PCT Hiking: Gov’t Meadows South To Crystal

I spent the weekend of August 30-31st, 2008 doing a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that has been waiting for me to have time to do – going South from Gov’t Meadows to the Crystal Ski Resort area in Washington.

Teresa and Jeff had the free time and joined me…knowing that faced most likely very unseasonably cold weather with a real chance of snow. Well, maybe that would mean no bugs chasing us for once? ­čśë

Teresa, Jeff and I –

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Kirk shuttled us and dropped us off at the end of FS 70 in the South Cascades (off of Hwy 410, just past Greenwater). Our “connector trail” to get to the PCT was not on maps. It is an old logging road, abandoned with no markings. Sitting at the end of the road is a turn around and a couple of horse friendly parking/camping spots. The “trail” is to the left of the end and is marked by a couple of white markers that no, do not keep out the motorcycles. Nicely though a big tree across said road a bit down does!

The connector trail:

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About a half mile in the road connects to the PCT, just a tiny bit South of Gov’t Meadows and the Ulrich Shelter (you’d turn left). We met our first thru hiker of the morning here.

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The trail here is smooth and easy to stroll along. The elevation gain for the first couple miles feels like one is barely going up. We passed a junction or two. We were walking the high point of the Crest (deep in the woods) and would cross to the Eastern side every once in a while.

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This section I liked a lot. The trail is so easy.

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Gooseberry –

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Not long after this we got our first hint of the brewing storms. Soon we had pack covers and rain jackets on. On the Eastern side the wind was minimal – when on the West side you felt that if you stopped you would topple over. It was howling in hard cold gusts.

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Looking East to some interesting erosion below us:

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And a bit more –

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We came to the junction for Arches Rock Spring and ran into two thru hikers, Teresa had snapped a shot of the trail “sign” with Sarong in it.

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In some areas of the PCT, the Sharpie┬« Marker is the 11th essential. The NF does not have signs up at important junctions are they are hard to read…so hence the graffiti.

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Teresa at the trail junction for Raven’s Roost, which comes in from the Eastern side.

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We had lunch a bit before the turn off to Cougar Valley. It wasn’t hard to see that the PCT here was a road at one time. At lunch more clothing came on, the snow was starting to come down good. For the rest of the trip I was in wool leggings, rain pants, long sleeve shirt, wool sweater, rain jacket, hat and gloves. We spent much of the day flittering between east and west so often we had gale force winds hitting us.

Looking East –

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Trail junction for Arch Rock Spring/Echo Lake Trail.

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The miles here are long, but they do flow easily.

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Teresa in the last rays of the setting sun. It was one of the few times we had clear skies above us.

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The setting sun on the hillside. Had there been water here, I’d have happily camped.

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Jeff in the sun –

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After we walked through this area the trail turned and down we headed, into a meadow where we passed a lone Tarp Tent Rainbow. We crossed Martinson Gap and kept heading – hoping we would find a decent site to sleep in – with water. As dusk was setting in we passed Little Crow Basin, which yes, had lots of water – there was still nice wide spots in the creek. It was also very far below the trail and didn’t look very inviting. We passed and picked up the pace. With the sky turning red behind us, in the last couple minutes of real light I looked down and caught a glimpse of the shelter and hitching posts in Big Crow Basin. We took the first boot path down we saw, racing to the meadows. The shelter there was built in the 1930’s by the CCC.

There was a tent pitched in the falling in shelter – an unfriendly lady who loudly declared that the shelter was hers and that we better not camp near her as she had 5 dogs who she was letting run wild. Okey-dokey. She also complained loudly that she was camping here because “she wanted a place to herself”. She must not have noticed she was camping in a vastly popular horse camp? In the last-minute or two of visible light we crossed the meadow, 2 tiny streams and scrambled up into an open copse of trees. We set up camp as the snow started again. It was 36* and was August 30th.

I wasn’t hungry so I tied my Ursack off to a tree nearby and went to bed. That dumb decision left me cold all night. It was 30* in Jeff’s tent in the morning so was in the high 20*’s during the night. The wind howled all night and snowed quite a bit. It wasn’t a peaceful night for me.

Morning came way too early this morning. I often am up at 5 or 6 on the trail. This morning I lay there till 7. It was so cold I didn’t want to get up. I watched out the window of my tiny tent as the snow dumped on us.

Jeff got up and fetched the Ursacks. I sat in my vestibule and boiled water for my breakfast – oatmeal/barley with freeze-dried Raspberries and Peaches. Had a 14 ounce trash mocha (cocoa and coffee) with it.

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Looking out my tent into the meadow, while I boiled water for breakfast –

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Our camp –

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Snow in the morning is so pretty, especially in a meadow –

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We packed up between snow storms and headed out. We passed the shelter as we turned up trail 953 to connect with the PCT.

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Packed and ready to go –

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Reading maps in the snow. Again, lousy signage was a major pain!

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Heading up trail 953 –

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Heading up out of Big Crow Basin –

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Heading to the top of the notch at Crow Basin –

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We did a traverse through the clouds and snow, heading up to Scout Pass, again passing trails heading to Cement Basin that had badly (if at all) marked signs.

Here was an annoyance – Green Trails map 271 (Bumping Lake) is off – it claims you at 6200 ft when you reach Scout Pass, but you are not! It is more like 6500 ft. You climb a good amount as you walk from the turn off for trail 987 (Cement Basin), the map would have you think that you are losing 200 ft. Bad!

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As we crossed Scout Pass we got the honor of the “best” trail marker of the trip. A paper sign laminated, ripped in half, lying on the ground. Wow. The Sharpie┬« Marker here would have been much appreciated.

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As we headed over and came to the West side the snow kicked up quite good. Soon we didn’t have much visibility.

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There’s always uphill sections on the PCT, even when you swear it should be uphill…..

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A frozen web in a tree –

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Here we took the old trail down to Bullion Basin, way below us. We had decided due to the weather to cut a few miles off (originally we were planning on going to Bear Gap). As we entered Bullion another storm blew in. We decided to take a break under the great big tree in the meadow. I camped here 5 years ago. It was bone dry under it.

In the basin was a great group of horse packers – all so nice. They invited us over to get warm. We declined as we were about 2 miles from the car. Still, we watched the snow come down.

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We took the Bullion Basin Trail down. We got rewarded with ripe Huckleberries –

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And many ripe wild alpine Strawberries:

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A happy Sarah making like a bear……

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As we dropped down we came out of the clouds….to dumping rain. The last ┬Ż┬ámile was walked fast.

Cold? Wet? Snowy? True…..but no bugs and it wasn’t a wilting 95* I’ll take that.

For the 2009 trip reports see here and here.

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