Section 09. The Northern Sierras. Sonora Pass to Sierra City
Section 09. The Northern Sierras. Sonora Pass to Sierra City. Despite the 9 days food in my rucksack and the morning’s climb I had a spring in my step as I climbed up the path heading north from Sonora Pass. The new boots were fantastic and my feet felt liberated having gone from the heavy, often sodden, cumbersome, leather boots to light, airy, trail shoes. It was like going from lead diving boots to bedroom slippers. I was also full of sugar from the snacks I had been given and felt boundless energy.
The terrain continued in the same vein of geology as the morning with the brittle rock shattered into scree or talus. There were a few steeper snowfields which made me question discarding my crampons and ice axe. The path climbed steeply and I sped up it climbing from about 9500 feet at Sonora Pass to nearly 11000 where it was near continual snowfield again. There were recent footprints and i followed these across the snow. I thought I was finished with the snow so this was a surprise. However I think this it also the highest point of Section 09 and after this it drops to 8000-9000 feet with occasional snow.
Full of momentum I stormed on past the small frozen Wolf Creek Lake and over a watershed into the East Carson River valley. Here I was delighted to see the terrain changed back to the character of the previous two Sierra sections. The lodgepoles were back, the granite returned and familiar birdsong filled the dusk.
In my new shoes I sped down the snowy slopes into the forest and could see I was catching up with a group. It was not usual for me to catch up. I eventually caught them as they found a campsite and was delighted to see it was Bliss and his group, Happy Feet, Airplane Mode and 2 others. It was a good reunion. I found a campsite by them and soon were we all sitting round a fire will a small creek, still largely covered snow bridges tumbled beside us. We chatted for an hour beyond dusk amongst the snowdrifts beside the fire. I was relieved to be back in the nature of the Sierras, with the familiar sounds, smells and sights, after the almost desert like scree and picnicking traffic of Sonora Pass.
I had a bit of blog to write so when I got a phone signal again I could upload it there and then. So I decided I would stay at this camp at the head of East Carson River and finish it. I worked until 11 and then again in the morning from 0630 Bliss and his group left. I then had an hours snooze listening to the small tumbling creek and a very joyful bird. I eventually left at 1030.
Unfortunately the camp was at about 9500 feet and still in the snow as it was a forested north facing slope so I had trouble keeping to the path and lost it a few times. As I got below 9000 feet the drifts became less and then all but vanished at 8500 feet. It was a pleasant valley with some spectacular granite outcrops and ridges on the east side. There were a few creeks to cross and I waded them in my new boots. The water poured into them and then it flowed out again and after 5 minutes my socks were just damp. It was a far better solution than the large leather boots.
After a good 4 miles the path climbed up the west side of the valley and where it crossed a small creek I stopped for lunch. Half way through the Japanese hiker, Masaru, arrived. I had not seen him since Vermillion Valley Resort 2 weeks ago after he emerged from the Sierras having had a hard time of it. He lost his sunglasses in a creek helping another hiker who was struggling and in trouble. As a consequence he got snow blindness and had to walk dawn and dusk only. It was good to see Masaru again and we chatted for half an hour.
Masaru went on and I continued up the slope to reach the flat ridge above the river. Here massive firs and some huge hemlocks dominated the forest. It was a very easy walk as the path generally kept level contouring around the hillside for about 4 miles. I got the occasional view back up the valley I had come down with yesterday evening’s snowy pass at the head it. It was fast walking up on this shelf as there was no snow and the path was flat. I heard a voice behind me and turned to see Mouch. He was a very young but strong hiker who had worked for 2 years as a waiter to save the money to do this trip.
I left Mouch and started a longer climb again. It topped out well above 9000 feet and inevitably there were many snow drifts across the path. It was often obscured and I lost it on a few occasions. It was time consuming following the path in a snowy forest of lodgepoles. However this snow was nothing compared to the higher Sierras further south.
There were a lot of higher altitude meadows up here. They were generally clear of snow, as there were no trees shading the sun. There were also some small lakes up here and many still had ice on much of them. Around these lakes and meadows which had flooded were hundreds of croaking bullfrogs. They were obviously cold tolerant and had managed to find somewhere to hibernate for the winter.
The final miles were again in the snowy forests and as usual I lost the path and had to make my own. After half a mile or so I usually found it again. I decided to camp just over a side ridge and just caught the last of the sun as I reached the crest of this ridge. Suddenly the mountains were bathed in an orange glow from the setting sun and they looked splendid. These mountains were not a high as the High Sierras but they still had all the beauty and character. I found somewhere to camp just the other side of the ridge in a forest of lodgepoles at just over 9000 feet, so there were many snowfields and drifts about. I was disappointed I only did about 13 miles today.
I got up early wanting to be at Ebbetts Pass in good time in case there was some trail magic there, which I was half expecting. Initially the path was mostly covered in snow, this was always time consuming as a lot of time was spent looking for it as it emerged from then drifts. I think the first mile took nearly an hour as it fluctuated between snowdrift, forest, and scrub. Eventually the path dropped below 9000 feet and was less north facing so the drifts disappeared beside another great basalt tower, which looked like it was a volcanic plug.
The path then dropped into a rocky canyon before climbing up through firs to Wolf Creek Pass, a shallow saddle with the start of a splendid view. After skirting round the very idyllic Asa Lake nestled in a deep hollow surrounded by massive firs, it then climbed again, this time up to a proper, but unnamed pass.
The views the climb up to this pass afforded were both spectacular and idyllic. The snow on the north facing slopes of the mountains accentuated their character and beauty, and there was the deep blue Boulder Lake on a plateau between two such peaks. It was a stunning vista and only one a hiker could see. I felt privileged to be able to take it all in. This was nature at her prettiest.
Just then a new face appeared, Muffin Man, a data technician from Seattle. I had not seen him before as he started on May 21. He had made good time and told me of a couple of groups just a day or two behind. There was Sunshine, Fire and the Australian girls in one and the Slowbos including Harvest and Deb in another. We left the pass together but Muffin Man soon pulled away.
The path went down to Noble Lake where the geology changed for a couple of miles to a hard igneous type of rock which I think is associated with volcanic activity. It was much drier here as this rock formed scree or talus readily and the water disappeared into it. The only trees which thrived were the gnarly squat incense cedars. Soon the path passed through this geology and returned to the granite. At once the character of the Sierras returned, with pines, firs and hemlocks familiar birdsong and what Americans call critters, namely chipmunks and squirrels. I was starting to fantasize about the trail magic and was hoping they would have sodas.
The final miles to Ebbetts Pass were lovely, with large trees and frequent rivulets. I met a couple coming towards me and they said there was trail magic. Pizzas, burgers and drinks were all mentioned on a notice they had just seen. I was hungry so started salivating now like a Pavlovian Dog at the thought of it.
When I got to Ebbetts Pass however I could seen no notice so hunted around and found one face down with a couple of water bottles on top to stop it blowing away. Surely not, surely I could not have missed it. There must be a mistake. I walked the third of a mile down to the trailhead where the trail magic was supposed to be happening to find the parking place empty. I was crushed. The sign even said “eat all you can”. I do not go into towns so i had not had a soda or veggie burger for 2 weeks now. I would have to continue with my meagre rations to Sierra City some 150 miles away before I could taste anything nice now.
There was nothing to do except continue north. I was disappointed. I started to blame it on AT&T, my mobile phone network provider. They have proved woefully inadequate service and in the last 400 miles I have only had good reception twice. I could not communicate with anyone nor upload the blog without huge difficulty. It was causing me major stress. Only those with Verizon Network seemed to get something more than a dreadful service.
I stomped up the hill and didn’t stop for 5 miles. I think they were the quickest 5 miles of the trip so far. I passed a few nice lakes and through some nice conifer forests but just kept going. Bloody AT&T network. It was only when I passed some PCT flip hikers who were heading south did I slow down.
I suddenly noticed the landscape had changed again. The granite, forested hillsides, and multitude of creeks had gone. It now looked upon a very craggy, frost shattered ridgelines and dry landscape which would be more akin to South Utah than the lush Sierras, it was perhaps another geological seam similar to Sonora Pass.
I strode into it and found it to be steep and inhospitable. It was getting late now and I needed a campsite and water. I passed 2 creeks without camping possibilities near them as the one spot at Pennsylvania Creek was taken by 2 people on a short hike. At the third creek I filled up my bottles and carried them up the path to a ridge where I found a lovely spot to camp amongst some gnarly lodgepoles. At 23 miles it was one of my longest days which was pleasing.
I was initially going to cowboy camp in the forest, but I was glad I put the tent up as the wind increased a lot in the night. It started in gusts, which I could hear coming as they hissed through the tree tops, but in the end it was constant. So in the morning when I set off and saw a haze over the landscape I assumed it was dust from the desert which had been whipped up. However it became obvious soon that it was smoke from a forest fire somewhere. It completely obscured what should have been a superlative view to the north.
I dropped down into the canyon below the ridge passing through fir and the mystery 5 needle pine which I now know is Western White Pine. I had breakfast at the canyon and while eating Bear Can showed up. His nickname derived from the fact he started on the Mexican border with bear canister and carried one needlessly for 700 miles. He was a young Dutchmen, and like most Dutch easy to get on with. We walked together for a few hours chatting, pausing for a break at a small lake in a stretch of various lakes. For the first time for 350 miles I filtered water as I took it from the lake. It was not the beautiful, sweet, clear cold water of the Sierras but the warmer water of a pond.
After this break the young Bear Can strode off while I slowly started to climb from a granite area into a more volcanic area. Immediately the character of the terrain, soil and vegetation changed to change as the talus or scree absorbed all the snowmelt water rather than let it spill down creeks into green meadows. It was a long climb up to a mountain called the Nipple in an increasingly strong wind which buffeted me around. However 2 hours later i was at the calm sunshine beside Lost Lakes having lunch. I also noticed the haze of the day, which was so intense it was not worth taking landscape photos, was starting to dissipate.
As I left Mouch arrived, the young man from Arkansas, who worked as waiter to save money for this trip. I chatted briefly knowing he would soon catch up and walked through a mile of traditional Sierra scenery before I was back into the volcanic rock again, which I did not really enjoy, so continued to a brief respite of granite, where everything was lush and exploding into summer. At a drink pause Mouch and Bear Can caught up, saying Field Trip and Grandmacandy were just behind but we never did see them that afternoon.
I struggled to keep up with the two fit lads and their lightweight rucksacks but they wanted to hear some tales from me so slowed down to hear them. We crossed a couple of steep snowfields on the north face of a lava mountain called Elephants Back. At the top they were hungry so stopped for that PCT staple; spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar. While they ate I carried on past Frog Lake to the road at Carson Pass where there was a small, but closed, visitor centre, pit toilets and garbage cans.
I dumped my garbage and continued on as the sun set for another mile. I had intended to walk to the meadow around Miess Cabin but it was still 2 miles away when dusk started. I luckily happened across a campsite beside a small creek and knew it would be foolish to push on to a bare hillside where the wind might return. So in the twilight I put up the tent in a copse of maternal lodgepoles.
I had discovered while looking at the map yesterday that the was small store 14 miles ahead. I was keen to get there and gorge myself on whatever they had. It would fortify me for the remaining 100 miles to Sierra City, where I would zero (have a zero miles day) and reorganise my equipment.
There was a slight frost in the morning, but it was not too cold. In fact it was just right to walk up to the small pass where there was a pond. Surrounding the pond were delicate irises with hues of yellow and blue I walked down the north side of the pass into the lush bowl where the Upper Truckee River started. This river formed quickly and was soon meandering all over the meadows on the valley floor.
I passed the locked Miess Cabin, which was historic, and passed more meadows before the path started to climb through firs to the lovely Showers Lake. I crossed the outflow and was climbing up when I heard a hello. It was Baby Carrot catching me up. He had done 36 miles yesterday and was going strong today. We walked and chatted for a hour before he charged on. During that hour the trail went easily across an undulating, rounded, ridge covered in lodgepoles. It should have been easy, but frequent snowdrifts obscured the path and we briefly got lost.
After Baby Carrot went on the path started a long descent down the steep rocky headwaters of a creek. It was almost a ravine yet despite the rocky nature there were some magnificent trees, the firs, western white pines and hemlocks were all huge. The uncomfortable rocky path twisted and turned down through them and one had to be careful not to roll an ankle. It soon reached a bridge across the creek and then the valley floor.
I was resting here when along came Mouch, Bear Can, Field Trip and Grandma Candy travelling as a bubble. They were all going to hitchhike into South Lake Tahoe for a day’s rest and resupply so I would no doubt see them in 4-5 days when they caught me up again.
It was a short walk to highway 50, which was much busier than I expected. I crossed the road and then walked the remaining 2 miles to Echo Lake. These two miles were through an exclusively fir forest. Huge trees reached for the sky with a small path passing their massive trunks. Many of the trees were well over 160 foot. However this dash to grow tall quickly so as not to get crowded out by others came at a price. Trees which had fallen across the path were cut with chainsaws and it was easy to see the rings as they were far apart. Even the oldest was only 2-300 years old. These were not venerable trees like the Foxtails, but fragile giants growing too quickly. The forest floor here was a sombre place; it was dark and lifeless with very little birdsong. The only colour was from the almost luminous bright yellow moss adorning the lower branches and trunks.
After this foreboding forest I reached the busy bustling Echo Lake Chalet. It served as a hub for the cabins around the lake, catered for some tourists and fishermen and and also for day hikers a d PCT hikers. In the past PCT hikers had taken advantage of the location and sometimes swamped it so the Chalet had withdrawn services to keep them at bay.
However the Chalet had a store and deli. I gorged myself there in the mid afternoon finishing off with a huge milkshake. I had been looking forward to a proper feed for ages and now felt satiated.
The next job was to upload the overdue blog. There was no phone signal at the Chalet but just above was an overview over Lake Tahoe where there was an erratic signal. I could not see the town or lake as there was a large forest fire some 100 miles to the south and the air was very hazy. I put up the tent in a sheltered spot.
I spent the next 8 hours wrestling with the erratic phone signal. It was desperately frustrating to do something that would normally take a couple of hours, but at midnight I was finally finished. I usually go to bed at 8 so I was exhausted and my phone batteries were nearly spent.
The next morning I returned the quarter mile to the Chalet where I had another large meal, bought some extra snacks and managed to charge the phone batteries while eating. The lady running the store was extremely helpful.I eventually left at 10.
I walked back to my campsite and then down the north side of the 2 Echo Lakes. Some 100 years ago the Forest Service had leased land to people to build cabins. Today there are some 200 cabins around the lake, which can only be reached by boat, and they were usually heirlooms passed down families. When they down come onto the market they are well over a million dollars. The Forest Service now regrets the cabins and is making life difficult for the current owners by tightening up on and vastly reducing the duration of the current leases when they expire.
As I passed the eclectic mix of old cabins, all different yet inviting, i passed quite a few day hikers. I also started to pass a few PCT hikers who had “flipped” up to Ashland in Oregon because of the heavy snowfall in the Sierras and had now hiked the 500 miles south. They said there were about 150 “Thru Hikers” who had been through the Sierras ahead of me and I estimated there were perhaps 100 behind.
I walked with some academic day hikers who taught at Davis University and whose families owned cabins on Lake Echo. They told me so much about the local area and were passionate about it. Our ways parted at Lake Aloha, a fascinating dammed lake, which was studded with hundreds of small granite outcrop islands. The lake was surrounded by several granite mountains, the most famous of which was Pyramid Peak. All the mountainsides were scraped bare by the glaciers but some hardy lodgepoles, scrubby white barked pines, and incense cedars had managed to colonize some areas.
I walked round the north side of the lake which was still frozen in places noticing more and more of the islands. Two PCT hikers from the Cream of America group I travelled with for a couple of days in the Sierras, Villa and Boathouse, told me how as 15 year old high school kids they spent a day here swimming from one island to another giving them a taste for adventure, and a life long friendship, which took them to the PCT 10 years later.
From Lake Aloha the path descended into a lake studded bowl to the north. The rock also changed to a brittle red rock which was slow and uncomfortable to walk on. I passed the 1100 mile mark as I hobbled along this path down to lakes.Heather and Susie. Then the path began the long climb past Lake Gilmore to Dick’s Pass. Unfortunately there was still a haze in the air from the Mariposa fire so the views were obscured.
On the way up to Dick’s Pass two very modest but competent girls, Storyteller and Cannonball caught up. They worked a outdoor teachers with school children in Estes Park in Colorado. I had seen them once a week for the last month. I walked with them for a few miles until they soon burnt me out. They could do 30+ miles a day if they wanted.
The climb up to Dick’s Pass offered some great views, the best in the Northern Sierras so far. Lakes stretched out below me to the north and the north faces of the mountains here still held their snow, even in the forests.
At the top I was surprised to see Dick’s Lake in a cirque on the north of the pass was still frozen, and bright in the late afternoon sun. The descent was also still covered in snow. All the trees here were small hemlocks, their dark green tapering shapes stood out against the snowfields. Every so often I passed a large sapling which suddenly sprung up into the air. A few hemlocks did this here. The winter’s snows had flattened them and buried them, but now the snow had melted sufficiently some were only held down by a few twigs. In the hot afternoon sun the softened snow finally released these last twigs and the sapling was freed from its 6 month ordeal.
The snow on the north side of Dicks Pass was rumoured to be the last significant snow on the PCT. A group of 5 caught me up at the pass and we slithered down the snowfields on our shoes for a good half hour until the hemlocks were replaced by pines and the snowfields petered out.
We all camped beside Fontanillis Lake in a congested spot as the other campsites were still snow covered. The original occupiers of the campsite were a very nice South African/English family on a 5 day trip must have felt a bit overwhelmed as tents started to go up beside them in the dusk. Just before nightfall the Jew Crew also arrived.
After a great nights sleep we all left around 7 and dropped down the valley past the Velma Lakes into a primordial forest. It was dark, damp, congested and plagued by mosquitoes. I walked with the Jew Crew of 2 Israelis and we chatted for a couple of hours as.we smeared mosquitoes off our bare legs and faces. I got the impression we were walking through the swampy forests of the Carboniferous era when dinosaurs ruled the world.
At a creek I stopped for a drink while the Jew Crew continued. The forest was dark and foreboding all morning with no views really until it got to Richardson Lake. This was a lovely oasis of a tranquil large pond surrounded by blossoming summer. I had lunch here and then had an hours sleep as the breeze kept me cool and the mosquitoes at bay.
In the afternoon the walk continued through the forest with a mix of large conifers. It was much more open and in the glades, plants were unfolding their final flourishes to display a myriad of flowers. There were some small creeks and meadows also which were as easy on the eye, as the soft path was on the feet. There are lots of birds who forage on the forest floor. Many are small but the distinctive American Robin is about 6 inches high and 9 long with a orange chest. It seeks out insects with ease and spends most of its time making short flights beneath the branches. It seems to be as alert as the European Blackbird.
At the last meadow before meeting a forest road at Barker Pass I hear a greeting and turn to see Baby Carrot again. He has spent a day relaxing in South Lake Tahoe and has already caught me up again. We walked together for a mile to the pass. It is two miles short of my intended campsite but there is a picnic table and campsite here. I decide to stay and make use of the table to catch up with the blog and cook with ease, while Baby Carrot continued his determined march to Canada.
One other hiker arrived that evening. A Southbound Flipper who had come down from the Oregon/California border. He reckoned he only passed 150 Northbound Thru Hikers also who had done the Sierras. Together with the 100 behind me that is only 250 out of l the original 3000 who started. The purists were down to about 8 percent!.
I had a late start in the morning and did not get going before 8. It was a short climb up from Barkers Pass through mainly Red Fir and some other mixed conifers to a ridge. Between the conifers were glades full of flowers, especially the yellow large daisy like flower of the Mule Ear plant and the blue lupins. Both were just coming up to peak bloom so these meadows were bright with colour.
It was just here I saw the distance azure of Lake Tahoe. It was perhaps 10 miles away and i could not see any pleasure boats on it but I am sure there were many. The path climbed a little higher to gain a rocky.ridge which it followed for 5 miles. All the time I had the view of Lake Tahoe to the east and the rough forested valleys of the Granite Chief Wilderness to the west. It was a tremendous lofty ridge walk soaring along its spine. I passed a few hikers here but mostly I was alone to enjoy it undisturbed.
About half way along the ridge I passed a ski resort called Alpine Meadows. A lot of people had mentioned there would be skiing here and Squaw Valley throughout the year. However it was just July and there was very little snow on the pistes. Certainly not enough to ski on and this resort was completed closed until the winter snows arrive.
Having been so used to finding water everywhere in the Sierras I have not carried or filtered water since Kennedy Meadows some more 400 miles south. So on this ridge I got thirsty for the first time as there was nothing. The small snow patches generally disappeared into the rocky landscape and only a few white barked pine trees thrived up here. I had to wait to the end of the ridge before the path dropped down to the lush 5 lakes area before I could find a creek and have a late lunch. There were a couple of Irish section hikers here and we chatted for an hour. It is alway an uplifting experience chatting with Irish.
After lunch the path climbed for a good few hours. First through mixed conifers with huge meadows of the yellow mule ear flowers and then through lodgepole and white pines with more sweeping meadows until it reached a saddle just to the east of the Granite Chief mountain. This was the mountain around which the Squaw Valley Ski resort was built. Again all the ski runs were bare except a few patches and the place had closed long ago
Unfortunately many of these snow patches were on the PCT and many were very steep. I would have had my ice axe out had I not already shipped it out. I picked my way gingerly down the snow and the rock and forest beside it for a good half hour before I got to a pond where the bullfrogs were making a tremendous racket. However as soon as I approached they all fell silent. I hiked another mile and suddenly came across a nice place to camp amongst hemlocks with a nearby snowdrift providing enough meltwater.
I had seen on the map it was only 12 miles to Donner Pass where there was a restaurant which was not only hiker friendly but gave PCT hikers a free beer on arrival. The only thing I wanted to do was get there for a late lunch, and set off on this mission by 7. As the day warmed and the path climbed my resolve slowly ebbed and I soon started to take breaks.
The climb up the forested slopes, then the meadows of lupin and mules ear, and finally the bare rocky slopes full of alpine flowers of a mountain called Tinder Knob took its toll and I was soon hot and thirsty. Like yesterday though I was committed to a dry rocky ridge without water for 5 miles. It was not serious though as I could always descend 10 minutes to find water. But that was half an hour round trip in all so I pushed on for the restaurant. It was like yesterday another lofty pleasant ridge walk with great views, east down to the Truckee Valley and west over more wilderness. There were quite a few hikers passing me, many whom I had not seen before but started before me. There was also a lot of day hikers and a few southbound flippers.
I came across a stream just before Donner Pass and drunk fully from it before starting the descent to the restaurant. I was briefly distracted by a plaque commemorating the wagon trains which came over here in the 1850’s. They seemed to have all had ordeals and very difficult terrain. At one stage the wagons were emptied and 12 ox pulled the empty wagon up a near vertical 60 foot cliff with chains and rollers. It was the Roller Pass section of Donner Pass. There were also tales of horror which befell the Donner Party when they got stuck here for a winter with many dying.
The restaurant was busy. There was an off road event nearby and some 10 hikers were there. I joined their table. I had 2 large veggie burgers, fruit pie and a gallon of soda. By the time I was finished I had to go and find a quiet corner to digest it all, like a python which had eaten a deer. I slept for an hour while the others chatted and 4 drunk jugs of beer. I wanted to walk more so stayed well clear of the beer.
Everybody left around 5. I walked with Bear Can, the young Dutchmen and Pitch, a girl from Oregon for 5 miles. They went on another 3 miles to a cabin while I opted for a Interstate rest area with picnic tables and flushing toilets. It was a luxurious place relative to wild camping or staying in the crowded hut, and I knew the beer drinkers had a bottle of whiskey and wanted to stay at the hut.
There was another hiker at the Interstate rest area, a hiker called Steel. He had walked the whole way from Mexico and through the Sierras with a Shiba Inu, a small Japanese breed of dog, called Cory. To get round the National Park restrictions he put a “Service Dog” neckerchief round the dog’s neck and told the rangers, when challenged, that he was not legally obliged to disclose his disability. The dog seemed to have enjoyed it all and was quite agile on the snow.
As I settled down for the night a couple from the Bay area showered me with nice food and drinks in unprecedented generosity. It was wonderful to be able to snack at will as I sat at the picnic table and wrote that evening.
The next day i had an easy climb up through forest to the meadows around the Peter Grubb Hut. It was a characterful stone and wooden property built and maintained by the Sierra Club. Inside was a wood stove, 2 massive tables and sleeping platforms in the loft. It was primarily intended for backcountry skiers in the winter time but as it was right on the PCT it lent itself to hikers also in the summer.
The trail then climbed up through meadows filled with the yellow mule’s ear daisies round the west side of Basin Peak before dropping down to Paradise Valley. There were a many snow drifts hidden in the shaded forest on the descent, but each day the drifts were getting less and less.
The creeks now were also tame. They were no longer the crashing, turbulent, cascades with rainbows forming in the spray of the High or Central Sierras, but lazy, thick, waters which oozed a meandering path through willow thickets. Paradise Valley Creek was one such tired and lethargic creek. I had not filtered water since Kennedy Meadows South nearly 500 miles away but began to think I would have to start soon.
From Paradise Valley the path climbed again up to the meadows. Here the Yellow Mule Ear Daisies were also joined by swathes of Mountain Monardella (Coyote Mint). This white flower was in bloom and hundreds of thousands of Painted Lady butterflies were drifting down from the higher slopes and feeding on the small round flowerheads. Apparently the pupae of butterflies can survive in the harsh winter conditions here so maybe these butterflies had recently emerged up the hillsides and were now swarming down to feed.
As I dropped down to next lazy creek for water, I was joined by Ted, a strong hiker from San Diego. I had met him before in the Sierras but he had a beard. Now without a beard he looked like Andy Murray. What he lacked in a backhand smash he made up for in stride, pummelling the rocky path into dust with great steps. We walked together for a good hour along a ridge with great views. We kept on the open hillsides covered in summer flowers and looked down into the forested valleys and lush meadows. At Lacey Creek Ted took off. He had walked the PCT before but was thwarted in getting to Canada by unseasonably early snow in the Washington’s Cascades and was weary about it, something which was beginning to occupy my thoughts.
As I walked another 5 miles along a beautiful ridge in the cool evening I met Karma. I had last seen him in the Desert where he was a fast walker. He had flipped up to Oregon to avoid the Sierras. But then he had flipped a few more times to cherry pick the PCT in North California and Oregon. He had been all over the place and seemed to have lost the plot, which I think is the danger with flipping.
The evening walk along the ridge was sublime. It was cool, I had great views in evening light and I always got a second wind, perhaps helped by the fact I had get to a campsite before nightfall. I cruised along this ridge with ease enjoying the calmness and colour of the alpenglow the setting sun brought. There were very few snowfields left now on the surrounding hills and the landscape was mostly that of undulating forest. Dusk was arriving when I descended the ridge at 2030 down to Mule Ears Creek where there was water and a slightly sloping campsite.
I set the alarm and started early the next morning as I wanted to get to Sierra City in time to enjoy the day. It was still a good 18 miles away but it was virtually all downhill and in the forest. Indeed it was so forested I barely saw the large Jackson Meadows Reservoir as I went past it. I was trying to do 10 by 10 (10 miles by 10 am), something serious hikers do but I had not managed yet. I came close today and did 9 by 10 which took me to the top of the long, rocky, zig-zag, descent down to Milton Creek. Ted overtook me on the descent as I cautiously picked my way down the rocks, while he stomped on them with his size 13 shoes in a desperate hurry to get to the post office to get a box before it closed.
Once down at Milton Creek I noticed the trees were changing. The tall dominant Red Firs which usually bullied other trees by outgrowing them, now had a rival which threatened them, namely the Douglas Fir. There were also some very large Incense Cedars, a tree I could never fully understand as sometimes they were gnarled twisted venerable edifices growing in inhospitable rocky slopes and other times they were towering giants of specimen trees in a mixed forest. It hardly seemed credible they were the same tree. As I walked the final miles into Sierra City the woods became quite deciduous with lots of oak.
For the last two hours the path followed Milton Creek down past Plum Tree Campsite and into the sleepy small-town-America village of Sierra City with its population of 275. It was a old town of wooden houses of which nearly all had painted corrugated iron roofs. Popular in the summer and probably nearly deserted in the winter. I had a room at a bed and breakfast called River Haven, a peaceful sanctuary in a tranquil village. Nearby was Sierra Country Store, a complete antidote to Wallmart, with painted wooden shelves, a communal table in the middle and an excellent homemade sandwich counter. The Store also received hiker packages. I had 3 boxes here, 1 food resupply, 1 lightweight equipment I shipped from Kennedy Meadows South and 1 box I shipped from Sonora Pass with my heavy boots, bear canister and winter gear.
I would resort my equipment and take only the lightest combination for the next 900 miles to the Columbia River on the Oregon/Washington border at Cascade Locks. I had to cover these 900 miles in about 6 weeks and get to Cascade Locks around the 7 September.
I had now reached the end of the Sierras. Undoubtedly they would be the highlight of the trip. I would miss the sound of roaring creeks and the plentiful fresh cool water to drink. I would miss their birdsong and nonchalant grazing deer. I would miss their meadows and wild flowers. But most of all I would miss their forgiving weather and warmth despite the freezing creeks and snowfields. They must surely be the most beautiful mountains in North America.