South from Castle Crags
I spent the remaining days in Etna driving up to Etna summit to check out the snow (not good) and worrying about what I could see on the hills north of Mt. Shasta (also more than I wanted to have). It has been hot, and the snow is melting, but not quite a fast as I wish it would. So I have to devise a plan to avoid as much of it as possible. My original schedule for riding the PCT has altered so many times that I can't tell you what it looked like to start with any more; I have to go with the flow, so to speak, and right now that flow is determined by snow melt. I'm obsessed with the PCTA snow reports, satellite imagery, and especially NOHRSC's reports--I live by those charts and the percentages of snow on the trail. (NOHRSC stands for "National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center" and they have amazing technology for measuring the snow and reporting the amount of water content and rate of melt.) Of course, none of these are exactly accurate; hikers coming south on the PCT from Oregon reported large fields of snow around Mt. Ashland two weeks after satellite pictures said it was clear. Going and looking--or hearing from others who have been there ahead of me--is the only way to be sure. And even then, the snow that hikers report as passable is not always easily dealt with by horses; ironically, horses can sometimes cope with flat and slippery ice better than humans, but the banks of snow that form from drifts across the trail can sometimes be scrambled up and over by people but are not climbable by horses. So even through my first plan was to ride from Etna north to Highway 140 above Ashland, after talking to hikers and others in the area I decided it would be better to give that stretch a little more time, and instead I'm heading south for a bit. I cached food at a couple of places where I hope to camp and did laundry and packed up the panniers, and on Friday Shyla and Takoda and I hit the trail once more, starting out at the trailhead at Castle Crags and going southbound. Looking back, I could see the rocks at Castle Crags behind me, while over my shoulder rose the cold white slopes of Mt. Shasta.