Leaving Etna Summit

by Gillian Larson | posted: June 10, 2016
Leaving Etna Summit and heading into the Marble mountains

The last few days have been busy ones full of preparation so that I can put "Operation Leapfrog" into action. After I left Kennedy Meadows at the end of May, I by-passed the snow-bound Sierra and drove up here north of Redding in the "Tuna Can" rig and rode the section from Castle Crags to Old Station. My mom arrived a week later with the "Bomb Shelter" truck and trailer combo, and she picked me up when I finished the section. The next day, with the horses happily resting at a friend's home outside Redding, we took her truck to Castle Crags to retrieve Tuna Can (and found a lead rope that I had dropped somewhere on the trail waiting for me on the hood of the truck with a nice note from a man who had come across it while riding on the PCT and figured it might belong to me; I told you I rely on the kindness of strangers!). We then drove north to a trailhead off Highway 140 between Medford and Klamath Falls where we left Tuna Can and returned to Redding. The day after that, I dropped my mom at the airport and took Shyla with me to Seiad Valley in the other truck and trailer. I camped overnight near Seiad and made some food caches at strategic spots along the way; I also got to meet up with one of my favorite people from the ride in 2014, Bill Roberts, who lives in Seiad Valley with his wife Peggy. He was wonderful to us when we passed through the area on that earlier ride, loaning me a saddle pad and showing me a box hitch for my pack saddle panniers which I've been using ever since (much better than the barrel and diamond hitches I was using before). And finally I hit the trail again today, leaving the truck at Etna Summit and heading out with just Shyla on this section, as Takoda is still recuperating in Redding.

I was concerned about this stretch of trail due to the snow I fear is still out there, waiting for me. One of my first plans was to ride this part earlier, but I reconsidered that when I saw how much snow was still lingering on the flanks of Mt. Shasta and other nearby ranges when I first drove up 10 days ago. It's amazing how much snow has disappeared since then, but it's also worrisome how much is left.

Snow ahead on the trail out of Etna Summit

Within two hours of starting on the trail, I was encountering my first snow banks and I could see more ahead of me.

Crossing a snow bank

This is the kind of solid wall of snow that gives me shivers. If it was just a matter of walking across some even covering of old snow, it wouldn't be a problem, but it usually doesn't present itself that way. The snow is icy and compacted from accumulating all winter long, and it melts in erratic patterns, so that there will be long clear stretches and then sudden solid barriers several feet high that block our path. You can see Shyla in the background standing in the trees on the other side of this, to give you an idea of the perspective and how daunting it can be to negotiate snow banks like these. I ran across this sort of snow obstacle every couple of miles; each time I would sigh with relief when I found a way over or around or past it, and then I hoped it was the last one . . . until the next one appeared. Ultimately I had to conquer a particularly difficult "snow chute" where a steep section of trail that switched-backed up between the sides of two ridges was completely covered in snow. Southbound hikers had been glissading down the chute, but I was going north and had to somehow scramble up it instead.

A lake on the other side of the snow chute that we climbed

Finally we reached the highest point, where we looked down at an alpine lake and then begin to descend back down below the snowline. I was very glad to be leaving it behind!

Looking back at the snow-covered peaks


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