Dates Hiked: May 10-12, 2015 (Part 1: Miles 1498.7-1530.85) . . . to be continued
Section P: Castella to Etna
-Miles: 98.5 (Halfmile 1498.7-1597.2)
-Elevation: Low Point 2,157′, High Point 7,769′, Gain 17,594′, Loss 13,770′
Initially I called this post “Putting together the Pieces” as I’ve hiked many pieces of Section P, but never the entire stretch, so it felt a bit like the coming together of a puzzle.
When I finished Section O in Castella, my friend Kim hosted me for a little respite between sections, then accompanied me for the first few miles of Section P. THANK YOU for being such a fantastic Trail Angel!
Section P starts in Castle Crags State Park (camping restrictions apply).
The Park has a designated non-paved trail for the wheelchair bound. It shares the PCT for a few feet. Cool sign!
Too soon it was time to get on up the hill, carrying 7+ days of grub and a couple liters of water, sure feels different than day hiking. (Photo Credit: Kim)
Within a few miles, the PCT exits the Castle Crags State Park and enters the Castle Crags Wilderness area. Camping requires a wilderness permit unless you have a PCT permit.
I don’t think I’ve ever hiked this stretch of trail. I’ve taken the PCT from the Soda Springs Road at Interstate 5 to the Crags Trail, and from Dog Trail to the PCT to Burstarse Falls and beyond. I found the Winton Canyon Creek bridge beautiful with it’s side-cut stacked wood architecture. Water was plentiful among the many creeks and streams; however, in tune with the drought, there were just as many already dry.
Creative names, eh? I believe Ugly Creek is on this stretch also, but I seem to have missed capturing the sign.
The first glimpse of granite, just a tease of what’s to come.
Burstarse Falls is quite worthy as a destination or distraction. I did neither on this trip, but here’s a photo from one of my previous visits as a teaser to consider a detour.
It was humid, overgrown and heavy with gnats and black flies as I climbed out of the canyon. During the night there was light rain. Morning brought mist and low clouds, magical skies, and a little concern as to whether I’d made the right decision to head out knowing the forecasts called for unsettled weather all week. I had no interest in retracing my steps through that overgrown bug infested section, so onward I went. I loved feeling one with the weather. Walking into and through the clouds, watching the sun come and go, so many shadows and temperature changes.
Many days and miles have been spent over the ridge at Castle and Heart Lakes, along Bradley Ridge and another that looks down upon the PCT.
I saw the first patch of snow about 6,500′ mile 1519. Another piece of the puzzle was seeing the Soapstone Trail junction, where I’d hiked up to explore Castle Crags from a new perspective.
Grey Rocks versus nearby Gray Rocks
Grey Rocks and Seven Lakes Basin. I’ve been told this is Boulder Peak and Echo Lake.
A George Washington $1 coin so perfectly placed on the trail in this perfectly sized hole. How long has it been here? Is it a geocache? Should I take it? or leave it?
This section of trail may have been my first steps on the PCT. In 2008, I’d joined a local hiking group, and one of my first hikes with them was to Seven Lakes Basin on the PCT. And, so my journey began . . .
Looking west into the Mumbo Basin and at Mumbo and Upper Mumbo Lake (sure wonder why such a name, except there is a big mumbled jumbled mess of rocks nearby). I believe this is the official beginning of the Trinity Divide, the division between the Trinity and Sacramento River flows, between Siskiyou and Trinity Counties.
In the distance my heart beats a little faster seeing my beloved Trinity Alps mountains, where I’ve spent more miles backpacking than anywhere else.
This photo was taken about 3:30pm, just before the thunder and lightning started, followed soon after by rain, sleet and hail. I tried unsuccessfully to capture a photo of me hiding out under my umbrella sheltered by some trees while waiting out the worst of the storm. The temperature dropped quickly, the wind was intent on counteracting the benefits of the umbrella by trying to pummel me with the hail. Funny thing is that last time I was at this location (July 2013) I was providing trail magic when a hail storm arrived. Around 5pm the precip slowed do a light drizzle so I quickly set up my tent and crawled into my sleeping bag to prevent hypothermia. By 8pm the temperature was 36, dropping further to at least 32 during the night.
It had snowed lightly during the night. I was at about 6,600′. The skies had cleared and it looked to be a beautiful day. I had a friend meeting me the next day, so I wasn’t too concerned about the continued forecast of intermittent weather; however, I knew I would need to find a spot to dry out my gear.
Just a little frost as I started my hike around 8am.
And a little snow (about 6,900′)
Big Yogi breaking trail for me (one of my bear hunting friends said that’d be a 500+ pound bear).
A little ice
Finding Porcupine Lake could be a little daunting when the trail is lumpy and bumpy with snow. Good thing I’ve been here multiple times.
Beautiful Porcupine Lake at about 7,200′! (about to be overrun this summer by several large REI led backpacking trips – part of the WILD effect)
Back on the PCT, there were several areas between Porcupine and Toad lakes where the trail had been lost under a slope of snow. This is when previous snow hiking experience comes in handy, knowing how and when to traverse, how to kick snow steps, etc. Most importantly how to use your maps and technology as losing the trail can happen quite quickly.
Toad Lake (about 7,300′) and The Eddy range where I’ll be traversing to the far end before finding the passage down into the Deadfall Lakes basin.
Looking down at Toad Lake and the pyramid-shaped backwall to Porcupine Lake.
The snow gradually grew in depth to 4-6″ as I climbed toward the pass over the Eddy’s at about 7,700′.
Ah there’s Mount Eddy (by the way that where my blog cover photo was taken with Mt Shasta behind me) . . . but what’s this wall that lays between me and it?
Look to the right . . . Hi Mt Shasta and big red rocks . . . I’ve been here before, I know the trail is to the left and there’s a big drop off in front down to the Deadfall basin . . the wind’s blowing, it’s cold . . .
Look to the left . . . that’s where the trail lies, near the base of the steep slope . . .
I know, I know . . . I don’t want to see that avalanche fracture . . . I know there’s a hard snow base topped with a nice fresh coat of 4-8″ . . . I know a perfect storm . . I know I’M NOT GOING THAT WAY!!!
But just beyond . . the trail is clear and it looks so inviting . . .
Reassess options to the right, NO!
Reassess the fracture . . NO!
It’s not worth risking my life . . . I can hike back 8 miles to the trailhead . . . I have cell signal . . . I can call for a ride . . . It’s time to retreat Jan . . . It’s TIME! What would you do?
Flowers? did I forget flowers? NEVER, if I can help it.
I’d arranged for one of my friends to retrieve me from the trailhead in a couple of hours. As I approached the parking area, I smiled as I saw a car and wondered if I could save my friend some time. As I sat in the sun sending out my InReach checkin, I heard voices coming down the trail . . . sure enough it’s a nice couple who just completed their hike to Seven Lakes Basin and were more than happy to give me a ride down the hill to Mt Shasta. Trail Magic is real. This is a reminder to provide it when you have the opportunity and receive it thankfully when it’s provided.
And so the story continues, including meeting a hiker who followed my footsteps . . . (link to post)
- Permits are not required to backpack within Section P (exceptions Castle Crags State Park and Castle Crags Wilderness).
- Bear canisters are not required. It is recommended that you hang your food. I use an Ursack and Opsak.
- Cell signal and internet service are limited.
- Spring trips mean unreliable weather forecasts and unpredictable weather. I had rain one night, sleet and hail another.
- PCT resources
- Sections of Section P (reference Day Hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail by George & Patricia Semb)
- I5/Soda Springs to Dog Trail (7.9 miles)
- Dog Trail to Gumboot Trailhead (18.2 miles)
- Gumboot Trailhead to Parks Creek Road Trailhead (14.3 miles)
- Parks Creek Road Trailhead to Fen Trailhead (12 miles)
- Fen Trailhead to Highway 3 (10.9 miles)
- Highway 3 to Carter Summit Trailhead (19.9 miles)
- Carter Summit Trailhead to Etna Summit (20.2 miles)