PCT Northern California – Castella

Castella to Burney Falls 28th August. The next section of the hike was through guidebook Section ‘O’ for 82.5 miles to the small resort of Burney Falls. This area was still being actively logged and we had heard that the trail disappeared for miles on end under a tangled mesh of fallen trees and bulldozed dirt tracks.

Martina had heard enough about this section to decide that she would skip forward to Burney Falls by bus via the town of Shasta City. I set off on my own in the early morning with a lighter pack- I left the tent outer and the water filter with Martina- and four days of food.

I had a 2 mile road walk to return back to the PCT but was happy to accept a lift from someone who stopped in his car to offer. The first few miles of trail zig-zagged up through forest and I made good time by taking a direct route steeply up through the trees and manzanita undergrowth. It was hot forested and fairly dull hiking once back on the PCT but at least the trail was in good condition as I stopped at Squaw river for lunch. That evening I made it to Ash Creek campsite after 30 miles ( a record for our trip) but discovered it to be closed for campers so I hiked on a bit and settled down on a gravel clearing for the night.

Next day I am off at 6.30am on a long grueling but gentle angled ascent up Grizzly Peak. I hit my first clear-cut forest and tree blow downs here and the going got a lot more difficult stumbling over trees and through manzanita bushes. I diverted onto a logging vehicle track to make some miles, though I was a bit unsure from my map exactly which track I was walking along as the map didn’t reflect all the recent logging activity. A stop at 5.30pm to cook dinner on the trail provided some rest for my legs then I set off again, only to lose the trail slithering on steep dusty slopes before I eventually slid down in a cloud of dust onto a wide logging road before dark. I followed this until 8.30pm looking for a good bivvy spot but only found a marginal clearing right by the dirt road in the dark. Since I wasn’t sure where I was I could only guess that I had made about 30 miles again. That night I had some visitors in the form of mozzies buzzing my head making sleep a bit difficult. At some point I heard snuffling and saw vague shapes of what I think was a group of coyotes wandering past on the track. Thankfully they weren’t interested in me in my prone form lying on the ground in my sleeping bag.

At 6.30am again I am up strolling on in the dust of the logging track and after a few miles I was relieved to be able to confirm my location and work out I had only 20 miles to go to Burney- so I made it my target to get into town that day. With the blanket of dust the consistency of flour covering the track, I was as dirty as I could ever remember (and that took some doing!), so I rejoiced when managing a wash at one of the few rivers encountered – Peavine Creek. The gradual descent down to town meant hotter and dustier conditions but I did get some nice views including out to Mt Shasta and Mt Lassen.

A rather hot wearied hiker arrived amongst the tourists at Burney Falls around 4pm and sat down outside the store sipping cold drinks and eating ice cream. Here I met Sundog and another PCT hiker Bootleg Neb who I think had hitched to this point and I chatted to them. I was surprised when a park warden came up to me and asked if I was Martina’s boyfriend- she told me Martina would be arriving soon. I was confused as to how the warden knew me or the whereabouts of Martina but I thanked her for the welcome surprise and carried on with the important task of eating and drinking.

An hour later Martina arrived in a car with two PCT section hikers Annaliese and Rob. Martina had seemingly met these two in Shasta City and had had her own adventures which will be added here later! The hikers are friends with another park warden called Shirley and before I know it we were invited around to Shirley and her husband’s house for the night. We had a rest day the next day and Shirley arrived back with another hiker, Sideshow, who we had met off and on for the previous month.

Next Burney Falls to Beldon………….

PCT Home

US Sierra

Our first visit to the United States in 1996 was to the stunning Sierra Nevada mountains of California- home to the iconic Yosemite valley and John Muir Trail where we did some rock climbing, backpacking and touring around. After this taster, we came back in 1998 as part of our longer Pacific Crest Trail hike between Mexico and Canada. Since then we brought the climbing gear back in 2006 and then in 2019 explored the mountains by hiking some cross country.

Listed below are our outdoor trips- with links to blog posts.

2019 AUgust-september

We visited California in 2019 and this time went out backpacking, exploring some of the Sierra mountains away from the popular John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. Our aim was max out on the scenery with some off trail and scrambling over mountain passes and ridges. We used Steve Roper’s excellent ‘Sierra High Route‘ book as a reference along with some very useful websites and blog posts. See an overview map of our 2019 hikes.

McGee Trailhead to Mammoth Lakes

Reds Meadow to Tuolumne big loop

Twin Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows

Piute Pass, Lake Italy, PCT and Lamarck Col loop

Break in southern Utah

Cottonwood Lakes, Crabtree Pass, Guitar Lake, Mount Whitney

2006 September

A month long trip to California with a mix of rock climbing and hiking. More photos here.

Tuolumne Meadows- Lembert Dome

Tuolumne Meadows- Tanaya Peak

Tuolumne Meadows- Dozier Dome

Mount Ritter plus Iceberg Lake, Mineret Lake traverse

White Mountain

Owens River Gorge rock climbs

Crystal Crag climb, Mammoth Lakes

Yosemite Valley loop hike

Mt Connes west ridge attempt

Cathedral Peak south face climb

Tuolumne Meadows – Mount Dana

1998 PACIFIC CREST TRAIL

A 2600 mile hike for about 5 months on the PCT between Mexico and Canada through the states of California, Oregon and Washington. PCT blog here.

1996 SEPTEMBER

Backpack – Lamark Col, Evolution Valley, Muir Pass, Bishop Pass

Owens River Gorge rock climbs

Side trip to Death Valley

Mount Whitney via Iceberg Lake and the ‘Mountaineers Route’

Tuolumne – Mathes Crest rock climb

Tuolumne – Cathedral Peak south face climb

Tuolumne – Fairview Dome north face climb

Yosemite – Snake Dike climb

Yosemite – Nutcracker climb

Yosemite – Various single pitch climbs

Mono Lake and Bodie Ghost Town

Cottonwood Lakes, Crabtree Pass, Guitar Lake, Mount Whitney

Tuesday 24th September 2019 The final hike of our holiday and we chose a southern part of the Sierra mountains near and over Mt Whitney. We picked up a permit easily again and left the car near the town of Lone Pine, relying on hitching a lift to the start at Cottonwood Lakes.

Up at Cottonwood Lakes at just under 10,000 feet it was clear, cool and windy and a forest of Foxtail and Lodgepole Pines poking out of the dry soil. We hiked up for quite a few miles on good trail towards New Army Pass. The scenery was stark with dazzling white granite boulders and rock, blue sky and the odd snow patch. The pass was windy so we nestled down behind some rock ledges then headed down an easy zig-zag trail on the west side to Rock Creek.

We turned off the main trail at Rock Creek, heading up Miter Basin, initially a wide valley with steep granite walls, gradually narrowing and becoming more rugged as we reached Sky Blue Lake in the evening. The sun dipped here and it was rather a cold wind that swept the lake surface so we decided to call it a day and camp at the north end in a wild alpine scene.

Foxtails at Cottonwood Lakes
Arid and windy!
Sky Blue Lake

After a very windy night we were glad to move on and upwards leaving signs of trail behind as we worked our way up over slabs and a few scrambly sections to a lake at 3697m. Here we sheltered facing the sun for a stop to take in the glorious views. A further easy climb from there and we arrived at Crabtree Pass. The descent down the other side was easier than it looked, on the east side of the gullys on broken slabs. Down at Crabtree Lake we sat watching a pika gathering grass for winter before hiking a wonderful cross country route down the valley past various Crabtree Lakes. Meadows, granite slabs, some scrambling but nothing too hard- this was great! At the final lake we spotted some golden trout as we meandered down through Foxtail Pine again on faint trails.

We picked up a more heavily used trail going back up east to Crabtree Meadows Ranger Station and saw a few people camping around here. This was us back on the JMT with big trails and people! We hiked past Crabtree on the path up to Mt Whitney with views back west gradually improving until we headed off trail to find a lovely granite slab to camp on below Guitar Lake.

In the morning
First of the Crabtree Lakes
Heading down between Crabtree Lakes
Camp below Guitar Lake

This was our last day hiking on the holiday but we aimed for a cool day by climbing over Mt Whitney and down the eastern side back to the Whitney Portal Trailhead and to hitch a lift back to our car lower down the valley.

We were flying by now, climbing steadily up the trail to Whitney Trail Crest with more than 4 weeks hiking fitness behind us. Some fantastic views higher up across the fluted mountains and lakes and we passed a few hikers coming up from the other side of the mountain. Saw some marmots and pikas on the way. After we had bagged the highest point of Whitney we then started the long, long descent east to the road- 6,500 feet roughly. The top half was particularly grand seeing into Whitney’s rocky east face and dotted lakes below.

Our final task was to get a lift which we managed quickly and were soon munching bagels in Lone Pine after another fantastic little backpack. Now back to Scotland!

Meadows low down on the east side of Whitney

More photos here

Sierra California- North Lake Loop

Monday 9th September 2019 Our aim was to do a loop hike starting at the North Lake trailhead, west of the town of Bishop, hiking north on a chunk of the Sierra High Route, returning via the John Muir Trail and then finishing with a cross country meander past Darwin Lakes and Lamarck Col.

Our route starting at North Lake Trailhead, west of Bishop

We started with a trip to Basin Bakery for some great bagels then the Bishop Visitor Centre and again managed to get a same day permit for the hike with no trouble. It’s a lovely drive climbing steeply out of the Bishop valley with some final dirt road to North Lake trailhead.

From the trailhead we had an easy gradual on-trail ascent past multiple lakes to Piute Pass at 11,423 feet. There were a few other hikers around and we met a nice guy with a donkey! The west side of the pass is gentle going over a plateau like area but we soon split from the trail to head north cross country to Puppet Pass. The area is flattish, dotted with boulders and lakes with mountains on the horizon all around. The descent from Puppet Pass was to the north of the lowest point – bouldery and slow going but the Puppet Lakes below were beautiful. We made it northwards to Elba Lake to camp in a lovely spot with sun and some shelter in amongst krummholz whitebark pine.

Mesa Lake looking back south to the Glacier Divide
Puppet Pass and Lakes

Pretty cold overnight with our water bottles freezing- I guess we are quite high at about 11,000 feet. Our start was a relaxed cross country descent down to French Canyon to boulder hop across the frost fringed river. We were both glad no wading was required as it was still frigidly cold! After a relaxed 1 mile hike west on trail we split again with some faint trails and xc up to Merriam Lake sitting in stark alpine surroundings. Easy going from there up a remote feeling valley across meadows and slabs to La Salle lake before a steep granite boulder and slab push to Feather Pass at about 12,300 feet. We met 2 guys here (first since Piute Pass yesterday) who are out for 10 days.

The descent was on better rock this time with some fun scrambling on grippy granite then onto a snow slope to easier ground. We then wound round various lakes with bear related names and all in a grand wild setting before reaching White Bear Pass with its beautiful lake near the top. The descent from this one though was a bit of a pain with endless willow scrub, gravel and loose rock! We were both glad to make it to flatter terrain and past two more lakes to reach the Hilgard valley where we would split west from the Sierra High Route.

A trail was marked in the valley but we found some rough going initially before a rugged trail gradually became a bit clearer. Cool valley though with granite slabs and green meadows. We made it to about 1/2 mile short of the John Muir Trail and pitched the tent fairly tired after a long rough but excellent day.

Leaving camp at Elba Lake
Above La Salle Lake
Hilgard Valley

Boy was it cold in the morning- our shoes had frozen as well as our water. We soon hit the JMT and headed south on a long gradual ascent to Seldon Pass – drying the tent out in the sun on some granite slabs. The lakes below Seldon were scenic and on the other side the trail was easy as it descended 3,000 feet down to Muir Ranch. This is a place where JMT hikers are able to resupply and stay the night. There is lots of spare food here, left behind by JMT hikers and we were able to stock up on bonus nuts and raisins and a few bars – superb!

Suitably replenished, we headed on south following the steep sided San Joaquin River on a grand trail camping just below Evolution Meadow after a fine day of JMT trail walking.

Nearing Seldon Pass
At Muir Ranch
Above the San Joaquin River

We started the next day with more chilled out JMT trail walking through Evolution Valley before striking steeply uphill off trail to Darwin Bench. Actually there was a pretty good ‘use trail’ much of the way but with some boulder hopping round the fine turquoise Darwin Lakes. After Lake 4 we stopped at its small beach before hitting the 1,000 foot climb up to Lamarck Col. The views opened out as we followed various sandy trails with the odd scramble to pop out at the col in late afternoon at 12,800 feet. A grand spot.

The descent involved crossing a snow slope which was in the shade and had hardened so we got out the micro spikes and ice axes to cross to the boulders below. From there it was easier arid slopes with a trail forming lower down. We stopped at a trickling water source then looked around a bit for a good viewful camping spot, eventually finding a wonderful place on the ridge above. What a view east over to Owens Valley and the White Mountain range. Even better was a full moon popping out over the jagged ridge to the south and no wind to rattle the tent even on this exposed spot.

After taking a few pictures over breakfast in the morning, we headed down steadily on trail in the morning back to the North Lakes trailhead. Another great loop !

Darwin Lakes
Lamarck Col
Snowfield descent from Lamarck Col
Camp below Lamarck Col

Twin Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows

5th September 2019 This three day backpacking trip had us roughly following the northern section of the ‘Sierra High Route‘ in the Sierra mountains of California with another mix of cross country hiking, scrambling and trails. We drove north from Mammoth Lakes to the town of Bridgeport on the east side of the Sierra mountains and arranged a hiking permit for the trip at the ranger station. Like the rest of of our hikes on this holiday, we were able to get a permit for the same day which was a pleasant surprise. A short drive west took us to the Twin Lakes RV resort (via Buckeye Hot Springs to drop off a hitchhiker!) where we paid a small fee to leave the car for a few days.

Our 3 day backpack from Twin lakes in the north down to Tuolumne Meadows

Scott the friendly campground host gave us good directions on how to navigate through the myriad of local trails to reach Horse creek and the wilderness area to the south. The weather looked a bit dodgy with foreboding cloud build up and on and off rain but the views ahead southwards to Matterhorn Peak were encouraging. The trail was pretty clear but one section by the creek through thick willow bush soaked us from the waist down. Gradually the terrain got wilder and more barren with scree sided metamorphic peaks and faint trail leading to a wonderful little snow bowl just before the pass.

We had decided to deviate from the Sierra High Route by following Spiller Canyon on the other side of the pass all the way down to meet the Pacific Crest Trail and then climb back over McCabe Pass back to the SHR itself. Spiller Canyon is a broad open glaciated canyon surrounded now by sweeping granite peaks. There was no trail but the hiking was easy down grassy meadows and lower down weaving through a thin forest cover. In the evening, rain built up and it got rather unpleasantly wet and we searched around a bit to find a flat spot to camp near the river.

Looking up Horse Creek
Nearing the pass

We heard the crashing of branches in the night and assumed a bear may have wandered past heading up or down canyon. Anyway if it was a bear it didn’t bother us thankfully. The rain was still coming down in the morning as we packed the tent up but there were patches of blue sky poking through giving us some optimism. Continuing down the broad U-shaped canyon, the forest thickened a little but there was always a clear way to hike through with a few river crossings to find the easiest ground. We scrabbled over old avalanche paths with lines of felled trees from the higher hillside down into the river. By mid morning we met the obvious Pacific Crest Trail and found some granite slabs to lay out the wet gear in the sun that had managed to break through. Spiller Canyon had provided an excellent hike with no trails or people.

Following the PCT southbound for a few miles was a chance to chill out and enjoy the sunshine. We left the PCT to head east climbing up on the smaller McCabe Lakes trail, firstly through woodland before we split to head cross country again to pick up McCabe Creek. After crossing some meadows and lodgepole pine the climb got a bit steeper and we had to pick a line between willow scrub and steeper slabs before we popped out near to Upper McCabe Lake. We stopped for a rest to take in the more mountainous scene and look at the route up to the pass.

The final push to the pass was about 700ft but on a gravelly trail with some grippy granite scrambling. The views at the top of McCabe Pass were cool particularly to the east and south where we were heading to lakes, snow and rocky peaks. We headed south for a bit along the ridge before zig zagging down ledges between slabs to get reach Secret Lake and then followed easier meadows and a trail down to the beautiful Cascade Lake to camp. Great day and great alpine feeling camp!

Spiller Canyon
Drying out on the PCT
Near Upper McCabe Lake
Looking south from McCabe Pass
Cascade Lake camp evening

A cold night but the sun soon hit the tent in the morning and we warmed up over breakfast. We started with an excellent walk south round the east ridge of North Peak to Connes Lakes where we chatted to some hikers heading up one of the peaks. We then scrambled up lovely granite slabs onto the east ridge of Mt Connes in grand terrain with extensive views. More meadows, streams, slabs, pools and waterfalls as we rounded some more ridges before the push up to Mine Shaft Pass where we had a look around at the namesake old mine workings and could now see south to the Tuolumne meadows area.

We hit trail for the first time today as we descended gradually down past Gaylor Lakes and meadows dotted with white granite boulders. Surprisingly a whole bunch of tiny frogs hopped across the path through the meadow at one point – we found out later that these were tree frogs – cool!

Later on we saw some other hikers before we finally hit the Tuolumne Meadows park road and ended a fantastic final day to the hike. The only thing remaining for us after some calories at the Tuolumne Meadows grill was to hitch all the way round to the car at Twin Lakes. This worked out incredibly well- a lift down to the road junction before Lee Vining – a walk into Lee Vining- a kind person then gave us a lift all the way up to Bridgeport where he was staying then out of his way all the way west to the car at the end of the road Twin Lakes. Another great trip.

Cascade Lake camp in the morning
Up Mt Conness east ridge
Near Mine Shaft Pass

More photos here

Reds Meadow to Tuolumne loop

On this 6 day hike we took the bus from Mammoth Lakes ski area to Reds Meadows then followed the ‘Sierra High Route’ for 4 days to the road at Tuolumne Meadows. This was a mix of cross country and trail over some beautiful mountainous terrain past Ritter and Banner Peaks. We returned back south for 2 days via Koip Peak Pass on quiet trails, way east of the busier John Muir Trail and lovely in a more sparse arid way with wide expansive views.

This was a section of the Sierra High Route we had wanted to do since climbing Ritter in 2006 and returning to the trailhead past the stunning Iceberg, Cecile and Minaret Lakes on the SHR. With the opportunity to hike into Tuolumne Meadows via remote cross country territory, camp and then return to the start on lesser used trails it had all the makings of a great trip for us.

Thursday 29th August 2019 After a bus trip from Mammoth Lakes ski area to near Reds Meadow resort we hiked off on good trails past some of the basalt columns of Devils Postpile National Monument, over the creek and briefly joined the John Muir Trail.

We turned west and uphill following Minaret Creek in mellow woods with views slowly opening up to the Minarets range and all their spikey magnificence ahead. It gradually got better and better as we climbed past a tumbling waterfall over rockslabs. Minaret Lake has one of the greatest views of any and we skirted round before an easy scramble up to the next Lake – Cecile (banner pic). The Minarets tower above with Clyde Minaret dominating- it has a very classic rock climb up the face via a set of clean corners. The rock is not granite like much of the Sierra range but a slightly more brittle looking metamorphic. One for another day!

The air felt clear and alpine as we scrabbled round the lake over boulders and a few snow patches (microspikes came in handy). At the far north end we had a wee look around before Martina spotted the exit descent starting right at the lakes outlet stream. This was a bit loose and gravelly but quickly took us down to the next wonderful lake – Iceberg – well named!

From there we cross countried over grassy meadows round ridges to find a camp above Ediza Lake.

Minaret Creek
Minaret Lake
Cecile Lake
Hiking down to Iceberg Lake
First camp above Ediza Lake

Continuing the next day cross country on the Sierra High Route involved fairly easily, but still beautiful, travel over some small ridges past Nydiver, Garnet and Thousand Island Lakes. The drop down to Garnet from Whitebark Col was a bit loose and gnarly and we were glad to get to the bottom and onto easier meadows. We turned direction from northwards to south west to follow the drainage up to North Glacier Pass- a splendid, windy and wild feeling place covered in boulders and with the snowy col between Ritter and Banner lending an alpine atmosphere.

The next section of hiking was not particularly hard but felt quite ‘out there’ without any trails through complex terrain – well described by the Steve Roper guidebook though. We found a welcome patch of trees just below an old mine working to stop for a rest before descending steeply past vibrant colourful flower gardens. After lots of winding between outcrops we arrived at the northern of Twin Island Lakes and found a way round the eastern shore on grippy, slabby granite. The outlet from the lake can provide a very deep wade but today it was about mid thigh and fairly gentle so turned out to be a pleasant, refreshing dip. Easy granite slabs gave a good route up to the southern Twin Island Lake and round the east side and we called it a day in the meadows to the south. A brilliant backpacking day! (Brian nipped up the hill to the south east after dinner but the views were limited in the dimming light).

Nydiver Lake
To the Ritter Banner col from the north

Turning westward we contoured round some hillsides and down into the idyllic Bench Canyon with flat white granite slabs, meadows and water rivulets. More mellow hiking up to Blue Lakes where we went for a swim – jumping off some granite boulders into the still, frigid water. Our climb up to Blue Lake Pass was a bit eventful as we took a ‘sporting’ granite corner line (probably to the right of the easiest route) and ended up hauling the backpacks up with our cord to get over a tricky 30 foot section. From there it was easy scrambling to the pass and new vistas out west towards the domes around Yosemite valley.

The 400 foot descent looked steep, bouldery and unattractive so we traversed hard right along boulders to reach a prominent pure white quartz outcrop looking like a giant ‘Kendal Mint Cake‘ bar. From there the descent was easy down grass and slabby slopes before traversing benches north west and descending into the forest.

This was the point where we should have picked up a good trail to zig zag steeply down to the Lyell Fork creek. However we couldn’t find it despite us separating and sweep searching across the small forested valley. Brian even switched on the gps for help. We decided to keep descending in the general line of the trail in the hope that we would find it again and eventually after about 20 minutes Martina did! Looks like the top of the trail is positioned a bit to the west compared to our gps and as drawn on the map. Funny that after a couple of days of mostly cross country hiking, we lose our way when we were supposed to be on trail!

Set up the tent as it got dark in a well used large wooded camping area near to the creek- a nice spot all the same.

Bench Canyon
We used our cord to haul backpacks above Blue Lakes

Today was a day of trail hiking northwards to the campsite and store of Tuolumne Meadows – a place we know and love being in the centre of some beautiful climbing and hiking areas. We enjoyed the relaxing hiking through open forest with the standout being the first Sierra Juniper trees we had noticed this holiday- incredible looking trees. Here is a quote from John Muir himself…

The Sierra juniper is one of the hardiest of all mountaineers. Growing mostly on ridges and rocks, these brave highlanders live for over twenty centuries on sunshine and snow. Thick and sturdy, junipers easily survive mountain storms. A truly wonderful fellow, he seems to last about as long as the granite he stands on. Surely he is the most enduring of all tree mountaineers—never seeming to die a natural death. If protected from accidents, he would perhaps be immortal. I wish I could live like these junipers, on sunshine and snow, and stand beside them for a thousand years. How much I should see, and how delightful it would be!

The river of Lewis Fork had a pleasant slabby trail up beside granite slabs and the gushing stream. We continued climbing easily to Vogelsang Pass and saw a few hikers again at Vogelsang Lake. From here to Tuolumne was another 7 or 8 miles of fairly hot and dusty hiking and we sped up in the hope that we would be able to get a camping spot at the Tuolumne Meadows campsite – and before the grill closed!

Made it into the backpackers campsite (I think there was no need to worry here as we could just squeeze into any flat spot remaining) and just in time before the grill closed at 6pm to gorge on veggie burgers and chips! Finished the day off with a fascinating campfire talk on woodpeckers -didn’t realise they have such long tongues.

Martina first in the queue for breakfast pancakes

Chatted to other hikers in the morning then hitched a lift for the 5 or 6 miles of road to the start of our 2 day return hike at the Mono Pass trailhead back to Reds Meadows- we didn’t see the point of walking along the busy road!

Chilled out hiking on trail up to the huge saddle of Parker Pass at 11,100 feet- it reminded us of hiking in the San Juan Rockies on the Continental Divide Trail in southern Colorado- we liked the wide open spaces and big sky views. From there we zig zagged forever upwards on a steady gradient to Koip Peak Pass at 12,270 feet. Great views east to Mono Lake and otherwise drier countryside down below in the valley. The terrain here is volcanic, red and scree covered and quite a contrast to the granite mountains to the west. A shower came through and we hunkered down at the summit cairn then dropped down quickly through some further showers to Alger Lakes. Gem Lake was our intended camp spot but it looked a bit overused by horse packers so we climbed south and pitched on a great little outcrop before Agnew Pass and looking back down to Gem Lake.

Our final day was another mellow one following the Pacific Crest Trail as it traversed south east along a valley side with splendid views back over to Ritter and Banner. We were soon at the horse stables of Agnew Meadows and picked up a bus ride back to Mammoth Lakes. This truly was a great 6 days out there in the Sierra…

Zig zagging up to Koip Peak Pass
Mono Lake in the distance
Camp above Gem Lake
Final day on the PCT

More photos here

McGee Trailhead to Mammoth Lakes

Sunday 25th August 2019 We flew into LA from Scotland yesterday and drove up the east side of the Sierra mountains, stopping to pick up our hiking permit and bear canister on the way to the McGee Creek trailhead. It was a blistering 30C here as we packed our gear in the shade and emptying spare food into the trailhead bear box to hopefully prevent bears taking an interest in the rental car.

For this our first backpack of the holiday we aimed to warm up for 4 days following mostly trails, some cross country and to reach a high point on McGee Pass at about 11,800 feet for acclimatization.

Once we started hiking up McGee Creek through sage and past some aspen, the air cooled down a little and it was a very pleasant gradual ascent up to Big McGee Lake at 10,500 feet. We saw a few other campers here but found a cool spot above and away from the lake. A few mozzies around on the way up but tolerable at the campsite – phew!

After a beautiful sunrise over the lake with some snow patched mountains behind, we set off uphill on trail on a grand hike past lakes and some frozen snow patches. We had brought mini crampons- ‘micro spikes’ to fit over our trail shoes and these worked perfectly for moving quickly up the snow. The pass was fairly gentle and scree covered but had good views out west to the jagged ridge of the Silver Divide and the green meadows of Tully Hole below- our descent line.

This was an idyllic valley with lush green meadows and wildflowers, marmots, pika, chipmunks. We eventually connected lower down with the John Muir Trail at a river crossing at Tully Hole – mozzy central!- and followed the JMT northward for a wee while. It was obvious this was a heavy used trail, as well as seeing lots of people, the trail was wide and dusty from many foot and hoof marks. Still it was pleasant hiking and soon we reached Lake Virginia where we cut off cross country northwards up a shallow drainage over a small pass to the the Rams Lake area to camp. Man this was nice up here above the treeline, amongst the small lakes and rough hills around!

Crossing McGee Creek
Columbine
Morning above Big McGee Lake
Back down to Upper McGee Lake
Heading down to Tully Hole
Tent just visible at far side of the Lake (Rams Lake area)

We set off on a rather beautiful cross country rambling descent down through meadows, past dotted lakes and streams. We soon picked up a trail below Rams lakes that took us down to Purple Lake. Saw a white owl in the trees and an osprey catch fish on the lake. Back on the wide PCT we headed northwards and turned off soon again to climb up on another trail to the large Duck Lake. Someone kindly offered us some DEET mozzy repellent which Brian gratefully accepted! From Duck Pass we headed north west following notes for the Sierra High route on the broad ridge of the Mammoth Crest. We decided to haul water to camp on the plateau like ridge with panoramic views all round. Particularly north to Banner and Ritter mountains and south to south impressive swelling thunderclouds which we were thankfully able to watch from a distance.

Next morning we had an easy saunter down to Lake Mary on the outskirts of Mammoth Lakes town to end a rather scenic and wonderful ‘warm up’ backpack. We only had the small problem of getting back to our rental car at McGee Lake trailhead. Though yo!- we lucked out and we hitched a lift from a very kind gentleman who took us back to the car in one go along three different roads including the final few miles on gravel dirt road. Thanks!

Mammoth Crest camp

More photos here

Northern California – Burney Falls

Burney Falls to Beldon 31st August Our next section of the hike took us southward round Hat Creek Rim, one of the hottest, driest parts of the PCT. The 134 miles to Beldon included a 30 mile section without water, so we gratefully accepted park warden Shirley’s offer to drive out to a lookout on Hat Creek Rim and deposit a container of water, splitting the waterless stretch up into more palatable shorter hikes.

On 1st September we set out early from Burney Falls with Sideshow via the park entrance nearby where Shirley worked. She presented us with ‘Campground Host’ baseball caps which I proudly donned for the next part of the hike! The heat increased quickly in the morning and we made it to our first water source for lunch at Rock Creek after 12 miles. We were all so hot that we agreed to have a siesta under a riverside tree until about 4pm when we hoped it would have cooled sufficiently for hiking on uphill onto Hat Creek Rim.

Not surprisingly it was still stiflingly hot at 4pm but we headed off anyway with thoughts of a cool evening ahead. Sideshow hiked on ahead and we eventually made it up onto the rim around 7pm and stopped for an evening meal. A cooked dinner would be too hot so we had our breakfast muesli with dried milk instead. When a bright moon appeared and the temperature dropped, we felt things were going our way at last, following a beautiful moon dappled route along the escarpment rim- although we did have to keep a good look out in case we stepped on rattlesnakes. We met Sideshow around 9pm – coming northwards- in the wrong direction! I think he had lost the trail at some point and was trying to locate it again. We camped soon after by a small cow polluted pond, 2 miles short of our water cache.

We hiked onto our water in the morning and had breakfast with the refreshingly cool water. The rest of the day was hot, but not as bad as yesterday as we descended down to a cluster houses at Old Station. Our route led on into Lassen Volcanic National Park, an active volcanic area with thermal springs, geysers and hot pools.

We managed a swim at Feather Lake in the park and enjoyed the variety of scenery hereabouts. We met a couple on a short trail to hot springs from nearby Drakesbad Lodge and they invited us back for a lunch at the lodge – an offer we couldn’t resist. We dived into a huge buffet salad followed by cheesecake and felt energised for the afternoon- the owner also gave us fresh fruit and cookies- maybe we looked undernourished!

In the afternoon we were entertained by more hot springs, bubbling pools, Sulphur smelling ponds and geysers along the route. Our evening was livened up by a huge thunderstorm. We dived for cover with our tent outer draped over us as a lightning bolt crashed maybe only 100 meters away. As we sat under the tent sheet hearing the rain drumming against our shelter, we both began to regret sending our waterproof jackets away in our resupply box to save weight. After an hour like this we thought it best to get off the broad ridge we were on and we dashed ahead to Stover Campsite in the dark around 9.30pm. An interesting day!

Storm brewing

Some uneventful hiking days passed by – except us finding a can of beer by a river that we later found out that Sundog had left behind.

On the 6th September, Labour Day weekend, we heard the sound of gunshots in the woods and were immediately wary.  We had already seen some 4WD vehicles crammed with camouflaged hunters roaming through the forest and had wished the deer good luck. We headed on warily and soon passed by some guys with rifles shooting at a tree with a box of beer bottles beside their vehicle. We scuttled on as fast as we could. It was difficult for us to comprehend the open gun laws in the US that seem to allow anyone to own a gun and shoot up the woods.

Rare shot of the two of us hiking

Our trail descended into Chips Creek valley system and we failed to notice a sign indicating a diversion due to landslides taking out the trail lower down. By the time we noticed our mistake we decided just to keep going along the original trail and take our chances with the landslides.

We hit two huge landslides into Chips Creek which caused some missed heartbeats as we slithered across steep mud slopes with semi-cemented rocks which mostly came loose when we pulled on them. We heaved a sigh of relief once we made it across and settled down to camp that night at Williams Cabin feeling grubby, dirty and sweaty.

That night I calculated that we had now hiked 2,000 miles– but that still meant 641 miles to go in the fading summer and into autumn. However, closer to hand, we were looking forward to meeting Eric and Gordon from Scotland next day at the small store of Beldon, 6 miles away.

It was an easy downhill stretch to Beldon and we ambled into town around 10.15am to see Eric, Gordon and fellow hiker Sundog. It was great to see them but we had hoped to get a clean up before they saw us – as we were slightly grotty!

Next Central California, our last section ……..

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PCT Northern California – Etna

Etna to Castella 23rd August After a lovely breakfast and a refreshing stay in Etna we hopped into our pre arranged lift in a pick up truck  back to the trail.

At the pass we met two north bounders with their hiking dog and exchanged tales of the hike. We all enjoyed listening to other hikers experiences and we could also glean information from north bound hikers on the conditions ahead for us. We joined up with Svein and Ron for the day and the four of us continued our chat as we hiked along sub alpine terrain to camp at twilight after 21 miles.

On the next day we split up again as Ron headed off early from camp and we followed on meandering through trees and meadows with distant views out to the volcanic cone of Mt Shasta.

It was here that we met Dave and Gretchen who were spending the whole summer up in the mountains with their horses and had done so for the previous 5 years. Although they were ‘roughing it’ in the wilds, Dave was keen on electronics and enthusiastically showed us his gadgets including  TV, radio, laptop and even a fan to cool his chickens – all powered by batteries charged by solar panels! A local trail maintenance crew joined us as we chatted in the trees next to the grazing horses in a meadow. Dave and Gretchen were a wonderful example of how people can live away from the dependence of a ‘9 to 5’ job out here in the US and we took our hats off to them.

We reluctantly dragged ourselves away to hike on south past Scott Mountain road pass and up to camp beside a natural spring. The PCT took us through the Trinity Alps here, however we managed a wee short cut on the Trinity River Trail as the PCT swept in a huge arc round the river valley whist we dropped straight down and climbed back up on trail-less terrain to rejoin the PCT. Some pitcher plants were growing on a marshy meadow next to a spring here- this is a carnivorous plant that feeds on insects by trapping them in a sticky nectar.

Pitcher plant

Our camp that evening on the 25th August was at beautiful Porcupine Lake high up at 7,200 feet in the Trinity alps and nestled under steep hills. The water was cold so we managed only a short but worthwhile dip before cooking dinner by the lakeshore. That evening as it was getting dark, two people came rowing across the lake to us – on a log! They brought kind offerings of popcorn and it turned out they lived nearby in Shasta City and visited the lake frequently. I marveled at their ability to steer and row the log without falling-in in the dark!

We dropped down past scenic Castle Crags to tiny Castella- a garage, store and post office with a nearby campsite. To our delight it had a section marked ‘Reserved for PCT hikers’ .

Next from Castella to Burney Falls through the dreaded Section ‘O’.

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PCT North California – Oregon Border

Oregon border to Etna Our way led south from the Oregon border sign post on 17th August along broad ridges through vibrant flower meadows with our main obstacle being limited water sources. We saw very few other walkers in this area but met a fellow European PCT hiker called Svein at ‘Cook and Green Pass’. Svein was from Norway and we kind-of hit off as our sense of humour matched as we all had a bit of rant about how weird but also wonderful the people are here compared to Europe.

From a ridge top past hot Kangaroo Mountain at near 6,000 feet we looked down at a long, long descent into the Klamath river valley at 1,400 feet where we knew there was a cafe, grocery store and a post office, hopefully holding our resupply box. My feet hurt horribly on this descent, I think from the heat and building humidity but mostly from the general continual pounding of going downhill.

Our hiking feet- we owed them a lot. Don’t look closer if you are squeamish!

We stumbled into Seiad on the evening of 19th August and found the staff friendly in the small store where we had a huge evening meal with Svein and also Sideshow who turned up. The milk shakes and pancakes at the store were something else and Seiad store holds a pancake challenge where I think six of their HUGE pancakes have to be eaten in one go. Of course this gauntlet must have been taken up by most long distance hikers passing through but I am afraid to say that Martina and I only made it through one and a half pancakes each. Quite a feeble effort really. We later heard that Josh, a northbound PCT hiker, had completed the challenge, but only after semi starving himself on the days before arriving at Seiad!

Our start the next morning was a bit slow after another large breakfast at the café and sorting food to do us to our next stop at Etna. The post office held a ‘hiker box’ which contained food and bits of equipment that hikers had left behind. Since our resupply parcel hadn’t arrived we were able to scrounge our way through the ‘hiker box’ and, after swapping a pancake for some dehydrated meals with Ron, were able to make up our supplies. The ‘hiker boxes’ became a major source of supply for some as food was often left by hikers who had dropped away from the trail or their tastes had changed and they couldn’t stand the food they had faithfully packaged in the spring before setting out.

We dragged ourselves away around noon with Buzz, a local teenager in tow, who managed to show us a shortcut across the valley saving half a mile of road walking. The next stretch involved a long gradual climb of nearly 6,000 feet up into the Marble Mountains and the promise of some more dramatic glaciated scenery to look forward to.

At our second camp at Cold Springs we noticed a slight mistake with our food. What we thought was a pasta sauce packet which we duly cooked  with our pasta, turned out to be orange drink mix. It was a tribute to our hunger that we still managed to eat the results! So much for our scavenged food from the ‘hiker box’.

The scenery was splendid, bright and open without being overly dramatic and reminded me of the Pyrenees in France/Spain. Sixty miles south of Seiad Valley we hit the Etna road on 22nd August travelling over a high pass and we decided to hitch down into town for the night as we had heard good stories about Etna.

We waited for a while at the pass with very few cars passing until one eventually stopped for us. It was only once we were in that we both realised that the Native American driver and his white pal were both high on a mix of beer and drugs. The journey downhill via steep hairpin bends was a nightmare as we swayed across the road and hurtled around each bend. We finally staggered out the car feeling happy to be alive into Etna and vowing to check the driver next time before we excepted a lift. I suppose we had been extremely fortunate up until then and had always had helpful people offering us lifts who usually went out of their way to help us out. Maybe this, added to the fact that we were tired and just wanted to get into town had made us a bit complacent on this occasion.

We liked Etna, it was small, old fashioned with big white-painted wooden houses and none of the usual chain stores like McDonalds and Taco-Bell to be seen. The Alderbrook B&B was delightful and we had a clean up then headed into town for a big supper. Martina had two large fruit pies – so her appetite had now officially returned! On departing the diner we met Ron and Svein and we all agreed to pay $5 each for a lift back up to the road pass the next morning.

Next up in Northern California ……..from Etna to Castella

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