Day 34 – past Bouquet Canyon Road to Casa De Luna

Despite our late night, we forced ourselves up without sleeping in. We were worried that the day would be hot. Even though we seemed to be in the desert we had condensation on our bags. We ate a quick breakfast – perfect time to try out a caffeinated Clif bar – and admired the tall ridge we’d climbed in the darkness last night.

We set out with 14 miles and a large climb between us and town. The weather was cooler than we expected and stayed breezy all day. We were carrying a crazy amount of water and turned out not to need it. Still, had we relied on the water caches along our way we would have been in trouble since they were all dry. All the weight will be good training for the next few days as water gets more and more scarce.

A few miles up the trail we caught sight of a tempting-looking reservoir. Maybe this lake had been the source of the dew on our bags this morning. We climbed gradually, passing the welcoming Oasis cache (stocked by the Andersons) and declining to pick up one of the official “pct 2013” lead weights. Even though we didn’t have far to go, our feet were sore by the time we headed down to the highway and the ranger station there. Mojave and the new shoes waiting there can’t come soon enough.

We took a short rest at the ranger station, then started waking to Casa De Luna where the Andersons host many hikers every night. Just as we started walking down the road a van came by to drop some hikers off at the trail. They pulled into the parking lot and we met Terri Anderson just like that.

Casa De Luna is also known on the trail as “Hippie Daycare” and this was a pretty accurate description. Every new hiker to roll in gets a round of applause from the ever-present crowd milling around in the front yard. We were told to find a campsite in the huge manzanita forest out back and then to get our requisite Hawaiian shirts. We lounged an read for the rest of the afternoon until dinner was served – the famous taco salad. It was everything we’d been hoping for. We turned in early and actually managed to find our way back to our stuff through the maze of manzanita. Tomorrow we’ll tackle the tough question of when exactly to leave and get back to business.

– Posted from the PCT

Location:Pct mile 478

Day 33 – Agua Dulce to past Bouquet Canyon Road – 10 miles

Since we were staying an extra day, we joined the daily van trip to town. They would take us to REI, then In-N-Out Burger (unless anyone dared to request something different), then the grocery store. We were all excited to be out in real civilization for the first time in a month. Being caught in LA traffic was a new experience but couldn’t hold our interest for long. Before much time had passed we were starting to get hungry. This was also the first time we’ve been without easily accessible snacks and water in a month. How could we leave without something to tide us over? Since we couldn’t eat and couldn’t move around, we all defaulted to our 3rd instinctual behavior these days – sleep. Within 20 minutes of getting stuck in gridlock nearly all of the 12 hikers in the van were napping.

The rest of the day went more according to schedule and we got back to the Saufley’s to spend the afternoon packing up and relaxing. It was hot and we were glad we planned to hike out at night. We kept putting it off, but finally it was time and we caught the van back to the trail.

We made great time with the benefit of my new headlamp. After all the activity at the Saufley’s it was really pleasant to listen to the silence as dusk moved into night. We climbed but it seemed easier in the dark, just as it had after Cajon Pass. The Germans were hiking ahead of us and we kept seeing their headlamps up above us, letting us know how many more switchbacks we had left before the top.

By a little after 12 we had made it 10 miles and were on the lookout for a campsite. We found a little open patch in the juniper-manzanita scrub and settled in for a few hours of rest. I’ve never fallen asleep so fast.

– Posted from the PCT

Location:Pct mile 466

Day 32 – Agua Dulce

Zero day at one of the best places on trail…

Story time and Kiddo joined us for breakfast and then we bought food for our next section to Mojave. Since the hikers had an RV kitchen all to themselves I decided I’d make some banana cream pies – something I’d been craving for a while. We got our laundry done, picked up our food drop (and my repaired camera!) and caught up with hikers we hadn’t seen in a while. Since most people stay for more than one day here, there tends to be more overlap than during town stops.

We were planning to leave tomorrow morning but realized that this upcoming holiday weekend would interfere with our schedule. We have a box waiting in Mojave but won’t get there in time to pick it up Saturday, so we’ll be out of luck until Tuesday. Hotels will likely be fuller than normal too. Since we have to waste a little time, we’ll leave tomorrow night and spend a day at the Anderson’s 24 miles away.

– Posted from the PCT

Location:Pct mile 454

Day 31 – Messenger Flats camp to the Saufley’s – 24 miles

We slept a little late this morning, not sure if we would push all the way to Agua Dulce today. There was a KOA campground 14 miles out with a pool and showers and Chinese delivery, which sounded mighty tempting…but the day would be hot and we didn’t want to get stuck hiking in the middle of the day.

It was satisfying to be back on trail instead of a road walk, but the first 6 miles to the North Fork ranger station were tough. Not because of elevation, but because they were on rough, eroding, overgrown trail. Poodle dog continued to crowd the path and would sometimes even grow in the thicker shrubby sections, so we had to try and avoid it even when we couldn’t see the tread underneath our feet. To make everything a little more challenging, poison oak started to make an appearance. Despite all this we made good time. We were motivated by the idea of ordering lunch at the KOA while we waited out the heat of the day. After passing under a set of crackling high voltage lines we arrived at the ranger station and the water cache there. We still had a lot from the fire station thanks to a cool morning. While discussing lunch plans, we made a terrible discovery – the Chinese restaurant was closed on Sunday! Hiker dreams crushed, just like that. It took some wind out of everyone’s sails but there was nothing to do except press on.

As we started down the 8 miles to the campground it got hotter right away. Before long we were firmly back in the desert and the cool breeze from the morning was hot and intermittent. As we twisted along and over the ridges we caught glimpses of a green strip of trees – Soledad Canyon Road, our destination. Knowing where we were headed almost made it worse because every time the trail meandered we knew it meant extra miles before the shade. Of course, if we were looking to hike the most direct route north the PCT would be a bad choice. By the time we came down to the road we were seriously in need of a break.

We crossed the road and headed into the trees around the little creek, then cut east and walked through the campground to the office. Seeing the row of enormous RVs was a bit of a culture shock. We arrived just in time to jump on a food order from a nearby pizza place – score! With some ice cream and a cold Gatorade to tide us over, we joined the other hikers around a picnic table and proceeded to commiserate about all the trail we had been over today. Lunch arrived and it was wonderful. We ate and drank and talked and cooled off. Rabbit and Kiddo went swimming and we were jealous but too lazy to move. Other hikers dropped in and left as the afternoon went by. If not for the lure of the Saufley’s 10 miles further up, no one would have left. Finally we shoved off since we wanted to get there tonight instead of camping short for one more night. Rabbit left with us and we headed into the narrow band of hills separating us from Agua Dulce. We passed the “Golden Spike” of the PCT, where the final sections were joined in 1993. It was a little anticlimactic.

It wasn’t bad hiking in the cool of the afternoon. We went up gradually for a few miles, past some huge rock bluffs. Then we dropped down towards the highway. We crossed under it through another long, eerie culvert. It was so dark in the middle that I walked with hiking poles in front, feeling for anything in my way.

We came out the other side in Vasquez Rocks regional park, a famous backdrop for Hollywood westerns and at least one episode of Star Trek. Unfortunately, dusk was rapidly turning to night and by the time we got to the more impressive rock upthrusts it was too dark to get pictures. The trail we were on was a little confusing at times as it intersected other trails within the park. There were signs standing at the side of the trail identifying the various desert plants we had been seeing for 450 miles. It was nice to finally put a name to them.

As it got darker we slowed down more and more. My headlamp wasn’t bright enough for me to easily be able to pick out rocks in my way. During our stay in Agua Dulce we’ll have the chance to get a ride to REI and I might exchange it for a brighter lamp. We’ll be crossing the corner of the Mojave so some night hiking is in our future. Eventually we found our way out to the road and started towards the Saufley’s, one of the most anticipated trail stops on the trail. The main road through town doubles as an official stretch of the PCT and is actually labeled as such on Google maps. As we trudged up the road in the dark a woman pulled over and offered us a ride, which we gladly accepted. My feet were not looking forward to another mile on the concrete.

We slipped in the front gate and saw a sea of hikers and cots. A volunteer gave us the scoop on laundry and showers and other such important things. Since it was so late, the shower only had a short waiting list and before long we were clean – although laundry and package pickup would have to wait until tomorrow. We found a spot of ground out away from all the main traffic and noise and turned in for the night, happy to be clean and looking forward to breakfast.

– Posted from the PCT

Location:Pct mile 454

Day 30 – Sulfur Springs camp to Messenger Flats camp – 23 miles

We hadn’t expected to have a very cold night, but we woke up with ice beads on our sleeping bags. This was a surprise since we had both been toasty warm all night. We got going a little later than normal since we needed to dry our bags out a bit before cramming them into our packs.

We climbed gradually over the course of the morning and made good time through the desert scrub – at least, until we hit the poodle dog bush. We knew it was going to be bad later today because of the burn area we’d walk through, but we didn’t expect it this early on. It took quite a bit of maneuvering to get through it without brushing up against it. After a few miles of unpleasantness, we transitioned into a more open, pine-filled landscape and the going got easier. We had great views to the north over the Mojave we would cross in a few days. The rest of the morning consisted of a pleasant dirt road walk as we took the detour around some trail damaged by the huge Station fire in 2009. We chatted with Rabbit along the way. He started at the border before us but hikes fewer miles per day than a lot of folks. This is refreshing since so many people push to do big miles.

After a long, increasingly warm descent we arrived at the Mill Creek fire station. There we found water, an outhouse, picnic tables, and electrical outlets – all the comforts of home. Although we were the first ones to arrive, along with the Germans, it didn’t take long for others to show up. We cooked lunch and had a nice long break. This also gave us the chance to dry our bags out a little better. By the time we finished our chores and left, there were about 15 hikers hunkered down in the shade.

The rest of the day would involve more road walking. The miles after the fire station were heavily infested with poodle dog bush and most hikers took a forest road that closely paralleled the trail instead of the trail itself. After our experience this morning we decided we would do the same and we’re glad we did. As we started up the road we could see that the hills around us were absolutely covered in it. Unfortunately, the road we were on was paved and not dirt – it’s ironic that we cross so many dirt roads but the one we actually walk on for miles is paved. It was pretty brutal on the feet and knees, especially since we were loaded up with water for another hot dry stretch.

It wasn’t all bad, though. The road was a steady grade up and we had great views. We put on our headphones for the first time, knowing we would need some distraction, and listened to music. We could even get some radio stations to come in. Eventually we passed a monument to the firefighters involved in the Station fire, including two who lost their lives. We signed the journal left there and thanked them for all they do. Without their efforts we would be walking through much more burn and we would have many more detours. Immediately after that the road took us through a burned out prison. This was super creepy and I was glad to be hiking with other people. It looked like the set of a zombie movie, or every post-apocalyptic video game I had ever played. We kept joking about the impending ambush. It was easily the most menacing place we’ve seen yet on the trail.

The day ended, as it often seems to, with a climb as we went all the way to the top of Mt. Gleason. Being on a road helped but not that much. We passed a communication tower at the windy summit and finally started heading down. Seeing the sign for the campground felt like a victory, but we still had a mile to go. Thankfully the road at last turned to dirt so it was a little easier on our sore feet. It was getting cold fast as the sun set and we were glad to get to camp and crawl into our bags. Something about the road walks really takes it out of us, even though it should be easier terrain in theory than the trail.

– Posted from the PCT

Location:Pct mile 430

Day 29 – Little Jimmy camp to Sulfur Spring camp – 20 miles

We started off a chilly morning by heading down to our third crossing of Hwy 2. This began the official endangered species detour, which runs over 20 miles on rough trail to bypass 4 closed miles of the PCT. This wasn’t too appealing, so we decided to take the old detour – continuing on the trail to the closed section, then road walking around it and an additional short stretch to where the trail met the highway.

We set off from Islip Saddle and climbed up, and up, and up to a ridge. Our efforts were rewarded with great views. Lower-lying clouds had moved in overnight and the mountains rose out of them like islands. All too soon, we were headed down again to another crossing of the highway, and then back up and back down. Finally we reached Eagle’s Roost picnic area and the start of our road walk.

For being on a winding highway with narrow shoulders, the walk was surprisingly uneventful. There was very little traffic and we could hear it coming from a long way off. Cars were moving pretty slowly to get around the curves. As we walked the clouds drifted in with foggy fingers, just enough to feel eerie as we passed a few closed and rundown ski areas. Sooner than we expected, we reached the Buckhorn campground and our next water.

This campground was much more populated than the small forest camps we’ve been passing lately. Even on a Monday there were lots of people out. We got rid of some garbage and did some laundry, then headed back out. On the way back to the entrance a small dog came running out of a campsite behind us (off leash, of course) and bit me twice on the backs of my legs. Thankfully the fact that I was wearing pants helped to deflect it a little and they didn’t break the skin too badly. I would have some nice bruises later on though. The owner was apologetic but the damage was done. I was so furious that I wouldn’t even speak to her, afraid of what I might say or do, and we got out of there as fast as we could. At least it had been me and not one of the small children camping further up the loop. This isn’t the first issue we’ve had with off-leashed dogs while backpacking. What kind of idiot brings a dog that aggressive out in public and “forgets” to leash it? If only there had been a ranger nearby.

After that unpleasantness, we had a few more miles on the road before rejoining the trail. It wound down away from the highway for a mile or so before reaching Camp Glenwood, a Boy Scout camp. We joined Matt, Jamie, Rabbit, Lightning Rod and a few others here and had lunch. Everyone was feeling a sort of general malaise and debating whether to stay for the night. We knew we had to get a few more in, so we set off eventually.

The fact that it was easy trail made it less difficult to leave. We followed old jeep roads off and on, and the sections that were actual trail were pretty flat. As we hiked we entered the Station Fire burn site and the trees around us became blackened and leafless. Poodle dog bush made a reappearance. It was easy to maneuver around now but we have a stretch coming up that will be more challenging. A few miles out from camp we came across a fruit cache and took a few pieces for breakfast. Always a nice surprise! During the last mile into camp we started seeing more desert plants again, a reminder that the next few days will be hot and water-constrained again. At least it’s still cool now – as we ate dinner at camp (at a picnic table!) it was still cold enough for us to shiver. Looks like it will be another cold morning.

– Posted from the PCT

Location:Pct mile 407

Day 28 – Hwy 2 to Little Jimmy camp – 15 miles

Leaving town is always tough, and today was no exception. There seemed to be a million little things left to do and we’re never inclined to get up at the crack of dawn when we’re sleeping inside. Nonetheless, we got going eventually and headed up the road towards the trailhead with our thumbs out. We hadn’t been walking for more than a few minutes when someone saw us, pulled a u-turn, and offered us a ride. Heather was just finishing her volunteer shift at the school and decided to help us out with a lift. She told us that the people in town love to see us start showing up in the spring. All of the towns we’ve visited so far are very hiker-friendly, but Wrightwood seemed especially so.

Up at the trailhead we bumped into Mr. Green, the Minnesotan we last saw outside of Idyllwild. He was heading into town and tried to get us to stay an extra day. It was really tempting to talk MN restaurants with him (he tends bar at Rudolph’s in Uptown) but the trail was calling. We might catch up with him again in Agua Dulce since many hikers take multiple days off there.

We had an easy 5 miles to start off with – gentle ups and downs over good pine duff. A sign helpfully reminded us just how far we have left to go to Canada. This was all a prelude to the day’s big climb up Mt. Baden-Powell, named for the founder of the Boy Scouts. The trail switchbacked up 2500 feet over 4 miles but was very well-graded and lovingly maintained by the scouts. What would have been a hard climb a month ago was (almost) a nice stroll, even with full packs. We took the short spur trail to the summit, signed the register, and enjoyed the views. The air was hazy, maybe from fires, so we couldn’t see as far as we had hoped.

After summitting we headed for the Little Jimmy camp, our destination for the night. Along the way we were passed by Lightning Rod (whom we had met on the summit) and Thirsty Boots, who had hiked the three long scenic trails multiple times along with a whole bunch of shorter ones. The two of them hike a very similar pace to ours, so even though we were about 100 yards behind them we didn’t catch them until the spring before camp. The last 6 miles was rougher than our first few but thankfully there was no sign of the wind that nearly blew us off the mountain before town.

Once at camp, we ran into Matt and Jamie and their dogs, as well as Stefan and Angela whom they have been hiking with (and who we refer to as “ze Germans”). We were all in town together but kept pretty much to ourselves. Tomorrow we will come across the all-but-permanent endangered species detour put in place to protect the Arroyo Toad. Even though it only skips a few miles of trail, the official detour is 20 miles of hiking on rough trail. We and the other folks here will take the old detour, which is much shorter but had a dicey 3-mile road walk. We were glad to hear that we wouldn’t be the only ones risking traffic!

– Posted from the PCT

Location:Pct mile 384

Day 26 – ridge to Wrightwood via Hwy 2 – 18 miles

We woke up this morning with the sun in our eyes and Wrightwood on our brains. We had slept in a little after our late night and as we packed up the hikers from Swarthout Canyon passed us on their way west. Before long we were on our way and heading up. We would climb for several miles towards the junction with the trail to the top of Mt. Baldy (aka Mt. San Antonio).

After a few miles of steady uphill grade we entered a burned stretch with lots of poodle dog bush, last seen in Mission Creek. It was passable without getting up close and personal to the plant, but it did require some shimmying and careful stepping. In another week or so this might not be the case. Luckily the stretch ended at a jeep road and we were happy hikers again. Just past the road was a new and nearly-empty water cache. Good thing we didn’t need any…

We kept climbing up into the higher reaches of the San Gabriels. We passed from desert scrub back into pines once again, and the views around us stretched to bald-topped mountains further up the range. On the north side of the spine we could see the Mojave desert laid out into the distance. Almost before we knew it we had passed the Mt. Baldy trail at 8300 feet, about 3500 feet above where we’d camped that morning. The climb wasn’t effortless but it was easy enough that my mind wandered on autopilot for much of it. This is the first time I can remember this happening. All day long I kept stopping to look at the vistas around us, feeling incredibly grateful to be out here doing what I’ve dreamed about for a long time.

It was windy again to a degree that we haven’t seen since Whitewater Creek. As we got higher it started tossing us around. Luckily, it was mostly upslope instead of towards the cliff. After the junction we had a few level miles to the Guffy Campground and our first reliable water. We stopped here to cool lunch but had to find a spot on the lee side of the ridge to avoid the gusts.

It really got bad after we left the campground. The trail took us over an exposed, treeless ridge and we fought the wind nonstop for a quarter mile or so. Sometimes all we could do was lean on our poles and try not to get blown over. Dropping behind the ridge top made for much easier walking, but the last few miles to our exit point wouldn’t all be so easy.

We crossed through a ski area past snow-making water reservoirs, intermittently out in the open. Trying to pick our way down a rutted trail full of large loose rocks is tough enough without the wind, but the unexpected gusts ruined our balance. This, combined with short ups and downs steeper than we had seen all day, made for a few of the most frustrating and nerve-wracking miles we’ve had.

Once we reached the highway things looked grim for a while. Our guidebook said this was an easy hitch into town, but we saw no cars for about 10 minutes. We were considering roadwalking, but the shoulders on the winding road were very narrow. We were sard from having to make a tough decision when a car came around the curve. I threw out my thumb, and incredibly, they stopped! We had a ride! The guy who helped us out was actually lost a little hit after trying to take the scenic route home, but he still helped us out. In minutes we were 6 miles down the road in town and headed for a shower and a pizza. We’ll take a zero tomorrow, rest up and do our town chores before heading for Agua Dulce.

– Posted from the PCT

Location:Pct mile 369