Days 9-10: Pastures of Plenty and Warner Springs Goodness

Day 9 (Apr. 2): Waking up early at Barrel Spring, I was eager to pack up and go, since a meetup with Dwight and wonderdog Molly at Warner Springs was in my immediate future, just 8.5 miles up the trail. After so many days where I had seen almost no one on trail, I had thoroughly enjoyed yesterday’s hike with B. and Tim often in conversation range, and then eating dinner with other people – an on-trail first! – Tim and the terrific section-hikers, Dan and Chris. (Tim looked at my freezer-bag dinner (millet and brown rice noodles, big chunks of freeze-dried tofu, freeze-dried asparagus, spinach, kale, red bell pepper, Japanese eggplant, and mushrooms – and said, “You’re going to eat ALL of that?” And indeed, I did.)

I encouraged Tim to think about ditching his huge tent for a 2 lb. Tarptent I was offering to lend him, and to consider what other items in his humongous pack (blue jeans! many clothes! huge metal fuel can!) that he would be willing to part with, and with that, I headed out for a short half-day of hiking.

From Barrel Springs north, the landscape is a mix of oak-filled creeks and big open pastures separated by low hills. It isn’t wilderness – but it has the look of well-loved, well-cared-for land, and at least in spring with recent rains, it’s a beautiful, gentle landscape:

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Jean (?) from France passed me, stopped for a quick consultation about some odd bumps on his leg – poison oak? bites? – and after giving him a little packet of hydrocortisone cream, I captured this image of him hiking across one of the beautiful pastures.

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In some of the pastureland, big swaths of our state flower, California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) brightened the day. Often, hikers encounter cows on or near the trail in this section. I saw none, though there were some odoriferous cow patties to add to the morning’s sensory experience.

Near Warner Springs is one of the PCT’s iconic images: Eagle Rock. From a distance, and from some angles, it is only vaguely eagle-like:

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But if you go around to just the right spot, it is amazing. Check out Google Images for “Eagle Rock Warner Springs” and you’ll see what I mean.

At times, I was hiking right behind Chris and Dan, enjoying their discussion about whether it is better to rent or buy a house; and as we got closer to Warner Springs, we encountered many day hikers heading to Eagle Rock. Much to my surprise, Deb and Halfmile came around the corner – out for a hike to Barrel Spring, apparently, as they get ready to head out to the Continental Divide Trail. What a thrill to unexpectedly run into friends on the trail! I got big hugs, hiker-stink notwithstanding. Halfmile graciously congratulated me on completing 100 miles – though if he weren’t focused on the nice round milestone that hikers celebrate, he no doubt he could have congratulated me with great precision, perhaps “107.63 miles” without even consulting his eponymous map or app.

By late morning, I hit the first crossing of Hwy 79, just a few steps away from the Fire Station and then, across the street, the amazing Warner Springs Community Resource Center, where community volunteers stepped up in a HUGE way to support PCT hikers, once the Resort closed. Dwight was waiting there for me with Molly, with a cooler full of the leftover Whole Foods treats that Lynn and Charlie took home from our Scissors Crossing meetup. So I made a yummy lunch out of that, and then Dwight and I drove hikers over to the Post Office and the golf course grill, where we found Tim, Clint and other hikers polishing off a nice lunch on the patio.

Tim went back with me to the Resource Center and we did a pretty major pack shakedown. We went out into the field the Resource Center makes available for hiker camping, and I set up my Tarptent DW Moment tent, which Dwight had brought from home, so that he could check it out. After a long phone conversation with his folks, he decided to borrow it, and allow me to send his huge tent home. We went through all his stuff and he also agreed to relinquish a huge heavy groundcloth, his blue jeans and other cotton clothes, and more. I gave him a plastic Rumrunner flask for his fuel, so he also gave up the crazy-big metal fuel can. All told, we removed about 18 lbs. of stuff from his pack – 4+ pounds more than my entire base weight!. He joked, “I feel like I’m on that hoarder TV show, and I’m trying to cling to all of my stuff!”

Dwight and I then left for a motel (in Banning – don’t ask!) for the night. He brought all my resupply buckets, and the overnight motel stay was designed to allow me to prep my food for the next stretch of trail, swap out maps, wash all my trail-filthy clothes, and otherwise clean up and get ready to hike the next section.

Day 10 (Apr. 3): I worked hard on all my chores until check-out time, then we headed to Paradise Valley Cafe to drop off my resupply box (plus one for Tim with some freeze-dried veggies and tomato powder to add to his nightly spaghetti). Dwight got to experience what many claim is the best burger on the PCT – the José Burger, with avocado, bacon, jalapeños, and much more, while I enjoyed a huge salad topped with a veggie burger.

Back at Warner Springs Community Resource Center, I logged in time on the computer to post Days 2-5 on this blog, did a few other computer chores, and then bid farewell to Dwight and Molly, heading out at about 5:15pm to catch some miles. Ever since Dwight and I dayhiked in this area a few years ago, I’ve wanted to sleep under the big oaks along Agua Caliente Creek just north of Warner Springs.

With feet feeling almost completely healed after my twice-daily ministrations involving thorough cleaning and liberal use of Leucotape and Gurney Goo, I wanted to hike a foot-friendly pace so as not to lose any of the gains I had made with my feet. So I hiked an easy pace, listening to my feet the entire way.

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After a lovely pasture stroll, the trail crosses Hwy 79 again, ascends gradually, and then there’s a magical section where the trail crosses Agua Caliente Creek multiple times. Here was my view as night approached:

DSCN0771.JPG Since I had hiked this part of the trail before, I felt comfortable doing a bit of night hiking, by the light of my Waka Waka light and solar charger, until I reached a perfect campsite right before the first creek crossing. I set up just the tent body, which is micro-mesh bug netting, and for all of 5 minutes before I fell asleep, I listened to the sounds of the creek and looked at the stars through the oak limbs spread out above me. Well worth the price I paid in being a little cold that night, without the added warmth of the tent’s rain fly.

Once again, I find myself out of computer time before I can get caught up to “real time” – I need to head back out to the trail for Day 19 of my hike – so you’ll have to wait until Saturday or Sunday to read about next part of my hike, which I already know will be called “From Paradise to Near-Hell and Back.” Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Hikes | 7 Comments

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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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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Days 2-5: Sun! Monster Winds! Snow! Icicles!

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

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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:

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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:

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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.DSCN0639

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.

 

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Beautiful big vistas in every direction:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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…

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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.

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Soon, I was back in chaparral, with lots of California Tree Poppy (Dendromecon rigida)  and sages (above) to carry on the Flower Show.

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Chaparral yucca (or Our Lord’s Candle), Herperoyucca whipplei

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.

Posted in Hikes | 5 Comments

PCT Day 1: Canada, I’m on my way!

Southern Terminus to Lake Morena
March 25, 2016

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At the Southern Terminus; with Molly’s shadow on the monument’s base.

I’m sure the final week before starting a PCT thru-hike is a crazy-busy time for everyone. Mine included: launching registration for ResoSummit, a virtual Gold Rush that takes two days to process, even though it sells out in an hour; federal court jury duty (calling in every day, hoping not to get called); putting together my food through Idyllwild; and, the day before my hike, learning I had a basal cell carcinoma on my nose, and getting it removed. So I get to start my hike with a lovely bandaged nose, and several ounces of extra stuff to care for the big new indentation in my nose, while it heals. Sheesh!

Special thanks to Scout and Frodo for a wonderful send-off dinner the night before I hit the trail. Halfmile and Deb were there, as was Jan, who coordinates the 3rd Gate water cache and is therefore a genuine PCT heroine. Halfmile heard about the various times people will be meeting me along the trail, bringing fresh food and other treats along with my resupply, and he jokingly referred to my hike as “A Catered Hike of the PCT.” That’s the luxury of having the first part of the PCT so close to home (and having such great friends).

Dwight and Molly were planning on camping overnight with me at Lake Morena Campground at the end of Day 1, so I got to hike in clothes other than my main hiking outfit, eat a “real” (never dehydrated) dinner, and I am starting Day 2 with clean clothes, a hot shower, a fabulous off-menu vegan breakfast burrito at the Oak Shores store (where owner Matthew takes great care of PCT hikers), and a quick trip to the Campo Library to post this.

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Ceanothus in full bloom was a regular Day 1 companion.

 

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Wild Pea (Lathyris vestitus) was in prolific and showy bloom all along the trail.

Day 1 was a veritable Flower Show, as green and lovely as this section of trail gets. The ceanothus (above) was in full flower, as was Parish nightshade (Solanum parishii), Clematis pauciflora, Monkeyflower (Mimulus auranticus or maybe M. brevipes); Deerweed (the plant formerly known as Lotus scoparius; I can never remember its new name); Popcorn Flower (Cryptantha sp.), Indian Paintbrush, California Poppy, and Mojave Yucca, among many others.

This stretch of trail also has magnificent Coast Live Oaks and gorgeous Manzanitas.

Lots of sages, sagebrush, California buckwheat, and other chaparral plants made me feel right at home for what otherwise could be a daunting Day 1 experience on the PCT.

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Lots of Mojave Yucca was in bloom, as was Chaparral yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei).

I leapfrogged with some boon companions today: Tars from the Netherlands, who was at the Southern Terminus with me, and on the morning of Day 2 accepted the trail name of Tarzan proffered by Dwight and me; another hiker who hinted he would like the trail name “Hurry Up and Wait,” and since he seemed to earn it over the course of the day, I offered it to him; Clint from Texas; and a group of four young Outward Bound instructors from Colorado – two women and two men; all were terrific trail companions, and so the day had stretches of solitude mixed with time spent in excellent company.

Typically, hikers either shoot for Lake Morena, at approx. Mile 20, for the first-day campsite, or Mile 15, where there are spaces for tents by Houser Creek. Since there was no water between the Southern Terminus and Lake Morena, most people started with 5-6 liters of water (I had 5.7 liters, so around 12 pounds of water…). I had the luxury of being able to semi-slackpack, leaving my tent, cookset, and a few other things with Dwight for retrieval at Lake Morena, so my starting weight was probably only 23 lbs. (my Gear List is here).

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Dudleya pulverulenta

It was probably in the low 40s when I started hiking, quickly warming up to the high 70s. Overnight at Lake Morena, it dipped close to (or perhaps at) 32 degrees, with a covering of frost on tents when we woke. So lots of temperature diversity, although not nearly as hot as this stretch can be – even so, the big climb up from Hauser Creek seemed semi-oppressively hot, with no shade and full sun.

 

At Mile 17, I passed a young man in one of the very few patches of shade available in this 3-or-so mile stretch of big uphill; he was totally out of water, so I gave him a liter. He had started with only 4 liters of water, not expecting to have to camp before reaching Lake Morena. With a heavy (and broken) pack, he said he was going to go into San Diego and re-think his hike and his gear; coming from the Pacific Northwest he found the heat unbearable. Yet, for this stretch of the trail, it doesn’t get much better than this, temperature-wise, during the PCT thru-hike season.

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A typical scene from Day 1, and a classic chaparral scene, with showy Monkeyflower and other plants finding a good home on a boulder.

With a long, shoes-and-socks-off lunch break, and a slow trudge out of Hauser Creek, I still made it to Lake Morena with lots of daylight left to relax, eat leftover Chinese food from Sipz (a great vegetarian restaurant in San Diego), visit with Dwight and Molly, and enjoy a hot epsom salt soak for my feet. Dwight produced Stone IPAs for me and Tarzan, who camped with us, and we did a quick shakedown of Tarzan’s too-heavy pack; Dwight will ship his excess gear to him.

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Lake Morena is only about 5 miles from this vantage point – but it’s on the other side of that butte.

All in all, a fantastic first day, and I’m looking forward to hiking on, with a late start due to my time at the Campo library to produce this post. Best of all, I have no specific number of miles I need to make today, since I only need to reach Mt. Laguna on Sunday with enough time to eat a wonderful meal at Pine House Tavern, then then hike partway toward Scissors Crossing. There, my friends Ken and Carol may drive out from their Julian home with a picnic featuring fresh veggies, some ice (ICE! – what I fantasize about the most while on trail), and good company. And if I stay on schedule, then on Wednesday, Lynn and Charlie will drive out and meet me at Warner Springs with my resupply, food from Native Foods Cafe (I requested the equivalent of 2.5 meals, as calculated by non-hiker standards), and they will bring my dog Molly for a visit.

As Halfmile said, I am truly enjoying A Catered Hike of the PCT.

 

 

 

 

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Desolation Wilderness: Echo Lakes-Aloha Lake (Aug. 30 & 31, 2015)

A few photos from an overnight hike from Echo Lake (PCT Mile 1092.3) to Aloha Lake with Molly:

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Upper and Lower Echo Lakes are connected by a narrow channel, navigable by boat only when the water is high enough. This photo looks back toward the trailhead, which is at approx. PCT Mile 1092.3 (2015 Halfmile).

Aloha Lake had a stark and somewhat barren appearance, with low water levels and a lot of large granite slabs.
Aloha Lake had a stark and barren appearance, with low water levels and large rock slabs. Karen Berger notes about Desolation Wilderness: “A layer of durable rock was dumped here by the glaciers; the resulting rocky soil has proved to be poor habitat for the trees that usually blanket the land at similar elevations.” Along with living trees in the area surrounding Aloha Lake, there were also many dead trees piled up and scattered around the environs, adding to the desolate ambience.
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Once at camp, having shed her little red pack and temporarily off-leash, Molly surveys her temporary domain, with the lake to her right, and our little tent in the trees to the left. We admired the garden that managed to establish itself in the long crevice in the rock.

Lake Aloha (approx. 8134 ft. elevation) takes on an even more barren aspect as the sun begins to set.
Lake Aloha (approx. 8134 ft. elevation) takes on an even more barren aspect as the sun begins to set.

And looking in this direction, it's a beautiful but severe composition of grays and browns.

And looking in this direction, it’s a beautiful but severe composition of grays and browns.

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On a calm evening, it’s hard to imagine the violent episode that created this stone-and-broken-tree tableau.

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Morning light softened the landscape with pink hues, reflected in the sparse water of Aloha Lake.
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And a lone hiker, on the rock slab at left, enjoys a contemplative moment.

Yellow-gold leaves and reflected trees create a vibrant pattern on the water.
Yellow-gold leaves and reflected trees create a vibrant pattern on the water, as we hike away from our Lake Aloha campsite.

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On our return hike, we ended up hiking off the PCT toward Lake of the Woods, partly on a use-trail, partly cross-country. Alas, my memory is unclear as to the exact location of these last three photos, but I believe they are the near the western edge of Lake of the Woods.

Blog16-DSCN0083 In the process of getting from the western “thumb-like” extension of Lake of the Woods back to the (nearby) PCT, Molly and I had a challenging rock scramble, followed by possibly the biggest-ever “Leave No Trace” violation that took me a few weeks to cure. It’s a story I’ll save to tell in person. Let’s just say I had a teachable moment on this hike –details over a glass of red wine!

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JMT Faves: Muir Trail Ranch, Selden Pass & Marie Lake (Aug. 2015)

Last week, I had the great fun of taking Dwight to see some of the places I loved the most while hiking the John Muir Trail last year: Muir Trail Ranch (MTR), Selden Pass and Marie Lake.

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The welcoming Muir Trail Ranch sign; Dwight hiking up to Selden Pass; and the incomparable Marie Lake. (Click on image for a larger version.)

Dwight is always significantly impaired by high altitude, but thanks to Diamox, and a few days’ of acclimatization time at the fabulous Muir Trail Ranch (elevation 7,665 ft.), he hiked successfully to almost 11K, with over 3200 ft. net elevation gain, and made it to our target destination, Marie Lake.

Muir Trail Ranch deserves its own write-up and photo gallery, so I’ll save my “Ode to MTR” for another day. I’ll just note that Dwight’s acclimatization time included some leisurely fishing on the South Fork of the San Joaquin River, where it runs through the ranch by the tent cabins. Here are two images of the San Joaquin, where Dwight fished with his 3-oz. Tenkara rod, while I enjoyed some rock scrambling and tree-worship on the rock outcroppings high above the river.

The South Fork of the San Joaquin River runs through Muir Trail Ranch, near the ranch's four tent cabins.

The South Fork of the San Joaquin River runs through Muir Trail Ranch, near the ranch’s four tent cabins.

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The next day, powered by Diamox and MTR’s superlative breakfast, Dwight aced the climb up the tedious, sun-baked switchbacks that north-bound JMT hikers face when they leave Muir Trail Ranch, and successfully crossed Selden Pass to reach our coveted campsite at Marie Lake.

The hardest part of this hike is right at the beginning, gaining 2000 ft. elevation in the 3 miles between MTR and a lovely crossing of Senger Creek, which provides the first opportunity for water (and which, farther down, is the same creek that sparkles past the front doors of the little log cabins at MTR).

Once past Senger Creek,  we soon found ourselves on what I think of as “a Sunday walk in the park” along the Sallie Keyes Lakes (elevation 10,313 ft. at the upper lake’s inlet), with a comfortable duff trail beneath our feet and the magnificent trees shading us.

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Lower Sallie Keyes Lake is lined with spectacular trees, including this gnarled giant.

Soon, the trail reaches lovely Heart Lake (10,572 ft. at its inlet). It’s a little gem – water provides a lively musical recital all along the trail here, and flowers both large and tiny fill the rock crevices along the right side of the trail and the little meadows or marshes on the left side, as we head gradually up to Selden Pass.

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Heart Lake is captivating, with its infinity edge and plenitude of flowers, and lively streams right along the trail.

Before long, we find ourselves at Selden Pass (10,877 ft.), richly rewarded with a panoramic view of my favorite lake of all, Marie Lake (10,567 ft).

A first view of Marie Lake, from Selden Pass.

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Dwight explores Marie Lake as the sun starts to fade.

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And this is the view somewhat before “hiker midnight” (9:00 pm), but not long before two people who are truly happy campers call it a night.

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