PCT was closed a few miles ahead, but there was a great alternative which was more scenic, shorter and more popular than the PCT itself, namely the West Rim Trail of Crater Lake. I started off up the hill for 3 miles climbing some 1000 foot to Rim Village, a collection of grand traditional buildings with cafes, gift shops and accommodation. It was a steep walk but I could take it in my stride.

As I got to the rim the view burst upon me. The air was almost clear with little smoke haze and I could gaze down into the collapsed volcanic caldera which was about 5 miles across and filled with the most uniform perfect blue water. To one side of this circular lake was a conical ash cone surrounded by the blue water and it was called Wizard Island. The internal sides of the crater were steep and loose, while the outside of the crater was the gently sloping Manzama Mountain which was clad in hemlock trees.

I then saw someone waving. It was Sunshine and her sister, with her parents behind. They had come over from New York to visit and met her 100 miles further north and brought her south. We all had lunch together at the cafe, and it was a bright and lively chat on many topics.

After lunch I managed to get some headtorch batteries from a kind ranger, who gave me some from her car’s glove compartment as the shops had none, and found a bit out about the fires. I then set off round the West Rim which was only another 8 miles until it met the PCT again. The views were spectacular, but slowly smoke from the Blanket Creek to the south and Spruce Creek just to the west started to build and a haze formed, obscuring the view and soon the far side was lost in the white haze.

The walk was still spectacular and it was easy to see down the steep internal sides down to the lake. Here and there deep drifts of snow still lingered at the water’s edge. The island was clad in trees but the uppermost ones had died, probably as a result of the last 7 years drought. The path wove along the top of the rim and was shaded by a forest of hemlocks. It was a busy path with plenty of day trippers and I had many conversations with people en route.

To the west of the mountain were dry meadows and beyond that conifer forests. I could see smoke rising from them sometimes just a mile away. However the authorities must have thought the dry meadows would provide a buffer zone, so allowed the road and trail here to remain open. After a few hours I completed the West Rim Trail and dropped down the north side of the mountain to regain the PCT which was open for the next 100 miles or so northbound. As the two trails merged there was a road crossing where some benevolent trail angel had left a large cache of water, perhaps 100 gallons. It was otherwise a 30 mile dry stretch some it was highly appreciated by the PCT hikers. I filled up my bottles and camped nearby in a grove of hemlocks.

I managed another 4 am get up and was away by 5. By the time it got light I found myself in woods of small lodgepole pines. It was a cold morning perhaps just above freezing and it took ages for the sun to shine through the trees. I had already walked 8 miles by 9 when the day started to warm up. I soon reached another superb water cache with about 30 five gallon containers.

As I walked I noticed an fantastically steep spire of a mountain soaring above the lodgepoles, but with my limited maps I could not identify it.  It now seemed the path went directly towards it and concluded it must be Mount Thielsen, however the forest soon swallowed the view as the trees encroached and I was in a green tunnel. As I climbed lodgepoles petered out and mountain hemlock took over. The path continued to climb for a good 2 hours until it reached a ridge and intersected another path.

Here one of the most jagged mountains I have ever seen burst into view. There were a few people milling around at this path junction and I  learnt they had just come down from the summit. I was certain it would be an exposed rock climb but they said the path went round the back and it was just a scramble. One of these climbers was a geologist and he explained that the central spire of the summit was the shaft of a volcanic vent which remained full of lava and cooled to form a hard gabbro. He also showed us various sills and dykes of gabbro on the mountain which he assumed formed when the main vent was blocked by cool gabbro and the rising magma had nowhere to go but sideways. Glaciers had eroded the east and west side of the cone to form this narrow fin of a mountain.

02. Mount Thielsen from this angle looks steep but as I walked past its left (west) flank it became a fantastic spire

Just beyond the path up the mountain the PCT dropped down into large hemlocks and crossed a stream of clear cold water. It was the meltwater of the Lathrop Glacier on the north east side. The stream valley was green and lush and one almost forgot you were in the high dry desert of Oregon, and thought you were in the European Alps.

As I relaxed Bear Can arrived. Last time I saw him was 10 days ago in Seiad and he had foot problems. He had not skipped round the last fire south of Manzama like most people had and I applauded him. We set off together into the hemlocks again and walked 5 miles chatting where we left off a few weeks ago. At the top of the climb I decided to camp as I had enough water while he went on for another 5 miles.

That evening my early finish was wasted on worrying about the fires and how to get round them. I had a faint phone signal and poured over my Oregon road atlas while getting current fire closure maps from the Internet. I was a bit wiser went I fell asleep at midnight, but not by much.

03. My balcony-like campsite overlooking the volcanic cones north of Mount Thielsen

I could not get up early and left at 7. It was a lovely campsite I had with a balcony-like view over the forest and volcanic cones across the area. However I had to descend into this forest  now to the next water in 10 miles. The path was very easy as it undulated and wove through the large hemlocks nearly always heading down.

My mind kept on regurgitating the worries of last night and the fire closures ahead. Then it switched to a lifestyle/business plan I had been thinking about for a week. One’s mind does tend to dwell on the same topics over and over. Many of the under 30’s hike listen to podcasts of current affair topics. When I question them about it they always say it is more restful to listen to a podcast than churn the same thoughts over and over.

When I got to the water after the 10 miles it was midday. However the water was half a mile off the trail down a steep path. A few southbound hikers said it was a bit stagnant and not worth the detour. They said i would he better off hiking another 6 miles to a large cache. This is what I did with much of these 6 miles being down hill. There were a few views through the hemlocks but the haze of wildfire smoke obscured much.

I was thirsty at the cache and drunk half a gallon. It was another good deed by a trail angel that the 100 gallons or so were here otherwise I would have had to go another 3 miles to a shallow warm lake and filter that water. The PCT split here with the official trail continuing for 30 miles to Shelter Cove keeping high with better views, while the Oregon Skyline Trail went past shallow lakes for 20 miles to Shelter Cove. I though the views  of the PCT would be ruined by smoke haze and the extra 10 miles would not be worth it. So took the Oregon Skyline Trail (OST).

05. The 1900 mile mark just north of Shelter Cove on Odell Lake

It was only 10 miles down the OST to its halfway point and a free campground with taps and picnic tables. Again the path was very easy and soft underfoot as it went across a sandy surface. The trees were small lodgepoles, which had not been harvested recently but just reached a small maximum size before falling over. It was a very uninspiring wood but fast to walk through after 3 hours I had already reached the campground by Crescent Lake. There were some lakes in these woods but they were shallow and silty and not appealing, but Crescent Lake was magnificent. The campground was completely empty bar me and at dusk I prepared my bed one one picnic table while I cooked and wrote on the adjacent one.

I had a long lie on the picnic table and did not get up until 7. Before I left I went down to Crescent Lake to see the beach. It was indeed a beautiful sandy beach. It was only 11 miles to Shelter Cove on Odell lake. The path went gently up beside the Whitefish Creek, which was essentially dry, for 6 miles to a collection of lakes, with Diamond View Lake being by far the nicest. It had a splendid view over to the snowy Diamond Mountain. The rest of the lakes were a cluster of small ponds.

The whole shallow ascent up to the lakes and down the gentle other side were through uninspiring woods of small lodgepole pines. It was only towards the end when a large cold creek coming down from the plateau to the east of Diamond Mountain did the walk become more interesting. This creek, called Trapper Creek, flowed in a small lush valley with thick moss on the banks. The trees were now large Mountain Hemlock and many of them were dripping in grey old man’s beard moss. The OST was certainly easy and cut 10 miles off the PCT but I don’t think it matched the PCT for interest or scenery as the forest on the OST was dull and the lakes little more than shallow stagnant ponds. It only redeeming feature was it was 10 mes shorter and the views on the PCT would have been obscured.

The path delivered me to Shelter Cove on Lake Odell. It had a small store and a grill geared towards carnivores only. I had a cheese pizza, drinks from the store and used their WiFi for a few hours. I was trying to contact an Indian Reservation Administration but my email kept bouncing and there was no phone reception to phone. Nothing is simple when it comes to communicating in the USA, especially with my phone service provider of AT&T, perhaps Verizon are better. In the end I had to email 2 friends to see if they could help me get permission to enter an Indian Reservation in 4 days time to avoid a long detour due to fire closures.

There were a lot of other hikers here. Perhaps 20 in all who I had seen in Manzama. Many of them had caught me up previously by hitching 60 miles round the last fire closure. As I was leaving Bear Can arrived, he was one of the few purists left here and he had walked everything, including all the fire closure detours despite his injury. He was only 25 but I had a growing respect for him. I chatted briefly before I headed off again at 5.30.

It was an easy ascent through Hemlocks and Douglas Firs to the first of the Rosary Lakes. It was about 5 miles but I got there at the end of dusk. The moon was half full and a deep orange due to the smoke from fires. I got water from the lake and set up camp in the dark.

I got a comfortable start and was off by 6 barely using the headtorch before the dawn glow took over. I climbed the short distance to Middle and Upper Rosary Lakes, where other campers were just starting to get up. I continued up through the hemlocks for a good half hour to reach the lovely Maiden ski shelter which was a log cabin with a large stove. A group of 3 PCT hikers I knew were just packing up after having spent the night here. I dropped in for breakfast and to see the building.

06. The Maiden Ski Hut log cabin was a popular place for PCT hikers to stay

After breakfast I walked on my own down to Bobby Lake. I still had enough water from yesterday so carried on past the lake into duller lodgepole forest. This continued on and off for another 7 miles all the way to Charlton Lake. I was joined for the last 4 miles by Slim, a dapper bartender from Chicago. We chatted a lot and I picked his brains on his trade. As we approached Charlton Lake the lodgepoles were largely replaced by hemlocks.

The 3 from the ski hut were already at the lake when Slim and myself joined them. It was a gorgeous lake surrounded by mature Hemlock forest which was reflected in the still waters. I had a quick lunch and then headed off on my own. As I neared Charlton Butte and Lily Lake I entered a fire burn area from perhaps 5 years ago. It looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off here. The whitened trunks of trees still stood where they had burnt and all around were toppled trunks. It was only 3 miles of this apocalyptic scenery before I returned to older hemlock forest around Irish Lake.

I paused here and the other 4 overtook me. Irish Lake was a beautiful tranquil lake surrounded by forest. There were no wildfowl on it at all surprisingly. The path now climbed gently up past a series of lakes and ponds. Some of the lakes were very picturesque and calm while the ponds were covered in dust and surrounded by fallen trees. It was however an lovely gentle stroll with plenty to please the eye, which was sorely missed over the last couple of days.

07. Looking across a bay on Irish Lake at the start of the lovely passage through a series of lakes, tarns and ponds

I reached the highest lake, Stormy Lake, on the highpoint of the plateau and loved its setting. It was only 6.30 and I should have gone on another 3 miles but decided, as I already had 25 miles under my belt today, to have an early night and camp here. For the first night in ages I was asleep by 8.30 in the evening with all the chores done. The moon was more than half now, and with the smoke in the atmosphere it glowed a deep red through the hemlocks.

08. Brahma Lake in the late afternoon sun. I continued another 2 miles to camp at Stormy Lake

I managed a fantastically early start and left Stormy Lake well before 5. It was a shame to walk this area in the dark as it looked splendid from the map. When It did get light I found myself wandering past one idyllic lake after another. The was mist rising off them in this chilly morning and wildfowl lazily swam around. I could not identify them though.

After 5 miles I got to where three men I had been hiking on and off with for a week were camped and stopped for breakfast. It was only 7. After breakfast I walked with one of the 3, Tomas, a Czech. The miles flew by as we chatted and went past many more beautiful lakes. The forest was lush and green again and the floor was covered in blueberries and huckleberries. It was a charming landscape despite the smoky haze.

09. The mist rising off Mac Lake on a smoky morning. There were wildfowl on many of these lakes but I could not identify them

I stopping for another break at 9 when I had already done 10 miles and the Czech went on. I followed after a snack and was in a world of my own went suddenly Aladdin appeared. I thought he was off trail with a bad back so was surprised to see him. We walked together for the next 2 hours down to Elk Lake. The charming lakes continued for a while, but in trying to keep up with Aladdin they passed in an unappreciated blur. The smoke was thicker now and all the side trails were blocked with barrier tape. It was as if we were walking into Armageddon.

10. Trying to keep up with Aladdin as he storms across a meadow before Elk Lake.

At Elk Lake there were about 10 northbound hikers I knew. They were all skipping up to Timberline Lodge or Government Camp missing 160 miles. Many also skipped the 60 miles from Fish Lake to Manzama. I think many were using the fires as a lily-livered excuse. There were perfectly good ways round the fires which although not on the PCT still took one through cultural and natural landscapes. Not for me, I had decided to walk it all, and continue my Carless to Canada mission.

I spoke with some rangers having lunch at Elk Lake and they showed me a good route to Sisters through an area I had previously dismissed as closed. It would shave a day of my estimated time. Then I decided I would go through the territory of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, preferably with permission for which I was willing to pay. However getting in touch with them was very difficult and I had to enlist the help of two American friends, Les and Sue, and Kev and Judi to help me.

With that in hand I set off to walk the 10 miles to Todd Lake campground down the highway to Bend. I find road walking humiliating and felt as stupid as Forest Gump. Nonetheless it was hopefully the only asphalt road I would walk in my fire closure detour when I am going off piste. There were some smoky sections of the road but I eventually reached the campsite as dusk fell and it started to get cold.

Again I slept well on the picnic table of the deserted campsite. The smoke cleared in the night and the stars were superb despite the large moon. I could see the snowfields on nearby Mt Bachelor lightup in the moonlight. I had a slow start before heading up to Lake Todd where I bumped into Brad, a craft ale salesman for Ballast Point brewery. We chatted for an hour as we climbed the dirt road. He then headed up Broken Mountain while I continued NE along the road.

This 14 mile walk from Todd Lake to Three Creek Lake was superb. As good as anything the PCT had offered since leaving California. The hemlocks were huge and spectacular, the meadows either lush and still in flower or plains of amber grasses, there were numerous creeks, but best of all were the views of the 3 Sister mountains, all around 10,000 feet and still boasting large snowfields. The dirt track I was on was rough enough to deter cars, and the road and path closures due to fires ensured the road was abandoned.

11. Broken Top Mountain on my off piste reroute was between Todd Lake and Three Creek Lake. Although not on the PCT it matched it’s views. On the other side (west) of Broken Top Mountain were the 3 volcanic cones of the Three Sisters which the whole area was named after

When I reached Three Creeks Lake the dirt road I was on turned into an asphalt road. However because of the smoke and fire closures nobody was visiting here except for fire fighters, either checking everything was OK or just having a scenic drive. It was 16 miles to the town of Sisters and it was virtually all downhill. Occasionally I stopped and spoke to fire crews who were standing by and they always offered me cold drinks and friendly conversation.

I had a few problems to sort out. Firstly my resupply box with all my food for the next section was marooned at Big Lake Youth Camp in between fire closures. However a trail angel called Ross who was driving hikers 160 miles around fire closures agreed to extract it for me and take it to Sisters. Secondly I wanted to cross some Territory of the Warm Springs Indian Federation and needed clarification on the legality of that and if permission was needed. My friend Les and Sue were working on that as my telephone signal was so erratic. Thirdly I needed somewhere to stay in Sisters and phoned the campground saying I would arrive at 9 after it was closed. I spoke to the manager and arranged access and let him know Ross would drop my resupply box there. It was all a lot of palaver with a poor phone signal but after 4 hours it was all done and I was approaching Sisters in the dusk.

I reached the campground in the dark and found Bob’s RV. He was the very friendly helpful host. He gave me my resupply box and another bag. Ross had not only delivered the box but had been so thoughtful and kind to buy me a couple of exclusive craft ales and some muscle soothing cream. I had done 60 miles in the last two days, but did not need the cream, but the beer was fantastic. I drunk both in lieu of dinner. I was surprised how easily it affected me, and before long I was tripping over my tent pegs.  The next morning I explored Sisters which was a charming small town and did a few chores before starting the final section in Oregon.


Section 14. Seiad to Manzama. August 18-25. I stayed in Seiad for breakfast at the cafe, and then lingered a bit while I packed. I had a simple task for the day and that was to climb 5000 feet up the mountain to the north. I eventually left at 11 and walked a mile along the highway to where the path started.

It was not a pleasant walk. The forest floor was covered in poison oak, there had been fires through the area and many trees were dead and there was a strong haze in the air due to current fires in the area. The climb was not as bad as I feared and although the dead trees provided little shade, it was ironic that the current fires smoke blocked out the sun.

Fires start with lightning, carelessness around campfires and arson. Lightning is the most frequent cause. Because there was so much snow around this year the ground vegetation grew well. It was now dead, dry and crisp and made plentiful “fines”, the fireman’s term for ground fuel. This year’s abundance of fines spread fires easily and could quickly set light to “ladder fuel”, the fireman’s term for dry brush which would catch fire and spread the flames up to the canopy or crown. Ladder fuel was often plentiful in the forest, as previous fires were suppressed efficiently and the scrub built up. So when a fire happens now the ladder fuel ignites the crowns and the trees are destroyed. Fires are a natural occurrence here but previously the ladder fuel or scrub understorey was always thinner as it burnt more frequently, but recent fire fighting techniques prevented the scrub burning, so it built up to catastrophic levels and ignited the crowns, burning the trees and destroying the forest.

The path zig-zagged up through these burnt areas for a good few hours until it reached 3 peaks on the ridge called the Lower, Middle, and Upper Devils Peak. It skirted up these contouring around their flanks until it reached 6000 feet, above which the smoke did not go and the sky was blue.

I passed the day’s highpoint and skirted around a couple of cirques to the east of the craggy Kangaroo Mountain, the main peak in the area. These cirques were uncharacteristically lush and unscathed by previous fires. Each one had a small spring and a lily pond and the latter also had a sheltered campsite amongst large trees.

The westerly wind was getting up and there was a strong smell of smoke, as I put the tent up flecks of ash blew past. In the dusk I made a mental note of a lush meadow and also a scree field to evacuate to should a fire cross the already burnt ridge above, and then work its way down the hillside to the copse I was camped in.

There was still a lot of smoke in the morning when I set off and there was a lot of ash specks about. Indeed there were even charred fragments of bark on the path which must have been carried up in the flame thermals and then blown in the wind. At the first water some hikers caught me up and said they had seen the fire envelope large trees just a mile from there camp and two from mine. This fire had been going for 2 months, but was contained by previous fires and barren ridges, so the Forestry Service was concentrating on more urgent fires.

For the next few hours the smoke was almost thick enough to be a mist and visibility was down to a couple of hundred yards. However there was no acrid smell and breathing was unimpaired. A few southbound hikers said it was much clearer further north and indeed it was.

My legs were tired after yesterday’s 5000 foot climb with 8 days food and whenever the trail climbed today my legs felt it. Unfortunately there were frequent climbs as the path topped out at nearly 7000 feet before undulating for the rest of the day. There were some good views but much was obscured by smoke.

Giggles, Grandma Candy, Snowwhite, and Tom caught up and I walked with them much of the morning. Fireball also caught up. I last saw him at Vermillion Valley Resort almost 1000 miles ago. He hiked with Harvest for a month and they dropped back but now he was solo and doing 40 miles a day.

In the afternoon I went on alone and at last got some views of the surrounding hills. The path undulated along the ridge through firs, and in the more exposed parts hemlock. It was a lovely stroll through woods and across stoney meadows. There was plenty of water so I did not have carry any on my pack more. After a good afternoon alone I felt tired, and as if I needed an early night.

I picked an unambitious spot on the map and aimed to get there around 7. If I had pushed it I could have got to Oregon, but went for the early option. After a lovely descent down dry gravel covered meadows surrounded by grand firs I got to Beardog Spring. There was good water here and a nice campsite nearby under 3 giant Douglas Firs. I had the tent up by 8 and the blog done by 9 after a large supper.

01. One of the last meadows of North California

It was a short distance to Donomore Meadows, which were an extensive network of mature grasses with copses of mature firs scattered about them. The sun was just rising illuminating various patches and making the due sparkle. At the top of the meadow was a derelict cabin which had a bloody history. It was now being restored by the original owners descendants but it still looked like the setting for the Blair Witch Project film. The Gypsy Team, namely Giggles, Grandma Candy, Snowwhite, Tom and Pencil, had spent the night camped by it and where just packing up as I arrived.

I said morning to them and pushed on to the Oregon border just a half mile beyond. It was a solemn moment to reach it. I had been in California for 112 days and nearly 1700 miles, and had had an awesome time during my hike through it. It was marked with a old sign on the tree and a trail register, or book, which everyone signed. I looked through all the names I knew who had passed here in the last 2 weeks. As I contemplated completing California Team Gypsy arrived with much fanfare and high-fiving. We had a group photo and celebration.

02. The California/Oregon border after 112 days and nearly 1700 miles. With me are Team Gypsy

I left them and walked another half mile to see an ambulance and masses of people milling around a junction of forest tracks. I thought it was an event. Then someone asked me over and offered me food and coffee. It transpired they were fire fighters dealing with a fire just a mile away. It was one of the 32 fires started by a single lightening storm a few weeks ago. They had masses of food left over and were offering it to all the PCT hikers. It was a great welcome to Oregon.

The path now climbed up to a ridge and pretty much stayed there all morning. These mountains were called the Siskiyou Mountains and they seemed much more gentle than their Californian neighbours. While they were covered in Red and Douglas Firs there were also large swathes of meadow between the trees. The meadows were extensive. Some were lush but the majority were covered in a yellow flower and beds of gravel. At the top of one ridge a trail angel had left some magic, about 100 cans of soda in 2 coolboxes and some folding camp chairs. It was a lovely surprise and we fell on them and left a $20 donation.

05. The trail magic before Ashland. The coolers were full of soda and there were chairs to drink it in

I kept overtaking and been overtaken by Team Gypsy all day and occasionally we paused together. As the day unfolded I settled on a campsite and they decided on one a bit further. However it became apparent that many of the spots would be taken as a couple of million people headed to Oregon to watch the eclipse tomorrow. When I got to my campsite it was busy.  Pencil and Tom joined me as the 2 girls went on into the night in the hope of a better one nearer Ashland, which Team Gypsy was heading into to resupply. I still had enough food for a week.

Pencil, Tom and myself set off early to walk the 10 miles into Callahans, a lodge beside the Interstate 5. We would have breakfast, wash clothes and shower here, then I would continue while the other two went into Ashland to join the girls. It was a brisk walk and we charged along the path and got there at 10, just as the eclipse reached its maximum.

I just noticed it got a bit darker and noticeably cooler. However, the birds continued to sing and the chipmunks still scurried around the forest floor. It was not until a spectator at Callahans lent me his special glasses that I could see the full extent. Surprisingly nearly the whole sun was obscured by the moon with just a crescent showing; eight percent, according to the spectator. He also explained our eyes processed poor light with logarithmic returns, and a tenfold reduction of light only produced half the reduction our eyes could process. He said it with such conviction I believed him.

After the excellent breakfast, with the clothes washed, I eventually set off at 1300, clean, refreshed and full. Tom and Pencil disappeared into Ashland. I walked up the old highway for a mile to regain the PCT and then started a hot climb. I was sweating onto my nice clean clothes as I wove through oak and small conifers up the 2 hour climb. There were some meadows of brown dry grass, but it was mostly scrub and small trees I walked through to reach the base of the basalt volcanic plug of Pilot Rock, which dominated the vicinity.

I walked on another 6-7 miles in the late afternoon. The trees here were almost exclusively Douglas Firs. On private land they were quite small as if they had been harvested 20-30 years ago. Where the trail went through government land (BLM) the trees were twice the size with some gigantic specimens, and the occasional monster Jeffery Pine, as if logging occurred a good 100 years ago.

06. A view of one of the managed utilitarian forests of Douglas Fir. The wild forests were more chaotic with bigger trees

The path was not as flat as I had hoped and I had to work hard up some slopes. However the water springs were good. The meadows became quite extensive in places and were fringed by huge Douglas Firs. As the day drew to an end and dusk approached the sun turned a huge crimson colour, probably due to the smoke haze which was still lingering. It also gave it a misty feel and I was nearly lured into thinking it was autumnal.

As I neared my earmarked campsite by a spring, dusk approached. There was a dampness in the air, and with the haze from the smoke it lent an air of peace and tranquillity to the meadows I passed. Here and there I surprised a deer which ran for the cover of the huge firs which surrounded the meadows. It was nice to be hiking alone through this to appreciate the gracefulness of the rolling hills and atmospheric views. I knew I would soon be tucked up in my tent in a maternal copse of giant trees. Dusk was perhaps my favourite time of day;.a reward for having got up early and then walked through the heat of the afternoon.

I got up early with quite an ambitious destination in mind 33 miles away. It was almost an hour before the first light appeared and by the time the enormous, smoke-enhanced, orange ball of the sun appeared I had already done a few miles. It was fast walking through woods and before I knew it I had done 11 miles and not even had breakfast. I stopped at the dam of Little Hyatt Reservoir having crossed the golden grasses on the  small pairie of Hyatt Meadows.

After breakfast I gently climbed up to Hyatt Reservoir where there was a campground and water. I filled up before walking along the east side of the reservoir. The forest was mixed here with some true firs, Douglas Firs, pines and some large Incence Cedars. When it was last logged some of the older trees were perhaps left as seed trees and some of the Douglas Firs were colossal, the biggest trees of the trip, I reckoned some were 7-8 foot in diameter and nearly 200 foot high.

I continued east to another reservoir, namely Howard Prairie Lake. There was water here but I did not like the look of it and carried on for  another 4 miles to a beautiful spring of cold water. It was getting late now and I realised I would not do the 33 miles before nightfall so I took enough to camp and pushed on. Again I went through a forest dominated by Douglas Firs. There were some true firs and enormous sugar pines, but the Douglas Firs were kings. They grew tall and straight  until they reached the canopy and then they started to fill out. I think there is a maximum height beyond they cannot go as the water can’t get up. So when they reach 200 feet they start to fill out and become leviathans. Only the Sugar Pines could compete in size but there were a few of them.

After loading up with water I walked over a ridge and into the Rogue River forest where there were more spectacular Douglas Firs. A quick jaunt down the otherside of the ridge to me to a flatter area where I could camp. It was 8 now and I had done 30 miles and was happy with that. The tent went up quickly and I was in my bag as darkness fell. There were some thunderclaps in the distance and a very light rain fell for a few minutes but I missed the brunt of the weather.

I managed another 4 am alarm and was away by 5 with the headtorch on for a good half hour. It was an easy path to the South Brown Mountain Shelter which was on a side spur. The rain last night was perhaps heavier here as all the vegetation overhanging the path, like the berry bushes, were wet and my shoes were quickly soaked. By Browns Shelter there was more trail magic with water and sodas in a coolbox.

As I headed north to the lava fields of Browns Mountain I passed through another magnificent Douglas Fir forest. The trees here must have been nearly 200 foot and some had a 8-9 foot diameter. They seemed to morph from  tall elegant trees of 175 foot into massive,  brutish leviathans of 200 foot with thick, fissured, bark riddled with woodpecker holes. This change was like a delicate brown trout suddenly reaching a critical size, and then morphing into a much heavier ferrox trout.

I think the Douglas Fir cones are of little interest to squirrels or chipmunks as the seed is tiny. In pure forests of Douglas Firs I saw few critters. In this forest there were also some true firs, in the abies genus, and these produced bigger cones and seeds. I saw a squirrel skipping along the top of fallen logs with a true fir cone its its mouth. It had maybe climbed to the top of a true fir to get it. It was a prized find and the squirrel seemed to have the glint of victory in his eyes.

The trail then entered a lava field which must have formed when Mount Brown last reputed.  The path through the lava was superb and must have taken a lot of time to construct. This excellent path went round the west side of Mount Brown in and out of the forest. The forest was now mixed again with a species of true fir and the sugar pine, trying to hold their own against the adaptable Douglas Fir. The true firs branches ended in branchlets which looked like a diagram of a snowflake while the Douglas Firs branches ended in wispy tendrils of needles which were splayed.

08. The excellent path threaded a path through the impossibly rough lava boulders

The lava fields and mixed forest continued for 10 miles until the highway. The path though this area was superb,  which given the rough terrain was very easy. Mount McLoughlin, a volcanic pyramid rose to the north and was much higher than Mount Brown. At the end of the Lava I crossed a highway and started up the final 10 miles to Christi Spring, where I intended to camp.

07. A view of Mount McLoughlin from the lava fields of Mount Brown

After a mile I saw smoke just off the path and went to investigate. There were 4 firefighters here and they had everything under control. The fire was caused by the lightning I heard last night. It had caused 14 fires. A special plane with a heat sensitive camera picked up these fires. Then other planes dropped firefighters into each area. These 4 parachuted into a nearby meadow this morning with their equipment, then found the smouldering tree and were dealing with it before it spread. It was a very high tech proactive way of dealing with it. With all the fires further north, a few of which were across the trail, and had caused it to be closed it am sure there will be more fire topics in the next section’s blog.

09. The lightning induced fire attended to by the 4 firefighters who parachuted in to deal with it before it took hold

The final 10 miles of the day were easy and the path climbed or descended gently in easy terrain and softly underfoot. I noticed than now there trees were almost exclusively true firs, that is in the Abies genus. It seemed strange how they suddenly replaced the Douglas Firs.  It must be related to soil types or the aspect of the slope. As I climbed the odd hemlock appeared until they became prominent,  especially on the north facing slopes. I reached Christi  Spring at 7 and decided to throw the towel in early. I had to figure out how to get round or through a fire closure tomorrow in Crater Lake National Park, which had been burning for at least a month.

I managed another 5 am start as I had planned to walk 38 miles, the last 5 miles of which were closed off due to a fire. Most people had been walking through and said the fire was a mile away. I hoped if I did it under cover of darkness there would be no rangers around to reprimand me. I could switch my torch off at 6 am in the dark forest and made good time on the soft forest floor. At 7 the forest started to peter out and it became more rocky. I had already done 6 miles by 7 when I came across Airplane Mode, who was just getting up.

We chatted briefly and she said she would catch me up so I blasted on up the path on a scree covered slope with sporadic copses of hemlock interspersed amongst the rocks. When I reached the saddle over which the PCT passed I had done 10 miles and it was only 9. I stopped for breakfast, and had just started when Airplane Mode stormed up the trail.

Just then McGiver arrived with his dog. He was a Southbounder so I asked him about the fire closure. He had gone through it. McGiver was a risk taker and a man who threw caution to the wind. He was not a dogmatic offical, so I felt I could trust his opinion. He said “don’t do it” and showed me a video.  Apparently yesterday the Blanket Creek Fire had spread a mile east and had encroached onto the PCT. His video showed him dodging burning logs and cascades of water dropped from helicopters. He said the place would be full of firefighters who would at the least scold me and turn me back, wasting 8 miles each way. So I decided I would follow the recommended detour.

I walked with Airplane Mode for the next 10 miles. The trail climbed a bit more in rocky terrain past Lucifer and up to Devils Peak before it started a long descent. We intended to have lunch here but I put my backpack on a wasps nest and after one stung me we fled down the zig zags on the north side. Here nice green forests returned and we stopped at the first creek and had lunch. I think there would have been some great views today but unfortunately there was a think haze from fires which masked them.

After lunch we continued down into bigger forest for an hour until we reached Seven Mile Trail. It was 10 miles before the fire closure,  but it was the last chance to get off. We both did and walked the 2 miles to the trailhead at Sevenmile Marsh. Here Airplane Mode got picked up by a friend while I started a 20 mile track and road walk to Manzana.

10. The path up Lucifer and the Devils Peak in the Sky Lakes Wildernesses area. Unfortunately many of the views on this stretch were obscured by smoke

I followed the track for 4 miles and then went cross country for half a mile across the creek to pick up another track, saving myself 2 miles. I then followed this track and a few more until I eventually reached the Highway 62. Airplane Mode’s friend told me there was a good place to stay at the Snopark. As I walked along one of the dusty dirt roads I was following the footprints of 2 other hikers. At one stage either a large bobcat or mountain lion paw print’s appeared, and followed their footsteps for a mile before disappearing back into the forest again.

The Snopaark was a snow scooter facility, where drivers could rest. It had a large log cabin with 4 picnic tables in it, and it had power. I got there at 7.30 and was exhausted. I slept on a table and slept well with 30 odd miles under my belt.

I could not bring myself to start early. There was essentially no need. I just had to walk 10 miles along the Highway 62 to Manzana where I had a resupply package. The walk was humiliating; I always hate walking roads. This one was not that busy with a car a minute and there were some great Ponderosa pines on one side and Annie Creek Canyon on the other. However it was not the wilderness of the trail and I was glad to reach Manzana at midday.

I had hoped to find further information on fires and trail closures up ahead in the next section here, but nobody knew anything. I did manage to find an altas of Oregon with all the forest tracks in it. My dream of “continuous footsteps” hopefully lies within it.


Section 13. Castella to Seiad. 11-17 August. I left Castella on a path called the Flume Track which headed west from Ammirati’s Market and then gently climbed the oak clad hillside until it reached the PCT after a couple of miles. En route I passed the 1500 mile mark. Once on the PCT the trail wove in and out of a couple of side valleys under jthe huge granite edifice of Castle Crag, a mountain which was protected as a State Park.

01. The 1500 mile mark. Not even the Proclaimers got this far!

Soon the path started to climb up the south facing hillside. Often it was strewn with granite rock debris or even bare granite and there were no trees shading the trail. It took about 3 hours to climb some 3000 feet up by which time the deciduous trees had long bee replaced by Douglas Firs, and Manzanita scrub on the more arid sections.

Towards the top of the climb were 2 springs. I stopped at the first for a long overdue drink. Beside the spring flowers were still blossoming and I spent half an hour watching a pair of hummingbirds go from Willowherb to Indian Paintbrush and back again, while bees foraged on the small yellow lupins,  which were now browning with age. I noticed the tall corn lilies were now going to seed also.

It was a mile to the next spring and en route through the forest I disturbed 2 rattlesnakewere just off to the side of the path in the sun and waiting to ambush a chipmunk or other small critter. The were so well camouflaged I was only alerted where they started to rattle their tail. Both slithered off while still coiled up and facing me in a manoeuvre which was like a moondance.

At the second spring I bumped into Can Can, the 57 year old Chinese lady from Hong Kong. I had last seen here at Mount Whitney 6 weeks ago. The next day she got swept down Wright Creek and said she nearly drowned. Battered and bruised she left the Sierra and headed up to Oregon and was now heading south. She said she was too traumatised to return to the Sierra. She maybe had a point as two PCT hikers died this year in the Sierra crossing creeks.

She went on and then a whole group of people I knew arrived. Firstly Aladdin and Flower who went on. Then the Norwegian girls, Giggles and Seabiscuit, and their friends Bear Can, the young Dutchmen,and a guy called White. Finally Sunshine also arrived after a quick turnaround in Mount Shasta. It was good to see all the faces again. Most of us had already decided to camp in  another 5 miles.

There was a marvellous campsite after just 2 miles, reputed to be the campsite with one of the best views on the PCT, but it was too early at 1730 to camp so I went on. I did see the view over the jagged Castle Crag mountain on the right and Mount Shasta on the left. The latter was slightly obsured by cumulus clouds though.

02. Castle Crag Mountain above Castella from the campsite with the fabled view.

I was with Sunshine for the last 3 miles and our conversation just continued where it left off yesterday and the 3 miles flew by. There were 6 of us at the campsite eventually and we all cowboy camped. It was good to be back at 6000 foot away from the bugs and heat and with gentle fresh breeze wafting gently through the pine trees.

I had a poor sleep as the large forest ants kept crawling over my head and there were a few bugs around. I was slow to get up and the others all left before I shouldered my pack at 6. It was a  beautiful morning from the ridge I was on and I watched as the sun slowly illuminated the sleepy valleys below quickly clearing the mist. Mount Shasta was clear and stood huge above everything.

My plan was to walk the 10 odd miles to Porcupine Lake and then have a wash and swim in the lake. I made good time along the connectiing ridges towards it. There were numerous small lakes and tarns down each side of the ridge and some lush meadows in the valleys. I got to Porcupine Lake mid morning and thought it better to push on another 6 miles to Deadfall Lake instead and then it would be nearer lunch.

The walk continued along the ridges with great views. It was remarkably drier here and the understorey in the forest vanished and the trees reverted to hardy pines, like the Jeffery Pine and the Western White Pine and a few gnarled firs. As usual the forested ridges of North California stretched as far as the eye could see.

Deadfall Lake when it came was perfect. Lying in a craggy cirque with forested sides the lake was warm and invigorating. I washed everything I was wearing and went for a swim, then lay  basking in the sun to dry off. My sweaty gritty shirt and shorts dried quickly and felt like fine cotton when I put them on. After a quick lunch I looked at the map and realised I still had another 8 to do to the next good campsite. This suited me perfectly as it was 3 when Ieft the lake.

04. The beautiful Deadfall Lake where I cleaned up after a week without a shower.

The path continued along the ridge contouring around the higher peaks. It did not go across the valley by circled around it. Then path was easy and flat as it went into each side valley of the High Camp Creek drainage basin. It was a huge bowl of red stone with grassy meadows scattered through it. The woods the path contoured through were lovely with many large Jeffery Pines, some in a parklike setting in the flat bottomed side valleys. I noticed, like the lodgepoles all the Jeffery Pines twisted anticlockwise as they aged, but the Western White Pine went  clockwise. These woods were full of chipmunks and squirrels, so there must have been a good supply of cones.

05. A Chipmunk feeding on ripening berries. This time of year must be bountiful for all the animals in these mountains.

This near circling of the bowl took me to a cliff of conglomerate rock before it left this high dry pine clad drainage basin and headed south through more pines to Chilcoot Creek. The water here was poor but it was a nice campsite. I filtered the water and had an early night after the last 2 poor night’s sleep, setting my tent up to keep the bugs at bay.

In the morning I continued through this red geology. The stones were red, hard and sometimes abrasive on the outside, but where they were recently broken they were grey. I thought they must be iron rich and the red colour was this iron content oxidising. The stones must have contained a wealth of minerals as the flowers were so lush.

I passed Bull Lake in its cirque of red stone and walked into thicker fir forest where there was a spring. There were many springs of cool clear water in this section and I seldom filtered them, especially if they were emerging from the ground.

06. The beauty of Bull Lake early in the morning after my night camping at Chilcoot Creek.

The path continued contouring across the wooded hillside crossing side ridges and traversing the occasional saddle for another 4-5 hours. WheneverI looked over my shoulder I could see Mount Shasta looming large. It seemed to attract clouds but the summit was clear.

Eventually I got to the small Highway 3, where there was a campsite. However the whole place was deserted so I crossed the road and continued west up the other side. The climb in the afternoon sun took me into the Trinity Alps Wilderness. All the southbound hikers had been complimentary about it.

After climbing up through incense cedars, Jeffery Pines and firs for a couple of hours the path reached a saddle seperating the beautiful collection of tarns called East Boulder Lakes on one side of the main ridge and the small Marshy Lakes on the west side. Beyond the Marshy Lakes, nestled in the woods below was a spectacular craggy mountain. With the yellowing grasses and red rocks it was a colourful view.

07. The fantastic lush valley of Marshy Lakes with a smaller range in the Trinity Alps as a background.

I thought the path descended from here and my tired legs had to dig deep to climb another 1500 foot while traversing up to meet the main ridge. As I climbed into exposed rocky terrain and new pine appeared at around 7000 foot. I think it was a rare Limber Pine, or it may be Bristlecone. Even the Jeffery and Western White Pine did not grow here

The new pine had short needles in bundles of five, they were arranged on the ends of the branches so they looked like bottle cleaners. This years 3 inch cones were still largely on the tree and covered in droplets of resin, maybe as a deterrent to squirrels and chipmunks. This tree twisted anticlockwise as it aged.

Below me in some of the meadows cattle grazed. They wore cow bells and as the meadows were surrounded by firs it was a scene which reminded me of the European Alps. The cows were extremely wary of me and the whole herd ran when I approached.

After 28 miles dusk arrived and i filled up at a spring and walked to a ridge top campsite. There was enough gravel around to deter ants and a slight breeze to keep the bugs at bay. So I cowboy camped as the sun went down in a blaze through the trees.

08. Sunset from my ridge top campsite after a long day. I cowboy camped here and later in the night a damp mist rolled in.

It was another unsuccessful cowboy camp as the mist drifted up the mountain in the morning and when I woke the outside of the sleeping bag was very damp, if not wet. I got up early and continued west through the Scott Mountains,  as this small delightful range chain was called.

I crossed some steep hillsides covered in firs predominantly with some lovely grassy meadows in the clearings. The path kept high along the ridges and through saddles occasionally dropping down to cross a deeper valley before climbing up another ridge. All the time there were small lakes scattered about in the cirques each side of the ridge. It was both idyllic and easy walking. I passed a Southbound couple, she being the aunt of Flowers, just half a day ahead, who were very informative about the trail having done it before, and we chatted for a good half hour.

After about 10 miles the geology changed. The red oxidised rough rock of the Scott Mountains gave way to granite. The mountain range here was now called the Salmon Mountains. It was equally rugged and still contained small lakes and tarns and was peppered with meadows. They were also quite lofty and the path kept high affording great views. Unfortunately fire had ravaged a good third of the mountainsides of this 10 mile walk and I cannot find anything positive to say about the fireburn areas.

I called it a day at the picturesque Paynes Lake. I took a siesta in the afternoon and it cost me a good 4 miles. So I reached Paynes Lake at sunset. It was a lovely lake surrounded by a rocky granite outcrop ridge and fir forests. I found an idyllic sheltered spot beside the lake and put up the tent. As I was settling in Bear Can, the Norwegian girl Giggles and Grandma Candy arrived. They had to camp further round the lake as there was little room at my spot.

I started early from Paynes Lake and walked the first mile in the dark then watched the sun rise beside Mount Shasta. The path was rugged as it skirted around the jagged mountains and then passed through a saddle to skirt another peak. Below the path were a few lakes and below them the side valleys flowed down the mountains to the larger valleys which stretched to the horizon, whirh each interlocking spur getting progressively fainter. A layer of mist or smoke hung over some of these valley.

09. Sunrise after leaving Paynes Lake with the endless forests of North California stretching to the horizon where Mount Shasta still stands proud.

After a couple of hours I reached the small paved road to Etna. I passed a Southbounder who said there was a fire ahead but it was under control. At the road there was a Forest Service noticeboard about the Marble Mountain Wilderness ahead. Some fires and trail closures were mentioned but not the PCT. I crossed the road climbed past the 1600 mile mark and headed into the rugged mountains again.

The path contoured north along ridges crossing from mature fir forest to stoney hillside. It was very varied. The meadows were now showing all the signs summer was on the wane with plants going to seed and leaves browning, and berries forming on many of the bushes.

I could see smoke rising from the valley to the west which had a thick pall of haze over it. Helicopters were busy in the air ahead. Then a couple of Forest Firefighters came down the track in working clothes. They enquired about me and told me the trail was closed due to the fire. I told them there was no signs previously posted and pled ignorance. They said the fire was under control and I could continue as long as I camped well north of here.

As I passed the smouldering fire in the North Fork of the Salmon River valley below, a fleet of adapted helicopters were busy overhead. They were hovering over Shelly Lake sucking up lake water through a hose and then flying a mile to the fire and dumping it. It was all being coordinated from a command camp in the valley. Apparently there were 100 firefighters in the vicinity.

I scurried past the fire hoping I would not get turned back and soon the rising smoke was behind me. A thick haze filled the air and these spectacular mountains were partially obscured. I pushed on north to the rugged ramparts and sharp peaks of Marble Mountain itself.

10. The 1600 mile mark at the start of the Marble Mountain Wilderness.

There were some small mountain tarns  before the stoney path zig-zagged into the heart of Marble Mountain and climbed over a saddle. There was still a few snowfields here feeding meadows where summer was very delayed, indeed some of the ferns were just starting to emerge and unfurl.

Passing more lakes the path climbed and descended frequently and was rough. It was very slow going. No bed of soft conifer needles but  ankle twisting rocks for mile after rugged mile. I saw a harmless Sierra Boa on the trail. It was a vulnerable 18 inch brown snake, similar to a slowworm. I moved it gently off the trail with my sticks as it would be easily harmed if a hiker stood on it. However with the fire closure there were  very few hikers about. It sluggishly disappeared between rocks.

The path went on another 3 miles past Summit Lake to a potential campsite with water. However the water was half a mile off the trail. The sun was low now and my dilemma was to push on into the night for yet another 3 miles, or waste a mile getting water. Just then Aladdin and Your Honour appeared having found out the fire closure was not official and walked through it also.

They were camping here and we all went down to the water half a mile away. It a small spring which barely oozed water into a sludgy pool, and one had to scoop it up. They filled some brown water into their bottles to filter and I decided to return to the path and continue another 3 miles despite the wasted mile to this almost stagnant spring.

With the torch on I walked briskly in a bubble of light for until after 10. Deer looked back at me from the dark depths of the forest, their eyes reflecting my torch. I homed in on the campsite slowly but surely and found a good stream of cold clear water here. They was a old shingle clad forest service cabin here which was as if out of a painting and I camped beside it.

I had done 30 miles today and up and down 6000 foot on a largely stoney path. 3 months ago half that would have exhausted me yet now I could have done more. I dont have to think about walking now, it happens almost automatically without effort.

I wrote the blog in bed in the morning as the sun  climbed well above the horizon and set off at 0930. I had not walked far from the lovely shingled cabin in its lush meadow when something caught my eye. It was a bear. It saw me before I saw it and it bounded off through the wood with surprising grace and stealth for such a large animal. It must have been rolling on the forest floor recently as with each stride the fur rippled and sheld a pall of dust from its shaggy back. Quicky the bear was gone leaving the dust hanging in the rays of sunlight which shone through the trees.

Not long after the bear the path climbed towards Black Marble Mountain, a craggy limestone peak with flecks of snowdrifts hanging onto high ridges and shelves. The meadows below the mountain were in full bloom and lush with virile flowers. The Indian Paintbrush seemed to have twice the density of flowerheads. I think this meadow was enhanced by the minerals in the limestone. The huge meadow was humming with the sound of insects stocking up to help survive the coming winter.

11. The lush meadows of the limestone areas in the Marble Mountain Wilderness. The red flower in the foreground is the Indian Paintbrush.

I traversed the meadow and climbed up to a fir clad ridge. I noticed that as usual al? the trees were covered in the fluorescent green lichen. However the first 7-8 foot of each tree was bare bark. I assume this is because the dedr graze on the lichen.

It was clearer today but still no use for landscape photos, which was a shame as the rugged mountains of the last few days continued. I was just enjoying Paradise Lake when another popular Northbound Thru Hiker arrived. She was called Airplane Mode and was an artist from New York. We walked together and started chatting.

The miles started to fly by but I had to make a conscious effort ot observe what I was passing through. We climbed north up a spur to gain a ridge and basically followed that ridge north for 5-6 miles. It was a beautiful forested ridge which undulated along the skyline. The views were lost in the haze but we chatted on.

After a couple of hours the ridge petered out and the path started a long 5000 descent. Much of the descent was fireburn but there were some intact areas of forest too. As we dropped the woods became more decidious.

It took a while to zig-zag down 4000 feet to Grider Creek, but with dusk approaching we finally got down. It was a deep valley with little camping opportunity so at the second crossing of Grider Creek we saw a couple of campsites beside the creek and took them. We had our tents up and creek water filtered by dusk. It had a slow lethargic start but Airplane Mode quickly arrived and enlivened the day with her ability to chat  on any subject. It had been a very quiet day with just a handful of true Southbound Thru Hikers, who all started at the Canadian border 4-5 weeks ago around Mid July.

The next morning we got up early and walked the remaining 12 miles down the Grider Creek to Seiad. It was a reasonably dull landscape down the floor of a valley which had been partially destroyed recently by fire. Blackened trunks stood erect on the bare slopes with various colonizer plants like willowherb repopulating the slopes. Occasionally a small conifer would have seeded and taken foot and within 20 years the forest would be reestablishing.

The last 6 miles were on a paved road, over a bridge before the final run along the highway to the tiny settlement of Seiad. It had a scruffy but friendly RV park, a cafe which was well past its sell by date and a small store which had all I needed. It was a friendly hamlet but poor and forgotten by the rest of California as it was north on the Oregon Border.

This section from Castella to Seiad had completely redeemed Northern California. The spectacular mountains with jagged peaks,  and the multitude of tranquil lakes shimmering in the forest were not in the league as the Sierra but they had a green gentleness and charm which made it stand out from the rest of Northern California. I was ready to leave California now in 40 miles after 1700 miles and over 100 days in the State, and was looking forward to the flatter forests of Oregon.


Section 12. Burney to Castella. 7-10 August

After the most relaxing stay of the PCT yet at Burney Mountain Guest Ranch with just 15 hikers passing through the two nights I was there, I was now ready to move on. As I walked down the drive past and past the pylon I realized that what I originally thought was a stork family was in fact an osprey family. Obviously there was good fishing for them on Lakes Baum and Britton.

It was an uneventful but fast 9 miles through managed pine forest to Burney Falls State Park. The centrepiece of this park was a 130 foot waterfall into a leafy gorge. The most remarkable thing about the waterfall was the fact that the water cascading over it had travelled underground from the surrounding mountains. It permeated porous layers of rock and flowed down channels on top of an impermeable layer. Most then rose to the surface and formed a river which plunged down but some lept out of channels halfway up the waterfall cliff.

01. The Burney Falls where the water both flows over the falls and out of rock where the porous layer rests on top of the impermeable layer of rock.

There was a small store at the visitor centre so I bought lunch there, eating with Renee, who picked up her resupply package she previously mailed to the store. The  trail now passed along the south side of Lake Britton past a few more osprey nests and a large heronry. However, one only got glimpses of the lake through the trees, but it looked beautiful. The trail then crossed the dam forming Lake Britton and climbed up into the mixed forest.

There were a few springs for water enroute. P Step and Renee both caught me up at one and we had a brief chat before they both continued their separate ways. The forest was mixed with plenty of deciduous trees, mostly Black Oaks and Maples, and also a few conifers, mostly pines and Douglas firs. As the path climbed a few red firs also appeared.

02. The firs and meadows in areas which had been previously harvested and were now regenerating.

During the mid afternoon I was in the Fir forest when I heard thunder. Then the skies darkened, the birdsong stopped and the chipmunks their holes. It was like walking into a Grimm’s fairytale. However the rain never fell and the lightning and thunder remained distant.

Renee was at a spring around 6 when I arrived at it. She has other commitments and there is real pressure on her to speed up and finish at an untenably early date. The pressure is getting to her a bit. We walked a while but then she sped off through the forest of large Douglas Firs now with a lush understory of oak and maple scrub.I walked until 9 when it was getting dark. I found a nice campsite beside the cool clear waters of the Peavine Creek and called it a day with 23 miles notched up. I had to put the tent up in the dark as the forest was so dense the full moon did not brighten up the glade.

In the morning I heard a few fir cones ricochet down from the treetops. Then there was a very strange almost electronic sound. I looked round but could see nothing. Then I noticed a squirrel coming down the trunk advancing in jerks towards me while making the sound. Obviously it had chewed through the twig holding the fresh cones some 120 foot up and was now trying to get rid of me so it could search for and feast on the cones. I have noticed squirrels have a vocabulary of noise. Frequently I hear them imitating the staccato shrill of the Scrub Jay’s warning cry.

I left soon after and climbed up to the ridge. Here there was a faint view of Mount Shasta. It was an enormous volcanic mountain standing 14000 feet dominating Northern California. It towered above everything else. Unfortunately there was a haze in the air which greatly tempered its magnificence. This haze was from forest fires up the west coast from California to British Columbia in Canada.

For the rest of the day the trail pretty much kept high on ridges and through saddles. It was an area which was harvested periodically with the logging companies being quite sensitive. 20-50 acres were cut, almost clear cut, but enough seed trees were left. The seed trees reflected the natural composition of the forest with Incense Cedar, Douglas Firs, and Sugar Pines standing huge, in a renewing forest of saplings.

The recently harvested areas made up only 5 percent of the entire forest with about half regenerating, and half old established forest, which was no doubt having areas in it mapped out for harvesting. In the recently harvested areas there were many colonizer plants like willow herb, and a whole array of different plants producing berries. All the bear scat I came across now was full of berry stones.

There were frequent views from the ridge over the vast forests of North California. The undulating hillsides rolled into the distance for 20-30 miles on each side until the haze swallowed them up. This was a region traversed by forest tracks, but it was vast and remote and wildlife, like bear and mountain lion, could thrive here.

03. The extensive forests of North California stretched into the haze with ridge after ridge of conifers harvested in small patches.

In the afternoon Aladdin and Flower caught me up. They were hiking with Deb, my old hiking buddy from the windfarm areas in the Mojave and Mount Whitney to Forester Pass. I had not seen Deb for 6 weeks. However Deb was delayed in town so Aladdin and Flower continued, leaving her to catch up. I walked with Aladdin and Flower for the last 8 miles. We got to a camp by Alder Creek at 1830 and were all keen to stay rather than grab another 3 miles in the dusk. The next camp was rumoured to have a big bear sniffing around it. I was also keen for an early night and I slept well and woke replenished.

Flower and Aladdin overtook me soon in the morning as I stopped for my breakfast of granola on a log. Just as finished Sunshine came round the corner. She was one of the most popular and happiest hikers of the PCT this year, and was delayed a few days recently because she met friends. We often crossed paths in the desert and lastly at Mount Whitney nearly 6 weeks ago. She had made it through the Sierra unscathed also.

We started hiking and chatting, initially about the bear she had just seen a mile back on the track in front of her. The bear stood its ground initially and then turned and crashed through the bush fleeing in haste. We walked for about 3 hours then stopped for water and a snack and repeated this 2 more times while talking the whole time. We passed through Deer Creek drainage basin at a good pace and I only just had time to notice there were some magnificent Douglas Firs here with a bole of 6-7 foot and perhaps 160 feet high. I think Deer Creek was too deep to be logged profitably.

By lunch we reached the McCloud River. A fisherman here told us fishing was no good today as the dam release further upstream had stirred up too much sediment. However he told us that it was trout from this river which were taken to New Zealand to populate the rivers there as they did not run to the sea.

05. The McCloud River is usually clear, but occasionally a dam release puts some sediment into the water. The trout in this drainage area were the ones used to populate New Zealand’s rivers.

In the afternoon we marched through more magnificent Douglas Firs and grandiose Incense Cedars over a ridge and down to a campsite at Trough Creek. The miles flew by in easy conservation and by dusk when we reached camp I had done 27 and Sunshine a few more. It was a deep camp in the tall trees, well protected and insect free so we cowboy camped with the alarms set for 5 as we both wanted to do about 20 miles tomorrow.

We set off at dawn and did a brisk walk up the hill for a couple of hours. Suddenly in a clearing Mount Shasta burst upon us. It was an enormous mountain, a volcanic cone which completely dominated everything around it in Northern California. I had not really noticed it before because it was hidden by haze, but it was now clear and Mount Shasta revealed her full snow-clad glory.

06. Mount Shasta, the Queen of North California, stands over 14000 feet and dominates everything. It was the first time I had a clear view due to forest fires in Oregon.

After this revelation the path now descended in a series of twists down through conifers and then mixed woods to the deciduous trees lining the Sacramento River. Here Sunshine went north to the town of Mount Shasta to resupply, while I walked south for 2 miles to Castella where I had previously posted a resupply box to. Our early start paid off as we reached our destinations around 5.

This last section did not offer any great natural beauty as it threaded a path through the extensive forests of North California, but it was wild and remote. It also offered easy walking and we were able to do about 100 miles over 4 days. The last two days were greatly improved by Sunshine’s cheery company who had the wisdom of someone twice her age. The next section of 150 miles to Seiad, were through a region called the Trinity Alps and I had been told it was a beautiful area, North California certainly needed it.

07. The Sacremento River marked the end of the Burney to Castella section and the start of the Trinity Alps which lay to the west.


Section 11. Belden to Burney. 1-5 August.

Having arrived around breakfast time in Belden just as a 3 day rave party ended i initially thought everyone was a bit bewildered. In the cafe/saloon there were a small group of hikers, Benny and Chill, Isko, Hunter, Bam Bam and Myself, and about 50 revellers. The music was loud and the revellers were still lively. It was soon I realised that it was actually the hikers who seemed bewildered. It was as if Henry Thoreau himself had wandered away from Walden Pond and ended up at Woodstock Music Festival.


Most of us ate and drank well and then decided to move on. We had a 5000 foot climb ahead of us over the next 12 miles. The PCT pretty much followed Chips Creek from Belden all the way to its source on Frog Mountain. I tried to upload pictures to the blog but was overwhelmed by the poor wifi so gave up and decided to leave also. Thoreau wanted to go back to Walden Pond.


The trouble was it was now midday and the heat was intense. Furthermore there was very little shade for the first 5 miles as the forest had been destroyed by fire, perhaps 5 years ago. I sweated buckets as I forced myself through the heat for 3 hours. By the time I got to the edge of the forest, my shirt and shorts were soaked.


Once in the forest I felt at home at last. Here were the familiar trees, sounds and smells which I felt comfortable with. A new pine cone shredded to the core by a squirrel feasting on the nuts it contained, made more sense to me than the hedonistic excess of Belden. The path still climbed up, frequently steeply, and 8 hours after leaving Belden I had climbed 4000 feet over 10 miles. I camped in a grassy meadow where the summer had already started to turn the sedge brown. The meadow, at around 5800 fòot, was surrounded by Douglas firs which made it feel very homely.

02. My meadow campsite a the head of Chips Creek was a return to the tranquillity of the trail after the disturbance of Belden

I left quite early and appreciated the meadow as I walked through it at sunrise. It was an easy climb for a good hour up from the meadow to Frog Mountain, the end of the climb up from Belden. The PCT now descended past a cool spring to an area of utilitarian forest. There were a lot of dirt roads and it seemed an unnatural amount of cut trees. During the forest I passed the 1300 mile mark. There were a few springs and meadows but summer now seemed to be almost over here. The meadows of Mules ear daisies of the Northern Sierras were here just dried leaves rattling in the wind.


After nearly 10 miles of this mostly fir forest the landscape changed as i reached the drainage basin of Butts Creek. The creek was sheltered in a large amphitheatre of hard volcanic rock which formed the watershed.  For the next 10 miles I followed this watershed in a big arc to the west then north and finally east. All the time Butts Creeks was down in the valley to my right. It was a dry ridge with no water unless one dropped down into a steep side valley.


At a gravel road I stopped for a siesta. I noticed a pair of secretive woodpeckers in a smaller fir nearby. He had a red head while she had a rufous head. They did not seem to have a nest here but were up to something. They had bored some 2-300 half inch holes in a densely branched bit. While one guarded the holes and was busy with them the other, usually the male, was away for 5 minutes and then he would return and was busy around the holes also. I wondered if they were farming grubs in the holes or whether they were milking sap from the trees. I had heard of birds called Sapsuckers, but never seen one.

06. A possible sap sucker guarding the holes she and her partner made on a young for tree. The tree produces sap to defend itself and the sap-suckers were.milking this sap.

Where it was really rocky and exposed some Jeffery Pines managed to survive, but where it was more sheltered with some depth of soil firs thrived. If I saw firs further down my path I knew it would be easy underfoot. With the sun now low in the  sky Bam Bam caught up and we both decided to head to Carter Creek and drop off the ridge to get water, for both this evening and for the first 10 miles tomorrow. There was a campsite beside the creek a half mile north of the PCT path, which did not descend much. The tents went up in the dusk as collecting water took longer than expected.


Because of the National Park regulations in Lassen I had to traverse the whole park in a day or have a bear canister. It was only 20 miles but that meant I needed to be at the southern boundary this evening. It was 28 miles away so I got up at 4 and was off by 5 with my headtorch on for the first mile.


As I approached the top of Butt Mountain the orange glow of the sun was just beginning to shine through the trees. However I could see today was going to be a hazy day again and there was a smell of smoke in the air. I assumed it was still from the Quincy fire I saw a few days ago. I did get some views to the north of Lassen Peak, A huge volcanic plug at nearly 10,500 feet  which still had extensive snowfields on it.


The descent from Butt Mountain down to the the valley and Highway 36 was a delightful saunter down through firs. It was easy underfoot and fast to walk on. Towards the bottom was the source of Soldier Creek, a refreshing rivulet of cold, crisp water.


Once down in the valley the landscape was tedious. It was a wide flat valley floor with Soldier Creek now flooding across the path. The woods were managed by Collins Pine ltd who to their credit harvested them by selecting individual trees rather than clear felling acres. Nonetheless it was a sterile forest with no chipmunks scurrying on the floor or birdsong in the trees.


In the middle of this managed forest was the road to Chester; namely Highway 36. I had heard much about Chester. It was the town many of the “Flippers” headed to 6 weeks ago to either continue north or to head south through the Sierras. It now seems some of the remaining “Thru Hikers” are losing their nerve on the coming snows in Washington and are flipping up to there to complete it first, and will return here in mid/late September to finish North California and Oregon.


After Highway 36 I continued through more managed forest to Stover Spring. Again this had beautiful cold water gushing out of the ground. It was delight to drink. I had taken water for granted throughout the Sierras and it was now getting scarce again. Stover Spring was an oasis.


From Stover the path went up and over a gentle mountain, now run by US National Forest again. It was a return to nature, with chipmunks and birdsong. The trees were huge. Ponderosa Pines with vanilla smelling bark and 3 inch cones, and Sugar Pines with their huge foot long cones towered some 150 feet. The White Fir also thrived here but was not as impressive as the Pines. There were also Incense Cedars growing here. Not the gnarly, wizened, venerable, version of the rocky dry areas in the Sierras but the grandiose stately version of better soils and less arid conditions, where they could grow to be parklike 140 foot giants. After a good few miles the path then dropped down to the North Fork of the Feather River, the same river I had crossed at Belden a few days ago, but much smaller now.

07. The lovely forest.on the.descent to tuw second ceossing of the.North Fork of the Feather River just south of Lassen National Park

I crossed the river on a footbridge and then sauntered across a mile or two of meadow before beginning a climb up to a ridge. It was now evening and much cooler and as usual I got a second wind. The path up the climb was gradual and inspiring, with the Cedars especially, and the pines also, glowing orange in the evening sun. Once up I followed the crest of the ridge round to Boundary Spring which lay at the southern entrance to the park. Conversely to the morning I now saw the orange sun disappear into the trees and had to walk the last half mile with the headtorch.  I reached the spring at 9 and was delighted to see there was camping nearby. It was a record day for me with 28 miles under my belt. Despite that I did not feel too tired as it was on easy paths.


When I left camp early in the morning I had only the intention to walk the 20 km through the park and a bit more to a campsite beyond. I had no ambition to go to Drakesbad at the southern end of the park. The idea formed in the first 3 miles and by the time I reach the sulphurous Boiling Springs Lake I was looking forward to a breakfast there. It was just a further mile to the meadow on the valley floor where Drakesbad basked in the early morning sun. There was dew on the meadow grasses and rising steam from thermal springs nearby.

09. Boiling Spring Lake was a sulphurous hot spring at the southern end of the volcanic region encapsulated by Lassen National Park

Within an hour of arriving I had washed my clothes, showered and was about to tuck into an enormous buffet breakfast. I was full after another hour and wrote the blog while drinking coffee. As I was about to go Isko and Sam arrived so I had another coffee and chatted with them. Then Marshmallow arrived, I had not seen him since Day 5 when I ran out of water at Scissors Crossing south of Warner Springs. He had taken 2 weeks off the trail.


When I did leave I bumped into Bam Bam looking up large pine. He explained there was the American equivalent of a Peregrine Falcon overseeing this year’s fledgling on its first flight. It seemed to be managing under the guidance instructions the parent was issuing. I tried to get a photo but they were too fast.


The path now climbed steeply to reach a ridge and then dropped down into a shallow valley where a stream flowed spilling out onto meadows occasionally. I followed the stream up to its source and over a small watershed. There were some huge trees here but there was also fire damage which had killed a few some 10 years ago. I paced one fallen giant out and it was nearly 60 paces or 180 feet.


At the watershed the path dropped down to Swan Lake, where there were in fact some Geese nesting, and then dropped again down to the Twin Lakes. This was the highlight of the walk today as the lakes were idyllic and still surrounded by intact forest. At the lower Twin Lake I spotted a sandy beach and went for a swim. The water was perfect and the setting very arboreal with a fringe of grassy patches round the lake. As I was leaving Isko Sam and Marshmallow appeared. I explained how beautiful the water, was but only  Marshmallow was persuaded.

11. Lower Twin Lake in Lassen National Park was an idyllic place and perfect.for a swim

The area around the Twin Lakes was the domain of a problem bear. He had be taking food, sometimes aggressively,  from hikers for a few years with the last incident being just 3 weeks ago. It was because of him a bear canister is required in Lassen if camping. After the last incident the rangers decided to induce a fear of humans again to this bear, which had been aggressive and confident. After this “re-education”  2 weeks ago the bear has kept his distance.

12. The 3 hikers I met on and off through Lassen and other places. From the left, Sam from San Francisco, Isko from Finland and Marshmallow from Chicago

The 4 of us walked north west now through the remaining 8 miles of the park to the northern boundary. It was a sad walk as most of it was devastated by fire some 5 years ago. It did mean we could see Mount Lassen which was still covered in snow despite being just 10,500 feet. It was a volcanic plug which last erupted 100 years ago.


It was a very easy path down to the boundary, and with our chatting the time passed quickly. However dusk was upon us when we reached the boundary. Isko and Sam continued into the night, while Marshmallow, who had already done 33 miles, and I, who had just done 20, camped. I was a bit disappointed in Lassen National Park. It was really the fires and the dull landscape of the northern half which failed to convince me. However, others assured me there were some spectacular features in other areas of the Park.


The next morning I hiked down to Old Station through a managed forest of smaller pines which were solely grown for harvest. They were cut long before they could reach a mediocre size. Again the forest was quite sterile with no critters or birdsong. On the other hand the path was easy and soft underfoot and the 8 miles was quick. When I reached Old Station I decided not to  stop here, as it was a RV park and the cafe had poor reviews, so I continued another easy 4 miles to the northern hamlet of Old Station where there was a cafe a little off trail with great reviews


I was not disappointed and had a great veggie burger and milkshake. I had hoped to update the blog on their wifi but there was, unsurprisingly, a technical hitch. Frustrated i decided not to dwell on it as I did not have time to waste. Just to the north of this cafe was a geological feature near the PCT. During recent eruptions and volcanic activity there was a river of subterranean lava nearby. When the flow stopped the molten river emptied without fresh ingress of lava and the tube it was flowing in was left empty. It was possible to descend into the lava field and walk along the half mile of this empty tube; which I did.


The trail then climbed up out of the Hat Creek Valley onto a high bench or escarpment to the east. It was about 600 foot higher than the valley floor and it ran north/south for about 20 miles. It was called Hat Creek Rim. I was easy enough to climb up, and once up it afforded great views over the Hat Creek Valley and back to Mt Lassen.


I had been warned that the rim was no place to be during a thunderstorm and I could see there had been loads of fires here. In one evening a few decades ago 47 fires were started by lightning strikes in one afternoon alone. However there were no cumulus on the horizon. I soared along the edge of the escarpment keeping an eye on the track because the soft pine needles had been replaced by jagged chunks of lava. There was also no water up here save for a couple of dams where cows drunk from, and they were filthy.


After a good few hours the path reached Lost  Creek. I had already decided to spend the night here as it was the only water for 30 miles. It would mean just 20 miles tomorrow to the next water. The trouble was it was down a side canyon for a good 30 minutes round trip. When I got to it the water was cold, fresh and beautifully clear as it welled up out of the ground nearby. It was worth the trip for water of this quality. I returned to the top and set up camp in the dusk.


The next day I started my walk along the remaining 15 miles or so along the edge of the rim with its great views down to the grasslands in the valley. It was easy walking notwithstanding the occasional lumps of lava. After a few miles an Alaskan hiker, P Step, caught me up. We started chatting and it was soon obvious P Step was well educated and articulate, as in fact most PCT hikers are.

14. P Step looking over the edge of the Hat Creek Rim escarpment onto a lava bench below. There was another escarpment beyond this bench down to the valley floor. We thought the escarpments were causeg by
Rifting rather than erosion

We walked together for a few miles chatting and I managed to keep up. Before long we had done 5 miles to where there is sometimes a water cache. However it was empty but luckily we both had enough water to walk the remaining 12 miles to the next water. We chatted the whole way along Hat Creek Rim pausing occasionally to look over the side. After a few hours we dropped down off the escarpment to Baum lake and a creek with water. It was mid afternoon and I had already done 23 miles! We had wanted to swim in Baum Lake but there was nowhere to get in easily and there were a lot of  Canada Geese swimming around which we would disturb. Instead we did there last 2 miles to Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, where I knew there was a pool.


Reaching Burney Mountain Guest Ranch was like walking into a eco-retreat. It was run by a Christian couple so there was no alcohol or drugs allowed. However there was an very hiker friendly shop run on an honesty basis. Simple, wholesome food, laundry showers and a pool. The whole place was perfect for PCT hikers. P Step camped in the grounds and I took a bed in the bunk room. I went to get my resupply box once I have settled in to find it covered in messages from other hikers who walked with me, but were now a few days ahead. Top’O even wrote a message saying he had already prepaid a soda for me, continuing our tradition.


I spent the whole of the next day relaxing, doing emails, ordering gear, relaxing in the pool, charging batteries, chatting with hikers and doing the website with the best wifi of the trip. Burney Mountain Guest Ranch was exactly as I hoped. It had been ostentatious to spend a whole day here (A zero day) but my next zero day would be in 700 miles at Cascade Locks on the Oregon/Washington border.