Saturday, August 13, 2011


Clicking on any picture should cause it to expand.  Should.
THE PROBLEM WITH A DAYLONG RIDE may be the daylong ride itself. Sitting on my ample arse for eight to ten hours, exercising only throttle, shifter, brake and sit-up-straight muscles, means that other muscle groups stiffen and begin to complain. I need to habitualize packing a pair of comfortable hiking shoes and spending a couple of hours off the bike to flex those other sinews and reduce the fatigue factor that rides along after too many hours on the road.

Traveling east on State Route 49 from Auburn-Downieville toward Yuba Pass, the tiny hamlet of Bassett’s rests in a crook of the North Yuba River canyon. At this point the Lakes Basin highway courses northward through a wonderland of primary and secondary roads, paved and unpaved – but more importantly – some very nicely groomed and little-used hiking trails. These paths connect countless alpine lakes crossing over and between the ridges and peaks of eons-old glaciation.

I drive the little Guzzi up the Lakes Basin Highway a short bit, turning left toward Sardine Lakes. Half mile later a right turn finds me on a nicely paved, narrow strip that rises tantalizingly toward a summit trailhead.

It would be two and a half miles from this point to the stairs that lead to the lookout cemented to the Sierra Buttes at 8800 feet. Those unused muscle groups would get their workout.

FROM THE TRAILHEAD, the goal, the lookout atop the Buttes is readily in view. In fact, as the trail – part of the Pacific Crest – weaves its way south, the lookout is never out of sight for more than a few hundred yards. There is some gratification is seeing the progress one makes when hiking at elevation.

North and east toward the Cascades
Views along this ridge alternate between those unfolding lakes just beneath your feet (about 1000 feet) as you look east, to views across the mountains and foothills of the Sierran gold country. On a clear day, the Coast Range, maybe 125 miles west forms a rim above the valley’s inversion.

Mules Ear
Even in mid-July and early August, the display of wildflowers impresses. Tufts of yellow-bloomed Mule’s Ear grow from the gravelly soil.

Indian Paintbrush poke through Manzanita and the Manzanita itself can be found creeping over eons-old chunks of metamorphic effort.

Prickly phlox
Blossoms of yellow, purple, red and white fill areas where snowmelt provides moisture.

The PCT gains elevation steadily but gently for the first couple of miles. It is only once I branch off on an old service road that the elevation begins to take a toll. The stands of fir, below, have given way to singular pines and junipers. These give way to only the occasional prickly shrub. Above about 8000 feet the winters are too long and harsh for anything substantial to take root.

ONE OF THE GREATEST THINGS about a fire lookout is that they always seem to have great views.

Upper and Lower Sardine
Walking around the expanded metal catwalk of the Buttes Lookout we are afforded a view as far north as Shasta, as far south as, perhaps, Yosemite, east well in to Nevada over a verdant Sierra Valley, and we’ve already mentioned the Coast Range to the west.

The tower is affixed to a very shear precipice.

My knees get the willies when, typically, heights don’t bug me. I imagine that a small stone tossed from this walkway – DON’T EVEN THINK OF DOING THIS! – would travel the better part of a quarter mile before coming to rest on a scree slope or bounding against granite tilt and continuing its fall.

IT TAKES HALF AS LONG to return to the Guzzi as it took to achieve the summit. Muscles that didn’t get a workout on the climb, did get one gingerly threading down the pebbly path.

Straddling the little bike, one finds that first gear is the appropriate choice for safely descending the steep, narrow paved strip back toward Packer and Sardine Lakes.

The ride and the hike make for a full day. And memories that will linger long after the aches and pains of the stout walk have faded.


Sierra County Chamber of Commerce: Not as much commerce going on in Sierra County as they would like in these times, but a great overview of the area is located at: Folks up that way deserve our business.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

No comments:

Post a Comment