June 6- 5 miles, camping below the eastern Sierra Buttes
I awoke to the sounds of a kitchen getting ready to serve breakfast: the clanking of pans and chopping of veggies. It was so comforting and, since my room was right next to the dining hall, made me want to walk out for coffee in my pj’s. I restrained myself and was fully dressed when I joined a couple of section hikers at the bar. Their names are Betsy and Anar and they just retired four weeks ago. Now they’re hiking from Tahoe to Portland and have no idea what they’re going to do next in life. I love people like that.
After checking out of the Red Moose Inn, I bummed around the porch of the Sierra Country Store because it had excellent Wi Fi. I uploaded my blog, checked emails, and made a couple phone calls. Every time I thought I was ready to head back to the trail, the afternoon thunderstorm would kick up and start dumping again. It went on like that all afternoon, alternating between beautiful sunlight and rain. I waited some more and ordered a hot dog and an Oreo milkshake to pass the time. I met a few other hikers, including 46 year old Free Range from Maui, 22 year old “I’ll be back” from Austria, and a very old Colonel Tom Parker who is hiking the entire trail with his Border Collie, Bob Dylan. I asked him if he had any problems with the “No Dog” policy in national parks and he just replied, “I don’t like anyone who doesn’t like dogs,” and left it at that.
“I’ll be back” and I left town at the same time. We hiked up part of the mountain together talking about Europe, backpacking, and family. He kept hiking when I finally dropped my pack at the only tenting space within this seven mile climb. He wanted to get closer to the top if the mountain and the spring there. At four more miles away and at 6:30 in the evening, I had no interest in joining him. I’m getting quite used to this whole stopping by 6:30 routine. I’m now lying in my tent, watching the the most beautiful cloud-scapes drift by, listening to some very light rain, and missing Artie very much.
June 7- 24 miles, camping near Nelson Creek
I didn’t plan on hiking 24 miles, but here I am, sore muscles and all. I woke up early and climbed four miles before I ran into “I’ll be back” eating ramen for breakfast. I waited for him to finish up and we ended up hiking most of the day together.
It was really nice to have the company, even though I can’t understand his English half the time. He’s considerate and funny and we seem to hike at about the same pace. I learned he quit school after ninth grade and became an iron worker when he was fifteen. He saved money over the next years so he could come to the US just to hike the PCT.
I stopped to take a nap around lunch time and he hiked onward. I had my first ramen of the summer for lunch today- oh, so delicious! I can’t stand Top Ramen at home, but on the trail the sodium and 380 calories of a pack of beef flavored noodles are a treat!
There was a huge section of the trail today that I had no memory of from last summer. It felt very strange and I kept checking the map to make sure I was on the correct trail. When I hiked through here last time I must’ve either been having a bad day or hiking really fast. Those are the two things that seem to cause blocks in my memory of the scenery. I made an extra effort today to look around and notice the land and views because I don’t want to miss any of it- not with the amount of effort it takes to be here!
I caught up with “I’ll be back” late in the afternoon at a spring and I toyed with the idea of going further just to have someone to camp with- it’s less scarey that way. I actually prefer camping on ridges or mountain tops because I like having the sunshine and views, but there really wasn’t any good camping when we hit the last ridge of the day. My feet and knees and even my arms were crying to be done, but I totterred down to the next canyon for better camping.
June 8- 20 miles, camping near Fowler Lake
It was up, up, up today and my feet are mad at me for hiking 24 miles yesterday. The beautiful scenes and flowers and “I’ll be back’s” company made the day really nice and took my mind off my feet.
The trail wound up through the mountains, passing Mount Etna and Mount Stafford, then it spit us out on a ridge, where we then stayed for the rest of the day. Etna and Stafford are both leftover plugs from a very large, ancient volcano. We saw so many different kinds of earth today, ranging from softer loooking late Paleozoic ocean sediments to newer volcanic flows that make up the majority of the dramatic-looking peaks. The ridge slowly made it’s way lower and lower and will eventually bring us to the Middle Fork Feather River tomorrow.
We had to come off the ridge to get water from Duck Soup Pond, which is actually as gross as it sounds. Pond water at these elevations tend to have a lot of pollen, debris, animal waste (from frogs, fish, rodents) and algae. We used the syringe from my Sawyer water filter to sick up slightly cleaner water just below the surface.
After we stopped at the last spring, I told “I’ll be back” I didn’t think I’d hike as far as him today. My feet feel so bruised and for all my talk of never getting blisters, I think I’ve gotten one. Argh!
I’m now camped by a lake that I can’t even see because the vegetation is so dense. The mosquitoes are awful and there’s not a lot of light here, but I don’t feel like hiking further. I’m also going to forgo cooking a meal so I don’t create any tasty smells for animals. My dinner tonight is a jerky stick, some fruit leather and chocolate covered sunflower seeds.
Sometimes I love my tent so much- like right now. Here I am lying comfortably inside with the buzz of mosquitoes all around, and not one can get me! It also gives me a faint sense of protection from “scarey monsters.” Still, I’m shouting out a sharp “Hey!” at practically every twig snapping and strange animal sound. The funniest is when I actually shout at myself because the noise I heard was just my sleeping bag against the tent or my nose whistling.
June 9- 23 miles, staying at the Bucks Lake Lodge
With the help of my iPod and an audio book, I was able to tune out the spooky sounds and eventually fall asleep. Unfortunately, my morning didn’t start out so well. I usually keep my coffee and Carnations outside the tent while I pack up, but, because of the mosquitoes, I had it inside and managed to spill it all over my groundsheet. On the upside, none of it got on my sleeping bag or pad.
It was all downhill to the Feather River and even though it was only 9:15 when I got there, it was already plenty warm enough for a dip in the cold water.
Last time I took a dip here, I managed to get myself covered in leeches. I was careful not to let that happen again! I spent about two hours rinsing out my clothes, cleaning coffee off the groundsheet, and swimming. I made a pot of ramen as an early lunch and, yup, knocked it over, spilling all the noodles over the rocks. Noooooo! I collected up the soggy mess and buried it up the hill. It was very disappointing.
It was an incredibly hot eleven-mile out of the Feather River canyon. I was guzzling the water down just as quickly as I seemed to sweat it out. Every little creek or spring I passed became a cool oasis where I’d lounge for as long as I could stand the mosquitoes.
It took me four hours to climb, climb, climb to the top of the ridge. I was getting so sick of climbing and seeing nothing but trees that I began fantasizing about the views on top and the flat trail I’d soon be reaching. As soon as I crested the ridge, though, a storm with some pretty vicious sounding thunder claps was rolling in. It was beautiful to watch, but once the lightning started I had to hustle off the ridge.
I had planned to camp right on the ridge near Lookout Rock, but the lightning motivated me to hike onward to lower ground. By that point, I was so close to Big Creek Road that I figured I might as well try and make it into Buck’s Lake and get a room at the Lodge. I sat by the side of the road for about an hour and neither of the two cars that passed picked me up. I called the lodge and the manager sent a truck out to pick me up. Whoohoo! Thank you, Rebecca of Buck’s Lake!
June 10- 19 miles, staying in Belden
Rather than get up at the crack of dawn, I opted to sleep in until 8 AM and then have breakfast at the lodge. My feet had been so sore last night that I really needed to take it easier. Rebecca made me a fantastic double egg, double pattie breakfast sandwich then drove me to the Buck’s Summit Trailhead.
Since it was less than twenty miles to Belden, I decided to just go the entire way. This made the day feel like a simple day hike and just a beautiful walk in the woods. Wildflowers were blooming all around that I stopped every few feet to snap a picture of a different bloom!
It was truly so beautiful today. With the trail scraping up into the clouds, the temperature was cool and the views were other wordly. It was a stark contrast to the heat I experienced here last summer.
The descent to Belden took me down 5,000 feet. It’s got to be the hardest descent on the entire trail, not even Mt. Whitney feels this steep and monotonous. There were so many switchbacks that I had to start counting them to keep my sanity. I would shout the switchback number out loud when I came to it, trying to coach myself on. Although, I think I probably sounded more like the Count from Sesame Street: “Ten! Ten Switchbacks! Ha, ha, ha!”
I made it into Belden in time to catch dinner at the resort restaurant and then call the local trail angel for a pick-up. Brenda Braatan hosts hundreds of hikers every year. She and her husband built an addition on their house just for the hikers to stay in. She has a one-night-only policy, so I’ll be heading back to the resort for a rest day tomorrow and camp on the their property beside the river. After a zero day, bright and early, I’ll start the 5,000 foot climb into Section N. At least on this side of the Belden canyon, the trail will climb straight back into the mountain canyon and have no maddening switchbacks!