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peeps of the PCT: Joshua, fire manager

Firefighters never die, they just burn forever in the hearts of the people whose lives they saved. 

Susan Murphree
Joshua was leading a crew building a firebreak on the Pacific Crest Trail through Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California.
Joshua was leading a crew building a firebreak on the Pacific Crest Trail through Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California.

Last September, I walked through the final bit of the Cascades heading south, or SOBO, on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The hike through Lassen Volcanic National Park took one day, but it was a heavenly day of sunshine and cool air, most of the park all to myself, shared with with my thru-hiking friend, Klaus.

The park is full of lakes, and, though chilly in the morning shade, I was urged on by his jumping straight in, to ever so slowly wade into the deep azure of Lower Twin Lake. At that moment, my friends, I felt I’d never been so clean and refreshed in my entire life.

Yes, the best part of hiking south is that the trails were nearly empty in the fall and I finally found solitary campsites and deeply longed for quiet.

Lassen was no exception.

Scarred remains of a forest fire were a constant companion on the Pacific Crest Trail.

After a swim, and a steep uphill past more pristine lakes, I came upon a portion of forest that brought me to Flat Iron Ridge.

Here I met Joshua from the Sierra Institute. A superbly managed non-profit. the Sierra Institute focusses on promoting healthy forests and watersheds by investing in rural communities and encouraging their participation in managing the land.

Joshua is a fire project manager, which actually cracked me up at first because it sounded so corporate. But fires have to be managed, and the managing of managing fires also has to managed…if that makes any sense.

A perfect camp spot with the Lassen Volcano popping up through morning mist.

Joshua was directing a crew in the creation of a firebreak, right there next to the PCT. The reasoning is that the trail’s width already provides a natural break, plus there are canyons on either side and this spot was ideal

Neglected for the last 100 years, regeneration and undergrowth has built up in Lassen, especially White Fir, a shade tolerant and thirsty tree that will out-compete Sugar Pine and Western White Pine. When drought comes, which is inevitable in Northern California, White Fir are the first to die back and become a dangerous fire hazard.

Interesting to me was the length of time from creating the break to actually lighting it. The reason is because the “fuel” is actually live trees they’ve thinned out.

And since this is federally designated wilderness area, his crew uses traditional hand tools trying to balance leaving things to Mother Nature and protecting property.

A short spur off the PCT took us to Terminal Geyser, a cauldron of boiling and hissing steam.

Sadly, at this moment, Lassen National Park is dealing with a huge bear problem. The black bears are not dangerous, really, but they are persistent, and if they know a camp spot might be a good source of free food, they’ll hang around and come too close, especially if you turn your back on them!

I camped outside the park last fall and didn’t have my bear canister yet, so it was a bit risky just hanging my food in a tree. Lucky for me, no encounters!

Also in the news in the Hog Fire raging now and causing mandatory evacuations in parts of Lassen County. It doesn’t appear to have affected the park yet, but I’m sure the black smoke can be seen from the PCT.

God speed, Joshua and all firefighters in Northern California right now. Our hearts are with you.

4 Responses

  1. Lovely to see Lassen again. Been decades since I camped there with my parents and new husband (50 yrs. now!)
    I find it wonderful that there are people dedicated to keeping up not only your favorite trails, but all the park and trail needs. Thanks for sharing their story.

    1. thank you Merry Anne! He was so articulate and it is a tough situation our west to manage all the conflicting needs. I felt very lucky to meet Joshua right as I walked past – and yes, what a spectacular place!! I swam a long time in the hot springs at Drakesbad Guest Ranch. They were SO lovely to us hikers.

  2. On our recent journey, my daughter and I found the quiet and solitude much more inviting. We were more invigorated by a strenuous 8-mile hike on the flanks of Mt Rainier by ourselves than we were by the throngs of virus-ignoring people at Yellowstone.
    And while a bottleneck of cars, vans, RV’s and associated passengers strained to get a glimpse of famous 399 grizzly bear and her four cubs far afield at the Grand Tetons; it was a solitary walk around a quiet lake that brought the two of us within twenty feet of another brown bear (a cinnamon black bear) and her three cubs.

    Prayers and thoughts for all fighting fires to preserve our beautiful parks.

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