PCT 2013: Belden to Sierra City

Rabbit had one more day to hike, so we decided to slack pack up from Belden and across to Bucks Summit, where the wives would pick us up and then go into Bucks Lake Resort for a zero day.  Since every report we had for the trail south out of Belden was that it was steep (steepest on the PCT), brushy and full of poison oak, and was ‘only’ about 19 miles long; traveling with only a light pack seemed like a pretty good approach to both of us.

The wives dropped us off and we finished the road walk, crossed a pair of train tracks and began to climb.  The trail started with a 4000 foot climb in 5 miles with 38 switchbacks.  While not overly steep except for a couple of short stretches, it was pretty steadily up.  While we did find a lot of poison oak along the way, the brush had been cropped back pretty well so it was not really much of an issue.  While still fairly low on the climb, we saw switchbacks along the next ridge over and expected to traverse over there at any time, but never did.  There are apparently a number of trails that make similar climbs in the area; we saw another one after we were at the top.

At around the 5000 foot level the trail came out of the forest and continued to climb through the manzanita and other shrubbery.  The trail continued to climb to over 6000 foot but at a moderated rate and we enjoyed the views, even though a bit hazy.  Up near the top we passed a sign pointing to a Canyon View Spring down below the trail, but since we still had plenty of water we went on; fortunately.  About 100 years further down the trail was a spring flowing out of a pipe and across the trail.  So glad I had not gone down to the earlier spring.

Once the trail makes it to the top, it stays pretty high and alternates between heavy forest, meadows and rocky outcroppings.  There is some water in the area so there is no need to carry all that much once you get past the first 6 or 7 miles.  The trail does drop about 1500 feet over the last 4 miles or so, but the trail is generally broad and easy to walk.  All in all this was a much more pleasant stretch of trail than we had feared.

After taking a day off to visit with the Rabbit’s as well as resupply, I headed back down the trail heading for Sierra City.  The first day out was pretty mellow with a 10 mile fairly level jaunt through the trees followed by a 10 mile descent down to the Middle Fork of the Feather River.  Mid way through the morning I started hearing gunshots that got louder the further south I went.  It was pretty spooky and I debated with myself about turning back.  Eventually the sounds seemed to be coming from just down in the valley below me.  Finally I came out on a road and looked back to see a few jeeps with a trap launcher shooting traps out over the valley and the ‘hunters’ trying to shoot them down.  It made me feel a whole lot better to know they were at least shooting away from the trail.  One of the guys saw me standing there watching and rode his jeep back up the road to tell me what they were doing, and I suspect to see if I was going to cause trouble.

This was really a very easy section of trail and was rewarded by what was to be a unique experience with a river.  I am used to rivers that are cold.  I cannot recall ever being in a river that was a comfortable temperature.  The Middle Fork, as the locals seemed to call it, had a number of deep pools where the bridge crossed it.  I setup camp and wandered down to a pool further upstream for my evening bath and was surprised that I was able to comfortably sit in the river, and even swim across it without being cold.  I could easily see staying there for a longer period of time if time wasn’t a factor.

The next day the trail climbed pretty steadily all day, especially in the morning, as it ascended from just below 3000 foot at the river to well over 6000 foot.  While the trail was never steep, it was pretty steady all day and I was getting pretty worn out before it was over.  This day did have the distinction of being my only full day on the trail without seeing a thru hiker, or long distance section hiker.  I met a large group scattered over a couple of miles that were heading for the Middle Fork, but no long distance hikers.  They had been dwindling down for a while but it is evident that I have passed through the main pack by now.  Mid afternoon I popped out onto Highway 511 where the wife picked me up and we went down to a local campground to spend the night.

The next morning was kind of ominous looking.  There was the smell of smoke in the air and the west was shrouded in fairly heavy smoke.  I had not heard of a fire in the area, but it sure looked like there was a new one nearby.  I kept a close eye on this potential problem until Mrs Eeyore managed to get some information about what was a distant fire to me.

While the smoke hampered visibility, the views were good and the water was plentiful.  The trail mostly walked the high country with only one significant dip below 6500 foot.  When I was in the Navy I was stationed for a few years in Sicily, living on Mt Etna.  So it was kind of cool to hike along under Mt Etna during this stretch.

Toward the end of the day the trail made about an 1800 foot climb back over 7000 foot, my last long climb in California for the year.  And part way up I noticed what looked like caves with a connecting trail on what I think is Gibraltar.  I assume they were actually gold mines since there was so much mining in the area.  I was hopeful the PCT would get closer, but it never did.

My destination for the evening was a spring that is described in the data book as being just beyond a diminutive pond.  Since everything is generally written with a south to north perspective, I expected to find this spring before the pond.  I found the pond OK, but initially search in vain for any other water.  Only when I went to the south of the pond did I find the sign pointing down to Jamison Creek.  And then, after dropping down to the creek, there was a sign to the spring.  It was a good source of water, but the signs had warned against camping down in this basin except at select lakes, so I loaded up with water and moved on up the trail a ways until I found a good looking pair of trees just off the trail where I could setup camp.

I had been seeing mountain bike tread marks on the trail since just south of the ‘A’ tree, and would until I got to Packer Saddle the next day.  As I was getting ready for bed I briefly hear dirt bikes roaring down below.  There are a lot of logging roads in the area where they can travel, but I found myself hoping I wouldn’t see them racing down the PCT.  While I didn’t that night, I did see their tracks on the trail further south the next day.

This was actually a rather interesting evening.  In addition to the dirt bikes, I had deer in the area who seemed disturbed with me hanging in their backyard; cows lowing and playing bells all night; and coyotes howling during the night.  One of the most exciting campsites I have had in a while.

The last day on the trail was one of my best.  I suspect in part because I was ending strong and was ready to go on further.  But also because it was so scenic.  I probably saw as many lakes that day as I had in the preceding month; at least it seemed that way.  Everywhere I looked there was another lake or three.  I can only imagine that if it had really been clear that I might have seen more.  The only real downside to the day was the amount of mountain bike activity evident in the tracks they left behind, and that all of the trail markings appeared to have been removed.  I was told the next day at the Red Moose Inn that the mountain bikers are lobbying hard to get that section of the trail opened to them.

So far I have traveled through part of Washington, all of Oregon, and the northern quarter of California, and had yet to see a snake.  But that changed midway through this last day.  My wife had parked at Packer Saddle and hiked a mile or so up to meet me, but ran into what she took to be a dead snake laying in the path.  But being the cautious woman that she is, she decided to stand guard over this dead snake until I came along, hoping to warn me off.  After standing watch for 10 or 15 minutes she heard trekking poles coming down the trail and yelled at me as I rounded the corner.  I tossed a small stone toward the snake which, surprisingly enough, actually landed on the snake, who then proceeded to slowly slither into a hole at the side of the trail.  Watching Mrs Eeyore’s reaction was comical.  You would have though that this 2 foot rubber boa that fled from us was actually a massive rattler that had actually stuck her.  I rather enjoyed the show, but have my doubts about ever getting her to hike out to meet me again.

The last 8 miles of the trail was a 2700 foot descent into Sierra City.  About half of this was a long traverse high across the face of the Sierra Buttes; one of the highest and steepest traverses I have ever done.  I don’t normally have an issue with heights, but did find myself getting dizzy a time or two when looking to the bottom of the slope, which as a couple thousand feet below me.  The last half of the descent moved into the forest and dropped quickly, with a total of about 40 switchbacks overall.

Sierra City was a quaint little town, and the Red Moose Inn fit right in.  The retired couple who run it seem more interested in helping out hikers than they do actually running a business.  The only time I saw anyone other than hikers in the place was at breakfast, where they seemed to have a regular following among the citizens of the small town.  They did report a downturn in the number of hikers that had come through so far this year, about 3/4 of what they had last year.

From here I had to say good-bye to California for this year and we headed back to Washington to prepare for one last section, this time with Tigger.  I had lost 5 pounds and was worn out; but I felt good about the trail and had enjoyed the journey.  Looking forward to picking up here next year and tackling the Sierra’s.

I loved these signs on the outskirts of Belden.

While this is not the PCT, this is very reminiscent of the ascent we had just completed coming out of Belden.

Quite a few springs along through here were plumbed out using either a pipe or an angle iron.  This one is just south of the Canyon View Spring, that requires you to leave the trail.  This one is just above the trail.

While I have no idea what this shrub is, it is quite common in the higher country of northern California.  The lighter green is clusters of burs, each with a diameter amount the size of a quarter.  They are covered with fine hairs that will stick you if you grab them too hard.  But I never had one actually detach from the bush and stick to me.

On the trip from Belden to Bucks Summit there were a number of large meadows filled with Lupine and a few other flowers.

Silver Lake, also between Belden and Bucks Summit was a pretty lake, but obviously below it’s ‘full’ level.

That’s a size 15 shoe next to this small cone.  Glad none of these decided to drop on my head as I went by.

The bridge over Bear Creek, just north of the Middle Fork.

One of the largest trees I saw on the trip, with nearly a six foot diameter.  Notice the trekking poles at the left.

Bridge over the Middle Fork of the Feather River from near my campsite.

This pool was just downstream from the bridge and would make a wonderful swimming hole.

Had a little buddy join me for lunch one day.

Hard to see how ominous this looked, but the smoke to the west was a bit concerning.

Mount Etna sticking up through the trees.

Gold mines on Gibraltar?


A bit graphic, but none-the-less interesting trail marker at the top of my last significant climb.

This is, I think, a Western Tanager.  Don’t recall ever seeing one until the day before I got this picture.

Two nice trees about 15 feet apart, check.  Minimal brush on the ground, check.  Ground not too steep, check.  Time to set up camp.

Deer Lake just north of Packer Saddle

The fire lookout on the Sierra Buttes, seen from Packer Saddle.

Somewhat level ground is over 2000 feet below, on a greater than 45 degree slope.  The descent into Sierra City was like this for nearly 4 miles.

Switch backing down the slope.

The Red Moose Inn in Sierra City.

4 thoughts on “PCT 2013: Belden to Sierra City”

  1. Thanks for writing this. I plan on doing this section this year–only south to north. I've heard that there is a dangerous part of the trail, where it had been washed out with a "jump" on the section going up out of Sierra City. Did you remember anything like that? My jumping skills with a pack on, with exposure, aren't what they used to be.

    • There was no 'jump' last year when I did it. The first few miles were pretty steadily up, with the top half an exposed traverse across a steep slope. It would be easy to see how the trail could wash out, but it was in good shape last August when I came through. Enjoy the experience, and watch out for MTB's.


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