The last multi-day-hike trip of the season was a three-day stint with two friends on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in northern Plumas County. For the third/last day we hiked from Domingo Spring to a crossing of CA-36 about 7 miles west of the town of Chester, which is at the northwest end of Lake Almanor. In some ways similar to the first day’s hike, the visual highlight was Lassen Peak, still snow-covered from a somewhat unusual mid-October snowfall several days prior. This was our first view of the day of Lassen Peak, and it certainly seemed closer – and was closer! – than our views two days prior and some 30 trail miles south. In fact, we were only about 6 1/2 miles from the boundary of Lassen Volcanic National Park when I took this picture.
The remainder of the southbound hike took us farther away from the park, as we hiked toward CA-36, where we had ended the previous day’s hike. The total hike distance was 10.5 miles, according to my GPS unit, all on the PCT; however, according to the PCT data book we only covered 9.9 miles, from official mile 1345.7 to 1335.8. Sometimes there are small differences between my GPS mileage and the official mileage. The GPS track shows the route, with the orange dot denoting the beginning (north) end of the hike, at a road crossing near Domingo Spring.
The route is mainly within Lassen National Forest, with a very brief “corner crossing” into private land owned by a logging company almost halfway through the hike and the last 2-plus miles again on private logging-company-owned land. After crossing the North Fork Feather River about 1 mile into the hike, the trail climbs for the next 3 miles at a nice 8% grade to cross a saddle between Ice Cave Mountain and North Stover Mountain. After this high point just above 6000 feet elevation, the trail remains above 5700 feet elevation until reaching Stover Spring about 7 miles from the trailhead. The descent continues to about 5100 feet and then remains nearly level through the logging company land. The total elevation gain for this section is about 1500 feet.
Most of the hike was in Plumas County, with various maps differing on whether, or over what distance, the PCT crosses into neighboring Tehama County.
My hiking companions and I were lucky enough to have a ride to and from the trailheads each day of the three-day hiking adventure. This was a great convenience that allowed us to cover more trail miles each day by hiking point-to-point rather than my usual out-and-back hikes.
Before beginning the hike my companions and I drove from our overnight accommodations in Chester to the trailhead near Domingo Spring. Right on Main St we were amused to notice a thrift shop with a catchy name: Junk and Disorderly. When we drove by at 8am they were closed, but we thought it would have been interesting to go inside and browse.
After being dropped off at the Domingo Spring trailhead we began our hike. In very short order we encountered what I call a treasure box attached to a tree right next to the trail. It had evidently been placed there by a couple named Thompson and it contained a nice welcoming note and a few supplies for through-hikers’ safety and comfort. What a nice idea!
Not far from the treasure box there was a sign indicating that the distance to Lassen Park was only 4.7 miles. The beginning of the hike was our closest approach to the park for this trip.
The trail passes through forest, and after about 1 mile crosses the North Fork Feather River on a constructed footbridge. In the forest there were patches of mahala mat and manzanita, both of which we would see intermittently throughout the hike. The temperature was in the mid to high 30’s, and we noticed a little frost on fallen branches and pine cones.
After the North Fork Feather River crossing the trail begins to climb, gaining about 1000 feet in the next 3 miles. This was the longest climb of the day, and the trail curves west and then south around the end of a slight ridge that extends southeast to North Stover Mountain. In an area where the forest opened up a little bit there were some impressively tall trees. This picture barely shows more than half the height of the tree!
At the north end of the uphill curve around the ridge there were a couple of spots where the sun, on our left, was illuminating some conifers downhill from us on the right. We paused briefly to enjoy the unusual lighting and try to make shadow shapes with our bodies, arms, and hands on the trees below. I took some pictures but found that it was difficult to properly capture the ambience.
Once the trail was on the west side of the North Stover Mountain ridge we began to have intermittent, mostly filtered, views of Lassen Peak. Here is one example, where the view was filtered but dramatic.
Suddenly my hiking companion and I noticed audible calls of sandhill cranes. Of course we looked up in an effort to see the group of these magnificent birds, presumably on migration from summer to winter grounds. I did not actually see the cranes, but I did notice the moon, perfectly framed by tree branches.
As we continued to climb we had more views of Lassen. In addition we noted some large pine cones on the ground, perhaps sugar pine. I’m not an expert in pine cone identification but there are limited species with such long cones. This one seemed to be shiny from overnight moisture.
The highest elevation of the hike was just over 6000 feet, a bit under 4 miles from the trailhead. In this area the forest is more open, and the PCT passes through fields of manzanita (Actostaphylos sp.). The conifers are more like Christmas trees than the tall beauties we’d seen earlier in the hike.
There were also some sizeable patches of mahala mat (Ceanothus prostatus), also known as squaw carpet. Both of the common names as well as the Latin name of this plant indicate that it grows low to the ground.
In the central portion of the hike the PCT descends about 300 feet and climbs 100 feet before beginning a longer descent. About 4.5 miles from the trailhead the trail briefly passes out of Lassen National Forest and cuts across the corner of a privately-owned parcel before re-entering the National Forest. Each time the trail passes a parcel boundary where there is a change of ownership, there are signs on trees announcing the transition for trail users going in either direction.
Several dirt logging roads cross the trail in this section of the PCT. Near one of the road crossings, about 6 miles from the trailhead, there is a mileage sign indicating that Stover Spring is 1 mile ahead and the town of Belden is 49 miles ahead. I specifically took note of this sign since, at the end of this hike, I would have hiked that entire 49 miles, plus 19 more south of Belden, as an unbroken section with no gaps – of course, in several different days’ worth of hiking!
Shortly before we reached Stover Spring we encountered a through hiker going northbound. As is often, but not always, the case, we stopped and chatted with him briefly. He was willing to pose for a picture. His through-hike story is interesting, and a bit unusual. He started hiking at the Mexican border and hiked as far as Kennedy Meadows (around mile 700). Then he left the PCT and traveled to the Canadian border, where he hiked south to Dunsmuir (around mile 1500) and again left the PCT. He re-started hiking at Kennedy Meadows and was making his way to Dunsmuir, where he would complete his hike of the entire PCT. So when we encountered him he was only about 160 miles from the conclusion of his hike. I have great respect for through-hikers, and their determination and accomplishments continually amaze me. Because I’ve only hiked in the Central California portion of the PCT this is the first time I’ve encountered a through-hiker who was so close to finishing his/her hike. Inspiring!
Stover Spring is a pretty place to stop for a break or, for section- or through-hikers, to camp overnight. Water from the spring feeds through some piping to feed a pond in a small depression in the land. We stopped for a break to enjoy the serene setting.
As we were preparing to resume hiking I noticed a pair of helpful signs attached to nearby trees, indicating the direction to go for any hikers who might have gotten confused during their break. As we’d been reminded only the previous day, if you don’t pay attention it is perfectly possible to hike the wrong direction after a stop or a side trip, and in many instances it might be annoying if you didn’t figure that out until you’d hiked several miles out of your way.
As we continued to hike downhill we began to cross logging roads more frequently. The description in the “PCT bible” mentions some 13 or 14 road crossings (indicated as major, minor, and/or logging roads) in this 10-mile hike, half north and half south of Stover Spring. The first one south of Stover Spring was notably muddy, with deep tire tracks likely/presumably formed by logging trucks heavily laden with logs. Although we were within national forest land, we were not far from privately owned parcels on which logging was potentially active.
For about 1/3 mile the trail follows another road, covered by a carpet of pine needle duff. Here the PCT seems more like a ridge or levee trail, though of course there aren’t any levees in the area.
About 8.4 miles from the trailhead the PCT once again leaves Lassen National Forest, and the remaining 2 miles of the hike cross private logging company land. Here there is clear evidence of logging and other forestry management operations: a stark contrast to the many miles of PCT through several national forests where, if logging is present, it is more remote from the PCT. In this privately owned land area it seemed that the practice was to create scattered small areas that had been clear-cut, rather than simply logging every tenth (or whatever ratio) tree throughout the forest. Although it’s clear that a pristine hiking experience is compromised in such an area, I do not have the appropriate forestry knowledge to say whether or not the practices we observed are sound.
There were several signs along the trail with advisory verbiage “Caution: Timber Falling Ahead”. And we did hear the sound of chain saws, though we were not close enough to actually see the logging operations.
We continued to cross logging roads throughout the remainder of the hike. Because so many roads were mentioned in the book, we had started counting at the beginning of the hike. The last one was less than 0.1 mile from the Hwy 36 crossing trailhead. My hiking companions collaborated to demonstrate that the final tally was 15!
Hiking through privately-owned logging operations was kind of an anti-highlight of this day’s hike on the PCT. Most of the hike, however, was a very pleasant journey through Lassen National Forest, with a nice section of filtered views of Lassen Peak closer to the north end of the hike. By the end of the day we were already beginning to make plans to continue hiking farther north next season, hopefully including a traverse of Lassen Volcanic National Park. Stay tuned for that!