PCT – CA Section O . . . as in Off-Season Obstacle Course

Dates Hiked: May 4-8, 2015
Direction: Northbound
Section O: Burney Falls to Castella
-Miles: 82.2 (Halfmile 1416.5-1498.7)
-Elevation: Low Point 2,077′, High Point 6,118′, Gain 17,969′, Loss 18,764′

Section O is one hikers love to hate. Thru hikers are in this area in the heat of the summer, usually late June or early July. It has a reputation of being hellish hot, dusty and laden with poison oak.

How did my experience differ in May?

Logistics for a section hiker can be a challenge. My friend Kit drove me the hour plus to the trailhead. She and her pooch, Kallie, joined me for a few miles. What a great send off!

Even in May the trail can be dry and dusty. Temperatures this week ranged between the low 40’s and low 80’s.

It’s much more likely you’ll find green meadows.

Rattlesnakes are out and about just like in the summer. Thankfully this one had a loud persistent rattle and gave me plenty of room to pass (near mile 1419). Do you know what to do if you were bitten? Answer

The Pit River provides a welcome respite on summer days; Lake Britton is not a good drinking water option.

One of the best reasons to visit this area in the spring is the wildflowers. There were plenty of bees busy doing their job pollinating all the beauty, only a couple areas with gnats and no mosquitoes to speak of.

California ground-cone (boschniakia strobilacea); first yellow one I’ve seen.

Wonder what surprises this curly leafed plant will provide. Anyone know?

I’ve recently come to learn about Galls. Love finding these beauties now. Feels like I’m on a treasure hunt.

It’s more likely you’ll find overgrown trails in the early season. Thankfully, poison oak prefers to explode during the heat of the summer.

The wind turbines on Hatchet Mountain are visible early in the season when fires, smoke and haze are less likely.

I’m keen to know why Ah-Di-Na is on the signs since it’s not on the trail nor on any of the Halfmile maps.

I did not see evidence of any wheeled or motorized vehicles on Section O.

I was surprised to find hoodoos in this area.

Clear views of Mt Shasta are much more likely, as well as the premier view campsites.

Trail erosion can be expected. For those uncomfortable with narrow ledges and unstable footing, it’s probably not the best time of year to use the trail.

Winter storms can create messy forests.

Some of the tree obstacles can be quite a challenge getting around, over or through.

When there is no way around, you have to pick your way over.

After conquering 20-25 of these beasts, it’s hard not to appreciate the trail maintenance crews.

THANK YOU Backcountry Horsemen for clearing the trees from the trail. As of early May, the trail had been cleared of trees from Ash Camp to Castella.

It was a pleasure to meet and thank the USFS crew who was just getting started on Section O.

The dark smudge on Mt Shasta is not a cloud shadow, but instead is Mud Creek Canyon. In 2014, there was some movement of the Mud Glacier which caused a huge release of mud. Video1 Video2

I believe this is Mushroom Rock (I forgot to watch my map).

Looking back toward Mushroom Rock.

One thing I love about the PCT is how it traverses hillsides and you can frequently see the trail far off into the distance.

Heading toward Ash Camp had me thinking about a possible garbage can and bathrooms.

Natural easily accessible water sources make me happy

Signage makes life even better

When I saw the water from recent rains in this stump I couldn’t help but think of my time on the Arizona Trail.

At Ash Camp I got the best surprise of all. TRAIL MAGIC!!! Warm apple coffee cake made in a Dutch Oven by three fishermen campers. My tummy and spirit were happy for miles.

The McCloud River is stunning! It’s probably my all time favorite river and had it not been freezing cold and before 9am, I’d have jumped in for a little bath.

Seems like an oxymoron to see an Interstate listed on a trail sign.

The dogwoods were taking over the trail, but very soft obstacles and much appreciated in comparison to trees or prickly bushes.

I dare say more bears per mile are seen in Section O then almost anywhere along the PCT except Yosemite. I was lucky enough to see a big beautiful cinnamon colored bear running down the hill away from me. I heard another crashing through the thickets down into a heavily vegetated canyon. There was LOTS of scat, especially near water sources. You might keep than in mind when selecting your campsite.

I’ve hiked many times along Squaw Valley Creek so seeing this bridge was like a homecoming.

Squaw Valley Creek is another beauty and a perfect place to cool off on a hot day. Tip go past these rocks to find 3-4 access trails.

Girard Ridge was a highlight of this section for me. Seeing some of my favorite sites from this perspective was a gift. Starting on the far left and continuing to the right is face of Castle Crags, Mount Eddy Range, Black Butte and Mt Shasta.

The trail heading down to Castella from Girard Ridge was through dense forest punctuated with multiple water sources. It was surreal to hear the traffic on the interstate and railroad tracks as I approached civilization.

Even in May, it was a hot 2.5 mile pavement walk to the Castella market. I was happy to have my umbrella but would have been thrilled to have been offered a ride. There is very little at the market as far as resupply, so a ride to Mt Shasta is your best bet. As a local, I recommend either hitching from the Soda Springs onramp or from the Castella store. I routinely stop both places on my way north on I-5. When hitching back from Mount Shasta, be sure to have a sign indicating you’re a hiker or use your PCT Class bandanna.

This was the only campsite I used near water (although very inaccessible).

In the morning I found one side of my cork handle GONE! It was the side lying in the dirt (in place of tent stakes). There was no evidence of any critters nor cork. I suspect carpenter ants? My solution was using my glove as a cover when I wasn’t already wearing it. Multiple uses for each item is a mandate right? I contacted Black Diamond and sadly they don’t repair their handles although they did offer me a 40% discount on a replacement pair of poles. I’ve always protected my poles from deer, but this was a first. I’ve had them about 5 years without incident.

I began Section O with new Altra Lone Peaks which felt so cushy after my last pair was worn thin from the Arizona Trail. The right shoe seems to be slightly tighter in the toe box and I got a blister on the inside of my big toe although I was wearing toe socks and everything was exactly the same as on the Arizona Trail, which was blister free. With 6+ days of food and about 2 liters of water, my pack was heavier than I’d have liked. I finished the section in 5 days which meant I was carrying at least 1-3 pounds extra in food.

The Dunsmuir Brewery is an excellent place to celebrate completion of the section, that is if you can arrange transportation.

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11 thoughts on “PCT – CA Section O . . . as in Off-Season Obstacle Course

  1. I really enjoyed reading your account of Section O and seeing all your photos! I know this section is not popular but it is close to my heart. This is the section that I helped survey and build in 1978 : )
    I remember crossing the McCloud River early one morning before the trail or the bridge was there. I wasn’t as good at rock hopping as the guys and started out my day with wet work boots and jeans.

    • Thank you for reminding me of your role on the PCT. There were many areas of this section that I really loved, definitely easier to appreciate during nice weather.

    • I can’t believe I got so distracted by my yummy breakfast I forgot to ask the guys to dump mine. I even saw they had one of those small aluminum cans.

      The photos indeed show so much more and even then deceptive.

  2. What a beautiful section! Reading Joan’s entries and a few other’s from last year and now yours, really makes me want to do the PCT someday.

    Those videos were amazing of the mud slide!

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