PCT 2013: from Etna Summit to Castle Crags

After taking half a day off to rest, resupply and write, the trail beckoned, and it was back to Etna Summit to begin the second leg of the 2013 PCT adventure.  I was at the trail head shortly after 6:30 and headed out, only to discover that the actual trail head was 100 feet down the trail in a pull out on the south side of the pass.  So I read the sign, looked around, and started down the only trail I saw, which was kind of sketchy.  It quickly jumped up onto a road, which I followed briefly before going back to the trail head.  After searching for a while, I finally found the “real” trail leaving from the opposite side of the parking lot from the big sign.  And so, after a 15 minute delay, I was finally on the trail.

The trail started off with a nice climb, with one section of the trail clinging to the side of a rock wall overlooking a lake, pretty cool.  The trail eventually came out to a pass with nice views to the east, including Mt Shasta and the Scott Valley below; an amazing spot for breakfast.  On the way up I met Chris, a youngish man who had been hiking the trail southbound from Crater Lake.  He had stopped for a break and I visited with him for a while before heading up to my own appointment with breakfast.  Little did I realize how much more of him I would see.

After breakfast I went on, back into the woods for a couple of miles and then out the other side to the Russian River valley.  And sight of a trail that stretched on for what looked like miles, clinging to the side of the valley wall.  I always find it interesting to see the trail in the distance, and this was the first of many places through this section where it was visible for over a mile ahead.

The views throughout the day were amazing, including another high rock to sit on for lunch.  Toward the end of the day the trail dropped down to a road, where I met Sue and inhaled an orange before going on to the nights camp on the South Fork of the Scott River, 21 miles from that mornings start.

I setup camp, ate dinner and then headed down to the river, which was little more than a creek at this point, to take a bath.  Shortly after getting back to camp, a group of about 9 teenage girls come marching through; loaded down with packs nearly as large as themselves and moaning about the mile long climb up to the road.  I couldn’t help but thinking that if they had been half an hour earlier and seen the show, that their minds would more likely have been trying to forget what they had seen rather than the pain of their packs.

And half an hour later Christ came through camp, looking for a place to drop for the night.  I offered to share the spot, but he went on.  I’ve been passed.  And the competitive juices are now aroused.  No matter that he is likely half my age, and been on the trail longer.  Someone is in front of me and I have to catch them.

And catch him I did.  I left camp at 5:45 the next morning and passed Christ half an hour later, still in bed.  Yes!  The trail climbed fairly steadily during the first half of the day before beginning a long sow descent during the second half.  On the way down, the trail traversed around a bowl, taking three miles to do what a crow could do in less than 1.  Along that stretch I met over 40 people, mostly kids from a local backpacking camp.  Apparently they would send kids out into the surrounding area for some ‘experience’.  The girls from the previous night were likely from there.

The trail through the day was mostly exposed, and the sun was fierce.  Seems like I got more sun that day than I am used to in a year at home.  There was a campground on Highway 3 where I was going to meet up with Sue and spend the night.  But before I got there I texted her and asked for a room with AC instead.  The heat was really getting to me.

So that night we went back to Etna and spent most of the next day there as well.  I am really going to have to learn to hike in the heat, since it is not likely to get much better soon.  We came back up to the trail head on Highway 3 at mid afternoon and just hung out in the shade for a while since I did not plan on leaving until between 5 and 6 that evening, trying to let the heat abate a bit before putting in a coupe hours of hiking.

While there we met Sarah, a young lady hiking the trail.  We gave her some fruit and a place to perch for a bit before she wandered on down the trail.  And shortly after, Chris came down the trail and flopped down for a break.  He complained about his big old boots and heavy load and the struggle to get in a lot of miles in a day, which is required if you are going to hike the whole trail in a year.  I discovered he wore the same size shoes that I do, so I pulled out the running shoes that I had thrown in the car “just in case”.  They were due for retirement, but they fit him and he was ecstatic.  He left a lot of food and other gear with Sue and headed off down the trail, planning to meet up again in Castle Crags to pick up his “stuff” and mail it home.

I headed off down the trail at 5 PM, hiked a coupe of hours and setup near a tiny trickle of water.  After I went to bed a couple of other hikers came in and set up camp for the night.  The plan for the next day was to hike early and late, and rest during the heat of the day.  So I was up at 4:20 and gone by 4:50.  Since there was others camped nearby I got out as quickly as I could and drank my “first” breakfast an hour down the trail.  Hiking by headlamp was a new experience, and not as difficult as I had feared.

This was a good day, spent mostly up high and a couple of times being able to see the trail for miles behind me.  I was developing a blister on each foot by now, so stopped for 2nd breakfast at a marshy spring and washing my feet and changed socks.  Spent about an hour there chillin before moving on and felt better.

That afternoon, while approaching Deadfall Lake, there was apparently a concert down in the valley.  I could see parked cars and tents with loud “music” blasting away.  I could hear it from over a mile away.  Deadfall Lakes seemed to be a pretty popular spot, especially for teens.  I don’t know how far it was from the nearest road, but there were groups of kids all over the place.  Stopped there for lunch and spent quite a bit of time sitting under a shady tree as well as soaking my feet in a slightly cool stream.

Headed up from there and crossed the Trinity Divide.  The water on one side went into the Trinity River, and on the other into the Sacramento River.  I walked this divide about 3 or 4 miles and came to Porcupine Lake, just above the trail.  I pulled in there for the night, after a 26 mile day, and took a quick dip.  It was kind of like swimming at a local pool, the water was quite pleasant and refreshing. Porcupine was one of the prettiest lakes I have seen and, at 7600 foot, was the highest.  The moon was nearly full and as I was getting ready for bed I kept looking around to see who was shining a light on me.  It was God!

Decided I was way ahead of schedule so I slept in until after 6 and was on the trail shortly after 8.  About 3 miles into the day I came to a spring flowing out of a rock reside the trail.  And the water was cold.  Dumped out all I had and loaded up with a gallon since the next water was about 12 miles away.

That next 12 miles was mostly exposed and very scenic, again being able to see the trail ahead for miles sometimes.  I picked a lunch spot under a small clump of shady trees that looked out over the Castle Crags, an extremely rugged ridge.  This ridge dominated the skyline for the next 6-8 miles, and I took dozens of pictures.

I finally started the long descent down to I-5 and the end of this leg of the trip, but time ran out before getting close to the end.  I got a hold of Sue and she picked me up at a side trail 7 miles from the end.  I spent the night in the camp ground with her, returned to the trail early the next morning and scooted the last 7 miles down the trail without a pack on.

While sitting behind the car chugging my chocolate milk, a car drove up looking for thru-hikers to mother.  The lady in the car was mother to one of the hikers I had met a couple of days before.  She had been supporting “PacMan” during this portion of the trail.  Had a good visit with her before she drove on.

Overall, this last 156 miles of trail has been high and rugged, sunny and dry, and very beautiful.  I have a day and a half to rest, resupply and heal my blisters before heading out for Lassen National Park, about another 150 miles away, with a coupe of resupply stops along the way.

Smith Lake, down below a trail clinging to the side of the cliff.

Several places along the trail above Smith Lake the trail sits atop a retaining wall.  This is the only place so far that I have seen something like this.

Really!  No hang gliders?  I wonder if they ever get any flying by low enough to read the sign?

The moss on these trees must be directionally challenged.  It is not growing just on the north side.  Instead it is growing all around these trees.  And seldom down lose to the ground.

Looking back down the valley that the Russian River is in.  Notice the trail snaking along, high above the river.

Mt Shasta is getting bigger all the time.  The trail is headed east now, back toward the Cascades.  Every day Shasta gets bigger and bigger.  And the little secondary peak is becoming more obvious as we also get a bit further south.

This is pretty typical of the high country around here.  Rocky, dry, some hardy undergrowth and sparse trees.  Beautiful in its own way.

These pine trees, like many others in the area had a lot of character.  They seem to have led a hard life, and yet they are still there.

Not sure what it took to twist this tree so strangely, but the end result is pretty cool.

I don’t know what the layering is here, but sometimes you could see 3-4 of the lighter bands of rock in the cliffs along the Trinity Divide.

This is apparently some kind of Orchid that grows up high in the Klamath Mountains.  I have only seen them in one place this year, and a single location last year as well.

My own personal nightlight at Porcupine Lake

The lake is hard to see, but it is in the background, about a 100 feet back and down.

Porcupine Lake, one of my favorite spots along the trail so far this year.

White Ridge Spring flows out of a rock just below the trail.  So good, and cold.  Especially good when the temp is climbing towards 100.

Shasta from a bit further south.

You can make out the trail snaking off into the distance for several miles alongside the 7 Lakes Basin.

Looking down on the southern end of the Castle Crags

The north end of Castle Crags

Warning!  Poison Oak.  I think I finally know hat it looks like.

Manzanita is one of the predominate shrubs in the area.  There are at least two distinct species with different colored leaves.  This has to be the toughest bush I have ever attempted to walk through.  The branches are nearly as tough as steel.

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3 thoughts on “PCT 2013: from Etna Summit to Castle Crags”

  1. The trip sounds amazing Ed. As for Manzanita – it is indeed a tough plant. It needs fire for the seeds to split and germinate. I learned that from a naturalist years ago. Love your postings so far and love the pictures.


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