21.8 miles (1190.7 to 1212.5)
Greg and I reach Highway 49 in less than five miles. Here, we say goodbye. I continue north, climbing the Sierra Buttes, while Greg drives home. I’ll see him again in a few days.
For hours, I climb. I’m dripping sweat but I don’t care. I love this stretch of trail. I first hiked it last summer, so I know what to expect, and the trail doesn’t disappoint. Views of the Yuba River, views of the Buttes, views worthy of photographs in every direction. I goof off a little, taking pictures and video. Near the top, I pass a southbounder. He flipped from Lone Pine to Ashland and is now hiking south to Lone Pine. After that, he’ll continue north from Ashland.
Around 1pm I reach the spring at the top of the climb and stop for lunch. Afterward, I run into another southbounder, this one napping on the side of the trail. She’s section hiking, also from Ashland. I see lots of day hikers and lots of cars at the Sierra Buttes trailhead. I see day hikers for most of the afternoon, in places where I’ve never seen them before. For awhile, the trail stays near a dirt road; around practically every turn, I see the same Jeep making its way along the road. I’m hiking as fast as a Jeep?
By late afternoon, ATV traffic out here is constant. Every time I get close to a dirt road, I come out near a Jeep/ATV. Once, I can tell by the reviving motor that the vehicle is stuck in snow just down the road from where the trail crosses. Snow. Yeah, I’m back in snow. At first it’s just little drifts that I can walk over, then it becomes more serious, until I have to detour around a dangerous snowbank that appears at the same moment I first catch sight of Mount Elwell.
Snow is tough to hike over, especially at the end of the day. Listening to the constant whine of Jeeps is also rough. Perhaps worst of all, smoke has suddenly rushed in, and it’s come in thick. I can barely see the surrounding mountains.
In the forest, everything looks flattened. It’s odd, like someone’s run a giant iron over the ground. Branches, needles, cones, nothing rises above ground level. Then I realize: this is what happens under deep snow. We haven’t had deep snow in years. No wonder a flat forest is such a foreign sight.
The campsite I’d selected this morning as my goal for the day is near a dirt road. Given my ability to keep pace with the Jeep(s) on this backroad, there’s no way I’m camping near a dirt road on a Saturday night. That’s asking for company. Instead I’ll stop at the campsite listed a mile sooner. The trail, however, is covered in several feet of snow. The campsite where I’d planned to stay tonight is buried, so I keep going, slipping over what seems like endless snow.
At a fork in the trail, I find a somewhat flat, somewhat snow-free area and decide to spend the night here. My new campsite is at 7,300 feet in hemlock and red fir, my two favorite species. A hermit thrush sings nearby. It’s not a bad place, though the ground is damp and my tent and everything in it may be wet come morning.