Section 14. Seiad to Manzama

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.

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