Days 6-8: The Desert, an Amazing Dessert, and a Two-Snake Trek through the San Felipe Hills to Barrel Springs

Day 6 (March 30) found me packing up a wet tent from the light rain that fell during the night and continuing my downhill trek toward Scissors Crossing, where I would connect the next morning with friends Lynn and Charlie for an on-trail resupply meetup. In the photo below, the trail is visible as a very thin horizontal line mid-point on the hill at right, and Scissors Crossing (where several roads meet and form a scissors shape) is on the flat before the brownish San Felipe Hills in the far background.


After an entertaining session checking out the Rodriguez Spur Fire Tank, one of the precious few water sources in this dry stretch of the PCT, and filtering water obtained there, I continued on. The trail took the most indirect route possible to Scissors Crossing – at times, you could see it (or the Banner Grade Road that forms part of the “scissors”) directly below, and yet the trail would go a long distance essentially parallel to the road, around a hill and then a long way back the other direction, again parallel to the road. This happened more times than I care to remember. Sheesh! There’s a nice flat field between me and the Crossing – can’t we just walk straight across that field and get there, already?


Meanwhile, I’m in what I consider to be true desert now, with agaves, various cacti including chollas and prickly pears; Mormon tea (Ephedra sp.), and “belly flowers” – tiny flowers that are perhaps a quarter-inch high, so you almost need to lie on your belly to see them. At my lunch break, I spread out my Tyvek ground cloth on what looked like a bed of gravel – and then when I sat down, I saw hundreds of the tinest imaginable white flowers scattered throughout the gravel. Beautiful!


After three days of mostly downhill walking, one of my knees is starting to feel a little tweaked. Thanks to my impending resupply visit, and decent cellphone reception, I was able to phone Dwight and ask him to pick up a knee brace to send out the next day with Lynn and Charlie.

I haven’t seen anyone since leaving Pioneer Mail yesterday morning, so I’m thrilled to pass a SOBO (southbound) section hiker late morning, then Piper overtakes me and reports on a big group of hikers camped by Rodriguez fire tank last night, including Tim from the Netherlands, who was the only hiker I saw on Day 2, with a humongous tent and the largest fuel can I’ve ever seen a hiker carry. (He said, “Well, this is what they sold me and it seemed wasteful to pour any out,” and I pointed to the Gatorade bottle in front of him as perhaps a better fuel bottle…) Piper laughed and said she just hoped he would stop carrying blue jeans.

As I was preparing to set up an early camp on the rise just above the dirt parking lot at Scissors Crossing, I met a great thru-hiker named Milissa, and then I set up my micro-tent in the shelter (and bit of shade) of a multi-stemmed yucca, shown below the next morning.


Day 7 (March 31) found me doing various “housekeeping” chores until Lynn and Charlie arrived with fresh food (and vegan donuts!) from Whole Foods for lunch, my resupply box, and my wonderdog Molly, along with their dog Barley.


L-R: Charlie, Lynn, and Molly (giving me the cold shoulder for having ditched her for the trail…)

Since there is no shade at Scissors Crossing, we drove up to Barrel Spring (13.5 road miles north, but almost 24 miles by trail). Barrel Spring features a concrete trough with water slowly flowing into it through a pipe; again, an important, rare water source on-trail (it looks clean, but needs filtering – there are dead animals at times in the spring box that feeds the pipe!). I knew we would see PCT hikers coming through while we were eating lunch, so we would get lots of “trail news.”

Lynn delivered an amazing edible bouquet of fresh fruit, artfully arranged on skewers – a gift from my friends at the Del Mar Foundation, our community foundation that is responsible for so much that is good about Del Mar’s culture, community, and environment. Wow! I could possibly be the only thru-hiker ever to get such an extravagant food gift delivered right on the trail! And the accompanying note gave me a big laugh. What a terrific treat!


Lynn brought ziploc bags so that I could carry some of the fruit out with me (for that night’s dessert and the next morning’s breakfast), and we also had the joy of handing out some to other hikers passing through, including a veteran who was celebrating his last official day in the military.


We also had the fun of talking with Coach and Suds, two North Carolina thru-hikers I had met on the morning of Day 3 near Cibbets Flat. Suds (age 18?) positively beamed as he stuffed fruit into a baggie, while we explained to Coach (age 48) what honeydew melon is.

When Lynn is your friend, your passions become HER passions, even if only vicariously, and she’s been an enthusiastic supporter of my hike. She was puzzled at first why I needed to go back to Scissors Crossing to resume hiking. Why not start here, and catch up a bit on my schedule (a tentative one at best), since I have been dialing back the miles to let my blisters heal? I explained the thru-hike concept of a continuous hike of every mile of the trail that is legally available to hike (i.e., not closed for some reason like wildfire damage). And Charlie is a hiking pal as well as a good friend- we hiked Mt. Whitney together last year. So it was great to have the chance to visit with them, and have the luxury of getting resupplied right on the trail.And Barley was friendly to me, even if Molly was a bit miffed.

After enjoying a phenomenal lunch, visiting with passing hikers, and sorting through my resupply, we drove back to Scissors Crossing so I could get in a few hours of hiking that afternoon. Molly took one look at the spine-filled hill I was about to climb up, and jumped immediately into Lynn and Charlie’s car. Smart dog!

After climbing up the little hill toward the trail, I turned to wave goodbye, and hilariously backed into a cactus in the process. It brought to mind the children’s joke: Q: What did the baby porcupine say when it backed into a cactus? A: “Mommy, is that you?” (And if you back into a cactus and get spines, or even worse, glochids stuck in your skin, just cover them with duct tape and then rip the tape off. Much more successful than tweezers.)

One reason I started my hike early (about a month before the traditional starting time) was the hope that I could walk through the San Felipe Hills in moderate temps, because it can be crazy-hot out here. I definitely got my wish today (and tomorrow), walking through on a sunny but breezy day, with temps in the 70s.

As I climbed into the hills, the cholla were incandescent in the afternoon light (below, looking back down toward Scissors Crossing). This one had a nice collection of segments at its base that had broken off, ready to be picked up by a passing animal – human or otherwise – and carried off to a potential new home. And they say plants don’t travel! And to the left of the cholla is a another desert favorite of mine, Encelia farinosa, the desert relative of Encelia californica that is seen all long the Del Mar-area coast and in the coastal sage scrub. The desert version almost always has a perfectly round shape that looks like a gardener has carefully pruned it.

DSCN0729Around every corner was the kind of rock garden you would pay hundreds of dollars to have professionally created in your home garden.


With a growth rate of perhaps just an inch a year, these barrel cacti are venerable San Felipe residents.


DSCN0726Botanists have measured and found significant differences in temperature at the base of cactus spines, as compared to that at the outer edge of the plant, so all that fierce armament serves an important purpose beyond protection from would-be predators.

Because of the recent rains, one of my favorite desert plants, the towering Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) had leafed out, and was starting to bloom (though my photo below doesn’t show one in bloom state, alas).

DSCN0727I met Arash, a 65-year-old thru-hiker, this afternoon – a super-strong hiker who worked in government in Sacramento for some 25 years before retiring to Canada. He told me with great precision what milepoint he was hiking to, “then I’ll have made my 20 for the day.” He slowed his pace for awhile so we could converse, then marched on to complete his 20.

As afternoon turned to evening, some pretty big winds started gusting through, and we knew that campsites were not that numerous in the San Felipe Hills. I came across Clint, the hiker I met on Day 1 who is from a town close to my Texas hometown, and is also close to my age. He had set up his tent in a pretty windy spot, too tired to go on the expected 2 miles to other campsite options.

I chose to go on, not wanting to be pounded by the wind all night, and found a small site in the shelter of a lovely small juniper. The cigarette butt I found there was not as lovely, nor the orange peel scattered about, but it turned out to be a good home for the night – I could hear the winds blustering all around me, but my tent kept me totally comfortable, with no flapping at all. Meanwhile, as I was about to set up camp, Arash came by, dissatisfied with the campsite he had selected earlier on, and I later heard he hiked 30+ miles that day to get to a better site. From then on, I would see Arash only in hiker registers he signed a day or more before my arrival, but seeing his notes in the registers would always make me smile.

Day 8 (April 1):  I packed up early and hit the trail,  carrying out the cigarette butt to earn a few LNT (leave no trace) karma points I knew I would be needing along the way. After about an hour, I came across Tim, the 19-yr-old from the Netherlands. I put my pack next to his to compare but he hadn’t finished strapping everything that went on top of his pack to make it a huge tower. He picked up my pack and said, “Wow, it’s nothing!” I was selfishly glad to hear that he had to pass up my campsite last night because it was too small to accommodate his tent.


Clint then came along, and his first words were hilariously colorful expletives, a commentary on the windy night he had spent at his very exposed site.


I hiked alone much of the day, and from time to time, I would think – hey, if I were a cold-blooded reptile, I’d be out soaking up some sun after the last few days of rain and cold weather! Sure enough, I soon encountered my first snake – I think (and hope) it was a rosy boa.



After that, every stick on the trail with the slightest curve looked like a snake, causing me to be a little jumpy – until one of those “sticks” actually was a snake. This one was some type of racer that went across the trail quickly right in front of me, into the nearby shrubs. No time to grab a camera for that one.

I stopped at Mile 91.3 to write a note of thanks to Jan and all the Third Gate water cache team, but it was my hope to carry enough water not to need to take the water they bring here at such enormous cost of time, money and distance, and I managed to do that.

The views all day were fantastic, in all directions:


DSCN0747So: I had a two-snake day with pleasant temps and breezes in the San Felipe Hills – glorious! And after days with little human company, I had some hiking companions at various points during the day – Tim, Clint and later on, I met B., a coder from Valley Center who was hiking with me as we crossed the 100-mile mark, so I had a photographer on hand. (B., I’ll post your photo sometime soon on a photo page so that you can grab it.)

DSCN0751.JPG It’s a modest milestone, to be sure, and I was chagrined to be reaching it on Day 8 – but as I kept telling B., this is not a foot race. I knew my schedule had the flexibility to allow me to knock my mileage way back so that my feet could recover from some pretty intense ball-of-foot blisters, and toughen up. I knew that slowing down was the right thing to do for the sake of the many miles ahead of me.

As we hiked toward Barrel Spring, the landscape changed from desert-like to chaparral, with beautiful California tree poppies again, and then we headed into the lovely canyon live oaks of Barrel Spring. Tim and I both camped there, along with some great section hikers (Chris and Dan?), all to the sounds of frogs that would sing, then stop for awhile, and then sing more, all night long.

Week 1, in a single word: GLORIOUS!

For those who are curious, here are my daily mileages for Week 1 plus Day 8, counting only PCT miles. As the Nickel Creek song says, “Others have excuses; I have my reasons why” – so here are my #s and reasons:

Day 1: 20.1 miles (to the exact spot on the PCT across from my tent at Lake Morena): no excuses needed! But I apologize to my feet –  even though I Leucotaped midday, it wasn’t enough to prevent the blisters that slowed me down the rest of the week.

Day 2: 8.47 miles. ending at PCT Mile 28.57 – A half-day of hiking at best, since I spent most of the day hanging with Dwight and Molly and blogging, hiking out on tender feet at about 2:30 pm.

Day 3: 12.83 miles, ending at PCT Mile 41.5 (the Burnt Rancheria spur)- again, tender feet, and I stopped at Laguna for a “feet consultation” with Dave Super. Given the weather report, I chose not to hike out, and instead, enjoyed a Pine House Tavern dinner and a night at the lodge.

Day 4: 11.2 miles, ending at PCT Mile 52.7 (Pioneer Mail Picnic Area) – no apologies here – almost every step was in crazy Wind Tunnel conditions!

Day 5: 14.73 miles, ending at PCT Mile 67.43 – no apologies here either, given my tender feet.

Day 6: 10.13 miles, ending at the hill above the dirt parking lot near Scissors Crossing – I needed to stop here to meet tomorrow’s resupply, so my hiking day ended early.

Day 7: 5.51 miles, ending at PCT Mile 83.07 – I spent most of the day on my resupply visit, hiking out mid-afternoon.

Day 8: 18.03 miles ending at PCT Mile 101.7 – Finally! – a near-normal mileage day, since 20 is more or less what I need to average. Feet still tender but greatly improving.





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7 Responses to Days 6-8: The Desert, an Amazing Dessert, and a Two-Snake Trek through the San Felipe Hills to Barrel Springs

  1. Lynn Gaylord says:

    Just love it!!! I am so excited for you !! Keep posting, girlfriend. We are with you in every way except actually… ha ha. I played a great April Fool’s joke on my family and had them believing I was going to start training to do what you were doing. “I am so inspired by Betty that I am going to do it this time next year.” I really had them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Robin crabtree says:

    Love reading about all your experiences and the beauty that you are experiencing. Since I am healing from ACL surgery and just now walking without a brace, I to am living vicariously through you! Enjoy and keep writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sigrid Freese says:

    Enjoying every step with you. Your words and pictures make the trip real for this couch potato.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m tagging along, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. David Whitaker says:

    Impressive writing! The people you meet along the Trail each have something unique to offer. The story evolves …

    Liked by 1 person

  6. kirkandmona says:

    Thank you again for taking such great notes and passing them along. I am headed out next week to begin my hike and am so thankful to have a vision of what awaits for me. Thank you!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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