Lower Sisquoc Loop, San Rafael Wilderness, March 2016

 

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Lower Sisquoc Loop

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Nira Campground: 34.770654, -119.937436
Manzana Schoolhouse: 34.825658, -119.994829
South Fork Ranger Station Cabin: 34.759459, -119.772110
Rattlesnake: 34.835505, -119.947701
Help from Amy & Dean: 34.802880, -119.986625

 

The Los Padres National Forest is a gem of true California wilderness, though it is often overshadowed by other recreational areas like Big Sur, the Sierras and the Mojave Desert. In the early days of California, it offered essential routes, hunting grounds, and homesteading for Spanish immigrants and Western pioneers; and for thousands of years prior, it was home to the native Chumash, Salinan, and Esselen people. Today, this forest protects some the most incredible rock art of ancient California peoples and unique and endangered animal species, such as the California Condor and the Arroyo Toad.

Though I have lived as its neighbor for my entire life, I’ve ventured into the depths of the Los Padres only a few times and never on my own. I’ve been intimidated by reports of difficult trail, if any was to be found, and feared the scenery would not be rewarding enough for the effort to see it. How could it possibly compare to all the beauty I experienced on the Pacific Crest Trail over the last two and a half years and why would I want to bother with bushwhacking when there are easier trails to hike?

I swallowed my doubts and decided to give this forest a chance. This trip took me on a 43-mile loop around Hurricane Deck in the San Rafael Wilderness, through some of the most scenic land and rugged trail; it opened my eyes to a different kind of adventure: a beautifully savage one and it nearly broke my heart.

 

Day 1- 2.6 miles to Fish Camp

Driving along Amour Ranch Road toward the San Rafael Wilderness, McKinley Peak in the center.

Driving along Amour Ranch Road toward the San Rafael Wilderness, McKinley Peak in the center.

After a four day skiing and hiking vacation in Shaver Lake with Art and our Queensland Heeler, Pepper, I came home exhausted, but ready for some time on the trail. Art stayed home to work on his paintings, while I headed out late in the afternoon with trepidation and excitement. I don’t usually bring our dog with me out of concern for her well-being, but I decided that because I wouldn’t be logging lots of miles every day, this would be a good trip to bring her on.

A fun surprise on my rear window from Artie.

A fun surprise on my rear window from Artie.

We headed out from Nira Campground along the Manzana Trail at 5:30 in the afternoon. The weather was perfect, the trail was clear, and all the Spring Break campers seemed to be sticking near their cars. The trail follows Manzana Creek along the western side of Hurricane Deck, a large Miocene sandstone formation that separates the Sisquoc River from Manzana Creek. It’s considered to be a very short mountain range, but being a single sandstone formation, Hurricane Deck can also be viewed as a very large mountain.

The Manzana Trailhead at Nira Campground.

The Manzana Trailhead at Nira Campground.

 

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

This area of California can be exceptionally hot in the summer time and the creeks are often dry from around June through November, with little water during the months of December and January. That being said, the ideal time to explore the Los Padres is in the Spring, when the creeks are full, the hills are green and the famous wildflowers of the area are in full bloom.

Lost Valley Camp along Manzana Trail.

Lost Valley Camp along Manzana Trail.

Unlike most of the camps I visited along the Pacific Crest Trail, the Los Padres campsites almost always have picnic tables, fire pits and thrones. (Thrones are exposed outdoor toilets, sometimes with a single wall for privacy.) Though it may not feel as wild having a table and toilet at your service, it offers a safe place to build fires in this tinder-box of a forest and a nice respite from the struggles of route-finding during the day.

Looking south along Manzana Creek.

Looking south along Manzana Creek.

 

Tall grasses, blue skies and chaparral-covered mountains are quintessential Los Padres.

Tall grasses, blue skies and chaparral-covered mountains are quintessential Los Padres.

We stopped at Fish Camp for the night, with not a soul nearby. There was water in the creek and the valley opened up around the camp allowing the last rays of sunshine to grace us. Although she’s gone camping before, Pepper really isn’t used to sleeping outside. The openness and exposure seems to freak her out- maybe it’s because she lives in an apartment with me and Art or maybe it’s because she was traumatized as a pup living as a stray.

Even if she’s been exposed to poison oak, I’ll keep Pepper inside the tent with me at night; I just give her a dirt bath first. Tonight she sat upright, on high alert, trying hard to peer through the bug netting of the tent, which was held up by safety pins because the zipper wore out after 2,600 on the PCT. I finally just pulled her inside the sleeping bag with me and cuddled her until we both fell asleep, my arm numb under the weight of her.

Fish Camp

Fish Camp

 

 

Day 2- 12.8 miles to South Fork Station

Winding through grasses and oak trees.

Winding through grasses and oak trees.

All day, the trail was easy to follow- no climbing over downed trees or pushing through thick bushes. I was absolutely delighted! The map I use was created by local cartographer Bryan Conant and he indicates clear trail with a yellow line and rugged to no trail with a purple line. The entire Manzana Trail is yellow- whoohoo!

Purplehead wildflowers, also called Blue Dicks

Purplehead wildflowers, also called Blue Dicks

The California wildflowers lived up to their reputation with popping colors of red, yellow, orange, purple and soft blues and whites. The Purplehead wildflowers, I learned, were an important part of the native American diet. Their starchy corms, or bulbs, are enjoyed by not only humans, but also bears, mule deers, rabbits, pigs, and gophers. Once the bulb is dug up, it aerates the soil and aids in controlling the plant population.

Bristly Fiddleneck wildflower

Bristly Fiddleneck wildflower

 

Foothill Yellow Legged Frog

Foothill Yellow Legged Frog

 

Waterfalls at Manzana Narrows Campsite

Waterfalls at Manzana Narrows Campsite

It didn’t take us long to reach the popular Manzana Narrows Camp. This site, sandwiched between sandstone canyon walls, is large enough for scout troops or school groups and is situated directly next to a swimming hole decorated with two beaming waterfalls. It’s here that I learned Pepper is a ratter. Normally trotting safely behind me, she went straight for a juicy rat eating leftover camp food and, to my surprise, my docile, city-dog caught it! She dropped the screaming rat as soon as I barked at her, but I think she was feeling pretty proud of herself. The rat seemed shaken up, but unharmed and dashed away through the dead oak leaves.

A classic Los Padres trail marker

A classic Los Padres trail marker

 

Pepper with my Gossamer Gear backpack

Pepper with my Gossamer Gear backpack

The Manzana trail soon leaves the cool, shade of the creek and switchbacks up to the stunning White Ledge Canyon. This high canyon is one of the most spectacular areas of the Los Padres, with sandstone formations protruding from the grassy earth and pine trees growing in the crevasses between them. If I had more time, I would’ve explored these rocks in the hopes of finding a secret cave or sacred artwork, perhaps dating back 10,000 or more years. As it was, I remained on the trail, stopping frequently to eyeball the rock walls and caves for any signs of artwork. The exact locations of known rock art are kept secret to protect them from vandalism.

Along White Ledge Canyon

Along White Ledge Canyon

 

Shallow pools in the sandstone near Happy Hunting Ground Camp

Shallow pools in the sandstone near Happy Hunting Ground Camp

 

Exposed Miocene and Creteceous Age sandstone (That's 23 to 65 million years old!)

Exposed Miocene and Creteceous Age sandstone (That’s 23 to 65 million years old!)

 

Looking north toward the Sisquoc River drainage

Looking north toward the Sisquoc River drainage

Pepper & I arrived at the South Fork Ranger Station around 3pm and helped ourselves to relaxing in the cool and bug-free cabin. The cabin is primarily used by the Volunteer Wilderness Rangers who maintain the trails, but they leave it unlocked for hikers to enjoy as well. The cabin is furnished with two cots, a wood-burning stove, and a tiny table complete with a red-checkered tablecloth. The shutters opened from the outside allowing generous light in, while screens kept the flies out.

South Fork Ranger Station Cabin

South Fork Ranger Station Cabin

After relaxing for about an hour, I secured the shutters and packed up my gear, ready to move onward, but Pepper made it very clear that she wasn’t interested in hiking. She just stared at me, even as I walked away from the cabin and made ready to leave through the gate. The 12.8 miles we’d hiked so far are the furthest she’s ever hiked in her little, doggie life and she was worn out. I had originally planned on hiking a southern loop along the Sisquoc, but it would require us putting in 15 miles each day. Knowing that this may be too much for Pepper, I had a back-up itinerary of 10-miles per day around the northern Sisquoc loop and decided to make a final call once we reached South Fork. Well, this was it, she was saying “No, way!” to 15 miles and we settled in at the cabin for the night. There was a tennis ball on the shelf and she didn’t seem too tired to play catch while I enjoyed a homemade dinner!

 

Potato Leak Soup for dinner!

Potato Leak Soup for dinner!

 

Day 3- 11.8 miles to Miller Canyon

Wild purple Lupin along the trail

Wild purple Lupin along the trail

I knew that today would be a more difficult hike, given that Bryan’s maps showed the Sisquoc River Trail as purple, and not the friendly shade of yellow; but no purple line on a map ever prepares you for the harsh reality of bushwhacking through jungle-like riparian woodland and thick grasslands. The morning began with a clear-enough path and beautiful views of sandstone-layered hills. Slowly and before my eyes, the land transformed from lush, green that had surrounded Manzana Creek and the South Fork Sisquoc, to dense river vegetation cutting through tall desert hills.

Los-Padres-National-Forest-San-Rafael-Wilderness-133Sisquoc-River-Trail

 

Black bear scat

Black bear scat

 

Looking west, back towards South Fork Station

Looking west, back towards South Fork Station

 

The Sisquoc River

The Sisquoc River

 

Small, yet hardy desert blooms

Small, yet hardy desert blooms

 

Note the trail winding along the hillside.

Note the trail winding along the hillside.

As the canyon around the Sisquoc narrowed, the trail transformed from overgrown grass to crumbling rock, clinging to the canyon sides. Eventually, the canyon opened up to form the Sisquoc River Valley, once home to about twenty homesteads housing two hundred religious settlers during the late 1800’s. Lead by fellow settler Hiram Preserved Wheat (1822-1903), these spiritual people believed in the power of faith healing and healing through the “laying-on of hands.”

The Sisquoc River

The Sisquoc River

 

Ruins from homesteaders

Ruins from homesteaders

The remains of these settlers can still be seen today: fragments of rock chimneys and rusted farm equipment have sat quietly for over 100 years in the grasses above the river. The settlers raised livestock, which they would drive into town via a wagon road through the Sisquoc Valley, and had gardens and orchards of grapes, apples, melons, beans and potatoes. As rain became more scarce over the years and access to the only road connecting them to town was denied by a local ranch, the settlers were forced to sell their prospects and relocate. For more fascinating information on these settlers, check out E. R. Blakey’s book, A Historical Overview of the Los Padres, or Jame’s Wapotich’s Blogpost, Trail Quest: Sisquoc River, Part 2.

A White Lined Sphinx caterpillar

A White Lined Sphinx caterpillar

I learned quickly that the Sisquoc River Valley has a pattern: the river wraps around brief stretches of grassland, which gives way to rocky cliffs as the river changes direction, forcing the trail to cross the river and climb up to the next grassland on the opposite side. Following the trail requires spotting a cairn or piece of faded red flagging on the opposite side of the river and then following the path of grass that’s about a foot shorter than the surrounding grass. At times, I just walked along the sandy riverbed or directly in the river itself because I couldn’t find where the trail picked up or because I simply couldn’t stand the foxtails getting stuck in my shoes any longer. Next time, I’m wearing my heavy-duty REI gaiters. Oh, yeah, and I’m bringing my bug net for the incessant flies!

Los-Padres-National-Forest-San-Rafael-Wilderness-165-Sisquoc-River-Trail

There’s a saying I’ve heard, “If you’re not crawling on your hands and knees, you’re not in the Los Padres.” It definitely seemed to be true today. Every time the trail dropped back down to cross the river, I became tangled and caught in thickets of young willows and alder trees, pillowed by tall grass and deep mud. It was like navigating a maze of vines, wooden cages and quicksand, and I was Tarzan.

At times the river or the mud was too deep for Pepper and I would scoop her up and haul her across. More than once, I fell ass-first and Pepper face-first into the water. Normally a very quiet dog, she’d make a surprised and displeased grunt every time we took a tumble- she quickly learned to not squirm whenever we went through this process. Otherwise, she became very good at finding her own ways- drier ways- of crossing the Sisquoc.

Crawling on all fours!

Crawling on all fours!

 

A very overgrown Miller Canyon Base Camp

A very overgrown Miller Canyon Base Camp

Since Miller Canyon Base Camp was completely overgrown, though a beautiful site, I decided to hike onwards in search of a friendlier campsite. We found it at the very next river crossing. Pepper plopped herself down in the shade next to the river as I cleared a space on the bank above for our tent. I spent the evening playing in the water, while Pepper took anther dirt bath, and enjoyed the last rays of sunshine in the quiet air of the valley. I watched Pepper try to sniff crane flies and butterflies as they bounced through the air around her head. It was sweet and beautiful to watch and I felt perfectly at home.

Camping near Miller Canyon

Camping near Miller Canyon

 

Mediterranean Curry Couscous for dinner.

Mediterranean Curry Couscous for dinner.

 

Pepper enjoying the quiet scenery of the evening.

Pepper enjoying the quiet scenery of the evening.

 

Day 4- 17 miles to Nira Campground

Chalk lettuce

Chalk lettuce

There were many times yesterday when I was fed up with the trail. I was angry at the sharp, painful foxtails that stuck to me as I hiked through overgrown grass, frustrated with the seemingly impenetrable riverside foliage that forced me to crawl, stumble backwards into mud, or whacked me with a face-full of dusty leaves and absolutely beside myself when I’d look upon the opposite canyon wall to see a clear trail that I just couldn’t reach. This lasted for hours until I realized that the Los Padres required me to seriously adjust my attitude.

A faded red flag

A faded red flag

It was time to slow down, to enjoy the route-finding and rich details that can be discovered at this careful pace. I learned that a hike of 11-12 miles in the Los Padres backcountry was something to be very, VERY proud of at the end of the day. This realization hit me like a single, soft bell chime- I’ve been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for two years in a row, which is practically a walk in the park compared to exploration of this remote land.

Leftover equipment from homesteaders

Leftover equipment from homesteaders

 

Remains of a pioneer farm house

Remains of a pioneer farm house

 

A bloom in the riverbed

A bloom in the riverbed

 

Grasslands of the Los Padres

Grasslands of the Los Padres

 

Los-Padres-National-Forest-San-Rafael-Wilderness-209-Sisquoc-River-Trail

Pepper seemed to be doing better this morning than the previous two days- she was energetic and brave, bounding ahead through bushes and crossing the river without any encouragement from me. When we first adopted Pepper, she was very shy and absolutely terrified of wide, open spaces. Just taking her on a walk was an ordeal- she’d freeze and look around for signs of danger. Only bite-sized pieces of hot dog seemed enticing enough to shed her fear and moved forward through the big, scary world.

These days, Pepper is a bright, friendly pup who could walk herself to the park down the street if we let her. She’s the most naturally obedient and docile dog I’ve ever owned; she’s so submissive, she even tries to roll underneath our neighbors’ terriers and chihuahuas. Today, I became careless in my responsibility to her. It was so delightful watching her bravely want to lead the hike that I forgot about the danger it put her in.

Pepper in the grass

Pepper in the grass

Shortly after the above picture was taken, around noon, Pepper walked directly into a full grown rattlesnake and it bit before it could even rattle a warning. Being ten or so feet behind, I could hear the snake as I watched her immediately and confusedly u-turn back toward me. My initial thought was, “Good dog, you know not to check it out, good dog!” And then I saw her hind leg curled up as she limped closer to me. She attempted to walk a few more feet before she collapsed like a block into the sandy riverbed and then pulled herself with her three working paws into the shade of a boulder.

I rolled Pepper onto her back and looked frantically for a bite mark, and there it was: two small puncture wounds directly in her heel, small drops of blood already showing. Twenty-five percent of the time rattlesnakes do not inject their venom, but I wasn’t about to sit around to watch her suffer just to find out how much poison this snake had delivered. I don’t have any children- so all my maternal instincts have gone straight into this wonderful dog who has been our companion and side-kick for years. Without a second thought, I pulled out half my gear, lifted Pepper, hind legs first, into my backpack, and hoisted her 40 pound body onto my back. Placing her wound below her heart would help slow the poison disseminating in her small system.

We didn’t trek long before we ran into another rattlesnake, stretched under the shade of a manzanita bush. I felt my anger well up immediately, but rather than waste time hating on the random animal, I skirted around it until I came to a wall of crumbling rock that was apparently the trail. Even if I didn’t have Pepper on my back, it would’ve been a struggle to climb up it, so I detoured back toward the now aggravated snake and down a gully into the riverbed. Some kind of wildlife alarm must have gone off, because not five minutes of walking along the riverbed, we ran into a small black bear. He was meandering along the sand and turned, startled to look at us. The bear dashed ahead, but continued in the same direction as us along the river. Three times, the bear dashed ahead along the river before he figured out that I wasn’t going to change course and he finally turned up the riverbank and disappeared into the alders and grass.

I carried Pepper for five miles before we reached a clear trail at the Manzana Schoolhouse Camp. Exhausted and concerned about dehydrating or injuring myself, I stopped to rest before continuing along the Manzana Trail toward Nira Campground. I set the backpack with Pepper inside carefully on the ground and gently pulled her out to exam the wound. Her hind leg was now swollen and black with oozing blood. Rattlesnake venom prevents blood from clotting and causes blood vessels to leak like a wet sponge; victims eventually die from heart failure. I reached for my water bottle in the side pocket of my pack only to find I’d lost it somehow. Frustration, anger, and fear of loosing my loving dog now overwhelmed me and I finally let out a desperate scream. Once out, I couldn’t stop it, I screamed and I cried and screamed again. The water was no big deal; I could drink directly from Manzana Creek and worry about giardia later, but I did not want to loose my dog. All I could think was, “She’s too good to die like this!”

At that moment, two hikers heading toward the schoolhouse cabin, came around the bend and eased my nerves. They gave me a spare water bottle and helped me situate Pepper on my back again. I hiked onward, my shoulders and hips aching from the weight of her and my mind frantically analyzing the situation, “What’s my pace? Am I hiking fast enough to save her life? Will I get to the car before dark? … Headlamp’s in the side pocket; spare battery’s in the top pocket. … I’ll have reception on the road near the shooting range- should I call the vet first or Art? … There’s a packet of almond butter in your pocket- eat it so you have energy to hike faster.”

Taking a break at Dabny Cabin (built in 1914)

Taking a break at Dabny Cabin (built in 1914)

After another two miles, I stopped at a fork in the trail, confused about which branch to take, and a family of four emerged from a side trail. Amy and Dean, along with their two kids, Eric and Emma, were out for a day hike and they immediately offered to help carry Pepper the remaining six miles to my car. I couldn’t believe my luck. In that moment, I was so grateful I had to suck in my sobs because I didn’t want to unnerve them. Dean carried Pepper like a marine. He hiked so fast that the rest of us struggled to keep up. With his and Amy’s help, Pepper was packed securely in the front seat of my car and we were on our way to a vet before sunset.

 

The Follow-up

Pepper received the finest medical treatment a dog could get for three full days and has pulled through to fight another one. She will continue to need medical attention from our regular vet for the next two to three weeks as we monitor the damage done to her blood and attempt to save the tissue around the bite on her leg.

Visiting Pepper at the doggie hospital.

Visiting Pepper at the doggie hospital.

I have learned a lot since she was bit. I was careless and irresponsible, and even though it was for a short time, it nearly cost her her life. While hiking the PCT, I was often teased for being overly cautious when it came to safety on the trail and I’ve now seen first hand how ugly and heart breaking it can be when hikers become lax with safety. Before taking Pepper on a hiking trip again, I will participate in a training program which will teach her to smell, recognize and avoid rattlesnakes and am considering giving her the rattlesnake vaccine, both of which I never knew existed until now. While she usually hikes behind me when I ask her to, I’ll be more proactive about keeping her there and not allowing her to trail blaze in front. Even on a leash, she would’ve reached the snake before me and still been bitten, so the most important things I can do now are train and vaccinate her.

Art has made several points to alleviate my guilt. First, this accident could’ve happened along any of the front country trails or open spaces that she and I hike weekly. It’s true that I’ve seen more snakes in the Santa Barbara front country than I have anywhere else while hiking. The difference is that accessibility to help in the front country is much higher than deeper in the mountains. Also, if I had been walking in front, the snake could have easily struck me instead and though I’ve carried a SPOT device with S.O.S. messaging for over two years, I didn’t have it with me on this trip. I canceled my membership because I didn’t think I’d need it this year. If I had been bitten, I would’ve had no way of requesting help and the chances of being found by another hiker in that remote area are miniscule. That dog may have just saved MY LIFE. Words cannot express how grateful Art and I are for the help of Amy and Dean and the expertise of the veterinarians- without them, I may not be sitting here now with Pepper safely at home.

Pepper the dog

Pepper the dog

Links- Snake Safety

Training your Dog to Recognize & Avoid Snakes- Youtube Video

Snake Safety Information from the Forest Service

Canine Rattlesnake Vaccine

 

Links- Los Padres Information

Bryan Conant’s Maps of the Los Padres

Hike Los Padres

San Rafael Wilderness Wikipedia Article

 

 

 

Installment No. 8 of My PCT Journey

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No. 8- Mill Creek Station to Hiker Town, 2014

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Mill Creek Station: 34.391664, -118.080904
Hiker Town: 34.775883, -118.607798
The Rock Inn: 34.675211, -118.440562
Vasquez Rocks: 34.477827, -118.319831

 

Having been thwarted in my efforts to reach Kennedy Meadows Campground in InyoKern National Forest, I decided to head south to the lower elevations of Angels National Forest.

 

Day 1:  25.5 miles to the Acton Kamp of America (KOA)

Starting out at Angeles Forest Hwy

Starting out at Angeles Forest Hwy

Climbing north from Angeles Forest Hwy

Climbing north from Angeles Forest Hwy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had been to this area before when I hiked from Mill Creek Station southbound to Cloudburst Summit (PCT Installment No. 3). Seeing this land again felt so familiar and comforting.  I must say, that’s the nice thing about section hiking. When I section hike one area, I usually get to visit it again when I hike the neighboring sections.

Looking towards Mt. Gleason

Looking towards Mt. Gleason

 

Fun Fact: This area, like so many other parts of the California mountains, was a staging ground for a gold rush in the 1880’s.The miners were supposedly looking for the legendary Los Padres Mine or “Fathers’ Mine.” The legend goes that a group of Spanish Franciscans mined and stored silver and gold near Pine Mountain sometime between 1748 and 1848. The mine and all its storage was forced to be abandoned during the political upheavals of the Mexican independence in 1821, the secularization of the Ventura Mission in 1836, and the Mexican-American War in the late 1840’s. The mine has never been found.

 

Poodle Dog City

Poodle Dog City

Treating a hotspot

Treating a hotspot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I hiked, I could see Highway 14 stretching far into the east and, to the north, the recently snow-capped Tehachapi Mountains. I was glad to hiking in warmer and drier weather. Many parts of this section were overgrown with grass and bushes, including the nasty, but sweet-smelling Poodle Dog bush.

Climbing over downed trees

Climbing over downed trees

 

Approaching the top of Mt. Gleason

Approaching the top of Mt. Gleason

There is a mountain near Mt. Gleason named for my mother’s great-grandfather, Mendenhall Peak. The Summitpost.org site mistakenly states the peak was named for mom’s grandfather, William Mendenhall, who was a superintendent to the Forest. William actually named the peak and the nearby fire road after HIS father, who was killed by a rock slide in the area when William was a young man. The pass over Mt. Gleason offered sweeping views of the area, but I couldn’t figure out which distance peak was Mendenhall.

I had considered camping at Messenger Flats just below Mt. Gleason, or perhaps farther at the North Fork Ranger Station for the night. Messenger Flats did look like a really nice place, with healthy pines, tables, and bathrooms. The lure of showers, however, pushed me towards Acton’s Kamp of America (KOA), and so I flew right on past the Flats.

20140328_144611_Richtone(HDR)

20140328_145212_Richtone(HDR)

The vistas spread before me on the north side of Mt. Gleason were incredible. The desert land looked so barren, but the mountains, hills, and valleys created a dynamic texture against the blue sky. Around 17 miles into the day, I reached the North Fork Ranger Station. It provided tables, bathrooms and a map of the entire Angeles National Forest. It was fun and so rewarding to look at the map and see how much of that land I’d already walked through.

Water cache provided by the ranger at the North Fork Station

Water cache provided by the ranger at the North Fork Station

Map at the North Fork Ranger Station

Map at the North Fork Ranger Station

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a long downhill hike towards Soledad Canyon. My feet, hips, and shoulders were aching from the mileage I was pushing for, but the views and wildflowers made up for the aches and pains. Since I had cell phone reception, I got to talk to my brother for about 30 minutes during the remaining downhill miles. Talking to him while in the middle of nowhere lifted my spirits!

20140328_163546

 

 

Section D wildflowers

Section D wildflowers

Reaching the Kamp of America felt like a milestone. I was excited to set up camp on luxuriously flat grass and bathe in the hot KOA showers. The office was already closed when I arrived, but I found a couple of PCT section hikers who’d already set-up their tent and I just camped near them. Just by coincidence, they were hiking the exact same section as me, from Mill Creek Station to Hiker Town.

Soledad Canyon, home of the Santa Clara River and the Acton KOA

Soledad Canyon, home of the Santa Clara River and the Acton KOA

 

23 million year-old rock formations of Soledad Canyon

23 million year-old rock formations of Soledad Canyon

Their names were Lynn and Patty, or 3-Guy and Glow in the Dark, respectively. It turns out I had actually read about Patty in Muk Muk’s post about crossing the Mojave Desert. In 2013, another hiker named UB- oddly enough, the same UB who had been three days north of me from Hiker Town to Tehachapi- had arranged for a Glow in the Dark night hike to honor Patty’s fight against cancer. She earned her trail name just after she began radiation treatment and joked about being so radiated that she could probably glow in the dark!

At the Acton Kamp of America (KOA)

At the Acton Kamp of America (KOA)

 

Patty and Lynn regularly blog about their fun and informative PCT section hiking and on hiking with cancer. You can check it out at the McShapPCTJournal website.

(R-L) 3-Guy, Glow in the Dark, and me

(R-L) 3-Guy, Glow in the Dark, and me

After I hastily threw up my tent and showered (using hand soap from the sink and paper towels to dry off), I joined Lynn and Patty for dinner. I cooked a home-assembled miso noodle soup for dinner and Patty made smores for dessert. We chatted for most of the night about everything from trail life to real life. It was delightful meeting such fun, intelligent, and like-minded people!

I fell asleep that night to the sound of a nearby boy scout troop, KOA golf carts, and the roars of African lions from the local wildlife preserve.

 

 

Day 2: 18.3 miles

Since I’d hiked so many miles the day before, I allowed myself to take time in the morning. Patty and Lynn packed up early, hoping to put in a fair amount of miles. The very last bit of Section D takes the trail through the Santa Clara Riverbed and past some interesting rock formations. Somewhere in this area, the Golden Spike ceremony took place in 1993 to commemorate the completion of building the entire Pacific Crest Trail.

The Santa Clara Riverbed

The Santa Clara Riverbed

 

I see faces. #CarrieWatson

I see faces. #CarrieWatson

The trail was dry and winding all the way to Highway 14. After about seven miles, I finally caught up to Glow in the Dark and 3-Guy. I’ve got to say, it’s been really fun having other hikers on the trail with me. As a section hiker, I don’t often run into many PCT hikers, let alone repeatedly!

View of Hwy 14 near Agua Dulce

View of Hwy 14 near Agua Dulce

 

Glow in the Dark and 3-Guy along the PCT

Glow in the Dark and 3-Guy along the PCT

Vasquez Rocks County Park was really stunning. Day hikers abounded, but it didn’t take away from the striking beauty of the massive 25 million year-old rock formations the trail winds through. The park is named for Tiburcio Vasquez, a bandit who hid out in the rocks from 1873-74.

 

 

3-Guy and Glow in the Dark at Vasquez Rocks

3-Guy and Glow in the Dark at Vasquez Rocks

I refilled my water bottles at the drinking fountain- which, by the way, is shared with the horses. They have a separate little spigot with a nose pedal. When the horses press the pedal with their noses, the water pours out for them. Indeed, they appeared to be enjoying playing with the pedals!

Water fountain at Vasquez Rocks

Water fountain at Vasquez Rocks

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Just past Vasquez Rocks County Park, Agua Dulce provided the comforts of Sweetwater Cafe. I ordered a giant salad, sandwich, and iced tea, which were all delicious. The waitress was surprised to see any PCT hikers coming through in March because the thru-hiker herd usually passes through Agua Dulce in late April. I hung around for about an hour hoping Lynn and Patty might catch-up, but they seemed to have taken their time back at the Park.

Agua Dulce, Ca

Agua Dulce, Ca

Officially entering Section E of the PCT brought me to Mint Canyon and a very long climb out of it. I was aiming for a campsite just at the top of the ridge, which would put me near Bear Spring. The hillsides in this stretch were as green as Ireland and covered with wildflowers.

Trail Registry in Mint Canyon near mile 458.5

Trail Registry in Mint Canyon near mile 458.5

 

Section E Wildflowers

Section E Wildflowers

 

The wind began to kick up just as I pulled out my tent. Looking up questioningly at the sky, I wondered if the storm I had escaped near Tehachapi would be back with a vengence tonight. I secured my tent in what seemed to be the most protected spot on the ridge and placed big rocks on the tent stakes.

Campsite just above Bear Spring

Campsite just above Bear Spring

It rained on and off throughout the night, but it was merely a spattering in comparison to what I will now refer to as the Piute Mountains Incident. I curled up with my hot water bottle and enjoyed a dinner of Mountain House’s Beef Chilli Mac before falling asleep.

 

Day 3:  22 miles to Lake Hughes

I awoke to one of the most beautiful mornings. The rain clouds from the night before, now empty of their moisture, hung lightly in the canyons of Soledad and Agua Dulce.

 

Looking toward Bouquet Canyon Reservoir and the burned/closed area

Looking toward Bouquet Canyon Reservoir and the burned/closed area

 

Bear Spring

Bear Spring

Just after refilling my bottles at Bear Spring, I began to encounter more and more people. Some were camping, most others were trail running in preparation for the Leona Divide 50/50 Race. There is a bench along the PCT dedicated to the man who mapped out the Leona Divide Race, which made an excellent rest spot.

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The trail was relatively flat, but didn’t inspire me much. Maybe I’m just not that into chaparral, or maybe it was because the trail didn’t offer many views in this section, but I felt bored. I hurried past the Oasis Water Cache, which is usually stocked with fun things like juice, soda, chips, etc. Once I noticed it was empty, I moved on. I guess I’m just too early in the season for those kinds of treats.

The famous Oasis Cache of Section E

The famous Oasis Cache of Section E

The Powerhouse fire of 2013 burned 30,000 acres and has closed the PCT from San Francisquito Road at mile 478.5 to Pine Canyon Road at mile 511. As a detour, I had to depart the trail an San Francisquito Road and road walk seven miles to Lake Hughes. I planned on staying at The Rock Inn for the night and then would road walk the remaining fourteen miles to Hiker Town on Hwy 138.

The road walk was actually really lovely. There were great views, interesting homes, and curious livestock to great along the way. I got numerous odd looks entering the Inn with my backpack, everyone in the restaurant seemed to be either a local or a biker. The Inn staff were incredibly hospitable and immediately made sure I was comfortably set up with a room. Since my Kindle broke at some point during the Piute Mountains Incident, I grabbed a random book from the Inn’s library and made my way downstairs for dinner.

The Rock Inn of Lake Hughes, Ca

The Rock Inn of Lake Hughes, Ca

Waiting for my burger and beer, I heard a familiar laugh coming form the bar and couldn’t quite believe that the man I was looking at was actually a friend and colleague from back home. I texted Tony, “Are you at a bar in Lake Hughes?” Two minutes later, I see Tony’s head pop and swivel around like a meerkat’s. We had a good laugh at the unbelievable coincidence of running into each other in a place so far removed from home, we might as well be in China! Turns out, Tony was rehearsing with a friend, Chalo, who lives in Lake Hughes. Rounds of tequilla, story telling, and music making followed through the night.

 

Chalo, Tony, and me at The Rock Inn

Chalo, Tony, and me at The Rock Inn

 

Day 4:  14.2 miles to Hiker Town

The last morning of this trip brought me a massive breakfast at the Inn and the joy of meeting two more PCT hikers and the famous Trail Angel Terry Anderson. Terry and her husband host hikers a couple of miles down San Francisquito Road in the opposite direction from Lake Hughes at their home, Casa de Luna. Two section hikers from North Carolina, Susan and her dad, had decided to stay with the Anderson’s for the night and then got a ride into Lake Hughes for breakfast. I had actually meet Susan and her dad the previous day near the Oasis Cache. They were adorable and fun, and Terry’s knowledge and enthusiasm was wonderful.

Breakfast at The Rock Inn

Breakfast at The Rock Inn

 

Trail Angel Terry Anderson, "Dad," me, and Susan

Trail Angel Terry Anderson, “Dad,” me, and Susan

 

The road walk to Hiker Town was nice, but I did miss the trail. Looking at the burnt hillsides, I could tell that absolutely nothing had survived the fire, and that meant there were no roots holding the soil together. If the trail had been open to PCT hikers, there would be tremendous erosion by the foot traffic and absolutely no shade.

Lake Hughes road walking

Lake Hughes road walking

 

Approaching Hwy 138 and the Mojave Desert

Approaching Hwy 138 and the Mojave Desert

I had originally started this hiking trip with plans of heading from Hiker Town north to Kennedy Meadows. A small, but powerful storm dissuaded me from that goal and it gave me the opportunity to be creative and flexible in my approach to the trail. Instead of the 184 miles I had intended, I hiked 160 miles, saw some lands I had never seen, revisited some familiar turf, meet new friends, and was the recipient of great, great generosity. I hope I can continue to carry the gratefulness, awe, and spontaneity this trip has brought me for years to come.

Hiker Town

Hiker Town

Links

Installment No. 9- Jawbone Canyon Road to Lone Pine

Glow in the Dark & 3-Guy’s Blog

The Rock Inn

Hiker Town

Vasquez Rock County Park

Sweetwater Cafe

Poodle Dog Bush

Leona Divide 50/50 Race

 



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Installment No. 7 of My PCT Journey

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No. 7- Hiker Town to Jawbone Canyon, 2014

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Hiker Town: 34.775848, -118.607712
Jawbone Canyon Road: 35.379603, -118.284817
Kohnen\'s Bakery: 35.132512, -118.448810

 

I’ve been told that my hike will rarely go to plan, and to always expect the unexpected. That’s what makes it an adventure! I began this trip expecting to hike from Hiker Town to Kennedy Meadows, but that’s not what happened at all.

 

Sabrina fixing my backpack

Sabrina fixing my backpack

Yet again, my dearest friend Sabrina rose to the title of Trail Angel. After cooking dinner and helping me pack the night before, she followed me hundreds of miles all the way to Kennedy Meadows. We left my car there by the trail and then she dropped me off at Hiker Town on the western side of the Mojave Desert.

 

 

Day 1: 14.5 miles

Hiker Town isn’t actually a town, it’s just the quirky home of a couple of Trail Angels who’ve built a fabricated western town for hikers passing through. Debbie, a Hiker Town caretaker, told us a previous hiker, trailname UB, had reported there being no water at all between Hiker Town and Tehachapi. It seemed odd for there to be no water in the two natural sources just after the recent rains. Rather than take the chance of dehydrating, I decided to carry 12 liters of water- that’s 26-1/2 pounds!

Sidenote:  I first heard of UB while reading Muk Muk’s blog on hiking the PCT in 2013. It was totally cool, then, to be hiking three days behind him!

Walking along the open LA Aqueduct

Walking along the open LA Aqueduct

Since I was starting late and carrying so much more weight that I had ever before in my life, I didn’t expect to put in as many miles as I had planned for the day. After making a few calls to parents and Art, I hiked along the open Los Angeles aqueduct for a couple of miles. It was so pretty having the open water right next to the trail, it’s a shame that couldn’t last.

Walking along the spillway pipe

Walking along the spillway pipe

The trail next followed a spillway pipe that was fun to walk along and gave me great views of the surrounding desert. This section of trail cuts along the most western reaches of the Mojave Desert before it climbs up into the Tehachapi mountains. When I came upon what looked like an old outhouse, I checked it out as a shady place to rest. Low and behold, there were three liters of water cached inside! Since the building seemed clean and didn’t smell at all, I got comfortable on the floor and relaxed in the cool of the stone building. I drank one liter of the cached water, quietly thanking whoever had put it there.

A random place for a rest

A random place for a rest

My pack was so heavy with water that I was moving at maybe a mile and half per hour, which is slow for me! I had to stop and rest every thirty minutes. When I’m struggling that much, I start having second thoughts about whether I’m doing things right or not. Will I have enough water to carry me through at the rate I’m going? Do I have TOO MUCH water and it’s slowing me down more than necessary? Most hikers choose to night-hike this section to avoid the heat and water issues. Even though I was hiking during the day, it still wasn’t as hot as it would be when the thru-hikers come in May.

There were a few buildings in this lonesome corner of the desert. I couldn’t help but wonder what people did out here, other than own cheap land. One of the buildings turned out to be a gun club and, as I passed and waved, two men invited me in for lunch!

Steve and Vic were an earthy couple of gun-lovin’ dudes who were delighted to brighten my day with a hot dog, soda, and clementines. We talked for an hour about the aqueduct’s history and how I shouldn’t be out alone because the lions or snakes would get me. They joked about giving me a loaner gun for the trip. When Steve asked how my father felt about me hiking alone, I told him my dad doesn’t really give me his opinion, and just seems to let me do what I want. He replied saying, “He’s probably too proud to let you know how frightened he really is about you doing this.”

 

Walking along Aqueduct Road, and atop the concrete sealed LA Aqueduct.

Walking along Aqueduct Road, and atop the concrete sealed LA Aqueduct.

 

Vic and Steve at the Gun Club

Vic and Steve at the Gun Club

I felt so refreshed after the Gun Club lunch, and so full that I didn’t think I’d eat dinner later. As the day went on, I saw only a couple of cyclists and dirt bikers. The cyclists and I talked briefly about the trail and they told me about meeting Heather “Anish” Anderson, a lady hiker who attempted to set a PCT speed record last year.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

My body was aching so much by that evening and I decided to just set up camp on the side of the dirt road. I made sure to find a spot with a view of the twinkling windmill lights and hopefully a bit protected from any nighttime wind. Indeed, I didn’t eat anything else that night because I was too full from the hot dog. I was stoked to see I had excellent cell phone reception, so I called my parents and Art.

Just before falling asleep, I heard voices in the distance. Immediately, all exhausted evaporated. Images of drunk bikers going for a nighttime joy ride in the desert flashed through my head. I turned out my little lantern and hoped maybe they wouldn’t see my tent in the dark. The next morning, I realized it must’ve been the cycling couple speeding by on their way home.

Camping near mile 532

Camping near mile 532

 

 

Day 2:  16.5 miles

Sunrise in the desert

Sunrise in the desert

I awoke to a beautiful sunrise and made myself breakfast. I’m not a big fan of oatmeal, but Trader Joe’s makes a really yummy multigrain hot cereal that I haven’t gotten sick of yet! I was determined to climb out of the desert that day and so aimed for the top of the mountain ridge near mile 548 for my camp that evening.

Trader Joe's Multigrain Hot Cereal

Trader Joe’s Multigrain Hot Cereal

The walk through the windmills and Joshua Trees was really incredible. Some people may poo-poo having to walk through flat, dry desert and pass giant man-made structures, but I found it fascinating. The windmills had an elegance to them that reminded be of massive wildflowers spattered across the valley floor and hillsides.

Cottonwood Creek Bridge

Cottonwood Creek Bridge

A water cache usually maintained by the Hikertown Angels

A water cache usually maintained by the Hiker Town Angels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trail yogurt

Trail yogurt

Since food is one of my favorite elements parts of backpacking, I just had to try my hand at making some trail yogurt. It was so easy and exceptionally tasty! I’ll soon post on How to Make Yogurt on the Trail for those who are interested.

 

 

 

A "cup of gold"

A “cup of gold”

 

Hipbone and spine of … an antelope?

Hipbone and spine of … an antelope?

It was a long climb out of the valley and up into the foothills, especially because I’d lost the lid to my stove and had to backtrack to find it. It felt great to finally reach the creek in Tylerhorse Canyon. I wasn’t sure if I’d find water there because the previous hiker, UB, had told the Hiker Town peeps there wasn’t any. Well, either he missed it completely (which I doubt) or there was some kind of miscommunication between him and Debbie, but Tylerhorse Canyon had a sweet little stream of water cutting through it. Anyhow, the canyon’s Coulter pines and junipers offered a lovely spot to relax and wash my dusty feet.

 

 

 

 

Climbing out of the valley

Climbing out of the valley

A trail registry in the middle of nowhere

A trail registry in the middle of nowhere

I had a hard time taking my mind off how heavy my pack was and how much further I needed to hike for the day. So, I decided to check out for an hour or so with my iPod. I’m totally hooked on the Stuff You Should Know (SYSK) podcasts, but I only listen to them or music when I’m really struggling mentally. I usually enjoy the quiet of a solo hike, plus my mind is chatty enough to fill that silence. I also think it’s important to listen for animal sounds.

 

Lupin wildflowers

Lupin wildflowers

My solar charger, velcroed to the top of my pack

My solar charger, velcroed to the top of my pack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I climbed up and over one set of hills and then up, up, up another 1,600 feet to the ridge at the top. It gave an incredible view of the valley below and I set up my tent for another great view of the windmills and city lights. When I get lonely or scared, it’s comforting to look out on some little bit of human civilization.

View towards the Mojave Desert

View towards the Mojave Desert

The Tehachapi Mtns. are famous for fierce wind

The Tehachapi Mtns. are famous for fierce wind

I settled in for the night with a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff- one of the few prepackaged camp meals I’ll eat- and a cup of tea. I felt dehydrated and after counting my remaining liters of water, I determined I hadn’t drunk nearly enough for the day.

Since I still had reception and a fully charged battery, I decided to try to make a phone call or two. While waiting for responses to my text messages, my phone completely died. I tried everything I could think of to bring it back to life: restarting it, popping out the battery and warming it up, charging it with my external battery. Nothing worked on it, and I immediately burst into tears. I suppose the day of carrying too much water and not drinking enough of it had worn me down, and I had just found my breaking point!  I thought about how I wouldn’t be able contact my trail angel, Christy, in Tehachapi, or take any more pictures and videos. It was so depressing! I told myself to stop crying or I’d run out of tissue, and then I’d really have a problem!

I gave up on the phone, tossed back my tea, and put myself to bed as quickly as possible. I knew that somehow everything would work out the next day and I stared out at the twinkling lights of civilization as I fell asleep.

 

The view from my tent

The view from my tent

Camping near mile 548.5

Camping near mile 548.5

 

 

Day 3:  10 miles to Cameron Canyon Road

Since my phone was as dead as a dodo, I have no pictures or videos of hiking from mile 548 to Cameron Canyon Road, but it was an incredible day all the same. My mood was greatly elevated when I woke the next morning. My hike was almost entirely flat or downhill, wound in and out of junipers and pine trees, and offered views of both Oak Creek Canyon and the Mojave Desert.

After about six miles, I sat myself down near a dried up water source called Tiger Tank. As I snacked on fruit leather and gazed out over the green Oak Creek Canyon, I heard a sudden thundering behind. I turned, thinking for sure there was a rock slide. To my amazement, I saw two wild stallions charging downhill straight towards me. They stopped just eight or ten feet from me behind the Tiger Tank barbed wire fence and immediately began bucking, biting, and whinnying. Their fight was so ferocious I stood up and wondered if I should yell or throw water at them, as if they were fighting cats. One horse was knocked to the ground and the other bolted over the hill. The first horse stumbled up to standing, turned, and stared at me, as if to say, “What are YOU looking at?!”  He then breezily trotted over the opposing hill out of sight. It turns out one of the last remaining herds of wild horses, descended from the original Spanish horses, live in Oak Creek Canyon. I counted over thirty as I hiked the rest of the morning.

Before I left for this trip, I had pre-arranged to send a resupply box to Christy Rosander (trailname Rockin’) in Tehachapi. We had also agreed that I would text her when I was close to Hwy 58 and she’d come pick me up.  Since my phone was completely dead and wouldn’t charge at all, I jumped at the opportunity to beg for help from a technician working on a windmill. We managed to get a message out to Christy, but after I was 20 minutes down the trail, I realized I had completely mixed up the distances and time-frame for her to pick me up. Argh!

As I approached Cameron Canyon Road, I could see a single car parked near the trailhead, and I thought maybe I could catch that person and use his or her cell phone. Tumbling down the hill to the trailhead, I almost ran striaght into Sam. Trail Angel Sam (trailname Tortoise) stocks the water cache at Cameron Canyon Road and was overjoyed to help me. In fact, before I could even ask for help, he greeted me with an enthusiastic, “Are YOU a PCT hiker?!?” He insisted on taking me into town, and even though I had eight more miles to go before reaching Highway 58 I agreed. I was eager to make things as simple as possible for Christy, so if Sam wanted to help out, too, that was great! I’ve since decided I’d come back and day hike the section between Hwy 58 and Cameron Canyon.

Trail Angel Sam "Tortoise" and me at Kohnen's Bakery

Trail Angel Sam “Tortoise” and me at Kohnen’s Bakery

Sam drove me into town and treated me to a Saladwich at the incredible Kohnen’s County Bakery.  We talked about the trail and I learned his interest in the PCT was a new romance, and like all new romances, he just couldn’t ge enough. He’s planning on section hiking the entire trail, starting with Kern County. You can read about Sam’s PCT adventures on the Tehachapi Loop, where he’s writing a series of articles for the newspaper. Little did Sam know at the time, howl much PCT he was going to get himself into when he met me!

The amazing Chef Dan

The amazing Chef Dan

Christy arrived shortly after and, even though it was our first time meeting, I immediately felt she was a kindred spirit. I’d already read so much about her from her blog,  Lady on a Rock, that I really did feel like I knew her already. She wasted no time and whisked me away on the errands I needed to do. First, I need more fuel from Big 5, as I’d decided my new quilt wasn’t warm enough and that I’d be needing to boil more water to use my hot water bottle for warmth. Next, we needed to figure out why my phone wasn’t working. We tried the little Verizon store in Tehachapi, but it turned out the phone (brand new, mind you) had some programming error from the factory and needed to be completely replaced. Christy drove me 45 miles to Bakersfield so I could replace the phone. <3  THANK YOU, CHRISTY!!

That evening Christy’s husband, Dan, made an incredible shrimp pasta and salad dinner, complete with a decadent chocolate and fruit dessert. We talked about adventures, family, and life. Christy also helped me figure out water sources for the next section between Hwy 58 and Kennedy Meadows. We said “Goodnight” and I went to sort out gear and food for the next eight days.

 

Organizing my food for the next 8 days

Organizing my food for the next 8 days

 

 

Day 4:  16.8 miles to Golden Oak Spring

The next morning, we realized my new phone hadn’t charged because the connecting cable was broken. ARGH, AGAIN!! Christy took me to Walgreens at 7am to buy a new cable, then we sat in Starbucks waiting for the phone to charge. She is truly the most patient Angel.

Christy "Rockin" Rosander and me

Christy “Rockin” Rosander and me

She dropped me off at Hwy 58 and we talked briefly about the light rain showers Tehachapi was expecting for the next afternoon. After a big “Goodbye and thank you” hug, I teetered down the trail feeling really good about the next section.

The trail was long and exposed all the way to the top of the ridge, but the views were wonderful. I was lucky not to have the infamous wind that usually catches hikers on this stretch. The incessant and fierce wind is caused by the temperature difference between the hot Mojave Desert and the cooler coastal air.

 

Looking south towards Hwy 58 and Mojave

Looking south towards Hwy 58 and Mojave

Sprouting plants that looked way too much like snakes

Sprouting plants that looked way too much like snakes

 

 

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Orange Sherbert Bandit

Orange Sherbert Bandit

The trail heading up north from Highway 58 marks the beginning of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range for the PCT. To me, it’s exceptionally exciting because I love those high and dramatic mountain climbs and views. Straight from the guidebook:

“The charm of this section lies not only in its diversity of flora, but also in the unobstructed views of rows of sharp ridges and deep valleys, of sprawling desert lands and distant peak silhouettes, of faraway pockets of populated, sometimes historic enclaves, of evidence of the human quest for riches and energy to power our lifestyles.” -Schifrin, et al. Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California.

 

 

 

Entering the forest high above the desert

Entering the forest high above the desert

Windmills

Windmills

 

A lush, green trail

A lush, green trail

Reaching the top of the ridge delivered me to an entirely different world. I was surrounded by a forest of pines. Before the spread of European civilization, the Native people of Kawaiisu lived off these mountains, hunting and gathering all the way to the South Fork Kern River Valley. As the trail wound around the Sweet Ridge and Cache Peak, I could see peaks in the distance, but I had no idea I was viewing Olancha Peak, Pointy Owens Peak, Mt. Jenkins, and even Mount Whitney, far, far in the distance.

This area used to support native bighorn sheep, but they were wiped out by domestic sheep infected with scabies in the early 20th century. Mountain lions, bobcats, mule deer, and black bear still roam those mountains, and I could see their signs now and again on the trail.

 

 

Golden Oak Spring

Golden Oak Spring

 

Refilling my water bottles took 3 min per liter

Refilling my water bottles took 3 min per liter

As the wind was starting to pick up, and my feet were aching, I was glad to finally reach Golden Oak Spring. It was a mucky mess, but the spring water flowing from the pipe was clear and clean.  I walked up hill from the spring to find better camping and happened upon what looked like a campsite next to a dirt road for 4WD vehicles. I scouted for the most protected spot I could find and battened down the hatches! I placed large rocks on top of each of my stakes, knowing the winds frequently reach 60 or more mph in this area (that’s why they put in the windmills). I fell asleep after a dinner of Pea Soup and listening to the happy little frogs down the hill at the spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camp near Golden Oak Spring

Camp near Golden Oak Spring

 

 Day 5:  12.7 miles

The wind blew all night and the rain began around 2 or 3am, but my little Zpacks tent held up. The rain didn’t surprise me, since I had been expecting a few hours of showers. I was a little surprised to see it was still raining when I prepared to pack-up at 7:30am.  Packing up in the rain is tricky, especially when your only rain protection, in this case, a Zpacks poncho, doubles as your ground cover.

By the time I had packed up my dripping tent, my legs and feet were already wet through. (My poncho covered only my upper body.) I struggled to get the poncho wrapped around both my body AND my pack, which it was designed to do, but it’s tricky without a friend to pull it over your pack for you.

 

Hail starting to come down

Hail starting to come down

Indian Paintbrush wildflowers

Indian Paintbrush wildflowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All morning, I hiked in and out of the storm. Strong winds, rain and hail alternated with peaceful sprinkles and patches of lifted clouds, sometimes even a bit of blue sky showed through. Around 10am, I thought for sure the storm was passing, so I wasn’t terribly concerned about how wet and cold I felt or about how much battery I was using on my phone. As long as I kept moving, I felt warm enough and I assumed the sun would come out soon enough to charge my phone.

Beautiful stormy clouds

Beautiful stormy clouds

I crossed paths with some cows who were taking protection amongst some low scrub oaks, and still felt really good about hiking up into the higher elevations.

Only an hour or so later, the winds picked up and the sky darkened again. I yelled out loud to the sky, “I get the point! You’re the king of this mountain! So, pass on through already!” The stormy sky could care less, of course. The winds were so strong, I had to take refuge behind a rock, pulling as much of myself into my poncho as I could to take a snack break.

Snack break. : /

A very chilly break

Climbing higher brought on a deeper cold and the rain turned again to hail. My fingers and toes were getting dangerously numb, so I hoofed it to a campsite at mile 593. The hail started to pound down upon me like marbles dumped from a bucket, so I threw up my tent under a tree as quickly as I could.

Once inside the tent, I changed into my wool base layers, unpacked my down quilt, and boiled water for my MSR hot water bottle. I warmed up as I peered outside and watched the earth turn white. I was tempted to take a video, but my phone battery was down to 50% and I had no way to recharge it without the sun. (I couldn’t use my external battery to charge it either, because it mysteriously decided to stop working! ARGH! ARGH! ARGHH!!!!)

Covered in hail

Covered in hail

After sitting for an hour inside my tent, the hail stopped and the clouds seemed to lift a bit. I packed up and aimed for Hamp’s Pass or, better yet, Robin Bird Spring nine miles away. Not fifteen to twenty minutes after I left camp, the wind picked up again. It seemed to be playing with me all day. Snow began to fall quickly and surprisingly soon it was three and four inches deep. I only managed to hike for another couple of miles, having to intermittently stop to warm up my fingers and toes.

The trail shortly past camp at mile 593

The trail shortly past camp at mile 593 around 2pm

Around 4:30 or 5pm, the wind became so fierce that I would lose my balance with each gust and my visibility was down to ten or twelve feet. The snow was now above my ankles and my fingers and toes were so numb, I became worried about frostbite. I decided to set up camp at the very next place I could find, and settled on a spot just about a mile or so from Hamp’s Pass. I cleared the snow from a spot beneath some smaller pine trees, hoping they’d offer some protection. Thunder clapped all around as if it were taunting me about an approaching finish line. I struggled to get my tent up in the wind with my fingers frozen inside my wet gloves.

The moment the tent seemed stable enough, I threw my pack and body inside and stripped down to get out of my wet pants, shoes, and socks. Once unpacked, I boiled more water for the hot water bottle, all the while dancing and wiggling as much as I could inside my down quilt. I shifted gear around here and there in the tent to protect certain things from getting wetter and using other things as barriers to the wind and wet coming in through the bug netting bottom of my tent.

I didn’t sleep more than 45 minutes total that night. With each massive gust of air, it sounded like the chariots of the gods themselves were flying over me. I had to hold onto my trekking pole (which held up my tent), bracing it against the wind so my tent wouldn’t collapse. Every hour I boiled more water and placed the water bottle in my quilt to stay warm. [This would’ve been an excellent opportunity for some drama in my video blogging, but my phone battery was too low.]

Later, I checked the weather for Tehachapi and did a bit of math, taking into account the trail’s additional 2,000 feet of elevation.  I believe the temperature up on the mountain was 30°F that night, with wind gusts at 40 mph, and a wind chill of 17-13°F.

 

Day 6:  9 miles to Jawbone Canyon

The next morning the wind was still howling, but the temperature seemed warmer. I packed up and aimed for Jawbone Canyon Road. I had examined my maps the night before and decided that Jawbone, being a different color then the other dirt roads, would be my best chance for an exit route, should I need one. My plan was to hike for the morning and see how the weather developed.

Putting on my wet hiking clothes was the worst. I felt so cold with the wind pelting me and had a hard time warming up even as I hiked. Very quickly my toes and fingers were numb again, and I shook them madly as I hiked to try to get some warmth into them. There came a point when the winds almost knocked me off the side of the mountain again, and I couldn’t bend my wrists because they were so cold. I was scared and knew I had two options: either set up camp to warm-up and wait for the storm to pass or exit as quickly as possible.

Since there was no way to know how large this storm actually was, or how much snow may have been dumped on the mountains ahead of me, I decided I needed to exit at Jawbone Canyon Road. I also made the decision to push the “Non-emergency HELP” button on my SPOT device, hoping that either Sabrina or Art would see me on the road and drive out for me. [Later, I learned my “HELP” request never even reached them. I’ll be contacting SPOT about that one.]

Descending out of the clouds along Jawbone Cyn Rd.

Descending out of the clouds along Jawbone Cyn Rd.

Reaching Jawbone, I guessed that turning left would take me deeper into the mountains and turning right would take me lower toward the desert. Right, it was! As soon as I stepped onto the other side of the mountain and into slightly lower elevations, the snow and wind evaporated. It was a whole other world outside of the cloud!

I walked about three miles down the dirt road and hobbled up to the only cabin with a vehicle in front, calling out greetings as I approached. An intimidating gentleman in his sixties came out and approached me with suspicion. I had been tough as nails the night before, but as I started explaining to him my situation and that I needed some help getting out to a town, I burst into tears and could barely speak. His wife came out, invited me inside, and made me coffee.

:(

🙁

Looking back on the storm cloud the morning after

Looking back on the storm cloud the morning after

Their names were Richard and Dee and they manage the cabins on the Piute Nature Preserve. They live off the grid and are quite happy to be far away from everyone else in the world. They were tough, as people would be living out there, but they were so kind to me. They Skyped their daughter, who called Trail Angel Sam in Tehachapi. Sam drove all the way out to rescue me from the canyon and brought me back to Tehachapi to regroup and replan my hike. He assured me it was to his benefit to come out and explore the area so that he knew where all the PCT access points were.

 

Sam's spirit carvings

Sam’s spirit carvings

"Harvey, the camper"

“Harvey, the camper”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam and I decided that if I were to continue hiking while the next couple of storms went through, I needed to go to lower elevations. I stayed that night in a camper named “Harvey” in Sam and Claudia’s backyard, and early the next morning I was off to Mill Creek Station on the Angeles Forest Highway to hike Sections D and E.

Without the help of Sam, Richard, Dee and Christy I would’ve been in some serious dilemmas. I cannot thank all of them enough for their generosity and compassion. Over and over again, the trail teaches me how wonderful the world is and how incredible people can be! And, in addition to being better prepared for nasty weather, this hike has become a grand lesson in gratefulness.

 

Links

Installment No. 8 of my PCT Journey- Mill Creek to Hiker Town

Lady on a Rock

The Tehachapi Loop

Hiker Town

Kohnen’s Bakery

History of the Los Angeles Aqueduct

Frostbite

Wind Chill Calculator

Wind Speed Scale



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No. 5- Mexican border to Paradise Cafe, Dec. 2013-Jan. 2014

 

Installment No. 5 of My PCT Journey

This journey was particularly special to me, mostly because I got to start at the Southern Terminus Monument, which is as awesome as visiting the Great Wall of China or a Mayan pyramid.  The monument represents so much to me:  an engineering and political miracle, the American frontier, adventure, history, and internal as well as external journeys.  Even though I’ve already begun my PCT trek and seen many of the most notable sights, I still felt like a child at the gates to Disneyland as I approached the monument.

After a quick email blast to a bunch of friends only a few days before the trip, I managed to convince another soul to join me.  Ben’s been a good friend since high school and has enjoyed hiking, but had never before done any kind of backpacking.  I set him up with my very first backpack, an old Cabela’s model, and other pieces of gear he’d be needing, and crossed my fingers he would enjoy himself.  He was definitely up for anything, and that was enough for me!

Since Sabrina, my personal trail angel, would be dropping us off at the Mexican border early on December 26, we drove down a day early and spent Christmas evening with her, her boyfriend, and some other friends.  It was one of the best Christmas dinners I’ve ever had: prime rib with roasted vegetables, homemade egg nog, soaking in the hot tub with excellent tequilla from Sabrina’s family farm, and fun-loving company.

 

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No. 5- Mexico to Paradise Cafe, Hwy 74, 2014

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Southern Terminus, Mexican Border: 32.590213, -116.467094
Highway 74: 33.563140, -116.576443
Paradise Cafe: 33.569219, -116.591291
Mount Laguna Lodge: 32.867064, -116.419466
Pine House Cafe: 32.862177, -116.419984

 

 Day 1- 15.5 miles to Hauser Creek

Trail Angel Sabrina driving us to the border

Trail Angel Sabrina driving us to the border

We woke up early on December 26th, hit Starbucks for a couple of 500-calorie breakfast sandwiches and a Walgreens for several gallons of water for the Scissor’s Crossing water cache.  I loved the drive and being able to get a glimpse of the land I was about to walk through.  The land is so different than the dramatic mountains of the Sierra’s in sections G and H, the San Gabriels of section D, and the San Jacintos of section B which I’ve already hiked.

We dropped off water under the bridge at Scissors crossing on Hwy 79, only to find it fully stocked already.  It was a relief to see people were still stocking the water caches even though it wasn’t the busy season for hiking.

 

 

Trailhead of the PCT

Trailhead of the PCT

 

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Getting settled in, on the trail

 

I had hoped to hit the trail by 9am at the latest, but alas, it was 10:30 when we finally arrived at the border.  We had a good time mucking about at the Mexican border, but it took me a while to realize the trailhead isn’t exactly at the monument.  Turns out the official trailhead is about 50 feet north of and across the dirt road from the monument.  We said goodbye to Sabrina and set off along the unassuming little trail in the direction of Canada.

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I was so excited I think I actually carried the maps in my hands for the entire first couple of hours.  At every road crossing, building we passed, stream, gate, or bridge the maps were unrolled and examined.  The hike started off windy, but luckily it didn’t last.  The temperature was great, maybe in the 60’s?

 

First railroad crossing

First railroad crossing

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First of many, many gates

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walked through miles and miles of coyote bush, yucca, sage, and manzanita trees. Every now and again we saw little purple checkerbloom flowers and California buckwheat, but as it was the middle of winter, not much was in bloom.  As we slowly climbed the hills, we could look back toward Campo and see Mexico in the distance, with the wall and a few observation towers lining the border.

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Manzanita tree

 

Ben bounced along with his pack asking lots of questions about backpacking and the trail.  It was pretty cute.  We talked a lot that first day, just catching up on life and exchanging ideas.  Ben told me some of his blog ideas for his website.  He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and philosophizes on everything from the humanities to the sciences.  You can check out his excellent writings at OutCreation.com.

 

By the end of the day, Ben and I were both eager to finally reach our campsite.  Our feet and hips felt bruised, and I was glad I decided to only hike 15.5 miles to Hauser Creek.  I had originally planed to hike 20 miles the first day to Lake Morena Campground, but changed the itinerary when Ben decided to tag along.

A warning sign for Spanish-speaking travelers

A warning sign for Spanish-speaking travelers

Appraoching Hauser Creek

Appraoching Hauser Creek

After setting up the tent, we both stretched and rolled out our muscles on a mini foam roller I’d brought along.  My physical therapist had recommended I pick up a foam roller for home use last July, and I love it so much I’ve been bringing a mini 6″ by 12” roller on a few of my backpacking trips.  I use the roller specifically to massage my glutes, IT bands, quadriceps.  Since all those components work to support the knees, making sure they release their tension is important for proper patella tracking and thus knee comfort.

Despite being at the bottom of a canyon, it was a warm night for us.  We enjoyed some Trader Joe’s lentil soup, which I’d dehydrated myself, and lounged around talking in the tent.

Campsite at Hauser Creek

Campsite at Hauser Creek

 

Day 2- 16.5 miles to CS032

Our second day started with a stiff climb out of Hauser Creek.  We had only a few miles to hike to reach Lake Morena, where we would refill water bottles and freshen up a bit.

As we approached Lake Morena, we saw more and more tracks in the dirt, but I’m still not that great at telling the difference between cougars and large dogs.  For most of the morning, I was pretty convinced the tracks were cat-made.

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First view of Lake Morena

 

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Lake Morena Nature Trail

 

Lake Morna was lovely and had excellent facilities.  There was a bathroom with showers, but neither Ben or I choose to take advantage of that luxury.  I was a bit focused on maintaining a specific hiking pace so we’d reach our campsite that evening near Halfmile’s mile 36.  I find that pressure to maintain a good pace to be the biggest drawback to section hiking- I’m always concerned about getting back in time for work.  I salivate for the summer when I won’t be constrained by work back home.

Cereal in bag

Cereal in bag

 

Lake Morena facilities

Lake Morena facilities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had all the food and supplies we needed, so we didn’t go check out the little grocery store in town.  After downing some granola cereal with powdered whole milk and chit-chatting with an equestrian, we road walked out of Lake Morena and back to the dirt trail.  It was funny to see Christmas decorations out while hiking because I’ve always associated the PCT with summer!

Leaving Lake Morena

Leaving Lake Morena

Christmas on the PCT

Christmas on the PCT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ben

Ben

Teva Time!

Teva Time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just outside of Lake Morena, I switched out of sneakers and into my Teva sandals.  I LOOOVE hiking in my Tevas because they feel so good, but it inevitably dries out my Northern European skin and leaves my heels cracked.  I’m still working on a way to sandal hike all day without this problem- maybe some beeswax would work?

Looking back toward Lake Morena

Looking back toward Lake Morena

 

Cottonwood Valley

Entering Cottonwood Valley

 

Cottonwood Creek Bridge

Cottonwood Creek

 

Cottonwood Creek Bridge

Cottonwood Creek Bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PCT graffiti

PCT graffiti

 

Like so many humans before them, PCT hikers love to leave thier mark on the world, to tell all those who follow who they were, what they did, and why they did it. Beneath the Cottonwood Creek bridge is a plethora of PCT graffiti: mostly names and dates, some drawings, obscene and beautiful (also true to human nature throughout history), poetry and quotes.  Ben walked right past it all, but I couldn’t pull myself away.  It was like walking through Roman or Greek ruins and feeling the weight of human history in the walls.

Someone's home...? Beneath Cottonwood Creek Bridge

Someone’s home…? Beneath Cottonwood Creek Bridge

Cottonwood Creek

Cottonwood Creek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I absolutely fell in love with Cottonwood Valley. The meadows and oak trees were so beautiful and the scenery seemed to changed enough to entertain me.  You’ll notice that I took tons of pictures this day.

Second lunch break

Second lunch break

 

Cottonwood Valley

Cottonwood Valley

 

Cottonwood Valley

Cottonwood Valley

Cottonwood Valley

Cottonwood Valley

 

Cottonwood Valley

Cottonwood Valley

Cottonwood Valley, Cleaveland NF

Cottonwood Valley, Cleaveland NF

Approaching Boulder Oaks Campground

Approaching Boulder Oaks Campground

Our first stream crossing : /

Our first and only stream crossing 🙁

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While at the Boulder Oaks Campground, we chatted with a ranger about any potential marijuana grow sites in the area. He assured us they’d all been pulled out, but to just keep an eye out for any irrigation tubing that wasn’t part of habitat resoration or sketchy looking people without proper hiking gear.

Boulder Oaks Campground, Cleaveland NF

Boulder Oaks Campground, Cleaveland NF

Lunch & mileage

Lunch & mileage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben was slowing down by Day 3. His body just wasn’t accostomed to backpacking and his mind had no previous experiences to rely on to tell him all the body aches were normal and temporary. After you’ve got a couple long hikes under your belt, you know which aches and pains need to be immediately attended to and which can be ignored. It’s a great exercise in channeling your focus and emotions. We decided that the campsite at Halfmile’s mile 36 would be too much for the day and aimed instead for a campsite at mile 32 in Fred’s Canyon.

A cathedral beneath Hwy 8

A cathedral beneath Hwy 8

 

Cottonwood Valley, Cleaveland NF

Cottonwood Valley, Cleaveland NF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cottonwood Valley

Cottonwood Valley

 

A corridor of manzanitas

A corridor of manzanitas

 

Looking back toward Hwy 8

Looking back toward Hwy 8

At the Kitchen Creek Road crossing

At the Kitchen Creek Road crossing

 

Desert flowers

Desert flowers

The day was quickly ending and Ben was struggling. So, I grabbed the tent and hurried ahead to set up camp before it got too dark. Ben meandered on into camp just as I put up the lantern in the tent. After he’d unpacked a bit and came back from changing, he mentioned how dark it was, and I had to laugh because he still had his sunglasses on!

We enjoyed some home-dehydrated black beans and brown rice with veggies and salsa for dinner. I remembered that I’d packed my Kindle, so we busted it out and tried reading about the local geology from the Wilderness Press PCT Guidebook. It was good information, but a bit dry to read. I handed the Kindle off to Ben and he read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to me until I fell asleep.

Sunset

Sunset just past Kitchen Creek Road

 

 

Day 3- 10.5 miles to Mt. Laguna

Fred Canyon campsite at mile 32 (CS032)

Fred Canyon campsite at mile 32 (CS032)

We allowed ourselves to sleep in that morning, knowing we had only 10.5 miles to hike that day. It had been a cold night for me with my 32°F bag, so I’m guessing it got below 30°F, and it made me eager to get up and start moving. Breakfast consisted of fig bars and fruit leather for me and an energy bar for Ben. We also snacked straight out of a jar of almond butter which we dropped peanut M&Ms into (a new favorite of mine!).

Peanut M&M's in almond butter

Peanut M&M’s in almond butter

Breakfast :)

Breakfast 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fred Canyon

Fred Canyon

Before hitting the trail that morning, Ben expressed concern about whether he should continue past Mt. Laguna or not.  He felt he wasn’t in the best of shape to keep up with my itinerary. We decided to wait and see how he felt after we spent an evening in town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Near mile 33, view towards Fred Canyon Road

Near mile 33, view towards Fred Canyon Road

Shortly after leaving camp, I came across a sign that read: “Safety Hazard. Unexploded military ordinance in this area. Stay on roads and trails.”  So, apparently a military helicopter crashed in the area years ago, but they weren’t able to account for all of the explosive devices it had been carrying. Of course it figures that this would be the exact time when I really felt the need to dig a discrete little off-trail hole.  ARgh!

Campsite at mile 36, according to Halfmile's maps (CS036)

Campsite at mile 36, according to Halfmile’s maps (CS036)

Long Canyon

Long Canyon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long Canyon Creek

Long Canyon Creek

Climbing higher and higher into the Laguna Mountains brought us to Long Canyon, a beautiful little spot with lots of trees and a couple of creeks running through it. It was nice to hike through a different ecosystem and finally see more oaks and a few pine trees. We took a break near Long Canyon Creek, which was flowing lightly, to purify water.

Long Canyon

Long Canyon

Long Canyon

Long Canyon

 

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I’m kinda like a horse when it comes to hiking, I always hike faster when I know I’m headed to the barn. Mt. Laguna was my barn for the night and I couldn’t wait to get there. It was so exciting to finally reach the the trail turn-off into Burnt Rancheria Campground which woudl take us into town. We made it into the campground, but then couldn’t find our way out to the street!  We walked around in circles for probably 20 or more minutes before making our out to Sunrise Hwy.

Approaching Burnt Rancheria Campground

Approaching Burnt Rancheria Campground

Turn off for Burnt Rancheria Campground at mile 41.47

Turn off for Burnt Rancheria Campground at mile 41.47

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was 1:20pm when we finally rolled into Mt. Laguna. I hustled up to the Mt. Laguna Lodge while Ben made himself a new friend, Dave Super, at little Mt. Laguna Sport and Supply shop. Dave invited us to join him and a couple other PCT hikers at the Pine House Cafe that night for dinner, which turned out to be an awesome evening of company. The first order of business, however, was to get a room at the lodge and then to shower, do laundry and organize food.

Epsom salt foot soak. <3

Epsom salt foot soak and Pizza Pringles  <3

Doing laundry

Doing laundry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pine House Cafe & Tavern

Pine House Cafe & Tavern

Ben, me, Beav, and Hippie Longstockings at the Pine House Cafe

Ben, me, Beav, and Hippie Long Stockings at the Pine House Cafe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening we enjoyed the fine company of Dave, the owner of Mt. Laguna’s only sport shop, and two epic hikers, Hippie Long Stocking and Beav (as in Beaver). Beav was hiking from Mexico to Big Bear with another man, Eric, and Hippie was in day hiking with them for the weekend just for the exercise. To say these three hikers were experienced is an understatement. Hippie has hiked the Appalacian Trail three times, the Pacific Crest twice, and plans on hiking the Continental Divide Trail next.  Beav has hiked the PCT at least twice and also the Continental Divide. The third hiker, Eric, has hiked the PCT SEVEN TIMES… !!! And I think they said he set the 2005 speed record for a yo-yo hike. (A yo-yo hike is Mexico to Canada and back to Mexico.) Beav, Hippie, and Dave were absolutely awesome, full of advice, stories, and character.

 

Live music

Live music

Dinner at the Pine House Cafe and Tavern

Chicken Mac & Cheese and a Quinoa Avocado Salad at the Pine House Cafe and Tavern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4- 10 miles to Pioneer Picnic Area

Ben and I left a resupply package with Dave from Laguna Mountain Sport and Suppy, which he would mail on to Warner Springs for us and we set-off around 10:30am. Heading out of Mt. Laguna via Desert View Picnic Area gave us our first view of the Anza-Borrego Desert far below. This desert is named for the Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and also for bighorn sheep (borrego, in Spanish). It’s California’s largest State Park and the second largest state park in the U.S.

Juan Bautitsta de Anza is well know for a 1,200-mile colonization trail he carved out between Nogales, Arizona and the San Fransico Bay Area. A National Historic Trail for hiking and driving have been established in his name along most of the path he traveled and the State Park contains part of this trail.

View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Desert View Picnic Area

View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Desert View Picnic Area

The formation of this desert is actually quite amazing.  About 6 million years ago, the area which is now the desert used to be part of the Ancestral Gulf of California. It was rich with sea life until the Ancestral Colorado River began carving out the Grand Canyon and depositting all it’s sediment in the Gulf.  As more and more sediment filled it in, the Gulf eventually became a river delta and was receiving three times the amount of rainfall it does today. Imagine woodlands and a savannah teaming with life big and small all across the basin.

Millenia past, and the land slowly changed to desert. The first humans to settle the area were the Kumeyaay people, 1,500 years ago.

Since this land depression, called the Salton Tough, has had such a long and contiunous deposit of sediment, the Anza-Borrego Desert is believed to be the best source of tracking fossils and environmental changes throughout the past 2.5 million years. It’s archelogical finds include plants, mammals, and pre-columbian rock art by Native Americans.

The next 10 miles of trail presented us with the most beautiful views I had seen on the trail so far. Unfortunately, my battery died just after taking the picture at Desert View Picnic Area. I was so bummed. I had kept my smartphone plugged into my solar charger for the entire day before, but because of cloud cover, it never really charged up. When there’s good sunshine, the Suntactics charger works great, but you’re screwed if you’re stuck in shade or a cloudy day.

Ben moved slowly all morning, struggling with the 6,000 ft elevation of the Mt. Laguna area. We took our time, stopping to enjoy the views and stretch. I had hoped spending the night in Mt. Laguna would have helped him more. I always underestimate how much elevation is going to effect the men I drag along on these journeys.

It took us almost 4 hours to hike 6 miles that day and Ben continued to drag more and more. I assured him we could take as much time as he needed and probably camp at Pioneer Picnic Area for the night, and he continued with his internal struggle. Just as we passed a few day hikers coming up Noble Canyon Trail from Sunrise Hwy, Ben stopped in his tracks and said, “I’m done.” He’d been grappling with whether to stay on the trail or not for the past couple of days, and just like that, something inside him said, “Stop here.”

At first, I wasn’t sure if he meant he needed another break or if maybe he meant we could set-up came for the day right in that spot, but when I saw him teetering- I actually thought he might faint!- I knew he meant he was getting off the trail. There were no hard feelings. I’m very proud of him for backpacking 48 miles on his very first trip ever!

We exchanged a few pieces of gear. From him, I grabbed the two-person Tarptent and the Klymite X Frame sleeping pad he’d been using. We also traded sleeping bags. I had been using my 32° Mountain Hardware bag, but had been feeling chilly on the sub 30° nights, so I took the REI 25° Halo bag he’d been using. This meant my pack would be heavier, so I handed off my sandals, my mini foam roller, and an extra thin, foam sleeping pad, which Ben would take home to Santa Barbara for me. Luckily, we were so near Mt. Laguna and Sunrise Hwy he would be able to easily hitch a ride back to town. From there he would figure out a way to get back to Santa Barbara.

We shared a big bear hug and then trotted down the trail in opposide directions, Ben towards the Noble Canyon Trailhead and me towards Canada. I moved fast hoping I could make up for lost time, breezing past all the day hikers. After only 45 minutes, I past a scrappy looking dude with a day pack and a bouncing behind him was a goofy looking lady in a skirt with a pink shirt, pink leg warmers, a cowboy hat, and headphones- it was Hippie! The scrappy dude was her friend Eric who I hadn’t met at dinner the night before because he’d stayed at the campground. She asked where Ben was, I said, “Ben bailed!” She said, “That’s his new trail name!” Sorry Ben.  : ?  Hippie asked what I was going to do,  and I insisted that I was going to KEEP GOING. She suggested staying the night with them at the campground in Mt. Laguna, but “NO! I’m going to KEEP GOING!! I can handle this!” She laughed at me, and then she clarified: she’d come back down Sunrise Hwy that evening and pick me up wherever I decided to jump off, drive me up to Mt Laguna for the night, and then drive me all the way back to the trail in the morning to pick up where I left off. <3  What an awesome lady. I couldn’t believe ANYbody would do that- I was ecstatic at the idea. We agreed to meet around 5:00 near a particular turn-off 6 miles up the trail.

I ended up hiking only a few more miles to Pioneer Mail Picnic Area and then hoped off the trail to Sunrise Highway. I figured I’d wait for her there because I wasn’t sure I had enough sunlight to make it to the designated pick-up stop. Turns out I only had to wait 5 minutes before Hippie’s giant truck, Melissa, pulled up. She and Eric were headed to the town of Julian for pizza and the football game and were going to pick me up on the way back to Mt. Laguna. Seeing as I was there, they dragged me down to Juian- I wasn’t complaining.

It was an evening full of surprises. Once back in Mt. Laguna several hours later, we went on a mission to locate Ben. Once accomplished, we all reconvened at Pine House Cafe for a 2nd night of dinners and drinks with Beav and Dave. I decided to crash with Ben at his lodge room because it would be warmer than the campground, even though Hippie did offer to let me sleep in the back of her truck with her. Staying at the lodge meant another shower and a nice squishy mattess!

 

Day 5- 21 miles to CS073

Melissa & Hippie

Melissa & Hippie

 

View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pioneer Picnic Area

View of the Anza-Borrego Desert from the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area

 

Just above Pioneer Picnic Area

Just above Pioneer Mail Picnic Area

 

After a couple of 10-miler days and two nights at the Mt. Laguna Lodge, I felt thoroughly rested up. The trail from Pioneer Mail Picnic Area was mostly flat with a couple of downhill stretches. The old, abandoned Sunrise Highway just above Pioneer had stunning views of the desert valley. I wish I had known more about it’s history before hiking through it; maybe next time I’ll actually read my guide book while I’m out on the trail.

A memorial rock

A memorial rock

More PCT graffiti

More PCT graffiti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I passed an interesting memorial rock along the old road. It was covered in 9-10 memorial plaques to different people from all walks of life. Some looked like they might have been outdoor lovers, others military. I’m guessing it was a favorite spot for them and their loved ones scattered their ashes from the top of the rock. It offered an expansive vista thousands of feet about the valley floor.

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A couple of scrappy day hikers

A couple of scrappy day hikers at CS064

 

Hippie Longstocking

Hippie Long Stocking

After practically skipping down the flat trail for half the day, I finally started  descending into a canyon. It was the steepest grade on the PCT I’d seen in all of Section A, so I decided to hike backwards. I’m actually pretty good at it now and it’s not at all hard on the knees!

Once at a campsite at the bottom of the canyon, I stoped for a spicy tuna lunch with crackers and fruit leather. I was a little on edge because it felt so quiet once I’d stopped hiking. From the top of the canyon, I thought I heard someone yell, but no one responded when I called back. I figured maybe some mountain bikers where cruising along the fireroad at the top.

To my surprise ten minutes later, Ben and Hippie came barrelling off the trail into the campsite! Hippie had offered Ben a ride to an Amtrak station, but since his train wasn’t until later that evening, she dragged him out on a day hike to catch me. I was so glad to see them! Ben was up and moving, despite the disappointment of getting off the trail, plus he’d just purchased an awesome Go-Lite backpack of his very own from Dave in Mt. Laguna. He wasn’t turned off to backpacking! He was actually interested in doing it again, and with his OWN gear!! That made me happy.

Hippie gave me some pointers about campsites, told me not to be afriad of the coyotes I’d be hearing at night, and that Beav and Eric were going to jump on the trail at Scissors Crossing tomorrow. She said if I hustled, I might be able to catch-up and hike with them for a bit. Right, fat chance; but still, it motivated me knowing they’d be out there.

 

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Looking towards San Felipe Valley

Looking towards San Felipe Valley

I wasn’t sure how far I’d hike that day. I knew there were campsites near Scissors Crossing, but that would’ve made for a 25 mile day which I didn’t feel ready to handle. Instead, I aimed for a lone campsite near Halfmile’s mile 73 on the side of Granite Mountain. It would mean a 21 mile day, but I was hiking really well and sometimes, there just aren’t too many options for campsites. That’s another reason I love using a bivy instead of a tent. I’m constantly seeing spots big enough for my little bivy sack that my one and two-person tents can’t fit into.

The Pandora Mine at the bottom of Rodriguez Canyon

The Pandora Mine at the bottom of Rodriguez Canyon

 

If you’re into stuff about mines, check out the Mindat.com article on the Royal-Pandora Mines of Rodriguez Canyon here.

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Junction of the PCT and Rodriguez "Die Hard" Way :)

Junction of the PCT and Rodriguez “Die Hard” Way

 

 

The Rodriguez Spur Fire Tank hose

The Rodriguez Spur Fire Tank hose

The water at Rodriquez Spur Fire Tank was great and it was a lovely spot. I had thought about taking it easy and just camping there for the night, but Hippie had mentioned sometimes the locals aren’t too keen on PCT hikers using that campsite. I think because it’s private land. Her warning was enough to move me along. Plus, what would I do with another 3 hours of daylight if I wasn’t walking?!

I continued walking, seeing a few campsites large enough only for bivy camping. As the afternoon sun sank in the sky, Granite Mountain’s huge shadow spread out over the trail and the valley below. Hiking in shadows always makes it feel like it’s later in the day that it actually is and I picked up the pace to find a good campsite before it got dark.

 

Entering San Felipe Valley

Entering Earthquake Valley

View of the San Felipe Valley from campsite at mile 73

View of the valley from campsite at mile 73

 

Campsite at mile 73 (CS073)

Campsite at mile 73 (CS073)

 

I need me some Dirty Girl Gaiters!

I need me some Dirty Girl Gaiters!

I was so grateful to finally arrive at the campsite. My feet and muscles were really aching, I was starting to get cold because I’d been hiking in the shade for over an hour, and I was feeling spooked about being alone. Even as I set up my tent, I kept looking over my shoulder and scanning the ridge above me looking for girl-eating animals. Once inside my tent, though, all those fears melted away. Looking out across the valley with the soft pastel colors of sunset was peaceful and exciting at the same time. I’d put in the mileage, done it alone, and was reaping the benefit looking out of my little front door.

The sky that night was incredible. All the little points of light reminded me of a Native American myth I’d heard as a child about a bird who poked holes in the blanket of night and created the stars. I laid in my tent and looked out the open door waiting for satellites and shooting stars. That evening I saw one of the brightest shooting stars blaze across my view. It was the perfect end to the day.

 

 

Day 6- 19 miles to CS093 (Third Gate Cache)

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I awoke warm and cozy the next morning because I’d had such a great night’s sleep.  It hadn’t been very cold at all on the side of the mountain and my bed had been extra cushy since I doubled up my Thermarest Z-lite and Klymite X Frame sleeping pads.  I think that combo is my new favorite camping gear discovery.  I’m going to work on making that set-up lighter, maybe cut down the Thermarest to torso length or purchase a torso length version of the X Frame.

 

 

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Skirting across the valley floor

 

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I had only 3-4 miles to hike before reaching Scissors Crossing.  The floor of Earthquake Valley turned out to be way more fun that I thought it would be.  It had all sorts of Seussical looking plants, most bigger than I imagined desert plants to be.  Scissors Crossing is the junction of Hwy 78 and Country Road S2.  This area contains several historic routes and outposts that had been used since the earliest days of Eurpean colonization of Southern California.  Check out the Wikipedia article on San Felipe Station, which was used in the 1800’s as a rest stop for travelers, mail delivery, and a military outpost.

Scissor's Crossing Water Cache

Scissors Crossing Water Cache

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Cache site instructions

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scissor’s Crossing is a very important stop along the PCT because it’s a water cache in the middle of a very long and very dry stretch of the trail.  A local named Larry generously stocks the cache with gallon-sized bottles of water, a trail registry, and a little trash bin, which he empties himself.  This was the cache where Ben and I dropped water off to before we hit the trail, not knowing it was so well tended!

Lots of water!

Lots of water!

Dirty notes ;)

Dirty notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hung around the bridge until my solar changer fully charged my phone.  As I head out, I noticed a note in the dirt from Eric and Beav.  It made my day.  I wondered how long ago they’d left the bridge and if, just maybe, I might be able to catch them.

The climb up Grapevine Mountain was exhasuting.  It turned out to be a really hot day even though it was December 31st.  I was graced by even more beautiful and exotic looking desert plants.  They were so elegant they looked like decorations from IKEA… blerg, what does that say about me?

Fishhook cactus

Fishhook cactus

 

San Felipe Hills

Ocotillo on the San Felipe Hills

 

Across the San Felipe Valley, on the trail’s western side, are the Volcan Mountains.  They create a rainshadow, catching all the rain clouds from the coast, making them wetter, greener, shadier- the ideal choice for the PCT instead of the dry and exposed San Felipe Hills-and they’re privatedly owned.  When the trail was being built, the landowners on the Volcan Mountains didn’t allow the trail to cut through their property, so we’re now stuck with the dusty ol’ San Felipe Hills.  Thanks, guys!!

I passed a couple older hikers going the opposite direction, and they both said the boys (Eric & Beav) were pretty far ahead.  I gave up on the notion of seeing them again.  As I approached the top of my climb for the day, the trail leveled out only to produce one very funny looking Eric wearing an Angry Birds beanie.  I guess he and Beav had taken a long break and they were just about to shove off again.  I was overjoyed to see them, but as Eric started hiking, I knew there was no way I would be able to keep up.  Both of them had longer, stronger legs and they carried 8-10 lbs ONLY on their backs.  I hadn’t even guessed how much my pack weighed now that I was carrying fuel for two people, the bulky Jetboil, a two-person tent, two sleeping pads, and a heavier sleeping bag.  (At least my pack itself was ultralight!)

Eric floated far ahead, but Beav lingered at my pace to chit chat.  He was much more social than Eric, and seemed to have a lot on his mind.  He’d recently lost both his grandmothers and was now trying to cope with his mother’s illness.  Nonetheless, he kept his head up and loved talking, so I enjoyed his company!  We reached Third Gate Water Cache to find Eric already curled up in his sleeping bag.  Beav griped for awhile about his hyperlight gear set-up saying he missed not having a tent and stove (doing it just so he could keep up with Eric’s crazy pace), all the while I cooked a hot meal from the inside of my cozy tent, siting on my doubled up sleeping pads.  I offerd to make him tea, but he passed.  It was comforting having the two of them nearby for the night.

Third Gate Water Cache & campsites

Third Gate Water Cache & campsites

Campsite at Third Gate Cache (Halfmile's CS093)

Campsite at Third Gate Cache (Halfmile’s CS093)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 7- 16 miles to Warner Springs

Eric got up really early to head out.  We wished each other “Happy New Year!” and said goodbye.  He said I might catch up to them because they’d be resupplying in Ranchita.  Beav was up and out 20 minutes later, when the sun finally started to come up.  I hiked solo all through the morning, but every now and again I caught a glimpse of Beav just before he turned round bends in the trail far ahead.

Along the San Felipe Hills, view of the San Felipe Valley

Along the San Felipe Hills, view of the San Felipe Valley

 

The San Ysidro Mountains above Ranchita

The San Ysidro Mountains above Ranchita

 

It’s always exhilarating to come upon new scenery.  The view of the San Ysidro Mountains was fantastic, with their majestically rocky peaks and the rolling hills of the valley below.  The little community of Ranchita was somewhere down in that valley, but I would not be visiting as my resupply box was waiting in Warner Springs.

Billy Goat Cave

Billy Goat Cave

Billy Goat Cave

Billy Goat Cave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Billy Goat Cave is a bit of a landmark in Section B.  Some hikers have slept in it, but I think it would creepy.  I prefer either a tent or the open sky above me- something about spiders hiding in dark, rocky crevasses.   I have to wonder, though, what the cave’s history is- who made it and for what?  It’s just so random!

100 miles of Section A completed!

100 miles of Section A completed!

So far, on all of my PCT hikes, every hundred miles have been marked by either an official trail sign, like in Section B, or by assembled rocks and sticks in the dirt.  As I knew I was appraoching 100 miles, I kept my eyes out for something, ANYTHING, in the trail.  I passed the 100 mile point and there was nothing.  I was so bummed!  I even double backed thinking I must’ve missed it, but found not a thing.  So I made one myself. It was particularly special to me because it was the first time I’d ever done that many miles in a single trip before.  Go me!

Shortly after my little 100-mile celebration, I began the descent toward Barrel Springs.  Live oaks and tall grasses crowded around the trail.  I kept stopping to admire all the vegetation I hadn’t seen before on the trail.

Descending into Montezuma Valley

Descending into Canada Verruga

Approaching Barrel Springs

Approaching Barrel Springs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barrel Springs

Barrel Springs

 

I’ll be honest, I had hoped that maybe the boys would be lounging around at Barrel Springs.  It would’ve been fun to maybe hitch into Ranchita with them for resupplies, particularly for some Mexican ice cream.  They weren’t there, but I hung around Barrel Springs anyway, charging my phone, washing up, and stretching.  It was such a beautiful spot, I didn’t really want to leave.

San Jose Del Valle

San Jose Del Valle

San Jose Del Valle

San Jose Del Valle

Check out how awesomely DIRTY my eyebrows are. :D

Check out how awesomely DIRTY my eyebrows are!

San Jose Del Valle

San Jose Del Valle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I see faces... #CarrieWatson

I see faces… #CarrieWatson

The next several miles through the valley altnerated between open pasture land and oak groves.  I saw a number of day hikers, all aiming for Eagle Rock in the middle of San Jose Del Valle.  As its name implies, it’s a great big rock shaped astonishingly much like an eagle spreading her wings.  I wish there was some information about whether it was ever held sacred by local native americans or not.  It’s too stunning to assume it wouldn’t have been used for ceremonies, but there’s no information to verify that.

 

Approaching Eagle Rock

Approaching Eagle Rock

 

Eagle Rock

Eagle Rock

 

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As much as I wanted to, I didn’t hang around Eagle Rock very long because it was SUPER windy.  Every time I pulled out my tuna snack lunch, it seemed like all the crackers would blow away.  I continued on through the pasture only to be barricaded by a heard of 15 cows.  They were curious enough that they wanted to stand a stare at me and didn’t move at all as I approached them, but there was no way to get around or through them.  For the next 20 minutes, I shouted “shoo cow!” waited for them to move a few feet, then did it again.  It was actually pretty fun.

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Traffic jam on the PCT

Traffic jam on the PCT

 

 

 

The trail dropped down into a beautiful wooded creek area (Canada Verde) full of oak trees and grasses.  It looked so much like home, it felt like I could’ve hiked only a few more feet to a trailhead and hopped into my car.

Approaching Hwy 79 and Warner Springs

Approaching Hwy 79 and Warner Springs

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Canada Verde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Verde near Warner Springs

Canada Verde near Warner Springs

 

I was overjoyed to reach Highway 79, but it was only 3:00 in the afternoon.  Again, I was faced with that dilema of whether to settle in for an early night at an awesome campsite that I could find in the daylight- but probably get bored lying around- or to carry on and potentially have to search for a spot in the dark later.  With the knowledge of a Mexican restaurant being only 8 or 9 miles up the road, I decided to make a bit of a celebration out of the day (100 miles of Section A, completo!).

I dropped my pack, flashed my pearly whites and stuck out my thumb.  It didn’t take long for a teenager named Joey to pull over.  Joey said he was planning to hike the PCT this coming summer, so we nerded out over gear and trail talk.  I really hope to see him again in the summer!

Joey dropped me off in Sunshine Summit, a tiny community with nothing except a few homes and Pancho Villa’s Mexican Restraunt.  I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach because I ended up with Spinach and Artickoke dip, four large tacos, and a giant piece of chocolate cake.  I couldn’t finish it.  : (

Sunshine Summit: "A darn nice place"

Sunshine Summit: “A darn nice place”

Pancho Villa's Mexican Restaurant, Sunshine Summit

Pancho Villa’s Mexican Restaurant, Sunshine Summit

It was News Year Day when I had arrived in Warner Springs, and so would have to wait until the next morning to pick up my resupply box at the post office.  Still sitting in the Pancho Villa booth, I pulled out my maps and counted all my remaining food.  Since I had an extra dehydrated dinner in my pack and had just eaten a huge meal at the restaurant, I figured out I didn’t need to pick up my resupply box after all!  I could head out on the trail that evening and be at Paradise Cafe an entire day early.

The waitress at the diner was so uncomfortable with me heading back out alone in case I sprained an ankle or something.  She insisted that I go to the Fire Station nearby to let them know I was out there.  I did actually look for the station, but couldn’t find it.  I wasn’t really worried because I had my SPOT.

I started walking back towards Warner Springs along Highway 79 and stuck out my thumb.  It’s important to show your face and smile to drivers so they feel good about stopping for you.  It took about ten minutes before an elderly couple pulled over, Malcolm and Barbara.  They were so sweet and funny, joking and bickering all the way to the trailhead.  Malcolm is from England and is championing the animals of the world with his message about veganism and animal cruelty.  He’s been writing songs on the issues and is currently writing a book called Beyond the Animal Farm.  You can check out his website here.

Camp near Hwy 79

Camp near Hwy 79

 

I really wasn’t sure where I should sleep that evening, so I just had Barbara and Malcom drop me off right at the trail.  I walked only a few minutes before finding a spot along the Agua Caliente creek bed.  Hippie’s warnings about a cougar in this area spooked me and I couldn’t get my tent up fast enough.  It’s funny how my mind spirals and turns me into such a chicken sometimes, and that being inside my tent, the thin layer of fabric that it is, is the most comforting thing in the world.  Makes me feel like some kind of parakeet- just put a covering over me, and I’ll calm down for the night!

Day 8- 25 miles!!

I awoke early and set out with the sunrise.  It hadn’t been as chilly in the riverbed as I expected it to be.  For the entire morning the trail climbed the mountains above Warner Valley into Cleaveland National Forest.  It followed the shady and grassy creek of Agua Calient up to the rocky trail overlooking Indian Flats Road and Chihuahua Valley.

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Warner Valley

Warner Valley

 

Just as I rounded a bend to see Hot Spring Mountain, I came across two day hikers.  We joked around a bit and they said they’d seen Eric hiking solo about three hours before.  In my mind, I calculated that to mean he was already 9 or 10 miles ahead of me.  I thought about Beav struggling with his mom’s illness and that he must have decided to get off the trail to be with her.  I didn’t blame him; I don’t think I could stay on the trail if I thought somone I loved was deathly ill back home.

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Approaching Hot Springs Mountain

Hot Springs Mountain

Hot Springs Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost in my thoughts on Beav and my own loved ones, I was completely caught by surprise as I turned a corner and found myself in an entirely different world.  I had walked into a small basin at the top of the mountains which seemed to contain all the boulders of Cleaveland Forest.  At first I really couldn’t figure out was I was looking at; I don’t think I’ve ever seen more boulders in a single place anywhere else on Earth.  Some of the boulders were over ten feet tall!  As I walked through the basin, wondrous stories popped into my mind of giants with marbles, and ruined ancient cities forgotten and overtaken by mother nature.  I stood for minutes on end looking out over the boulders, wanting to take pictures, but feeling like my camera could never do it justice… and I still don’t think it did!

The lost valley of the giants

The lost valley of the giants

 

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My next water resource was a private home owned by Trail Angel Mike.  Mike and his family have generously allowed hikers to refill their bottles from his tank and hose.  He also provides excellent signage, so there was no way I could miss it.  No one was home, but as I gingerly walked up to the property I saw Eric walking back up to the trail.  What a surprise!  He confirmed Beav had decided to head home, but that he was aiming for Idyllwild to catch a football game at a bar there.  I told him if he was still at Paradise Cafe when my frined Sabrina picked me up, we could give him a lift into Idyllwild.

Excellent signage

Excellent signage

 

Trail Angel Mike's on Lost Valley Road

Trail Angel Mike’s on Lost Valley Road

 

After refilling my bottles and jumping back on the trail, I prepared to tackle Combs Peak by eating a bunch of gummy bears and jelly beans.  I know candy’s not ideal fuel, but man it works!  I was hauling butt over that mountain.  I caught sight of Eric every now and again as he rounded bends way in front of me.  The view from Combs Peak was incredible: the desert floor below and the San Jacinto Mountains rising above in the north.

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The view north toward Mount San Jacinto

The view north toward Mount San Jacinto

 

Snow on Combs Peak

Snow on Combs Peak

 

Descending Combs Peak (Bucksnort Mountain)

Descending Combs Peak (Bucksnort Mountain)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t see Eric again, but knowing he was in front of me was great motivation.  I hiked farther than I planned or even expected I could, putting in 25 miles for the day.  As the sun began to set, I scanned for possible campsites, but didn’t see much with all the bushes and sloped canyon walls.  It’s typically frowned up, but I decided to camp right on the trail for that night.  I tried stretching before it got too cold, but I didn’t have enough time.  My muscles were so tight that night, they kept waking me up.  I had to squirm in my sleeping bad, pulling one knee up to my chest at a time just to get some relief.  In the future, I’m going to try and stretch sooner in the evening!

Last night on the trail

Last night on the trail

 

Day 9 – 15.5 miles to Paradise Cafe

I was super excited when I woke up because I knew I’d be enjoying a buger, a shower, and a warm bed by the end of the day.  Plus I’d get to pick up my precious Pepper Dog from Trail Angel Sabrina’s.  <3  Tule Spring was a short hike down the trail that morning, so I got there while it was still rather cold.  This skewed my perception of how much water to carry for the day.  I took less than two liters rationalizing that it wasn’t a hot day, that I wouldn’t be needing water for cooking, and that I usually carried so much water I had excess at the end of the day (translating to excess weight).  I later regretted being so stupid.

Mojave Yucca (or Spanish Bayonet)

Mojave Yucca (or Spanish Bayonet)

Tule Spring

Tule Spring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around mile 140 in Nance Canyon, I felt a sharp pain in my baby toe.  Since I haven’t gotten a blister since 2011, I was sure it was only a rock in my shoe.  Ever since I’d discovered toe sock liners at John Muir Trail Ranch while hiking the JMT in 2011, I haven’t had a single blister.  I was shocked at finding I did indeed have a good sized blister, but excited to have the opportunity to practice my mad blister treatment skills. Also learned during my 2012 JMT hike, my blister treament consists of clearing the area and a threaded needle with iodine, then threading the needle through the blister and cutting the thread, leaving about 0.25 inches sticking out on either end of the blister.  The thread wicks out all the oozing fluid (yuck!), allowing the blister to drain and dry out.  I then tape it with athletic tape and throw my socks and shoes back on.  In the evenings & on breaks, I take the tape off and let the blister air out.  Works like a charm!

Nance Canyon

Nance Canyon

:(

🙁

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Nance Canyon, the trail descends into Cahuilla Valley, named for the native people who once resided there.  You can read about them in this Wikipedia article.

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Peace Sign

Peace Sign

There are so many little surprises on the trail, and you never know what you’re going to stumble upon.  This day I came across rocks assembled in a peace sign.  Delightful!  That delighted feeling only lasted a little while as I climbed Table Mountain and the day became hotter and hotter.  I soon realized I had barely over one cup of water left and over ten miles to hike.  Blerg.

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Cahuilla Valley

Following footsteps

Following footsteps

Part of what made this day so challenging was all the sand I had to hike through.  I don’t know what I dislike more, a rocky trail or a sandy trail- probably the sandy one.  It takes twice as much effort to climb up soft, shifty trails of sand and it frustrates the hell out of me.

One thing that really kept me sane this day was watching the footprints in the trail.  There were two sets of prints I have been following since Scissors Crossing in Seciton A: a smaller set belonging to a hiker only one day ahead of me named Jack Lester and a larger set belong to Eric.  I could tell which were Eric’s because his were imprinted OVER Jim’s.  I had seen Jack’s name in the trail registries at Scissor’s and at Trail Angel Mike’s, but I never did meet him.

 

Lost and Found

Lost and Found

The trailhead at Highway 74 had several posted signs and messages.  One was a note requesting the return of a lost pepper spray, which I had happen to find 10 miles earlier that day.  It’ll be fun to mail it back along with a message about where I picked it up.

Another sign posted read “Free Rides to Paradise Cafe!” I called the number and in no time flat they were out to pick me up.  What service!  Within 20 minutes of calling, I was sitting comfortably at the cafe with a beer calling Sabrina for a ride.

While waiting for my burger, the waitress brought out the trail register for the past year.  As I flipped through it, I saw Jim’s name, whose footprints I had followed, and all the previous hikers of the season.  I remembered reading some of the journals belonging to these hikers over the summer, just after my knee surgery, and dreaming about when I’d finally get the chance to be out on the trail.  And there I was, sitting at Paradise with 152 miles just completed and a total of 270 miles of my PCT journey hiked already- it felt great

Paradise!

Paradise!

 

Links

Installment No. 6 of My PCT Journey- Big Bear to Silverwood Lake

Pine House Cafe & Tavern

Laguna Mountain Lodge

Paradise Cafe

 

 

Installment No. 4 of My PCT Journey

KML-LogoFullscreen-LogoQR-code-logoGeoJSON-LogoGeoRSS-LogoWikitude-Logo
No. 4- Cabazon to Idyllwild, 2013

loading map - please wait...

Cabazon: 33.924061, -116.694503
Idyllwild: 33.753032, -116.722183
Cafe Aroma: 33.750944, -116.707196

 

 

Day 1- 12.5 miles

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Sabrina, Art, & Pepper the dog

Our trip began with an early morning drive to Idyllwild to drop off our car & meet Sabrina, our good friend and personal Trail Angel. The plan was to cover 26 miles of Section B in San Jacinto State Park.  Sabrina shuttled me, Art, Pepper the dog, & all our camp-crap down to Cabazon on Highway 10. She dropped us off right on the side of the highway, waved goodbye & drove off with Pepper looking horribly concerned in the front seat.

 

The PCT beneath the train tracks & Hwy 10

The PCT beneath the train tracks & Hwy 10

Trains alongside Hwy 10 near Cabazon

Trains alongside Hwy 10 near Cabazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cabazon is a small, desert community established in 1870 when Southern Pacific Railroad built a station in the area. It’s mostly known for outlet shopping, a casino, and Claude Bell’s giant dinosaur sculptures (as some may remember from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure). The PCT slips under the highway and train tracks at this point (PCT mile 209.5), then winds it’s way through the sandy valley. It’s actually really easy to loose the trail here because it washes out so easily in the rain and wind.

PCT mile 209ish.  Windmill farm in the distance

PCT mile 209ish. Windmill farm in the distance

After having to continually redirect ourselves back onto the trail, Art & I found ourselves on Snowcreek Canyon Road and in the artsy, little residential community hiding against the base of the mountains. Right then, I had a moment of panic as I believed I’d forgetten to pack matches and couldn’t find any when we checked our packs. In classic hiker trash style, we waltzed up to a gentleman working in his garage and asked if we could buy some matches. He and his wife were kind enough to just give them to us, not to mention they flattered us immensely when they assumed we were PCT Southbound Thu-hikers all the way from Canada!

Water Resource at mile 207- just a friendly homeowner on Falls Creek Road sharing his garden hose.

Water Resource at mile 207- just a friendly homeowner on Falls Creek Road sharing his garden hose.

Working our way up Falls Creek Road, we were greeted by a surly looking man in an SUV with high powered binoculars and a hunting camera. He had been watching us climb the road for 20 minutes and kept reversing his SUV until we reached the trail turn-off and a lonesome looking water faucet. As talkative as this guy was, he was SUPER secretive about the water and the agency that owns/guards it. They actually have a man living up the canyon to guard the spring/creek/whatever-it-is 24-7. Our new friend said they especially wanted to keep out hunters and punks. LOL! I wouldn’t argue with that! He showed us photos of the local mountain lioness that prowls the hills…  [Small note about me: just thinking about mountain lions gives me the heebeegeebees.] At that point, I hustled Art to get a move on up the trail and away from lion stories.

The Faucet of Golden Water (Water Resource of mile 206)

The Faucet of Golden Water (Water Resource of mile 206)

 

The sweetest water!

The sweetest, purest water!

 

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Climbing above Cabazon

 

My good friend Carrie has a picture collection of faces she sees in random objects. Now I’m seeing them everywhere, too. Soon as I saw the big potato head rock, I had to snap this one for Carrie!

I see faces...

I see faces…

 

Sacred Datura, or Morning Glory flowers

Sacred Datura, or Morning Glory flowers

 

As we climbed, the mountain’s shadows quickly start to spread over us and gave the impression it was much later in the day. I kept freaking out, thinking it would be dark soon and we must be hiking too slow. I wasn’t especially keen on night hiking after stories of the local lion.

2013-11-09 30

Still climbing…

 

200 miles to Mexico

200 miles to Mexico…

And 2,450 miles to Canda!

and 2,450 miles to Canada!

 

 

 

 <—  —>

This was super fun to see!

 

 

 

Art and I did end up hiking into the night, which I found spooky because I didn’t have a headlamp good enough for night hiking. I had brought a little Ace Home Improvement headlamp, which is super light, but only good enough for cooking & mucking around in the tent. Since my cell phone was actually brighter than my headlamp, that’s what I had to use. With the help of Halfmile’s maps, we managed to find a sweet campsite near mile 197.  The view that evening was so lovely with all the twinkling red windmill lights below in the valley, and there were hundreds of them! The evening was ideal for camping as there was no wind and the air was only a little cool. We brought our Big Anges King Solomon double-wide 15°F sleeping bag for this trip, which made the night extra cozy!  Since we weren’t concerned about bears, our Backpacker’s Pantry Jamaican Jerk Rice and Chicken dinner was eaten from inside our sleeping bag.

First night's campsite, near mile 197.

First night’s campsite, near mile 197.

 

Day 2- 10 miles

The next morning we awoke to an incredible view of the desert valley. Breakfast consisted of fig bars and fruit leather, plus a protien bar for Artie. I vetoed the hot tea option because we wouldn’t be reaching our next water source for another 10.75 miles. We were pretty slow going day two, as Art wasn’t used to the elevation and we were carrying LOTS of water.

The PCT above Cabazon

The PCT above Cabazon

 

Art loved the choo-choo trains below.  :)

Art loved the choo-choo trains below.

 

 

And THIS is why I wear pants.

And THIS is why I wear pants.

I chose to scoot under the tree.  Note the scoot marks in the dirt.  :D

I chose to go under the tree. Note the scoot marks in the dirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After hiking for so long in the dry, barren desert habitat, it was satisfying to finally reach some living trees. We stopped there for an early lunch of tuna salad with crackers, cookies, and dried fruit.

Trees!

Feelin’ foresty.

Yum!

Yum!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Checking our mileage, we noted we’d have to reconsider where we would camp that night, as we were hiking slower than we’d expected. No matter! We were loving being amongest the trees and having expansive views of forest and valley floors.

Manzanita tree

Manzanita tree

 

Approaching Fuller Ridge

Approaching Fuller Ridge

Around mile 192.5 we came near a dirt road and a trail sign indicating the trail for northbounders. Continuing on what looked VERY much like the only southbound trail option around, we soon found ourselves OFF trail. ARGH! This made for a rather grumpy moment because we were already behind schedule and double backing being, of course, out of the question, we scrambled up the steep, bushy hillside until we found the trail again.

Looking northwest, over Hwy 243

Looking northwest, over Hwy 243

 

Fuller Ridge

Still approaching Fuller Ridge…

 

 

<3

Awesome signage- NOT!

Awesome signage- NOT!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hustled up the trail and soon found ourselves walking through yet another very different ambience: snow! I’m always getting excited by snow because I grew up in Southern California and never had snow play vacations.

Snow along Fuller Ridge

Snow along Fuller Ridge

Much better signage!

Much better signage!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Usually, when I come upon a cougar print, I get nervous and hike like a bobble head because I’m constantly looking behind and above me for a crouching lion. Having Art beside me disolved all those fears, either because no lion would bother with two of us, or because if a lion did attack, I could run for it while Art single-handedly battled the beast.

Little snow heart!

Little snow heart!

Little cougar print?!

Little cougar print?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hiked on ahead of Art for the afternoon trying to determine how far a decent campsite would be and how close we could get to the water resource. As the day went on, I saw incredible views, trees, and boulders, but I forgot to actually take pictures! Around mile 187 I found a really great campsite and decided that even though we hadn’t reached the water yet, this was the spot for us. I was also concerned about Art hiking to catch up to me in the dark, espeically since I had the map. I dropped my pack, grabbed some water bottles and hiked another half mile up to the North Fork San Jacinto River Tributary. It was super icy and I nearly fell on my butt several times, all for the fun of it!

North Fork San Jacinto River Tributary

North Fork San Jacinto River Tributary

 

Sunrise looking toward Lake Hemet

Sunrise looking toward Lake Hemet

By the time I returned to my backpack down the hill, Art was lounging comfortably on the rocks. We threw up the tent because the sun was setting fast. I made hot tea and we snacked on jerky and fruit while we waited for our Beef Stroganoff and Beef Chilli Mac to rehydrate. I even ate an entire box of Trader Joe’s Dried Seaweed- it was deliciously salty. It was such an early night for us with the sun going down at 5:00. By 7pm, Art was already asleep! That night was much colder than the first because we were now at an elevation of around 9,000 feet. Art slept like a rock, but I woke up at 3am cold on one side.  I kept rotating like a rotisserie chicken against the toasty furnace of Art next to me.

Second night's campsite near mile 187

Second night’s campsite near mile 187

 

 

Day 3- 6 or 7 miles

A cold morning at camp

A cold morning at camp

We were determined to start hiking by 6am so we could grab second breakfast in Idyllwild. The alarm went off at 5am and we were pretty successful at making tea and eating breakfast, but not so successful at getting out of bed and packing up. It was so chilly out! We both hiked for the first few hours in our long johns and didn’t take them off until we past Strawberry Junction. We made our way back up to the Tributary and, since we made so much tea, we filled up the bottles again.  It was a winter wonderland up on that ridge!

Wonderful wintery land!

Wonderful wintery land!

Coming down the mountain, approaching Deer Spring Trail

Coming down the mountain, approaching Deer Spring Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the promise of a scrumptious meal and cold beer in Idyllwild, we moved pretty fast that morning. We zipped right past Deer Spring— which was still flowing, but looked pretty mucky— and a sweet looking campground with tables and a tap to the spring, still in the process of being built. Approaching Strawberry Junction was exciting because there was an outhouse. Nothing like an outhouse to brighten your day in the woods!

Just south of Strawberry Junction

Just south of Strawberry Junction

Just past Strawberry Junction, however we came across a trail closure sign. When I planned the trip, I had heard about the PCT being closed from Hwy 74 up to Devil’s Slide, but not up to Strawberry Junction. This meant we had to turn around and hike down Deer Spring Trail to Hwy 243. We road walked back into Idyllwild and then hitched a ride up to our car in Humber Park. It worked out beautifully!

Once at the car, we changed into our street clothes and hurried down to Cafe Aroma in downtown Idyllwild. The local gentleman who’d given us a lift recommend it, and it was DELICIOUS! I think we could’ve stayed there all afternoon if we didn’t need to pick up Pepper from Sabrina and then drive three hours home.

Overall, it was a delightful trip!  The variety of environments for this section of the PCT was especially fun, and it was so nice to have the company for a change. Thanks for coming with me, Artie!

Cafe Aroma, Idyllwild

Cafe Aroma, Idyllwild

Hitchhiking on Hwy 243

Hitchhiking on Hwy 243

 

Days 1-2. We hiked right to left on this chart from Halfmile's maps.

Days 1-2. We hiked right to left on this chart from Halfmile’s maps.

 

Days 2-3

Days 2-3

 

Links

Installment No. 5 of My PCT Journey- Mexican Border to Paradise Cafe

Halfmile’s Maps

Cafe Aroma