Section 13. Castella to Seiad

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.

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