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Hiking the PCT ... in February?

Two things seemed remarkable.

The first: A couple of miles into our hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, which began from the trailhead on the north of side Dead Indian Memorial Highway, a sign at a trail junction teasingly declared, "Canada 899 miles. Mexico 1,779 miles."

The second: Just over a week ago we were on the PCT at an elevation of more than 5,000-feet and, except for a few icy sections, the trail was clear. No snow. Most years we'd have been cross country-skiing, not hiking.

Actually, there's a third remarkable. The PCT between the Dead Indian Memorial Road north toward Brown Mountain and Highway 140 is a deliciously beautiful section, one that gently rambles through sumptuous old-growth forests alive with Shasta red, western white and Douglas firs, Ponderosa pines and mountain hemlocks along with chinquapin shrubs. Although it was bitterly cold, sunlight penetrated openings in the forest canopy, both brightening and warming the trail.

Our hike, which had originally been forecast as a snowshoe or cross-country ski outing, began from the parking area at the Pederson Sno-Park on Dead Indian Memorial Road, where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the road. The mileage signs came soon, at the junction for the Brown Mountain Shelter, but our small group continued north along the PCT.

It's part of the PCT that thru-hikers love. Along with being scenic, the trail is fairly flat and undulating. No big hills. It's a section hikers can move through quickly. We weren't in a hurry, but we moved steadily along.

As we did, some of us devised a plan: Would one or two of the very kind drivers, who were planning to do an about-face and hike back to the cars, mind driving a few extra miles to meet us where the PCT crosses Highway 140? No one flinched, so about 3½-too-soon miles into the hike, our leader announced it was time to double-back. We did, however, agree to arrange for a future hike from Dead Indian Memorial Road to Highway 140 this spring or summer — a one-way distance of about 12 miles.

The hike back wasn't a total retreat. We detoured at the Canada-Mexico sign junction a short distance to the South Brown Mountain Shelter where, to our surprise, a Rogue Valley group had an outdoor fire blazing. They used firewood stocked at the cabin for their warming fire, which they happily shared. Their group took our group's photo, and we did the same for them.

Ironically, the area by the cabin, which can be reached by winter snowmobilers and summertime mountain bikers, was covered with hard-packed snow. People looking at our photos naturally assume we had stomped through deep snow to get there.

Weather in the Cascades is typically fickle, so it's not surprising to report that some decent storms last Sunday and Monday dropped about six inches of powder on the area, and a big dump Wednesday night and Thursday morning added to that. Friends who hiked the section starting from Highway 140 over Presidents Day said the trail was covered, though snowshoes weren't required at that point, and skis would have been fun. By Thursday morning, OSP was requiring tire chains on Highway 140.

With any luck, a few more storms will bury the trail under many feet of snow and February hikes on high-mountain dirt will fade into memory.

— Reach freelance reporter Lee Juillerat at juilleratlee1@gmail.com or 541-880-4139.

Hikers move along the PCT between Dead Indian Memorial Road and Highway 140 just days before snow finally arrived in the Cascades. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
Hikers warm themselves at a fire near the Brown Mountain Shelter. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]