Section 10. Sierra City to Belden

Section 10. Sierra City to Belden. I had wanted an early start to put in some miles, but after a late breakfast I did not get out of River Haven House until 0830. Then I noticed the Red Moose Cafe was open so I went in. Honeybuns and his girlfriend had just arrived and were having breakfast. We greeted like long lost friends and I ordered a breakfast to keep them company. Then Isko, the Finn, arrived closely followed by Renee. It was 10 by the time I left but it was good to see some old faces.


I walked the mile up the road to the PCT and then started a huge series of switchbacks up the hillside below the Sierra Buttes, a craggy mountain. After nearly 2 hours the path levelled off and headed west above the valley where the small village of Sierra City lay. I could see its corrugated roofs far below. I stopped for water ar one small stream and while I relaxed and drunk a butterfly landed on the path. It was a large swallowtail with a slightly damaged wing and it spent a good 5 minutes proding its proboscis into the wet soil, probably extracting minerals.

02. At a rest stop a butterfly spent a good 5 minutes proding the damp earth with its proboscis trying to extract minerals

The path then went round the west of the Sierra Buttes and headed north along a ridge pretty much for the rest of the day. As it headed north I turned and saw the Sierras for the last time. I almost had a lump in my throat knowing they would soon be a distant memory, and not knowing if I would ever return to them.

03. A last mournful look behind me as the Sierras disappear from view as I head into Northern California

The path kept to the crest of the fir-clad ridge and offered good views down each side and back to the craggy Sierra Buttes. It held the only snow visible now save for the rare isolated drift in the fir forest.   


To the east of the ridge were a string of lakes down in forest, their azure blue contrasting nicely with the deep green of the firs. To the west were extensive valleys which twisted down until they were lost behind a ridge, and the ridges stacked up beyond each other, each one becoming progressively fainter.


I was walking well and the lakes passed quickly on the east side, Deer Lake, Salmon Lake, Gold Lake and a few more all came and went. It was peaceful, serene walking and easy underfoot also.

05. Deer Lake on the east side of the ridge was one of many picturesque lakes to the east

I passed a few hikers, namely Halfway and Sunkist, who had gone through the Sierras a few days behind me, and a Swiss girl called Caroline who overtook us all. She started on June 1 and had done all the 1200 miles in under two months.


We all camped at the same spot. I arrived just as the sun was disappearing behind the treetops on the ridge. Water was collected from a nearby stream and I was in bed by half past 8 with 20 miles under my belt. It was a good start to North California.


I wanted to increase my milage to 150 miles a week. 10 miles by 10 am was the key to this but it meant getting up at 4. I got up at half past 5 and was away by half past 6. Still quite respectable, but not enough. I walked up onto a ridge with views over the extensive forests on the undulating hills below. The trees were all fir but the shrubs varied. I saw the Manzanita of the desert, and also some escalonia. Occasionally there were some stunning lilies. In the meadows the flowers were already fading and the lupins had seed pods forming where the lowest flowers had been.


The path then dropped essily down to the West Branch of Nelson Creek. Here I saw a couple of deer. They were not the mule deer of the Sierras, with their big ears, but I think they were white tailed deer. They were quite relaxed about me, which was surprising as I am sure they are hunted here. After following this lush valley down for a while the path climbed.


It went up for a good hour in the heat of the day gaining some 2000 feet going into the midst of a craggy group of mountains dominated by Mount Stafford. At the top of the climb I was hot and had lunch and then a siesta, having given up on attempting a 30 mile day. However, after lunch the going was much easier and the path generally followed the undulating ridge for 10 miles. There were frequent views through the firs, and when crossing meadows in the forests, of the ranks of ridges stretching to the horizon. The views were nice but after the Sierras they were somewhat ordinary. Pleasant rather than awesome.


The trees were all Red Fir. There was the occasional Jeffery or Sugar Pine, and none of the Douglas Firs which briefly made an appearance before Sierra City. Californian Red Fir was king here. However many paid the ultimate price this winter with the heavy snow and snapped halfway up the trunk. The path was littered with broken trees.


I found a lovely place to camp amongst firs on a on a ridge  I reached camp just as the sun was disappearing into the trees, but before it dropped behind the ridge. When it did it lit up the forest in an orange alpenglow.


Later that night as I was falling asleep I am sure I heard a bear outside the tent. It would be a Black Bear as Grizzly Bears are extinct in California. I was camping on my own so I was quite vulnerable. It had obviously smelled my supper and came to investigate. Had it known it was a vegetarian curry I am sure the bear would not have bothered. I grabbed the small cooking pot and lid and banged them together creating a racket and heard something large run off. I then went out with my head torch, but could not see the reflection of any eyes looking back at me.

07. My campsite in the forest at sunset. Soon after this a bear came round to investigate the cooking smells

I set the alarm for 4 and left at 5. I was determined to do 10 by 10 today, and all these 10 were downhill to the Middle Fork of the Feather River. It was and easy saunter initially in the firs for the first few miles when I could enjoy the sunrise over the undulating hllls with drifts of mist in the valleys. I had to sort out an insole and rucksack problem but managed both.


Soon the firs were becoming scarce and they were replaced by pines of a few varieties, and then more and more decidious trees. The path twisted and turned but always kept going down. As it approached the river the valley became steep and the path clung to the side of it. It was frequently overgrown with new shoots on the smaller decidious shrubs. It became warm and then hot as I went from around 6000 feet to 3000 feet.


I could hear the river beginning to roar as it flowed through the canyon below. With a few final zig-zags I was crashing down the good path with the forest falling away steeply below me. Just before 10 I could see the river through the trees and at 10 I was crossing the pretty bridge over the larger than expected river and heading down to campsites and a swimming pool on the north side of the bridge. I had done my first 10 by 10, and now it was time for a second breakfast and a swim.

08. The Middle Fork of the Feather River was a perfect temperature for swimming and had a calm stretch up from the footbridge

Above the bridge the river was wide and lazy and about 4 foot deep and 40 across. I went for a swim here and washed clothes and relaxed in the sun for almost 2 hours before the pressure of continuing got to me. Refreshed and clean I started the climb. It was an exact reverse of the morning. I had to climb 4000 feet over 10 miles to reach the ridge. The north side of the valley was getting hot, but luckily there was good tree cover shading me most of the time.


The Californian Red Firs were not growing at all down here. Instead it was the Live Oaks, whose crispy leaves formed a thick mat on the forest floor. Then I noticed that the trees were Douglas Firs. It seems they replaced the Red Fir at lower altitudes. Some of them were massive with huge trunks which soared 160 feet into the sky. There were also some huge Sugar Pines with their upturned branches and huge papery cones, some a foot long.


The path went on and on up, and apart for the lovely side valey of Bear Creek, was quite dry. Bear Creek was a decidious leafy oasis, lush and bright green in the  in this dark forest of Douglas Firs. It was a relentless climb and it took about 6 hours to complete it. I surprised a rattlesnake on tbe path as I climbed and it shock its tail at me before retreating under a rotting log. I had forgotten all about them but they obviously thrive in the warmer climss of Northern California.


At last the path levelled out near Lookout Spring. I filled up with cool fresh water here and carried it another half mile to Lookout Rock where I camped. There were 3 other camping here, but I found a good spot. Across the valley to the east was a huge fire. Planes were dropping retardant on it to little avail. It was a good 15 miles away and downwind so I was not concerned other than for the horrendous destruction. As i got dark I could see whole trees light up as the crown burnt. It was a sad sight.


In the morning the fire seemed to be under control but there was still masses of smoke rising from the embers and the whole sky was hazy. I found out later in the day the fire was started by an arsonist who was now under arrest. It seemed such an appalling waste for one mans kicks, all the birds on their second brood, billions of insects and perhaps thousands of critters would have perished, and the forest razed to charred stumps. The expense would have run into millions also as I saw about 100 plane loads of retardant dispersed over the flames.

09. The large fire which was started by an arsonist burnt for a day then smoldered for a few more. Enormous resources went into controlling it

For the first 8 miles the walk was quite dull and the forest seemed almost utilitarian and managed. There was a network of gravel tracks and people seemed to use them to harvest timber on small scale for home use. There were signs posted restricting cutting to certain days.


Then I reached the Bucks Lake to Quincy Road. A number of hikers hitch hiked down to Quincy to eat and resupply rather than leave it to chance at Belden, whose store was known to have a poor selection. I was rather envious of them going down to have breakfast.


After this road I walked with Bam Bam, a New Yorker who started life as a Geordie. The was a trail register here and I was intrigued to see when everyone passed through. The Cream of America group passed here about a week ago, Top’O about 4 days ago, Baby Carrot 3 days ago. People were really beginning to stride out to Canada.


The path climbed for 4 miles up to Spanish Peak. This was a return to old forest and there were lovely glades of meadow, where the bountiful flowers were sometimes chest high, especially the corn lilies which were in full bloom. There were occasional deer nonchalantly grazing as we walked past. I also spotted a chipmunk in a bush eating winged seeds. Usually they like pine cones but this time of year must provide a multitude of foods. Some of the glades were like parkland with huge trees dotted about the meadow. We were now up at nearly 7000 feet and the Californian Red Firs were dominant and thrived in this environment.

11. On the way up to Spanish Peak there were fantastic meadows in full summer bloom with parkland firs surrounding them

After Spanish Peak the path followed the forested crest of rounded ridge. Sometimes there were views but generally it was in the mature fir forest with some gigantic trees. We passed a couple of very small springs where we filled out bottles and continued west along the ridge until the trees petered out and shrubs took over.


There were a number of campsites at the very end of the ridge high above the valleys. Isko the Finn was already at one. I the orange light of the setting sun I set up my tent as the shadows got long and the green Manzanita bush glowed in the sunset. From here the path descended some 4000 feet down endless zig-zags to Belden just 5 miles.

13. An evening view from the campsite down to the deep valley where Belden was situated

Belden had a reputation as a place that held raves beside the “Resort” which organized them. Judging by the music that wafted up on the wind all night, until after sunrise it seemed there was a rave on this weekend. I feared the worst when I got down, which was my resupply box was lost in the chaos.


The descent was a continuous series of easy switchbacks on a soft path. Initially it was through shrubs and then it then the first trees appeared which were hardy patches of red fir. Soon however Douglas Firs became dominant with some pines and then deciduous trees like the Californian sycamore appeared as the path crashed down to the North Fork of the Feather River, and spilled out of the greenery onto railway tracks.


I crossed the tracks and walked down a lane past hundreds of tents and party goers who had been up all night. It looked like the aftermath of a music festival with hundreds of bewildered people in flamboyant clothing and a few stalls selling trinkets. It seemed quite well organised as there were rows of portable toilets around. I found the lodge, store and bar and to my relief they had my resupply box. I had 2 breakfasts in the bar while the revellers milled around. There were just a few hikers here, but we were vastly outnumbered by the revellers. The other hikers beat an early retreat and started the brutal 5000 foot climb while I did the blog for a few hours. Belden itself was not worth the descent and ascent to get to it. I had high hopes for Burney Mountain Guest Ranch, which was my next stop, but that was in 120 miles.

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