PCT CA Section M

Sierra City to Quincy: Keeping the Magic Alive

This post is only to be read by those able to solve the following basic trigonometry problem:

Q: I’m sitting on a one foot tall bear canister with my knees bent at exactly the right angle to make my lap perfectly level so I can roll up some fish inside a tortilla. If the length of my lower legs from my heels to my knees is exactly 22 inches, what kind of fish am I about to eat?

A: Two-knee fish

Day 1

I woke up a bit later than planned feeling a bit hungover. But I still fully intended to visit the top of Sierra Buttes before I continued my hike. I drank my breakfast; filled my water bottle with ice cold water; threw it with a bunch of snacks, my trowel, my Garmin, and a few scraps of toilet paper in my slack pack fanny pack, and started hiking south up the hill.

No one was moving in the Calvin camp, but they had left their electric lantern on when they went to bed, so I turned it off for them before I went.

It was four miles to the top of the mountain (whose peak is clearly visible in the river photos at the end of the last post), including the side trail to the lookout tower. But it was a much easier bit of trail, so I hear, than the rocky climb up the other side that I had skipped.

I arrived on the viewing platform of the fire tower just in time for it to be buzzed twice by a small aircraft going for a joyride over the mountain. It was over before I could get a video unfortunately. I got a lot of pictures of the views.

On the way down, I was assaulted by an urgent cramping in my gut in a section of trail with no available place to hide. Not only was I almost certainly seen by passersby on a nearby road, the few scraps of toilet paper I’d brought (given as a gift by the family who’d given me a ride two days previously and believed to be more substantial than it, in fact, was) were insufficient and I found myself grasping at rocks and bits of loose bark. What a miserable time.

I picked up a dog leash that had been left by the trail on my way back down the mountain.

When I arrived back at the lake, the Calvin camp was finally packing up. Also, the ice in my water bag had finally melted. Before packing, I took a few minutes to fashion the accessory strap the other campers (already departed) had given me the night before and the metal clasp from the leash into a new makeshift sternum strap.

By the time I hiked out late that morning, the Calvin party had finally departed. I didn’t get any contact info for them. Oh well. They know how to find this blog if they want a display of gratitude.

I hiked downhill the two miles to the Pack Saddle Campground and it was already time for lunch. I took over a shady picnic table in an unoccupied campsite. I was soon joined by Pants and HeiZenBerg, who had learned that it was possible to camp behind the coffee shop and had disappeared because that was where they had spent the prior evening.

We had no luck yogiing any drinks off the campers, but we did get to dump our trash before heading on. There was a brief bout of rain as I started but the rest of the afternoon was clear. The next section was mostly uphill and exposed, but there was nothing interesting to see.

When I made it to my intended campsite, there was an entire herd of cattle ringing their bells just over the hill and the site was full of old manure. I went on up the hill another mile and a half and found a vaguely flat spot next to a dirt road in a clearing amongst many down trees. The flies were pretty miserable in the area, but there were no noisy cowbells, so the sleep was fine.

Total distance: 16 miles

Trail progress: 8 miles

Day 2

This section of California is called the Lakes District, and there really are lakes all over the place.

It sure would have been nice if the trail visited some of them.

The trail had come as close to any of them as it would again the previous day. From here on out, the PCT stayed high on ridges. I could look down and see all those lakes from on high, but I was never close enough to touch.

Highlights from this day:

  • Collecting water from the Pauley Seep, a handful of puddles in a marshy hillside (while listening to one of Ray Bradbury’s Irish stories)
  • Stopping for lunch beside the stream that flows down from A-Tree Spring (while listening to another of Ray Bradbury’s Irish stories) then soaking my shirt in the spring against the heat.
  • Stopping to collect water at East Branch Beartrap Creek, sitting on a log above the stream listening to yet another Ray Bradbury story (Any Friend of…)
  • Stopping for a snack along the bees at West Branch Beartrap Creek and finally being caught up by Pants and HeiZenBerg. They seemed like they were stopping there, but I hiked on.
  • Camping at a random not established spot on a jutting ridge next to a fallen tree just because it was the easiest flat spot I came to at the right time of night (and cooking while finishing up one of Ray Bradbury’s Martian stories.)

Total distance: 16 miles

Day 3

Because I had gotten so much water at Beartrap Creek, I didn’t have to stop at the next few water sources, which is great because they were all either gross or well off trail.

After six miles, the trail crossed Quincy-Laporte Road, a not very trafficked road and therefore not a good place to hitch to Quincy from. I had enough food to get to Bucks Lake Road, so I kept going. The trail followed beside a paved road for a while, even where I stopped for lunch near the side trail to Alder Spring. Still had plenty of water though, so no side trip needed. I was passed by Pants and HeiZenBerg while I was here I think.

I stopped again for a snack break a few miles later near the last road crossing for the day, the Fowler Peak trailhead. There was a barricade I sat on while trying to figure out how to sing a certain part of a They Might Be Giants song. I was passed by a middle-aged woman and a young man. I started hiking a few minutes later and very quickly caught up to them, for they seemed very uncertain about where they were going. I convinced them to follow me on a wild off-trail adventure to get to Fowler Lake while saving a mile of hiking by cutting through the woods. It was relatively early in the day to be skiing a campsite, but I had set my sights on this lake from the morning.

Once we were set up in the one viable campsite beside the lake (which was shallow, covered in lily pads, and kind of murky–not an appetizing choice for a swim–but there were ducks!), we started chatting and I learned they were Adam and his Aunt Tam, who preferred “America” as a trail name. She had hiked extensively but this was his first real backpacking trip. He had very interesting codes in terms of the things he had brought. For one, he had brought enough underwear to wear a clean pair every single day. He also had all kinds of crazy supplements like mushroom mixes and things you’d expect Joe Rogen to advertise. But they did have small pans, so I provided the tortillas for him to make us both a cheetos quesadilla at dinner. And I made him some Christmas in A Cup. And she gave me cookies. There was a lot of food sharing.

There was one unexpected question: America asked to see the soles of my shoes. She said she had been following footprints for days that looked like Nutter Butters. ‘Twasn’t me, but this would not be the last time I heard this question.

The temperature was perfect at this site despite the brutal heat of the day, but nevertheless the sleep wasn’t great (even after the relaxing dose of CBD Adam shared) because I kept being awoken all night by a strange rhythmic rattling noise that happened every time the wind blew.

Total distance: 14 miles

Day 4

Adam, America, and I ate breakfast together, but I left well before they did, expecting they would easily catch up to me at the river later in the morning since they hiked so fast.

I arrived at the Middle Fork Feather River well before the usual lunchtime (picking the nice campsite with the beach, the crawfish trap, and the remains of a primitive tipi), but I went ahead and ate a big late morning snack before climbing into the deep and deliciously cool water for a swim/bath/laundry. I swam downstream to the bridge to meet whomever had been washing at me as I crossed the bridge. It turned out to be Pants and HeiZenBerg, doing some laundry of their own and eating lunch. While I chatted with them, Adam and America crossed the bridge but, for some reason, decided not to stop for a swim, and I never caught up to them or saw them again.

I walked a boggy track back through the woods along the river to my campsite to make first lunch, collect water, and get my clothes soaked one last time before the long climb out of the canyon.

Just three miles later, I stopped beneath the Bear Creek footbridge for second lunch and a long think about whether I wanted to swim in it. I was down there long enough for Pants and HeiZenBerg to pass above me and leave me well behind for some time to come.

It was a long, arduous climb out of the creek that lasted the rest of the day, but my goal was to make it to Lookout Rock to camp that night. It was dark enough that I had to get out my headlamp just before crossing Lookout Spring (and stopping to get a bit of water there and nearly losing the mouthpiece of my water hose there), an amazing little spring flowing right across the trail so close to the top of the mountain. I set up camp in a little sandy spot among the rocks just shy of Lookout Rock, a site promising amazing views of the sunrise the following morning, and got to bed well after ten.

Total distance: 18.5 miles

Day 5

The sunrise was nice, as expected. I was up and about before it even happened, hiking back down to the spring for a bag of water. The sun started peeking over the distant hills as I walked back up to my site. Photos.

Eight easy miles to the Bucks Summit parking area on Bucks Lake Road. Twenty minutes or so with a sign got me a ride with Kristine, who had just finished dropping off Pants and HeiZenBerg in Bucks Lake and was headed to Quincy to get some wireless service to look up bus schedules to help Pants get off the trail since apparently she had a very painful foot injury. While doing that, Kris drove me to the Spanish Creek Motel (where I had a reservation but no room yet because it was too early) then the grocery store (where I went ahead and bought my full resupply) and finally back to the motel again (where I now had a room). What a great trail angel.

Soon I went out shopping again, ignoring the fact that it was lunch time. I had some grapes, a kombucha, and some root beer, and the roadside was loaded with blackberries. I needed to buy more things and the shops wouldn’t be open forever. First, I visited the post office to get the case for my new phone that had been shipped here. Then, I got some laundry detergent and a proper clasp for my sternum strap from the hardware store, a pair of socks from a small clothing store, and a pair of shorts from the thrift store just before it closed–the only pair of shorts in town in an adult size. (Probably the outfitter normally had some in stock, but it was closed for the month.)

I delivered these items back to my room and proceeded to open the package with my phone case. Only then did I learn they had ordered me the wrong one. I called the store in Truckee and they had no help for what I should do. It sounded like the only route was to order a new correct case over the phone to be shipped to Old Station and return the wrong case to a physical Victra store. (They also insisted they had ordered the correct item at their end, but when I checked the invoice for the item they had emailed the day I had bought it from them, it listed the wrong item as

By the time all this was done, Quintopia Brewing Company was open, so I headed back for beers and dinner. This particular brewery specialized in fries with various assortments of toppings, but they did have flights as well. And of course I bought a t-shirt and a bunch of pint glasses to send home.

I was one of the last to leave the patio that evening, but it was still light out and there was plenty of time to wash all my laundry in my bear canister and hang it above the air conditioner before bed.

Total distance: 8 miles

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