FATMAP difficulty grade
On this first leg of Section M, the PCT climbs determinedly out of the North Yuba river gorge onto the elevated slopes of the Sierra Buttes.
Then it rolls northward on a series of ridges and basins, patched with conifer woodlands and mountainside meadows.
There are stretches of tranquility punctuated by the bustle of popular trailheads, and exposed ridgelines balanced by sheltered groves in which to camp.
Northbound hikers will want to relish this expanse of relative greenery and shade, as the next sections to the north are badly affected by recent wildfires.
The segment mapped here extends to Quincy-La Porte Road, which is just before the trail enters the burn zone of the 2020 North Complex Fire. Section M kicks off with a big climb up from Sierra City, from the North Yuba River onto the south flank of Sierra Buttes mountain.
Its twin peaks rise in granite jumbles overhead, as the trail switchbacks from forest into alpine shrub.
Continuing an upward slant around the mountain, you’ll view a rotating panorama over the deep gorge of the North Yuba.
The scenery is breathtaking, but this can be a long, hot slog in summer.
Water may be found at Switchback Spring (NB mile 1197.2) and again at Sierra Buttes Spring (NB mile 1202.6). After climbing nearly 3000 feet, the trail finally levels among conifer woods on the north side of the mountain.
After the PCT crosses the popular Sierra Buttes Lookout trail (NB mile 1203.4) it tips steeply down to Tamarack Lakes, where there are lots of campsites near a 4WD road (NB mile 1205.5).
From there, the trail works its way farther downhill and passes a busy trailhead near Packer Lake.
Then the climbing resumes, through scattered forest and mountain meadows on a return to the Sierra Crest.
A dirt road makes a detour to tiny Summit Lake (NB mile 1211.7) in case you’re in need of water. Now meandering along the crest, the PCT proceeds on several miles of similar scenery with gentle ups and downs.
The mountaintops are, for the most part, lightly forested, with frequent alpine meadows that erupt with yellow flowers in summer.
Views extend in every direction of the green ridges and valleys that comprise this region of the Sierra.
Campsites and water come intermittently.
There is one piped spring near a small pond at a dirt road (NB mile 1216), then A Tree Spring is a few miles later (NB mile 1219.7). Eventually, the trail takes a pronounced descent into a forested basin, taking switchbacks on a rubbly slope and beneath a craggy peak.
There’s a seasonal creek with a campsite near the bottom (NB mile 1224), then two more options to camp near water at the East Branch (NB mile 1226.3) and West Branch (1226.3) of Bear Trap Creek. The trail advances upward once more, crossing some jeep roads and moving from denser forest to the familiar open woodland of the ridgeline.
A few springwater sources may be marked by signs along the trail, but the South Fork Feather River is not much farther ahead.
When the trail meets the paved Quincy-La Porte Road (NB mile 1234.8), the river is less than half a mile south along the road.
This is a low-traffic byway that’s not typically used to access the PCT, but there’s a pullout where you could stage a car for a section hike.
Shortly after crossing this road, the trail enters charred forest left by the 2020 North Complex Fire, and proceeds through that exposed area for several miles. Permits: This segment goes between [Tahoe National Forest](https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/tahoe/home) and [Plumas National Forest](https://www.fs.usda.gov/plumas), neither of which require a permit for hiking or backcountry camping.
However, the [California Fire Permit](https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/permits/california-fire-permit/) is generally required for campfires or use of a camp stove (barring any seasonal restrictions).
Also, section hikers may need to pay fees or present a recreation pass for parking at certain trailheads. Sources: https://www.pcta.org/discover-the-trail/maps/ https://pctmap.net/trail-notes/ https://pctwater.com/