Day 7 – Barrel Spring to Warner Springs – 8 miles

We slept in a little this morning since we were up late and only had to make a few miles into town. We continued to be pleased with our tent – when we woke up there was no trace of condensation on the inside, which is often an issue with single-walled tents.

After packing up we set out for town with showers and burgers on our minds. It was windy, cloudy, and cool enough to start hiking with gloves and warm jackets. It felt like home! The trail was alternately gentle and hilly before settling into wide, dry cattle grazing plains. It was a novel experience to be able to see the path stretched out in front of us instead of ducking behind bend after bend. There were cowpies everywhere.

We made good time and took a break for the requisite picture at Eagle Rock along the way. I’ve been waiting a long time for that photo! The sun came out soon after and, just as before, started baking everything right away. Luckily we were entering a pleasantly shady stretch along a stream that made for nice walking. We finally saw the actual cows that had been scattering evidence of themselves all along our route. We passed some ladies out for a day hike who cheered us on to Canada. This town is obviously familiar with the thru-hiker herd!

When we reached the community center it was like we had gone to heaven. Packs, gear and hikers in various states of cleanliness were everywhere. We walked in to be greeted with clean towels, washcloths, and little bottles of shampoo and soap. We were directed around back to the cavernous shower stalls, where we took off every stitch of filthy clothing and had the best showers of our lives. We were even able to scrub out our sweat-stained hats and gritty insoles. Our clothes went into the laundry to be returned to us a hour later, magically clean and smelling great. While we waited they cooked us cheeseburgers and we finally got what I had been craving for days – an ice cold can of soda! Ice cream sandwiches completed this feast of indulgence.

We sat around for a while talking to other hikers and doing a few satisfying chores. Even though we packed light on food we still had a few meals left over that we donated to the hiker box, much to the delight of some folks. I’m glad they could use them and hope they enjoy them. It was fun to talk to some folks we already recognize from the past week, and nice to get to know a few new faces. Everyone is so friendly and enthusiastic about what we’re doing that it’s even easy for introverts like us to make friends. We find ourselves suddenly members of a huge group with a common goal and shared obstacles and it’s wonderful. The town folks putting on this show are amazing!

After settling our bill and making a donation (which could never fully express our gratitude) we got a ride to the post office to pick up our resupply box. We had a ride set up to get us back to Lake Morena, where we’ll attend the annual PCT kickoff gathering tomorrow.

After a week on the trail, with section A under our belts, we are doing surprisingly well. Our feet are in great shape – a little sore, but no blisters, where some folks have turned theirs into hamburger. We are looking forward to a day off and to not having a schedule when we return to the trail. All this week we have felt pressured to get here in time for our ride, but after this we are only limited by the amount of food we have on hand and if we go slower than expected we can always buy more.

Yesterday we passed another personal record – we’ve now done more mileage than ever before on a trip! Our previous record was 93 miles last summer on the Wonderland trail. Our here we’ve done that much in 6 days – nearly half the time!

Looking forward to the kickoff tomorrow and meeting more new people…

– Posted from the PCT


Day 6 – San Felipe hills to Barrel Spring – 19 miles

We had our warmest night yet last night – no need to wear hats or jackets. We were camped on a small saddle and had a beautiful view of the sunrise. It was hazy because of some rain in San Diego, which meant cooler temperatures. Yesterday at the cache Keith scored a can of coke from a pile of empty beer cans. After sitting out all night it was pleasantly cool and we shared it at breakfast. I don’t normally drink coke but it tasted delicious! We are at funk level 5 now and smell so bad that we can’t even tell what body part it’s coming from. When we unzip our bags in the morning it’s like opening up someone’s crypt and the stench just wafts out. We’ve gone beyond skunk to military-grade stink.

We made good time to the third gate water cache 9 miles away, following the contours of the steep hills we were in. As we progressed the desert valley to our west got greener and greener. Near the end of the stretch the sun came out in full force and it heated up right away. We were sad to see the clouds go!

Once again, we were wiped out by the time we reached the cache. We tried to nap for a while, but there was very little shade and our umbrellas weren’t quite large enough to cover us. After a while we reluctantly got up and got our water. We only needed a little since we had loaded up at Scissors Crossing but it was much appreciated. We then retreated up the hill to a shadier spot to wait out the rest of the afternoon sun and cook lunch. Neither of us was very hungry because of the heat but I’m glad I made the effort because the stroganoff tasted delicious in the end. Nothing like a little salt to get us going!

After more rest we powered up the trail to finish the San Felipe hills. As we got up to the ridge we had a good view of the green Volcan mountains to the west. Clouds and mist from the incoming front were boiling over them and spilling down towards the desert valley below. It was a beautiful sight that I’m sure won’t come through well in pictures.

The trail was not too strenuous and we made good time. As we hiked the front rolled in and in a short amount of time the skies fogged over, the wind started up and the temperature dropped into the 50s. Now this was our kind of weather! We began to worry a little about finding a campsite for the night. The hills were very rugged with few flat spots and we thought we would need to set up the tent as protection from wind and possible rain. Suddenly it seemed that all the likely spots were already taken. We decided to kick it into high gear and make for Barrel Spring even though we hadn’t planned on it originally.

We made it by full dark and set up camp in a grassy field away from the trough so as not to disturb the folks already camped there. I finally got to wash my feet and legs! It was so satisfying to get the dirt off. It felt amazing to be able to rub my toes together without feeling grit between them.

We had decided not to set up the tent again, thinking that the rain would hold off, but as we curled up in our bags with a dinner of cheesy bacon potatoes it started to sprinkle. It was a hard decision to get back out into the cold and mess with the shelter but it was the smart thing to do. Otherwise I would have been half awake all night listening for rain. Thankfully, the tent went up over all our gear like a dream in just a few minutes. We hadn’t had the chance to practice with it before leaving (thanks, neverending MN winter!) but it turned out not to be an issue. It was even easier to deal with than my homemade tarp. I felt very cozy when I woke up at 3 AM to the sound of rain sprinkles.

Tomorrow is a town day! We can hardly wait…feels like Christmas Eve!

– Posted from the PCT

Day 5 – Chariot Canyon to San Felipe Hills – 17 miles

Short entry tonight because we hiked past our bedtime. We slept worse than usual last night because of the wind. It had been strong for most of the day but died down after dark…only to start up again early in the morning. At least we weren’t using our tent. We booked 3 miles to the fire tank this morning, the last reliable water for 33 miles. Lots of folks we’ve been seeing lately were there, including Carrie and Dave, another hiker we’ve been on a similar schedule with. Dave hikes the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim many years, which is something we want to do after visiting on the road trip out here.

We loaded up with 5 liters each and set off across the north slopes of Granite Mountain on a 9 mile trek to the Scissors Crossing water cache. The desert floor spread out to our north. It was a long, shadeless slog and the wind played havoc with our sun umbrellas. After 7 miles of up and down we crossed the desert floor. It was like standing in front of an oven. At least it was pretty level…it was a novel experience to see all the desert plants but by the time we hit the cache under the highway we were completely wiped out and at the end of our ropes.

Get it? “Scissors” Crossing!

We spent 5 hours in the shade napping, reading, replenishing water, cooking food and chatting with the other hikers. We met a few guys who set out right around the peak of the afternoon heat…after drinking a few PBRs that had been left by the cache stocker. Talk about gut rot! I can’t even imagine how they got up the steep switchbacks into the hills. We met a few new folks including Craig, the creator of the online PCT schedule planner that I used to lay out food for our entire trip. I knew that he was on trail this year but thought that we would miss him since he started before us.

After a nice long rest to get our heads back on straight we set out around 7 to tackle the steep ascent into the San Felipe hills. Even this late in the day it was still warm. The sun set soon after and we hiked in the semi-dark. The moon is so incredibly bright out here that we hardly needed headlamps, even on the narrow winding cliffs. Tomorrow we have about 10 miles to the next cache and then another 10 to the next reliable source. The day after that we’ll reach Warner Springs and catch a ride back to Lake Morena for the annual PCT season kickoff…with about 700 other people. We will hopefully be able to grab a shower sometime along the way. Between the sweat and the fine, sandy dirt we are filthier than we’ve ever been before. Our feet and legs are black and there’s dirt ground into the lines of our hands…no easy water means no bandana bath!

– Posted from the PCT

Day 4 – Mt Laguna camp to saddle after Chariot Canyon – 18 miles

We shared a campsite with Carrie last night, the hiker from Seattle we had met on the second day coming into Boulder Oaks. We seem to hike at similar paces and will likely be seeing a lot of each other, as we did today. It was freezing this morning! Very hard to get out of our warm bags. We spent most of the morning hiking 5 miles to the Pioneer Camp area, where we got water for the next 7 miles. It was a nice hike through the rest of the Laguna area. As the desert floor to our east heated up a stiff breeze whisked out of the pines to keep us cool. Good thing, too, because as usual it started to get warm early.

Lots of other hikers were at the picnic area and we chatted for a bit before getting water at the horse tank. The reservoir was scummy and looked like moss-colored kool aid, complete with water beetles and tiny worms. Luckily the water from the spigot was clear and cold. Less gunk to plug up our filter.

After cameling up we headed into the hills bordering Anza-Borrego state park. We spent all afternoon overlooking the desert – a taste of things to come. It was oppressively hot with only intermittent breeze. Our bodies don’t know how to handle it yet. They’re still used to 30 degree weather. If not for our sun umbrellas it would have taken us the rest of the day. My umbrella is vying with my sleeping bag for the title of Favorite Gear. I have affectionate feelings for them that I’ve never before had for inanimate objects.

It still took us longer than we thought to reach the Sunrise trailhead and the next water, winding in and out of the hills. Once there we headed down to another horse trough and another cesspool. This one, inexplicably, even had little fish in it. It also had a float bobber that allowed us to catch fresh water – saved again! The trailhead was super windy, a nice change from the hills but a little too much in the other direction.

We were starting to get worried about our miles so far that day. Tomorrow marks the beginning of a 33 mile waterless stretch and we wanted to set ourselves up to reach the last source very early in the day. The stretch is broken up by two water caches stocked by volunteers, but it’s not a food idea to rely on them in case they’ve been used up. From the last reliable source it’s 10 miles to the first cache at Scissors Crossing. We were hoping to make it most of the way there before the true desert heat set in. For that to be possible, though, we had to end up near the source tonight. It was 8 miles from the Sunrise area and we knew we weren’t going to make it all the way but we needed to make some serious distance all the same.

We put the pedal to the metal and cruised on in the afternoon cool. It was nice trail, mostly level, and we made almost 3 miles in one hour. We zoomed past the last marked campsite after a long, steep downhill and immediately headed back up into the hills with an equally steep climb. From our contour maps it looked like there might be some small crevices big enough for our groundsheet and gear – just one of the joys of cowboy camping with no tent. It was a gamble, but a little after sunset we found a tiny canyon out of the strong wind that looked like it had been put there just for us, complete with an amazing view of the mountains at sunset. Now we’re curled up snug in our bags and thinking about tomorrow’s scorching trail…

– Posted from the PCT

Day 3 – Fred Creek to Mt. Laguna campground – 15.5 miles

We got up with the birds just before sunrise in hopes of making it 5 miles to our next water before it got too hot. It was pleasant to hike in cool temperatures for a change. As usual, the first few miles were tough as our muscles warmed up. Even slight upholds felt like slogging through mud.

Once we got our legs back we made pretty good time to the creek. Keith was moving a little slowly – I think the lack of water over the last few days was catching up with him. We spent an hour or so at the water, resting and filtering a few liters to get us to the campground. I took a quick bandana bath and washed the salt stains out of my shirt and hat. We chatted with a few guys who had also camped at the creek last night. One of them had heard we were from MN and wanted the scoop on the BWCA. He was talking to the right people! He said we didn’t have the MN accent, which I thought was funny. I didn’t tell him that we don’t ALL talk like we’re from the movie Fargo.

On our way again, we headed right into another climb. It looked difficult but turned out to be easier than expected, even with the building heat. The brush around us was filled with birds. We saw ravens, hawks, hummingbirds, and jays. I flushed what I think was quail from the scrub – some kind of roundish bird with a topknot, at any rate. They nearly gave me a heart attack when they exploded from the bushes. I also saw some kind of bird, maybe a flycatcher, that croaked like a frog.

After our climb out of the creek we wound along the cliffs for a while before entering the Mt. Laguna area. It was an abrupt change – desert scrub one minute, and shady pines the next. It smelled awesome and it was nice to walk on all the duff instead of sandy dirt. The wind hissed through the trees and it made me a little homesick. A few more miles brought us to the turnoff for the Laguna lodge. We were craving a soda but first we had to navigate the maze of loops in the campground we ended up in. Finally we reached the highway at the entrance, only to spy an oasis just up the road – the Pine House Cafe. This was well timed because I had just started to get an appetite earlier this morning. We couldn’t keep the grins off our faces as we looked over the menu. After great burgers and fries and a few ice-cold sodas, we headed back out to our packs to drop off a postcard at the mailbox before hitting the trail.

Rehydrated, with good food in our bellies, we practically flew up the gentle trail. We had about 5 miles to go to our campground destination for the night. Along the way we got our first glimpse of the desert on the other side of the mountains – Anza-Borrego to the west (which we’ll tackle tomorrow) and the scorching Colorado to the east. About a mile out from our exit point we took a quick, packs-off jaunt up to an the amazing Foster point to take a closer look at the desert. It was an easy choice to take this short side trip, even at the end of the day – when we take our packs off it feels like we’re floating up the trail, like there’s a gentle hand on our backs pushing us forward.

A short hike later we reached the highway and walked down to the camp. We were gunning for a shower, but – maximum sadness! – the water was still off for the winter and we had to be content with a bandanna bath. Even that was satisfying. My feet were nearly black from all the dirt and it was nice to be able to scrub them clean. The state of our feet is pretty good so far with no blisters, but there’s still many miles of desert to go.

After washing up we boiled up some Kraft dinner and ate in our luxuriously cozy sleeping bags while evaluating tomorrow’s route. It ought to be another hot one…

– Posted from the PCT

Day 2 – Lake Morena to Fred Creek – 12 miles

Still tired from yesterday, we slept in a little and took time to enjoy the modern facilities of the Morena campground. By the time we got going at 9 the sun was already baking us in its baleful gaze.

We headed east out of the campground and climbed to the top of a ridge. The descent was gentle and the path pretty flat as we passed under Buckman Springs road. It seems strange to think that we were driving on it just yesterday morning. Even though the terrain was easy we were moving slowly because of the heat. We weren’t the only ones either – we caught up with a hiker from Seattle and commiserated together.

Our destination was Boulder Oaks campground, 6 miles from our start. Once we got there we promptly laid down in the shade and put our feet up on a bench for a while. After that was lunch and refilling our water. The camp had a spigot – what a luxury! It felt wonderful to soak our hair and hats before leaving.

We knew we were in for a tough climb almost right away. After passing under I-8 we started up into the Laguna mountains. The midday heat was in full force but we had a secret weapon – sun umbrellas! It was hard to believe how much they helped. They definitely made the afternoon bearable.

Even so, we ran out of gas before we reached our goal of 15 miles. This started to become clear after 10 miles, when we started to take breaks after every small rise. Luckily we only had 2 left to a nice campsite near a dry creek. Our lesson learned, we will go to bed early and get up with the sun to bust out 5 miles to the next water source. We will pass through Mt. Laguna tomorrow, which means treats! Soda and maybe some ice cream, if we have the appetite.

As usual with backpacking trips, my appetite so far has been nonexistent. The heat and the exertion keep me from feeling hungry. This is bad since I need the calories to keep me going. Even Keith is struggling to eat. This ought to change in a few days as our hiker hunger sets in. Soon we’ll be eating everything in sight.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Day 1: Campo to Lake Morena

Today was our big day! We got up before sunrise for the drive to the border. It felt incredibly strange to actually be standing at the monument after imagining it for so long. I was much less of a blubbering mess than I had expected. We took our requisite photos, said goodbye to Keith’s parents, and started north.

The trail meandered alongside the town and headed for the hills to the north of the highway. The morning was pleasantly cool and as the sun warmed the desert plants we hiked in a perfume of sage and juniper. We spent the first 12 miles winding in and out of the little inlets on the bluffs, eventually rounding and climbing Hauser Mtn.

The toughest part of the day was the descent into and ascent out of Hauser Creek canyon. Our feet were starting to drag as we dropped down into the drainage, and at the bottom we took a long break to prop our feet up and nap. When we started up the shadeless switchbacks we were facing the heat of the afternoon. It was brutal. So much for the forecast of 72! To top it all off the creek was dry. This Hauser guy caused us nothing but problems all day.

We eventually made it up to the ridge with frequent rest breaks. From there we had three endless miles to go. They wound through a maze of manzanita and desert scrub. The foliage was just tall enough to obstruct our line of site… until we turned a corner and saw the lake laid out below us. Once we got all the way down there we were faced with another half mile walk to the ranger station to check in. It might not sound like much but after 20 miles it seemed cruel. Luckily, showers and modern plumbing make everything better.

This was a big day for us, and not only because we finally took our first steps north. We also did more miles today than we ever had before (our previous record being 16), with heavier packs. Part of the reason our packs were so heavy was because we were each carrying 10 pounds of water since the 20 miles to Morena are largely dry. Today was really a trial by fire, and we passed on all accounts even if we are exhausted. The next few days should be easier – we only need to do 15 miles on average and water will be more plentiful for most of the section.

We’re having a great time already and things will only get better as we get our trail legs back!

Home stretch (of prep)

Even with weeks of time off before the big trip, we weren’t sure if we would have time to get everything ready AND say our goodbyes to everyone. But we made it – just barely.

Goodbye highlights included:
• A twins game with 2 of our best BL buds (the 3rd bud had to work on a Thursday, can you believe that?)
• An Easter celebration with my family that introduced our nephew to his church. Jen and I were honored to be godparents.
• A goodbye dinner with Jen’s family and my parents. Jen found it hard to say goodbye, but her excitement for the trip helped ease the pain.
• A Final Four party a friend hosted the weekend before we left (besides an annual party, he also hosts an annual NCAA bracket, nicknamed Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.) The party was a great way to say goodbye to a lot of friends without having the added pressure of hosting a party. And to top it off, I was 2 baskets away from winning the Triple Crown of the 8th annual WWCD! I won the bracket challenge and the game ball, but Jen beat me in the hoops tourney. At least we kept it in the family! The Zimmermans are THE Dynasty to beat in the WWCD!

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make all of our last few social events. I really wanted to go see Clutch, one of my 3 favorite bands, with all 3 best BL buds. But it was one of the last nights we were in town, and at that point we’d been working late into the night every night, and we still weren’t done.

At the end, we ended up leaving a day later than planned, and we did not have time for any sleep the last night. But we made it! We dropped our cars off at my parents, then headed out to California!

Location:St. Louis park, mn