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[pct-l] conditions rpt. Ca. sections Q+R

Greetings from a long-time list lurker and section hiker.

These notes are from a six-day, 121-mile northbound walk on sections Q and
R of the Pacific Crest Trail from Etna Summit (northbound mile 1600.2) to
Callahan's/Ashland (mile 1721.5) on the week of 8/08/04. I encountered very
warm (100+) weather on the low-lying parts of the trail in and around Seiad
Valley on the Klamath River, plenty of water in key springs and creeks, and
no trail impediments or complications.

Highs were between 85 and 90 on most of the PCT. Nighttime lows were
frequently at 60. Only a single night of evening thunderstorms and a trace
of rain, on the final approach into Ashland.

The only unique strategic challenge posed here was how to approach the
exposed and almost waterless 4600-foot climb back up to the crest from
Seiad on days when the temperature routinely hit triple digits by noon. A
thru-hiker who passed me in Seiad and I both opted to leave at dusk and
walk the alternate roadwalk up to Cook & Green Pass. The 12.5 mile walk,
past two beautiful marble waterfalls, cuts approximately 2.7 miles off the
route and saves 1,100 feet of vertical. Where the PCT is steep, dry and
hot, this was a delightfully cool and well-watered alternative, bypassing
the burn sections. I did it from 6:30 p.m. to midnight, bivouacked at the
pass for five hours and did the subsequent 1300 feet of vertical from the
pass (that's in addition to the 4600 from Seiad) in the cool of the

Water: I found 4.8 liters (two Platypi) to be more than enough capacity for
this section, leaving a large buffer for insurance. Concerns about dry
seasonal sources were largely unfounded. From south to north: The Shelly
Lake outlet creek is roaring. That's your first on-trail water north of
Etna Summit. A little further along, Marten and Fisher lakes are tiny
brackish ponds. Past Marten and Fisher, the creek at the trail fork to the
"old" PCT route was running strong, and the last on-trail water for 8.1
miles. A good place to tank up. Soft Water Spring was a trickle 15 yards
downslope from the trail, marked by a small cairn only. The creek at Marble
Valley guard station is running well. The outlet creek from Paradise Lake
was contaminated with some strong chemical solvent or detergent (hopefully
this will have long since dissipated). The creek less than 1 mile further
north is the preferred option.

Buckhorn Spring, a key source,  is available, although I'd stop short of
calling this hole "running." You will not see a sign or a spur from the
trail to the spring. The spring is easy to find when Buckhorn Mountain's
bare knob is directly at your right shoulder at 90 degrees. Entering a
sloping meadow, immediately see a magnificent three-trunked ancient fir
with an equally magnificent campsite beneath it (41.40.208/123.15.08). From
here, see the crooked pole in the middle of the meadow. That's the spring.
The water is mighty fine.

Cold Spring Creek, just after the trail crosses it and just before it puts
into Grider Creek, is a great spot to camp. Enough room for a Boy Scout
troop and heavenly, bracing-cold water.

After the climb out of Cook and Green Pass, there is a small flow of good,
ice-cold water just a few feet off the trail at Beardog Spring, which is
marked. This is just a few hundred yards north of the four-way junction
with the Tin Cup Trail on the left. Beardog is a better water source than
the spring that's available on the spur to the right here.

Bearground Spring is a pair of mud-bog crossings of the trail, neither
signed. This is cow-fouled territory. It may be easier to draw water where
the springwater crosses the spur road, a little further along at
41.58.134/122.55.814. Alternately, there is a fast-running creeklet
*before* Bearground, with a steep spur trail at 41.57.786/122.56.129. This
is within a minute after crossing road 40S01.

Sheep Camp Spring is great water, bracingly cold and gushing from the pipe.
If you can skip Bearground and hold out for Sheep Spring, you're far better
off. Donomore Creek and the entire vicinity is fouled by cows. There is a
trace of water in the crease to the southwest of Grouse Gap shelter. Be
prepared to drop a bit to find it. No water noted at Ashland Campground.
Three creeklets running in the mile after the campground. The pipe at Mt.
Ashland in is on.

Trail conditions, overall, are very good. There is one stretch approaching
Paradise Lake where vegetation completely obscures the trail tread. But
this is a momentary irritation rather than a problem. The final three mile
descent into Ashland needs brushing and signage. Three dirt road crossings
approaching I-5 have no signage, blazes or cairns whatsoever.

The only potentially confusing intersections are the two points where the
trail meets the "old" PCT route, at miles 1615.8 and 1617.4. Both are
unsigned and ambiguous. And, immediately north of that second ambiguous
crossing, there's an unsigned spur down to Cliff Lake. (Special note for
users of National Geographic Topo! maps: There may be a discrepancy between
the TOPO! map and PCT trace and the actual trail between the two points
where the "old" PCT intersects the trail. To clarify: The current trail
alignment now climbs sharply through the notch and drops sharply into the
Maneaten Lake basin. It then climbs very sharply on switchbacks to regain
the crest just south of Cliff Lake. The trace shows the trail going in a
more direct route on the other side of the crest.No noted blowdowns,
washouts or other impediments for the entire 121-mile section. The
Backcountry Horsemen and other trail maintainers had been through recently
and some sections, particularly the drop into Grider Creek, showed signs of
being recently graded and groomed. As I came through Marble Valley, a trail
crew was in residence at the guard station, working on the trail section
just to the south.

On the creature comforts front: Poison oak, black flies and rattlers were
all much in evidence in the long descent along Grider Creek into Seiad. I
chose the blistering roadwalk (the official PCT route) into Seiad, where
others opted to ford the Klamath River. They reported no complications
other than to note the river was "filthy."

Human element: Saw two northbound thrus in Seiad -- Homemade and Orien,
both of whom were doing 30s whereas I was averaging a bit over 20. No
southbound thrus. According to the register at the Oregon border, I missed
the tail end of the main pack by a good week or two. The border register
had been recording an average of six entries a day the previous week. When
I went through, I was the only one that day, Homemade and Orien were the
only entries on their respective days.

On an unfortunate note, the Grouse Gap shelter may not be a good camping
option, particularly on weekend nights. A sizeable (dozens) contingent of
blue-collar 20somethings from the region claim the shelter as their party
pavilion. Much beer, big bonfires, boomboxes, much whooping and screeching
of tires, etc. Too much excitement for my taste. Your option is the
unscenic Mt. Ashland Campground, right on Road 20, 1.9 miles north.

Updated notes on food and lodging in Etna, Seiad and Ashland are now posted
to http://www.emeraldlake.com/PCTguide

If anyone has specific questions, e-mail me off-list at david@emeraldlake.com

Respectfully submitted,


PS: If you lost a plastic bead/charm type bracelet between Cook&Green Pass
and Bearground Spring, please message me off-list. It appears to be the
type of item that might have significant sentimental value to someone.