July 31 – August 2: PCT Bucks Summit to Belden

For the August installment of my 12 Months of Backpacking goal my husband Greg and I hiked a 19-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail from Bucks Summit to Belden. We tacked on a few extra miles by making side trips to Lost Lake and Three Lakes. I selected the first weekend of August for this trip because I was concerned about the possibility of getting smoked out by a wildfire, and I wanted to ensure that we got in an August trip while the air was still relatively clear.

Day 1: Bucks Summit to ~6.5 miles down the trail. We began our hike on Friday evening after work. Greg’s dad dropped us off at Bucks Summit Trailhead, and away we went. The first leg of the trail climbed through dense shrubs – manzanita, chinquapin, bitter cherry, huckleberry oak – and a smattering of red and white fir.

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View from the trail.

I was in the lead, and as we came around one corner I saw a young buck making his way down the trail, coming toward us. We all stopped and appraised each other, and then we took a few steps forward and so did he. Then we stopped and he moved forward again,first a few steps, then a few more. He seemed like a curious fellow, as if he wanted to know what we were, not what we might have to eat. He didn’t seem habituated to people, just profoundly curious, and very naive. We walked forward and he moved off the trail, as if to let us by. Then he stepped back onto the trail and followed us, haltingly, for a short distance before stopping to browse. What a cutie. A tick-carrying cutie, but a cutie nonetheless.

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Tick-carrying cutie.

The sun set and we paused to take pictures of the clouds. We could see the snow-less top of Lassen Peak in the distance. A little later we paused to eat dinner. We sat on the side of the trail overlooking Gold Lake, ate our food, then continued on. It was dark now, and I switched on my headlamp so I could see the trail. Soon, however, the full (blue) moon rose, and we were able to hike by its light alone, at least when we weren’t in the forested stretches.

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Gold Lake, below Spanish Peak, in Bucks Lake Wilderness.

We didn’t have a destination in mind for the first night. Both of us were excited about the idea of hiking by moonlight, and we had a lot of fun. Soon, though, I felt like I needed to get to sleep. We found a semi-flat spot near the trail, pitched our tent, climbed inside, and fell sleep.

I woke up a short time later to the sound of a Great Horned Owl hooting from a nearby tree. As I came fully awake I realized that I was hearing two owls: a male and a female calling to each other. I listened to the owls for what seemed like a long time, the male stationary in his tree, the female moving from tree to tree around the opening where we’d camped. I eventually fell asleep again.

Day 2: Lost Lake and Three Lakes, ~9.5 miles. In the morning my husband wandered away from our camp and found an overlook from which to eat breakfast. We witnessed an incredible sunrise, and I spent more time photographing than eating. What a way to start the day!

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Sunrise over Silver Lake and Spanish Peak.

After breakfast we quickly packed up and started hiking, and before we even got back on the trail we were being hit by small drops of rain. The shower continued off and on for the first 30 minutes of the day’s hike; patchy clouds remained for the rest of the day.

The goal for Day 2 was to hike cross-country to Lost Lake, spend the afternoon relaxing, and spend the night at the lake. My husband and I had attempted to visit Lost Lake in 2012 but turned back because I was not comfortable with the scrambling required to reach the lake. Since then Greg had returned to Lost Lake without me and located an alternate route that he believed I could handle. Everything was going well until we hit a boulder field. I am not comfortable on boulders. Greg is, but I am not. We took a long time to cross, but eventually we made our way to the shore of the lake.

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Lost Lake.

We ate lunch, washed off the sweat and dust, and took naps. It was a nice, quiet place, but I felt anxious about having to make my way back through the boulder field the next morning, followed by the long, long descent to Belden. Greg and I discussed and our options and decided to make our way back to the PCT that evening. So back through the boulder field we went, slowly but surely.

We regained the trail and continued on our way. Greg proposed hiking to Three Lakes so he could try fishing. We took the 1/2-mile spur trail and hiked to the “middle” of the Three Lakes. (Heads up: turns out Three Lakes is actually two lakes – the lower two lakes are connected by a canal.) We found a nice place to camp and I ate dinner, with a side of antibiotics, while Greg attempted to fish. Low water levels eventually got the best of him and he joined me for dinner. We set up the tent and enjoyed a mesmerizing purple sunset.

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Sunset over the middle of the Three Lakes.

Only a few minutes after we got into the tent we heard thunder, saw lightening, and then heard rain drops hitting the tent. Thankfully we’d been suspicious that it might rain, and we’d set up the tent with the rain fly. We lay in the tent and listened to the storm.

Day 3: Three Lakes to Belden, ~8.5 miles. The next morning we ate breakfast, packed up, and started hiking, again with a few light rain showers accompanying us. The sky was completely overcast, which made the next section of trail very pleasant.

We soon reached the ridge above Highway 70 and the Feather River Canyon. We have driven that highway dozens and dozens of times, so it was fascinating to see it from this perspective. I knew to expect a steep descent, but looking at the river so far below us, knowing that we were going to hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon, made us laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing.

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Perched over the Feather River Canyon and Highway 70.

The scenery was unique. This area burned in a wildfire many years ago and most of the trees near the ridge did not survive. Today the ridge is covered with shrubs and accented by artistic-looking rock outcroppings. There was no shade to be found in such a tree-less land, but that didn’t bother us because the sun was still muffled behind dense clouds.

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The PCT switchbacks down from the top of the canyon.

We wound our way down the steep wall of the canyon, exclaiming at the view from every switchback. We passed from montane shrubs and red fir to mixed conifer forest to live oak woodland. We knew we were descending, but no matter how many switchbacks we put behind us the river never seemed any closer. We were still so high!

After hours of switching back I began to develop a few aches and pains in my legs and feet. I slowed down. As we continued to descend and Belden drew closer we could hear a bass line pounding up to us. Belden was hosting a rave this weekend, and as we got closer and closer we could distinguish more and more of the music. First bass, then drums, keyboards, and finally vocals, and then we were leaving Bucks Lake Wilderness and stepping onto flat ground, crossing the railroad tracks, and walking into Belden, where the festival was in full swing. We did it!

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