Installment No. 20 of My PCT Journey
Day 1- 18.8 miles, camping near Swarthout Canyon Road
This is one of the final “connect-the-dots” hikes for me in Southern California. I’d hiked all of So. Cal. except a section near Idyllwild closed due to fire damage and a 30-mile chunk between Silverwood Lake and Acorn Trail. My plan this time was to start at Silverwood Lake and hike past Acorn Trail to connect the dots and shake-down some new gear.
After an incredibly fun weekend of some music teachers’ workshops and hanging out with Sabrina, Sabrina and I drove early in the morning to the San Gabriel Mountains. We’d planned on leaving my car at Eagles Roost Picnic Area, but as we drove higher into the mountains, I relearned the importance of checking the forest road conditions before heading out. It turned out that Highway 2 was closed starting at Vincent Gap near the base of Mount Baden Powell and parking at Eagles Roost was out of the question. Oh, well! One thing I’ve learned about the trail is that you have to be flexible with your plans and that you’ll probably still have a great time! So, we left my car at Vincent Gap and Sabrina dropped me off at Silverwood Lake.
The morning drop off wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. As we approached Silverwood Lake, I realized my MSR dromedary bag was leaking all over the inside of my pack. We u-turned it back down to the gas station at Cajon Pass and bought me four big bottles of water. What else went wrong? After leaving my house for Sabrina’s, I realized I’d forgotten my water treatment, my trekking poles, my camp spoon, and sunscreen. I had to find an REI to stock up on a new Sawyer Squeeze Filter and a spoon. Also, my totally awesome Suntactics solar charger turned out to be dead. WhAAAAAAT??? That meant I couldn’t use up precious battery life listening to any podcasts or tunes with my awesome, new plastic cup speaker system (compliments of Ka’eo, Sabrina’s finance). I’m usually so organized with my gear that I really couldn’t fathom all of these problems happening at once.
None-the-less, I was determined to hike and hike I did! The morning was spectacular and I was excited to be back on the trail, even if just for a little shake-down hike. I tried several new things this trip:
Gossamer Gear Gorilla Backpack- I used it for the first time on a hike in November and I’m still trying to get used to it.
Klymit X-Lite torso sleeping pad- I’ve been resisting torso pads for a long time, thinking they wouldn’t be comfortable. Klymit has been kind enough to sponsor me and sent me an X-Lite pad to try out. I loved their full-size version, X-Frame, when I used it last summer, so I was excited to try out the torso size.
Stove-less meals- I love my hot drinks and meals, so I’ve also resisting trying the stove-less approach. This time around, I left the stove at home and packed lots of jerky, bars, and dehydrated meals that taste good cold (lentils, mango sweet rice, and pasta salad).
Boots instead of trail runners- Trail runner are so flexible and lightweight, but the boots offer more longevity and ankle stability. After rolling my ankle too many times last summer on the PCT and burning through hundreds of dollars replacing worn-out trail runners, I thought I’d give boots a try. Using my REI dividend, I purchases a pair of Merrell Moab Ventilators.
Homemade smart-phone speakers- Sabrina’s boyfriend, Ka’eo, made some great speakers out of a paper towel roll and two plastic cups. We fixed it up so it could sit just on top of my packet with my phone securely positioned in it, yet still easily accessible for those photogenic moments. Being made out of cheap materials means it doesn’t matter if they get damaged on the trail and they’re easy to replace.
It was a short climb out of the Silverwood Lake area and soon I was skirting the edge of Summit Valley, exposed under the hot sun, but winding in and out of shaded gullies sprinkled with wildflowers. Something about Summit Valley pulls me back in time to the pioneers who attempted to settle there in the mid-1800’s and even further back to the native people who’d lived there for centuries.
I came across so many more snakes this day on the trail than I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t know if it was the heat or maybe it’s just this section of trail, but I had several rattlesnakes buzz at me from trail-side bushes, and multiple garden snakes and even a gopher snake crossed my path!
Coming out of Little Horsethief Canyon, named for a supposed Native American horsethief, presented spectacular views to the north of the San Andres fault cutting between the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. From there, it was all downhill to Highway 15 and the promise of McD0nald’s delights!
Just before hitting Highway 15, I decided to stop and soak my feet in the tiny Crowder Canyon Creek. My feet were aching in my brand new boots and it was the only creek I’d probably come across in this section. I sometimes get so focused on putting in miles, that I forget to stop and enjoy the “nooks and crannies” of the trail. To me, a nook or cranny of the trail might be a delightful view, shady tree, or cool stream. There are really so many that it’s difficult to take them all in generously and still stay on schedule.
Still, I’m making an effort to enjoy them longer because I also need the recovery time! It took me over a month last summer to realize how important recovery time is when doing long-distance hiking. An hour or two break mid-afternoon will gain me not only enjoyment and sanity, but also an additional chunk of miles at the end of the day that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do!
Arriving at Highway 15 marked my completion of Section C, officially! YAY! It took three separate section hikes, but I managed to do it. Time to celebrate with some junk food.
I felt so dirty in McDonalds. I knew I was smelly from the exceptionally hot thirteen mile hike I’d just put in, but it was more than that- maybe it was the fact that I don’t usually eat fast food; maybe it was the contrast of standing in line with my pack next to people in their heels heading to work. Whatever it was, I couldn’t stand to stay there too long. If I was going to look like a street urchin, then I’d rather lounge on the grass than inside a McDonalds. I took two full hours lounging on that grass before jumping back on the trail.
The next section of the trail, California PCT Section D, begins by winding around Ralston Peak, amongst the stark Mormon Rocks and over and under the high-traffic railroads. It was so hot and the sun was reflecting off the pale, sandy trail. I wrapped my Billi Bandana hat around my face to protect my poor Irish-German skin as best I could. By the way, I LOVE my Billi Bandana. It’s been one of my favorite and most versatile pieces of gear, plus it now feels like part of my identity.
My poor feet were killing me on the last couple of miles. I really wanted to camp at the base of the big climb I was approaching so I could hit it early in the morning, but that meant I had to put in over five more miles after leaving Highway 15. My feet were hating me. I haven’t really been hiking since November because I’ve been working so much, plus the new boots felt heavy and cumbersome. Surprisingly, the bottoms of my feet felt okay, while my ankles felt bruised from having so much material supporting them.
I stopped at a campsite twenty to thirty feet from the dirt Swarthout Canyon Road. I felt comfortable, lying out exposed under the desert sky. A few cars drove by around sunset; I suspect they were ranch workers heading home, but I was glad I was tucked out of view. You never know what kind of people may be looking for fun on a dirt road in the desert. I was still full from my double cheeseburger lunch, so dinner consisted of only nuts and some cookies.
Day 2- 14.5 miles, camping along Blue Ridge
With a massive climb ahead of me, I quickly wrapped-up camp, shook up some Starbucks Via and Carnation’s Instant Breakfast in a bottle, and hit the trail. After just a few steps, I laid eyes on an incredibly beautiful coyote. He stood in the bushes just ahead of me and I stopped to watch him. I knew that the moment I reached for my camera, he would’ve dashed away, so I left my camera in my hip belt pocket and savored the moment. It made me happy to see him so healthy looking.
I tried a couple new recipes just for this trip. By going stove-less, I saved on weight, allowing me to carry the 6.5 liters of water I needed to hike out of Cajon Pass. Any dehydrated or freeze-dried meal can be rehydrated with cold water, but some just taste better hot. (It’s probably more of a psychological/emotional experience than taste.) Keeping that in mind, I assembled a pasta salad with sun dried tomatoes, freeze-dried chicken, dehydrated artichokes, and olive oil dressing. I added just enough water to cover the food the night before and the next morning it was fantastic!
Another heat-free meal I really enjoyed on this trip was my mango sweet rice recipe. I assembled pre-cooked and dehydrated jasmine rice, dehydrated mangos, Nido whole milk, sugar, almond floor, and some crunchy, slivered almonds to make this tasty meal.
The higher I climbed, the cooler it got. It was surprising how hot it had been several thousand feet below, but on the ridge, it was getting windy and cold! I stopped for camp much early than I typically do, but my body was saying, “I’m done!” and it was a very pretty spot. I laid my shirt out to dry in the remaining sunlight while I unpacked and messed around with my bivy set-up. I could tell it was going to be a very cold and blustery night, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I might as well just hunker down and brace for it.
It was indeed pretty damn cold, but my new sleeping pad worked great and the only cold spots I had were from the wind blowing across the top of my bivy. I periodically peeked out of my bag throughout the night in the hopes of seeing the sun rising. The city lights of Hesperia below were beautiful and comforting in my solitude.
Day 3- 12 miles
Knowing that this morning I would have a relatively easy 12 mile hike to my car and then a fun meal in Wrightwood motivated me to get hiking before the sun rose. The morning clouds hung low between the mountains and it felt great to hike so early amongst the trees. Between the Fall of 2013 and Spring of 2014, I section hiked all of Section D except for the portion from Cajon Pass to Acorn Trail. This trip would finally mark my completion of both Sections C and D!
Most PCT hikers refer to the PCT Water Report for information on water sources along the trail. It relies on hikers to check out the sources and report back. When no one has reported on a particular source for over a month, the reliability of that source becomes questionable, especially in Southern California. Without the security of an updated Water Report, hikers sometimes have to carry twice as much water. I try to report back on every source I see because I know how valuable that information is for hikers coming after me. One such source that’s been neglected on recents reporting is Guffy Spring. It’s located nearly 300 yards off the PCT down a VERY steep trail. What a pain in the butt trying to reach it; no wonder no one’s bothered checking on it!
As I neared the first crossing of Highway 2, I passed my first fellow hiker. His name’s Yardsale and has been section hiking the entire PCT (like me!) over the last couple of years. He’s almost finished! His pack was gigantic, with additional items tied on with cord. Apparently, he got his name from spreading out all his gear at each campsite as though he’s at a yard sale. Sounds familiar! Yardsale was section hiking all of Section D and needed a ride into Wrightwood to pick up resupplies. I told him if he still needed a ride after I hiked to Vincent Gap, I’d pick him up.
I scooped up Yardsale and dropped him off at the Wrightwood Post Office, then promptly took myself out to lunch at Evergreen Cafe. I was still feeling dizzy and nauseous from the altitude, so most of my mushroom burger and milkshake went uneaten.
Despite my achy feet, feeling out of shape, and putting up with the cold wind and the hot sun, I still feel like this was a really successful hike. I was able to check out some new gear and check up on the old. I’m feeling much more prepared for my upcoming summer hike of 1,500 miles. Now, I just need to assemble my meals, pack my resupply boxes, and get in shape!