Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Day 80: Castle Canyon to Creekside Camp

Having camped before reaching Castle Pass, Highway 80 was still audible from our camp, a gentle rumble and hum from the passing cars and trucks. Reaching Castle Pass (7,910 ft) after a short climb, we scanned the ridgeline for nearby Castle Peak, a popular backcountry skiing destination.

From Castle Pass we quickly dropped to Peter Grubb Hut, another backcountry ski hut maintained by the Sierra Club. Dark and cave like, the hut held a musty, smokey odor. Numerous PCT hikers crowded around the picnic table inside and spilled out onto the porch outside. A pair of legs and then a backpack appeared on the steep ladder from the sleeping loft overhead as the last sleepy hiker climbed down to the main floor.

Continuing from the hut, we climbed and descended a ridge, then began climbing another. Just before reaching the rocky knoll at the of the climb we saw a familiar figure hiking toward us. "Billy Goat?" I queried, surprised to see him on this section of trail. "Monkey, Mama Bear, how are you doing?" he greeted us. We stopped to talk. When it was time to hike on, Billy Goat disappeared down the trail, singing his PCT song.

We stopped for lunch on a rock outcropping topped with a scraggly juniper, climbing the rocks for the view and to take advantage of the breeze. After lunch we continued our cycle of climbing a ridge and following it for awhile, looking across its grass and mule's ears covered expanse to the surrounding mountains and the grassy meadows in the valleys below. Then we would descend into the forest, switchbacking our way into a valley until it was time to start the cycle again.

Switchbacking down the final descent, we found two baby chipmunks, smaller than Sierra's fist, cowering in the dirt of the trail. Not far from the chipmunks we heard water. Chili, Pepper, and Steady were camped there, and we joined them.

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