Monday, July 16, 2012

Day 86: Spanish Peak Ridge to Belden

Throughout the night, I listened to strange scrabbling noises above my head and heavy footfalls on the rocks farther up the hill. A small sliver of moon rose in the early morning, closely followed by the great yellow sphere of the sun.

Reaching for my shoes I realized what the scrabbling noise had been. An animal had chewed through my shoelaces in the night, devouring one of the eyelets in the process. Frustrated, I tied the tattered pieces as best I could.

The trail climbed to the ridge, passed the junction with Spanish Peak trail (6,920 ft), then continued to follow the eastern edge of the ridge. We looked down over steep granite cliffs to a series of high lakes and a deep forested valley below.

Veering away from the ridge, we descended through the forest to a small lily pond. Tall green swamp grass surrounded the marshy pond, and lily pads dotted its smooth surface. Bright yellow flowers poked out between a few of the broad leaves.

Passing through the forest, unsteady trees creaked and groaned and a strong wind roared overhead. Reaching the open ridge, the wind tugged at my cap and plastered my pants to my legs like shrink wrap. Looking north we saw a tall mountain with bright white snow patches standing tall above the others: Lassen Peak.

We followed the exposed ridge, then began the long descent into Belden (2,310 ft). Thick brush grew over several sections of trail, and as we pushed through it we hoped our legs weren't brushing against unseen poison oak plants hidden in the larger shrubs. Then we descended into the forest, with a thick undergrowth of plants, including poison oak.

After many long switchbacks we crossed the train tracks and followed the PCT (now a one lane road) into Belden Town Resort, reputedly the site of weekend raves so loud that hikers have reported hearing the music from the weekend raves from as far away as 12 miles down the trail.  We passed through on a weekday so all was quiet, but evidence of the past weekend's party was everywhere. Large plastic garbage bags lined the streets, filled with empty cans, bottles, and food wrappers. Posters advertising other parties and events were pasted like wallpaper to the sides of countless bright blue porta potties. Inside, waste filled the toilets to overflowing.

We didn't linger. Instead, we hiked on to the Eby Stamp Mill at the trailhead. After we investigated the Eby Stamp Mill, my father gave us a ride up the highway to the Caribou Crossroads R.V. Park store and cafe, where we enjoyed thick, creamy, delicious blackberry and strawberry milkshakes. Then on to Quincy, where we cleaned up, resupplied, and settled in for the night.

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