Installment No. 6 of My PCT Journey
[Disclaimer: This is not one of my happier journal entries. In fact, it’s a bit of downer!]
With a four-day weekend in February and the weather looking good, I wasn’t about to waste any days I could spend hiking. So, the night before Valentines day, Art followed me all the way to Silverwood Lake where we left my car. We then drove over to Big Bear Lake and stayed the night in the charming Vintage Resort. Our room had a fire in the fireplace going as we walked in the door, after midnight, and included a waffle breakfast the next morning. I highly recommend them!
Day 1: 18 miles
Art dropped me off at the Highway 18 PCT crossing near Baldwin Lake. Despite the beautiful weather, the grand vistas, and the knowledge that this shouldn’t be a terribly difficult hike, I didn’t feel great hitting the trail. It’s rare that Art and I both have time off because of our weird work schedules and I chose to spend the weekend hiking instead of hanging out with him. He would’ve hiked with me if he didn’t have to return to work on Sunday.
The trail began at 7,000 feet with views of the southern end of the Mojave Desert. It was a toasty warm day, and since the PCT Water Report hadn’t been updated on several of the water sources for this section, my backpack was heavy with water. The birds were wonderful all along this section, called Nelson Ridge. I have no idea what kind of birds they were, if they were having a normal day or a really great day, but they were all twittering, trilling, and cooing to each other. I kept stopping just to listen to them!
Just before the climb over Gold Mountain began, I passed the trial for Doble Camp, named for the old mine just uphill from it. Gold Mountain was the only bit of uphill I had to do on this trip- which, honestly, felt kinda weird.
Baldwin Lake is named after the owner of Doble Mine, Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin. The Wilderness Press PCT Guidebook offers an excellent history of the Goldrush fever that spread over the San Bernardinos in the 1860’s and ’70’s. The short of it is, after the discovery of placer gold (small bits of gold found in creek and hillside deposits) in Holcomb Valley, the San Bernardinos were overrun with panners for about a decade. Miners soon moved in, too, searching for the “Mother Load,” or the source of all the placer gold, deep in the mountains. Doble mine was one of the many mines which never did find the “Mother Load” and recoup their investors’ millions.
Since the west coast has received so little rain this season, I was pleased to find at least a few patches of snow here and there. The lack of snow has definitely made hiking more accessible for me during the winter months, but I’m worried the water resources will be all dried up by the time the thru-hiker herd moves through later this Spring.
Caribou Creek was delightfully sweet and a surprise! I hadn’t expected it to have any water at all, so I’d carried plenty of water to get me all the way to Holcomb Creek. It was just a little run of water under a tiny little bridge, but it was enough to lift up my mood. I could’ve sunbathed and napped there on the bridge all day, it was so lovely!
The more I hiked this day, the more depressed I got. The scenery was really lovely and the hiking was pretty easy, but I really missed Art. It was the first time I’ve ever really felt lonely on the trail.
The ghost town of Belleville lies sleeping somewhere near Arrastre Flat. It was errected as a prospectors camp during the Goldrush and was apparently one tough place, with a recorded 40 men dying by either hanging or gun fight. Political affiliations in the Civil War were a touchy subject for the prospectors and numerous fights to the death ensued. The town’s notable spots (building foundations, graves, the hanging tree, etc.) are spread out between Van Duessen Road, named for the town’s blacksmith, and Holcomb Road, named for William Holcomb who first discovered the placer gold. The town itself was named after the first baby born there, the blacksmith’s daughter, Belle.
Reaching the view of Big Bear Lake had me almost on the point of tears. By this time I was really lonely, and I had only been dropped off a couple of hours prior! I know that if I called, Art could easily come pick me up. I could’ve hiked down Cougar Crest Trail to wait for him in Big Bear, saying “To Hell with these shenanigans!” I could even just have called to say “hi,” but I didn’t. I knew that even dailing his number would probably turn on the water works, so I left my phone in the hip belt pocket and carried on.
Sometimes I think hiking is all I can do to feel better when I’m miserable on the trail. Since I’m usually alone, there’s no one to talk to or complain to or joke with, no one to play cards with- maybe I should learn solitaire- no one to play silly, little games with me. There’s no escaping my emotions- wherever I go, there I am- and I have to talk myself out of those spirals of darkness before I make myself too miserable. After all, I’m the only company I’ve got!
Arriving at Polique Canyon Road, I was greeted by two very small hikers. The older one was incredibly social, the other incredibly shy. To my delight, the social one offered me a bagel and warned me to look out for Sasquatches- yes, plural. He was pretty charming.
I continued along the trail, climbing lower and lower through a previously burned area. I was determined not to feel lonely, and all that determination channeled into hiking towards Little Bear Spring Camp.
I decided that camping at Little Bear Spring would be colder than up on the hillside, so I started keeping an eye out for a flat spot to camp somewhere on the hill before Little Bear. I passed an AMAZING campsite, but decided to pass it up in the effort to put in a few more miles. I do this quite often when I’m hiking alone. There’s something about hiking with a partner that makes me go easy on the mileage. I always want them to really enjoy their campsite, plus if you set-up camp with daylight to burn, it’s always more fun with a buddy.
I settled myself on a nice lookout around mile 283.75. It had been cleared already by the last fire to pass through the forest, so I just had to level out the dirt a bit. This took forever because there seemed to be little gopher holes caving in whenever I moved the dirt. I set up my Zpacks Hexamid tent and settled in for the evening with a chicken and asparagus dinner from Paleo Meals To Go. (Their meals are pretty big, so at home I added dried brown rice and split it into two servings.) It would’ve been a delicious meal if I hadn’t forgotten I was supposed to add my own salt. I spent the rest of the evening staring at my maps and snacking on an apple, gummy bears, and gram cracker cookies.
Day 2: 19.75 miles to Deep Creek
The morning started off with a cup of tea and a Twix bar for breakfast (not the healthiest, but one of my favorites). I slept really well despite the super bright moon shining through my tent all night. I was glad I’d decided to camp up on the hill because at around 9:00 the night before several jeeps roared right past Little Bear Spring Camp on a dirt road and made their way up the other side of the canyon. I think if I’d been closer to the passing jeeps, it would’ve scared the beejeebers out of me.
I was feeling much better than the day before, not as sad and lonely. It’s probably just me, but there’s something about getting past that first day and night on the trail. After that, I wake up feeling strong, capable, and adjusted.
Little Bear Spring Camp had a picnic table, an outhouse, and a horse corral. There were some really nice tent sites across the creek from the main camp.
From here on, almost the entire way to Mojave Forks, I would follow a creek: first Holcomb and later Deep Creek. Holcomb Creek was really beautiful. It had pines and willows along its banks, interesting rock formations, ducks and squirrels. There are apparently also beavers along Holcomb Creek who dam up the flow and flood Forest Route 3N93, but I didn’t see any.
The trail diverged from the creek for a few miles and I could feel the heat start to get to me. Looking out over the chaparral to the north, I could see the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance. It felt great to think about closing the gap between this trip and my previous PCT hikes in the San Gabriels, but I would have to do that another time.
It was so warm that I couldn’t wait to climb back down into the cool canyon of Holcomb Creek. In fact, when I finally reached it, I stripped down to go for a swim. The water was so icy cold I ended up only dipping my legs in and splashing it over the rest of myself. Feeling refreshed after my birdie bath, I sailed along the trail towards Bench Camp and Deep Creek.
The next several miles were really beautiful. There were tall pine trees and the creek was flowing well. I seemed to have gotten past my loneliness of the previous day and had found my stride.
Bench camp was a fairly large camp with spots for numerous tents. It also had a huge “You Are Here” map posted, which I thought was really random. It took me forever to figure out that “Here” was just a screw drilled into the map. It would’ve been a nice place to stay if it wasn’t the middle of the day and I wasn’t hoping to cover another ten or more miles for the day.
I came upon an older couple day hiking down from Lake Arrowhead Hospital. They had all sorts of questions about the trail and it was nice to have the company for a bit. They walked along with me for a while, but eventually they moved ahead because I was loaded down with my pack.
As I approached the Deep Creek footbridge and Splinters Cabin, I could hear and see all sorts of off-roading activity. I had thought that maybe I’d stay at Splinter’s Cabin for the night, but seeing how many people were there, I decided to keep moving.
I could easily see where Deep Creek got it’s name: it had some of the deepest pools of water I’ve ever seen in a creek. No wonder people flock here to swim and fish for trout. It made me think of Art because his favorite thing about hiking is finding the best swimming holes. I had conflicted feelings about the trail being so far up the canyon walls from the creek. I wished I was closer so I could get a better look at the pools and maybe even go for a swim, but at the same time I knew that it was the inaccessilbity of Deep Creek that keeps it pristine.
Since the trail along Deep Creek basically follows a narrow path just along the steep canyon walls of the creek, there really were no places to camp. I kept thinking that if I’d had my bivy sack, I’d have more possibilities; or I could just cowboy camp, if needed! I did manage to find one spot, and actually sat myself down on it for a while contemplating mileage. At that point, I knew if I squeezed in a bit more mileage, I could reach my car by the next day. I missed my honey and my dog- so that was motivation! I picked myself up and pushed on another couple of miles until I eventually found a spot wide enough for my tent. As the sun was just going down, I kicked the dirt around unti it was nice and flat, and threw up my shelter.
That evening I enjoyed some home dehydrated Trader Joe’s lentil soup- delicious! It’s one of my favorite trail dinners. To fill out the soup even more, I’ve started adding dehydrated veggies and potatoes. I layed around staring at maps, counting my food, and reading my Kindle until my lantern battery died. That was a bummer and put a stopped on the evening’s entertainment until the moon started to rise. At first I thought there were car headlights on the canyon ridge, but soon that pearly orb crept up higher to perfectly silhouette a tree. I do believe it was the most beautiful moonrise I’ve ever seen in my life. I only wish my smartphone camera had been able to take a better picture.
Day 3: 25.75 miles to Silverwood Lake
With over 25 miles to cover before reaching my car, I packed up early, before the sun even rose. The glorious moon of the night before was still hanging in the sky with candy pink clouds as I set out along Deep Creek again.
My next destination was the well attended Deep Creek Hot Springs. I was really looking forward to a soak in the hot springs, but I was pretty turned off by the amount of trash and human waste I came across as I approached the area. There might have been more than 30 people camped there for the holiday weekend, and you could tell they’d partied hard. Beer cans, food wrapers, and filthy towels were strewn about, and three dogs scavenged through it all for good pickings.
I hung out long enough to filter water and chat with an old hippie about nothing being sacred or secret any more. It made me think hard about posting my trail journals online. It’s because of the internet that so many people now know about these special places and trails. It’s how I and so many others found out about the PCT in the first place- and now they estimate 1,000 people will attempt to hike the PCT this year! I only hope that my post, along with all the others out there, will inspire people not only to get out and experience these special places, but to treasure them enough to care for and respect them.
Leaving the party and all the trash behind I pushed onward, only to be disappointed further in humanity. I past numerous graffiti on the canyon’s rocky walls and swimming holes. At this point, I’m trying hard to view it as historically cultural because if I view it the other way, I just get super pissed off. I also packed out a ridiculous amount of trash and plastic water bottles I picked up along the trail. Parts of the trail were incredibly eroded from the high numbers of people coming out for the swimming holes.
I thought about the San Bernardino Mountains and particularly the Deep Creek area being an oasis of nature amongst the urban sprawl of Southern California. With the population as high as it is in Southern California, the innate need humans have to be close to nature, and the accessiblity of wilderness being so limited, it’s no wonder these areas see the amount of use that they do. What I can’t get past is how people can value it enough to travel to and hike into it, but not enough to pack out their trash or save the spray cans for urban artwork.
I was relieved to finally leave Deep Creek. I have a hard time facing such overwhelmingly large problems (in my mind). I am often left feeling like any contribution I make would be so small in comparison to the overall issue.
Every now and again the Wilderness Press Guidbook can be pretty funny. While reading the section on the Mojave Forks spillway dam, I came across this: “This mammoth flood-control dam, over a mile long, is an example of overkill, since West Fork Mojave River and Deep Creek don’t have that much flow.” Later it mentions that the engineers must’ve been expecting a “flood of biblical proportions” to come down upon the valley.
My faith in humanity had yet to be restored as I hiked along the creek bed. After having passed several signs about endangered toads living in the area, I couldn’t believe it when a 4WD truck roared its engines back and forth through the creek bed, the small children laughing with delight in the backseat. I briefly pictured myself the savior of dozens of arroyo southwestern toads by placing myself in the middle of the creek between the truck and it’s path. (Google them- they’re pretty cute!) Alas,I restrained myself from potentially being run over by a trashy family of ignorant specimens of modern humanity, and hiked onward to Highway 173.
It turns out there used to be a village called Atongai in just this area once belonging to the native Mojave people. It was first visited in 1776 by a padre of the de Anza expedition, which carved out a path from Arizona to present-day San Fransisco. Only a couple years after missionaries moved in and built a mission, these fierce people rose up and killed all of the missionaries. And now, years later, a huge pointless dam sits atop the village site.
This last section turned out to be harder than the first day. Not only was I emotionally burnt at this point in the day, my feet were starting to hurt- which I wasn’t used to dealing with- and it was HOT! I’ve been lucky with my feet since I started section hiking the PCT. I’ve had only one blister in 337 miles and my feet almost never hurt. I think I just upped my mileage too fast on this short trip. I had orginally planned on doing the 63.5 miles over four days, but instead was doing it in three.
Highway 173 had a modest beauty to it as it stretched across Summit Valley, the San Gabriels mounting on the horizon. The trail soon climbed enough to give a good view across the valley and remained almost entirely flat all the way to the Cedar Springs Dam. This led to a rather monotonous hike skirting the valley side. The monotony was broken only by a few encounters with little springs or tree shaded gullies.
As I was trying to put in the miles, I wasn’t stopping to rest much along this section. One of the few times I did, however, landed me right on top of a bee which stung me in the back of my thigh. Ugh.
Just past Cedar Springs Dam, the trail climbs steeply up to Silverwood Lake. I felt really exhausted climbing over the hill and just as I stopped to rest for a bit, I found a tick on my chest. I yelled “To hell with this, I’m getting the f— out!” and I promptly hauled by butt over the hill.
The view of Silverwood Lake was exceptionally rewarding, particularly because I knew my car was only a few miles away at this point. There were a few boats out on the lake and fishermen on the lake shore. Silverwood Lake is creased all around with little trails and dirt roads. As much as I tried, I couldn’t seem to stay on the PCT’s path. I somehow managed to find myself half way up a hill heading towards Highway 138. By then, however, I really didn’t care. I didn’t feel like turning around and continuing to fish for the trail, potentially adding more footsteps and hours to this trip. I ended up road walking back to the Silverwood Lake exit.
Since my car was parked half a mile down the road to the campgrounds, I found the PCT again and hustled up over the last gentle hill I had for the day. I reached my car just as the sun went down and sped off toward Cajon Pass, where I knew a Subway sandwich shop awaited me. [Update: The allergies I thought I was suffering over this trip turned out to be a nasty cold. No wonder I was so cranky!]