22: Marble Mountain Wilderness

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Hiking the PCT

Banana Malt Breakfast

The Seiad Valley Cafe is home to the pancake challenge.  You must consume five 13" pancakes in 2 hours.  This is purportedly 8 pounds of pancakes.  Apoc, Pickles, Rambojuice and I are either too smart to enter this challenge, or we just feel like having omelets instead.  Our waitress tells us that only 8 people have completed the challenge out of hundreds.  This morning we hike back out into the Marble Mountain Wilderness, and we may need 8 pounds of pancakes to fuel this climb.

Some locals at the table adjacent are educating us on the State of Jefferson.  This proposed U.S. state would consist of rural areas in southern Oregon and northern California where there is a strong Republican presence.  Rambojuice orders a banana malt for breakfast dessert.  We all look on with malt envy.  This malt would be the subject of conversion several times over the next couple of days.

We road walk for 6 miles out of town.  It is unbelievably hot.  The sweat is pouring down my face and back.  When we arrive at Grider Creek, we wander down to the raging river, and I wonder how things get named.  This creek looks like a river to me.  The stream is a mighty torrent complete with whirling debris, and parts of it are choked with logs.  For me, there would be further confusion regarding the names of things in the Sierras, as many creeks this year would resemble roaring rivers as opposed to creeks due to the snowmelt.

Grider Creek

We find safe places along the river where we can soak while we take our lunch break.  The heat is unbelievable today.  A man named Jim has joined our picnic.  He is a high school coach from Arizona.  Planning to retire in 4 years, he has always dreamed of thru-hiking the PCT, and he is here on vacation scouting out the trail.

He asks us for advice, which we are happy to give since we have all learned a lot in the past two months.  He is concerned that he is too old to do the trail, but we encourage him to hike safely and train for the trail.  Of course, I recommend that he learn yoga/foam rolling and develop a regular stretch routine.  I think we boosted his self-confidence, and I hope Jim is on the trail in 4 years time.

The hike out of Seiad Valley is gorgeous.  The creek runs parallel to the trail and it bubbles and froths, creating a dramatic vista.  The poison oak is hellacious, and despite the humidity, I am glad that I chose pants.  We stop at one of the many snowmelt streams running into Grider.  It forms a pool at one end, and Apoc and Pickles sit down to soak.  Rambojuice dunks his head into the water and shakes off like a dog, water streaming down his bushy beard.

Our camp at Cold Creek is at the convergence of an old 4x4 road and the trail.  The mosquitoes are hell, and we lather on the 98% deet while cooking our dinner.  Apoc has a treat for us.  She has bought some brownie mix, and we eat the reconstituted gloop with grins on our faces.

9 Miles Uphill

We are still wearing our deet and bug nets.  The humidity hangs in the air as we labor up into the mountains.  I look forward to being in the thin air where the mosquitoes are fewer and the humidity relents to cool mountain air.  After we gain our elevation, we stop at a spring.  The water is cold and delicious.  Pickles calls it "sexy water".

The terrain is amazing.  We start seeing snow again, mostly in patches, and the trail is becoming much more rugged.  Northbound hikers pass us, and we stop to talk about the upcoming terrain.  We receive mixed reviews.  One woman tells us about a snow bowl up ahead that is "terrifying".  The man she is hiking with seems unbothered by it, saying it is "no big deal".  The next group we meet tell us that someone broke a leg yesterday in the Marbles.  I am getting snow anxiety again.  All of these hikers have skipped the Sierras because of the snow levels, but the snow will not go away.

Dark clouds gather in the skies as we hike through the burned forest in the mountains.  The weather is threatening, and we get our rain gear ready for the onslaught.  It begins to thunder and lightning, and soon hail begins to fall.  We decided to hunker down at Paradise Lake.  It lives up to its name.  The lake is troubled right now with hail pellets, but soon this lets up.  We can hear the waterfalls on the other side of the lake, tumbling down from the snow melt above.

Snow Bridge

The next morning Apoc is missing one of her trek poles.  An animal has dragged it into the woods and tried to eat the handles, which are covered in appetizing salts.  I did not sleep much last night because the tent was on a slight downhill grade, and I dreamed of snow: avalanches, slipping under the snow and being carried away by rushing waters, glissading down the mountain.  I try to push the anxious thoughts from my mind.  Everything is going to be alright.  We will go slowly and carefully.

The rain from yesterday seems to have softened the snow, and it is melting fast.  The trail is soaked and muddy from the snowmelt.  Rambojuice is leading today.  Up ahead I see a small, but steep ravine.  The melt is cascading down this ravine.  The trail crosses over a snow bridge, and the footsteps are clear.

The Chasm of Doom

Rambojuice takes a step onto the bridge and then another.  Everything is happening in slow motion.  The bridge begins to collapse, and he cries out in pain.  Two large pieces of snow have created a wedge and his foot is stuck between the two.  His captured leg is straight, too straight, the knee hyperextended.  He grasps at the snow as he slides downward, and we rush forward asking him to grab our hands.  We pull him to safety.

It is clear right away that our hike is over for now.  His knee has exploded into a swollen mess of bloated tissue and bruising.  We feed him anti-inflammatories, elevate his leg, and cover it with snow.  His face is a mixture of pain and disappointment.  He sees the writing on the wall.  We discuss our options.

Going forward is out of the question, especially with the reports we have received from other hikers about the upcoming terrain in the Marbles.  Even though the trail southbound Etna is shorter than going back north, we decide that the path to Seiad Valley is the safer option.  Rambo stands and gingerly takes a few steps.  "I can hike," he says.

The Forest Angels

We keep our spirits high as we hike out of the Marble Mountain Wilderness to Seiad Valley.  Rambo is putting on a brave face, but I can tell he is in pain.  We play the worst-song-possible game.  This is where we all try to come up with and sing aloud the most annoying song ever.  Apoc belts out her favorite Hansen Brothers tune.  You know the one.  You are welcome.

After some time northbound, we come to a forest road.  I hear voices and then there is a forest service truck.  We call out to the people below.  Hello!  Bill and Peggy are out cutting the many blowdowns from the trail.  They have their horses and mules with them and introduce us to all of them in turn.  Bill tells us about proper etiquette for running into pack mules on the trail.

Cowboy Poets

"You must talk to the animals as soon as you see them", Peggy explains.  This lets them get used to you.  Also, you should always give them the right-of-way.  Step to the downward slope of the trail to give them room to pass.  If it were not for people like Bill and Peggy, the trail would not be in good condition for hiking.  Moreover, the trail may not be there at all, as the trails were largely made for mule trains.  Peggy has ridden her mules on the PCT from northern California to Canada.  Bill has worked for the forest service for thirty-something years, and he is a cowboy poet.  These two are truly spirited, and I admire them deeply.

Trail Veterans

Bill and Peggy have more work to do clearing the trail.  They offer rides to Pickles and Apoc on their mules, while they saw logs and remove them from the PCT.  Apoc has never ridden a horse, but she faces her fears and mounts up.  Bill and Peggy are not allowed to give us a ride in their forest service truck, so Peggy generously offers to give us a ride in her personal vehicle the next morning.  I will pick you up at 8 a.m. she says and off they go just as suddenly as they appeared.

Peggy is true to her word.  She is there bright and early in her personal vehicle, and she has saved Rambo from a grueling descent into the valley.  His knee is a sight.  The tissue is hard and 10 different colors.  He did not sleep much due to the discomfort.  Peggy loads us up and starts the long descent from the mountains.  When we reach the paved road, another truck is oncoming.  Peggy stops and rolls down her window.  "Morning, Ed", she calls out.  Ed is local, and he is carting two hikers up to Grider Creek.  Peggy tells Ed about our predicament (the two backpackers in Ed's vehicle start to look nervous).  "You can give them a ride to Etna, right"?

A Country Drive

Peggy drops us off at the Seiad Valley Cafe.  I never thought we would be back here again so soon.  We have been fantasizing about their malts since we left, so we take the opportunity to order a few.  Ed is going to meet us here after dropping off his backpackers.  We pack up into Ed's truck.  His jack Russel terrier makes the rounds, visiting with each one of us in turn.

Ed tells us all about how he moved here in the sixties from San Francisco where he worked in a haberdashery.  Etna is home to Dottie's.  Their burgers are awesome and the shakes to die for.  Pickles buys Ed lunch, and afterward, we get dropped off at a place called the hiker hut at the Alderbrook Manor.  Etna will be our home for now, and we are greeted warmly by Lionheart.

Thru-Hiker Tips:

  • Carry 98% or higher Deet and a bug net.  You will be much more comfortable.
  • Follow your own path.  If there are footprints in the snow, do not just mindlessly follow them.  Assess the safest route, and then make your way.

In the spring of 2017, we set out to hike the PCT.  Hear our full story.

Continue to our next adventure on the PCT.

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