Walking carefully on blisters through a SoCal wonderland
It seems like a month since my Day 1 post, but I’m actually on Day 10, back with my laptop to report on Days 2 through 5 on the PCT.
Days 2 & 3: Sun and Mercifully Mild Temps
Leaving Lake Morena quite late on Day 2, mincing on ball-of-foot blisters, I enjoyed the live oak pastures and gentle (though very sandy) trail, as it goes toward and then under I-8:
I had a short Day 2, with about 8.5 miles, camping far above (but within earshot of I-8. As the trail climbs the hill above I-8, there’s a lovely natural allée of mature manzanitas. Here is an especially lovely one I passed the following morning:
Just a short distance below the trail is Kitchen Creek, currently a terrific water source (I could hear water as it fell over the rocks, all the way up at the trail), though I had enough water not to need to climb down for more.
Here’s a classic sight on the PCT: a military crash nearby distributed ordnance over a wide area, apparently. The PCT sign in the background makes for an odd pairing of messages.
Beautiful big vistas in every direction:
Meanwhile, the Flower Show continued unabated, as the trail climbed up into the transition out of chaparral and into the pines (Jeffrey, Ponderosa) of the Laguna Mountains.
I arrived at Mount Laguna in time for a feet/blisters consultation with Dave Super at the terrific gear shop there, followed by a fabulous meal at the Pine House Restaurant (seriously: arugula sauteed with onions in white wine!), and a sobering weather report for the following day: very high winds (35-45 mph with gusts up to 90 mph, followed by snow overnight). I shared a lodge room with a young hiker, Becky from Essex and then hiked out the following morning to see how I would fare in the winds.
Day 4: The winds picked up almost immediately, and when I saw this Ponderosa pine cone on the trail, it did occur to me that I could be felled by something like this getting blown down onto my head. I also hiked through some burn areas that contained a lot of potential widowmakers.
But it was quite exhilarating: winds so strong I could barely stay upright with the help of my trekking poles, and regular gusts that were quite forceful. The only hiker I saw all day once I left Burnt Rancheria campground was Piper; the winds were gusting into her pack cover so strongly I thought she might be borne aloft.
Long horizontal clouds blew quickly past, often obscuring all views and sometimes dropping a few fat raindrops; but at times it would clear up for these magnificent views into the Anza-Borrego Desert.
The winds seemed to be getting even stronger, and my terrific Julian friends Ken and Carol were on call to pluck me off the trail from the nearby Sunshine Highway, so after about 6 hours, I called for that pickup at the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area. Right before they arrived, a young man from the National Weather Service raced in, asked if I was a hiker, and recommended that I get off the trail until the following morning – the prediction was for gusts to 110 mph on the summits, and snow.
The photo above is at Pioneer Mail, and shows me in the phenomenal LL Bean jacket that allowed me to be completely comfortable in the crazy winds; you can read more about it on my gear page. And no, I haven’t ballooned into the Michelin Man — that’s the wind puffing me out (and it was cold enough that I hiked all day with my down jacket on under the rain/wind jacket, never breaking a sweat).
I had an exhilarating day hiking in these crazy winds – just standing upright was a measure of success, and I managed to add 11 miles to my PCT trek.
Day 5: After a cozy night at Ken and Carol’s, close to a wood-burning stove, I went back out to Pioneer Mail, now covered in a blanket of snow. Here’s what the trail looked like the morning of Day 5:
I loved the icicles on the side of the trail, and though how fabulous it could be if these natural popsicles could appear in the San Felipe Hills instead, where hikers could use them to cool off from the 90-degree temps…
Snow was along the trail well below 4200′ elevation, but as I hiked on, blue skies were overhead, with beautiful clouds that would drop some rain on me that night, but only after I was snug in my tent.
Soon, I was back in chaparral, with lots of California Tree Poppy (Dendromecon rigida) and sages (above) to carry on the Flower Show.
Beautiful days, all: the sunny ones, the windy one, and the snowy one. And now, back in sunshine. I’m out of time at the computer to get to where I am on the trail now, but I should see my laptop again in about a week. So I’ll leave you with Day 5, as I hike out for a short few miles on Day 10.