Installment No. 20 of My PCT Journey

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No. 20- Silverwood Lake to Vincent Gap, 2015

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Silverwood Lake: 34.288212, -117.356000
McDonald\'s: 34.309519, -117.471185
Evergreen Cafe: 34.360088, -117.634027
Vincent Gap: 34.373611, -117.752282

 

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.

Trail Angel Sabrina

Trail Angel Sabrina

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.

Outlet creek at Silverwood Lake

Outlet creek 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.

Trailhead at Silverwood Lake

Trailhead at Silverwood Lake

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.

image

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

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.

View of Summit Valley towards Mojave Forks

View of Summit Valley towards Mojave Forks

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!

pct_section_c_san_bernardino_mountains_trail.jpg

 

Wildflowers and a velvet ant

Wildflowers and a velvet ant

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!

View towards the San Gabriel Mountains, Highway 15, and the San Andreas Fault

View towards the San Gabriel Mountains, Highway 15, and the San Andreas Fault

 

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!

Crowder Canyon Creek

Crowder Canyon Creek

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.

McDonalds at Cajon Pass

McDonalds at Cajon Pass

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.

Walking under Highway 15

Walking under Highway 15

 

Bearvertail Cactus ready to bloom

Bearvertail Cactus ready to bloom

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.

Mormon Rocks

Mormon Rocks

 

Sportin' the Billi Bandana

Sportin’ the Billi Bandana

 

Trains near Ralston Peak

Trains near Ralston Peak

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.

Campsite near Swarthout Road

Campsite near Swarthout Road

 

 

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.

Approaching the climb out of Lone Pine Canyon

Approaching the climb out of Lone Pine Canyon

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!

Pasta salad with chicken, tomatoes, & artichokes

Pasta salad with chicken, tomatoes, & artichokes

 

On the ridge above Lone Pine Canyon

On the ridge above Lone Pine Canyon

 

Treating my hotspots

Treating my hotspots

 

Mount Ralston and Lone Pine Canyon

Mount Ralston and Lone Pine Canyon

 

pct-section-d-40-upper-lytle-creek-ridge

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.

Mango Sweet Rice

Mango Sweet Rice

Exposed desert trail

Exposed desert trail

 

Finally, trees!

Finally, trees!

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.

Campsite along Blue Ridge

Campsite along Blue Ridge

 

Day 3- 12 miles

Sunrise in the San Gabriels

Sunrise in the San Gabriels

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!

Guffy Spring

Guffy Spring

 

pct-section-d-64-san-gabriel-mountains

 

Only a bit of snow.

Only a bit of snow.

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.

View south towards Mount Baldy

View south towards Mount Baldy

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.

Epic PCT section hiker Yardale

Epic PCT section hiker Yardale

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!

Evergreen Cafe

Evergreen Cafe

 

Links

Preparing for Installments 21-34: Tahoe to CANADA

Klymit X-lite Sleeping Pad

PCT Water Report

Evergreen Cafe

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest Whitewater River

 

 

Installment No. 19 of My PCT Journey

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No. 19- Cabazon to Big Bear, 2014

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Cabazon: 33.939835, -116.695147
Whitewater Preserve: 33.989345, -116.655836
Highway 18 near Big Bear: 34.290552, -116.802435
Coon Creek Cabin: 34.148607, -116.711540

 

 

Day 1- 8 miles, camping at Whitewater Preserve

PCT Section C San Gorgonio Wilderness Cabazon

Trail Angel Sabrina

This past summer, I was lucky enough to hike 1,100 miles through Central and Northern California.  Before that, I section hiked most of Southern California, but there are still a few little gaps in my So. Cal. PCT hikes. This trip would knock out one of the remaining chunks from Cabazon to Big Bear. I invited my good friend Ben, who hiked part of Section A with me nearly a year ago, to hike with me and Sabrina, my personal trail angel, dropped us off at the trailhead.

PCT Section C San Gorgonio Wilderness Cabazon

 

PCT Section C San Gorgonio Wilderness Cabazon Mesa Wind Farm

Mesa Wind Farm

 

PCT Section C San Gorgonio Wilderness

 

PCT Section C San Gorgonio Wilderness Whitewater Preserve

Approaching Whitewater Preserve

We aimed to camp at Whitewater Preserve for the first night because it was an easy 9 miles and was the next available water source outside of Cabazon. The preserve was awesome! The rangers were so hospitable, the grounds were lovely, the water was on tap and the bathrooms had plumbing! We also met a southbound hiker who was fun to chat with over dinner.

 

Day 2- 14 miles, camping next to Mission Creek

Mountain House Breakfast Skillet

Mountain House Breakfast Skillet

 

PCT Section C San Gogonio Wilderness Whitewater Preserve

Whitewater Preserve

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest Whitewater River

Whitewater River

All day long, the trail wound higher and higher into the San Bernardino Mountains. It was such a gradual uphill, that it was easy to forget you were evening climbing! Once we connected up with Mission Creek, the trail followed the narrow and bushy canyon, never leaving the gently flowing water.

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest trail food lunch

Salami, cheddar, and kale wrap

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest Mission Creek

Mission Creek

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest Mission Creek

Oasis near Mission Creek

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

I was glad to have Ben camping with me because I had the mountain lion heebee jeebees again. There are certain places where I seem to get spooked; it might be a good instinct or it might be my imagination. I got really spooked when I heard movement from the other side of the creek, but it turned out to be three more southbound hikers trying to find the trail in the bushes. We chatted for a bit and they said they knew my friend Just So Fresh, who I hiked northbound with this summer. I was stoked to hear he was still going strong and would finish on time.

 

Day 3-14.25 miles, camping at Coon Creek Cabin

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest Mission Creek

Last night’s campsite at mile 232

We had a massive climb ahead of us, so we got up early and hit the trail. Despite the struggle with the altitude, the day was delightfully scenic. It’s always fun to watch the earth and plant life evolve from one elevation to another.

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest plants

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest plants poodle dog bush

Poodle Dog Bush

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest wildflower apricot mallow

A small desert bloom: Apricot Mallow

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

Reaching Mission Spring was a great respite. We were relieved to know it was flowing well and it meant we’d have a mostly flat 6.5 miles of hiking for the rest of the day. Knowing that, we took a generous break, napping a little and eating lunch.

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest Mission Spring

Icicles at Mission Spring

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

Looking south toward Joshua Tree National Park

Ben and I pushed hard so we could enjoy sleeping inside the Coon Creek Cabin. It meant we could build a fire in the fireplace, spread out as much as we liked, and not have to set up the tent. The views from the nearby cliff towards Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park were incredible.

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest Coon Creek Cabin

Coon Creek Cabin

 

 

Day 4- 15.5 miles, camping near mile 262.5

It felt so good and yet so strange to be hiking the PCT again after my big journey. I’ve missed being on the trail: getting the fresh air and exercise, being challenged by the elements, my mind, and my body, and being perpetually thrilled by the Earth’s beauty. I struggled with the thought of only being allowed to be out again for a short while, even if the constraints keeping me from walking more were placed there by myself. Somehow I felt like I wasn’t able to appreciate it as much if couldn’t be allowed to keep walking for as long as my legs would carry me. Of course, that’s all speculation, and part of me feels silly for it. There are plenty of advantages that section hiking has over thru-hiking.

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest wildflowers plants

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

Looking toward San Gorgonio Mountain

We were now up high and amongst beautiful pine forest. I felt so out of shape and my feet were aching from not having hiked much since July. The scenery more than made up for my bodily pains and we ended up having another really nice day. We took another long lunch break at the beautiful Arrastre Trail Camp and even saw a herd of wild burros that caught us completely by surprise.

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest Arrastre Trail Camp

Arrastre Trail Camp

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

Camping near mile 262.5

Ben and I camped on a ridge above the desert floor and were graced with a spectacular sunset. We enjoyed each other’s company while munching on left over gold fish crackers and jerky, taking it all in. Ben said he’s not sure long distance hiking is really his thing. I bet he’d get into it more if he could do it his own way, and not get dragged out by me! I also think once he gets past the idea that hiking feels good in the body, he’d understand the hook. Hiking doesn’t usually feel good in the body, it feels good in the soul and the mind.  There’s a mental release from the body’s aches that have to happen before you can really feel good out there.

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

 

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

Ben enjoying the sunset

 

 

Day 5- 3.75 miles

Sabrina picked us up after an easy hike to Highway 18. Being the angel that she is, she and her boyfriend, Terry, surprised Ben and me with a Thanksgiving Turkey dinner. The night before, they had run to the store, bought all the fixings, and starting cooking the next morning at 5AM!  It was amazing!

It was a joy to be on the trail again and connect a few more of my PCT So. Cal dots.  Can’t wait for the next trip!

PCT Section C San Bernardino National Forest

 

Links

Installment No. 20- Silverwood Lake to Vincent Gap

Whitewater Preserve 



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