It was already hot when we began hiking, and we appreciated the cooling shade of the pine forest. We stopped for lunch on a grassy knoll. As we munched on delicious brownies and sweet cherries, we were grateful for Jill's thoughtfulness in packing them for us.
Continuing down the trail, the vertical gray granite cliffs of the Castle Crags came into view. The beautiful peaks were suggestive of high stone castle walks with rounded turrets, and it was easy to see how Castle Crags had gotten its name.
Hearing something crashing through the thick brush next to the trail, I spotted a black bear. He pushed through the manzanita and eyed me indignantly, as if to ask what I was doing blocking HIS trail. Then he continued barreling his way through the thick brush. When he was a safe distance away, the bear climbed up onto the trail, turned, and headed southbound, without even so much as a backward glance.
The miles passed slowly as we plodded up the long, hot climb. Very slowly. Ahead up the trail, a craggy granite rock outcropping jutted out over the valley below. Most of the cliff top was rocky, but a single sandy flat spot promised soft, comfortable camping. Sierra set up camp and cooked dinner, allowing me to recover from a hot, tiring day.
After the sun set, from our high perch (approximately 5,400 ft), we could see the dark silhouettes of the Castle Crags and surrounding forested ridgetops. We also recognized several prominent constellations, although many of the stars were overshadowed by a bright, waxing moon.