A forest day

PCT miles 1489.6 to 1465.7 – Squaw Valley Creek to Road above Deer Creek – Total PCT miles 1051.5

This morning we woke to the sounds of Squaw Valley Creek flowing a few meters below our camp. The sounds of its running waters garnered new appreciation from me, as I’d fallen asleep reading about the natural history of this little valley. This creek is older than nearby Mt. Shasta and its rushing waters carved this canyon of metavolcanic rocks as the mountains of the southern Cascades rose up some several million years ago. It was there, here, before the mountains-a reminder of how old rivers and creeks really are. Such a realization instilled in me greater respect for this creek and the canyon it continues to form with banks adorned in moss and umbrella plants.

We hike south on trail that rolls through oak woodlands down into valley bottoms of gorgeous maturing forest. Columns of Douglas-fir, incense cedar, and sugar pine rise hundreds of feet above us with diameters a meter-plus across. The understory is layered with dogwood, vine maple, and groves of Pacific yews. Here in this northern California-southern Cascades forest we’ve seen a high concentration of yews-20 or so mossy limbed trees in the space of one little drainage. More yews here together than we’ve ever seen before.

We stop and smell the sweet scent of Washington lilies. Tall, slender, elegant white flowers rising a meter or so above the other forest vegetation. Below these swan-like flowers is the vibrant green carpet of the forest floor covered in twin flower, saxifrages, pink shrub roses, orange tiger lilies, wintergreens. We graze on wild strawberries. Tiny, red berries so sweet and delectable. A delicacy of the forest.

The sky above is overcast and just a few patches of blue sky can be seen in the forest below. Every now and then if feels like a lone rain drop may make its way through the canopy. It’s a good day to wander in a forest.

It’s also a good day to focus on the immediate plant community around us as we are “dancing” around vines and bushes of poison oak. Often we ponder, what is the ecological niche that poison oak serves and what is the evolutionary significance of this plant we try so hard to avoid? We admire the birds and other animals who so depend on these seemingly venomous plants for forage and shelter. We wish we were as insensitive to the the poison oak’s oils as other animals are… someday may they teach us.

As we approached the McCloud River we were entranced by the quiet of the forest, the overcast skies above and having focused so much effort on dodging poison oak. It feels subdued and somewhat sleepy along the oak covered slopes. Here, Gabriel decided that he’d start to look up and around more instead of focusing on the trail and in doing so he walked directly over a California King Snake! I was just a few paces behind Gabriel and found the snake stretched out along the trail. It was not a particularly active snake, but it was exciting to see its red, black and cream rings.

At the end of the day we climbed above Deer Creek and began to transcend into red fir country. We are tired after 23+ miles as we ask our bodies to adjust to consecutive 25-mile days. So tired am I especially, that Gabriel agrees to a camp along an abandoned road. Our home for the night is not as spectacular as our stay by an ancient river, but it serves our need for a night of rest.

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