PCT 2013: Old Station to Belden

I had originally planned to head south from Old Station the day after finishing with the Hat Creek Rim, but a sore back led to a change in plans.  I had two friends lined up to hike with me through parts of the PCT, and I needed to be sure that I didn’t overdue and end up unable to finish.  So I opted to hang tight a couple of days until Rabbit, a friend new to backpacking, joined me; and then we did this section together.

A note about Rabbit.  Since I am Eeyore, I figured that my companions should also have Winnie the Pooh character names.  My friend originally wanted to be Pooh, but that seemed somewhat awkward: “Hello, I’m Pooh”, just seemed hard to pull off with a straight face.  So, since (at least to me) he is compulsively organized (little did I realize just how much), he became Rabbit.  At the end of a long day we would come into camp and I would dump the contents of my pack onto a small piece of tyvek and then set up the hammock and organize briefly.  Rabbit would carefully spread out a small 2 x 5 section of tarp, make sure it was nice and straight and free of any dirt, and then very carefully lay out all of his neatly organized stuff stacks (in which everything was neatly folded without wrinkles).  By the time he had his pack unpacked, I was setup and watching the show.  I really enjoyed having him along, and had a lot of fun at his expense.  Hopefully he enjoyed it as much as I did and will be game for next year.

After helping get Rabbit packed up, and doing a quick visit through Lassen NP, the wives dropped us off at Old Station mid afternoon.  Our plan was to walk about 4 miles, have a milkshake, drop off anything that seemed unneeded at that point, and then walk another 4 miles to Hat Creek for the night.  The first four miles were fairly flat and went pretty quickly.  We met the wives for our milkshakes, and a final goodbye (Mrs Rabbit was really nervous about letting Rabbit wander around in the wilderness.  Afraid he would get eaten or something).  Rabbit dropped off his belt, and off we went.

The first 8 miles of this section, at least for south bounders, is very pleasant and easy to walk, although not overly scenic.  The trail intersects briefly with Hat Creek about 8 miles from Old Station and that was the destination for our first night.  We got into camp and I taught Rabbit how to hang a hammock, ate dinner and cleaned up a bit and then turned in.

The night was unexpectedly cold, 37 degrees, although the stars were beautiful.  Rabbit is not sold on the idea of using a hammock but did manage to get some sleep.  We are up and on the trail around 7:30 and headed for Lower Twin Lake in Lassen.  After climbing a bit we came into an area that had burned last year.  It is always a bit sad to travel though an area that has burned, but I was amazed to see how quickly much of the undergrowth was recovering.  The trees will take longer, but the forest is very resilient.

The road through Lassen travels high up on the shoulder of its namesake mountain and is very scenic.  The trail, on the other hand, stays fairly low and is anything but scenic.  The trail is gentle and pleasant and easily traveled, but, apart from about 10 miles of mostly burned forest, and numerous meadows, it is unremarkable.  I don’t understand why the trail avoids the high country through the park.

We pulled into Lower Twin about 1:30 and enjoyed the lake.  It was fairly warm and made for a good swim/bath.  This is a popular lake for hikers who are touring the park, and there ended up being quite a few folks scattered around the lake; but the lake is big enough that it easily accommodated all of us.  We set up next to the lake and Rabbit took advantage of the extended afternoon to further organize his stuff.

Shortly after turning in, about 8 PM, I heard someone tromping trough camp followed by a deep voice identifying himself as a back country park ranger.  So we rolled out of the hammocks and showed our permits, which was the good part.  However we were camped too close to the lake.  Fortunately the ranger was not a hard nose about it and just wrote us up a warning.  I also had to explain to him what the Ursak was that I had tied off to a nearby tree.  He had never heard of one and thought our food should be in a bear can or hung.  But again, he was sympathetic to us and let it go.  We visited for a while and eventually climbed back into our hammocks for another cold night.

The third day dawned clear and crisp, a big day for Rabbit since we were going to be traveling about 17 miles, his biggest day on the trail by far.  While there was more climbing today that there had been, we never did get very high through this section, although the descent into Warner Valley was exciting for Rabbit; his first opportunity to traverse, and switchback, along a steep ridge.  The highlight of the day though was Boiling Springs Lake.  We circled the lake and took half a hundred pictures and wondered about the daring (foolishness) of those who seeming willing to defy fate by ignoring the warnings about breaking through if you leave the path, and walked up to the edge of the lake.  I was quite willing to admire the lake from a safe distance.

We also took the side trail to Terminal Geyser.  The sign said it was a 1/4 mile trip, although it seemed much longer than that, being nearly vertical for much of it.  We zoomed down, took a few pictures and opted not to wait for it to erupt, and headed back out.  On the way we passed a family who had been watching it when we got there and asked about the frequency of eruption.  According to them, it never did.  It was actually just a steam vent.  Impressive none-the-less, but very glad we did not hang around waiting for some excitement.

After climbing back up to the PCT, we continued to climb for a while before beginning a long descent down to the North Fork of the Feather River.  There were several nice spots on the south side of the river where we setup and had a pleasant stay.  Rabbit was tired, but still enjoying the trip.

The last day in the first half of this section was an 8 mile trip up and over a ridge and down to Highway 89 for a meet with the wives, along with a burger and night in the town of Chester.

Day 5 was going to be Rabbits biggest day of the trip.  We left the trail head about 7 and headed up toward Humboldt Summit, about 20 miles away with an initial 2600 foot climb.  And to top it off, the only on trail water source was about 3 miles into the day, with no water at the summit.  While the initial climb was long, it was fairly mellow and under cover most of the way up.  Soldier Creek was a welcome break and a place to load up with water for the dry stretch ahead.  The couple camped at the creek reported that the only identified water source for the next 20+ miles, at Carter Meadows, was nearly 1/2 mile off trail, and not all that great.  They also reported that there had been a sign to an earlier spring but they had not descended to it and so could provide no information.  So, loaded with a gallon of water apiece, we continued on up the climb.

Toward the top of the climb we passed the halfway point in the trail, signed the register and went on, shortly coming out into the clear with some wonderful views.  We spent 6 or 7 miles up over 7000 feet before dropping back to 6000 and then up to 6700 at Humboldt for the night.  The views, as well as the fantastic rock formations, made the initial climbwell worthwhile.  This stretch of trail had some of the most bizarre rocks and outcroppings I remember seeing anywhere.

Before hitting the Carter Meadow trail, we encountered another north bounder who had gone down to the earlier spring and reported it to be very nice.  So when we hit the Carter Meadow trail we opted to just stop for lunch and go on another 2-3 miles to the next spring.  While there was a camping spot there at the junction, I would recommend not stopping there.  The yellow jackets were thick, and eating lunch was an adventure with a dozen of more of the little buggers swarming around.  Little Cub Spring did end up being very nice, although a steep 1/4 mile below the trail.  And we also found a sign to yet another spring within a mile of Humboldt Summit.  

Humboldt Summit has a maintained dirt road running through it and a large campground in the saddle.  We opted to stay just north of the saddle and a bit more isolated from the road.  Rabbit had opted for a tent through this stretch and found a place to set it up while I watched from my hammock.  Shortly after dinner is eaten and food secured for the night, Rabbit crawled into his burrow for the night, one tired little bunny.

We were up early, and again on the trail by 7.  Most of the day was spent up close to 7000 foot and was fairly pleasant.  Cold Springs was a highlight early in the day, with water gushing out of a big pipe and into a cattle trough; lots of cold clear water.  Unfortunately as we spread out for breakfast the yellow jackets started to congregate, so we quickly packed up and moved on down the trail for a while before eating.  The final climb of the day took us past Frog Spring, which was the first on trail water in some time, and up near the top of Frog Peak.  From there it was all down hill.

Along the way we passed Andesite Spring, labeled on the map as Poison Spring, and then began the descent into the Chips Creek canyon and then along the creek.  The upper canyon was pretty rocky and open; and dry at this time of year.  After a couple of miles we hit the first water that forms the creek, and from there on down water was pretty abundant.  After crossing Chips Creek a couple of times, we stopped at Myrtle Flats Camp for the night, after about 19 miles.  We could have gone on further, but we were starting to get into some poison oak and wanted to be able to clearly see it in the light of day.  Myrtle Flats was actually a signed Forest Service campground with a little stream, one of the few backcountry F.S. camps I have run across so far.

The last day heading out was fairly short, which was good since Rabbit is wearing down.  We descend for a bit in the trees before breaking out onto a mostly open traverse through a recently burned area.  Both of us are somewhat paranoid about poison oak, and in places the trail was pretty bushy, so it went pretty slowly at times.  Eventually we rounded a corner and there was the river down below, and what looked like a little settlement.  Shortly after there was an unsigned Y in the trail, with one branch running down to the town/road, and the other heading up a canyon away from the road.  Usually you can tell by the condition of the trail which is the proper path, but not in this case.  Out comes the phone and Backcountry Navigator sends us away from the road and back into the canyon; the branch we didn’t want to take.  But the right branch none-the-less.  Within a half mile we found our wives waiting for us on a bridge that crossed the canyon’s little stream.  From there it was less than a mile to the trail head and a cold chocolate milk.

Since the trail head was across the river from Belden, we opted to drop off the packs in the car and walk the road across the Belden Bridge and through town to tomorrow’s starting point.  Then we jumped into the car and headed to Quincy for the night.

Eeyore and Rabbit ready to hit the PCT near Old Station.  

During the course of this section you get to see Lassen from the north, east and south.  This is an early view from north of the park.

This is a portion of last years Lassen fire that reached out to the north of the park.

The walk through Lassen Nation Park was filled will meadows.  While not overly high, much of the country was pretty open.

Lower Twin Lake was a bit windy when we first got there.  That can make it a bit challenging to get a hammock hung and properly leveled.

Lower Twin Lake makes a good overnight stop.  It is a pretty, decent sized lake, warm and with gravel beaches rather than muck.

A four foot log with a star hidden inside.

Looking down at Drakesbad and its pool from the descent into Warner Valley.

Boiling Springs Lake with Lassen in the background.  There is a trail that encircles the lake and intersects with the PCT.

Terminal Geyser should be called Terminal Steam Vent or Terminal Fumarole.

At the south end of the park, and almost exclusively west of the trail, are dozens of stacks of cut logs and branches.  I assume it is a part of reducing the amount of available fuel in case of a fire.  Looks like they are ready for roasting marshmallows.

A little weasel standing guard over the trail a couple of miles north of the North Fork Feather River.

It’s always nice to get some confirmation that I am going in the right direction.  Lot’s of north bounders ask me if I am going south (maybe they are not sure of their own direction), and one was convinced that we were going the wrong way.

At the halfway point for the PCT.

To the right is Lassen and to the left is Brokeoff.  All of the little peaks in the middle, including Brokeoff, were once a larger volcano that blew some time in the past.

I really loved the rocky formations throughout the south half of this section.  

Just a little bit harder and I should be able to get this little rock to role down the hill.

Sunrise over Humboldt Summit.

Cold Springs.  One of the nicest springs I have run into on the trail.

Bambi and his mom, eyeing us from the far end of a stretch of trail.  While Bambi moved out of sight, mom never did.  She stayed close to the trail, even when we walked by.  Very unlike any other doe I saw on the trail this year.

I do not know what kind of flower this is, but we found one large group of bushes just above Belden and a couple of other single blossoms elsewhere.  I was really surprised to see such a large flower on the trail.

The Belden Bridge.  Cross the bridge and to the right is the little town of Belden.
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