Sunday, December 14, 2014

Castle Crags

Thanks to Lisa, we made it to Castle Crags State Park just in time to meet Kayla the next day. On the way to our campsite, we met a group of thru-hikers. One of them with the trail name, "Special Sauce," gave us quarters so that we could take showers. Then we set up for the night and got some sleep.

A drawing of a fern along West Fork, Sulphur Creek in Castle Crags State Park. July 26-29, 2014.

I woke up early to meet up with Kayla at Ammirati's Market, just on the outskirts of the park. I arrived a little early and met Gino Ammirati, the owner of the place. He was outside with his ATV, picking up trash, fixing things, and tidying up the place. Gino told me that his house was just behind the market. He woke up early that morning to find a black bear on his porch. And then, since he had nothing else to do, he thought he would get started with work early. 

Gino then asked me if I had seen any views of the "crags" yet. I replied that no, I had only arrived the night before. He told me to walk up the driveway to his house. "From there, you'll see the best views of the crags." I was hesitant about getting too close to his house, very much accustomed to a society full of "Keep Out" and "No Trespassing" signs, alarm systems, and guard dogs. Most Americans are wary about letting "strangers" near their precious material belongings. Gino did not seem to have an issue with this though. He kept yelling after me, insisting that I walk a little farther.

And then there they were! What a view! Nothing like seeing the crags in the early morning light.

I came back to the market and sat on a rock wall, waiting for Kayla and watching Gino as he continued his cleaning and talked to the few other early-risers that stopped by to fill up on gas. Next thing I know, Kayla called from behind the store! It turns out that she arrived earlier than expected due to a friendly cab driver who brought her here. He drove her here with no expectation of a high taxi rate and insisted that she sleep inside the cab until daybreak. He didn't want her staying outside by herself at night, not knowing exactly where we were camped. Once the sun was about to rise, he left, and Kayla camped for a few hours behind Ammirati's.

Once we met, we began catching each other up on what's been going on in our lives. I hadn't seen Kayla since the very last day I was in Fort Wayne. We visited Indiana Buddhist Temple one last time together, where we had met recently through one of their meditation nights. It was wonderful to see her again! While we talked, Kayla packed up her things. We picked some succulent blackberries and then went back to our campsite, where Kayla would meet Freebird for the first time.

Going through Kayla's belongings, deciding what to send forward to the post office in Etna. She needed to lighten her load!

Molly, a ranger in the park, talked to us for about a half hour. She was a very quiet, sweet, and thoughtful person. We kept telling her to ditch work and her husband and hike the Pacific Crest Trail with us. We told her that if she changed her mind, she would know where to find us.

We found a few things in the hiker box at our site, including this beer which Kayla wanted to bring along. Once she decided that it would be too heavy to add to her pack, she reluctantly left it behind.

Reading Wild by Cheryl Stayed, a book which Kayla brought along. This is the story of a Pacific Crest Trail hike that Cheryl completed, as well as accounts of her life. I never did read more than a page. But several of the thru-hikers in 2014 have read the whole book, which caused a huge influx in the number of permits this year. I'm glad I hiked before the movie came out! 
By December, it would be in theaters all over the country. 
I'm sure the trail will be much busier in the summer of 2015.

We heard that this "time machine" was camped nearby us. Learn about them at We decided to check them out before getting back on the trail.

Time to pick up the beast!
Pine cone golf, anyone?

That evening a rattlesnake slithered through the camp. My first sighting ever of one! It rattled and announced its presence, so that we could back off and let it go its way. Then it crawled over a log and disappeared past a spring. All it wanted was to go home for the night, wanting nothing to do with us.

Next morning, on the trail again!
First views of the crags from the trail!

We arrived at a campsite along Sulphur Creek in the afternoon and decided to set up everything for the night. It was the ideal spot with shelter and water. Or so we thought. All of a sudden we heard loud music, out in the wilderness! A hiker named "Boombox" came down the trail, followed by a party train of 7 more people. He was blaring some music from a boombox resting on his shoulder, and some of the others were carrying beer. They sat down just across the stream from us and didn't bother coming to talk to us first or at least even introduce themselves. I'll be kind and assume they just didn't know any better and didn't realize that they were disturbing anyone.

Slightly annoyed, we packed up again, not knowing where we would find the next water source at which to camp. Then came a huge blessing. Two thru-hikers, a couple, were heading north on the PCT and decided to turn around and get off of the trail. They had lots of extra food that they no longer wanted. Since we were running out of food quickly, we gladly accepted their gift. Since they had earplugs, they took over our campsite and would head out in the morning. We continued onward, thankful for the provisions of food, but a little tired and uncertain how long it would be until we came across another site. It could be several miles!

As we walked up the ridge, we paralleled Sulphur Creek. We searched for any flat land on which to camp, but we couldn't see any. All of a sudden, my hat blew off and tumbled down the ridge! I really didn't want to go all the way down there to retrieve my hat, but I needed it back. Kayla insisted that I let it go and keep her hat. But Freebird had the intuition that this might be the spot. He asked me to go down there and scope out the area. Sure enough, there was enough space for all of us to set up camp for the night! Another blessing from God!

We had been so upset about Boombox and his friends, but everything still worked out perfectly. 
Now we had food and a campsite that was only a few minutes away from our first choice. 
And the couple, both of whom weren't feeling well, didn't have to walk farther that night and could easily get off of the trail in the morning.

As we walked out in the morning, rather than scramble up the steep ridge again, Kayla and I opted to hike up the creek to get back on the PCT. I slipped and my camera lens dunked in for a quick swim. It was fun for awhile to take pictures with a slight blur! But then soon the lens fogged up completely. I figured I would be asking my dad to send the other lens when we would arrive at the next town.

As Kayla and I walked along, I began sticking feathers all over in her hair. 
At that moment, she accepted the trail name, "Pocahontas."

When we caught up to Freebird again, I exclaimed to him that my camera went for a swim. Thankfully he at least had the intelligence to think about placing the lens in the sunlight to bake out all of the moisture. So there the lens sat on a rock all afternoon. 

A clear shot! No more moisture in the lens! Now there are only a few permanent water spots on the glass.
They show in some pictures, though I can Photoshop them out if I so feel like it!

After setting up camp, Freebird went over to talk with other thru-hikers. Pocahontas and I went swimming in a beautiful four-foot-deep pool of water right next to our campsite. Then we cooked dinner.

Pocahontas fell asleep, and Freebird and I went swimming in the moonlight. It was a peaceful night, and the still air was filled with the sound of barred owls. Freebird called back to them, and a couple of them flew down to stare at us curiously from nearby perches.

After breakfast the following morning, Freebird and I returned to the pool one last time. He composed a tear-jerking, touching song called, "Save the Water Bugs," that I will never forget!

We took another quick dip in the stream then began a long ascent up some 
switchbacks, with spectacular views of the crags all the way!

That's not very nice.


Pocahontas and a massive tree.

Freebird left us an arrow/smiley face slightly inspired by the Appalachian Trail (AT) symbol, letting us know that he was waiting at a spring just up a side trail. Here we stopped to eat lunch and read more of Free Falling.

Continuing up the switchbacks!

Freebird constructed a stone seat and waited on the trail for us.

Swig and Scarlett the dog were hiking this section of the Pacific Crest Trail. 
We talked for quite awhile, and Scarlett played with us.

Then we continued onward again... still going up the switchbacks!

Do you see the arch?

We made it to the top!

A very tall Ponderosa pine. I had to sit on the ground and look up to get the whole tree to fit in the frame.

A beautiful sunset near our campsite.

The next morning. Setting off on what would be a traverse along the ridge with spectacular views!

A carnivorous plant that feeds on flies.

We soon could simultaneously see views of Mount Shasta (above) and Castle Crags (below).

The Wild Boys - musicians, hunters, and collectors of wild edibles - were hiking this section of the trail, and then planned on staying in the town of Mount Shasta for a little while. To the right is "The Walrus." I forget the other man's name. We just called him "The Egg Man."

The Egg Man playing some songs that he wrote. You never know what's going to happen on the trail!

One of the best ridge walk experiences in the whole section! Pocahontas and I 
sang and giggled like children as we walked along and watched the sun go down.
One of the most memorable experiences for me in Castle Crags.

Black Butte.

We then walked down a side trail to a spring, where Freebird was awaiting us. Here we set up camp.

Watching sunset as the deer were grazing nearby us. Mount Shasta and Black Butte in the distance.

Mount Shasta the next morning.

Here we waited for a ride into town, our second venture into the town of Mount Shasta.
Pan, a wrangler, who was thru-hiking this summer.

While awaiting a ride, a man stopped by to check on us. He was driving to a nearby lake for sunset and would return to pick us up, if no one else offered to take us into town. Meanwhile, he provided us some food and beverages. Interestingly enough, some of the things we had been needing, and some of the things we had been wanting since arriving at Castle Crags. Freebird had been needing a new water bottle, and he received Vitamin Water, the very type of bottle that he always uses. Pocahontas was given some beer, which was a pleasant surprise to her after she couldn't take the one from the hiker box. Freebird and I had been talking about pizza that very day, with me thinking specifically of Hawaiian pizza. This man gave us a few slices, and mine turned out to be....Hawaiian pizza!

Then Harold and Elly, some day-hikers that we had met earlier, were returning to their car. 
Hearing that we were still waiting for a ride, and seeing that the rainstorms were coming in, 
he insisted that we ride with them. Along the way, we learned that Harold was a professor at Yale. 
So he shared a connection with Freebird, who was a student at the same university. 
After a beautiful drive through the forest and arriving in Mount Shasta, Harold and Elly
 dropped us off right in front of one of the town's many metaphysical shops. 
Thanks to them, we made it just in time to go out for dinner, watch the sunset, 
resupply our food, and settle in for the night.

 Everything on the trail happened wonderfully, even though there were challenges at times. Sometimes things were difficult, especially for Pocahontas. Eventually tensions arose between the two of us because I failed to understand her. Despite this, she was still kind enough to give some of her food to us, which was sustenance for us for weeks. During that week I treated her horribly and felt guilty about it for a long time. Dwelling on thoughts of her for months, especially through the rough times I would undergo, taught me so much on how to be a better friend and how to really love others. I'm very sorry for everything that I have done. Thankfully, these days Pocahontas and I have worked things out and are now better friends than ever.

Looking back, I'm filled with gratitude for every experience in Castle Crags, everything I learned from Pocahontas, and every person that we met. Whenever we perceived something to be inharmonious and became impatient (like losing our campsite), things worked out better than we could have ever imagined, every time. When we let go, the magic would happen once again. Everything was provided for us when we needed it and more. I'll always treasure these memories of Castle Crags.

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