Monday, May 21, 2012

Day 30: Islip Saddle to Burkhart Saddle

The Endangered Species Act Detour is a reroute to avoid a section of the PCT that was closed to protect the habitat and reproduction of the yellow-legged mountain frog. Last year the official reroute took hikers down a section of Highway 2 that had been closed due to a landslide. But Highway 2 is open this year, and the road walk is no longer recommended due to the fast moving traffic on the narrow, winding highway.

Instead, a new, official reroute takes hikers on a 20.5 mile loop to avoid 7.8 miles of frog habitat, adding almost 13 miles to an already circuitous trail. Needless to say, hikers are not excited about this reroute. Most are choosing the old detour, and walking the highway.

But Sierra is determined to hike the official PCT this year, with no skips. And I am nervous about walking along a narrow, winding highway. Besides, we are hiking the PCT...if we wanted to take the short way to Canada we would fly there!

We soon learned that the PCT reroute carried dangers of its own. The route first follows the South Fork trail as it traverses along the side of a steep hill, with rocky cliffs above and a sandy, sheer drop off just below the narrow trail. Small rockslides littered the trail in several places, and portions of the trail were a mere footprint wide. Small rocks occasionally fell away under our feet, cascading hundreds of feet down the steep slope below.

The South Fork creek looked cool, shady, and inviting from a distance. But when we finally reached its sandy shores, we were disappointed to discover that both the creek and its shores were littered with garbage. Empty beer cans and plastic cups floated in the creek. Dirty socks, frayed towels, food wrappers, cigarette packages, and bottle caps lined the shores. Dark black and blue paint defaced the rocks, and the trees were covered with carvings and graffiti. This was, by far, the most abused land we had passed through on our hike thus far.

Navigating the maze of use trails surrounding the South Fork Campground was challenging, but we eventually found our way to the High Desert Trail, the next trail in the new, convoluted PCT reroute. The trail climbed and descended several ridges, passing yucca, sage, prickly pear cactus, manzanita, and other high desert plants, and providing views of the unusual sandstone rock formations of Devil's Punchbowl park.

Hearing a shriek ahead on the trail, I stopped, motionless. A few second later, Sierra reassured me, explaining that a strange snake had hissed at her, but not to worry, it wasn't a rattlesnake. As she was finishing her explanation, I heard a strange rattling hiss in front on me on the trail. It was Sierra's snake, tightly coiled with head alert, slightly darker than the other varieties we've seen, but clearly a rattlesnake. The snake looked at me for a moment, then slowly uncoiled and slithered into the bushes.

We stopped for dinner at Cruthers Creek, trying to eat quickly before the ravenous swarms of mosquitoes ate us. Then we hiked on, climbing out of Cruthers Canyon just in time to watch the sunset. With no camp in sight, we continued to climb on into the twilight and then by headlamp into the moonless night.

Reaching the top of Burkhart Saddle, we found a flat, sandy spot near the trail: the first possible campsite since starting the steep climb. We quickly threw down our sleeping pads and fell asleep under the stars.


  1. I am so proud of Sierra (and of you too)! What a determined little girl. I hope you are eating enough...neither one of you can afford to lose any weight. Did you see the eclipse?

  2. Holy smokes enough rattlers to cover every mile of the trail!! you two will have perfect pitch for imitating them soon... Though not sure that's a good thing. You are both very courageous, and I'm glad that the frogs are safe from the ones who so carelessly trash momma earth; thank you for watching out for her too. Love u two-- be careful.

  3. It would be a cryin shame if you didn't take the official PCT alternate route through Eagle Creek just before Cascade Locks. It has some of the most beautiful waterfalls in abundance you'll ever see including Tunnell Falls that you go behind. It would be the official route except horses can't go on the narrow route blasted into a cliff wall. You should seriously consider it even if you have to walk the official section too.

    Portland PCT section Hiker Mike (GoalTech)

  4. I think it's great that you're sticking to the official route. When you're done you can say you did the whole thing, no exceptions. That's got to feel great! =]

    That said... Michael Irving (previous post) is right; Eagle Creek is a great trail! As I understand it, most PCT thru-hikers take it and consider it the best way to go. Still, it's an "official alternate" so, maybe take a zero in Cascade Locks and do a side trip while you're here. =]