PCT Day 1: Canada, I’m on my way!

Southern Terminus to Lake Morena
March 25, 2016


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.


Ceanothus in full bloom was a regular Day 1 companion.



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.


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).


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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


Morning light softened the landscape with pink hues, reflected in the sparse water of Aloha Lake.

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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

Heart Lake

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.


Dwight explores Marie Lake as the sun starts to fade.

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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