Donner Pass to Belden
Mile 1157 – Mile 1284.3
Wet passageway beneath Interstate 80
Leaving town or worse yet, leaving behind family, makes the first few miles back on the trail challenging. All that comfort and companionship dissolve around the first bend in the trail and spartan trail life resumes. After Dave dropped me off, I tried to focus on just making ten miles that afternoon. First off, I had to cross Interstate 80, the major freeway connecting Sacramento and Reno. Fortunately two dank culverts pass beneath the high speed thoroughfare and wheeled travelers remain oblivious of the foot traffic moving beneath the pavement.
Creepy Peter Grubb Hut
Once on the north side, the trail climbs up and over Castle Pass on its way to the famous Peter Grubb Hut. Owned by the Sierra Club and ostensibly rented out by reservation, I took a moment to check out the accommodations. The second floor entrance is gained by climbing a steep ladder. I opened the door to see a sleeping porch of sorts and an interior ladder descending to the kitchen area. The musty air and generally spooky atmosphere of the place made further investigation unnecessary. I imagine hikers do actually stay the night there but this hiker said a quick ‘no thank you’.
View from ridge camp
After making my miles for the day, I camped on a high ridge in a makeshift site that I created. I rose early the next morning with my sights set on distant Sierra City and my next resupply box. I made good progress walking up and down ridges adorned with blooming mules ear while viewing many small lakes far below.
Mules ears in bloom
Water water everywhere
Squadrons of orange and blue butterflies patrolled the trail asserting their brief dominion. Despite seeing lots of water from afar, the trail proved surprisingly dry resurrecting the need to plan around water sources. By 4:30 I made it to Highway 49 and caught an easy hitch down into Sierra City.
Big, fancy, new PCT sign
Sierra City General Store and Post Office
For some reason I had it in my head that my box had been sent to the post office and so groaned to see the hours posted there, 10am-2pm. I chatted up Larry, the kindly proprietor of the general store and a Jon Voight look alike, who referred me to Herringtons where I could find a bed and a good meal while I waited. Part of the PCT charm for me lies in discovering these small town places that would otherwise remain unvisited. I enjoyed a surprisingly fine meal of fresh trout, netted daily from their large pond out front. I was not able to do laundry but settled for a couple hot showers and cotton sheets.
I strolled back into town the next morning unhurried and biding my time for 10am. I met up with TootsieRoll, an anomalous thru hiker at age 35 who hails from San Diego, and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Red Moose. During breakfast it dawned on me that maybe my box had been sent to the general store. Sure enough, at 9am the store opened and my box had been there the whole time. Oh well, the trout was delicious!
My sister Lisa outdid herself again sneaking treats into my box along with another great note from the kids. This time three precious little bottles of Grand Marnier, my Momma’s favorite, were stowed along with the other things. TootsieRoll, an Austrian hiker named Rambler, and I were psyched to enjoy an early morning toast.
Long climb up to Sierra Buttes
One of the old time locals who had been breakfasting at the Red Moose went out of his way to give me a ride back up to the trail and the notorious long climb up Sierra Buttes that awaited me. A pack full of food and a stomach full of pancakes made for slow going and the warm day didn’t help much. Though I made it out of town well before TootsieRoll or Rambler, their much faster pace soon had them past me.
Milepost this time
Sierra Buttes from the north
I was super fortunate to follow the guidance of my mapping app along the ‘old PCT’ versus the incomplete trail signs that suggested a new reroute on the north side of Sierra Buttes. Apparently mixed use had developed on the PCT with mountain bikers also using the trail. TootsieRoll and Rambler followed the new signs and arrived where I had camped about an hour after me grumbling about the steep, crazy new trail. Glad I missed it. I encountered a few mountain bikers who were nothing but friendly and courteous and I was happy to share the trail with them.
Anyone trade me an ‘i’ for an ‘e’ ?
The first day out of Sierra City was also the first day in almost a month that required no snow travel. Elevations had gradually lowered and a hypnotic sameness took hold as the trail made its way through the Plumas National Forest. Tree lined ridges and steep valleys became the norm and stunning views around every corner lapsed. At one point, to cross the Middle Fork of the Feather River, the trail went below 3000 feet for the first time in many miles. The steep valley walls created a dim world of leafy green plants I had not seen for some time. I shifted my focus from the big wows of towering mountains to the small wows of the forest floor. In an effort to amuse myself, I made up little games to play. For example, on uphill switchbacks, instead of turning the acute angle into the hill, occasionally I would pivot outward performing a full pirouette before continuing uphill. It felt like the difference between dancing and just moving my feet.
Cool leaf patterns
Red salamander named Easton Thomas, E.T. for short. So close EJ!
Bear Creek but no bears
June 21st, Summer Solstice, and also International Hike Naked Day, passed unobserved though I sorely missed having at least a lake for swimming. I went so far as to free style off trail a bit through dense underbrush to a nearish lake that turned out to be a stagnant pond covered with a film of tree pollen. Sigh. I was also hoping for water enough to diagnose my still leaky air mattress but alas not.
Forest in morning, the best!
Feather River and Belden way down in the canyon
There were more steep descents to canyon bottoms followed by long ascents back up to the ridge tops. The last was a punishing long set of switchbacks down to the North Fork of the Feather River where Belden is situated alongside Highway 70. I had planned to wait out the heat of the day, forecasted to be 96, but a lack of cell service and dysfunctional Wi-Fi demoralized me. I did a brutal 3 mile road walk to another hiker haven up the highway that advertised Internet access but that also proved inaccurate. I did at least manage to do laundry, shower, eat/drink twice before heading north once again.