Trip Is Different
Copyright © 2012
by Richard S. Platz, All
(Click on photos to enlarge)
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
July 9-11, 2012
Photos by the
Author and Barbara Lane Except Where Noted
"You cannot step twice into the same
Heraclitus (c.535 c. 475 BCE)
"I remember the mountain
mahogany," I said to Barbara, "but the branches seem
so much larger now . . . and so contorted . . . and look how
many have died!" And later I said to her, "I didn't
remember that fireplace rock being so rough and red and weathered
. . . I recall it as smooth and black."
is an impoverished country, its vividness effaced by time. Missing
is the cursive detail of the limb that branches against an azure
sky. The glyphs and runes inscribed on weathered rock. The yellow
filigree of staghorn lichen's scrawl. The quilt of phlox and
larkspur written blue and white across the gravel slope. All
these intricate messages in inscrutable scripts have been erased
in recollection. All have been replaced by grosser shapes composed
of dream and irreality. Ghosts that never were.
I was ready to give it all up a year ago. The
branches. The gnarled rock. The lichen. The flowers. The red-hued
sunsets. The Milky Way wheeling across the ink-black sky. Backpacking.
A way of life. Life itself.
Your see, I was afraid. What would happen if I
suffered another heart attack miles from the nearest trailhead?
Far from ambulances and cath labs? Far from the pulse and thrum
of civilization? I was afraid to die. Afraid to let go of all
this . . . whatever it is.
But there's the catch. No sooner had I surrendered
to my fear and grown willing to give up all these things, than
I discovered that I really had nothing left to lose.
So Barbara and I decided to try an easy backpack
to a place familiar. We selected a three-mile hike on the Pacific
Crest Trail to Deadfall Lakes. There we had backpacked half-a-dozen
times over the years, most recently with my niece Susan in 2003
With Susan). True, it might not be all that exciting.
We knew the place too well. Or thought we did. But what could
We spent Sunday night high above the valley heat
at our favorite campsite at Scott Mountain Campground. Monday
morning we were up with first light. Two other campers had sojourned
there, and one left before we did. We packed up our backpacks
and took off for Deadfall Lake trailhead.
Large boulders made an obstacle
course of Parks Creek Road, but did not block the road completely.
There were five vehicles at the trailhead when we arrived (N
41 20' 35.1", W 122 32' 15.1", 6844 feet). One middle-aged
fellow in shorts and flip-flops was talking on his cell phone.
Probably to his stock broker. When he hung up, he told us that
he and his wife were from Virginia and would be walking in for
the day only.
trip is different, even when we return to a familiar place.
The red landscape of the peridotite dome at the trailhead seemed
more vast and the tall pines and cedars more sparse than I remembered.
The trail contoured into a long forest thicker and more extensive
than I expected, before it climbed out across the exposed intrusion
of granite scree and crumbling schist and into the lake cirque,
walled by peridotite to the north and east and granite to the
southwest, which I only half recalled. Along the way we met
several groups of day-hikers, most of them hurrying by on their
holy pilgrimage to the top of Mount Eddy.
On that three-mile stretch to the lake we encountered
four consecrated PCT trekkers, doggedly stepping off another
link of the chain between Mexico and Canada. The first one,
a cadaverous young man with a wild black beard and the fiery
eyes of a half-mad saint, carried dehydrated fruits and veggies
and a tarp. He had started out in April. The second, a silent,
wiry fellow toting a tent and three liters of water, had begun
in May. They each tried for thirty miles a day. So pure was
their devotion to the trail that they rarely raised their gaze,
thus missing a lot. The final two, both bearded and stout, were
hiking together. The packs they wore were heavier. Forty pounds,
one said. Indulgently they strove for only twenty miles per
day and smelled a rose or two.
Near the lake we encountered
a couple of backpackers hiking out. They said no one was camped
at upper Deadfall Lake right then. The previous night they had
had the lake entirely to themselves. We quickened our pace to
claim the finest campsite.
We took our favorite site in the mountain mahogany,
white fir, and western white pine on the medial moraine above
the lake's north shore (N 41 19' 09.0", W 122 30' 13.9",
7313 feet) and basked in the solitude there. This is where we
had camped with Susan nine years earlier. We placed our tent
in the same location as before, and agreed that hers had probably
stood beneath a now-leaning snag. The branches of the mahogany
looked different, as did the boulder anchoring the fireplace.
Funny how time erodes the details of memory. The weather was
warm with a cooling breeze. We felt fortunate to be alone in
such a popular place. But our good fortune would not last.
Late in the afternoon we heard
and saw young boys hollering and bouncing about like hyperactive
monkeys. Two adults were erecting tents in the boulders of the
shrubby flood plain at the west end of the lake near the outlet
stream. "I found a frog!" one ten-year-old screamed
at the top of his lungs to his buddy a few feet away. Barbara
thought they must be our dreaded nemesis: Boy Scouts. They yelled
and screamed like Boy Scouts do. Then five backpacking ladies
marched in, chattering loudly on the trail. They set up camp
below us, right on the lake shore between us and the Boy Scouts.
Soon a yellow inflatable boat was paddled across the lake by
two men fishing. They returned in the boat to a family with
two dogs camped in the meadow on the southeast corner of the
sky was smokey toward the west, and the sunset glowed an intense
red that turned the mountains framing it purple. The Boy Scouts
screamed and shouted all that evening, but stopped as it grew
dark and we retired. Then, at three in the morning, we were
awakened by a woman's scream. Despite all that, we slept well.
That first morning, Tuesday,
was beautiful, calm, and quiet as we sat in our hammocks drinking
tea. Ah, this is what it's all about, I ruminated. This is why
backpacking is worth all the hassle. The fear of pain. The cold.
Fatigue. The hassle. The bother. And then . . . this!"
Peaceful and quiet at last, for a little while I lost the thread
of story I tell myself. The narrative I tell myself that allows
me to fit into this articulated world. Yet the irony is that
only without my story line, only when the interior tongue had
been stilled, do I became one with the world.
are four Deadfall Lakes, two large and two small, with a fifth
hidden off the trail and a name no one knows. The two main lakes
lie along each side of the PCT like grapes on a stem. The upper,
larger lake sits to the southeast, the smaller, lower one to
the northwest. We were camped on the moraine above the upper
lake. We decided to hike up the Sisson-Callihan trail to the
two smaller lakes nestled almost five hundred feet higher in
the cirque below Mount Eddy's western face. Along the way we
passed a Darlingtonia fen bordering a stream trickling from
a grassy spring.
The short climb was relentless,
culminating in a steep pitch up and over the terminal moraine
that impounded the first of the smaller lakes. Years ago Barbara
and I had camped on the gravel and rock at the exposed east
end of this lake (N 41 19' 03.6", W 122 29' 34.3",
7748 feet), mostly to get away from the incessant chattering
of children and the late-night partying at a bonfire where the
old ASABP group celebrated advancing middle age. Framed by the
red rock and stunted trees of the peridotite bedrock, the little
lake seemed more stark and stunning than either of us remembered.
We continued on to the fourth
and highest of the lakes, a shallow tarn in a stand of conifers
that included uncommon whitebark and foxtail pines. We had never
spent time here before, either because we were powering up the
trail on pilgrimage to the top of Mount Eddy, still fifteen
hundred feet above us, or because the lake was occupied with
campers. This time we were not going on, so we crossed the outlet
stream on blocks of rock in a wet area and found a pleasant
little campsite filled with wildflowers (N 41 19' 09.4",
W 122 29' 29.8", 7779 feet). As we ate lunch, Clark's Nutcrackers
invaded the trees, scolding us.
of the fishermen we had seen in the yellow boat came by and
chatted with us. He was from Eugene and had seen an article
in the newspaper there that touted Deadfall Lakes as the place
to go when it was still too early to go into the Cascades because
of mosquitos. We had seen a similar article in the San Francisco
Chronicle. No wonder the place had become so popular!
After lunch we circled the lake and found a drier,
larger campsite on the southeastern shore near the trail (N
41 19' 08.4", W 122 29' 24.3", 7788 feet). Then we
climbed up to explore a beautiful meadow at the foot of Eddy.
A stream meandered through a wild, wet meadow and the barren
cliff of the mountain loomed above, its face scarred by a slash
of granitic intrusion. Foxtail pines predominated on the higher
The meadows and fields seemed alive with flowers.
Barbara identified phlox, larkspur, mountain heather, shooting
stars, Darlingtonia, scarlet gilia, western blue flax, blue
stickseed, yellow lupine, yarrow, buttercup, leopard lily, pinedrops,
wild currant, and wild blueberry. She had seen morning glory
near the trailhead.
We had figured that the
week after the Fourth of July would be less crowded, especially
at midweek. But there were many more day hikers on the trail,
and new backpackers continued to arrive at our lake, some in
large family groups with dogs and kids. By dinnertime all available
sites around the lake were taken, and more backpackers were
pouring in. One young couple even scratched out a primitive
camp in the small copse which had been our latrine.
we were lounging in our hammocks, the yellow raft adrift again
upon the lake, the neighbor men and boys strolled by, returning
from their conquest of Eddy summit. Accosting them, I learned
that they were not Boy Scouts at all, but merely grade school
teachers and their pupils. They agreed that teaching silence
and respect for others might be a fitting lesson. The woman's
midnight scream, they told me, emanated from the camp between
us. One of the girls had thought she heard a bear, but likely
it was just a deer.
After dinner we hiked down to the lower lake,
on the west side of the PCT, by following a shortcut to the
big campsite we remembered there. There we had camped years
ago with Mr. Popper, his tent set up beneath a hornet's nest,
before a blizzard caught us on the trail hiking out. All the
campsites at the lower lake were taken. We spoke with a couple
from Santa Cruz. They had seen a lot of smoke around Clear Lake
driving on Highway 20. The whole valley had been filled with
haze. This was their first time at Deadfall. The woman had torn
the sole off her hiking boot on the way in, so we offered her
our roll of duct tape to repair the damage for their hike out.
Back at camp Barbara updated her list of birds
we had seen: chickadees, Clark's nutcrackers, juncos, nuthatches,
Stellar's jays, hermit thrushes, yellow-rumped warblers, and
a hummer in our campsite. That night we saw another blood red
Wednesday morning occasional
mosquitos buzzed by, but they were lazy. Because we arose early,
the morning was again quiet and serene, despite the crowds.
The only real problem was the long ramble required to scout
a new, uninhabited latrine. Taking down our tent, we lifted
it to shake out the duff and debris and discovered a large,
black scorpion poised in the center of the silver ground cloth.
I had rarely seen a scorpion in these mountains, and never such
a healthy specimen. We wondered whether it had lurked between
the tent floor and the ground cloth, or had slept with us inside
had an easy hike out, slightly downhill on mostly good trail.
It took us about an hour and a half. We counted ten day hikers
and one dog going in. Parked at the trailhead were fifteen vehicles.
The weather was hot and sunny, but hazy all the way into southern
Oregon as we headed back to our cabin.
And so I write these words. Affix a photograph
or two. I do this not for you, dear reader. No, not for you,
who do not exist. But for myself. Anything to keep it all from
slipping away. Such vanity! Such folly! We ride the Mandala.
The wheel that never stops. And neither you, nor I, nor all
the gods, can slow its turning. I would as well hold back the
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